Thursday, February 2, 2012

Around and Around

Photo by Christopher Silsby.
Groundhog Day. Hmph. The implications leave me uneasy at best, at worst distraught in a seriously dishevelled, crazy-eyed, whimpering spin. Groundhog Day actually makes me feel a little affronted, especially when it comes upon me unawares, as it does, because who remembers Groundhog Day is coming?

Vagaries of fate and fat little varmints aside (and it occurs to me that I'm definitely conflating the movie Groundhog Day, which I've never seen, with Scrooged, which I've seen in fragments), I had some people over for dumplings last week.

No more high-flown talk of fresh starts. Down here in the mud, it is what it is. I don't care what the groundhog thinks of his shadow (though if he wants to bite Bloomberg again, I'm down--UPDATE: Bloomberg's off the hook today for the Planned Parenthood thing. But the biting was still funny). Anyway, what winter? I caught my cousin and sister lounging outside the juice shop yesterday and I won't mention which one of them was rocking Birkenstocks. Welcome to the year of the Dragon.

But the dumplings. That was fun. My upstairs neighbors and I accidentally found ourselves hosting parallel dumpling parties, kept each other up the night before with rampant cabbage chopping, and got so busy that we never tasted each other's dumplings. His method was to prepare all fillings in advance and use his guests as a labor pool for assembly. Mine was a bit messier--I laid out bowls of filling components (including ground pork, shrimp, ginger, tofu, garlic, cabbage, carrot, daikon, mushrooms, scallions, garlic chives, tapioca starch) and bottles of condiments (amazingly, those bottles numbered well above 20, including sesame oil, soy sauce, fish sauce, chili, ponzu, ume plum vinegar, pepper vinegar, etc...), and made it a free-for-all.

As guests arrived, they were encouraged to grab a bowl and concoct their personal blend of dumpling filling. After a slow start, the cabbage started spilling, there was black vinegar everywhere, and a potsticker pan and new 8" steamer were in full rotation. There were vegetable dumplings, there were pork and shrimp dumplings. There was shrimp and cilantro. There were a few little salads of straight filling ingredients (I provided no appetizers). Due to the time-consuming nature of handmade wrappers, I had provided a pile of store-bought ones as well, but my homemade ones were better in every way, easier to fill, tastier, and prettier. I wound up making another batch of dough halfway through because I wasn't enjoying filling and cooking the store-bought wrappers. I think they're better for ravioli, actually.

As I mentioned, there were no appetizers, but there was dessert. As guests drifted in and out, and the steamer sputtered, I did offer two varieties of ice cream, both made with recipes from my new toy, Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams at Home. The lime frozen yogurt was good, but the Salty Caramel with Smoked Almonds (Jeni calls it Gravel Road), was the heart-stealer, converting even me, dubious about smoky flavors at the best of times. Since then, I've gone a bit nuts with that book, adding Passion Fruit Frozen Yogurt, Chamomile Champagne Ice Cream, and Hazelnut Ice cream to the repertoire.

Life is, as I mentioned above, seriously messy. But at least some of the mess is delicious. The rest...I'll tell you about it when that groundhog heads back under into his hole like the rest of us.

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