Friday, February 26, 2010

Happy Chinese New Year to Me!


Traditionally, red envelopes or red packets are passed out during Chinese New Year celebrations, from married couples or the elderly to single people. Children are often the recipients of these envelopes as well. The red envelopes almost always contain money. The red envelope and $ you see above is my packet from UnScurvyGirl (married and my elder- wink wink), a fun surprise following dinner last weekend.

Let us not forget that this is the year of the TIGER. Hello Kitty...How adorable, appropriate, and ridiculously thoughtful is this?!? (Note: If you don't already know the answer, don't bother commenting.)

Chinese New Year and the red envelope tradition are all about luck. When I left UnScurvyGirl's house Saturday night, I made a point of leaving her with some fortune cookies to enjoy over the next several days. Sure enough, she sent me these picture texts:

Not one, but two actual fortunes!

Thanks to all of my friends who made this Chinese New Year special. I look forward to celebrating the next Lunar New Year (and all the holidays that come before it) with you.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

A Night of Food, Fortunes, and Not-a-Fortunes

Following our adventures at MT Supermarket last Saturday, Bea Dazzler's husband joined us at UnScurvyGirl's house for an evening of home-cooked goodness. 

Bea Dazzler made the tasty dumplings pictured above. I cannot overestimate how good they were.

In an effort to avoid contracting Scurvy for the second time in her life (hee hee), UnScurvyGirl made ramen from scratch.

Above: ramen assembly line
Below: assembled bowls of ramen

Following our taste-tastic homemade meal, UnScurvyGirl and Bea Dazzler introduced me to Mochi ice cream balls.

Mochi ice cream is a Japanese dessert made from sticky rice with an ice cream filling. It is golf-ball sized and comes in various flavors. We had mango and red bean mochi.

UnScurvyGirl and Bea Dazzler are big fans of the mochi. Me? Not so much. However, I am a fan of FORTUNE COOKIES, a big bag of which I had purchased earlier in the day...

Bea Dazzler's not-a-fortune: "You love a good challenge."

UnScurvyGirl's not-a-fortune: "You add an aesthetic quality to everything you do."

My ACTUAL FORTUNE: "Good ideas will spring forth naturally from your mind." (Crossing my fingers & toes since I can sure use some good ideas!)

Bea Dazzler's husband's ACTUAL FORTUNE: "You[r] present plans are going to succeed." (Very topical, as he had just finished regaling us with his plans.)

While it is rare for 50% of one night's cookie inserts to include actual fortunes, I can't end this post without also commenting on UnScurvyGirl's terrific peanut butter cookie sandwiches- essentially homemade Nutter Butters. I gorged on these that night and again the next, as she sent me home with leftovers. Best day and night I've had in quite some time!

What Is Scurvy...And Why Should You Care?

What is Scurvy? A condition caused by vitamin C deficiency and most commonly associated with pre-nineteenth-century sailors, modern cases of Scurvy are extremely rare. However, some people do still contract the disease as a result of a diet devoid of fresh fruits and vegetables. My good friend ScurvyGirl fell victim to this unfortunate situation when she was in college in the '90s because she chose to eat packaged ramen almost exclusively, despite her access to her university's dining hall and a pre-purchased meal plan.

And yet, as noted on her t-shirt (a gift from yours truly, created on zazzle), ScurvyGirl has not suffered from this condition in over a decade. Therefore, in the name of accuracy, I am revising her name. ScurvyGirl --> UnScurvyGirl.

*You may wonder whether UnScurvyGirl is wearing this shirt for any particular reason. Yes, as a matter of fact she is. She is wearing it in order to prepare homemade ramen. Stay tuned for my next post, in which I chronicle that endeavor...

Saturday, February 20, 2010

An Unexpected Trip to Austin's Chinatown

Following a less-than-satisfying brunch at Z'Tejas and oh-so-satisfying mani/pedis, I went with my good friends ScurvyGirl and Bea Dazzler to explore MT Supermarket. Located in Austin's Chinatown, MT Supermarket has been Central Texas's go-to Asian grocery since 1984. As this was my first visit to an Asian market, I attempted to capture the experience via iPhone camera. Enjoy!

These lanterns greeted us as we entered the store.

Bea Dazzler models a traditional Chinese hat.

Crowded market.

You may wonder what "international foods" include at an Asian market in Austin, Texas. We did. Answer? Mostly foodstuffs of the Japanese and Indian variety.

In case you were unsure of where exactly to find dried white fungus, Bea Dazzler spotted this.

I can't tell you how many different varieties of dried shrimp there were...because I stopped counting. (Also found in numerous quantities: a not-so-surprisingly unappealing variety of dried anchovies.)

No idea.

ScurvyGirl pointed out that this impressively packaged whole fish could also be used as a weapon.

Live fish also available.

Going rate for catfish?

