Chinese New Year has always been about food to me. When I was a kid, my mother would, and she still does, stock the house with many Chinese New Year goodies like pineapple tarts, crisp rolled wafers also known as Love Letters, Kueh Lapis (a cake painstakingly made by baking a thin layer of batter upon another), Bak Kwa (barbecue sliced pork) and many other local cookies that Singaporeans typically celebrate Chinese New Year with. There were also decorative dishes filled with melon seeds, preserved plums, colourful candies and chocolate gold coins dotting the dining and coffee tables.
And that was just the food for snacking. For our big feast on Chinese New Year’s eve, my grandmother – in her younger days – would cook up a smorgasbord of traditional dishes that would always include a whole chicken, a whole fish, prawns, a superb lotus root soup, braised mushroom, fried pork rolls, and braised dried oysters with seaweed. There would be two tables set out – one for the adults and the other for the kids. I always sat at the kids’ table, even after I graduated from university. These days, my grandmother’s aging limbs cannot withstand the hours of standing that is required for all the cooking. We go to a restaurant for our reunion dinner with all the traditional fixings included but the truth is, nothing can ever compare to a meal lovingly prepared at home.
Since moving to Toronto, being here at this time of the year makes me nostalgic; there is none of the festive spirit that literally basks the streets of Singapore. And while I used to find the Chinese New Year tunes played loudly in every mall annoying, I now miss it. I try to keep up with some of the traditions that I grew up with by giving red packets filled with money to my kids, getting something new or red to wear on the first day of the new year, and stocking my house with lots of mandarins. Oh, and because I know I am a million light years away from creating a feast in my grandmother’s tradition, my husband and I take our kids to our favourite Chinese restaurant for our Chinese New Year’s eve dinner. And we always order a steamed whole fish.
And I bake. I always love to bake to celebrate and for Chinese New Year tomorrow, I made these delicious Chinese almond cookies. I believe they are of the American Chinese tradition and nothing remotely Singaporean at all. I found the recipe on Simply Recipes. These cookies turn out light and crisp with a scant almond flavour on the first day that gets more pronounced on the second. They keep well in an air tight box and are very addictive. My daughter helped out by placing an almond on top of each mound of cookie dough. Her little hands are just perfect for the job.
And to all who celebrate Chinese New Year, Gong Xi Fa Cai!