memories of tet


Today is Vietnamese New Year's eve.  In Vietnam, this season is called Tet.  It has been a long long time since the last time I celebrated this occasion on my country soil.

Tet holds many special memories for me.   I remember every year, a few days before Tet, my mom would buy for our home a beautiful branch of cherry blossoms with a few blooms and many buds.  She said we have to tend it carefully so that we will get many blooms on new year's day, then many luck will enter our house.  On the morning of the eve, she would cook all these special dishes for an early dinner, and then that evening, my mom, dad (they were together then) and grandma would make Banh Chung (sweet rice covered mung beans and bacon all wrapped in banana leaves).  We would load them into a big pot and begin with the long cooking process !  Instead of cooking over our usual coal stove, my mom would bring a fire pit into our family room (also my grandma's bedroom, it's a big room) and she would load wood in it and we cook the Banh Chung pot on it.   It takes about 6 hours to cook them and we just sit there as a family, watching it cook, talking, laughing, listening to my grandma telling stories.  We would grill some squid or sweet potatoes next to the pot on the fire pit.

When it's near midnight (while Banh Chung still cooking) my dad would hung a long brick or two of pink firecrackers on a long stick, light each brick and stick it out our window and the firecrackers would crackle and explore into clouds of pink poofs.  Every single house on the street does the same thing so imagine the loud noise of firecrackers ringing down the street and exploding throughout the night.  We compete to see who's the loudest !  Us kids loves loves loves the firecrackers.  We look forward to this the whole year.  Actually, this and another event during TET, it's called Mung Tuoi for us northern (Li Xi for the southern) people.

On the morning of the 1st day of the lunar New Year, in our culture, family friends and neighbors are to visit each other's house to bestow good well wishes on them.  And every adults are to give money to the kids.  We don't have red envelop then, just plain beautiful colorful paper cash !  I spent my stash on toys and stationaries.  I don't remember what my brother did with his.  He was too young then so maybe my mom kept his :)

There are also many superstitious rituals that we followed on the 1st day of the lunar new year ! We were christians then but still practice a lot of "inherited" ideas.  We avoid cleaning the house (especially sweeping, we don't want to sweep all the luck out), we avoid breaking anything (especially mirror), and we don't do anything that we don't want to do for the whole year.  Common belief is that we only do good things and say good words so the rest of the new year will be filled with goodness.  

When our parents finished welcoming in all the guests and lugging us around visiting families and friends, my brother and I would go inspect our front street, which is now a battlefield of tiny pieces of pink paper, piles upon piles of them, much like confetti.  We would comb through the exploded firecracker corpses, hoping to find one that didn't explode yet.  We would collect them and gather them up along with other kids in our neighborhood.  Then the gang would go searching for a perfect power pole or a cement wall with a good size hole.  One brave kid will stick a firecracker into the hole, light it up and we all run away with hands covered over our ears.  It was good fun.  No one ever got hurt.  Thank God.

These aren't my pictures, just some I found on the internet
The fun continues on to the 2nd and 3rd day of the lunar new year.  We repeat our firecracker hunt each day, munch on roasted red watermelon seeds, enjoy many sweeten dried fruits (called "Mut"), and eat a lot of Banh Chung !  It was the best time of the year.  So much commotions all around and there's an air of jubilant everywhere you go.  3 days of celebration and the whole city/town is in on it together.

I miss Tet.  I miss the way we used to do Tet.  It's the only time in the year that I miss Vietnam.  We celebrate it here in Canada every year, we try to make it a special time for our family but a part of me, as I'm sure my mom as well, miss the good old days.  Time changes many things, strips away many things.

troublesome two

Love just welcomed her 2nd birthday.  We had a small celebration for her with just our family.  I don't know if she knows it's her bday but she walks around saying  "happy Kadie" !  I pulled out the camera to snap a few pictures of her.  She's a mover so all the shots were candid, which were perfect because they captured her.  I can't believe she's 2 but I also feel like she was 1 for such a very long long time.  How is it that time seems to flew by so fast yet so slow in the same time.

Mr. C said to me last night, "can you believe it ? 2 years ago she didn't exist, we have no idea what she looks like or how she is".  I can't imagine a world without Love in it.  I feel like she's been with me all along. she once never was here and now here she is, all cute and kissable and all things wonderful.

