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Summer is here and it’s time to get out and enjoy the sun, fun water activities, quality time with family and friends, and delicious summer food. This summer, try to incorporate Chinese chopsticks in your picnic basket.  You’ll eat less and more slowly and you’ll be able to still enjoy all the scrumptious dishes you associate with summer.  Here are two summer recipe ideas with a Chinese twist.Image

Chinese Radish Salad
This salad is perfect for summer because it cools the body and it detoxes. You won’t feel guilty for indulging in this salad. Plus, it’s super easy to make. This dish is something you can eat with Chinese chopsticks.

1 bag radishes

1/2 teaspoon of salt

1 1/2 tablespoons of light soy sauce

2 teaspoons of sugar

2 tablespoons of vinegar

2 tablespoons of sesame oil

Thinly peel and slice radishes into halves. Then add salt, soy sauce, sugar, vinegar, and sesame oil. That’s all you have to do.

Spiced Kielbasa and Summer Fruit Kabobs (Courtesy of Good Housekeeping)Image
This delicious kabob is spicy and sweet, perfect for summer parties. The Chinese five-spice powder gives these kabobs an added kick that quickly blends with the fruit and orange marmalade.

1 package (16 ounces) light kielbasa, cut into 1-inch chunks, substitute other smoked sausage

3 apricots, pitted and cut into quarters

2 ripe plums, pitted and cut into 1-inch chunks, substitute peaches

3 tablespoons sweet orange marmalade

1 tablespoon Chinese five-spice powder

Prepare outdoor grill for covered direct grilling over medium heat.  Meanwhile, alternately thread kielbasa, apricots, and plums onto 4 to 6 long metal skewers. In cup, combine marmalade and five-spice powder. Place skewers on hot grill rack. Cover grill and cook 5 minutes or until kielbasa browns and fruit chars slightly, turning skewers occasionally. Uncover grill. Brush marmalade mixture all over kielbasa and fruit. Cook 1 to 2 minutes longer, turning occasionally.

These two recipes can easily be transferred to your favorite picnic spot. Pack your Chinese chopstick sets, an easy to clean tablecloth, plates, along with other essentials and you’re good to go. If you don’t have Chinese chopstick sets, AJPanda.com has you covered.  Enjoy your summer!

If you are anywhere near AJ Panda’s hometown of St. Louis, MO, you are going to want to make plans to attend the Lantern Festival at the Missouri Botanical Garden!

The annual Lantern Festival is one of China’s most ancient and cherished traditions. “Lantern Festival: Art by Day, Magic by Night” will be an international exhibition of immense, lighted works of art from China. This festival will include extravagant outdoor sets that celebrate Chinese culture through bold colors, impressive light and fascinating designs. This is an opportunity to witness an extravaganza rarely available outside of Asia.

“Lantern Festival: Art by Day, Magic by Night” will run at the Missouri Botanical Garden from May 26 through August 19th. For more information, please visit their website at http://www.missouribotanicalgarden.org/.

Lantern Festival - MO Botanical Garden

Lantern Festival – MO Botanical Garden


Chinese Chopsticks

Chopstick sets have evolved from the twigs they once were.  They originated in China over 5,000 years ago. Chopsticks were part of survival. Early Chinese people would use twigs to retrieve food from fire pits. Eventually, these twigs made their way to the table.

Chinese scholar, Confucius helped make Chinese chopsticks more prevalent. As a vegetarian, he disapproved of having knives at the table. He said that it was cruel and reminded people of slaughter houses. His disdain for knives made eating with wood more popular.  The love and respect the Chinese people had for Confucius helped spread the use of chopstick sets.

By 500 A.D., chopsticks spread through the rest of Asia. The shape and materials were adopted to fit the needs of each culture. Chinese chopsticks are 9 to 10 inches long with blunt ends, usually made of wood. Japanese chopsticks have narrow tips and are made of bamboo and are a bit shorter (7-8 inches).

