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.