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Celebrating French Bastille Day through Gardening and Cooking (7/14/2020)

This video I did two years ago while we were celebrating French Bastille Day at home. It is a good holiday in terms of cooking country French food. 

At this Bastille Day, the pandemic plague continues to spread unscrupulously, and TV news is still full of horrible and skyward epidemic data. The turbulences have swept the  entire world, especially the recent resurgence in USA makes us nerve-racking. I heard that all Bastille Day parades are cancelled, that will be replaced by a special ceremony held at the famous Place de la Concorde square in Paris. The ceremony will use the traditional flight ritual of the French Air Force to commend French military’s participation during the  anti Covid-19 process and to honor frontline medical workers for their contributions.

In this ruthless reality of “out of control” dilemma,  all agricultural activities, cooking experiments, and being nostalgic are good panaceas for relaxations and boosting positive energy.  It is a process to convert turmoils into tranquilities.

<p class="has-drop-cap" value="<amp-fit-text layout="fixed-height" min-font-size="6" max-font-size="72" height="80">Our best French friend Charlotte died a few years ago. She was a charming, romantic and fashionable Parisian woman. After so many years, we still miss her very, very much.  It is because of Charlotte that we got the habit to celebrate Bastille Day year after year.  My husband Bill is an excellent chef, he is especially good at French cuisines. He  has made many palatable dishes from Julia Child’s  famous <strong><em>Mastering the Culinary Arts of French Cuisine</em></strong>.  Now I am his apprentice, 3 trips to France made me fall in love with French culture and cooking.  Because the climate of Southern California is very similar to Provence in southern France, the decoration in our Altadenian kitchen has a lot of French country style: colorful pots and pans, flowery plates, humorous  of French country farmers are all hung on the surrounding wall.Our best French friend Charlotte died a few years ago. She was a charming, romantic and fashionable Parisian woman. After so many years, we still miss her very, very much.  It is because of Charlotte that we got the habit to celebrate Bastille Day year after year.  My husband Bill is an excellent chef, he is especially good at French cuisines. He  has made many palatable dishes from Julia Child’s  famous Mastering the Culinary Arts of French Cuisine.  Now I am his apprentice, 3 trips to France made me fall in love with French culture and cooking.  Because the climate of Southern California is very similar to Provence in southern France, the decoration in our Altadenian kitchen has a lot of French country style: colorful pots and pans, flowery plates, humorous  of French country farmers are all hung on the surrounding wall.

My Favorite Salad is Salad Nicoise

Kitchen Goddess (My Little Poem)

In the light of the French Bastille Day,

Summertime, purple lavenders and golden sunflowers sway.

Chopped garlic and shredded onion, fluttering in virescent olive oil in play,

Sautéing chicken segments crispy while sipping a glass of Cabernet.

Green peppers, scarlet tomatoes, yellow zucchinis, violet eggplants, harvested in my vegetable estate,

Stewing into a delicious rainbow like ratatouille francais.

The sound of pots, pans, bowls, silverwares, creating a song of soiree,

The colors of oil, salt, pepper, spice, making a watercolor of Monet.

Bastille Day is the common name given in English-speaking countries to the national day of France, which is celebrated on 14 July each year. In French, it is formally called Fête nationale and commonly and legally le 14 juillet .  The French National Day is the anniversary of Storming of the Bastille on 14 July 1789, a turning point of the French Revolution,as well as the Fête de la Fédération which celebrated the unity of the French people on 14 July 1790. Celebrations are held throughout France. The oldest and largest regular military parade in Europe is held on 14 July on the Champs-Élysées in Paris in front of the President of the Republic, along with other French officials and foreign guests (quoted from Wikipedia)

(On my 50th birthday, Bill gave me this whole set of French La Crusette pots, I like them very much, especially for cooking French food.  I have to be serious about cooking!!!)

Of course, the summer dinners are always the highlight. In memory of Charlotte, we celebrate this French festival year after year. For me, a woman from Shanghai (to be called “Paris of the Orient”), I am very fond of the “French romantic life”. I was born and grew up in the charming French Concession. In my childhood, we moved from quaint “Happy Garden” on Hunan Road to exquisite Alley 31 on Urumqi Road; then from ivy vine covered French garden house on Lane 200 on Yueyang Road to the enchanting Lane 9 on Fenyang Road diagonally across from the campus of Shanghai Conservatory of Music. To me, French culture seems to be innate, because my father was very passionate about French food, he often took me to the “Red House” and “Swan Pavilion” (both were French restaurants) not far from our home) dining. Those French country soup, fried pork chops, potato salad, and chicken noodles etc. were memorable.  When I was studying for my Ph.D. at UCLA, I chose the French as one of my compulsory courses. During our 3 trips to France, I used my broken French to communicate with local people.  I’m particularly interested in the vocabularies related to French food.

Shanghai Red House Restaurant

<p class="has-drop-cap" value="<amp-fit-text layout="fixed-height" min-font-size="6" max-font-size="72" height="80">In the past, the summer garden dinners at our home was always attract our neighbors and friends. This year it is only be us plus our golden retriever Gigi.In the past, the summer garden dinners at our home was always attract our neighbors and friends. This year it is only be us plus our golden retriever Gigi.

Speaking of Gigi, our dog ​​is also a French name, from the famous musical “Gigi” (1958).

The story takes place in Paris at the beginning of 20th century. The French girl Gigi lives at home with her grandmother Mamita. Gig is naughty and lively but cynical. Under the guidance of her grandmother, she entered the society circle. She met the single man Gaston.  Gaston is very surprised that Gigi gradually changed from an innocent and casual girl to a graceful lady, and he fell in love with her.  This 1958 film won nine Oscars.

The French people absolutely magnify their 3 meals, treated them as important events of the day in spite of fastidious preparations.  Our party guests and I used to  be watching Bill preparing “Duck a l’orange”,  it was a superb performance. Through the aromas of Grand Marnier, as spectators, our taste buds were stimulated while we were sipping the wine and sharing the conversations.

Under the Grape Vine Covered Pergola

Our Bastille Day’s menu is always a touch of country French that is in accordance with the seasonal vegetables in our garden:

1. Coq au Vin: a popular French country dish, a perfect dish for our taste palate. There are many versions, I have tried many versions, my favorite is Robert Carrier’s “Great Dishes of the World” published in 1967.

Bill was cooking Coq au Vin

My experience is that there must be no rush and sloppiness in French cooking.  Like embroidering, it must be as meticulous as possible. Carrier’s recipe is complicated,  including burning Hennessy etc., but it is absolutely necessary, so that all the all the detail will be lingering on our taste buds.

Ingredients for “Coq au Vin”: chicken pieces, butter, olive oil, bacons, pearl onions, mushrooms, flour, salt, pepper, garlic, thyme, bay leaves, Italian parsley, Hennessy, red wine and sugar.

2. Ratatouille: For us in Southern California, this summer dish is a Mother Nature-sending gift. I have to say that almost all the vegetables and herbs are in are from my vegetable garden. Everything is in season.  In addition, it is also an ideal vegetarian dish. We serve it in room temperature.

After trying different recipes many times, my favorite  recipe comes from The Silver Palate Good Times Cook Book written by Julee Rosso and Sheila Lukins, published in 1985.

Ingredients for Ratatouille: half cup of olive oil, 1 onion, 6 cloves of garlic, 1 large eggplant, 1 red bell pepper, 1 green pepper, 4 chili peppers, 2 yellow curved neck summer squashes, oregano, cumin, salt, pepper, 24 cherry tomatoes and coriander leaves.

On medium heat, pour olive oil and sauté chopped onions for 10 minutes.

Then add the chopped garlic and stir-fry for 5 minutes, add the cut eggplant and stir-fry for 15 minutes.

Reduce to medium-low heat and add red bell pepper, green pepper, chili peppers, yellow curved neck summer squashes, oregano, cumin and stir-fry for 25 minutes.

Add the entire 24 cherry tomatoes to the pan and stir-fry for 10 minutes

Finally, decorate the dish with coriander leaves.

The above two popular country French dishes on French baguettes are great! Charlotte once told us if guests wiped his (her) dinner plate with baguettes, it would be a compliment to the host.

3. Lemon tart

(We Have Hundreds of Lemons on Our Tree)

Maybe due to Covid-19, our fruit trees are disastrous this  summer except for the lemon tree which is really fruitful. It is  perfect to make a lemon tart. This recipe, I googled from William Sonoma, is cool, elegant, moisturizing and refreshing.

