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I heart Chinese New Year

Posted by Cheryl Yul-Behrenwaldt on
I heart Chinese New Year
            My family came to the US when I was around 2 years old. Growing up, it was primarily my parents and my younger brother, with my grandparents staying with us for months at a time to help out (they stayed as long as their visa allowed). We had a very immigrant lifestyle, my parents owned and worked in a motel, where we also lived for a couple of years when I was younger. I spent most of my youth hanging out in the industrial laundry room folding towels, loading the coca-cola machine or making friends with guests at the motel pool. It was an atypical way of growing up, but it didn't occur to me until I was much older how different it was from how most kids grew up.  That was just our M.O. Other than being raised in a motel business, I ultimately had what you would consider a pretty normal(ish) childhood. Sure, my parents had to figure out all of the Western holidays ( you get dressed up in costumes and ask for candy from people at their house?!) and when we got in trouble, my dad's lectures were always about how he came to this country to give us a better life ... but other than that, my brother and I had a good time and became Americanize pretty quickly.   My brother and I were Taiwanese trying to blend in with the Americans, particularly since we lived in a small town and there was one other Chinese family in town.  They were THE Chinese restaurant owners, so we became quick friends for obvious reasons.  Since my parents came to the US with small kids and broken English, they were too busy trying to make things work to teach us to be Chinese (my Mandarin is terrible), we just had to work with it and hold on to our heritage in our own way and this was primarily through food.
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            The town we lived in was about 45 minutes outside of Atlanta and every Sunday, my family would take a trip to Buford Highway in Atlanta ( our International mecca for Asian food) and shopped at the International Farmer's markets and  Chinatown grocery stores. My mom would always cook Chinese food at home, even though she would throw in vegetable beef soup and brownies every once in a while. As with most immigrant families, we cooked and ate what was familiar. Growing up and as an adult, I of course, love Chinese food, but I never bothered learning to cook it. I figured that I can't possibly compete with  Chinese restaurants (and in Atlanta, there are so many great one to choose from) or my mom's home cooking, so why bother. And to be honest, I still primarily feel that way.  I would crave Chinese food, or really anything ethnic and spicy if I go without it for too long. Oh I love the spices! My kids are spice eaters in training; it's just as important as learning to eat with chopsticks. Since Covid, I haven't been able to go to any Chinese restaurants with my parents, so I've been drawn towards trying to dabble in the Asian flavors at home by making homemade dumplings, baos and ramen noodle soups.  Since my family is from Taiwan, I just want to take the opportunity to shout out some of my favorite Taiwanese dishes: beef noodle soup, scallion pancakes, lu rou fan, stinky tofu and bubble tea.  This is purely FYI and shameless PR for yummy food. 
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Homemade dumplings
              With Chinese New Year in particular this year, I wanted to embrace my heritage and celebrate with what else? Food. Since Chinese New Year is a moving target every year, it usually sneaks up on me  and although we typically eat with my parents, it's usually rolled into our bi-monthly restaurant outtings so I never thought that much about it. Recently, I was inspired by a podcast that I love, the Sporkful, where they talk about celebrating other people's holidays.  Well, heck, if non-Asians are celebrating Lunar New Year and they are into it, shouldn't I be giddy about it too?! The main driver for going all in on Chinese New Year is that as my kids get older, I want them to embrace where they are from and to celebrate it fully.   The older ( and wiser) I get, the more Asian I feel. As a child growing up in America, I was very Americanized, but I always had a deep appreciation and pride towards my Taiwanese roots.  So this year, I went all out, the kids received red envelopes, I have Chinese lanterns and decorations in the house and we had two wonderful Chinese New Year celebration meals.
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           Since Chinese New Year and Valentine's were on the same weekend this year, well my mind was blown.  As you may recall from my February 2020 post, I love to celebrate Valentine's Day. It's not because I'm looking for an overpriced pre-fixed meal, I look forward to having a lovey cuddly fun day with the kids and those Dunkin Donuts Valentine's Day donuts are tradition by now. To celebrate the weekend, we found the perfect Chinese New Year and Valentine had a baby project ... Fortune Cookie Valentine's! The kids worked hard making the marble paper last weekend and Honey and I worked diligently to make the 80+ Valentine's for friends and family. They came out gorgeously and frankly, it was amazing to spend the quality time doing this project with my mini-me.  That was a special bonus for me. Wishing everyone a healthy, happy and delicious year of the Ox!
Making Valentine's fortune cookies
Valentine's Fortune cookies

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