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archive for January 2012

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Sunday, January 22nd, 2012

Recipe: chinese egg dumplings (dan jiao)

I’ve spent the better part of the past week getting ready for Chinese New Year, so much so that I nearly forgot about my mammogram and ultrasound from mid-week. I’m not traumatized by these appointments. The medical center I go to has really wonderful staff and technicians. I sandwiched the medical imaging into my busy errands schedule that day. At the end, the techs always walk me to the front desk, shake my hand, give me a card explaining to expect my results in 10-14 days, and wish me good health. For that split moment I wonder about those results. It’s the difference between nothing and everything. And then I strode briskly out the doors, my brain in grocery-hunting mode.

making dumplings

Most of the food is prepped or cooked for the big feast on New Year’s Eve. The house is nearly clean because once the new year arrives, you can’t clean for 2 weeks lest you sweep the luck out. Speaking of luck, it’s tradition to hang the Chinese character for luck (fu) on your front door, upside down (dao). Dao is also a homonym for the verb “to arrive” – so you definitely want luck arriving at your door, at your house.

here’s what fu looks like right-side up

Jeremy and I reached a stopping point in the housework Saturday afternoon and took Kaweah for a walk before the snow storm arrived in the evening. It was ridiculously warm out – 45°F! It felt like spring except for the sun low in the sky. There were patches of bare ground dotting the snow… sad, but not uncommon. What horrified me were the puddles. Liquid water shouldn’t be making an appearance around here until May!

splashy splash!

kaweah is an all-terrain kinda girl

Kaweah had a blast sniffing every.darn.thing.on.the.ground. Back home, a message waited in my in-box from my health care provider. Strange. I wasn’t expecting anything. It was a note from my oncologist that my scans were clean. I grinned. That was only four days ago. And my oncologist is working on a weekend AGAIN (of course – he is amazing). It’s been over four years since my first mammogram did NOT detect my cancer, so I take these negative scans for what they’re worth. I trust my yearly MRIs more. Even so, it’s a really nice way to start the new year.

Every Chinese New Year’s Eve we enjoy a big pot of cellophane noodle soup, a type of hot pot (huo guo) that is different from the more common Chinese hot pot. I make the cellophane noodle soup several times a year, but Chinese New Year’s Eve is the only time I go to the effort of making egg dumplings (dan jiao) to add to the soup. They represent wealth (any dumpling represents wealth).

the filling: ground pork, green onions, black mushrooms, bamboo shoots, ginger, napa cabbage

mincing the ginger

**Jump for more butter**


Thursday, January 19th, 2012

Recipe: chinese sweet soup (tian tang)

Chinese new year is coming up this Monday, January 23 (2012). It will be the year of the Dragon, which makes me chuckle because my dad is a dragon and he likes to tell everyone that he’s a dragon. In my childhood years, he always told me that the dragon was the best. I would look at the Chinese zodiac place mat at Chinese restaurants and find my dad, my mom, my sister, my grandma, and me. I knew by heart what we were: dragon, snake, horse, rooster, and pig, respectively. In my mind I saw a cartoon family of these creatures sitting at the dinner table together – my family.

mandarin oranges, fragrant pears, pomegranate, and a red envelope (hong bao)

For several years now it has no longer become a question of whether or not to make traditional Chinese dishes to celebrate the lunar new year, but a necessity. It is the one holiday I take seriously. I largely ignore Christmas. I consider myself lucky to stay up for the western New Year. But Chinese New Year is the time when I spend several days gathering and preparing these special foods, all the while deep in thought thinking of loved ones both here and gone. Remembrance is an important part of the holiday and we honor those who have passed on with an extra place setting at the table. They are meant for your ancestors, but in my case I have one for my sister, Kris, and now one for Grandma.

eat peanuts (hua sheng) for luck (promotion)

I woke up the other morning and began jotting down the menu for this year. Potstickers, cellophane noodle soup, lucky ten ingredient vegetable (rui tsai), stir fried rice cakes, and soybean sprouts. Simple, right? I also had a strong desire to make tian tang, a sweet soup that my Grandma always had on the stove whenever we came to visit her in California. Why did I never ask her for a recipe when she was alive? I choked back the lump rising in my chest and gave my mom a call. Mom listed a ton of options as the soup is quite flexible, “If you can’t find lotus seeds, you can make it without them.” “No Mom, I want to make it the way Po po made it.” I knew she understood. I know she misses her too.

white fungus, rice cake, longan, lotus seeds, red dates, ginkgo nuts

closer inspection: (l to r, t to b) red dates, longan, lotus seeds, white fungus, rice cakes, ginkgo nuts

It’s a good thing I have a strong visual memory otherwise this illiterate Chinese girl would be screwed when shopping for Chinese ingredients. I had gone grocery shopping with Grandma countless times. She taught me to select the sweetest fruit, the freshest greens, the most tender shoots, the best quality noodles. Between my memory, my mom’s instructions, and Google, I was able to identify the ingredients I needed at the big Asian market in Broomfield (POM: Pacific Ocean Market). When I found the first one – the dried lotus seeds, I picked the bag up in my hand and examined them under my fingers through the plastic. And then I began to cry.

soak the lotus seeds, then simmer for an hour or longer until tender

soak the white fungus for ten minutes

**Jump for more butter**

thank you so matcha!

Monday, January 16th, 2012

Recipe: matcha green tea shortbread cookies

Someone has been doing their snow dances, because we are finally seeing a little winter love over here. Last week it snowed a nice half-foot at the local hill. I knew it was going to snow. You see, every time Kat comes to visit Boulder from Colorado Springs, it snows!

of course, the winds were not far behind

It mostly cleared up by the time Kat arrived for lunch the next day. We are huge fans of The Pinyon, but when they announced the start of lunch service in the new year we promised one another that this would be our next get together. I mean, a favorite resto that serves my favorite meal of the day? Booyah! We met up with two other fascinating and uniquely wonderful friends: Butter (how can you not love a girl who goes by the name Butter?) and Michael.

we all shared the fried brussels sprouts leaves salad, which was *amazeballs*

my shrimp po’ boy

Jeremy returned from travel and we spent the weekend driving to and from IKEA, disassembling and reassembling the house, working, and waiting for more snow. It was warm, windy, and not snowing.

while we waited: dramatic cloud formations at sunset

a little pink afterglow

But it did start snowing this morning on our backcountry ski and it continued to snow all day, dropping a few inches in the neighborhood and more in the mountains. Our winter weather pattern in the Colorado mountains is mostly like this: if it isn’t snowing, it’s sunny. Sometimes it’s both snowing AND sunny. Usually when it snows, it tends to be overcast and cold. That’s how we like it. Jeremy invariably makes himself a hot cup of coffee or tea when he comes inside from the cold, and if there is a sweet nibble of cookie, cake, or pastry to be had, his day is pretty much golden. I figured, if one likes tea and cookies, surely one would like tea in cookies!

flour, butter, sugar, confectioner’s sugar, egg yolks, matcha green tea powder

mix the matcha and confectioner’s sugar together

I’ve had this recipe on my “to try” list for years. I don’t know why it was buried for so long. I love matcha green tea anything because it’s such an easy and lovely “Asian” ingredient to incorporate into so many western desserts. And because this is a shortbread, I knew it would be reliable to bake at altitude with essentially no need for adjustments. You have no idea how much I love that.

beat the matcha, confectioner’s sugar, and butter until smooth

mix in the flour

add the yolks

**Jump for more butter**