Contrary to abundant inquisition, no, I’m not Chinese (although these emerald green eyes do have some Asian blood!) – but I do celebrate Chinese New Year – in my own special way, of course!
The combination of my Dad’s influence (he lived in Hong Kong for many years and adopted many of the Chinese customs into his daily life – being incredibly superstitious is one of them…) and growing up in a country populated with many Chinese immigrants, my family embraced some Chinese customs into the four walls of our colonial home.
“No homes should be north facing” – so our little nipa hut playhouse was shifted forty five degrees. “Pet turtles signify bad luck to enterprise and fortune” – so we had to give away our pet reptiles. “Long noodles signify an enduring life” – so for every birthday, noodles it was!
For as long as I can remember, we celebrated Chinese New Year, whether it was ordering Chinese take out in my dorm room and taking a few moments to reflect upon the past and upcoming years, or whether it was a family feast, filled with our favorite and symbolic Chinese delicacies.
This year, I decided to celebrate my own way, setting the table and preparing a feast for my family, a table latent with emblems to bring a prosperous year of the monkey.
Red is a metaphor for joy, vitality, health and good fortune and is a repellant for evil spirits; a color seen commonly throughout Chinese culture but one especially prevalent during the celebration of the New Year. I incorporated it onto my tablescape by using a checkered crimson and white tablecloth, by filling two Chinese takeout containers with scarlet roses and by adding homemade cherry-colored paper lanterns for the centerpiece. I wanted to use red in a dramatic and impactful way, without being overly saturated.
To celebrate the year of the fire monkey, I drew gold monkeys on red paper and placed then in front of each place setting. I also painted two (Chinese-inspired) monkey masks that I thought my guests would enjoy taking pictures with. Ascanio and I were definitely monkeying around!
The menu, my own version of a Chinese feast (for as much as I wanted to serve Peking duck, I have yet to experiment with recipes) – an assortment of dumplings, steamed sea bass with lots of Asian aromatics, sesame noodles (for long life, duh!), sautéed green beans and plenty of white rice. For desert I served a clementine sorbet alongside fortune cookies. The Chinese believe that round fruits represent good luck, balance and abundance, which is why you see lots of mandarin trees during the New Year. So, I wanted to incorporate a round citrus into the menu, and what better way than desert?!
I filled my homemade fortune cookies with my own quirky fortunes.
Happy (early) Chinese New Year – I hope your day is filled with lots of delicious dumplings and plenty wraps of Peking duck, and that your year of the monkey is blessed with good fortune and great health!