The Girl Who Ate Everything

Blogging about food and whatever since 2004.

Diana's Birthday Party

[An introductory note: This week was ridiculously busy. Spent two late nights in NYC and due to various types of exhaustion was left with very little brain power. I do try to update twice a week, but lately this goal has been very hard to meet. :(

If you want advice about where to eat in NYC, you won't find it in today's post, which is more of a...personal thing. But next time, yes!]


"She's coming closer! ...No wait, she's going the wrong way. Should I open the door for her?"

Olia had just peered through the peephole looking out of her apartment to update us on Diana's whereabouts. The rest of us stood (or crouched) still, scattered down the apartment's narrow and currently unlit hallway, anticipating Diana's arrival. We decided that Diana would find the apartment without our help; we just had to be patient.

"She's coming this way!" alerted Olia. We shifted in our spots. You get one chance get the "surprise" part of a surprise birthday party right. Otherwise the reaction will be less of surprise and more, "Why are you hiding behind that couch?" My brain whirred through Diana's possible reactions and what her initial thought might be, aside from, "Why are all the lights off?"

The doorbell rang. Cue quiet time. After Olia and Diana exchanged greetings, we positioned ourselves into "surprise mode," which wasn't all that different from the way we were already positioned. I moved about an inch, perhaps. The lights flicked on.

"SURPRIIIIIISEEE!!" we all shouted. Diana had barely made her way into the apartment, having stopped to take in all the faces at the end of the hallway. Her wide eyes and open mouth said something like, "Wuuuuut!" although her thoughts were probably more complex than that. I clumsily hopped out from behind Jeremiah's arcade game console and stood by Patricia, who was grasping a cluster of pastel-colored birthday balloons.

Diana had come up to Olia's and Jeremiah's apartment off of 181st Street (yes, that is still Manhattan) knowing that she would see them and Ian, but not knowing that Kathy, Patricia and I would show up as well. Kathy had only joined at the last minute after luckily being released from prison/work a few hours earlier than she had expected and I had just gotten in touch with Patricia the night before. Ian organized the party (where / when / who / what / food) and although Washington Heights was out of the way for most of us, Olia's and Jeremiah's awesomely decorated apartment in the quiet neighborhood was perfect for our get-together.

After exchanging hugs and expressions of, "Holy crap you're here, WTF!" the eating process began. Bwahaha.

Left to right: Ian, Jeremiah, Diana, Kathy, Olia and Patricia

Actually, we started with drinks. Olia had provided Cava, a sparkling white wine, not too sweet nor dry, to sip on and toast with before officially digging into the food. I had told everyone that I wasn't much of a drinker, but I quickly downed the contents of my Champagne flute just to get it over with. This gave the horribly misguided notion that perhaps I did like alcohol.

"I think Robyn needs a refill!"

"Noooooo!!!" I moaned while shaking my head and waving my hands. "I just wanted to get rid of it! Really!" Don't question my logic; it made sense at the time.

CHEEEZ (and things)
Cheese and stuff!

After the drinks we started with an overflowing cheese platter, an equally overflowing plate of crackers, sliced pears and apples and a loaf of bread cut into thick chunks (also provided by Olia).

cheese plate

Although I like cheese (mostly in the form of pizza or grilled cheese sandwiches), I'm not very knowledgeable about the different types. My favorite kinds of cheese are of the fresh and mild variety (mozzarella, MOZZARELLA!), but after sampling the cheeses on the plate I'd add two to my list of Cheeses I Must Eat Again: smoked Gouda and Brie. The dominant flavor in the smoked gouda was...well, smoke—I couldn't tell what the underlying Gouda-flavors were, so I may have to try the plain version later. I especially liked the cheese's texture: smooth, creamy, and semi-soft, but hard enough to be easily cut. (That might make sense.) The Brie, which became runnier as the night wore on, had the consistency of melted cheese, except it required no additional heat to become naturally creamy and goopy. It was perfect for filling the crevices of the bread. Olia mentioned East Village Cheese as either the shop she bought the cheese at or her favorite cheese shop in the city. I'll have to check it out.