Ingredients:

1 tart platter at room temperature

1 tablespoon cornstarch

2 tablespoons water

5 eggs

2 teaspoons finely grated lemon zest

2/3 cup fresh lemon juice

3/4 cup sugar

6 tablespoons (3/4 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into small pieces

Whipped cream

Engaging in French cooking is an exquisite experience, every French meal is a festive activity itself, allowing people enjoy the art of gastronomy of eating and drinking.   Thus friendship and affection are strengthened through beautiful meals.  It is also fascinating to discover the food culture geographically and seasonally. I call French meal is a multi-movement symphony: 1) Hors d’oeuvres and cocktails; 2) Soup, salad and bread); 3) Main course (Meat, [or poultry,  or seafood] starches and vegetables); 4) Varieties of cheeses and grapes; 5) Dessert and coffee; 6) After-dinner liqueurs.

(French cheese, more than 200 kinds, taken in Lyon, France)

After dinner, we sat in the garden. The persimmon-colored sunset disappeared in the west. The breeze was gently blowing.  The mixed fragrance of lavenders, basils, corianders, and rosemaries, mints, etc were staggering, filled the air, we were sipping Grand Marnier…Although only us and Gigi this year, but the French romantic spirit lives. The roses in the summer are still blossoming like crazy, the fireflies are still flickering sweet messages of teaser, the starry night sky is still blinking with “eyes” connected to our hearts, we are lying on our floating “boats” in the swimming pool, carefree, reminiscing good memories, contemplating with wild imaginations, yearning for the arrival of miracles… 

The Roses in Our Garden
<p class="has-text-align-center has-huge-font-size" value="<amp-fit-text layout="fixed-height" min-font-size="6" max-font-size="72" height="80"><strong><span class="uppercase"><span style="color:#ea0a28;" class="has-inline-color">Bonne fête de la bastille!</span></span></strong>Bonne fête de la bastille!

Moon Festival (9/21/2021)

Today is the Chinese Mid-Autumn Festival, the moon is the roundest and brightest, and I am preparing for a special dinner for this Chinese festival. The story of “Chang’e Flying to the Moon” is not only a well-known story in China, it has now spread all over the world. My newlywed niece Huang Leilei (who grew up in UK) also talked to me about Chang’e. She remembered that when she was a child, one of the bedtime stories I told her was the love story between the moon goddess Chang’e and her archer husband Houyi.  Last year she also introduced me the animated movie Over the Moon (released by Netflix) is about a girl named Feifei who built her own rocket and flew to the moon to meet Chang’e.   The pronunciation of Feifei in the movie and my niece Leilei is very similar. My Shanghai-born niece Leilei has a strong interest in the traditional Chinese customs. I heard that tonight she and her newlywed husband are going to her mother’s house to celebrate the Mid-Autumn Festival with her mother (my sister) and her grandma (my mother). They will be eating moon cakes and looking at the moon to commemorate the birthday of her great grandma (my grandma). 

Today is the Chinese Mid-Autumn Festival (also called Chinese Moon Festival).  It is a very special and memorable day, because my maternal grandmother’s birthday is on Chinese Mid-Autumn Festival on August 15th in the Chinese lunar calendar. Therefore, on every Mid-Autumn Festival, my mother always reminds us not forget to celebrate my grandmother’s birthday even she’s a no longer with us.

My grandmother’s name is Fang Lan Qing, she was from a scholastic family of “Yumizhixiang” (it means “the land of fertility [geographically and culturally]”)  in southern Anhui. Although she grew up in the feudalistic era of the “Three-inch Golden Lotus Foot Binding” , she was educated and was able to write the beautiful cursive calligraphy.

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A Family Reunion During the Chinese Moon Festival

The name my great-grandfather gave my grandma is profound and poetic. Lan, in Chinese, means Blue; Qing, in Chinese, means Indigo.  There was a Chinese proverb: “Indigo blue is extract from the indigo plant, but is bluer than the plant it comes from”.  It is metaphorical: meaning students are taught by their teachers, but they are better than teachers.  My grandmother was eclectic, blue and indigo. When we were in Shanghai, every Mid-Autumn Festival was always celebrated at our grandmother’s house. On the one hand, it was to celebrate grandma’s birthday, and on the other hand, it was the temptation for a good feast. Festival banquets were always rare in the era of material poverty.  In addition to the sumptuous Mid-Autumn Festival dinner: soy sauced duck, ginger and scallion crab, lotus root short rib soup, etc., adults also drank sweet-scented osmanthus wine and children ate sweet taros and salted edamame.  Eating mooncakes while watching the bright moon is the finale.  My uncle’s family and our family are reunited at grandma’s house almost every Sunday.  But the Moon Festival for my grandmother’s birthday is even more of a joyous festival to wish her a longevity.

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Our Chinese Moon Festival Banquet in the past.

Indeed, every holiday season, I miss my family. I remembered the scene of separation when I left Shanghai 35 years ago: I just got a master’s degree in composition at the Shanghai Conservatory of Music, and immediately I was accepted by UCLA as a PhD candidate in composition.  I wouldn’t miss the good opportunity for furthering my education.  I remember vividly that special day, when I left Shanghai for the United States, my grandmother was already in her late 80s and she was blind. Reluctantly, she was helped by the nanny and tremblingly fumbled the stairs down from the third floor to see me off at the gate.  At that time, China was still very poor. In order to facilitate me to go abroad, my parents’ savings over the years were not enough to buy me a ticket to the United States. Thanks to the help of relatives and friends, I was able to fly to the United States as I wished. Of course I understand that time was my farewell to my grandmother. Seeing grandma’s in tears, I couldn’t help crying like a baby. The airplane ticket was so expensive then. My parents almost bankrupted to purchase me a plane ticket. The first time I returned from the United States to visit my family in China was seven years later.  My grandmother had already left the world by then.

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Since I came to the United States, in order to remembered my grandma, I almost celebrated the Moon Festival every year.  Even in the poorest and most lonely days of my school days, I would take a bite of a mooncake to dream the reunion with my family in China.  

The following is the video of Chinese country chef Ziqi Li who makes moon cakes:Ziqi Li is making Chinese Moon Cake.

The following video was about celebrating Chinese Mid-Moon Festival, sung by Mr. Jiang Yuequan and Ms. Zhu Huizhen in 1961. Mr. Jiang was the founder of the famous Pingtan master “Jiang Tunes”.  The characteristics of Pingtan include gentle “wuyu” (a Suzhou dialect) and highly embellished melodies.  It is sung by a vocalist accompanying himself or herself with either a “sanxian” or a “pipa” (both are plucked instruments).  

During my childhood in Shanghai, we shared the kitchen and the bathroom with Mr. Jiang’s family in an alley in the French Concession.   Mr. Jiang’s 3 granddaughters used to be my playmates, now they are among my best friends.

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An Alley in Old Shanghai.
“When did the bright moon first appear?
One raises a cup and asks the blue sky.
One does not know, in the celestial palaces,
what year it is this evening.


I wish to ride the wind and return there,
yet fear the jade towers;
in a high dwelling one cannot bear the cold.
Starting to dance with one's clear shadow -
what else resembles the mortal world?


Revolving around the red pavilion,
lowering to a silk-work door,
it shines upon the sleepless.
It should not have resentment;
why is it always full at times of separation?


People have sorrows, joys, parting and reunions,
the moon is dark, bright, waxes or wanes;
these problems have have been this way since ancient times.
Yet one hopes for longevity;
a thousand miles apart, 
together seeing the moon's beauty.”

The breeze and the moon are free, and it has brought endless imaginations to impoverished Chinese poets of the past dynasties.  How many poems of moon inspired poems are there in the Chinese literature history?  Hundreds and thousand.  One of the most famous poems was written by the Song Dynasty poet Su Shi’s "Shui Diao Ge Tou” (1076).  This poem has been 944 years and passed from one generation to another generation for centuries.  I learned this poem when I was a child, I can still recite it in Chinese by heart:

I found a symphonic work by Qigang Chen (the French modern composer Olivier Messian’s student) on Youtube, the piece was based on this very Su Shi’s we’ll-known poem. 

There is another version of Su Shi’s Shui Diao Ge Tou, a popular song version sung by the Taiwanese pop singer Teresa Teng:

In 1994, my Legend of Chang’e (for violin and marimba), which I was inspired by the Moon Festival, won the first prize in the “1994 Marimolin International Composition Competition”, premiered by the marvelous Sharan Leventhal and Nancy Zeltsman.  

Here’s the description about my piece:

The Legend of Chang-e is based on an ancient Chinese story which tells about the goddess of the moon named Chang-e. She was the wife of the archer Hou Yi, who had received the elixir of immortality from Xi-wang-mu who was the “Queen Mother” and lived in the legendary Kunlun Mountains. When Hou Yi was away, his wife swallowed the elixir and became immortal. Then she flew to the moon, where she resided in a place called today the “Palace of the Far-reaching Cold”. Hou Yi tried to follow Chang-e, but he failed. Then he took residence in the sun. Until today, every family in China holds reunions on the night of Mid- autumn Festival each year, tasting moon cakes, watching the bright full moon and thinking of Chang-e. 

