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Thursday, January 30, 2014

{Celebrate China} Her Birth Heritage

I can remember our China trip to adopt Sunshine like it was yesterday.  If I close my eyes, I can remember stepping off the plane, smelling "China", and hearing people speak Mandarin everywhere.  The food, oh the delicious food.  Making a fool out of myself trying to eat with chopsticks.  The hustle and bustle of everyday China going on around me.  The young children following after their mamas in split pants.  The food carts and street vendors.  The sweet little stores.  Chinese flute music.  The stunning architecture.  The lanterns hanging everywhere.  People willing to help in any way they could.  A country so beautifully alive and rich in culture.  A country I fell in love with.  The country where my precious daughter was born.

Before our adoption trip, I didn't realize how naive I was about my understanding of China.  I knew I was born in the year of the monkey on the zodiac calendar, but didn't know anything about celebrating Spring Festival.  I knew the basic things you learn in school about China, knowledge that is so limited and without a true appreciation of the country.  I didn't know much else about China except for how to say "nĭ hăo" and "zài jiàn" in an obvious American accent.  I didn't truly know the culture.  The holidays.  The traditions.  The language.  I didn't know why I needed to know.  I didn't realize how important it was for me to embrace my daughter's birth heritage.  But being in China was the beginning of a transformation for me.

I fell in love with China.  It has a beautiful culture to be celebrated.  As Sunshine's mama, I tried to learn everything I could about China while we were in country.  I took thousands of pictures to help me remember.  And through the years of being her mama, I have yearned to learn even more.  To joyfully embrace the culture that my daughter was born in and came to us from.  To find out about her beginnings as much as I can.


Because she needs to know who she is, where she came from.  Her Chinese heritage is a vital part of who she is and should be honored.  She is Chinese and American.  Both cultures make up the person she is growing into.  Neglecting to teach her about either one is a disservice, to her and to our family.  In order for her to know herself, she needs to know China.  Our family needs to know China.  To joyfully embrace it.  The holidays.  The traditions.  The language.  The beautifully rich culture.

Her Chinese heritage has become a part of our family, and I'm so thankful for that.  Although our household is American, China is very much alive also.  Sunshine has blessed us by being our daughter and sister, and also by sharing a culture we didn't know we'd adore so much.  We have more reason to celebrate holidays and be with family because of her birth heritage.  More reason to share traditional Chinese stories, learn the Mandarin tones, and sing "Liăng Zhī Láo Hŭ."  More reason to learn how to cook new foods, steam dumplings, and decorate for Spring Festival.  More reason to be forever connected to the country that is my daughter's birth heritage, to honor where she came from.

I am thrilled that tomorrow is a dumpling making day.  All day long.  And all the kids will join in on the fun, and we're bringing a couple friends along for the ride too.  It's a family and friend affair, one that is sure to be enjoyed by everyone.  We will be celebrating Spring Festival for the next 15 days in American Chinese fashion, with food, hóngbāo, music, crafts, and a very large FCC New Year party to round off the festivities.   Xīn nián kuài lè!  Mǎ nián dàjí, my friends!  Let the celebration begin!

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

{Celebrate China} Moon Cookies

Mid-Autumn Moon Festival is a Chinese holiday celebrated in September.  Moon Cakes are very popular at this time and are given to one another as gifts.  They are definitely an acquired taste and not my personal favorite, but they are exquisite works of art.  They probably aren't the kind of baking I want to try because of how involved they are (and because no one in my family cares for the flavor), but when I found wooden moon cookie molds, I felt like I hit the jackpot!  I know it's not Mid-Autumn Moon Festival time, but I made these cookies for a little sprinkle to send off my very dear friend, Melissa, to bring her sweet boy home from China.  I thought it'd be fun to post about these during my {Celebrate China} series.

I made them with a basic shortbread cookie recipe that I have posted below.  Aren't they pretty?

