Friday, December 31, 2010

Seattle: The Whiskey Bar

Jason. Ask for Jason, the no-none-sense-but-still-friendly-and-awesome bartender at The Whiskey Bar. First, he  knew what The Godfather was.  Second, the guy knew his alcohol. He was a sommelier of everything from beer to scotch.  Vocabulary rolled off his tongue like music and the drinks matched his description (you would be surprised how many server/sommelier simply bull^&*$.)

Dennis: "I would like the hoppiest lager you have"
Jason: "No such thing exists in the United States. You must be from Canada."
Dennis: "Wow! Yes! What is the hoppiest, hoppiest thing you have?"
Jason: Handed Dennis a Leafer Madness.

And it was delicious.  So was everything he recommended. When we asked for a non-smoky scotch, he recommended the Glenmorangie Quinta Ruban, and we asked for the smokiest scotch, he delivered a smoky, silky, and smooth elixir (I was too silly at this point to remember what it was).

This bar has an extensive and eclectic mix of drinks and personality.  The bar is the perfect place to be sipping scotch (dark oak wood and black leather sofa). I will definitely revisit this lovely joint next time I am there.  There is no food menu though.  Go after Dinner.

Whisky Bar on Urbanspoon

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Mini Tortilla Cup

Please excuse the poor photo quality.  I am doing an early spring cleaning of photos on my computer.  This is a fun party (New Year Party!) snack idea.  You can use store-bought tortilla sheets or make them from scratch to make it gluten free.

This is super easy to mass produce if you have a muffin pan.  You can make dozens within 30 minutes. If you don't, any oven friendly bowl or cup would do.

I brushed garlic and herb olive oil inside the shell before baking to add extra flavour. You can fill the cup with salad, risotto, cous cous, or cubed shrimps, etc.  If you bake the shell 5 minutes longer, it becomes waterproof.  I tasted this with soy sauce and the shell held it for two days.  This becomes an esthetic way to hold dressing or sauces. You don't have to do circles either, you can fold it up into squares or other shapes.

Instruction:
1. Preheat oven 375F
2. Press a small bowl, cups, cookie cutter, etc upside down onto the tortilla sheet.
3. Use a small pairing knife to cut along the rim of the cup to cut out small circles
4. Brush vegetable oil on the muffin pan, bowl, or cup.
5. Arrange the tortilla inside.
6. Bake for 10 minutes or until the shell has hardened.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Garlic and Herb Roast Lamb

This was our first Christmas without Yaya, and everyone was having difficult time adjusting. I too missed her very much, and I decided that making her signature lamb would be the best way to remember her.

Yaya's lamb is stuff with garlic and herbs...in a rather unconventional way. Small incisions are made around the leg of lamb and each 'tunnel' or hole is stuffed with a sliver of garlic and copious amount of herbs. The end result looks like a dynamite. Then, the leg of lamb is slowly cooked all day until the meat is fall-off-the-bone tender.

I have been trying to perfect the lamb for last 5 years. I have learned that cooking it longer (overnight) does not make the meat more tender. Nor is browning the surface of the lamb before roasting it. The trick is to simply roast it, bone-in and covered, for an afternoon and no longer. You should be able to simply lift the bone right off the meat without cutting or carving.

As I was preparing the lamb, I could picture Yaya going through the same motion and hear explaining the different herbs she was using.

Ingredients:

1 leg of lamb
2 bulb of garlic
2 tbs dried oregano
2 tbs dried basil
1 tbs parsley
2 tbs ground black pepper
1.5 tbs fluer de sel
2 tsp cayenne pepper

Instruction:
Preheat oven 350F
1. Mix all spices and herbs together
2. Cut the garlics into slivers
3. Insert a small pairing knife straight into the meat towards the bone. Twist the knife to widen the hole.
4. With a small spoon, scoop the herb mix into the hole. Use your finger to push the herb to the bottom. Repeat this a few times until there is about a teaspoon of herb inside. (It's not very scientific, so just fill it however you wish).
5. Then, Insert a sliver of garlic into the hole. If there is more room, fill it with more herbs and garlic.
6. Continue to make more incisions around the lamb about 1 inch to 1.5 inches apart and fill each with herbs and garlic. Make these holes towards the bone, like spokes on a wheel.
7. Rub the entire leg in olive oil, black pepper, and salt.
8. Place in a deep pan and cover tightly.
9. Roast for 5-6 hours.

Usually, Yaya would make orzo with the lamb, to soak up the lamb's natural juice and flavours.  Btw, I am making a video of the prepping process. Stay tuned!