In this duet, I try to translate the quality and the sense of Chinese music by applying great variety in articulation and dynamics, constant change of instrumental colors, diverse kinds of tone inflections, asymmetrical rhythmic patterns and other imitations of characteristic of Chinese traditional music. In order to describe the dramatic features of the legend, my effort is to make two instruments cast two contrasting images, ——the beautiful and delicate Chang-e (represented by the violin) and the heroic and robust Hou Yi (represented by the marimba). For example, a turmoil with clamorous sounds in section A are suddenly thrust into a peaceful pentatonic melody with an oriental atmosphere in section B. The harmonic language of the piece is based on the vertical collections of the horizontal pentatonic modes. Bi-modality between two instruments is used to create rich textures and complex sonorities. Therefore the simplicity of the horizontal lines contrasts with the complexity of the vertical combinations. “

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Joan Huang: The Legend of Chang-e (1994): At the beginning of this piece it described the intense scene of Hou Yi (the archer) shooting down 9 Suns on the earth with a bow and arrow. Then, gradually, the beautiful Chang’e appeared…

Later, until I got married in the United States, I had my own home to practice my skills in culinary art.  It is natural to celebrate all Chinese Festivals.  Every Mid-Autumn Festival, we always invited family members, relatives and friends to our home to share the banquets, to watch the moon while eating moon cakes.

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Table Setting for Our Chinese Moon Festival

This year, the original plan for our Autumn Moon Festival’s was to invite relatives and friends to come to our garden to enjoy the moon and eat mooncakes. Unfortunately, Bill fell ill. I feel like have become the Chang’e in the Moon Palace. Our dog Gigi acts like the Jade Rabbit to accompany me by. my side. I’m spending this special holiday with Bill alone at home, enjoy the happiness and excitement in solitude. The United States is a multi-ethnic country, and the holidays are recurrent one after another, which add a lot of fun in a lengthy “social-distancing” periods. The internet is the “GOD” which connects our emotions with families friends all over the world.

I browsed the Internet casually, for the local availabilities, I chose the “Maya Legend”s recipes and I’m going to vary a little bit.

1) Crab sautéed rice cakes: California’s fat crabs are well-known, and they are definitely not inferior to Yangcheng Lake hairy crabs in China.

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2) Cumin lamb chops: Costco sells Australian lamb chops, with cumin and rosemary and other condiments, baked in the oven, the flavor is excellent!



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3) Roast duck: I just go to the local “San Woo BBQ” to buy ready-made roast duck, it is Bill’s favorite.

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4) Eggplant Braised with TriColored Sweet Peppers: purple Japanese eggplants and sweet peppers are in season in our vegetable garden, with red, green, yellow and sweet.

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5) Colorful miscellaneous mushroom soup: a soup made from various mushrooms, and the eyebrows are also lost.

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6) “Xinghualou” Mooncakes (which means “Mooncakes from Apricot Blossom Pavilion”) : an exquisitely wrapped box of “Xinghualou” moon cakes was left in front our house by our new Shanghai neighbor Betty. It gave me a sense of nostalgia. “Xinghualou” mooncake is a well known brand in Shanghai with its nearly a hundred years of history. Among the mostly popular varieties, the red bean paste, lotus seed, coconut paste, and five-nuts are mouthwatering choices.

Today is another beautiful day when the moon is full and flowers are blooming. There are abundant varieties of moon cakes displayed in the “99 Supermarket” in Arcadia. Osmanthus flowers are in full bloom, densely thronged, they’re yellow as gold, and the unique fragrant smell brings us a sense of early autumn. Sitting in the garden, a bright and round moon appeared among dense towering palm trees and orange trees in the east. We drank chrysanthemum tea and ate moon cakes facing the moon, as if we saw my beloved grandma, and also saw the images of Chang’e’s elegant dancing, Jade Rabbit’s pounding medicine with a mortal and pestle, Wu Gang’s chopping the osmanthus tree with endless toil on the moon.  These images are all from the folklore I learned when I was child…Autumn Moon is the roundest and brightest…

Lastly, here’s another clip about the family reunion dinner at the Mid-Autumn Festival in the coming movie Over the Moon, I use it to end my blog.

Our Labor Day Weekend…(By Joan Huang)

Recently, bad news has come one after another, such as the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan, the Hurricane Ida, the Delta virus, the floods in Northeast, the California wildfires, Texas Abortion ban, etc … I prefer not watching news, but still can’t help it.

I saw a teenager named “Lele” on the Internet with this message: “Things are still blooming in dreams, and my garden is still the same, rippling with dreamlike tranquility. The fields are still green, fortunate by this lonely peace, gently swaying in the wind, swaying… Suddenly, the flower in the dream withered in pieces, and my home is no longer like that calm. A group of robbers broke into our home, and the cruel rain of bullets shattered the peaceful world. The sun is dim, not as brilliant as it used to be. On the streets, the children are crying looking for their parents, or vice ver-sa, the parents screaming sorrowfully for their children. So painful and tragic! However, yesterday’s greens swaying in the wind have been burnt to ashes; that lonely peace has already turned into mournful tears. People are crying in the smoke of the ruins. The sound of moaning is penetrating my soul like a sharp sword and tear my high spirit into pieces. I am sitting alone by the window, looking up at the sky with twinkling stars, a meteor quickly crosses the sky. The fast speed makes people too late to see, and it turns into a beautiful arc in the sky. With both hands, I’m praying: “Peace, Peace, Peace!”

I’m writing something for this long weekend.

We noticed that, at present, California lacks labor, restaurants and farms are short of people for picking, packaging, and transportation. I hope the arrival of Afghan refugees is a good news for California. Our Governor Newsom has said that California welcomes them: “We are a state of asylum, and I am proud that California has accepted more refugees than any state in the United States in the past ten years.” California Rep. Zoe Lofgren also said: “The governor’s approach is correct. We have always stood up to welcome new Americans into our homeland, and we have become stronger as a result.”

I live in an immigrant friendly neighborhood in Altadena, everyday, when I’m walking our dog Gigi, neighbors always so warmly to greeting us. I see many sighs saying: “Immigrants & Refugees Welcome, We Must Not Stand Idly By…”, I instantly have a sense of security.

My previous blog “Spontaneous Thoughts of Chinese Qixi Festival” wrote about the laboring scene of the Cowherd and the Weaver Girl”: “You are plowing while I am weaving textiles; you re carrying water while I am sprinkling field.”  After the Qixi Festival, it comes “Labor Day” in America. It also coincides with my husband Bill’s birthday day. That would be another project.

Beginning in the late 19th century, as the trade union and labor movements grew, trade unionists proposed that a day be set aside to celebrate labor. “Labor Day” was promoted by the Central Labor Union and the Knights of Labor, which organized the first parade in New York City. In 1887, Oregon was the first state of the United States to make it an official public holiday. By the time it became an official federal holiday in 1894, thirty states in the United States officially celebrated Labor Day.

Labor Day is a federal holiday in the United States celebrated on the first Monday in September to honor and recognize the American labor movement and the works and contributions of laborers to the development and achievements of the United States.[1][2][3] It is the Monday of the long weekend known as Labor Day Weekend.(from Wikipedia)

The following video briefly introduces the history of Labor Day in the United States: The History of Labor Day:

For many Americans, the arrival of Labor Day also means that summer is gradually closing — the last holiday of the summer, the summer vacation for students has also ended. Here, the children have started to go to school wearing masks. It’s worrisome because they are not eligible to get vaccines.

When Labor Day is here, I’m just casually talking about my attitude towards “labor”. I remember when I was a child, I watched a cartoon entitled: A Little Kitten Go Fishing, in which the title song “Labor Is the Most Glorious Thing”:

“The sun is bright and golden,

The rooster sings its song three times,

The flowers woke up,

The bird is busy dressing up.

Little magpie built a new house,

The little bee gathers honey,

Where does a happy life come from?

It depends on labors which create.

Green leaves and red flowers,

Little Butterfly is playful,

Don’t love work or study,

We don’t learn from it at all.

To learn from magpies to build new houses,

To learn bees to pick honey,

The joy of labor is endless,

The creation of labor is the most glorious thing.”

At the beginning of the summer, when the covid eased, in order to be kind to myself, I bought a barbecue online. I’ve been marinating and grilling, and enjoying fresh BBQs at least twice a week. Our garden is always full of meaty aroma.

