Spontaneous Thoughts of Qixi Festival

Today is Chinese traditional Qixi Festival, I’ve made a very traditional dinner, I have something to write.

Chinese Qixi Festival dinner

 “With pairs of birds singing on the tree,

So green rivers and mounts look great,

With pairs of birds singing on the tree,

Picking a flower off conveniently,

I put it in my dear’s chignon affectionately,

From now on being of enslaving-free,

My wife and I are on the way home free,

You may plough and I will make some textile,

I shoulder water you do some watering while,

Being so humble, our house can keep out wind,

A loving couple regards poverty as honey to drink,

Couple of us is just like that of mandarin ducks,

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

This well-known love tune Birds on the Trees Are Pairs is selected from Huangmei Opera (a Chinese regional opera) Heavenly Marriage.  

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

Huangmei Opera (a Chinese regional opera) Heavenly Marriage.  

The seventh day of the seventh month of the lunar calendar in 2020 is August 25th.  This year is a Gengzi Year  (every 60 years in circle).  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.  At present, the relation between US and is falling apart like a fight between husband and wife; they are fire and water, incompatible.

On this traditional Chinese Valentine’s Day,  the epidemic continues to spread in California, Northern California is surrounded by wildfires, and misfortunes never come singly!

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

Qixi Festival

“维天有汉,监亦有光。

跂彼织女,终日七襄。

虽则七襄,不成报章。

睆比牵牛,不以服箱。”

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

The Story of the Cowherd and the Weaver Girl

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

Qixi Festival

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

The Cowherd and the Weaver Girl

I’m working on a duet for flute and piano, entitled Episodes During the Plagued Summer, here’s the 5th Episodes, named “The Cowherd and the Weaver Girl”:

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

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

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

“迢迢牽牛星, Far, far away, the Cowherd,

皎皎河漢女。 Fair, fair, the Weaving Maid,

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

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

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

泣涕零如雨。 And her tears fall like rain.

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

相去復幾許? They are not far apart!

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

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

 (Translated by Yang Xianyi, Dai Naidie)

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

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

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

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

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

(Translated by Betty Tseng)

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

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

Cowherd and Weaver Girl

“The word of Love is divided into two, 

The Heaven breaks two people,

In the past,

There was a heartbroken couple.

See through, suffering from love,

Dance just for the breeze,

Once Qixi, counting on the cold winter.

The river is divided into two,

It separates two lovers,

Don’t hear or ask,

Only blame the Heaven.

The birds attract each other,

Rebuild the human relationship,

All the way with same sound and shadow,

The Cowherd and the Weaver Girl meet the Magpie Bridge,

Even if the wind and rain cannot stop their love.

Despite it is difficult for a thousand miles meeting,

For the one you love, you follow forever.”

Happy Qixi Festival!

Since I came to the United States 34 years ago, despite that  I have melted into the multicultural environment I still cherish customs from my ancestors. All Chinese traditional festivals are always celebrated at our home.  Tonight, the bright moon  was shining and the stars were twinkling.  I picked some fresh vegetables from my organic garden and made some romantic home-cooked dishes to enjoy myself:

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

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

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

Qixi Festival was the birthday of Li Yu (李煜, 937-978), the emperor of the Southern Tang Dynasty in 978 AD.  On the day of Qixi, after drinking a few cups of wine, he wrote the famous poem entitled “Yu Meiren (虞美人, Lady Yu, the Royal Beauty/Concubine): Spring Flowers and Autumn Moon”:

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

How much of my past I comprehend?

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

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

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

Though changed are the faces fair.

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

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

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

At present, the United States is the country with the worst epidemic situation in the world. Due to the incompetence of government leadership, the inadequate public health system, too many anti-science and anti-education people who have  no  self-disciplines.  We have been isolated at home for nearly half a year.  This year’s Presidential Election Day has become a day of hope.  My friends and I are eager to vote on November 3.  We are hungry!!!

Shanghai writer Shen Qiaosheng wrote in his most recent blog entitled “2020 Has Only Gone Halfway, And We Have Experienced the Things of 2 Lifetimes” (8/5/2020):

“In 2020, how will we survive these crises? Then in 2021, 2022… and beyond? Can all human beings survive on this planet unscathed? Do we still have this qualification? If the answer is Yes, in what form will this planet survive? What kind of new economic and political order will mankind establish? During the ruthless collisions, how will civilization and faith be tempered? How will the leaders in major countries lead their own countries to escape from dangers and make peace? Can they steer the big ship to avoid the traps of war?  Can tens of thousands of nuclear bombs not be thrown at each other, and eventually be destroyed consciously?  In a word, what kind of tomorrow will mankind have?  Rationality tells us that we can only cope with the world positively and logically. This is true for every country, as well as every individual person.”