Love is a lover of food.  When I think of her I see her with a mouth stuffed with food.  She takes such big bite that girl !  when Love was 6 months old, an age when she's ready to tip toe into solid food, she refused mashed up baby food and went directly into picking up and munching on adult food with her 4 teeth.  I was worry her little tummy can't digest our food so I over cooked our food to help her out.  In any given day, she would have her usual three meals, where she eats whatever we're having, and in between she'll have an apple, a banana, half an orange, crackers, mango cranberry trail nuts mix, a pack of dried seaweed, a bowl of Greek yogurt, 4 vitamin gummies, a plate of chips, and a bowl of cereal (as a snack).  She's just shy of 30lbs, almost the weight of her soon to be 5 sister.  She's always been adventurous and willing to try anything, even dark kale and spicy dried fish.

Love is a happy silly little girl.  She's an affectionate child and very expressive of her feelings.  Very firm in decision too.  She's not easily persuaded.  When she's sad about something she'll makes sure we know it.  She would crawl up to me or C to show us her sad face and pouty lips.  When mad she would yell "boo boo mommy" or "boo boo nana" or "boo boo daddy" then run off to cry behind a door.  We would leave her to resolve her emotion and "talk" to her about why she's mad when she comes out.  Most day, she's a happy child who loves to smile, make funny faces, scary faces and walk around with 2 arms out like zombie.  My eldest told me they learned about zombie from Karsen and that "we love it".  Um...I don't think they know what zombie really looks like.

Words Love can say in English and Vietnamese:
- Chi (sister)
- Mommy/Mama
- Daddy
- Ba (grandma)
- Ca/Fish
- Wah wah (water)/Nuoc
- Dirrrty
- Hellokitty
- Egg
- Me
- Sock
- Help
- Nope
- Ngu (sleep)
- iPad
- Big iPad (tv)
- Phone
- Babby (Barbie)
- Anna 
- Dap men (cover)
- Cho/Dog/Tobby
- Hum (home)
- Poon (spoon)
- An/Eat
- Di ia ah (washroom)
- Na na (sister)
- Uong (drink)
- Apple juice
- Milk
- Bye bye
- Ilub yo (I love you)
- Zombie
- Picca boo
- Thit ga (chicken)
- Nu (sleep)
- Hello
- Om (hold)
- My
- Tandy (candy)
- Toy
- Choo choo
- Come
- Go
- No no
- Pider (spider)
- Hoppi (happy)
- Sawie (sorry)
- Amen
- Day (here)

Love can combine words together, like "daddy hum", or "my toy", or "come mommy", "mommy help kitty", etc.  She can point to all her body parts when asked in Vietnamese and English.  What she can't say she will point and act it out.  It's like we play charade everyday :)  Love seems to have a good grip on what's going on around her and understand simple words.  We played a made up game, Green, Red, Orange (go, stop, slow down) and she understood each command, when she can run, when to slow down and when to stop.  She can even play hide and seek with the fam.  Although when she hears "where are you?" she would run out and yell "day day" !!!

As a 2nd child, who is old beyond her years, we sometime forget that Love is still a baby and baby have "accidents" :) Love doesn't sit on high chair, doesn't wear bib and doesn't like to eat with kiddy utensils (plastic).  She prefers to drink milk in a glass cup and eat from a ceramic bowl.  She has yet to break anything, which amazes me still.  She's been doing so much stuff on her own that we sometime forget she's only 1 and a bit !  Everything happened so fast with this girl, she's stood up at 6 mnths, then started walking around 8 months and from then on she doesn't want to be held anymore.  It's so sad for me !  I wanted to hold on to her just a bit longer, hug her and squeeze her and hold her til my arms hurt.  I didn't get to rock her to sleep like Bee.  Love just take herself to bed and sleep.  She's so independent.  Ah, my girl is now a big 2, silly troublesome 2 !  I rather troublesome than terrible :)  I pray the Lord will watch over her and protect her.  I ask for patience and wisdom for me and C as we guide Love daily.  It's going to be another fun year !

