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Time to monkey around
January 21, 2004

            Tonight, we’ll go to bed as sheep, but when dawn rolls around, and we roll out of bed, it will be a whole new year! The Chinese New Year—the year of the monkey!  Just when the last of the black-eyed peas have disappeared, we get to celebrate all over again.

            The Chinese lunar calendar has twelve animal symbols.  Those born in the year are said to exhibit the characteristics of their particular beast.  Pity the kindergarten teacher with a room full of monkeys or dragons!  

            Last year, I shared this table that lets you figure out your animal, based on the year of your birth.  Only, I didn’t tell what the various animals represented.  I’ve heard some complaints (particularly from the snakes and rats) that folks didn’t care for their animals.  Now hold on!  Every one has some great characteristics—as well as some not so great.  So for your lunar New Year fun, here’s a rundown on all the critters.

            I’ll start, of course, with the star of the year.  Monkeys are known, not too surprisingly, for their energy and high activity level.  They are loyal and intelligent and, more than occasionally, prone to get into some mischief.  When they are allowed to pursue their own interests, they meet with great success.  They tend to talk a bit too much, but it is usually interesting because they are highly intelligent and have good memories.  There are many famous monkeys including Elizabeth Taylor, Omar Sharif and George Lucas.

            Next year will be the year of the cock. (Yes, for both boys and girls.)   These folks are known to be punctual, but sometimes a little loud.  They are also proud, alert and confident.  They make great leaders.

            You want loyal, likeable and trusted?  You want a dog.  Sociable and good listeners, dogs give great parties.  If you are invited—go!

            No, pigs are not greedy and lazy.  They are caring, quiet and hardworking.  If you’ve got problems and need someone to listen, then find an unpretentious pig.  They’re known for giving sympathy.

            Lucky, lucky rats.  They are the symbol of wealth, perhaps because they are so good at collecting things.  They are also charming, ambitious and creative.  But they do tend to gossip—watch what you say to a rat.

            Solid as an ox?  You’ve got it.  These folks are steadfast and dependable, logical and honest.  But don’t ask for too many changes.  They like things the way they are.

            No trespassing at a tiger’s house; you’ll be attacked.  When you don’t cross them, tigers are warm, sincere and brave. 

            Rabbits are quiet creatures; they’re always thinking.  Sometimes they act a little sad, but they are great judges of character.  Run the new boy or girl friend by a rabbit.

            Watch out for dragons!  They are likely to breathe fire.  Elegant, extroverted and strong, dragons make a lot of noise.  They’re the boldest of all these creatures.

            Yes, occasionally the snakes may be a little pushy, but they are also subtle.  Snakes are the symbol of medicine and healing. Maybe the smartest of the bunch, snakes have great insight and intuition.

            If there’s a contest, pull for the horses. They are cheerful, talkative and independent, but the thing they like best is to win.

            Loving, trusting and artistic—that’s the sheep.  They are diplomatic, but may tend to be a bit complacent.  And guess what?  They are happiest in a crowd

  Now you let me know if your symbol matches your style.

            In almost every culture, the egg is a represents new life and is a New Year food. Here’s a good and easy way to welcome the Year of the Monkey.              This recipe for fried rice is a basic guide.  There are substitutes for all the ingredients but the eggs, rice and soy sauce.  Consider substituting chicken, turkey or marinated tofu for the ham.  And for the vegetables—look through the refrigerator!  Plain garden-variety cabbage works just as well as the Chinese varieties. And of course, the more folks you have, the more ingredients you can pile in.

Chinese Fried Rice

(Chao Fan)

1 tablespoon peanut oil

1 clove garlic, minced

1 cup thinly sliced Chinese or napa cabbage

1/2 cup frozen peas, thawed

1/3 cup cooked ham, diced

1/3 cup sliced green onions

3 cups cooked, chilled rice

2 to 3 teaspoons light soy sauce

3 eggs, lightly beaten

            In a large nonstick skillet or wok heat the oil.  Add garlic and stir-fry for about 30 seconds.  Add cabbage, peas and ham.  Stir-fry 30 seconds longer.  Add rice, green onions and soy sauce; stir-fry for 2 more minutes.  Push rice to one side of skillet.  Pour in eggs.  Cook, without stirring, 30 seconds.  Continue stir-frying, combing eggs and rice mixture, until eggs are thickened and no visible liquid egg remains.  Spoon onto a serving platter and garnish with green onions.

            Happy Monkey New Year to all! Gung Hoy Fat Choy!

Postscript:  I recently shared Linda Penn Barber’s recipe for a delicious sour cream pie.  Jerri Ward called me with a question.  The recipe called for one carton of sour cream, but did not specify what size.  One more time—this recipe has all the information.

Sour Cream Pie

1 tablespoon flour mixed with enough water to make a paste

1 cup sugar

yolks of 3 eggs, beaten until light-colored

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon cloves

pinch of salt

1 sixteen-ounce carton sour cream

            Mix all ingredients together, pour into a piecrust (Linda prefers Pet-Ritz) and bake at 400 degrees for the first few minutes, then lower the heat to around 300 degrees.  Cook until the custard is set, about an hour.

            Beat the egg whites until stiff; then add 2 tablespoons sugar for each egg white, spread over the pie, return to the oven and brown.  Cool and serve.

Thank you, Jerri.  And thanks again to Linda.  The pie was as delicious the second time as the first.

Do you have some memories to share?  You can e-mail me.


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Trilla Pando is a member of the Southern Foodways Alliance & the Story Circle Network