Our Thanksgiving During the Pandemic (by Joan Huang)

I really like this quartet. Different ethnicities sing a song together: America, the Beautiful! This is my ideal America!

Thirty four 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.  Four 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. This year is a very unusual year due to Covid-19, unprecedented. We have been quarantined at home for more than 8 months. Everyone on the earth has lost nearly a year of life.  Life is so precious. We can only move forward and never look back.  Just received an e-mail from a friend of ours: “I was hoping that with the end of the Chinese year of the RAT, the rats would jump off the sinking Trump ship and it would augur the coming of a new year, the year of the OX, a hard working and honest animal.”  I love my friends from all over the world!

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 29 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 this year the government does not allow family reunions. We can only celebrate the Thanksgiving alone, and the family reunion can only be achieved on Zoom.  We will celebrate the festival with our relatives and friends online, and be grateful for the free and democratic spirit of the American people!

Here is second movement of Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony, “Scene by the brook”, derived from this movement, I composed A Flowing Brook in Yunan.  Next Tuesday (12/1), the contemporary music specialist pianist Gloria Cheng will have her “My Windows”, she will be performing:

Lei Liang:from My Windows (2007):i. Tian (Heaven)

Ge Gan-ru: Ancient Music: i. Gong (1985)

Wang Lu and Anthony Cheung: Recombinant (2017)

Phyllis Chen: Hypnos (2011)

Chou Wen-chung: The Willows are New (1957)

Zhou Long: Pianobells (2013)

Carolyn Chen: Northern vs. Southern Lion (2020)

(world premiere, Piano Spheres commission)

Joan Huang: A Flowing Brook in Yunnan (2014)

Lei Liang:from My Windows (2007):iv. Pausing, Awaiting

the Wind to Rise…

Gloria Cheng’s Zoom “Symposium” with Her Composers

Although I have done various banquets, the Thanksgiving banquet is still a novice. In order to compensate for the lack of reunion with family members on Thanksgiving Day, I purchased beautiful Thanksgiving tablecloth, napkins and chinas for this atypical Thanksgiving Day.

Our table setting for Thanksgiving dinner.

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.  The price has been reasonable recently. 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 should be thankful for the scientists who invented new vaccines.   Finally we will see the light at the end of  the tunnel.  Pfizer, Moderna and Astra-Zeneca are triple victorious stories!  They are really bringing the gospel to people around the world. The stock market has been full of joy for three consecutive “Mondays”. I think people in the vaccine-related industries such as our musician friennds, aviation, cruise ships, hotels, catering and other industries, will be smiling now, and the huge amount weight on their shoulders for more than 8 months will be relieved in the near future.

Happy Thanksgiving to our families and friends around the world! Knowing that the Year of 2020 is an extremely difficult year, but we believe after the cold winter, the spring will be auspicious, promising and blooming again!

I’m ending my blog with the Thanksgiving messages from our President Elect and Future First Lady.

Our Halloween Before the Election (10/31/2020 by Joan Huang)

Three days before the unprecedentedly significant US Presidential Election make me particularly nervous and anxious, and I turn my apprehension into my computer to let my fingers “dance”.  Last Tuesday’s Los Angeles Dodger’s winning the World Series Championship after 32 years drought was like a shot in the arm; two weeks earlier, the Los Angeles Lakers won the NBA championship.  Mayor Garcetti made a statement: “There are a few things that comprise our DNA in L.A.: sand, sunshine, the Lakers and Dodger blue.” Garcetti further said: “To have two of them come through, to give us the joy we so badly need this year, is really exceptional.  The Dodgers are World Series champions once again!  This was a season unlike any other — and this is a team that will go down in history for its resilience, determination, talent, hard work, and resolve…And we were reminded of lessons to carry us through each day: hope springs eternal, and no challenge is insurmountable if we stand together as one team, one city, and one people.”

Indeed, the winnings of Lakers and Dodgers give the miserable 2020 a tremendous positive energies.  We need such victorious inspiration 💪💪💪!

