A Basic Braise

Slow cooking has been around since the beginning of, well, cooking. And braising is typically something, usually a tough cut of meat, first sautéed or seared, then cooked, covered, very slow in some sort of liquid…wine, stock, water. Here is one example…my Braised Beef Short Ribs. Adding vegetables and fresh herbs of course enhances the flavor of the beef. In this case, it’s the ubiquitous mirepoix (onions, carrots, celery), fresh thyme, rosemary, garlic, chicken stock and dry sherry. Photo at end of recipe.

Ingredients:

  • 2 tbsp canola oil
  • 4 bone-in beef short ribs, about 2 lbs total
  • Kosher salt, fresh ground black pepper
  • 1 cup of onions, rough chop
  • 1/2 cup carrots, peeled, rough chop
  • 1/2 cup celery, rough chop
  • 1 tbsp fresh garlic, chopped
  • 2 small fresh thyme sprigs
  • 1 medium fresh rosemary sprig
  • 1 cup dry sherry
  • 2 cups low-sodium chicken stock

Directions

  • Take short ribs out of the refrigerator at least 1 hour prior to cooking. Generously season on all sides with Kosher salt and fresh ground black pepper.
  • Place a medium size Dutch oven or enameled cast iron pan over medium high heat. Add canola oil. When very hot, add the ribs and thoroughly brown on all sides. Do not crowd and be sure to get a good sear on them. Remove ribs to a plate. Discard most of the oil in the pan.
  • Add 2 tbsp of olive oil the the onions, carrots, and celery. Season lightly with salt and pepper. Sauté for about 10 minutes without browning. Add the garlic, stir, and cook for about 30 seconds longer.
  • Add 1cup of sherry and the fresh herbs. Bring to simmer and cook, reducing the sherry, for about 5 minutes. Remove the vegetables, herbs, and liquid to a bow, set aside.
  • Return the browned ribs to the pan. Pour the vegetables and liquid over the ribs. Distribute the vegetables evenly over the top of the meat and sides. Bring to a boil. Turn off heat, cover, and place in 325 degree oven for about 2 hours. Uncover, raise heat to 350, and continue to cook for another 1 hour. Keep checking to make sure the liquid does not totally cook off. Add more water if neccessary.

Shrimp Scampi alla Risotto

My take on a couple of iconic bistro dishes: Risotto and Shrimp Scampi. It’s relatively easy to make (and clean up). This recipe is for an appetizer portion for 2-3 people. Above all, take your time with the Risotto ((don’t walk away!)…and, don’t be tempted to add cream. The creaminess in classic Risotto comes from using starchy Arborio rice. Be sure to taste and season when necessary. Don’t let risotto dry out. Don’t overlook the shrimp, they cook quickly.

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups low-sodium chicken stock
  • 2 tbsp unsalted butter
  • 1/4 cup shallots, minced
  • 1 cup Arborio rice
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine (I use Chardonnay)
  • 3 tbsp grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
  • Kosher salt & fresh ground white pepper
  • 1/2 pound large shrimp (16-20 count)
  • 1 tsp of seasoning (like Lawry’s), I use my own salt-free mix
  • 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tbsp unsalted butter
  • Crushed red pepper flakes.
  • Kosher salt and white pepper to taste
  • 2 tbsp flat-leaf parsley, chopped

To prepare the Risotto

  • In a 2-qt saucepan, bring chicken stock to a simmer, keep hot over low heat.
  • In another 2-qt saucepan, melt 1 tbsp of the butter over medium heat. Add the shallots and cook, stirring, until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the rice and stir to coat with the butter and shallots. Add the wine, cook stirring for a few minutes to reduce a little. Add the hot chicken stock about 2 ounces at a time, stirring constantly until mostly absorbed. Repeat this until all the stock is gone, always stirring. Cook until the risotto is done al dente, about 20-30 minutes. Add more liquid (stock or water) to keep risotto creamy. Take off the heat. Add 1 tbsp butter and the Parmesan cheese and stir. Taste and season with salt and pepper if necessary. Serve immediately or cover and keep warm.

