A happy birthday

For this particular birthday, I wanted to be more mindful. Mindful in its most basic sense—being deliberate of what’s around me and being extra in-tune with my feelings and actions. I woke up early that Sunday, Jed and Elmo still fast asleep. I went downstairs, sat cross-legged on the couch, and meditated—inhaling, exhaling, feeling the sun’s warm rays on my bare lap. I wanted to feel these deep breaths, the tension that arises when air fills my lungs, and the calmness that washes over me as I exhale these long deep breaths. A little hokey, I know, but definitely a luxurious activity for me.

Not long after, Jed and Elmo joined me in the living room. After we tended to Elmo’s morning routine, we decided to go out and grab fancy coffee because, hey, it’s my birthday. The sun was fully out by now. I was determined to start the day early and bright, with concrete plans to buy myself some blue crabs for lunch.

We got home an hour before noon. I set to work thinking of cooking three separate dishes in a little over an hour: blue crabs in spicy coconut milk, Zuni-style roasted spring chicken, and a peach torte for my birthday cake. I turned on the music, my dance playlist in particular, and cooked (and danced) as methodically as I could.

I already pre-seasoned the chicken three days ago (the secret to this amazing, delicious, again amazing chicken recipe), so I simply put the chicken in a cast-iron skillet and popped it in the oven while I prepare all the ingredients—coconut milk, a half-moon squash chopped into big chunks, lemongrass, ginger, onion, garlic, and green chilies—for my favorite blue crab dish. A quick boil of the coconut milk was all I needed, the perfect amount of time for the aromatics to flavor the broth and soften the squash. I then added all four blue crabs into this pool of creamy, spicy coconut milk.

Meanwhile, the spring chicken needed to be turned over four times, every twenty minutes, to cover all areas where the skin needs to be crispy and juicy. While waiting for the chicken, I began creaming the butter and sugar, after which I proceeded to add all the remaining ingredients of this unbelievably simple and delicious torte. The flour, eggs, milk, and baking powder go in with the butter and sugar. This dense batter was then transferred to an 8-inch cake pan. The last thing to do was bury the canned peaches on top of the batter then sprinkled with sugar, lemon, and cinnamon. When the chicken is finally done, the peach torte goes in. By the time we finish lunch, dessert was conveniently ready.

The whole thing felt like a well-choreographed dance, a balancing act of efficient prep and cooking steps. I have never felt more like a 35-year-old.

Right after lunch, the peach torte was still piping hot from the oven. I took a quick shower and wore my new light green smock, or more like a flowy tent of a fabric that looked like the lovechild of a duster and a maxi dress. The sleeves were huge and billowy, air flowed in and out of this dress. I love how free and pretty it made me feel, just perfect for blowing birthday candles and eating cake.

By late afternoon, Jed and I were slouched on the sofa, bellies full and a bit sleepy. Elmo was already asleep on the floor. I had a glass of wine as Jed opened his second bottle of beer. I began singing Neil Diamond’s “Soolaimon,” a song I heard from the show Midnight Mass, a song that I have totally forgotten about but knew every lyric by heart. “Where tf have I heard this song?” Flashback to the summer of 2002, I was 15 years old and papa borrowed Uncle Paul’s CDs, one of them was Neil Diamond’s best hits album. My father will play a new CD on the loop until our ears cry from monotony. That summer was Neil Diamond’s summer in our house.

So I blasted the TV and played more old songs after listening to Soolaimon thrice in a row. By then I already transitioned into a full karaoke setup. Jed was right along with me. We sang in front of the TV, ate more cake, and drank our respective alcohols as we followed the highs and curls of South Border’s “Kahit Kailan.” I laughed at Jed’s valiant vocal efforts, stomach hunched, and face distorted from each high pitch. I see Elmo from the corner of my eye, he was up from his sleep, looking at us with both curiosity and judgment, so I picked him up and nuzzled my nose to his ears.

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