14Dec2015 Jack’s 17th birthday

I’d like to say that we had a huge, raucous, house-overflowing party for Jack to celebrate his 17th party, but he is a modest and quiet soul, and after much nagging on my part, finally admitted that all he wanted was a quiet family party. He will try to get out to see Star Wars with friends, but he prefers to not make a big deal about his birthday. I can understand that when you are getting close to 50, but 17? Most teenagers are more self-absorbed and greedy than that and want all the fuss and bother, but not my Jack. And really, I understand. Big parties are exhausting for me too, and I don’t mean the work involved; I mean being with that many people at one time. I just want to make a bit of a fuss over him in some way and making cake and dinner doesn’t seem like quite enough. But that is what I did, and it was a lovely little party.

I did make him homemade sticky buns with a sourdough olive oil brioche (the queen of sweet yeasted doughs but usually with pounds and pounds of butter – I didn’t want to substitute with our dairy free margarine so used an olive oil brioche instead). I make an apricot levkar (filling) and spiced up the brown sugar and pecan mixture with star anise, fennel and cinnamon. And then when the rolls came out of the oven, I poured some caramel sauce over them to soak into the buns (to be fair, the olive oil brioche isn’t very sweet and so it needed the caramel). Luke wasn’t a fan of the apricot filling which meant he only ate two helpings instead of three, but Jack thought it was great. And when Grandma came home from her Great Poinsetta Saga, she thought it was so great, she had three pieces!

Chance and Daddy headed off to school and work, and Jack and Luke decided to go rock climbing. They ended up going to Indian Rock Park (via Bart and walking), a small park in Berkeley where you can practice bouldering (rock climbing without the ropes and harnesses), and do some easier climbing. John and I used to walk past Indian Rock all the time when we lived in Albany on Brighton Street and would head up into the Berkeley Hills for hikes. It used to be just this huge rocky area at the intersection of some streets in between some houses, but they’ve turned it into a small park and is pretty popular with climbers for some quick practice. Jack said the actual climbing wasn’t too hard or much of a workout, but the views were incredible and Luke had a lot of fun. They even stopped for a quick lunch at a Korean place on Solano (the one we took Aunt Monica to last year) on the way. Good thing they went rock climbing to burn off the calories!

By the time they got home, daddy and Chance were home, and we had our dinner of herb roasted spatchcocked chicken, potatoes that had cooked underneath the chicken (so it soaks up all the fat and juices from the chicken), salad and carrots made the Cioca way (butter and brown sugar, heated up with a cover to cook carrots, and then cover off to reduce the syrup – I flavor it with whichever spices or herbs I have around). And then the birthday cake and presents!

The cake requires its own paragraph, since it was an experiment all by itself. First, I wanted a cake recipe that was naturally dairy free so I selected an almond chiffon cake from Rose Beranbaum’s “Heavenly Cakes” that uses oil and egg whites whipped into a meringue to provide the lift. I substituted pecans instead of almonds, and I’m also thinking that recipe will work well with almond flour and potato starch so John can have cake too (maybe Chrismtas dinner dessert?). Aside from having to make the cake twice (I asked Jack to line the cake pans with parchment paper, which he did, but then he left them lying next to the pans on the table which I didn’t notice in my rush. Chiffon cake sticks like glue to pans without paper and so stop get chiffon cake pieces, and not a whole cake), they turned out well. I made them Saturday, which might have been one day too early, since there was some moisture collected by Monday afternoon – rainy weather means high humidity here), but the flavor was good. And so, on the to the buttercream frosting. Our fake butter just doesn’t work all that well in substituting for real butter in an Italian or French buttercream. The flavor is okay, but the texture and feel isn’t there. I once tried coconut oil, but even after whipping it for many minutes, there are always little tiny pieces of solid coconut oil that don’t dissolve and are very distracting when you are eating cake. And so I found homemade coconut butter. It involves taking unsweetened coconut flakes and blending them at high speed with a bit of melted coconut oil until you finally get a puree (the heat of the food processor melts the oil, which is usually solid at room temperature). I puréed, strained, puréed the remaining flakes some more, strained and so on most of Saturday morning to come up with a nice container of coconut butter, smooth and perfect. And you know what? It comes closer to the taste and mouth feel of real butter than our fake butter, so I’m planning on keeping it in the repertoire for more than just buttercream. I also used it to make the caramel sauce for the sticky buns (worked perfectly) as well as the pecan pralines that I made to put on the birthday cake (too sticky for the cake – that humidity again – but yummy).

Sorry for the long explanation, I do spend a lot of time trying to find flavorful recipes that are dairy free, it is nice to write it down somewhere. Once Daddy and Chance were home, we had a wonderful chicken dinner with a light salad, and then cake and ice cream. The color of the caramel buttercream was the only thing I will change next time: it was almost exactly the color of my skin, ewwww! It was delicious however, and Jack did receive a few cool t-shirts and some birthday money. His big present is his rock climbing gym membership (which he loves and uses every week), so no big presents from the parents this time.

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