The Chinese New Year takes a fair bit of preparation at our place. Not like it's any different at other people's but I have to do a bit more extra planning. It's kind of stressful because I do cake orders from friends and some regulars. Year after year, it would always continue to feel like there's so much to do. I have come to the conclusion that the only time that there's no stress is when Chinese New Year is somewhere else other than home (like far, far away in UK, US or AUS).
I know it's kind of funny to write about the CNY preparations AFTER the event itself, but I just thought that I'd better jot these tips down & share them with you while they're still fresh on my mind. (Whisper: It's actually more like so that I don't make the same mistakes again the following year)
For The Food:
Tip #1: A really well organised preparation should start even in October or November. Homemade keropok can be prepared at this time when there's more sunshine. I made mine this year only in January, two weeks before CNY, and I was praying for sunshine almost every day. Bad mistake! We were lucky to get about 2 days or so of sunshine as the rest of the time was just rain rain rain. Acar for keropok can also be done around this time to prevent over-crowding in the last minute.
Tip #2: Ang chew (Foochow red wine) were done in November and harvested in December.
Tip #3: Cookies and cakes of course can be done nearer to the date, like two weeks before the actual date. The best is to do it bit by bit, starting from layer cakes to cookies then finally frying seaweed crackers and keropok. Pace yourself well & spread everything out so that you don't cramp everything into a short span of time.
Tip #4: I normally do our fresh groceries the two days before CNY. Wet markets in certain places are open from the evenings to early mornings for a few nights before CNY. That's right, they don't sleep. And usually, a lot of fresh stuff arrives around 8 pm. If you want to avoid the crowd and traffic, do your shopping around midnight. Heheheh that's the vampire part of us talking. I will get my vegetables and meat around then because most stalls are closed till Day 4 or 5 of CNY.
Tip #5: I would try to book all my prawns and fishes in November or even Octover. Not only it is cheaper to buy early, buying too close to CNY would rarely get you fresh ones. So I would get mine in sort of bulk (like 3-4kg medium prawns, 3-4 kg large ones, different fishes like pomprets in 8 to 10 pieces) and repack-freeze them to be used in the wetter days or at least till March or April.
Tip #6: Try getting your dry sea goods early too. Items such as scallops, oysters, abalone slices, red dates, ginsengs, thornberries, chinese sausages can also be bought early like in December or November. I strongly suggest buying them in Singapore or Hong Kong for the freshness and better pricing.
Tip #7: For consumables like tissues, toilet papers, washing detergent, new mats, new kitchen towels (yes i change them every year), brooms, mops, hand gloves, drinks, etc are bought 2 weeks or so before CNY. And I would normally go with Greg on a week day evening to avoid the crowd. Weekends will guarantee better pricing on some items but I prefer to stay away from the stress of people and limited parking.
For the house:
We believe in yearly house maintenance because a clean, comfortable home facilitates better living. I usually start spring cleaning the cupboards and my wardrobe in December, or before any shopping trips (evil laugh).
We would usually fit the actual house cleaning 2-3 days before CNY because of my rigorous baking. In order to get the dates that I want, I book my cleaner in November. This year, I did 140+ of layer cakes including the regular cheese and chocolate cakes plus 4 agar agars. So the house needed a very thorough cleaning.
The professional cleaners would come in right before CNY with the floor scrubbing machines and the industrial chemicals. And after that, my mom's maid will clean all the inside of the kitchen cupboards.
I would also send all my cushions, sofa seats & curtains to the laundry bit by bit starting in December and they would all be done before Christmas.
We would normally get a fresh coat of paint for our internal walls every year. Painting the internal of the house can be done a week before CNY while external painting if necessary should be done in October when there is more sunshine. Garden overhaul should also be done around then to avoid wet weather.
Flowers & catering should also be booked a month before CNY to ensure that they will take your orders. Confirmation of menu and flowers will be done two weeks prior.
For Your Ownself:
And don't forget to book your facial, manicure, pedicure and hair styling for CNY early to guarantee the time that you want. I booked mine all in December. Pretty kiasu, hor?! You don't want to be getting everything else ready except yourself during CNY.
I try to keep a to do list so that everything is in place. Stress is still there but I don't have to stay up till 2 am every night. Although there are things which may not be so smooth but quoting my project management motto "Planning does not ensure success but no planning guarantees failure". Will update this when it is nearer to next CNY.