Monday, December 27, 2010

Taiwanese Engagement Ceremony: Part 6

Introduction
The First Proposal
Preparation 1
Preparation 2
Engagement Ceremony

Engagement Reception takes place the night of the ceremony. In some ways, this is more important than the wedding reception. While the ceremony involves only immediate family and close friends, the entire village and every acquaintance are invited to the reception. My cousin's engagement reception total 600 people, and this was considered the norm in Southern Taiwan.

Engagement reception is hosted by the bride’s family. Bride and groom sit at the same table with the parents. Rest of seating is assigned according to seniority. Additional red pockets are given to the siblings of the brides now. In return, the bride’s family offers red pockets and cooked chicken thighs tied with red ribbon to each of groom’s friends and younger relatives. Young relative from the bride side will offer napkin or sanitary cloth for the groom’s party, and the groom’s family offers this young person another red pocket. Each helpers and chefs will be given a red pocket by the groom’s family.

A Whole Fish
Menu
The tables are round and seat 10 to 12 people each. The dinner consists of 8, 10, or 12 a la carte dishes (excluding desert), and each dishes have special symbolism of happiness, longevity, and fertility.

The norm is to start with the dragon-phoenix plate: a large cold platter of seafood and festive items, such as jellyfish, fried chicken feet (a.k.a phoenix claws), stewed seaweed, sliced beef, and lobster (a.k.a dragon shrimp). While there are no particular order in which dishes are served, the followings are some of the common dishes:

Shark Fin Soup
Shark's Fin Soup: Despite the environmental impact of eating shark fin, this continues to be a very popular, if not mandatory, dish, because this expensive delicacy represent wealth, and"face" is an important issue.

Lobster in Chinese is "Dragon Shrimp".  Historically, citizens were forbidden to use and possess anything relating to dragon, as the symbolism for Emperor, the Chosen one.  This was a crime punishable by death of the whole family and extended relatives by several degree removed.  As a result, dragon has become an socially desirable and highly sought after symbol of status, class, luck, fortune, and all things that are good.  In addition, red is very desirable and festive colour.  Naturally, lobster, served whole, became a must-have item at any festive banquet.

No idea what this was. Do you?
Peking Duck, and Crab: Desired not only for its delicious taste, but also its beautiful red colour. These items are often served whole to signify plentifulness and completeness.

A pair of Quail or Squab: These birds represent peace and the pair represent the couple.  This is to wish the couple a peaceful life together.

Silkie: Black chicken served whole in medicinal soup. These are delicious and very nutritious.

Beets: a red vegetarian
alternative
Vegetable with Sea Cucumber: This dish is usually served as a stew or soup.  Sea cucumber represents good intention or good heart.

Fish is Served whole. Fish is homophonous to extra or remaining, symbolizing plentifulness.

Drinks: Tea is the standard, and juice and pops for cold beverages.  Hennessy is the alcohol of choice, but wines are becoming increasingly popular.

Desserts: There are several popular choices for desserts.  Sweet Red Bean Soup, Sweet Buns, Mochi cakes, or sweet riceball soup. Popular ingredients include lotus seeds, black sesame, peanuts, sugar, and other sweets.  Each has different symbolism, generally involves happiness, unions, longevity, fertility, luck and etc.

Mochi with black sesame and peanut
Due to the amount of guests and courses, it takes a long time for the kitchen to process this amount of food, meaning the dinner usually takes hours to complete.  In the mean time, the bride and groom with their parents (with alcohol or tea in hands) will go from table to table to thank the guests for coming. In return, the guests will offer words of well wishes and toast the couple.  This is also the time to give out all the red pockets.

Red pockets are given to the siblings of the brides now. In return, the bride’s family offers red pockets and cooked chicken thighs tied with red ribbon to each of groom’s friends and younger relatives. The red boxes that carried groom's gifts are now replaced with gifts from the bride's family. Each helpers and chefs will be given a red pocket by the groom’s family.

The red pocket for the cost of the banquet is given to the bride's family at the end of the dinner, a long with red pocket for the go-between.

Wedding Announcement: A couple days after the engagement, bridal cakes are sent out with the wedding invitation.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Taiwanese Engagement Ceremony: Part 5

Introduction
The First Proposal
Preparation 1
Preparation 2

The Engagement Day
For example sake, let's say this couple's auspicious time is on a Saturday at noon

Participants 
Groom's side
The engagement party consists of the parents, grandparents, and other male relatives or friends for a total of 6, 8, or 12 people including the groom and excluding the go-between. The number of cars used to get to the bride’s house must be a even number, excluding 4, so 2, 6, or 8 cars are appropriate. Each car must not contain 4 people. Female relatives who are born in the year of the tiger cannot attend the ceremony, but they may join afterwards for the banquet. Tiger is consider too aggressive and very inauspicious for the bride.

