My delightful and amazing friend showed up a few weeks ago with a duck and a goose for our freezer. I had last met the birds as cute little fuzzywumps who were making a temporary stop in her condo on their way to the farm where they were to be raised.
Better, more interesting, and more thoughtful writers have written about the contradiction of loving specific animals and eating them. But not all of them have a 7- and 4- year old to stage impassioned debates on the issue.
The boys asked what I was bringing down to the basement freezer and I told them. Z. blanched and said, “But that’s TERRIBLE!” And he started crying and telling me he wouldn’t eat them. E. said, “Oh, I want to eat them, Mommy. I’ll eat their … HEADS!” So while his brother sobbed, I explained that birds usually don’t have heads by the time they get to someone’s freezer, and we trooped downstairs to peer inside the plastic bag at the birds. E. nodded. Z. announced that he was going to be vegetarian.
As the boys continued to loudly process their quest for ethical eating, I wanted to plan a meal around the birds. Then, before I knew it, Valentine’s Day and Chinese New Year’s were about to coincide and we turned it into a little party. I started thinking about traditional good luck New Year dishes and Valentine’s fun.
I planned on a sort of mock Peking duck, with the overnight approach of steaming the bird and then roasting it with a glaze on the skin. But when I went to start them: NO SKIN! I gasped and started scratching my head, saying something that rhymed with, “duck,” over and over. What was I going to do? What possible substitute for skin could there be? Duck, duck, duck, f …
Then there it was: bacon.
So it was on to plan B. and making a sort of frosting with palm (unhydrogenated, organic, non-saturated) shortening, molasses and sambal oelek, and rubbing it all over the birds before draping them with lots of thick-cut bacon. Then I roasted them in a clay-pot cooker to keep as much moisture in as possible.
I cooked them for about 1 3/4 hours at 475, which was when faces began to appear from all directions, asking to snitch a piece or two of bacon. We then carved the meat and served it with:
- Bacon, since there was no crispy skin
- Wheat tortillas brushed with sesame oil and warmed
- Hoi sin sauce
- Julienned scallion greens
- Scallion brushes (If you make this, don’t skip these! They look great and will make your guests giggly-happy.)
There were tea eggs. Here are Sara and her lovely daughter peeling them (and Kim laughing at my silly picture-taking ways):
And General Tso’s Seitan with broccoli, with homemade seitan made with Post Punk Kitchen’s excellent and reliable recipe.
My mom brought the unpictured but delicious Beets with Star Anise from Deborah Madison’s Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone, and made sauce for Sesame-Peanut Noodles (long noodles are a traditional celebration food because they’re associated with long life).
Dessert was truffles, plus Sweet Rice Cake. I love this dish, but I adore sticky gooey things made with glutinous rice. Besides being a really endearing texture, it’s auspicious for New Year’s because it’s round, signifying family union, and sweet for a sweet new year, and its name in Chinese is a sound-alike for a sort of good wishes expression.
But there were children to consider, so a Western-style dessert was in order. In the morning, I had thrown together a vegan orange batter for cupcakes, then realized I had left out the baking soda, which I hurried in right before baking. That was when I had a first-hand experience with what happens when you over-activate your leavening agent.
So I baked the rest as a cake, which worked better for some reason. Then after dinner, while the children were acting completely insane and were all past their bedtime, a 10-year old guest and I made our silly piece de resistance, which involved the cake, neon-colored 7-minute frosting, black icing gel, and heart sprinkles. It was a Tiger’s Valentine’s Cake (about which my assistant made sure to remind guests, “No actual tigers were harmed in the making of this dessert”).
And then we sent guests home with cupcakes and collapsed in a fit of sugar and food and good conversation.