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j'ai 51 ans

In French, if someone asks you how old you are, you respond, “J’ai 51 ans”, which translates to “I have 51 years.” It one of the quirks of grammar between the languages, which don’t always intersect. In English, we do say, “I own _______” (fill in blank with something of which you have global, all-encompassing command of), which is a popular phrase, one that I haven’t been able to translate to French friends.

(I recently said on Twitter that “…Karen Carpenter owns the Christmas carols”, which probably confused non-native English speakers, and perhaps a few English-speaking ones that aren’t wise enough to appreciate Karen’s proprietorship of Christmas music as much as I do.)

Last year when I had 50 years, I celebrated with a birthday bouillotte. But this year, I’m not going to get so crazy. When your birthday falls two days after Christmas—and an unspecified number of days after Hannukah, and during Kwanzaa, it’s hard to rouse much enthusiasm amongst friends and family. And because it’s a week where a lot of people choose to travel, most people have headed out of town. Either that, or I’ve finally done it, and managed to offend everyone I know because they’re not returning my phone calls or e-mails. (And who says I have no talents?)

In the past, Romain invited some folks and made a festive dinner at his place for all of us. However after spending a couple of days cooking and getting ready for the holiday dinner, even though he said he’d do it again, there doesn’t seem to be much enthusiasm for the most important day for the year, so toady is going to be spent engaging in low-key activities instead of revving up for a big fête.

For example, the excitement du jour is my going to buy apples and tangerines at the market. I still have tons of root vegetables left over from an over-anxious shopping expedition a few days before Christmas. And to go with them, I might even go wild and get one of those out-of-control-good crispy-skinned poulet crapaudine. I can certainly see myself celebrating by having one of those today, in addition to having my cinquante et un years.

coconut cake

Speaking of gifts to myself, I never did get a Coconut Cake, which I’ve been waiting 10 long years for, and now the opportunity has gone. So I’ve decided to give up hope once and for all of having one on December 27th.

But today I’ll have apples, tangerines, and one mighty good spit-roasted chicken. And fifty-one years? I’ll have some of those, too.



    • David

    Thanks for all the birthday wishes! After ten lo-o-o-ong years of waiting for my coconut cake, I’m sure any psychiatrist out there would advise me to move on, which I am doing, reluctantly.

    I did get the most amazing birthday present ever: a set of old French porcelain mortars & pestles from Romain, which are really gorgeous. (Although I can barely lift them…I don’t know how he carried them on the métro!)

    Appreciate all your comments and thanks for reading—and best to you all for 2010. You guys rock!

    x -dl

    • Hazel

    Congratulations and felicitations (which is a word I’ve only ever heard from people for whom English is a foreign language…I learnt it when I was learning French, too, but I suspect the the French don’t use it either…).

    • parisbreakfasts

    It’s still better than being born on Norwegian Independence Day don’t ya think?
    Have a Happy 51st year!
    all the best,

    • Kathleen

    A day late…sigh. Hope it was beautiful! Wishing you good health and happiness in 2010!

    • leah

    happy birthday!

    • French Cooking for Dummies

    Happy B-day David! Too bad for the coconut cake but I see you replaced it with a chocolate one that looks delicious ;-)

    • Debbie

    Happy Belated Birthday! Sorry, just got your post (AOL mail is a little slow). I too know the pain of having a birthday after Christmas. Mine is today. Everything is squished into the holidays and it is very rare I get anything on my birthday as a separate day. I have five more years on you but I wish you a wonderful 51st birthday. No cake for me either. However, I have been dreaming of extreme chocolate biscotti and think I will dip the ends in chocolate and coconut and make a toast to you! (I have to make them myself later today if I want to cure the craving). Have a wonderful year. I love your blog and books. Thank you for being yourself and again, Happy Belated!

    • Christina

    Jan and Amy’s coconut cake

    2 cups sugar
    2 cups sour cream
    2 cups frozen or fresh coconut
    1 package yellow cake mix [ sorry , that’s the recipe]

    The night before baking the cake, combine sugar, sour cream and coconut. Store in refrigerator.
    The next morning, prepare the cake and bake in 2 layers per pkg. directions. Split each layer so you have 4 total layers
    Frost/fill with sour cream mixture and store in fridge. DO NOT CUT CAKE FOR FOUR DAYS.

