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Lunar New Year

Irena Kaci

I was thirteen years old before I knew what my Chinese Zodiac sign was (The Year of the Rat), and that it was based on the Southeast Asian tradition of the Lunar New Year. I found the existence of a whole other system for measuring time to be fascinating and mysterious. Worcester’s connection to the Southeast Asian community is vast; in fact we have the 3rd largest Vietnamese population in Massachusetts, and rank 3rd by percentage of 3%. Even without the statistics, the sheer abundance of Vietnamese restaurants from Mint Worcester, to Pho Dakao, to Anh Thu II, naming only a handful, demonstrates how integral Vietnamese culture is to Worcester’s cultural milieu.  And every February the community gathers to celebrate one of the two most important traditional holidays for Vietnamese culture. 

Tét decoration display at the Vietnamese Church
Display: Banners with Tét wishes, Vietnamese flowers with red envelopes

For some background information on the Lunar New Year I connected with Tuyet Tran from the Southeast Asian Coalition here in Worcester. Tran was happy to provide some historical background. “The Lunar New Year is celebrated in China, Vietnam, and follows the lunar calendar. The lunar calendar measures the year in increments of moon cycles, which are about 28 days each therefore it’s slightly different from the regular western calendar. Naturally it changes the exact Gregorian calendar date from year to year. For this year it’s February 10th, and is the Year of the Dragon It’s really a celebration of the beginning of Spring.” 

The Lunar New Year celebrates themes of renewal, reinvigoration, and revival. In short it celebrates all things springtime. Tran explains:  “According to the cycle of the moon. It’s spring and therefore time for family and gathering and happiness. My favorite part of our tradition in Vietnamese culture is the opportunity to clean the slate and start fresh with everyone. In our tradition, you let go of grudges from the previous year. This time of year, people reach out to one another make amends or smooth things almost no matter what. Any particular disagreement you might have had, like if you haven’t talked to someone because you had a falling out for some reason, you call and you fix things before the New Year. If you don’t, it’s considered a bad omen.”

Mayor Joe Petty feeding the lion dancers red envelopes

In addition to behaviors associated with the New Year, there are also customs related to ringing in the spring and with it the new era. “We always set off firecrackers to chase away evil spirits. This is a big part of what we believe. You also want to start the new year with ‘new money’ so family members give each other these little red envelopes that contain one dollar bills to start the year with good fortune. The kids and the grandkids and everybody lines up and they wish the oldest in the family a year of health and good fortune.” 

Another huge part of the celebration is the variety of food, traditional to the Lunar New Year. “There are many foods associated with the big event.” Tran explains: “There are basically two shapes that we make as part of the food offering, circle to represent the moon, and square to represent the earth. We use glutinous rice and mung beans and the cakes can be made sweet or savory. If we are making them savory there are versions that put meat like pork inside. That’s my favorite.” Although the Southeast Asian Coalition is having their big New Year’s event this year at the end of January, Tran is able to direct me to other local groups making celebrating this month.”

Mint Kitchen + Bar Owner, Trang Le, making dumplings

Mint Worcester is always looking for ways to celebrate and bring awareness to one of the two biggest Vietnamese holidays. Owner Trang Le says: “I always look for ways to educate people and spread awareness about our culture and traditions. Last year we brought dumplings at UMASS and everyone loved them so much. This year we are planning on bringing the dumplings to UMASS again. We are set to be there on February 9th, and anyone eating at the cafeteria at Memorial or University Park will be able to enjoy Mint Worcester dumplings.” It doesn’t stop there, however, because Le values the cultural education piece, she’s also offering a ‘dumpling’ making workshop. “We actually did one dumpling workshop last year and we sold out. This year we are going to offer two sessions, one of which will take place in February. On February 14th, we will invite people to come into Mint and make their own dumplings. The dumplings are shaped like silver and gold ingots and are said to represent fortune and prosperity in the coming year. The more dumplings you eat the more prosperous you will be in the New Year. It’s also a great Valentine’s activity.”

Across town in a rather unexpected pocket, Neelu Mohaghegh prepares her own homage to Southeast Asian traditions. “My own personal background is Persian. My dad moved here from Iran in the 70s and basically built his real estate business from scratch. I grew up doing martial arts and feeling really connected to Southeast Asian culture. Additionally, we have our own Persian New Year that happens in March, so I’m really sympathetic to non-mainstream New Year traditions. So we are hosting our own Lunar New Year Extravaganza here at Fuel in Grove Street.”

