Cooking For Others: Birthday Week Begins, and We’re Already Full
EVENT: Salima’s Birthday Week Kick-Off
VENUE: Phoebe’s Apartment, Flatiron
PARTY SIZE: 7
TYPE: Festive (But Weeknight) Dinner
MENU: Thai Green Curry Chicken, Manchurian Cauliflower, Crispy Chinese Long Beans
SHOPPING: Hung Lee, 79 Bayard St. (btw. Mulberry & Mott.) for fresh produce; Asia Market, 71 Mulberry St. (btw. Canal & Bayard) for Asian condiments and spices
All through college, my friend Salima used to celebrate her birthday for an entire week. To our amazement (and horror), somehow this tradition did not die with graduation. On April 3rd, or the 1-3 days flanking it, right when the sun is starting to shine and it becomes appropriate to wear short pink party dresses, the celebration still begins, and the wallets and livers of her 100 closest friends start to shrink in terror.
Besides the fact that our bodies are beginning to hate us, and we have to deal with scary words like health insurance, a large part of the reason we don’t go out every night of the week when not being forced to is because we can’t afford it. That, and some of our jobs involve not waking up smelling like the floor of Brother Jimmy’s (though I only know of one person who’s accidentally spent the night there, and it wasn’t Salima).
This year, instead of dropping $60 a head at Stanton Social (which is SO 2007), I offered to kick off Birthday Week my way—with cocktails, home-made Thai cuisine, and reminiscences including but not limited to the time Salima got a giant S tattooed on her side during her first epic night in Bangkok.
The inspiration for the meal came in part from the birthday girl’s travel adventures the summer after college, which we heard about in emails featuring weekly top ten lists of backpacker favorites like seven cent Tuk Tuk’s (i.e. taxis), Thai massages, and tiger beer. Basically, all the comforts of home but, uh, cheaper. It also came from Salima’s general love of Asian cuisine which, outside of her home town of Vancouver, seldom attains the level of spiciness she enjoys in her food and, subsequently, life in general.
Despite the change in venue, I know I still should not condone the continuation of Birthday Week behavior. But, ridiculousness aside, I secretly look forward to the seven days of Sal, and I’m pretty sure that all those who saddle up year after year do as well. Thanks to my Chinatown shopping spree—I bought all contents of the meal for UNDER $30 DOLLARS—I embraced the Salima tradition to the fullest this year because, well, I could actually afford to.
We innocent bystanders may not come away with as many crazy stories as the birthday girl herself. But I enjoy all the spice that’s added to my life (and food), and can only imagine what kind of face-numbing, eye-watering fun is in store for number 25, when birthday week rolls around next year.
Buckle up kids. It’s only 11 months and 21 days away.
From my kitchen, celebrating Salima’s birthday week circa 2004, to yours,
Phoebe, THE QUARTER-LIFE COOK
Thai Green Curry Chicken
Makes 8 servings
1 large yellow onion, sliced
2 red peppers, sliced into strips
3 tbsp ginger, minced
4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
3-5 tbsp green curry paste (depends how spicy you like it)
4 tbsp fish sauce
2 15oz cans unsweetened coconut milk
½ 12oz can chicken stock
½ stalk lemongrass (or 1 lime, juiced)
2 ½ lb boneless skinless chicken breasts (about 3 large breasts), cut into strips
2 medium Thai or Japanese eggplants, sliced (or 1 medium regular eggplant, halved and sliced)
1/2 lb Chinese long beans, stems removed and halved
1 cup Thai basil leaves, whole
salt to taste
In a large dutch oven, heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil over medium heat. Add the onions, red pepper, ginger, and garlic and sauté until the onions are just beginning to soften, about 3 minutes. Add the green curry paste, fish sauce, coconut milk, and chicken stock and bring to a boil.
TIP: If using lemongrass, remove the lower bulb and cut off the top where the leaves are beginning to come apart. Take off any tarnished leaves and rinse well. Cut stalk in half and reserve one piece for another use. Slice the stalk down the middle. With the back of your knife, “bruise” the lemon grass by pressing down with the palm of your hand.
Add the lemongrass to the pot and simmer uncovered for 5 minutes. Stir in the chicken, eggplant, and long beans, and continue to simmer for ten more minutes, or until the chicken is cooked through.
Taste for seasoning, adding salt as necessary. Stir in basil and serve over basmati rice.
Using extra long beans (or regular-old string beans), follow the directions for the Manchurian Cauliflower, stopping before you make the sauce—that is, just dip them in the batter and fry. Serve as appetizers or alongside the meal for some crunch.