Why Valentine When It’s Year of the Dog?

February 7, 2018

Longtime readers may recall that when it comes to Valentine’s Day, I am a bit of a curmudgeon. According to my husband, the holiday is completely and utterly wasted on me because I am the least romantic person on the planet. He may have a point.

He knows me well enough by now to not even ASK what I want for Valentine’s Day…I’ll get all snarly about it and threaten to castrate him if he buys the ridiculously priced roses or chocolates that my backside clearly doesn’t need. And no, I don’t want to go to dinner at an over-crowded restaurant for a mediocre prix-fixe meal. Lackluster restaurant meals make me depressed and vaguely suicidal.

My wise husband knows that in my book, the only February holidays worth celebrating are the Chinese Lunar New Year (Chinese food! Yasssss.) and ahem, my birthday. My birthday certainly deserves more fanfare than Valentine’s day, although this year I am turning 49 and that doesn’t seem like ANYthing to crow about. Did someone mention depressed and vaguely suicidal?

I think maybe I’ll skip my birthday this year. Or at least wait to celebrate it until, say…May…when the winter blues have been exorcised. I suppose I’m due for a bout of the January/February blahs, since the last two winters have been pretty mild on the slit-your-wrist-o-meter.

I guess my only regret about my lack of enthusiasm for Valentine’s Day is that I seem to have passed on that sentiment to my daughters. On the morning of February 1st, Miss M. came downstairs and I said, “Hey, it’s February! Endless January is over–isn’t that great?”

“Mom,” she snorted. “There is nothing great about February. After all, it’s home to the lamest holiday on the calendar year.”

Whoops. Maybe I should have just kept my mouth shut. Nothing like blackening and shriveling the innocent hearts of your sweet little ducklings, Mom.

Let’s just save our excitement for the Year of the Dog, shall we? Now that’s a holiday deserving of a disco ball and a big-ass martini.

        -Or maybe a crinkly, twinkly gold sparkler.


Even Miss M., February grumpus extraordinaire, can get behind the Year of the Dog. She did, however, tell me that she feels cheated because her birthday falls during the Year of the Rooster.

“Year of the Rooster is a stupid year,” she said.

“Hey, I’m a Rooster,” I said. “So is your dad.”

“What’s D’s year?” she asked.

“Ummm, Year of the Snake, I think.”

“See? That’s so unfair. How come she gets something ferocious and awesome and we’re stuck with boring birds that are assholes. Roosters are asshole birds.”

Given my feelings about birds in general, I wasn’t going to give her much argument there, but sometimes that child is disturbingly like her mother in temperament. Still, we should table the rooster debate because this year (on February 16th, to be exact) it’s a day for dogs! And Chinese food.

I’d like to say that I’m a purist about serving traditional Chinese fare on the Lunar New Year, but I’m not. I’m sort of an Asian free-for-all person when it comes to the celebratory meal, but I think I deserve a wee bit of slack because, well, I’m not Chinese. And I won’t be serving my mashup-style dinner to anyone who will be offended. It’s all good.

One thing always on my menu is some form of noodle dish, which is supposed to symbolize a nice long life. In all honesty, I don’t care that much about longevity but I do worship anything involving noodles, so it might be a stellar opportunity for some Faux Pho.

        ~Noodles, y’all. It’s what’s for dinner.


I might have to make a seafood version or a chicken version, or even a vegetarian version this year, because another thing I’ve been yearning for is some kind of lettuce wrap, and my favorite lettuce wraps are of the moo-licious variety.

Lettuce wraps are such a crowd-pleaser, and they’re festive and fun to eat. I love plopping a big platter of marinated, charred beef on the table with cool, crisp lettuce and a plethora of other goodies: steamed sticky rice, sliced chiles, crunchy bean sprouts and cucumbers, bracingly spicy kimchi, salty chopped peanuts. Watching everyone tear into it and go to town, stuffing their wraps with whatever they wish and making a splendid mess is my idea of a good time.

Dare I say it might even feel a little romantic?

Okay, so I am definitely not a traditionalist when it comes to romance–but everyone will enjoy themselves, and that’s the most important part. It may be February, and a little dark around here, but we’re celebrating Year of the Dog our way.




Lettuce Wraps with Korean-Style Grilled Flank Steak

slightly adapted from Gourmet Quick Kitchen

serves 4

1/4 cup soy sauce

2 tablespoons rice vinegar (not seasoned)

1 tablespoon fresh grated peeled ginger

1 garlic clove, minced

2 teaspoons Sriracha (use just 1 teaspoon if you have sensitive palates or picky children) or Gochujang (Korean chile paste)

1 tablespoon sugar

1 1/2 teaspoons toasted Asian sesame oil

1 pound flank steak (use 1 1/4 pounds if you have big eaters)

2 scallions, finely chopped

2 tablespoons sesame seeds, toasted

White rice* and soft leaf lettuce,  to serve

Accompaniments of your choice: kimchi, bean sprouts, sliced chiles, crushed peanuts, sliced cucumbers, Thai basil leaves, cilantro leaves



Mix soy sauce, rice vinegar, ginger, garlic, Sriracha/Gochujang, sugar and sesame oil in a large, zip-top plastic bag.

Add steak and marinate at least 4 hours or overnight.

Remove steak from marinade and allow it to come to room temperature (about 30 minutes). Meanwhile, make the sticky rice.

Prepare a gas grill to medium-high (you can also use a grill pan on top of the stove).

Brush grill or grill pan with a little oil and grill steak (covered if using an outdoor grill), turning once, about 6-8 minutes total for medium rare.

Remove steak from grill and let rest for 10 minutes.

Thinly slice the steak against the grain into slender strips.

Serve with rice, lettuce leaves, and any and all condiments you wish.


* You can serve your lettuce wraps with any rice you choose–even brown–but since you’re making rice anyways, why not make Chinese-style sticky rice? I have to admit, sticky rice has seldom come out right for me, but you’ll have a fighting chance of nailing it if you a) rinse, rinse and rinse the starches out of your rice before cooking it and b) use this nifty method from the people at Cook’s Illustrated. I stumbled on this recipe a couple of weeks ago and was skeptical, but I’ve made several pots of rice this way now and I’m a believer. Use this method for dishes heavy on the soy sauce or salty ingredients, as it doesn’t require you to salt the rice as you cook it.


Chinese Restaurant-Style Rice

serves 4-6

from Cook’s Illustrated

2 cups long-grain rice (or you can use a medium-grain rice like jasmine)

3 cups water


Place the rice in a fine mesh strainer set over a bowl. Rinse the rice under running water, swishing with your hands, until water runs clear. This may take a few minutes. Drain rice thoroughly.

Bring rice and water to a boil in a saucepan over medium-high heat. Do not stir the rice as it cooks! Cook, uncovered, on medium-high until the water level drops below the surface of the rice and small holes form, about 5 minutes.

Reduce the heat to low, cover the pan and cook until rice is tender and water is fully absorbed, about 15 minutes. Let sit for about 5-10 minutes and then serve.




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