Tangyuan – a newly found love affair

The last day of Spring Festival is Lantern Festival. To celebrate this festival, everyone eats tāngyuán (汤圆-roughly translated as ‘soup balls’). I distinctly remember being introduced to these sticky balls many years ago in Australia. Our good Chinese friends kindly brought some over for dessert one evening. But, it was not a good memory. I remember the glutinous texture coating the inside of my mouth, making it difficult to swallow. And when I did swallow, I remember trying to hide the fact that it made me want to retch.

A lot has changed since then. I no longer turn my nose up at ‘red bean’ flavoured goods. Strangely-flavoured icypoles no longer gross me out. And tangyuan is now one of my favourite desserts. I’m not kidding.

The most common flavour is black sesame (黑芝麻 hēizhīma). And it’s super good. Not too sweet and you still have the graininess (??) of the sesame seeds.

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However, of course, someone made non-traditional chocolate ones. And man, they are sooooooooooo good. These ones had little chunks of peanuts inside. If you’re looking to try tangyuan for the first time, go for these.

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And of course, would it be a trip to a Chinese supermarket without me buying something silly? I ummed and ahhhed between strawberry and orange. I decided strawberry would probably be so super sickly sweet that I wouldn’t eat them, so orange it was. And the result? Glutinous fanta. That’s the only way to describe it.

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They are so simple to cook too. Just throw them in boiling water for a few minutes until they rise to the surface.

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Our local sichuan restaurant serves these boiled in a little bit of booze, and that’s also delish. I’m not sure what they use, but there’s definitely room for experimentation. And I should probably learn to make these too! Though the supermarket is a very easy option.

I was also told recently that there’s another type called yúanxiāo that are made with a special technique that can’t be replicated by hand. I’ll have to try these out next year… has anyone tried them before?

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The snake is coming…

There’s a certain feeling that hits Beijing as Spring Festival (Chinese New Year) approaches. The epic city starts to empty, the skies clear as the factories shut down and excited children queue up with their parents for a fireworks stash.

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These generic flags are pulled out for every festival by our building management.

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‘No fireworks’ signs appear outside building sites, embassy zones, schools and the like. Whether or not they’re followed is completely another matter.

IMG_2421The sky is actually blue!! Until the fireworks start… (the population has been asked to exercise restraint over the lighting of fireworks following the most recent pollution problems, but I think that’s unlikely to make much of a difference).

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Shops fly the Chinese flag. All small shops are shut though, as their owners have returned home for the holiday.

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These tents appear all over the city, adorned with ‘no smoking’, ‘no lighting fireworks’ and ‘no re-fueling’ signs.

IMG_2428This building got a lot of red.

It’s only a few hours before the fun/chaos begins. Let’s see how our first fireworks fiasco with a baby is…

Walking with Spirits


(This is a very delayed post… I’ve just finished my first semester back at school since Adella was born, and it’s been a busy one. Catching up on some blogging now!)

So, I officially feel like a hippy mum. We took our 7-week-old daughter to a music festival out in the sticks.

We stayed up in Katherine visiting family for a couple of weeks, and had the Walking with Spirits festival recommended to us. We drove from Katherine to Beswick, and then took a 4WD track for about half an hour to the location of the festival. We parked the car and crossed a small creek and found ourselves on a big sandy floodplain bank along a river. The sand was soft and clean, and on the other side of the river were super tall cliff faces. The rocks were a myriad of different shades of oranges, reds and browns. Many children were splashing around in the shallows and a few people had gone for a good long swim across the waterway.

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The site is closed to the public everyday of the year, except for this festival. So, it’s pretty special to be able to access this piece of Arnhem land.Having an infant at a festival does mean for a different experience. We settled up the back so that we were far enough away from the speakers. Plus, I didn’t really want to interrupt other people’s festival experience. But, Adella was really great. She mostly slept, and when she wasn’t sleeping it was easy enough to get up and have a bouncy dance with her. The most annoying thing is the amount of stuff you need for one tiny person. I had piles of nappies, blankets (it gets really cold at night) and things like mosquito nets. Meanwhile, not really anything for me!Whilst chilling in the afternoon on the sand, I suddenly turned around to find 5 young aboriginal girls crowded around Adella’s pram. At the time, her Yeye was rocking her. The girls were so confused. They wanted to know who was Mum, Dad, Grandma and Grandpa. Then, they couldn’t work out why Grandpa was trying to calm her crying. Then, they kept telling me to give her milk to stop her crying. I guess the traditional family structure in aboriginal families would be very different, and I don’t think the men have much to do with settling and quietening babies. They were fascinated!

It was such a family-friendly festival. Once the traditional dancing started, so many children and audience members joined in. The dancers moved to the music with such a strong rhythm. With their red clothing and white body paint, they were eye-catching and stark as they kicked up a flurry of sand with their feet. We heard aboriginal stories with beautiful animation to match. There were amazing fire dancers, and even some breakdancers too! The night finished with a rock group that had everyone up on their feet. The ambiance was complete with small campfires spotted through the crowd, as well as candles drifting down the river that reminded us of the spirits present on the land.

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Lights bouncing off the cliff face and candles drifting on the river.

Mooncakes

For the past week, mooncakes have been the talk of the (beijing) town on facebook. To celebrate Mid-Autumn festival (中秋节, zhōngqiūjié), mooncakes are given out by employers, friends and family members. I’m sure a lot of them are recycled too; an unwanted gift to one, turns into a gift for another. It’s a bit of a weird tradition. I’ve never heard anyone say that they LOVE mooncakes. One of my students said that he didn’t eat any this year, he just gave them to his friends. Mooncakes are heavy. They weigh a lot, cost a lot and are now even taxed by the government!!

I received a lavish box from my school. Not liking to waste food, I tried them all.

1. 乌梅乳酪铁观音 wūméirǔlào tiěguānyīn = smoked cheese and tieguanyin tea

This has been the most interesting mooncake that I’ve ever eaten. It was definitely the most beautiful!!! And it had a nice texture, as the ‘cheese’ was solid and kinda like white chocolate. I would eat this again. And tea is a nice filling.

2. 熏衣草牛奶提子 xūnyīcǎo níunǎi tízǐ = lavender with milk and a ladder (???)

This one was a little sickeningly floral, but it was tolerable. Half was enough. Cute bunny for year of the rabbit.

3. 法式牛肉 fǎshì niúròu = French-style beef

This one looked like a meat pie. The Aussie inside me really wanted it to taste like a meat pie. Really. Really. In the end, I wouldn’t say it was bad, but it wasn’t a meat pie. Well, it was meaty, but sweet as well. And it had strange crunchy bits.

4. 杂粮皮玫瑰花酱 záliángpí méiguihuā jiàng = ‘food grains other than wheat and rice skin’ and rose flower sauce

Woah. Intense. Nauseatingly sweet. Never. Again.

5. 白蛋 báidān = egg

Ah, the dreaded salty egg. There’s always one. I still don’t get the attraction. Why put something salty inside sweet, fruity filling?

6. 枣泥核桃 zǎoní hétao = jujube paste and walnut

This one didn’t look like a traditional mooncake. It had crumbly pastry on the outside and tasted just like the red date cakes that I often buy from the supermarket. In terms of a mooncake that I would go out and buy and eat… this is the one.

Check out The Lick’s icecream mooncakes!