I have the best mother on the planet. I know everyone thinks their mother is the best, but take my word for it guys…mine is the greatest ever. She’s beautiful, glamorous, wildly intelligent, kind-hearted, and generous to a fault. She’s always there for me when I need her, I’m pretty sure her life goal — other than becoming an international expert on honeybee viruses (which she is) — is to make sure I’m happy and fulfilled, and she bullies me into being the best that I can be every day. She is my idol, and I love her. And I don’t think I do enough to show her that I appreciate her.
Her birthday was last Thursday, and as per usual I had something delicious delivered to her office to be shared with her co-workers. But, because I was feeling particularly grateful to my mom (she and my dad gifted us the down payment on our new condo…see what I mean about generosity?), I wanted to do something extra special for her. So, I invited her over for a home-cooked, traditional Chinese birthday meal. What better way to show someone you care about them than to feed them?
We started with deviled eggs. OK, so deviled eggs aren’t exactly a “traditional Chinese food.” But, I read somewhere online that eggs are eaten on special occasions in China, because their round, smooth shape symbolizes continuity and unity. Or maybe it has something to do with fertility? Either way, eggs are special, so I was making eggs for my mom. Plain ol’ hard-boiled eggs are gross though, so I jazzed them up a bit with mustard and mayo. Delicious!
Dumplings are also can important dish for special occasions, because they look like money (old school Chinese money), and so symbolize good fortune/wealth. My local grocery store didn’t carry dumpling wrappers so I had to make do with wonton wrappers instead. I mixed together ground pork, green onions, chopped cabbage, soy sauce and sesame oil, folded them into roughly dumpling-esque shapes, tossed them into my wok, and hoped for the best. Not the prettiest dumplings I’ve ever made, but pretty tasty anyway.
No Chinese birthday is complete without “longevity noodles.” Noodles are a symbol of longevity in China, and long noodles represent long life. On birthdays, we customarily eat bowls of noodles to ensure that we live long and healthy lives. I want my mom to live a very long and very healthy life, so I obviously had to serve her noodles.
As far as I know, pork doesn’t symbolize anything…Chinese people just love to eat it. Who can blame us? It’s fatty and delicious. My dad makes the best fatty pork dish I’ve ever tasted — the fat just melts on your tongue, and the rest of the meat is unbelievably tender and flavorful. I couldn’t even begin to compete with that, so I decided to make braised pork ribs instead. My friend from college recently posted a recipe for it on her blog, and I tried it out to great success and praise from everyone. Thanks, Lucy!
My proudest achievement in this meal was this birthday cake. Chinese-style birthday cakes are different from traditional birthday cakes in that they’re a lot less sweet, utilize tons of fresh fruit, and have a much lighter/fluffier frosting. My mom has a crazy sweet tooth, but she hates the run-of-the-mill, sickly sweet birthday cakes found at grocery stores the world over. In recent years we’ve started ordering cakes from our local Asian supermarket, and they are always light and delicious. When I saw that my friend Lucy also had a post about Chinese bakery-style birthday cakes on her blog, I knew I had to try my hand at it. I am the world’s worst cake froster, but the cake was wonderful. The spongy cake was light and fluffy, the frosting was delicate in its sweetness, and the fresh fruit was scrumptious. Dan and my dad both ate second helpings and declared it to be better than any other birthday cake they’d ever eaten. And my mom? She actually finished an entire slice of cake, and didn’t scrape off 90% of the frosting like she usually does. Success!
Happy birthday, Mom! Hope you had a great day 🙂