Bride's side
The bride's family will be the host of the event and often the house would be packed with relatives and close friends.  However, women born in the year of the tiger are not involved with the ceremony and only join afterwards for the banquet. While most guest's participation s are options, the bride's parents, grandparents, and siblings must be present.

The total number of guests at the ceremony is also important.  The final number cannot contain the number 4 and has to be an even number.  Multiples of dozens are the most encouraged.  For some reason, 24 is an okay number.

Attire:
For the groom and groom's father: Business-Informal, suit, tie, suit pants, with formal shoes. Other men, business casual, would be the minimum; no jeans, runners, or hats. The trouser and jacket can be black, grey, dark blue, and stripes.  For shirts and ties, avoid black, green, and light blue. Black shoes are fine. In comparison, less restrictions apply to women's attire, but full black attire should be avoided.  Black shoes are fine.

The bride’s attire is important. Traditionally, a red and gold qipao would be worn. Modern brides have opted for extravagant Western gowns. From head to toe, the bride should be decorated in red and gold jewelry. A sense of balance and modesty must be achieved. For example, bride should not wear a short dress with long sleeves, which may make her look top heavy or, in another word, not grounded. Modesty is also important, but not in the conservative sense; her shoes must be close sole and close heels.

Departure: The groom’s family will first pray to their ancestor before leaving the house. The gifts are loaded into the car and ceremonial firecrackers are lit near their house to sound their departure. The party must arrive at the bride’s house at 11:00 am. 

Traditional Ceremonial Cannon to
welcome the groom's party
Arrival: When the groom’s cars are about 100 meters away from the bride’s house, the bride’s family light the firecracker to welcome the groom’s arrival. The go-between gets out of the car first, and then everyone else except for the groom. The young adult or teen from the bride’s side will open the door for the groom last. Groom gives him a red pocket.

Entrance: In the same order, the party enters the bride’s house. The go-between introduces everyone, groom’s family first and in the order of seniority.  Then, she will introduce the bride's family in order of seniority.  The bride is not present at this time.  She is hidden in her room with her friends, until the tea ceremony.

Gift Exchange: Grooms’ party, excluding the groom, parents, and grandparents, then carry the gifts into the house and present it to the bride’s parents one red box, excluding the jewelries, at a time. The go-between will introduce each item along with words of well wishes; afterwards, the items are placed respectfully in front of the ancestral table. The bride’s parents then give a red pocket to each person carrying the boxes. The go-between then presents the jewelries and then place them respectfully in front of the ancestral table.

The bride (me) flanked
by my aunt, mother, and
friend
Seating: Then, all the guests are lead to the main living room.  The most senior member of the bride’s family then seats the groom’s party.  There are two arrangement for seating.  One seats the guests from right to left according to seniority; alternatively, if groom's parents are the most senior member of the party, the parents can be seated in the middle with others seating according to seniority on both sides.  The groom, in the later case, seats on the right side of the parents.  The bride's family and friends then seat facing the groom's party on the other side of the room, mirroring the seating arrangement of groom's party.

Tea Ceremony: A lucky woman prepares tea.  The lucky woman is usually a close relative of the bride and the woman is considered by the family as the bringer of luck, good fortune, and other great things.  Usually, this woman would be born in the year of the pig. The number of teacups must be the exact amount as the groom’s party. It cannot be any less or more. Teacups is brought to the bride in another room on serving trays. In the meantime, groom’s parents presents the family and the groom’s credential.

My mother acted as the lucky
woman for my ceremony
The bride then takes the stage. This is the first time the bride present herself, since the groom’s arrival. The bride offers the tea to groom’s party with both hands, starting with the most senior member of the groom's family. The lucky woman holds the ceremonial tray. The go-between must accompany the bride from person to person offering proverbs of well wishes and good fortune.  Only the groom's party is offered tea.

The bride then retreats again to her room with the lucky woman, while the guests enjoy the tea. The guests roll up a red pocket and place it inside the teacup after the tea is finished. After, the bride appears again with the lucky woman to collect the tea cup. Each guests offers a phrase of well-wish has they hand the cup, with both hands, to the bride.  The lucky woman will take the full tray back to the ancestral table or kitchen, while the bride remain in the room for the ring ceremony.

