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?

Family Friday: Why We Celebrated Our Wedding Anniversary At the Movies

On our first date in 1977, the man who would become my husband took me to the movies in Manhattan. His choice of films almost guaranteed that it would also be our last date. A Latin from the Bronx intent on sharing his world view with this rather snooty college dropout with a pedigreed past, he selected a prison movie written by a Puerto Rican contemporary, Miguel Piñero, Short Eyes. The merits of the story — Joseph Papp produced it off-Broadway — got lost in the battle between us about how the world really worked. I took the subway home alone to Brooklyn, fuming. My husband tells me that he went home to Queens wondering if he’d ever see me again.

Movies Were Our Way of Celebrating

Our relationship survived that first encounter, and on New Year’s Eve we celebrated communally with other New Yorkers watching Saturday Night Fever. It became the soundtrack as we danced — me, performing and teaching — and sung — he, playing rhythms on anything he could find — into the 80’s. Superman, Tootsie, and other blockbusters helped us usher in the New Year until we married on June 26, 1982. We left the City for the better work-life balance of the State capital, where we raised our daughter. Somewhere along the way, we drifted away from the movies.

Star Wars Movie Poster
Star Wars Poster

I wrote about those years in January, 2020, when we’d just resurrected our movie-watching New Year’s Eve tradition with the Star Wars prequel. The final words on that post were: “May the Force be with you.” Barely two months later, the pandemic had us all in lockdown.

The Pandemic Put an End to That

For months we stayed home, avoiding, even fearing others. We watched movies, but just the two of us, on television. On New Year’s Eve, I gathered with my cousins via Zoom. Later, we watched the ball drop down on a muted Times Square. Communal activity reeked of danger.

The Vaccine Gave Us Back Each Other

Scientists deserve every prize for so quickly collaborating to piece together a remarkably effective, efficient, and, it is now being reported, long-lasting vaccine against the COVID-19 virus. We played the internet lottery game in the early New Year, with our daughter having the lucky fingers on her keyboard, and we were fully vaccinated by the end of February.

My family enjoyed an outdoor dinner at Bimini Twist in West Palm Beach
My family enjoyed an outdoor dinner at Bimini Twist in West Palm Beach

It is baffling to me that more than half of Floridians have not yet taken advantage of this precious and life-saving commodity now that it is so much more easily available.

In the weeks since being vaccinated, we have slowly rejoined the world. We’re up to date with in-person medical appointments. I’m back at the local farm stand, hunting for inspiration in the aisles. In May, we even went out to eat with our daughter, enjoying the taste of food cooked by someone other than us for the first time in 15 months, all while sitting outdoors. Our favorite breakfast place— where we are greeted as family— is back on our weekly menu.

But, up until June 26, we had not been to the movies.

Our 39th Wedding Anniversary Deserved a Celebration

I was halfway through my three-month 2019 hospitalization in Amsterdam on our 37th anniversary on June 26, and my husband brought me flowers. One year later, I was healed, strong, and ready to jump into life on June 26, 2020, but we were deep into pandemic sheltering. Still, my husband bought me flowers for our 38th anniversary.

This year, he brought me flowers, more than ever before. And I decided we needed to really celebrate the 39th year of our marriage at the movies.

“In the Heights” Had it All

Salsa, singing, Spanish, hip-hop male water ballet, fire-escape choreography, the streets of New York City … Jon M. Chu’s film of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s In the Heights had everything we needed to celebrate this year. The theater was about a-third full, enough to hear sighs during tender parts and “ayys” when Marc Anthony made a cameo appearance. We kept our masks on and let the movie pour over us, from the concession stand promo right through the credits.

It was a gas. Our brains were so lit up that we were awake into the wee hours. But worth it. So worth it.

In The Heights Movie water ballet Busby Berkeley
In The Heights Movie water ballet Busby Berkeley