Family Friday: Birthday Breakfast and Anchovy Pizza

My birthday was this month. We all have celebration traditions. Mine are Birthday Breakfast and anchovy pizza.

Birthday Breakfast

Birthday Breakfast is a tradition my mother created 67 years ago to offset likely evening obligations my father’s Foreign Service work required of both my parents. Why wait to celebrate with a post-dinner cake when you can blow out candles and eat (coffee) cake at breakfast while wearing a crown?

My Birthday Breakfast table!

All my life, family birthdays have begun with this celebration, except for the year we forgot Birthday Breakfast on my mother’s special day when my sister and I were selfish teens and our father was up to his eyeballs in diplomatic work.Awful us.

Pizza buon viaggio party on my 9th birthday

Why anchovy pizza is on my birthday menu is another story.

In the fall of 1963, when I had begun fourth grade and my father had begun his second two-year tour as Press Attaché in Rome, the US Information Agency in Washington decided they needed him in Bogotá, Colombia. ASAP. We would not be able to take time to see family in Minnesota, but instead go directly to Bogotá after Dad’s briefings in Washington.

My last day of school at the Overseas School of Rome fell on my ninth birthday. My mother brought personal pizzas to my classroom for a combination farewell-and-birthday party. My pizza came loaded with anchovies, a preference I’d developed during our three years in Italy. As I looked around the room, I understood that leaving was our normal. Packing up just the four of us, on to our next lives.

You might assume that pizza would be associated in my heart with sadness, but instead it became a salty touchstone through which I could always connect with my childhood, especially on my birthday.

Time to go for the gusto again

We’re not fast-food eaters, and the pandemic has only reinforced our home cooking norm. However, pizza entered my consciousness again recently, just in time to join another birthday.

A month ago, I closed the door on a fifth grader selling coupon books for her school. It’s the kind of hustle I participated in when our daughter was little, going door-to-door in our upstate New York neighborhood hustling products for the PTA and the Girl Scouts. In fact, as I said, “No, thank you, we don’t buy anything,” I reminded myself of the old crone who turned our daughter away. “We don’t eat cookies.” I’m still furious at her.

“We don’t buy anything.” Wow, that’s a pandemic phrase. We don’t go anywhere. We don’t buy anything. Unless it’s on Amazon. And even then, if it doesn’t fit into the routine inside our bubble, it isn’t happening. We have become entrapped in our survival routine.

I was shocked at my behavior. There was a quick fix. I called the girl’s mother to ask the youngster to come back, and minutes later shelled out twenty-five bucks for a book advertising discount deals at local vendors that we are unlikely to use. But I at least I’m a better neighbor.

Our daughter flipped through the book when she stopped by. ”The pizza place I like is in here,” she said. My husband stays away from tomatoes and spice. “You know, Dad,” our daughter said, “You could have a little from time to time.” And, I reminded my husband, there’s always white pizza, although that doesn’t really match the standards of my Brooklyn-raised honey.

When my birthday came, our daughter and her fiancé surprised us by having delivered to our home two delicious fresh trattoria-style pizzas: one white, and one tomato and anchovies. What a birthday dinner!

Maybe we’ll even use a pizza coupon next time!

How do you celebrate your birthday?

Happy New Year, Birthday Girl!

My “baby sister” was born in Caracas on the final day of the year 1956,  embarassingly perfect timing that allowed our young parents an additional dependent tax deduction. img_8370

As great as that might have been for them, Susie has always had to share her day with New Year’s Eve at the worn out tail end of the Thanksgiving-Christmas holidays. By then, the idea of giving more, and getting more, seems unnecessary. I, on the other hand, landed in mid-November, during the lull between Halloween candy and harvest pumpkins when a wrapped present was a birthday novelty.

Lucky me. Poor Susie.

She was a happy addition to our family.  I do look a little shell-shocked here, and swear I wasn’t really trying to do her in with this lollipop. Nonetheless, we celebrated her two first birthdays with Josefina leading us in Feliz Cumpleaños.

By Susie’s third birthday, everything was different: Instead of the eternal spring of Caracas, we had the damp darkness of Milan, and instead of our garden apartment we had just moved into an upper story apartment a short walk from Dad’s office. Dad had managed to get a couple of mattresses out of the moving crates but everything else was still packed away. Mom drew herself up, determined to find a workaround for what was otherwise a pretty sad occasion. th-1She left Dad in charge of us in the empty apartment and went down to the corner pasticceria, returning with a bundle of tramezzini, small multilayered sandwiches wrapped in white waxy paper and special enough for Birthday Dinner. She pulled three candles out from her purse and Dad lit them. We sang Feliz Cumpleaños (in the language we had spoken with Fina barely two months before) and Susie blew her candles.

The next year, when we’d moved to Bologna, we traveled down the Italian boot to Sicily, where we celebrated Susie’s birthday in the shadow of Mount Etna. Candles weren’t the only things smoking.

Rome was home the next year, and both of us enrolled at the the Overseas School of Rome. Susie’s birthday became a little lonelier: while many kids celebrated their special day in their classroom with cupcakes or individual pizzas, school was not in session and families were away for the holidays, making any kind of party doubtful.  Things were no better at the English School in Bogotá.

When we moved to DC in 1966, winter break was further complicated by the weather: even if friends were home, the snowy roads in the DC suburbs were too treacherous. Susie had an amazing group of friends, but often found herself sitting alone on the one day that was supposed to be all about her.


Our daughter enjoying the Spanish tradition on New Year’s 2018!

Madrid became home in 1971. That New Year’s Eve, we were emancipated teens in Puerta del Sol, popping 12 grapes into our mouths at the stroke of midnight. The tradition was made challenging by the copious amount of alcohol that the two of us — and our friends from  had enjoyed by then. I’d planned on getting us all to our house by one for a belated birthday party for my kid sister. Instead, I stumbled home around three, fell into bed, and awoke with my first hangover. So much for Susie’s birthday.

School breaks became a good thing as time went by. We were both home from college to celebrate the holidays, including Susie’s birthday. When we veered off into our separate adult lives, I lost track of how well year-end celebrations melded with her big day, but she celebrated with a blowout dance party for her 50th. I was there, with bells on.

It is now a dozen years later. I called my sister on New Year’s Eve: she was in Colorado, looking forward to a cross-country skii that afternoon; I was in Florida, and had cross-country skiied in a warm pool that morning. I guess it all averages out. It was a Happy Birthday.006