And now dumplings.
I am eager, in my last days here, to learn cooking. I mention as much to the teachers, and suddenly Wednesday turns into a cooking class. I was typing, working (of a fashion – I mean as we get to the end there is less and less which needs to be done), when Lily and Kate come in with bags and bags of ingredients. Summer and Erin arrive later, carrying Lily’s portable cook. I watch, pleasantly dumbfounded.
So, here’s how we all make dumplings. First, you will need a filling. Lily has prepared three – one with mushrooms, one with shrimp, one with veggies and pork:
The preparation of the actual dumpling is pretty straightforward. You put a small bit of filling in the dumpling wrapper, fold it up, and make it look pretty. Observe:
You can fold the edges different ways – Stone makes his look like coin pouches and he purses the top shut like it has a drawstring. Summer makes hers look like envelopes by pinching the edges together. I attempt to mold one to look like a pig (my Chinese zodiac sign), and fail utterly. My efforts meet with much enthusiasm, however, and we’re all having a good time.
Then you boil them for a few minutes a batch – enough to cook the filling.
We make too many. How many is too many? This many:
This isn’t all of them – this is what we had to cook after cooking the initial plates of dumplings. I warned Lily that two hundred dumplings was a bit much for seven people, but she laughed and nodded, agreeing and doing exactly what she was doing before. In keeping with the celebratory tradition, I put a dime in one of the dumplings. They do it in China – a coin in a dumpling for luck. They do it in Greece as well, only there they bake a coin into a bread on New Year’s. Maybe an American equivalent would be breaking the wishbone on Thanksgiving? We borrow lots of ideas, but we don’t bake money into our food.
Correction: Easter Eggs – We put money in those plastic Easter Eggs.
I thought we were just having dumplings, but there’s an accompanying spread of vegetables, rabbit (maybe), pork, and peanuts. I provide bowls (I knew buying a dinner set would pay off!), and we compare our sauces. I take a moment to preen and show off that I can, in fact, make my own dumpling sauce. You mix a little chili paste with soy sauce, sesame oil, scallions, garlic, salt, sugar, and “flavoring” (a processed product which looks like what you use to grow crystals).
Somewhere towards the end, with a whole mess of dumplings left uneaten. Lily exclaims, “Oh! I am lucky!” from her seat. She’s holding the dime aloft, and everyone cheers.
This whole thing – from beginning to end – makes me wish the teachers and I had started visiting each other a lot earlier. I’ve been living the life of a hermit for a few months now, with limited human contact. I admit I am accustomed to being by myself, and can get annoyed with company. But I am not so much of a loner as to wish away laughter and learning. I forgot how much fun it is to eat with company. I forgot about my belief in food – I am a firm believer that food is a medium to get communication moving. It could cure so many problems, if world leaders made their own food in each other’s kitchens. At least, I think it would.
Full, the teachers put the rest of the dumplings in my freezer and refrigerator. To be precise, they put the dumplings directly on the freezer’s surface, so that all the dumplings immediately adhere as though glued (I spent a long while cleaning it out). Luckily I am able to salvage most of them.
I will have lunch until I leave for Beijing. Or until I invite everyone back to help me finish.