This year is the year of the Dragon, a very auspicious year in the Chinese calendar. New Year starts on 23 January and the celebrations continue for the next 15 days. We're celebrating tomorrow evening with a Chinese Banquet and if you'd like some ideas then check out some of my recipes here or listen again to my Feeding the Family show on BBC Oxford today when my fabulous guests Kwong Lin from Noodle Nation (@noodle_nation), my children's absolute favourite Chinese Restaurant with branches in Oxford, High Wycombe, Aylesbury and Maidenhead talked about how his family celebrates. Also on the show was the lovely Caroline MiLi Artiss, who has a huge following on her YouTube show and is currently writing her first cook book on South East Asian food, can't wait for that to come out.
Monthly Archives: January 2012
Chocolate, chocolate and more chocolate with a little bit of chocolate thrown in for good measure.
That seems to sum up the modern view of Easter, let’s face it the chocolate Easter eggs appear on Boxing Day in supermarkets and are usually right next to the discounted selection boxes, so what is Easter really all about?
The origins of Easter go way back to pagan times, long before Christianity. Our ancestors believed that the sun died in winter and was reborn in the spring. The arrival of spring was celebrated all over the world long before religious meaning became associated with Easter.
Our ancestors gave thanks to the gods for returning the sun to warm the world, bring forth life in the form of plants and baby animals and generally help humans stay alive by providing food and warmth. The word ‘Easter’ is thought to come from name of an Anglo-Saxon goddess ‘Eostre’ which was also the ancient name for Spring. Eostre’s sacred animal was a hare and since then rabbits have been associated with Easter. In America the Easter Bunny leaves baskets of chocolate eggs for children who in turn leave carrots out, he has been sighted in the UK although rarely. Try come classic Easter Recipes then carry on and read more about how other cultures celebrate the rebirth of Spring.
In ancient Egypt they held the festival of Isis to celebrate spring and rebirth as river Nile began to rise in the springtime and it was thought that the goddess was in mourning for her partner, Osiris, and the tears that she cried swelled the river.
The ancient Romans celebrated the Feast of Cybele, one of the mother goddesses, one story is that Zeus helped her resurrect her lover Attis and that he is reborn each year in the Spring.
Christians celebrate the resurrection of Jesus at Easter. Easter moves each year as the date is fixed as the first Sunday after the Full Moon which occurs on or after the Vernal (Spring) Equinox, so it can fall as early as 22 March or as late as 25 April
Eggs, whether they are chocolate or not, are a symbol of continuing life. They are forbidden during lent and are traditionally eaten boiled for breakfast on Easter Day. The first eggs given at Easter were bird’s eggs, they were painted in bright colours and in the 1900s the first chocolate version was developed. They have also grown, so rather than giving a small chocolate egg the size of a bird’s egg they can be found as large as an ostrich egg, it’s a bird after all but not quite what our ancestors had in mind.
Hot cross buns were traditionally eaten at breakfast time, hot from the oven and those baked on Good Friday were supposed to have magical powers and would keep for a year without going mouldy, they would be rock hard but not mouldy.
Simnel cake is another Easter Food, made for Mothering Sunday and decorated with 11 marzipan balls to represent the 11 true disciples of Jesus, not including Judas, it was not allowed to be eaten during Lent so was saved until Easter. Wherever you are in the world and whatever you believe Easter usually marks the beginning of warmer weather, more sunshine and a general feeling of wellbeing and the end of long, dark, cold nights.
Christmas is a time for celebration in the deepest, darkest days of the year. Humans have been celebrating the winter solstice, which falls on 21 December, for thousands of years. It's time to gather together, keep warm and look forward to welcoming the Spring. The time of year when we're half way through the worst, coldest weather, what a great time to have a celebration.
Traditional foods use dried fruit as fresh fruit was difficult to come by before planes were invented so Christmas cake, mince pies, Christmas pudding, stollen and gingerbread. The warming spices of cinnamon and ginger and smell of oranges conjures up Christmas to most of us.
Christmas pudding is made on ‘Stir-up Sunday’ which is the Sunday before Advent - the end of November – and everyone in the family takes a turn to stir the pudding with a wooden spoon from East to West (clockwise) in honor of the three Kings making their journey, with their eyes closed whilst making a secret wish. The sprig of holly is a reminder of Jesus’ ‘Crown of Thorns’. Holly also was supposed to bring good luck and has special healing powers.
