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TOPICS INCLUDE: Kudos; Calendars; Dragon Beard candy; China Root; Seaweed powder

by Jacqueline M. Newman

Letters to the Editor

Summer Volume: 2004 Issue: 11(2) page(s): 5 and 8


From NORMPAUL, BOBBI, and OTHERS, via e-mail:
Your magazine reads deliciously. You can be proud. Must say that it has a scope not seen before. Truly is a huge discovery for those interested in the Chinese food culture. Do see why David Rosengarten said it can ‘change your chopstick life.’ We enjoyed very much the issue. Thanks for the first ten years, do have at least ten more that are even better. Hope you grow as much as we have by learning from your magazine. In the next ten years is it too much to add on sixteen more pages; you did that in the last ten years? Wish there were more pictures and more color, too. With both you would go from a very, very good magazine to an absolutely great one.
NORMPAUL and OTHERS who sent ten-year kudos: Thanks to everyone with kind words about the first issue of the eleventh year, and those that preceded it. We do appreciate them and all suggestions. We also appreciate subscriptions and donations. Aside from the very generous efforts of many who work pro bono, that is without a penny in return, it is the donations that really make this magazine happen and keep it afloat. Subscriber renewals tells us we are on track. And kudos puff our chests and make us proud. Bless you for all of them. Do keep them coming. We need and appreciate them all!

From ELLIE in NEWPORT CA:
A dear friend said that all over China and the far east there are twelve animals in their zodiac. Some are different from those westerners know, others change region to region. What are the correct names for these animals? And, can you tell us if an extra month exists, when is it, and what is its animal name?
ELLIE: Let us begin at the end and say that to our knowledge the extra month does have a name, really two, but there is no animal actually associated with it. To keep chipping away at your questions, in China, almost but not all animals are the same. It is westerners that translate them differently. Though there are some regional differences; an item we will address another time. As to the extra month, the name of the month is doubled, that is, it is used again. But it is the years that have animal names, not the months. Therefore, people born in that extra month are still born in the same animal year. And, not all Chinese believe in the classic animal years of: Rat, Ox, Tiger, Rabbit, Snake, Horse, Sheep, Monkey, Chicken, Dog, and Pig. Some different traditions were in place before these that an emperor started. There are others practiced among the almost nine percent of Chinese who are not Han but rather minority populations. For them, several animals can be different.

This is the Monkey Year of 2004. In it, the second month was doubled. Next year, the year will be called Rooster, Chicken, Cock, or however it is translated, and it has no double month. The following is a Dog Year (2005) and its seventh month will be doubled. In the upcoming Ox Year (2009) the 5th month will be doubled. In the coming Dragon Year (2012), the Chinese will double the 4th month, etc. To complicate matters, there are Li years with some days put in, and others are called Lichun years, those are the ones with a double month. Confused? So are many Chinese. Without an official Chinese calendar, which marries solar and lunar differences, and these types of things included, they may not know or guess what month it really is, how long it is, etc. Nowadays, the problem is minimized because China adopted the Gregorian calendar in the year 1911.

Necromancers in Asian countries used to base their calendars on the moon while western calendars were based on the sun. Now they have to marry lunar and solar calendars. There are still twelve months (moons) in their year, but to keep things close to actual rotation of the earth, they put in extra months because twelve lunar months equals just three hundred fifty-four days. The Chinese have the longest recorded chronological calendar records kept anywhere in the world. Their months and zodiac are said to have started in 2637 BCE when Emperor Haung Ti introduced the first Chinese zodiac cycle. Early Chinese literature tells us he did this in the sixty-first year of his reign.

That is not exactly the calendar, though it is the same zodiac in use today. His first calendar was tinkered with in the Shang Dynasty, 1766 - 1123 BCE when a young man called Wan Nien was very confused by calendars, seasonality, and sun and moon cycles. He spent many years using a water clock and measuring shadows to figure out and address the inconsistencies between moon and sun years. He found out that the best way was to add some months to keep things straight. But then, as now, acceptance of new things including his calendar, came with hate and assorted hardships, even an assassination attempt. After an almost fatal arrow, he was promoted to Minister of the Astronomical Bureau. The Emperor saw his logic and accepted his notion of adding what became known as intercalary months. Think leap year as you think single month adjustments. There are seven of these intercalary months every nineteen years. Still with me Ellie? Good, then lets go back to the animals.

Assume you know the animal year you were born in. This one is mine and the Monkey Year. Every animal birth year has great influence on who you are, who you can be, and the person hiding in your heart. People born in Monkey Years are said to be inventive, cunning, bright, humorous, high spirited, full of mischief, energetic, versatile, vain, and even audacious. Every animal year has different personality traits. Lots of countries and peoples believe in animal zodiacs. In Egypt, theirs include the Cat, Dog, Snake, Beetle, Donkey, Lion, Sheep, Ox, Eagle, Monkey, Egret, and Crocodile. In one African country theirs are the: Chicken, Monkey, Horse, Ox, Rat, Hog, Dog, Snake, Sheep, Crocodile, Rabbit, and Tiger. With roots in ancient Babylon, western astrologers have: Aires, Taurus, Gemini, Cancer, Leo, Virgo, Libra, Scorpi, Sagittarius, Capricorn, Aquarius, and Pisces. They are all animal signs. To sum things up, the Chinese have five cycles of twelve animal years, their seventy-eighth cycle began in 1984. Keep counting, it is quite a while until a new cycle begins.

