Posted on October 21, 2013
The year was 1397AD, and Gao Rui-fu was walking through the streets of Xi’an, China. Having just returned the day before from a long trek along the fabled Silk Road, he was in search of something in his hometown, yet unsure what this “something” was.
He passed his favorite bookstore, pausing by the new titles, thinking perhaps it was opening the page of some long-lost novel he had read in the past that was leaving this emptiness in his soul…or perhaps a new book that would take him to unchartered lands.
But walking through the dusty shelves, he walked out empty…
What could it be?
He walked pass the lively market where Sun Ling, his childhood sweetheart, worked thinking perhaps seeing his girl again would charge his spirit and bring him out of this funk. But having seen her last night, he walked past knowing something still was just not quite right.
He ran along the mighty Xi’an Wall, in the hopes that perhaps it was the absence of seeing his city, his streets and the people who would fill this missing space.
This city wall, a thousand years old with a new section just finished…his father the head foreman. An impenetrable structure, 55 feet thick at the base, Rui-fu felt pride running his hands over the large stones that made up the wall. Still after an hour of climbing and running, no reply to the ache he felt inside.
What was he missing?
As he wandered along, thinking about his parents, siblings and friends he has visited since his return…the parks, streets and favorite hangouts, he still could not understand what was causing this strange void inside.
He had hoped settling into the ambiance & comfort of his favorite tea shop this morning would have resolved this question, sipping the fragrance of freshly picked tea leaves, yet all that did was make him go to the bathroom more often than he wished…
With his mind distracted, he soon found himself outside of the city center, and nearing the slum area of town…and while most people would never dream of heading down to this area, Rui-fu savored such visits.
A nod of his head to old Mr. Li and his wife, who operated a tiny restaurant in this area, perfecting the art of the Chinese dumpling (饺子 pronounced ‘jiao-zi’) and as his smile broke, happiness ran through Rui-fu.
Something so simple, but so perfect: comfort food. The taste of home the body craves, especially after a long absence. Outside this simple stall, Rui-fu smelled the simple flavors and tastes of the Chinese dumpling… He was home.
There are many great dishes from around the world, on every street corner, and over 600 years ago, after a long trek, Rui-fu refueled his spirit with a simple meal of dumplings.
With me, it is the same.
With my home being the USA, there are days in China when I miss a great number of things. From bread I can buy from the local bakery to the meals I take for granted. It is at these times in China, I go off to find the one comfort food I have: the Chinese dumpling. 饺子.
Almost without fail, my first meal is at this little shop around the corner called North-East Dumplings. The restaurant consists of two small tables. Every time I walk in, Mr. or Mrs. Qiu are at a small table filling & folding jiao-zi with their beautiful little daughter Xiao Qiu smiling and reaching for my i-Pad so she can play her games while I wait for my meal.
One day, when I asked if I could photograph them making dumplings, they warmly agreed. Xiao Qiu was excited to take me to the open market to buy ingredients for the next morning, a perfect way to start the day.
The ingredients of the dumplings we made varied greatly, from pork and chives to mushroom and vegetables. The key to great dumplings is first to make them by hand, with the art of filling & folding:
The art of producing a perfectly made dumpling is a gift not easily mastered…and with Xiao Qiu stating matter-of-factly: “Randy doesn’t really know how to make dumplings does he?!?” Laughter filled the room, and I decided that it was perhaps best to focus on photography instead of dumplings.
Perhaps the greatest reason I enjoy my dumplings, is that it is the closest things I have to comfort food in China. Something simple, yet solid and brings a sense of peace as I sit down for a meal.
$1.75 for a plate of 15 dumplings (they usually give me a few more…), and a dish of vinegar and red peppers for additional flavor brings me back to the time in Xi’an when I first enjoyed Chinese dumplings more than 20 years ago.
In 1991, sitting in the small dumpling shop in Xi’an, missing home tremendously but for the first time starting to feel comfortable in my new surroundings that began with the discovery of my new favorite food.
Seeing all this work that goes into producing the fill, preparation of the dough and then folding & handling all these dumplings…only to be gobbled up in seconds once prepared.
There are more to dumplings than just great flavor.
As with anything in life, if you put your heart into something (work and play), it is impossible not to walk away without creating something special. Homemade dumplings are made special because of the hands & hearts of those who make them so.
In many ways, cooking is similar to life. As Julia Child once put it “The only real stumbling block is fear of failure. In cooking you’ve got to have a what-the-hell attitude.”
Pretty good advice for life as well…
Posted on October 7, 2013
Mother Nature is proof that women rule the world. Us men are mere toys: something to humor them when they are bored and someone to torment, yet love. Every time I think I will be clever and try to outsmart the fairer sex…in the end I am humbled.
Understanding this is what made my late-summer plans ridiculous.
