My youngest daughter, Lauren and I have birthdays very close together in the early part of February. The other adult kids usually host a celebratory dinner for us and last year we employed a Chinese New Year theme, as the date was very close (February 5, 2019).
Besides, I was dying to use the wonderful Lunar New Year plates I’d picked up from Williams Sonoma sometime earlier.
They’re a lovely modern variation on a chinoiserie pattern, with pagodas, peonies…
…fish and plum blossoms…
…roosters and hanging lanterns…
…and dragons. Of course!
The colour red is very important during Chinese New Year, as it represents good luck and happiness.
So we employed a lot of red, including the runner, napkins, chargers and glasses.
We divided up the tasks for the celebration. My daughter-in-law, Annie and I got everything for the table. Adam, Kirsten, and Mike were responsible for procuring the food and we all pitched in to make the meal. Lauren (though one of the birthday celebrants) brought Better Than Crack Brownie cake. Our shared birthday cake for several years now, it replaced the much-loved Devils Food Cake (mix) with French Vanilla Icing (store-bought) covered with Smarties, which had been a staple for birthday parties and cupcakes taken to school for many years.
We picked up the lanterns at a local party store.
Annie bought the lucky money envelopes in Chinatown in Toronto.
Chinese New Year lasts for 15 days, and similar to the Greek zodiac, it has twelve different symbols. Instead of representing a 12-month cycle, however, the Chinese zodiac operates on a 12-year cycle. Each year in the cycle is represented by a different animal, and each animal symbolizes different personality traits.
The Chinese believe there is a connection between these animal traits and the characteristics of the people born during that animal’s year. We personalized each envelope with the recipient’s animal from their year of birth. The adults’ symbols were a bit scary looking, so we found some more child-friendly ones, too.
We included a description of the corresponding animal traits in the envelopes, which were greeted with much laughter and teasing. Two of our little girls are dragons, having been born in 2012. The dragon is thought to have a strong, passionate, and smart creature, with a very fiery personality, though the symbol below looks more like the Loch Ness Monster, frankly.
I set the table for eight for photographs, and we set additional place settings just before everyone arrived. Our family meals tend to get a bit crowded, and becoming more so now that high chairs have been left behind. I usually have one of the grandgirls beside me at one end of the table and we can get everyone else in along the sides. For now!
I bought some reusable chopsticks from Amazon.
The runner is the Floral Vine Boutis in Chili Pepper and the napkins are red jacquard, both from Williams Sonoma. The napkins I bought are discontinued, but I see they have some wonderful Zodiac ones available. Perfect for a dinner like this!
The dinner plates are Fargrik from Ikea. Though advertised as “dark turquoise”, they lean more towards navy. The red glasses are Arabella from Juliska (discontinued) and the clear glasses are antique wheel cut from Elise Abrams Antiques.
As to the food, we turned to Fine Cooking for inspiration. They proposed a Fortune Meets Flavor menu, most of which we included. We started with the Pork and Scallion Potstickers while everyone hung around the kitchen preparing the main course. Unfortunately, I didn’t get a picture of them as they were disappearing more quickly than we could cook them. They were a huge hit. Absolutely delicious and fairly straightforward to make. The only glitch we ran into was procuring the dumpling wrappers, but we finally managed to track those down at a local specialty store.
The Red Roast Chicken with Sweet Potatoes was delectable. Incredibly moist, it does indeed come out of the pot a deep shade of red due to the three cups of red wine and the additional three cups of soy sauce in which it simmers for hours.
The Chinese Style Spare Ribs came out a bit drier than we would have liked and quite spicy, but there were no leftovers.
The Longevity Noodles were the favourites of the little girls. Is there a kid who doesn’t love noodles?
Lastly, we served a big platter of stir-fried vegetables, including broccoli, red peppers and mushrooms.
Lauren thoughtfully used some paper and elastic bands to make the chopsticks easier to maneuver for the little girls. Once the first burst of hunger had been dealt with by employing more familiar forks, they enjoyed trying out the chopsticks and got quite good at handling them.
