Wednesday, February 13, 2013

My Chinese New Year Weekend

Happy Chinese New Year!  Sunday, February 10, 2013 marked the beginning of the Chinese year 4711.   Since China follows the lunar calendar, the new year is also known as the Lunar New Year.  This year marks the year of the Snake.  There are many traditions associated with Chinese New Year lasting for fifteen days.  Many take up to a month off!

Asians all around the world gathered to have dinner with their families to celebrate and say farewell to the Dragon.  For many migrant workers in China's cities, this is the time they get to visit home, a chance not to be missed, creating one of the largest annual migrations on earth, as hundreds of millions of Chinese make their way within the country, from outside and overseas.

Here in Canada, we don't follow all these traditions but one that is still closely followed is that of the reunion dinner on the Eve of Chinese New Year. Ideally, the reunion dinner is homemade but since many don't have time to cook all the traditional foods, going out to a restaurant is much easier.  This was the case for my family as around thirty of us from as far as Ottawa and Waterloo gathered in a Chinese seafood restaurant in a suburb of Toronto.

Four generations of us took over three tables.  Chatting away with each other and playing with the little ones, we eagerly awaited the yummy food to be had.
Jasmine tea
 ...over an hour later our order was still not ready.  My brother had to work that we ordered some fried rice so he could eat something before rushing away.  When it arrived, the now starving kids, in fact all of us dove in and were fighting for a bite! 
Finally, the first course arrived, I had to fight off my cousins and brother to get this photo.  Peking duck and all the fixings.  Everyone grabbed a share and it was all gone in less than five minutes.  My brother then went off to work.
Mmm, the duck was yummy...(little did I know that I should have savoured the taste longer, because the food went downhill from there).
Imitation shark fin soup.  It should be a delicious seafood soup.  This one was bland, just chicken broth, mushrooms and bits of shrimp.  Click here to see how it should look.  Still, more to come, maybe the chef will step it up?!
Oh yay!  Another dish arrives... steamed egg...with soya sauce and some crab fat mixed in.  It tasted ok, had hoped for better...
Oh yes!  Being from Nova Scotia originally, this next dish brought a huge smile to my face.  Lobster!  Dig in folks!  Uh oh, the meat is tough.  One of my cousins used the occasion to introduce her new boyfriend to the family.  It was his first time eating lobster too.  I took one bite, put down my chopsticks in disappointment and apologized to him.  "This is not how it's supposed to taste."
Dessert included heart shaped jello and almond cookies.  They were sweet and tasted all right. 
The final dessert dish was red bean soup.   Almost in unison, we all sipped a spoonful, dropped our spoons back in the bowl and pushed it away.  We all looked at my cousin's new boyfriend and apologized.  "The food is normally way better.  This is not how it's supposed to be."  The beans weren't cooked long enough and there was hardly any sugar in the dish.  Instead of sweet delicious and thick it was so bad I didn't bother to take a picture.

Even though we left the restaurant disappointed, it was great to have the chance to get together and celebrate family.    To shake off the bad feeling from dinner, I consulted the huge stash of tea in my cupboard to find something to settle my stomach and properly send off the year of the dragon and ring in the year of the snake.

What better than a tea that has leaves that look like little dragons or snakes?  Sloane's Jasmine Snow Dragon.  The fresh young tender leaves are plucked and steamed, then twirled around bamboo sticks to give it its coil-like shape. 

This full-bodied, fresh fragrant tea has a beautiful intoxicating jasmine finish.  A nice bit of luxury in a cup.  A great pick me up.

The next morning, we gathered for New Years Day dim sum at another Chinese resturant.  Lots of people are always a good sign.

 This is more like it! Food there as soon as we sat down
Various dumplings, buns, rice noodles, sweets and Tie Guan Yin tea.  All delicious as expected.  Now that's more like it!

 As we left the restaurant and entered the mall, we saw a crowd....
The lion dance!  It brings bring good luck to the shopkeepers!  We stayed to watch as the lions searched for greens (lettuce).  You can read more about it here

The lions not only bring luck but scare away the evil that dinner, what dinner?...
Lucky red packets of money
Do you celebrate Chinese New Year?   How was yours?  And if you have a recommendation for a good Chinese seafood restuarant in Toronto and its burbs, please do share!

Here's hoping the Year of the Snake brings you health, prosperity, peace, and good food!  And lots of tea!

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Toronto's Very First Tea Festival!

The inaugural Toronto Tea Festival took place last Saturday (February 2nd), at the Appel Salon of the Toronto Reference Library.  With a capacity of slightly more than 500, in excess of 1150 attended over the course of the day!  This doesn't even take into account the media that came to cover the event, the 8 awesome guest speakers, 32 vendors, 2 amazing tea ceremony masters, members of the organizing committee (including yours truly), and dozens and dozens of volunteers!

It was sold out by noon!  Die hard tea fans waited in line for the second round of tickets to be released later in the afternoon.

 Once inside an amazing winter cornucopia of tea awaited! 
Tim steeping tea for Tao Tea Leaf
Robert and Ian of Majesteas

Raelene of Tea and All Its Splendours
(Photo; Ingrid Folkers)
Lecturer, Kevin Gascoyne of Camellia Sinensis   
(Photo: Raymonde Drolet)
Mingzhu Gao, Co-founder of Tao Tea Leaf, performing Chinese Gongfu Tea Ceremony
 (Photo: Raymonde Drolet)
(Photo: Ingrid Folkers)
Tao Wu, Co-founder of Tao Tea Leaf.  Tao Tea Leaf is a co-organizer and sponsor of the Toronto Tea Festival.
(Photo: Raymonde Drolet)
Bill Kamula of the Tea Guild of Canada with guest.  The Tea Guild of Canada is co-organizer and sponsor of the Toronto Tea Festival.  Bill is also the Tea Sommelier Program instructor at George Brown College.

Sun Choi, Korean Tea Ceremony and Mingzhu Gao, Chinese Gongfu Tea Ceremony

Art works by Katherine Bellman    

Laura , Co-chair of the Tea Guild

Tea Guild's special blend
Upcoming Tea Guild event, "Tea and Tales"
The gents from Flo Trading
Karen Hartwick of Stratford Tea Leaves
 Daniel of T by Daniel
Me and Kimi of KIMICHA

(Photo: Raymonde Drolet)
(Photo: Raymonde Drolet)
Fellow Certified Tea Sommeliers came to sample some tea (guest, Judy, Michaelle and Donna)
Miss Quan playing the Guzheng
(Photo: Raymonde Drolet)
Sifu Justin Ngui of Ngui Family Style Qigong and Gongfu performing the powers of qigong.  Kids, don't do this at home or anywhere else, for that matter!  Leave this kind of kung fu to the pros!

Louise and Adi of Tea Association of Canada 
(Photo:Raymonde Drolet)

Joel of Capital Tea  

 One of the many tea demonstrations

Bare English & Co. (tea infused organic lip balms)

Korean tea samples and sweets

Tea and Handmade Jam Pairings by KIMICHA and michaelsdolce
It was a fantastic day for tea lovers old and young!  There were many babies and young kids in the crowd...the next generation of tea drinkers. 

I feel very honoured to have been a part of the organizing committee of this awesome first ever tea festival in Toronto!  I look forward to being a part of this great event again!  Next year will be even bigger and better!