Today is “Halloween”, and there are only 3 days left to the US presidential election that is paramountly important for the entire world.  Before the election, demons and monsters were dispatched, devils danced wildly, and rumors were flying to the sky. I am worried. I hope that the “black swan” incident four years ago will not happen. On the full moon tonight, I believe it’s an auspicious omen which will attack the “devil” with conscience.

Los Angeles “Halloween” self-driving tour)

Riding on the victories of the Los Angeles Lakers and the Dodgers championship, in Chinese superstitious principle, TWO LEADS THREE.  I hope that we will have 3 major celebrations this year, I feel like crushing the “Gang of Four” in 1976 back in China. I am reminding myself: “Be patient!  Be patient! !   And be patient! ! !

It’s hard to believe that for more than 7 months, 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… Three seasons (spring, summer and autumn) have passed, now it comes the last day of October – Halloween.  Every year in the past, I would prepare candies to the neighborhood kids who dressed in fanciful costumes.  This year the local government has ordered the advocacy not to engage in “tricks and treats”. There are only the last three days to the US presidential election that influences the entire world. Before the election, demons and monsters were dispatched, demons danced wildly, and rumors were flying in the sky. Facing the bright full moon tonight, I’m praying that the “black swan” incident four years ago will not happen: attacking the “devils” with “good ghosts”, let’s have a good “ghost festival”.

I’m observing Halloween this year in order to get distracted by the upcoming election.  I’m nervous by watching the news.  This year’s Halloween happens to be on Saturday, and it is a perfect full moon.

The Chinese language newspaper “World Journal” gives following description:

“The full moon on October First is also known as the Harvest moon, which is the full moon closest to the autumnal equinox; the full moon on the 31st peaks at 10:49 in the morning, and the full moon on Halloween this year will be more atmospheric.   According to ‘Farmers’ Almanac’, the last time I met a full moon on Halloween was in 2001, but only the Central and Pacific time zones are visible.  This year is the first time since 1944 that all time zones have seen the full Halloween moon. This means that people from all over the world can watch the Halloween blue moon together since World War II. The moon in this season is also called the ‘Hunter’s moon’, which is the first full moon after the harvest month. The name of the hunting month may be due to the preparation of hunting for winter in October.  Other names for the full moon in October include ‘Blood moon’, ‘Sanguine moon’, ‘travel moon’ and ‘Dying Grass moon’. “

The round and blue moon hangs really high up in the starry sky; today is also the daylight saving time ending day and I’m setting all clocks around the house back one hour.  There have been too many disasters in 2020: epidemic, wildfires, earthquakes and so on.   They are like ghosts and monsters, constantly attacking us.  On this Halloween, we need to cheer ourselves up, we need to fight ghosts with our determinations and believes.  I will make a perfect imaginative Halloween dinner to drive all phantoms and specters away.  

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 to make pumpkin lanterns.  This year’s popular theme is: “Orange on the outside, Hollow on the inside, and should be thrown out in November.”

Although it is the last day of October, our Southern California summer has just passed. It’s still pretty warm in the mid 80s. The day was short and I realized that autumn had arrived. Only a month ago, we experienced “dooms-day” like feeling – scared by the Bobcat wildfire near us. Now the sky is clear, the birds are chirping, roses are blooming in a riot of color.   October is another peak of flowering season.  Walking with Gigi in every morning is my happiest moment, talking to my mother in the UK, listening to the news, looking for inspirations to conceive 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. In addition to political campaign yard signs, the neighbors’ gardens also have entertaining Halloween decorations. Although the United States is currently in an extremely divided era, people still have the same fun, fear, and carnival about Halloween. They use Halloween to get rid of their depression, to inspire each other, and to celebrate this holiday in a safe and unique way!

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

Wearing a mask, washing hands for 20 seconds, and keeping 6 feet in social distance have become my instinctive habit. The indoor social masquerade will not be held this year, so drinking a “devil” cocktail and listening to music are still a lot of fun!

