Bless Your Spoon: Birthdays at The Dynasty

Published 12:00 am Thursday, November 3, 2022

By Stephanie Williams Dean

Growing up, when my birthday rolled around in early November, Mamma would ask where I wanted to go out to eat. I can’t remember the place I chose because we never went there. Mamma seemed surprised, and replied, “Don’t you want to go to The Dynasty?” I’d always answer her the same way, with an emphatic negative. To say I was remotely fond of Chinese cuisine would be a gross overstatement. But that’s where we’d end up — at her favorite place.

Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not dishing the place. In the early ’70s, Nashville had few, if more than one, Chinese restaurants. There weren’t ethnic fast food joints on every street corner the way there are now. Built in 1962, The Dynasty was an upscale, fine dining, full-service, white tablecloth kind of place, located on the first floor of the elegant, high-rise Continental Apartments in an exclusive West End neighborhood.

But the botched birthday dinner was salvaged when my great love — cake — made an appearance. Birthday cakes always came from Nashville’s famous bakery — Beckers — to whom I pay homage for my love of the layered confections. The French vanilla flavor abundantly piped with delicate, colorful flowers made from fresh buttercream — the real deal — inspired the cake lover in me. Mamma carried the boxed dessert with her. Black-vested servers lit the candles and carried the cake out on a silver tray, returning to the kitchen to plate and serve with ice cream. Nice, right?

But oh, how I longed for the birthday party my sister, Suzanne, always had — during summer, outside at night under a starry sky with extended family present. I still remember Dean Martin’s hit single, “Volare,” blaring from an outdoor patio speaker. With candles flickering, family stretched out on lounge chairs, and an outdoor spread of favorite summertime foods, including Mamma’s carved watermelon bowl filled with mixed fruits, I was mesmerized. The night was everything I loved — the birthday party I always wanted.

Today, I love Chinese and other ethnic fares as well as my birthday story. As if I needed more reasons, I love Mamma for her “worldly” sophistication that helped broaden my horizons, giving me my first taste of and exposure to greater cultural diversity. I love Mamma for her cosmopolitan attitude because she modeled acceptance we all should have for different people groups.

There are a few takeaways from my birthday memory, like things we yearn for but never receive. Isn’t it true we spend much time desiring what we want when God has made it abundantly clear — it’s not His will or way? Yet, we continue to push until we have it our way and the door will open when we push hard enough. We walk through the door even though God has revealed it’s not His desire for us or what we need.

We may not get all we want in life, but God knows exactly what we need. In Corinthians 4:19, when addressing contentment, Paul said, “And my God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus.” Paul meant that learning to rely on God’s promises and the power of Christ would fulfill us, remove discontentment, and teach us to be content.

Our deepest needs are spiritual. To have God is to have everything, all you need. In Psalm 34: 9-10, David instructed, “Fear the Lord, you his saints, for those who fear him lack nothing. The lions may grow weak and hungry, but those who seek the Lord lack no good thing.”

Remember these lyrics by the Rolling Stones that go, “You can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes, well, you just might find, you get what you need.” Well, there’s much truth to those words.

We’ve been given what we need to be able to serve others. Paul clarifies that God gave us talents and resources to share with others. “And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work,” Corinthians 9:9.

God loves a cheerful giver. When I consider generosity, I’m reminded of a friend, Gail Frye, who continues to share her culinary talent so generously. She keeps a full freezer of homemade cakes packed in plastic carry cases to give as gifts. Recently, I visited Gail and was the blessed recipient of one of her 6-flavor pound cakes for my birthday. She’s one sweet, giving girl.

So remember going forward, God blesses us with what we need — the best. And that’s the real deal, a premium icing on our cake.

Cashew Chicken

• 2 Tbsp. soy sauce

• ½ tsp. sugar

• ½ tsp. salt

• 1 Tbsp. peanut or Wesson oil

• 5 slices fresh ginger

• 1 lb. cubed chicken

• 1 Tbsp. oil

• 1 tsp. chopped cloves garlic

• 1 cup sliced mushrooms

• 1 cut-up red bell pepper

• 1 Tbsp. soy sauce

• ½ cup roasted whole cashews

Marinate chicken in soy sauce, sugar and salt for 45 minutes. In wok, heat oil. Add ginger and chicken and cook for 5 minutes until it begins to brown. Remove from wok and set aside. In the wok, heat another Tbsp. of oil. Add garlic, mushrooms, red bell pepper, and stir for 2 minutes. Return chicken to wok and add soy and cashew nuts. Stir fry for 4 minutes or until chicken is done and hot.