Basic Shortbread Cookie
(adapted from Martha Stewart)

1 1/3 cup butter (2 sticks plus 6 tbsp)
2/3 cup sugar
3/4 tsp salt
3/4 tsp vanilla extract
3 cups all-purpose flour
Sugar for sprinkling

Preheat the oven to 275 degrees.  Cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes.  Add in the salt and vanilla extract, beat to combine.  Add in the flour, 1 cup at a time, beating on a lower speed until combined.  To make the cookies, I rolled 1-inch balls from the dough, and then lightly tapped one side of the dough ball in flour (to prevent sticking in the mold).  After that, I pushed the dough into the wooden moon cookie mold.  Two whacks on the counter popped the cookies out of the mold, and then I placed them onto a Pampered Chef baking stone.  I repeated this process for all of the dough, which made about 30 cookies.  It went surprisingly quickly and didn't take as long as I thought it would.  I baked the cookies for 70 minutes, which seemed to be the perfect time using the baking stones.  As soon as I pulled them out of the oven, I sprinkled them with some white sugar cookie sprinkles, but I'm sure granulated sugar would work just fine if that's what you have.

I will absolutely be making these again for Mid-Autumn Moon Festival.  They are the perfect alternative to moon cakes for our family, and they came together pretty quickly.  I'm sure it would be fun to sprinkle different colored sugar on them too!  They keep for a long time and actually taste better with age.  You'll need the wooden moon cookie molds from the Wokshop, but they are reasonably priced and were delivered quickly.  I highly recommend their shop.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

{Celebrate China} Our Fu Tree

I love the idea of combining our American traditions with Sunshine's Chinese heritage.  There are some Spring Festival customs that we can't do here (like setting off firecrackers), so creating some of our own blended traditions seems like a great idea.  When I saw a Chinese New Year tree on another adoptive mama's blog, I thought it was such a creative idea.  I am hoping to add to our ornaments while I'm in China, and eventually hope to decorate our big tree after the Christmas ornaments come down.  For now, I started with our small tree.  "Fu Tree" comes from the Chinese word "fu," which means good fortune.  It's also part of the city's name where Sunshine was born.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

{Celebrate China} Crab Wontons

I love crabmeat wontons.  Love them.  Every time we go to the local Chinese food restaurant, I have to order them.  They are expensive, but oh so delicious.  And yes before you ask, I realize that they are not authentic Chinese food, so it might be a little silly to be posting this in my {Celebrate China} series.  But they are definitely American-Chinese food, so I'm going with it :-)  I found several recipes online that looked like they'd work, but I also have a friend who is originally from the Philippines that cooks up some awesome, mouth-watering crab wontons.  When I asked him for his recipe, he offered to come over and show me how to do it.  Isn't he the sweetest?  You'll find the recipe and method at the bottom of the post!

Crab Wontons

a few stalks of green onion, washed and cut in small pieces
4-6 oz crab meat (or imitation crab meat), chopped
3 pkgs of cream cheese, softened
80 wonton wrappers
cooking oil for the deep fryer or pan

(If you want to add a bit of Maryland to your wontons, try adding 1/2-1 teaspoon of Old Bay seasoning to the filling also.)

To make the filling:
Living on the east coast, I choose locally caught and picked crabmeat.  We try to eat local seafood whenever we can, especially when it comes to crab.  Claw meat was just fine for this recipe (and it was cheaper - no need to buy the expensive stuff), but I had to sift through to pick out all the shells first.  After that, combine the crab, green onion, and cream cheese together in a bowl for the filling.  Make sure it's combined well, and then it's time to start filling the wontons.

To make the wontons:
(I used pre-made wonton wrappers from the Asian food market.  They are good quality and fry up very well - perfectly crusty but not too tough.)  Place a heaping teaspoon of the filling in the middle of a wonton wrapper, then fold opposite corners together to make a triangle with the wrapper and then pinch tightly.  You do not need to use water to seal the wrappers well.  Push the two open ends up toward the pinched corners to mimic flower petals, and fold together.  I didn't take enough pictures to show this process, but it really doesn't matter how you fold the wontons and they do not need to be sealed tightly closed.  Because they are fried, the wonton wrappers fry into place immediately and the filling stays inside.  Don't worry about your filling falling out, it just won't.  Repeat this process for each wonton until your filling is gone or you've used all the wrappers.  We had several helpers, hence all the teaspoons in the filling.  The wrappers filled much more quickly this way!

