Okay, so we’ve gone through the first week of the New Year and I’m just coming around from my initial hangover of 2014. Much to my dismay however, I saw on the Today Show this morning that we have yet another New Year celebration coming up! That’s right, January 31 is the Chinese New Year and it sure doesn’t leave me much time to send out Chinese New Year party invitations, make dip and rent chairs.
The Chinese New Year is centuries old. What I have always wondered is how, thousands of years ago, did someone realize there actually was a new year. They didn’t have a calendar to refer to. It’s not like you wake up one morning and decide it’s a new year. I would think that you would have to go through a couple two or three seasonal cycles before you knew there was a new year. So the New Year’s tradition may not be as old as you think by two or three years. And who decided that Fall was the third season? When did the tradition of party till you keel over come into vogue? How do they get that giant ball on top of the pole in Times Square, New York every year?
But the Chinese have it down to a science. Sometimes known as the “Spring Festival”, sometimes referred to as “Lunar New Year”, it is probably the oldest holiday on the planet. The Lunar New Year dates from 2600 BC, when the Emperor Huang Ti introduced the first cycle of the Chinese zodiac.
In China, the New Year is a family celebration with century old customs and rich tradition. The Chinese buy gifts for the family during the New Year festival. (We call that Christmas). On the eve of the Chinese New Year, families gather together and feast on fowl, pork and sweet cakes and pies. (We call that Thanksgiving). Windows and doors of Chinese homes are decorated with gourds, lanterns and rice-paper streamers. (We call that Halloween). It is also a tradition when the family cleans the house from top to bottom to sweep away the previous year’s ill fortune and bad luck. (We call that spring-cleaning). Throw in the majestic fireworks displays (We call that Fourth of July), and when you look at it, the Chinese get to celebrate four or five holidays all at the same time. They got it made.
This year is the Year of the Horse. There are a bunch of animals they devote a New Year to, pigs, goats, chickens, horses, etc…If you were born in 1918, 1930, 1942, 1954, 1966, 1978, 1990, 2002, or 2014 you were born under the sign of the horse. 2013 was the Year of the Snake. But the gist of the Chinese New Year tradition is to be with family, wish for peace and happiness, reconcile and forgive and smile and sit back and enjoy the fireworks.
I’m also hoping that the Year of the Horse translates into a cash bonanza for me when I visit the track this year and wager on the ponies.
Here is an ancient Chinese traditional recipe to help celebrate the Year of the Horse. It is a simple cake called Nian Gow. (We call it Sticky Cake). If you don’t own a wok, shame on you, you can rig up anything to steam it.
1/3 Cup Brown Sugar
4 Oz. Assorted Hard Candy
1 Cup Boiling Water
3 ¼ Cups Rice Flour
½ Cup Dried Fruit
1 Tbs. Heavy Cream
1 Tbs. White Sesame Seeds
Soak dried fruit in water for 30 minutes. Mix the sugar and candy in boiling water and stir until dissolved. It’s okay to have tiny specks of the hard candy not melted.
Place flour in a large bowl and make a well in the center, much like doing homemade pasta. Gently pour the sugar water in the middle and stir slowly into the sides of the flour. Add the cream and begin shaping the dough. You may add a teaspoon of water from time to time while shaping the dough into a smooth textured ball. While kneading the dough add ¼ cup of the dried fruit.
Grease a round baking pan and pour dough into pan. Decorate the top with ¼ cup of dried fruit and sprinkle with sesame seeds. Fill the wok halfway up with water and turn on high. Place the cake pan in the water, and steam for 45-60 minutes. Cake is done when the edges pull away from the pan easily. Remove cake from wok and let cool. Remove from pan, wrap in wax paper and refrigerate. To serve, cut cake into quarters.
Check out the slideshow and video for some important data about the Year of the Horse.
Happy Year of the Horse, everybody.
Gung Hay Fat Choy everybody!