Happy New Year of the Ox !(By Joan Huang)

Li Huanzhi: Spring Festival Overture

The above is a very well-known piece Spring Festival Overture by the Chinese composer Li Huanzhi which is always played during the Chinese New Year. This young Chinese traditional orchestra played it fantastically.

February is here, the increasing sunlight is rejuvenating the earth, and various camellias and azaleas bloomed in the garden. The hibernated plants gradually begin to sprout, and the Spring is around the corner. The Covid situation in California has improved, and the government has ordered a slow reopening. Bill and I got the first dosages of the vaccines, 2nd dosages will be next week, and many of our friends are gradually beginning to get vaccinated.

In the past, usually, 2 weeks before the arrival of the Chinese New Year, I began to stock traditional new year’s goods to prepare for the Festival. Shopping in our local Chinese supermarkets is full of holiday festivities: the variety of rice cakes with red stamps, the customary New Year’s couplets, and small auspicious red packets of New Year’s “Ya sui Qian” (money for children) are dizzying. I remember a folk song: “Twenty-three, sugar melon sticks, twenty-four, house sweeping day, twenty-five, make tofu, twenty-six, go to cut meat, twenty-seven, go to slaughter chicken, twenty-eight, white flour , Twenty-nine, full of incense bucket, on the 30th, sit overnight in the dark. The first day of the new year comes out and the heat is hot. “Although I’ve been in US for more than 30 years, the Chinese New Year celebration in at our home is no less than that of my distant hometown in China. On the Lunar New Year’s Eve dinner, relatives and friends gathered around a large round table full of delicious chicken, duck, fish, fruits and vegetables etc. We were talking happily while enjoying the feast, waiting for the moment when firecrackers were lit at the midnight of the New Year’s Eve.

I began to decorate our home 1 week ago with traditional Chinese artifacts and. picked many the seasonal flowers and fruit to add good fortunes boost our energies in the Year of Ox. It was fun!🧧🐅🧧🐅

Here is a chamber piece Variations for Chinese Zodiac Signs (for piano and percussion, premiered by Erik Forrester and Lisa Solvester) that I composed a few years ago, and I’m using it as a “Happy New Year” greeting.

Joan Huang: Variations for Chinese Zodiac Signs (2002)

In terms of keeping social distance, I’m more conservative. Despite that Bill and I have already gotten first doses of vaccination, we would still be following the suggestions of government and celebrating the New Year alone. The Gengzi Year (2020) was way too long, and finally the Year of the Ox is ushered in. One of our dear friends wrote in his e-mail: “I was hoping that with the end of the Chinese year of the RAT, the rats would jump off the sinking Trump ship and it would augur the coming of a new year, the year of the OX, a hard working and honest animal.”  This is my best wish as well.

(This was the Chinese New Year banquet at our home 2 years ago for the Year of Pig)

We live in Southern California, alway spring-like, it was unexpectedly cold a few days. There was a rare spectacular hail, lasted for a few minutes:

Hails in our garden.

My home grown baby Bok choy and Takecai (broadleaf mustard) are at the peak of growth, they both are so popular at my hometown Shanghai and make me very nostalgic.

After rains, the warm sun reappeared, it cared my vegetables. From the distance, the emerald green leaves seem to have been covered the garden like a “carpet”. I took Gigi to hike in the nearby Eaton Canyon National Park. It was a mesmerizing feeling! California Sunshine in the winter time is especially gorgeous. I have a full confidence in Biden’s new government. A new year, a new beginning. I’m beginning to see the HOPE emerging in the middle of the sun, and we will surely defeat the Covid-19 in the end!

Although I only set a small round table for 2 people for this year’s New Year’s Eve feast. We’ll be holding a Zoom party for sending auspicious messages such as “Gong Xi Fa Cai” (the most popular greetings) to our relatives and friends around the world and waiting for the sound of firecrackers for the arrival of the Year of the Ox.

A few days ago, it was a rare rainy day, I went to Cstco to shop and happily saw many kinds of Chinese New Year goods all over the place. America is great, multi-cultural, all ethnic groups can take turns to celebrate festivals. On shelves, there were auspicious yellow chrysanthemums, lush green water bamboo greeneries, decorative plants with the bright red Chinese character word “Fu” (happy in English), the French Remy Cognac with an Ox etc. I was so inspired by such festival atmosphere, I bought some of these felicitous items, at the cashier, the young blonde cashier said to me in Chinese in a friendly way: “Gong Xi Fa Cai!” We must have a Happy Year of the OX to celebrate the whole world and rejuvenate the earth! 🧧🧧🧧

The menu for our New Year’s Eve dinner of this year are:

1) Spring rolls and Shanghai three fresh wontons

I had already used the time I spent on the phone with my family to harvest my own vegetable garden “nongjiale”, and packaged the “appetizer” with meat and vegetables mixed properly.

