My breathtakingly beautiful, heartbreakingly headstrong daughter, Imogen, was turning 4. Her birthday week was upon us (“I can’t believe I’m four today!” she began saying daily a week before the actual date.) We invited a dozen or so of her pals, their siblings and families for the party — which meant somewhere between 40 and 50 guests, large and small.
Many people, when they do parties, plan them from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. — or, if they don’t want to serve lunch, from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. Many of these parties take place at parks, indoor trampoline venues, laser tag facilities and the like.
We like to plan our parties for 4-ish, cook a bunch of food, serve drinks and make it a proper party. In lieu of trampolines or laser guns or out-of-work actresses dressed as Disney characters, we simply set the kids loose on our property, where they cut graceful arcs through the trees on rope swings, chase one another, pet pigs and chickens, invent their own imagination games and generally enjoy themselves old school style.
For events such as these, I will make pizzas or hot dogs and watermelon for the children — in this case, 20 or so of them. For adults, something a little more involved.
This particular day, I kicked things off for the Bigs with a rather long platter of roasted bone marrow, served with some crusty homemade boule, the dough of which had been fermenting in the warm kitchen for day or so. For those guests less familiar with bone as food, I’m sure it was a curious sight. (And how often is it served at a children’s party!?? This may have been a first outside of Portland). The queue that soon formed in front of the bones confirmed that it was not an ill-advised move. (“I’m still dreaming of that marrow,” friend Gigi emailed me several days after the event.)
For the main course, it would be more of livestock that won the West — a Texas-style brisket long smoked and served with juices from the meat and plain white bread to sop up with. (Even the gluten-free in our midst could be spotted covertly sopping.) A spicy, pickly cole slaw provided textural balance and a nice kick.
On Imogen’s second birthday, I made an owl cake for the girl who loved owls. Her third birthday, she requested a pink kitty cake, so a pink (Hello) kitty she got. This year, she wanted an Elsa cake — the tormented heroine from Disney’s “Frozen.” With a precedence already set by a rather extravagant Elsa cake from Whole Foods served at her friend, Phoebe’s birthday a few months before, I considered my options. Not possessing the particular culinary skills necessary for turning heated sugar into an ice castle, I decided on Olaf, the snowman from “Frozen,” instead.
We were fortunate to be visited, after all, by the character Elsa from the film — Imogen’s godfather, Ernie, in Elsa wig and cape (which I’m not sure quite cut the mustard, the birthday girl looked more troubled than pleased). Attempting to save face, Ernie insisted he was actually Salieri from the movie, “Amadeus,” and not Elsa.
It was nearly nine o’clock, the sun a few days beyond the solstice settling into the saddle of mountains to our west. The last kids still awake watched a movie in back, Imogen sleepy soundly from a day full of birthday at the foot of the bed. A few of us grown ups spread out on the deck, draining the last of the wine, watching bats carve erratic arcs in the fading twilight, digesting a Texas-size meal and toasting the Texas-size personality of the little birthday princess who inspired it.