All About Chinese New Year

It’s almost Chinese New Year!

This year, the lunar new year falls on February 16th. 2018 is the year of the dog, according to the Chinese zodiac, which repeats every twelve years.

Even though China is beginning to incorporate more and more Western customs and holidays, Chinese New Year is still the most important celebration by far. This is a holiday centered around family – an opportunity to celebrate all of the great events of the past year, and wishing for good fortune in the year to come.

CELEBRATIONS

Chinese New Year is typically celebrated for fifteen days, from New Year’s Eve to the Lantern Festival.

Timeline of traditional Chinese New Year customs
Pre-New Year’s Preparations

  • Cleaning the House – A thorough cleaning of the house is done in preparation for the New Year. It represents a wish to put away old things, say farewell to the previous year, and welcome the New Year.
  • New Year Shopping – This is the time that people buy food, snacks, decorations, and clothes before New Year’s Eve. Right before Chinese New Year, like Christmas in the U.S., is prime shopping season.
  • Putting Up Spring Couplets – Spring couplets are paired phrases, typically of seven Chinese characters each, written on red paper in black ink, and pasted one each side of the door frame. The couplets are filled with best wishes, and is thought to keep evil away.
New Year’s Eve

  • Decorating – Most people decorate their houses on New Year’s Eve. Common decorations used include red lanterns, red couplets, New Year paintings, and red lanterns.
  • Reunion Dinner – The New Year’s Eve feast is the most important event, with all family members reuniting, often having to travel long distances. People from north and south China eat different foods on this special occasion, although a few symbolic dishes are usually included.
  • CCTV New Year Gala – It has become a China custom for many families to watch the CCTV New Year Gala on New Year’s Eve. The show starts at 8 pm and ends at midnight when the New Year arrives, featuring traditional, folk, and pop performances from China’s best singers, dancers, and acrobats
  • Red Envelopes – Red envelopes filled with money are usually given to kids after the reunion dinner, wishing them health, growth, and good studies in the coming year. Money in red envelopes is believed to bring good luck, as red is China’s lucky color.
  • Staying Up Late – This custom is called shǒu suì (守岁); to keep watch over the year. In the past, Chinese people stayed up all night, but now, most stay up only until the midnight firecrackers and fireworks die down.

 

New Year’s Day

  • Setting Off Firecrackers and Fireworks – The moment the New Year arrives, there is a cacophony of fireworks and firecrackers all around, even in rural China. You might want to use earplugs!
  • Putting on New Clothes and Extending New Year Greetings – On the first day of the New Year, it is traditional to put on new clothes, and say “gōng xǐ” (恭喜) to wish each other good luck and happiness in the New Year. It is customary for the younger generation to visit their elders, and wish them health and longevity. In more recent years, particularly among the younger generation, those who don’t have time to visit their friends or relatives send a New Year’s card, a WeChat red envelope or a text message instead.
  • Watching Lion and Dragon Dances – Lion dances and dragon dances might be seen too on New Year’s Day in parades.
New Year: Day 2-7
  • Visiting Friends and Family – This is the time people spend visiting with friends and family during the celebration.
New Year: Day 8
  • Returning to Work – 8 is the luckiest number in China, so most businesses prefer to reopen on day eight of the New Year.
New Year: Day 15

  • Lantern Festival – This marks the end of the Spring Festival celebrations. People send aloft glowing lanterns into the sky while others let floating lanterns go in the sea, on rivers, or set them adrift in lakes. This is also when tang yuan are eaten.

SYMBOLISM

The Chinese commonly incorporate symbolism and homophones into their traditions and superstitious beliefs. For example, the unlucky number in China is the number 4 (四 sì) because the word is a homophone with the word death (死 sǐ). There are a number of these examples associated with Chinese New Year.

