Do you recall the ecstatic joy you felt when you watched the historic news video of real-life hero Captain Chesley Burnett “Sully” Sullenberger successfully piloting the emergency landing of U.S. Airways Flight 1549? He miraculously glided the big, commercial airplane to safety atop the surface of the Hudson River.
That was in 2009. Both engines of the airplane became disabled and Sully, who has one of our joy-giving American birthdays to celebrate this week, saved all 155 lives onboard. He stayed with his plane and was the last person lifted to safety. That joyous moment inspires our “UP AND AWAY BIRTHDAY PARTY” for joy-givers.
You sense the joy the minute you enter the room. HOORAY FOR THE JOY-GIVERS! This is a fantasy party to celebrate the birthdays this week of great American joy-givers of today and those from the past. (Note: The comments attributed to these famous joy-givers come from words they have written or said.)
Please give A ROUND OF APPLAUSE for these American joy-givers born in the latter part of January: 23—Chesley Sullenberger, III, 24—Maria Tallchief, 25—Alecia Keys, 26—Ellen DeGeneres, 27—Mikhail Baryshnikov, 28—Jackson Pollock, 29—Oprah Winfrey.
The famous U.S. Airways plane is parked on a landing strip and, though grounded, it is our party venue. As you enter the plane you notice all the rows and rows of seats have been removed and an elegant dining table is set for you and the seven birthday celebrants.
The interior has been painted by Jackson Pollock, a major American artist/innovator of the Abstract Expressionism movement. Pollock was known for pouring, splashing and dripping household paints on unstretched canvases which freed him to create from all angles.
Pollock created the party décor by moving his whole body, not just his hands, in a frenetic, dancing style. The Wyoming-born artist says, “I want to express my feelings rather than illustrate them.”
You remember Pollock from the famous photograph on the cover of a 1940s Life Magazine and the headline that read: “Is HE the greatest living painter in the United States?” Later, Time Magazine dubbed him “Jack the Dripper.”
The dinner menu is folded into a paper airplane at each place-setting. At first, you are chagrinned because each dish is coming from a commercial airline. Most airline food is ho-hum, bland, institutional fare. Then, you read the multi-starred reviews by top restaurant critics.
–EMIRATES AIRLINE, based in Dubai, serves regionally inspired foods on Royal Doulton bone china; at this party they suggest charcoal-grilled lamb brochettes with cinnamon-scented sauce.
–SWISS INTERNATIONAL offers you a sampler “Taste of Switzerland” tour through the country and I’m betting you could eat a Swiss Alps-sized mountain of Nidwalden-style mashed potatoes made with veal bacon and cheese.
–CATHAY PACIFIC, one of the first airlines to have rice cookers onboard, suggests you try the slow-cured pork with preserved Hakka mustard greens or maybe the curried prawns.
–AIR FRANCE collaborates with a different, renowned French chef every six months and menus change every 10 days.
–TURKISH AIRLINES, even for those flying coach, has an onboard chef serving tasty dishes like olive oil-poached artichoke and grilled beef with creamy eggplant.
–SINGAPORE AIRLINES specifically works with chefs from Michelin-starred restaurants; at our “Up and Away Birthday Party,” you could choose wok-fried chicken and bamboo shoots in sesame oil.
–AUSTRIAN AIRLINES has an onboard sommelier/wine steward and offers 11 flavors of Austrian Meinl coffee
We start with appetizers that seem to fly off the silver platters as Ellen DeGeneres shares some “airplane jokes” she repeatedly underscores were lifted from other American humorists. Here’s a sampling:
“A buzzard turns up at the airport with two dead animals. The staffer at check-in says, ‘Sorry, only one carrion per passenger.’”
“I heard we were going to have helicopter chips with our drinks tonight, but they didn’t have any so I just had (she winks)…They didn’t have helicopter chips so I just had plain chips.”
DeGeneres turns to Oprah Winfrey, “I was going to pitch you the idea of turning a fleet of old airplanes into diners but that would never (she winks) take off.”
