Lunar New Year Traditions

Although the Western calendar has been adopted by most Asian cultures, Lunar New Year (also called the Spring Festival) remains a holiday of great cultural and historical meaning going back at least 2000 years! Like Thanksgiving in the United States, travelling home for a family reunion dinner is an imperative for people who celebrate. In fact, in China Lunar New Year counts as the biggest annual migration of people on Earth (even larger than the number of Muslims who visit Mecca every year), with just shy of 400 million expected to take to the railways to travel to their hometowns for the holiday this year. And in New York City, public schools are closed on the first day of the New Year holiday.

The Lunar New Year varies by date year-to-year. It occurs on the second New Moon after the December solstice. This year, the Lunar New Year begins on Friday, February 16th, although the New Year’s eve family dinner on the night of the 15th is the true beginning of the holiday. It lasts 15 days, and culminates this year on Saturday, March 3rd with the Lantern Festival: lanterns are lit at night and then let go into the sky en masse with wishes for prosperity and good luck in the coming year. It is truly magical to behold.

Lunar New Year is not just a holiday celebrated in Asian countries. With our sizable population of Asian immigrants, Lunar New Year and Lantern Festivals are celebrated in many towns and cities across the United States. Here in New York City, the Chinese New Year’s Day parade is a popular multi-cultural event. This is a fun, happy and lively holiday, vivid with colors, music, noise and special foods.

Origins of the Lunar New Year Holiday

Lunar New Year began in China with the fable of a horrible monster named “Nian”. The story roughly goes that Nian liked to eat people and it would come into the villages on New Year’s Day and gobble up the villagers, finding children a particular delicacy. The people of the village would flee from their homes every year before Nian was due to arrive. But one year, and old man stayed to try to fight the beast. The old man draped red papers all over the town and set off firecrackers all night long. Nian did not come and the village came to believe that Nian was afraid of the bright color red and the loud noises of the firecrackers.

This is why red is such a significant color for this holiday. Red repels bad luck and thus allows good fortune the opportunity to reign. People dress in red, decorate their homes in red, and give money in red envelopes. In Lunar New Year parades, Nian is depicted as the familiar dragon that winds his way through the streets and people on the sidelines set off firecrackers and use noisemakers to frighten the monster away and keep them safe.

Preparations for the Lunar New Year Celebration

People spend a lot of time preparing for the Lunar New Year. They clean their houses not just to be ready for family and guests at the New Year’s Eve dinner, but also because it symbolizes the washing away of any bad luck left over from the preceding year and allows room for the good luck in the new year to accumulate. Once the cleaning is done, the brooms and dust pans are put away so that any good luck that comes cannot be “swept away”. Homes are decorated in red paper and some people actually paint doors and window sills with a fresh coat of red paint. Some homes are also decorated with paper cutouts of Chinese phases that will bring good luck. People buy new clothes, often in red or other bright colors, again as a symbol of a new beginning. This is similar to what we see in the Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashanah, where people wear new articles of clothing to signify a fresh start with the New Year.

Also analogous to the traditions of Rosh Hashanah is the attention paid to homonyms: words that are spelled alike or pronounced similarly even if they have a different meaning. Auspicious words that mean good fortune, wealth, health and prosperity are emphasized as are foods and other items and activities that sound like auspicious words when they are spoken. For example, the word “hair” in Chinese sounds like the word for “prosperity”. So if you need a “hair cut”, you are wise to get it done before the Lunar New Year otherwise you may “cut your prospects for wealth”. Similarly, you would wash your hair in preparation for the New Year, so as not to “wash away” your chances for good fortune. More on other superstitions under “Taboos” below.

In Asian cultures, business and personal debts, whether of money or of gratitude, are expected to be paid up before the New Year and this is not dissimilar to the thanks and apologies and amends made in Jewish cultures on Rosh Hashanah.

Lunar New Year’s Eve Dinner

Family members will travel far and wide to return home for the traditional annual reunion dinner on Lunar New Year’s Eve. It is customary for guests to bring gifts. If you are invited to such a dinner this week, you can bring or send ahead our “good fortune” gift basket of lucky fruit and Year of the Dog hand-iced cookies in the propitious colors of red and gold!

