Grow old along with me! The best is yet to be, The last of life, for which the first was made: Our times are in His hand Who saith "A whole I planned, Youth shows but half; trust God: see all, nor be afraid!" - From "Rabbi Ben Ezra" by Robert Browning

Monday, January 23, 2012

Happy Chinese New Year!

Today is the first day of the Chinese New Year. This is the year of the Dragon, and to the Chinese, this will be a very important year!

Astrology is very important in the Chinese culture, and within their zodiac, the dragon (the only animal represented that is not real) is the most significant. The image of the dragon that we see in Chinese culture is a combination of several animals, including the tiger, the fish, the snake, and the eagle. This is why the dragon is considered superior to other animals, because it is a combination of them.

The dragon is revered, and holds special significance for the Chinese people. It is not a symbol of evil, or an image to be feared, like we in the west would think. On the contrary, the dragon is a symbol of power, superiority, wisdom, and rule.

In ancient China, the people lived in tribes. Each tribe was represented by an animal, and the characteristics of that animal represented the characteristics of the tribe and it's people. The two largest tribes combined, and they chose the dragon as their symbol. To this day the Han Chinese still refer to themselves as descendants of the Dragon.

Those born in The Year of the Dragon are considered special. They typically stand out in the crowd. They typically are not shy, almost demanding attention! This person is a do-er, an achiever who gets things done. This person can also have a temper, almost wrathful when angered. However, even as the Dragon has a soft underbelly, the person born in the year of the Dragon has a soft spot, and can be greatly compassionate to those in need.

As the dragon has a long, wagging tongue, so does the person born in this year have a tongue capable of reaching far with sharp, biting words and sarcasm, another reason not to make an enemy of the Dragon person! They are not afraid to be confrontational, and make great allies if you stay on their good side and reach their soft heart.

The person born in the year of the Dragon has the potential to excel in everything he or she puts his hand to. In work, in education, in every endeavor, the Dragon person's natural gifts and skills stand out, shine, and bring great results! The only thing that can stop them is their own temper!

If you are interested in learning more about the Chinese Zodiac, the year of the Dragon, or other Chinese cultural symbols or events, do some internet research. There are many resources to learn from!

Famous People Born in the Year of the Dragon

Joan of Arc
Susan B. Anthony
Florence Nightingale
Sigmund Freud
Mae West
John Lennon
Bruce Lee
Keanu Reeves
Orlando Bloom
Sandra Bullock
Al Pacino
Fats Domino
Jorge Drexler
Jose Canseco
Nicholas Cage
Reese Witherspoon
Salvador Dali
Shirley Temple
Ricardo Arjona

We had a small celebration here at home. Very simple. We brought in Chinese food. My dad always like Onion Beef and Rice, and John likes Happy Family. Although I try different things when we eat Chinese away from home, here, especially in cold weather, I like to keep it simple. I love Hot and Sour Soup and Egg Rolls.

In the early years of her marriage, my sister used to host an annual Chinese New Year celebration. Handmade Egg Rolls, Beef and Broccoli, Fried Rice, Pork Lo Mein, and Hot and Sour Soup among others. I've made her Hot and Sour Soup many times over the years. Although it can be made simply or elaborately, I always loved my sister's version of this delicious soup. So I want to share her recipe with you. If you try it, come back, leave me a note, and tell what you think. I'd love to know.

Hey, at the very least, don't forget to have a fortune cookie today!

Chantal's Hot and Sour Soup


-- 3 Cans Chicken Broth (6 sometimes 8)

-- 1 TBLSP Soy Sauce (2 sometimes more, if I use more broth)

-- 4 Dried Chinese Mushrooms, soaked for 15 minutes in boiling water, stems removed and caps cut into fine strips (eh, I just used a small can of sliced mushrooms, drained and rinsed.)

-- 1/2 cup Bamboo Shoots cut into 2-inch strips 1/4 inch wide (eh again. I used a whole small can of sliced bamboo shoots and cut them lengthwise into thin strips. Cut this way, they give a nice texture to the soup. You must drain and rinse them or they'll add an unwanted flavor to the soup.)

-- 1/4 LB Raw Lean Pork cut into narrow strips. (I used 3-4 pork chops. I sliced the pieces very thin but varied the length and thickness of a few pieces for texture.

-- 1 Cake of Firm Tofu, about 3x2, cut into 2-inch strips 1/4 inch wide. (Don't double this. Use exactly 1 cake, and use the kind of tofu that's packed in water -- the other kind is too dry. Once you get the cake in your hands, you'll see how to cut it. You don't have to follow the 2-inch 1/4 inch thing. Just keep it near the same size as the pork and shoots, and keep the slices thin. It will try to fall apart, that's okay. The different sizes will add to the texture and appearance of the soup.)

-- 1/4 tsp. White Pepper (double, then add more to taste. I prefer more, twice as much in fact. This is the HOT in Hot and Sour.)

-- 2 TBLSP Lemon Juice (double, then more to taste. I use a dollop or so more. This is the SOUR in Hot and Sour.)

-- 2 TBLSP Cornstarch mixed with 3 TBLSP Cold Water. (Double this and keep the cornstarch at hand in case the soup looks thin, then you can mix more cornstarch and water and add as much as you think you need. This is the thickener, but you don't want it too thick. Judge the thickness by what you've seen in Oriental Soups you've had in restaurants.)

-- 1 Egg, lightly beaten. (double)

-- 2 tsp. Oriental Sesame Oil -- or 1/4 tsp or more of hot chili oil, to taste. (double. I lucked up and found a bottle of Chili Sesame Oil, and it was perfect! If you can find a bottle, use it. Otherwise it's up to you whether you use one, the other, or both.)

-- Finely Chopped Scallions for garnish.

** I also add a small can of Water Chestnuts. I buy the sliced water chestnuts and slice them into strips. They add the most amazing texture to the already wonderfully textured soup. Don't forget to drain them, but DON'T RINSE THEM. flavor!


1 -- In a large saucepan combine the broth, soy sauce, mushrooms, bamboo shoots and pork (and the water chestnuts). Bring the soup to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer the soup for about 3 minutes.

2 -- Add the bean curd, pepper and lemon juice. Bring the soup to a boil and add the cornstarch mixture (stir the mixture again just before adding). Cook the soup, stirring, until it thickens slightly, then pour in the egg verrrrry slowly, stirring the soup constantly.

** If after adding the cornstarch mixture and cooking a bit you think it needs to be thicker, add more mixture, but only add a little at a time, then cook and see how it thickens. Do this BEFORE you add the egg. My guess, Unless you use more than 6 cans of broth, you shouldn't need to add more thickener.

3 --Remove the soup from the heat, stir in the sesame oil or sprinkle with chili oil. Use the scallions to garnish individual bowls of soup.


Obviously preparation is the time consuming part of this recipe. It cooks very quickly, and I usually made it before I made anything else, and let it set on the stove on a low heat to keep warm. I LOVE this soup! Have fun with it!


ps: You can reduce the sodium by using Reduced Sodium Soy Sauce and Reduced Sodium Chicken Broth.

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