Wow, this is a beautiful tango!

Every Halloween, at Disney Concert Hall always had organ concert. Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D minor, BWV 565 was a piece always in the program. Unfortunately, now that we’re still during a “curfew”, we can only be nostalgia:

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. 

All my friends said that this year’s US election is the most important one to the whole world.  Three days before the election, I feel very anxious, temporarily “unplug” the news is a good idea.  The whole year of 2020 is not easy, hopefully we will have a happy Thanksgiving and Christmas! 🙏🙏🙏

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

Our Chinese Mid-Autumn Festival Banquet (By Joan Huang, 10/1/2020)

We’re in the middle of heat wave in Altadena, near 100 degree. It’s “Mid-Autumn” on calendar, but feels like “Mid-Summer”. 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. Recently my niece Huang Leilei (who grew up in the 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.  And a  couple weeks ago she introduced me the upcoming animation movie Over the Moon (to be 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 British fiancé 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.

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.

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 34 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.

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.

An Alley in Old Shanghai.

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:

“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.”

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. “

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.

Table Setting for Our Chinese Mid-Moon Festival

This year’s Mid-Autumn Festival is different from previous years. The Gengzi Year (in Chinese superstitious ideology) is a really a disaster year: the first wave of the epidemic has not yet subsided, and the second wave, coupled with the spread of mountain fires and frequent earthquakes, is indeed “the moon is dark, bright, waxes or wanes” as Su Shi described in his famous poem. 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.

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

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

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.

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

6) Maxim’s Icy Mooncakes: Although it’s autumn, our Southern California is plenty hot, feel like summer, and the Icy mooncakes are refreshing and soothing.

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 dilutes the residual bad smell of Bobcat Wildfire which has burned for more than 3 weeks. 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…Facing the moon, I got the inspiration: I’m going to start my next Autumn Composition: Bobcat Inferno……

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.

Hope the brightest and roundest moon of the year will bring us luck on November 3rd!🙏🙏🙏

Celebrate Rosh Hashanah During the Bobcat Wildfire (9/19/2020)

We lived in the picturesque Altadena on the edge of the Angeles Forest National Park. A few days ago, it presented a scene like the “end of the world”, shrouded in terrifying orange color. The sun saturated Altadena was so dark, the APOCALYPSE was real. Besieged in the blazing California bobcat wildfire for more than ten days, I was very panicky while watching news updates while packing. The outdoor was very smoggy, the readings on “AirNow.gov” for Altadena has been over 150: VERY UNHEALTHY!

Scenes from our backyard

To me, Monday (9/14) gave me the most hair-raising experience. I almost stayed up all night, watching the thrilling scenes of more than 500 firefighters rescuing the famous Mount Wilson Observatory established in 1904 on Twitter. Only 500 feet away from flames.

The Mount Wilson Observatory (MWO) is an astronomical observatory in Los Angeles County, California, United States. The MWO is located on Mount Wilson, a 1,740-metre (5,710-foot) peak in the San Gabriel Mountains near Pasadena, northeast of Los Angeles.

Due to the inversion layer that traps smog over Los Angeles, Mount Wilson has steadier air than any other location in North America, making it ideal for astronomy and in particular for interferometry.[1] The increasing light pollution due to the growth of greater Los Angeles has limited the ability of the observatory to engage in deep space astronomy, but it remains a productive center, with the CHARA Array continuing important stellar research.

The observatory has a telescope with a diameter of 2.5 meters (100 inches) and a telescope with a diameter of 1.5 meters (60 inches), and a solar telescope with a height of 150 feet. In 1969, to commemorate the American astronomer Haier, Mount Wilson Observatory and Mount Palomar Observatory merged to become Haier Observatory. The Mount Wilson Observatory is currently managed jointly by the University of California, Los Angeles and the University of Southern California. In addition, Georgia State University’s High Resolution Astronomy Center (CHARA) is also located here. It is also the signal transmission site of many television stations, radio stations and various network stations in Los Angeles.