To prepare the Scampi

  • Make sure the shrimp is dry. Season with seasoning mix.
  • Put 1 tbsp olive oil, 1 tbsp unsalted butter, and a sprinkle of crushed pepper flakes in a 10-inch sauté pan over medium heat. Add the shrimp, spreaded out evenly. Cook for about 1 1/2 minutes then turn. Cook for another 1 minute. Add the garlic for 30 seconds. Add the wine and the lemon juice. Bring to a simmer, turn off the heat. Season with salt and pepper if necessary. Sprinkle with chopped parsley.
  • Serve several shrimp over plated risotto. Drizzle with butter and garlic from pan.
  • Serve with crusty garlic bread.

Have everything prepped and ready to go before starting…mis en place!

12-Layer Simon and Garfunkle Au Gratin Potatoes


Ask most cooks and they will agree the differences between Au Gratin and Scalloped Potatoes are that Scalloped has sliced onions and no cheese…Au Gratin has cheese but no onions. This one uses an infused cream mixture that adds a ton of that onion/herb flavor we love without the chunks of veggies. Be sure to let sit for a while after removing from oven. This can be prepared ahead of time and cooked later, just cover and keep refrigerated.

Ingredients:

  • About 4 cups of peeled, thinly sliced (1/8 inch) Yukon Gold potatoes
  • Kosher salt
  • Ground white pepper (use black pepper if desired)
  • 1 tsp chopped fresh garlic
  • 1 tbsp sliced shallots
  • 1 small leek, white and light green parts only, rough chop (about 1 cup)
  • 1 tsp fresh chopped sage
  • 1 tsp fresh chopped rosemary leaves, or 1 small sprig
  • 1 tsp fresh chopped thyme, or 1 small sprig
  • 1 tbsp fresh chopped parsley or 2 sprigs
  • 1 cup half and half
  • 1/4 cup cream
  • 1/2 stick unsalted butter, very cold, cut into 1/4 tbsp cubes
  • 1/2 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese
  • 1/2 cup shredded Gruyere cheese or a good Swiss
  • 2 tbsp grated Parmesan cheese

Directions:

  • Preheat oven to 375F.
  • In a small sauce pan, heat the half and half and cream to a low simmer. Add the rosemary, thyme, parsley, garlic, shallot, leek, sage). Turn off the heat and cover pan. Let it sit and steep for 20 minutes.
  • Strain cream/herb mixture through a fine strainer, discard herbs and vegetables. Season with salt and white pepper.
  • Spray the bottom of a 8×8 inch baking dish with cooking spray.
  • Drain potato slices if kept in water. Dry them by spreading the slices on a clean dry kitchen towel.
  • Place 2 layers of potato slices one at a time, shingled, to cover bottom of pan.
  • Pour a few tablespoons of the cream mixture over the potatoes, season lightly with salt and pepper.
  • Repeat layers of potatoes (2 at a time), salt and pepper, and cream mixture until all of the potato slices are used.
  • Cover the pan tightly with foil and bake for 45 minutes at 375F.
  • After 45 minutes, remove the foil and top potatoes evenly with butter cubes and cheeses. Return to the oven and bake an additional 20 minutes or until cheese is melted and beginning to brown.
  • Garnish with chopped parsley and chopped chives. Let sit for at least 20 minutes to cool slightly and set up.
  • Serve warmish.

Chicken Mushroom Wild Rice Soup

I have managed to clone a favorite of mine from a well known soup/sandwich place, although this version is a little thinner and lighter. A full meal kind of soup that is nice and satisfying. It’s not real spicy, leaving it open for you to add chiles or other spicy ingredients. Sometimes I add a little sesame oil and soy sauce at finish for a bit of Asian influence.

