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.


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!

Happy the Year of the Tiger 虎年快乐!

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.

This year is the Year of the Tiger, so we should talk about the tiger. Tiger is the most handsome animal in the Chinese zodiac, and the most powerful demeanor. When it roars, the mountains will collapse. There are many Chinese proverbs on Tiger, such as 虎背熊腰,in English means “A Tiger’s Back and A Bear’s Waist” There is another one: 龙腾虎步,it means “Dragon Rising in a Tiger’s pace”.

Many years ago, I composed piece for marimba solo “Dragons Rising and Tigers Leaping”:

Here is my marimba solo piece:

Joan Huang: Dragons Rising and Tigers Leaping

We had a lot of rain here the Christmas week, which is good for the drought in the Southern California. It is the icing on the cake for the mountain scenery around us, which is extraordinarily enchanting. Taking Gigi to hike to see the wonderland every day is full of positive energy! 💪💪💪

Gigi and I are hiking in the Eaton Canyon Park near our home.

In the early spring of February, the daylight becomes longer day by day, camellias and azaleas of various colors are blooming in the garden, and the hibernating plants are slowly beginning to sprout, and the footsteps of the Spring are getting closer and closer. The Omicron epidemic has also improved greatly. I hope the Year of the Tiger will bring us good news: the epidemic will end soon🙏🙏🙏!

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.

For the Chinese New Year this year, we still obediently follow the advice of the government to minimize gatherings, and only spend the Chinese New Year with a few friends who have been vaccinated for three times. The past 2 years of the epidemic have been too long, and finally the Year of the Tiger is ushered in. I hope that the Year of the Tiger will bring a lot of prosperity.

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 go

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 Tiger, they brought me a lot of positive energies!💪💪💪

金牛辭歲金虎到,五虎給你來拜年,犀虎祝你虎年旺,奶虎願你體健康,黃虎為你送事業,水虎給你保平安,犛虎伴你游天下。 虎年吉祥! 新春福虎送吉祥,金虎進家富滿堂,肥虎祝你壽延長,歲是春作首、虎是百獸王。 虎年到來,祝你虎虎生威、如虎添翼、虎威笙風!

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: 

Our 2021’s Season’s Greetings

In the West, the last month of each year is a carnival month surrounded by festivals: in addition to the well-known Christmas, there are also festivals such as Hanukkah, Winter Solstice, Kwanzaa, and New Year’s Eve.

Our local Altadena Christmas Tree Lane is famous and a tourist attraction for its 101-year-old history.

It’s been almost 2 years of pandemic, now the omicron is aggressively spreading. We have to be super cautious again and have cancelled all big gatherings.

Our local Government has strongly urged staying home not traveling during this holiday season because of our hospital facility limitations. However, the festive atmosphere of in our neighborhood is still there. I walk with Gigi every morning, I’m so inspired by the feestive scenes: Christmas trees by the windows, colorful lights decorated the house, wreaths at the gates, at our front door, neighbors left their Holliday goodies. At our home, greeting cards flying like snow flakes while I’m baking Christmas cookies. I won’t let the disaster deter my spirit — to keep myself busy. The Mexican poet Octavio Paz (Nobel Prize winner in 1990) wrote: “Our festivals are explosive. Nothing is more interesting than Mexican festivals. … Through festivals, society separates itself from the past. It is liberated from the established norms. It mocks its own divine principles and laws: it denies its own self.”

Quoted from Octavio Paz: “Labyrinth of Solitude”

The Year of 2021 is our social activitie year!  After the disastrous 2020, thankful to the invention of Covid vaccines, we began to invite families and friends again, not just relying on Zoom.    We saw our fully vaccinated family members and friends in person for the first time after the whole year.  

January: It was a dismal month with the Covid cases hit the peak and the ICU wards were in a full capacity in LA County, we were just hunkering down at home.  To bring an optimistic spirit , we rebuilt our orchard on the hill, Poncho and Cristiano were rays of sunshine.  They planted 12 fruit trees, and built a beautiful wall by using our leftover Mexican tires.  I succeeded to register for our first shots of Pfizer vaccines on 1/27.  Not much side effects for both of us.  

Our New Orchard

March: The garden luncheons began!  We bought an outdoor heater and held a weekly garden party with our fully vaccinated friends.   Finally our social life had become a little normal.  Of course,  we were keeping super cautious only in the garden.  