During the nearly one and half year of epidemic, every day was my working day behind the closed door. I worked hard, either composing music or writing blogs. For me, a creative life is the best remedy to overcome all kinds of anxieties and kill all negativities.  Special circumstances lead tp special ways of life, I’ve learned a hard way when I was sent to a farm to do forced labors during the China’s Cultural Revolution.  The quiet atmosphere makes me very focused and my thoughts just go wild. Somehow this is good for me to be calm down and do whatever I would like to do.  Numerous ideas like stimulant energies saturated into my fingertips and they were dancing on my computer keyboard.  Every detail in my daily work during the quarantine period is a beautiful beating musical note, they swarmed onto the musical staff. I want to write my experience. For me, labor is a real enjoyment. For me, if there is no such word as labor in life, there will be no sense of happiness, it would be boring and dull.

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Last year, I wrote a multi-media composition entitled Soliloquy in the Epidemic Spring

Here’s the description about the piece:

“When the Covid-19 pandemic spread to America, the beautiful world shut down in front of us.  Completely unprepared, I lost the sense of goals in the music world and became dysfunctional: depressed, wandering, ineffectual.  Until one day I heard Rachmaninoff’s Vocalise on KUSC (Classical music radio station), I was deeply touched by the heart wrenching melody.  

It was in the middle of the most gorgeous season, the roses in our garden are    blooming, producing a riot of colors.  The visual and audio splendors became the huge inspiration for the “monologue” of my personal quarantined life.  

Social distancing may accompany us for a while.  As a composer, my concept of creation has to adapt to new media and possibilities.

The piece is for String Quartet, Electronic Sound and Visual Effects.  Everything had to be created solely by myself instead of live musicians.

It is a spontaneous mixed thoughts of reality and subconsciousness of uncertainty.  

I. Morning coffee brewing , kitchen sound, birds chirping, from the radio, Rachmaninoff’s Vocalise is wafting in the background.

II. String Quartet joins the natural world, continue to “sing” this memorable   and emotional Vocalise.

III. Pandemic outbreaks, “Stay-home” order was enacted by the government, people were panicking, driving to supermarkets, stockpiling food.  

IV. Eerie ambulance sirens mingled with newscasts, people were very scared and got lost.

V. Calm down, calm down, with the soothing melody from the second movement “Scene at the creek” from Beethoven’s Symphony No. 6 sounding by my ears, my pastoral life begins: staycation, gardening, harvesting and cooking.  

VI. People are dying, the statistics are rising, a shroud of ghostly sensation is approaching.  

VII. The “Elegy” for the deceased Covid-19 victims.

VIII. Reaching out: through FaceBook, FaceTime, Skype, WeChat, Zoom, etc. My quarantined space is limited, but social media on the internet are limitless.

IX. Spring is here, there is light at the end of the tunnel, maybe?  I want to be hopeful.

X. I’m not alone, it’s the PANDEMIC!  We have to face this universal catastrophe and voice solidarity with the world.  

Musically, it’s a quasi Variation based on the theme of Vocalise, the string quartet dispersed with electronic sounds of the uncontrollable concrete realities.”

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I also wrote another composition:  Episodes During the Plagued Summer. Through my “labor”, all the musical notes like the little tadpoles, one by one, jumping onto the “river” of the 5-line staff, I’m feeling great to have something accomplished during the 18-month isolation.   Throughout the summer we have a total of 7 festivals: 1) Chinese Dragon Boat Festival; 2) Father’s Day; 3) July 4th; 4) Bastille Day; 5) Chinese Qixi Festival; 6) Labor Day; 7) Rosh Hashanah.

The following page is from the 6th movement: “Labor Day”.

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A comfortable and beautiful home is through hardworking and wisdom, and the reward is very generous. Throughout the summer, day in and day out, under the scorching sun, I’m plowing, weeding, watering and harvesting in the vegetable garden by my diligent hands.  I’m making homey meals and experimenting new recipes day after day.  As a result, every bit of my work definitely gives me positive energies, which makes me feel complacent.  Now at the early September, the sunset is much earlier than in June. The crop of corns of 3 months ago is no longer lush.  There are still plenty of red and green peppers in the vegetable garden, long thread of yard beans tangle together with other tomato plants.  There are violet-colored eggplants, a few of red and yellow tomatoes.  Growing vegetables is so much fun!

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Cooking is the relaxation technique during the unpredictable near future.  I’m improvising our dinners every day. Practice is the process of learning.

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I’m using Sheila Lukins’s “Labour Day Picnic” as our main recipe for Labor Day. I will make some adjustments and try to create some rustic flavors of  a “farmhouse”:

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1) Delicious Tri-Colored Salad: This salad’s main ingredients are lentil, celery, carrot.  The starchy soil of lentils can fully absorb pungent onions and garlic, then garnished with chopped celeries and carrots.  On top of 3 main ingredients, dripping with homemade dressing made from olive oil, lemon, mint, red vinegar, shallots and yogurt.  You can taste all the detailed flavors.

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2) Skirt Veal Steak: Since we live in Southern California, Mexican tortillas are very popular. Delicious skirt veal steaks, with onions, Tabasco sauce, lime juice, red vinegar and coriander in tortillas are so delicious.

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3) Roast Four Reds: Red is a symbol of happiness and joy. There are red beets, juicy red tomatoes, crispy red onions and shiny red bell peppers. Slice them all, add a little golden corns and green onions, sprinkle them with salt and pepper, drizzle them with olive oil, then bake in the oven for 30 minutes.

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4) Plum Crisp: This simple and easy-to-make late-summer desert on Labor Day will give you a taste of the last batch of plums in season. The top layer of plum crisps is like candied fruit, sweet but not greasy, and has all the flavors of butter pastry taste. Freshly baked plum crisp and vanilla ice cream are the best match, add a little bit Creme Fraiche to end the Labor Day  dinner to a satisfaction.

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After a day’s work on Labor Day, drinking a little bit of Hennessy, while watching the US Open Tennis Tournament, I’m feeling very relaxed…

My Reverie – Looking at the Starry Sky during the Chinese Qixi Festival (Joan Huang, 8/14/2021)

More than a year ago, I joined a lively group on WeChat, members are from many different countries, from France to Japan, from Germany to USA, etc. The topics of conversations are so amazingly interesting and stimulating. I feel like siping a bowl of rich and thick chicken soup everyday, which benefits my soul a lot. The other day we talked about the subject of love between men and women.

Today is Chinese traditional Qixi Festival, I’m making a very traditional dinner.

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Chinese Qixi Festival dinner

Summer is my favorite season, because southern California has no mosquito ravages, no suffocating humidity, and we can enjoy romantic meals in the garden with carefreeness. Eating and drinking, looking at the stars, my wings of imagination fly freely. The Qixi Festival coincides with the midsummer, and I have no reason to neglect this beautiful occasion.

Summer night party in our garden

Shakespeare celebrated Midsummer Night with a play. A Midsummer Night’s Dream “consists of five interconnecting plots, connected by a celebration of the wedding of Duke Theseus of Athens and the Amazon queen, Hippolyta, which are set simultaneously in the woodland and in the realm of Fairyland, under the light of the moon. (quoted from “Wikipedia”)

Midsummer definitely needs to be celebrated: when the best food of the year, the most beautiful weather and the colorful flowers combine, love comes naturally.

Similarly, there are also summer romantic legends in the East ❤️❤️❤️

 “With pairs of birds singing on the tree,

So green rivers and mounts look great,

With pairs of birds singing on the tree,

Picking a flower off conveniently,

I put it in my dear’s chignon affectionately,

From now on being of enslaving-free,

My wife and I are on the way home free,

You may plough and I will make some textile,

I shoulder water you do some watering while,

Being so humble, our house can keep out wind,

A loving couple regards poverty as honey to drink,

Couple of us is just like that of mandarin ducks,

Flying wing to wing in the people’s world with good luck.”



This well-known love tune “BIRDS ON THE TREES ARE PAIRS” is selected from Huangmei Opera (a Chinese regional opera) Heavenly Marriage.  

The actor in this video clip is my cousin Xia Chengping. When I was a child, my maternal grandmother (who came to Shanghai from Anqing, Anhui) chatted with me endlessly about how she worshipped her idol Yan Fengying who made this regional opera popular all over in China.  Unfortunately Yan tragically took her own life after unbearable political persecutions and physical tortures during the Cultural Revolution.  My sweet memory is that my grandmother often sat on a small bamboo chair in the corridor shared by the two families on Fenyang Road in Shanghai. The simple, smooth, and soft Huangmei opera tunes were played on the small radio. The grandmother listened to the melodious Huangmei opera while shelling the edamame.  Her body moved slightly with the music, and the creaking bamboo chair sound added a unique accompaniment, she was nostalgic about southern Anhui.

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Huangmei Opera (a Chinese regional opera) Heavenly Marriage.  

The seventh day of the seventh month of the lunar calendar in 2021 is August 14th.  Comparing with last year, our social life is much more active. The weekly garden parties allow us to share friendship with our fully vaccinated old and new friends. Although the Delta variant is still spreading wildly, people have gradually learned how to protect themselves and adapt to the reality of coexisting with the virus.