Ingredients:

  • 8 – chicken wing segments (drumettes and wing segments)
  • 1 medium white onion, cut ends off, peeled, cut in half
  • 2 – fresh parsley sprigs
  • 1 – rosemary sprig
  • 1 – fresh thyme sprig
  • 1 – large garlic clove, smashed, peeled
  • 1 – bay leaf
  • 1/4 cup dry Sherry
  • 1 – cup carrots, peeled, 1/2 inch dice
  • 1 – cup celery, 1/2 inch dice
  • Kosher salt and white pepper
  • 1/2 cup wild rice mix (basmati brown rice, wild rice)
  • 1 tbsp unsalted butter
  • 1 – cup assorted mushrooms of choice (white and shiitake in this version), sliced
  • 1 – cup chicken stock or broth, cooled
  • 1 tbsp corn starch
  • 2 – tbsp corn starch
  • 1/2 cup cream

Directions

  • In a medium sauce pan over medium-high heat, add 5 cups of water. Add the wings. Bring to a simmer, skimming off any foam that forms on the surface, for about 5 minutes.
  • Place the onion, parsley sprigs, rosemary sprig, thyme sprig, garlic clove, bay leaf in a cheese cloth and tie the end (make a garni). Add to the pan. Add the sherry. Reduce heat to maintain a gentle simmer, and cook, uncovered, for about 20 minutes.
  • Add the carrots and celery and continue to simmer, uncovered, about 40 minutes longer.
  • Put the 1/2 cup wild rice mix in a small sauce pan. Add 1 cup water and 1 tbsp unsalted butter. Bring to a simmer, cover, and cook on low for 25 minutes or until rice is done al dente.
  • Remove and discard the garni. Remove the wings and place in the refrigerator to cool.
  • Add the sliced mushrooms and simmer, covered, for 20 minutes.
  • Add the cream, stir, and keep soup warm.
  • Mix 2 tbsp of corn starch with the 1 cup of cooled chicken stock. Bring the soup to a simmer and add to soup, stirring. Cook until slightly thickened.
  • Remove meat from cooled wings, add to soup.
  • At this point, sometimes I add 1 tsp of sesame oil and 1 tsp of soy sauce to give it a different (Asian) flavor dimension.
  • Taste again, reseason if necessary.
  • Garnish with fresh chopped flat leaf parsley and chopped chives if desired.

Caramelized Leek and Mushroom Bisque

The key to a deeper, richer flavor is taking the time to slowly caramelized the leeks and mushrooms.

Ingredients:

  • 2 tbsp unsalted butter
  • 2 cups of leeks, white and light green parts only, 1/2 inch dice
  • 1 tsp brown sugar
  • 2 cups sliced white mushrooms
  • 1 tsp fresh thyme, chopped
  • 1/4 tsp cumin seeds
  • 1/8 tsp fennel seeds
  • Kosher salt and white pepper
  • 1/4 cup dry Sherry
  • 2 cups chicken stock, low sodium
  • 1/2 cup cream
  • 1/4 sourdough baguette, sliced in 1/4 inch slices
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tsp minced garlic
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • Fresh chives, chopped

Directions:

  1. Melt butter in a medium pot on medium. Add leeks and brown sugar and cook, stirring, for 2 minutes. Reduce heat to low, and cook, stirring often for about 10 minutes or until the leeks begin to caramelize. Add mushrooms, cumin seeds, fennel seeds, and fresh thyme and continue to cook, covered, for 20 minutes. Uncover, increase heat to medium. Add sherry. Cook, stirring often for about 10 minutes or until most of the liquids is gone and the mixture starts to brown.
  2. Stir in stock and bring to a simmer, scraping up any brown bits stuck to the pot. Lower heat. Simmer, covered, for about 20 minutes. Use an immersion blender or a blender and blend until smooth. Add cream, stir and reheat. Check seasoning.
  3. For the croutons – Preheat oven to 400F. Arrange baguette slices on a sheet pan. Mix olive oil and minced garlic in a small bowl. Brush the mixture on the bread sliced. Sprinkle Parmesan cheese over the bread slices. Bake for about 5 minutes or until edges are brown.
  4. Taste and season the bisque if necessary. Ladle into a medium bowl, sprinkle with fresh chopped chives, add the croutons. Enjoy!

Scratch Brownies

Here’s a scratch Brownie recipe I’ve used many times. It’s easy to make and always comes out good. It’s the chewy kind versus the “cake” kind.

