Year of the Dragon
Chinese New Year falls on a different date each year. In 2012 it will fall on 23 January, and it's the year of the Dragon.
Many legends exist that tell how the 12 animals of the Chinese Zodiac came to be. My favourite is the story that all 12 animals wanted to be leader of the pack. The only way to settle it was to race across the river, with the first to reach the other side becoming leader. They jumped in and swam as fast as they could towards the other side. Each year was named after each animal in the order in which they finished: rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, sheep, monkey, chicken, dog and pig. In actual fact the ox would have been first, but the cunning rat sat on his back and jumped off onto the opposite bank just before they arrived and therefore won the race!
Unlike the western horoscope which is used for fortune telling, the purpose of the Chinese horoscope is to provide information about a person's character and talents.
People born in the year of the Dragon will be 12, 24, 36, 48 and so on this year. The Dragon is the mightiest of the signs. If this is you, you symbolise such character traits as dominance and ambition. You prefer to live by your own rules, and if left on your own, you're usually successful. You're driven, unafraid of challenges, and willing to take risks. You're passionate in all you do, and do things in grand fashion.
While Dragons frequently help others, rarely do they ask for help. Others are attracted to Dragons because of their colourful personality, but deep down, Dragons prefer to be alone. That preference can come across as arrogance or conceit, but these qualities aren't applicable. Beware though, as Dragons have tempers that can flare fast – I should know, I'm a Dragon myself!
Chinese New Year lasts for 15 days, with the 15th day called the Lantern Festival. New Year's Eve and New Year's Day are traditionally celebrated as family affairs, with food as the main focus. Chinese families will prepare their meal over many days – the tremendous amount of food prepared was meant to symbolise abundance and wealth for the household. If you'd like to join in the celebrations, here are some of my tips to make it authentic.
Clean the house before the new year starts (a bit like a spring clean), and make sure you sweep toward the middle of the house so that you don't sweep out any of the family luck. This bold stripe lobby brush and pan set will cheer up chores and store away easily.
On the first day of the new year we tend to eat 'jai' (vegetarian meals) because it's believed that this will ensure long and happy lives. A non-stick wok is essential for creating tasty stir fries, like this Tao Peking wok – perfect for the job with its glass lid so you can see what's happening to the food while it's cooking. This John Lewis Classic Universal Steamer is also handy for steaming vegetables like broccoli – it will fit any size saucepan you already have.
The big feast takes place on the second day, where along with stir fries we will also eat fish and chicken. Both tend to be presented whole to represent togetherness, abundance and prosperity. Use a fish steamer as its shape makes it so much easier to cook the fish. Noodles are also served, and should be left uncut as they represent long life.
I swear by my electric rice cooker (you'll be hard pushed to find a Chinese family without one, honestly!). This Tefal Classic Rice Cooker is just the job with a 10-cup capacity. Always rinse the uncooked rice before adding the same volume of water above the rice (so you should have an inch of water above an inch of rice), and hey presto, perfectly fluffy rice every time.
Not many Chinese families tend to use table linen, but I always to as it creates a sense of occasion, especially at Chinese New Year. I'll be using these John Lewis Basket Weave place mats in black for accessorisation. For dinnerware, the John Lewis Red Reactive range comes in a gorgeously deep red colour to add a spot of sophistication to any table arrangement. In a variety of shapes and sizes, it will accommodate most types of dishes, including a cute little bowl perfect for sauces, and a slightly bigger bowl for rice or noodles.
For a more casual look, this Typhoon range, designed with celebrity chef Ching He Huang, is great for a new year party with guests. The large bowl is the perfect size for serving rice or noodles, and comes with bamboo serving tongs to make the job easier.
To finish the look, place this 3-tier cake stand in the centre of the table, and pile high with fortune cookies.