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chinese new year recipe round up

Friday, January 24th, 2014

Chinese New Year (or the Lunar New Year) is a week away! It will be the Year of the Horse, which is special because my sister was born in the Year of the Horse and would have been 48 this year. I’m busy cleaning the house, prepping special foods, and doing those things that are supposed to bring luck in the new year. Maybe you are a traditionalist or perhaps the lunar new year doesn’t have any significance to you, but you want to make a celebratory meal or throw a Chinese-themed party. Either way, I’ve got a recipe round up for you!

traditional dishes

These are the dishes I make year after year. They symbolize luck, fortune, health, happiness, promotion.

Cellophane noodle soup: It’s a big pot of goodies – sort of a catchall for lucky things. The cellophane noodles (bean thread noodles or glass noodles) represent long life – so for goodness’ sake, DON’T CUT THE NOODLES. Meatballs and fish balls are round, which the Chinese like and their meaning is reunion.

Chinese dumplings and potstickers: Theoretically you are supposed to make dumplings (boiled or steamed), but I always make potstickers because I’m a crunch-junkie. My mom always told us that eating dumplings meant more money in the new year because they are shaped like gold ingots. Then I found out later that dumplings also symbolize having sons. I’m sticking with the money story.

Chinese egg dumplings: The Chinese have a thing for dumplings, because they are like purses, and purses hold money. These egg dumplings typically go in the cellophane noodle soup, but they are wonderful eaten on their own too.

Lucky ten ingredient vegetables: Lucky lucky lucky! Ten is a lucky number. Don’t make this with nine or eleven ingredients – you’ll screw up the new year! Also, don’t use hollow vegetables (green onions, water spinach – these are hollow and bad luck). Tofu is okay, but no meat is allowed in the dish.

Stir-fried rice cakes: These rice cakes are sticky, chewy disks of rice flour. The name of the rice cake, nian gao, sounds like “higher year”. Eating the rice cakes is good luck for a promotion or toward greater prosperity.

Stir-fried soybean sprouts: These are my favorite and plentiful in most Asian markets this time of year (because everyone wants luck!). Eating soybean sprouts (or bean sprouts in general) ensures a good start to the new year.


There’s something you should know about tofu. It’s a big deal. Fu is “luck” in Chinese. So tofu is pretty popular in the new year festivities because everyone wants lots of luck. The thing is, you shouldn’t eat white tofu because white is bad – it’s the color of mourning/death. That’s bad luck. But don’t fret, there are a bazillion ways to eat tofu: fried, dried, marinated, sheets, pressed.

Bean curd rolls: You can find bean curd sheets or tofu skin in Asian grocery stores. They are either dried or frozen. This tofu skin roll is filled with savory pork and vegetables, and then braised til soft. I order it at dim sum all the time.

Chinese tea eggs: Eggs represent fertility, but I just love the subtle flavor of the tea infusion as well as the delicate crackle pattern on the peeled egg.

Fried shrimp wontons: Terrific nibbles with the added bonus that shrimp symbolize happiness and good fortune.

Pickled Chinese cabbage: Served cold, this sweet, salty, sour, spicy, crunchy pickled cabbage wakes your mouth up in the best way possible. I could snack on a bowl of this all by myself. Cabbage means money, prosperity.

Scallion pancakes: One of the best savory snacks, ever. I’m not sure if it has any symbolism, but it’s delicious!

Shrimp toast: More shrimp goodness (happiness and fortune).

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different kinds of winter

Friday, January 10th, 2014

Recipe: black bean soup

We’re back home on the Colorado Front Range where the weather seems unseasonably warm compared to Crested Butte. I know the whole country (except for California) was dogged by frigid winter weather for several days, but it’s nothing out of the ordinary for us in the mountains. The thing is, Crested Butte has ruined me. It is my idea of perfect winter. The snow is fluffy and powdery, the temperatures are quite cold which preserves that nice powdery snow for a long time (in January, the average low is -8°F, but we measured as low as -22°F last week), there is a lot of sunshine, and there is no wind. Okay, they can get a little wind from time to time, but nothing like the winds that ravage us in Nederland and along the Front Range. So it’s a bit of an adjustment coming home to weather that feels so antagonistic at times.

