Thursday, February 15, 2007

NEVER DO ANYTHING STANDING THAT YOU CAN DO SITTING,or anything sitting that you can do lying down. (Chinese proverb)
Now thats a proverb I really like....I'm off to bed!


Sometimes it seems to me that my choice of reading is governed by coincidences;
last week I went to the cinema with a friend of mine, and we were talking about the book I was reading - The Curry Mile – which I wrote about on 9th February- and about what it is like to live according to the dictates of a particular religion. This led on to a discussion about the various groups of orthodox Jews who live in Britain ( my friend is Jewish, but not orthodox). Imagine my amazement when the very next book I borrowed from the library, purely on the basis of its rather pretty cover – yes, I am that shallow – Disobedience by Naomi Alderman turned out to be set in the orthodox Jewish community who live in Hendon, north London, and won the Orange Prizefor New Writers last year.

The book begins with the death of a much revered Rabbi who is a renowned scholar. The Rabbi, a widower for many years, has one child, Ronit, a daughter who has been estranged from her father for a long time, and who now works and lives a secular life in New York. When notified by her father’s assistant of his death, she returns to Hendon ostensibly to collect some items of family property. In doing so she reopens emotions not just of her own, but of her once best friend. Esti, with whom she had an intense teenage relationship is now married to Dovid her father’s assistant, the likely successor to his position as Rabbi. Ronit is a lesbian, she is not prepared to compromise her sexuality, and the various conversations which take place in the community when she returns from New York illustrate the painfully intractable problem of being part of a fundamentalist religious community and being gay. The expectations of the role of women in a community like this, or in the Muslim community as featured in The Curry Mile, present real difficulties in our society where women are equal in law and opportunity. These groups feel their very existence is threatened by members of the younger generation who do not conform, and they expel them. This was also true in another book I posted about, A Complicated Kindness, which featured the fundamentalist Mennonite Christians. It is hard for me to comprehend what it must be like as a female to be regarded in such a subservient role in a society, and I am often angry when I see how various religious groups treat women.

When I travel to court in the East End of London, I pass through Stamford Hill, an area with a large population of Hassidic Jews. I have always wondered about the way they live as they seem almost oblivious to everyone who is not part of their world. This book helped me to understand a little more about them, the rules which govern their lives, and the constraints it places on their interaction with the rest of London


Like pretty well everyone I know I have to travel by plane from time to time, and my kids, parents, family and friends always seem to be catching a flight to somewhere or other. So I am really keen that we keep air travel as safe as possible, and these days that includes keeping it safe from terrorist attack. I am happy to be searched, to have my luggage X-rayed, and to answer any questions put to me by the security personnel before boarding. However some of the new rules brought in by airports and airlines seem truly daft, with no real relevance to security. These new rules have been brought in since the big alert at Heathrow last year, and are being interpreted in some really odd ways. A suspicion crosses my mind that some of these rules are not really designed to prevent a terrorist attack, but to make money for the airports.

At the weekend, my daughter and friends were flying back to London from Geneva after a skiing holiday; she had bought some rather special cheeses at a fromagerie just before leaving and was bringing them home to enjoy (and maybe for us to enjoy too). The Swiss security man at the airport told her that Reblochon would be considered as a liquid or a gel, and therefore could be dangerous and had to be confiscated and destroyed. It was patently obvious what it was – the

smell alone would have confirmed it, and the idea of a ripe cheese being a potential ingredient in an explosive mix seems far fetched to say the least. The security man said with a happy smile that over the Christmas/New Year period he and his colleagues had confiscated ‘tons and tons’ of cheese that travellers had bought as gifts. Of course, it suits the airport authorities that the minute she is cleared through security she is in the duty-free area where she can buy cheeses, but not necessarily of such good quality, and at quite high prices, thus making a profit for the airport shops.

Those who have travelled by air recently may have noticed that just before the security check area waste bins are provided and are overflowing with bottles of mineral water that passengers have had to jettison. And immediately after the security checks the airport shops have crate-loads of…..bottles of mineral water; what a fabulous marketing opportunity.

