Tomorrow I am 32.
Tomorrow I am 32 and I am not, for once, baking my own birthday cake, though it is often my wont and wish to do so — no, this year will be spent drinking lots of water, carbo-loading, crossing my fingers for the Giants to win the first game of this next playoff round, and obsessing about Sunday’s 26.2 miles to be run so awfully early in the morning.
For, OH, the marathon. It is all I can think of right now — fearfully, and with great excitement. The forecast here in San Francisco has changed from sun to fog with possible rain, and though I envisioned running along the Great Ocean Highway in the wild, hot sun with salt drying white in funny tracks on my shins, I know it is far, far better to run in cool temperatures. And how pretty the bridge will look with the fog misting about its columns. Maybe I will catch sight of a few pelicans winging purposefully out to sea, like I did the time I ran a half-marathon four years ago, and the fog will burn off after all.
Oh, the marathon. Despite my hip that aches so deeply and inexplicably, despite my nerves, despite all else — I am impatient for it, eager for the camaraderie that comes with these things, the anonymous companionship of 20,000 (!) others slogging along with you, in pain and exhilaration. Into the quiet morning I shall go, solidly 32, belly full of chocolate cake, to run past the Transamerica Building (and perhaps even my office, for I work a hard stone’s throw away) with the Financial District still and nearly empty for once, and down along the bay and up through Seacliff into the park, and back ’round Lake Merced for the last four miles (I hear they are the longest slog of the long slog), and then … and then by 12.30 pm on Sunday it will be all over. I will cry and cheer and get fetched home for food and later will finally open that delicious bottle of rosé I’ve been saving since I bought it in Sonoma two (!) months ago.
It is my birthday present to myself.
But wait a minute — back to birthdays. And also cake. I have this funny thing about birthdays wherein I often end up baking my own cake/s, or throwing my own party (very happily so, I will add). See, please, a few years ago — for 29 — when I had a little wine and cheese party with a friend of mine who shares my birthday; we drew an eclectic collection of friends to my apartment (some of her law school friends, some friends I went to kindergarten — and earlier — with, an old college friend, new San Francisco friends) and stayed up late but not too drinking wine and eating fancy cheese and the madeleine cookies I for some reason thought would be a good idea to bake. We also ate cake — three of them: a coconut-pineapple (my most asked-for birthday cake, still), a chocolate with chocolate butter cream, an opera cake, sliced into thick wedges and piled high with strawberries. I’d stayed up late the night before baking. This seems to be a pattern for me.
See also my last year in DC, when my brother had me stay the night in a wonderful old farmhouse b+b near Wheatland Vegetable Farm in Virginia, where he was working and finishing out the growing season. We ate a late and delicious dinner (his treat) and I woke early on my birthday to eat fluffy scrambled eggs and pet the malodorous dogs. After, I came back to the city to cook — I’d decided, darn it, that what I wanted most to do for my birthday was to cook a birthday dinner and invite my best beloveds and so, I did.
The thing is, I love cooking, I wrote to a friend in California before the party. Love it. And I love throwing parties. So, what would make me happy would be to have a little dinner party for my birthday and I even know what I would make: a soup of wild mushrooms and herbs; onion foccacia and rich cheeses; pesto or some sort of baked-in-the-oven dish; some kind of green; chocolate cake, to finish. And drinks beforehand, and champagne also, and wine. Simple, but nice, and what I would really like to do seeing as how I won’t be sunning myself in Hawaii or washing my feet out at Keyhoe Beach with the dogs.
I think my friends thought I was slightly crazy for cooking a big meal on my birthday (I mean, it was my birth-day), but it was so sweet and satisfying to make Amarula martinis (I was on a kick with those for about six months — they are deliciously deadly, imminently sippable) and crack champagne and nibble cheese and eat the food I’d made. Those days … What better than to indulge myself in the thing I loved best? Birthdays might be a little bit selfish, after all.
For my 26th, I remember, there was
-foccacia: one onion, one olive (?) with basil and tomato and fresh mozz
-cheese and crackers
-roasted garlic and tomato soup
-green beans with garlic and lemon
-spinach/greens salad with almonds
-a variation on something called a ‘Cuban Opera Cake’
We all had so much fun.
