Celebrating seventy

There were only a few days to recover from our roadtrip vacation, a few long days at work, beforfe the next event arrived. Yesterday Axel turned 70.  We decided some months ago that we would not let pass this opportunity to have a big celebration. We’d have a Hawaiian Luau, mostly because I wanted to have an excuse to make ‘Flaming wieners in pu-pu sauce,’ a recipe out of one of our favorite cookbooks (Square Meals by the Sterns).

There is a chapter on Luau at home, which featured the wiener dish, among other tantalizing recipes. It required a large cabbage, a sterno can, bamboo skewers and tiny wieners. The sterno can is put in the hole carved into the cabbage, the wieners put on bamboo skewers and the cabbage leaves turned to resemble a flower. A pu-pu sauce put next to the cabbage and voila, you have an exotic dish, at least people in the fifties thought so. I unnecessarily multiplied the recipe by four: a lot of cabages and a lot of wieners. Our friend M was getting pretty good at ‘roasting’ the wieners over the sterno fire.

Fatou, our amazing Senegalese caterer friend and animatrice-par-excellence went all out with several Hawaiian dishes plucked from the internet (Hawaiian macaroni, coconut crusted lime shrimp, Char Sui chicken skewers and kimchi that will last us until the middle of the winter). Tessa did her fair share of cooking and prepared Okinawa sweet potatoes, sweet rolls, and three macademia tortes. Tessa did most of the party planning – something at which she is very good, temporarily interrupting her own wedding planning.

The square meals cookbook chapter on Luau’s at home was also the inspiration for our offerings of Hawaiian cocktails: Trader Vic’s Babalu, Leilani Grass Hut, Hawaiian punch (the real thing) and Pineapple drops. We needed someone to mix those complicated drinks and Tessa found a friend with a good sense of humor and a willingness to learn. He got some help from another guest and the duo stayed behind the bar which was Axel’s upside down lobster boat, mixing and pouring for the 60 or so guests who joined us in the celebration.

Tessa had organized Hawaiian leis by color (“Get Ley’d”) , depending on which of the preceding 7 decades the guests had met the birthday boy. The yellow leis were for the people who knew Axel (then Richard) the longest, meteing him for this first time between 1946 and 1966. They sat in a circle most of the night, until the mosquitoes chased them home, recognizable by their leis, trading old stories.

With Sita and Jim the musicians, and me the poet, we were able to organize a singalong describing each decade of Axel’s life in a few lines. We printed 30 sheets and invited everyone to, if not sing, then at least read along. It was a formidable team effort of those nearest and dearest to Axel that brought him successfully to tears.

And now we are in the after party mode. Everything is cleaned up and the enormous amounts of leftover food distributed (for Tessa, for Sita and for MSH). There is enough booze to last us through the summer; not just what we bought but also what Axel received as gifts. When people get older and should stop drinking, booze appears to be the default gift. We will be good for a awhile in the hard liquor department, especially rum. I see many dark-and-stormies in our future.

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