Shellfish, too.

Having wandered off to photograph the fish tanks, I caught a glimpse of this pile of...?

Luckily, a sign attached to the refrigerated case holding the Durian fruit identifies this prickly monster, also known as "Asia's King of Fruit." Also lucky for me? ScurvyGirl and Bea Dazzler were already there and thus able to warn me that durian fruit is insanely foul-smelling and that I should stay away.

ScurvyGirl checks her shopping list and rests her heavy basket.

After all we had seen, I'm not sure I want to know what's behind these doors.

You must know, dear readers, that I had been searching the aisles for anything fortune cookie-related, to no avail. I had inquired of one employee, but he directed me to aisle 3A, which holds an impressive variety of sauces (and which I had already visited). I'm not convinced he and I were speaking the same language- literally. As we were about to check out with our fantastic finds, Bea Dazzler asked the cashier where we could find fortune cookies. She had more success than I did. One option included these citrus flavored cookies, which I opted against.

I did, however, purchase one of these LARGE bags of fortune cookies (the one in the center, to be precise). Total cost of bag: $4.19. I haven't done the math, but that seems like a good price per cookie ratio to me.

As Bea Dazzler and I made our final dash in search of the fortune cookies, she spied this interesting specimen- also located in the dessert section of the market. Yes, that's right- THE DESSERT SECTION. According to the directions, you are to bake the fish and if there is any color remaining after you do so (i.e., if it's not completely translucent) you will have good luck in the coming year. You are to then eat it. 

What was the purpose behind all this fun and exploration? ScurvyGirl plans to make ramen - from scratch - this evening, and was in need of some very specific ingredients that we suspected might be found at MT Supermarket. For the most part we were successful, although ScurvyGirl picked up a package of leeks (at least they were labeled leeks and seemed like they could have at one point been leeks) that rang up as bitter melon- something else entirely. So we will see how that works out later. Bea Dazzler is making dumplings - yum! - and I am bringing...fortune cookies!

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Happy Valentine's Day, Not-a-Fortune Style

The Valentine's Day card I received from my Audriella.

The cookie insert may not have included an actual fortune, but the sentiment could not have been more appreciated. Thanks, BFF!

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Celebrating the Chinese New Year

As I noted in my previous post, February 14th marked the beginning of the Chinese New Year (also called the Lunar New Year or Spring Festival), which lasts for fifteen days and ends with the Lantern Festival.  My friends Myrtle, CAChick05, and I ushered in the New Year by preparing a Chinese meal, making our own fortune cookies (using the kit pictured above), and lighting sparklers. Without further ado, I give you our evening:

Chinese New Year dinner: Sweet & Sour Pork, Buddha's Delight, Stir-Fried Brussel Sprout Petals, Jasmine Rice

Notice the liberal use of the color red. In Chinese culture, red is considered the color for abundance and is prominent in Chinese New Year celebrations. 

The Make Your Own Fortune Cookies kit includes several recipes: Auspicious Sesame Curls, Curled Walnut Fortune Cookies, Griddle Fortune Cookies, Lucky Pistachio Curls, Biggest Ever Fortune Cookies, Minty-Mint Fortune Cookies, Chocolate Fortune Cookies (lost on me, as I'm allergic), Coffee Fortune Cookies (more caffeine, please!), Citrus Fortune Cookies, Butter Almond Fortune Cookies, Rainbow-Colored Fortune Cookies, Chocolate-Dipped Fortune Cookies, and finally Traditional Vanilla Fortune Cookies, which we made because they are described as NEW YEAR COOKIES.

We followed the recipe as shown here:

This is what the cookies looked like before Myrtle folded them (not too appetizing, in my opinion):

Because the cookies had just been removed from the oven and were still hot, Myrtle donned white cotton gloves (included in the kit) in order to fold them.

She first placed a pre-printed cookie insert (fortune or not-a-fortune, we wouldn't know until later) on the round, unfolded cookie.

She then folded the cookie in half.

Finally, Myrtle followed the directions to "gently pull the ends downward to form a semicircle."

The cookies were then placed in a muffin pan to cool and set.

How were they? Well...they did taste like vanilla, but they were also quite thin and almost rubbery in texture. Instead of breaking or crumbling as commercial fortune cookies do, our cookies needed to be torn. However, the two cookies that I saved did harden overnight. Unfortunately, the recipe doesn't specify a length of time to wait before consuming, except for "until cold."

We capped off our celebration by incorporating the ancient Chinese tradition of fireworks. Bamboo stems filled with gunpowder were lit to create small explosions that would then drive away evil spirits, according to Chinese lore. For our Chinese New Year celebration, CAChick05 brought sparklers. Yay!

CAChick05 with the sparklers (clearly very excited to be holding fire). I apologize for the blurry picture. It was cold, she was hopping around due to excitement, and, let's not forget, holding fire.