Bella’s 18th Birthday
Earlier this year, at the peak of the Australian summer, my daughter Bella turned 18. I wanted to mark the occasion with a special family celebration but I had some restrictions to work around. The first was that my daughter suffers from chronic health issues and many foods make her ill – anything high in fat, gluten, apples, wheat, processed foods, sugar, alcohol. The second is that she’s a pescatarian (for ethical reasons).
Given the celebration was in honor of her, I didn’t want to have any food or beverages at her party that she couldn’t enjoy – there’s nothing worse than being unable to eat the food put in front of you – it makes you feel like an outcast, and you leave the gathering feeling resentful and deprived.
So, what did I do?
First, I made the decision that the emphasis of the gathering should be on enjoying each other’s company as a family and enjoying the moment for what it was – a celebration of this beautiful child who had grown to be an amazing, kind, principled, adventurous and strong woman. She has integrity and wisdom beyond her years and bears the hallmark strength and courage of someone who has lived with pain and physical restrictions for years. In order to do this, I had to find a way to make the gathering about the connections, the memories and the moment, rather than the food.
Simple food does not mean inelegant – I wanted the party to be special and so I ensured the decorations were special. – Photo by JennaWhen inviting everyone to the party, I let them know it would be “Bella friendly” – they all know she has restrictions in what she can eat, and I wanted to plant the ‘seed’ that the food at the party would be mainly fresh produce and unprocessed food. I felt this was important so the younger members of the family would not have an expectation on arrival that there would be junk food, alcohol or the usual celebratory birthday cake. Any guests verbalizing their disappointment in not getting to have ‘party’ food would have upset Bella, so I wanted to try to guard against it. Setting everyone’s expectations in advance also meant they would not bring gifts of food and accidentally work against what I was trying to achieve.
Bella and I enjoyed planning for the event. I wanted it to be special. We looked at all the foods she could eat, especially her favorites, and I experimented with combinations everyone would enjoy. I made sure to choose dishes that were quick to make, as well as pretty to look at and appealing to eat. I’m pleased to say I believe I succeeded on all three fronts!
We did a test-run of the menu a week before to make sure the food was tasty and none of it presented a problem for her. We did feel that, while we enjoyed the dishes, we should offer at least one ‘meat’ dish for the guests. After some discussion, Bella and I agreed we would roast a chicken, but it had to be free-range and come from an RSPCA (ASPCA) approved farm. Apart from helping us to tweak the menu, the test-run also helped to reassure me I would not struggle to get it all prepared on the day (I’m not a natural entertainer or master chef!).
The recipes I chose were all served cold. We had a roasted sweet potato, feta and pomegranate salad; a spinach, walnut and pear salad; avocados and vine-ripened tomatoes; smoked salmon; roast chicken (with herbs fresh from our garden); and a mixed-leaf green salad with red bell peppers and a garlic-infused olive oil dressing. Dessert was fresh fruit salad and fresh berries. Instead of candles on a cake, we all waved around our lit love-heart-shaped sparklers as we sang “Happy Birthday”. I can honestly say I think everyone enjoyed the food (they all had more than one serving) as well as the decorations and ambiance. It was a truly wonderful evening with no side-effects from over-eating or alcohol consumption the next day! This has set the standard for our family events going forward – there is no reason why we shouldn’t enjoy healthful celebrations all the time.