Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Chinese Descendants

"You have GOT to be kidding?," I said loudly one evening at supper. 

"No, my boss thought it would be a good idea to have an off-site meeting with our FORD  team at our house, here in Masterland."

"You mean for a meal?"

"No, all day, here, in our place."

"How many people?"

"Oh, probably twenty, with lunch."

"Twenty?  Where would we put them all day?"
 (Notably ignoring the lunch part of the story problem.)

"We'd figure it out."

"Come on! This takes planning and logistics and organizing, you can't just throw something like this together!"
 I exclaimed.

With one eye-brow raised the Big Guy knowingly looked at his wife of 36 years. 
What did he know?
He knew, with his help, that we had the skill set to make the "Welcome to our Home," portion of the day work out just fine, including lunch for the masses.   

"Let's think about it," I muttered.

And that is when the wheels start to spin in an event-planner's craw.

So, I began asking all those basic questions of





Answering "Why?" wasn't really going to be mine to consider, the line was drawn right outside the pagoda's threshold and I was to gracefully step over it with my left foot first or run for Purple Mountain.

 (Chinese tradition states women use their left foot first and men their right foot.)

I chose to step over with my left. 

The plan scurried forward and the Big Guy's boss sent out an all-points bulletin of the date and time. 

Friday, April 6th from 8:30am - 4:30pm
@ the Johnson's Beautiful Home in Masterland

    (The pressure was mounting, not just twenty people, all day, for lunch, but now I have to redecorate?)

The chosen Friday was proceeded by Wednesday, April 4th, a Chinese holiday called Tomb sweeping Day. The Chinese honour their deceased relatives by going back to their hometowns to tend the graves and visit family on that day. Many people reported that they would be unable to attend the work session if it was held on April 6th . 

The event was rescheduled:

Friday the 13th,  same time and place.   

Choosing not to get superstitious, I was grateful for the extra week to plan.

With a friends help I chose the menu and began the Nanjing search for all the ingredients.   Grocery shopping for anything that is not an indigenous ingredient for Chinese cuisine swiftly becomes a scavenger hunt here. One makes a list two weeks ahead of time scurries from market to market and begins to substitute or merrily check things off.  No big deal, you've all done it of course, it's just more time consuming.  But, as you know this tai-tai (housewife) certainly has time on her side.

From what I've experienced and read the Chinese do their entertaining and hostessing not in their homes but in restaurants. Their smaller living quarters and shared spaces will not accommodate a large group of colleagues. So to have a place like ours that would hold everyone is a rare find.   

My concern was the meeting, seating and eating space. Where would they meet, where would they have their 'break-out' sessions and where would they all sit down to a meal?
We purchased four extra folding chairs, just in case. Things were starting to gel a wee bit.  

The date drew near but without much feedback from the FORD participants until...
the Big Guy sent out a warm invitation with agenda details, a map, plus google photo images of my lunch menu. 

The "ho-hum this will just be another Friday team meeting where we might get out early" mood swiftly escalated to an audible buzz when they saw glammed-up photos of the food.

Lunch was not going to be Chinese AT ALL and the cook was "Mrs. Big Guy" herself. 
(Rut-roh!)  In my round-eyed approach I had chosen a classic simple American party menu:

Lasagna with meat sauce
Tossed Salad with dressing
Hot Dogs on a bun

With all the ingredients 'in-villa' I began lasagna assemblage FORD Rouge Plant style. 

Cottage Cheese, Parmesan, Eggs & $25 block of Mozzarella

Minced Pork Meat substitution for Beef

End Result - Seven Pans of Pete and Cathy's Lasagna*
I have a very small table-top oven and so 'Mrs. Pete down the street' was kind enough to volunteer to bake 3 of the 4 pans. That would be beyond helpful and we could use little Mack's wagon to motor them down the street and around the corner to our place. Sounded like a plan and an example of the FORD team that we have built among the tai-tais.

The event day arrived and so did a rapid downpour.  A soggy but smiling Chinese Chassis Team descended upon Masterland with umbrellas. Our guests were very excited to see where the American lao ban (boss) lived and that included a tour of our 5 levels.

Casey getting attention

For hosting they presented me with the most beautiful bouquet of pink lilies with silver sparkles, so pretty and fragrant.  The Big Guy received a lovely Asian painting of a peony blossom and two birds painted by Samuel's aunt, a renowned Asian artist. I can imagine it framed and hanging in a prominent space in our USA home.

After a compulsory group photo they sped into action with their meeting and I awaited the lunch break. The lasagna wagon commenced, the hot dogs were shrouded with buns and the condiments placed. Everyone was summoned from their meeting below.  As with most worry-worting, my concern over where they would all sit was not worth the hand-wringing. Upon filling their plates our guests stood around the dining room table for the entire meal.  Some ate their lasagna and salad with chopsticks and some used forks.  Only one out of the eighteen had ever tasted lasagna and many returned for a second, third and even a fourth piece which made this cook happy.  Here are a few snapshots.

Back to the living room they went and pushed through some more presentations and role-playing.  I heard both English and Mandarin throughout the day. At 4:30pm the work day was over, and the sun, she-was-a-shining!  The umbrellas needed upon arrival were shoved in a tote and out came sunglasses to greet the beginning of a gorgeous spring Nanjing weekend.

Both the Big Guy and his boss deemed it a successful off-site meeting. I was relieved to have pulled it off and thankful that our Ayi was there to put the place back in order. She is a gift.

In spite of my initial nail-biting, Friday the 13th at the Johnson's felt more lucky than unlucky. We had the Good Fortune of hosting 18 Chinese Descendants in our Nanjing home and I'm guessing they went home and announced that they had lasagna for the very first time.

Thanks for Reading,


Pete & Cathy’s Lasagna – 2012 China
Pasta - ½ to 1 box "oven-ready" lasagna noodles

Meat Sauce - Combine together:

1 # Pound Lean Ground Beef or Italian Sausage, browned and drained (use more if you want it "meaty")

Onion chopped
Mushrooms chopped (go easy on the mushrooms because they add a lot of moisture)
Garlic chopped

16 oz.Spaghetti Sauce
1 t. Salt
½ t.Pepper
2 t. Oregano
1 t. Basil
Crushed Red Pepper - to taste

Cheese Filling - stir it together
2 c. Ricotta
2 Eggs
3 c. Shredded Mozzarella Cheese
1 c. Parmesan Cheese
(Variation: add Chopped Spinach - fresh or frozen chopped, thawed & squeezed)
Preheat Oven to 350 degrees

Spray  13 x 9” pan with Pam
Repeat once or twice - end with Mozzarella Cheese (and crushed red pepper if you like)

Spray foil with Pam before covering.
Cover and Bake for 50 mins.   350 degrees

Uncover and Bake for 15 mins. or until hot and bubbly.
Let stand for a minimum of 10 minutes before you cut and serve it.
Yields: 8 -10 large pieces.


Uller.cj said...

You are always the planner Carol! I am glad to hear it all turned out okay, although all of us who know you, knew it would. I am just wondering if the "compulsory photo" also requires the smallest people to sit near "the Big Guy". ;)

Anonymous said...

A great day was had by all! Of course, Carol was in charge.....thank God for good neighbors here and in China. I was also thinking that the smallest of small sat near the "Big Guy!"

Becca said...

I am just SO amazed at the things you do. Wow.

Allison Joy said...

Looks really yummy and wildly successful!! Good on ya!