Fish

Fish is a staple on dinner tables during Chinese New Year, usually cooked whole. The word for fish (鱼 yú) is a homonym for the word surplus (余 yú), and a common sentiment spoken during this holiday is “surplus/fish year after year” (年年有余/鱼 nián nián yǒu yú). It is also tradition to have fish left over, to symbolize the surplus, especially in the head and tail (hope that the year will start and end with surplus).

Dumplings
Homemade dumplings and dumpling skins

Chinese dumplings are made with dough, rolled into skins, and filled with a variety of meats and vegetables. They are typically boiled, steamed, or pan fried. The shape of the dumplings resemble ingots, an ancient Chinese currency used as early as the Han dynasty. They are eaten during the New Year as a symbol of prosperity and wealth.

Try this recipe for vegan Chinese-style dumplings!

Tang Yuan

Tang yuan are made from glutinous rice flour filled with sesame or red bean paste and served in the sweet broth that they are cooked in. Traditionally, they are eaten at the end of the celebrations, during the Lantern Festival. They symbolize family reunion, as their name is a homophone for reunion, and their round shape symbolizes togetherness.

Here is a vegan-friendly recipe if you want to attempt to make these delicious sticky balls on your own. They are also be purchased frozen at Asian markets, if you want to save time and effort.

Nian Gao

The literal translation of nian gao is “year cake (年糕),” and it is used to symbolize prosperity. Gāo can also mean tall (高), so nian gao also refers to ‘getting higher year on year’, and this symbolizes raising oneself taller (in wealth) in each coming year. Follow this  recipe to make this sticky sweet treat.

Fu

The word 福fú means good fortune in Chinese. The 福 sign upside down is translated to 福倒了 fú dào le, which also sounds like 福到了fú dào le (good fortune has arrived).

Fiction Kitchen – Raleigh, NC

Walking past Fiction Kitchen in downtown Raleigh, the first thing you’ll notice is the bright green paint and the large yellow sign. Peering in for a closer look, you will see the mismatched furniture, quirky decor, and laid back feeling of the restaurant. Although the atmosphere is casual, the taste and look of the food is on par with many fine dining restaurants. Fiction Kitchen caters specifically to both vegan and gluten-free customers, offering a variety of American and ethnic dishes. This is the place that I would take a meat-lover friend who is convinced that all vegan food is bland and tasteless.

My husband and I came to Fiction Kitchen for the first time with his family around Thanksgiving. We had heard great things about the place and expectations were set high. It was such a nice change to be able to walk into a restaurant and be able to pick anything on the menu. We have become accustomed to having to choose from 1 or 2 vegan-customizable dishes (at best!) when eating out with non-vegan family and friends.

To start off, we ordered the cornmeal-fried oyster mushrooms and root vegetable fries. The fried mushrooms were reminiscent of fried calamari, with a less rubbery texture. It was incredibly well-seasoned and the crispy cornmeal texture offset the mushrooms perfectly. The fries were also a winner; well seasoned and cooked and served with two great dipping sauces (dill aioli & chipotle “buttermilk” dressing).

I ordered Nori Rolls with Sashimi Tofu for my entree. The ingredients in the sushi rolls were were so unique and not things I would have guessed would taste good in sushi. But the combination of textures and flavors were amazing. The microgreens salad was well dressed and complemented the dish well. But the standout component of the dish was the seared tofu. It had a soft and porous texture, was slightly sweet and savory, and had a coating of sesame seeds. Although it did not resemble sashimi in taste or texture, I was not at all disappointed by the substitution. My husband kept trying to steal my tofu and sushi rolls when I wasn’t looking.

Nori wrapped local butter bean hummus, quinoa, carrot, cucumber, radish and spicy microgreens, finished with a sorghum molasses + dijon emulsion. Served with a kale sesame salad, seared sashimi tofu, house pickled ginger and wasabi

My husband ordered the Curry Bowl. It had a great variety of different vegetables, and the the curry was spicy and tasty. My only complaint was that the curry didn’t seem to penetrate the vegetables, so they weren’t as saturated with the curry flavor as I had hoped. My husband also mentioned that the rice (not pictured) was unusually salty. The concept of the dish was great, but the execution didn’t quite hit the mark.