The term Stir-up Sunday comes from the opening words for the day in the Book of Common Prayer of 1549. The collect is the prayer of the day that ‘collects’ up the themes of the readings during a church service. The original prayer used to start:
‘Stir up, we beseech thee’, - hence the term Stir Up Sunday.
Another custom is to put silver or gold items into the pudding; each has a special significance:
- Silver coins are supposed to bring luck to whoever finds them in their slice of pudding on Christmas Day.
- A gold ring signifies that the finder will be married before the year is out.
- A silver thimble or button signifies that the finder will never marry and remain a spinster or bachelor forever, or if people didn’t want to upset whoever pulled out the thimble the meaning was changed to ‘having a lucky life’.
Chinese food is full of flavour and colour and is much healthier than the versions we regularly sample in classic take aways. Lots of brightly coloured stir fried vegetables, lean chicken, steamed fish, flavoured with soy sauce, ginger, citrus fruits and a little rice wine and served with steamed rice or noodles. With a trusty wok it will take 10 minutes to cook a delicious family meal, encourage all the family to get involved with preparing it and it will be even quicker. Try some of my recipes out and let me know what you think.
Chinese New Year
Chinese New Year falls between the end of January and the middle of February each year. The exact date is dependent on the lunar cycle and the solar year not the Gregorian calendar used in Europe. This year it starts on 23 January - the second new moon after the Winter Solstice and finishes 15 days later when the moon is full.
New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day is celebrated as a family gathering starting with a family supper on New Year’s Eve, a little like our Christmas Day lunch. Next morning the children will wish their parents a ‘healthy and happy New Year’ and are usually given money in red envelopes. It is tradition to clean the house thoroughly to ‘sweep’ away any bad luck and make sure that the house is clean to welcome in good luck for the New Year. This is also a time to heal grudges and forgive any arguments from the past year and to start anew.
Myths around Chinese New Year
Legends tell of a fight against a mythical beast called the Nian. This creature would terrorise villagers and devour livestock, crops and people on the first day of the New Year. To try and protect themselves the villagers would leave food out on their doorsteps believing that if the Nian was given food it would stop attacking the livestock and people. One day, one of the villagers saw the Nian run away from a small child who was wearing red. They assumed that the creature was scared of the colour red and began decorating their doors and windows with red lanterns and scrolls and setting off firecrackers to scare the Nian away. The Nian never came back to the village again and to this day the colour red is used to decorate Chinese homes and businesses at New Year.
Each day of the New Year celebrations hold an specific significance and some of these traditions focus on food:
New Year’s Eve – a whole chicken symbolises family togetherness. Noodles represent a long life and it’s supposed to bring bad luck to cut noodles so they are sometimes served very, very long. Spring rolls symbolise wealth as they are the shape of a gold bar.
First day – the day for visiting grandparents and great grandparents - the most senior members of the family, fireworks are set off and children are given money in red envelopes. Many people do not eat meat on this day and some think it is inauspicious to light fires or use knives on New Year’s Day.
Fifth Day – the birthday of god of wealth, dumplings are traditionally eaten (see recipe).
Seventh Day – a tossed raw fish salad is traditionally eaten together, tossed by each person in turn who makes a wish.
Thirteenth Day - only vegetarian food is eaten as a sort of detox as too much food has usually been eaten in the previous days.
Fifteenth Day – the last day of the New Year celebrations is the Lantern Festival, sweet rice dumplings are made symbolising a rich, sweet life and the round shape signifies reunion.
Tangerines and oranges are very popular as the words sound like ‘luck’ and ‘wealth’, the Chinese word for pomelo sounds like ‘to have’ and the word for fish sounds like the words for ‘wish’ and ‘abundance’.
I've been awaiting a review from Rhoda and Liz nervously. Rhoda was the winner of a KitchenAid competition to win a KitchenAid Liquidiser and a copy of my book 500 Baby and Toddler Foods so she was totally unbiased, check out her amazing review blog to see for yourself.
The books was more suitable for Liz so Liz took it away to play with it and you read her review here, it's fabulous, so thank you lovely ladies, I'm very proud and ever so thrilled that you like it and have found it useful.
I'm working on putting some more recipes up on the site so check back in a day or so and you'll be able to try some out to tempt you to buy the book.