Now, chopsticks have gained popularity all over the world. They are used to help people control the amount of food eaten since chopsticks pick up smaller bits of food. It also helps people slow down during meals.  Chopsticks are also no longer just made of wood. AJ Panda has an inventory of plastic, metal, and wooden chopsticks. They are ornate and beautiful and available in a variety of colors and styles to match a home’s décor.

Beautiful squeaky shoes: squeaky sandalsOne of the many things we worry about as parents is the safety of our children. This of course is heightened early as our little ones grow, especially once they become mobile. Their curious little minds are prime for learning and experiencing everything they possibly can.  It’s exciting to watch them learn and experience new things for the first time.

Besides baby proofing, there are way to help you keep your baby safe. Perhaps the most fun are squeaky shoes. Not sure if you’ve heard of them, but they are rather popular in China. Squeaky shoes are baby shoes with a squeaker in the soles. Every time baby takes a step, the shoes squeak. It’s really adorable. It makes learning to walk so much. Chances are, when your little one takes a step and hears the squeak, giggling and laughing are sure to follow. And then of course, you’ll smile and laugh yourself. We dare you to try not to.

What makes squeaky shoes so parent friendly is that if you are in another room for what ever reason, you can hear your toddler take steps and walk. It’s your cue to perhaps go check on them. Say for instance that you’re in the kitchen and junior is napping in the family room. When he’s done with his nap and moving around, you’ll hear the first few steps.

There are many varieties of squeaky shoes. They come in boy and girl designs. Girl squeaky sandals are so adorable. Of course they’re pink. Little boys get squeaky sandals are adorable too. They’re traditional brown in a similar style as the girl’s.  The shoes themselves for girls are pink with a flower. For boys, shoes are traditional navy and white, resembling adult shoes. And for your athlete, there are even squeaky sneakers.

Squeaky shoes make great gifts. If you’re shopping for a birthday present or even Christmas gifts, parents will appreciate hearing their little one walk.  And if the toddler is wearing them while taking his or her first steps—well that’s just extra special!

Break out the Chinese games for a family game night. That’s right, Chinese games. Families with adoptive Chinese children can play Chinese games instead traditional American board games. You can break out the Scrabble or Monopoly, but compared to Mahjong, it might be a bit dull. There are all sorts of Chinese toys and games you can incorporate in your family game night.Chinese games

  • Mahjong is one of them. Normally played with four people, this game is best suited for older children and adults. It’s similar to Rummy.  This Chinese game involves drawing and discarding tile and pairing groups of tile. The person with the most points wins.  This game is based on luck, strategy, and skill.
  • Chinese checkers is a tried and true game that most of know how to Chinese gamesplay or can easily learn. Even younger children (grade school age) can play.
  • Chinese puzzles are also fun for family game nights. You may want to make it a family game weekend, working on the puzzle together all weekend.

Incorporating Chinese games into family game night is a great way to celebrate your child’s heritage. Maybe even order Chinese food that night and make it a night celebrating their native culture. Creating happy memories can be as simple as playing a game .

 

 

Tea connoisseurs say that a Yixing teapot is an invaluable tool for any tea enthusiast’s collection. The qualities that make them truly special are the clay from which they are made and the highly skilled craftspeople who create them. Yixing clay is named for the city where it is found, in the region near the city of Yixing in Jiangsu province, China. The purple clay dates back to the Song Dynasty and is typically used to make tea vessels.

While Yixing teapots are famous in China for their beauty as well as practicality, it is their ability to absorb flavors of the beverage it holds, creating a more robust flavor over time. It is said that a well-used Yixing teapot will retain so much tea flavor that after many years of use, the teapot can brew tea by just pouring in hot water without using tea leaves. Yixing teapots also distribute heat more evenly to bring out the most flavor and health benefits of tea and can keep your tea warm for an hour or longer!

