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Cooking by the light of the moon dog 

I'm a horse, he's a monkey and it's a dog world -- well, at least this year. We're in the early days of Chinese year 4703 (New Year's Day was Jan. 29), also known as Year of the Dog.

Unlike New Year's Day in the Western world, Chinese New Year is more than a one-evening, ball-dropping affair; it's a two-week period of reflection, renewal, feasting and family time. The 15th day of the first lunar month in the new year is known as the Lantern Festival (this year, Feb. 12), when parades in Chinatowns around the world take place.

I recently learned that a dog year means good vibrations for wannabe, coulda-shoulda-woulda spousal units and partnerships of the long-term commitment variety. If you've put off tying the knot with your sweetie, take advantage of the dog's double-spring year (a phenomenon that occurs about every five years in the lunar calendar) and get down on those hands and knees, doggie-style, and say, "Baby, will you be mine?"

It's most serendipitous that Valentine's Day is on the heels of the Lantern festival, allowing for no gap in the pursuit of higher love and dog treats.

Chocolate tends to be the go-to culinary expression of love, lust, like and longing, but it's so predictable. Oysters and other so-called aphrodisiacs at this time of year get on my nerves, too.

When it came to my own Valentine's celebration, I got to thinking -- why not borrow a page from the Chinese instead? I could use lettuce, one of the many traditional symbols of good fortune and prosperity, as my way of expressing love and adoration, with the added bonus of dog-does-love theme.

But lettuce? Not exactly oozing with romance.

Well, I countered to self, rabbits, which are sexually prolific creatures, eat lots of lettuce.

I cracked open a recipe I've long been wanting to try from the books of Chinese cooking authority Grace Young. Fifteen minutes is all I needed to understand the simple elegance of stir-fried lettuce, with hunks of garlic, no less. (Don't worry; the garlic stays whole and aromatizes the oil, not your breath.) The key here is a spoonful of Shao Hsing rice wine, an amber-colored liquid that tastes and smells like dry sherry -- think of it as the Chinese version of sake.

Serve it with rice, and who knows, maybe you and your coulda-shoulda-woulda will be healthy, wealthy and wedded.

Stir-fried Garlic Lettuce

Adapted from The Breath of a Wok by Grace Young

1 tablespoon Shao Hsing rice wine (also spelled Shaoxing; substitute is dry sherry)

1 tablespoon soy sauce

1/4 teaspoon sugar

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

5 garlic cloves, peeled and smashed

1 pound Romaine lettuce, washed, thoroughly dried and cut crosswise into 1-inch-wide pieces (inner parts of Romaine, closer to heart, preferred)

1 teaspoon sesame oil

• In a small bowl, combine rice wine, soy sauce, sugar and salt.

• Heat a flat-bottomed wok to high until a bead of water vaporizes within 1-2 seconds of contact. (Place hand over wok; you want it to feel like a radiator in winter.)

• Add vegetable oil and swirl it around to coat surface. Add garlic and stir-fry about 5 seconds.

• Add lettuce and stir-fry 1-2 minutes, or until lettuce is just limp.

Stir in sauce and combine to coat; stir-fry 30 seconds to 1 minute, or until lettuce is tender and still bright green.

• Remove from heat and drizzle sesame oil on top.

• Serve with rice.

Culinary questions? Contact Kim at kim.odonnel@creativeloafing.com.

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