Those of us who have lived in a large city occasionally dream about about the peace and quiet of living in a small town. My husband, John, and I were in our second year of living in (and generally, loving) Chicago but our patience with big city congestion was being put to the test. The occasional overwhelming feeling of too many people, the claustrophobia of walls of tall buildings, excessive noise, traffic and long lines was just enough to push us to a decision to take an attractive job offer in the central part of Texas. Small town life, here we come...y'all.
Within a month of the move, we realized we had made a mistake. The town was too small for us. First the porridge was too hot and now it's too cold. We hadn't calculated in our love of all things big city life provides. Those loves include theatre, museums, great restaurants, retail choices, parks and ... friends.
Not only were we lonely we were bored silly. Our default entertainment choices were the bookstore and a mom and pop video rental store. Thank goodness for both.
There were many cookbook choices, but within the pages of a thin paperback titled, Chinese Cooking at the Academy, we found our life-line out of tedium and into the world of Asian cooking. The book had recipes we had enjoyed in restaurants and new things we never heard of. It had an extensive list of tools and pantry items one would need to successfully make the tasty Chinese dishes it contained. Onto the outlet mall! I remember the date, December 26, 1995. First purchase? A wok!
Our first attempt was Kung Pao Chicken. It would have been fantastic first dish had I realized you weren't supposed to actually chop the red peppers the recipe called for. We tried it again the next night and got it right. The flavors were tantalizing.
A few days later it's New Year's Eve. No party or friends to celebrate with, my husband and I turned to each other and decided to try something a bit more complicated from the cookbook. We chose pork and vegetable potstickers. We had never heard of bok choy and neither had the good folks at the local supermarket, but after a bit of searching we had bok choy and all the other ingredients we needed to create these little fried/steamed dumplings. The prep and cooking required every available utensil, burner, pot and pan we owned at the time. Even the oven got in the act.
By the time the following New Year's rolled around we abandoned the small town and moved to the "Big D," Dallas, TX. We decided to throw a 2nd Annual "New Year's Potsticker Bash." We invited our next door neighbors, a young couple named Lee and Jennifer, to help in the festivities. What a bonding experience cooking is. And with potstickers, there are jobs a plenty. Mixing the stuffing, folding the wontons into the proper shape, trimming the ends, one person to fry and another to steam.
We enjoyed Tsing Tao beer along the way, laughed, cooked and even improved upon the recipe. We established lifelong friends that New Year's day. When their friends and family finally came to visit, forget all that the "Big D" had to offer, it was potstickers they wanted. Our potstickers. We were game...bring it on! What started with John and I now grew to 8 people crowding into our little Dallas kitchen busily involved with the making of the tiny dumplings. Our reputation as the potsticker experts snowballed from there.
Over the years, we've repeated those scenes many times and continue to enjoy our potstickers and our friends. The dumplings definitely rank as one of our better dishes. One night over 20 people came over for "Potstickers Night" and everyone left bonded and full!
But more importantly, the shared cooking experiences refocused us. Gone was our boredom and loneliness. Say hello to the joy of self creation and the joy of bringing people together. Many times when we reflect on our decision to move to that small town, we've struggled to come up with what good came out of that experience. Usually we've come up dry. Today, upon reflection, we discovered that for us to overcome something negative, we had to get proactive. We may not have known what the final outcome would be, but our journey has been so fulfilling. Our answer now to the question, "What good came out of the small town experience?" It's...Potstickers!
Consider the following a bit of a post-script. I was searching the thousands of pictures on my hard drive for candid shots of past potsticker nights. None exist because when one is up to one's wrists in potsticker filling and laughing away, taking photos is not top of mind. The next time John and I do potstickers we will document the event with photos and will update this post.
If you have a favorite food movie, book or food inspiration, please post a comment. Your experience will surely plant the seed for someone else.
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