Friday, May 30, 2008

Zongzi and the Dragon Boat Festival

It has become an annual tradition that my neighbors Zhanpeng Lu and Han Jing Pan present me with one of their carefully homemade zongzi during their Dragon Boat Festival celebrations. Each year I graciously thank them for their thoughtfulness and generosity; and then, in the privacy of my kitchen, I curiously explore the prize I have been given.
Wrapped and tied, I carefully slip off the string and begin to unroll the leaves. I breathe in an unfamiliar aroma, one that reminds me somewhat of a combination of both sweet tea and pickled meat.The glutinous rice ball within seems somewhat slimy and a sticky coating glazes the inside of the leaves as I carefully unroll the bundle. It is difficult to unroll the leaves without coating my fingers with this sticky glaze and I stop several times during the process to wash the sticky stuff off my fingers before I have the rice glob inside completely exposed. Cutting this mass of rice in half exposes a portion of meat, a small nut of which I am unable to identify and a darker colored mixture, perhaps the yolk of a salted duck egg, but I am not certain, packed inside.
In researching the history of Zongzi on the Internet, Wikipedia provides the following definition:
Zongzi - traditionally eaten during the Dragon Boat Festival (Mandarin: Duanwu; Cantonese: Tuen Ng) which falls on the fifth day of the fifth month of the Chinese calendar (approximately early-to mid-June), commemorating the death of Qu Yuan, a famous Chinese poet from the kingdom of Chu who lived during the Warring States period. Known for his patriotism, Qu Yuan tried unsuccessfully to warn his king and countrymen against the expansionism of their Qin neighbors. When the Qin Dynasty general Bai Qi took Yingdu, the Chu capital, in 278 BC, Qu Yuan's grief was so intense that he drowned himself in the Miluo River after penning the Lament for Ying. According to legend, rice dumplings were thrown into the river to prevent fish from eating the poet's body. Another version states that the dumplings were given to placate a dragon that lived in the river.


The following article by Olivia Wu, originally published in the San Francisco Chronicle, provides good information on zongzi and includes a recipe.

Zongzi Wraps Up a Meal in One
Olivia Wu

PDT Shanghai -- Zongzi are complete, rustic packages that hold much more than their literal contents.

In the United States, zongzi, or joong in Cantonese, are sometimes called Chinese tamales. It's good shorthand. Instead of a corn husk casing and corn mesa as the grain, zongzi use bamboo leaves and rice. The fillings can vary from meaty to confectionary, but, thankfully, haven't gone down the path of 31 flavors.

I'm always surprised that this food is celebrated at the start of the hot months, when the pure gut-level satisfaction, density, lush texture and temperature marks zongzi as more of a cold-weather food. In Shanghai, as well as in Chinatown and Chinese bakeries, restaurants and supermarkets throughout the United States, zongzi are sold year-round. In fact, in the fast-paced family life that is quickly becoming the norm, zongzi become the perfect snack or meal-in-one.

Every time I untie zongzi, the bamboo leaves glossy and sweet-smelling and the steam rising as the intricately shaped pyramid flops onto a plate, memories also spill out from the package.

My mother made the most heavenly zongzi, which I remember from my childhood in Thailand. Her Shanghai-style zongzi, lightly bound, allowed the grains of rice to remain distinct instead of cooking into a springy mass as is preferred in some other regions. The fat in the belly pork melted into a soothing custard, the juices running into the rice. Even while she wrapped them, the star anise and cassia bark in the seasoning rose in a heady fragrance.

Here in China, I have also come to appreciate the cultural import of this seasonal dumpling. Zongzi are the festival food for the fifth day of the fifth lunar month. (This year it fell on May 31.) The festival is called Duanwu Jie, and if a contemporary home cook ever makes zongzi, it is for the festival.

Festive Food

For the two weeks before, I could see and sense a crescendo in the sales of zongzi around town. Many high-end restaurants display beautifully boxed, vacuum-packed zongzi. At Xinhua Lo (Apricot Blossom Restaurant) on Fuzhou Lu, known particularly for its Cantonese-style zongzi, lines formed on the eve of the festival, while workers off-loaded a truckload at the front door.

