Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Love What You Do

TIFF Bell Lightbox on Family Day

As I stroll up the ramp by the BlackBerry Lounge bar for the special screening of the Buster Keaton's slapstick silent movie classic, Sherlock Jr. in concert (featuring iNSiDEaMiND performing a new score), something made me stop dead in my tracks.  At first sight, the quirky creatures in the mural caught my eyes.  Then, I slowed down to read this inspiring quote etched into the metal bar above the mural, just visible enough thanks to the illumination.  Next, I felt compelled to take a photograph of this mural with my BlackBerry, and e-mail it with this beautiful quote to share with my beloved husband. 

BlackBerry Lounge's quirky mural & inspiring quote 

Don't just like.  LIKE is watered-down love.  Like is mediocore.  Like is the wishy-washy emotion of the content.  Athletes don't do it for the like of a sport.  Artists don't suffer for the like of art.  There is no I like N.Y. T-shirt.  And Romeo didn't just like Juliet.  LOVE.  Now that's powerful stuff.  Love changes things.  Upsets things.  Conquers things.  Love is at the root of everything good that has ever happened and will ever happen.  LOVE what you do.

- Shirley Lum, who LOVES what she does as Culinary Historian, Entrepreneur, Tour Guide, Speaker, Writer & Organic Gardener!

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Lantern Festival : New Year Marathon's Finale

CN Tower aka Toronto's Tallest Lantern & Second Chinatown's 
Lanterns along Spadina Avenue
Lantern Festival (or Big New Year) just took place last night, and for most folks it marked the end of the 15 days marathon of feasting. February 17th, 2011 formally ended the Chinese Lunar New Year 
celebrations, marking the end of the winter season and the first night of a full moon. This dates from the rule of Emperor Ming (58-75 AD) of the Han Dynasty. If you missed last night's shining moon, try tonight 
from your window for an awesome sight.

Traditionally, lanterns are lit all over the country in homes and temples to guide all the spirits.   Spectacular processions of exquisite silk and paper lanterns in  
every shape and form would take place 
in the dark streets. At the end of each 
procession a magnificent dragon, carried by at least a dozen men, dance to the 
deafening rhythm of cymbals, drums 
and firecrackers. All this noise is meant to scare away evil spirits. So what happens when people emigrate to another country, lets say 
Canada? Or more specifically, Toronto?

Well, last night in Toronto's second Chinatown it was quiet for Lantern Festival. Nary a single dragon dance along the dark streets of Spadina Avenue/Dundas St. West due its prohibitive cost and not a single 
pedestrian was seen with a lit lantern. No red firecrackers were set off 
into the wee hours tonight, thanks to city by-laws. Would our ancestors back in China be shuddering as Chinese (be they new immigrants or 
CBCs) no longer follow all the steps to vanquish bad spirits? 
Well, I think they might forgive 
contemporary Chinese in Toronto as we do love our lanterns, whatever shape 
and form they may be in 2011. Stepping foot into Dragon City Mall, I was re-
warded with a visual treat of  traditional red and gold lanterns of varying size 
hanging in the lobby and in the mall. 
Meanwhile, Tap Phong, a major 
restaurant supplier and the go-to place 
for George Brown Hospitality students, had a plethora of Chinese and Japanese 
lanterns to set any home, temple or 
restaurant aglow! 
Popping into the popular Kim Moon 
Bakery along my annual behind-the-
scene Chinese New Year tours, I took 
the opportunity to admire some more 
glowing beauties illuminating counters 
filled with New Year treats.  
My all-time favourites lanterns would be the contemporary lantern-
shaped neon lamp posts along Spadina Avenue from Sullivan St. to 
Baldwin Street; what a sight at glowing dusk or on pitch dark night.
Glutinous Rice Balls filled with Black Sesame  float
in Red Bean Soup with Tapioca Beads 

Boiled rice dumplings
to go into soup 

Besides the entertainment and the breath-taking lanterns, another important part of the Lantern Festival would be eating Tang Yuan or Yuan Xiao, the little 
round dumplings made of sweet glutin-
ous rice flour and traditionally stuffed 
with sweet or savoury fillings. As a 
young child, I dubbed this mouth-water-
ing dumpling soup as "Chinese toes" 
soup as the dumplings float to the surface, looking like cute little toes peeping out of the broth! Yes, I was an imaginative child! How one 
make these delectable dumplings varied pending on whether you arrive in Toronto from southern China (most likely Canton area from 1870s 
to 1970s) or recently from northern China (late 1980s onward). The 
usual method followed in southern China is to shape the dough of 
glutinous rice flour into little balls, make a hole, insert with a filling of choice, then close the hole and round out the dumpling by rolling it 
between your hands. 

In northern China, sweet or non-meat stuffing is the usual ingredient. 
The fillings are pressed into hardened cores, dipped lightly in water and rolled in a flat basket containing dry glutinous rice flour. A layer of 
the flour sticks to the filling, which is then again dipped in water and 
rolled in a second time in the rice flour. And so it goes, like rolling a 
snowball, until the dumpling is the desired size! 