Birthdays, birthdays. One year I was in Scotland (bliss). Last year I was in London and saw the Tower (and shivered over poor Anne) and went for high tea (and a pint later). Sometimes I worked and went for dinner after; sometimes I cooked; once I was in California similarly obsessing over a marathon and went to Goat Rock in the bright sun to chase the seals. (I may have to cook belatedly this year, after the miles are logged and the shoes stowed neatly away for a little while). This year will be smaller and sweeter — I will go to the farmers’ market; I will have an early dinner at Greens; I will eat chocolate cake; I will read Dylan Thomas; I will go to bed early, in nervous trepidation, clothes laid carefully out for the morning’s early start — and I think that will suit me just fine.
Tomorrow I am 32. What comes next.
I know I posted this last year but I feel it is appropriate for any and every October birthday — and so here it ’tis again. I shall read it each year on my birthday, swear. Dear Dylan Thomas, you have part of my soul.
Poem in October
It was my thirtieth year to heaven
Woke to my hearing from harbour and neighbour wood
And the mussel pooled and the heron
The morning beckon
With water praying and call of seagull and rook
And the knock of sailing boats on the webbed wall
Myself to set foot
In the still sleeping town and set forth.
My birthday began with the water-
Birds and the birds of the winged trees flying my name
Above the farms and the white horses
And I rose
In rainy autumn
And walked abroad in a shower of all my days.
High tide and the heron dived when I took the road
Over the border
And the gates
Of the town closed as the town awoke.
A springful of larks in a rolling
Cloud and the roadside bushes brimming with whistling
Blackbirds and the sun of October
On the hill’s shoulder,
Here were fond climates and sweet singers suddenly
Come in the morning where I wandered and listened
To the rain wringing
Wind blow cold
In the wood faraway under me.
Pale rain over the dwindling harbour
And over the sea wet church the size of a snail
With its horns through mist and the castle
Brown as owls
But all the gardens
Of spring and summer were blooming in the tall tales
Beyond the border and under the lark full cloud.
There could I marvel
Away but the weather turned around.
It turned away from the blithe country
And down the other air and the blue altered sky
Streamed again a wonder of summer
Pears and red currants
And I saw in the turning so clearly a child’s
Forgotten mornings when he walked with his mother
Through the parables
Of sun light
And the legends of the green chapels
And the twice told fields of infancy
That his tears burned my cheeks and his heart moved in mine.
These were the woods the river and sea
Where a boy
In the listening
Summertime of the dead whispered the truth of his joy
To the trees and the stones and the fish in the tide.
And the mystery
Still in the water and singingbirds.
And there could I marvel my birthday
Away but the weather turned around. And the true
Joy of the long dead child sang burning
In the sun.
It was my thirtieth
Year to heaven stood there then in the summer noon
Though the town below lay leaved with October blood.
O may my heart’s truth
Still be sung
On this high hill in a year’s turning.
– Dylan Thomas (b. Oct. 27)
And for reading all that — a reward:
Coconut-pineapple layer cake, long-ago adapted from gourmet.com
For cake layers
2 1/3 cups cake flour (not self-rising)
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup milk
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter, softened
1 1/2 cups sugar
5 large eggs, beaten lightly
a 28-ounce can crushed pineapple in unsweetened juice
1 tablespoon cornstarch
a rounded 1/4 cup sugar
2 2/3 cups sweetened flaked coconut (a 7-ounce bag), toasted golden
Make cake layers:
Preheat oven to 350°F. Line bottoms of 2 buttered 9- by2-inch round cake pans with rounds of wax paper. Dust pans with flour, knocking out excess.
Into a bowl sift together flour, baking powder, and salt. In a glass measuring cup stir together milk and vanilla. In a bowl with an electric mixer on medium speed cream butter 1 minute and add sugar in a steady stream, beating until light and fluffy, about 4 minutes, scraping bowl occasionally. Beat in eggs, a little at a time, beating well after each addition, until pale and fluffy. Stir in flour mixture in 4 batches alternately with milk, beginning and ending with flour mixture and stirring after each addition until batter is smooth.
Divide batter between pans, smoothing tops, and bake in middle of oven until a tester inserted in center comes out clean, about 30 minutes. Cool cake layers in pans on racks 10 minutes. Run a thin knife around edge of each pan and invert cake layers onto racks. Remove wax paper carefully and cool cake layers completely. Cake layers may be made 5 days ahead and frozen, wrapped in plastic wrap and foil. Thaw cake layers in refrigerator 1 day before proceeding with recipe.