With the unusually warm autumn this year in New York City, the sudden cold snap and snow rudely reminded us that winter has arrived and Christmas is just around the corner. Which also means that chestnuts are in season and plentiful at the Chinatown curbside vendors. Seduced by one beautiful display, I lightened my wallet and brought home a bagful. Now the only task was to peel them in preparation to use in a recipe. Well, that is precisely the problem!
When it comes to holiday celebrations, Warren and I are traditionalists. For Thanksgiving, a New England turkey dinner, accompanied by oyster stuffing, pan gravy, mashed potato and orange cranberry sauce, is the undeviating menu. For Christmas a prime rib roast or a ham would be added as we host a larger crowd. Lately though, there’s been grumbling by the family that we should be more modern and innovative with our Christmas dinner. But how does one inject creativity into a classic Christmas dinner? I decided to search for an answer in my Chinese cooking tradition.
During Christmas, or Thanksgiving for that matter, many Chinese immigrant families like mine face a dilemma. Should we serve turkey or just simply make a Chinese meal? Turkey has always been an iconic American foods that the Chinese never embraced. Jeff Yang wrote in a Wall Street Journal blog post that his family serves both the big bird and “a long buffet line” of other Chinese dishes. This seems to be the most common solution for satisfying both the family’s preference for Chinese food and our desire to assimilate into the American culinary tradition.
When you think of a traditional Victorian English Christmas what comes to mind? The most likely images are Scrooge, Father Christmas, Christmas tree, snow and the Christmas goose. This traditional bird shows up in virtually every depiction of a Victorian Christmas dinner. The most common recipes call for onion and apple dressing and spit-roasting over a wood fire. During the nineteenth century, while Queen Victoria was supping on her goose, in the Chinese Qing imperial palace half way around the world one of the most beloved dishes was a stuffed duck dish known as Eight Treasures Hulu Duck. It was an elegant, sumptuous dish made from a deboned duck filled with glutinous rice and studded with eight other ingredients. It would have been a perfect Christmas bird for the Qing Dynasty’s ambassador to Victoria’s Court.
It has been more than five years since we lost our cat, Lily, to cancer. Warren and I were very fond of her, and until now just couldn’t bring ourselves to adopt another cat. We finally decided we’ve given ourselves sufficient “adjustment” time. Early this year our friend Grace Young, author of The Wisdom of the Chinese Kitchen and The Breath of a Wok, had suggested we consider the Only Hope Cats Recue, Inc. when we were ready. So last week we finally contacted Kris at Only Hope Cats and found our beautiful four-year old rescued gray tiger tabby, Brandon.