Hu Wan and the Sleeping Dragon by Judy Young, illustrated by Jordi Solano
Young and Solano have created a cohesive story, highlighting several key lessons and providing opportunity to learn more about a different time and culture, 16th Century Beijing. Solano’s detailed illustrations capture the seasons, spirit and tenor of the story’s setting. Young’s words capture the simplicity yet abundant life of Hu Wan, a nine year-old boy who lives and farms with with Grandfather. The key lesson from/or Hu Wan comes on page eighteen when Hu Wan attempts his first carving, making an errant cut in the gourd. “Mistakes can be turned into masterpieces. Look at it again.” This sage advice from Grandfather really resonates both with Hu Wan but also the reader. I can imagine so many times were pausing to think about how a ‘mistake’ or disappointing situation/outcome can be turned around with a little reflection and change of perspective. It also connects well to the advice that one only truly fails when they stop trying.
[spoiler alert] In the end, Hu Wan is rewarded for his kindness, empathy and humility by the emperor’s young son. He also has found a gift and additional connection with his Grandfather. Books that demonstrate these key elements of being a kind human rank high on my list. I look forward to more tales from Young and Solana.
This makes a great edition to our holiday book collection – celebrating Lunar / Chinese New Year is a big part of our family! Hu Wan’s lessons a great compliment.
I received a copy of this book to review from Sleeping Bear Press but I was not financially compensated, nor required to say something positive, in any way. The opinions expressed are my own and are based on my experience and observations while reading this book.
Happy Lunar New Year! This year’s celebratory dessert was the product of many firsts. First time cooking black forbidden rice, first dessert in the (new) pressure cooker and first batch of rice pudding. The result was a warm, comforting, lightly sweet, simple yet crowd pleasing dessert. This doubles easily, if your pot is big enough, and can be served in a large serving dish (warm or cold) or in mini – jars. Sky is the limit with topping options, I opted for mango and pomegranate (red and yellow colors) with toasted coconut and you could add spices to pudding like cardamom. You could even just cook the rice and stop there as a uber fast route to a nutty side dish. Forbidden rice takes forever to make, as it needs 8-24 hours just to soak (hence why I had not previously done).
For Lunar New Year, I always bring dessert to ensure there is a perfect sweet treat to end the feast. If you know me, you have heard my rant about Asian desserts (beans. really?) Past Lunar dessert recipes include:
I pressure cook in a stovetop All American canner/cooker but this will work just fine in your electric pressure cooker as well. This recipe is based on Pressure Cooking Today’s version based on NY Times so it must be good. And it is.
Forbidden Black Rice Pudding
1 cup black rice, rinsed, but no need to soak
1 1/2 cup water
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 1/2 cup light coconut milk (1 can 15 oz)
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract or vanilla bean paste
Mix black rice, water, butter and salt in pressure cooker.
Lock the lid per your pot specs and select 15/place weight or program pot to High Pressure.
Let pot reach goal pressure and then cook for 22 minutes. Set a timer!
After the cook time, let the pot sit and use a natural pressure release method for 10 minutes (aka in stove top just let it sit and watch the gauge go down). After 10 minutes, safely release any remaining pressure by opening away from you.
Open pressure cooker and ooh and ah at the miracle of pressure cooked black rice. Fluff it up with a fork.
Pour in half of the coconut milk (about 3/4 cups) and sugar and mix with cooked rice.
For electric cookers, select your version of ‘saute’ or for stovetop, turn stove to medium/medium low heat. Heat and stir occasionally until sugar is dissolved. The milk with turn purple too.
In a separate bowl, whisk eggs, remaining 3/4 cup coconut milk with vanilla extract until well combined; Pour through a fine mesh strainer (or don’t, the world is still turning) into the pot. KEY! Stir constantly while pouring in and until mixture just starts to boil. Otherwise you will have scrambled eggs with rice.