Ingredients:

1/2 cup melted butter

1 cup granulated sugar

2 eggs

1 tsp vanilla extract

1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa

1/2 cup flour

1/4 tsp salt

1/4 tsp baking powder

1/2 cup of semi-sweet chocolate chips

Directions:

Mix all ingredients well in a medium bowl.  Top with the chocolate chips. Butter and flour a 8 inch square baking dish. Bake at 350F for approximately 25 minutes. Check with a toothpick to be sure it’s done. Cool. Eat. Note: To make the brownies a bit more cake-like, add an extra egg, 1/4 tsp baking soda, and another 1/4 cup of flour.

My Upcoming 50th H.S. Reunion

At this point in time, a little more than a year until my 50th reunion, I am still up in the air regarding whether or not I will attend. Besides distance and ongoing health issues, there are other underlying reasons why I probably won’t attend.

To put it bluntly, my time in high school was not the joyous coming of age time that it seemed to be for others.

I know there are other student who feel the same way as evidenced by the relatively small turnouts at the previous reunions (20th, 35th, 40th)…perhaps a 150 or so (including spouses) at the 40th from a school that had about 900 graduates that year. I went to all three of these reunions but I am convinced there were hundreds of other students (still living within shouting distance of the venue) who didn’t attend. Why? I can only guess. Simple apathy. Anxiety. Maybe for reasons similar to what I will try to convey here.

How about this? The high school exerience simply wasn’t the Happy Days time that I am sure some people had. In fact I know they experienced it that way from reading the posts on the reunion Facebook page. “It was the best years of my life!” is what they say.

Don’t get me wrong, I relish the memories of growing up where I did (the west San Fernando Valley), I loved it and still think about to this day. I had a blast, even during high school years. But as far as being in school, not so much.

For whatever reason, I was not a part of the so-called “social scene” in high school. Why? I’m not sure. Shyness. Insecurity. Perception. It was’t until some years later and speaking to other students (not good friends just casual acquaintances) that I realized I wasn’t alone in my feelings. In fact, with a class that large, most were probably just like me…standing on the sidelines watching the “in-crowd” do their things. And those things were student government, clubs, elected officers, committees for this and that, yearbook staff, sports teams, cheering squads, and so on. Sure, you could say, “OK, so you had the same opportunity we all had, why didn’t you sign up for these things or go out for the team or some other “tryout”. Let’s face it, that social clique was a hard nut to crack. Most people were nice, accommodating kids…others were quite cruel and critical.

This social exclusivity did show itself (at least for me) at the reunions. I remember at the 35th…after a couple of cocktails I got the courage to talk to some people I always wanted to know better. Some of the encounters went like this, “Hi, I’m Jim Hansen…how’s it going?” With a puzzled look on their face, “Hmmm…nope…don’t remember you!” Remember that rich-kid pledge party scene in Animal House? Not far from the truth.

Despite all that, I have been active on the recent reunion page, and, over the months and years have developed a few “friendships” with people who didn’t give me the time of day in high school. Things change when we grow up. Despite my shyness in school, I got into radio broadcasting for many years. In fact, when I went into restaurant management/training, I came to like, even relish public speaking!

Like I said, despite my whining about being shy or not being a part of the in-crowd, I still went to the reunions. And, I still might attend the 50th.

There are some who might say, “At $150 a pop…why should I go? I only had a couple friends who, by the way, are not close any longer?” That’s the case with me. Except I have found a few new friends through Facebook that I would be obliged and anxious to meet in person! And I think the feeling is mutual.

Still, it is a bit discouraging to know that out of 900 or so students in our class, only about 100 have registered on the reunion website. At this point, of those registered I have no idea how many have actually committed to going. I don’t know what the national average is, but that seems low. Why? Couldn’t tell you. Probably apathy and some of the points I brought up here. I could also submit that at this age, a lot of people are not comfortable with the way they’ve aged. That’s a reality that we all bear to some extent. But the key word is “all”. Sure, there are a small handful who have weathered the ravages of time better than most, but that’s rare. We are what we are…old folks, most of whom couldn’t get into to their senior sweater in a million years! So what! It’s just the way it is. I personally am comfortable with the way my 66 year old self looks, but that’s just me.

I appreciate all the hard work our reunion committee has been doing. They’ve generated a lot interest, especially in reaching out and finding “lost” students. There is more than a year to go, a lot could happen between now and then. I hope at least several hundred can attend. Whether or not one of those will be me, I can’t tell you today.