People will spend days preparing all the special foods customarily found in the Lunar New Year’s Eve meal, not unlike many cross-cultural holidays. Similar to the Jewish New Year, foods that are eaten on the Lunar New Year are homophones for words that convey good luck and prosperity.

Not only do the dishes themselves matter, but the way they are prepared, the way they are served and how and when they are eaten are also significant and will vary depending on local customs and individual family traditions. But a Chinese New Year meal almost always includes the 7 lucky foods: whole fish, dumplings, spring rolls, a rice-based cake called niangao, longevity noodles, certain fresh fruits, and sweet rice balls called tangyuan.

WHOLE FISH:

Certain fish when pronounced out loud sound like auspicious words and so these fish are usually served as the main dish at a Lunar New Year’s Eve dinner party. For example, carp (jee-yoo) sounds quite similar to the Chinese word for “good luck” (jee), and catfish (nyen-yoo) sounds almost exactly like the Chinese word for “year surplus”. And if you eat two fish, it means “surplus year after year”! So the belief is that if you eat these fish you will also literally absorb these good wishes and have much abundance in the New Year.

The fish is usually placed in the center of the table with the head facing the eldest or most important member of the dinner party. This positioning connotes respect to the chosen person, and he or she is to eat the fish first. Fish is generally the last dish eaten. Some fish is always left over to be eaten the next day in the New Year so that the “surplus” can be continued.

DUMPLINGS:

The making and eating of dumplings is also a traditional family activity at the Lunar New Year, especially in Northern China, where they are made after dinner and eaten around midnight at the very start of the New Year. Dumplings are boat-shaped like ancient coins of silver or gold, and thus they represent wealth. Eating lots of dumplings means making lots of money in New Year!

The most lucky dumplings are the ones that are made with many pleats, and some people conceal a white thread or a copper coin inside one of the dumplings: whoever bites into that one will get the gift of long life or wealth, respectively.

SPRING ROLLS:

Named because they are eaten at the Spring Festival, these treats are little dough rectangles filled with vegetables or meat, rolled into bars, and deep fried. The golden color and the shape make them look like “gold bars” and hence they symbolize wealth. Spring rolls are especially popular in Eastern China.

NIANGAO:

Niango (also called Eight Treasures Rice) is a special cake or pudding made primarily of a sticky, glutinous rice and sugar, layered in patterns with a mixture of nuts, dried fruit, seeds such as lotus and gingko, berries, and sometimes red bean paste. The literal translation of niango means “New Year cake” and when spoken sounds like “increasing prosperity year after year” or “getting higher and higher”. The suggestion is that you will gain a better position in your business and your bank account when you eat this traditional treat. In Southern China, niangao is given as gifts to family and friends through-out the 15 day New Year celebration.

LONGEVITY NOODLES:

Noodles are often a part of the Lunar New Year’s Eve meal. They are made especially long (up to 2 feet in length!) and are uncut to symbolize a long and healthy life. Longevity noodles can be prepared in numerous ways, and traditions will vary with the local cuisine.

FRESH FRUIT:

Citrus fruit are especially coveted on the Lunar New Year. The round shape is a symbol of fullness and the yellow, golden color denotes wealth. In keeping with the purpose of many other foods at the reunion dinner, the names of certain citrus are homophones for good luck. That’s why we include only the best citrus fruits in our Lunar New Year gift basket.

TANGYUAN:

These sweet rice balls are featured prominently during the Lantern Festival at the end of the 15 day Lunar New Year celebration, and in Southern China are eaten throughout the holiday. Again, the round shape signifies fullness and the sound tangyuan makes sounds similar to gathering together, like the family reunion dinner on Lunar New Year’s Eve.

Lunar New Year’s  Day Celebrations

After staying up all night, or at least until after midnight to greet the New Year, daytime celebrations may be quieter, although in New York City, the annual “Chinese New Year parade” that snakes around Chinatown and little Italy is a lively and festive New Year’s Day celebration. Firecrackers and fireworks are set off to ward of evil in order to allow in all the good fortune. Giving gifts of money in brightly colored red envelopes is another holiday tradition and most people will receive a red envelope from someone. People will dress in new clothes, often red (the luckiest color) or other brightly hued colors to reflect their wishes for a good year and their happy mood.

