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?)
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.