Olives are unfortunately on my short list of foods that I don't like. I wish it weren't so! I also wish that olives didn't taste like little salty bitter nubbles that attach their tentacles of astringency to every square inch of the inside of my mouth. I'll eat olives in other foods or as a spread, and of course I have nothing but burning love for extra virgin olive oil, but I have yet to chew up a whole olive, comfortably swallow it and then go back for seconds. Heeelp meeee.

soup from sanur PORK
Soup! Pork!

Ian had gone to Sanur in the belly of Chinatown to bring back Bak-kut Teh, an herbal Chinese soup with fatty pork. This was one of the standout dishes we ate during our group dinner at Sanur a few weeks ago (a dinner which I haven't written about yet—sorry). Spongy tofu cubes bobbed to the top of the goji berry-studded soup while the bottom of the bowl was full of glorious pork chunks layered with fat and meat. As much as I enjoy pork, I actually liked the slightly chewy tofu better—the spongy nature of the tofu allowed it to soak in all the flavors of the soup, flavors that would then gush out as you bit into it.

And what were the flavors of the soup? Besides...medicinal? I could never identify them by taste alone, but Wikipedia lists star anise, cinnamon, cloves, dang gui, and garlic as potential herbs and spices. This Bat Kuh Teh flavor packet has some additional ingredients: "Angelica Sinensis, Polygonatum Odoratum, Cinnamon (Kayu Manis), Fructus Lycii, White Pepper (Lada Putih), Radix Codomopsitis, Radix Glycyrhizae, Rhizoma Lingustici, Radix Ginseng, Star Anise (Bunga Lawang)." What the hell? Imagine all that mixed together! Uh, right! Or just go to Sanur and order it yourself.

Sweet jebus.

What follows pork soup, cheese and crackers better than A GINORMOUS PLATTER OF SUSHI? Yeah?! This was possibly the first time in my life I ever looked at sushi and felt like I could barely eat a piece. While I usually regard sushi as too dainty to appease my gurgling belly (which doesn't mean I don't like it, just that I tend to go for something heartier), never before had I seen 10 rolls of it in front of my face at one time. I felt like the sushi army was trying to tell me something, something like, "Robyn, we're gonna stuff you up sooo good. Never underestimate the sushi." Tuna, spicy tuna, California, Philadelphia, dragon, and more things that I can't remember were all squeezed together on the hub cab-sized tray. If only I hadn't already eaten so much food. I managed to down five or six pieces before my body said, "Eat any more and there will be regurgitation." Sigh. Alright.


Ian served us warm sake to go with the sushi. Like I had done with the Cava, I downed it a little too quickly for someone who claimed to not like alcohol, perhaps more like an alcoholic. But the contents of the cup must've been the same volume as a golf ball! Sip, sip, gone! While I would never drink sake for fun, at least this didn't make me feel like my taste buds were crying fiery tears of pain and agony and suffering and more pain—the initial flavor was of sweetness followed by a cool burst of alcohol and sharp bitterness.


Patricia and I had picked up six cupcakes from Billy's Bakery to serve as the birthday cake. Since distributing 25 candles among six cupcakes didn't seem like the most aesthetically pleasing idea (unless we were going for an "impaled" theme), the blue cupcake counted as 20 years while the rest were singular. (You can do the math.)

blow out the candles
Blow em out!

We sang "Happy Birthday" as Diana blew out the candles. She said she didn't have to make a wish. ;)

let's shoot stuff
Shootin' time

We took a break to oogle Jeremiah's curvy Japanese arcade machine. So pretty. So sleek. Oooh. I seemed to be the one who was most excited to play the vertical scrolling shooting games DoDonPachi Dai Ou Jou and Dangun Feveron. Patricia and Kathy joined me for a game or two, until they died and decided they'd rather sit on the couch than subject themselves to more video game death.

Photo taken by Diana

So it was just me. And the joystick. And the buttons. And being shot at by lots of big angry looking life-crushing spaceships and whatnot. This was when everyone discovered that I possessed a mental disorder, the one that is, "Talking to myself while playing video games. Things like, "NOOO!" or, "CRAAAP!" or, "WAHWHAHWHWA HUHUAUHADS" and other random noises expressing instances of impending doom. Of which there were many.

Photo taken by Diana

And then I died. Epic fail. But it was fun while it lasted and I probably would've played more if I didn't feel the need to break out my pie.

I haz pie?  From scratch!?

