Happy Year of the Sheep!

Happy Year of the Sheep!

During the last years of my Columbus life, I hosted Lunar New Year parties. They were a welcome distraction since late winter is a dreadful time year in Ohio. The Western holiday festivities are over. Valentine’s Day is complicated and depressing for most of my inner circle. And since we all had some interest in Asia, either through our studies or travel, it just worked. Festive times were had. I still get Lunar New Year messages recalling fond memories from the bohemian crew who attended these soirees.

About a week ago, Professor X received an invitation to the Corvallis Chinese School party, which featured home-cooked food, games, and student performances. The latter came first, with the youngest students performing live or, more accurately, being encouraged to perform live. Of the two, one was more interested in making fart noises into the mic, while the other declared “Banana! Potato!” every time his turn came. (Ed note: Yes, my ovaries were exploding. I’m still recovering from the dream of conceiving a mischievous son.)

After wrapping up the presentations, we were invited to eat. (65 and up first, of course.) The potluck was a home-style spread of tea eggs, stir-fried veg, noodles, and mains. Everything was delicious, but the most notable dish for me was a spicy salad of celery, cloud mushrooms, and chile oil. Professor X’s favorites included a slow cooker version of beef hot pot, which was incredibly tender and succulent, and stir-fried tofu. Professor X is a carnivore and vegetable hater of legendary proportions, so it was a surprise to see him plowing through two portions when I turned to offer him a taste of celery salad.

“You’re eating tofu?”

“Seriously. Try this,” he replied. “It reminds me of good paneer.”

The ensuing forkful was…I really can’t find a word for it. Silky, smokey, savory. It was awesome. Possibly the best tofu I’ve had since 2004. While we ogled over the dish, Professor X’s colleague casually mentioned that his wife made it.

Dessert was similarly revealing. In addition to tangerines, there was “dessert soup” and a “Chinese sweet with red bean paste.” I got both, but was curious about what exactly I was eating. “Dessert soup” ended up being pureed mung beans with coconut milk and a touch of sugar; very much like homemade soy milk in its warm, soothing delicacy. A resourceful young woman at our table (read: eight years old) retrieved the information from the kitchen when no one had an answer. (Ed note: She successfully applied her scouting skills and unassuming size later during the scavenger hunt. I see her doing very well as a diplomat or member of the CIA. Still in pink, of course.) The “Chinese sweet with red bean paste” remains a mystery. Sure, it’s red beans baked with glutinous rice flour and cut into small triangles. I ate 10 of them, so I know darn well that they have just the thinnest bit of crisp outside that gives way to two layers chewy mochi love surrounding a scattering a red beans. But what are they? Try Googling “Chinese sweet with red bean paste.” The search results are enormous. Perhaps it’s better that the recipe remains a mystery. The last thing I need is a whole pan laying around the house.

The games started after dinner. We stayed for the scavenger hunt, which was a raucous good time even if I didn’t understand half of it, but left in the interlude between amusements. Once out into the quiet of Corvallis night, Professor X stated “You know, India will be a lot like this.”

“How so?” I asked.

“The level of stimulation with everyone talking loudly at the same time. It’s all in good fun though,” he replied.

I don’t doubt this is the case. However, I find more and more that I would rather be clueless, yet amused in a bilingual cacophony than bored to tears in a crowd that I understand. If nothing else, the food is better.