(from Wikipedia)
I hike Gigi everyday, you can see downtown Los Angeles, in a good day, you can see Pacific Ocean.

Hats off to the brave firefighters, you are our heroes and role models! 💐💐💐👍👍👍

Our golden retriever dog Gigi has no sense of this apocalyptic scene. Every morning, as always, she was panting with excitement, “ready to go” waiting at the back door, can’t wait to listen to the sound of me holding the key, ready for our routine “morning exercises”. I heard from my neighbor the other day that the hardware store near our house was selling N-95 masks. I immediately bought 10 of them. Wearing an industrial mask, I took Gigi out walking. I met several dog-walking neighbors on the street, we exchanged information and comfort each other. The chayotes are running everywhere, Gigi was very excited and chasing them…

I remember someone said: “The reason why people live in California is because we have beautiful weather, beautiful mountains and beautiful valleys. Unfortunately, these are the factors that make it easy to catch fire. “Altedena’s winding streets, charming hills and lush vegetations attract people to choose living somewhat secluded bucolic area to avoid the hectic urban living.

Altadena is bucolic.

For 3 days, I had been trying to have a clear mind to think logically. I’m proud that I’ve finished packing 10 boxes, ready to evacuate at any time. Bill and my philosophy of life is: You can take money with you, life is above everything else. We have experienced many such emergencies, whether it is an earthquake or fire, I was growing in the Communist China, any personal properties was confiscated, a downright proletarian. We love California, no matter what, and we won’t leave California.

While Bill and Gigi were taking nap, I was nervously packing.

The wind is doing our favor, at least, we’re having sunshine came through, not like eerie environment days ago. However, we’re not out of woods yet, still on the warning list of evacuation. This week happens to be Jewish Rosh Hanahsha, and I’m inspired to write a food blog. I found that the best medicine for anxiety is “TO BE CREATIVE” to convert all the negativities into creative forces.

Bill is Jewish, and many of our friends are Jewish. They are super intelligent, I’m leaning so much from being friends with them. For Bill and me, cooking is our penchant, therefore our house is always full of friends. During this pandemic, we’ve been obeying the social distancing rule, but have not missed holiday celebrations since March. I love America because it’s multiracial country, we’re benefited to have more celebrations of native and all ethnic holidays. It’s international! Just following the calendar of all festivals, and take all kinds of opportunities to improve my cooking skills. Through festivals, l’ve learned various cultural heritages.

Bill was a little Jewish boy.

Bill inherited a set of hand-painted white rose and gild rims china which brings him a lot of childhood memories. I use this set of porcelain on all Jewish holidays in our home. The items bequeathed from the ancestors are the most precious gifts.

Rosh Hashanah, originated from Hebrew, meaning the beginning of the year. It is the New Year for people, animals and legal documents. Since the Hebrew calendar is the ecclesiastical year.calendar just like the Chinese lunar New Year, the days of Rosh Hashanah are different every year. Rosh Hashanah in 2020 is this Saturday: September 19th.

The photos was taken last year’s Hanukkah

On the occasion of Rosh Hashanah, the Jews will blow the Shofar. The ancient tone symbolizes that God has forgiven the Jews of their sins. People will throw stones or bread crumbs into running water to symbolize abandonment of sins. The Jews are reborn spiritually and welcome the new year.

I’ve finished the last movement of my summer composition Episodes during the Plagued Summer (for flute and piano), the 7th movement is about “Jewish New Year”:

Joan Huang: Episodes during the Plagued Summer (for flute and piano) No. 7 Rosh Hashanah

First page of 7th movement, celebrating “Rosh Hashanah”
Joan Huang: Episodes During the Plagued Summer

The following video introduces the food of Rosh Hashanah:

The custom of Rosh Hashanah is kind of similar as he custom of the Chinese New Year: it is somewhat symbolic. During Rosh Hashanah, people eat spiral challah, honey-dipped apples, fish heads and pomegranates, which symbolize sweetness and a smooth cycle of the year. Just like the Chinese New Year, the whole family gathers together to enjoy the New Year’s dinner. People will exchange New Year’s cards and New Year gifts to show good luck.

