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Happy New Year! Chinese New Year (Spring Festival) is the most important holiday for the Chinese people. It is a season for celebration, food, visiting family and friends.

According to the traditional Chinese calendar, this is the year 4710.

As a child growing up in New York City where a few of my relatives from our village in Toy Shan ( a rural town in Guangdong Province) lived, the new year meant endless days of dinners and visits with relatives. Our laundry home was extra clean for the occasion. Plates or bowls of either oranges or tangerines were placed throughout our humble but spotless home . Tangerines are symbolic of good luck, and oranges represent wealth.

On New Year’s Eve my mom made a huge dinner—fish, chicken, seaweed soup, squid, abalone, roasted pig, vermicelli noodles, tofu, various vegetables, and of course rice. The meal had at least 12 to 15 dishes. Each dish was symbolic of the good wishes for the new year. The chicken had to be complete with head, neck, and feet to symbolize completeness. A form of noodles was server to symbolize long life. A whole fish was symbolic of never lacking, you’ll always have since the pronunciation for the word fish in Chinese sounds similar to the pronunciation of the word to have. Enough food was made for the new year’s eve dinner to make sure there would be leftovers, a symbol that you had an abundance of food.

One of the favorite foods for my sister and brothers was a sesame ball my mom and dad made during Chinese New Year. In my Cantonese dialect, Toy Shan, they are called  tee doy. Mom made these for the family and took them to the relatives during our new year’s visits.

I can remember my mom starting the process after the dinner dishes were washed the day before new year’s eve. She liked to make them undisturbed through the night. I can still remember the aroma of hot sweet potato and brown sugar wafting through the cold laundry air as she stirred the mixture over a two burner stove as we slept.

In the morning, we’d awaken to the smell of hot oil and the gentle sizzle of the tee doys cooking, our alarm clock. We were eager to taste these once a year treats.

Mom’s recipe changed through the years. When were children, the filling was crushed peanuts, sweetened shredded coconut, Chinese dried dates, and chunks of pork fat. Our job was to crush the peanuts with a glass bottle that served as our rolling pin. Eventually pork fat was given up for a healthier filling—freshly ground organic Valencia peanut butter and lotus seed paste.

The outer skin, made of glutinous rice flour and Chinese brown sugar, varied with the addition of sweet potato or no sweet potato depending upon its availability. Today I use as much sweet potato as the dough will allow me to increase the nutrition and fiber to these sweet golden jewels. When these are made right, the skin is crispy, thin on the outside and chewy on the inside. The filling is creamy and flavors the neutral glutinous rice flour skin. If crunchy peanut butter is used, there is an added surprise crunch as you chew.

To enhance your enjoyment of the Chinese New Year, may I suggest you complement the celebration with the viewing of my painting, Still Life with Tangerine, Ceramic Pot, and Grape.

新年快乐!(xin nian kuai le) Happy New Year!

Copyright 2009-2010 by Nurturing Wisdom

I’ve been pondering about the source of creativity and what enhances its growth.

Creativity often feels like a river welling up within me. I only know the realness of this power when I’m practicing my craft, painting; but even more so when I haven’t painted for a while, when I’ve been without. I can’t go for too long without holding the implements of my craft. Just putting my brush to paint allows the flow of this spirited river. Some of my artists friends have felt this same energy when they cook a special meal, compose a song, write poem, paint a painting, perform a dance, play an instrument, or create a design. They too, have felt out of sorts and are about to burst, when they haven’t practiced their craft for a while.

I have had the tremendous honor of repeating this creative process over and over again as a painter. The times when I’ve been satisfied with what I’ve painted, I step back from my painting, look at it from different angles and say to myself, This is good.

I feel an intimate relationship with chefs, composers, writers, poets, painters, dancers, musicians, and designers who have shared their talents with me and others by allowing this river to flow through them. Whether I view a museum painting, experience fine dining, read a poem, examine the intricate details of a design, or listen to a symphony; I sometimes say to myself, This is good.  The art has taken my breath away. It has touched my spirit and lingers in my mind. I can’t forget it. I want to go back and experience it again and again. The art resonates within me, and I’m willing to purchase it. It lingers in my mind so much that I’m willing to pay a price for it. I say to myself, This is good.