But the very best zongzi are homemade. And in a compromise, many Chinese, myself included, search for the nearest example. I was lucky to find the one that makes me think of my mother's.
My search took me to the home of Ding Lishen. The address put him on Huaihai Zhong Lu, one of the most glamorous roads in Shanghai, filled with glitzy boutiques and jewelers, but his house was on an alley opposite a trendy store. It was a 1940s row house, and as soon as I stepped through the door I was taken back 60 years to pre-Communist China.

About 10 years ago, Ding and his wife began making zongzi for friends and soon began taking orders from neighbors. Over time, through word of mouth, their client base has come to include the sophisticated residents of Hong Kong, as well as Chinese from abroad, more than locals.

In the weeks around the festival, they and a bevy of workers produce up to 6,000 zongzi a day. Customers buy a large volume, take them home and freeze them in annual or biannual trips, backing my suspicion that zongzi are a year-round, perfect meal-in-one packet.

Most of the steady clients order by telephone and come around to Ding's living room -- where his friends are almost always sitting at a game of mah jongg. Occasionally, he'll have a small amount to sell out of the side window of his house, but says during the week of the Duanwu festival he never has extras to sell.

The Duanwu Festival is often translated as the Dragon Boat Festival, during which races are held. The popular story about its origins has to do with Qu Yuan, a famous poet and patriot statesman, in a time of war. Qu was an official in the Chu Kingdom (about 300 B.C.). When they lost the battle, Qu felt he should go the way of the lost kingdom, and so he threw himself into the river.

Warding Off Dragons

Qu was much beloved by the people, who wanted to protect him in his death. They began a ritual of feeding the fish by throwing rice and meat into the river. Appeasing and feeding the fish meant that they would protect Qu.

Dragons were believed to steal the food, so to prevent the food from getting to the dragons, the rice and meats were wrapped in bamboo leaves. The dragon boats sailed to ward off dragons that might prey on Qu.

What zongzi really ward off is hunger. This dense, rib-sticking food is hearty regional fare at its best. There are many variations. The traditional Cantonese version is often large; it weighs more than a pound and takes a squatter, square-based pyramid shape. The Shanghai zongzi are smaller and longer.

Some say that the shape of the dumpling, with its three, four or five points, is intended to resemble the horn of a cow, a sacred symbol in agrarian culture for blessing an abundant crop.

Rich Filling

Cantonese zongzi rice is packed in more densely and the filling may contain up to six ingredients. By far the richest ingredient, besides meat, is the yolk of a salted duck egg -- an addition found in both savory and sweet variants.

The practice has bled into the Shanghai zongzi, where the yolk appears on some lists of zongzi variations -- in both sweet and savory versions. The classic Shanghai sweet version is made of white glutinous rice with a deep-red pureed red-bean filling.

Whichever the version, unbinding a hot zongzi is in itself a sensory experience. The more you eat and learn about it and accrue memories and traditions, the more the package delivers.

How to Stuff and Wrap Zongzi

Overlap the leaves, cup the ends and add rice and meat.

Cover the meat with rice and fold the leaf over the cup.

Curve the leaf over the sides of the rice-filled cup.

The tips of the leaf should extend beyond the heel.

Fold the tip over the cup to form a package.

Tie string around the zongzi, working from right to left.

Zongzi (Stuffed Bamboo Leaves)

The following is a classic Shanghai-style fresh pork zongzi wrapped in its traditional stretch-pyramid shape. Choose dried bamboo leaves (available in Asian markets) that are olive in shade - the brighter green ones may be artificially colored. Although you may substitute Boston butt for the pork belly, it is too lean, and without the melted fat basting the package as it cooks, the rice will not be glossy or taste as rich. Some people use leaner pork and add a few tablespoons of vegetable oil to the rice, but the effect is not the same.

The Meat Filling:
1 1/2 to 2 pounds pork belly
3 tablespoons soy sauce (Kikkoman)
2 tablespoons superior dark soy sauce
2 tablespoons rice wine, sake or dry sherry
1-inch piece cinnamon stick
2 star anise
3/4 teaspoon five-spice powder

The Rice:
3 cups short-grain glutinous rice (also called sweet rice)
2 tablespoons soy sauce (Kikkoman)
Special Equipment:
24 dried bamboo leaves (zongye ), available in Asian markets
12 three-foot-long cotton strings
1/4 cup brown sugar, for garnish (optional)

For the meat filling: Cut skin off the pork belly, including some fat, if you wish. Cut into 1-by-1-by-2-inch pieces. In a bowl, combine the soy sauce, dark soy sauce, rice wine, cinnamon stick, star anise and five-spice powder. Stir thoroughly and add pork belly. Cover and marinate overnight in the refrigerator.

