Today’s celebration starts where all good things start: The Ottoman Empire. That’s the era from which Baklava comes from and where it was honed in the imperial kitchens of the Topkapı Palace in Istanbul, Turkey (where all the sultans would chill). That would put this dessert’s origins in the 14th century – so a long tradition of good eating. It kind of makes sense too because this would be a great treat for alongside your Turkish coffee. Today, baklava seems to be relegated to the counters of Greek pizza places as a last minute sweet to pick up with your pizza. It’s usually sitting there underneath a plastic display case. It’s almost obligatory to be there, although I can’t recall ever buying it.
For my inspiration I turned to the epitome of Ottoman and southeastern European culture: Ree Drummond, the Pioneer Woman. Nothing reflects the culture of Turkey more than the lady who cooks for her cattle farmers in Oklahoma. Actually, I just like using her recipes because they are usually easy to follow, well explained and taste great. That’s all I needed. She had a recipe for baklava that looked about as easy as any other, so that’s where I turned. You start by laying out buttered sheets of phyllo dough in a pan, then you rotate in layers of chopped walnuts and cinnamon, cover with more phyllo dough and repeat. It’s kind of like a walnut lasagna. After you bake it for about 45 minutes, you pour a syrupy concoction made from butter, sugar, vanilla and honey over the top and let it soak in. It uses a lot of honey and sadly, this used up the last of the special Elann and Rachel honey that was a favor from one of the summer’s best weddings. We can report that every drop went too good use, and to end up atop the baklava was a great way to share its final bounty. I must admit, it came out looking pretty fantastic.
I don’t think I’ve ever had baklava before. It always looked like something that scared me. I never knew it was layered with nuts – it looked like some weird meat product to me, like a ground beef pastry. But this stuff is good! I know why – because it’s dough with butter and nuts and soaked in syrup – that’s gotta be good. But it was a delightful surprise. I had a piece to try before we were heading over to Cherie’s house and I had to sit down for a second because it was so good. When Lola tried, she thought the same thing. I was able to share this too, and the reviews came in as “slammin” reviews from both Cherie and Becky. I think we have a hit on our hand. I am looking forward to more, and maybe even trying more Turkish delights, like Turkish Delight.
We were going to Cherie and Pete’s to celebrate Calix’s first birthday which has significance to this quest because today was also World Prematurity Day, a day to raise awareness of preterm birth and the concerns of preterm babies and their families worldwide. Calix was a preterm baby born at week 20, a full two months before he was scheduled to arrive. What a joy it was to celebrate his smily face that we have loved for a whole year now. Last year at this time was some scary shit. Not just for Calix, but for Cherie too who was also facing some health issues as well. Both in the hospital, Pete trying to keep the other kids calm and happy. Everyone worried and scared. Calix ended up being in the hospital for over two months, much of it in an incubator. It was so sad to see him there with all these monitors, medicines and equipment hooked up to him, watching his every breath. But that’s where we all fell in love with him too. He was a fighter. Lola and I snuck in to see him on a few occasions and I remember seeing him in his little crib, still fighting through the day, Lola’s hands gently rubbing his tiny head. Lola would sing him Christmas carols and just tell him, ever so peacefully and lovingly, to just keep doing your jobs. He did. That’s what Calix does.
What a thrill it is to celebrate this little guy. He’s still little and he’s always fighting, but he is as sweet of a little boy as could be. He has the greatest smile you’ve ever seen and every time his legs kick in excitement, it’s such a joy. He looks up at you with such puzzlement and wonder. It fills your heart. Happy birthday Calix. Thank you for being in our lives and for being such a little bundle of joy. We look forward to celebrating every day with you. Now that is a noble endeavor.
Next Up: National Vichyssoise Day