My ponderings on the source of creativity have taken me back to the beginning:

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth… and God saw that it was good… . God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them… . God saw all that He had made, and  behold, it was very good… . (Genesis 1: 1, 25, 26, 31 NASB)

These verses show me a creative and intelligent God who has created me. Since I have been created in His image; I too, have this creativity. He is the source of my creativity. It’s really all His. I’ve also noticed the words used to describe God’s observation of His creation each time He completed a part of it, and God saw it was good; and the words of His final observation that punctuates His satisfaction and contentment, God saw all that He had made, and behold, it was very good when He completed His entire creation. I too, have found myself saying and thinking similar words about my art or the art of others, This is good.

My ponderings on the beginning from Genesis have led me to conclude that ever since the beginning, God hasn’t been able to take His eyes off of His creation, me… us. He lingers and stays with me… us. He just can’t take His eyes off of me… us; in fact, when Adam and Eve disobey God, He offered mankind redemption in His Son, Jesus. God as a loving, compassionate God who offers His Son as a substitute for our misdeeds—a pardon, freedom:

All of us like sheep have gone astray, Each of us has turned to his own way; But the Lord has caused the iniquity of us all to fall on Him. (Isaiah 53:6 NASB)

When I align myself to God and submit to His plan, I’ve found the source of my creativity and the power that will enhance its grow.

God can’t take His eyes off of what He has created, you… and me. We linger in His mind so much that He was willing to pay a very high price for you… and me. In the same way a patron may pay for my art, God has paid for us, His masterpiece. We… I linger in His mind, and He was willing to pay a very high price for you… me, God saw all that He had made, and  behold, it was very good… . 

Rejoice!

Dear Friends and Family!

I wish you the most joyful holiday season and a healthful 2012!

“For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.” (Colossians 1:19-20)

 

Hot Apple Cobbler

Autumn is one of my favorite seasons. The crisp cool air and the array of colors that dance before my eyes is a special treat after the hot summer months of steady green.

It’s a joyous season for gatherings with family and friends to share the season’s bounty of autumn fruits, squashes, and vegetables. It’s a time for cooking together and sharing as the sun sets. I love passing by my neighbors’ houses and enjoying quick glances into their windows as I make my way home each evening!

One of my favorite fruits during this season is freshly picked apples.

Apples are picked in the autumn and may be stored quite awhile before they’re sold, so to make sure you’re selecting the freshest apples, check the bottom of the apple (the opposite end of the stem-where the apple blossom used to be). Look for light green instead of a yellow to brown color.

When buying apples, make sure you buy organic. Apples are sprayed heavily with chemicals that penetrate its skin. Since apples are in season, it is easier to find organic ones on sale. If you buy from a local orchard, make sure to ask whether or not the apples have been sprayed. Buying local doesn’t mean organic.

For weeks we have been enjoying an apple cobbler that’s made with no added sweetener in its apple filling and no grain in its topping. The filling’s sweetness comes directly from the sweetness of the apples. The almond flour topping gets its sweetness from the sweetness of the freshly ground almonds and coconut crystals. For added sweetness, this apple cobbler must be served hot to melt the dollop of vanilla ice cream. No, I’m just kidding!! You can add the dollop of ice cream for festive occasions, but serving this cobbler hot will make it taste sweeter. I recently served it cool and it tasted like a totally different dessert. Please serve this apple cobbler hot!

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Peach Cobbler


One of my favorite desserts is peach cobbler. I know. I know. We should eat what’s in season—like apple cobbler (that’s my next recipe). I just had this yen, and it wouldn’t go away. I had to get it out of my system…I mean into my system.

This is a healthier version. That’s gluten-free with some added protein from the almond topping; vegan; and sweetened with coconut crystals, a low glycemic sugar alternative.

It got rave reviews from my husband. John said, “This tastes like a peach cobbler should taste.”