For the rice: Rinse the rice several times and drain. Add soy sauce, stir and allow to stand at room temperature for 2 hours, or overnight in the refrigerator. Stir occasionally.

For the leaves: Select well-shaped leaves and rinse them. Soak in tap water overnight or soak in hot water for 30 minutes before using.

Assembling: Select 2 leaves that are about the same size and overlap them to make a 5-inch-wide piece. Fold 2 to 3 inches of the stem end inward to form a straight edge. You should have a 5-inch-wide and about 12-inch-long rectangle that tapers off into a leaf tip.

Using your left hand (if you're right-handed) cup the rectangle end near the stem to make a heel shape (see photo). Place 1 heaping tablespoon (or more) of the prepared rice in the "cup" and spread it about 3 inches toward the leaf tip. Place 1 to 2 pieces of the marinated meat over the rice. Add 1 to 2 tablespoons rice to cover the meat. The meat should be completely enveloped by the rice, on top, bottom and sides.

With your right hand, bring the empty part of the leaf over the rice-filled cup, curving the leaf over the sides and beyond the heel side. The tips of the leaf should extend a few inches beyond the heel. With your right hand, tie the string around the zongzi, starting on the right end and working toward the left hand. Do not tie string too tightly as the package will expand when cooked.

Cooking: Place the zongzi in a large pot or Dutch oven. Add water to cover, with a couple inches to spare. Cover the pot. Bring to a boil, then bring simmer on medium-low. Cook for about 1 hour, then turn down to low heat until the water is barely simmering and cook an additional 3 hours. Keep checking to make sure there is boiling water to cover the packages at all times.

To eat, snip the string and lift off the pointed part of the leaf. Gently unmold the rice and meat onto a plate, to keep its shape intact. You may place a teaspoon of brown sugar on the plate to allow the diner to dip the rice/meat filling into it, just for a brush of sweetness with the savory flavors.

Zongzi may be stored in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks and, if well wrapped, in the freezer for 2 months. To reheat zongzi from the refrigerator, boil for 10 to 15 minutes or steam over high heat for 30 minutes.

The calories and other nutrients absorbed from marinades vary and are difficult to estimate. Variables include the type of food, marinating time and amount of surface area. Therefore, this recipe contains no analysis.


I feel honored to receive this little gift of zongzi from Zhanpeng and Han Jing each June.

Continuing our little neighborly tradition, now it is my turn! I believe this time I shall make a batch of my special snicker doodle cookies to share with them.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Veggie Soup

Hungry for fresh vegetable soup today, I thought the asparagus, turnip, broccoli, potato and mushrooms that I had on hand in my refrigerator, along with a can of kidney beans, might create a nice mix of flavors in an organic vegetable broth and make a healthy, hearty soup. Preferring just a bit of pizzazz to the flavor, I added some salsa to my list of ingredients.

Veggie Soup

4 Cups organic vegetable broth
1 Can (3-1/2 cups) red kidney beans
1 Medium red potato
1 Medium turnip
6 Spears fresh asparagus
8 Medium fresh mushrooms
3/4 Cup fresh broccoli
6 T medium salsa
Dash of pepper to taste
Pour vegetable broth into soup pan. Peal potato and turnip, dice and add to broth. Slice mushrooms, cut asparagus into one-inch pieces, chop broccoli spears into bite sized pieces and add to soup pan. Drain and rinse red beans and add to soup pan. Stir in salsa. Bring mixture to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for 20
minutes. Makes 8 servings.

Nutritional Info

Fat: 4.5g
Carbohydrates: 28.2g
Calories: 126.9
Protein: 7.8g

Making vegetable soups frequently from an abundance of local, seasonal produce available and often adding fresh garlic. This first pot, absolutely delicious!

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Ski to Sea Race - It All Ends in Fairhaven Party

The annual Ski to Sea Race and the It All Ends in Fairhaven party literally takes over blocks and blocks of downtown Fairhaven, most of Harris Avenue and fills Marine Park!
Here, in the crowds at Fairhaven, waiting in line with Sally for a lunch of gyros and berry infused lemonade.
At Marine Park, we watch the kayakers as they land on the beach during the last leg of the annual 85-mile Ski to Sea Race. After landing their kayaks, the paddlers run up and ring the bell at the finish line.
The view as we walk up Harris Avenue, from Marine Park, back to downtown Fairhaven.
Jim, Al and Sally
A great afternoon filled with lots of fun, crowds of friendly people, great music provided by live bands set up on the stages at the Fairhaven Village Green, in the streets of Fairhaven and on the lawns of Marine Park, lots and lots of vendor booths, good food and friends!