Conventionally, I
should be wearing
long qipao
Ring Ceremony: This is the key event for the engagement ceremony. This event should be performed at the exact time that was pre-determined by the astrological expert. For this example, it would be 12:00 PM. A couple minutes before the ring ceremony, the lucky woman lead the bride back to the main room. Bride will sit on a high chair with her foot on a small stool.  The stool must be sturdy with rounded edges or simply round.  Groom will remain standing for the entire duration of the ring ceremony.
First, the groom puts the ring on the middle finger of the left hand of the bride, first. Then the vice versa. When placing the ring, there should be no hesitation or backtracking. Traditionally, bride and grooms are instructed to curl their finger when the ring reaches the second knuckle to prevent the ring from going lower. The ring bearers then slide the ring on fully themselves. This is symbolizes the ring bearer’s sense of self and intention to not give themselves fully to their future spouse, or in another word, an announcement that their spouse does not own them. While this has become a part of the tradition, it is rather contradictory to the spirit of the event, so the go-between will often gives well wishes and compliments to the couple during the ring placement, as a distraction and a way to smooth things over.

Second, the mother of the groom place necklace on the bride and give her other gifts such as earring, hair pin, bracelet or such. Sometimes these can also be replaced with red pocket money of the equivalent amount. The mother of the brides then place necklace on the groom in similar fashion. This is an opportunity for the future mother-in-laws to show acceptance, love, and generosity for their future son and daughter.

Third, with the assistance of the go-between, the couple will individually address their respective future parents-in-laws and their older generations, if they are present, such as “mother” or “sister-in-law”. Societal role is part and parcel for the Chinese. Role calling, such as “boss” or “sister”, not only identify and solidifies ones role within the particular social structural or institution but it is also an important ritual of official acceptance and recognition. Since engagement is considered binding, the two families now become one.

Reverence for the ancestor: Incense and candle are lid for the ancestor. This ceremony is similar to the candle ceremony performed by mothers of the couple during a Western church wedding. This is a show of remembrance and reverence. The uncle of the bride will light the candle. The groom will give a red pocket to the bride to give to the wife of the uncle or an aunt. While these passing of cash inside a red envelope may seem tedious, the transaction is a form of interaction to signify that everyone is connected and everyone in the family has an unique and defined role. Four sets of incense must be lit, for the bride, groom, and their parents. With the go-between' assistance, they will announce the marriage and seek for the ancestor’s blessing and well-wishes. The placement of the incense on the alter also have a specific sequence and method. In short, it should be done according to seniority and there should be no hesitation when planting the incense in the ash pot. Hesitation indicates doubt, and according to superstition, the couple would be cursed with a failed marriage.

Sharing Food: Before heading to the reception, the guests enjoy small bowls of pink and white glutenous rice balls, similar size and consistency as tapioca balls in bubble tea, in sweet broth. This soup is prepared by an aunt of the bride, the go-between, or the lucky woman. Food sharing is a very important family activity. This soup represents sweetness, union, and fertility. On the side, the mother of the bride would discretely remove two longan from the box for the brides to eat. This to ensure the groom will never set eyes on other women.

Next post will be the engagement banquet

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Taiwanese Engagement Ceremony: Part 4

Introduction
The First Proposal
Preparation 1

Preparation 2
In addition to other gift, there are two extra set of gifts to represent the thoughtfulness of the groom’s family. However, these items are terribly impractical nowadays and are considered optional or replaced with cash.

Set 1: (6 or 12 cans of each) Abalone, scallops, shark fins, matsutake, escargot; and two pounds of black mushroom. Wealthy family would use fresh or dried products instead.

Set 2: Half of a pig (raw): symbolizes harvest and earnestness of the groom’s family. This can be replaced with western ham or a red pocket.  For my cousin's ceremony, my grandmother cut off a slice of the pig and sear the surface of the meat.  My cousin is then instructed to lick the blood of the half-raw pork for good luck.
  • Six live castrated male chicken: represent energy, prosperity (castrated chicken has vibrant and beautiful feathers) without the aggressive virility.
  • Six fresh fish: synonymously represent prosperity, plentifulness.
Red Pockets: Giving cash in red envelopes is the norm for gift giving practices in Taiwan. In this case, it is uses similar to tipping, but with more symbolism. The cash amount must be an even number and the number of bills (which also must be new bills) must also be even numbers. These numbers should not be four or add up to four.

Both families must prepare couple dozen red pockets for the ceremony. The giving and receiving of the red pockets must be done with both hands and a small bow and words of thanks or well wishes. For the larger amount, the receiver may politely refuse and the giver must then politely insist. This will go on three before the receiver politely accepts with a bow and words of thanks.
Proper giving and receiving pose

The items listed as "Gift" would require a larger sum of cash.  For example, the gift for the go-between is well in the hundreds (CND).  Items listed as "Tip" are usually within hundreds, depending on the seniority of the receiver.  However, wealthier givers are expected to give more in accordance of their wealth.

