Last month I let two important events pass by unmentioned: Jyoti's birthday and, a few weeks later, Mark's birthday. I planned blowout dinner parties on both occasions, no small amount of work but that's because I have pretty high standards for birthday parties. The thing I'm going for is the tell, that look of happiness where your loved one is like, WHAT I never expected this to be so awesome! It is tricky, but it can be done. Good company is key. Good food is less critical than the company, but by no means unimportant. But the main thing that you have to be wary about is that some people's expectations can be unreasonably high about their birthdays. This is why it can be a good idea to keep the details hazy. Under-promise, over-deliver, some might say.
We let Jyoti think we were taking her out for dinner or whatever, no big deal. Then we surprised her with a long table decorated with flowers and a special birthday menu. That girl was so happy! And she was even happier to be eating gussied up queso dip (thanks to Homesick Texan, we were able to bypass the traditional processed cheese) and Paloma cocktails with a bunch of her favorite people. For Mark's party, the centerpiece was fried chicken and champagne cocktails. My dearest husband loves fried chicken, but the aftermath is so disgusting -- oh hi, oil on every surface of the kitchen! -- that I like to save it for special occasions. This was one, obviously. It was a very good night.
Every party needs a special cocktail and these were excellent. I'd like to remember them, so here we go.
A classic. Fun to drink, easy enough to delegate to a guest to make while you do your cooking, and tasty. We used sparkling rosé from Washington state, which was good enough to drink on its own but even better in this reincarnation. I love fried chicken with champagne cocktails so, so much, if only for the juxtaposition between drinking from crystal champagne flutes and eating fried chicken with your hands.
Simple syrup (or a sugar cube)
Lemon peel, for garnish
Add a teaspoon (or two) of simple syrup to the bottom of a champagne flute, plus 1-2 drops of Angostura bitters. Fill to the top with champagne and garnish with a long piece of lemon peel.
Palomas are for people who like the idea of taming the bite of a Margarita with grapefruit juice and sparkling water. Stick to a 100% agave tequila here, but this isn't the place for a premium brand since the flavor will be diluted.
2 ounces silver tequila
3/4 ounce fresh lime juice
1/2 ounce simple syrup
2 ounces grapefruit juice (freshly squeezed is ideal, but I used good quality Simply Grapefruit juice for convenience)
Chilled sparkling water, for topping
Stir together tequila, lime juice, simple syrup, grapefruit juice with ice in a cocktail shaker. Pour into a Collins glass. Top with sparkling water, as much or as little as you like. Garnish with a lime wedge.
Note: You can squeeze the lime juice in advance, but not more than 6-8 hours in advance or it will become bitter. I made a pitcher 1 hour in advance by combining everything but the sparkling water and lime wedges in a pitcher, and chilling until the party.