February: We had a Chinese New Year with An Yao and her sister who happened to have Covid test done In Chinese Consulate before going back to China.  An and I went Shanghai Conservatory together when we were in China.  She is an outstanding Guzheng (Chinese version of zither).  It’s so nice that we saw each other after 30 something years.  I made an authentic Shanghaiese banquet such as “Yan-du-xian” (a Shanghai delicacy made from a duo of cured pork and fresh pork with fresh winter bamboo shoots) and the steamed duck with “Eight Treasures” (a famous Shanghai cuisine).  We also had our 2nd shots of Pfizer.  

Our Weekly Luncheon.

April: More garden luncheons with friends to share ideas.  Bill went ER once and he refused to go to the Rehab afterwards, I began to hire Angel 3 times a week.  He is a real Angel who has tremendous positivities.  

Weekly Luncheon with Our Friends.

May: Planting vegetables, cooking with my own produce, walking Gigi kept me so occupied.  It’s not too bad we fully enjoyed our home.  Bill also got used to the pastoral life at home.  We “zoomed” a lot.  Bill calls them “computer parties”.  We kept in touch with families and friends from all over the world.   

Continued Garden Luncheons

June: Solitary life is the best time to be creative.  I kept writing blogs on “WeChat” (in Chinese) and “Wordpress” (in English).  I shared my cooking experiences and other life observations with my readers all over the world.  I’m absolutely galvanized by their comments and supports.  My old Shanghai Conservatory friends, Anthropologist Professor Li Wei and his talented wife An Yao (We saw each other in February) came,  that was so lovely to reunited after a long period of 30 something year.  To see our local Shanghai Conservatory friends was lovely after a long period of isolation.  My   mostly lovely niece Becky got married to her soulmate fiancee on 6/26, but, due to multiple complications, I wasn’t able to attend the wedding.  Lindsey (Bill’s grand daughter)’s visit inspired us to visit LACMA after 1 year and half of absence.  

July: It’s purely our “staycation” accompanied by a soothing pool, relaxing jacuzzi and an abundant organic vegetable garden. I cooked a lot for our friends.  During this pandemic, the positive side what I got is that I’ve been polishing my cooking skill.  On July 4th we had a traditional barbecue  with Leslie, David, Kazi and John.  On Bastille Day, I made Coq au Vin and ratatouille to remember our dear late French friend Charlotte.  We celebrated the French Holiday with June,  Shed, Doris and Tuck.  

3 Years Ago, July 4th Party at Our Home.
Three Year’s Ago, Bastille Day at Our Home.

August: I did a lot of gardening under the scorching sun, then jumped into the pool. Doing this routine was a really paradisal feeling. The highlight of the month was to celebrate the Chinese Valentines Day – Qixi Festival: looking at the starry milky way from our garden. 

September: For Bill’s birthday celebration, we celebrated it with Bill’s niece Linda and nephew-in-law Ken plus 2 zoom parties, I also took him to the Los Angeles Farmer’s Market for nostalgic purpose, he tasted a lot of food.  We had to cancel the Ojai Festival last minute due to Bill’s illness.

October: Bill’s Encounters III was beautifully performed by Jon Lewis and Wade Culbreath during the “Hear Now Festival”.  We had a Chinese friends reunion party after 19 months of separation. main occasions. 

William Kraft: Encounters III
Our New Young Neighbor from Shanghai.

November: A busy family visiting month.  Firstly we met Heather (Bill’s granddaughter)’s family, welcoming the littlest Geneva; secondly my niece Becky and her newly wedded husband Chris came for honeymoon from UK; Lastly Jennifer (Bill’s daughter)’s family came for Thanksgiving.  A lot of cooking tasks for me: vegetarian, barbecuing, Chinese, turkey feast etc., kind of challenging.  We celebrated our 30th anniversary quietly after everyone left.  

My Niece Becky Celebrated Her 30th Birthday with Us

December: We began our subscriptions to Disney Hall and Ahmanson Theater series for the season of 2021-2022.  The first week of this month, we went to hear 2 premiers by LA Phil and “A Christmas Carol” in Ahmanson Theater.  We celebrate every holiday of all cultures, that’s what America is about. I love this country because it gives me the freedom of speech and I love the diversity. California is a perfect place for us! 

The year of 2021 is about to end, Covid is still active, we’re fighting Omicron, but we see the light of at the end of the tunnel — the medicines are coming.  At this time, we cherish you for your love and friendship. We wish this holiday season will sparkle and shine. We hope pleasures will accompany you, and your family.  Peace on earth! 

