Chanoy Honeymoon: Cixi, Zhejiang Province, China, April 2016

Note – photo gallery at the bottom of this post.

Finishing our long European honeymoon with a quick stopover in China to see the maternal side of my family only helped to emphasise how ridiculously lucky we were to take the trip and to have the opportunities that we had. It’s not just that a trip of this magnitude would be entirely unaffordable for most of my Chinese family members. It’s also the education and the worldliness that we had growing up in Australia that has contributed to us wanting to go overseas to explore different places.

My family members are all entirely content living where they live in China, and never venturing outside of the country. “You don’t have this ingredient in Australia do you,” is a frequent sentence uttered at my grandmother’s dining table as they take delight in serving up strange sea creatures up for dinner. The idea of having to travel overseas and only eating hamburgers and steaks is horrifying, because they simply don’t know that there’s anything else available.

They’ve never been taught about the nuanced differences between different “Western” countries, and so French, Polish, Greek and English cuisines all meld together as a homogeneous cuisine of hamburgers and steaks. Why go overseas for that when you can have fresh fish and clams for dinner every night? After all they believe that it’s not like there’s any other historical or cultural things of interest to be found in other countries, because China is the greatest country in the world with the best culture and history.

This insular world view is made all the more ironic by the fact that the village where my family live is now more developed than ever with a greater exposure to the Western world. I even saw Westerners on local business in the hotel we stayed in! I spent a lot of time reminiscing to K about how things used to be whenever I visited as a child, and how different it now is.

Where we once had to do our business in a chamberpot, now there’s indoor plumbing. Where my grandfather once toiled in the fields, now the fields have been turned into factories and tiny one-room homes for the migrant workers flocking to the area for factory work. Where we once had to take an overnight ferry to the area from Shanghai, now there’s a new bridge that cuts the travel time to two hours on a public bus.

Just the fact that there are now restaurants and street food stalls in the area highlight how things have changed. They never used to exist because everyone cooked at home – what was the point of going out to eat? It’s only with the growth of the migrant worker population (now outnumbering the ‘locals’) that cheap restaurants and street food stalls have opened up to cater to those who don’t have full kitchen facilities in their tiny one-room residences.

I guess it just goes to show that even as the country develops at a breakneck pace and the standard of living is raised in China, it will take much longer for people’s mentalities and worldviews change. It certainly doesn’t help when the local CCTV news station reports on news the way that they do. My relatives remarked to me at one point, “Oh, isn’t it lucky that China doesn’t have shootings the way America does? We’re so safe here.” Yes, if you ignore all the corruption, human trafficking, drugs and domestic violence statistics…

I love China, the food, and my family of course. But I can’t help but wish for them to have greater exposure to the world and different ways of thinking that aren’t dictated to them by the Communist Party.

2014 Family Christmas Lunch and a Recipe for Bacon-Wrapped Turducken

Christmas. A time for overindulgence in food, family connection leading to family squabbles, and finally, vows to never see your family again.

…I kid! Since moving to Sydney a few years ago, I now find myself really cherishing the time I get to spend with my family. Every minute you spend back at the family home becomes increasingly precious, because no matter how many phone calls or FaceTime connections you make, it’s never quite the same.

While our original plans had been to spend Christmas Day in Sydney with K’s family before driving to Melbourne on Boxing Day, we changed our minds when my father was unexpectedly called back to Hong Kong just before Christmas when my uncle passed away. Not wanting my brother to have to spend the holidays alone, we drove down early and spent the holiday together as a family with my cousins.

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We hosted Christmas lunch, and decided to follow a sample Christmas menu offered on Taste.com.au. First up – Green Beans with Cherry Vinaigrette Dressing. This was a great hit with everyone, as the sweet cherries combined with the tart lemon vinaigrette really helped to enhance the fresh crunchy beans. Note – this dish doesn’t reheat that well for leftovers the next day, so it’s best to make a smaller amount and eat it all on the same day!

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Next – Charred Capsicum and Zucchini with Goat’s Cheese. This one doesn’t look quite as pretty as in the picture as we ended up using a serving bowl that was probably too small for its purpose, so the presentation wasn’t ideal. It also made it a bit harder for people to dig through to the base to get the goat’s cheese dressing. I recommend serving this dish in a larger, flat serving platter rather than in a bowl. Note – the goat’s cheese cream is delicious, and I would happily just have that on toast with a crack of black pepper!

