Monthly Archives: February 2013

Three Awards In A Day: Sisterhood-In-The World-Bloggers Award, Very Inspiring Blogger Award and Sunshine Award

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These three awards were generously awarded to me by PaulaB, blogger of The Temenos Journal, and I thank PaulB for giving me this opportunity to pass them on to other bloggers as a gesture of my gratitude for their support and inspiration. PaulaB was very kind to suggest that there are no rules, and indeed, there some duplication in the rules, which also seem to vary among bloggers for the same award.  I shall attempt to deal with them by grouping them together. 

The rules of the Sisterhood of the World Bloggers Award are:

  1. Recipients need to thank the giver.
  2. Include the logo of the award in a post or on your blog.
  3. Post 7 things about yourself.
  4. Pass the award onto 7 other bloggers of your choice and let them know they’ve been nominated (stay tuned…)

Now the Sunshine Award, which I read somewhere are for those “bloggers who positively and creatively inspire others in the blogosphere”: The rules are:

  1. Display the award logo on your blog.
  2. Link back to the person who nominated you.
  3. State 5 things about yourself.
  4. Pass the award onto 8 other bloggers and link to one of their specific posts so that they get notified.

Finally, for The Very Inspiring Blogger Award:

1. Paste the icon of the award in your post.
2. Thank the person who nominates you and put a link back to the blog.
3. Share seven facts about yourself.
4. Nominate 15 other blogs and inform them about it.

I have answered some questions about myself earlier when I accepted the Liebster Award, the Reader Appreciation Award and the Versatile Blogger Award. Rather than repeating myself, I have decided on the theme of Music, and here are 7 more facts about me and music.

1. I like music. 2. My favourite genre is classical music. 3. My favourite composers are Bach, Beethoven and Brahms. 4. I also like operas. 5. While my favourite arias and duets are too numerous to count, I can listen over and over again the Polovtsian Dances in Borodin’s Prince Igor and the choruses in Bizet’s The Pearl Fishers. 6. While I play the piano, my favourite instruments to listen to are the strings. 7. My favourite living musical artists are Jesse Norman (mezzo-soprano), Yo-Yo Ma (Cellist), Itzak Perlman and James Ehnes (violinists), Seiji Ozawa and Zubin Mehta (conductors).

And now, Award time. The seven sisters/blogs I wish to nominate for the Sisterhood-in-the Bloggers World Award are: Karen and Wendy of afterthekidsleave,  Mary Frances of lovethesecretingredients, Liz of  Dot knows, Vnvie of yestocooking,   Jaimmers of Where does this road goes,  dmaudline53 of Mama Bear Musings, and  insideout80 of The Love and Life Project. Please also accept the Very Inspiring Blogger Award and the Sunshine Award, if you like them.

I wish there were a fraternity award that I could give out to male fellow bloggers. Nevertheless, I am pleased to have a mixed gender list here for the Sunshine Award and the Very Inspiring Blogger Award:

 Janet’s Notebook,       Mike’s Look at Life,        breathofgreenair       Bea’s Bites

Give me 5 minutes a day and I’ll give you a more successful happier life

AddGrainOnEarth         Yummy Lummy          My Life Afterglow  

Please check them blogs out, because they have all enriched my life in different ways. Blog on!

Tips For An Icy Dicey Winter Walk

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The weather this winter has not been friendly for athletic training here in southern Ontario. In January we had very cold weather with negative double digits (Celsius) temperature and windchill.  In February, we have had a few days with snow followed by a couple of warmer days to melt some of it, and the ground re-freezes again. This has made the roads icy and slippery. However, this does not deter those of us who prefer to exercise outdoors. There is nothing that can match the fresh air when you exercise in the open. It is only when it is absolutely necessary that I would get onto my treadmill or elliptical machine and plod away watching the Food Network, which is my only incentive to exercise at home.

As my coach has said, “There is no bad weather, only bad clothing.” How to equip oneself for a training walk on an icy dicey day is an important lesson to learn.

1.  When it is icy, the prerogative is safety, and this means making sure that you don’t slip and fall. A walking buddy who fell earlier this year and sustained multiple fracture on her humerus was too sad a reminder that we must not take safety for granted. The essential equipment: Tracks.