Shen Qiaosheng is right!  We have survived the spring and  the summer, and the autumn is the Presidential Election. I hope the black swan theory will not be happening again.  I wish that when Christmas comes in the winter, we will all raise our gassed to celebrate.

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

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

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

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

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

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

My Favorite Salad is Salad Nicoise

Kitchen Goddess (My Little Poem)

In the light of the French Bastille Day,

Summertime, purple lavenders and golden sunflowers sway.

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

Sautéing chicken segments crispy while sipping a glass of Cabernet.

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

Stewing into a delicious rainbow like ratatouille francais.

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

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

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

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

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

Shanghai Red House Restaurant

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

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

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

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

Under the Grape Vine Covered Pergola

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

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

Bill was cooking Coq au Vin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Finally, decorate the dish with coriander leaves.

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

3. Lemon tart

(We Have Hundreds of Lemons on Our Tree)

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

Ingredients:

1 tart platter at room temperature

1 tablespoon cornstarch

2 tablespoons water

5 eggs

2 teaspoons finely grated lemon zest

2/3 cup fresh lemon juice

3/4 cup sugar

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

Whipped cream

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

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

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

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

BBQ in the Garden While Watching Fireworks on July 4th (7/4/2021)

This year we are celebrating our Independence Day with our musician friends

Last year, the Independence Day was at the peak of the epidemic, and we were very lonely quarrantined at home. Until 4 months ago, we got fully vaccinated and started our weekly small garden luncheeeon party once a week. California has been completely opened since June 15th, and shops, restaurants, museums, and public venues have been restarted. Finally we saw the light at the end of the long dark tunnel, we are ready to start enjoying a beautiful summer, and we can make delicious meals by using our own vegetables and fruit and entertain our friends and relatives in the garden.

As an immigrant, I love my new “country”.  If China is the “mother” who gave birth to me, then the United States is the “father” who nourishes me.   This year’s July 4th, we’ve invited a few friends to have a BBQ in our garden while watching fireworks.

This year’s Independence Day is worth celebrating, because Biden won the US election in November. He acted vigorously as soon as he came to power, rolling out vaccines across the country tirelessly, resulting in the falling of Covid-19 infection and death rate. Our whole family members have received 2 shots except those under 12 years old, and we can visit each other now.

The following is a piece of  I finished last year “2020 Variations” (for cello solo and electronic music):

2020 Variations (2020, By Joan Huang)

2020 Variations” is written for solo cello and electronic sound.  Somehow 2020 is good even number for harmony, peace and equality.  The year of 2020 is leap year and an important year: US presidential election, Summer Olympic Games, Beethoven’s 250 year anniversary, many events are taking place around the world.  It is my sincere desire to express my love to America as an immigrant.  

The piece is based on the American patriotic song “America the Beautiful“:

The Beginning: Electronic sound:  the sound of 16 cellos playing 4-part fugue of America the Beautiful from “Off Stage” gradually moving to “On Stage”, then the solo acoustic cello “joins” the crowd.  

Variation I: As 16 cellos continuously playing 4-part fugue based on America the Beautiful, the solo acoustic cello varies the theme virtuosically.

Variation II: As an excerpt of speech by Andrew Yang (the 2020 presidential candidate) fades away, the varied quasi-pentatonic cheerful version of America the Beautiful is played by the solo acoustic cello, representing the Asian American ethnic vitality. 

Variation III: As a beautiful voice of a solitary girl’s solo chanting (sung in Spanish) resounds throughout spacious mountain ranges, reverberating through every corner of America, the cellist plucks strings, taps the sounding board, imitating guitar and drumming, America the Beautiful becomes a rhythmic dance tune.  Here I attempt to show the American Latino mentality.

Variation IV: Electronic sound presents exotic Muslim folk ensemble mingled with American Arabic hip-hop rapping.  The tune of America the Beautiful set in a minor key, those characteristic augmented seconds bring special spices to the piece.  

Variation V: Electronic sound presents an elaborate saxophone solo accompanied by sophisticated piano harmonies.  Then the solo acoustic cello “sings” a blues-like embellished America the Beautiful in a sentimental minor key.  

Variation VI: Electronic sound builds a momentum of mass marching: shouting slogans, marching in streets, drumming etc.  Then the solo acoustic cello stomps on the floor accompanying with the marching tunes of America the Beautiful.

Variation VII: America the Beautiful is sung by a quartet of mixed voices in the background, gradually the solo acoustic cello joins in the “crowd” in a solidarity.  

This is my understanding of the American flag:

American flag

The red color of the flag is the blood shed by the ancestors for freedom;

The blue color of the flag is the ocean retained liberty across the time and space;

The white color of the flag is the peace dove who delivers the message of independence;

The stars of the flag are the eyes of the freedom soldiers staring at the vast land;

The stripes of the flag are the epaulettes of the fearless warriors symbolizing their honors.