Wreathed in smiles and boxed in happiness, 

Joan, Bill & Gigi

December, 2021 

A Very Busy November…Happy Thanksgiving! (11/25/2021 by Joan Huang)

Since the beginning of November, our home has been entertaining our house guests with family members. I’ve been busy with cooking and enteerWe’re indeed very hospitable.

Also, when the US border opened on 11/8, my newly wedded niece and her husband booked plane tickets traveled from UK. As the aunt and the uncle, we were honored to be able to provide the honeymoon “resort” for the newlyweds and give my niece a milestone 30th birthday party in our garden.

Happy 30th Birthday to Becky!

​Recently, there were many upsetting news in terms of violences, which is worrisome. On the occasion of Thanksgiving holidays, we’re roasting the turkey to thank the Indians on this land, and hope that the beacon of democracy in America will always give us hope. I really like the following quartet. Different ethnicities sing a song together: America, the Beautiful! This is my ideal America!

Thirty five years ago, I flew over the Pacific Ocean from Shanghai to Los Angeles, the colorful and multi-ethnic second largest city in the United States.  When I arrived the campus of UCLA, for the first few days, I was culturally shocked with the demography of student body since I came from a homogeneous country.  Little by little, students of various skin colors could gather in a classroom to discuss same subjects; could eat in a cafeteria with joy and laughter.  In our “Analysis of Western Operas in the Twentieth Century” class, my professor asked us to take out our own musical instruments and create multiple collective projects “From the Micro World to the Macro World”.  It was an eye-opener and a marvelous education.  Just within weeks, I immediately eliminated racial barriers and made friends with my white brothers, black sisters, and classmates from all other ethnicities.  Five years ago, I composed a nonet entitled Coalescence to express my personal experience towards he United States as a polyglot  country: “The inspiration of the piece came from my ‘Word a Day’ on my desk calendar.  It says: “…come together and form one mass or whole…”  US is a polyglot country, I’ve benefited from other cultural heritages through my own various experiences in this ‘Melting Pot’”.

The five movements in “Fusion” are: 1. Peking Opera (Asian) ; 2. Jungle Song (African); 3. Greensleeves (European); 4. Cockroach Blue (Latino); 5. Dancing with Sheep (Australian).

Like several of my other compositions, Coalescence is also my attempt by mixing Chinese traditional instruments and percussion instruments from all over the world together.  There are 5 movements, I’ve adopted 5 folk songs from 5 different continents: Asia, Africa, Europe, North America and Australia.  

Here is my Coalescence No. 4  “Cockroach Blue”

(Conductor: Frank Epstein, Clarinet: Alexis Lanz, Erhu: Tao He; Guzheng: Hui Weng and New England Conservatory Percussion Ensemble)

Joan Huang: Coelescence No.4 “Cockroach Blue”

Thanksgiving is celebrated on the fourth Thursday of November every year. Last year was so miserable. The unprecedented the epidemic has reduced the reunion of the relatives of more than 20 people to just us two and Gigi, and we roasted a big turkey with only two people. It is really unimaginable. This year Bill’s the children will be coming…

The following famous oil painting on Thanksgiving comes from the legendary American painter Norman Rockwell entitled “Freedom from Want”: 

“The painting was created in November 1942 and published in the March 6, 1943 issue of The Saturday Evening Post. All of the people in the picture were friends and family of Rockwell in Arlington, Vermont, who were photographed individually and painted into the scene. The work depicts a group of people gathered around a dinner table for a holiday meal. Having been partially created on Thanksgiving Day to depict the celebration, it has become an iconic representation for Americans of the Thanksgiving holiday and family holiday gatherings in general. The Post published Freedom from Want with a corresponding essay by Carlos Bulosan as part of the Four Freedoms series. Despite many who endured sociopolitical hardships abroad, Bulosan’s essay spoke on behalf of those enduring the socioeconomic hardships domestically, and it thrust him into prominence.

The painting has had a wide array of adaptations, parodies, and other uses, such as for the cover for the 1946 book Norman Rockwell, Illustrator. Although the image was popular at the time in the United States and remains so, it caused resentment in Europe where the masses were enduring wartime hardship. Artistically, the work is highly regarded as an example of mastery of the challenges of white-on-white painting and as one of Rockwell’s most famous works.” (From Wikipedia)

 I remember I went his museum in Tanglewood when I was a composer fellow in 1993. It was such a memorable visit.  His style is realistic, humorous and vivid.  I love the way he portrayed the daily life of American people in colorful ways.  His paintings remind me of stage dramas and the figures on the painting come to live.