The Grove Street Fuel location opened its doors on February 10th of 2022 so celebrating its inception comes hand in hand with the Lunar New Year. “This year our 2nd birthday party will celebrate the Lunar New Year. We love being able to share something that means a lot to a lot of people. We’ve had people travel from as far as Rhode Island to attend last year. This year we will have red envelopes that contain traditional New Year’s wishes.  Some of our new flavors for this year will be matcha, ube and black sugar. The latter is often traditionally used in Boba so it will be familiar. For entertainment, we are going to have “the Lion Dance” by the Eternals. Our event hours are 10am-3p and the Eternals will be doing their dance around 2pm as a kind of finale. We are inviting tons of local Asian owned businesses to partner with us and participate as vendors. Mochi Doh will be joining us as well, and we are in talks with Mint Worcester for them to participate. We are also partnering with the Worcester Center for the Crafts to paint stationary with ‘Year of the Dragon’ symbolism. It’s going to be great!”

But the celebration doesn’t have to end there. RICEMA (Refugees & Immigrants Cultural Empowerment Massachusetts) is a performance arts and education center, focusing on preserving the art and culture of refugees and immigrants through education and performing arts, connecting a rich cultural identity to the community and contributing to the American experience*. In line with their mission, RICEMA is hosting their own Lunar New Year event on February 17th. The festival will take place at the Boys & Girls Club (65 Boys & Girls Club Way) and will feature a Lion Dance, as well as several vendors and performances, including Mint Worcester, Nori, and Euphoria. I spoke with Boa Newgate to get the scoop. 

Brother and sister, Alex and Layla, wearing Ao Dai for Tét

“The Lunar New Year is known as Tét, and it’s the most important celebration in Vietnamese culture. Tét celebrates the arrival of spring based on the Vietnamese calendar. During this time families reunite and honor their ancestors while praying for luck, health, and prosperity in the New Year. Our celebration will have many games, activities and performances throughout the day. We will also have Worcester’s first Ao Dai competition. If you have the best Ao Dai outfit/dress at the festival, you will win a cash prize!”

Historically reserved for lovers or the lovelorn, the color red takes on a whole new meaning this February. In Southeast Asian tradition, red is favorable for making your New Year dreams and ambitions come true. Worcester in February invites us all to think outside of the scope of western traditions and focus on what makes the shortest or coldest month around here exude warmth and shine. Recapture the magic of childhood glee and come out in support of our diverse tapestry of Southeast Asian culture by attending a Lion Dance, sampling some matcha flavored beverages, or even reaching out to old friends to make amends. It’s the Lunar Year’s end, and also its beginning. Let it be yours too.

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Local Valentine’s Treats for Your Sweetheart

Maya Capasso

As the season to celebrate love with gifts and sweet treats approaches, now is the perfect time to discover or revisit local candy and chocolate companies to pick up something tasty for your loved ones. Whether you’re celebrating Valentine’s Day with a romantic partner or your beloved kids or want to show yourself some love with a delectable treat, here are a couple of candy shops in Central Mass to check out this February. 

Stewart’s Chocolates: Jefferson, MA

You can’t get more local and authentic than Stewart’s Chocolates. Opened in 2014 by Stewart Goodhile, Stewart’s Chocolates emerged from an old New England farmhouse built in 1803 where Goodhile’s great-great-grandparents made their home. Stewart’s Chocolates began as a passion project for Goodhile, who spent years studying cacao and chocolate recipes before perfecting his chocolates and opening his dream business. Goodhile’s dedication to perfection and love of chocolate spreads to his loyal customers, who choose Stewart’s Chocolates time and time again for their gorgeous decorations and unmatched taste. 

Stewart’s Chocolates prides itself on its wide range of chocolate flavors. With over 45, everyone can find a treat they love at Stewart’s. They’ve got classics like the Milk Salted Caramel and their delicious White Chocolate Ganache, but they also offer unique flavors like Vanilla Lavender, Banana Cream, and Chai. You can even build your own box to create the perfect gift that provides your loved ones with all their favorites. 