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For me, walking with tracks is analogous to driving with snow tires. They give me better traction and holding to reduce the risk of slipping or skidding. I have two pairs of tracks. I just put one on each of my shoes for this photo illustration. The one on the left has wires and it provides very firm footing. However, the downside is that it is also harder on the feet especially on asphalt or cement when there is not enough snow on the surface. I use this pair only on the day after a snow storm and before the plows are out. The one of the right has spikes and they are kinder to the feet on landing. I have been wearing them for many winter walks.

A word about my shoes too. They are trail shoes that have deeper grooves. I find them good for winter walking even when I am not on the trails. They are slightly heavier than my other all season training shoes and racing shoes and higher on the heels, yet for long winter walks, they provide me  with safety.

2. I need to protect my face when I walk outdoors. The biting wind and wind chills can take a lot of pleasure away even when I  have dressed appropriately. First I put some Vaseline or Shea butter (any cream as long as it is not water-based) on my face. Then my hat and my face mask. The is how I look when I go out—looking like a Ninja or a bank robber. I do not put my sun glasses on to remain incognito. The glasses or goggles are good to shield the glare of the winter sun or the wind that makes the eyes watery.

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Besides my balaclava, I also have two other pieces of face covering.

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The neck scarf is like a tube that I can pull up or down as desired to cover my mouth and nose and it is versatile for the slightly warmer days. However, the down side with any face covering that goes over the nose is that my glasses will fog up easily. The solution is the face mask with a nose beak and perforations around the mouth area.

3. When it comes to clothing, layering is the key. Technical fabrics air better and when I am out for a work out walk, I do not want to overheat and trap the heat inside my clothing. I can survive the cold without a down jacket when I train.

4. In the summer, I freeze my drinks before taking them out. In winter, I make it warm or hot. Don’t be surprised to find your water or sports drinks turn into slush. It has happened to me when the walk is longer than three hours. Even though it seems unnecessary to replenish water in winter training, the body may exert more without our knowing, because it has to work hard to balance the body such that it does not fall.

5.  Always aim for safety rather than speed when training on an icy, snowy day. You cannot tell what lies under the snow. Adjust your speed according to the condition of the road surface and footing. Although you are walking slower, the amount of energy output during winter training does not alter much from normal training, because the body is working harder. This is good to know if you are counting energy output or calories.

6. Taking smaller or shorter steps also helps to reduce the risk of slipping, and still keep to good walking form. You may need to look down more, but do not bend your head down, because it tilts your balance.

7. The muscles become stiff easily in winter training. Make sure you do a good stretch afterwards.

8. You are one brave soul and should be very pride of yourself for completing your outdoor training in winter. Do not forget to reward yourself. I become hungry faster on an icy walking day. What’s waiting for me and my walking buddies after the distance walk (usually 14 to 18 Km) is breakfast at our favourite haunt near the university in Hamilton. The Pancake House serves decent breakfasts and it is frequented by the local athletic community on Saturday and Sunday mornings.

1-IMG_0524 I rewarded myself the other day with a ham and eggs breakfast. I ordered sunny side up (normally I ask for poached eggs) and home fries (my rare treat, for otherwise I only have tomatoes). The extra dessert was a chocolate coffee rice crispy brought in by a friend. Well, I exercised on an icy, dicey morning; therefore I could indulge.

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8. Finally, the pleasure of walking outdoor is to enjoy the scenery around us. The same route can look different with the variation of the weather and the seasons. Hamilton Harbour welcomed me on this icy wintry walking day.

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Family Day Canada = Maple Syrup Day

My son who works in the Prairie Provinces has come home to visit and suggests that we spend Family Day  (President Day in USA) together by visiting a maple syrup farm, because there are no maple trees in the Prairies. Interestingly, we have found out that the Bering family, which has been farming in southern Ontario for over 75 years has gradually switched from dairy farming into maple.

We could not have chosen a better day to spend the day out. It was cold, but the sun was shining. There wasn’t a single cloud in the sky. The drive was smooth and we soon arrived at the front gate of The White Meadows Farms in St. Catharines, Ontario.

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We were welcome by greeters who dressed in costumes dating back to the days of the pioneers, and the next thing we found was that we were embarking on what was called the Sugar Bush Adventure.

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We rode in a tractor-drawn wagon, sitting on bales of hay to out to the Bush. There were many families with children and looking at them, I suddenly felt very proud that I had completed my life task of raising my children; mine are all grown up and left home. I recalled my last visit to a maple syrup farm with my children and their elementary school classes.  I was very distracted because I had to keep an eye on the kids. This time, I felt totally relaxed walking along the maple  trails and soaking in the winter sun and the beauty of winter.

