(Home made dumplings with pork, Napa cabbage, and shrimp.)
Growing up, the Mid-Autumn Festival was a low-key affair for my family. Since it often happened during a school night, my mother would buy mooncakes from a local Chinese bakery and make us a hot pot or dumplings. When my siblings and I were younger, we'd sometimes go out to the backyard to look at the moon while she told us stories about the rabbit who lived there. As we got older and more busy with school, the specialness of the holiday faded. But, we always ate mooncakes and we were always together.
As part of a mixed marriage hundreds of miles from my family, I've gotten used to celebrating many Chinese holidays on my own. My wife, Cat, is always happy to join me and very open to new cultural experiences. Yet, while she intellectually understands our traditions, she feels no more of an emotional connection to them than I do to the Christmas or St. Patrick's day celebrations I participate in with her Scottish-Irish family.
(Kraig's Smoked Beef Short Ribs.
You celebrate the Moon Festival your way, we'll do it ours.)
This year, @losangelesfoodiegirl, @kraigescobar, and I were blessed with an invitation join our friends William & Kelly, and their lovely family, for a home made dumpling feast. William's parents, on a visit from Hangzhou, China, cooked dish after dish of his childhood favorites. Far from my family and their own Mid-Autumn meal, it was indescribably comforting.
(Home made dumplings with pork, chives, and egg.)
The centerpiece of the festivities were dumplings made by William's family. Plump, juicy, and perfectly seasoned, they were served with a little Chinese black vinegar and sliced garlic as accents. Unlike the dumplings made in many restaurant kitchens and factories, which use industrial food processors and mixers, the fillings in William's dumplings were chopped and mixed by hand, resulting in an unmistakeable texture and mouth-feel.
A regional specialty I'd never tried before, and one that William has never seen outside of Hangzhou, a paste of seasoned pork was spread onto gossamer thin "crepes" of fried egg, rolled, steamed, chilled, and sliced. The time intensive preparation yielded a delicate flavor that enveloped the tongue like an edible hug.
Another fine example of Chinese charcuterie, carefully selected cuts of beef containing both meat and tendon were braised in a spiced, soy-based stock, then chilled in to a toothsome, beefy jello. A mainstay of Chinese banquets and feasts, it was served thinly sliced.
A hung over Pitmaster Kraig contributed his signature dish of beef short ribs seasoned simply with salt and pepper, and slow smoked for over eight hours. The flavors were carefully balanced, with gently yielding meat that practically melted away.
The indisputable winner of our feast was a deceptively simple plate of cucumbers marinated in salt, garlic, and sesame oil. Crunchy and light, it helped cleanse our palates of the other rich dishes. The key, according to William, is knowing how to pick the cucumbers. They have to be fresh.
There were an assortment of desserts that most of us were too full to eat, including watermelon, a chilled soup of lotus seed and white fungus, mooncakes, egg tarts, and these cupcakes I picked up from Layer Cake Bakery in Irvine. I cannot repeat enough how thankful we are to William & Kelly for welcoming us into their home and sharing these special dishes with us.
That evening, Cat and I found a spot in our neighborhood to watch the lunar eclipse. I shared with Cat a story I'd heard about the blood moon as a child. That every few decades the wolf who lived in the sky would try to hunt and kill the rabbit that lived on the moon. The moon would turn red, and the people would set off fireworks, bang their pots and pans, and yell to scare the wolf away. We held hands and wished the rabbit luck.
Later, once Cat had been driven inside by the chill night air, I texted my siblings a reminder about the lunar eclipse. My sister texted back that they were going outside to try to spot it. Maybe, for just a moment, we all looked at the same moon from different places under the same sky and remembered the same story.
(Pictures taken with my Canon Rebel XTi and iPhone 5s.)