Lunar New Year Birthday Party

It was supposed to rain buckets all day.

Instead, the weather was mostly balmy, though sometimes grey and damp.

We didn’t have firecrackers, but we did have a plethora of red balloons that Morganna and her friends popped after the party, in order to scare away the evil spirits.

There was lucky money, and the entire house was festooned in red tissue paper and ribbons, and green crepe (to bring money in the coming year) with balloons and a centerpierec of golden citrus fruit piled high next to a ceramic fu dog, many maneki neko to beckon in luck, and a crockery filled with chopsticks for the guests to use.

And then, there was the food: we started with siu mei–steamed pork buns shaped like purses, then scallion pancakes, pan-fried to a crispy finish. Thinly sliced turnip cake came next, creamy white inside and pan-fried to a delicate golden lace on the outside. Then, spring rolls filled with sweet bamboo shoots, slivers of pork, Chinese sausage-lop cheong-shrimp, black mushrooms and garlic chives, then deep fried to resemble gold ingots. Then came three batches of steamed buns: first the sweet red bean paste filled ones, then the mushroom filled ones of my own devising which take the place of char sui bai for vegetarians and Muslims, and finally the pork filled Cantonese classic.

I forgot to take pictures of most of this bounty, as I was in the kitchen, pretty much chained to the stove, constantly battling oil spills, recalcitrent dough and steamers trying to fall into their water baths, but at least my Mom dragged Morganna from her friends and me from my kitchen successfully to get a picture of the three of us.

There is a glimpse of all the fun, and food, the festoons and frolic. Morganna dressed as her Uncle Briyan said, “in girl clothes,” which is not a usual sight for us, and laughing joyfully, a sight which is becoming more and more prevalent, thankfully. Behind her is my mother and I; you can see through the laughter and proud beaming smile, and the shy quirked mouth that each of us exhibet, that none of us is fond of being photographed. It isn’t very well posed, but it is true to our personalities.

It was a fun time, even if I did cook for two days straight and had houseguests (very welcome and beloved ones at that) the entire time. Our friends and family pitched in to make the party go–Mom stayed in the kitchen and helped me, while Uncle Bryian, armed with his bagua compass, occupied the kids with decorating the inside and outside of the house in the colors red and green–red for fortune, joy and luck, and green for money, growth and abundance (and because we had run out of red). Brother Thomas, bless him, arranged the fruits and flowers, and Morganna’s gifts, placed the napkins and plates just so and set up the tea station, and took some photographs. (We drank puer tea all day–which Mom had never had. She swears she hates tea, but she sure did like this stuff. I think I may gift her with some, as she has only had Lipton before, and so knew no better.)

After all of the dim sum was consumed, and our friends, family and guests were becalmed a bit, I had Tom bring me the centerpiece of citrus he had so carefully arranged, and cut each fruit into wedges, then piled them onto a sky-blue platter. Blood oranges, navel oranges, and pomelo made a beautiful bed for a scattering of golden slices of crystallized ginger–they looked like sparkling gold coins dropped over a platter of precious gems.

Most importantly, they tasted divine, like kisses of the summer sunlight that yet remains elusive, but which, like fortune, joy, and luck, we entice into our year by eating its proxy and sharing its sweetness.


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  1. As I have said many times before “Now /that/ was fun!”

    And see, this time nothing caught fire badly, no one went to the ER, and everyone went home with all the parts they arrived with!

    Again, thank you so much for the food and fun.

    Comment by Bryian — January 30, 2006 #

  2. Totally lovely in every way.

    Comment by lindy — January 30, 2006 #

  3. Happy Birthday to Morganna!

    Nothing beats a celebration with your family and great food!

    Comment by Ivonne — January 30, 2006 #

  4. oh wow, morganna is so cute! i like how all the women in our family have to wear glasses. hmph.

    Comment by ashley — January 31, 2006 #

  5. Ahhh! It was wonderful to read that. I’ve been thinking about your party, torturing myself with thoughts about scallion cakes. Now I’m thinking about all the other things you fixed. This will probably drive me crazy for days!

    Comment by Sher — January 31, 2006 #

  6. Thanks, everyone! We did have fun–as Bry said, disaster was averted at every turn, there was plenty of food and music and fun, and Morganna, most especially, had a wonderful time, surrounded by friends and family.

    Ashley! Hi–(everyone, this is my cousin Ashley!) Yeah–Morganna is basically screwed on that score–the women on both sides of my family–Fisher and Perks–are nearsighted, and the women on her paternal grandmother’s side are all near-sighted. Though, she herself has worse eyes than me–she is already in bifocals, the poor thing.

