Thursday, November 1, 2007

Prose, with a side of potstickers (or is it pot stickers?)

Dumplings by Mary Griffith

My mother folds with her crackled ashy
tiny brown hands—veins bulging,
grooving all over, pulsing—lumps
of pink brainy meat, patches of steamed spinach, fresh
garlic, scallions, shrimp; I’ve watched her
dicing vegetables all careful, gutting pellets of shit
with her thumbnail from raw shrimp, gray and translucent.
She washes everything clean, sautés, mixes, browns, mixes—slips pockets
of lumpy pink garlic-shrimp-ground-scallion-spinach-meat
into dusty flour-powdered wonton wrappers, pinches them
into dumplings and browns each one
individually, then plucks the dumplings, bubbled brown, one by one from the frying pan with chopsticks, packs them in a purple quilted batik bag so big it’s practically a suitcase,
for my lunch.
She pours sugar, soy sauce, vinegar, garlic,
scallions, into an old jelly jar, seals it up and shakes it. Smells
like getting off a forty-hour flight, stepping drowsy
into hot, suffocating, Filipino air;
she packs me an apple, banana, tangerine, whole-wheat rice,
leftover beef stew, three napkins, an old milk jug washed
out and filled with mango juice, chopsticks—you’d think I wasn’t coming home
for days—a silver spoon, a note written in blue ink and perfect English.
Smiling proud she hands me her love in an oversized lunchbox.
At lunch other kids pull out brown bags, packed
reasonably lightly—cold thin slices of baloney
snug between two squishy gray brown pieces
of bread, canned fruit, potato chips, artificially
flavored boxes of juice. I pull the dumplings out of my purple bag. The whole
room smells instantly
of hot suffocating garlic; a blond girl,
dressed puffy in starched white, frowns,
scrunches her powdery cute pasty button nose,
tells me my food looks weird,
says it smells nasty. She’s offended, disgusted,
snapping into her bright neon orange tinted potato
chip, chewing with her mouth
open (my mother told me never to do that or I would sound like a baboi), she looks at my food like it’s bugs, like it’s slaves, like it is me that smells like garlic, like I must be dirty, stupid,
a disgraceful bastard monster child in a cage, I deserve to have the skin ripped off my skull
with the splintered rusty edge of a tin can; I ought to be ashamed
of myself for offending her and her processed, steroid-injected baloney. She’s got some nerve,
this girl—some fucking nerve!
But I’m the one who’s really got nerve;
I go home after school and my mother’s waiting for me,
tea’s poured and steaming, polka-dotted with rose petals
in my favorite bunny rabbit mug, steamed sticky buns stuffed sweet
with purple beans. She asks, smiling, happy, the same thing
she asks every day—Did I like the lunch
she made for me? And I’ve got the nerve to look her angry in the eye
and ask cold if she wouldn’t mind making something normal
for lunch tomorrow; something without so much garlic.
But she’s got nerve too, my mom, because for lunch
tomorrow I have a squishy baloney sandwich
and nobody at school feels offended.

The poem inspired the meal. But the inspiration alone does not a meal make.

The first step to recovery is admitting you have a problem. Mine was twofold. First, I had wonton wrappers, not potsticker/dumpling wrappers, so I had to use a can as a cookie cutter to make them round. When round, they were terribly small and couldn't hold much filling at all. Forget half moons this time around.

Second, I'm not good at origami. Never was. For great instructions on preparing potstickers, after referring to the poem above, look here, and then, as linked there, here. That's not to say I'd have done better with rounds instead of squares, but at least I would have had a fighting chance. I look forward to trying again with the benefit of having read the sage instructions.

Still, despite cosmetic irregularities, these tasted great. Nice texture and crispy bottoms. They were filled with an about 3/5 pork and 2/5 shrimp mixture combined with sliced green onions and some minced ginger and garlic. Salt and pepper too. I'm not going to go into detail here because the instructions linked above, and elsewhere on the internet, are better than any I can give. Same goes for the dipping sauce.

The one thing I'd recommend is making a bunch at a time, because it could be a bit of a mess (especially if you dice the shrimp by hand). Extras appear to freeze well after being given a light dusting of flour to keep them from sticking to each other. Next time I'll heed the advice of the linked posts and freeze them individually prior to bagging them, but I don't think it's too big a deal with these little packages.

Thanks to Ann for passing the poem along. I did what I could with the formatting.

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