Next week, my husband, Clif, will be turning 60, and tomorrow we are having a chili party to mark the big occasion. Our daughter Dee is coming from New York, and the South Portland contingent—our daughter Shannon and her husband, Mike—will of course be there. We have also invited some good friends to help us celebrate.

The past two weeks have been a flurry of cleaning. If I were as good a housekeeper as my mother was, then there would have been no need for the flurry of cleaning because everything would have been clean all along. My mother was a legendary cleaner. Once, Mom won the services of a professional cleaner, and when that woman came to do her job, she took one look at my mom’s house and asked, “What am I supposed to clean?” Let’s just say that she would never ask that question in my house.

But I’m happy to say that the house looks pretty good. Still not as good as Mom’s, but not bad. Now, it’s on to the cooking. Yesterday I made a quadruple batch of crackers—the recipe is adapted from the one in Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything Vegetarian—and the crackers came out just the way I like—a dark, golden brown. Into a big tin they went to keep them fresh. I also roasted beets for the salad I’ll be making, which will also include lettuce, roasted almonds, and feta cheese. And I made a simple vinaigrette, using sage, oregano, mint, and rosemary from my garden.

So those things are done. Today is the day for my biggest challenge—the birthday cake. Cakes are not my strong suit, and it probably stems from the fact that I am somewhat indifferent to cake. It’s not that I dislike it, but when it comes to dessert, there are many choices I would make first, with pie being right at the top. (This might also explain why making pie crust is a snap for me.) Somehow, my cakes have a tendency to fall. However, there is one cake I have consistent success with, and, luckily it is one of Clif’s favorites—buttermilk spice cake. As soon as this post is written, I’ll be making that cake, and you can bet I’ll be praying to the cake gods to smile on me so that the cake doesn’t fall. (Quite sensibly, we have a Plan B: a cake from Whole Foods if my cake falls.)

After cake, there is a bit more cleaning, and then getting the ingredients ready for the chili. Then there is the cream cheese olive and rosemary spread to go with the crackers. A busy day!

I hope to get pictures of the food and the party tomorrow. When we have a party, I am usually distracted by my duties as hostess, and I might have my daughter Dee take pictures.

Now, onward to the cake!


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