    Bon appetit and have a happy coconut’s my birthday cake ..thanks to my good friends..

    • sara

    Cumpleaaaañoooos feeeliiiiizzzz, cumpleaaañooos feeeeliiiiiz
    te desea sariiiiitaaaaaa
    cumplaaaañoooooos feeeeeliiiiiiizzzz!!
    clap clap clap clap

    you share your birthday with the Spanish “dia de los santos inocentes”, our version of April fool´s day in the U.S. if in Sapin you would get tons of trics played on you!!

    All the best and besos!!

    • Alta

    Happy Birthday! I hope your coconut cake is everything you hoped for!

    • Lisa in Seattle

    If you’re ready to give up on your coconut cake, this may be the perfect time to read “One Hundred Years of Solitude” by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. It may reignite your hope and keep the cake flame burning. :-)

    • SharonDC

    Happy Birthday You Beautiful Man!

    • Jen Carroll

    Hope the coming year is filled with happiness and health. Thanks for making my year(s) better with your blog and books. Love the humor but adore the cheesecake brownies and chocolate sorbet. Looking forward to reading how 51 is the new 21. :)

    • MarthaD

    David, Happy Birthday!!!!!!!!!!
    and many many more with Health, Happiness and Peace.

    • Kathleen

    Feliz Cumpleaños!

    In Spanish, we say , “Tengo 51 anos” — I have 51 years.

    If you ever make a coconut cake for yourself, check out Rose Levy Beranbaum’s recipe for Coconut Seduction Cake in her book, Rose’s Heavenly Cakes. It is wonderful.

    • charlene

    Happy, Happy Birthday. You may have an old soul, but it fills all of us with joy and laughter. Sounds like a xmas carol but so true when we all speak and think of you.
    Just traveled over 17 hours from Wash D. C. to Honolulu, Hawaii to cook and bake up a storm for my dear sister who also turns 51 today, Dec.28. On the menu, southern fried chicken, seared salmon, Caesar Salad, roasted new potatoes, consomme rice, and hot apple crisp with vanilla ice cream. You’re invited, now or anytime, and that Coconut Cake, No Problemmo. Just send me a safe address. I will get it to you. Best wishes, good health, for this new year.

    • Tags

    sang yaht faai lohk, David

    My youngest brother & the best man at my wedding share your birthday

    • Tammie

    joyeux anni.

    Perhaps you could offer me some advice. I wanted to make pate de fruits to ship to my boyfriend and i’m using a recipe that i worked with in france, but it’s not quite coming together. i suspect it’s the pectin, there’s a lot of ingredients that aren’t pectin in sure-jel and i’m wondering if that’s not watering down the effect. the pectin we used came from a plastic container labeled “pectine,” so i don’t know if it was vitpris or something else.
    the batch i made has been out for almost a day and is just not setting anything past super thick jam. i’m probably going to go for another batch with double pectin and if that doesn’t work then i’ll give up.

    do you have any suggestions for what i can do to the pate de fruits? or what i can do with the pound of thick sugary raspberry mass that i have? or what i should send to my boyfriend in lieu?

    • annie

    Bonne fete David,

    You look great and absolutely look nowhere near your age. My husband has the unfortunate birth date of January 2nd, where everyone is partied out, and no one feels like baking or celebrating anymore. I wish you good health for the coming year. Love your blog…you make me laugh!

    • annie

    Bonne fete David,

    You look great and absolutely look nowhere near your age. My husband has the unfortunate birth date of January 2nd, where everyone is partied out, and no one feels like baking or celebrating anymore. I wish you good health for the coming year. Love your blog…you make me laugh!

    • Donna

    Happy Birthday David,
    May God bless you on this joyous day and all through the coming year.

    • Maya

    Joyeux anniversaire, David! You share a birthday with my husband :)

    • trish paterson

    happy birthday david.xoxoxo

    • bumblebee611

    Happy Birthday, David! I’ve never posted before, but I read your blog religiously, and cook from your books and blog recipes constantly. I can’t thank you enough. I hope it was a terrific day.

    • Joana

    Feliz aniversário! (=Happy birthday in Portuguese)
    All the best, David!!!!
    Wish you an unforgettable 2010!

