Making Chinese Dumplings (jiaozi) from Scratch – an unlikely cure for jet-lag

It was a gloomy November Sunday afternoon, less than 24 hours after I had arrived back from Beijing. Winter had sneaked up on Ireland while I was away, the evenings were closing in and there was a noticeable nip in the air. I was jet-lagged and disoriented, my head and heart still drifting between two worlds, seeing in my mind’s eye the now familiar rituals of Shane, Shan and Dermot’s Sunday afternoon.
I took refuge in cooking. I made two large batches of dumplings while catching up on the episodes of Downton Abbey that I had missed. As I punched and kneaded the dough and found the rhythm of rolling out near perfect discs, I felt the connection with my family and the world I had left behind in Beijing. Cooking is therapy.
It was Li Dong on 7th November, the first day of the Chinese winter. As if on cue, the weather in Beijing had changed from a balmy 17 degrees to a sharp, dry chill in bright sunshine. Legend has it that if you don’t eat dumplings on Li Dong, your ears will fall off when the cold snap comes. I was taking no chances and tucked in with gusto to Shan’s MaMa’s pork, cabbage and shrimp dumplings served with her  homemade chilli paste.
The previous day I had attended a dumpling class at Black Sesame Kitchen. This was my third dumpling class. I had been to one at Hutong Cuisine in March and another led by the chefs at China Sichuan in Dublin during the last Spring Festival. But you can never learn enough about making dumplings and every class brings it’s own tips and tricks plus some lovely new recipes for fillings. Besides dumpling lessons are great fun and a great way to make new friends over a glass of Chinese beer (loosens the dumpling wrapping skills I’m told!) as you compare your misshapen efforts. I came home with left-over dough which MaMa turned into noodles for Dermot’s dinner. No waste in China, ever.

Dumpling fun at Black sesame Kitchen
Dumpling fun at Black Sesame Kitchen

Now back in Dublin, I wasn’t taking any chances on the falling off ears thing (it wouldn’t be a good look for the wedding!) and I also wanted to put the techniques into practice before I forgot them again. Continue reading Making Chinese Dumplings (jiaozi) from Scratch – an unlikely cure for jet-lag

It's hard to say goodbye

Shane, Shan and Dermot
Shane, Shan and Dermot

What can I tell you about my grandson who was 9 months old this week …
That he has the most infectious giggle and finds the adults around him hilarious.
That he loves to play nai nai hugs, careering around his Beijing apartment at break neck speed in his inappropriately named “walker”.
That he loves his books – My First Gruffalo and This is Not My Panda – especially the soft furry bits.
That his first word was “yeah” uttered at loud volume and accompanied by a cheerful yell, his second  “bao bao“, the Chinese word for hug and his third “ba ba“, the Chinese for Dad.
That he never sits still for a moment, preferring to pull himself up to standing on any surface he can find, even an arm or leg will do or cliff-hanging on the edge of the kitchen table with three fingers.
Hanging man appears at dinner table!
Can I have some too please!

That he loves his food (family trait that) and really wants what we are having unless it’s spicy in which case he is most put out. Duck and noodles are his favourites and dragon fruit and watermelon. It’s in the genes.
"This feeding himself is really going well!"says his gu gu Claire
“This feeding himself is really going well!”says his gu gu Claire

That he hasn’t yet learned that in this world there isn’t always someone there to catch you when you fall and it is wiser to fall forward and save yourself rather than backwards into empty space.
That his smile would light up a continent and you could lose yourself in his dimples.
A goodbye smile for his nai nai
A goodbye smile for his nai nai

That his world so far is full of people he loves and trusts – his mamma, baba, two nai nai and a ye ye and gu gu at the other end of a Skype line.
That his world is full of wonder and fun.
That he is a budding guitarist if bashing a plastic guitar off any surface that he can find to set it playing it’s three repetitive tunes counts – no wonder parents are never the ones to buy noisy toys for their kids.
Yes that’s what I learned about Dermot in the two special weeks I shared with him, in his world in Beijing with Shan, Shane and his Chinese nai nai. And every parent and grand parent will know that, while every child is special, there is none quite so special as the baby in your life right now.
I’m back now in the transit lounge of Dubai airport reflecting on all the new things I discovered in those two weeks – about Dermot, about China, about Chinese food. I have a notebook full of new recipes and insights gleaned from this visit to share. Every time I go there I feel I understand China and its culture that little bit better but it’s like scratching the surface. When the time comes to leave I realise what a vast amount I have still to learn before I truly “get” it, if I ever will.
One day last week I took myself out to a local, western style cafe, Twosome on Jiang Tai Xi Lu, for a fix of coffee and “space”, the European in me briefly overwhelmed by China. An old Carole King song “Far Away” was playing on the stereo and the line “Doesn’t anybody stay in one place any more” caught me at the back of the throat.
It’s the lot of our generation of mammies and grannies to be torn between continents – my daughter Claire and her husband in Australia, my family and friends in Ireland, my son and his wee family in Beijing. And yet I know how lucky I am to be able to travel to them and have them home fairly often.
Just for these few moments I want to sit here between all those worlds, listening to the sounds of morning prayer, with that feeling of appreciation mixed with longing.
Missing you already Dermot
Missing you already Dermot

Normal service, including some great new recipes, will resume shortly.

Gong Bao Chicken

One of the many things I love about a trip to Beijing is the chance to attend a few cookery classes, pick up new recipes and tips and improve techniques under the watchful eye of a professional Chinese chef. This recipe for Gong Bao chicken from my recent visit is so good that I feel like taking to the streets with a placard and megaphone to encourage everyone to try it. It has to be one the tastiest and best value winter warmers around and perfect for the coming cold snap. But first a bit of the back story on the recipe. Continue reading Gong Bao Chicken