Year after year, it all ends in Fairhaven in one big street party!

Ski to Sea Antique Car Show

Sponsored by the Antique Automobile Restorers Club of Bellingham (AARC), Bellingham Bay glistened in the background for the Boulevard Park Car Show held on the lawns of Bellingham's beautiful Boulevard Park. With show classes for antique autos and trucks 25 years and older, there were plenty of highly polished muscle cars, mustangs, corvettes, hot rods, imports, station wagons and convertibles shining in the bright sunlight.
Two Blue Fords
A Classic Red ChevyMore Blue Fords!
Classic Antique Cars(photo, compliments of Lee)
Even a vintage car ready for the golf course
A absolutely beautiful Oldsmobile 88
Blue Fords and Chevys
And a cherry red Corvette!
More photos from the Antique Car Show

Walking back along Taylor Dock to join friends at the "It all ends in Fairhaven" Ski to Sea celebration, we couldn't help but marvel over the wind surfers enjoying the sun as they caught the breeze on Bellingham Bay.
It All Ends in Fairhaven!

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Ski to Sea - Grand Parade

Looking up and down both sides of Cornwall Avenue, thousands had turned out to watch the Ski to Sea Grand Parade. Everywhere, the crowd relaxed on lawn chairs, on blankets, along the curbs, and children played as we waited for the parade to begin.Sunny skies and just a slight breeze made the afternoon perfect. Some of my friends and family gathered under the shade trees in front of our alma mater, Bellingham High School - Kriss and her son Jesse; Christy and her daughter Daniella; Keith and his son; Steve and his son Chris, both his daughters Jennifer and Stephanie, and his little grandson; my nieces, Mary and Amy; my dear grand niece, Elizabeth; and all five of my little grand nephews.

Attending Bellingham's festivities and celebrations over the Memorial Day weekend since I was just a little girl, back when it was called Blossom Time and before they had a Ski to Sea race, I have always enjoyed the parades. My personal favorites, our local school marching bands. Here, the Mount Baker High School marching band passes by.

Winding up our parade this year, the Bellingham High School Alumni Band! After the parade, some of us continued on to Boulevard park to enjoy relaxing in more of the afternoon sunshine. We barbequed up a feast of hot dogs and hamburgers and pork steaks with baked beans and chips completing our picnic. Yum!
Tyson rode around the table on his new bicycle.

Photo highlights of the parade and picnic

An absolutely perfect day!

Thursday, May 22, 2008

African Violets

It felt a little like finding an African Violet gold mine as I walked past Jensen's Ferndale Floral and noticed seven little pots of African Violets on the sidewalk in front of their store - all marked for clearance at only $.25 each!
Wanting to add a couple of African violets to my collection of house plants for some time now, I decided this must be a lucky day!
I brought them home, pruned off a few unsightly leaves and expired blooms, then gave them each a little sprinkle of Osmocote plant food.
I found the perfect set of little saucers stacked in my cupboard on which to show off each of my new African Violet plants - a beautiful antique set of red Thames River Scenes on tiny cups and saucers, complete with a matching serving pot, by Palissy Pottery from England that my father had given me many, many years ago. I now had a great way to display this beautiful set. My seven new little African Violet plants took their positions in front of my East-facing window, behind my other flowering house plants that seem to do so very well there.

Here is some helpful information on growing your own African Violets I found on the Internet compiled by Virginia Nathan, Extension Technician, Consumer Horticulture, Virginia Tech, Blacksburg, VA.