Door Opening: (Tip) Groom gives a red pocket to the person who opens the car. This person is usually a young adult or teen of the bride’s family.
Candle Lighting: (Tip) Given to the bride’s aunt, after she light the ancestral candle brought over by the groom’s family.
Go-Between: (Gift) Given to the go-between anytime.
Bride’s Gift: Given to the bride to compensate for the make-up cost.
Tea Ceremony Tip: After each guest has drunk the tea served by the bride, the guests must place a red pocket inside their cups. Groom’s parents must place more money inside the cup than other people.
Banquet Cost: Additional money to compensate for the banquet. Isn’t engagement hosted and paid for by the bride’s family? Yes, but since groom’s family is here to seek the hands of their daughter in marriage. The feeling of indebtedness is considered inappropriate and others may deem the groom’s family as stingy. Additional money shows the family’s generosity and thoughtfulness.  This is sort of like an Alpha dominance show off in the most polite and discrete way.
Gifts for the sibling: Given to the siblings of the bride.
Helpers’ Tips: Tip to thank everyone who helped putting the event together. This includes chef, servers, hostess, and even the person who offer washcloth or wash basin before the meal.
Mothers’ Gift: Given by the groom’s mother to the bride as a show of kindness and inclusiveness. Same is done by bride’s mother to the groom. This is optional, but prior coordination is necessary, because if one mother gives, the other mother must do the same and match the cash amount.
Big and Small “Dowries”: This is explained in the last post.

There is no rule regarding how much money exactly each red pocket should contain. This is determined by the family’s economic ability and comfort level, and also the seniority of the receivers. Young children, on average, receives $10-15 dollars, young adults around $60, and such. (Money giving is not really about the money, but they represents, for everyone to see, a sense of recognition-interaction and the idea of giving-receiving between people forming the basis of relationships amongst each member of the family. From my experience, “tips” are usually $15 or more. While the exact amount does not matter, it is considered very important for the groom’s family to show that they are generous and earnest.

Additional red pockets should be prepared and given to the go-between, to give to the bride’s parents in case of any hiccup or deficiency in the gifts.

One of my red box was replaced with
antiques representing good lucks
and fertility 
Bride's family
The bride’s family will also prepare gifts mirroring each and every gifts and red pockets they receive.

  1. The groom's gifts all come in red boxes or cuensheng.  The bride's family needs to prepare enough gifts to fill all those red boxes. Cleverly, the gifts are often domestic appliances and items the couples can use after their marriage, such as rice cooker, blenders, pillows, bathrobes, rice, etc.  During the banquet, the bride's family will remove the gifts from the red boxes and replace them with their gifts.  These will either return with the groom after the ceremony or go with the bride on the day of the wedding.
  2. Engagement ring and necklace for the groom, prepared by the mother of the bride.  Nowadays, engagement ring for the groom is chosen by the bride herself.
  3. A set of clothing and accessories for the grooms from head to toe.  With prior co-ordination through the go-between, there should be a gift responding each gift the groom's family brought ot the bride.  This can also be replaced with cash in red pocket envelope.
  4. Red pockets for groom's siblings and the go-between. My mother gave red pockets to every single guests at the ceremony.  The cash amount was determined by seniority and role at the ceremony.
Next post, we will go into the actual ceremony.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Taiwanese Engagement Ceremony: Part 3

Introduction
The First Proposal
Preparation 1
For the groom’s family, there are three main categories of gift they most prepare. Each gift has functional or symbolic role. If certain traditional gifts are not practical, it can be replaced with a red pocket, cash placed within an auspicious red envelope, of the same value. The name of the replaced item need to be clearly written on the envelope. For the sake of good organization and communication, the family also need to make a list of all the gifts and red pockets. The list is also written on lucky red pepper to be handed over to the bride’s family as well.

However, there are also a huge list of things that are insulting or inauspicious. Nothing should be presented in 4 or things synonymous with inauspicious words. Nothing should be wrapped in black, blue, green, or white. Black, white, and blue are colors for funeral, while green represent infidelity. Sharp things such as knife, fans, and scissors should be avoided, as it represents severing a relationship. Clocks, picture frames, books, straw sandal, and handkerchiefs all have ominous meaning. While red may be a luck color, pen with red ink can be offensive and names should never be written with red inks.

