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Serious Entertaining: A Sweet Carolina Birthday

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[Photographs: Carrie Vasios]

Everyone has their own special birthday dessert. Mine is a two layer vanilla cake with pink vanilla frosting and rainbow jimmies. I've been eating it since I was about six. (Before that I was obsessed with Entenmann's Louisiana Crunch Cake. My mother wasn't happy, but you give the birthday girl what she wants.) So when I offered to throw a birthday party for my friend Lacey, the first question I asked was, "What do you want for dessert?"

Well, she got a sort of dreamy look on her face and said, "Pudding." Actually, Lacey is from coastal South Carolina, so a more accurate description of what I heard was a soft puff of air followed by a gently drawn out n: "Puh-din." She explained that when she was a kid, her mother would always make her a big batch of banana pudding on her birthday. She was allowed to attack it with a spoon while her little brothers waited not-so-patiently for any remains.

We agreed that I would make the pudding if she promised to share.

This rest of this menu highlights Low Country cuisine. It's full of fresh seafood, vibrant vegetables, and the occasional burst of heat. It's bound to please guests from any state.

Black Eyed Pea Succotash in Red Pepper Cups

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This twist on traditional succotash replaces lima beans with black eyed peas. Sweet corn, purple onion, and red and green bell peppers make up the rest of this fresh and colorful salad. For a pretty presentation, serve the succotash in hollowed out bell peppers or tomatoes.

Crab Cakes with Spicy Pimento Mayonnaise

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These are crab cakes the way you want them: chock full of sweet crab and little filler. They're moist and light with a thin, crunchy crust. The accompanying pimento mayo is a nice change from regular tartar sauce and gives the dish a bit of heat.

Banana Pudding

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I couldn't have been more thrilled when Lacey requested banana pudding because it happens to be one of my favorite desserts. Alternating layers of vanilla pudding, ripe bananas, and Nilla wafers make a dish that is cold, creamy, and delicious. I made one giant bowl (including birthday candles) for effect, then spooned individual servings into delicate parfait glasses.

Drinks

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I love throwing birthday parties for friends, but providing alcohol can get really expensive, really fast. My go-to move (with the OK of the birthday boy or girl) is to simply have guests bring their own bottle of wine or pack of beer in lieu of a present. Set a table with cocktail napkins, wine glasses, and a large bowl of ice and let your friends fill in the rest.

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