I firmly believe that the world can be divided into two types of people: those who relish celebrating their birthdays and those who don’t. As someone who has slowly nudged her birth-day into a birth-month, I think that places me squarely in the former camp. Maikael, on the other hand, would generally rather let the day slip by without notice, and if we mark the day at all it is usually a low-key affair at home. Every year Maikael asks for a boxed yellow cake with milk chocolate icing from the can, and every year I manage to sway him from this idea. “But I could make you anything. How about a homemade red velvet cake? Or even a homemade yellow cake with real chocolate frosting?” And every year he reluctantly concedes, even though he’d rather have the simple boxed cake.
This year, I vowed to myself that I’d give him his yellow cake without putting up a fight. He even considered having a modest party with pastrami sandwiches. But in the end he decided that he’d like a Chicago-style, deep-dish pizza and strawberry milkshake for his birthday dinner. Some people are purists when it comes to birthday desserts, insisting on a cake, but in our home we walk on the wild side. I fervently believe that, when it comes to dessert, people should not be hemmed in by tradition (my friend, Meghan, always has a birthday pie). “The only thing I’m not sure about,” he said, “is if we should serve the milkshakes with the pizza or after the pizza.” I assured him that whatever he wanted would be fine by me, “and I’ll even make you a boxed yellow cake in addition to the strawberry milkshake, if that would make you happy.”
Having never made a deep-dish pizza before, Tim, a Chicago native, arrived early to help guide me through the process. A Chicago-style pizza is built in “reverse,” such that the cheese is on the bottom and the sauce is on the top layer, with any desired “toppings” in the middle. “If there are toppings poking through the sauce, you don’t have enough sauce,” he warned me. When the pizza was finally constructed in a 16” pan and nudged into the oven, it weighed several pounds. Since we weren’t serving cake, Tim thoughtfully brought candles to adorn the pizza, which Maikael proceeded to light with a small blow torch. This is his party trick, lighting things in the kitchen with his mini blow torch, which makes me nervous. (Admittedly, he once went head-to-head with a proper kitchen torch for shellacking a crème brulee, and his did the better job.) The force of the flame was so great that it simultaneously lit and blew out the candles, which struck me as somehow ironic. But because it was his birthday I (mainly) kept my mouth shut.
Having decided that milkshakes were best served after dinner, I whipped up a strawberry shake recipe from a recent issue of Bon Appetite that included the unusual combination of vinegar and rum, the tart a perfect counterpoint to the sweet, capped with a dollop of whipped cream. It was no yellow cake, but it was delicious.