It’s always a bit wild trying to get the food on the table and everyone sitting down to eat while everything is still hot.
A wonderful time was had by all, crowned by the birthday cake (not the best picture, but you get the idea).
Is anyone planning to host a Chinese New Year dinner this year?
The date is quite a bit earlier in 2020, kicking off the fifteen-day celebration this coming Saturday, January 25. It will be sharing the date with Robert Burns’ Day, another date traditionally used for a cultural culinary feast.
Happy Chinese New Year and to all!
I’m sharing this post with Between Naps on the Porch.
Beautiful table setting with exquisite dishes that look almost too beautiful to put a knife and fork too – but then you used chop sticks. I would put these in a display case for sure! That roast chicken looked gorgeous as well as the yummy side dishes. It looks like lots of time and effort went into this early birthday celebration and I bet the girls loved that decadent looking cake. What a meal!!
Early happy birthday to you and Lauren.
Thanks, Maura. The food turned out really well, and the little ones had a blast with the chopsticks. You’re quite right that the cake was very, very popular! It’s sooo good.
Gung hay fat choy! As a child of the Pacific Rim, I was made well aware that I was a Dragon. It is the most powerful sign. Your grand kids will thank you for introducing them to chopsticks–when OH and I lectured in Bejing, our Chinese hosts were impressed that we did not ask for forks; a legacy of growing up with (even more difficult to maneuver) Japanese smooth round chopsticks. Somehow the food tastes different with them..Lots of cultural points earned there.
I love the blue of the plates and find the carp design especially pleasing. And oh, those wheel-cut glasses (!!) Looks like a lot of fun. Happy Bobby Burns day, too. Best, Beatrice
Another Dragon! It’s a wonderful sign under which to be born – you’re so lucky.
Teaching the little ones to use chopsticks had a couple of benefits, including the contrast with knives and forks (about which they complain, as kids do). They found the chopsticks challenging at first, but the elastics helped as it controlled the point of the leverage. The main thing was having items already in bite sized pieces. 🙂
Enjoy whatever celebration you might be participating in, Beatrice, whether it be Burns Day or Lunar New Year. There’s not a lot of jollity with the Coronavirus, is there? Yikes!
Stunning! I’d be thrilled with this fully laden gloriously red birthday decor when my January birthday rolls around!
Fact is, today we’re enjoying perfect June sunshine and it’s my favorite person in the world that’s celebrating his birthday. My husband. Tricky during these times of social distancing. Emails proclaimed greetings, well wishes, and old man jokes. He marks year 3 today of his very desired retirement as well. Possibly some folks can gather around our back yard firepit tonight and enjoy the fruit crisp & ice cream I plan to serve. The birthday boy doesn’t like cake.
Your Chinese lanterns give me an idea. Off to Dollar Tree to shop for some and light up the deck tonight.
I remembered this gloriously red birthday theme you posted celebrating Chinese New Year/ birthday. My birthday is tomorrow. Hubby & I will watch our WI GB Packers play final football playoff game. Winner goes to Super Bowl 2021!!
Therefore. My birthday party for 2 will be tonight. Will enjoy your broccoli stir fry recipe, a chilled green salad of spinach, cherry tomatoes, and seeded cukes with yummy creamy dressing from fancy restaurant that sells their house dressing to public. Main course salmon fillets on bed of mushroom & nut blend rice from WI Door county. Winter rose’ wine in small red goblets & Winter Song plates & low soup plates. Looking forward to a BIG RED table for two. Cheers, Helen!
Sounds like a very healthy and delicious meal. Gordon, my business partner has a place in Door County – absolutely gorgeous! And those cherries – every type and preservation imaginable. Yum!!
Yes. Christmas gifts over the decades are often a bottle of cherry wine from folks that vacationed in Door County. Tends to be sweeeeet dessert wine. I recommend Door County in Autumn with full fall leaf colors and getting the driest tart cherry wine. And as we like to say in WI, what happens up North, stays up North. Haha