Apricot and Raspberry Tart

Misfortunes never come singly in the Gengzi Year (every 60 years in circle), that is the year of 2020. There is a Chinese superstitious saying: Gengzi Year is always eventful and disastrous.  Somehow that’s true: we are facing all sorts of unprecedented catastrophes politically, humanitarianly, psychologically from everywhere.  During the epidemic, the mountain fires near our home made it worse. I tried in my best to eliminate all negative factors. Good life should be cherished, festivities should be celebrated. Pomegranate is also one kind of fruit of “Rosh Hashanah” because pomegranate is full of seeds, eating pomegranate also symbolizes abundance. The pomegranate tree in the garden is full of fruits, and all the fruits show gem-like flesh. They remind me a popular children’s song Pomegranate Tree Blooming Red Flowers composed by my mother when I was a child in Shanghai.

All our bags are packed and placed at the back door, ready to evacuate. In any case, my brother’s family lives nearby, and many friends also offered to help. We’re very blessed that we have family nearby and very grateful to our friends who offered to help, which definitely give me a certain sense of “security”.

Suitcases ready to be moved at the back entrance.

The size of Bobcat Fire is huge, growing to more than 60,500 acres at this point. Under the circumstance of “unpredictable weather”, I’m trying not be pessimistic. Cooking is always the best way for me to adjust my mentality. This year our “Rosh Hashanah” menu is randomly and hurriedly chosen from https://www.chabad.org

  1. Round Raisin Challah with Sweet Crumb Topping

2. Fennel Citrus Salad

3. Miriam’s Melt-in-Your-Mouth Rosh Hashanah Brisket

4. Braised Rainbow Carrots with Tahini-Dill Sauce”Rainbow” carrots mixed with sesame sauce:

5. Sweet Brown Rice Kugel

I hope “Rosh Hashanah” will bring us “good luck”: drive away the Covid-19 virus, extinguish wildfires. Festivals and delicious food are always memorable…

Just returned from shopping at “Bristol Farm” and getting ready to cook the festival dinner. L’shanah Tovah! Happy New Year!

Just got the sad news that, on Rosh Hashanah, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg passed away.  She was a fierce fighter for equality.  Everything she did deeply touched me.  I loved the movie RGB, she had a lot of sense of humors.  On this Jewish holiday, we are mourning her passing, RIP, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.  Her fight for equality will go on…

Our Solitary Labor Day (September 7, 2020)

Since Saturday, the temperature has been over 100 degrees in our area, it’s toasting outside. I can’t take our Golden Retriever Gigi out for a walk, she’s so bored. Thanks airconditioning, I’m able to work. Today’s Labor Day, I’m writing something.

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.

(In between we had my husband Bill’s birthday “Zoom” celebration yesterday, 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 the summer is gradually closing, and the students’ summer vacation is about to end. Therefore, every family will hold an outdoor barbecue party, or take the children to the Shopping Mall to purchase school supplies, or gather the whole family to watch sports games. At this very moment, the U.S. Open Tennis Game is in play. We are still in the midst of the epidemic.  All live sports games with fake spectators are not as exciting as in the past years.  The hurricanes in the south are still threatening; the wildfires in northern California are still there;  Southern California where we live was also in the middle of heatwave.  The Gengzi Year (every 60 years in circle in Chinese) has really proved a troublesome year with endless disasters!

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.”

During the nearly half a year of the 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.

In spring, 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.”

Currently I am composing my Summer composition:  Episodes During the Plagued Summer, 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 6-month isolation.   So far I have completed 6 movements (a total of 7 movements). ), this piece is basically related to all festivals and cooking. 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. Just finished my 6th movement: Labor Day. I want to simply to create this work to describe my daily life during the epidemic.

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

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!

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

I will use 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”:

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.

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.

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.

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.

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…