Warm company, exquisite food, lightheartedness – delightful potpourri for a birthday treat

Sometimes, what you plan is not what you get.  For me recently, I got something else so much better.  I planned to pick up a quirky custom, carried from my youth, of treating for my birthday. Instead, wonderful friends gave me the party. Though not the plan I had in mind, I am so thankful for a gorgeous pre-birthday treat which Cai and her husband Genhai very graciously hosted in their lovely San Jose home yesterday. This really resulted from my inviting them to lunch with me and some other friends, to try authentic Filipino cuisine at a restaurant in Milpitas, CA.  I might have unintentionally uttered that I wanted to treat because of my birthday.  Immediately, Cai grabbed the opportunity to say, she’d rather do a lunch for me instead. I recall quickly explaining that where I grew up and in my youth, the celebrant was often teased for a “blow out”, meaning, the celebrant does the treating. Cai would not hear of it despite my flamboyant insistence. She was relentless, and she won.  I’m glad she did, though, because her lunch was superb, and the social, a bouquet of liveliness and fun. A real gift.

A very heartwarming birthday treat (Photo by Genhai Zhang)

The impressive food fare (Photo by Dan Yasukawa)

Enjoyable were the stories, conversations, banter and jovial exchange that often evoked engaged conviviality and laughter — lightheartedness most welcome especially during these serious and restrictive times. (By the way, as an aside, we all got fully vaccinated, and we all had the booster shots). Cai and Linda LY, the two ladies I was with had retired from my workplace, so catching up was most interesting. The activities they and their husbands engage in, such as frequent hiking, are the very ideal for retirement, proof that retirees can thrive. They hope to do more travels as they did before the pandemic. Busy, yes, but at their own determined time and schedule. They are so much fun to be with, as on this privileged social for my birthday.

Our lively talks dwelt on topics ranging from food to travels, hiking, music, art – and back to food.  There were sporadic alliterations to work, but only about the funny and amusing moments. Stories of whale watching evolved when Ningguo shared his recent trip at Monterey bay with two Stanford postdocs. He vividly described the roll of the see that savagely cradled their boat at certain times, a picture that made me think I can’t go whale watching on a boat, not for me. But when he showed imposing pictures of whale tails staunchly emerged from deep blue sea waters, I was captivated and decided, that would be worth watching. Linda LY then related her fascinating experience of seeing whales jump out of the water upon gulping down a mob of fishes swimming on the surface. That spurred my recollection of the biblical story of Jonah in the belly of the whale, and I wondered if the fishes felt like Jonah, constrained and trapped  Ah, but I thought, God took care of Jonah inside the belly of the whale, as He did when Jonah was outside the whale.  Not very strange at all how those whale stories made me think of God.

As I write this blog, I imagine the festive table arranged by our hosts Cai and Genhai. The enticement of the food array was matched by everyone’s robust appetite, mine included. The authentic Chinese cuisine so impressed me that I jabbed for names of the dishes and their ingredients. Some didn’t seem to have equivalents in English, so I didn’t get very far with names and details. But I didn’t mind, as I busied myself with tasting every delicacy on the table. The shrimp soup with cilantro fresh from Cai’s garden pot was the perfect starter. The fragrant whiff of the tender beef reached my nostrils before the meat touched my palate. Intrigued by the unique flavor, I asked what made it so. Ningguo explained that it was mainly the work of a mix of powdered spices that someday I will know the ingredients of.  Regardless, the beef was distinctly savory.  The thinly sauced slices of cream-colored vegetables looked like daikon or radish to me. But not so, I was told.  The slices came from a slender, cylindrical root crop rarely found in groceries, and when available, is extremely expensive. The long, brown skinned crop grows while buried deep under the ground that finding and extracting it can be difficult. Someday, I will know its name, too.

What attracted my attention initially was a bowl of orange colored round radish,. The mildly aromatic balls carried a tangy bite and a crunch that melded with a refined flavor of lemony hint as chewing progressed. Our host Cai made this very delectable side dish that graced color and zest to the table arrangement. In the chicken dish, a light sauce poured over the chicken slices added pizzaz that made me crave for another piece.  My favorite was a meat mixture inside a pocket of fried dough, which reminded me of the Spanish or Filipino “empanada”, also a meat mixture that fills a half-moon shaped pocket of fried dough. The main difference is in the texture of the  dough. The beef ribs were cooked to perfection. Not to be overlooked were the sumptuous fish balls and pork strips with bell pepper. And then, there were varieties of greens, as sauteed pea leaves and bokchoy. Ningguo brought a tray of scrumptious sushis, always a hit in our potlucks. To clinch the meal was the moist and delicious spongy layers of cake topped with light cream icing, brought by Linda LY and her husband Dan. A splendid and most impressive birthday fare indeed!

Not what I planned – but you see, I got something else remarkably better – a heartwarming, lively, entertaining and enjoyable time with wonderful friends at a quasi-spontaneous pre-birthday treat that I am so grateful for. Truly, a gift.

As we approach the grandest and best birthdays of all, the celebration of the birth of our Lord Jesus — I wish Merry Christmas – Happy holidays one and all!

Linda P. Jacob