Holy cow, friends!
This weekend marked the most ambitious cooking endeavor ever attempted in my kitchen! I don’t know how I agreed to it, really… I sat at our usual brunch with one of my oldest church friends, a fellow Chinese-American, and suddenly we had a plan to get a bunch of people together at my house to make potstickers, sticky rice bombs (zhong zi), ma tai soo, and stir fried bok choy—at the same time. [Insert Home Alone face here.]
My kids have severe seafood and egg allergies, and our fun new church friends don’t eat mammals, so we had to modify the recipes, each in different ways, and vigilantly avoid cross-contamination, all in an acutely crowded space. We ended up doing ga li jiao (curry beef pastry) filling, but with chicken, in the ma tai soo instead of shrimp and pork. I made separate chicken and pork potsticker fillings with dong gu mushrooms, napa cabbage, fresh ginger and garlic, soy sauce, and sesame oil. And for the rice bombs, the wrapping staff segregated pork-chicken-salted duck egg, egg-free, and pork-free versions, put to boil in separate pots for 3-4 hours. We invited my sister and brother-in-law, and at the last minute my daughter’s preschool classmate and his mom, our dear friends for the past decade. It was joyfully rè nào, as we say in Mandarin.
My church friend did all of the grocery shopping and overnight prep of soaking glutinous rice, dried mushrooms and bamboo leaves, and meat marinating—both bird and mammal. She brought her food scale, rolling pin, steaming pot, chef’s knife—basically most of her own kitchen—and drove an hour across town to my house. Sister and BIL came bearing chocolate cake and soft drinks, and school friend mom brought her knife-wielding and rolling pin skills. Husband weaved between us all, cleaning and washing—we ran the dishwasher twice. Because that’s the thing about Chinese food—everything had to be rinsed, washed, soaked, seasoned, chopped, shredded, minced, mixed, kneaded, rolled, wrapped, arranged, fried, boiled, steamed, and baked!
Is it any wonder that I experienced more than a little anxiety and possibly moderate panic at the prospect? Not only am I the queen of shortcut cooking (I use store bought potsticker wrappers and pie crust rather than make my own dough—and most of the time I just buy ready-to-cook dumplings), but for some time now I have dubbed my house The Pigsty of Entropy for good reason… One whole segment of counter space had not seen the light of day in over a year, buried under more and more Idon’tevenknowwhat. Two nights ago I simply moved that pile to a paper box, to be organized later, and wiped the well-preserved Corian surface. I had to leave the rest of the place as-is, counting on guests to focus their attention on the food more than their ridiculously cluttered surroundings. My primary reassurance was that if the project failed, we could always order pizza.
In the end, though, the gathering was a raging success. A bright summer sun shone through the big windows from the west. Everyone arrived happy and ready to participate. And we had very reasonable expectations for the outcome—namely that taste and company mattered ‘way more than presentation (but it all looked pretty good!). Conversation topics ranged widely and laughter punctuated questions about ingredients and procedures. I found the vegetable chopping rhythmic and satisfying, and I even developed a double-fisted-chopstick mixing method that could rival any Kitchen Aid—someone just had to hold the bowl for me. We planned the order of activities such that the three main courses would be ready to eat at the same time—and then we feasted with “Crazy Rich Asians” playing in the background.
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What would you never have done if your friend had not invited (instigated) you? How do your friends’ confidence and experience hold you up when you try something new? How can we nudge and support our own friends to step out of their comfort zones? Besides cooking, what other skills can we love our friends into acquiring?
I already anticipate our next audacious culinary event—menu suggestions, please?
As I look around at all the people in my life, my myriad meaningful and thick connections, I am overwhelmed with gratitude and humility. This weekend filled my belly and my heart. Thank you, my dear friends and family.