Birthday blessings and mussel and prawn pasta with garlic and herbs


It was my birthday this week. It's great to get older, at least compared to the alternative. Otherwise it's not so much fun once you've turned ten.

A friend asked if I was aware that I was now closer to 60 than 30. Sixty is the new thirty, I have decided. To be honest I have been closer to sixty than thirty for a while.

Mussel and prawn pasta with garlic and herbs

But it's kind of a nice day always, you feel a bit special. It doesn't even matter that your own parents forget it completely.

Not even a text message.

Husband surprised me with a lovely pair of walking trainers, exactly what I needed. I have two great pairs of running shoes, but my walking shoes were knackered. It's like with face creams you need a different one for all different facial areas (when you are closer to 60 than 30). There is one for under the eyes, another for above the eyes, one for around the mouth, one for neck etc. It would be easier to just pull a bag over the whole thing. As one of my brothers always used to suggest when he saw me doing my make-up.

But anyway similarly with trainers there are different ones for all possible exercise and activity. I'm very boring with my exercise, city terrain running and walking is all I do with a bit of gym thrown in. I don't body jam or zumba or engage in any other kind of humiliating group exercise involving flinging your arms around. Trail running sounds fun and I'm sure would require specific shoes, but it's too dangerous for someone with gait as low as mine. I once tripped and broke my ribs because the pavement was a bit uneven and caught my toe.

It turned out to be a stroke of luck, because soon after we had a team meeting with my back-stabbing colleagues in a previous job with curling as evening activity. So I didn't have to take part, but got to watch as they all kept painfully falling over on the ice. Completely worth the broken ribs and the pain of laughing with the broken ribs.

When I was leaving the job my colleagues asked what I would like as my leaving gift to remember them by. I said a set of knives. They got me the set.

Advice nugget: If you break your ribs, do not sneeze for at least 3 weeks.

I got a piece of lovely Hummingbird bakery cake from a work mate, which works perfectly with the trainers. Eat the cake and then walk approximately 29 miles to burn off the calories.

Cake from the Hummingbird Bakery

But my best birthday present was our little blackbird. He has lived in a tree outside our bedroom window ever since we moved here. Or maybe he doesn't actually live in the tree, but just works there, I don't really know much about blackbirds. But every morning from early spring till summer he arrives in the tree promptly at 4 am and starts bellowing out some formidable tunes. He's got two main melodies that he keeps repeating a bit like many modern pop-stars, although they usually just have the one. Dee-de-dee-de-dee and dee-dee-dee-dee-dedde-dee goes the blackbird and chirrup chirrup in between. He is very loud and energetic. The earlier the louder I think. He may have influenced our decision to get double-glazing, which work like ear plugs in a heavy metal concert.

But this spring he didn't come. It was April already and not a song. Every morning I woke up at 4 am as perimenopausal women do and listened. But he wasn't there. I googled the average life expectancy for blackbirds and found out they only live for 3.5 years on average. Although there were individuals (on Mediterranean diets I bet) known to have lived past 20 years. We have been in this house for 5 years this summer.

That made me really sad. Our screamy little ASBO bird had died. I was wondering how he had died. Was it of natural causes or an accident? Was he alone? Where was his little body lying? I thought of the sad bird funerals that we organised as kids for all the birds that flew against our windows and died. And there were loads, stupid seventies full wall windows.

But then one sunny and bright evening this week, my birthday, walking home from the train I heard him. Just up the road from where we live. I stopped and listened wondering if another blackbird could just be mimicking him exactly, but decided it must be him and the thought made me very happy.  I listened to his familiar tunes for a while before walking home. God bless you little blackbird, I hope people under your new tree have double-glazing and no hand-guns.

For my birthday dinner I cooked a lovely seafood pasta. Husband did offer to take me out, but we soon agreed we wanted me to cook because
- I love cooking and not letting me cook for my own Birthday dinner would be cruel
- I had bought a lot of lovely fish and seafood from John Lewis Food Hall
- Husband gets stomach ache from restaurant food
- My food is so good that we couldn't think of anywhere in London with better food than mine

I may have slightly tweaked the last bullet point. But the pasta was pretty awesome.

Seafood pasta withe mussels, prawns and tuna

Seafood pasta with garlic and herbs (serves 4)

4 anchovy fillets
1 large yellow onion
2 cloves of garlic
Pinch of crushed red pepper
1 cup of white wine
2 tbsp of fresh oregano (or 2 tsp dried)
2 tbsp fresh basil (or 2 tsp dried)
2 tbsp of fresh parsley (or 2 tsp dried)
2 tbsp tomato paste
250g cherry tomatoes
1 cup pasta boiling water
1 fish stock pot (or cube)
250g mussels or clams
200g jumbo prawns
250g tuna (or other fish/seafood, squid would be lovely)
2 tbsp of grated parmesan and some extra for decoration

Prep your seafood, I used ready cooked mussels in garlic and white wine for this, so they were ready to go. Devein the shrimp and cube the fish. Drizzle with oil or garlic oil and sprinkle on a bit of salt and pepper.

Boil the pasta according the the pack instructions leaving it slightly undone and preserving 1 cup of the cooking water.

Chop the onion and mince the garlic. Heat oil in a large non-stick saucepan. I used some of the anchovy oil. Add the anchovy fillets, garlic, onion and red pepper flakes in the pan and saute until soft. Add the white wine and let reduce until the liquid is almost gone.

Chop your herbs if using fresh and halve the cherry tomatoes. Add the herbs, tomato paste, tomatoes and the fish stock pot or cube to the pan. Saute until tomatoes start to soften Add a cup of the pasta cooking water and the parmesan.

You have to estimate how long your seafood take to cook depending on what you use and add them in the right order at the right times. My seafood all took about the same 5 minutes so I added them all at the same time. So stir in you seafood and cook until almost done. Toss your sauce and drained pasta together and let simmer giving the pasta a chance to absorb some of the sauce.

Sprinkle with fresh herbs and parmesan.

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  1. Happy Birthday from across the pond! I found your blog through a Menu Plan Monday post somewhere and I'm really enjoying reading what you write. I'm looking forward to getting to know you a bit through it.
    Wendy in Colorado

    1. Hi! Thanks Wendy! Lovely to hear from you, glad you're enjoying the blog.

  2. A very belated 'Appy Birthday!
    I have missed reading your adventures and trying out your recipes, and am enjoying a good read now I have a bit more time (start a new job in a week). How are your ribs now? Ouch! :/ It seems I have missed a lot, new job aswell?! I best get reading :) Just pinned your dill pesto and salmon tart for this weeks meal plan, just my kind of meal!

    1. Hello lovely Mands! Great to hear from you! That job with back stabbers and broken ribs were a few years ago already. Are you planning to get back to blogging? Miss your stories! Good luck with the new job!