Soooo, What the Fuck We Gonna Do for Birthdays?
It’s Birthday Season, Y’all (July 1 – June 30) and in my family, we have a bunch of them stacked-up right at the beginning. My GF Dawn’s is first, mine is next, and then our nephew is up, and my mom’s really ain’t too long after that. So, what’s my point? My point is WTF?!?
This year — because President Numbnuts literally can’t do anything right — shit is all totally fucked-up, including any and all birthday plans.
In the past, before America turned into a shit-hole country, Dawn and I would take each other out for a fabulous meal on our birthdays. Yay! I would usually contact some of my friends in the food industry and plan something super special with them for Dawn, and then, y’know, she and I would go downtown like normal human beings, and hit it the fuck up! She’d have dranks, I’d have a shitload of coffee, we’d eat until we’re sick, laugh a whole bunch, see people, be people, and basically have a grand ol’ motherfucking time! Wehhhlll… since the world turned upside down… demented fucking orangutan… it seems like none of that shit is ever gonna happen ever again.
And then a man in a mask saved the day…
That’s Chef Josiah McGaughey from Vivian standing there on our front porch. He’s one of my all-time favorite chefs, and Viv’s is our neighborhood jam. We love it. Again, in normal times, we’d be going there as often as we can, and it is always on the short list for special dinners. They were my Restaurant of the Year in 2019 and 2018, and I have said many times in writing and in person, that I think husband and wife Shannon and Josiah McGaughey are doing very special and unique things at Vivian.
As I write this, Vivian is open for limited, socially distanced dining, however Dawn and I are still not going out to eat, so I contacted Chef Josiah a few weeks before her B-day, and asked him if he would do something special for us to enjoy at home. And boy howdy. He sure as fuck did. I had specifically requested one of his whole fish dinners, and he came through big time
We started with dessert (below) which we enjoyed avec vin et café. (That’s right. French words, Betches. Gettin’ fancy up in here.) As a pre-dinner dessert it was just right. Very light, moist, silky, and creamy, not too sweet, with some nice bright raspberries, and a very crispy, buttery thin crust. We split this one piece, and loved it.
(plate by Calamityware)
I had asked Shannon to select a wine for Dawn, and I also purchased one of her cocktail mixers. After dinner I made Dawn a nice cocktail. (yes, I know how to make cocktails) Here’s the wine (below). Dawn said it was the bomb. She loves wine, and while she ain’t a snob about it, she def knows the dif between the good shit and the not-as-good shit. This was the good shit, according to Dawn. Shannon never steers us wrong in the beverage department.
Here’s the Dinner…
Dawn and I are fortunate to have a front porch large enough to eat on, so I set it up all nice and shit, I plated Chef Josiah’s food as best I could, and I even cut some flowers from the yard, and busted out the placemats and serviettes. I’m telling you what. Fancy.
Okay, before we do anything else, the first rule of whole fish is don’t look at the… fuck… you looked the eye already, didn’t you? Well, toughen the fuck up, and deal with it. It’s a dead fish eye, and it’s going to be staring at you the whole time you’re eating its body, so… oh, hey, Vegans, you might want to just stop reading right now.
Anyhooooo, this fucking fish was fabulous! Fresh, local, mountain trout from Sunburst Farms, deboned and stuffed with lots of great herbs and shit, then tied up, grilled and roasted to perfection!
The fish came with something called sauce vierge, made with olive oil, lemon juice, tomato, basil, and capers. It was tangy, acidic, and delicious, and it played very nicely with the trout, which of course has a mild flavor. Chef gave us a bucket of this stuff, and dawn’s been putting on her nightly salads ever since.
(bowl by east fork pottery)
Next up, let me tell you about my new boyfriend. He’s a rectangular block of potatoes and I love him more than anything else in this entire world. His name is Pave. Potato Pave to be exact, and he is thinly sliced and layered. On the menu it says that he has “all the butter,” so if you’ve been wondering where all the butter went, it’s in my boyfriend Pave.
Much like a praying mantis, I ate my boyfriend, and he was fucking delicious. Dawn helped of course, but I could seriously eat an entire building made out of these Potato Pave bricks. And don’t even pretend that you wouldn’t fight people for that top layer of crispy-goodness. I know you. I will fight you right now! All of you! Pave is my boyfriend! And yes those are large pieces of salt on top. Gah.