My mom traces her roots back to south-
ern China, the Canton region. Oddly 
enough, my mom's dumplings did not 
conform to what I've described above. 
Nevertheless, I always loved the ones 
my mom and I would make, sans fillings, hence a bit chewier. We would roll 
the dough into a long sausage shape, 
and then cut into small balls. They are served with minced pork strewn about in a clear, rich pork bone broth,  and accompanied by bok-choy sweetened by the long, slow simmer in the broth.  

Boil dumplings until they
float to the top of the water 
I thought that everyone made their 
dumpling soup the same way.  Turns 
out that once you immigrate to the new world, you might decide to "improvise" a bit if you're busy raising four children! Yesterday to my horrors, my mom pro-
claimed herself to too tired to make any of these delectable dumplings, savoury or sweet ... Since I was craving them so badly, and lacking time to make them from scratch,  I decided to take matters into my own hands by  purchasing a package of frozen dump-
lings filled with black sesame and sugar!  I followed the English 
instructions printed on the package: I boiled them 5-6 minutes until 
they floated to the top of the boiling water. Drained and added them to my leftover New Year's Day soup - Sweet Red Bean Soup with 
Tapioca Beads. Absolutely delicious!

By the way, did I mention that these dumplings symbolizes family 
unity, completeness and happiness? While I sipped the soup and 
nibbled into the chewy dumplings with crunchy sesame centre,  I 
also savoured looking out the kitchen window,  as last night was the 
15th day of Chinese New Year festival,  the first night to see a full 
moon ... If the skies stay clear the next few evenings,  look up you 
happen to be  outdoors tonight or look out of your window for a 
fantastic sight! 

Tang Yuan filled with Black Sesame & Sugar

Now I'll be going back to the gym for much needed workouts as I get 
ready for Persian New Year's celebrations in mid March ... 

Monday, February 7, 2011

We're mad for marmalade | Eat | Life | Toronto Sun

We're mad for marmalade | Eat | Life | Toronto Sun

 Golden Thumb-size Kumquats

After you finish reading this fabulous article by Elizabeth Baird, register for the Mad for Marmalade, Crazy for Citrus event at Fort York on Saturday February 19th, 2011. Drop into my Marmalade with Asian Twists hands-on workshop.  If you've always wanted to learn how to make a marmalade, here's your chance!  I'll be making two unique marmalades: one with a Chinese twist (Kumquat fruit paired with surprise liquor) and a 10-minute recipe with a Japanese twist (Yuzu fruit).  It's easier than you think and it's the perfect Winter Cabin Fever remedy!

Yuzu - a fragrant Japanese citrus to behold

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Exciting Interview with Matt Galloway, Host of Metro Morning, CBC 99.1FM Thurs. Feb 3rd re: Chinese New Year celebrations in Toronto past & present!

Old Tradition: Fire-off Firecrackers
to start off the New Year with a Bang!
New Tradition: Hang Decorative Firecrackers

The Year of the Rabbit has always been associated with culture, learning and personal growth - so here's your chance to tune in to this fabulous radio show as I share this colourful festival on air.  
As a CBC (Canadian-born Chinese) born and raised in Toronto, I have vivid memories of Chinese Lunar New Years in Toronto from the early 1970s to the present ...  I'll be sharing childhood memories of the thunderous Lions Dances in Old Chinatown's narrow Elizabeth Street behind New City Hall...   I'll be sharing memories of the mesmerizing Lion Dances of Toronto's Second Chinatown along the Spadina Ave./Dundas St. W. axis ...
As a Culinary Historian, I'll share my impressions of the old traditions and hot trends taking place in the BBQ shops, Chinese bakeries and Asian grocery stores ... And you don't have to be Chinese to celebrate the Chinese New Year festivities!  

Golden Mandarin Oranges for Luck        
So tune your radio to 99.1FM on Thursday February 3rd between 8:00 - 8:30AM to savour some interesting discussions between Metro Morning host, Matt Galloway and myself about this Chinese festival, to end all festivals. Don't forget to dash off a quick comment about what you loved about the interview!


JOM MAKAN! GOOD FOOD TREK: SPRING IN MY STEP: "Food and festivals are inseparable in Malaysia. Every occasion is a perfect excuse to feast and fete family and friends at the table. ..."

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

3 Hot Trends in Celebrating Chinese New Year's Eve

Crab & Fish Maw Soup 
As we exit the Year of the Tiger and enter the Year of the Rabbit, we're witnessing some families clinging tenaciously to traditions, and others wholeheartedly embracing new ones as demographic,  geographic and logistics play pivotal roles.  Traditionally the Chinese Matriarch shopped and prepared for several days, and then actually singlehandedly cooked on their home stoves the 8 to12 lavish symbolic dishes. The whole family would gather together at home for this communal feast to end all feast; rarely would outsiders be invited for this sacred occasion thanks to superstitions, and dining out was never entertained. Once the meal's completed, the mountain of dishes, pots and pans needs to be tackled.  That was the annual tradition for the longest time with my family and many others.  Wednesday February 2nd, 2011 marks the 4th year since I started hosting the annual Chinese Lunar New Year's Eve and New Year's Day multi-course dinner banquets.  In 2008 I hosted an 8-course dinner banquet, and now we're up to two unique 11-course feasts.  Since 1997, when I started conducting my annual behind-the-scenes Chinese New Year tours, I've noticed three interesting trends:

Free Range Chicken Steamed & Served with Grated Ginger & Diced Green Onion: 
a symbol of Peace & Harmony in the New Lunar Year!  

