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Channelling positive energy in the Year of the Ox

ACCORDING to the Chinese Zodiac, every lunar new year is characterised by a different animal. Last year, in the time of the quick-witted and resourceful Rat, we thought that if we worked diligently, we would become wealthy. But 2020 proved to be a strange and difficult year and as scientists discussed coronaviruses related to Sars-CoV-2 circulating in bats across many parts of Asia, our thoughts focused more on bats than upon rats.

2021 is the year of the Ox, and while describing someone as bovine implies that they’re stolid and dull, those born in the year of the Ox are considered strong, reliable, fair and conscientious. So put your faith in this steadfast beast, and decorate your house with paintings by @Flytone007 Toneley Ngwenya, of beautiful Nguni cattle, with their lyre-shaped horns and multi-coloured hides. Search for ox-shaped desk ornaments and bovine clay planters for your herbs, and channel all the positive energy and prosperity the year of the Ox has to offer.

In China and the diaspora, the lunar new year is an important time when families gather for a reunion dinner. Offerings are made to the gods and ancestors, gifts of money, sealed in red envelopes, are made to children, and noisy fire crackers are set off at midnight to scare away evil spirits. A lunar new year feast is always lavish, offering many auspicious dishes signifying health and prosperity in the coming year.

Traditional festivities during a pandemic are impossible, but friends who always celebrate this festival, delivered an impressive meal kit to my doorstep. Longevity noodles, prepared with enoki and shiitake mushrooms, were delicious, and augured well for a long life, providing they were slurped them up whole, without biting in two. Dongo pork, a sumptuous dish made from pork belly braised in soy sauce, Shaoxing wine, with sugar, ginger, and spring onions, was meltingly tender and extraordinarily good. An iconic feature of the cuisine of Hangzhou, one of the seven ancient capitals of China, dongo pork is a must-have dish for Chinese new year.

Bang bang chicken, sweet and sour pork, steamed rice and slow roasted aubergines and baby marrows, completed this remarkable feast, with portions so generous as to provide meals for the next few days.

Following hot on the heels of Chinese new year was Valentine’s Day, a festival of love. On this day of the year, couples of all ages can express their love for each other, and would-be lovers can send greeting cards and tokens anonymously or openly to the object of their desire. For singles, opportunities for socialising or forming a loving relationship have been made almost impossible by the need to self-isolate during the pandemic. Conversely, couples unaccustomed to being together 24/7 during lockdown, may have tired of each other’s company, and engaged in conduct unbecoming and distinctly unloving!

In the Before Time, George and I would have booked a table for two at our favourite restaurant, or prepared a romantic dinner at home. A seafood starter followed by entrecote steak with a pepper sauce and a dessert of chocolate mousse would have hit the spot, but in the event, I scoured the internet for Valentine’s Day meal kits or takeaways. Finally, we both agreed on a pizza from Azzurri bar, grill and pizzeria, located at the Italian Club on the Enterprise Road.

There were no pizzas with typically Italian-sounding flavour combinations on the menu, but we chose a large Il Favoloso ($10) that translates into The Favourite. A crispy thin crust base with an unusual topping of feta cheese, bacon, guacamole and peppadew combined to make a pleasant if unromantic Valentines’s Day lunch. It must be said, however, that George rated Il Favoloso near the top on his data base of great pizzas.

Within half an hour of ‘phoning through the order, a masked courier on a red motor bike arrived and delivered the still-warm pizza. As my house is within a three mile radius of Azzurri, there was no delivery charge.

As we all continue to keep our distance from each other, it’s unlikely that the year of the Ox will see the return of fine dining. So make this a year to improve your culinary skills, eat well, and drop off meals to friends in need. And until seated food and drink service resumes, enjoy regular takeaways, thereby helping restaurants stay in business.  – A Matter of Taste  Charlotte Malakoff

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