Chinese Dumplings / Trying to Be a Good Host

In the past few weeks, I’ve abruptly turned off my local NPR station at least seven different times. I’d say four of these instances were during reports on climate change. The message of these segments always seems to be a variation of the same: we are effed. One time was immediately after the San Bernadino shootings when one of NPR’s national reporters was asking a frightened mother to read through the text messages her daughter, who was currently on lockdown in some nearby building, had sent to her.

I started crying before I could switch off a story about a toddler that had been left alone for two days. He was found alive, but severely dehydrated.

I’ve stopped Matt mid-sentence while he tries to tell me about recent articles he’s read, e.g. something Ted Cruz said or did or about people who somehow support the concept that more guns would lead to less gun violence even though there are already as many guns as there are people in this country. “I just can’t hear about this right now,” I say to him.

This weekend, he and I saw The Big Short and I don’t think I’m giving anything away by telling you that it ends by reminding us that within the world of Wall Street, very little has changed since that epic collapse in 2008. (2014 was the most profitable year on record for the “too-big-to-fail” financial institutions that received the $700 billion bailout from US taxpayers and three of the four largest financial institutions are 80% bigger today than they were before we bailed them out.)

Point being, after the movie ended, I said to Matt: “This is such a horrible time to be having a baby.”

Hilariously, and if you know Matt, perhaps predictably, Matt responded with: “I think it’s a great time and I’ll tell you why on the car ride back home!”

Being the cynic that I apparently am, it’s two days later and I’ve already forgotten why Matt thinks it’s a good time to be having another baby.

One of the best things I did this year was purchase a subscription to The Sun magazine. For the past month, I’ve been carrying around their October issue with me wherever I go. There’s an interview in it with a psychotherapist named Francis Weller who specializes in grief and sorrow. I’ve got the interview all marked up. Just about every sentence is quotable, but I think the following paragraph is perhaps most relevant to my current state.

Weller says: “But then every time we encounter defeat, inadequacy, or loss, we’re at war with ourselves, and that’s a bitter fight. A client apologized to me the other day for ‘going backward’ in his work with me, as if forward were the only acceptable direction. But the psyche moves every which way. It’s our job to follow its lead and be curious about where it is taking us.

Think about how much energy we expend trying to deny and avoid these parts of ourselves. What if all that energy were available to us again? We would laugh more. We’d know more joy. Life is asking us to meet it on its terms, not ours. We try to control every minute detail, but life is too rambunctious, too wild. We simply can’t avoid the losses, wounds, and failures that come into our lives. What we can do is bring compassion to what arrives at our door and meet it with kindness and affection. We can become a good host.”

Those last sentences hit home in more ways than one.

One: My body is currently hosting a baby.

And two: My mom and step-dad are coming to visit for the holidays. Visits from family members are major sources of stress for me. Why? Because I am a person who loves her routine. Visits invariably break that routine. I am a person who loves to control every minute detail, particularly within my own house, and that’s much harder to do the more people there are in the equation. Lastly, my mom and step-dad are politically quite conservative. For the most part, we deal with this by avoiding talking about it, but sometimes I get in the car with my mom, and NPR is on, and suddenly she is saying something about whatever it is they are reporting about and my blood starts to heat up.

I think this is where these Chinese dumplings come into play. I came across this recipe while reading Ruth Reichl’s My Kitchen Year. The book is a true 50/50 hybrid of cookbook and memoir. I read it from front to back in a couple of days while Teddy lay in bed in a fevered state next to me. For the most part, it was such a pleasure to read. And I think it’s because Reichl’s approach to life and cooking are so different from my own. She comes across to me as a much more adventurous cook. She seems to be always making a mess, fearlessly cooking for a large crowd. She makes these dumplings over Thanksgiving, as something easy to have on hand in order to boil up and serve with a quick dipping sauce for whichever one of her many guests is hungry over the long weekend. In short, she seems not just a good host but a great one.

Weller also says, “The work of the mature person is to carry grief in one hand and gratitude in the other and to be stretched large by them. How much sorrow can I hold? That’s how much gratitude I can give. If I carry only grief, I’ll bend toward cynicism and despair. If I have only gratitude, I’ll become saccharine and won’t develop much compassion for other people’s suffering.”