If anyone reading this can relate, please also take this away. If you can attend the 50th reunion in October 2017, I encourage you to do it. There are many others just like you (and me) out there. Compared to when we were in high school, most people will not judge you…for any reason. Most of us have matured beyond that. I know I have.

If you choose to attend, go without any expectations except to have a good time. Don’t forget to bring your prescriptions, an address book of some type, and your party hat. And yes, most people “bail out” pretty early…dancing ’till midnight doesn’t happen often at a 50 year reunion!

Football…it’s not over ’till it’s over.

th97CA7442I apologize to the late baseball legend Yogi Berra for borrowing one of his iconic sayings to relate to this game called football. Not to be confused with what the rest of the world generally refers to as football (soccer). No, this is about of OUR football…the NFL, the oblong ball, the helmets, the pads, the game where the players can carry the ball and legally kick other player’s asses into submission. The true contact sport.

Yes, the regular season of NFL football is over, not to say the season season is over by any means. It’s time for the playoffs. And at a time when I can truthfully say that I’ve watched more football this season than the last ten seasons combined…I’m kind of, somewhat interested in the playoff games.

I am not a sports fan by any stretch of the imagination. Basketball? Meh. Baseball? Fair weather fan. Soccer? You jest mon frere! At times I lamely followed the progress, or lack thereof this season, of the San Francisco 49ers. Raised in L.A. in the 50’s and 60’s everyone loved the Rams, the Dodgers, and the UCLA basketball and football dynasties. UCLA stood for University of California at Lou Alcindor (borrowing from an old Bob Hope joke). Living in a big city, I went to games…I was a fan in my teens! But recently, not so much. Why? Too much money involved, too much drama, too much hype, too much whining, too many rules…no more sports heroes to look up to. I saw Roman Gabriel at a Bob Hope USO show in 1972 in the Philippines and looked forward to his appearance more than seeing Joey Heatherton who was in the same show! Who? Roman Gabriel was quarterback of the Los Angeles Rams for eleven seasons from ’62 to ’72. Oh, and for the youngsters, who is Lou Alcindor? Kareem Abdul Jabbar.

So, which NFL teams(s) are still in the race? Couldn’t tell you at the time of this writing (the Monday after the last regular Sunday). There are 12 hopefuls right now. I do know the 49ers are NOT. I think the Seattle Seahawks ARE. I mention the Seahawks because my kids live in Washington and Jen is a fervent fan. Sorry Raiders fans, I am NOT. I will not explain why for fear of being beaten up! ‘Nuff said?

Super Bowl 50 is still 5 weeks away, February 7th in Santa Clara, just 80 miles away. I’m not sure there are any seats still available, probably not…I wouldn’t go anyway. Again, like I said, I’m not a sports fan. Though if someone handed me a ticket to the Super Bowl that included a free ride, I would certainly attend. Again, I’m not a sports fan – being a fan would be a requirement to withstand bay area traffic even to attend that event.

So this leaves me in the same boat as most of the rest of us. We’re Super Bowl party fans. I would drive across my town to attend a Super Bowl party. It’s unlikely that will happen though. I will not explain for fear of losing what friends we do have left…and being beaten up! And that leaves Loretta and I with the usual Super Bowl scenario: hunkered down at home alone watching the game on and off (depending on what teams are in it and how boring the game is). Regarding halftime entertainment – Beyoncé? Coldplay? I’d rather be watching a soccer game (the other football)! The Superbowl commercials – not we’re getting somewhere. These advertising splurges are the highlight of Superbowl now. Some of these are reason enough to watch this most-watched spectacle. The Budweiser Clydesdales/Golden Retriever puppies…sure to make a showing again this time around.

I haven’t started planning my Superbowl-watching snackfest yet. Afterall, it’s still 5 weeks away. Although I am more enthusiastic about what kind of “Superbowl food” we’ll be having than the actual game itself. Something different? Asian Hot Wings? Armenian Meatballs? Shepherds Pie on a Stick? Perhaps just a bowl of my famous chili with Chili Cheese Fritos crumbled on top. Whatever we decide to snack on during Superbowl 50, it promising to be more satisfying that any of the games in recent history. They (the games) have been just plain boring. To quote many play-by-play guys during the last few games this weekend, “What are they (the coaches) thinking? Go for it! Do something exciting, creative, innovative, dangerous! There is no tomorrow! There is no Vince Lombardi trophy for 2nd place!” The Hail Mary pass should be tried early on in these games, not just with 4 seconds left! Go for it!

