This Friday marks the beginning of the Chinese New Year. For many people in the US, it’s an event of celebratory novelty. For those of who celebrate it as part of our familial tradition, it’s a day of history, symbolism, and superstition. Culturally, it’s believed that the time/date of a person’s birth (which corresponds to the position of the moon) determines a person’s fortune throughout the year and in life. When my twins were born, very specific information was taken about them and brought to a fortune teller, who told us of each of my kids’ lifetime destiny.
The year starting January 31, 2014 is the Year of the Green / Wood horse. Without going into too much detail about the astrology behind the animal, earthly signs, and the associated yin/yang balance,** I have provided a summary of the fortunes that you may encounter this year. Generally speaking, the fixed element of a horse is fire and the year element (2014) is wood – because wood helps burn fire, the year will contain a lot of energy. That energy will either be significantly positive or significantly negative for most people.
Children Born In the Year of the Horse
In general, children born in the Year of the Horse are popular, energetic and clever. They’re strong-willed, wild or unbridled, and prefer to be free – they can’t operate well with restrictions or constraints. Because they can be self-centered or arrogant, they sometimes make decisions based on impulse rather than logic. Other people view people born in the Year of the Horse as strong and elegant (much like the animal itself).
Chinese astrology goes beyond a year of birth; therefore, every child born in the year of the wood horse will not exhibit the same characteristics. Location, time of birth, and gender play a significant role in the ultimate outcome of a person’s fate, thereby dictating that no two children are exactly alike.
** The Chinese New Year follows the lunar calendar (versus the western Gregorian / solar calendar). The first day of the 15 day period begins on the second new moon after winter solstice and thus the actual Lunar New Year falls on a different date every year.
In addition to the traditional twelve animals that you may be familiar with, each year also corresponds to one of the five earthly elements: 1) wood, 2) fire, 3) earth, 4) metal and 5) water. The interaction and relation between all of the different elements and animals determines a person’s compatibility with those things around them.
Traditional Celebratory Food Recipe (Well, OK…not exactly…)
Chinese tradition calls for dumplings (signifying wealth because they look like money) and long noodles (signifying long life) as traditional New Year foods. Because dumplings are a little complicated to make, I and my family often opt for wontons instead. When I was a kid, making wontons was a family activity – my mother used to make giant batches of the filling, and we all would sit around the table for hours stuffing wonton skins. When all was said and done, we made several hundred wontons which, once cooked, were devoured in a matter of minutes.
Now, because of our schedules and the fact that our extended family is far away, my husband and I don’t get the opportunity to participate much in the festivities aside from eating a simple traditional dinner. This year, because it’s a Friday and we’ll be working, we’ll just take our kids out to dinner at a local Chinese restaurant (Americanized style, unfortunately) and exchange red paper envelopes stuffed with money that contains something with symbolic 8s ($88 or on some momentous occasions, $888).
Like many family recipes, it’s hard to transcribe something that’s done by sight and smell, but here is my attempt at writing it down – I hope the result proves to be tasty for you and your family!
½ lb of ground beef
½ lb of ground pork (if you don’t eat pork, use an additional 1/2 lb of ground beef instead)
5-6 napa cabbage leaves or 1 cup of bean sprouts, boiled, squeezed dry, chopped finely (I prefer bean sprouts)
3-4 green onions, chopped
3-4 large cloves of garlic, chopped
1 inch of fresh ginger, peeled and chopped
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1 tablespoon corn starch (optional – I usually omit)
2 packages of wonton wrappers (square or circle – doesn’t matter)
1 egg, beaten and set aside
- In a large bowl, mix (best to do with hand – just make sure those little hands are boogie-free!) all of the ingredients together except for the egg and the wonton wrappers.
- Spoon 1 tsp of filling into the center of the wonton wrapper. (Adjust the filling based on whether you are able to close the wrapper without tearing it. If there is too much room, add a little more. If you cannot close it, remove some of the filling)
- Dip your finger into the egg and moisten the edge of the wonton wrapper, all around the perimeter of the wrapper.
- Fold the wonton in half (into the shape of a crescent moon if using a circle wrapper, or a triangle if using a square wrapper). Pinch the edges tightly together.
- Dust each side of the wonton with flour to prevent them from sticking to each other. Place on a plate or cookie sheet until ready to cook.
- To cook – there are three methods of cooking. I prefer #3 because you lose the least amount of flavor: 1) deep fry until golden brown; 2) drop into boiling water until they float to the top ~ 5 minutes (good for use in soup); 3) Traditional pan fry – be sure to have water on standby. Use a frying pan with a lid. Heat a small amount of oil on medium-high. Brown one side of the dumpling until golden. Pour about ¼ cup of water into the hot pan and cover quickly, allowing the hot dumplings to steam cook. Cook until water has totally evaporated; about 5-6 minutes. If your water evaporates too quickly and/or the dumpling appears to burn, adjust the amount of water and/or reduce heat.
Dipping Sauce: Mix soy sauce, rice wine vinegar (or white vinegar), chopped ginger and chopped scallions to taste.