Celebrating my 50th birthday with a bald head did not make it easy to wear a party hat, much less how much I looked like Spock from Star Trek. I did not expect to turn fifty while going through treatment for breast cancer but I could see the disappointment in my family's faces when I told them I could not rally for a big party. After throwing around suggestions, we all agreed that going out to dinner as a family would come close to a party without all the hoop-de-la, much less easier on our wallets.
My oldest daughter, the planner in our family (I don't know where she gets that), single-handedly made the decision for us to go to "The Melting Pot" on the Plaza. Now I love fondue and all the goodies that go with it and looked forward to the evening but I should've seen the writing on the wall when Tiff informed me the earliest reservation available was for 8:00 p.m. 8:00 p.m!! Chemotherapy and radiation gave even able-bodied people a reason to nap five or six times a day and then plan for bed at 7:00, only to sleep til 9:00 in the morning. I felt overwhelmed at the thought of staying dressed until at least 9:30 on a cold, snowy evening, much less eating at such a late hour. But the idea of consuming chocolate fondue with strawberries and marshmallows fueled my fire and on the evening of February 15th, 2005, we climbed into the car and drove thirty minutes away to make pigs of ourselves over an open fire.
A nice young lady greeted us at the door and I held onto the railing all the way down the stairs to keep from collapsing from fatigue. She led us to a nice booth near the back of the restaurant which I felt was a good choice considering Katie was eight months pregnant and I could see the restroom signs from our table. I scooted in first on one side, with Mark next to me and the kids all sitting across from us. Our waiter came to the table shortly after we sat down and we began perusing the menu while he got our drinks. None of us could decide what to order but Tiff, being a veteran of the restaurant's happy hour, quickly gave us a run-down on the favorites. Mark and David decided to order the beef and a side salad, Katie got the chicken and Tiff and I chose (and I use that word loosely since Tiff informed me that she knew how much I would like it) the salad with bread and cheese fondue. Not only did I feel exhausted but the longer I waited, the sicker I felt. But that's one thing I appreciated about my family that night. They kept me entertained so as to distract me from any unpleasantness. And thus the celebrating began.
Because the restaurant's specialty is fondue, each booth held one or two vats of hot oil in a sunken container at each end of the table. Before I could scratch my bald head, David crawled underneath the table with Mark encouraging him "to see how those burners work." Never mind that quite a few people patronized the place that night due to the fact that Valentine's Day fell the day before and obviously, their reservations were also made too late to get earlier times. I again felt gratitude for the table in the back as it seemed less likely that too many other diners crawled around under their tables so David might not have been noticed - yet. Mark's questions became more detailed and came quicker and quicker with David answering them with phrases like, "No, Dad, it looks like a switch," or "Dad, why don't you come down here and look so you can see what I'm talking about." Are you kidding me? Is it not enough that my son, at the age of 17, barely fit under the table and he now invited his dad to join him down there in the land of oil burners? People, we are at a restaurant. We need to use our company manners!
Fortunately, the food came and we buckled down to the task at hand. As soon as the food came, the questions and concerns began to fly. "Oh, just the sight of that raw chicken makes me sick," "Did you have to say that? Now I don't even feel like eating," and from my always-starving son, "When I ordered the steak, I didn't think it would come cut up into little pieces." Now, obviously the boy never dipped a full-size steak into a vat of oil and could not see the wisdom of bringing the raw beef cut into bite-size pieces. I must admit I felt surprise at how small the mound of pink steak pieces seemed in relation to the cost but the sauces looked good and I knew my pyromaniac son couldn't wait to fry that meat in that hot oil.
I began eating my salad, which tasted quite good and began to dip my pieces of bread into my hot cheese fondue. Delicious could be the only way to describe the flavor of the cheese and Tiff and I took turns dipping our breads into each other's pots as we ordered different types of cheese. But as soon as Tiff saw Katie dip her raw chicken into the oil, cook it and then lay it on the same plate as the raw meat, I knew what I would hear next. Yessiree, I guessed right. "Ohhh, Kate, you're putting that cooked chicken too close to the raw chicken. You're going to get salmonella." Oh geez - can we just eat in peace, I thought to myself. Tiff, ever the nurse in thought and action, probably was not concerned with food poisoning or any other sanitary issues when she and her college friends shared the same beer or used the bathrooms at the fraternity house. My guess is that those places would test high on the barometer of unclean and unsanitary conditions. Needless to say, Kate decided she couldn't finish her meal because she just knew she would get sick if she ate that chicken so she leaned against the booth and promptly looked ill.
After cooking most of our own meal, my yearnings turned toward dessert, which definitely included chocolate fondue. Tiff told everyone to let Mom order the dessert fondues since we came to this particular restaurant to celebrate my, with the emphasis on "my," birthday. I quickly looked over the dessert choices and went into overdrive when I saw "Bailey's Irish Cream fondue." If I needed anything at that minute, it was liquor-related. Upon mentioning Bailey's though, Katie chimed in, "I can't drink that." Oh, she was right. No alcohol for pregnant women. So with much discussion, we all decided that nothing sounded better than good, old milk chocolate fondue accompanied by a delicious-sounding marshmallow/chocolate fondue.
Soon enough, our delightful male waiter brought us wonderful-smelling pots of chocolate along with chunks of angel-food cake and fresh fruit on a platter. After filling our guts with sweet bites of goodness, I sagged into the leather seat and waited for Mark to pay the bill. After looking it over, he proclaimed that he'd never paid so much to go out to to dinner and then cook his own food. The waiter laughed while I wallowed in embarassment and begged to go home and sleep. But the highlight of the evening came when Mark got the receipt and we stood up to go. The waiter stuck his hand out and with a smile, told Mark that we'd been one of the most entertaining tables he'd ever waited on. "Sir, if you don't mind me saying so," he said to Mark, "you remind me of Jack Nicholson." I guffawed and replied, "You betcha - right out of 'Cuckoo's Nest.' " With that, we got up, trudged up the stairs into the cold and I fell asleep in the car before the car drove out of the parking garage. Happy Birthday to me.