To fry the wontons:
If you are using a deep fryer, you'll want to fill it with oil and heat it up sometime while you are making the wontons (I used a Grand Pappy and it was perfect - I highly suggest this purchase!!).  We fried batches of 10 wontons at a time, but you'll need to do it based on the size of your frying area.  It takes only a few minutes, if that, for each batch.  It may be helpful to turn the wontons over with tongs while frying to make sure they are evenly fried.  Once they start browning, pull them out immediately and put them on a plate covered with paper towels to cool.  I used Helen Chen's Asian Spider Strainer to pull them out.  Repeat this process with all of the wontons and then be prepared for crab wonton heaven!  My whole family gobbled these up and are already asking for more.  Looks like I'm going to be making many more crab wontons in the future!

What's your favorite way to make wontons?  I'd love to give some other recipes a try!

Friday, January 24, 2014

{Celebrate China} Our New Year Library

With Chinese New Year (or Spring Festival) just around the corner, it seemed like a good time to post about our favorite books celebrating the holiday!  There are so many terrific books available!  Our library is still a little small and certainly in the "growing" stage, but here is a list of what we like to read during Spring Festival, along with explanations taken from Amazon:

A New Year's Reunion - "Little Maomao's father works in faraway places and comes home just once a year, for Chinese New Year. At first Maomao barely recognizes him, but before long the family is happily making sticky rice balls, listening to firecrackers, and watching the dragon dance in the streets below. Papa gets a haircut, makes repairs to the house, and hides a lucky coin for Maomao to find. Which she does! But all too soon it is time for Papa to go away again. This poignant, vibrantly illustrated tale, which won the prestigious Feng Zikai Chinese Children's Picture Book Award in 2009, is sure to resonate with every child who misses relatives when they are away--and shows how a family's love is strong enough to endure over time and distance."

The Beast Nian (iTunes e-book) - iTunes doesn't provide a good summary of this story, so I'll share my thoughts!  Although this is an e-book, I love that it tells the legend of Nian.  I haven't found many books that explain this story, and it's part of some of the traditions behind Spring Festival.  The illustrations are bright and colorful and the story tells the legend well.  Very young children might not do well with the beginning knowing that Nian is a monster who would sometimes hurt the villagers, but I think it's probably fine for most children. For $0.99, it's a bargain and you can listen to a narration in English or Chinese!

Bringing In The New Year - "This exuberant story follows a Chinese American family as they prepare for the Lunar New Year. Each member of the family lends a hand as they sweep out the dust of the old year, hang decorations, and make dumplings. Then it’s time to put on new clothes and celebrate with family and friends. There will be fireworks and lion dancers, shining lanterns, and a great, long dragon parade to help bring in the Lunar New Year. And the dragon parade in our book is extra long–on a surprise fold-out page at the end of the story. Grace Lin’s artwork is a bright and gloriously patterned celebration in itself! And her story is tailor-made for reading aloud."

Celebrate Chinese New Year - "Children have never had so many reasons to learn how Chinese people everywhere ring in the new and ring out the old. Celebrate Chinese New Year is the latest, timely addition to National Geographic’s popular Holidays Around the World series. With 25 colorful images and a simple, educational text, the book is a lively invitation to revel in this child-friendly, national and international holiday. Carolyn Otto brings the historical and cultural aspects of the Chinese New Year into focus, and young readers experience the full flavor of an event celebrated by over a billion people in China, and countless others worldwide."

The Dancing Dragon - "The Chinese New Year is about to begin. There's lots to do--tie strings of firecrackers outside, hang up red scrolls, bake special cakes, and sing New Year's songs. And when family and friends are gathered together, it's time for the parade to begin. This book folds out to reveal all the color and excitement of a traditional Chinese New Year celebration, complete with dancing dragon!"

Dragon Dance - "It's Chinese New Year and there are so many fun things to do! Shopping at the outdoor market for fresh flowers, eating New Year's dinner with the whole family, receiving red envelopes from Grandma and Grandpa, and best of all-watching the spectacular Chinese New Year's parade! Introduce the customs of Chinese New Year to even the youngest readers with this festive new lift-the-flap book."