Sesame Beef

• 1 lb. beef filet

• 1 ½ Tbsp. sesame seeds

• 4 oz. beef stock

• 2 Tbsp. soy sauce

• 2 Tbsp. grated fresh ginger

• 2 chopped cloves garlic

• ½ tsp. chile flakes

• 1 tsp. cornstarch

• 3 Tbsp. sesame oil

• 1 head of broccoli

• 1 thinly sliced orange pepper

• 1 seeded, sliced red chili

• Fresh cilantro, garnish

Cut beef into thin strips. In a bowl, combine beef strips with 1 Tbsp. sesame seeds. In another bowl, whisk beef stock, soy, ginger, garlic and chili flakes with cornstarch and set aside. In a skillet, heat 1 Tbsp. sesame oil. Stir fry beef strips for 3 minutes. Remove and set aside. To the skillet, add remaining 2 Tbsp. oil, broccoli, pepper, and red chili, and stir 3 minutes. Stir in beef broth mixture, and simmer 3 minutes. Add cooked beef strips back to the skillet and simmer 3 minutes while stirring. Sprinkle with remaining sesame seeds. Garnish with chopped cilantro.

Chicken Chop Suey

• 3 Tbsp. safflower oil

• ½ tsp. salt

• 1 lb. sliced 1 ½-inch chicken

• ¼ sliced fresh mushrooms

• 1 cup chopped celery

• 1 cup ¼-inch sliced cabbage

• 1 diced onion

• 1 cup chicken broth

• ¼ cup water

• 2 tsp. soy sauce

• 1 Tbsp. cornstarch

• 1 cup bean sprouts

In a large, heavy skillet, add oil and salt, and heat. Add thinly sliced chicken pieces that have been cut into 1 ½-inches pieces. Add sliced mushrooms, celery, cabbage, onion and broth. Cook 5 minutes tightly covered. In a bowl, combine water, soy and cornstarch. Stir mixture into the skillet and continue to stir until thickening. Stir in bean sprouts last, and heat 1 minute until heated through. Serve with brown rice.

Brown Rice

• 1 stick salted butter

• 2 cups uncooked rice

• 1 can beef bouillon

• 1 can beef consommé

• 1 can water

• Onion flakes, garlic salt, to taste

In a large skillet, melt butter. Add rice, beef bouillon, consommé, water, onion flakes and garlic salt. Pour into an ovenproof dish, and bake in a 350-degree oven for 30 minutes. Stir and bake for an additional 30 minutes.

Chicken Teriyaki

• 1 cup honey

• 1 cup ketchup

• 2/3 cup soy sauce

• 1 cup pineapple juice

• 1 cup beer

• 2 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice

• ½ cup brown sugar

• ½ tsp. minced fresh garlic

• ½ tsp. garlic powder

• ½ tsp. salt and freshly ground pepper

• 1 cut-up chicken

In a large skillet, combine above ingredients and simmer on medium heat for 15 minutes. Cut chicken into small pieces. Marinade chicken pieces for 4 hours. Bake in a 325-degree oven for 2 hours while occasionally brushing with sauce.

Pork with Shredded Cabbage

1 ½ lb. cooked, shredded pork

1 tsp. sugar

1 tsp. salt

1 Tbsp. sherry

2 Tbsp. soy sauce

2 Tbsp. Wesson vegetable oil

1 ½ lbs. finely shredded cabbage

1 Tbsp. Wesson vegetable oil

2 minced cloves garlic

¼ tsp. pepper

1 Tbsp. soy sauce

Shred the cooked pork. In a bowl, combine pork, sugar, salt, sherry and soy, and allow to stand 15 minutes. In a skillet, heat oil and sauté shredded cabbage 5 minutes while stirring. Remove from pan. Add more oil, sauté the pork with garlic for 12 minutes while stirring. Then add cabbage, pepper, and additional soy sauce, to taste. Cook for 5 minutes.