Housemade yellow curry, coconut milk and seasoned vegetables prepared on a spice level from 1 through 5, served with jasmine rice on the side 

To end the meal, we ordered a slice of a dark chocolate ganache pie. The texture was smooth and creamy and the crunchy pretzel crust was a great base. The salted caramel drizzle tied the whole thing together nicely. My husband’s sister liked it so much that she wanted to buy a whole one to take home, but we were told that required advance notice.

Dark Chocolate Ganache Pie with Pretzel Crust and Salted Caramel

Our experience at Fiction Kitchen lived up to all of the hype, and we are DEFINITELY coming back again soon.

It’s almost too good to be vegan!

 

✿ Katie ✿

Evolution of Chinese Food in America

There are over 45,000 Chinese restaurants in the U.S. That’s more than McDonald’s, Burger King, and KFC combined. The majority of these restaurants offer very similar looking and tasting food, even though these restaurants are independently owned and operated.

I grew up in a household where my mother only cooked Chinese food. However, most of these dishes were nothing like the most popular dishes ordered at Chinese takeout restaurants. As Jennifer Lee explains in The Fortune Cookie Chronicles,

“As a child, I never considered it strange that the food we ordered from Chinese restaurants didn’t quite resemble my mom’s home cooking. My mom used white rice, soy sauce, garlic, scallions, and a wok. But she never deep-fried chunks of meat, succulent and soft, then drenched them with rich, flavorful sauce. She cooked with ingredients that were pickled and dried and of strange shapes and never appeared on the takeout menu.”

The assimilation of Chinese immigrants into American culture is not exactly a happy story. It’s also a story that not many people are familiar with.

In the 19th century, the people in China faced an onslaught of hardships, including natural disasters, war, overpopulation, and the financial burdens brought on by Western Imperialism. When the news of gold in California reached China, the decision to travel halfway around the world was even more enticing. After the Chinese people arrived in San Francisco, Americans did not know what to make of them. They wore long braids, spoke a strange language, ate foods Westerners had never encountered, and had terrible table manners (they eat with sticks!). Chinese cuisine comprised of many animals that Americans deemed repulsive, and an image of a rat-eating Chinese man was featured in school textbooks in the late 1800s. Advertisements also used anti-Chinese sentiments as a means to sell their products.

As more Chinese people arrived looking for work, the negative perceptions of them increased. This led to countless lynchings, shootings, and arson, targeted at the ethnic group. The Chinese Exclusion Act was passed in 1882, which restricted Chinese immigration and prevented Chinese arrivals from becoming naturalized citizens. This is the only law passed in American history to exclude a group by race or ethnicity. As the doors were closed to Chinese immigration, and jobs in agriculture, mining, and manufacturing were taken back by the Americans, the Chinese already living in America had to find an alternative way to make a living. Their solution was opening up laundries and restaurants. The number of Chinese-owned restaurants and laundries flourished in the late 1800s, particularly on the west coast. Because cleaning and cooking were both considered women’s work,  American laborers did not feel threatened.

In the Chinese restaurants, the food served was not the same food that Chinese people ate themselves. They served food that was exotic but not scary. The most well-known dish was chop suey, which consists of meat, a thick sauce, and Asian vegetables (bean sprouts, water chestnuts, celery, cabbage). Many Americans believed this was a signature Chinese dish, but it was invented and served exclusively overseas. The name of the dish translates literally to “odds and ends” in Cantonese. There are a few theories about how the dish came about but no documented proof. Although the dish is becoming lesser known over time, being replaced by other Americanized Chinese dishes such as General Tso’s chicken, it paved the way and popularized American-friendly Chinese food.