The Great Race - "The Jade Emperor is concerned because his country does not have a calendar, and no one can tell one year from the next. He decides to hold a race across a great river, and the order in which the animals finish will determine the order of the years. The event is exciting as the creatures maneuver for position, only to be bested in the end by the clever Rat. In this retelling of the ancient legend, Casey maintains the pace well. Back matter includes information about the Chinese calendar in general, as well as the more specific Dragon Boat Festival and Moon Festival. The book is a visual treat, with illustrations in simple collage designs on acrylic and painted backgrounds placed in such a way as to keep the eye engaged and moving."

Sam And The Lucky Money - "It's Chinese New Year in Chinatown, and young Sam has four dollars of New Year money burning a hole in his pocket. As he and his mother are milling through the crowded streets--alive with firecrackers, lion dances, and shoppers--Sam accidentally steps on the foot of a homeless man who is buried in a pile of red paper. Flustered, Sam hurries back to his mother, and is soon distracted by the char siu bao and other sweets he might buy with his gift money. When he sees fish-tail cookies that remind him of toes, he remembers the old man again, and Sam starts to think of his "lucky money" in a new light."

The Year Of The Horse (new for us this year) - 2014 is The Year of the Horse! Hannah the horse has a wonderfully talented family and a very special friendship with a boy named Tom, but she wants more than that. She yearns to have special skills like those of her parents and relatives. When Tom offers to take his art teacher s newest painting to the governor in a far off capital, Hannah jumps at the chance to show a little horse can have a lot of courage.

This latest adventure in the Tales from the Chinese Zodiac follows The Year of the Snake (2013), Dragon (2012), Rabbit (2011), Tiger (2010), Ox (2009), Rat (2008), Pig (2007) and Dog (2006). Each book features a unique cast of a dozen creatures. In the Chinese lunar calendar, a special animal represents every year. Each creature symbolizes unique qualities and has a personality that people identify with.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

{Celebrate China} Children's Songs GIVEAWAY!

I love music.  My kids love music.  I can't really sing a note, but I do love to sing.   I think music is such a great way to change your mood when you need some uplifting.  It's a great way to memorize facts (like we do with our homeschool studies).  I also think it's a great way to connect with Sunshine's Chinese heritage.  We know several Chinese songs and sing them whenever we think of it - all three kids love to sing in Mandarin.  We listen to the songs in the car and have a lot of fun singing along.  My children's favorite is Xiao Xing Xing (Twinkle Twinkle Little Star).  It sounds like it might be difficult but I actually think it's easier to remember a different language through song versus rote memorization of vocabulary.  I would also think it could be very soothing for newly adopted children to hear the words of familiar songs from their parents.  During a time when everything is so confusing for them, what a sweet way to try to connect with our new children.

There are a handful of Chinese Children's Songs that everyone in China knows.  They are all in A Little Mandarin: Chinese Children's Classics.  I adore this album.  Not only does it have all the well-known songs, they are all sung by Toni Wang, a woman with a beautiful voice.  This makes it much easier to understand what she's saying to try to sing along!  So many children's songs are sung by children, and they are sometimes hard to listen to and even harder to understand.  You can get this collection of songs from Toni's website, A Little Mandarin for $9.99.  And you can enter the giveaway below to win a free copy for yourself!

1. Making a Phone Call - Da Dian Hua
2. Two Tigers - Liang Zhi Lao Hu
3. Little Duckling - Xiao Ya Zi
4. Sitting In A Row - Pai Pai Zuo
5. Twinkle Twinkle Little Star - Xiao Xing Xing
6. Scale Song - Yin Jie Ge
7. Going To School Song - Shang Xue Ge
8. Find A Friend - Zhao Peng You
9. I Have A Pair Of Little Hands - Wo Yo Yi Shuang Xiao Xiao Shou
10. Rowing The Boat - Hua Chuan
11. Pulling The Radish - Ba Luo Bo
12. Doll & Littlebear Dancing - Yang WaWa He Xiao Xong Tiao Wu
13. One Penny - Yi Fen Qian
14. Rock-A-Bye - Yao A Yao
15. Happy Birthday - Sheng Ri Kuai Le

To help you out with the lyrics if you'd like to purchase this album (or win it in the giveaway below!), I am including the words for the songs we know.  I am a visual learner and can memorize the songs much faster if I can see the words - maybe it will be helpful for you too.  Mandarin Chinese is a tonal language, but that isn't quite as important when singing.  Because of that, I have not included any indications of the tones, so just try to memorize what you can!  Also, without an understanding of how to read pinyin, some of the words will not look phonetic to you.  But hopefully reading them in conjunction with listening to the music will make it click.  It really is worth the effort to learn a few of these!