Today (Monday, January 4th) I plan to actually read a few playoff-related articles. I’m going to “invest” a little in post-regular-season NFL blather attempting to decipher the “if this team does this then that team will have a chance at yada-yada” diatribes. At this point in the festivities it’s pretty much all-or-nothing, right? Win the game or go home? What another team does or doesn’t do won’t affect YOUR team’s future and being in the Superbowl? They gotta win! Right?

Like I said, I am NOT a sports fan. But I am now a post-season interested party. That’s the most enthusiasm I can muster – the most in the last ten years or so anyway!

 

 

New Years

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It’s been a good ten years or so since I did anything for or participated in any kind of New Years party, get together, or soire of any type. Perhaps not unusual for us older folk, so-called partying is just not something I do any longer. I mean the kind of partying that begins and ends with consuming mass quantities of alcohol punctuated with the serving of decadent, not-good-for-you food, silly party games, and capped off with the dreaded penance for such behavior…the hangover.

During the years where I worked as restaurant manager we had a term for New Years that referred to people’s drinking behavior. New Years eve was called “amateur night”. Simply put, it’s where normally tea-totaling adults, who don’t really imbibe except in the name of social acceptance, decide to go way beyond their own personal bounds of alcohol consumption, not knowing what the effects of copious amounts of Jaegermeister  will do on top of several glasses of Cabernet Sauvignon, a couple of magaritas, several Jello shots, fourteen hot wings, six ground beef sliders, many hands full of pretzels, Ruffles, mixed nuts, a Kahlua and coffee, and a slice and a half of New York cheesecake. A recipe for not only gastronomic failure but for personality shifts that gave birth to the t-shirt saying, “Instant asshole. Just add alcohol!” By the way, I also bartended at night for a period of time in my early 30s while working full time in radio broadcasting. I was privy to witnessing a lot of party debauchery that seemed somewhat amusing at the time. So, no, I’ve had no desire to work in or be within several miles of that environment for many years.

Now don’t get me wrong. I have put on several New Years eve affairs in my life. One in particular was a black tie dinner party for thirty or so friends about 20 years ago. People seemed less likely to get shit-faced and make fools of themselves in a rented tux or formal cocktail dress! It was very well organized and included designated drivers. Dignified party excess? Perhaps.

Back to this New Years. For the past week, Loretta and I have chatted about what to do New Years eve. We’ve run the gamut conversationally from inviting a hand full of our neighbors within shouting (and walking) distance then settling on one friend of Loretta’s who, it turns out, has to work. Oh well, back to just the two of us! And what this means is this: a quiet evening at home not unlike any other night of the week, early dinner (we’ve discussed fish tacos), a couple drinks, a couple snacks, in bed before midnight, her waking me up at 11:55 to watch the ball drop. No harm, no foul, no exposing ourselves to the dangers of being out and about on New Years eve, no hangover, no mess, no regrets.

I dare say that we are not alone planning to hunker down in our safe harbor in our cozy little home-based boat tied securely to the dock. We only hope every year that none of the bullets that are fired into the air by neighborhood miscreants and fucking derelicts don’t come down through our roof. So far, so good.

I do have New Years resolutions this year. Kind of like divulging what you wish for when blowing out birthday candles or wishing on a shooting star, I won’t go into details save for this one: I plan to be around for New Years day 2017…and beyond. Heck, Episode VIII is supposed to come out that year, can’t leave before that happens!

Hope you have a safe and happy new year.

“Hey…congratulations. You made it!”

I hate my birthdays and I honestly hate it when people say to me, ‘Hey…congratulations. You made it!” It varies from person to person, but that’s the gist of it: recent birthday “greetings” from friends as well as strangers, older and youngsters. You see…I just turned 65.

