A week ago Friday the night after yuanxiao (元宵), which is on the fifteenth day or the last day of the formal Chinese lunar New Year celebration, I’d invited a few of my blogger friends over for dinner. For months, if not years, I’d been promising them I would cook one of my Chinese feasts, but had not fulfilled this pledge. This last eighteen months I’ve been so pre-occupied with writing my cookbook that I had neglected them. So I made it up to them with a “Spring Awakening Dinner.”
Last year at this time I was frantically trying to complete the manuscript for my upcoming cookbook. With the deadline looming I did not have the time to cook a family Chinese New Year dinner. But the book, Phoenix Claws and Jade Trees: Essential Techniques of Authentic Chinese Cooking, is now finished and will be published this fall, so I am back making a Chinese New Year banquet for the family.
My Chinese zodiac sign is the wooden horse, and since this is the year of the wooden horse I’m not surprised I’m starting out the year with a busy schedule. For the first time in a very long while, I did not make a family Chinese New Year dinner at home. But I do have very good reasons for this lapse. First of all I’ve been busy with the manuscript for my upcoming book, which is now due in the spring that I was supposed to have completed last fall. Then I was asked by my very good friends Amy and Romy at Purple Yam restaurant in Brooklyn to help them develop a Chinese New Year menu for their restaurant. And just two weeks before Chinese New Year, through my wonderful friend Wendy Chan, Ron DeSantis at Yale University dining services invited me to put together a home-style Chinese New Year dinner for the students.
For Warren and me Chinese New Year has always meant family and friends. To express our love and affection we do what we do best: offer good food. For many years our Chinese New Year celebration centered on a ten-course banquet. Our nieces would invariably be the focus of the evening. But this year was different. One of our nieces is now living in Singapore and the other one is off in college at Cornell University. Fortunately we live in a Harlem apartment building full of young and lively families. They have become our extended family, so our Chinese New Year tradition continues with them.
The last six months of 2012 passed by me stealthily without my realizing it. The new year is here and I find I have neglected Red Cook during those months. But I’ve not abandoned Red Cook, so the report of Red Cook’s death was an exaggeration. With another Chinese New Year coming up, I am determined to restart my blogging effort. Please accept my apology for this interruption and I hope to engage you in Chinese cooking once again.
Juggling consulting work at Lotus Blue and other freelance consulting gigs, I almost neglected my own family’s reunion dinner for Chinese New Year. But since we were entering the Chinese zodiac’s dragon year it would have been improper not to have a grand celebration to welcome it. Among the flurry of my activities I staged a sumptuous Dragon Chinese New Year banquet for a small group of family and friends.
Photography by Kim Foster
I am very fortunate to be living in the most wonderful building in the greatest city. This year my schedule around Chinese New Year was absolutely crazy. What with cooking classes, cooking demos, panel discussions and a guest chef event I had neglected preparations for my own family New Year dinner. The day before New Year’s Eve only four members of my family had been invited and confirmed. I was not looking forward to spending a quiet New Year’s Eve celebration with so few people. Determined to change this I turned it into a festive gathering of friends and neighbors.
We’ve just entered the year of the tiger and according to the five elements of Chinese geomancy it is the metal tiger year, which is also known as the white tiger year. Consequently for most people it is to be a turbulent period with unpredictable outcomes and uncertain prospects. But if you were born in the year of the sheep, horse, dog, tiger, ox or dragon, you’re in luck because your birth sign counteracts the negativity. You’ll have more good fortune and opportunities for success in your career this year. Since I was born in the year of the horse I’m due for some good fortune or career success. But as a practical man that I am I just wish for a successful New Year’s dinner.
“What? No red cooked pork?” was the astonished question from my nieces when I told them our Chinese New Year celebration this year was to be a hot pot feast. For years I’ve always made a banquet of traditional Chinese food for the obligatory New Year’s Eve reunion dinner. But this year I decided to break from our family tradition. New Year hot pot dinners have always been very common in the provincial districts of China. But many city folks are rediscovering this tradition because not only is it delicious, it is also more economical and less time consuming to prepare.
In America homophones are language oddities that spark interest only as intellectual curiosities. But in Chinese culture they play a very large role in everyday and holiday symbols. Perhaps this is because there are so many homophones in the Chinese language. So it is that many food traditions during Chinese New Year are connected to play on homophones. One such food symbol is the Chinese New Year cake known as “nian gao” (年糕) in Mandarin.