Thursday, April 21, 2011

- Birthday Season: The celebration never ends

Heather recently introduced me to the concept of the birthday season which, as I understand it, begins with the first of several celebrations and ends with the last. In the Ackert family, where all birthdays are celebrated during the annual trip to the Outer Banks, that could make for some very long birthday seasons.
In any case, Meliss and I headed to Williamsburg in early March to be a part of Logan's 7th birthday season. While there, we made the acquaintance of Wyatt, who is the newest member of the Laroche/Marshall clan (and shares a November 30th birthday with his soon-to-be godmother, Meghan). I also made a trip to Carino's seafood market for the express purpose of spiriting three pounds of jumbo lump crabmeat back to Texas. Thus I was well prepared for the beginning of Paul's 30th birthday season the following week.

Meghan planned a phenomenal party complete with a mobile wood-fired pizza trailer. Invited guests were asked to bring a challenge for Paul, in lieu of a gift. What better challenge, I thought, than a quickfire?

To make it a fair challenge, I filled two identical brown paper bags with butter, cream, Outer Banks seafood seasoning, parsley, chives, celery leaves, and last, but far from least, two carefully thawed containers of Carino's jumbo lump crabmeat. As any good chef would, I also brought my own knife, along with a whisk and a saucepan. The challenge was this: create one dozen crabmeat hors d'oeuvres in gougeres (savory gruyere-laced cream puffs). The time limit: 10 minutes.

Twelve hungry party-goers watched as the gas stove was fired up and the whisks started to fly. Herbs fell under the knife. One guest googled foodie theme music (I'm not sure if it was Top Chef or Iron Chef), while another called out the time remaining. Paul reached for truffle oil as his key ingredient, while I opted for vin santo and dijon mustard. Plates were called for, gougeres split and filled as the final seconds were counted down. And the winner was ... the guests, who got to eat succulent Virginia crabmeat deep in the heart of Texas.


1/2 cup water
1/2 stick of butter
3/4 cup flour
3/4 tsp salt
3 eggs
1/2-3/4 cup shredded Gruyere

Pre-heat oven to 375 degrees. Bring water and butter to a boil in a saucepan. When butter is melted, add flour and salt and mix in flour with a wooden spoon. Beat in eggs one at a time (the dough will "break" each time and then come together again). Stir in cheese. Scoop tablespoon-size mounds of dough onto a parchment paper-lined cookie sheet. Bake for 25 minutes, or until golden brown. If not serving right away, puffs can be reheated.

That was then, this is now: Paul's birthday season continues tomorrow night at the new Austin City Limits studio/theatre, where Williamsburg-born musician Bruce Hornsby is playing an Earth Day concert. It will come to an end two months hence when we gather everyone together at the Outer Banks to celebrate all the birthdays in the year past and look forward to those in the year ahead ... with any luck we'll also be comfortably numb.