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The Sugar Bush Adventure was a well-orchestrated interactive tour which took us from one station to the next to learn about how maple syrup was discovered by the pioneers by serendipity, how tapping was done (then and now),  and how sap was turned into syrup by old technology and new. I was pleased to catch up with the tube sapping method that was introduced only about 10 years ago and was still evolving.

There was a station demonstrating how to make taffy on snow with tasting offered, and how to use a two-person cross-cut saw and you could keep a branded piece of wood you cut as a souvenir. You could buy a bag of maple syrup coated popcorn, or test your knowledge on maple syrup by answering questions as you found your way in a maze.

The presentation was done by energetic and articulated young people, who probably were students doing their part-time job as long as they did not mind the cold weather outdoors. We saw a demonstration of how natives would heat up the sap by dropping burnt wood into the liquid, and using fur to sieve the ashes to get the syrup. Then we saw the use of pots and flat pans, and we were reminded that for every litre of maple syrup, forty litres of sap was needed.

We not only learn about the story of maple syrup, we also enjoyed the winter air and the beautiful scenery of the grounds.

When this was done, we were feeling hungry and ready for a pancake breakfast with maple syrup. Unfortunately this was when we had to stand in line for over half an hour. We were ravenous by the time we ordered and we ended of the biggest meals on the menu–The Pioneer and the Canadian.

The syrup for the pancakes was delightful and so was the maple syrup baked beans. I even ordered a  maple coffee to complete my maple syrup day with my family on Family Day.

A Word A Week Photo Challenge: INDUSTRIAL

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The Burlington Canal Lift Bridge is the icon of the Industrial Revolution that took place in Canada in the 19th century. I have therefore chosen it to represent the theme Industrial for this week’s A Word A Week Photo Challenge in response to Skinnywench (aka Sue).

Built in 1826 with the opening of the Burlington Canal, which links the waters of Hamilton Harbour (also known as Burlington Bay) to Lake Erie and Lake Ontario to the Atlantic Ocean, the lift bridge is a tower-driven, moveable and vertically lifted bridge. It raises on demand to big vessels year round and hourly or half-hourly to smaller boats or pleasure vessels in the summer.

According to government statistics, the bridge is 116 metres long, weighs 1996 tonnes and lifts 33.5 metres high as in the photo above. Seen from the picture, the height is similar to the Skyway Bridge (36 metres high) behind it. The Lift Bridge provides two-lane traffic for vehicles and a side-walk for pedestrians and cyclist. Personally, I walk across the Lift Bridge regularly in the summer, because it is on my training route along the Burlington Waterfront Trail and Hamilton Beach Trail. The Lift Bridge is also part of the route of the Around the Bay Road Race, which has been taking place at the end of March since 1894, three years earlier than the Boston’s inaugural race. On race day, the Lift Bridge is closed entirely to traffic. I love bridges and I have taken part in the race of the reason that I want to walk on the steel surface of the bridge thinking that I have history under my feet.

The photos below were taken on a cloudier day. The vessel is typical of those that requires the lift bridge to raise. When this happens, a horn will sound, and the traffic has to stop. Pedestrians and cyclists also wait behind the gate. The entire operation takes about four to five minutes.

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One may question the efficiency and the utility of this lift bridge now that there is the Skyway Bridge providing through road traffic across the Burlington Canal. I think the Lift Bridge remains more for its historical significance than for its functionality. The City of Hamilton has thrived as an industrial city (Canada’s Steel Town) during the Industrial Revolution and the waterway is an important link between North American and Europe in international trade and commerce. One can imagine how differently the steam ocean vessels would look crossing the Atlantic Ocean and coming to dock in Hamilton 180 years ago. An average journey in those days took six to twelve days. Raw material aside, they also brought immigrants who helped shaped the landscape of Canada. The Lift Bridge has witnessed the growth and decline of the steel industry in this part of the world. It deservedly stands for “Industrial”.

Related Article:   <http://www.tpsgc-pwgsc.gc.ca/ontario/burlington-eng.html>

Book Club Review: The Red Tent, Anita Diamant

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We finally had a book club meeting in which the votes split the group into half, with one group liking it so much that they want to re-read it and one group simply did not like it albeit acknowledging some interesting points the book contained.