African Violet Care
African violets are more dependent on regular care than most other house plants. They "sulk" quite obviously when they are dry or cold. The plants flower best in bright light, but not in extreme heat and humidity. They bloom well in east or west windows or under fluorescent lights. The preferred daytime temperature is 72 degrees F. Night temperatures should not fall below 62 degrees F.
African violets are extremely sensitive to dryness, so it is wise to check the soil moisture daily. Water when the soil feels dry to the touch, but before it becomes hard. Never apply cold water to African violets. It can cause irregular-shaped, white-colored spots to form on the foliage. Use lukewarm water or fill your watering can after each watering and let it sit, so you will have room-temperature water on hand.
You may water African violets from either the top or the bottom. When watering from the top, keep water off the leaves and make sure the plant is watered deeply. A small amount of excess water should flow out of the drainage hole. Pour off the excess water. When watering from the bottom, remove pots from the water dish as soon as the soil surface shows moisture. Leaving the pot standing in water will cause the soil to become saturated, eliminating the air spaces that are essential for healthy root growth.
If you normally water from the bottom, occasionally switch to top watering to prevent the accumulation of crusty, white salts on the soil surface and edge of the pots. Leaf stems (petioles) can become soft or discolored when they contact soluble salts on the pot rim. This problem occurs most often when the plant is in a porous clay pot. A soil mix that promotes good drainage helps. A good mix contains 2 parts peat moss to 1 part perlite.
You may put your African violet on a self-watering system to ensure a constant, optimum level of moisture. The wick method of watering uses capillary action to draw water into the soil. Several companies sell water-wicking systems, or you may construct your own.
An easy self-watering system can be constructed by inserting an asbestos-glass water wick into one of the drainage holes of a pot. Or old nylon stockings can be braided and used instead. Set the pot on a water reservoir made from heavy plastic, such as a large-sized, whipped margarine container. Prepare the container lid by making two holes -- one for the wick to reach the water and a larger one for supplying fresh water. This is a highly efficient system for carefree watering. However, the plants should be periodically watered from the top to flush accumulated minerals from the soil.
African violets need a regular supply of nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, iron, manganese, and zinc. A liquid, African violet fertilizer (1-2-1 ratio) is easy to use and specially packaged. It's best to apply this fertilizer every two to four weeks according to the manufacturer's direction.


Amazingly, my orchid continues its blooms for a third month, and my Thanksgving/Christmas Cactus is preparing to bloom for a third time this year! Curious as to what colors of blooms all my new little African Violet plants will have, I shall have fun watching as their little buds begin to form and open.


Tuesday, May 20, 2008

The Chuckanut Radio Hour

Recorded live for upcoming broadcast on KMRE-FM 102.3 by the American Museum of Radio and Electricity in downtown Bellingham, we were part of the audience for tonight's taping of The Chuckanut Radio Hour, a variety show sponsored by Village Books featuring authors, music and entertainment by local and regional writers and performers.
The recording studio is part of the radio museum located at 1312 Bay Street, Bellingham, Washington. Arriving a little early, we were able to wonder through the museum a bit admiring some of the beautiful old radios on display.
A Gorgeous Wurlitzer

A small radio from 1928

The Criterion
Radio equipment and relics
from the Titanic are on display.
Tonight's episode of the Chuckanut Radio Hour featured an interview with Pulitzer Prize winner Bill Dietrich, a former Bellingham Herald reporter and now staff writer for the Seattle Times and the assistant professor of environmental studies at Western Washington University. He shared information about his new novel, "The Rosetta Key", a sequel to "Napoleon's Pyramids." Paul Piper, reference librarian for the College of Arts and Sciences at Western Washington University read a few selections from "Winter Apples: Poems." Introducing them as, "poems of nature, of travel, of family, all meditations," this is his fourth published collection of poetry.Musical entertainment was provided for tonight's program by Chuck Dingee and Joe Young of the The Walrus, one of Bellingham's best classic rock bands and the house band for the Chuckanut Radio Hour. Tonight they included several songs in memory of the late, great singer/songwriter Dan Fogelberg. Allen Rhodes, a columnist for Cascadia Weekly, added to the program entertainment by sharing a humorous essay about local street names. "The Bellingham Bean," shared another episode of their live radio serial comedy. The Chuckanut Radio Hour reminds me of the skits I heard over the air waves when living in Minnesota many, many years ago on "The Prairie Home Companion" and have since continued to enjoy on National Public Radio stations.
More photos from The American
Museum of Radio and Electricity

Garrison Keillor is coming to town!
An announcement was made tonight that in September the Chuckanut Radio Hour taping will take place at Western Washington University with Garrison Keillor of the "Prairie Home Companion" as their guest. Program details and ticket sales information to be announced at a later date.
Wow, I sure would love a ticket!!!!