(From left) Heirloom necklace from the groom's
mother, engagement ring, big and small dowries,
a set of pure gold ceremonial jewellery all prepared
by the groom's family.
Set 1: The numbers of gifts and how the gifts are presented matters. Traditionally, the gifts are placed into 6 or 12 cuensheng or specialty red wooden crate.

  1. Small and Big “Doweries”:  Dowry is actually the wrong translation, but it is widely use. The proper translation would be bride price. The combined amount of the two dowries should represent the nominal amount of the bride’s worth to the groom’s family. This amount is divided into two separate amount. Each should contain consecutive number such as $8800 or $6600 while avoiding “4” or numbers that adds up to 4. For a middle class family, the big dowery is usually $120,000 CND and the small one is $36,000 CND before value adjustment. The smaller dowery should only contain a fraction compared to the large one. Nowadays, family do not “sell” their daughter, and bride price is always politely refused. Thus, the presentation of large dowry has become symbolic. However, this would not sit well with the groom’s family (face saving), so therefore a smaller amount (a.k.a small dowry)  is given as a gesture to thank the bride’s parents for raising their daughter so well and their generosity to allowing their son to marry her. The bride's family will graciously accept the small dowry.  The go-between must help the two sides come to a pre-arranged agreement, so the bride's parents do not intentionally or unintentionally pocket the big dowry, causing family drama for the few decades.
  2. Engagement Ring: gold ring or diamond ring prepared by the mother of the groom.  Nowadays, the groom himself will prepare this ring.  This is the same ring as the Western engagement ring.
  3. Gold Jewellery: 2 gold necklaces, 2 bracelets or jade bracelets, a pair of earrings, adding up to 6 or 12 items. None of these items has to be purchase new. Family heirlooms are often used. These will be worn by the bride for the whole day to show respect for the groom’s family.  Please take care to use valuable or at least sentimental jewellery.  My mother, after 30 years, still bitterly complains about the cheap (rusting) bronze jewellery she received from her in-law.  In Taiwan, fashionable bridal sets are commonly sold in jewellery shops by weight of the gold (no tax). The shop also rent out fashionable jewellery box for the ceremony.
  4. Clothing and accessories for 
    Clothing: These are personal items for the bride. There most be 6 or 12 of these items as well. If the item have pockets, such as pants or purse, a red pocket with small amount of cash must be placed inside as well.  These items can be purse, wallets, shoes, belts, jackets, watch, bracelets, earrings, hat, cosmetics, sawing kit, scarf, socks, etc
  5. Boutonniere:  One for each ‘elderly’ person (same generation as the parents or higher) at the event.
  6. Ancestral Offerings: Two sets of prayer incense, candles, firecrackers, and paper money (celestial money for burning). At my cousin's engagement, the groom also brought enough ceremonial food offering that cover the entire offering table. These are for the bride’s ancestors to inform them of this potential union and to show reverence.
  7. Sweeten Seedless Chinese Jujube Red Date - 2x 6 Oz - Eat Out of Box! (No Artificial Sweeten, No Color) - 2010/05 New ProductThe Four Sweets: Two sets of winter melon candy, rock sugar, oval kumquat jam, and sweet mandarin cake. Each item is chosen because they synonymously symbolize sweetness, union, and auspiciousness. Sweetness symbolizes the young couple and their future together.
  8. Gifts of Fertility: Red dates, peanuts (optional), longan, lotus seed. These symbolizes fertility.
  9. Rice and Sugar: 12 pounds of glutinous rice and 2 bags of brown (red) sugar. This is for the bride’s family to make rice balls for the engagement event. It symbolizes harmony and union.
  10. Longans: Fresh longan symbolizes prosperity, happiness, union, fertility. It also symbolizes the eyes of the groom. The mother of the bride would discretely remove two longan from the box for the brides to eat. This to ensure the groom will never set eyes on other women.
  11. Alcohol Set 1: Rice whiskey, rice wines, and pots for the wine. This tradition is slowly becoming obsolete. Now this is replaced with red pocket.
  12. Vermicelli:  (Uncooked) This represents destiny, longevity and well wishes
  13. Alcohol Set 2: A dozen of two dozen bottles of something expensive and flashy.  Nowadays, brandy, specifically Hennessy, is used.  This is to wish the bride’s family well all year round.
  14. Cakes and cookies: 1 Large (in surface area) and thin specialty cookie or cake with net weight of 1 pound. Western gourmet petite desserts, enough for all the guests. 6 or 12 traditional rice crackers. These synonymously represent great and good groom.
  15. Modern bridal gifts in red boxes
    Bridal Cakes Speciality Pastry: Actually, this is not given at the ceremony.  Within a week after the ceremony, the go-between will ask the bride's parents how many bridal cakes they would like to receive from the groom's family.  The go-between euphoniously asking how many guests bride's family would like to invite to the wedding, which the groom's family is paying for. Bridal cakes are the traditional form of announcement of marriage and invitation to the wedding feast. The number of cakes given to each guest is established according to a rigid etiquette, on the basis of seniority and degree of intimacy. If cost of the wedding is a concern, the groom's family will then bargain through the go-between the number of cakes, hoping to keep down the number of guests and thus the cost.  Eventually, a number will be agreed upon and cakes would be sent.  For my cousin, no actual cakes were exchanged (even though the conversation bargaining about the cake still occurred), but through that bargaining, the parents agreed at an amount groom's family is comfortable spending and the bride's family will cover the rest.
More preparation in the next post