Our host jokingly said that the lesson she learned was “not to pick a book for book club until you have read it yourself”. She said that because her mother had raved about the book, and she recommended it for all of us and read it just before the meeting. It did not turn out to be her cup of tea. She led us through the discussion about the life led by the women in the book, the relationship between Dinah and her four mothers (Leah, Rachel, Zilpach, and Bilhah), the relationship between the women and Jacob, and how the novel differed from the Bible version. This book actually had motivated most of us to re-read Genesis Ch. 34 for a comparison.

Since Dinah’s story was written up in the Bible, and was considered some form of history, some of us felt that we were unsure whether we were reading fiction, which the book claimed to be, or non-fiction at times. We trusted that the author was an authority in Jewish culture, having written several on this topic, yet those of us who tried to research more on the red tent, where the women would retreat to monthly and as well for childbirth, could not find references to it anywhere else.

While half of us felt that the book is a celebration of womanhood and sisterhood, the other half felt that life must be rather miserable to be a Jewish woman in those days, perhaps unless one could be a midwife like Rachel, and that was what Dinah had become to make her life respectable and fulfilled. However, we also wondered if the Jewish women were aware of other options and they seemed to be making the best of what they had. Another possibility, of course, is that the book was just the fictional alternative to the Bible if it had been written by women.  We opined about the girl or woman being regarded as a commodity, her value rated in terms of the dowry she was worth. That quite naturally introduced some cross-cultural comparison, since we had members familiar with the South Asian and the Chinese culture. While women in these cultures, as with the Jews, had little status in society, they were even being discriminated against during their menstrual cycles. Unlike Jewish women who could celebrate monthly in the Red Tent, Chinese women and Indian women were segregated traditionally because the period was regarded as  “dirty” and the men did not want ill fortune to be inflicted on them by associating with them.

The book seemed to dwell on the relationship between Dinah and her mothers, it did not say much about her relationship with her son, and we tried to explain it by the sad fact that her son was being taken away from her by her mother-in-law.

One of our members had gone into the trouble of verifying the authenticity of Dinah’s story. She found that the rape of Dinah was added much later and it was done to create tension among the tribes. Even if Dinah had willingly given herself as the book had described, the fact that a woman lost her virginity in those times would have angered her father and her brothers anyway.

The group that liked book felt that it was a celebration of feminism. The group that did not like the book cited reasons such as the slow pace in plot development, uninteresting style of writing and dull subject matter. We had a good discussion and this was a meeting in which everybody had a chance to speak up her mind.

A Word A Week Photo Challenge: GARDEN

This is my 100th post and to mark the occasion, I am submitting for the first time to the A Word A Week Photo Challenge. As I look out of my window at the bleak winter world of snow and bare branches, I remember my visit to Hong Kong one Christmas and my elation to see the poinsettia in bloom in the Hong Kong Zoological and Botanical Garden.

Looking North-East

Looking North-East

I always visit this Garden when I go to Hong Kong, since I usually stay at the hotel just three minutes’ walk away. The fountain area is the centre of the Garden, and looking in the north-east direction my hotel, which is a circular building, is peeping above the top of the tree line.

The Garden has special meaning for me because I used to live in the same neighbourhood until I got married. The school I went to was also within walking distance from the Garden. I cherish many fond memories of playing in the Garden with my siblings when I was little and hanging out there with my friends after school. The fountain and the area around it have undergone many renovations. More dramatically are the alteration of the sky line with all the tall commercial buildings and their outstanding architecture. Turn around 360 degrees and one can name I. M. Pei (Bank of China Tower) , Norman Foster (Hong Kong Shanghai Banking Corporation), and Cesar Pelli (Cheung Kong Centre, IFC Tower),  The Garden is a landmark that has witnessed the historical changes of Hong Kong. It is also a landmark of my formative years. On my recent visits, it has become my gym as well. In various times of the year, I can always enjoy over 30 species of flowers in bloom.

Looking South
Looking South
Looking South-West

Looking South-West

Looking West

Looking West

I also remember a super special photo of the Garden taken some sixty years ago at a similar angle looking west of the city. This is a very interesting comparison indeed from the pictures above–and my love goes to my late father who was the photographer of this shot.

