Without the Guest of Honor

Dearest Rachel –

So. After planning off and on for the better part of a week, we’re actually holding your birthday party. Just… without you.

At least, not in any way that you would be able to enjoy it

No singing “Happy Birthday,” either. Not only aren’t you here to hear it, but that song sets Daniel off, as you well know. His synesthesia causes him to have perfect pitch, and of all the songs in the world that constantly gets mangled, this is the one – and as a result, we can never sing it. Not to you, not to anyone in his earshot. Oh, well.

Still, I’m getting ahead of myself. The first thing was to determine what we could serve. Since Ellen is avoiding gluten, cake was out (and while an ice cream cake might have done the job, Daniel’s no fan, so…), but she seemed fine – enthusiastic, even – with cheesecake. And when I asked Daniel about it, all he asked was that it be chocolate.

I was more than happy to oblige. I love me some chocolate cheesecake. Granted, I used to have a recipe for a marble cheesecake, but that would have been more effort than I really felt like putting into this tonight.
And if the cake wasn’t chocolate enough, I could crack these open. After all, they have your (maiden) name on them.

But even though you used to quote the old line about how “life is uncertain: eat dessert first,” one does not live on dessert alone. We needed to come up with an entrée we could all agree on.

To be honest, I was going to take the easy way out, and put together some gyro meat from a kit or two from Gordon’s Food Service. Thought it might be appropriate, since you’d told me that your name meant ‘lamb’ in the original Hebrew. But as soon as I got home from my shopping trip, I found a series of emails from Ellen with a number of suggestions, complete with recipes.

Okay, well, bang goes that idea… although when I mentioned the gyros, Ellen actually responded favorably to the idea. Perhaps we can do the simpler meal another time. For now, I went out to find ingredients for what Ellen said was called a Mexican Casserole.

Now, back in the day, when we would have Ellen – and later, the rest of the girls – over, half the time would be spent in the kitchen doing the preparation. Daniel and I would stay out in the family room, partly because the kitchen was crowded enough as it was, and partly because that just wasn’t our wheelhouse. Yeah, I can cook, it’s just not a strong suit of mine.

Of course, I don’t really have a choice now – if anything’s gonna get cooked in tis house from now on, I’m gonna have to be the one who does it. And again, while half the fun for you and the other girls seemed to be the hanging out and talking together in the kitchen, the chopping prep work would chew up more time that we probably won’t have, depending on how soon (or late) they’d arrive. I’d prefer to spend it eating with them rather than doing the niggling prep work that would just slow us all down that much more. So I got home from the ‘office’ early in order to dice the celery and onions before the girls were to arrive.

Imagine: all those onions cut up, and not a single tear. Guess you’ve run me dry after four months.
While it was the third thing to layer onto the casserole, the onion/celery mix was the first thing to sauté

Although, once everything was chopped up, I figured I might as well get started browning the stuff that needed to be – after all, once it was all layered in the pan, it would still need to bake for a good 30-40 minutes, so… again, the more that was done before they got here, the less we’d need to wait around.

The recipe called for a pound and a half of meat, but ground beef only tends to come in one pound packages.
But I found a half-pound roll of chorizo to fill it in.

To be sure, Kerstin and Ellen did get here before I’d gotten to the point of layering the ingredient into the pan – which was just as well, because it wasn’t clear as to whether there was supposed to be just the one can of black beans on the bottom, or two. The one can didn’t really cover the surface, but two seemed a bit much, considering we were only using a single can of tomatoes as the top layer. On the other hand, Ellen did say it was a fairly forgiving recipe…

As opposed to the can opener attachment on the old KitchenMaid – neither Ellen nor I seemed to be able to position the can properly so the thing could ‘bite’ into the lid. We did eventually get it to cut it off, though, so… mission accomplished?
Now, I meant to take pictures of each layer as I put them on, but I missed the black beans (for which I needed two cans, by the way) and the corn. You can see the onion/celery mix, and the beginning of the spiced meat.
And then the tomatoes – and yes, I forgot to show the cheese being put on.

