I don’t know when we started the tradition, but every year on Lee’s birthday he gets to request a special meal. Sometimes it’s an old favorite, but most often it’s something new and different that he’s come across in the months prior. Leading up to his birthday, he’ll flip through my cooking magazines or watch a cooking show and declare, “I want THAT for my birthday.”
I’m willing to try almost anything, especially because he’s a good sport and won’t hold it against me if it goes terribly wrong. My only real problem is that I don’t like eating (or cooking) meat that looks like what it was when it was living. I’ve had this problem for a long time, and I trace it to an event that happened when I was four years old.
When we lived in Baltimore, my family would occasionally steam live crabs for dinner. I used to love eating the crab meat until that one terrible time the crabs escaped the boiling water and ran all over the house. In my 4-year-old opinion, they were chasing me and I was terrified. I also made the connection between these live creatures and the cooked ones spread out over newspaper on our dining room table, and I could no longer eat them.
Ever since then, I lose my appetite if I can picture my food walking or swimming around. I’ll eat a crab cake, but I can’t seem to break open his leg to get the meat out. I love barbecue but struggle to eat ribs. I don’t like seeing the bones as a reminder. I have the heart of a vegetarian but the appetite of a carnivore, and it’s a problem from time to time.
OK – so that was a long digression, but the point of it was this: I was a little nervous when Lee told me his birthday request this year was calamari. We enjoy calamari in restaurants (even Camille likes it), but we have an understanding. I eat the rings, he eats the tentacles. No way am I putting tentacles in my mouth when I can clearly picture them swishing through the salt water. I can’t even look at them.
So I was delighted when I discovered that our neighborhood Publix sells squid tubes – no tentacles to deal with. Turns out the recipe for calamari isn’t much of a recipe because it’s so simple. With Alva’s help, we tried prepping the squid in two ways – dredging it through flour for a very simple, light crunch, or dipping it in a thin pancake batter before frying for a more crispy coating. Let it fry for a minute or two in some hot oil, then spread on paper towels and sprinkle some salt and pepper and squeeze a bit of fresh lemon on top. Grab a jar of Thai sweet chili sauce from the grocery store for dipping and you’re done.
I didn’t have my camera to document the meal, but grabbed a quick pic on my camera phone. I liked the battered ones best, Lee liked the lightly floured ones, but we both agreed they were all good.
We spent his birthday weekend relaxing (and eating and eating and eating) at Alva’s house in Fitzgerald. When we weren’t eating, we tried to teach Camille how to swing a bat (she insisted on using a one-handed version for a while) and looked at Daddy’s new Charley Harper book and other gifts. A great way to celebrate the love of my life – I’m so glad he was born!