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Chinese New Year Is About Food And Family

Today is the third day of the Lunar New Year. My relatives and friends in Hong Kong are still enjoying their three days of public holiday. For me it’s back to work in Canada. I have been posting a lot about food in the past few days. Indeed, festivity and socialization aside, Chinese New Year is about food and family. On New Year’s Day, the tradition is to visit the senior members of the family to greet them Happy New Year.  I brought along the rice cakes (Go) that I made to the family gathering. They were cut into pieces, pan-fried and served together with other food my relatives had made. My coconut rice cake (Nin Go) was dipped into egg wash before the frying. Everybody loved it.

The evening dinner was at a restaurant with their standard eight-course New Year menu (not counting rice, noodles and desserts, and eight in the lucky number in Chinese culture).  We frequent the Happy Jade Seafood Chinese Restaurant regularly and they serve very good food (Dim Sum as well as main meal). The strategy of picking it for the Chinese New Year family meal is the privilege they give to regular patrons to book two large tables on this busy day. Service tonight was a bit erratic, but it was condoned by the patrons, all in joyous spirits. Everyone preferred to be courteous and friendly with one another on New Year Day.

The standard menu always included a Lucky Dish which was composed of pig’s tongue, oysters, hairy fungi and lettuce. They are symbols of good fortune, good business, prosperity and liveliness, all that people wish for in the new year. The dishes were given auspicious names. For example, the roast chicken with deep-fried garlic, was called Golden Sand Chicken. The fish was deep-fried whole with head and tail intact.

We also chose the Happy Jade Restaurant because they put up a Lion Dance during dinner. The children loved it. My one-year old great-nephew bounced on his father’s lap to the rhythm of the drums. The four-year old great-niece watched in awe and said, “Don’t eat me,” Older children gave the lion a laisee (red lucky money packet) to invite the lion do a stunt at the table, such as pouring you a cup of tea. The final stunt was a greeting of Happy New Year with a scroll coming out of the mouth of the Lion!

Happy Jade Seafood Chinese Restaurant, 1425 Dundas Street East, Mississauga, ON

Greetings On Chinese New Year Day: Kung Hei Fat Choy

Candy Tray

Candy Tray

Kung Hei Fat Choy! It means congratulations on making a fortune. This is how we greet one another on Chinese New Year Day, before we add on other greetings for good health, good luck and all your wishes come true. With my candy tray, I want to wish my readers a Very Happy Lunar New Year!

Most of the food items for Chinese New Years are symbols of something auspicious. I have in the middle of my tray melon seeds (red is lucky and seeds are a symbol of life, and a homophone for silver) and chocolate gold coins. The older generation like to ask their guest to dip in for some silver. We hardly hear this saying any more these days.  I have surrounding the seeds sugar lotus seeds (having sons in succession or every year); sugar shredded coconut (having both grandfather and son , i.e., a three generation family); sugar kum quat (homophone for gold and luck); and sugar ginger. 

I have put two chocolate gold coins for decoration, and two laisee envelopes with the tray. They are the lucky money packets, which are also handed out by people who are married to the younger generation in the family. I am bringing a lot of these to the family gathering today.

 I also want to serve you with some snacks: the sugar rings I made earlier in the week, sesame balls (smiling balls, because they crack when they are deep fried),  prawn crackers (homophone for ‘ha’, laughing} and deep fried dumplings (the shape is a smiley). These are all to wish you good luck, good health and prosperity in the New Year!

The Symbolism Of A Chinese New Year Eve Dinner

The Chinese New Year Eve meal is a family dinner called Tuen Nin Fan, which means you round up the family to round up the year with a meal. We are fortunate that Chinese New Year Eve falls on a weekend, and my children can all come home for dinner. The menu is fairly standard, at least among the people I know. Whether we buy or cook the food, the ingredients are also left to the tradition of individual households. Either the names of the dish or the ingredients are symbolic of some auspicious concepts in Chinese culture or the names are homophones of things good. This could indeed become quite an obsession.

I always start the preparation with my mixed vegetables dish, because it is the most complicated and takes the longest time to get ready. The base is made with dried ingredients that I use for daily cooking except that I normally do not assemble them all in one dish.  Chinese New Year is special. Here are the ingredients. (I shall put in parentheses the symbolic meaning of the food.)

Dried Ingredients

I soak my dry ingredients: Chinese mushrooms (implying success in both the East and the West); hairy fungi (as in the greeting Kung Hei Fat Choy, which means congratulation on making a fortune, the fungi is a homophone of Fat Choy–making lots of money); black, yellow and white fungi, dried lining of bamboo shoot (for life), dried oysters (another homophone for good business), golden needle plant, lotus seeds (a homophone of having a son every year), dried daffodil petals (implying perfect match in romance). You must think by now that the Chinese is the most money craving culture in this world,

The ingredients look quite different when they are soaked. I have to clean, trim, or break them up into smaller piece as required.