From DENNIS, a MAINE-iac:
How does one get Dragon Beard Candy; and if you can not, then how can I make my own? If I must, that raises another question, do you have a recipe for the dough and can you advise how to pull it?
MAINE-IAC: It is very hard now to find Long Xu Tang, even in China. We have eaten this noodle-like item called ''Dragon Beard Candy,'' in China, and enjoyed it in Toronto and Vancouver, never in the United States. And yes, there are recipes for it. The first time we saw it being pulled was in a culinary school in Jinan, which is in China’s Shandong Province. Every student in a class we observed was making their own. Each one was already a master at la mian, also known as 'pulled noodles.' So Maine or Jinan, or anywhere else, that is where to start. As lovers of cotton candy, the first bite's delight of Dragon Beard candy begins a love affair. It has mouth-melting ability. In a huge Chinese mall outside of Toronto, there was a chap making and selling food wares, Dragon Beard Candy among them. His skill was unbelievable. Watching him was watching a ballet of the hands.
Anyone who wants to try needs to practice making pulled noodles first. Make that dough and start pulling until there are hundreds of fine threads of dough. When they are even and each as thin as a strand of human hair, then attempt the candy. Begin with any noodle dough then advance to the dough needed for these candy threads. DRAGON BAERD THREAD DOUGH, its other name, is made mixing a cup of rice flour and three cups of wheat flour, high protein works best. Add some Chinese baking powder, about three tablespoons worth, and a healthy teaspoon of salt. Mix well, make a well, and slowly pour in a cup and a half of water. Mix these ingredients gently to make the dough, then slap it against a table for fifteen minutes. Add more water, if/as needed, but by the teaspoonful, until the dough is soft and barely holds together and can withstand this slapping procedure. Next, take a rest, the dough needs one too, for at least a dozen hours. Cover it with a cloth while it rests. Then at wake-up time, put a large clean cloth on a table and some high protein flour on it, half a cup's worth. Turn the dough and your hands in the flour until both are well coated. Then, make a snake with half the dough and cover the rest; it will be a second batch. With experience, the dough can be done in one batch. Take the snake-like piece of dough in both hands and pull it far as possible. Next, put the two ends together twisting as you do. Then hold this twisted mass at one end and let it hang down for a minute or two. Now, pull, stretch, twist again, and let it hang down once more. Then put the dough down on the floured cloth and turn it once or twice. Keep repeating the fold in half, pull, twist, let hang, put it on the flour, exactly a dozen times. If pulled and twisted correctly you should have 1024 strands. Cook and eat these noodles and start again. The dough does not pull well a second time.

When ready for the candy, twist the hair-like threads into a three-inch circle folding them over and over on themselves until about two inches high. Next, dip them into a bucket of very fine table sugar that was mixed with fine ground maltose sugar, half of each. Some folks add about a quarter again as much of rice flour to this mix. Dust off the noodle batch, let it rest and dry for an hour or two, then enjoy. Experts tell us that doing this four or five times a week for two years can make a fairly competent dragon beard candy maker. We hope you become proficient; and that you report back sending samples.

From SAM, via e-mail:
What is China root?
SAM: Best we can figure out, you are asking about 'Smilax China' and if you are, it is a thick fleshy root of a climbing plant said to have many medical virtues. However, it is not indigenous to China. We could not learn why it has that name, and only know that it is well known and used in the tropical counties of Peru, Mexico, Jamaica, and parts thereof.

From LANNY in Brownsville:
Do the Chinese use seaweed powder, and if so, where can one purchase it?
LANNY: Making it is easy, use one purple or black sheet of seaweed known commonly by its Japanese name of nori, crumple it in your hand and put it in a coffee grinder. In half a minute or less, it is done. Some markets do sell it, but frankly, we never purchased any. Try it in the following recipe:
Seaweed and Beef in Sacha Sauce
Ingredients:
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 Tablespoon cornstarch
1 sheet seaweed, ground
1/2 teaspoon cumin, smashed with end of the cleaver
1/2 pound beef loin or flank steak, sliced in half inch slices
1 Tablespoon corn oil
1 clove garlic, minced
3 Tablespoons sa cha sauce
1 Tablespoon dark soy sauce
1/2 cup cold chicken broth mixed with one tablespoon cornstarch
2 Tablespoons sweet basil, coarsely minced
Preparation
1. Mix sugar, salt cornstarch, ground seaweed, and smashed cumin. Use it to rub all sides of the meat. If the meat pieces are very long, they can be cut in half before this rubbing. Cover them and refrigerate for two or three hours.
2. Heat oil, and fry garlic, then fry the meat slices leaving them pink inside. Put them on a very hot platter and set aside while making the sauce.
3. In a small pot, heat sa cha and soy sauces, then add the broth mixture and bring to the boil. Add the basil and pour over the meat, then serve.

                                                                                                                                                       
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