Sunday, February 06, 2011

Peonies, Pussywillows and Limes

Hello everyone!

It's the 4th day of the Chinese Lunar Year and the festivities haven't really ended yet - after all we have 15 days for the Chinese New Year. Of course, festivities do taper off after the 9th day especially in Penang.

Penang Hokkiens celebrate with a thanksgiving prayer session on the eve of the 8th day of Chinese New Year - it is what we Cantonese call the Hokkien Chinese New Year. It is a big deal in Penang as the Chinese majority here are Hokkiens so the markets get busy again when the 8th day rolls around. Shops run by Hokkiens will again close on this special day as the families gather to offer food and prayers.

I've been taking it easy this Chinese New Year - this year, Nic and I celebrated Chinese New Year here in Penang. It's been fun decorating our apartment with red - not that we don't have enough red in the house (our feature wall is unmistakably red).

We bought a bunch of pussy willow stalks from a wholesale florist supplier on Anson Road just last week. I've always been intrigued by these little 'furry' flowers. They are a symbol of spring arriving. Of course Chinese New Year is also known as the Spring Festival but that only seems to be true if you live in China where snow melts and spring arrives with flowers budding and flowering.

In smouldering warm Malaysia, spring is in the mind. So one of those ways to remind ourselves about spring is to ensure we have fresh pussy willow blossoms in the home. We chose the original pussy willow stalks - which will open into white catkins. Catkins are really soft and furry to the touch. The guy who sold us the pussy willows said that we could hasten the opening of the catkins by pinching the covering of the catkins.

Our 6 foot long pussy willow stalks are immersed in water to encourage more catkins to open up. They don't have any distinct fragrance though.

The next flower which is very closely tied to the Chinese New Year is the peony flower. However we didn't and probably couldn't get fresh ones even if we tried. The next best thing was to get fake ones from a home decor shop. I found magenta peonies to match our magenta throw pillows.

Lime trees with lime fruits are also much in demand during Chinese New Year. I chuckled to myself when I saw a Caucasian couple buying two potted lime trees from Jusco just last month. The limes were ripe and golden. The Chinese love these lime trees for their abundance and prosperous connotations. But the other problem is, with lime trees, they only look good for a brief time before the fruits fall. Apparently the nurseries pump a lot of fertilizers into these plants prior to selling them. This ensures a hearty flowering and fruiting session just before Chinese New Year.

The idea of growth and prosperity and flowers means that you will see Chinese homes bedecked in all types of plants and flowers, especially any shrub or plant with happy symbolism. And if we cannot get the real thing (as in peonies and such), we have no qualms using fakes either.

As Valentine's Day also falls inside the 15 days of Chinese New Year, it also brings more good business for flower shops, flower suppliers and florists. The price of roses become astronomical too. I've personally never quite fancied the commercialisation of the day of love (and since I've been married for 9 years already so I think  I am so beyond that). It's not that I don't like romance - I do but romance without the tackiness of corny-looking cotton pink bears with hearts!

Lotus root soup! Yummy!

Anyway, I took a break from the kitchen this Chinese New Year and did not make any soups whatsoever. I do have some lotus root in my fridge though. This is again a symbolism for us Cantonese. Lotus root sounds like "abundance" in Chinese so it is a MUST to have it somewhere in the house during Chinese New Year. I plan on making some lotus root soup really soon. (Here's a vegetarian version of the lotus root soup too.)

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