Bee-bim Bop!

Growing up, I held mixed emotions for cultural events and holidays, like the Lunar New Year, because while I enjoyed the festivities and celebrations, these cultural events weren’t mainstream and celebrating them both highlighted and reinforced our family’s minority status in my eyes.

Lunar New Year Decorations

I am ashamed to admit that later, in my teenage angst, I was often quick to dismiss my parents traditions and rituals as out-dated superstitions. I performed them loyally despite my tsk-tsk smart-mouth out of respect and love for my parents, but I never truly felt pride or a sense of legacy or claimed them for myself.

Now that I have a child of my own, I suddenly have a strong desire to share and to show her how everyone is different and to impart our family’s perspective. When I tried to share, however, I quickly learned that I had only assumed I was cultured because I grew up a minority but in reality, not only did I know little about other cultures, I knew little of my heritage outside of what my parents told me or what was portrayed on tv or in books.

As February 8th, the date of the lunar new year this year, loomed after the “real” new year passed, I found myself Googling various Lunar New Year traditions and on amped up late-night Amazon shopping sprees, trying to fill my cart with cultural items for the celebration.

Chinese calligraphy

I didn’t end up purchasing much other than some ink and red rice paper for calligraphy but I picked up several books on the Lunar New Year and some Chinese, Japanese and Korean culture books to share with my daughter.

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It was fun reading books featuring different Asian cultures and I regretted not doing this sooner. I must look into other cultures in additional to the ones we got since she showed interest.  Of all the books we got, she loved Linda Sue Park’s Bee-bim Bop the most!

Bee bim bop

Bee-bim Bop is a fun rhyming story about a young girl helping her mom prepare dinner (Bee-bim Bop) for the family.  Bee-bim Bop, or more commonly Bibimbap (비빔밥), is translated literally as “mixed rice”.  It is a delicious traditional Korean dish that was historically eaten on Lunar New Year’s Eve.  There is a recipe for it at the back of the book.

Bibimbap

She asked me to read it repeatedly the first day and by the second day she was reciting it on her own.

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A week or so later she wasn’t asking for it anymore so I lent the book to her little cousins, one who is also 3 years old and one who is almost 2, thinking they might enjoy it as much as she did.  True to Murphy’s law, she asked for it again that exact night.

She cried and while I don’t condone the behavior, we reached a compromise since I did lend it out without telling her.  I found a video of it on YouTube and let her watch it instead:

I don’t know how they animated the illustrations but it’s so cute!! I loved it but my daughter preferred reading the book so I quickly re-ordered it on Amazon (affiliated link).

I’m so glad I got the replacement ASAP because the cheerful rhymes are now a staple in her daily speech and she will make up her own verses randomly.  For example, when she needed to go potty: “Hurry Mama, hurry. Gotta pee pee pee.  Gotta go, gotta go, gotta go. Mommy carry ME!!”

 

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A Single Dish Celebration Dinner: Pun Choy 盆菜

Pun Choy (or Poon Choi)

Pun Choy (or Poon Choi)

This was my first attempt at making Pun Choy (or poon choi), translated literally as ‘basin vegetables’, and now it might become a family tradition.

Poon Choy was something on my cooking bucket list that I was leaving for when I had the luxury of more time, maybe even weeks, to plan, research recipes and shop. Instead, this was thrown together a la reality tv show challenge style.

Premise: you got limited ingredients and only 3 hours to plan and put together a celebration dinner. What will you present before the hard to impress judges aka picky toddlers? Cue dramatic music.

Pun Choy (Poon Choi)

Sure, sure, the key layers were purchased ready-to-eat, but this Pun Choy turned out surprisingly easy to make and tasty for an unplanned last-minute feast!

Layers:
1. Garlicky Romain Lettuce Stir Fry
2. Fried Gluten Balls (that’s right, you read it correctly, GLUTEN, not gluten-free balls!)
3. Oyster Sauce Shiitake Mushroom
4. Pork meatballs
5. Fuzhou style fish balls
6. Soy sauce chicken*
7. BBQ pork (char-siu)*
8. Roast duck*
9. Broccoli
10. Ketchup Shrimp
* purchased from a Chinese BBQ restaurant

Soy Sauce Chicken

Soy Sauce Chicken

Roast Duck

Roast Duck

BBQ Pork "Char-siu"

BBQ Pork “Char-siu”

There are probably as many ways to make one as there are families, with simple easy to make and inexpensive layers like mine, to exotic and complicated layers I incorrectly thought it would require.

The potential ease to make, combined with the large variety of foods to accommodate many, makes this a wonderful potluck dish.

Holiday celebrations in this household are usually ad hoc affairs because of the Mister’s stance on non-commitment with going to my in-laws. It is just like pulling love me daisy leaves, except it’s ‘we might be going / we aren’t going’ instead. This year we landed on we’re going, but at 4 PM, the Mister texted from work that we aren’t leaving anymore until the following day. I texted my sister the news and she asked us to join them for dinner at 8 PM. What could I bring?

At 5 PM, my daughter woke from her nap so we went to the kitchen and I took stock of the nearly empty fridge; except for eggs and a bag of Romaine lettuce heads, I had successfully cleared it out in preparation of being out-of-town for 4 days.

I peeked in the freezer- frozen waffles, broccoli, fish sticks, fish and meat balls and eggplant parmesan. The pantry held dried beans, dehydrated Shiitake mushrooms, fried gluten balls and chicken stock. I can scrap together a quick dinner but what is Lunar New Year if dinner is not a feast?

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I started ruminating on the feasts my mom would put together for us each year. It was disappointing that I wasn’t doing the same for my daughter so I thought I should at least attempt just one of the more festive dishes. Just one dish, just one dish, just one dish…

And poof, just like that, the one dish train of thought lead to an ambitious attempt at making Pun Choy for dinner in 3 hours.

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I started on the shiitake mushrooms first because of the amount of time required to get them really soft the way I like them. Normally I soak them for hours or even over night so with just hours until dinner, I washed them and soaked for just an hour and stuck them in the pressure cooker for another hour with some water and cane sugar. Then I drained and cooked them with some garlic and savory Oyster Sauce.

While the mushrooms were in the pressure cooker I made a pot of soup to cook the meat and fish balls. Then I used the same soup to cook the gluten balls next. Finally, I used the same soup to steam and season the frozen broccoli.

Broccoli & Fried Gluten Balls

Broccoli & Fried Gluten Balls

While the meatballs were cooking, I stir fried the Romaine lettuce with some garlic.

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The time was now 7 PM and I was pretty much done but I was disappointed- the dish was hardly festive. If only I had some seafood or meats to give the dish more substance. Just then the Mister texted to say he was on his way home. So I asked him to pick up some BBQ pork (“Char-siu”), soy sauce chicken and roast duck and a pound of shrimp.

I gave my daughter a bath and got ready for dinner while I waited for the key ingredients. The Mister arrived at 7:30 PM, we should be leaving for my sisters but I still have to cook the shrimp so the next half hour was a whirlwind. This is where some people start cracking on reality shows, and the cameras pan frequently on the clock.

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We made it to my sister’s on time and had a wonderful night after all.

The judges? I have no idea if they were impressed or not but they ate and in my book, that’s a win 🙂image

Happy Lunar New Year everyone!!