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Crispy Parmesan Potatoes also made it onto the menu. We enhanced the recipe with some duck fat that we had rendered off our next dish, which really made the cheesy roast potatoes super rich and crispy. I’d definitely make this dish again!

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The piece de resistance – a Turducken! We didn’t follow a recipe for this and pretty much made it up. Taking the easy way out, we chose to only use the breast meat from each bird (chicken, duck, turkey), rather than the whole body which would have been too hard to manage. At the same time, because we were concerned about only using the leaner breast meat which might dry out in the oven, we decided to wrap the whole thing in fatty bacon, to help keep the meat moist.

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And it worked! The turducken was delightfully moist and tender, and the roulade-style shape that we opted for stayed together even after we cut the string that had been holding it together. The half jar of leftover pesto that we added to the centre of the roulade at the very last minute was a stroke of genius as well. Many thanks to my amazing husband K who took primary responsibility for this dish as I tend to get a bit squeamish about touching raw meat!

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My brother’s a keen amateur baker/dessert maker, and he took responsibility for making these Christmas Pudding Truffles. Without any glace cherries on hand as recommended by the recipe, he used some fresh cherries instead to top the truffles which I think worked really well! These are very rich though – one would be more than sufficient for most people….okay, maybe two!

It’s months ago now, but how was your Christmas? Did you spend it with your family?

Recipe: Bacon-wrapped Turducken Roulade

Ingredients

  • One chicken breast
  • One duck breast
  • One turkey breast
  • One small jar of pesto sauce
  • One packet of long middle bacon
  • Melted butter for basting
  • Kitchen string for wrapping

Method

  • Flatten and tenderise each piece of poultry breast. I do it by using the back of a meat cleaver.
  • Cut out lengths of string and lay it out across your chopping board.
  • Lay out strips of bacon length-wise along your chopping board, going the same way as your lengths of string.
  • Lay out the flattened turkey breast on top of the bacon strips. Baste with a thin layer of butter.
  • Lay out the flattened duck breast on top of the turkey breast. Baste with a thin layer of butter.
  • Lay out the flattened chicken breast on top of the duck breast. Spread the pesto over the chicken breast.
  • Wrap up everything carefully, ensuring that the turkey entirely covers the duck and chicken breast, and that the bacon is sufficiently wrapped around the turkey.
  • Tie up your lengths of string to ensure that everything is held together tightly. Baste with butter.
  • Cook for two hours at 200 degrees, or until cooked through. Check regularly.
  • Rest for at least half an hour before carving up the turducken for a delicious Christmas lunch.

Enjoy!

#Chanoy Chinese Wedding, 16 April 2014

This blog entry is almost nine months delayed…mea culpa, mea culpa. It was just waiting to be written though, and given that I now have a few posts from my actual wedding day and honeymoon waiting to be posted on this blog, I figured I should get around to writing this up!

When K and I got officially engaged early in 2014, we knew that we would need to hold a wedding celebration in either Hong Kong or China for my side of the family. It was unlikely that many, if any, would be able to come to Sydney for the actual wedding ceremony later in the year. Most of K’s family are here in Australia – it was my family, 99% of whom live overseas, that was the issue.

When my father proposed a trip back to China in April to mark the one year anniversary of my mother’s passing, we decided to hold a wedding banquet two days after the remembrance ceremonies. It felt right that after a period of grieving, should come a period of joy and celebration.

All my father’s siblings and some of their spouses travelled down from Hong Kong to Cixi, Zhejiang province in China, where my mother’s family lives to attend the ceremony – both sides of my family were represented, which was very important to me.

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My uncle and aunt had gone out of their way to plan everything for me, so literally all I had to do was show up and go along to everything they had planned. Hair and makeup appointments, ordering flowers, ordering bridal cars…everything had been done for us. My hair and makeup was done at a local beauty salon, where there’s not much consultation about what ‘look’ you want to go for as all brides get given the same treatment of an updo and a classic smoky eye and red lip look.

Dad was incredibly proud. To him, the celebrations on this day were just as good as getting ‘properly’ married. In his eyes from this day forward, I was a married woman.