This holiday season (said in the voice of a movie trailer voiceover guy), how much sorrow can I hold? Ha! I’m kidding… mostly.

Seriously though, I can see how much I’ve bent toward cynicism and despair. This holiday season, I’m going to try to give a bit more gratitude. I’m going to try to be a good host. Not just to my parents, this new baby, and all of this shitty-seeming news, but also to myself.

(Can I just quickly add that this kind of approach might be made a lot easier by a couple of glasses of really strong eggnog?)

xoxoxox Amelia

p.s. Weller has a new book out, which I’d like to belatedly add to my gift guide.
p.p.s. For a video of me (and Teddy) making these dumplings, click here.

Chinese Dumplings adapted from Ruth Reichl’s My Kitchen Year
Makes 40-50 dumplings

1 lb. ground pork
1 ½ bunches scallions
10-11 dried shiitake mushrooms (optional)
a 3-4 inch piece of fresh ginger
1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon rice vinegar
1 tablespoon sesame oil
1 tablespoon sugar
2 eggs, separated
1 package square wonton wrappers
1 tablespoon cornstarch

If you got your hands on some dried shiitake mushrooms, start by reconstituting them. (Just place them in a bowl of room-temperature water for 30 minutes.) Meanwhile, chop the scallions—both white and green parts—and put them in a mixing bowl with the ground pork. Grate in the ginger. Chop the mushrooms and add them too. Mix.

In another bowl, mix the soy sauce with the rice vinegar and the sesame oil. Add the sugar, a few grinds of black pepper and the whites of the two eggs. (You don’t need the yolks for this recipe.) Stir this gently into the pork mixture and then allow the filling to rest for at least 30 minutes or overnight, covered in the refrigerator.

When you’re ready to make your dumplings, mix the cornstarch with half a cup of water in a small bowl. Set it next to a pile of the wonton wrappers.

Put a heaping teaspoon of filling onto a wonton wrapper. Using your finger, brush the two edges of the wrapper lightly with the cornstarch mixture. Fold the wrapper over into a triangle and then press and pinch the edges firmly together, trying to press all of the air out of each dumpling. Next, bring two corners of the triangle together and press those together, using a bit of the cornstarch water as glue. Set each one on a baking sheet as they’re finished.

Freeze the dumplings, in a single layer, on their baking sheet. When they’re frozen, put them into plastic bags. (They keep in the freezer for about 6 weeks.)

To cook, bring a pot of water to a boil. Put as many dumplings as you’d like into the pot, bring the water back to a boil and cook for 7 minutes for frozen dumpings, or 5 minutes for unfrozen ones. They’ll rise to the top when they’re ready.

Serve with a dipping sauce of soy sauce and a splash of rice vinegar.
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Matthew said...

It's a great time to have a baby xoxo

Laura said...

This is so beautiful. Thank you.

Brands family blog said...

This was a good one. I can totally relate about what you said about the depressing news, conservative parents, and having a tough time with being the hostess with the mostess. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and some ideas on how to cope :)

I'm going to come up with a good vegetarian filling and can't wait to make some dumplings. Thanks Amelia!

Erica said...

Hey Amelia! Great post - I relate on lots of levels (baby #2 is coming in July for us).

The state of the world can be terrifying, and I just got into an argument this morning with my mom about how much time I spend stressing about putting Rhett into daycare when I should be home with him and teaching him things myself. Maybe then he'd eat more than crunchy carbs (he gets his early eating habits from his bottle-blonde momma with lots of mascara - even though I've changed - I promise!) or maybe he'd sleep through the night.

I know in reality I should sit back and be thankful for what I do have though. And I should fight through morning sickness and fatigue to enjoy the holiday season and what's going on around me. :) Thanks for the reminder to be a good host in every way!

Cheers lady, and you're right. A strong drink could really help.

Lia Greenwell said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Lia Greenwell said...

Beautiful post.

Over many years, I've held onto 3 issues of the Sun. Two because of the interviews (those that aren't about LSD/hippy stuff), one with a painter: http://thesunmagazine.org/issues/456/a_more_perfect_union
And another about intimacy: http://thesunmagazine.org/issues/438/water_water_everywhere

And a stunning essay about a women's first year with her baby (and cows): http://thesunmagazine.org/issues/442/the_first_year

Thanks for sharing.

