Marking the Joy of Another Year — How the d’Arabians Do Birthday Season

by in Family, Food Network Chef, January 24th, 2014

Zucchini Muffins with Orange-Maple GlazeIt’s officially birthday season in the d’Arabian household: Two of my daughters, my husband, my brother-in-law and two nephews (who live a few houses away) all have birthdays within a three-week period. (Come to think of it, maybe we just have a big family?)

Birthdays are a celebration of another year — a year filled with loving one another, laughing, good times, tough times and being connected. The candles on the cake remind us that life is in session and we are participating. And the number of candles isn’t the only reminder (“Mom, your cake has so many candles it’s going to catch fire!”). How we celebrate also speaks to the passage of time. It seems like just yesterday we were lighting a “1″ candle on a cupcake that my daughter couldn’t have cared less about and giving her gifts that she lacked the dexterity to open. The princess party years breezed by, although if you had asked me as I stood in line, yet again, at Disney Store for the latest sparkly costume, I was sure they wouldn’t. Last week, a new milestone: our first “real” boy/girl party. Valentine turned 9 and wanted an evening party, including dinner and a dance area on our patio.

While the kids love inviting their friends for a birthday party, our family traditions are even more dear. My husband, Philippe, and I are fairly modest present buyers, but we celebrate the passage of time big. If we don’t stop to celebrate the moments, they’ll be gone before we know it.

Here are some special things we do at our house for birthdays:

1. Birthday Breakfast in Bed: If it’s your birthday in our house, you know to stay in bed until breakfast arrives at your door. The whole family gathers together in the kitchen to decorate a big green plastic tray with flowers, cards, balloons and, of course, breakfast. Nothing starts the day better than your family all reminding you how loved you are. Because birthdays often land on school days, quick breakfasts are the norm (think thawed frozen mini muffins, not the eggs Benedict that I dream of getting on Mother’s Day). Family-favorite recipes: Dutch Baby Puffed Pancake, Fruit and Veggie Muffins (and for a take on the muffins with a simple glaze, Zucchini Mini Muffins with Orange-Maple Glaze) and a Spanish Tortilla.

2. Birthday Dinner: Picking the menu is a long-honored birthday tradition that is worth keeping —so we do. Probably my Potato-Bacon Torte, my take on the Provençal stew daube or my mom’s flank steak (which she made for birthdays when I was growing up) rate as most-requested meals in my house. But we take it one step further and make the dinner conversation a celebration of the person. We go around the table and we all share things we love about the birthday celebrant. Everyone enjoys their 15 minutes, especially when the kind words are coming from siblings.

3. Extended Date: In a family of two working parents and four young girls in a not-so-large house, we live in a constant stream of activity, noise and togetherness. It’s a craziness I wouldn’t trade for anything. Philippe and I decided early on, however, that in addition to family time being a priority, each of our four girls needs her own identity reinforced with regular one-on-one time with each parent. Some easy math tells you that means eight parent-child combinations that need planned alone time. But even a “mini date,” such as a solo trip to get frozen yogurt or walk the dog, reaps huge benefits. On birthdays, though, we go all-out. The birthday girl enjoys an overnight staycation date at a local hotel with Philippe or me. And for about 18 hours, she knows she has the full attention of her mom or dad. The result? Gems and special memories that far exceed those brought on by trinkets or things. The girls return from their extended parent date refreshed and renewed in their sense of self. What better way to celebrate growing up than that?

What are some of the special ways you celebrate birthdays in your house?

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