Cooking With Myra: Birthdays are for being with friends and family

By Myra Starkey
Jan. 22, 2013 at midnight
Updated Jan. 21, 2013 at 7:22 p.m.

Smoked pork shoulder with kale slaw and jicama fries.

Smoked pork shoulder with kale slaw and jicama fries.

My daughter, Hannah, had her birthday Jan. 18. She turned 25. I asked her a couple of weeks ago if she had any special requests. Her reply was simply: "a party for friends and I want you to smoke ribs."

Growing up, our children often requested smoked ribs for their birthday dinners. I have a barbecue pit that is the size of a Lincoln Town Car, so I can whip up party-size quantities of ribs. They are as good as anything you would get in even the best barbecue joints.

And you would have no problem working up a strong appetite if you smelled the smoke pouring out of that pit. Hannah may be living in Houston with all its fancy, big-city restaurants, but she hasn't forgotten her momma's smoked ribs. Taylor and I hooked that pit to the F-150, and we were backing it into her driveway two hours later.

Hannah loves to entertain, and she and her husband often have friends over. They are both still in school, so they have a small home. On the day of the party, I surveyed the house for the seating possibilities. Their dining area could seat 10, and we had brought another table to put in the sunroom for the rest of the guests.

They had invited about 20. She has a humongous treadmill in the sunroom that we tried to move to a bedroom but could not fit it through the door so it had to be crammed on one end in the corner. Nobody likes to look at a treadmill when they are pigging out on ribs and birthday cake.

Taylor and Ben strung Christmas lights in the backyard to add a festive touch, and we brought a fire pit to give the young folks something to do. We have had it sitting in our backyard for years, and I cannot ever remember going out there to sit around it on a cold night. I guess at my age I prefer to be inside with a good book in front of the fireplace. The kids must have stood around that thing visiting, drinking a few beers and burning logs for a good three hours, so I'm glad we took it. A campfire is another thing you miss once you move to the big city.

We covered the tables with red and yellow floral pattern tablecloths and placed flower arrangements in mason jars in the center of the tables. We sprinkled a dozen or so votive candles around the arrangements.

We spent most of the day cooking and setting up for the party, finishing with an hour to spare. I prepared smoked pork ribs with apple jelly glaze and a pork shoulder with apple cider vinegar sauce. Hannah loves Brussels sprouts, so I grilled them in a foil pan with balsamic vinegar and olive oil and dusted them with kosher salt, then rolled them in bits of fried bacon.

I made foccacia bread with rosemary and a salad of greens and shaved zucchini. I could not have gotten all of this done without the help of Hannah and my No. 1 party assistant, Janet.

We prepared a cheese tray with assorted cheeses and crackers. I made fennel seed shortbread and served it with orange blossom honey. The honey on the shortbread is an amazing combination. Hannah's friend, Caroline, baked two birthday cakes, one vanilla and the other chocolate, so everyone was happy. As I sat at the table with Janet, Stephanie and Kim, who are all Hannah's longtime friends from childhood, along with several new friends from Houston, I realized what a blessing it is to be able to do something special for your children.

Hannah was beaming and engaged in telling stories about other birthdays as a child. Everyone at the tables was laughing as their faces glowed from the candlelight. The attendees were encouraged not to bring gifts, but I knew that the best birthday presents one can have are these good friends all sitting together sharing in food, drink and fellowship.

My brother-in-law, Mike, has a beautiful garden. He recently picked kale for me, and I have enjoyed eating it in a number of ways.

Myra Starkey lives in Victoria. Write her in care of the Advocate, P.O. Box 1518, Victoria, TX 77901, or



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