Two Tigers - Liang Zhi Lao Hu (tune of Frere Jacques)
Liang zhi lao hu, liang zhi lao hu
Pao de kuai, pao de kuai
Yi zhi mei you er duo
Yi zhi mei you wei ba
Zhen qi guai, zhen qi guai

Twinkle Twinkle Little Star - Xiao Xing Xing
Yi shan yi shan liang jing jing
Man tian dou shi xiao xing xing
Gua zai tian kong fang guang ming
Hao xiang xu duo xiao yan jing
Yi shan yi shan liang jing jing
Man tian dou shi xiao xing xing

Going To School Song - Shang Xue Ge
Tai yang dang kong zhao
Hua er dui wo xiao
Xiao peng you zao zao zao
Bei zhe shu bao yao qu shang xue xiao
Wo qu shang xue xiao
Tian tian bu chi dao
Ai xue xi, ai lao dong
Zhang da yao wei ren min li gong lao

Find A Friend
Zhao ya zhao ya zhao peng you
Zhao dao yi ge hao peng you
Jing ge li ya wo wo shou
Ni shi wo de hao peng you

Happy Birthday
Zhu ni sheng ri kuai le
Zhu ni sheng ri kuai le
Zhu ni sheng ri kuai le
Zhu ni sheng ri kuai le

And if you are feeling especially industrious, HERE is the link for you to look up the lyrics for all the songs.  HERE is another link of A Little Mandarin's singer performing many of these songs live :)

Toni Wang, the author and singer in this CD has so graciously offered to donate 3 of her CDs for a giveaway!  She has even offered to send a few CDs to China with me when we leave in February!  How cool is that?!  She is such a sweet lady and understands the value of music for all children!  Enter the giveaway below to win one of her beautiful CDs!  You won't be disappointed if you score one!  Zhu ni hao yun!

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Tuesday, January 21, 2014

{Celebrate China} Chinese Traditions

If you are an international adoptive mama like me, chances are that you didn't inherently know everything about your child's birth culture.  Unless you spent years living in their birth country, it takes a lot of research and learning to feel like you might really have a sense of the people, the traditions, and the holidays.  It's important for us adoptive parents to know everything we can about where our children came from to celebrate their birth heritage, and also to help them make sense of who they are.  Aside from other adoptive parents, our Chinese friends, and the ever-present interweb, there are a couple books that have been extremely wonderful resources for me in learning about Chinese culture.  I want to share them with you.

Good Luck Life, The Essential Guide To Chinese American Celebrations and Culture by Rosemary Gong is simply fantastic.  From the book: "Good Luck Life is the first book to explain the meanings of Chinese rituals and to offer advice on when and how to plan for Chinese holidays and special occasions such as Chinese weddings, the Red Egg and Ginger party to welcome a new baby, significant birthdays, and the inevitable funeral. Packed with practical information, Good Luck Life contains an abundance of facts, legends, foods, old-village recipes, and quick planning guides for Chinese New Year, Clear Brightness, Dragon Boat, Mid-Autumn, and many other festivals. Written with warmth and wit, Good Luck Life is beautifully designed as an easily accessible cultural guide that includes an explanation of the Lunar Calendar, tips on Chinese table etiquette for dining with confidence, and dos and don'ts from wise Auntie Lao, who recounts ancient Chinese beliefs and superstitions. This is your map for celebrating a good luck life."

From the Table of Contents, it covers: Chinese New Year, Qing Ming - Clear Brightness Festival, Dragon Boat Festival, Double Seventh Day (like the American Valentine's Day), Hungry Ghosts Festival, Mid-Autumn Moon Festival, Chong Yang - Double Ninth Day, Weddings, Red Egg and Ginger Party to Celebrate New Babies, Big Birthdays, Funerals, Table Etiquette and Other Delicacies.  It is a quick enough read (or could also be read as needed) and explains all of the main Chinese holidays (some that I didn't even know existed).  It shares practical ways to celebrate the holidays here in the U.S. and gives the stories and explanations about how and why the holidays came to be.  In my opinion, Good Luck Life is a must-have resource for all adoptive parents with children from China.