Lunar New Year Taboos

The traditions of many cultural holidays arise from ancient myths and fables that are passed down over generations and while they may become diluted, they often persist and Lunar New Year is no exception. There are many superstitions surrounding this holiday in Asian cultures.  Following are some interesting examples of beliefs and taboos for the first day of the Lunar New Year:

  1. Don’t take medicine or you will be sick for the entire year.
  2. Don’t go to the hospital or you will bring sickness on yourself for the entire year…. unless it’s an emergency!!
  3. Don’t take out the garbage or you will be dumping out all the good luck that has accumulated in the house.
  4. Don’t use knives, scissors, needles or other sharp objects that you could hurt yourself on. Any accidental injury can bring bad luck and loss of security.
  5. Don’t break tools or equipment as it can cause a loss of wealth in the New Year.
  6. Don’t eat porridge for breakfast because it is what poor people generally have for breakfast and the New Year doesn’t want to start off “poor”.
  7. Don’t let children cry because it will bring bad luck to the family.
  8. Don’t wear white or black clothes because these colors are associated with death and mourning and you don’t want to bring that into your house.
  9. Don’t allow anyone to steal from you, especially don’t be pick-pocketed because it means that your entire accumulated wealth for the year will be stolen.
  10. Don’t owe any money lest your wealth will go to others.

Next year will be the Year of the Pig, representing the 12th and final cycle in the 12 year lunar calendar. Until then, wishing everyone a very lucky and prosperous Lunar New Year!

Why Natural Wines?

What is “natural wine?” Natural wines have no governing body or official accreditation, but hold themselves to the strictest standards. Many natural winemakers practice aspects of biodynamics and all are at least farming organically.  There’s an argument that wine is inherently unnatural.  We are, after all, just hitting pause on the life of some grape juice that wants to turn itself into vinegar.

It’s worth noting that over 50 additives and processing aids (such as non-wine sugar, various acidic chemicals, beet juice for sweetness and color, something called MegaPurple, oak essence to mimic barrel aging, etc.) can be added to wine in the US and EU without listing them on the label. This fact alone might make you more interested in natural wine.  Wine, to us, is about conveying a sense of place where the grapes are being grown, or terroir.  The more unobstructed the grape, the better the wine.

The best way to consider natural wines is to start with the notion of zero pesticides and zero additives, and go from there. What can be added to wine and still be natural?

The best definition we’ve found of natural wines comes from Isabelle Legeron, M.W. in her book Natural Wines:

“Whether or not it is certified, natural wine is . . . wine from vineyards that are farmed organically, at the very least, and produced without adding or removing anything during vinification (wine making), apart from a dash of sulfites at most at bottling.” (Natural Wines, page 23)

What does it mean to grow grapes organically?

Organic “viticulture” rejects the use of man-made, synthetic chemicals in the vineyard. This means no pesticides, herbicides, fungicides or synthetic fertilizers. Organic farmers instead use plant and mineral based products to combat pests and diseases, improve the health of the soil and build up plant immunity and nutrient uptake. It’s estimated that between 5-7 percent of vineyards are now organic or converting to organic. (Natural Wine, page. 33)

It’s important to remember that all farming was organic before inorganic methods were an option.  The industrial revolution saw the development of these methods in the form of tractors, hybrid seeds, and synthetic pesticides and fertilizers.  Organic farming as it’s known today is a direct response to those synthetic methods developed in the early 1900s.

An example that is often used is Roundup, a popular herbicide that is allowed by some regulatory boards such as California’s “SIP Certified” (SIP = Sustainability in Practice). There’s also the “Bordeaux mixture,” a fungicide made of copper sulfate and calcium hydroxide, that is permitted by all except natural winemakers who are only self-governed.  I can’t imagine that spraying copper in the vineyard is a great way to encourage more microbiological activity in the soil.

It’s worth noting here that many organic vineyards and farms that are farming organically, particularly the smaller ones, are choosing not to be certified organic because it’s a costly and cumbersome process. Their grapes are no less organic than a certified grape.

What is biodynamic farming?

It’s hard to mention organic farming in the wine world without whispers of biodynamics.  Biodynamics is an ethos started by Rudolf Steiner in the 1920’s. (Yes, the same Steiner who was the brain behind the well known Waldorf Schools. And, yes, the same Steiner who never farmed a day in his life!)