Yes, my pie! I made a BIRTHDAY PIE, banana cream to be exact. Why pie? Because I've never made a cake. Also, I knew Diana liked banana pudding and the crust didn't take much more effort. The recipes I used were Foolproof Pie Dough and Bubby's Banana Cream Pie. According to everyone else it tasted great (I was too full to eat more than a tiny piece), but I was surprised by how runny the pudding was. Maybe I needed more cornstarch? Maybe I didn't cook it correctly? If anyone has any tips, please let me know!

oof, stomach
Kathy goes, "Oof"

By the end of the night we all wanted to hug our gorged bellies.

Group photo! Top row: Jeremiah, Diana, Ian | Bottom row: Kathy, me, Patty, Olia

Just before I decided to run out and attempt to catch the last train back to NJ, we took a few group shots. And I'm really glad I stayed for that because even if I hadn't, I would've missed my train anyway. ;)

As much as I like that the NYC subway system runs for 24 hours a day, I keep forgetting that after a certain time everything goes wonky and stepping into a subway may subject you to an alternate dimension of public transportation hell. Sure, the subway functions, but not necessarily in a reliable way. Kathy, Patricia and I had to take a shuttle train that was running between 207th and 18th Streets before switching to a downtown A that was no longer running express at that time of night. After realizing that I missed my train, I thought about taking a bus home, but decided it wasn't worth the trouble when I could crash at Kathy's place and thus not have to commute the next morning. The only good thing about the subway changes was that Kathy and I didn't have to switch to an F train to reach her apartment; the A train ran on the F track after West 4th Street. If you actually wanted to go to an A train stop after West 4th, then you were doomed. Ha ha!

Oh, subways. If not for the great birthday party and being accompanied by Kathy and Patricia, the diversions and lateness would've made my brain implode.

By the end of the party I was thinking about how I wish every get-together could be so laid back and enjoyable. It beats eating in a restaurant any day. Then again, I can say that not having been the person to clean up afterwards. (Thanks Olia, Ian and Jeremiah!) -__-

I wouldn't mind celebrating Diana's birthday the same way every year.


East Village Cheese
40 3rd Ave
New York, NY 10003

18 Doyers St
New York, NY 10013

Billy's Bakery
184 9th Ave
New York, NY 10011


Sera / December 9, 2007 11:06 PM

Oh yum! Before I was a lactard, I looooveeeeddd Brie. And cheddar, and mozzarella, and Gouda, and Monterey Jack.....crap! I wish I could eat cheese again! :3

Kathy / December 9, 2007 11:08 PM

Awww, I love love this post, makes me soooo happy to read it! *Smiles* It really was the combination of just the right people, excellent food (not to mention AWESOME apartment, thanks Olia & Jeremiah!), and just...EVERYTHING. Best night ever!! =)

akatsuki / December 9, 2007 11:59 PM

Gouda is an amazing cheese. Like cheddar, it ages very well. And the smoked version gives you a whole different level of smell to go with the sweet nuttiness of the cheese. I love it too...

I also love bak kut teh. It's amazingly easy to make if you buy the spice "tea bag". Bak kut is just some dialect for pai-gu. I love the "medicinal" taste of star anise, probably because bak kut teh was fed to me whenever I was ill. It's like that black chicken soup with goji berries: stuff a mother makes for a sick kid.

olia / December 10, 2007 2:56 AM

Aww Robyn,

this was the nicest post about us and our apt (oh well there hasn't been any before BUT this is just too sweet ^-^)
it was our pleasure to have everyone over and all props go to Ian for super thoughtful planning -- please visit us soon again even if we are so far away -___-
cheese and bread were from zabar's which i love bec. a. its huge and b. near my job. But yes both Ian and I love 3rd ave. cheese shop
I'm sorry we attacked your pie before you could take a photo -- but I have tasted some filling from the cover when plating it and just couldn't resist ^-^ nyaaaaammmm it was really really really yummy
with our apt and your pie we should have all bdays here ^-^


Tina / December 10, 2007 8:51 AM

It looked like a really lovely party! :)

Cheese = AWESOMENESS in any type, shape, or form; unless it's the fake American or manufactured cheese that's when I'll have a problem.

You looked so devastated when you were playing the video game! Awww...I wanted to give you a hug.