Moonbeams, Dumplings & Dragon Boats, A Treasure Of Chinese Holiday Tales, Activities & Recipes by Nina Simonds, Leslie Swartz, and The Children's Museum of Boston is another awesome resource for adoptive families. From the book: "Filled with delectable recipes, hands-on family activities, and traditional tales to read aloud, this extraordinary collection will inspire families everywhere to re-create the magic of Chinese holidays in their own homes. They can feast on golden New Year's dumplings and tasty moon cakes, build a miniature boat for the Dragon Boat Festival and a kite at Qing Ming, or share the story of the greedy Kitchen God or the valiant warrior Hou Yi."

It's not quite as inclusive as Good Luck Life, but seems to be geared more toward celebrating with children.  It offers some great ideas for celebrations of Chinese New Year, Qing Ming, Dragon Boat Festival, and Mid-Autumn Moon Festival.  The story of each holiday is shared, as well as several traditional recipes and activities.  The stories are shared in a way that they could easily be read aloud to children, and there are even a few simple illustrations.  As a homeschooling mama, I especially like the hands-on craft ideas for each holiday.

Although I think both of these books compliment each other very well, go with Good Luck Life If you only want to make one purchase.  I prefer having both, but there are enough internet ideas out there for holiday crafts.  You could probably make up for not having Moonbeams, Dumplings & Dragon Boats with some extra pinterest research.

Monday, January 20, 2014

{Celebrate China} Free Mandarin Apps for Kids

Trying to preserve or teach birth language is one way to help adopted children connect with their heritage.  Although we struggled just with English for quite a long time with Sunshine, we are now trying to teach all the kids as much Chinese Mandarin as we can, with the hope that maybe one day they'll be bilingual.  We'll needs lots of help at some point in the future, but for now, we're working on simple children's songs (which will be in an upcoming post!) and vocabulary. There are endless possibilities available out there nowadays for language learning!  You can learn anything you want on apps, including tons of different foreign languages.  I love that there is such a variety of Mandarin Chinese apps for kids.  If you are serious about your children learning Mandarin, you'll need more than just a few apps.  But they are surely a great way to get your children started.  I spent some time reviewing just a few of the many Chinese apps available - these are arranged from my most favorite to least favorite.

#1 - Kids Learn Mandarin - This is by far my most favorite app.  It's free at first and a bit pricey to download the whole app, but oh boy the $12.99 is worth it.  It teaches fruits, veggies, body parts, colors, shapes, animals, family members, occupations, things around the home, eating and drinking.  I can't say enough good things about all of the different games available for reinforcement.  There are so many different things to do, it could literally entertain a child for hours!

#2 - Ricki & Jacky - This one is really fun, although a bit limited compared to Kids Learn Mandarin.  It is free at first, with a $3.99 download to unlock everything.  It teaches colors, fruits, emotions, simple action verbs, and places.  Ricki & Jacky are two circus clowns that lead children through multiple circus tents, offering a few games to teach and reinforce new vocabulary.  All of my kids enjoyed themselves while playing this one!

#3 - Fun Chinese - Again free at first, it's $4.99 to unlock the entire app.  It's very fun, offering quite a large variety of games for reinforcement.  It comes loaded with colors, and also teaches animals, numbers, things around the house, and transportation with the full app.

#4 - Chinese Flashcards - Free at first, but for $0.99 to unlock the whole app, you can't beat this one.  If your child prefers to skip all the games and just learn the vocabulary, these flashcards may be the way to go.  It teaches animals, transportation, verbs, around the house, numbers, shapes, colors, weather, musical instruments, food, fruit, and veggies.  Being a visual learner, I do wish the app showed the pinyin so I could read the words.  But if your child is a good auditory imitator, you're set!

#5 - LinguPinguin - This one comes loaded with animals and transportation with the free download, and then a $1.99 upgrade gets you everything else.  It's cute and interactive and my kids had fun playing it.  I think it's worth the $1.99 for all that it offers!