Thanksgiving is the biggest holiday in the United States and is equivalent to the Chinese New Year. As a multi-ethnic country, all immigrants from other continents are mostly thankful to the native Indians, who are the native settlers of America.

In 1621, a passenger ship “Mayflower” full of Puritans arrived at the colony of Plymouth, Massachusetts. It was winter, and the new immigrants who came to the New World were hungry and cold, and fell sick and died. Gradually, with the help of the local indigenous Indians, the new immigrants learned to hunt, grow corn and pumpkins, and then have a good harvest. During the harvest celebrations, the new immigrants from Europe invited the native American Indians to thank God for the gift.

Therefore, since 1941, the United States has set Thanksgiving Day on the fourth Thursday of November each year, with a day off, and Friday “Black Friday” usually marks the beginning of the Christmas gift shopping.

The weather in Altadena has been particularly good these days, the sun shines on the body as warm as spring. Look the sky, it is sapphire blue and the herringbone-shaped geese flying south. Taking Gigi hiking in the nearby Eaton Canyon National Park, I feel especially fantastic. It is the season with orange persimmons and oranges. Although the Covid-19 has reached its peak again, we have become accustomed to a quiet and isolated life at home.  For the past 30 years of our marriage, we have almost never missed the Thanksgiving feast of the family reunion of 30 people at the house of Bill’s niece Linda, then recent years at the house of Bill’s grand niece Kim.  Year after year, they were always memorable “turkey feasts” and we never forget. However last year the government did not allow family reunions. We could only celebrate the Thanksgiving alone, and only zooming with relatives and friends online.

Hiking with Gigi
Hiking with Gigi in our “Backyard” (Eaton Canyon National Park)

Although I have done countless kinds of American and Chinese banquets, the Thanksgiving banquet is still a novice. Last year it was the first time to cook a Thanksgiving meal during the epidemic. This year, I will continue to work hard to serve our family. The dining table has been set up:

I will cook a full set of “Thanksgiving Dinner” seriously. The advantage is that the leftover turkey can be used for many purposes.

Tonight’s “Turkey Feast” recipe will be listed as follow:

1) Lobster and Corn Chowder and Dinner Rolls

Lobster is among Bill’s favorite food.  I will make this first mouthwatering course as the prelude to the scrumptious Turkey entry.  Every sip and bite was very enjoyable, dipping dinner rolls to the rich chowder while smelling the aroma rising from the oven. 

2) Maple-Ginger Roast Turkey

In the traditional Thanksgiving banquet, turkey is the main dish on the table, usually stuffed with a “stuffed belly” (a food mixed with giblets, bread cubes, various vegetables and seasonings). Then bake in the oven for several hours. Since there are only two of us, I bought the smallest turkey  possible (but it still weights 16 pounds). I will roast the turkey according to the recipe from Sheila Lukins’ cooking book Celebrate!

3) Referring to this short video, I’ll make a few more dishes:

4) Pumpkin Pie

Pumpkin pie is essential for Thanksgiving. The local Indians taught the new immigrants to grow corn and pumpkins in early days.  During the harvest season, the new immigrants used their harvested pumpkins to make pies to thank the native Indians.

During Thanksgiving, which is different from previous years, we would like to be particularly grateful for the heroic dedications of the medical workers who are saving lives at the forefront of the epidemic.  Also, we’re thankful to the people who risk their lives in important positions such as supermarkets, pharmacies etc.  

We also want to be especially grateful for the new vaccine invented by scientists. At the end of the tunnel, we finally saw the light at the end of  the tunnel.  Pfizer, Moderna, J & J, etc. have been keeping reporting good news, bringing the hope to people around the world. At the same time, also the Covid medicines are also in sight. Both Bill and I have had boosters a month ago, and we hope that we have a certain degree of immunity.

Happy Thanksgiving to our families and friends around the world! Knowing that the nearly past 2 years are extremely difficult, but we believe after the cold winter, the spring will be auspicious, promising and blooming again!

I’m ending my blog with the Thanksgiving message from President Biden and the First Lady:

Halloween in LA! (By Joan Huang, 10/31/21)

It’s autumn again, it’s cloudy right now in Los Angeles right now. The colorful maple leaf photos seen from the circle of friends are enviable. I love autumn, esptecially like the song Autumn Leaves sung by Frank Sinatra.