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Taiwanese Engagement Ceremony: Part 2

A go-between carrying the bazi of the couple
Introduction

The First Proposal
When the groom’s parents identified a likely bride-to-be, they would first appoint a go-between, who acts as a buffer between the two families - a role similar to that of a real estate agent today. Considering the amount of money invested in this event by the two families, the go-between who plays the broker, agent, event planner, and other serious responsibilities. The groom’s family would first send the go-between, often an elderly well respected woman (not born in the year of the tiger), to present gifts to the bride’s parents and to sound out their feelings about the match.  If the proposal was well-received, the go-between would obtain the bride’s Bazi, a formal document made by an astrological expert using the date and hours of the bride’s birth and the birthdays of her parents.

Ancestral alter
The groom’s family would place this document on the ancestral alter for three days to a week. If no inauspicious omens, such as quarrels between the parents or a loss of property, took place within that time, the parents would give this document along with their son’s bazi to another astrological expert to confirm that the two are a good match. If the expert deems ‘horoscope’ to be favorable, the parents will give the son’s bazi to the go-between to give to the bride’s family, who would go through the same process.

Only after both outcomes were favorable, would the two families arrange to meet. The date and time of the meeting and when important rituals would be performed are very crucial. Again, an astrological expert would be consulted on the most auspicious date and time. For more traditional families, a fengshui expert would also be consulted regarding the seating location, direction and arrangement.

Note 1: In the past, if the astrological expert deemed the bazi to be unfavourable, the engagement would be cancelled and no marriage would happen.  Nowadays, people no longer believe in the superstition and simply bring the bazi to different astrological experts until one gives a flavourable (desirable) outcome.

Note 2: You are not suppose to take photos or video of the ancestral alter.

More on preparation on the next post

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Taiwanese Engagement Ceremony: Part 1

Being in a mix-culture relationship has its unique rewards and challenges.  Forget about the little girl's fantasy of happy bride in her perfect dress and riding off into the sunset with the perfect man in a white carriage decorated with roses.  Wedding is a war zone, and your goal is walk carefully on the military demarcation line without stepping on any land mines.  Make one mistake and prepare to hear about it for the next 30 years.

My parents didn't wait until the wedding to throw down the gauntlets.  They wanted a traditional engagement ceremony, and my father refuse to recognize Western style engagement in Japan.  World War III ensued and the responsibility to organize this event fell onto me.

This was an event  that should be co-ordinated by parents and middle woman. Normally, brides don't organize their own ceremony.  However, the engagement ceremony in its purest form was economically, culturally, and logistically impossible for us (and you will see why).  I had to reinvent the ceremony and create one that was within our limitation without offending any cultural sensibility.

During my research, I found very little English resource on the internet at all regarding Engagement Ceremony. Even though this is not exactly food related, I hope these next few post will shed some light on this rare tradition and help future couples plan their own.

Introduction
The traditions of engagement and wedding ceremony can be traced back to 402-211 B.C China. Three venerable texts, The Book of Rites, The Book of Etiquette and Ceremonial and the Baihu Tona outline the Three Covenant and the Six Rites that were considered necessary elements of a marriage union. The full ritual is rather complicated and has undergone many changes and simplification since its creations. Each regions also adapted different variations according to their geological, political, and cultural needs.