2) Yanduxian

Yāndǔxiān (腌笃鲜) is a Chinese traditional dish from Yangtze River Region. It is very popular in my hometown Shanghai. “Yān” means salted pork; and “dǔ” denotes the sound of the boiling soup, and “xiān” signifies the delicate flavor of the soup. The ingredients basically include spring bamboo shoots, pork (including various parts), bacon, ham, tofu skin knots, bok choy and other ingredients.

For my own “Yanduxian” recipe, I use Hunan bacon, Jinhua ham, and Shanghai bacon. I stew the various delicacies with my own turkey frame broth, simmering it very slowly, the exotic taste of various meats and winter bamboo shoots makes me homesick. After 3 hours simmering, I add tofu knots, baby bok choys and Japanese mustard greens from my own vegetable garden, What a great feeling to be able to eat the old taste of my hometown.

3) Eight Treasure Duck

Eight Treasure Duck is a traditional famous dish in Shanghai and Suzhou region in China. The recipe requires a boned duck open back, stuffed with special 8 kinds of delicacies buckled in a large bowl, sealed with cellophane and steamed for hours. the original flavor is prominent and delicious.

Traditionally, “8” is a Chinese auspicious number, which represents the Chinese people’s love for even numbers, representing the success of career and family. The best example is that the opening ceremony of the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games started at 8:8:8 PM on August 8, 2008.

4) Steamed Fish

Fish dish is paramountly important in the tradition of Chinese New Year. Fish, pronounced, in Chinese, as “Yu”, phonetically same as wealthy and abundance in Chinese. Fish is a symbol of prosperity and reproduction. Having fish on Chinese New Year brings a lot of fortunes, it is an essential auspicious dish.

5) Pearl meat balls

In the past years, my Huangmei Opera singer cousin always made it to bring to our home because he made the best “Pearl Meat Balls”. In my childhood, I remember my father used to make this dish on New Year’s Eve. He grew up in Wuhan. It is said to be an indispensable dish for Wuhan folks during the New Year. I have to make it myself this year. They are crystal clear, round and plump, pleasing to the eyes, symbolizing “family reunion, happiness and perfection”.

6) Eight Treasures

I remember having New Year’s Eve dinner at my grandmother’s house during my youth in Shanghai. There was always a vegan eight-treasure dish, colorful: orange carrots, green spinach, lemon-colored soybean sprouts, black fungus and so on. After coming to the United States, American vegetarians also like this “Buddha’s Feast” all-vegetarian dish.

7) Eight Treasure Rice

Here is a new blog from “Food & Wine” by Danielle Chang:

“Any variety of dried and candied fruits can decorate this lightly sweet sticky rice dessert, but using a lucky assortment of eight is traditional. The Chinese word for the number eight, ba, sounds similar to fa, which means prosperity and confers fortuitous meaning on the dessert. For her Lunar New Year celebration, Lucky Chowproducer Danielle Chang likes to decorate hers with an opulent assortment that includes candied orange peel, goji berries, amarena cherries, kumquats, lemon peel, edible flowers, mandarins, lychees, red dates (jujube), maraschino cherries, gooseberries, kiwi berries, pomegranate, dragon fruit, and sliced figs. Do not substitute sushi or other short-grain rice here; sweet glutinous rice contains a starch that helps the grains stick together without getting mushy.”

It is just perfect to end our New Year’s Eve dinner tonight with this sweet “Eight Treasure Rice”.

Although the pandemic is cruel and merciless, the festive celebrations make us happy. The Lunar New Year suggests that spring is coming, plants are sprouting, and the flowers will be blooming!

Yesterday I found the good messages all about Ox from the Chinese newspaper “World Journals”, they brought me a lot of positive energies!💪💪💪


Finally, I ended my blog with the orchestral work Lunar Jamboree I wrote a few years ago. The video clips show the festive atmosphere of our home to celebrate the Chinese New Year 2 years ago: 

Published by Joan Huang

I'm a freelance composer living in bucolic Altadena, the suburb of Los Angeles. Besides music making, I love cooking, drinking wines with friends, gardening, hiking and traveling.

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