CNY lions used to be raggedy and dirty but I've noticed that this year, most lions have had makeovers, in untraditional colors of psychedelic blues and greens. Maybe they went to the same tailor?
I can hear "tak dong chang" as the lion troupe comes closer and closer to my house. I love it. I love CNY. If you are overseas and can only come back once a year, CNY is the best time. This is when relatives and friends meet up to EAT, talk, laugh and just forget about whatever problems they have. Everybody would wear new clothes (especially red clothes because that is the happy color for Chinese) alongwith new underwear, get newly-styled hair, the works. Houses will be cleaned, new brooms bought, and for some super superstitious people, there would be no sweeping (so as not to sweep away their good luck) or even washing of clothes. I suspect this is one superstition some housewife cooked up. There should be no swearing or fighting as it is believed that to do so will set the trend for the whole year. Kids love CNY too because they get a week off school and get their parents off their backs because they are too busy gambling/eating. Children and unmarried people get compensated (or rewarded, depending on how you view it) in the form of 'lucky money' called angpows (money in little red envelopes). This year Wey reported that nobody gave anything less than RM10/US$3. About time too.
Look closer -don't blink- and you'll see the Swarvoski crystals on the angpow.
Chinese love noise and merriment (evidence: supermarkets, restaurants), and during CNY, the traditional belief is that the more noise, the better to drive away evil and bad luck. If only it were so easy. I love being woken up on Day 1 of CNY by the lion troupes that come banging and clanging. The hyperactive lions and unicorns prance and bow to bring good luck, but mostly they come for the angpows that you are obliged to give once they get past your gate. Weeks before CNY, the fireworks and fire crackers had already started and I must say it irritated me because nowadays (despite the ban), instead of fire crackers, people are letting off bombs. These explosions are big, public-display type fireworks that give off an earth-shaking BOONG! that can give you a heart attack.
I love to stay up for the countdown at midnight of the New Year, when fire crackers burst everywhere to usher in the year. The smell and smoke of the gunpowder that fills the air and light up the sky remind me especially of the years when I was still unmarried and living with my parents. In those days, fire crackers weren't banned/just got banned, and we'd stay up as a family so we can light our best and longest fire-crackers at midnight but we'd always loose to a certain family a few doors away whose dad worked in the Customs and Excise Dept and they get the best (confiscated) fireworks. Sometimes they'll give some special fireworks to us. Playing with firecrackers was so thrilling. Once, I even lighted a fire-cracker in my hand (to prove I'm not a wimp) and 'accidentally' threw it at my sister. Fire crackers are good for letting off your grudges.
There were so many fireworks this CNY midnight it sounded like war zone. This year, Ming was out with friends, Hub went to bed early, Wey was watching cartoon (couldn't be bothered by all that bombing), Yi in Melbourne, so it was just me out there on the road in front of our house at midnight. Then my neighbour came out and we enjoyed a little chat as we admired the kaleidoscopes in the night sky.
Although we are Christians, I still boil a pot of pomelo leaves water for us to bath on the eve of CNY. For me, it is more ritual (handed down by my mom) than belief that washing in pomelo leaves water would wash away any bad luck from the year before. Most years I don't even buy the pomelo leaves bundled with some lengkuas ginger leaves - I just make do with kaffir lime leaves and serai leaves from my garden. After all, it's the scent I want. But the tree died last year, so I reluctantly paid RM2/US$0.60 for a bundle this year. But what a lovely citriousy scent it made the water; I felt very refreshed.
The 1st day of CNY was spent visiting/'bai nien' my in-laws, my mom and friends. It is a tradition to go bai nien to friends and relatives' houses where people who never meet up the whole year get to do so. You wouldn't go empty-handed too, and the most common gift to bring is mandarin oranges, called 'kam' in Cantonese, which also sounds like gold so it is auspicious.
2nd day of CNY I opened my house for a late breakfast at 9 am, impromptu because I met up with some classmates from high school the day before and one of their hubs teased me about not opening my house. And so I decided I would. I woke up at 7, which is early for me, and whipped up a prune cake, California maki sushi, Shanghainese fried rice sticks and a tang sui and fried the chinese radish cake and water chestnut jelly cake I had made on CNY Eve. Alongwith the prawn crackers and pineapple tarts I'd made earlier, everything was home-made. Unfortunately, I was so flustered and busy I didn't take any pics of the food but here are pics of the leftovers...
These are the best pineapple tarts I've made and tasted, and the recipe is from Greg & Nee's on my links. Thanks, Nee! The pastry is melt-in-your-mouth and buttery, and there's lots of sticky pineapple jam inside. Making pineapple jam takes hours so I bought the jam from the cake ingredients shops, Pelangi and Bake With Me. (I recommend that you get one packet of jam from each shop because Pelangi's a little too sweet while Bake With Me a little too sour. Mix the two. And make the tarts small. Just big enough for one bite is best). I tried a commercial pineapple tart at a friend's house and it was downright yukky, with what my mom would call 'nose booger-sized' pineapple jam filling and pastry that tasted of cheap margarine.
This is that very Cantonese water chestnut jelly cake that you find in dim sum places. I served it 2 ways: fried and chilled. I'm very lucky to get this recipe from Chin Aunty; it makes perfect waterchestnut jelly cake. Last year I used a recipe from a cook book and it turned out greyish and dull-looking instead of translucent and the texture was weird.
This is Chinese radish cake (lo bak go in Cantonese or daikon in Japanese), adapted from Chin Aunty's recipe again. Made with waxed belly pork, dried mushrooms, dried prawns and lots of white radish. My Dad would make this cake with my younger bro assisting him, on the eve of CNY. Unfortunately, none of us bothered to record his recipe. I continue his tradition and this year got Ming to stir the batter for me.
Wey' s favorite, California rolls, and he's always telling me to blog this...
Black and red melon seeds.
White pumpkin seeds are never served during CNY because white is the traditional color for mourning.
Two of my closest friends and their families stayed back, some resting (there was a cool, strong xi bei feng or north-west wind that always blows from China this time of the year, when it is winter there) and some playing blackjack, Russian poker, 'red dots' and even 'prawns and crabs', all the while nibbling on melon seeds and prawn crackers and sipping Chinese tea. Very enjoyable and comfortable afternoon. Too bad I can't put up the pics here, because some players were kids. For most families, card games/gambling is strictly allowed only on CNY. Dinner was all my leftovers from the reunion dinner, and then we all adjourned to S's newly renovated house for wine and chit chat. The hot topic was 'Why are we unable to discipline our kids?' That took us well past 1 am, and there was no conclusion! All-in, I had a lovely day with lovely friends.