    • zeb

    Congratulations to you David!

    My dad had 81 on 25th December, he’s brilliant, fun, active, brainy, can cook, write poetry, walk the hills. Enjoy your time on this earth and strive to do good.

    • amy

    Happy Birthday (Belated?)!! Congratulations on hitting your 51 year mark and having your coconut cake.

    • Charlene

    Hi David!

    Bon anniversaire, Happy happy birthday a little late!
    Love, Health and All the Best in the New Year,

    from Charlene :) (still trying to make things work out in the Wine Country…)

    • Joan

    Feliz cumpleanos, David! You share this date with (one of) my favorite sisters-in law! May the year bring health, a little wealth, lots of laughs and many more wonderful stories and meals to share with us. Enjoy.

    • Karen@Mignardise

    One more birthday greeting, from Maine.
    My daughter’s b-day is the 23rd and right now it’s harder on me than it is on her.
    I’m so burned out by Christmas day, that I don’t care what I make (see most recent post).

    I will be 50 next summer and hope to spend my big day in Paris, with beaucoup de chocolat!

    • Celia

    Happy birthday, David! Wishing you another wonderful 51 years!

    • Maggie

    I realize I’m offering just another happy birthday, but you can’t have too many right? :)

    Happy birthday!!

    • jane

    Happy Birthday David.
    I met you briefly on the streets of Paris several years ago when a friend and I were gushing over a cheese store we had just walked out of. You stopped and told us of a local street market that was in session that morning. I loved the day. I love Paris. I love reading your column ( and all your books which I now own!) as it transports me back there. Best to you on your birthday.
    Keep cooking. Keep writing. Many thanks.

    • Anna Lynch

    Happy Birthday David!!

    This is my first time commenting on your blog, but I have been reading it for some time in addition to The Sweet Life in Paris in preparation for a three week study abroad trip to Paris. I am leaving on Wednesday and I am so excited; I am definitely planning to hit up some of the restaurants and shops you have recommended. Best wishes to you as you continue to write, entertain, and inspire us all to live the lives we want to live.

    • Anna Lynch

    Happy Birthday David!!

    This is my first time commenting on your blog, but I have been reading it for some time in addition to The Sweet Life in Paris in preparation for a three week study abroad trip to Paris. I am leaving on Wednesday and I am so excited; I am definitely planning to hit up some of the restaurants and shops you have recommended. Best wishes to you as you continue to write, entertain, and inspire us all to live the lives we want to live.

    • Mary

    Happy Birthday, David! My birthday is the day before Christmas so I feel your pain!

    • annie

    My fondest wishes to you for every happiness, and a wonderful birthday with many, many more to come!

    • Joy

    Happy Birthday, David!

    • platform bed

    Happy Birthday to you! I wish you more fruitful years and also more posts! And enjoy your day!

    • L Lovely

    With many festivities in between, a great season to have a birthday. Happy Birthday! I wish you a happy New Year!

    • Daniel Senerman

    יום הולדת שמח לדוד

    • Sebastian

    Masha pabien David!

    • Walter Miller

    Happy Birthday David!

    You don’t look a day over 35 — moving to Paris was probably a smart move for you. Keep up the good work and enjoy the next 51.

    • JeffW

    Happy Birthday David!

    • Serge Lescouarnec

    Joyeux Anniversaire
    Two days late
    Happy Birthday
    ‘The French Guy from New Jersey’

    • Rijk Jansonius

    Beste David.
    Hartelijk Gefeliciteerd met je verjaardag en nog veel gezonde jaren wensen we je!
    Groet, Rijk

    • Nati

    Feliz cumpleaños Daveed :)
    And a Happy New Year !!

    • g

    Happy Birthday, David! I enjoy your blog so much!

    • Daryl

    Happy Birthday David! I will gladly bake you a coconut cake if you ever visit Santa Monica (or Los Angeles). It’s the least I could do after all the laughter and enjoyment your site has given me.

    BTW – your coconut cake is the most requested cake when i bake for someone’s birthday. It also happens to be my all-time favorite cake!

    Cheers to 51!

    • Hanna

    생일 축하해요! It looks like I (or some other dedicated person) will have to go to your neighborhood to actually deliver that coconut cake into your hands.


