April has been a very busy month, what with work, income taxes, getting used to a new season and a new schedule. Fortunately, there were other, more pleasant reasons for this busy-ness–namely, two birthday celebrations I had the honor of attending just over a week ago, in Palo Alto.
The first honoree–an old friend of the family, especially of my mother who has known her from more than 50 years–was observing her 99th birthday, a watershed marked by the Longevity fan on prominent display at both parties. The matriarch of a large, far-flung family, she has lived a rich, full life, is still as sharp as a needle, and was apparently pleased and excited to see so many friends and relatives in attendance at her party.
By contrast, the second honoree–great-granddaughter of the first–has just turned one, an occasion marked in Chinese tradition by a “Red Egg Celebration” (where hard-boiled eggs, colored pink by red calligraphy paper, are served to the guests as symbols of a fresh start and new beginning). All things are still to come for her (including her first set of teeth), but she too was majorly stoked about her birthday party, if for a slightly different reason. As her fond mother reported with pride, “This girl loves to eat!”
Which turned out to be a very good thing, as both birthday dinners were Chinese banquets featuring a multitude of dishes and courses. My advice to anyone who happens to attend such a dinner: Pace yourself. In between the cold meats and salads that began both meals to the noodle dishes (for longevity) that ended them, there was soup, Peking duck, Chinese-style fried chicken, rice-stuffed chicken, Mongolian beef, beef with broccoli, sweet and sour pork, shrimp with glazed walnuts, and steamed fish (the last carefully deboned at the table by the waiter). It’s possible to sample everything, but, depending on your capacity, keeping your servings small to moderate is generally a good idea! I managed by restricting myself to single servings on most dishes (with a couple of exceptions–could never resist Peking duck!), and bypassing a few others (like the jellyfish–it’s the texture, not the taste, that puts me off!). Dessert on both occasions was thoroughly Western birthday cake: strawberries and cream the first night, chocolate and raspberry the second.
(Strangely enough, the red eggs never did get eaten, possibly because they were eclipsed by everything else on the table. But they were carefully packed away in styrofoam cartons for another occasion. I overheard someone murmur something about “egg salad” the next day.)
A very happy birthday to both honorees! Thank you for inviting us, and we were glad to be there, celebrating with you.