Today marks the new lunar year, the year of the horse. 新年快樂! I’ve already made taro cake (wu tou gao) in anticipation of the new year, and this weekend, I am planning to make nian gao, or New Year’s cake, to continue the celebration. There’s nothing better for Chinese New Year than enjoying all the traditional foods that my grandma used to make to ring in the new year.
I started reading about Chinese astrology and what is supposed to characterize each birth year, as well as love compatibility. I am an Ox (a lot of people mistakenly think I am a Tiger because of my birth year, but since I am a January baby, I am technically at the tail end of the year of the Ox on the lunar calendar). Chris is a Rooster, and as luck would have it, the Ox and the Rooster are actually a ‘strong match.’ We are supposed to have similar temperaments and values in life, as well as have complementary differences. According to the astrology site I was reading, the Rooster needs the “calm” that the Ox provides to have a harmonious home and love life. That’s definitely true of us.
I don’t normally care at all about “luck” or superstitions or astrology, but it is nice to read these things and see that there are forces out there that “approve” of my choices, and that the future looks auspicious for us together. It makes me smile.
Even though I love cooking, I don’t meet many people who love to cook. I’m sure it’s partly a function of the fact that I live in New York City, which is restaurant/delivery central (and not to mention known for having the tiniest kitchens on earth), as well as the fact that New York is full of workaholic types who don’t want to have lives outside of work that would actually allow them the time to cook real meals. So I tend to get really excited when I meet someone who does share the desire and love to cook, and someone who doesn’t say something condescendingly moronic to me like, “Wow, you actually have time to cook?!” Yes, I am a real adult who can cook a homemade meal for herself and does not rely on the artificial additives and excess salt and MSG that fill your takeout meals, thank you very much.
I had dinner tonight with a former colleague friend of mine who recently bought his own apartment in Brooklyn, which has ample kitchen space. He’s begun cooking a number of ambitious things (coq au vin!) and is eager to experiment with other recipes. It makes me happy to hear about others learning how to cook and finding techniques they love and hate. It makes me think there may be hope for the world. I need to find more people who enjoy cooking and can appreciate a homemade meal.
I was sitting having iced tea with a friend today, and we were half joking about how people in general are disappointing when it comes to “trying hard enough” to keep in touch. “There’s no reciprocation,” my friend said. He said to me that in general, if a friend is over 20 miles away from you, the chance that s/he will make a genuine effort to continually keep in touch is pretty tiny. I said I had friends less than that distance who were difficult to make plans with. And then I have found with people who I have considered close, sometimes I just get exhausted of always feeling like I am putting more effort into keeping the contact going, so since Ed left us last year, I’ve consciously made an effort to stop doing certain things that either provide no benefit for me or give me no joy.
1. I’ve stopped sending news articles I find interesting (and believe certain friends will find interesting) to a select number of people. If they are never responding (and I find, through using bit.ly links, that they are never even opening my links), they probably shouldn’t be getting the few extra minutes I spend thinking about them and actually sending the links to them to read.
2. I’ve stopped trying to maintain contact with people who don’t reach out to me proactively. Why do I want to stay in contact with people who don’t think of me on their own?
3. This one is sad. I’ve stopped calling certain people. I’ve realized after thinking about some phone conversations that I’m not really being listened to. I’m too charitable when it comes to listening sometimes, and I don’t want to listen to things that bore me anymore. When you are not being listened to, why should you listen to that person?
Every day, I’d like to think I am growing and changing a little. You often hear stories about couples and friends outgrowing each other even when they may spend every single day together. It’s one of the hardest things to slowly start letting go of friends that you have had for maybe decades because they are almost like habits for you, and maybe bad ones at that. You are so used to having them around that after a while, you can’t really remember what pleasure they are really bringing you today, not 10 years ago.
And there comes a time in life when you really need to let go of your bad habits, as painful as it is.
Last week, I finally booked a trip for my parents to go to the Grand Canyon. This is a trip my mom has been wanting to do for a long time. She actually wanted to do it last year but was ultra dramatic about Ed’s condition, so she decided against it last March. The four of us were all supposed to go together. Now this April, the three of us will go without Ed, and Chris will be joining us.
It felt really good to plan and arrange all of this for my family, but the entire time going through flights, hotels, and tours, I felt a little pain knowing Ed would not be joining us. Last night, I dreamt that my parents and I were at the hotel in Phoenix during our upcoming trip, and for whatever reason, my mom randomly decided to bring a collection of photos of Ed as a child. I slowly went through them and paused on his elementary school yearly portraits. He’s so, so innocent, I thought. And then I began to cry. My mom continued doing what she was doing, oblivious to my tears.
Those photos depicted him when he was much younger, but at heart, he was always a child – so innocent and trusting and naive. I really miss my brother.
I’ve been spending some time filling out applications for youth mentoring opportunities in New York City. Last Thursday, I had an interview with an organization that provides mentors specifically for young girls. I’ve always enjoyed volunteering, but I realized what I did not like about the things I was doing was that none of them were continuous – all were just one-off projects that, while fun and helpful, didn’t really do much for me personally.
As I am going through the many pages of questions that these applications are asking me, and discussing what I want out of life through mentoring on these phone interviews, I’ve realized that all I really have in the back of my mind is Ed. I think about how I wish he had someone he trusted who he could look up to. I wish he had someone he could call a mentor. Maybe he would still be with us today if he had one. I guess in many ways, he looked to me for advice and help, but I don’t think it helped his self-esteem to know he was asking for advice from his little sister who is seven years younger than he was.