    • Miguel Velasco

    Congratulation David, hope you had a great birthday!!!

    • Kathy

    It’s good “to have” the 51 years and not “to be” the 51 years. Perhaps a small difference but an optimistic air slips between the ownership and the years if one does not have to be ALL those years.
    Happy Birthday! Happy New Year!

    • Trig

    Bon anniversaire!

    • Maya

    Happy Belated Bday, Daveed!!! ;-)
    Best wishes from San Francisco, and also a Happy New Year 2010 to you…

    I’ve finally tempted to try your recipes…now that I’m not intimidated anymore of anything cooking/baking, thanks to hands-on cooking program that I’m in now.
    In Room for Desserts, I tried your Lemon Semifreddo for a friend’s bday with raspberry coulis, YUM!

    I did read your begging for a Coconut Cake for your very own special day, since you had always made it for someone’s father before, but no one has made you one. My Mr P loves coconut and anything islandish, so instead, you gave me an idea and I decided to make him a Coconut Cake for his bday this past Dec 10th! And it blew his mind! You’re right, David, it’s really delicious! But I have to say so so so sorry that I couldn’t send you one this time around on your bday ;-)

    From your The Sweet Life in Paris, I tempted some chocolate recipes from there: Chocolate Macarons, Chocolate Mousse, and Chocolate-Coconut Marshmallows (which didn’t turn out firm enough cause I was missing 5gr of gelatin…which I thought I could get away with it :-) Yum, yum, yum! My friends loved them all…I’ve become an addict of GREAT recipes now! Give me more…(what else did I try?; I gotta see some of my ‘firsts’ photo shots again to remember)

    Your recipes ROCK! I love them and trust you for following them.
    You’re my teacher, un vrai maitre, for anything sweet for sure. And you made me look GOOD so far…:-D

    Thank You, Chef!
    More successes, joy and happiness to you in 2010.

    A bientot, Ciaooooo

    • DianasaurDishes

    Happy Birthday David! By the way, I completely agree that Karen Carpenter owns Christmas Carols :)

    • barbara

    Un petit beurre, des toullioux!
    I love your blog..You can’t be 51…you are adorable…Reading your blog is like being able to breathe. I, too, have lived in France and as an American I find your commentary to be spot on… own it!!
    Bonne Annee!

    • Margie

    Happy belated, David. I hope you enjoyed a splendid day. I do sympathize with you, and everyone else that celebrates birthdays around major holidays. You do suffer a bit due to the shopping, and many other festive extremes we non-birthday folks have indulged within. Fear not, I am sure that many delved into a bit of vicarious, though imaginary baking, all in your honor. We love you dearly and hope you enjoyed our toasted coconut cakes.

    Many Happy Birthdays are wished for you.

    P.S. I burnt my fingertips trying for a trans Atlantic delivery. Oh, and a few of my brain cells are frayed too. The ESP factor was vamped up extra high. It caused a brown out along the Eastern shore. Please blow these candles out, ASAP!


    • Jen @ Tiny Urban Kitchen

    Happy Birthday!! My sister’s birthday is the day after Christmas, similar to your situation. One positive thing is that more often than not, the entire family IS together because we make an effort to be together on Christmas. Hope you enjoyed your birthday. :) Happy New Year as well.

    • Thip

    Happy Belated Birthday to you, David. And Happy New Year 2010! I’ll be in Paris soon. :)

    • Philadelphie

    Bon anniversaire Daveed! Hope its a good one!

    • Lisa

    Happy Birthday! May 2010 be a year of happiness, good health and much prosperity!

    • Lebertranöl

    Happy Birthday David! Blessings to you for the new year.

    • Laurent

    Happy belated, David.
    Regarding the use of “own” as being good (the best?) at, it could be translated by “maitrise”, although it is a bit slang-ish. As in: “les macarons, je maitrise…”

    • Anna

    It’s similar in Spanish. Yo tengo _____ años. = I have _____ years. (The tilde on the n is crucial here.)

    Happy birthday. Besos,

    • Anna

    Ugh, my bad for not looking at the date on here, ha, oh well. Happy belated then!

    • David

    Anna: That’s ok. The “tilda is crucial” comment gave me a good chuckle anyways! : )


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