In Southern California, there is almost no rains throughout the summer, the moon is always shining accompanied by the twinkling stars every night. Many traditional festivals in China use the moon, stars, and the Milky Way as a fantasy and romantic background stage, providing people with boundless imaginations. On this gorgeous summer night, the vast Milky Way passes through the deep sky, like a big waterfall flying down, the stars blinking like water splashing everywhere. I’m looking up at the starry sky, sipping lemon mint iced tea, pouring a glass of “rose dew” wine bought from “Chinatown”, and thinking of the well known love story between the Cowherd and the Weaver Girl.

Today is the day when the Cowherd and the Weaver Girl meet. This romantic mythology can be traced back 3000 years ago.  “The general tale is a love story between Zhinü (the weaver girl, symbolizing Vega) and Niulang (the cowherd, symbolizing Altair).[3] Their love was not allowed, thus they were banished to opposite sides of the Silver River (symbolizing the Milky Way).[3][10] Once a year, on the 7th day of the 7th lunar month, a flock of magpies would form a bridge to reunite the lovers for one day.[3] There are many variations of the story.”(from Wikipedia)  [3As one of the four great love stories in ancient China, the story of the Cowherd and the Weaver Girl appeared in the Shijing (The Classic of Poetry) 3000 years ago in ancient China. It is said that this day the Cowherd and the Weaver Girl can meet on the magpie bridge to have their once-a-year meeting:

Qixi Festival

“维天有汉,监亦有光。

跂彼织女,终日七襄。

虽则七襄,不成报章。

睆比牵牛,不以服箱。”

(The general meaning: Looking into the sky, the Milky Way is wide, and the water is shining like a mirror. The Weaver Girl (Vega) constellation supports supports herself, and very busy with weaving back and forth all day long.  Although she is busy it is difficult to weave gorgeous patterns. Seeing that the Cowherd constellation (Altair) shines, but he can’t maneuver the vehicle.)The Story of the Cowherd and the Weaver Girl

According to the legend, a long long time ago, there was a smart and honest young man who was forced to live with his brother-in-law due to the death of his parents. The young man’s sister-in-law was vicious bullying and forcing him to do heavy farm work. One day, the your man’s sister-in-law forced him to take 9 cows out to mountains and ordered him not coming home until he got 10 cows.  The Cowherd reluctantly took the cows into the mountain. In the remote mountains and the forest, he was desperate and did not know when he would get another cow. At this time, an elderly man came to the Cowherd and asked him why he was so sad?  After learning of what happened to the Cowherd, the elderly man told him: “There is a sick old cow in Funiu Mountain, go there to feed and nurture it.  When the old cow gets better, you can take it with you to home.” After the elderly man’s advice, the Cowherd traveled long distance over the mountains and gone through hardships, he finally found the seriously ill old cow.  After a month of tender, love and care by the Cowherd, the old cow finally recovered from the illness.  Since then, the old cow and the Cowherd depended on each other.  One day, just as the Weaver Girl and the Seven Fairies from the Heaven descended down to the Earth to take baths, through the guidance of the old cow, the Cowherd met the Weaver Girl and they fell in love at first sight.  Since then the Weaver Girl in the Heaven often went down to the Earth and became the wife of the Cowherd. The Weaver Girl distributed the silkworms brought from the Heaven to the people on the Earth, and taught them to raise silkworms, peel off the cocoons, draw silk, and weave silk brocade.  After the Cowherd and the Weaver Girl got married, the men farmed and the women weave, and they had children and were happy.  However their happy time didn’t last long.  The news reached to Wang Mu Niang Niang (Queen Mother)’s ears,  she forcibly brought the Weaver Girl back to the Heaven, and the good marriage ended up with sorrows, and the mandarin ducks broke up.  The Cowherd cried his heart out about the separation.  At this moment, the Old Cow told the Cowherd: “If  I die, you can use my skin to make leather shoes and fly to the Heaven.”  After the Old Cow died, the Cowherd did just that: wearing shoes made of cowhide left by the old cow and carrying a pair of sons and daughters flying into the Heaven to meet the Weaver Girl.   When Queen Mother saw that the Coward was about to meet the Weaver Girl, she took off the golden hairpin on her head to to cut an insurmountable “Galaxy” which blocked the 2 lovers. The Cowherd and the Weaver Girl were separated from each other by Heaven and Earth permanently. But their unwavering love deeply touched the magpies hearts, and thousands of magpies gathered together to built a “Magpie Fairy Bridge” for the Cowherd and Weaver Girl to meet on the bridge. The Queen Mother had no choice but to allow this couple to meet on July 7th each year.

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Qixi Festival

Qixi Festival is also known as the “Qi Qiao Festival”. This day is a festival for beautiful girls who pray to the Heaven for happiness. It is said that on this traditional and romantic evening, the girls gathered under melon and fruit covered shed, drinking the sweet-scented osmanthus wine and snacking with melon seeds, longans, red dates, peanuts, and hazelnuts. They  took out their own handcrafted work, such as tiger head hat, pomegranate skirt, fragrant purse, embroidered shoes, mandarin duck pillow and so on.

The Cowherd and the Weaver Girl

Last summer, during the staying home period, I wrote a duet for flute and piano, entitled Episodes During the Plagued Summer, here’s the 5th Episodes, named “The Cowherd and the Weaver Girl”: “Is it romantic that in the middle of the summer looking at the starry sky in the garden, to fantasize this Chinese Valentine’s Story?  The dialogue between the flute (the Weaver Girl) and the piano (the Cowherd) is based on the famous tune “Birds on the Trees are Pairs” selected from Huangmei Opera (a Chinese regional opera) Heavenly Marriage.  The piano produced the celestial atmosphere.”

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Joan Huang: Episodes During the Plagued Summer (2020) (5) “The Cowherd and the Weaver Girl”:

During the more than 5 months period of epidemic isolation at our home, cooking is one of the happy moments.  My friends kept sending me the articles and blogs about the  country cooking sensation – a Chinese girl named Li Ziqi.  She is from a rural area in China.  She has become an American internet celebrity and has appeared in New York Times and YouTube.  Here is a video about a recipe of Qixi Festival.  Li Ziqi is demonstrating how to make the traditional Chinese food “Qiaoshu”.  The crispy layer on the outer skin melts in your mouth, and the filling of the purple potato is sweet and chewy, which is both beautiful and delicious.

Historically there have many Chinese poems written on the  theme of Qixi Festival there are two are real classics.  

The first one is entitled 迢迢牽牛星-佚名(東漢) Far, Far Away, the Cowherd-Anonymous(Han Dynasty

“迢迢牽牛星, Far, far away, the Cowherd,

皎皎河漢女。 Fair, fair, the Weaving Maid,

纖纖擢素手, Nimbly move her slender white finger,

札札弄機杼。 Click-clack goes her weaving-loom.

終日不成章, All day she weaves, yet her web is still not done.

泣涕零如雨。 And her tears fall like rain.

河漢清且淺, Clear and shallow the Milky Way,

相去復幾許? They are not far apart!

盈盈一水間, But the stream brims always between.

脈脈不得語。 And, gazing at each other,they cannot speak.

 (Translated by Yang Xianyi, Dai Naidie)

The second one is entitled 秋夕-杜牧(唐朝) An Autumn Night –Du Mu (Tang Dynasty)

銀燭秋光冷畫屏, A candle flame flickers against a dull painted screen on an cool autumn night,

輕羅小扇撲流螢。 She holds a small silk fan to flap away dashing fireflies.

天階夜色涼如水, Above her hang celestial bodies as frigid as deep water,

坐看牽牛織女星。 She sat there watching Altair of Aquila and Vega of Lyra pining for each other in the sky.

(Translated by Betty Tseng)

These two ancient poems are metaphorical, euphemistic and intriguing.  The poets’ deep love is vividly expressed through descriptions, such as ”Far, far away, the Cowherd”, “Fair, fair, the Weaving Maid”, “a dull painted screen”,  “flap away dashing fireflies” and so on.

I found a modern version of the Cowherd and Weaver Girl pop song on the internet sung by the Chinese singer Bai Xue.  It is like a new Maotai (a famous Chinese rice liquor) bottled in a vintage carafe.  Qixi Festival is the ageless.  

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Cowherd and Weaver Girl

“The word of Love is divided into two, 

The Heaven breaks two people,

In the past,

There was a heartbroken couple.

See through, suffering from love,

Dance just for the breeze,

Once Qixi, counting on the cold winter.

The river is divided into two,

It separates two lovers,

Don’t hear or ask,

Only blame the Heaven.

The birds attract each other,

Rebuild the human relationship,

All the way with same sound and shadow,

The Cowherd and the Weaver Girl meet the Magpie Bridge,

Even if the wind and rain cannot stop their love.

