Just a thought… Food is the most primitive form of comfort. [Sheila Graham]
Welcome in! I hope you had a good weekend and thank you if you shared the reasons for your gratitude on my Facebook page. The post I put up early Saturday, asking people for their contributions, followed a quote: “Grace and gratitude make the hard stuff bearable and the good stuff even sweeter.” There were a lot of lovely posts, but the main threads were appreciation for good health and for family. Today’s journal ties both of those themes together.
The weekend here on the Saanich Peninsula on gorgeous Vancouver Island was one that was a mixture of rain, cloud, blue skies and then more rain again. So it seemed fitting that with a long day of writing and choreographing (with photos and video) some speeches in the months ahead, a nice slow-cooker meal of beef stew would be perfect.
I don’t use recipes when it comes to dinners of this kind, with one small exception I’ll share with you shortly. The house filled with the most delicious smells: onions, beef, garlic, vegetables and rich, thick broth, and it was all coming along beautifully. With less than an hour to go until it was ready to be served, I thought dumplings would make a nice finishing touch to the savoury, fragrant mixture that bubbled gently in the kitchen. A comforting, hearty and healthy dinner would be our reward for a day’s work of talking, thinking and typing.
Usually when I’m looking to make something, I just put a list of food items or a general idea of the dish into Google. Pages upon pages of suggestions, pictures, recipes and links to videos suddenly appear and, without fail, I can find something that fits my ingredients and the amount of time and work I am willing to put into making it.
But when it comes to dumplings, there’s only one choice.
This is one of three versions I’ve had of this book. One is from the 1960s, the other a decade or two later, and the most recent – I’m going to guess from the 90s – was passed on to Lauren.
I’m careful when I turn the pages of this oldest version we have of the book; long ago, many of the punched holes gave way and, in addition to the loose pages of recipes I found and printed out some 20 or 30 years ago, there are plenty of the book’s original pages floating freely inside the cookbook’s faded and food-stained covers.
This was my late mom’s cookbook. I couldn’t count how many dishes or meals originated from its pages and, as you read this, you may well be nodding in agreement, so ubiquitous was this housewife’s little helper. The key paragraph I sought was a dumpling recipe I’ve used countless times.
I turned the pages with the care of someone handling the Magna Carta (minus the white gloves). You’ll recognize why when when you look at this page and the tiny recipe that I’ve circled. I wonder when it was that it tore. The Scotch tape used to hold the tired page together tells a tale of forty – or even fifty or sixty – years. When the word “housewife” was used, as I did in the paragraph above, and one didn’t raise an eyebrow. (Now we can thank Botox for that.)
Glad to have located the sifter that gets dug out probably twice a year at most, I proceeded to make the dumplings. All the while I thought of my mom, but also of our Lauren, who so loved the “fluffy clouds” as we would call them.
She’d come to my mind earlier in the day when I found a can of beef bouillon in the cupboard; with an expiration date of 11 years ago, she had bought the broth to make Rob and me French Onion Soup upon our return from a trip to Paris in 2006. (She got intimidated by a recipe that included liquor and didn’t end up making the soup, so we had a few cans of the bouillon left over.) I smiled at the memory, while Rob was certain she’d actually made the special dish for us. Funny how the mind works, isn’t it? But I knew I was right: I’d tracked those soup cans with the intensity of a Warhol fan.
Once I’d sifted and mixed, I proceeded to plop the thick dough on top of the stew’s surface, covering it as Rob and I finished our work. Minutes later, they were ready and I served us up some hearty stew, leaving enough for leftovers tonight.
The stew, Rob said, was delicious and I didn’t disagree. The “clouds” were not so fluffy, which I recognize is likely at least in part due to the fact that my baking powder predates our move west (which is coming up on three years ago). In my kitchen, it could well have predated the new millennium, as you saw by the soup can. But our hearts were light, even if the dumplings were not.
I felt as if family was there in the kitchen with me, thanks to a history book filled, not with stories, but with recipes. And memories.