Almond Chicken

• 3 Tbsp. Wesson oil

• 2 cooked, ¼-sliced, chicken breasts

• ½ cup thinly sliced onions

• 1 cup thinly sliced celery

• 1 can sliced water chestnuts

• 1 can sliced bamboo shoots

• 2 Tbsp. soy sauce

• 2 Tbsp. Accent

• 12 oz. frozen pea pods or green beans

• 3 Tbsp. cornstarch

• 2 Tbsp. water

• Chicken broth

• ½ cup toasted slivered almonds

• Salt

In a skillet, heat oil and sauté chicken slices for 5 minutes or until beginning to brown. Add onions and celery and cook 5 minutes. Add water chestnuts, bamboo shoots, soy sauce and Accent. Cover and simmer 5-7 minutes. Add green beans or pea pods and simmer 4 minutes. In a bowl, blend cornstarch with water. Pour into chicken mixture. Cook quickly while stirring until sauce thickens. If too thick, add chicken broth until desired consistency. Salt to taste. Sprinkle with toasted almonds. Serve with hot cooked rice.

Fried Shrimp with Pineapple

1 cup sifted all-purpose flour

½ tsp. salt

1 tsp. baking powder

1 beaten egg

½ cup beer

1 lb. shelled, deveined raw shrimp

Fat for deep frying

1 Tbsp. cornstarch

1 Tbsp. water

1 Tbsp. sugar

4 Tbsp. vinegar

1 tsp. salt

½ cup pineapple juice

1 cup pineapple chunks

In a bowl, sift flour, salt and baking powder. Beat in the egg and beer. Dip shrimp into batter until coated well. In a 370-degree skillet, fry shrimp until browned. Drain and keep warm. In a bowl, mix cornstarch, water, sugar, vinegar and salt. In a skillet, combine cornstarch mixture with pineapple juice. Cook while stirring until thickened. Arrange shrimp and pineapple chunks on dish, and pour sauce evenly over all.

Chinese Chicken

• 1 cut-up whole chicken

• 1 cup soy sauce

• 1/3 cup white wine or dry sherry

• 4 Tbsp. sugar

• 1/3 cup water

• 1 tsp. minced fresh ginger

• 2 Tbsp. honey

• 4 Tbsp. catsup

• 2 minced cloves garlic

• 1/3 cup chopped onion

• 1 cup up chicken

Cut chicken into smaller pieces. In a large bowl, combine soy, wine, sugar, water, ginger, honey, catsup, garlic and onions. Marinate the chicken pieces in mixture for 4 hours. Drain chicken, reserve marinade. Place chicken skin side down in single layer in a greased 9 x 13 pan. Bake in a 450-degree oven for 10 minutes. Turn chicken and bake for additional 10 minutes. Reduce heat to 350 degrees. Pour off and discard pan juices. Bake for 30 minutes or until tender by frequently basting with marinade. Then place chicken 6-inches from burner, and broil for 3 minutes or until well-browned.

Fried Rice

• 1 stick salted butter

• 2 cans beef consommé

• ½ can water

• ½ cup chop green onions

• 4 cups minute rice

• ¼ cup soy sauce

• Julienne-cut cook pork (optional)

In a skillet, brown butter over low heat. Add consommé, water, green onions and rice. Add soy and cooked pork, if desired. Simmer until rice is well done. Cooked chicken, shrimp, ham, lobster, or bean sprouts may be used in place of the pork.

Sweet and Sour Pork

• 2 Tbsp. fat

• 1 ½ lb. cubed pork

• ¼ cup water

• 1 bouillon cube

• 2 Tbsp. soy sauce

• ½ tsp. salt

• ¼ cup white vinegar

• 1 cup pineapple juice

• 2 Tbsp. cornstarch

• ¼ cup brown sugar

• ¼ cup chopped onion

• ¼ cup chopped green pepper

• Can of pineapple chunks

In a skillet, heat oil. Add pork pieces and brown over medium heat. Add water, bouillion cube, soy sauce and salt. Stir until bouillon cube has dissolved. In a bowl, combine vinegar, pineapple juice and cornstarch and stir until cornstarch dissolves. Add brown sugar and mix well. Pour sugar mixture over the pork, and cook 30 minutes or until slightly thickened. Then add onion, green pepper, and pineapple chunks, and cook 8-10 minutes. Serve over rice or noodles.