Chop Suey

Due to the Chinese Exclusion Act (1882-1943), immigration from China was non-existent and the chop suey phase lasted for many decades. The borders finally reopened in 1943, but laws didn’t become more lenient until 1965. New styles of Chinese cuisine were introduced – Szechuan and Hunan. People living in these two regions of China typically enjoy dishes that are flavorful and very spicy. However, the people who were cooking these types of food were mostly from Taiwan and Hong Kong, known for their lighter and sweeter dishes. So the end result was a mashup of Taiwanese food, with inspiration from Szechuan and Hunan, using ingredients familiar to American palates that often didn’t exist in China. That is how the deep fried, sweet and spicy dishes we know and love originally found its way onto Chinese menus. None of these dishes were “authentic,” but new immigrants opening Chinese restaurants copied what seemed to be working and these similar tasting dishes with the same names materialized all over the United States.

In the early 2000s, other Asian ethnicities (Thai, Japanese, Korean, Vietnamese) with more “authentic” menus flooded urban cities, giving adventurous eaters some alternatives to the well-loved Americanized Chinese food. In recent years, first and second generation Chinese-Americans have embraced their roots and opened up restaurants featuring true Chinese cuisine, such as hand pulled noodles, steamed buns, and whole fish. Fusion cuisine has also taken off, combining both Asian and European styles to create an entirely new category of dishes.

How Chinese food will evolve from this point on, no one knows. The possibilities are endless!

 

✿ Katie ✿

Beyond Meat: The Beyond Burger

Introducing: a brand new series, called Too Good to be Vegan!

A lot of omnivores automatically assume vegan friendly foods means bland, sub par dishes that consist mostly of salads and tofu. This is absolutely not true. Not to mention, salads and tofu can be very tasty when prepared well!

In this series, I will be telling you about delicious vegan food that even non-vegans would be happy to eat. The foods featured will include both restaurant entrees and meals prepared at home, snacks, desserts, and anything else that is 100% vegan and delicious!

My husband and I recently found out about The Beyond Burger, made by the brand Beyond Meat. This burger is made out of 100% plant protein (pea protein for their “beef” burgers) but mimics the texture and taste of meat and even “bleeds” like a real burger.

I’ve had my fair share of veggie burgers, and though some of them are indeed tasty and well seasoned, none of them have really resembled the texture or taste of meat. I definitely had my doubts about how close this purely vegan burger could come to the “real thing.”

The burger looks so convincing, it’s even found in the meat section of some grocery stores

I was surprised at how much the burger looked like meat, even when raw. It had the same coloration and texture, although it was slightly softer. Nevertheless, it held up nicely on the grill.

I was extremely impressed with the taste and texture of The Beyond Burger. It wasn’t starchy or crumbly, like veggie burgers I’ve tasted in the past. It also had a hint of smokiness that pushed the meatiness factor even further.

Although a vegan diet should consist mostly of whole fruits and vegetables, a good processed substitute can be a fun treat. In terms of nutrition, this burger is similar to an actual beef burger, with 22 grams of fat and 5 grams of saturated fat. No wonder it tastes so good! However, the main difference is that these burgers have 100% less beef.

 

Ingredients: pea protein isolate, expeller-pressed canola oil, refined coconut oil, water, yeast extract, maltodextrin, natural flavors, gum arabic, sunflower oil, salt, succinic acid, acetic acid, non-GMO modified food starch, cellulose from bamboo, methylcellulose, potato starch, beet juice extract (for color), ascorbic acid (to maintain color), annatto extract (for color), citrus fruit extract (to maintain quality), vegetable glycerin.

Where Can I Buy It?

Whole Foods, Wegmans, Kroger, Ralphs, QFC, Fred Meyer, King Soopers, Dillons, Safeway, Albertsons, and more!

 

This burger definitely hits the spot when you’re craving the good ol’ American classic. It’s almost too good to be vegan!

 

✿ Katie ✿

7 Recipes for a Vegan Holiday Feast

Originally published on Thirty on Tap

Being a vegan can be hard, especially when living in a small town in the South. Lack of convenience is one of the biggest drawbacks. I can’t just go to a drive-thru and grab a vegan-friendly (albeit unhealthy) lunch and the selection of vegan/vegetarian foods at our local grocery stores is downright laughable.