Hebert Candies & Gifts: Shrewsbury, MA

Hebert Candies & Gifts began as a one-man operation in 1917 when Frederick Hebert began handcrafting chocolates and candies in his kitchen for a growing New England market. By 1946, Hebert bought the mansion that remains the home to Hebert Candies & Gifts to this day. Hebert made history not only by opening the first roadside candy shop in New England but also by gracing us with the delectable treat of white chocolate after visiting Europe to advance his chocolatier skills in 1956. 

To this day, talented confectioners at the Shrewsbury mansion handcraft all of Hebert’s candies and chocolates. The recipes for some of their classic chocolates, like Genevas and white chocolates, stand the test of time. Why change something that people have enjoyed for nearly a century? From chocolate bars to assorted flavor-filled goodies to their seasonal ice cream selection, there’s a tasty treat for everyone at Hebert’s. 

Bri’s Sweet Treats: Worcester, MA

This family-run business emerged from the COVID-19 pandemic to brighten their customers’ days and bring communities together with sweets. Founded by Leicester resident Briana Azier to spread kindness during a time of sorrow and upheaval, Bri’s Sweet Treats recently earned the title of the Worcester Business Journal’s Best New Business in 2023. Another reason Bri’s Sweet Treats earns its spot as one of the best candy shops in town is because they care deeply about their community. They’re always giving back, like donating funds to organizations such as United Way and Abby’s House. 

While Azier has many delectable offerings up for grabs, her most famous is the giant peanut butter cup. Weighing almost a quarter of a pound, Azier fills each peanut butter cup with her delicious peanut butter recipe that took over a year to perfect. If you’re not a peanut fan, there are plenty of options to make your mouth water. Select anything from classics like chocolate-covered Oreos and chocolate-dipped strawberries to unique choices like the breakables and smores cups. You can find Bri’s Sweet Treats at their stall in the Worcester Public Market, but you can also place orders on their website. 

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Wavvz Newage Fashion Boutique Opens on Main Street

Maya Capasso

With the help of a supportive community of creatives, designer Qlynton Carboo celebrated the grand opening of Wavvz Newage, his boutique fashion store on Main Street, in mid-November. The bustling storefront echoes with laughter and conversation as tailors create and customers chat about Qlynton’s exciting, fresh designs.

Qlynton’s love of fashion began at an early age as he watched his mother create outfits to sell in tourist-heavy areas of Ghana, where he spent his early childhood years. “When I was a baby, she used to carry me around with my big brother, going to museums to sell outfits and toys she made,” Qlynton shares. “When I got to the United States and came to New York, I realized the path of college and a regular 9-5 job wasn’t satisfying enough.” Qlynton found himself leaning towards art and creativity. When he picked up a sewing machine at his friend’s house, he realized he found something special. “I picked it up and was like, ‘You know what? Let me take my shirt off.’ My friend had a rug, so I used it to see what I could do. Lo and behold, I put something amazing together.”

Within a few weeks, Qlynton bought his own sewing machine and put all his focus and passion into creating new clothes. “I bought a couple of T-shirts and made a long sleeve with those two fabrics. That’s when I realized that, wow, it works!” he says. “The next projects were hoodies and jackets, and that’s when I realized this is my passion.”

Qlynton’s dedication to his craft and unquestionable talent brought him from experimenting with his sewing machine from Walmart to opening his community-driven business’s storefront in just six years. The concept for Wavvz Newage began in 2017 when Qlynton began showing his designs. Gradually, he expanded into teaching aspiring designers how to sew and develop their style. “I was able to create something for myself using my gifts and talents. And through that, I know I can teach other people,” Qlynton shares. “I see a lot of kids who have the skills, and I just want to pass it on. I want to let them know that they don’t have to give up on whatever they wanted to do as a kid. There are people and organizations who can help and are looking for creative people.”

Wavvz Newage isn’t just a boutique with unique hats, jackets, hoodies, and other fashion items. It’s also a way for Qlynton to make a difference in the Worcester community. As he attempted to make headway in the Worcester fashion scene, Qlynton realized he’d have to pave the way for other designers in his stead. “I’m using the disadvantages I had while establishing the business to transform the Worcester fashion scene. I realize I’m in the unique position to be able to do it, so it’s like, why not? And it’s working.”