Oh, in case you’re wondering why I’m using an aluminum pan left over from when Gabutto catered the luncheon for the church staff, well… it turns out that the only 9×13 container I could find was the stoneware one, and I’ve never figured out how to clean those things properly, and at 11pm, when everyone is heading out for the night, I’ll have no desire to try. So, might as well use this as an alternative since it’s here.

Yeah, this means I got rid of the Pyrex dish. When Jan and I were going through the kitchen, she asked me (and I found myself agreeing with her) “Do you really expect to be making casseroles for this many people anymore? The church hasn’t done potlucks in decades.”

Ironically, this past Monday the Sparks leadership team was doing a potluck, but the fact that I was working at church recording the praise team kept Daniel and I from going. So that could have been twice in a single week.

Maybe I need to go back to Goodwill and get that glass dish back, after all.

Ellen had also brought cherries, and Erin… wanted them. Hilarity ensued – although this is something of a re-enactment of the initial reaction (at my request – the girls were nothing if not obliging tonight)
Oh, and Logan was here, too – here he is, showing off his stuffed “Deep Dish” he’d received from Whinney City
Meanwhile, Erin brought some asparagus for roasting, but the cookie sheet I had left didn’t have any sort of a lip, to be honest.
We went through several paper towels in an effort to clean up the mess.
Equally problematic, the cookie sheet was juuuust narrow enough for the toaster oven – but waaaay too deep.

I didn’t notice it at the time, honey, but now that I’m putting the photos together, I realize that all the girls showed up dressed in purple in your honor, bless ’em. This is, after all, meant to commemorate you. Kind of like Christmas, in a way – which is not to say Jesus isn’t with us, at least spiritually speaking, but certainly not in any physical form. And yet, we certainly need to bear in mind in whose honor we’re celebrating.

To be honest, the girls did a better job of this than I did – but in my defense, I really don’t have much purple in my wardrobe to work with.

At least she and Ellen agreed that everything turned out tasty…

Oh, and I would like to mention, Erin actually said as she picked up her plate that she normally wouldn’t do this, but “in honor of Rachel,” as she licked her plate clean. Although that wasn’t the first time this evening, either: she’d licked off the olive oil and garlic powder mixture from the cookie sheet, once she and Ellen had transferred the asparagus to the aluminum foil to fit in the oven. I took pictures as proof, but she refused to let me post them. So you’ll just have to take my word for it. Honestly, I’m appreciative enough that she let me take as many pictures as I did; I’m pretty sure I’ve doubled the number of photographs I own with her in them in the course of a single night.

It probably won’t happen again. A lot of unusual things can happen in your name and honor, honey. It’s not the sort of tribute that monuments are made of, but sometimes, you have to understand that memories beat monuments all hollow.

And we had them here tonight.

…and Chompers agrees, although that should hardly come as a surprise.

Kerstin, in particular, sounded much like I do from time to time, talking about how great of a friend you were to her – better than any other in her life right now – and how she’s at something of a loose end without you. I didn’t realize how much you meant to her – we will need to continue to include her in these little get-togethers going forward. Our lives, Daniel’s and mine, aren’t the only ones who got upended when you left, and she needs that empty spot filled from time to time, too.

I know you were the force that connected all of us, but now that you’re gone, we clearly can’t let ourselves fall apart. Thankfully, when I mentioned this to Erin and Ellen, they both said (well, Ellen said, and Erin agreed) that “you can’t get rid of us that easily,” and it’s a comforting thought, indeed.

I’m looking forward to many Friday nights like this one in the future.

But I’m still sorry you had to miss the party.

Published by randy@letters-to-rachel.memorial

I am Rachel's husband. Was. I'm still trying to deal with it. I probably always will be.

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