Drizzle your baklava with local honey. Photo of Potrero del Sol community garden’s honey by Bill Basquin.
Well, there’s no getting around it. My birthday is making its annual appearance in just a few days. Apart of the whole getting-older thing—I now believe that specifying the decade is detail enough, and if you want more you’re going to have to wrestle me down and and force-feed me chocolate mousse until you can get into my purse—I’m actually rather fond of birthdays. Cards, new socks, licking icing off the candles, what’s not to like? Given that there’s only one day of the year when you can get total strangers to be nice to you for no reason, I don’t understand those tight-lipped, don’t-make-a-fuss types hating on their birthdays every year.
Anyway, they’re lying. When my mother turned 70 a few years ago, she insisted that no recognition be given. No cards, no calls, no nothing, no how. I tried to abide, as did her beau, himself a hale and hearty 70-something. Naturally, she called both of us, late in the evening, irate and wanting to know why we’d blown off her birthday. By the time the day rolled around, it seemed, she’s changed her mind and wanted the whole deal: phone calls, presents, pink icing roses, telegrams if only they still existed. My feeble little text message wasn’t nearly good enough.
This month, of course, is happy birthday Libra month. Now Libras love Libras, so if you’re lucky enough to have been born in October, you probably have a whole pile of lucky Libra pals. And there’s nothing as much fun as a multi-headed Libra party monster. Take it from me: a party thrown by Libras is a good party: charming company, tasty munchies, lovely cocktails, just enough misbehavior to make the recap entertaining, but not so much that you have to reupholster the couch and buy schnapps for the neighbors. (If you want that sort of party, you wait a week and throw a shindig for the Scorpios.)
OK, so maybe I’m biased, but I’m also experienced, having written the book on this. And if you want to hear more, tune in to Mouthful Sunday night between 7 and 8pm on KRBC 91FM, when I’ll be chatting about food, love, and astrology with host Michele Anna Jordan.
So how do you entertain your Libra lovelies? Well, keep in mind that Libras hate to be tied down. We’re the sign of the scales, after all, and we like to keep everything in balance, some of this and some of that. We’re noshers by nature, tasters who would happily take a forkful off everyone’s plate, if we could do it gracefully. So the Libra party is full of little snacklets, tasty bites we can pop in our mouths without having to stop talking.
My dream Libra party menu would be Mediterranean in its drift, with savory little lamb kebabs dunked in herby Greek yogurt, glasses of champagne sparkling with floating pomegranate seeds, grated carrot salad drifted with a chiffonade of mint. And for dessert, a sweet and sticky baklava, not exactly Greek-authentic but absolutely delicious nonetheless. So enjoy, and happy birthday, Libra lovelies!
Birthday Baklava for Libras
Adapted from The Astrology Cookbook: A Cosmic Guide to Feasts of Love
2 cups walnuts, blanched almonds, or pistachios, or a mixture of all three, finely chopped
2 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons honey
Pinch of salt
One of the following flavorings: 1 teaspoon grated orange and 1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom; 1 teaspoon cinnamon and a pinch of ground cloves; 1 teaspoon rosewater; 1 teaspoon orange flower water
1/2 pound phyllo, defrosted
1/2 cup butter, melted
1/3 cup sugar
1/2 cup honey
1/2 tablespoon lemon juice
1/3 cup water
One of the following flavorings: 1/2 tablespoon grated orange rind; 1 stick cinnamon or 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon; 1/2 tablespoon rosewater
1. Preheat oven to 325°F. Lightly grease an 8-by-8-inch baking pan. Unfold phyllo dough and trim into 8-by-8-inch squares. Cover sheets with a damp cloth.
2. In a small bowl, mix finely chopped nuts, sugar, honey, salt, and your choice of flavorings. Set aside.
3. Spread a phyllo sheet over the bottom of the baking pan. Using a pastry brush, lightly brush sheet with melted butter. Repeat with 5 more sheets, lightly buttering each sheet before adding the next.
4. Spread approximately 2/3 cup of nut mixture over 6th phyllo sheet. Layer 4 sheets (buttering each one) on top of the nuts. Spread another 2/3 cup of the nut mixture on top sheet, and top with another 4 sheets (buttering between each one). Spread with last 2/3 cup of nut mixture. Top with 6 sheets, buttering each one and finishing with a final layer of butter.
5. Using a sharp knife, make four equal cuts (about 1 1/2 inches apart) through the top layer of pastry. Then make eight equal diagonal cuts (approximately 1 inch apart) across these strips to form 18 diamond shapes. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, until pastry is crisp and pale golden.
6. While baklava is baking, make the syrup. In a heavy-bottomed pan, heat sugar, honey, lemon juice, and water to boiling. Keep a close eye on it, as the syrup will froth and foam up. Add orange rind, cinnamon stick, or ground cinnamon, if using. Over medium-low heat, simmer for 10 minutes, until syrup has thickened slightly. If using rose water, add now. Remove from heat and pour into a pitcher. Let cool.
7. Pour syrup over hot pastry. (Alternately, let pastry cool to room temperature before cutting. Reheat syrup to almost boiling, then pour hot syrup over cool pastry. See note. ) You may not need all of the syrup. Following the previously made cuts, cut pastry all the way through into diamonds and let syrup soak in for at least 3 hours before serving.
Note: The trick to ensuring a crunchy, sticky pastry is to pour cool syrup over hot pastry, or hot syrup over cool pastry. As long as the pastry and syrup are opposite in temperature when they come together, you won’t end up with soggy baklava.