A Week of Celebrations
Take your pick: Chinese New Year, which begins today and is observed for 15 days, or Valentine’s Day on Sunday.
These days, more of us seem to observe all the traditions—Chinese New Year, St. Patrick’s Day, Cinco de Mayo and every other major cultural event is an excuse to learn about each other, share food and partake in the festivities. And Valentine’s Day can go beyond a romantic evening for a couple. In our house, it’s a family affair.
In addition to two celebrations going on almost simultaneously, I’m cooking for two birthdays: one for my son and another for my good friend Carol.
So I’m trying to figure out a way to make all these observances work together and I think I have a plan. We’ll do my son’s dinner themed around Chinese New Year and invite my friend for a Valentine’s birthday brunch.
For any kind of get-together, the first thing I plan is the table setting. Those red cloth napkins I use every Christmas works for both occasions (also good for the Fourth of July). My everyday white plates go with everything and make cleanup afterwards simpler than using fine china.
For the Chinese New Year dinner, I’ll add chopsticks, tea cups, soup bowls, red paper envelopes and I’ll cover my hanging table lamps with Chinese paper lanterns. If I have time, I’ll get little pots of narcissus for the table.
For the Valentine’s Day brunch, I’ll wrap the napkins in paper doilies tied with red ribbon, fill a vase full of red or pink tulips, and scatter candy hearts on the table.
Almost all my recipes will be quick and easy, and most will come from the Special Fork recipe database.
Here’s my menu:
Chinese New Year/birthday celebration for my son:
- Hot and Sour Soup is quick to make and has plenty of robust flavor to start the meal.
- Hoisin Honey Baby Back Ribs just requires marinating ribs, baking, then giving them a quick run under the broiler for crusty, finger-lickin’ goodness.
- Steamed Fish with Ginger and Green Onions simply steams fish with a simple sauce for 10 minutes. The Chinese New Year dictates a whole fish instead of fillets.
- Garlic-Chile Eggplant Sticks is a tasty recipe by Linda Lau Anusasananan from The Hakka Cookbook, Chinese Soul Food from Around the World. Since this dish can be served hot or at room temperature, I’ll make it earlier in the day and get it out of the way.
- And finally, I’m reviving an old Lemon Chicken recipe I used to make in the 70s, from The New York Times International Cookbook. This one is the most time-consuming so I’ll prep all the parts in advance and cook it last.
- For dessert, we’ll have chocolate cupcakes—I’m making a big batch to freeze and will defrost (and frost) as needed, for each birthday.
Valentine’s Day/birthday celebration for my friend:
- Curry Chutney Deviled Eggs marries sweet chutney with spicy curry powder, giving the eggs personality.
- Bagels and lox will be accompanied with cream cheese, sliced onion, capers and chopped dill.
- Herb-Garlic Cheese Spread is an easy, Boursin-like spread that can serve as an optional spread with the salmon or can be used alone with the bagels. Recipe from Chef Holly Chute of Atlanta.
- Sun-Dried Tomatoes and Walnuts Tossed with Penne is a hearty salad that can be served at room temperature or chilled. Mashed tofu gives this salad some extra body.
- Escarole Salad with Grapefruit, Pistachios and Ricotta Salata is a good buffet salad, but I’ll use oranges instead of a grapefruit. Recipe by Katie Barreira.
- A bowlful of fresh strawberries or a fruit salad made with fruits in season will be colorful and refreshing.
- Chocolate cupcakes from my frozen stash, sprinkled with candy hearts, will make my Valentine birthday dessert.
It’s going to be a busy weekend!
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