This is my 100th post on this blog. It’s taken a bit longer to get here than originally planned and there have been times where I’ve wondered if I would ever get here at all, but here we are; post # 100. And it seems entirely appropriate that it should be a post about Chinese New Year given the first ever post I did a couple of years ago was of the Chinese New Year’s feast I cooked for my family. I didn’t cook last year because it was too soon after The Mothership had passed away so I was determined to cook up an extravaganza for my family to see in the Year of the Snake. As ever, I took the week leading up to the meal off work to prepare the meal and I could document the whole process of cooking the various dishes – And I had a 10 course feast planned.
Except it didn’t work out that way at all. For starters (please excuse the pun), I got food poisoning on the Monday (we were going to eat on Saturday) and whilst I was quietly confident that I would recover sufficiently enough by the weekend to buy ingredients and more importantly, be safe enough for me to preparing and cooking food, I did need to think of alternatives incase I didn’t recover in time (and I had to think of how I would be able to cancel the whole suckling pig which I had ordered for collection on the Saturday). Happily, I *did* fully recover and by Thursday, I was out shopping for ingredients for the Steamed black bean pork and Eight Treasure Duck.
The Steamed black bean pork was a dish I could easily prepare in advance and just reheat on the day; Pork shoulder is browned off on all sides and placed into an earthenware dish which I do believe is older than me and one my parents brought over from HK all those years ago. It’s pretty much only used once a year (for Steamed black bean pork), but we all take extra good care of it because it holds such great sentimental value to us all now. Anyway, the browned off pork is placed in the earthenware pot and in a separate bowl, I mix together some finely chopped garlic, rinsed black beans, shredded chan pei (rehydrated dried tangerine peel), salt, sugar, light and dark soy sauce before topping the pork with the black bean mixture. The pork is them steamed for a couple of hours until the meat is tender. Because I started to cook it so late, it wasn’t ready until quite late and whilst I had to go to bed early to go to the market the following day, the house smelled fantastic with the aromas of umami-rich black beans with the citrus notes of the chan pei. I went to bed with a massive smile on my face that night.
The other thing I did that night was to debone the duck for the Eight Treasure Duck; Basically, I had to debone the duck from the central carcass and the duck would be stuffed with a glutinous rice with 7 other ingredients (hence eight treasures or jewels). Obviously, you need a sharp knife and I like to believe that years of eating duck helped me to know the physiology of the duck and so, were not wasted when it came to deboning the duck. It’s been a couple of years since I last did it, but I was quite proud of being able to complete the task in 30mins – Especially as I didn’t pierce any of the skin in doing so.
The following morning was an early start as it meant a trip to the wholesale market. As much as I love the indoor market in Birmingham, it was far cheaper to go to the Wholesale Market to buy a whole fish and some live lobsters. The Wholesale Markets are an absolute gem (especially when planning special meals like this) and we’re so very luck in Birmingham to have such a place in the centre of Birmingham. I know there’s been lots of chatter about moving it elsewhere in the City so that the land can be used for more City Centre Apartments which nobody can afford, but I believe that it would be a devastating loss to the City if you moved something so fundamentally important as the Wholesale Markets elsewhere. And well, given the fish market opened at 5am and when we got there at 5:20, all the vendors had nearly sold out of turbot and lobsters (we got the last few), I would say that trade is still good.
After catching up on some sleep and with the glutinous rice and other ingredients for the Eight Treasure duck soaking, we headed out for lunch and to pick up some more bits and bobs. During lunch, I began to get some text messages from people at work saying that some members of my team had been made redundant; I was confused and couldn’t understand how/why they were being made redundant – I just didn’t get what process was undertaken for them to be chosen over others. Since the company went into administration, I had reconciled myself to the fact that I was very likely going to be made redundant; 187 of my colleagues from other head offices and distribution centres had been made redundant the previous week and indeed, it was announced the day before that 66 stores were earmarked for closure. I had always said that there would be another cull of Head Office staff after the store closures were announced and indeed, at 15:48, I got a phonecall to my mobile from the London Head Office. It was either going to be a colleague I’d been trying to contact or I was about to be made redundant. As soon as I heard it was a female voice and thus not my colleague I’d been trying to contact, I knew what was coming; that is to say, I was made redundant. Whilst there wasn’t any shouting on my part to the administrator who phoned me and I got upset when I had to call my family to let them know the news, I couldn’t dwell on it too much – There was a feast to be cooked.
I’d be lying if I said that the previous day’s bombshell didn’t affect me, but I was more determined than ever to put together a fantastic spread for my friends and family. There would be over 20 ppl eating so there wasn’t really time to dawdle and self-pity. The day was a bit chaotic in that I decided that I would head to the office to clear my desk (well, of most things) in the morning and we still needed to buy some pig’s liver (for the fish maw soup) and we now needed a chicken because I decided that the menu was too pork-centric and it needed some chicken to redress the balance. It meant I had to lose the stuffed trio, but that was fine because it was a bit fiddly to prepare and cook. Added to this, I didn’t start cooking until midday (aiming to eat at 3pm) and with the majority of dishes still needing to be cooked, it became clear that a 3pm start time to eat wasn’t going to happen, but I like to think that people were getting along fine and well and the delay meant they built up even more of an appetite!
In the last hour or so, my eldest sister pretty much took over my kitchen and chopping duties which I’m not complaining about – It was good to see how a suckling pig should be chopped properly and well, I haven’t seen such deft skills with a meat cleaver since my Dad was alive (especially as she was cutting the cheeks away from the head). Bit by bit, the table began to fill up and just before 16:00, only an hour or so later than planned, we got everyone to start getting their food. With 20 people, my house was never going to be big enough to sit everyone around the table, so I decided to do it almost like a buffet style where all the dishes would be laid out on the table and everyone would have (disposable) plates with some rice and they would help themselves to the dishes. In all the mêlée, I didn’t get to make the fish maw and pig’s liver soup (mainly because I just didn’t have the energy to do so), but M made a small saucepan of it anyway (all the ingredients were ready) so I did manage to get my 10 dishes after all.
I was completely knackered by the time it came to eating and because I suspect my stomach had shrunk from being ill earlier in the week, I just couldn’t eat anything (well, apart from sucking on the turbot bones which amused D), but seeing everyone around me tucking into the food and enjoying themselves, that made me very happy. If anything, the weekend has reminded me not only that being surrounded by great company, eating good food (modestly said) is conducive to having a great time, but it reaffirmed my belief that not only do I have an awesome family, but I have some brilliant friends too. My future may be a bit uncertain at the moment, and whilst I’m not angry or upset about it all, I’m just sad that after 12 years with the company, my career with HMV ended with a phonecall whilst I was on holiday. Still, no more living with the uncertainty and stress of having an axe hovering over my head anymore and it has meant that the Chinese New Year celebrations have taken on even greater significance as things got going with a bang, as I seek out new adventures and beginnings with the New Year.
I hope the Year of the Snake brings you all great health, wealth, happiness and prosperity.