Independence Day (the Fourth of July) is a federal holiday in the United States commemorating the Declaration of Independence of the United States, on July 4, 1776. The Continental Congress declared that the thirteen American colonies were no longer subject (and subordinate) to the monarch of Britain, King George III, and were now united, free, and independent states.The Congress had voted to declare independence two days earlier, on July 2, but it was not declared until July 4.

Independence Day is commonly associated with fireworks, parades, barbecues, carnivals, fairs, picnics, concerts, baseball games, family reunions, political speeches, and ceremonies, in addition to various other public and private events celebrating the history, government, and traditions of the United States. Independence Day is the national day of the United States.” 

(from Wikipedia)

Two years ago, we celebrated our 4th of July with the multi-gifted timpanist of Berlin Philharmonic Wieland Welzel and the magnificent American percussionist Peter Erskine and his wife; for the previous year, we celebrated it with my brother’s family, 2 of my cousins’ family.  

Two years ago at our garden with Wieland Welzel and Peter Erskine

(Three years ago, we spent the July 4th with my relatives)

We live in Altadena, 1,400 feet above sea level, a paradise for birds and flowers; a natural oxygen bar for yoga meditation; a lush oasis overlooking the famous city of Pasadena.  It’s only walking distance for us to go to nearby Eaton Canyon National Park with picturesque mountain views, there’re many similarities to Provence in southern France.

Here is the 5th movement entitled “American Crow” from my “Bird Twitters from Altadena” (for Suona and 6 Percussionists) played by my friend Yazhi Guo and the New England Conservatory Percussion Ensemble under the baton of Frank Epstein):

Joan Huang: “Bird twitters from Altadena” (5) “American Crow”

This year’s 4th of July, we’re celebrating it with our musician friends.

The day before the holiday, I decorated the house with theme of “red, blue and white”: red, white roses and blue agapanthus are inserted in the vase, a red and white checkered tablecloth is placed in the garden table, and napkins, utensils, wine glasses, side by side, all in these 3 primary colors.  California climate is ideal for outdoor summer evening dinners with almost no mosquitoes.  

The menu for our July 4th dinner are from Celebrate! (by Sheila Lukins), I varied a little bit:

1. Glorious Gazpacho:

Diced cucumber, diced red bell pepper, diced tomato, diced red onion, tomato juice, a little red vinegar, olive oil, Tabasco sauce, salt, pepper, and a diced avocado on top.

 2. Lobster Roll

That’s Bill’s favorite.  I bought lobsters from Costco, They are cooked and shelled (about 10 minutes), then cooled, the hot dog buns are coated with salad dressing, with chopped lettuce the red and yellow cherry tomatoes are cut in half.  They’re a perfect July 4th dish!

3. BBQ pork chops

Use the back of the Chinese chopping knife to pat the boned pork chop tenderly, sprinkle with salt and pepper, pour a little olive oil, and marinate for an hour or two. Turn on the outdoor grill and grill on high heat, about 5-6 minutes on each side. For the last 1 minute, apply the BBQ sauce (preferably Kansas).

4. Boiled sweet corn

Heaven arranged, the corns in my organic vegetable garden happened to be all ripened at this time, we eat everyday. I don’t need to put any condiments, they’re delicious!

5. Mixed sautéed vegetables:

They’re all home grown: yellow crooked squash, green beans, purple Japanese eggplants, green peppers, etc, simply sautéed them in olive oil and garlic.

6. Peach Cobbler: Early July is the season for harvesting peaches. Many American families make their own peach ice cream. Peach cobbler is a good choice during this time:

Method: 1) Mix 7-8 peaches with half a cup of sugar, a tablespoon of lemon juice, and 2 teaspoons of vanilla extract, and put in a pie dish.

2) Combine 1 cup of half flour, 4 tablespoons of white sugar, 2 tablespoons of soda powder, 5 tablespoons of buttermilk, and half a cup of whipped cream. Then put small balls of dough on the top of peach randomly.

3) Bake at 350 degree in the oven for 50 minutes.  Eat while hot, with vanilla ice cream, beautiful!

The front lawn by the main entrance of our house faces Pasadena and it is the most ideal viewing platform for watching fireworks.  Altadena Golf Course always gave the most spectacular firework show, last year’s the show was cancelled. This year the show resumes!

Here is my description about the 4th of July: “Finally came the finale of the festival: the explosion of fireworks roared like thunder, and our poor golden retriever Gigi trembled in a corner. Fireworks are flying in the sky, soaring like rockets, sparkling like diamonds, and colorful like neon. We stared at the starry sky with rapt attention, and the kaleidoscope of infinitely changing fireballs made us ecstatic like children…”

Let me finish my blog with this splendid 1812 Overture by Tchaikovsky.