The holidays are another time when being a vegan is challenging. Family members are confused about why you won’t eat these delicious mashed potatoes they spent so long making, drowning in butter and cheese. “You can eat this. It doesn’t have any meat.”

Thanksgiving and Christmas are all about spending time with family and eating, and when you can’t eat much of anything at dinner, family time becomes even harder to handle.

Being vegan doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice great tasting (and filling) food. Chances are, your meat-eating family members won’t even have a clue that these dishes are vegan. Try out these holiday recipes and you won’t be missing out on any holiday favorites!

MAIN ENTRÉE

Vegan Italian Meatloaf via Pasta-based

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SIDES

Vegan Stuffing via Serious Eats

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Vegan Mashed Potatoes via My California Roots

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Vegan Gravy via Brand New Vegan

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Green Bean Casserole via Minimalist Baker

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Mac & Cheese via Vegan Yumminess

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DESSERT

Vegan Gluten-Free Pumpkin Pie via Minimalist Baker

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✿ Katie ✿

Kombucha for Beginners

Have you heard about this new health drink that’s invading grocery store shelves and even has its own section at Whole Foods? The drink first became popular in this country in the early 1990s, fueled by the AIDS epidemic and the many perceived health benefits of kombucha. In recent years, its resurgence in the market is due, in large part, to the founder of the company GT’s Kombucha, G.T. Dave. He claims that drinking kombucha and being vegetarian contributed to his mother’s aggressive breast cancer diagnosis becoming dormant. When Whole Foods began to stock GT’s on their shelves, the kombucha craze exploded (pun intended).

So, what is kombucha?

Origin

The actual origins of kombucha are not known, but there are a few theories about where it may have originated. One of the stories is that it came about during the Qin Dynasty (220 BC) for China’s first emperor, Qin Shi Huangdi. The Chinese are notorious for their relentless quest for longevity elixirs and frequently look to nature for cures of all types of ailments. “Cha” 茶 from kombuCHA means tea in Chinese.

Homemade kombucha was very popular in China during the Cultural Revolution. My parents told me that it was very common  when they were younger, and everyone made their own at home. According to my dad, the drink disappeared after a rumor spread that it was bad for your health.

From Asia, kombucha traveled along the Silk Road to Russia and then the rest of Europe. The first verified documentation of kombucha was in Ukraine and Russia in the late 1800s.

Simple Kombucha Recipe

Second Fermentation

Second fermentation is when you can add unique flavors to your kombucha, as well as increase the carbonation level. You can experiment with different combinations to find the one you like best.

Ingredients to try:

  • Fruit (fresh, juice, dried, or frozen) – berries, apples, oranges, pomegranates, peaches, grapes, mango, pineapple, dates, figs
  • Herbs & Spices – ginger, mint, basil, lavender, rosemary, cinnamon, nutmeg
Second fermentation in action – orange juice and apple flavored

Tips & Tricks

If you are thinking about brewing your own kombucha, here are some tips for beginners:

  • If you want to start brewing, you do not have to buy a scoby (although they are fairly inexpensive). Follow the directions above with store bought unflavored kombucha as the starter fluid and no scoby. A scoby should form after 2-4 weeks.
  • When handling the scoby, always use clean hands and containers. DO NOT use antibacterial soap.
  • If you suspect mold growth (fuzzy, discolored, dry), throw away the scoby and start over.
  • To prevent the kombucha from exploding and breaking glass, burp it once a day once 2nd fermentation begins.
  • When opening the swing top bottles, hold the top down firmly when opening the latch. Release the pressure from the top very slowly and watch the carbonation level. If the carbonation is too strong, the top may blow off and you will lose half your liquid in your kitchen or on the ceiling.
  • If the bubbles don’t subside and you aren’t able to open the bottle without it spilling over, close the bottle and put it in the fridge. It will be safe to open after a few hours.
My husband enjoying our home-brewed kombucha

 

Have I convinced you to brew your own kombucha yet?

