Tuesday, February 1, 2011

ABC Wednesday: Cake, cucumber, Chinese New Year.


This was a special cake I made for my oldest daughter when she turned five. Last year, I was teaching Little Red Riding Hood to my five year old students. I made them the hood, and they wanted a basket. The cake would made a good ensemble for Red Riding Hood to take to her grandma.

The first time I came to New Zealand in 1978, I saw these long cucumber. I was pleasantly surprised at this 15 inch long cucumber. They have softer skin and seeds.

Recently, I saw this other cucumber. It is white and is an apple cucumber. I bought one for this post. Why is it called an apple cucumber? I have no idea, it doesn't shape like an apple, nor does it taste like an apple. The skin is tough, and the seeds are like an matured cucumber.

I think of many years ago, when my mum would buy matured cucumbers to make her pickled Achar. Mum made the best Achar during the Chinese New Year. We kids, took turns in peeling shallots, pound the chillis and dried shrimps in a pestle and mortar.

Tonight, is Lunar New Year's eve, I am having a steam boat dinner, I am all nostalgic. Traditionally, this Chinese New Year is a time of reunion. My daughter is coming home for dinner.


In 1907, my dad's grandfather left China for Borneo. During this century, five generations have been born, and our taste of food has evolved round the food of the region. While we eat predominantly Chinese food, our favourite is Thai. When we do eat out, we go to our favourite Thai restaurant at Ponsonby.

We like the sweet sour spicy Tom Yum Khong, a prawn soup. They come in different utensils, and twice, they came in the above containers.

I was delighted to see a replica of the steamboat my mum had. This Mongolian fire pot, a donut-shaped brass or stainless steel pot is like a moat of a castle. It has a central funnel to hold hot coals or charcoal that sitting on a grill. Every now and then, mum had to replenish the burning charcoal, and we children would have to move away and be very still. This photo is a replica, the food was already cooked, The heat inside was more a decor.

The other black one looked more like the Mongolian soldier's conical hat. This was flamed to be the origins of the steam boat. The soldiers inverted their metal hat and cooked their food with it. I bet they hurdled round the fire as the winter can be bitterly cold.

Let's eat Steamboat may incur a Huh??? look on your friends' faces. What is a steam boat?

Remember Genghis Khan, Kublai Khan and Marco Polo? During the time of the Mongolian Statesmen in Chinese history when the Great Wall of China was built, the fierce nomadic soldiers spread terror to China. Legend has it that the soldiers wore a metal hat, when it was time to cook their meals, they simply inverted their hats and used them to cook their meals. From them, came the Steamboat.

When I was little, my parents had a traditional steamboat. It was like a donut with the chimney in the middle. Mum would drop burning charcoal into the chimney, and on the donut ring, she had boiling soup. Thin slivers of meat of all sorts, vegetables, mushroom, tofu, noodles are quickly cooked. We used little basket like ladles to scoop up the food we like. Then we drank the delicious soup which is packed with all the goodness of the meat and vegetable stock.

Eating steamboat is a lengthy process. It is a good time for parents to tell children stories of the old, especially when we had left our home land. It would not suit people who are poor and have to rush through their meals to go and work.

These days, the cumbersome charcoal steamboats have given way to electric or gas ones. The chimney is gone, and it is more like cooking on the table. I am a person of nostalgia. I lament for Mum's steam boat. Steam boat has also evolved, in Singapore, some restaurants were serving runny rice porridge instead of soup to cook your morsels of meal and veg in.

Gong Xi Fa Cai: We wish you a prosperous New Year. It is the year of the rabbit.

1915, 1927, 1939, 1951, 1963, 1975, 1987, 1999

People born in the Year of the Rabbit are articulate, talented, and ambitious. They are virtuous, reserved, and have excellent taste. Rabbit people are admired, trusted, and are often financially lucky. They are fond of gossip but are tactful and generally kind. Rabbit people seldom lose their temper. They are clever at business and being conscientious, never back out of a contract. They would make good gamblers for they have the uncanny gift of choosing the right thing. However, they seldom gamble, as they are conservative and wise

None of my immediate family or my siblings are rabbits. I can't tell you if the above is true. Besides, we have become Christians and do not believe in this.


Ginny Hartzler said...

As a Christian, I do not believe these things either. I never heard of steamboat cooking, what fun to read about!! Much better than cooking in your helmet. Considering those soldiers probably had dirty haur, ick!! The cake is very cute!! Red Riding is a scary story, though. I guess it teaches children the importance of obeying. I have never seen an apple cucumber, so glad you bought it to show us!!! Did you taste it? Any difference? Happy New Year, and I know you will have fun with your daughter!

Betsy Banks Adams said...

