What an intriguing lunar week! Perhaps it’s just my own lunacy—a topic my friend and I did discuss over our lunch, omnipresent and manifest as my oddities are—but it seems there was also a kind of mystical confluence in having the Chinese mid-Autumn or Moon Festival (中秋节 Zhongqiujie) occur this year in sync with the rare and magnificent super blood moon darkening to a deep red Sunday night in the wink of an eclipsed eye and then reappearing in a dazzle of wakening glory as the earth’s shadow passed moments later. Such a magic show seemed the perfect nod of returned affection from the moon being traditionally admired and honored in the Festival.But of course, as with most Festivals worthy of the name, food is an important element as well. I am very happy to celebrate Zhongqiujie, too, if the millions of other celebrants don’t mind my joining in, since as a celebration of nature’s bounty is also recognized with fine edible festive offerings. My lunch companion, being aware of both the Festival and my avid eating proclivities, arrived in proper Chinese form, bearing lovely gifts for the occasion. As if keeping me company isn’t gift enough.
I wasn’t being especially complicated with the lunch, opting for my usual preferred mode of fix-ahead and easy dishes to allow maximum visiting, but I did prepare a couple of items of which I’ve grown quite fond lately. The first of these is a cool-green-crunchy-things salad inspired by this summer’s find on a Boston pan-Asian restaurant’s menu, where a lunch salad of thinly sliced Granny Smith apples, chicken breast pieces, and cashews was accented with just a few very thin slices of onion and a handful of cashews and dressed with the lightest possible rice vinaigrette. So refreshing, so clean and uncomplicated, that I knew I would have to take the idea home.
The version I made for this lunch comprised the starring green apple slices, equally thin cucumber slices, and chopped sugar snap peas, and was lightly dressed in the juice and zest of fresh limes mixed with ginger syrup and a tiny pinch of salt. I couldn’t help but keep to the green theme and substituted for the cashews a handful of pistachios. If I had any on hand, I think a sprinkling of snipped fresh cilantro would not be amiss here, either, but it wasn’t too hard to take the salad as it was. I ate it three meals in a row. There. I said it.
The rest of the meal was equally easy. I had been craving macaroni and cheese, but in the last couple of months’ realization that wheat does not seem to agree with my digestion, and my not having settled on a wheat-free pasta that I’m impressed with (especially after the first heating has died down), I couldn’t see any legitimate excuse for making true mac-and-cheese that would surely end sadly for me. It did occur to me, however, that these days anybody longing for GF versions of numerous dishes turns to cauliflower, if they’re not cruciferous-veg averse. My spouse, poor thing, is. Me, no. I can eat more of those vegetables than might even be good for me. Especially now that I’ve discovered Crack & Cheese. Yes, I merely chopped up a head of raw cauliflower into an oiled casserole, poured the fixings for my standard oven-baked mac & cheese over the top of it, and baked it covered at about 300°F/149°C for around an hour or so and then browned it under the broiler briefly before serving. If you do like cauliflower, it’s a heck of a dish all on its own. Buh-bye, unattainable wheat pasta.
What else did we eat? Crispy pulled pork; some of my last slow-cooked batch that was frozen in one-meal hunks, fried under cover in bacon fat, is kind of irresistible if you are a fan of the pig. Little quinoa ‘muffin’ cakes, also warmed out of the freezer; these are just cooked quinoa seasoned with smoked paprika and diced pimientos and mixed with egg and shredded cheese to hold them together in the nonstick muffin tin while they baked. Shocking, I know: a high-fat meal! Me! Yeah, right. But it was tasty.
I hadn’t, however, gotten so far as to plan any dessert. Enter my good friend, bearing Moon Cakes. I have heard of these for years, seen them in any number of pretty displays in Asian bakeries and stores, but had never gotten around to trying them. More’s the pity—but better late than never! I was rescued from my ignorance (or have I now been ruined by finding out what deliciousness hides in those artful pastry cases?) by the offering. And, as these were made with lotus seed filling, a very lightly sweet and marzipan-dense delight inside the pastry, and blessed with a double-moon of salted egg yolk, I was entranced by the look, the taste, and of course, the knowledge that I was embarking on an undeniably lucky year to come, thanks to the gift. And to the giver, who like all the best guests, was a grand reminder that the greatest joys of a good meal are in the company, the atmosphere of the occasion, and the unexpected pleasures of good fortune afoot.