We love China for a million reasons. The biggest is that it is the birth country of nine of our thirteen children.
But we haven’t always done the best job at reflecting that love in how we celebrate Chinese holidays and/or incorporate China into our day-to-day life. Because, honestly, with a big, busy, and on-a-budget family, that’s not always easy. But, I am learning, it is possible.
And not just possible. Fun. Important. Even, for us, necessary.
But please hear my heart. If you take anything away from this post, let it be this: you don’t have to do much for it to matter. Forget Pinterest-worthy, mama. Just start small and see what happens. Try a new asian recipe, get a new book on China or pull out the red envelopes this Chinese New Year and watch how your kids respond to opportunities to talk about and take pride in their homeland (and squeal over an opportunity to use their chopsticks).
Over the last few years we’ve found some recipes that have transitioned from test-recipes into some of our most-requested meals. We try to always keep the basics on hand at all times so that when the urge for some Chinese food hits us, we’re ready to go. We get most of the ingredients at WalMart (like Chili Garlic Sauce, soy sauce, rice vinegar, sesame oil and Srirach) and specialty items – like Chinese noodles, dark soy sauce, unusual spices and Shaoxing wine – we buy when we visit the Asian market. With these items on hand (and a little fresh produce) a typical lunch might be leftover rice turning into fried rice or plain ramen becoming (our current favorite) spicy ramen.
(For more explanation on Chinese sauces, here’s a great guide.)
Here are the recipes that are currently at the top of our list (making up the bulk of our Christmas 2016 dinner):
Beef Lo Mein
Dumplings (although we have recipes here and here that I can’t wait to try)
Dumpling Dipping Sauce (which we use for lots more than dumplings)
Chinese BBQ Pork Buns with Milk Bread (you can see a picture of ours here… so cute, but when we make these again we’ll change it up; the milk bread outside was divine but the bbq recipe we used – the one linked in the recipe for the buns – wasn’t a home run)
We added another super-fun way to celebrate last September when I finally bought the Mooncake Cookie Molds I’d read about. Initially, my kids didn’t seem nearly as excited as I was, but when the molds arrived, and the idea of making cookies to celebrate Mid-Autumn Moon Festival became tangible, they were ecstatic.
So ecstatic, in fact, that we didn’t wait for the Mid-Autumn Festival to give our new molds a try. We picked a sugar cookie recipe from allrecipes.com (my go-to if I can’t find it on Pioneer Woman) and we gave it a go. The molds were much easier to use than I’d expected and the cookies were tasty. But the dough spread on baking and the cookies lost a lot of their gorgeous details.
Needless to say, we ate them anyway.
A few days later, as Mid-Autumn Festival inched closer and the cookies dwindled, we decided to make them again. This time with the recipe in the original post about Mooncake Cookies.
And this time, I took pictures.
The dough was crumbly and easy to work with. In fact, once the dough was made, my kids did most of the work in making the cookies. We dusted the molds lightly with flour beforehand but I don’t think this was really necessary.
My biggest contribution was an occasional whack to get the cookie out if it wasn’t falling out easily enough for them.
These molds are super cute and make the loveliest cookies – we chose the cat, the goldfish and the mooncake designs.
We honestly love them so much we purchased more after making these (and even gave some to friends as gifts this Christmas).
The cooking time is unusually long in this recipe, at a very low temperature, which I think lends itself to the cookies keeping much of their detail. And they they taste very much like shortbread and keep for a while (much longer than they’ll last).
Several days after we made these, we dipped the few left in chocolate and were even more enthusiastic about how they tasted.
So why talk about Mid-Autumn Moon Festival cookies and Christmas BBQ buns at Chinese New Year? Because, although not the traditional way to celebrate, it makes us feel happy, and connected and fills our bellies and hearts in the yummiest way. So this Chinese New Year, we’re doing it all again. Or, at least whatever parts we feel like doing.
Mooncake cookies? You bet.
Red envelopes? Sure thing.
Not completely sure on the rest, but I can tell you that my kiddos – just knowing they’ll be pulling out their red envelopes, cookie molds and chopsticks – are already eagerly counting the days between now and January 28th.
Because it doesn’t have to be perfect to be just right for your family, right now. And it doesn’t have to cost a lot, or even require a lot of time. So, busy mama, if you’re not already planning something for Chinese New Year this year, and you make the effort to try just a little something new, I really think you’ll be so glad you did.
Try one new recipe this Chinese New Year and make it together.
Or find a few books at your local library and read about this most-celebrated holiday over a paper plate of Chinese take-out.
And then be on the lookout for opportunities to encourage an appreciation and admiration in your child for their birth-culture and birth-country.