1001 Tales of Birthday Bliss

A few weeks ago, I celebrated my birthday, the same way I’ve celebrated going on 30 years– with time away from the rest of the world with my very best girlfriends.   This is an annual event for me…every year I take a week away to just relax and reconnect with the women in my life.

I guess the best way to sum it up is: we do not remember the days, but we remember the moments. Moments where we could just totally be ourselves and have a good time.

We all have different strengths. Some of us are cookers…some of us are bakers…some of us cleaner-uppers and straighteners. And others give facials, little mini-massages—we all have our talents. Some are comedians, some are not. We are quite a group.

This year I decided that we should have a kind of “Red Tent” theme– a belly dancing, “I Dream of Jeanie”-ish type of fantasy gathering where we celebrated our collective feminine strength and sisterhood. Atmosphere was key, and I set it up so we really felt like we were inside a genie’s lamp! One of the girls lived in Egypt and she brought all her little candleholders, her dishes and plates, her accent and serving pieces—authentic touches that set the scene. Candles, beanbags, pillows, blankets, we got barefoot and cozy in that central space—it was our own little sanctuary.

We lounged and laughed and talked and ate chocolates. A LOT of chocolates. We all agree: Godiva is REALLY good. We watched movies and giggled and laughed…even though it was a week….a week’s not enough time. I know.

And of course…we cooked!

We started out with pizza night. I’m talking gourmet pizza: a grape gorgonzola white pizza and a dessert pizza with goat cheese, pears, caramelized onions and chocolate shavings. Outrageous.

Breakfast highlights: A Spinach and Emmentaler Fritatta, a little salad on the side and…MIMOSAS.

Challah French Toast with cinnamon, vanilla and macerated berries. I caramelized some apples and sliced up some bananas. I topped it off with some fresh whipped cream with a little bit of Grand Mariner, and a little bit of honey.

Made-to-order omelets! Lisa, my friend, an amazing cook, (I’ve written about our adventures in the kitchen together before: 50 Shades of Roux!) made personalized omelets for EVERYONE. That was a treat and a half.

And MIMOSAS….did I mention that we had mimosas? That’s really the greatest thing about girlfriends weekend: you can really indulge, you can go crazy. No calorie counting and not looking at the clock because it really is 5 o’clock somewhere in the world even if it’s only 10 o’clock in the morning in Jim Thorpe, Pennsylvania.

And cheese platters…the cheese platter was like the cheese platter that never ended all weekend long. We went through several wheels of brie (yes, I said wheels)! We had a great big chunk of beautiful Stilton blue cheese, gorgonzola, cheddars, fresh mozzarella. Some of my favorites from DiBrunos paired perfectly: fig jam, white truffle honey, buttered toffee cashews (addicting), cashews with butter and dill. Savory, sweet, rich, everything you could want.

Dinner highlights: Salmon Teriyaki, prepared by my friend Denise and to die for: sesame seeds, honey, soy sauce, crispy and caramelized on the top and cooked perfectly all the way through…we went through two salmon—we can eat. I don’t think we like to admit it but…I always say…girls can eat. She served it with a great salad: goat cheese, roasted beets, and greens in a balsamic vinaigrette.

Of course, we had to have Middle Eastern night! We had all kinds of mezzis– everything from pan-roasted cauliflower with garlic, olive oil and capers. A spinach and chickpea tomato stew. We had hummus, baba ghanoush, pita, stuffed grape leaves.

A traditional Sunday meatballs, sausage and gravy. How could we not?

Dessert highlights: Chocolate cake made by one of our wonderful bakers, my friend Val, who also made mini cheesecakes and babka…which was great because that was our little 3 AM snack! She cut up some babka, topped it with brown sugar and butter caramelized it in a pan…it was again…outrageous. (Can you tell that’s my new favorite word?)

We did more than eat! We went for some walks into the charming downtown of Jim Thorpe. One stop was The StoneKeep Meadery. Meade is fermented honey and likely the oldest alcoholic beverage, with references in ancient texts over 40,000 years old! StoneKeep makes handcrafted, small batch meades with real Pennsylvania fruit and raw wildflower honey. My favorites were the blackberry and black currant. The girls really enjoyed it!

We got to stop in some of the cute little kitchy places, vintage finds, home décor, that was a lot of fun. We had to pop into Jim Thorpe’s famous pub, Molly McGuire’s . It’s the local happening place! We had hot chocolate, tea and fresh sweet potato fries. Really funny to us: in this place they go from Christmas decorations to St. Patrick’s Day at the end of January. They completely skipped Valentine’s Day, which just cracked us up. The pub was founded by a family from Dublin—the green everywhere makes sense! There’s a lot of Irish spirit and they are ready to party.

All in all…my birthday this year was a huge success. What do you love about your girlfriends? How do you celebrate each other? For the first time this year, I’m doing a special “Gal”-entine’s Day tasting tour just for the ladies all February long. I would love for you to join me with your very best ladyloves and create some fun and beautiful culinary memories together!