It’s founded on a holistic approach to a self-sustaining micro-ecosystem with perfectly balanced microbial life, soil, grapevines, livestock, insects, and other plants.  The essential principle is that more life in the vineyard and more microbiological activity in the soil will naturally lead to happier and healthier grapes.

 

Bruno Allion Vin de Gamay: a natural wine

Bruno Allion Vin de Gamay.

 “Demeter” certified and no added sulfites

Demeter is the only biodynamic certifying board in the world. Some smaller producers who are farming biodynamically using wild yeast and adding a tiny amount of sulfur at bottling, may not be able to fork over the money necessary for Demeter certification, especially when they’re starting out.

What is natural winemaking?

Wine can be made from grapes alone without the addition of anything else. So, is it okay to add yeast during the wine making process? The short answer is “no.” Yeast is an invisible fungus that consumes the sugar in the grape juice and releases alcohol as a by-product, along with complex flavor compounds. Natural wines are made using the yeast that naturally occurs in vineyards and on the grapes. This indigenous yeast is the foundation of natural wine making because it is part of the terroir, or natural environment, which includes the soil, climate and topography. The decision to introduce foreign yeast into the wine making process severs the relationship between the wine and the place the grapes were grown. This means the terroir is not being expressed in the wine when you drink it.

What does a natural winemaker look like?

Meet Beatrice & Pascal Lambert. They founded their Domaine in 1987 in the Loire Valley near the town of Chinon, in the region of the Touraine, or the “garden of France“. Beatrice and Pascal have been carefully cultivating Cabernet Franc and Chenin Blanc on approximately 25 acres (soils range between sand and gravel deposits, limestone-clay soils and flint based clay soils) and the estate has been practicing organic viticulture and biodynamic preparations since 2005, becoming certified in 2012. With their draft-horse Isis, they plow the rows between the vines, planting each year different cover crops to assist in the uptake of the biodynamic preparations while adding back nutrients for the following season. They closely follow the lunar cycle from vineyard to cellar, only using indigenous yeasts with fermentation occurring in concrete or wooden vats. They mature and age their wines according to the different terroirs using concrete and wood vats. They also rack and bottle according to the lunar cycles as well. Their success as growers and natural wine makers is based on accentuating the purity of the terroir from which their vines come as well as elaborating on their personalities in the cellar.

 

natural wine makers

 

 What about added sulfites?

In conventional wine making, sulfites may be added during various stages of wine making to control risk factors inherent in wine production. Sulfites are useful for slowing oxidation and knocking out harmful bacteria, and are a common preservative found in wine. However, natural wine makers believe sulfites mute the nuances of vintage or vineyard. Significantly, there are naturally occurring sulfites in wine that aid the natural wine maker. Added sulfites are one of the key distinctions between commercial and natural wines, but it’s not all or nothing.

Some natural producers will not add any sulfites at all, while others will add a dash at most, usually at the bottling stage. For natural producers, the decision to add even a dash of sulfites is an economic decision related to the quality of a vintage, ripeness of grapes when picked or worries about transportation or storage.

How much sulfite can be added to still be considered “natural”? In order for a wine to be USDA certified organic, the grapes must be grown organically and no sulfites can be added to the wine. By the current USDA Organic Standard, any wine, foreign or domestic, can contain only naturally occurring sulfites (less than 10mg per liter) to be marketed and sold as an “organic wine”. In the US, naturally occurring sulfur dioxide (which is often at undetectable amounts) is permitted, but not in excess of 20 parts per million (or “ppm”), which is the same as 20mg per liter of wine. Wine “made with organic grapes” can have the addition of sulfites up to 100 ppm, but are generally much lower (around 40 to 80 ppm). In contrast to the US, in the EU, organic wines can have up to 150 ppm of added sulfites.

Whether sulfites are naturally occurring in the grapes or added by wine growers and producers, all wines containing more than 10 ppm must state “contains sulfites” on the label.  Just to put this in perspective, industrial wines can be as high as 350 ppm, way more than any natural wine maker would consider adding.