I stir fry the ingredients lightly and braise it with water, seasoned with red bean curd, oyster sauce, soya sauce, salt and pepper. I assemble it with iceberg lettuce (homophone for life and making money), and snap sugar peas. Some green colour helps brighten the dish.

Roast pork is a must, because the skin is red, which is the lucky colour in Chinese culture. There is always a long line-up at the supermarkets for roast pork at this time of the year. I make my own with belly pork. All these years living in a small Canadian bedroom town has trained me to be self-sufficient in many aspects of Chinese cooking. The skin of my roast pork is as good and crunchy as any store-bought one.

Roast Pork

Roast Pork

We always have a chicken in this meal. This year, I have chosen to make a roast chicken with shallots.

Shallots Roast Chicken

Chinese sausages–pork sausages and liver sausage, preserved belly pork, marinaded pig’s tongue and pig’s spleen form another dish. The sausages and belly pork are symbols of affluence (think fat and grease) and the tongue is a homophone of profit while the spleen, a homophone for making gains in gambling or your lottery tickets.

Sausage Combo

I also make fried prawns with a tomato and chili sauce. The prawns (pronounced as Ha in Cantonese, and the meaning is self-explanatory–you want to being laughing a lot, don’t you?)

Spicy Proawns

The soup comes from a traditional recipe with a soup base made from pork, dried squid, and lotus roots. I like to enhance the stock with dried mushroom and dried scallops. The lotus roots has an auspicious meaning of having a thoroughfare or no obstacles, because the holes of the root run through the entire segment. The pieces here are the cross-sections. We serve the ingredients as well.

Pork and Lotus Roots

This is a big meal for our family, and during dinner we always like to talk about the symbolism associated with the food. When the children were young, this was a way to impart in them some aspects of Chinese culture. Now that they are all grown up, we are able to talk about symbolism in broader perspectives. During dinner, we also make a point to have a second helping of rice,  It is always good and important to have left overs to imply that there is plenty. Nobody wants to run out of food or supplies at Chinese New Year.

When we lived in Hong Kong, we liked to go to the outdoor New Year Market after the meal. It was very crowded and the excitement and festive atmosphere was palpable. Now that we live in Canada, it is too far to drive to the nearest indoor market. Out version is to enjoy a glass of wine and start nibbling on the sugar rings and other goodies in the house.

Cooking For A Canadian Chinese New Year

I have been very busy preparing for Chinese New Year, which will be this Sunday. There is shopping, cleaning and cooking, and cooking has taken up most of my time. Since I last wrote about shopping for dry goods, I have completed my shopping for the wet goods–meat, vegetables, fruits and other perishables for making my rice cakes and sugar rings for snacks and tea, as well as the New Year Eve’s dinner.

Chinese New Year Cake (Nin Go in Cantonese) is a must, whether you make it yourself or buy it from the shops. We make different kinds of rice cakes (Go). The ingredients are very simple and they are mostly steamed and not baked. One has to trace the roots of all this to the agrarian society in ancient China where affluence is the exception rather than the rule. My husband’s and my family come from southern China and we try to follow what we were exposed to when we were growing up, but the Canadian version is bound to be simpler, because we do not have the manpower to do everything.  We make Nin Go and not dumplings, which is a northern Chinese tradition for the New Year. One significant feature in cooking for the New Year is the symbolism–the name of the food or its ingredients have to be auspicious. Call it culture or superstition, as long as the food is tasty, I am fine with it.

Let’s start with my Nin Go. The word Go is a homophone for “high” in the Chinese language. So the cakes are called Go, because anything that rises or is high (be it your salary, your rank, your grade or even the stock market) is supposed to be good. I use glutinous rice flour, coconut milk and rock sugar. Rock sugar gives a subtle sweet flavour to the cake.

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I dissolve 450 g of sugar in 2 cups of boiling water and leave it to cool. I put 1200 g of glutinous rice flour in a big bowl and make a hole in the middle. When the sugar-water is ready I pour it slowly into the flour and stir/knead the batter. I add 2 Tbsp of vegetable oil, add 800 ml of coconut milk and continue to stir. The liquid will have a consistency of condensed milk. I brush my baking tins with oil, pour the batter in, and steam for two hours (for a 8″ cake tin).

