I like holidays, and as special occasions go, I particularly enjoy Chinese (Lunar) New Year. It began this year on Friday, January 31, and ends in about two weeks with the Lantern Festival. Each day offers a special way to celebrate or commemorate. For instance, on the fifth day, folks may eat dumplings in the morning and set off firecrackers  later in the day to ensure prosperity in the new year. Naturally, I appreciate the emphasis on vegetarian (vegan) food — it is considered cleansing and spiritually edifying.

Friday Nate and I had dinner at our favorite Atlanta-area Chinese vegan restaurant, Harmony Vegetarian. It was packed. Just as we ate black-eyed peas and collard greens for good luck and fat bank accounts on Jan 1, we auspiciously shared three plates of dumplings. I like Harmony’s pan-fried leek dumplings; Nate went for the steamed Shanghai-style. We also shared an order of fluffy taro dumplings, handmade each morning in small batches and available til sold out. We were lucky to get the last order of the night.

Wonton soup, no water chestnuts, extra peppery

Steamed shanghai dumplings

taro treasure!

steamed bean curd skin roll with veggie ham and gai lan

When I was a kid, my parents used to take my brother and me to a Chinese restaurant that had glass table-tops with information about the Chinese zodiac tucked underneath. We enjoyed reading the descriptions and talking about how fair or accurate they seemed. My hyper-intellectual, hard-working, artist dad: the fire monkey. My authoritarian, self-confident, money-minded mom: the metal rat. Tree loving, sensitive, careful: me, the wood rat. And my brother? A fire tiger! Restless, well-informed, a natural leader. I still get a kick out of reading them.

2014 is the year of the horse. If you were born in one of the ranges below, you are a horse! What does it mean to be a horse? Horses are said to be great communicators, kind-hearted, and focused on self-improvement. They have a tendency towards talkativeness and are marked by cheerfulness.  Horses tend to be the “popular” one in the group — but not Mean Girls-style. They’re well-liked because they’re kind and hard-working, and give others someone to look up to. The downsides? Like actual horses, they may seem stubborn, and they resist constraint. They can be impatient and quick to anger, offend, disappoint, or give up. I found this description particularly charming: “Flamboyant by nature, they are wasteful since they are not good with matters of finance due to a lack of budgetary efficiency.” Your “horse” characteristics are further informed by your element, i.e., earth horses are different from wood horses, and so on.

Believe it or not, the food — while terrific — is not my favorite part of Chinese Lunar New Year. I love the dances best! And yet, until this year, I had only ever seen a lion or dragon dance in pictures or videos online. It seems like every year Chinese New Year sneaks up on me, and I end up missing out. The fact that I got to see one this year is thanks due to my friend Jenny, who posted pictures on Facebook yesterday and led me to the info about today’s festivities. Thank you Jenny!! You made one of my dearest wishes come true!

And wouldn’t you know it? Just mere days after Atlanta’s snow shutdown, it was a glorious 63 degrees – perfect for an afternoon outside. We joined a crowd at the Culture Center of Taipei Economic & Cultural Office in Atlanta.

Stretching

(Pssst! Click any image to see a larger version)

Preparing

Arranging

the lion dance begins!

The lion threw candy or gifts and the children scrambled.

Feeding the lions red envelopes

We loved our first lion dance!

Time for the Dragon Dance. The dragon emerges!

Feeding the dragon red envelopes!

There goes my envelope!

With the dignitaries

10/10, would dragon dance again!

Pure vegetarian by the women and men of the Tzu Chi Foundation

Vegan eats at the fest!

The noodles with two kinds of mushrooms (Chinese shiitake, wood ear) and veggie ham was so good we needed a second plate. Auspicious, too — when Nate went to retrieve it, he ran into our friend Lauren and her beau. It was so nice to see friends at the event!

With my favorite

cotton candy kisses

Purchase: cat cards from one of the vendors in the market area. I think they’re meant to hold money; I intend to cut out the cats carefully and turn them into stickers with double-sided tape. I also got a couple of cards for my penpals and a nice red papercut of two rats.

We made it home by mid-afternoon and spent the rest of the day on our bikes exploring the city; we logged at least twelve miles. Once home, I made a dinner of hazelnut-crusted seitan and roasted brussels sprouts with whole toasted hazelnuts — to be featured in a future post — and then caught up with my Grandma Lowe on the phone. Nate did the dishes and ran some errands, and now we’re settled in drinking tea. It was a pretty perfect day. Happy Chinese Lunar New Year!