I thought I would spend the time romancing the daughters of Mother Nature. The plan was pretty simple: visit my steady girl Ellinor (of Olympic National Park fame), have a wonderful time together, and then later sneak off to Wyoming to visit her sisters Teton and Yellowstone, to see if their rumored natural beauty was true.
A quick trip, a simple glance and then I would head back to Seattle to be closer to my girl.
Now, I like to think that I am a one-woman man and Ellinor is the girl for me. I have the approval of Mother Nature, who after some initial concerns, seems to have approved of this relationship.
Despite this good fortune of having such a great lady, it is also impossible to ignore the wisps of allure from across the “room” that can spark a man’s interest: beautiful eyes and generous peaks inviting a lucky soul to walk on the wild side.
Perhaps I mistook the twinkle of the stars in the night’s sky, for a twinkle in her eye, but before I could think, I was in my car speeding towards Wyoming, with a Johnny Cash CD blaring out the song “Jackson” and the infamous lyrics “I’m going to Jackson, I’m gonna mess around…”
Somewhere I’m sure I was thinking…“you’ve got it all with Ellinor and the Olympic National Park, can’t you be content?” but Johnny pushed those thoughts into the back recesses of my mind.
The description of Jackson, Wyoming has been simply stated as “an oasis nestled between the Tetons and heaven.” While I’ve question the idea of love at first sight, I think I have been proven wrong. Let’s just say, after my arrival in Jackson, my mind was swimming as I began looking at houses in the area, preparing for a life-changing move. Teton was that beautiful.
My flirtation with Teton was something I will never forget. Sigh… I could tell you story after story, but I know you would think it was something I stole out of “Penthouse Letters” so I will forego such details.
Perhaps the photographs of sunlight & reflections can paint a more accurate picture than my words ever could…
Little did I know while hiking trails in Teton, riding on the winds out of the north, came a waft of perfume…no mistaking it came from the home of Yellowstone. The scent of another woman, and it broke the spell that Teton had cast on me.
It was with a heavy heart, yet with a spring in my step, I snuck back to my car as dusk settled on the day and barreled out-of-town, heading into Yellowstone to camp on her doorstep for the night.
Yellowstone. Wow. How could a man walk away from such a beauty without surrendering his soul? As I heard thunder off in the distance…I realized that I had just been struck by a thunderbolt of beauty and passion.
Yellowstone, this could be a long and complicated relationship.
As I dozed off to sleep, for a moment I felt as if I was floating in bliss with wet kisses of Yellowstone falling upon me. With a shock, I woke within my sieve of a tent now acting as a small lake and the beating rain of Mother Nature’s fury ensuring me that my nightmare was just beginning.
Lusting after three beautiful daughters of Mother Nature, not a situation I had expected. Each enchanting me like no other…putting on their best face, and waking me each morning with a kiss of sunshine. They have shown me things I had never before thought possible…and feeling a high I never thought achievable.
It is often said you yearn more for what is unattainable, and this yearning clouds the mind. I guess while I was singing along to “Jackson” on the way down, I missed the chorus of June Carter-Cash, “Yeah, go to Jackson, you big-talkin’ man…And I’ll be waiting in Jackson…”
With Mother Nature adding: “to hunt you down…”
My quick escape to Jackson was made with clothing for temperatures in the 70s, so with unexpected wind and rain, I guess you could say I was caught with my pants down when Mother Nature turned the table on me.
Rain coming on quicker than I could retreat to shelter, and on one hike when I found the ‘magical’ shot I had been waiting for, down came the hail, hard and swift. Stinging me with a vengeance as I missed the shot, and made a long run back to the shelter of my car.
As the trip ended, I was heading home with my head down and tail between my legs. Fooled and humbled, yet again.
My best lines and suave charm were powerless against these beauties (and for those who don’t know me, that is not saying too much). I was nothing more than another disillusioned soul, captivated and toyed with the hope of eternal bliss with nature.
All the same, this dash of misery with cold and wet days was quickly forgotten, as my heart still pounded with blood warmed by my encounters. I couldn’t help but smile.
Sure, I may be walking away with something close to pneumonia, but it was worth it. Mother Nature seemed satisfied with my discomfort, believing I had learned my lesson.
The ride home through Montana, Idaho and Washington was beautiful…and I already had a story concocted for Ellinor and the Olympics, and I think Mother Nature is cool with it.
These beauties of nature, some may call them Sirens, mystical women who defeat and bring men to their knees. Myself, I prefer to think of them as Muses providing inspiration to see what is possible and create bigger dreams to chase: reflecting what is hidden in our hearts, so we can recognize our good nature and bring the dreams to life.
As for Mother Nature, she may feel a bit put off with the title of this post, but how could a woman not feel proud of the beauty of her daughters?
The only thing that concerns me, is that while in Jackson, I heard she has three other daughters: Bryce Canyon, Arches and the Grand Canyon in the neighborhood who are said to have beauty rarely seen. Just my type…
Couldn’t hurt if I took the time one day to stroll down there for a look…could it?!?