Trend #1: Aging & Young Matriarchs Get to Dine Out! 
Unwittingly,  I'm either leading the pack (of half-hearted or whole-hearted folks) or embrace an emerging and interesting trend.  If you look at demographics, we now have an increasing number of aging Chinese Matriarchs, be it in Canada, United States or abroad.  A growing number of adult children are convincing their beloved aging Matriarchs to hand over the task of cooking the numerous symbolic dishes to Chinese restaurants.  This marks the fourth year my mom, the amazing cook that she is, gets to relinquish her role as cook extraordinaire and be able to totally savour the Chinese New Year's Eve celebrations sans exhaustion!  The mountain of dirty dishes to be washed?  That's taken care of, when your family makes that pivotal decision to dine out! Trust me, my sister and I, do NOT miss washing the volume of dirty dishes! Anyway, look around at any packed Chinese restaurant this coming Chinese New Year's Eve on Wednesday February 2nd, 2011 and you'll see many families headed by a very happy Matriarch who is beaming and relaxed... like my lucky mom!  You're probably wondering about the adult children, namely, the grown-up daughters.  Most women  work, whether they're the single gal, single mom, married or married with children. Imagine after a day of hard work, and you still have to trudge up and down the packed aisles in Asian grocery stores to shop for all your ingredients! Then you have to prepare the complicated dishes, and somehow find the time plus energy to virtually cook all day long! There are only 24 hours in any given day! So it's not surprising over the last few years, I've noticed more young families eating out on this special evening and treating mom and grandma.

Symbolic Chinese Greens for Growing Your Good Fortune!
Trend #2: More Young Chinese On Their Own
At my hosted banquets over the last four years, much to my own surprise I've been getting more young Chinese individuals attending my hosted Chinese New Year's Eve or Day banquets. Turns out, many can't find the money and/or time off from work to fly home for the occasion. In 2011, the festivities kicks off in the middle of the week, making it even more challenging to do so! Because of career choices, often folks have to relocate to a city different from where their families live. So if you don't have any family members in the same city, then celebrating by eating 8 to 12 dishes by yourself is no fun at all! Highlight of the night for me: many of them thanking me for the opportunity to eat the symbolic dishes they crave from childhood and oddly enough, a chance to share their memories of ancient superstitions still playing a role in their own lives with other attendees! To top it off, some attend so they can share their culture with their partner of a different cultural/ethnic background. Talk about embracing each others' cultures, traditions and creating new traditions! Toronto, the Meeting Place it is!

Trend #3: The Family Size & Members are Changing 
Over the 18 years of conducting the Chinese New Year tours, I've seen children of interesting cultural backgrounds. The size of the family is now shrinking - I come from a family of four whereas now we're seeing family of two children. I'm now witnessing at my tables families adopting Chinese children, and trying to help their kids embrace the customs and traditions connected with the festivities of Chinese New Year.

I'm looking forward to Chinese New Year's Eve as it kicks-off 15-days of festivities.  I'm excited about sharing the rich customs, traditions and superstitions of Chinese New Year’s Eve, while savouring an authentic communal banquet!  It will be an evening of equal portions of food and facts, as I shed light on old and new customs, plus superstitions throughout the evening. Novice banquet attendees will appreciate the tips I'll be sharing on how to pace themselves to enjoy the banquet to the fullest, and all guests will love the stories behind the auspicious names of the decadent dishes. The Year of the Rabbit has been associated with culture and learning, and we're kicking of the year with plenty of both! 

So how are you celebrating Chinese New Year festivities? I look forward to hearing how you celebrate it wherever you are in the world! So feel free to add your comments below and take part in the two polls to the right.

        2011 Chinese New Year's Eve Menu

Traditional Dessert Soup:
Red Bean with Tapioca Beads

* Crab Meat & Fish Maw Soup
* Spicy & Salty Jumbo Shrimps Lightly Battered
* Phoenix Nest with Seafood Medley & Vegetables
* Whole Crispy Chicken with Shrimp Chips & Seasoned Salt
* Sliced Pork with Special Sweet & Sour Sauce
* Medley of Braised Vegetables, Seafood, Chicken & Pork
* Double Lobsters with Green Onions & Ginger
* Whole Steamed Fish with Green Onions & Ginger
* Braised E-Fu Noodles
* Yangzhou Fried Rice
* Traditional Dessert Soup & Fortune Cookies  

 Happy New Year! 
Gung Hey Fatt Choi in Cantonese!
Gong Xi Fa Chai in Mandarin!
Chuc Mung Nam Mui in Vietnamese!