One of the other ancient Chinese traditions surrounding the Mid Autumn Festival is for mooncake gift boxes to be totally extra AF. Seriously, Louis Vuitton, Lamborghini, and even Durex have gotten in on this. So, I decided that it simply wasn't enough to just mail my family some of my homemade mooncakes. I had to design an over-the-top gift set that somehow incorporated my, uh... signature flavor. It had be something that says "Kimmie S'amore"... the same way that Sexy Colonel Sanders and the Glamburglar do. You didn't think I was going to send them something as straightforward as a box with the words "Tasty Treat" and a picture of food on it, did you now? Tsk tsk.
I remembered the brand of mooncake we used to eat when I was growing up. It was Sheng Kee Bakery. I remember every year they came out with gift bags and boxes featuring the same impossibly pretty girl, playing her pipa to show off to everyone that she made her Chinese parents proud by achieving a concert-level proficiency in an obscure classical instrument, no doubt as a hobby to decompress from studying for the MCATs.
One way I dealt with being separated from the fam this year was by making my own mooncakes, because it's an incredibly anal-retentive and labor-intensive task (much like sewing), and that's how I like to take my mind off things. Also, because I'm cheap and didn't want to pay $50 for a box of edible seasonal nostalgia. Nobody makes their own mooncakes nowadays because they're one of those projects that takes a long time and skills to get something that resembles a food... aka generally not worth a home baker's time. Everybody usually buys their favorite brand, and gifts them around to their friends and family whenever they get together during mooncake season.
Unfortunately, over the years, they've kind of become something like a Chinese fruitcake - you buy a box and the cakes are all hard and dry, the "100% lotus seed" filling you paid so much for is actually cut with 80% mung bean because the bakery wanted to be cheap, and the salted egg yolk in the center that's supposed to represent the full moon... kind of tastes like the cross-section of a urinal cake from the men's room at Denny's. So no one bothers to eat them anymore, and the same box of mooncakes makes its way around the entire social circle getting obligatorily regifted until it ends up in the trash. Bottom line is that a lot of them have become/stayed expensive, and yet somehow a lower quality that no one really even likes. It's a waste all around. Honestly, it reminds me a lot of fast fashion, where something gets introduced because it's seasonal, and everyone buys it because that's what they're supposed to do when it's in season... except it's not really that high quality of a garment and doesn't suit them well, maybe it survives a few wears, clothes swaps (if we're lucky), before finally ending up in the landfill. It's a complete waste of the materials, time, and labor of the person who made it... and you know they probably didn't get paid nearly enough for their trouble. I'm sure you can see where this is going.
Our new collection, Mooncake, dropped just in time for the Mid Autumn Festival, and I didn't realize how emotional and nostalgic that was going to make me. When I was little, the Mid Autumn Festival was my favorite holiday of the year (and that even included Xmas!). I wasn't the kind of kid that was big on being given gifts because it was a specific day... but what I was big on was getting to do a special activity for a specific time of the year.
Li'l Kim and mom's traditional moon festival activity was take out paper lanterns from Chinatown, light a birthday candle, precariously put it in the inadequate metal prongs inside the bottom of the lantern, tie it to a chopstick, and do a circuit around the backyard while the full moon was out. Afterwards, we'd come into the house and eat a slice of mooncake that my dad would have chopped up and put on a saucer (because you're not allowed to eat a whole mooncake by yourself - that's just too much).
My mom's from Hong Kong, and she speaks Cantonese - so she taught me this song that I always called the "lantern song." I can't even translate it into English, but I know every single word and could pick out the tune no matter how tone deaf the singer. It's so ingrained in my memory that singing along is pretty much an unconscious response at this point, the same way Bostonians can't help but scream "BUH BUH BUM" anytime anyone starts singing "Sweeeeeeet Caroliiiiine." At the age of 4 or 5, it was the absolute best thing I could imagine doing - getting to stay up late and sing a special song with mom over and over for hours (I'm sure she didn't appreciate it as much as I did), walking around in a California garden that looked totally different at night, and playing with paper lanterns and fire (more on my budding pyromania another time). I feel like there's gotta be other Chinese-American kids out there who've had similar traditions.