What remains constant were these main objectives:
  • Joining and enhancing the two families and ensuring succession with numerous descendants
  • Reverence to parents and ancestors
  • Omen to encourages fertility and wealth
  • Financial, and social obligations contracted by both families at the betrothal
  • Extensive gift giving etiquette
  • The bride’s incorporation into her husband’s family

Nowadays, more couples in Northwestern Taiwan are opting to skip the engagement ceremony all together for a more romantic Western style engagement idealized in movies. In contrast, the marriage of daughters are a huge deal for the southerners. Huge and extravagant engagement and wedding ceremonies are very common. Relatives and neighbors compete to host the best and biggest engagement for their daughters and weddings for their sons. For a middle class family, the engagement event would cost, on average, $55,000CND after value adjustment, for the bride’s family. The groom’s family then would feel obliged to upstage that for a total of $75,000CND between the two events. However, at least ⅔ of these amount are cash, which are reinvested in the couple’s first house.

In the West, marriage is the union of two individuals. For Taiwanese, marriage is the union between two families. Thus, the most important parties in the engagement event are the parents of the bride and groom. A generation or two ago, marriages were arranged by the parents of the bride and groom, who may have never met each other.
The engagement "involved an exchange of gifts which, rather than being merely ceremonial, was an integral part of the contract being made between the two families. This was especially so because the girl's family, losing her to another lineage forever, sought compensation that included a cash bride's price. Whatever arrangements were finally negotiated therefore reflected the worth of the girl and her family. So important was this step that, to all intents and purposes, its completion constituted the de facto completion of the marriage. Even if death intervened during the engagement period, which might last a year or longer, it would probably be necessary for the girl, if she survived her fiancĂ©, to join the lineage that had contracted for her services. Conversely, the boy would probably need to complete the ceremony so that his deceased partner's soul could have a secure place within his family's ancestral cult, though this would not prevent him from marrying a second, living bride." (Joachim 1986, 164) 

More next post...

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Splitz Grill

Rated the best burger place in Vancouver by Vancouverites, does Splitz Grill live up to its expectation?  Vancouver isn't really known for having good burgers nor are the health-conscious Vancouverites known for eating a lot of burgers.  The competition is pretty slim, and the consumers are apathetic .  Being on the "wedding diet" for over a year, I am not exactly the burger expert either.

The Lengendary Splitz Burger 2/3lb
However, Splitz Grill definitely did not disappoint my high expectation, and their burgers were worth every calorie. Dennis was in heaven, moaning and groaning over each sinful bite.   He called his 2/3 pound classic burger "Gastronomical Behemoth" along with numerous other creative and lovely adjectives.  If the burger had feelings, it would blush. Their house special BBQ sauce was to die for and made us slightly euphoric.

A cross section of the same burger
However, the lamb burger wasn't as amazing, and I would recommend skipping it altogether.  The fries weren't phenomenal either, and if you are watching your calories, skip this too.

If you happened to try other burgers, let me know what you think. I love Main Street.

Splitz Grill on Urbanspoon

Monday, December 20, 2010

Poultry Nesting Doll Project: Step 6

How much food can 25 people eat?
Time to cook the turducken.  It's pretty simple. Oven preheat to 350F, drizzle the turducken with whiskey, and bake for 6 hours, covered. Then, another half an hour uncovered. Because the bird(s) had no bone, it cooked a lot faster than you would think it does.

Anyway, I douse the bird with Canadian whiskey (Scotch was too expensive).  Then, we put it in the oven and start prepping for the rest of the feast.  Occasionally, I would moisten it with a turkey baster.  Turducken also releases a lot of liquid which needs to be removed regularly to avoid overflow.

We made salad, salad dressing, pasta with meat sauce, and bacon gravy. Yes, gravy made from bacon fat.

We actually miscalculate the internal temperature of the bird and removed the foil too early, burning the surface of the breast.   I would suggest sticking the meat thermometer straight down from the centre of the chest.  It needs to register 160F.  If you don't have a meat thermometer, you can also make a small cut in the centre to see if the juice is clear. If there is blood, it needed to be cooked longer.  Remember to re-cover it, so you don't burn the surface like we did.  Also, convection oven would be ideal.

Do you hate carving turkey? Trying to get around the bones and making sure everyone has equal amount of portion?  You sure will love carving turducken. Without a single bone, the bird yields lovely slices (with stuffing included!) without a fight.  You can cuts right through, oozing moisture everywhere.

From top: turkey, stuffing, duck, stuffing, chicken, stuffing, duck swimming in delicious meat juice.

And it was delicious! The meat was moist and each bite offered different wonderful flavours.  Writing about it make me salivate! We ended up only having 15 people.  Even though the bird was meant to feed 30 people, 15 people cleaned up the entire bird and fought over the last pieces.  Considering the bird was 27 pound, that means everyone had at least 1.8 pounds of meat.

My guests continued to mentioned that it was a phenomenal experience and wished for another turducken for Christmas. For me, I will never eat turkey on its own again.  It has to be turducken.