Cookbook Review: Chinese Feasts + Festivals

Chinese Feasts + Festivalsby S.C. Moey, available in the US via Tuttle, is about very traditional ways of celebrating the festivals of the Chinese calendar. My first thought when I flipped through the book was that I had been transported back to my junior year abroad, which I spent in Taiwan – and I wished I had known this much then about the culture of the country, not just about the language! I can easily recall the sights, sounds, and tastes the author describes, and they would have been much more meaningful had I had a chance to read about them beforehand.

I think those of us who studied in Taiwan in the mid- to late 1980s were exposed to much more traditional Chinese culture than those classmates who studied in the much more recently established language programs in the mainland. Although Communist China, having been “forbidden” to Americans for so many years, seemed much more interesting to many of us, the opportunity to live with a Chinese family was not an option there – students lived in dorms with other Americans, and contact between Chinese students and Americans was still fairly tightly controlled. I feel lucky to have lived with a Chinese family and to have been treated to the feasts S.C. Moey writes about, but with only two years of the language under my belt, even asking the right questions was difficult – much less understanding what the family, who spoke absolutely no English, was trying to convey to me about their holidays – and I was sadly underprepared for this part of my sojourn abroad!

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The in-depth cultural notes are clearly written with a deep love of the author’s own culture – perhaps, I suggested to my husband (who is from China’s Hunan Province), in an effort to preserve some of the cultural heritage that remains in Singapore, Taiwan, and other outlying Chinese-inhabited countries? My memory of Mainland China was one of communist utilitarianism and a desperate rush toward modernization that left much of the traditional culture behind as something outdated and almost shamefully self-indulgent. But my husband mentioned that in the past decade, there has been a movement to reintroduce many of these festivals and feasts, not only in the countryside – where they have stayed somewhat alive despite the government’s attempts from the 1950s on to shut them down as relics of an undesirable era – but also in the cities.

The recipes in the book are well-written and easy to follow, although for a vast majority of the American audience, the thought of buying some ingredients – such as a whole fish that must then be gutted, scaled, etc. – is a bit off-putting! We cook a fair amount of Chinese food at home, and we definitely focus on day-to-day home cooking – although some of the recipes in this book are for dishes meant to be prepared at special times of the year and shared with family and friends who are invited to partake in the festivities, some of them are entirely manageable for weekday dinners, especially with a little forethought when ingredients need to be soaked, etc.

In Part I, the recipes are divided into standard cookbook sections (Vegetables, Meat, Poultry, etc.), but the real riches come at the end of the book: Part II is about specific feast days and the particular foods that are eaten only at those times of the year. Many of these recipes are for items that can be found in Asian markets in advance of those feast days – foods that I never imagined making at home. I’ll admit I haven’t yet attempted moon cakes or salted preserved eggs, but with this book in hand, I may be tempted to try it!

The Vital Ingredients section is excellent, providing simple explanations of commonly used ingredients and – perhaps more importantly – simple substitutions that are readily available, even to those who don’t have access to an Asian grocery store.

The author is also the illustrator, and the folksy pictures show traditional scenes of Chinese festivals being celebrated and dishes being cooked but rarely of the actual dishes for which recipes are given.

I think that in the end, this book will definitely enrich my Chinese cooking classes, and I hope my half Chinese children will spend some time using it to bone up on that half of their heritage! A great purpose for anyone looking to learn more about this part of Chinese culture, particularly those who love to cook and/or teach Chinese language and culture at the elementary and secondary level.

Join us for a 1/2 day workshop!

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Help us share this flyer! Download and print here.

Almond Milk

I’ve been experimenting with non-dairy milk alternatives recently and have made a variety of nut milks: of hazelnut, pecan, and almond, the almond has definitely been the favorite. Besides being really easy, an added benefit to making these at home is that they are free of additives, preservatives, and a large amount of packaging. Any one of these would work in the Almond Jello recipe – you will need to play with adding some sugar, as the homemade nut milk is not sweetened – most of the store-bought versions are. I would still keep the almond (or other) flavoring in the fruit syrup, but you can eliminate it from the “jello” portion of the recipe.

makes about 2.5 c milk + 1/2 c nut flour

ingredients

  • 1 c raw nuts (not a problem if the skins are still on them)
  • 3 c filtered water

method

  1. In a bowl, cover the nuts with enough cold water to cover, and soak for 10-12 h.
  2. Drain and rinse the nuts, then put in a blender with the 3 c of filtered water and blend until smooth.
  3. Strain the milk through cheesecloth or a clean kitchen towel into a bowl, then squeeze the cloth to extract all the liquid you can. (If you use scented detergent and/or fabric softener, don’t use kitchen towels – you can buy cheesecloth  or a “jelly bag” in the canning section of most hardware/kitchen stores. The jelly bag is great – very easy to rinse out by hand.)
  4. Pour the milk into a glass jar with a tight-fitting lid – can be stored in the refrigerator for up to a week. Use as you would cow’s milk for drinking and in baking or cooking.
  5. You can spread the pulp on a baking sheet and dry it for using as nut flour, breading, etc.

Sugar Blues Workshop rerun!

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Hope to see you there – if you can help us to promote this event at your place of work or play, please print out and post our flyer.

2012 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

4,329 films were submitted to the 2012 Cannes Film Festival. This blog had 26,000 views in 2012. If each view were a film, this blog would power 6 Film Festivals

Click here to see the complete report.

Is FAT a four-letter word?

Join me and Jeri Shumate of Joyous Health and learn how and why to get beneficial fats into and harmful fats out of your diet!

Saturday, January 12, 2013 at 5:30pm
Salon M, 283 S. Zeeb Rd. in Ann Arbor
(in Scio Village Center, intersection of Zeeb & Jackson)

If you’ve been to one of our workshops before, bring a friend who hasn’t, and get a thank-you gift from us!

If you would like to print out our flyer and post it or pass it on, you can download it from the Simply: Home Cooking site. Thank you!

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Reefnetting on Lummi Island

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