You may or may not be aware that it's H1's birthday month. More likely than not you do, in fact, know that, as I've mentioned it quite a few times over the last few weeks. I figure he only turns 30 once, and I want to make sure his birthday (birthmonth, really) is the total funtravaganza he deserves. It was in this spirit that I organised a surprise afternoon tea for H1, me, and a couple of our closest friends on Sunday. My mum and dad had given me some money and asked me to do something nice for H1 for his birthday with it. Their suggestion was a generous cheese and wine spread, but cheese and wine tastes best when it's eaten on our terrace. It's not terrace-eating weather yet, so I embraced the English side of me (and of the weather) and started my surprise planning*.
With our friends on board, and under strict orders not to mention what we were up to, I wrote up a menu and spent the week beforehand picking up all the ingredients I would need, then hiding them in the fridge, freezer, and pantry as best I could. I've had easier jobs. This is our kitchen:
That whole photo's not our kitchen, by the way. Only the bit on the right. That tiny, weeny little space - that's all of it.
Thanks to the size of the kitchen, I was less concerned with cooking everything than I was about hiding it. I'm lucky in that H1 goes cycling every Sunday morning, and rides ridiculous amounts of miles. I'm also lucky in that he's very good at letting me know when he'll be back. Waving merrily goodbye to him at 8am, I listened until I heard the front door click and then raced into action. I had five hours.
I was planning to make afternoon tea classics - little sandwiches, croissants, and scones - as well as a birthday cake. Because it was an afternoon tea for a man, though, and afternoon tea really seems like more of a feminine thing, I wanted to make it as manly and H1-appropriate as possible. Earlier in the week I had googled one of his favourite sandwiches**, thinking I could get an ingredient list that I could use to create something similar. Instead, I found something even better - a bunch of people who had tried to recreate the carrot chutney in their own homes, and had blogged about it. It always amazes me what you come across on the internet. Logic would dictate that I wouldn't be the only one in the world keen to make this carrot chutney, but I was still pleasantly surprised how easy my job had just become.
I used this recipe, cutting down the quantities by 2/3rds because I didn't want leftovers***, and taking her recommendations by reducing the vinegar and using white sugar. I also used sriracha instead of chilli. It was perfect - and made into sandwiches with Wensleydale cheese, made H1 very, very happy.
I also 'made' ham and cheese mini croissants, then carefully hid these and the sandwiches in the back of the freezer, carefully positioned so that if H1 came home and grabbed ice, bread, or the coolpack for his back, he wouldn't see or disturb them. Had he come home and grabbed chicken, sausages, or ginger, the game would have been up - but it was a risk I had to take.
The hardest thing to make was the cake, mainly because it took so much time. I used an Edmonds**** cookbook recipe for butter cake, and made two, which I stuck together with raspberry jam, then iced with white chocolate icing. To man it up, I added moustache candles, because what's more manly than a moustache?
The cake was also the hardest thing to hide, thanks to there being no storage space in our house, and H1 being dreadfully unpredictable when he comes home from cycling. He could have gone into any of the cupboards or spaces I considered. In the end, I wrapped it up very, very well with tinfoil*****, slid it into a plastic bag, and hid it in my wardrobe amongst my handbags. This is literally the only place in our apartment that has no cycling paraphernalia in it. It's lucky I have as many handbags as I do, to aid in the hiding.
The wine, beer, and tea were hidden in plain sight, because we almost always have those three things in our apartment. I also didn't bother to hide the scones, as making scones on a Sunday is not completely out of the norm for me. I even let him have one ahead of time, to really throw him off the scent.
We have lots of clocks in our home. I was very, very aware of the time throughout this process.
Everything was made, cooled, and hidden away with about 20 minutes to spare. I cleaned everything, hoping H1 wouldn't notice how suspiciously clean everything was******, opened the door, and lit a scented candle to try to minimise the vanilla baking smells. I texted myself (you can do that!) a couple of times, then told H1 a friend was dropping by to pick up a book, so he wouldn't be surprised when the buzzer went. I pulled a decoy book off the shelf. I ate a scone. I waited.
At four exactly, the buzzer went and I let our giggling friends in. H1 was upstairs, and I called him down. "Surprise!" we all yelled as he appeared at the top of the stairs.
He was surprised - but also not. He didn't suspect what was planned, but he thought something was being planned. Apparently he knows me well enough that any slightly odd behaviour on my part is evident. The man is clever. And frustrating.
Still, it was awesome, particularly when I started randomly pulling food out from all over the place. We switched the oven on and threw the sandwiches in there to warm them through and make the cheese all melty, popped the Champagne*******, and put everything on the table, taught our American friends how to properly prepare and eat a scone with jam and cream, and then whiled away the afternoon and the early evening eating, talking, and generally having a total funtravaganza.
*I made it a surprise because that's more fun. It was a decision I would soon regret. I'm not in the habit of throwing surprise parties, and it turns out I'm not all that good at it.
**Marks and Spencer Carrot Chutney with Wensleydale Cheese - not available in the States, obviously and sadly.
***The usual way I treat untested recipes...nobody wants days worth of something awful hanging round their house.
****Good old Edmonds! I try to use NZ or English recipes over US ones whenever possible, because US recipes tend to be far too sweet.
*****Necessary, because I wasn't thrilled about the hygiene aspect. Don't judge - I bet you don't clean your wardrobe as often as you do your kitchen, either.
******Sound familiar? I spent a lot of this process feeling like a teenager again. Unfortunately for me, I wasn't good at lying back then, and I'm not now, either.
*******I offered tea, but Champagne won. Are you surprised? A couple of beers were also consumed. Manly.