Qlynton, one of Pulse’s people to watch in 2023, clearly lives up to the title. Not only has Wavvz Newage quickly become a lively hub for fashion lovers, but it’s bringing Worcester into a new era of fashion that Qlynton loves to spread to the community. “Yeah, I can sew. Yeah, I can make an outfit. But that is just one part of it,” Qlynton says. “I get to meet a lot of cool people and to pass down this knowledge. I get to watch as my work solves problems in the community. That is what drives me. That is why I do this. I wake up every day and ask myself, ‘Whose life can I change today with a jacket? Whose life can I change today with a stitch?'”

You can visit Qlynton at his vibrant store to check out handmade clothing bursting with color and character in the Wavvz Newage fashion boutique at 660 Main Street in Worcester. 

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Kool Aid George is Crushing It 

LuAnn Thibodeau

George Annan is an artist who captures the world through the lens of a camera. George hails from Worcester and said that photography has not always been something that he did. But that changed when some college friends introduced him to their love of photography, and it was magical. 

George has done a lot of great commission work for nationally known companies like Puma and Converse, but his deep love for urban agriculture and his family roots in the country of Ghana led him to become very involved with Worcester Environmental Council (REC), and 2Gether We Eat, two Worcester organizations that are focused on ways to cease food insecurity while also providing education and employment opportunities in the city. 

From late summer of 2022 through September of 2023, George became involved in the inaugural Black Artist Residency program at the Fitchburg Art Museum (FAM), something that he says has been a wonderful experience for which he is very grateful. He said that he owes a great deal of thanks to FAM, whose staff was absolutely amazing in their help and support of him. His photo series part of this program is entitled “From Seed to Plates”, focusing on black farming. This is part of the current exhibit- “Dialogues, Diasporas, and Detours Through Africa”- at FAM, and is on display through January 14, 2024.

 

Among honors that George has received are being named an Outstanding Alumnus at Worcester State University and being featured a couple of years ago in Pulse as one of the People to Watch. 

When I asked George about the differences or similarities between the United States and Ghana, he said that he hadn’t been to Ghana since he was 11 years old, but he remembers it as being such an expressive land. He also feels that way about the US and is thankful for his friends who showed him the beauty of the world of photography. 

So, my next logical question was- what’s the next step, what’s next for George? He said that he moved to the Boston area in February of this year, so he is exploring the region and getting a taste of what it has to offer. He says he’s very curious, and loves the good energy around it. 

And while he thought back, in sort of a flashback way, his photography he “spoke into existence” and “it’s not a finished product yet”. “There are still many dreams and goals, and the sky is the limit”. Well, I must say that if anyone can reach their goals, realize their dreams, and go to the limits of the sky, George Annan is the one who will do it. He’s an amazing, dynamic young man, whose future looks blazingly bright and brilliant. 

To see more of George’s work, check him out on Instagram at koolaidgeorge, and also see his display at the Fitchburg Art Museum. Now if I may borrow a phrase from a famous movie, to George I say, “May the force be with you”, as you continue to rise above the moon and stars. 

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Now Streaming: January 2024

Joshua Lyford

As a disgusting, ancient creature fueled by cheap beer and tawdry, broken things, I am thrilled to leave 2023 in the rear-view and perform a tire-squealing getaway into the new year. Let the trash remain where it lie, I say.

Like a lost can of Busch rolled behind an expired tub of spinach, rising like a phoenix from the ashes: there are a few things from the tail-end of 2023 that deserve revisiting. In this case, we are talking straight up aural, baby.

Worcester’s own Clock Out released their “No Control” EP in late September and it rips, hard. The riffs are mean, the vocals are meaner and, if you haven’t caught them yet, it’s time to right your wrong. As far as I’m concerned, there is nothing more satisfying than seeing the next generation of hardcore kids doing their thing.

At the time of this writing, I have been unable to view what I’m about to gleefully discuss [Editor’s note: get your stories in on time and I’ll grant you more time to watch videos], but Wisdom & War, who toured extensively through the last year, have released a music video for their single “Painting your Hell.” I don’t want to blow up their spot too hard here, but Central MA music aficionados will likely get a kick out of the video’s shooting locale and you should hop into the algorithm to catch it for yourself.

Speaking of getting after it, The Mass of the Oracle, who themselves returned from a UK run late November, have released a split EP with Reign A.D. The Oracle rides in their own lane, so it’s especially interesting to hear them in this setting. Again, if you haven’t caught The Oracle, you really should. I can promise that you haven’t seen anything like it.