I’m going to try to preserve him by helping others. It’s one tiny thing I can do to keep his memory living on.
When I first moved to New York, for the first few years, it would always be my own tradition to make taro cake and Chinese New Year cake (sticky and subtly sweet nian gao) at home and share with friends. For the last two years, I have slacked off, and I decided to recommence this tradition this year. I began the process yesterday night, soaking shiitake mushrooms and dried scallops, boiling Chinese sausage and bacon, and simmering taro root, and today, I finished my taro cake.
When I think of Chinese New Year traditions, I always think of my grandma and how she used to make all of these treats for us once a year, every year, to mark the beginning of the new year that mattered to her. She never used a recipe and did everything from her head or by touching, feeling, and smelling. I don’t recall her ever even being the type to taste test her food to adjust for seasoning. It always came out perfectly.
Ed didn’t care for New Year’s cake much, but he did like taro cake, as well as the other fried New Year’s delights, because who can reject something that is deliciously fried to perfection? Bart will get a bite of this cake tomorrow.
As part of my Christmas gift this past year, Chris got me a croissant making class at Mille Feuille Bakery. The class had just six students, and the baker/owner Oliver, who is from Paris and schooled in pastry there, showed us the different steps to making croissants. It’s actually a three-day process, but he was able to have a lot of the parts pre-made and done for us to condense it into just three hours. In the end, I was able to roll out, shape, fold, egg-wash, and bake 17 croissants – 10 regular, four almond-paste-filled, and three chocolate. I even have dough I took home to make 10 more next weekend!
When I ate my first one at the end of class, it was straight out of the oven – light, airy, subtly sweet, and incredibly buttery with its many, many layers. I could probably have eaten five or six of these without even realizing it. I’d never had a croissant that fresh in my life, and it was just so shocking how light it was, given I knew exactly how much butter went into these beauties.
I had Bart in my purse during the entire class. I wanted to take him with me because although Ed wouldn’t have really enjoyed a baking class, he definitely would have enjoyed the end part of eating all of those babies up. If he were there with me as the baking sheets were coming out of the oven, he probably would have eaten half of them in one sitting. Ed was such a guy – just scarfed down food without realizing exactly how much he was eating. Yet he never seemed to gain weight.
Someone in my Facebook feed shared this article today that reminded me of Ed. It’s called “9 Ways Brothers Protect their Sisters.” This article doesn’t really paint Ed as the brother he was to me fully, but there are some elements that definitely resemble him.
He always gave his opinion on what I was wearing – “Isn’t that a little short?” or “That color looks awful on you!” and “I need to buy you new clothes.” He actually did buy me some new clothes at one point while working at Macy’s. He didn’t like that I just wore those free over-sized volunteer shirts I got from events where I worked for free, or those shirts that people gave as generic souvenirs when coming back from vacation; he said I needed to have comfortable, good looking pajamas that I actually liked to wear and sleep in. So he got me two sets that I actually really like to this day. I still have and wear three of those pieces. Even when they get worn out, I’m still never going to get rid of them.
He also wanted to assert his older brother-ness on me by giving me advice on things like how it’s against God to have sex before marriage (sorry, Ed), and how girls’ minds work one way while guys’ minds work in a completely different way, so I shouldn’t just think that because I may like a guy, he would feel the exact same way about me. Even though I would roll my eyes at him or tell him I knew what I was doing at the time, I actually remember a lot of these conversations fondly now and smile thinking about them. I need to hold onto these memories before they may slip away. I can’t believe it’s been over six months now.
After three years of not really communicating (unless you count random Facebook wall posts), a friend from college and I have reconnected and are now exchanging e-mails. We haven’t seen each other since graduation day, which I guess is somewhat understandable since most of the time after college, she was living all over China while I was here in New York. I realized how many times I would reference her during conversations, reminiscing on studying abroad together in the same program in Shanghai and food-adventuring through the Boston area together, and I realized that we needed to connect again. When you remember someone so fondly and think about them that often, why the heck would you not still want that person in your life?
So that’s one of my many goals for this year and for the rest of my life – to do whatever I can to maintain the important and fulfilling relationships I have. If that means re-connecting randomly over e-mail or spending a little more time on the phone, then that’s what it will take. People are what make our lives so great, so it will be worth it in the end to invest more time in them – as long as it’s reciprocated.
And I am going to see her when I visit Phoenix in April!!
I worked from home today since I didn’t want to deal with slipping and sliding over all the piles of snow and ice that had accumulated overnight, and it’s probably better that I did because all I could hear on NY1 was everyone on the Upper East Side complaining that De Blasio is screwing over our neighborhood by sending all the plowers to Brooklyn and Queens. As he said, we should be focused on all five boroughs as New York City, not just Manhattan. I took a quick walk outside today, and there was way more snow on the roads than I thought there would be.
Though there was more snow on the roads than I’d thought, that is relative to what I am used to having lived in this neighborhood for almost two years now. When I lived in Queens, there would be streets after streets in Elmhurst that would go un-plowed for days. My roommate once took a photo of herself digging herself out of the snow that had accumulated around the Grand Ave subway entrance, preventing her from easily walking out. She had to literally dig and climb her way out! People on the Upper East Side need to stop complaining because they don’t even know the definition of “ignored” or “untended to” until they have lived in my old neighborhood. Poor Queens. When you have always had privilege, I suppose you think you are just entitled to it no matter what the situation and take it for granted.