Despite it is difficult for a thousand miles meeting,

For the one you love, you follow forever.”

Since I came to the United States 35 years ago, despite that  I have melted into the multicultural environment I still cherish customs from my ancestors. All Chinese traditional festivals are always celebrated at our home.  Tonight, the bright moon  was shining and the stars were twinkling.  I picked some fresh vegetables from my organic garden and made some romantic home-cooked dishes to enjoy myself:

  1. Husband and Wife Beef Tablets: (It was given the American name as “Mr. and Mrs. Smith”): this is a well-known Chinese appetizer I could think of off the top of my head. . In mid-summer, I have all kinds of colorful chili peppers in my vegetable garden blooming, and you can pick a handful of them.

“Mr and Mrs Smith is a famous dish in Chengdu, Sichuan, created by Guo Chaohua and Zhang Tianzheng. It is usually made of beef scalp, beef heart, beef tongue and tripe.  Beef is the main ingredient, marinated before stewing.  Then slicing them.    Next pouring the sliced beef with red chili oil made from peppers and other auxiliary materials It is beautiful in color, tender in texture, spicy and fragrant, very tasty.   In May 2017, the “GQ Magazine” released the “2017 American Dining Rankings” written by Brett Martin (who is a Correspondent and Chief Food Critic for GQ Magazine), the signature cold dish “Husband and Wife Beef Tablets” at Pepper Twins Sichuan Restaurant in Houston topped the list and was voted “Appetizer of the Year”. 

  1. Concubine Sea Cucumbers and Chicken Wings: This dish I cook frequently.  Some people compare sea cucumber to the soft and sleek concubine. She is inseparable from her lover “chicken wing”. Braised them with shiitake mushrooms and winter bamboo shoots.  Add thick brown sauce made from soy sauce and brown sugar, cloves, green onions, gingers and rice wine.  It’s really a delicacy.
  1. Cold Cucumber and Celery: My vegetable garden has several varieties of cucumbers this year.  The most fragrant ones are green Chinese prickly cucumber, yellow lemon cucumber and white Armenian cucumber. Mixed them with scalded celery, chopped garlic, sesame oil, rice vinegar, salt and pepper and a little sugar.  It is a really cool and tasty summer dish.
  1. Scramble Eggs with Double-colored Tomatoes: This everyday home cooking dish is special, because the red tomatoes, yellow tomatoes and green scallions all came from my own produces.  Eggs are “matchmakers”, combining red tomatoes and yellow tomatoes together.
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  1. Mandarin Duck Rice Cake: Osmanthus Sweet-scented Red and White Rice Cakes:I found 2 pieces sugared rice cakes in the freezer, one red, one white.  I fried them in peanut oil, then put them in a decorated pattern on a plate and sprinkle them with sweet-scented osmanthus. It is a sticky and inseparable dish, symbolizing a pair mandarin ducks who are “glued” together.
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Qixi Festival was the birthday of Li Yu (李煜, 937-978), the emperor of the Southern Tang Dynasty in 978 AD.  On the day of Qixi, after drinking a few cups of wine, he wrote the famous poem entitled “Yu Meiren (虞美人, Lady Yu, the Royal Beauty/Concubine): Spring Flowers and Autumn Moon”:

“Spring flowers and autumn moon, O when will all these end?

How much of my past I comprehend?

Last night, to my loft once more, the vernal east wind came;

In moonlight, I could not bear to look back towards my  homeland rid of my name.

Jade steps and carved railings may still as ever be there,

Though changed are the faces fair.

O how great, how grave, I ask, can my woe and sorrow be?

Just like the River’s swelling spring-tide waters rolling east to the sea.”

Taiwanese Singer Teresa Teng Sang Sang “Yu Meiren (虞美人, Lady Yu, the Royal Beauty/Concubine): Spring Flowers and Autumn Moon”

There are 80 million baby boomers in the United States, and the youngest is over 50 now. We are a generation of sandwiches with great responsibility. Although we are gaining weight, with salt and pepper hair, and wrinkles on our faces, we still consider ourselves as immortal young people psychologically, the flame of love is still burning in our hearts, and our eyes are still full of starry love. Baby boomers look at the world with open curiosity but profoundly and embrace love with our arms. We are nostalgic for the sweet memories in our youth and optimistically welcoming the future. We pursue a vibrant marriage: being together is enjoyment and love, and it is worth cherishing forever.

As the Delta virus continues to spread all over the world, vaccination is still the most effective measure. We must face the reality of co-existence between viruses and our daily lives, stick to all measures of self protection.

The love story between the Cowherd and the Weaver Girl teaches us being faithful.

When I was about to finish this blog, I suddenly saw a new painting entitled Love in Qixi posted by Wu Man, a world-renowned pipa master, in “WeChat” . The painting was painted by her father Wu Guoting (吴国亭)on the occasion of “Qixi Festival”. With Wu Man’s permission, I’m ending this blog with this brand new work by Master Wu Guoting (吴国亭) :

Master Wu’s painting says:

“I am willing to be a lovebird in the heaven, and I am willing to be a branch in the earth.”

Celebrate Bastille Day in Mediterranean Southern California (Joan Huang, 7/14/2021)

Several years ago, Bill and I drove around Provence in southern France for 2 weeks by car. Due to its geographical location in the Mediterranean, the climate is very similar to our Southern California: blue ocean, southing sunshine, scented lavender, golden sunflowers… The scenery is picturesque and beautiful. Many famous artists in history were attracted by the natural beauty of Provence: Van Gogh, Picasso, Matisse, Renoir, Cezanne and many more left their footprints and countless art treasures in Provence.

The trip to Provence was mesmerizing, which made me have a strong affinity with French culture. Today is the French Bastille Day, variety of summer vegetables in my vegetable garden are abundant. I will take advantage of my own produce to make a French summer meal.

The following video is about 3 years ago while we were celebrating French Bastille Day at home. It is a good holiday in terms of cooking country French food. 

Only 10 days after the US National Day, the French National Day is here. Last year, due to the Covid, we celebrated it alone. This year we will invite friends to have a French country meal. I believe that the entire France will also be immersed in a sea of ​​joy after the 16 months of isolation!

Last year, in the ruthless reality of “out of control” dilemma,  all agricultural activities, cooking experiments, and being nostalgic are good panaceas for relaxations and boosting positive energy. 

Our French friend Charlotte passed away a few years ago. She was charming, passionate, romantic and fashionable Parisian woman. We miss her very much. Because of Charlotte, we’ve been celebrating the Bastille Day every year. Bill used to be a culinary expert, especially good at French cuisine. He has practiced many many recipes from Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking. Now I continue his tradition. Three trips to France made me fall in love with French culture and cooking. Because the climate of Southern California is very similar to that of Provence, our kitchen decorations are all French country style: pots and pans, vegetable baskets, and humorous cartoons are all hung on the wall.

Kitchen Goddess (My Little Poem)

In the light of the French Bastille Day,

Summertime, purple lavenders and golden sunflowers sway.

Chopped garlic and shredded onion, fluttering in virescent olive oil in play,

Sautéing chicken segments crispy while sipping a glass of Cabernet.

Green peppers, scarlet tomatoes, yellow zucchinis, violet eggplants, harvested in my vegetable estate,

Stewing into a delicious rainbow like ratatouille francais.

The sound of pots, pans, bowls, silverwares, creating a song of soiree,

The colors of oil, salt, pepper, spice, making a watercolor of Monet.

Bastille Day is the common name given in English-speaking countries to the national day of France, which is celebrated on 14 July each year. In French, it is formally called Fête nationale and commonly and legally le 14 juillet .  The French National Day is the anniversary of Storming of the Bastille on 14 July 1789, a turning point of the French Revolution,as well as the Fête de la Fédération which celebrated the unity of the French people on 14 July 1790. Celebrations are held throughout France. The oldest and largest regular military parade in Europe is held on 14 July on the Champs-Élysées in Paris in front of the President of the Republic, along with other French officials and foreign guests (quoted from Wikipedia)

(On my 50th birthday, Bill gave me this whole set of French La Crusette pots, I like them very much, especially for cooking French food.  I have to be serious about cooking!!!)

Of course, the summer dinners are always the highlight. In memory of Charlotte, we celebrate this French festival year after year. For me, a woman from Shanghai (to be called “Paris of the Orient”), I am very fond of the “French romantic life”. I was born and grew up in the charming French Concession. In my childhood, we moved from quaint “Happy Garden” on Hunan Road to exquisite Alley 31 on Urumqi Road; then from ivy vine covered French garden house on Lane 200 on Yueyang Road to the enchanting Lane 9 on Fenyang Road diagonally across from the campus of Shanghai Conservatory of Music. To me, French culture seems to be innate, because my father was very passionate about French food, he often took me to the “Red House” and “Swan Pavilion” (both were French restaurants) not far from our home) dining. Those French country soup, fried pork chops, potato salad, and chicken noodles etc. were memorable.  When I was studying for my Ph.D. at UCLA, I chose French as one of my compulsory courses. During our 3 trips to France, I used my broken French to communicate with local people.  I’m particularly interested in the vocabularies related to French food. During the epidemic last year, I started to regain my hobbies and have been using “Babble” to further study French.

