Thursday, May 29, 2008

Revolutionary Chinese Cookbook: Deep Breaths

That's a sweet portrait of intergenerational harmony, Checka and Owen learning together how to make Fuchsia Dunlop's spicy steamed pork buns

It was actually one of the few tranquil moments in our evening. My children fight. They fight over everything, all the time, and it doesn't sound like cats and dogs. It sounds like Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf meets Apocalypto. As soon as I try to mediate, they both turn on me. If they turned on me and bonded over their shared enemy, it would be wonderful and I would happily throw myself on my sword. But they turn on me and still want to kill each other and then we're all shrieking.

It is incredibly depressing.
Okay. Food. Last night we made the aforementioned pork buns, which Dunlop describes tasting for the first time on a cool spring morning in a Changsha tea house. I thought these bao were terrific, but everyone else found them intolerably spicy and refused to eat them. So I guess they were a bust. 

Also a bust was the hand-torn vinegar cabbage. I should have read the headnote before I tried this austere dish, which Dunlop describes as typical fare of a "work-unit canteen" during the Mao era. "Despite it's modesty, it's rather nice," she writes. Rather nice? Work-unit canteen? Fuchsia! Demerits.

The final bust: apples trailing golden threads, which I tackled in a fit of irrational exuberance following last week's success with Cecilia Chiang's caramelized bananas. Alas, no golden threads trailed; instead, sugar clumped and crystallized. I followed the recipe precisely, and I think I know where Dunlop steered me wrong. More demerits.

However, she did teach me a crazy new way to cook moist, perfect rice. And her luscious Quick-Fried Lamb was popular with this tough Wednesday night crowd. Not a single rich, juicy scrap was left.

After I cleaned up the kitchen and kissed my mother goodbye, the children and I went upstairs to watch a few episodes of The Office. TV is brain-rotting junk. I should be reading Dickens aloud or playing Bach preludes or making them memorize the Bill of Rights. I know all this because I've just finished the fascinating and exceedingly cranky Susan Jacoby book.

But when the three of us get under the duvet and start laughing hysterically after a long, bitterly contentious evening, it feels like grace. I really don't care how we get there. 

To hell with Susan Jacoby. 

And thank-you, Steve Carell.

1 comment:

  1. It was a good evening in which the loving grandmother got to be with her wonderful, albeit sometimes feisty grandchildren, visited with her very interesting lovely daughter, got well fed, ate far too many apple fritters, got hugged and left happy. It's all in your point of view.