there was decent snow in the trees

The wind is a real bitch here on the Front Range. But it makes you tough. Skiing ground blizzards, getting pummeled on the ski lift in gale force winds, navigating death cookies and busting wind slab – it all builds character. And then you have those blow outs where the winds have scoured bare ground right next to a 20 foot snowdrift. It makes the good days REALLY good, but winters here are not for dilettantes.

jeremy carries his skis across a giant blowout in 45 mph gusts

Once home our usual routine is to put the gear away, set the boots out to dry, remove sunblock, change into warm clothes, check that Kaweah is alive and well, and get something hot in our bellies. It doesn’t always go in that order (we usually check Kaweah first), but the need to warm up with a bowl of soup ranks high the moment we set foot in the house. I like to make a lot of soup and keep it handy in the refrigerator for these very occasions.

let’s start with black beans

black bean soup: pepper, olive oil, sherry, salt, cumin, oregano, onion, garlic, bell pepper, beans, chicken broth, tomato paste

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new year, new tricks

Thursday, January 2nd, 2014

Recipe: pressure cooker beef pho

Happy New Year, everyone! I’m always glad when we finally get to the first of January because it means I can flip the switch from HOLIDAY to NORMAL. But things weren’t quite normal for the past few days. Sunday evening, we noticed that Kaweah’s breath was particularly foul. I mean, she’s a dog and her breath was never pleasant, but it was really awful smelling. Then Monday afternoon she was limping on the paw that had a sprained toe from a few weeks ago. We thought it was getting better, but when I took a closer look… her toenail and toe pad were infected and the source of that horrible smell.

Kaweah has always been a pretty healthy dog with minor problems, if any. But at her age, I wondered how serious this could be and if it would mean making a hard decision. You always hear about a procedure that could solve the problem, but might kill an old dog. Jeremy called our vet back home while I quietly wiped away tears and rubbed Kaweah’s belly. We got antibiotics from the vet in Crested Butte, but decided the next morning to take her in for a look and to get some advice on how to care for her toe. We’ve been lucky that every vet who has ever cared for Kaweah has been absolutely wonderful, and our CB vet is no different. She fell in love with Kaweah and of course, Kaweah loves her right back (Kaweah doesn’t dislike anyone). We’ve got her on antibiotics, pain killers, a medicated soak twice a day, lots of happy treats, and a cotton sock for her little paw paw (thank you, CB thrift store!).

kaweah on the way home from the vet, having made more friends

All this to tell you that Kaweah seems to be improving, the stink is mostly gone, and that we rang in the new year soaking her paw in a ziploc bag of medicated wash. Yay, Kaweah! She’ll most likely lose that toenail, but hopefully she will be able to keep the toe. We have good vets looking after her.

Once we were sure she was comfortable and asleep (lots of excitement for her at the vet), we hopped out for a quick nordic ski on New Year’s Eve. It was good to get the worry and stress out on the trails.

frozen stream

the valley that is home to the town of crested butte

On New Year’s Day, Kaweah was her happy waggy self walking around with a child’s sock on her foot like a little drunk person. We figured we could go ski the mountain for a few hours to greet the new year properly. And I’m happy to report that I have been learning to jump some ramps! Nothing huge, but… this 42 year old betty can hang with (some) of the 13 year old boys at the terrain park! Especially now that I’ve stopped screaming whenever I catch air.

dropping knees

…and skiing trees

This is our first winter in Crested Butte, and each day it becomes clear that this is a winter paradise for those of us so fond of frozen precipitation. But after our excursions on the mountain, on the trails, or in the backcountry, we set our gear out to dry, wipe off the sunblock, and prepare something hot with which to warm up. A favorite of mine is Vietnamese beef pho, but I rarely made it because of the time investment. Until now. I’ve managed to reduce hours of simmering to an hour by employing my beloved pressure cooker for the task.

for the broth: fish sauce, onions, ginger, beef brisket, beef bones, spices, sugar, salt

slice the onions and ginger in half


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