    Thank goodness for modern ocular technology is all I have to say.

    Sher–scallion pancakes are not so hard as all that. I will put a link to the recipe I did of them this summer–unfortunately, Zak hasn’t gone back to put the pictures showing how they are made in, but they are pretty simple to make. You should try them–the dough is a 1:3 ratio of water to flour, with a pinch of salt added for flavor. One cup of water to three cups of flour–that is all to remember there.

    I’ll add that link today.

    Comment by Barbara — January 31, 2006 #

  7. Wow!!!!! I found the link for the scallion pancakes. Thank you. I am beyond blown away by your knowledge on these things.

    Alright, now I feel like Homer Simpson when he can’t get donuts out of his mind. “Must have…..scallion pancakes!”

    Comment by Sher — January 31, 2006 #

  8. when you finally make it to Taiwan…you MUST try the scallion pancakes made by street vendors.

    I feel its superior to those made on the mainland and your description of it all makes me so nostalgic–I had them once a week while I was living there this summer.

    I’ve never attempted to make them at home because my mom always felt she could get the best at a local place or when I was in Asia I had to just walk out my door a few paces and voile! I had my yummy pancakes. I think they are one of the dishes that few chinese-americans ever make because of its accessiblity in a restaurant or store(at least on the coasts, not too sure about the rest of the US).

    I hope the Year of the Dog brings you and your family prosperity and happiness (and lots of scallion pancakes)!

    Comment by Rose — February 1, 2006 #

  9. Happy Birthday to Morganna!

    Hope mummy had a good time too! Blessing for the new year ahead.

    Comment by Shirley — February 1, 2006 #

  10. Thank you, Shirley–Mummy had fun, too. Except for having my finger burned by boiling oil–(a scallion pancake made a bubble that popped, spewing oil onto my hand–ow) it was a great party!

    Rose–the idea of scallion pancakes from street vendors is just too amazing for words for me.

    You are probably right–very few Chinese Americans make them if they can get them elsewhere. Funnily enough–the first place I had them was in Athens at China Fortune, and then when we left, and went to Providence, Rhode Island, we couldn’t find them. We got them in Boston, and they were good, but it was in Providence that I learned to make them for myself.

    For myself, and all the Chinese and Asian kids in culinary school, that is. Once NeeWee and Chris found out that I had learned how to make them, they would come over for some after class, or when we worked on Saturdays helping out with various events the school put on, I would make batches of them for us for lunch.

    When we got to Maryland, we found one place that made them–and those were filled with a minced pork filling, which I also learned to make, because the restaurant closed down!

    And then, the only places that had them used two tortillas with scallions inside. That is not a scallion pancake!

    So, now I am in the habit of making them, though we will still head out to China Fortune for them now and again.

    It is almost like we have gone full circle!

    Sher! Glad you found it–I forgot to put the link in! Gah. I will go back and do that today!

    Comment by Barbara — February 1, 2006 #

  11. If only I could hire you to cater one of my parties! It sounds like you guys had a magnificent time.

    Bows down and worships the kitchen goddess.


    Comment by Benjamin — February 1, 2006 #

  12. Thank you, Benjamin–I would be happy to cater a party for you–if you lived here! (Or, you could just come to my house to eat.)

    Comment by Barbara — February 1, 2006 #

  13. Too bad I don’t live in Chilicothe anymore. That would have been much closer to Athens than Chicago.

    I was curious whether you guys grow any of your own produce? I am planning on starting a container garden on my apartment building roof and I was wondering whether you have any favourite herbs or vegetables that you grow yourself? It would be so much easier for me to have a chile pepper plant, I think, than to keep running to the asian grocery store every other day. : )

    Comment by Benjamin — February 2, 2006 #

  14. In the summer, I always grow my own basil–both Italian and Thai basils, because all summer long, I make Thai curries and pesto. When we lived in Pataskala, I had huge gardens, so I started my own basil plants and ended up with over a hundred of them all over the garden–and we ate so much pesto, you would think we would tire of it, but we never did.

    I grew my own Thai bird chiles and dragon chiles, as well as some Pakistani chiles. Tomatillos went wild in the garden and took over, we had strawberries, and tomatoes.

    Definately, if I were you, I would grow some good cherry tomatoes, cilantro, a couple thai bird chile plants, basil, rosemary, thyme, sage and oregano. That is the absolute minimum.

    This coming year is when we start terracing our back yard which is all steep hillside, so we can put in a new garden. I miss my roses and the ability to grow fresh vegetables and fruits.

    Comment by Barbara — February 2, 2006 #

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