 

✿ Katie ✿

Vegan Weight Loss Journey

My husband, Kyle, was overweight for most of his childhood. He comes from a divorced household, and he frequently sought comfort and stability in food. Growing up, he often dealt with teasing from other kids, and even family members, contributing to his low self esteem and self-image issues.

Kyle with his mom at his college graduation, 1 year before we met (May 2013)

In December of 2013, he decided to seriously start trying to lose weight through eating fewer calories and exercising more. He ran regularly, attended martial arts classes, and stayed active at his job as a Health and P.E. teacher. He lost over 50 lbs, and when I met him for the first time, I had no idea that he had been heavier for most of his life.

Kyle and me at the beach, 1 month after we met (June 2014)

We got married in December of 2014. With the combination of married life, less free time to exercise, as well as switching to a sedentary office job, Kyle went back to old habits and gained back more than 70 lbs.

Kyle holding our newborn son (June 2017)

When our son, Elijah, was born, he was at one of the heaviest weights he had ever been. He knew it was time for a change but didn’t have enough motivation to stick with a plan for more than a few weeks.

Kyle’s family had recently watched a movie on Netflix, “What the Health,” which talks at length about how diet (specifically animal products) affects chronic diseases, such as diabetes, heart disease, and cancer. The movie also emphasizes the inhumane treatment of animals bred and slaughtered for human consumption. Although some of the claims that the movie makes are based on weak evidence, it is undeniable that a plant-based diet is better for overall health and for a sustainable world. After watching this documentary, Kyle felt very inspired to change his own food choices. The next day, he became a full-fledged vegan and hasn’t looked back since.

In the beginning, when trying to lose weight quickly, Kyle ate a diet consisting of mostly fruit and also fasted intermittently. He ate cooked meals a few times a week until he got closer to his target weight. As the weight fell off, he began to feel more agile and able to exercise on a regular basis. His knee and ankle pain improved drastically. He strove to get 10,000 steps per day by taking long walks and staying active. He was able to lose 60 lbs in 3 months.

It took me a little longer to commit to this lifestyle change. Meat, dairy, and eggs have been a vital part of my diet ever since I was young, and I was reluctant to completely eliminate these foods from my life. After a few months of seeing the changes in Kyle and knowing how much he wanted me to join him in this lifestyle change, I hopped on board. I also wanted to lose the rest of my pregnancy weight and knew that this would be a step in the right direction.

We have converted our household to have only vegan food items, with minimal processed foods. We intend on raising our son on a vegan diet, as much as possible, until he is old enough to make his own food choices. I’m still learning the ropes in terms of vegan cooking, but I hope to share some of my favorite vegan recipes with all of you here.

Kyle and Eli (Oct 2017)

Here are some of Kyle’s own thoughts about his experience so far: 

 

What differences did you notice after becoming vegan?

Less inflammation/swelling, my joint pain started to go away. I had more energy overall. I feel like I regained my sense of taste after eating whole plant based foods, when before, it was hard to enjoy certain things (like apples) when I was used to drinking soda and eating Wendy’s.

How has becoming vegan affected your ability to keep the weight off? 

I think I have control over myself more. I’m not perfect but I’m more capable of making more health conscious decisions and not feeling ruled by food. I’ve been able to take control back. Because it limits what I eat, it makes it easier since my selection pool is smaller to choose from.

What made you decide to commit to being vegan?

I like being vegan, not only for health purposes, but also because of the ethics and the world of the future. Fighting for justice and equality for all people, feeding all people, reducing greenhouse gasses. The slaughtering of animals is appalling to watch, and that’s not something I want to support.

What are your favorite vegan foods?

One of my favorites is definitely Mediterranean. I like Chinese-style tofu, rice, and cabbage, which my wife and mother-in-law make often. I also really enjoy Thai, Indian, and sushi.

✿ Katie ✿