Yep, I recently turned the big 6 – 5. The Golden Years have just begun for me…or something like that.

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Remember a few of those “important” age “passings”? Probably the first and foremost that comes to my mind is 16. It was and will remain my favorite birthday, for that was the actual day I passed my driver’s test, received my (temporary) license, and drove a car for the first time by myself. It was January 26th, 1966. My Dad and I came back from the DMV, he threw me the keys over the roof of our Teal 1962 Pontiac Bonneville, and I was gone! Of course, I think he tossed a few choice words in my direction as well as a slid behind the steering wheel like, “Be careful”…or ‘Put a dent in it and I’ll kick your ass!”…or some such utterance – I really wasn’t paying much attention at that point. I was driving’! What a feeling it was. An exuberant high point in my life.  Of course, everything else in my life went to shit from that day forward, as life tends to get more cruel after this rite of passage – but that’s neither here nor there right now.

I can’t think of any other birthday that rivals 16, at least for me. For instance turning 18 in 1968. Not a good time to “come of age”.  Remember that little thing called Vietnam…the draft…the Tet offensive, etc. Yeah, turning that age at that time in history was a bit scary.

How about 21? I get to go OUT and drink…legally! Well, yes and no. I had been embibing for a few years by then anyway.  Besides, in the Navy I got stationed in Hawaii, which at that time had a drinking age of 20. So when I landed there (at the age of 20) it was legal for me to drink in public. No 21st birthday drinking debaucery night for me trying to do 21 shots of God knows what followed by the worst hangover of my life. Nope, I kind of missed out on that B-day celebration. Besides, I think I had already had the worst hangover in my life when I was 19.

Backing up a year, my actual 20th birthday was spent in Millington, Tennessee (just outside Memphis) at a huge Naval training base where I smoked hashish for the first time then sitting in front of stereo speakers listening over and over to the first Crosby, Still, and Nash album, “Wow, man. Is ‘Suite: Judy Blue Eyes’ really about Judy Collins…man?”

Turning 30? So what? Although I wasn’t too excited about how my life had gone through the 20’s, I supposed it was some sort of metamorphisizing moment. Now I get to be an adult! And, I now had a child.

My wife at the time tried to have a surprise 40th birthday for me that, despite her good intentions it was one of most frustrating and embarrassing nights of my life…and not because of something stupid I did. It just didn’t come off as planned, let’s put it that way.

My 50th birthday: current wife set up a surprise party that fizzled, i.e., of the dozen or so “surprise guests” (old friends) who had committed to showing up, only one did. It was me, Loretta, my friend and his wife, a black mylar balloon with a silver ’50’ on it, and lots of appetizers we saved and ate for days afterward.

I don’t remember what if anything I did for my 60th. With my lifelong aversion to my own birthdays (save for that 16th), I most likely did nothing special. I probably cooked something for Loretta and I and maybe one dinner guest…one of my preferred things to do on that “special” day.

By the way, my disdain for my birthdays is simple to explain. When my parents stopped making a big deal of it, i.e., throwing me a big party, with lots of friends and presents, birthday hats and decorations, a cake and other goodies, and (in at least one instance) Sheriff John reading my name on his friggin’TV show…fahgedaboutit! For me, that last big birthday party was probably my 10th.  After that, I mostly likely went out to dinner with my family to a restaurant of my choice, got one ‘nice’ present, and a card. That’s OK. By that age, I was too painfully aware of my pre-pubescent shyness, and having anyone pay attention to me or make a big deal of something was not my idea of fun. Remember the scene in The Graduate when Benjamin’s parents made him parade around in his full dress scuba outfit birthday present for the neighbors? Well, my Dad loved to force me into things like that as well. Damn right short of child cruelty if you ask me!

So, when someone says to me of late, “Congratulations. You made it (to 65)”…perhaps my response should be, “Thanks for reminding me. Now I can die with the confidence of knowing that YOU have given me permission. YOU have acknowledged that I have ‘made it‘. YOU have decided that 65 is the bees knees, the age of enlightenment, a time to celebrate the fact that I am officially an old geezer, an old bird, an old fart primed and ready to notch up my curmudgeonly behavior. Or, I could just say, “Thanks”.