Dad turned 70 yesterday and today it was my Mom’s turn to celebrate her birthday. I had planned on making a vegetable frittata for breakfast, but my aunt beat me to the kitchen this morning and cooked up a traditional seaweed birthday soup for her one and only sister. It turns out it’s also my other Grandmother’s birthday according to the lunar calendar so my parents quickly finished their breakfast and went to pick up her birthday cakes to deliver to the nursing home. All week we’d been planning a picnic and the weather cooperated with us, even though we’re expecting a whole lot of rain and gusty winds this weekend from hurricane Irene.
When I came back from the gym the two sisters were busy in the kitchen getting all the food ready for the picnic. My only contribution was to pack up some hummus, cured meats, and wash/cut up some veggies. We loaded up the car and off we went to Peace Valley Park in Bucks County. Because we once again had early dinner reservations we ate a light lunch and went on a hike. Kevin decided to stay with Grandma so the rest of us headed down towards the lake and into the forest. My parents knew the park well so they led the way but about half way through the paved trail we decided to explore a new route onto a dirt path. Because of the recent rain the trees and grass were in dozen shades of green and the ground still seemed a bit damp. We happily went along for a while looking at this flower and that, until we realized that the path we were taking no longer looked like a path. We had clearly seen a marker not too long ago but all of a sudden we found ourselves in the midst of fallen trees and thorny bushes.
My aunt and uncle who are expert climbers and trekkers set out in two different directions, looking for signs of the lost trail. Soon I couldn’t see my aunt anymore and for a moment I thought we’d be in real trouble if we all got separated. But then I heard her shout out that she’d found where we should have gone and that we should retrace our steps to go meet her. My Mom and I did as we were told but the two men (my Dad and uncle) stubbornly held out and ended up walking through a thicket of nasty plants to rejoin us. Our adventure continued from that point on as we picked up a different trail, away from civilization and the picnic area. My Dad has a terribly embarrassing sense of direction but this time even he agreed that we were going the wrong way. My inclination was to still follow the trail to its end but the rest of the group made the decision that we should just walk towards where we thought the main road should be. I hesitated for a second but we’d already been hiking for about 1.5 hours, and it was really time to go. So the five of us fought stray tree branches and wildly overgrown greenery to find our way out. We made it back safe and sound, but everyone suffered from minor pricks and scratches. What an adventure. Whew!
We all showered at lightening speed to make the 6PM reservation at Lai Lai Garden, a Chinese restaurant in Blue Bell, PA. It was a large restaurant that had the restaurant on the right side and the left wing had wedding reception hall/large function facilities. My parents are acquainted with the owner and had been frequenting this restaurant, his previous restaurant, as well as his brother’s place for well over a decade. It was the first time for both Kevin and I so we sat back to let Mom take charge. She reserved a private room for us and ordered from the Chinese banquet menu that serves 10 people, noting that she liked the menu set for 10 people for the variety of dishes. She warned us in advance it was going to be a lot of food and told everyone at the table to pace themselves. I didn’t pay close attention to the continuous series of large plates that flowed for the next two hours, but this is some of what I remember.
Seafood soup with large scallops and prawns; cold jellyfish salad with pork, prawns, and baby squid; clear broad noodles (potato starch?) with shrimp, pork, and onions in oyster sauce, sauteed pork, bamboo shoots, and onions with steamed buns; Grand Marnier Prawns with honey walnuts; squid with vegetables in spicy red pepper sauce; abalone with shiitake mushrooms; deep fried whole sea bass in spicy red wine garlic sauce; sauteed prawn, beef filet mignon, scallops, and vegetables with ginger; Young Chow fried rice.
I think I’m missing one or two dishes but needless to say, there was a large shopping bag full of leftover food to take home. It will be served as lunch tomorrow for sure. Even with all that food my tireless family talked about how we’ll have to have Mom’s birthday cake when we get home. It was a birthday celebration after all. So we ended our day singing “Happy Birthday” to my Mom and we all had some cake, including Kevin who is trying to be “low carb.” the cake was unusual in that it was made with sweet potatoes; it definitely tasted like sweet potatoes but not overly sweet. I thought it was an ingenious way to utilize something natural and healthy that probably lowered the amount of sugar used.
It’s really rare that both Kevin and I can celebrate our parents’ birthdays in Pennsylvania, and it was extra special because emo, emobu, and my halmuni (Grandma) could all be with us. In the next two weeks we’ll all be going our separate ways again but I still have a few more days with everyone. Can’t wait for more food, hikes (weather permitting, given hurricane Irene), and laughs…
Peace Valley Park: 230 Creek Road, New Britain Township, PA Phone 215.822.8608 Open 8 a.m. to sunset.
Lai Lai Garden: 1144 Dekalb Pike Blue Bell, PA 19422 Phone 610.277.5988