About your pie filling, you either didn't cook the cornstarch out enough that it haven't thickened or you need more cornstarch. Either of those two if it tasted fine.

susannah / December 10, 2007 11:12 AM

brie is my WOOOORLD. you know, if my world was all about cheese. which it should be?

cupcakes from billys are thoughtful (and better) substitutes for birthday cake. that place rules.

and now the world knows what your video game face looks like. don't worry, mine is worse.

Daisy / December 10, 2007 11:44 AM

Wow, that was really fun. :D And subways are occasionally silly. At least they don't do things like that during rush hour, eh?

Kathryn / December 10, 2007 1:33 PM

Brie is amazing. Brie is probably one of the best foodstuffs you will ever eat. Ever. You know what's even better? Baked brie with orange marmalade and walnuts. Or pecans. Basically, you place a wedge of brie in a pan, spread some marmalade on top, and cover with the nut of your choice, then bake the daylights out of it (gen. 15 minutes @ 450 degrees). It's unspeakably good.

And I hate that about the A train -- it messed me up so many times this summer. Even though the F train does run by my house ... the A is closer.

Julie / December 10, 2007 2:20 PM

Hooray for birthday celebrations celebrated at homesteads! I hope it becomes a tradition--they're fun. My tradition is a potluck, so I don't have to cook, and my friends take the dirty dishes away with them. Bwahahahahaha!

Hannah / December 10, 2007 2:22 PM

You didn't discover the awesomeness of cheese while in Paris? But the magical Brie of awesomeness is made in Île-de-France! Meaux, to be precise. When I was in Picardy and my mom came to visit me, we made a pilgrimage to Meaux just for that purpose.

The bread we bought to go with the Brie was amazing, too.

serena / December 10, 2007 2:42 PM

AWW. happy birthday diana! (*maybe* she'll see this?)

you guys got the soup from sanur! good stuff, no? i also like the spongy tofu the best :)

janet / December 10, 2007 4:14 PM

yay for laid-back food-filled birthdays.

did anybody ever watch pinky and the brain? pinky did a great like.. ode to cheeses.

roboppy / December 10, 2007 6:21 PM

Sera: Aw.. :( I used to think I was a lactard (or a semi-lactard) until I ate a bunch of dairy and ...didn't die. That was a nice. This was maybe 4 years ago!

Kathy: We must have ANOTHER HOUSE PARTY!! ...AT YOUR PLACE!!!


akatsuki: I like cheese that gives me a whole different level of SMELL.

I saw someone use a medicinal soup pouch thing before. Gotta get me some of those! I'm sick now and could really use some soup. :( (My mom never made soup like that. Wah.)

Olia: You are too sweet! AHHHH! GIVES ME DIABETES! But that's okay. :)

I haven't been to Zabars since I was 10 years old (or younger?). Should probably check it out again. I didn't mind at all about the pie! It was kinda ugly, sadly. It looks better when topped with whipped cream to hide the..uh...funky pudding, hehe. But I knew whipped cream wouldn't exactly travel well. Eeuh.

I'm totally cool with having birthday parties at your place. I can always be in charge of PIE!!!

Tina: I'm not much of a fan of hard cheese, not that I DISlike it, but I wouldn't choose it over a soft or fresh cheese. :[

I think I may not have cooked it long enough. The recipe said to stop after the first BLORP, but...maybe it could've used more? Hm. I can also try increasing the cornstarch, woo!

Graeme: I want you to laugh until your muscles bleeed!

Susannah: My video game face brings angels to tears.

Daisy: Oh, Rush Hour is paced hell. Sometimes I had to take the 6 train from Fulton Street during rush hour and I'd have to let a train or two pass before SHOVING MYSELF ON. Oh yay. I guess it's worse in Tokyo though.

Kathryn: Baked brie...that sounds nice. I will have to try it. Even though I do not have brie, marmalade, or nuts. BUUH!

Julie: I think the only reason we haven't done more potluck-y things here is because apartments are tiny. Ergh! Or if they're not tiny, they're out of the way. But now I know it can be worth the trek!

Hannah: I gotta say that when I was in Paris I focused on baguettes and macarons, kind of ignoring cheese and chocolate. -__- OOOOPS...well, at least I had some kind of focus. As far as cheese goes I mostly ate goat cheese (forget which kind, but the kind common in sandwiches you could buy at boulangeries and was realllly easy to find in the supermarket, which means I can't find it in the supermarket HERe, ugh) and Camembert, which stunk the crap out of everything. Nom nom!