Side note on sulfites:  According to the Cleveland Clinic, only asthmatics are predisposed to have a reaction to sulfites, and even then it is only 1-5% of all asthmatics.  Luckily, for those select few, we do now have delicious wine made without the addition of any sulfur whatsoever. However, if you don’t think twice before eating a couple of raisins (which can contain sulfites well exceeding 100 ppm in one serving), then the addition of 70 ppm of sulfur at bottling should be of no concern. Remember, conventionally produced wines can have up to 350 ppm.

Our final take on added sulfites and natural wine:  the addition of a dash of sulfites at bottling does not disqualify a wine that is otherwise made from organic or biodynamically grown grapes from being considering a natural wine. In the EU, natural wine advocate Isabelle Legeron has set limits for added sulfites for her RAW Wine Fair:  70 ppm of added sulfites for natural wine (compared to 100 to 150 ppm for certified organic wine and 350 ppm for conventional wine).

How do natural wines taste?

Some natural wines just aren’t very good. Farming organically or practicing biodynamics doesn’t guarantee a quality wine.  What it does ensure is that you’re ingesting something that is healthier for you than something produced from commercially farmed grapes that have been sprayed with herbicides and pesticides. But if it doesn’t taste good, what’s the point?

There are two main issues that low intervention wines face in a finished product, both of which can have extremely varying levels of influence on the wine. The first one, volatile acid, is a result of bacteria in the wine creating acetic acid at any point in the wine’s fermentation process. Bacteria are everywhere, but they thrive with more oxygen and in warmer temperatures. Ethyl acetate can be described as a glue-like or nail polish remover smell.  In small doses, under certain conditions, in certain wines and with certain foods, this quality is extremely desirable.

The second pitfall of natural wines is a recently coined term, “mousiness.”  Mousiness affects unsulfured wines, and is an infection caused by a strain of the lactobacillus bacteria family.  It is something you can only detect on the finish, and is described as dog’s breath, sour milk or dead mouse. Yuck!  However, it can be instantly stopped with the addition of a small amount of sulfites.

Low intervention wines that avoid these two potential dangers can be mind blowing.  They are not created to taste a particular way, but taste a particular way because of where the grapes come from, how the grapes are being treated and how little the winemaker has to do to alter the “sense of place” the grapes convey to us.  If you taste enough, you can tell when a wine has been acidified, chaptalized (sugar added), or over-sulfured.  The resulting wines are not harmonious.

Natural wines that come together without additives can sing, tell a story, and take you on a unique journey you will never forget!

Author’s Note:  Working as the sommelier for Manhattan Fruitier, I curate a collection of natural wines from small producers around the world. Manhattan Fruitier will deliver Champagne and wine in New York State, including NYC, and Washington, D.C. Also for delivery in NYC and DC, I  pair natural wines with Manhattan Fruitier’s gourmet gift baskets – cheese, cured meat, chocolates.

Why the Gift Basket is the New ‘Thank You’ Note

Sending a “Thank You” note is a great thing. No doubt. We wish that more people took the time to put a pen to paper and write a thank you note, even a short one. A hand written thank you note is qualitatively better than an email and hands down better than just verbal thanks.

Even better than a thank you note is a thoughtful Thank You gift that will both surprise and delight the person you want to thank. So if you want to raise the bar and say ‘Thank You’ in the most memorable way possible, consider sending a gift basket with your thank you note.

Personalizing Your Thank You Gift Basket
The best gifts, thank you gifts included, are matched to the recipient’s particular interests and tastes, and also to how well you know them. The more you know about the recipient, the more specific the gift you can send. The goal is to send a gift that will be sure to please. The gift basket thank you note should also be tailored to the relationship you have with that person and to the specific reason for the thank you.

Send What Your Recipient Loves

Chocolate Lovers Basket_Manhattan Fruitier

We love this Chocolate Lover’s Gift Basket – the perfect way to say thanks to anyone with a sweet tooth on your list!

When choosing a gift basket, be sure you really dig deep and consider what the recipient truly loves. Chocolate Lover? By all means send a chocolate gift basket like the one featured here as a token of your appreciation. Just look at all those chocolate-based ingredients! Yum!

Your thoughtfulness will really be appreciated when you send a thank you gift basket that matches a person’s dietary restrictions or preferences. If you know someone is kosher, then of course you will want to send a kosher gift basket. If you know someone is vegan, you aren’t going to send a basket with prosciutto and Parmigiano!

