Monday, November 27, 2023

Diwali, the Festival of Lights

Earlier this month, my fiancé and I celebrated Diwali, the Festival of Lights in Walpole and in Medway. 

Diwali is an important holiday in Hinduism, Jainism, and Sikhism, and is celebrated by some Buddhists (1,2). It represents the triumph of light over darkness and good over evil. Diwali is celebrated over 5 days, typically in late October and November, and the actual dates vary due to the lunar calendar. People celebrate the festival differently based on the region. One common tradition is to light diyas, which are small lamps with oil, on the evening of the new moon to invite the goddess of wealth, Lakshmi.

This year, Diwali was from November 10 - 15 (3). The organization Be Inclusive hosted a Diwali Celebration at the Walpole Council On Aging in early November. The evening was filled with performances, activities, vendors, and delicious Indian food from 1947 based in Norwood. Be Inclusive supports inclusive communities, and plans events throughout the year to celebrate and raise awareness of diverse cultures. Keep an eye out on their website for their other upcoming events.

Be Inclusive's Diwali Celebration Organizers and Volunteers

The following weekend, we went to Medway's second annual Diwali Festival, co-hosted by the Medway Cultural Council and Medway Marches. Throughout the night there was music, dancing, henna, vendors, Indian food, and more at Medway High School. Performers included dancers from Desi 2 Step, the Chhandam Institute of Kathak Dance, DFD Academy, and others. It was a fun-filled evening! The Medway Cultural Council and Medway Marches celebrate the arts and different cultures, so stay tuned to their sites to see what else they have going on.

Dance Performance at the Medway Diwali Festival
We enjoyed learning about Diwali and participating in the festivities, and we are looking forward to celebrating Diwali again next year! Read more about Diwali from Britannica, Indiatimes, and National Geographic.

Thursday, June 22, 2023

Happy Vesak Day!

At the end of May, my fiancé and I went to Blue Cliff Monastery in Pine Bush, New York for Vesak Weekend, to celebrate Buddha's Birthday. "Siddhartha, or Buddha Shakyamuni, was an enlightened being whose teachings have helped millions of people touch the peace, love and understanding inherent in each of us."1 Over the weekend, we practiced mindfulness to celebrate and remember the Buddha. Blue Cliff Monastery is one of the Buddhist practice centers in the Plum Village tradition, founded by Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh (Thay).

It was a busy weekend. We arrived Friday afternoon, in time for dinner and orientation. Saturday morning, we began with a guided sitting meditation, followed by exercise, breakfast, a lay friends Dharma talk, and walking meditation. After lunch, there was working meditation and a Food Fair Celebration! At the Food Fair, there were tables after tables of different Vietnamese foods. The food at Blue Cliff Monastery is 95% vegan, and it was delicious. Although I do not normally follow a vegan or vegetarian diet, I was not hungry all weekend. 

Then we enjoyed a Musical Be-In with live performances of music, poetry, and more. They also spoke about their Moon Lake Nunnery Project. Due to the poor conditions of the Moon Lake Building, the nuns who used to live there are temporarily located in buildings meant for guests. They are building a new building for the nuns, so that the guest rooms can accommodate visitors once again. Read more about the Nunnery Project here, and please consider making a donation.

Sunday, we began again with sitting meditation, exercise, breakfast, and a Dharma talk in the morning. We concluded the retreat with a beautiful Bathing the Buddha Ceremony and lunch, with yummy Vietnamese banh mi sandwiches.

Blue Cliff Monastery

We had a restful and busy weekend. Although Blue Cliff Monastery is a few hours away from where we live, there are ways to participate virtually. Live streaming is offered for quite a few of their Dharma talks and events, and you can subscribe to their YouTube channel. Interested in other ways to practice mindfulness at home? Try the Plum Village Mobile App, a free app that offers guided meditations and more from the Plum Village community. If you're interested in practicing mindfulness in person, check out the eleven monasteries worldwide that practice in the Plum Village tradition, or find a local group near you.


Saturday, April 1, 2023

Onigiri Rice Balls

In February, my fiancé and I attended a Let's Make Onigiri program at the Morrill Memorial Library in Norwood. Onigiri are convenient and tasty Japanese rice ball snacks. Ms. Masayo Kawaguchi from the Japan Society of Boston taught the class.

Masayo Kawaguchi

Ms. Kawaguchi began by discussing the history of onigiri, and she explained how onigiri differs from sushi, which more people are familiar with. While sushi is made with rice seasoned with vinegar, sugar, and salt, onigiri is prepared with plain or lightly salted steamed rice.

To make onigiri, all you need is Japanese short-grain rice, which is often labeled as sushi rice. It's important to use short-grain rice, because other types of rice, such as long-grain jasmine rice, will not stick together.

After you cook the rice, wet your hands with water so the rice doesn't stick to your hands, shape a handful of rice into a triangular shape with your hands, and you have a basic onigiri! 

There are endless ways to make variations of onigiri. Wrapping nori seaweed around onigiri is common, and you can add fillings to the middle of your onigiri before shaping it if you'd like. Popular onigiri fillings include canned tuna with mayonnaise, umeboshi (Japanese pickled plum), and okaka (bonito flakes mixed with soy sauce). Ms. Kawaguchi said leftovers are great to fill onigiri. Add some flavor to the rice if you'd like, such as by mixing in some salt or furikake rice seasoning. You can be creative by molding the rice into different shapes, and they even sell molds to make fun onigiri animals and characters.

Onigiri is best enjoyed at room temperature and the day it's made. Making onigiri is a lot simpler than I thought it would be! For some more reading and entertainment:

Monday, January 16, 2023

Asian Cakes

Lately I have been missing Asian baked goods and snacks that remind me of my childhood. Since I don't live or work near an Asian bakery, I decided to take matters into my own hands! 

I took out the book Mooncakes and Milk Bread: Sweet and Savory Recipes Inspired by Chinese Bakeries by Kristina Cho from the library. Author Kristina Cho is a food blogger, and she shares recipes on her blog Eat Cho Food. Her book was a 2022 James Beard Award Winner for the Baking and Desserts and Emerging Voice categories.

I made the Fruit Cream Cake, which is a cake we often had for birthdays in my family when I was young. It's made with vanilla Chinese sponge cake, whipped cream frosting, and fruit.

Chinese Fruit Sponge Cake

The cake is very light and not too sweet, and whipped cream frosting is my favorite.

Another light cake that I just learned about is the Japanese steamed cake, Mushi-pan. These cakes are steamed and not baked. Steaming was a common cooking method in my household when I was growing up. I learned about Mushi-pan and found the recipe online at Just One Cookbook, a website featuring Japanese recipes by Namiko Hirasawa Chen (Nami).

The steamed cake recipe contains only a few ingredients, is quick to make, and is easy to adapt! So far I have made the basic steamed cake and the corn and cheese steamed cake. However, Nami also has recipes for a double chocolate steamed cake and a matcha green tea steamed cake that I need to try. Mushi-pan is a delicious snack.

Basic Steamed Cake, Mushi-Pan

Corn and Cheese Steamed Cake

I can't wait for my next cooking adventure! 😋