Valentines

I almost forgot, Happy Valentine’s day!

This year marks what is possibly the best Hallmark Holiday I’ve had in quite a few years….in the past this day has been made memorable due to ten-day long bouts of stomach flu and violent illness, petty fights and stupid boys. It’s not that I dislike the concept, sure flowers and chocolate and celebrating love is a good thing, it’s just historically held bad memories for me. I was a little bit annoyed by all the vendors with their flowers and the boys standing on street corners with stuffed bears bigger than me and ridiculous, over the top frilly pink bouquets, but that’s mostly because I’m a perpetually pouty, angry robot. Chairman commiserated, saying the vendors would get none of her money and that “我没有情人“ or that she doesn’t have a lover.

Around noon, I rallied Ginny and Allie to come with me to get some errands done, needing to replenish the money on my phone and help them get their phones all set up. We wandered around a hutong and decided on a Shanxi restaurant for lunch (after entering the most populated restaurant only to realize we would have to cook our own food, and Allie was having none of that). My reading ability is the best of all of us, and menu reading is absolutely not my forte, so after laughing at us for a bit, the staff directed us to the door with a poster of pictures. We all ordered a Chinese version of a pulled pork sandwich (which Allie, on her previous trip to Beijing, dubbed a “duckburger” since no one in her group of companions had been familiar with 五花肉), a sort of crispy bun filled with shredded pork belly. I’m a huge fan, but I have a weakness for delicious braised fatty pork. We also got noodles, a big bowl of niu rou mian for Allie and dry noodles in sauce with a very liberal amount of chilies on top for Ginny and myself. it was delicious, if a huge carbo-load.

Lunch induced a bit of a food coma and I ended up taking an afternoon nap, then waking up in a panic thinking I was late for work at the kitchen. I got there in plenty of time, however, to be well prepared for the party of 16 coming in. Dice sent me out to make sure they weren’t lost, as the Kitchen is located confusingly in the back of a courtyard, unmarked, in a small hutong. I saw a large group of laowai standing on the street corner drinking wine out of plastic cups and just knew they were out guests. They were rowdy and drank a lot of wine, but very nice, even if they did insist on moving tables. We had set up two tables of eight, and they decided to all crowd into one room around one table, messing up all the table setting I had done earlier.

They were all couples, but at least they were all married so it wasn’t intensely romantic and depressing. The menu was all the same as before, pumpkin and pork dumplings, shitake coriander salad, wheat gluten, hongshao pork belly and eggplant, gongbao jiding, etc, with a few tweaks here and there for vegetarian guests. We changed up the dessert in honor of Cupid’s day, and served battered, caramelized strawberries with ice cream. We ran out of cream and the supplier we normally used was closed, and every store in a 15-minute radius was closed, so ridiculously we served McDonald’s soft serve, but it was pretty decent and the guests were happy. I like the caramelized sweet potatoes better, which I am going to have to try and duplicate, and I bet it would work better with apples or bananas. The problem with strawberries is that they get mushy and aren’t very sweet over here.

It was a long night, even with frequent snacks thanks to Chairman, and after we finally shuffled the guests out well past closing, Dice and I were ready to relax. We ate a lot of rice and the fish (带鱼)that Chairman had made us earlier, split a bottle of Chardonnay that was as sweet as candy, and ate chocolate, while comparing the East and West coast mentality and discussing our shared Asian American experience growing up with conservative parents in New England. It was peaceful and entertaining, and finally around 11:45 we finished cleaning up and I reluctantly decided I could splurge on a cab rather than walk 40 minutes home in the freezing cold.

Not the most romantic, but certainly not nearly the worst celebration. Plus, it sure as hell beats being beaten by goat hides (Lupercalia, the origin of modern Valentine’s Day, was one messed up Roman tradition).

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