Strictly Vegan Gift Basket

Tip: Keep dietary restrictions in mind when sending a thoughtful thank you gift.

Think of a gift that shows your friend or colleague how well you know them. Many people adhere to special diets such as vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free, heart-healthy, low Glycemic, low carb and Mediterranean. And there are gift baskets to suit every persuasion, such as the vegan gift basket below.

Send What You Love
Sometimes you’ve discovered something so fabulous that you want to share it with friends. You know them well enough that you’re fairly certain that they’ll love it too. So, the next time you want to thank your neighbors for bringing in your mail, why not send them a thank you gift basket full of goodies that you love. In your thank you message, you’ll want to describe what you love about the gift and why you think they will find it irresistible too!

Thank You Gifts that Satisfy All Tastes
Sometimes you will want to say thank you to a business colleague who referred a new client to you, for example, but you don’t know about her personal interests or tastes. A fresh fruit or fresh and dried fruit basket will please every palate and make a universally good gift basket to say ‘Thank You’, especially when the contents are of the highest quality and are stylishly arranged. Your gift basket thank you note will also be appropriately formal.

Healthy Pop Up Party Gift Basket

A snack gift basket is a perfect thank you gift for a group – family or office. Try this healthy and tasty Pop Up Party basket.

When sending a thank you gift to a family or an office, you can’t go wrong with a fun basket filled with lots of treats and snacks. Everyone has different tastes and variety is the best approach in this particular situation. Think about finding a gift with products that are easy to share: that can be put in an office lunchroom or in the family room in front of the TV.
Building Your Own Gift Basket
There are endless ways to create your own gift. You can buy a container and shop for the ingredients yourself. Think about going to your local farmer’s market and selecting a fresh, locally baked bread, an artisanal butter, fresh herbs and flowers to arrange in a basket.

Custom Cookbook Gift Basket

Custom gift idea with a cookbook and recipe ingredients.

Or buy a copy of your favorite recipe book and include all the ingredients to make your favorite meal. Perhaps you have a favorite line of beauty care products that you want to share with a friend as a thank you.

Designing your own gift baskets to say ‘Thank You’ involves time on your end, but the care you put into the gift basket will shine through and make your recipient feel even more appreciated.

Build Your Own Gift Basket

Build Your Own Basket (BYOB) with Manhattan Fruitier.

Those gifts can be amazingly successful, but they take time to assemble, and you can have trouble shipping them if your recipient isn’t nearby.

Another option for a custom thank you gift is to shop at an online store that offers customizable gifts. Here’s an example of our build your own basket (BYOB) which allows the shopper to select fresh fruits and sweet and savory additions from a list of options.

Tips for Writing Gift Basket Thank You Notes
Any gift basket, of course, will be accompanied by a thank you note. And just because you are sending a thank you gift, it doesn’t mean you can blow off the note attached to it!

There are some tips to writing good thank you notes. First and foremost, keep the sentiment appropriate to the situation. You’ll want to be more formal with colleagues that you don’t know well, but that doesn’t mean you have to be cold and impersonal. Obviously, you can be goofier or more casual with good friends.

The first key point is to be sincere. If you are sending a thank you gift, and not just a quick email note, then you must be feeling genuinely grateful. Be sure that your appreciation is communicated in your words. Secondly, be careful to address the note appropriately: using first names in the salutation is not always proper. Make sure you feel comfortable with your choice.

The body of the thank you note doesn’t need to be long, but it does need to be as specific as possible. If there is an identifiable deed, act or accomplishment that deserves a ‘Thank You’, make sure you mention it in your gift basket thank you note.

Otherwise, your recipient may wonder whether you really know what they did! Sometimes your thank you gift won’t be attributed to any specific reason so your thank you note can express a more general sentiment such as “Thank you for all you’ve done for me this year!”

Finally, do carefully consider the closing or valediction when writing your gift basket thank you note. “Sincerely”, “With Gratitude”, and “With Thanks” always work in a thank you note, especially with business associates. These are formal, but expressing the sentiment perfectly. With friends you can be as informal as you like. But do be sure to communicate your true appreciation.

