However, around February, one item would appear in our refrigerator without ceremony for which I was thankful. Eaten for the new year the way fruitcake is baked for Christmas, nian gao, in the most pragmatic terms, is a steamed cake made of sticky rice and brown sugar. My father would buy one every year from Chinatown, but in my childhood memory, its arrival was always mysterious, a treat in a tin pie plate decorated with red Chinese jujubes and a sprinkle of sesame seeds. Despite the paucity of ingredients, a nian gao evokes so many wonderful things: almonds, dates, and vanilla; caramel, toffee, and cream. You eat it hot, when it is at its chewy best, and its texture marvelous: tacky and soft, with brown sugary strings that pull from your mouth when you take a bite.