Hi Ann, Happy Chinese New Year... So it's the year of the Rabbit... How interesting!!!!

Love the Red Riding Hood cape... How special.. AND--that cake looks wonderful..

The long cucumber sounds delicious. I've never heard of an Apple Cucumber either...

Glad that cyclone is not hitting New Zealand. BUT--it is going to hit Australia... Unbelievable.


George said...

I thank you for the memories of Chinese New Years.
I've never heard of an apple cucumber before, but I'm not sure I want to try one. I like the hood and cape you made for your students.

☺lani☺ said...

Nice post! 新年快樂! 恭喜發財!

photowannabe said...

A Happy and prosperous New Year Ann. Thank you for sharing your traditions with us. Much of it I had never known before.
As a Christian I also don't believe in those things either.
To answer your question on smashing the wedding cake all over my hubby's face....no we didn't do it. I guess we were just to neat. I really didn't want frosting in my hair.

Rune Eide said...

Congregationalism with the New Year - and the Cucumber!

Gattina said...

A very happy New Year !
I once celebrated chinese New Year in London's China town, it was absolutely great !
ABC Team

Lulu Post said...

Happy Chinese New Year!

Visiting you from ABC Wednesday. I followed your blog too. I hope you can do the same and please visit my entry too.
C is for Crab Legs

Judy said...

Thanks, Ann, for showing the apple cuke. I have never seen one, nor is it listed in the seed catalog that came yesterday. I usually buy the long ones that you show - they are called English or burpless cukes.
About inverting your helmet and cooking in it - in a couple of the Remembrance Day programs, they show using the WWI helmets as cooking pots. Happy Chinese New Year!!!

Judy said...

PS Thanks for the idea of sauteing the asparagus with some garlic!! I loved it!! Although the dogs got the garlic... I have always steamed veggies, before...

Chubskulit Rose said...

Happy Chinese New Year Ann.

C is for Crystallized Twigs, please come and see.

penny said...

I learned something new from you today. Apple cucumbers are new to me too.

How nice of you to make the Red Riding Hood capes for the kids, they look so cute.

And happy memories of Chinese New Year!

be happy and well,

Jama said...

Wishing you and your family a Happy New Year! Gong Xi Fa Chai.

Mona said...

Happy Chinese New Year actually that's my post also hope you can visit :)

Kim, USA said...

Same here we are in the same boat. A Blessed New Year ahead! I saw that long cucumber here but I doubt it if I see a white cucumber. Looks like the food is delish, ain't nice to see kids around holiday.
About your question...I visit my family in the Philippines once a year.

Francisca said...

Kung Hey Fat Choi, Anne! I say it in Cantonese because they originated the phrase and of course my sweetheart is Cantonese. Otherwise I use Mandarin/Pinyin. Good you had a steamboat dinner to bring in the Year of the Hippity Hop. I'm a little confused why you (and others) say you don't believe in the lunar astrology because you are Christian; it has nothing to do with religion, just like Western astrology doesn't. Back to food, in HK and China we still get to use the traditional donut-shaped hot pots, and it's sure delicious!

Amanda said...

Have never seen a white cucumber before! I do like cake though! A great 'C' post!

Kay L. Davies said...

Happy New Year!
Love the red cape, and the serving dishes are fascinating. Interesting history, too, Ann. Thanks!
-- K

Kay, Alberta, Canada
An Unfittie's Guide to Adventurous Travel

Roger Owen Green said...

Happy New Year. My daughter loves cucumber but not I.

ROG, ABC Wednesday team

Elaine Yim said...

Ann, Kung Hei Fatt Choy!

Cildemer said...

A very nice entry for C day! Love the third shot! She's such a cuttie!
Happy Chinese New Year;o)

Have a beautiful week, Ann****

rainfield61 said...

A lot of eating yesterday, from evening until midnight.

Yes, still eating in the midnight after praying to the Gods.

I'll not travel to Kangar, Perlis, like I do every year because my in-law visit Penang this year.

I'll continue eating and drinking for the next few days. Need a lot of huff and puff to burn away the junk.

Happy Chinese New Year to you.

Wish you "Huat-lah".

Al said...

Great and informative post, Ann. Have a happy and prosperous New Year!

Carver said...

What a great post. I love the shot of your daughter and her friends on her birthday. Happy Lunar New Year! This was such a fascinating post full of great information and memories.

rainfield61 said...

By the way, do you work today?

Ebie said...

The apple cucumber is something new to me.

That is so sweet of you sewing their costumes. Red is my favorite color.

Kung Hei Fat Choi!

Dimple said...

This is very informative and interesting! I had never heard of steamboat cooking before; it's fascinating how different peoples have solved the problem of cooking food.
Thanks for the visit!