Shanghai Red House Restaurant

The climate in California is really great, it’s cool in the morning and evening. Our summer “garden party” is always popular among our friends. Our golden retriever Gigi is also very hospitable, wagging her tail to wander among our guests.

Speaking of Gigi, our dog ​​is also a French name, from the famous musical “Gigi” (1958).

The story takes place in Paris at the beginning of 20th century. The French girl Gigi lives at home with her grandmother Mamita. Gig is naughty and lively but cynical. Under the guidance of her grandmother, she entered the society circle. She met the single man Gaston.  Gaston is very surprised that Gigi gradually changed from an innocent and casual girl to a graceful lady, and he fell in love with her.  This 1958 film won 9 Oscars.

The French people absolutely magnify their 3 meals, treated them as important events of the day in spite of fastidious preparations.  Our party guests and I used to  be watching Bill preparing “Duck a l’orange”,  it was a superb performance. Through the aromas of Grand Marnier, as spectators, our taste buds were stimulated while we were sipping the wine and sharing conversations.

During last year’s epidemic, all concerts had been cancelled, and many of our musician friends are experimenting new recipes, turning their kitchen into an “artist studio” and pouring all their creative inspirations into cooking.

Under the Grape Vine Covered Pergola

Our Bastille Day’s menu is always a touch of country French that is in accordance with the seasonal vegetables in our garden:

1. Coq au Vin: a popular French country dish, a perfect dish for our taste palate. There are many versions, I have tried many versions, my favorite is Robert Carrier’s Great Dishes of the World published in 1967.

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Bill was cooking Coq au Vin

My experience is that there must be no rush and sloppiness in French cooking.  Like embroidering, it must be as meticulous as possible. Carrier’s recipe is complicated,  including burning Hennessy etc., but it is absolutely necessary, so that all the all the detail will be lingering on our taste buds.

Ingredients for “Coq au Vin”: chicken pieces, butter, olive oil, bacons, pearl onions, mushrooms, flour, salt, pepper, garlic, thyme, bay leaves, Italian parsley, Hennessy, red wine and sugar.

2. Ratatouille: For us in Southern California, this summer dish is a Mother Nature-sending gift. I have to say that almost all the vegetables and herbs are in are from my vegetable garden. Everything is in season.  In addition, it is also an ideal vegetarian dish. We serve it in room temperature.

After trying different recipes many times, my favorite  recipe comes from The Silver Palate Good Times Cook Book written by Julee Rosso and Sheila Lukins, published in 1985.

Ingredients for Ratatouille: half cup of olive oil, 1 onion, 6 cloves of garlic, 1 large eggplant, 1 red bell pepper, 1 green pepper, 4 chili peppers, 2 yellow curved neck summer squashes, oregano, cumin, salt, pepper, 24 cherry tomatoes and coriander leaves.

  1. On medium heat, pour olive oil and sauté chopped onions for 10 minutes.

2) Then add the chopped garlic and stir-fry for 5 minutes, add the cut eggplant and stir-fry for 15 minutes.

3) Reduce to medium-low heat and add red bell pepper, green pepper, chili peppers, yellow curved neck summer squashes, oregano, cumin and stir-fry for 25 minutes.

4) Add the entire 24 cherry tomatoes to the pan and stir-fry for 10 minutes

5) Finally, decorate the dish with coriander leaves.

The above two popular country French dishes on French baguettes are great! Charlotte once told us if guests wiped his (her) dinner plate with baguettes, it would be a compliment to the host.

3. Lemon tart

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(We Have Hundreds of Lemons on Our Tree)

We just planted various new fruit which are still young and not bearing fruit yet. Right now the lemon tree is the only tree which is really fruitful. It is  perfect to make a lemon tart. This recipe, I googled from William Sonoma, is cool, elegant, moisturizing and refreshing.

Ingredients:

1 tart platter at room temperature

1 tablespoon cornstarch

2 tablespoons water

5 eggs

2 teaspoons finely grated lemon zest

2/3 cup fresh lemon juice

3/4 cup sugar

6 tablespoons (3/4 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into small pieces

Whipped cream

How to make a Lemon Tart

Based on this whole set of French meal, the 4th movement “Coq au Vin and Ratatouille (French Bastille Day) of my Episodes During the Plagued Summer (2020) is about that kind of French spirit: “Since I came from the French Concession in Shanghai and had 3 trips to France, French cuisine has left a deep imprint in my memory. In this movement, the keynote is the brisk “Sous le riel de Paris” waltz, which is interspersed with the French national anthem Marseille. The inspiration for this movement came from our late French friend Charlotte. Every year on this day, I will make the same recipe to commemorate the charming Charlotte.”

Joan Huang: Episodes During the Plagued Summer (2020), (4) Coq au Vin and Ratatouille (French Bastille Day)

Engaging in French cooking is an exquisite experience, every French meal is a festive activity itself, allowing people enjoy the art of gastronomy of eating and drinking.   Thus friendship and affection are strengthened through beautiful meals.  It is also fascinating to discover the food culture geographically and seasonally. I call French meal is a multi-movement symphony: 1) Hors d’oeuvres and cocktails; 2) Soup, salad and bread); 3) Main course (Meat, [or poultry,  or seafood] starches and vegetables); 4) Varieties of cheeses and grapes; 5) Dessert and coffee; 6) After-dinner liqueurs.

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(French cheese, more than 200 kinds, taken in Lyon, France)

After dinner, we sat in the garden. The persimmon-colored sunset disappeared in the west. The breeze was gently blowing.  The mixed fragrance of lavenders, basils, corianders, and rosemaries, mints, etc were staggering, filled the air, we were sipping Grand Marnier… We share this special day with friends, the French romantic spirit lives.

We have mountains and seas here. The climate of Southern California is Provence-Alps-Cote d’Azul. The romantic atmosphere of the French Mediterranean is permeated. The roses in the summer are still blossoming like crazy, the fireflies are still flickering sweet messages of teaser, the starry night sky is still blinking with “eyes” connected to our hearts, we are lying on our floating “boats” in the swimming pool, carefree, reminiscing good memories, contemplating with wild imaginations, yearning for the arrival of miracles… 

Ideas for Father’s Day (6/20/21)

Today, we are having a triple celebration: Juneteenth, Father’s Day and Summer Solstice.

I really miss my Daddy
I wasn’t ready to say goodbye
It will never be the same
Years from now, I know I’ll cry

I bet he sees us mourning
But would want us to smile
And tell us our time apart
Is only a little while

I’ll never quite understand
Why your time here was so small
But you said you’ll always be there
To catch me when I fall

I miss you so much Daddy
But I hope and pray
That when it’s my time you’ll come for me
I’ll see you again someday

I guess it was meant to be
That your work here on Earth was done
Now your life in paradise
Has only just begun

Tears that I weep and prayers
Will hopefully travel very far
To reach my loving daddy
Sitting among the stars

(anonymous poem)

This year’s Father’s Day begins with a good news. Next week my niece Becki (my father’s granddaughter) will get married in Eastbourne, UK. Because of Becki, my father decided to immigrate to England with my mother 21 years ago to spend time with Becki as much as possible. Now Becki will be the bride, but it’s a pity that my father wouldn’t be able to witness this happy moment…

The following video has fragments of Becki’s childhood in southern England:

Since June 15th, California has been fully opened. Since March, we has been hosting a garden party every weekend, and we are very busy with gathering with old and new friends who have been fully vaccinated. Father’s Day in early summer is the best time of the year to enjoy the cool night parties. We are toasting to all fathers: grandfathers, father-in-laws, uncles, brothers, etc.. Fun picnics, drinking with good buddies, barbecuing and sport events tickets are perfect gifs to celebrate fathers’ “birthday”.

This year we are not alone to celebrate the festival like last year. My stepson Patrick is coming Camel, northern California to celebrate “Father’s Day” with his dad. Besides, this year’s summer solstice coincides with Father’s Day on June 20th. I must make a special Father’s Day dinner to serve these two men and to enjoy the beautiful summer evening.

“Father’s Day” is also a very day for making me miss my father. He has left us for more than 4 years. He was the loving father and my best friend. The following is a small movie I dedicated to my dad on Father’s Day 5 years ago, when he was with us. I heard from my mother, my father kept watching this video over and over again:

Here is a poem I wrote quickly that I recited at my father’s funeral 4 years ago.

