Many people have asked me the meaning of the year of the monkey. Not being a Chinese astrologer I’m really not the person to advise on such matters. But yesterday, I received this beautiful photo of my friend and mentor Florence Lin, that provides a glimpse into the monkey personality. Florence is born in 1920, the Year of the metal Monkey. Her daughter wrote me, “Mom is doing slave work for us: slicing meat paper thin (for the special new year’s eve dinner). Her only pay is a scotch on the rocks and a few peanuts.” Seeing Florence with her precisely cut chicken and that glass of scotch gives me the biggest smile.
And today, Florence is busy preparing the auspicious New Year’s cake called nian gao, which she will serve her friends at happy hour this evening. I first wrote about Florence in my cookbook The Breath of a Wok and then, in Stir-Frying to the Sky’s Edge. I was so excited when Florence agreed to meet me for a cooking interview. She is the author of five cookbooks on Chinese cooking and taught at the Chinese Institute for over 25 years. Her classes were so famous they attracted the attention of Craig Claiborne who subsequently wrote several articles on Florence in the New York Times.
The Chinese say the monkey is clever, curious, creative, and like to take on challenges. When Florence was 17 years-old she she left her family and joined the Nationalist youth army to fight the Japanese. I recall she told me there were times during the war a good meal consisted of a bowl of rice with a few pieces of fatty pork. A few years back, the San Francisco Chronicle wrote a wonderful profile about Florence and fellow monkey Cecilia Chiang.
Look at Florence’s smile and you will see a life well lived. At age 96, she remains strong willed and independent. It warms my heart that she has the energy and thoughtfulness to still want to cook and share good food with family and friends. May we all enjoy a blessed Year of the Monkey and be inspired by Florence. With a scotch on the rocks in hand, I toast my friend Florence Lin, wishing her continued good health and happiness!