Winfrey responds, “Well, I know I’m fortunate to have an airplane. Everyone wants to fly with you in your private plane, but what you really want are those true friends who will take the bus with you when you’ve been grounded.”
After you enjoy tastes from each of the airline’s gourmet chefs, it’s time for our featured entertainers.
Another of our birthday joy-givers, singer/songwriter Alecia Keys, has earned 15 Grammy Awards and is often called, “The Queen of Rhythm and Blues.” Keys, a perfect name for a gifted pianist, played classical piano as a child and enrolled in NYC’s Professional Performing Arts School at age 12.
Keys reminds the group that while she was mostly raised by her mother, her dad was a career flight attendant. “I was taught early that you have to risk the fall to know how it feels to fly.”
Keys introduces her closest seat mates, two of the world’s most-treasured ballet dancers, Native American Maria Tallchief and Russian-American Mikhail Baryshnikov. She continues, “I started playing classical piano when I was a child. And tonight, Sully and I are your musicians. The world knows Sully as an airplane pilot hero, but I know he was also the first chair flute-player in his Texas high school.
We had a flight of musical ideas and we are going back to our roots to play Stravinsky’s ‘Firebird’ while these two fabulous dancers thrill you with a pas de deux from that ballet. This feels like flying back in time to recreate something new. Sometimes you need to start again, in order to fly.”
Before the music begins, Tallchief says, “My husband, the world-renowned choreographer George Balanchine, created ‘Firebird’ as a gift for me. However, we dancers take steps given to us and make them our own.” Her graceful arms gesturing to the group, “Each individual brings something different to the role they play.”
Baryshnikov expands on her thought, “When a dancer comes onstage, he or she is not just a blank slate that the choreographer has written on. Behind that dancer are all the decisions he has made in life. Each time, he has chosen, and in what he is onstage, you see the result of those choices.”
Sully, assembling his silver flute, interrupts, “We have all heard about ordinary people who find themselves in extraordinary situations. They act courageously or responsibly, and their efforts are described as if they opted to act that way on the spur of the moment…I believe many people in these situations actually have made the decisions years before.”
The time has flown by. The beautiful music and dancing, cocooned in a Pollock masterpiece, the good humor from DeGeneres and the wise thoughts from Winfrey have lifted our spirits in this soaring setting and have been wondrously joy-giving.
The group is offered dessert, which is United Airlines’ Secret Stroopwafel Banana Bread. The recipe was a United Airlines and Daelmans Dutch bakery secret until so many flights were canceled early in the pandemic and the companies wanted those enjoying the “COVID baking craze” to have the pleasure at home.
Before all are ready to embark from this “Up and Away Birthday Party,” Winfrey ends the evening with a toast, “Here’s to all American joy-givers. As we move forward, it’s good to remember to surround yourself as we have tonight only with people who are going to take you higher.”
Daelmans Stroopwafel Banana Bread
Recipe by cookiesandcarrotsticks.com
United Airlines passengers rave about the delicious Dutch stroopwafels made with Daelmans. Stroopwafels are a layer of caramel syrup pressed between two, waffle cookies.
- 3 small, ripe bananas
- 2 eggs
- ¼ cup of vegetable oil
- 2 tsp. vanilla extract
- ¼ cup light brown sugar
- 1 ½ cup (spelt) flour
- 1 tsp. cinnamon
- 2 tsp. baking powder
- 1 packet of Daelmans Stroopwafels- or 10 stroops
- Preheat the oven to 350F and line a loaf pan with baking paper or grease it well.
- Remove the skin of the bananas and mash them finely.
- Mix the bananas mash with the eggs, oil and vanilla extract.
- Add the flour, sugar, cinnamon and baking powder and mix well with a whisk.
- Chop the stroopwafels into pieces. Spoon about 2/3 through the batter.
- Pour the batter into the loaf pan and divide the rest of the stroopwafels on top.
- Bake for about 50 minutes in the middle of the oven.
- Remove the banana bread from the oven and allow to cool.
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