Due to the porous and unglazed surface of Yixing teapots, there are special care instructions to follow. To prepare your teapot for use:

  • Remove lid and completely submerge teapot, lid, and teacups in a pot of cold water.
  • Add tea leaves into the water bath and bring everything toa slow boil.
  • Boil for 15 minutes, then let the teawares sit and cool for 2 hours.
  • Remove the teaset from the water.
  • Rinse well with hot water.
  • Add tea leaves into the teapot and fill with boiling water.
  • Let the tea sit in the teapot for 24 hours.
  • Empty out the contents and rinse again with hot water. This removes the natural, earthy aroma of the teapot and rinses awa any clay residue from inside the pot.
  • Let air dry uncovered.

To maintain and clean your Yixing teaware:

  • Use the teapot to brew tea, not as a stove-top kettle.
  • Never use in a microwave oven.
  • Do not use any soaps or detergents to clean your teapot. Rinse ONLY with water and wipe dry after each use.
  • Do not use any abrasive pads to clean the teapot.
  • Do not expose the teapot to salt or oils.
  • Never teapot in a dishwasher.
  • It is recommended to only brew one type of tea in a Yixing teapot to avoid “cross-brewing”.

You may notice red spots or white water marks two to three weeks after first use. This is normal and will help prevent rust. When properly cared for, Yixing teapots can last a lifetime.

All Yixing teapots are on sale now at AJPanda.com!

We’ve been discussing the 2012 year of the dragon for a few weeks now to help you prepare for upcoming festivities. You’re probably preparing by cleaning your home—sweeping away all the bad luck of 2011 so you can start 2012 with good luck. Some of you may even be shopping for last minute Chinese gifts to honor the year of the dragon.  The celebration actually begins Sunday, January 22, 2012—the Chinese New Year’s Eve. Celebrations end 15 days later, February 6, 2012.

Legend has it that the monster Nian used to terrorize villagers.  A beggar once approached Nian with red ornaments and Nian was scared. So the beggar got dressed in red clothing and started dancing in the street. Nian was scared and ran away. Families began to decorate their doors and windows with red and Nian left them alone. The color red was then associated with good luck.

The zodiac animal most associated with good luck is the year of the dragon. Chinese culture celebrates the year of the dragon with the utmost excitement. The year of the dragon in general promises to be prosperous and lucky.

 

The 2012 year of the dragon is actually the water dragon. This dragon is calmer than other elemental dragons. This could be a very good year to resolve conflict as one of the strengths of the water dragon is the art of compromise. Many people in 2012 will also be overly optimistic, even in the face of hardships. There is a sense that everything will work itself out. That being said, dragon years in general years require some caution. Because they are a bit unpredictable and sometimes destructive, bad things can happen rather unexpectedly. But in the end, everything turns out as it should.

2012 is a year of promise, hope, and peace. Celebrate with family and friends, exchange Chinese gifts, and prepare to welcome the good luck promised by the water dragon.

Not all Chinese dragons are created equal. Actually, there are nine Chinese dragons, not just one. Chinese scholars of ancient times identified a total of nine types of Chinese dragons based on their specialized tasks.  So while you’re doing your last minute shopping for Chinese New Year gifts, you may want to think about the different dragons.

  1. The Heaven Dragon protects the homes of the gods in heaven. This is the ruler of the all the dragons.
  2. The Spirit Dragon has five toes and is known as the imperial dragon. This dragon controls the weather. If you upset him, the weather may get nasty.
  3. The Earth Dragon spreads beautiful spring weather in the heavens and fall in the sea. He also controls rivers. When a river floods, we’ve upset the Earth dragon.
  4. The Underworld Dragon controls gemstones and precious metals. When this dragon reports to the heavens, he creates volcanoes. So next time one erupts, you know he’s reporting to the gods.
  5. The Horned Dragon is the strongest despite being deaf. His head points to the North. His tail points to the South. He also can make it rain.
  6. The Winged Dragon is the only Chinese dragon to have wings. He was the servant of the yellow emperor.
  7. The Coiling Dragon is the water dragon. He lives in deep oceans, lakes, and rivers. 2012 is the year of the Coiling Dragon.
  8. The Yellow Dragon represents the Chinese emperor. He is the dragon of knowledge.  He also doesn’t have horns.
  9. The Dragon King is not one dragon, but four. Each rules of the seas: North, South, East, and West. If you want it to rain, you go to the Dragon King.