Serena: I'll make her read it! If she hasn't already.

Yeah, I like the soup more now that I've had it twice. Is that weird? Also, I'm sick and could use something medicinal!

Janet: Is this the video?! I think I've seen it before! That was a great show. All the Animaniacs stuff was awesome. Sigh.

N / December 10, 2007 7:54 PM

Your "personal posts" are ridiculously interesting, so don't apologize if you don't have any recs for NYC fooding (um, hi, there's a restaurant/bistro on every block, go wild and experiment).

John / December 10, 2007 11:06 PM

Looks like it was a fun party, and very sweet of all of you to plan a big surprise like that! Diana got all blushy when she was telling me about it on Friday night. You gave her something she'll remember for a long time. :)

Christina / December 11, 2007 2:32 AM

Happy Birthday, Diana!

Robyn, the pictures of you playing the arcade game, you have the same intense stare that both my gamer brothers have! I would have it too, but I royally suck at games for some reason. They are ashamed to know me...

About the pudding, did it pass the "run your finger across the back of a spoon and the line should not fill in" test? Usually, that means it's ready. Unless it's not thick enough, then it's what Tina said above.

Interesting soup, I like that it combines meat and tofu.

Julie / December 11, 2007 10:50 AM

The condo I bought this year is tiny, too--about 500 square feet. My potluck solution was to make a noon-to-night party where people wandered through all day. It actually worked out pretty good. All the friends with kids or who didn't want to be out late on a Sunday came earlier during the day, and there were only a few times when the number of guests outnumbered the ten chairs I had crammed in my front room. Of course, it meant people had to do the "my lap is my table" trick, but they're all pretty accommodating. Be like Gunn and make it work, I guess.

roboppy / December 11, 2007 6:32 PM

N: Oo, I'm interesting! Good to know. In real life, I'm quite boring. -__-


Ooh you shoud've seen her face after knocking back those sakes. More than blushy. Ahem. ;)

Christina: My brother kinda just has a blank stare. 0__0 Like that. Maybe.

I didn't try that test, but it seemed quite gloppy at first. I used that test when I'm making ice cream base though.

Pork and tofu go together quite nicely. Unless you're a vegetarian.

Danny: When I was a little kid I'd probably pick video games over food. I was mostly into fighting games or racing games...especially one game, ESPN XTreme something or other, where you could punch other racers. The best of both worlds!

Julie: Sounds like people could stop in for lunch, leave, then return for dinner? ;D

elizabeth / December 24, 2007 10:25 PM

Olives!At first I didn't understand...because the word "olives" still conjures in my head the first and best and only good olive I've ever had.
...But then I remembered that the ones I've had from Subway are those green strange twicky-tasting things...D:

I think the nice olives (from my first memory of them) are supposed to be black, and juicy, and sweet, like dates BUT NOT tasting like dates. They have a pit and are so, so deliciously juicy and sweet that when you eat them you'll be squishing them with your teeth to get the flavour out, and scrabbling at the pit to get the very last scrap of olive off the pit.

...well, I was told it was an was from (i think) the friend whose mum was quite ...forward-looking in food trends...her mum made sushi (this was fourteen years ago, way before sushi was popular in my country at all!) and garlic bread and so on...

I hope you find a good olive one day. :)

roboppy / December 25, 2007 6:10 AM

Elizabeth: Olives can taste juicy and sweet? WUUUT? WHAT DIMENSION IS THIS?! And how can I go there? :(

I too hope I find a good olive one day. My soul mate...olive.

adelyn / January 6, 2008 1:18 AM

robyn! i love everyone's glasses (well, those who wore glasses). looks like you all had a great time!! btw, whose apt was that? it's fantabulous!!

roboppy / January 6, 2008 4:14 AM

Adelyn: Kathy's awesome Chanel glasses HAVE SADLY SINCE the hands of a Lenscrafter's employee! :( Death to Lenscrafters. Aren't they supposed to be trained in not destroying glasses?

It was Jeremiah's and Olia's apartment. YES SO AWESOME! It's the coolest apartment I've been to in NYC.

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