In the meantime, I start to prepare the savoury rice cakes, for which I use plain rice flour. The ingredients for the turnip cake and the taro cake are very similar. They both require Chinese sausages and preserved belly pork, dried shrimps, scallion and parsley.

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While the dried shrimps (4 oz for both cakes) are soaking in water, I peel the skin of the turnip (1.35 Kg), and the taro (1.35 Kg). I shred the turnip and dice the taro into small cubes. For each of the cake, I also need 3 Chinese sausages, half a stick of preserved belly port and 3 scallions, which I dice into small pieces.

I fry all the ingredients except for the turnip and the taro, and divide them into two halves for later use respectively.  With the turnip, I cook the shredded turnip in 2 Tbsp of oil until soft, add 1 tsp of salt and 1 tsp of white pepper, and pour the rice flour in, stirring vigorously while I add about 3 cups of water until the batter is evenly mixed.

I grease two molds and put the batter in. They are ready for the steamer. The Go is ready when the side moves away from the mold.

I fry the taro pieces briefly and pour the other ingredients in. I add 400 g rice flour and mix it well with 3 1/2 cups of water. The batter goes into greased molds and they are now lining up in my kitchen to be steamed.

I also prepare Red Bean Cake and Water Chestnut Cake. They are a lot easier to make by comparison. I boil 170 g of dried red beans in 4 cups of water until they are soft. Add 200 g of sugar and 100 g of all purpose flour. I stir the batter until the beans no longer sink to the bottom before putting them into greased molds. As for the Water Chestnut Cake, I just follow the recipe that comes with the box of water chestnut flour.

All the Go has to remain in the molds until they are fully cool before I tip them over onto serving plates or do the decorations. I decorate the cakes with dried red dates, goji berries, sesame seeds and some parsley. Red is the auspicious colour for Chinese New Year and seeds are a symbol of life.

Traditionally, Chinese New Year also comes with other sweet goodies such as fried dumplings with red bean paste and sesame balls. My mother and my aunts used to spend the entire day sitting in front of a huge work to do the deep frying.  My version is the coconut sugar rings that I make by deep frying a batter with a special mold I bought in Singapore many years ago. I use my deep fryer for making fries. This is a very labour intensive endaevour, but the result which comes out like a gold ancient coin always pleases the crowd.

All this has taken me two full days to prepare, but I am that happy that the food is ready to be brought to the family gathering on Sunday. Whatever I have not cooked I have bought from the supermarket. Now I can tend to my other household tasks.

Disclaimer: The ingredients and cooking methods are based on my personal experience cooking for large family gatherings. They may vary if applied to smaller servings the recipes for which I have  not tested and therefore I cannot be responsible for the end results.

Shopping For A Canadian Chinese New Year

CNY1

There is one week to go before Chinese New Year. My family and I have continued to celebrate this festive occasion ever since we moved to Canada. When we first came, there were not many Chinese grocery stores, and shopping for Chinese New Year meant a special trip of driving at least an hour to Chinatown in Toronto. With the growth of immigrants from China and Taiwan, more grocery stores stock up products from China, Taiwan and Hong Kong. I only have to drive half an hour to do my Chinese grocery shopping.

The T & T Supermarket is a Chinese grocery store which has created a new experience for Chinese grocery shopping. Traditional-style Chinese grocery stores are reputed to be crowded and untidy. Gone were the days when I had to squeeze between narrow aisles and overstocked shelves and walk gingerly so that I did not slip on the wet floor near the meat and seafood sections. T & T is spacious and well-lit. It has everything I need and the store makes it convenient by having a special section selling Chinese New Year products. Chinese New Year music is playing inside the store. The cashier staff were dressed in Chinese costumes.The shopping atmosphere is  just right.

My main agenda today was to shop for dry goods. (Wet goods refer to fresh produce, meat or perishables that I’ll get next week.) I bought plain rice flour, glutinous rice flour, rock sugar and coconut milk. They are for my baking. I also bought Chinese pork sausages, liver sausages and preserved meat. They will be used for my turnip cake and yam cake, as well as served as a dish  on New Year’s Eve. I also bought sugary goodies, such as preserved ginger, lotus seeds, shredded coconut and mandarins for my New Year Tray. I do hope to blog more about these if I am organized enough.

Last by not least, I bought a small poster of the Chinese character which means good fortune!

'Fook'