Explaining the nine dragons to children can be fun. They might think it’s pretty cool that there are nine magical creatures. It just makes sense to buy dragon inspired Chinese New Year gifts.

When shopping for kids’ gifts of any kind, we’re in search for something developmentally appropriate as well as fun and educational. This Chinese New Year, gifts are centered around the year of the dragon.  But the dragon hasn’t always been kid friendly, at least not in Western cultures. It’s quite the opposite in Chinese culture, where the dragon is been a something of a hero.

Dragons of the Western Culture
In Western cultures, dragons are portrayed as fire breathing monsters. Fairytale townspeople fear them. Handsome princes slay them. Dragons are villains—the bad guys little boys pretend to slay with their toy swords.  Dragons of the Western culture are scaly, ugly monsters drawn to appear fearsome.  The first dragon images made their appearance in the Middle Ages, but it wasn’t until the Medieval Times that dragons took on more sadistic roles in stories, which took place during the Middle Ages.  Now dragons ever made into evil monsters in video games.

Chinese Dragons
Dragons in Chinese culture are revered and loved. They are the givers of life. Their breath is “sheng chi” (divine energy). They represent luck, blessings, abundance, and all things good. Children look up to them and see them as divine heroes—divine sons of heaven. They have magical powers that stop evil and return the world to justice and happiness.Dragon Chinese New Year Giftsd

Choosing out of two, it’s no wonder dragons are celebrated. That is why children’s Chinese New Year gifts can be something representing a dragon of some sort. A dragon kite for instance is a fun, family friendly toy kids enjoy. The dragon is beautifully depicted with rich colors. On a warm, windy day, it’s an ideal outdoor toy. You would probably score some points with the kids with a dragon kite this Chinese New Year.

Traditional Chinese New Year Rhyme

You’ll find whenever the New Year comes
The Kitchen God will want some plums.
The girls will want some flowers new;
The boys will want firecrackers, too.
A new felt cap will please papa
And a sugar cake for dear mama.

We can’t forget about kids this Chinese New Year. Yes, the adults will have fun mingling, eating, and drinking. But kids need to have fun too. They can join the adults at the table and go to the Chinese New Year parade, but activities planned just for them doesn’t hurt either. Here are some fun ideas to help make this Chinese New Year memorable.

First things first—2012 marks the year of the dragon. This is probably one of the most important years in Chinese New Year Giftsthe Chinese zodiac because the dragon represents luck, wealth, virtue, harmony, and longevity. The dragon is already an integral part of Chinese culture.  That being said, the year of the dragon is a great time to really reinforce lessons of loving your neighbor and being kind, money, and doing things to make the world a better place. Here are some fun ways to help ring in the Chinese New Year.

Toys
You give gifts during the Chinese New Year. Although most Chinese New Year gifts are red envelopes filled with money, kids love toys.  Most people have already started shopping, but in case you haven’t, here are some ideas.

  • Chinese YoYos— A set of 12 will keep your children entertained by Chinese printed paper.  They make great party favors too.
  • Dragon Noise Maker – Children can take part in festivities and ward off evil spirits with this dragon noise maker. In ancient Chinese culture, drums were used to ward off evil spirits.
  • Dragon Kite—Children enjoy this colorful kite, perfect for a fun Spring day.

Parties
Throw a Chinese New Year party for your child and their friends. Make sure to have him or her help you with preparations. It’s a good way to teach some very important lessons.  Plus, your child gets to socialize and have fun with friends.  The first lesson is about love and harmony. Explain to your child that in doing something for others (like planning fun activities during a gathering for others to enjoy), you’re showing your affection and love.

It’s also an opportunity to teach lessons about money since the dragon represents wealth. Buy Chinese red envelopes and have your child count up coins (of any denomination) and to insert inside.

There are other activities like coloring, watching movies, and reading Chinese New Year books. No matter how you celebrate Chinese New Year, taking time to incorporate cultural and life lessons will make this New Year memorable.