On my father’s path to heaven,

A rainbow appears in the sky,

It enriches that lonely journey,

Guiding my father to the paradise of bliss.

We are lighting candles,

Starting playing my father’s favorite music,

By the candlelight and music as background,

We are dedicating our eternal love to our father.

Despite your physical body will be farewelling to us,

But your soul will be immortal.

Father, you are now upgraded to a paradise trumpeter,

To play the sound of eternity for us,

Your sound of trumpet is a bridge of the rainbow,

Ties the world and heaven together,

To convey love between the two worlds. “

The following video is the eulogy read by my niece Becki at my father’s memorial service.

(My niece Becki talked about my father during the funeral)

To commemorate my father, I composed Yellow Crane Tower:

Here is the program note of Yellow Crane Tower:

I composed Yellow Crane Tower (for Trumpet and and Percussion Quartet) as a piece to be in memory of my father who passed away 2 years ago.  My father was a professional trumpet player in China.  He was born in Wuhan – the famous Chinese Tam-tam manufacture location and the major intersection of Yangtze River.  The Yellow Crane Tower, a sacred site of Taoism and a famous tourist attraction, has existed as far as 223 AD.  There are 2 movements in my piece: 1) Misty Yangtze River and 2) Farewell, the Yellow Crane.  The images of my piece are based on 2 ancient Tang Dynasty poems by Cui Hao (704-754) and Li Bai (712-770).

Here are the translations of the poems:

  1. Yellow Crane Tower (By Cui Hao)

Long ago one’s gone riding the yellow crane, all that remained is the Yellow Crane Tower.

Once the yellow crane left it will never return, for one thousand years the clouds wandered carelessly.

The clear river reflects each Hanyang tree, fragrant grasses lushly grow on Parrot Island.

At sunset, which direction leads to my hometown? One could not help feeling melancholy along the misty river.

2. Seeing off Weng Haoran for Guangling at Yellow Cane Tower  (By Li Bai)

My old friends said goodbye to the west, here at Yellow Crane Tower,

In the third month’s cloud of willow blossoms, he’s going down to Yangzhou.

The lonely sail is a distant shadow, on the edge of a blue emptiness,

All I see is the Yangtze River flow to the far horizon.

In my piece, the solo trumpet represents the “Yellow Crane” as an immortal who symbolizes my father’s soul while the percussion depicting the images derived from the 2 poems.  I also adopted several regional folk tunes from Wuhan.

Joan Huang: Yellow Crane Tower (1)

My father was born in 1930 on a big ship named “Fengyang” bound for Shanghai, so his nickname was “Fengming” (in Chinese means “Crying at Fengyang”). He came from a very happy Christian family. Due to the political reasons that religious freedom in China was out of the question. He had been our best friends until his death. He was low-key throughout his life. He was never the kind of “tiger dad” who put pressures on his kids, he was the “king” in the “Children’s Kingdom”. Career wise he was not as successful as my mother, but his charms were radiant. My father had had so many friends from different generations throughout his life, and we were lucky to have such a father who was a lot fun.

(My father was during his youth)

We are a music family. All five of us graduated from the same music institute, i.e. Shanghai Conservatory of Music. My father was was a trumpet major. After the graduation from the conservatory in 1956, he was on the faculty of the instrumental department, and then, first worked in the Shanghai Symphony Orchestra for 2 years, and then worked as a trumpet player in the Shanghai Ballet Orchestra for many many years. I remember that since the sad news of my father’s passing 4 years ago, the condolences from relatives and friends from all over the world were full of affections for my father. When we were group communicating on “WeChat” with our cousins, all they said was that their uncle was deeply missed. My father was very gracious to his nieces and nephews.

My father, me, my mother and my brother

We love our father, he was not only good at music, he was also an excellent amateur soccer player. I love watching “World Cup” soccer games because I was completely influenced by my father. Ever since I was a child, he always asked me to accompany him to listen to the radio or watch live TV matches of “World Cup” whether it was in the middle of the night or during the prime time, he was fascinated with the excitements of the games.

(During my childhood)

I remember that in my childhood, My father always told us bedtime stories from Grandpa Brainstorming, A Hundred Thousand Whys, Pinocchio and many many more. During my 2 years living on Urumqi Road in Shanghai, my parents and I squeezed on the same bed. That was the most memorable time for me. My father was very patient and taught me to sing the song cycle Beautiful Havana section by section. There were 13 variations in it, until today I can still memorize the song. During the three years of famine in the early 1960a, the life was very tough, and food was strictly rationed, each household was only allocated 10 eggs per month, but whenever the guests came, my father generously and unselfishly took out all the eggs for everyone to make his specialty: noodles with green onion eggs. Such altruistic stories are numerous.

There is one thing that I will never forget. During the Cultural Revolution, As a teenager, I was assigned to Shanghai Star-Fire Farm to do very heavy manual labor. One day, my father came to visit me from the city to the farm. We dug canals all day long, carrying heavy loads of silts on a shoulder pole. My both shoulders were bruised, my face was covered with muds and sweat. Because of the heavy loads, I fell to the ground again and again couldn’t get up. My father looked my small body, couldn’t help but shed tears. Later, in a letter he sent to me, he wrote: “What system is this? Why is my daughter who had excellent grades and should have been admitted to college normally, but now she has to be reformed through labor?”

(I was with a group of teenagers to play music on the field at the Star-Fire Farm)

On this triple celebrations of Father’s Day, I would like to toast a glass of champagne to my father in heaven, my husband Bill and all my “father” friends, and pay tribute to your sense of responsibility, love and dedication. I wish you a great time with your children on this special day!

My parents attended my PhD graduation ceremony at UCLA in 1991)

This year’s Father’s Day happens together with summer solstice. I’m making an outdoor hearty barbecue tonight: an iron clamp, a large fork, and a pair of cotton gloves are ready. I picked a bunch of flowers in the garden and put in a vase.

Today’s recipe I’m using is from Sheila Lukins’ Celebrate!: lemon grilled shrimp cocktail, Andrew’s iceberg salad with Roquefort, grilled rib-eye steaks, smashed potatoes, grilled mixed vegetables from my own produce and luscious strawberry shortcake. The meal will be accompanied by a good bottle of California cabernet sauvignon. Wow, a paradise…

1. Lemon grilled shrimp cocktail: pre-marinating extra-large shrimp with tails on in a sauce (composed of olive oil, lemon juice, garlic mash, rosemary, coarse salt and pepper) for an hour, then skewered with metal skewers. Grill them 3 minutes per each side. The orange prawns are paired with yellow lemon wedges, which are both beautiful and delicious.

2. Andrew’s iceberg salad with Roquefort:

Twelve slices of bacons are fried on an iron pan until they are crispy and then broken into pieces, 1 and a half iceberg lettuce are broken into pieces, 1 red onion is finely chopped, and 6 slices of tomato.

Salad dressing: French Roquefort cheese, a little heavy whipping cream, mayonnaise, 2 shallots (chopped), 2 tablespoons of lemon juice, a little bit of worcestershire sauce and ground pepper.

3. Grilled rib-eye steaks

Sprinkle the whole steaks with kosher salt and coarse ground pepper on both sides, and grill them 3-4 minutes per side. During the process of grilling, brush them with a little bit olive oil.

4. Smashed potatoes

Ingredients: 2 tablespoons of olive oil, 1 shredded onion, 2 chopped garlic, 2 pounds of red potatoes, 6 tablespoons of butter, half a cup of heaving whipping cream, a pinch of salt and pepper, and 2 tablespoons of parsley.

Fry the onion and garlic in hot olive oil until golden brown, about 20 minutes. Boil the red potatoes in a pot filled with water for 25 to 30 minutes. Scoop and press into a puree, stir in with butter and whipping cream. Finally, mix all the ingredients together.

5. Grilled mixed vegetables from my own produce

Seasonly I have green beans, tomatoes, different kinds of squashes, various kinds of peppers. Grill them with olive oil, pinches of salt, pepper and garlic.

6. Luscious strawberry shortcake

1) For the biscuits: Kneading together 2 cups of flour, a small cup of sugar, a spoonful of baking soda, a whole stick of butter, and a cup of heaving whipping cream, then divide them into 6 round cakes and bake them in the oven for 20 minutes.

2) For the strawberries and topping: 2 pints of strawberry, sliced, mixed with 5 tablespoons of sugar; a cup of heaving whipping cream mixed with a teaspoon of vanilla extract.

Cut each biscuit horizontally, and then alternately stack with whipping cream, strawberries, and so on, building it into a tower shaped shortcake.

On this Father’s Day, my thoughts are converging into a gurgling spring which nourishes my soul and takes me back to my sweet and bitter childhood…

I’m ending my blog with a happy tune, jubilant summer is here! 🥂🍷🧉🍾🍺🍹🥃🌭🍔🍸🥃🍻