Happy Chinese New Year! Look, even Hello Kitty is dressed up for the New Year. Since the Chinese follow the Lunar calendar, Chinese New Year falls on a different date every year. This year, it’s especially early, occurring on January 23, 2012. This new year is symbolized by the dragon.

Last year it was the year of the rabbit, and I was able to whip up a lot of bunny shaped foods. A dragon is more complicated so I didn’t even attempt it.

The new year is usually celebrated with a meal with close family and friends. Traditionally, you are supposed to cook up a lot of food before, and then on New Year’s day, you don’t do any cooking at all. We used to make dumplings, but we stopped. It is tasty but time consuming.

This year we actually went out to eat. Then because I felt like we had to make something for the sake of tradition, we stuck with something easy: scallion pancakes.

Given my love for Taiwanese snowflake shaved ice, of course I had to try it from the source.

As a quick recap, snowflake or snow ice was introduced in Taiwan a few years ago. Instead of crushing/shaving blocks of ice, water and condensed milk are mixed together and frozen. These condensed milk ice blocks are then finely shaven in special machines. The addition of the condensed milk and the shaving process creates an ice that is much more fine, fluffy, and tastes almost like ice cream rather than ice.

The last time I visited Taiwan, snowflake ice hadn’t yet become popular. So after eating it at various places in LA, I was curious to how it compared in Taiwan.

One thing I observed during my trip was that while snowflake ice is only now developing popularity in the US, its popularity in Taiwan seems to have waned quite a bit. In fact, the places we did try it at were mostly full of tourists. When I mentioned wanting to eat it to my relatives, they preferred the traditional old school shaved ice.

First up, Yu’s Almond Tofu (http://www.yustofu.com.tw/)

I love the way the ice falls into sheets. This spot is quite famous for their almond tofu snow ice. I got the recommendation from Hungry Girl in Taipei. It’s a chain of stores and I found locations in night markets, shopping malls, etc.

Almond tofu is a popular chinese dessert. It’s not actually tofu. It’s chunks of agar agar jelly, flavored with almond milk. The jellies are white in color, resembling tofu.

The snow shaved ice here was quite cheap (about $3-4 US dollars for a bowl). The toppings were a bit limited. They offered traditional shaved ice toppings like mochi balls, red bean, sweetened peanuts, mung bean, chewy jellies, etc. They placed the toppings at the bottom and then covered it with ice. I prefer my toppings to be on top so I know what I’m eating.

How cute is this strawberry tea pot?

This tea pot kettle inspired the next in my mug cake series: strawberry mug cakes.

Like all the other mug cakes, this one was easy to whip up and cooks in the microwave. Clean-up is minimal since you mix everything directly into the mug.

I love the little pretty red pieces of strawberry mixed within the cake. The cake is fluffy, sweet. I prefer this white cake recipe more than the previous one I used for the blueberry mug cake. This cake is perfect all year long.