For early risers, the most-awkward-time-of-year must be either a) the morning of New Year’s Eve or b) the morning of one’s birthday. On other days you may go about your business—toasting your bread and buttering it, unfurling the newspaper, steeping and re-steeping tea leaves ad infinitum—but on these particular mornings the regular joys of these rituals are diminished by the glaring facts-of-the-matter: that not only are you alone (which—face it—is true even if you are one half of a loving, committed relationship), but you are also growing old.
The thing about New Years is this: If you are anything like me, you wake up belligerent, bent on denying the day any sort of special treatment, because the Gregorian year is just a dumb unit developed by somebody (Gregory?) to manipulate us into watching our lives fly by. Who cares about year-end lists! Who cares who you will or won’t kiss! Who cares!
But new years are cakewalks compared to birthday morns, when you feel—albeit selfishly and irrationally—that not only are you alone and growing old, but that you are the only one to be doing so. This is egocentric and obviously untrue, but it’s your birthday and if there is one thing you are allowed, it is to not make any sense. During younger, foolisher times you woke still full of Miller High Life, having slipped into the bar on the eve of your birth, fake ID undetected. But today your boobs look droopier! You can’t even enjoy Miller High Life anymore! (Tell yourself that at least you have grown wiser in this way.)
Hence the necessity of the “birthday breakfast tradition.” Last February, a dear friend and housemate celebrated the morning of his twenty-third with champagne and oysters. When I noticed him, before work, in his tiny, tattered bathrobe, he appeared to have successfully averted the apocryphal AM birthday despair. Though I can’t know for sure, I’m pretty positive there was no way he was thinking, “I am so old and alone.” Chances are, he was thinking something along the lines of, “Oysters are tasty,” or “Hey, cheers to me!”
Unless you’ve opted for the birthday Dunkin’ Donut (in which case, I robustly urge you to reconsider), selecting a birthday breakfast tradition is tricky business. There are lots of things to take into account: seasonal availability, for one. (Whereas my friend had the good fortune of being birthed in nippy times of chilly seas, yours truly entered the world during oyster-inappropriate climes.)
Another important thing is sustainability. At least for the next, oh, hundred plus years. Nothing endangered, guys! You wouldn’t want to implement a birthday breakfast of swordfish-eating, say, because what would become of you one swordfish-less year? It may also be wise to steer clear of specialty items: The components to your birthday breakfast tradition should be readily accessible, because who knows where the grand and exciting road of life will transport you five/ten/fifty years down the line? I surely don’t.
All else considered (Could I eat an entire melon? Is it possible to chew steak with dentures? Answers: no and basically no.), my own decision made itself: Seaweed soup.
According to Dr. Ben Kim of drbenkim.com, pregnant Korean women enjoy this soup. This soup is all about birth! It stimulates healthy milk production. Babies enjoy this soup. It supports “optimal brain function.” Truly, it is a soup for all—and for the ages. I am not Korean. I am neither pregnant nor a baby. Yet I enjoyed this soup. All twenty-three years of me. I will be making it again next year, and—God willing—for many July 9ths to come.
Birthday seaweed soup
A gentle yet compulsory warning: this soup is not a looker. It will never in one thousand birthdays grace the cover of Gourmet magazine. If you want to be technical, it looks kind of gross. It is slimy, and of the sea. If you think these are cons, guess again! Sipped in solitude, there is no pleasure more slippery or more delicious.
Editor’s Note: You can find the seaweed for the soup, the Korean pepper, and the ponzu at any Korean market (or probably any Asian market). You can also probably find them in the ethnic foods aisle of most cosmopolitan supermarkets, and almost certainly in most Whole Foods (ubiquitous as they are). Otherwise, as Rachel herself says: The internet is boundless.
4 cups water
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1 ½ tablespoons sugar
1/3 cups rice vinegar
3 cloves garlic, peeled and smushed slightly, but not chopped
½ tablespoon Korean red pepper
Handful of dried soup seaweed (this expands ridiculously)
Cucumber, cut into matchsticks
Bring the water to a boil and add the sugar to dissolve. Add the salt, garlic, red pepper, and vinegar. Let cool. Meanwhile, rehydrate the seaweed by submerging it in cold water for five to fifteen minutes. Once rehydrated, squeeze out the excess water and place in a bowl. Add a pinch of salt, a pinch of sugar, and a splash of vinegar, and massage into seaweed. Refrigerate the soup and the seaweed in separate containers. Once ready to serve, combine these, add the cucumber, and top with a sprinkling of sesame seeds. The soup is meant to be consumed cold, and thus ideal for summer birthdays.
(This recipe makes enough for one giant bowl, and leftovers. I think it actually gets better the more it sits in the fridge. If you have it, ponzu, a.k.a. citrus flavored soy sauce, can be a nice addition.)