The New Thank You Note
A thank you gift basket isn’t necessarily about sending something that someone needs. It’s about sending something a person will enjoy. Whether you make it yourself, customize it, or select it from a collection, we can’t think of a gift better than a basket filled with beautiful, delicious, fresh, and nourishing treats. Your gift basket will say thank you in an unforgettable way and will take your thank you note to new heights.

Lunar New Year Filled with Roosters and Dragons – both Edible and Legendary

Chinese New Year Gift Basket from Manhattan Fruitier

Lunar New Year Gift Basket from Manhattan Fruitier

This Chinese New Year, the year of the Fire Rooster, begins on January 28. During the two-week celebration of the New Year, family and friends gather for feasting and to honor household and heavenly deities. It is one of the grandest, most celebratory annual events throughout the world.

Originating in the ancient Shang Dynasty (17 to 11 BC), this lively holiday was a way to ward off the legendary monster “Nian,” who loved to feast on little children and farm animals. Along with his appetite, Nian had some peculiar hang ups. He detested the color red and abhorred loud noise. So people decorated their houses in brilliant reds and set off fire crackers in the streets to send Nian away for another year.

Even though China adopted the Western calendar and January 1st as an official New Year date, the Lunar New Year is still of the utmost cultural and historical importance. Chinese continue to celebrate the traditions and customs of Lunar New Year, albeit now with a shorter new name – the Spring Festival.

During the Spring Festival, mandarin oranges, tangerines, pomelos and all types of citrus are gifted as tokens of good fortune, happiness and abundance. These fruits are displayed on kitchen tables throughout the two week celebration as a harbinger of a healthy, hopeful and prosperous New Year to come. Another highly-prized celebratory fruit during the Spring Festival is the Dragon Fruit or Pitahaya. Wildly popular for its brilliant fuschia-pink coloring – some believe the color of luck – Dragon Fruit is often placed on altars for the Lunar New Year.

Dragon Fruit or Pitahaya

Dragon Fruit or Pitahaya

Dragon fruit, or pitahaya, is actually a vine-like cactus that originated in the Americas but became almost exclusively popular in East and Southeast Asia over many years. It’s a fruit both moody and mysterious. The pitahaya’s aromatic flowers bloom one night only, on the full moon, and can only grow by nocturnal pollinators that bring this magical fruit to fruition.

The white flesh of the Dragon Fruit is soft like a ripe peach and is easily eaten with a spoon once you cut the fruit in half. It has tiny black seeds that are easy to eat. The flesh is slightly sweet with a touch of lemon flavor. Delicious as well as exotically colored, it will ward off the monster Nian until at least 2018.

New York City Chinatown Parade

New York City Chinatown Parade

This 2017 Lunar New Year Spring Festival begins on January 28th . If you happen to be in New York City, check out the New Year’s Day Firecracker Ceremony and Cultural Festival, kicking off at Chinatown’s Sara Roosevelt Park.  Usher out the New Year celebrations on February 5th with a bang and clang two weeks later at the dazzling Lunar New Year Parade in Chinatown.

Happy Lunar New Year to you all!

How Well Do You Know Peanuts?

Before you eat another peanut, test your knowledge by taking this quick quiz and learn something in the process!

Whether you’re The Nutty Professor or Nut Job, almost everybody loves peanut butter, right? But people tend to be very particular about how they like to eat it

We surveyed our Manhattan Fruitier family to see how much variation we would find when we asked the question:

“How do you like your peanut butter sandwich?”

The first big surprise was that one person hates peanut butter! Another surprise was that quite a few of us liked it the same simple way: on two slices of bread with either grape jelly or strawberry jam, although people were quite specific in their preference for chunky/crunchy versus smooth/creamy.

A few of us gave quite detailed descriptions:

– On whole grain bread, smash a banana on it and cover with crunchy peanut butter and a pinch of salt, then put the whole thing in the toaster oven.

– Butter a single slice of toasted white bread and spread smooth peanut butter and mixed berry jam on top. Must have it with a glass of tomato juice.

– Only eats peanut butter (crunchy) on celery sticks.

– Lots of chunky peanut butter, lots of grape jelly on  untoasted white bread. The peanut butter has to be spread all the way to the very edge of the bread and the peanut butter and jelly has to be on both  slices of  bread.

– Open-faced on multi-grain toasted bread with smooth peanut butter, sliced banana and drizzled with honey.

How do you prefer your peanut butter sandwich?