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From our suite at the Shenshi Bridge Hotel (my relatives had debated getting K and I separate suites the night before for tradition’s sake, until my dad scoffed and told them to stop being ridiculous, as we clearly live together and have already had ‘relations’), we got into the bridal car and started driving in circles around the surrounding streets of my grandparents’ village. For the whole drive, our bridal car was preceded by a ute, in the back of which sat a wedding band who beat the drums and clashed their cymbals to herald the arrival of our bridal car.

The most hilarious thing is that the day of our wedding was gray and gloomy, so our musicians were getting rained on. They got more and more miserable, the longer we drove around parading our wedding procession!

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By the time we arrived at the main square of my grandparents’ village and got out of our bridal car, a red carpet had been set up for us. My younger cousins were running ahead of us letting off confetti bombs every couple of steps, and there were firecrackers going off left right and centre.

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Our walkway was made up of two lengths of red carpet that got progressively wetter and muddier the further we walked. Funnily enough, the men had to run back as soon as we stepped off one section, to grab it and move it ahead, so that two 20m lengths of red carpet ended up becoming a muddy and sodden 300m walkway to my grandparents’ house.

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Quick note about attire – I was wearing silver earrings gifted to me by my manager as a wedding gift, a gold and jade necklace that belonged to my mother, gold flats from Aldo, and a red lace and white chiffon dress ordered off Etsy. The white fur shrug was lent to me by my cousin as the day turned out colder than expected. K wore a gray suit from David Jones (uberstone), a pre-owned gray tie, and a red shirt borrowed from my brother.

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A wedding is a big occasion in the village, and everyone comes out to watch. People I didn’t know and had never met were taking multiple photos of us, and getting their kids to run up to take photos with us as well. It’s an occasion for general public celebration – more than we’re used to with Western style wedding ceremonies.

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They all follow you every step of the way as well – from the moment your arrival is heralded by the band and you step out of the car, right until you enter the house from which you’ll be married.

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But importantly, before you step into the house, you have to let off fireworks.

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…all the fireworks and firecrackers.

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A second cousin’s husband conducted our ceremony for us in Chinese. The wording is not unlike a traditional ceremony, in terms of having phrases like “Do you agree to take this man, etc” or “We are gathered here today…”. I had to translate for K sotto voce the whole time, as he doesn’t speak Mandarin, and had no idea what was going on!

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What was different was the amount of bowing we had to do! First we bowed to each other (accidentally smacking foreheads!).

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Then we bowed behind to all those outside, and then bowed to the front.

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And before we knew it, we were officially married! …though, not actually officially as we didn’t sign any papers. It was official to my family though!

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We soon progressed to the nearby community hall, where you really couldn’t miss the fact that it was set up for a wedding… With over twelve tables, there were over 120 people attending the wedding – from second cousins, to third cousins, to fourth cousins once removed, to great aunts by marriage, siblings of great uncles by marriage…anyone that I was vaguely related to was in attendance. Some people even travelled over four hours to be there!

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My grandma hired a team of twenty local women to cook up a feast for the banquet. This is the table laden with cold dishes at the start of the banquet, and doesn’t even begin to represent the amount of dishes that were eventually brought out (28 from memory, as a lucky number!). Dishes were piled upon dishes, until each table was fairly groaning under the weight of food. It’s a meal that stretches well into the evening though, and is considered both lunch and dinner for guests.

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We hardly got to enjoy some of the food though, as it was our duty as bride and groom to go around to each person and pour a drink for them as a sign of thanks for attending our wedding. This photo is of K pouring a drink for my grandmother. While some opted just for apple juice, each table also had a bottle of Bombay Sapphire, a bottle of hard Chinese rice wine, red wine, beers, and other liquors – it’s not uncommon for the men to all congregate on one or two tables and get really stuck into the hard liquor from midday!

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It was an overwhelming day – lengthy and in many parts, confusing as we didn’t know what to expect as everything had been planned for us. In the end, I’m glad that so many of my family members, both from the maternal side and paternal side were able to be there to help us celebrate the first step of K and I’s future together. It meant a lot to my grandparents to have us there holding a wedding celebration – I think my grandmother fears that with my mother’s passing, my brother and I will lose our connection to that side of the family. Having this ceremony helped to alleviate some of her fears, and reassured her that we will always be there.

This ceremony in China was really the start of our wedding celebrations. The actual wedding day didn’t come until 22 November 2014…and you’ll hear about that soon!