I love birthdays. I love my own birthday – I’ve never been one to cower from turning a year older. So much so that I’ve instituted Birthday Week(tm), which some years manages to get extended into Birthday Month depending on how many of my fellow June babies are in proximity – we do love our celebratory dinners. When it comes to being able to celebrate someone else’s birthday, we’re all in. Our dear friend Mark hit the big 3-0 a few weeks ago and, as the culmination of much plotting and planning (mostly on his wife Jessie’s part), a group of us gathered to welcome them back after a particularly rough extended vacation and the arrival of good news and another year.
Any birthday party with its own bartender and a cocktail menu is really the soiree you want to be, right? Their friend Andy, who is a great photographer with a serious mixology streak, served up cocktails throughout the party. In the effort of quality control, most of us felt compelled to have one of each of them. From what I can remember, the Blinker was my favorite.
There was also cornhole. Apparently the Midwest folks think that the South got this from them and vice-versa (from what I gathered on Twitter). Whatever. Whoever made it up wasn’t as good as this guy. Sean is The Ringer. He made these cornhole boards, brought them on a plane from Colorado and then proceeded to kick everyone’s ass…and he did it looking like the most recent post on The Sartorialist. Well played, sir – in all meanings of the word.
We got to see friends we don’t get to see nearly as often as we should – like Jeremie (left) and his wife Jennifer (who seems to avoid the camera). We got to see friends we see almost as much as we should…like Anne. She always looks so chic and so interesting – I’m always so envious of her die hard vintage style and how she carries herself. I’m also a sucker for big sunglasses.
Talking about friends, how absolutely tolerable the weather was, and the oh-s0-delicious cocktails is really just a ploy to distract you from the 62524343 photos I could potentially be posting of this little muffin. Olive loves the camera…and she knows how to use it to woo you and crush your heart and bore a hole into your soul. I wandered around the party snapping photos of her every chance I thought I had. Somehow, she was always onto me. Olive is a quite the heart-breaker. I can keep talking about her incessantly because her name is also the name of a food, right?
She’s got great personal style, gets on well with people, she’s frikkin’ adorable and probably the most beautiful baby I’ve ever seen. You know why? Because these two people are her parents. Mark and Jessie are awesome and therefore…so is their kid.
The salad table inside was a sight to behold, folks. There was this really awesome edamame & corn salad, watermelon sprinkled with mint (an amazing touch Jessie added that I’d never thought to do), creamy Feta with olives and herbs. Oh – an insanely addictive green bean salad with wild greens and Manchego cheese. That stuff was so fresh and crunchy but sharp from the cheese. I had more than one spoonful of it.
There was also this. To celebrate Mark’s birthday, the boys of the group got together and went in on roasting a pig. A half pig. A half of a whole. Split down the middle. This is a vegetarian blog so this isn’t the sight most folks want to see…but I’m proud of folks for dealing with meat and animals in their natural state and not on Styrofoam squares. This went on for hours and, as I noshed away on things from the side table, folks tore into the crispy skin and went on and on about how delicious it was. I have no doubt. Oh look – cupcakes!
We have nights like those and – even if we’re just quietly sitting in chairs, staring at the stars and swishing around the ice in our drinks by the end of the night – I always feel really thankful and fortunate to have made friends through friends through friends. Josh and Kristina (here) through Jessie and Mark….and Anne….Keith….Ben and Megan…the list goes on and on. The web is happily very intertwined and we’re so lucky to have all these people in our lives…and in the case of The Weavers…to have happened upon a house 2 blocks away from them.
Turning 30 was one of the best years of my life, personally, regardless of what was happening in my life with my folks and the loss that was about to ensue. Being in that space, feeling like you’re your own person, ready for big steps, big changes. You turn 30 so you can do those things and make those decisions – I wouldn’t go back to my 20’s for anything in the world. Mark turned 30 with a rash of life events and changes that is going to take him and his family – our friends Jessie and Olive – permanently to New York. He’s got a new job and they won’t be our neighbors anymore…and while that night was bittersweet for a lot of us…we’re all so thankful for you guys and the time we’ve had here in Atlanta. Don’t you worry, we’ll be harassing you once you get settled in and we’ll see you only slightly less than we do now. We love you guys and, well, we’re gonna miss you.
My contribution that night was a quinoa salad that sort of came together out of vegetarian and gluten-free necessity. It was in the cabinet. There was produce from the farmstand. There was a little Cypress Grove cheese in the fridge. Tossed together with a little simple dressing – just enough to flavor everything but not get it too wet – it was a huge hit that night. I’ve made it a time or two since then and it’s such a versatile recipe. I’m giving you the base recipe here and encourage you to play with what you have in the house. Crunch, tang and salt mixed with the quinoa are your main points – from there…add whatever you want.
Black Quinoa Summer Salad – serves 10 to 12 as a side dish
– In a medium pot with a lid, bring the water or vegetable stock to a boil. Add the black quinoa and bring back to a boil. Turn heat down to low, cover and cook until the quinoa is tender. This depends a bit on the age of your quinoa but this took 25-30 minutes for me. Fluff and set aside to cool to room temperature.
– In a small bowl, whisk together the balsamic vinegar, oil and mustard. Set aside until you compose the salad.
– In a large mixing bowl, combine the halved tomatoes, diced cucumber, diced onion, and diced cheese. Add the room temperature quinoa and stir together. Drizzle over the dressing and stir again until evenly coated. Taste and adjust salt and pepper to your liking. Throw in the chopped herbs and give it one last toss together. This can be served at room temperature or refrigerated. Just take the chill off before you serve it. It will keep tightly covered for 2-3 days, as well.