Amelia Morris said...

@Brands Family Blog xoxx Thank you for stopping by. Hope you have a great holiday!

@Erica ahhh hi old friend! First of all, congratulations on the pregnancy! Second of all, the first trimester can be so rough. It was worse for me this second time. SO, my advice? Be a good host to yourself first. And then, maaaaaybe, if you feel up to it, you can try and be a good host to others. Lastly, blonde hair and mascara are a really good combo. :) :) xoxx

@Lia Thank you for these links! Will have to check them out asap.

The Kale Project said...

We are always saying how it's such a scary and unknown time to have a young baby. Or how watching tv shows now is actually like watching the news. Where is the line drawn between fact and fiction? That said the best we can do is just love! Also I adored Ruth Reichl's book and read it in a few days. There were many moments that brought me to tears. Wishing you and yours a wonderful holiday season.

Lisa said...

You are such a beautiful writer, Amelia. I teared up, I laughed, and I even thought just a bit of Joan Didion, in the best way. And then I got hungry.

Lydia said...

I often struggle with the tension of being informed. My ache for justice, truth, and challenging bad information posted on Facebook spurs me on. But then I get frustrated - do I have to know all the troubles/opinions of this world just because they're there? Is that the modern responsibility? I want to find boundaries for myself yet like most people, I'm addicted to new information. I know it's not right to push out all unpleasantness but can I have some mental health too? This is about when I say "I need to escape to the forest".

And on the topic of dumplings - I'm going to make these asap.

Jessica McColly said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Lindsay Eidel said...

Thank you so much for this piece, and for linking to that awesome Sun interview. I love that I come here for food, and am always fed in multiples ways. You have such a talent for words and expressing the human experience.

SarahCatherine said...

I think a subscription to the Sun will be making its way onto my Christmas list. I once came across stacks of back issues at an old antique store and still question why I passed on buying them. But perhaps it's time to subscribe.

Amelia said...

The Guest House

This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
As an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they're a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.

Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.


Amelia Morris said...

@The Kale Project Thank you and happy holidays to you too!!

@Lisa aww man, what a compliment. Thank you so much and for reading!

@Lydia I hear you. And I think it's one of those struggles of the modern age... all of this info at our fingertips constantly. When I feel really overwhelmed, I close the computer and pull out a book (an actual physical one). xoxx

@Jessica M I hope Blogger didn't accidentally delete your comment. I got it via email and really appreciate the Oprah tip!

@Lindsay E Thank YOU!

@SarahCatherine they are doing a holiday special right now! I think if you get one at regular price, you can gift one at a super discounted rate. You won't regret it! :)

@Amelia oh man, that is such a great one that I'd never read before. Thank you so much for posting it.

Mary Walsh said...

Thanks for the poignant essay and recipe! There's nothing wrong with being gentle with yourself when it comes to heavy things. When I was pregnant and when my my kids were babies, I spent much of the time feeling vulnerable to the Bad Things in the world. Man, the dreams I had about Bad Things threatening my babies and being inadequate to protect them! I had to protect myself by ignoring the news & reading books that were less-anxiety provoking that those with more difficult topics I usually enjoy. It makes sense to retreat from the scary things at certain times in life. Take time to enjoy the good and sweet things.

Kimberly said...

I've read your entire blog, but never commented. This post, however, speaks to me. My life is different than yours in many ways, but this made me want to call you up and shout "ME TOO!" very excitedly. Since having my baby, I've found myself thinking very often that this world is just too full of both love and sadness to ever really be safe. I appreciate the perspective in your post; please know it brought a little peace to me and that I also plan to focus on being a "good host."

PS - How great is Readers Write in The Sun?

Kara said...

This is just so beautiful, girl. And those lines--What we can do is bring compassion to what arrives at our door and meet it with kindness and affection. We can become a good host.

Kate said...

Loved this post, so well written Amelia. As I get older it becomes harder not to be swept up in the depressing and negative aspects of life, but I think it is a struggle worth fighting. Happy Holidays to you and your family!