Once boiling, reduce heat to barely a simmer if you would like to keep warm and thicken a little more. Just remember it will thicken as it cools.
You can serve this straight from the warm pressure cooker or chill for later. Let it cool before putting in fridge though. If you like it more creamy but will need to cool, add more coconut milk to reach desired consistency then cool.
If you want to serve in little jars, I use the the 1/2 pint Ball jars filled with about 1/2 to 3/4 headspace or just below the threads. This recipe will make 12 jars.
Hanukkah may bring Eight Crazy Nights (thank you Adam Sandler for teaching me this) – but the Chinese have Fifteen Crazy Nights of New Year. See Wikipedia article for all the amazing things that occur. I also think the Chinese have another thing figured out, especially when it comes to New Years. I much prefer overindulging with food than alcohol (and not staying out till the wee hours).
And here we are on New Year’s Day, status post a wonderful meal with family and friends consisting of oysters in the half-shell, egg rolls, soft shell crab, seafood/beef/lamb hotpot, red wine and pineapple upside down cake. Pictures are lacking because to pause and photograph would have meant missing out. There are many foods set to bring good luck for the New Year, many of which we consumed last night.
Oranges and Tangerines – wealth and luck: Chinese words for gold and orange sound alike, the word for tangerine echoes luck.
Long noodles = long life, naturally
Spring rolls = wealth, if you squint and bring in a dose of imagination you might see gold bars
Leafy greens = money, long life when served whole, my MIL is the best and bought my favorite vegetable rau muong, water spinach, kangkung among others (scientific Ipomoea aquatica)
Fish: a play on words – Chinese for fish is Yu sounds like the words for “wish” and “abundance”. While, traditionally, a fish is served with its head and tail still attached for a good beginning and ending to the year, we ate our chopped and plopped into the hot pot (rhymes!)
Oysters (in the half shell) – Chinese “hao”, sounds like “good events.” Science has demonstrated these tasty bivalves aphrodisiac tendencies, oysters are chuck full of zinc, a key nutrient for testosterone production, important component for a healthy libido. However, one could still suppose the connection with romance is based in random chance. Slurping the slippery contents from their shells might just reveal a pearl. Oh the metaphors and double entendres!
This year we dined on Kusshi, Penn Cove and High Point – all belong on a list of repeats
Sweets: while I don’t think the Asian cultures have dessert figureed out (I mean really BEANS – no amount of sugar makes that a dessert). This year: Pineapple upside down cake. See below for the play by play.
Every good critical thinker should ask the contrary -What foods should one avoid consuming? With the exception of tofu, white foods could symbolize misfortune, mourning or even death. I have no problem avoiding foods that look like death.
Pineapple Upside Down Cake:
My father in law asked that I make a dessert for New Years. I know that he loves the sweet treats I make for him and probably shares the same sentiments that Asian desserts miss the mark when a true sweet tooth sings… (Durian, beans and corn). Citrus is important and red/yellow/gold are the celebratory colors of New Year symbolizing just about everything good (look up all the meanings sometime) and circles are deep with meaning in many cultures. Insert a moment of clarity and Voila! I remembered making a pineapple upside down cake in home economics (which quite possibly could have been the last time I baked one). With the circles of pineapple rings, red maraschino cherries and golden color of the brown sugar – perfecto!
I looked for updated recipe from my home ec version that of course I still have, and landed upon Veronica’s Cornicopia. Omitted the rum, subbed homemade yogurt for sour cream and used salted butter and Kosher salts (oops, but not a problem). It was a hit, perhaps a new tradition for the McTruongs.
I leave you with images of the special Chinese New Year Tissue poms. My MIL loved the ones I made the baby shower and asked probably 12 times for me to make her some for New Years (but not white ones, again reminded 12 times, the whole death thing). Who could say no to that? So I made two sets, one for her and one for her sister. DIL brownie points! and a Big Thank You to my assistant fluffer – HT – who can do it with one arm in a sling. xoxo