#6 - Penyo Pal - This one is more difficult and probably suited for older children.  I didn't spend the money to upgrade past the included foods section, but it's great for recognizing Chinese characters if your children are interested in that.  It's a little hard to follow at first, but you can catch on quickly.

#7 - Princesses Learn Chinese - I suppose the name of this one might limit this game to girls only, but it's still cute.  It's a free download and includes the story of Snow White.  The app can narrate the story, which includes a bit of Mandarin thrown in.  You can also purchase other stories for $1.99 each.  It's a cute idea, but I'm not sure how much Mandarin can be learned with it.  There are a few games too, but none that really kept my children's interest.  It's certainly worth the free download of Snow White to check it out though.

#8 - KidsChinese - I'm not sure how this app has so many glowing reviews.  This is a free app that comes with one short animation of little bean people having a conversation.  After that, you have to pay $0.99 for each additional video you want to download.  The audio lags behind the video, which is frustrating when trying to read the English subtitles.  I could recognize some of the words, but I couldn't follow along with the conversation.  I am not sure how anyone could learn a foreign language this way, but maybe I am missing something.

There are so many more possibilities for Mandarin Chinese apps, as you can see with the screenshot below.  I chose to review just a few of them, but I definitely think there are some big winners in this list.  I'm sure there are many other equally great apps available, but hopefully my reviews will get you started!  If you already use any apps, please comment and let me know so I can add it to my "check it out" list.  And if you are interested in learning Mandarin Chinese for yourself, there are many very good free apps for adults too!

Thursday, January 16, 2014

{Celebrate China} Wonton Soup

With Chinese New Year/Spring Festival coming up soon, this is the first of several posts celebrating Sunshine's Chinese heritage.  I am trying to expand my total lack of knowledge in making traditional Chinese food.  Yesterday, I attempted Wonton Soup.  Although all of our wontons eventually fell apart and the fillings came out, the soup itself was quite tasty.  Everyone else thought so too, as it was totally gone by the end of the night (I made it for a soup tasting party).  Angel had several helpings, and I got a thumbs up from Sweetie (although I don't think she would have the heart to tell me she didn't like it anyway).  I have leftover frozen meat filling and am challenging myself to try it again now that I have researched wonton folding.  I combined a couple recipes to get what I was looking for in this soup, and I have included what I did below.  Don't use our example of wonton folding if you want to cook this soup, check youtube for some tutorials.

Wonton Soup

Wonton Filling:
1 lb of raw ground meat (pork is traditionally used, but I chose chicken)
1 tbsp Chinese cooking wine or rice wine
1 tbsp soy sauce
1 tbsp sesame oil
1 tbsp fresh chopped ginger (I used my Pampered Chef chopper)
2 cloves of garlic, minced
green onions - maybe 3? (I added enough until it looked good)

48 wonton wrappers (I used store-bought)

Soup Broth:
12 cups low-sodium chicken stock
4 cups water
2-3 tsp sesame oil
2-3 tsp rice vinegar
green onions for garnish
sea salt to taste

Mix all of the filling ingredients together in a bowl.  Separately, combine the chicken stock and water together in a big pot, and bring to a boil.  While waiting for the soup broth to boil, fill the wonton wrappers using about 1 tsp of filling each.  It's important not to overfill the wrappers.  Check out this youtube video for a wonton folding tutorial, don't use my pictures as a guide.  If you fill them all at once like I did,  with the wrappers laid out on the counter, make sure to cover them up with a towel while you're working.  The air will make the wrappers dry out, which then makes them very difficult to wrap because they break.  If you are worried about the wrappers drying out, you can fill, fold and then cover each wonton individually.

Once you have all the wontons stuffed and folded, and your broth is boiling, drop the wontons in the broth, one at a time.  Bring the broth to a boil again, and simmer 4-6 minutes, until the wontons are cooked through.  Then stir in the sesame oil and rice vinegar.  Add green onions and sea salt to taste.  Serve and enjoy!

Disclaimer: I do not claim to be a Chinese food cooking expert.  But I am happy with the results of this soup, and will definitely be making it again!