My dear husband had one of those big birthdays yesterday, and one of our nieces came up (she and I had been plotting a surprise) to spend the night and go out to dinner with us. She let herself into our place early. I promised to get him home by 4:30, so there we were, but when he unlocked the door and pushed on it something was holding it shut. He pushed harder, thinking something had fallen down to block the door -- and then a hand came through the opening, holding a chilled champagne glass. He had no idea whose it was. He took the glass, and then the hand withdrew and came back, holding another glass for me. Finally the door opened and he saw our niece, who he loves dearly and hasn't seen for months, holding the bottle and saying "Happy Birthday!" It was great.
When my mother-in-law was alive, family birthdays and other special occasions were always marked by a labor-intensive ritual: the cooking of plate after plate of sambousek, a Middle-Eastern delicacy of paper-thin dough filled (in our family's case) with a cheese, scallion and parsley filling and then deep-fried. It was her signature and specialty. None of us have had it, or attempted it, since she died a number of years ago, but for this special birthday I decided it was time to try. I bought all the ingredients --the filling is the easy part, it's the pastry and its handling that are difficult -- and consulted with J.'s sister to see if her recollection was the same as mine (it wasn't exactly, but they were close). There's no written recipe, of course, and even the verbal instructions were always vague. The recipes I found online bore absolutely no resemblance to what I remembered.
So after the initial surprise and our hilarity had subsided yesterday, I told my husband and niece that I'd gotten the ingredients and suggested that we try to do it together. They were excited. We pooled our collective memories, rolled up our sleeves and went to work, and forty-five minutes later we were eating the first pastries, astounded to discover that they were not only delicious but very close to the originals - just lacking some salt, and my father-in-law's pronouncements about the inferior quality of the current batch as he put one after another into his mouth.
We almost never had alcohol at family parties, but I've got to tell you: sambousek and champagne were made for each other. (And, no, this is one recipe that's staying unwritten!)