Peach Cobbler

Serves 6 to 8

Preheat oven 375°

7×7 inch square Pyrex dish

Ingredients:

1. two bags of frozen organic sliced peaches (10 oz. each), thawed—save liquid

2. ten dried pitted dates (four added to peaches and six added to topping)

3. pinch of salt

4. one teaspoon of cinnamon

5. two cups of soaked almonds

6. two Tablespoons of coconut crystals

7. one teaspoon of aluminum-free baking powder

8. four Tablespoons of coconut oil

9. one teaspoon of vanilla

Peach Filling

In a pot:

1. Add the thawed peaches and all the liquid.

2. Add cinnamon.

3. Slice four pitted dates into pieces—lengthwise, crosswise. Add to pot.

4. Simmer until soft.

Filling should be thick, a bit thinner than honey. Taste to adjust sweetness. Add more dates or some coconut crystal. Four dates was sweet enough for me!

Topping

Mix in a bowl:

1. two cups of almond flour—grind in blender or food processor.

2.  Slice six pitted dates into pieces—lengthwise, crosswise. Add to bowl.

3. Add two Tablespoons of coconut crystals (try one tablespoon, add more if needed)

4. Add one teaspoon of aluminum-free baking powder,

5. Add four Tablespoons of coconut oil (straight from the jar)

6. Add one teaspoon of vanilla.

7. Mix and squeeze with hands.

Place the peaches in Pyrex dish. Spoon topping onto filling. Bake until slightly golden—about 35 minutes.

Suggestions and Recommendations:

1. Use Deglet Noor Dates if possible.

2. Top with fresh whipped cream (grass-fed cream) to slow down the sugars.

3. To enhance your dining pleasure, may I suggest that you pair this peach cobbler with the viewing of my painting, Peaches and Cream.


Avocado Soup

Recently my ukulele friends and I ate at Technique, the resturant of Le Cordon Bleu Institute of Culinary Arts in Downtown Pittsburgh. The experience was truly memorable—the food was delicious and service was excellent. The ambiance was dream-like: soft colors, white tablecloths, white napkins, and white china. Gentle music served as the accompaniment to soft melodic conversations. Each course was beautifully presented. The wait staff was very professional, courteous, and attentive. Sorbet was served to cleanse our palate between courses. A three course lunch of appetizer, main course, and dessert was ten dollars with no tipping! My friends and I left Technique with the impression that this was the new standard for fine dining.

A few of us in the group ordered avocado soup as our appetizer. As soon as a spoonful of this soup touched our lips, we knew we wanted the recipe. It was refreshing and light, yet full-bodied. It’s savoriness was actually sweet from all the inherent flavor of each vegetable. It was crunchy, yet smooth at the same time. We asked for the recipe but was only given a list of ingredients—no proportions. Each of us looked at the list and remarked, “The secret ingredient is missing. There’s more to this soup.”

After making this soup about four times, I was able to figure out the secret ingredient!

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Raw Cherry Pie

The heat has been intense this summer. The best time to be out is in the early morning when the grass catches the dew, the air is fresh, and the summer flowers are standing tall.

The meals I’ve been preparing have been light and fresh— plenty of cold soups, salads, fresh fruits, and some protein. A light dessert, such as a slice of raw cherry pie is the perfect complement to a light lunch or dinner on a hot day.

The best thing about this dessert is that there’s almost no cooking involved!

There are no added sweeteners, just the sweetness from the cherries and the dates in the crust.

Since this pie is made with cherries, it is high in the phytonutrient—anthocyanidins. These phytonutrients help hold our skin together—meaning less wrinkles! George Mateljan’s article, “Can You Tell Me Which Foods Promote Collagen?” lists the berries that contain anthocyanidins and its effects on collagen:

The anthocyanidins found in deep-colored, red-blue berries and fruits (including cherries, blueberries, blackberries, and raspberries) have been shown to work in a somewhat different way. These phytonutrients help the collagen fibers link together in a way that strengthens the connective tissue matrix.

He also states in “Boosting Your Polyphenols” that cherries and other berries are high in polyphenols, a nutrient that has antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and anti-cancer health benefits:

In the fruit group, dark plums, cherries, dark grapes, and apples were found to be the most concentrated sources of polyphenols followed by berries. (Strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, and cranberries were included in the group of berries that were analyzed.) Among the vegetables, rhubarb and red cabbage were standouts for total polyphenol content.

Another bonus to this cherry pie is the nutrient-dense crust made with walnuts, dates, and shredded coconut.

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