easy recipe: Che Xoi Nuoc glutinous rice balls dessert

No-fill, plain pandan glutinous rice balls in ginger sauce
(sprinkled with toasted shredded coconut and sesame seeds)
At home sick (congested) and feeling really sick of getting sick so often !  My daughter Bee asked me to make her "white balls that drop in the water".  I knew right away what she meant and welcomed the request.  I forgot about this sweet treat !  What a great way to take in more gingers :)  Why more ginger ?  I don't know when it started, but as I get older I become more nammer than I desired to be :)  When sick with a cold, my mom's nagging voice would play in my brain ! when down with a cold, we should eat only "warm" ingredients, like ginger, sesame leaves (Tia to), onion, scallion, garlic, etc.  It makes a lot of sense to me now.  It seems a lot of what my mom said make a lot of sense nowadays :)

I propped Bee up next to the stove and let her roll the balls while I prepped the ginger sauce.  She only wanted plain ones so it'll be super quick to make. 15 min. later we were both rewarded with chewy glutinous rice balls in honeylicious ginger sauce.

Here's the original recipe.  If you want plain, omit the mung beans, and just mix the flour, rolled into what ever size rice balls you want and drop it in the ginger sauce.  I also tried something new, pandan flavoured rice balls filled with red beans in coconut milk.  In order to taste the food, I steamed my face in hot water for a few second and gained a few seconds of utter bliss !  I can breathe and taste my food.  It was the highlight of today.  I've appreciate this little nose so much !!!

Yield 10 large glutinous rice balls or 18-20 small ones

- 1 bag of bot nep glutinous rice flour (400g)
- 2/3 bag of yellow mung beans (use about 250g of the 400g bag)
- 1/4 teaspoon of salt
- one inch of ginger, minced or thinly julienne (use more or less to your liking)
- 1 chunk of rock sugar (2-3 inch)
- 1 tablespoon of brown sugar
- 1 tablespoon of sugar (for mung beans)
- extra rock sugar or cane sugar for taste

Mung beans filling: 

- Wash the mung beans and put into a pot, cover with 1 1/2 times of water
- Add the 1 tablespoon of cane sugar
- Add the 1/2 teaspoon of salt and bring to boil, cover and turn heat down to medium.  Simmer for 15 min. and turn off the heat.  Leave on stove with pot covered for another 15-20 min.  
- Mung beans are done when they are easily squished
- Remove from pot, let cool and chill in the fridge

*Taste the mung beans paste and see if it's sweet enough.  Adjust to your preferred level of sweetness.  Keep in mind the ginger sauce serve over this is sweet also.

Prep. for the ginger sauce

- Boil about 6 cups of water
- Add the rock sugar and brown sugar.  Simmer until dissolved.  Adjust sweetness with more rock sugar or cane sugar.
- Add in the minced or sliced gingers
- Bring to boil and remove from stove

Making glutinous rice balls:

Mix flour with 1 2/3 cup of lukewarm water
- Knead the mixture well and leave a side
- Remove the mung beans from the fridge, with a fork or potato masher, crush the beans into powdery mixture
- Divide the mixture into 10, take each portion and formed into a ball, put aside
- Lightly greased hands, take an egg size of the mixed flour, roll into a ball then flatten it big enough to cover the mung bean ball 
- Place a mung bean ball in the middle of flattened flour, fold in from four sides, then rolled in between hands to form into a ball
- Place finished balls on a plate lined with saran wrap (to prevent balls from sticking to plate)

Cooking the rice balls:

- Boil a pot of water, about 8 cups of water
- When it's rolling boil, drop in slowly each of the rice ball, don't crowd the pot
- When rice ball is done it will float to top
- Scoop out the cooked rice balls and put into a plate, space out the balls so it doesn't stick to each other

- Place 2 or 3 rice balls into a bowl (if balls are cold, warm up for a few seconds in microwave)
- Pour hot ginger sauce over the rice balls

*** You can also cook the rice balls directly in the ginger sauce pot and avoid boiling another pot of water altogether.  The different between the two ?  If you cook directly in the ginger sauce, the sauce will get a little thick due to the flour from rice balls.  It's personal preference so you decide :)

If you want to make pandan rice balls covered red bean, add the pandan flavoring to the lukewarm water before mixing it with the flour.  Substitute mung beans with red beans (soak red beans over night then cook it or use unsalted canned beans).  And substitute ginger sauce with coconut milk (bring coconut milk to boil and add sugar to your desired sweetness). 

Now that you know how easy this is, try out other fillings, like ground black sesame, or crushed peanuts with coconut and sugar !  Enjoy !