I have a busier social calendar than that of all of my Readers– except for my new friend, Lindsay, whom I met at the Hazon Food Conference– and it’s not that I have more friends. It’s because I attempt to juggle three different calendars and yesterday, I overlooked some cultural and familial milestones.
Everyone in the U.S. was observing (or at least was aware of) the 10th anniversary of the willful destruction of the World Trade Towers on Sunday. Then, what happens the day afterwards? I forgot that September 12th is my brother’s birthday and the date that my father observes as his American birthday— easier to remember than the 12th day of the 9th month of the Chinese calendar— and it’s also the Harvest Moon Festival. When I spoke with my parents on Sunday, they never mentioned any of the three, but why should they? Would they think their grown-up, middle-aged daughter would forget?
The problem stems from the fact that the Chinese and the Jewish calendars, although both are based on the lunar cycle, are not coincidental. In a common year, the Harvest Moon Festival comes at the same time as Sukkot— on a full moon which appears on the 15th of the month. However, this year Jews observed a second month of Adar in the spring. The Chinese calendar also has leap months, but it is “added according to a complicated rule, which ensures that month 11 is always the month that contains the northern winter solistice.” [Wikipedia]. Not having examined the calendar that my parents had given me, I did not know when was this year’s Harvest Moon Festival. I did get a clue earlier, in retrospect, when I visited my parents in late August (to see Anything Goes!, a fabulous show on Broadway) and they offered me some moon cakes. Why so early, said I, and my father answered, it’s not early. Still mentally and emotionally stuck on the coincidence of Harvest Moon with Sukkot, I didn’t even consult the calendars until it was almost too late. And how did I find out? Not from my siblings (although my sister did alert me to our brother’s birthday with her good-wishes message). I found out when I got an e-mail message from Asian Suppers, a website that features recipes from the diverse Asian cultures, saying:
Today marks the 15th day of the 8th month of the lunar calendar, also more popularly known as the Mid-Autumn Festival (aka, Zhong Qiu Jie, Chuseok, Otsukimi, Moon Festival, and many other names) — an important holiday across several cultures in Asia, and marked by moon-viewing, family gatherings, thanks and celebration, commemoration of those who have passed on and … eating special foods.
In China … moon cakes are the name of the game, but in certain regions, so is eating river snails (Guangzhou), duck (Fujian) and taro.
In Taiwan ... moon cakes are popular, but so is BBQ!
In Korea … songpyeon, a type of rice cake, is widespread. Fillings range from chestnuts to different kinds of beans.
In Japan … tsukimi dango – rice dumplings – and other tsukimi-ryori (moon viewing cuisine) are enjoyed while gazing at the moon.
Are you celebrating? Share how you’re doing it or what you’re eating with the rest of the gang over here!
Moon cakes are not made in the home. It’s a complicated pastry left to the professionals, although my friend Lindsay owns a set of antique moon cake molds, acquired when her family lived in China. They are round or rectangular in shape with a rich, thin crust and filled usually with a paste of red beans or lotus seeds. Another popular filling is a mixture of “five kernels” (五仁, wǔ rén), consisting of five types of nuts and seeds (such as walnuts, pumpkin seeds, watermelon seeds, peanuts, sesame seeds, or almonds). The fancier ones include a salted egg yolk— or even twins— to represent the full moon. They are offered as gifts to family and associates and they’re served, sliced into small wedges, with tea.
In conclusion, I could use a software program that reminds me of notable dates on the Chinese calendar. Here’s a heads-up to my Readers and my siblings: the Chinese New Year will come on January 23, 2012, and it’ll be the Year of the Dragon or 4710.