The new year ought to be an interesting one. Central Massachusetts hardcore is as alive as it’s been in years with talented new bands going off and some of the old dogs shaking the cobwebs off to jump back in the ring. I see this as a net positive for everyone, specifically sales for affordable tall cans and Uber rides to strange basements.  

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dining Featured Posts

La Miette La Mai Thai Bistro

Bernard Whitmore

278 Main Street, Northborough

508) 393-7714

Lamiettelamai.com

Their name alone was enough to pique my interest. French name + Thai bistro; it’s an equation that holds promise of fusion cuisine and an unusual dining experience. And when we walked into LMLM and the first thing I spotted was their sushi bar. Totally unexpected, it added another layer of expectations.

From the street, LMLM looks like a large place; once I was in it, though, I could see that it really is a bistro with just a handful of tables. Their limited dining space was augmented by a bolted-on sunroom with dining tables and velvety lounge furniture for when they bring in musical entertainment. Seated next to the glass wall, I made note that thicker sweaters would be necessary as we slide into the colder months of winter.

A quick scan of the menu was enough to dispel thoughts of quaint little bistro with culinary restraint. Large formatted and stiffly laminated, LMLM’s menu contained rows and rows of sections with multiple options that boggled this first-time customer. Should I get noodles? Or noodles with rice? Or one of the seven curry dishes that come with ten different protein options? 

I checked the Chef’s Specials without definitively finding French-Thai fusion dishes. Filet Mignon Massamen Curry or the Wild Boar Basil sounded interesting and, perhaps, fusion possibilities. But then I remembered the sushi bar and turned my attention to its menu. I looked everywhere for omakase because I like to let the sushi chef determine what’s best. But where was it? Oh yeah, back in the appetizer list, sashimi appetizer with seafood salad. Excellent!

With decisions made, we turned our attention to our appetizer, Thai Dumplings. They looked very similar to Chinese potstickers; tender dough crimped together around a filling of ground pork and vegetables so finely minced they’d vanished into the mildly seasoned meat. Ours were fried to an even deep-golden brown and served with a dipping sauce too sweet for my liking.

After a short interlude, entrées arrived, and I was presented with LMLM’s Sashimi Appetizer. As with each of our selections, the presentation was elegantly simple. Seven slices of three different fish were served over a bed of curly mixed greens on a long rectangular white dish. At one end, a salad of springy green seaweed, the other end held sliced ginger and a dab of wasabi molded into the shape of a leaf.

I started with warm slices of unagi, incredibly tender, lightly glazed and so mild in flavor I refused to dip them in soy sauce or wasabi. They were perfect as-is. Next in line were three slices of salmon, striated and glistening pinkish orange. And finally, the deep red tuna. This was a large appetizer; the salmon and tuna slices were perfectly trimmed and pristine-fresh. Moreover, they were triple the size of most sashimi portions, a happy challenge for my chopstick skills.

A glass of Alta Via Pinot Grigio provided tart-dry flavor counterpoint to the rich sashimi experience with its smooth dry finish. Add LMLM to my list of sushi recommendations!

Drunken Noodle, my friend’s entrée, provided a sampling of LMLM’s Thai cuisine. Broad flat rice noodles were mixed with large chunks of onion and sweet peppers – red and green – and coated with a spicy brown sauce. He ordered it with the menu’s ‘Whole Duck’ option. Whole duck? Really? We doubted it. The waitstaff were in disarray as to whether we should take the term literally.

On arrival, it took the form we expected. Slices and bits of duck breast meat blended perfectly with the noodles. It was a study in contrasting textures: firm duck meat, springy-soft noodles and slightly crunchy vegetables. All in a somewhat spicy sauce.

And here I will take note of LMLM’s 3-pepper scale of spiciness. Drunken Noodles max’d out the scale with three peppers. As executed, though, I’m not sure the sauce warranted any warning. Yes, there was a pleasing spicy edge to the flavor. But no, there wasn’t the slightest danger of inferno.

And now, back to their name. Entering La Miette La Mai into Google’s translator yielded something about ‘crumb’. LMLM’s homepage explains that their name conveys meaning in regard to their attention to the smallest of details. For most of us though, finding its meaning can be a challenge. No worries, when you’re ready for a good Thai or sushi meal, just google “Thai in Northboro”.