Public places in Los Angeles opened one after another: we also started to go to the Disney Concert Hall for the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra concert. A week ago, Bill and I went the Disney Concert Hall for the first time for over a year and we saw so many young people sitting around us. I feel that going to concerts is the fashion of the 21st century, I think that the world-renowned 40-year-old music director Gustavo Dudamel conductor and the famous Modernistic architecture attracts the younger generation. I must say: “I am so fortunate to live in a deep blue and. trendsetting city!”

Disney is a buzzword in Los Angeles which is a polyglot city with holiday themes almost every day. Now there are many Disneyland around the world, However, in history, the first Disneyland opened in LA in 1955. Over the 3 decades of my marriage to Bill, we have accompanied our children to that historic fantasyland year after year. The theme of Halloween is naturally extremely popular among children.

It’s hard to believe that for a year and half, Bill, Gigi and I have been hunkered down at home.  During this quiet period, a peaceful life allows me to study and write: composing and writing blogs… Seven seasons (2 springs, 2 summers, 2 autumns and 1 winter) have passed, now it comes the last day of October – Halloween.  Every year in the past (except for last year, for “tricks and treats”, I would prepare candies to the neighborhood kids who dressed in fanciful costumes. 

Halloween falls in autumn, and it is a festival to be in honor of autumn. There were piles of fat pumpkins with round pedicles and bright golden yellows all over the places near our home.  The supermarket also sells colorful and unorthodox shaped heirloom pumpkins, which are really natural art treasures. Movie figures, grotesque masks and weird costumes in stores attract children, and, of course, piles of colorful candies everywhere.  

One of the most indispensable elements of Halloween is to carve pumpkin lanterns, and then put candles on them to make pumpkin lanterns.

Although it is the last day of October, our Southern California summer has just passed. The day was short, and I realized that autumn had arrived. The sky is clear and there are no clouds, the birds are beautiful in the morning, the colorful roses are competing again, and the flowering season in October is another peak. Taking Gigi out in the early morning is my happiest time, talking to my mother in the UK, listening to the news, looking for inspiration to new works, and viewing the front garden of the neighborhood. Gigi is a very friendly dog, through her, I have made a lot of my friendly neighbors. The variety of Halloween decorations is dazzling. Despite that the United States is currently in an era of extreme polarization, people still have the same fun, fear, and carnival about Halloween. We use Halloween to release our depression, to inspire our inspiration, and to celebrate this holiday in a safe and unique way!

Halloween in Altadena

This is our neighbor’s enthusiasm for “Halloween”, they created a kaleidoscopic landscape!

Every Halloween, at Disney Concert Hall always had organ concert (except for last year). For this Halloween, the famous silent film organist Clark Wilson will perform a haunting score for John S. Robertson’s 1920 Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, starring John Barrymore. Film critic Leonard Maltin described Clark Wilson as a “master of silent film and showman of the first order” for his organ accompaniments of silent films.

Wearing a mask, washing my hands for 20 seconds, and keeping 6 feet socially have become my instinctive habit. Drink a “devil” cocktail and dance to the music.

Wow! These are beautiful Tangos!

I’ve decorated the dinner table for us two.

Halloween gives people wild and crazy imagination, I searched the dazzling information on the Internet, I decided that the menu for tonight:

1) Hot Dog Buns with “Finger Sausages”:

I found this photo in CNN, it caught my eyes immediately, Bill loves hot dogs.  It’s natural and needs some “carving work”.

2) Jicama Salad: Jicama is very popular vegetable in Southern California. It is crispy and crunchy and great to mix it with tri-colored sweet peppers, coriander, cucumber, orange, and lemon juice!

3) Red-hot Short Ribs of Beef

Cut the short ribs and add various condiments: onion, garlic, mustard, olive oil, lemon juice, orange paprika, and chili sauce. Bake them in the oven for 2 and 1/2 hours. The fragrance fills the kitchen and is mouth-watering.

4) Sunny Sweet Potato Mash

The orange sweet potato is the color of “Halloween”.  Simply add butter, lemon juice, brown sugar and ginger powder and bake it in the oven for 45 minutes.  After baking, crush it. very delicious!

5) Sauteed Vegetable Combo

At present, my vegetable garden has zoocchini and green peppers, I stir-fried with olive oil and garlic.  They are delicious!

6) Orange Sorbet:

I’m lazy, just bought the “Halloween” colored orange sorbet from the supermarket and the ready made “Halloween Fudges and Brownies”.  They are golden and brown colored. 

I am finishing my blog with Grieg’s Peer Gynt Suite No. 1, “In the Hall of the Mountain King”.

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.