The irony is that if you travel business or first class – or are upgraded to either of those classes – you will probably be served any drinks in a container made of that potentially dangerous material called glass. It is the work of moments to smash a glass against a hard surface during the flight and have a lethal weapon in your hand. Some of the victims of pub brawls are testament to this. But lets keep the skies safe by confiscating tweezers and cheeses.


Chinese New Year - or as they call it, Spring Festival is coming up this weekend. The new year will be the Year of the Pig, and not just any old Pig year either, the Year of the Golden Pig. My DH will be 60 this year, so he is a Golden Pig - need I say more! I don't make many Chinese dishes, but these dumplings are a family favourite, and as they are customarily eaten at Spring Festival you might like to make some too. Although the recipe sounds fiddly it is actually very straight forward and they are really delicious.

(Chinese Pot Sticker Dumplings)

275g plain flour
250ml very hot water

100g minced fatty pork
85g chinese cabbage finely chopped
1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh ginger
1 tablespoon Shaoxing rice wine (or dry sherry)
1½ tablespoons soy sauce
Black pepper
1½ tablespoons finely chopped spring onions

1 teaspoon sesame oil
½ teaspoon sugar
1-2 tablespoons cooking oil
75ml water

First make the dough for the dumplings by putting the flour into a large bowl and stir the hot water gradually into it, mixing it all the time with a fork until most of the water is incorporated. Add more hot water if the mixture seems dry. Remove the mixture from the bowl and knead it with your hands , dusting the dough with a little flour to stop it sticking. Continue kneading until the dough is smooth and silky. It will take about 5-10 minutes – very therapeutic exercise!

Put the dough back into the bowl, cover with a clean, damp tea towel and let it rest for about half an hour whilst you prepare the stuffing.

Put all the stuffing ingredients into a bowl and mix them together very thoroughly – if the mixture seems too coarse, place it in a food processor and give it a quick whizz.

Once the dough has rested, remove it from the bowl and knead it again for about 5 minutes, dusting with a little flour if it is sticky. Once the dough is smooth, form it into a roll approx
23cms (9ins) long and about 2½ cms (1 inch) in diameter. Take a knife and cut the roll into 18 equal slices. Roll each slice into a small ball, then with a rolling pin, roll each ball out on a floured surface to form a small round flat “pancake” about 6cms (2½ ins) in diameter. Arrange the dough discs on a lightly floured tray and cover them with a damp kitchen towel to prevent them from drying out until you are ready to use them.

Put about 2 teaspoons of the filling in the centre of each dough wrapper, and moisten the edges with water, then fold in half and pinch together with your fingers. Pleat the dough round the edge as you go, pinching it to seal well. The dumpling should look like a small Cornish Pasty, with a flat base and rounded upper side so that it has a slight crescent shape. Put the finished dumpling back on the floured tray and keep covered with the damp towel until you have stuffed them all.

(At this point you can freeze the dumplings, if you wish, for cooking at a later date.)

To cook the dumplings, heat a large frying pan – preferably non-stick – until it is very hot, add
1 -2 tablespoons of oil and then place the dumplings flat-side down into the pan, turn the heat down and cook for 3-4 minutes until the base of each dumpling is lightly browned. Then add the water, cover the pan tightly with foil and simmer gently for about 12 minutes or until most of the water has been absorbed. (Check the water half-way through and add a little more if necessary)
Uncover the pan and continue to cook for a further 2 minutes. Remove the dumplings to a warm dish and serve immediately.

The dumpling should be served with a choice of Chinese Shaanxi vinegar, chilli sauce, and soy sauce for dipping.

1 comment:

Reluctant Nomad said...

How can you be so cynical about what airports (and airlines) get up to??

Those dumplings look good. I went to a rather good Indonesian restaurant with a friend of mine on Saturday. The food was delicious but her satay was extraordinarily hot. She abandoned it after two bits and I valiantly tried to eat the rest of it but gave up once I realised I was going to blow a gasket. This from someone who really likes hot food!