My husband, mother-in-law, and I threw our firstborn a traditional Chinese red egg and ginger birthday party when he turned one this past week. I am sure you are wondering, "What is a red egg and ginger party?" Red egg and ginger parties are typically celebrated at the one month mark of a young child's life. During the ancient times, when infant mortality rates were high, if a child survived to the one month mark, it was a sign of great fortune and an event worthy of a big family get-together.
The one month milestone in a child's life is a significant occasion for all families, and this milestone is marked by a huge celebration in Chinese culture, where family and friends plan a banquet and meet the new baby. Also, a mother was expected to rest for one month so that she could recover from the physical stress of labor. During such parties, relatives prepare large stockpots of nutritious ginger soup, as ginger has warming (yang of yin/yang) properties to help the mother heal and help increase milk production. The ginger soup, as well as a rice wine and pork trotter soup are strongly believed to help nurse a new mama back to health after childbirth. Also, boiled eggs, representing fertility and life, were dyed red (the luckiest color in Chinese tradition) and gently massaged onto the baby's face. Legend has it, that the egg would increase the fertility of newborn child, guaranteeing a sizeable family. Also, during these parties, instead of birthday presents, the baby and the new parents are given red envelopes (hong bao).
In ancient times, at a red egg and ginger party, the family would formally name their newborn and also shave their baby's head for good fortune. Although we didn't carry out all of the traditions of the red egg and ginger party, we tried to carry the theme throughout our baby's party. That meant dressing him up in a formal outfit and serving Chinese party foods!
As the day approached, however, we realized that our menu was a little too ambitious, so we ended up getting a little help (i.e., ordering frozen dumplings, jungzi, and soy sauce eggs from nearby San Francisco restaurants and shops). We have a little baby, so a little "help" is necessary for throwing a party! The party menu included (see descriptions below, with three recipes):
Chicken and Napa Potstickers with Soy Garlic Dipping Sauce
Soy Sauce Eggs (soft boiled eggs marinated in a bath of soy sauce and mirin--for a good recipe, click here)
Shrimp Fried Rice (just add shrimp and frozen peas to my old recipe)
Vancouver Japadog-Style Hot Dogs with Asian-Fusion Topping Bar (for the kids, with wasabi paste, Japanese mayo, caramelized onions, and nori slivers)
Oranges (which symbolize good fortune, prosperity, and longevity in Chinese culture), Boiled Eggs Dyed Red, and Fruit and Veggie Plates
Chinese Tamales, or jungzi
Grilled Chicken Drumsticks
Chicken and Pine Nut Lettuce Wraps
2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, finely diced (best to cut if partially frozen)
2 cup carrots, peeled and finely diced (depending on size of carrots, about 5)
1/2 cup green scallions
1/3 cup of pine seeds, lightly toasted in pan for a few seconds until fragrant
2 tbsp of corn starch
2 tbsp of soy sauce
1 tbsp of canola oil
1 tsp salt, or to taste
1 head of lettuce, washed, with leaves separated
Heat the oil in a frying pan until shimmering. Add the carrots and cook until they have started to sweat. Meanwhile, combine the chicken with the soy sauce and corn starch, and then add it into the pan, stirring constantly. Then, add the scallions and fry until the chicken is cooked through. Then, add the pine seeds and serve in a bowl next to the lettuce leaves, or assemble the lettuce wraps for your guests.
Refreshing Chinese Cucumber Salad
2 or 3 seedless English cucumbers, washed and cut into 1/2 to 2 inch strips (almost as if julienned)
1/2 bunch cilantro, cut into 3 cm long portions
1/2 yellow onion, sliced thinly
4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 tsp sesame oil
2 tsp canola oil
2 tsp white vinegar
2 tsp soy sauce
1 tsp white pepper
1 tsp salt
1 tsp sugar
Combine all of the liquid and dry ingredients and mix thoroughly. Then, combine the sauce mixture with the cucumbers, cilantro, onions, and garlic, until coated. Let the salad sit for at least 30 mins before serving.
Gingered Carrot Cake Mini Muffins
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking soda
2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
1 tsp salt
4 large eggs
1 cup (2 sticks) butter or margarine, softened
3/4 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup (packed) light brown sugar
1 can (8 oz) crushed pineapple in unsweetened juice
1 tbsp vanilla extract
3 1/3 cups (about 1 lb) shredded carrots
1 cup (4 oz) walnuts, coarsely chopped
3/4 cup raisins
1/4 cup (about 1 1/2 ounces) finely chopped crystalized ginger
chopped crystallized ginger, for garnish
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Combine flour, baking soda, cinnamon, baking powder, ground ginger, nutmeg, and 1 tsp salt. In large bowl, with mixer on medium speed, beat eggs, butter, and sugars 2 minutes, occasionally scraping bowl with rubber spatula. Beat in pineapple with its juice and vanilla. Reduce speed to low; add flour mixture and beat just until blended. Stir in carrots, walnuts, raisins, and crystallized ginger. Spoon batter evenly into cupcake tins with lined with cupcake wrappers. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes for mini muffins or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.
For the games, we invited the children to blow bubbles outside with bubble wands and had an arts and crafts station for the children to color and cut out their own Chinese dragon masks and paper lanterns. Check out the link here for the FREE dragon mask template we used. We bought wooden sticks online for them to use as the mask holders.
We also played Ni Hao, Kai Lan on the television, so that the kids could learn some Chinese and learn about Chinese culture with a fun and popular cartoon.
We also handed out party favors in red Chinese take out boxes (board books, kazoos, bubbles, and red envelopes with chocolate coins), so the kids kept busy and entertained. See the picture way above, to see the contents.
For the decor, we reused our wedding banner, set up Chinese umbrellas, and also folded origami tigers and dragons from the Canon website. Check out the Canon site for the FREE patterns and templates, here. Warning: The patterns are beautiful and complicated!
Also, we printed labels for our water bottles for an extra personalized touch. Check out Gynnn Wasson Design's blog for the FREE water bottle templates we used.
We also decorated a centerpiece with red envelopes.
Thanks for joining me at my party! I hope you learned a thing or two about the red egg and ginger party, a traditional Chinese celebration which is as important of a holiday as Thanksgiving or Christmas for some families. Hey, any even where the entire family gets together to enjoy a feast and meet the new addition is good in my book!