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A Birthday Dinner to Remember (by Jennifer Davis)

by bkhoury on February 09, 2012

My kids arrived home from school, took one look at the kitchen and, horrified, gasped, “Mom what happened?” 

I’ve never been the tidiest of cooks so my kids aren’t strangers to the sight of a well-used kitchen, but this scene left them gobsmacked.  Piles of dishes in the sink teetered precariously high above their little blond heads, powdered sugar footprints covered the floor, chocolate frosting dotted the walls while blobs of vanilla frosting covered the countertop.  And that was just dessert—I’m getting ahead of myself.

I should have known that turning my kids into pint-sized epicureans would come back to bite me in the butt.  It all started when the February issue of Bon Appetit arrived in the mail.  My soon-to-be seven year old took one look at the cover, with its tantalizing picture of a perfect piece of fried chicken, and said, “Mom, could you make me that for my birthday dinner?”

I hesitated.  We live in California where the chicken is austere: boneless, skinless, un-sauced and grilled.  Fried chicken was not in my repertoire.  But since I’m not one to back down from a culinary challenge or crush a kid’s dreams on his birthday, I said I’d give it a go.

And since we were on the subject of birthday food, I asked him what kind of cake he wanted.  His eyes lit up, he gestured wildly and began to describe a four-layer confection we later dubbed The Beast.  Just to make sure I was clear on his vision, he excitedly drew me a diagram.

Armed with a magazine, a sketch and a hungry little boy’s dreams, I set out to make a birthday dinner to remember.  It involved buying a cast iron skillet (something I’ve wanted to get for a while anyway), spice rubbing the chicken a day ahead of time so it could luxuriate in its seasoned goodness, and baking the cake layers a few days in advance.  I powered through, envisioning the happy family enjoying the perfect celebratory dinner.

Finally, my son’s birthday rolls around and it’s go time.  I first frost The Beast, completely trashing the kitchen.  As soon as I dig out from that mess, it’s time to start frying chicken.  First the buttermilk dip, then a roll in the flour and finally a bath in the hot peanut oil.  Drippy, sloppy and time-consuming, but fun. 

Triumphant, I gather the family around the dining room table.  I’m proud of the perfectly fried chicken perched on their plates, waiting to be devoured.  Birthday boy picks up the drumstick—which could be the twin of the one on the cover of Bon Appetit—and says, “There’s a bone in here?  Gross.  I’m not eating that.”  Damn that boneless, skinless California cuisine. 

Any of the other 364 days of the year would have seen a battle, but we weren’t in the mood to cajole a kid into eating his birthday dinner.  Besides, it meant there was more for us – the chicken was fantastic.  Here’s the recipe if you want to try it and your kids aren’t afraid of meat with bones: http://www.bonappetit.com/recipes/2012/02/skillet-fried-chicken

The Beast saved the day and filled our kids’ bellies.  You simply can’t go wrong with that much butter and sugar, especially when it’s topped with “wipp creem” and a “chary.” 

Despite the effort, the mess and the epic failure to get the birthday boy to eat fried chicken, I still stand firm in my belief that celebration dinners are an important part of family life.  I also smile, knowing that someday my son will offer to make me a birthday dinner, and with devilish wink, I’ll request fried chicken – payback’s a witch.

To see the elaborate cake diagram check out our Facebook page!

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