Next in our line-up of super amazing dishes, was this crazy-fan-tazy version of good old fashioned green bean casserole! Those big broad beans are called Romano beans, and you can’t quite tell from the picture, but they are each about a foot long. They were topped with a house-made cream of mushroom sauce, and crispy fried shallots. This dish was both surprising and familiar, comforting and exciting, whimsical and expertly prepared. I. Loved. It. And more importantly, so did Dawn!
So, those are the dishes. Below you will find pictures of my own ham-fisted attempt at plating Chef Josiah’s elegant creations.
ErP-dEe-DeRp. I pLaTe ReAl GoOdlY. [Sigh.]
Plating is one of the things I really miss about dining out. For real. Plating is part of the art that Chefs bring to our tables. Sometimes I do a better job of plating at home than other times, but this was not one of those times, when I do better, this was one of those other times. What can I say? I did the best that I could with the limited skills that I have.
And a green bean the length of my arm.
As a whole, this entire array of food combined together on one plate had a very high HOLY FUCK THAT’S GOOD factor. Some of the highest ever, in fact.
Here’s a close-up (below) of that sauce vierge SUR VOTRE VISAGE!!! It was very pretty to look at, fresh, and seasonal, and although it was intended for the fish, it went great with everything, and served to tie it all together under it’s own flavor profile, which was punchy without being bossy. It was fucking great.
And thus concludes our dinner, but not our meal!
We had started with dessert, but that doesn’t mean there’s no dessert at the end. (Who do you think you’re talking to?) Now as a mental exercise, I want you to close your eyes, and ask yourself: “What is the greatest thing in the world?” Actually, don’t bother.
IT’S AMARETTO CHEESECAKE
No, you are not dreaming. That is an entire cheese cake, for two people, who just ate a whole fish, and the world’s largest green beans, plus my boyfriend Pave, who, you will recall, was made from all the butter. Well… Don’t care! No, seriously, look at me: I DO NOT CARE. It was Dawn’s fuckin’ birthday and everything fuckin’ sucks and we ate the fuckin’ shit outta some fuckin’ cheesecake and it was just like being in heaven only way better, because it’s cheesecake, which is real, whereas heaven is made-up.
WARNING: If heaven is real, eating this cheesecake may greatly reduce your chances of gaining entry. Because it’s sinfully good. Is the joke. I was going for there. Yep.
So, way before I even contacted Chef Josiah, I reached out to my good friend, and awesome person, Chef Jill Worthy aka The Worthy Baker, who makes the best cheesecakes I’ve ever had, no lie. I asked her if she could make Dawn a special cheesecake for her birthday. She agreed, and I asked her if there’s such a thing as an amaretto cheesecake, to which she replied, “There is now.” Yay, Jill! A few days later she texted me again to ask, “do you want toasted almond slivers on top?” To which I replied, “fuck yeah.”
And then on Dawn’s birthday, this happened…
And then this happened…
And it almost felt like the whole world wasn’t totally fucked-up for just li’l bit there. Thanks, Jill. You’re the shizz, for real.
So, that was Dawn’s special birthday meal! I want to highly recommend that you consider doing something similar for your birthdays this season! Reach out to a chef or chefs you know and admire, and ask them — nicely! — if they might consider preparing you an entire meal like this, to eat at home. Pay them whatever they ask, and tip generously when it’s delivered. Take the food out of the gang boxes it came in, and put it on nice plates, as artistically as you can. Set the table, light a candle, change the mood, and enjoy the moment.
While everything is a complete mess, we still need to enjoy life when we can, one moment at a time if we have to. We can achieve some of these enjoyable moments by taking the time to properly celebrate important dates, like birthdays, anniversaries, graduations, and, oh I dunno… how about Election Day? Which is November 3rd. Don’t forget.
You can also vote early.
Happy Birthday. Dawn! And thank you Shannon, and Chefs Josiah & Jill!
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Thanks for reading!
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Stu Helm is an artist, writer, and podcaster living in Asheville, NC, and a frequent diner at local restaurants, cafes, food trucks, and the like. His tastes run from hot dogs and mac ‘n’ cheese, to haute cuisine, and his opinions are based on a lifetime of eating out. He began writing about food strictly to amuse his friends on Facebook.