I’ve gotten massages a couple of time in Austin, and each time I go to the same woman at the same place who puts a few drops of this minty, menthol-y oil on a washcloth she drapes over my eyes. The strong scent made my eyes tingle pleasantly, helped me relax and become sleepy, but didn’t aggravate my migraines, which can be triggered by strong, perfumed scents. The last time I went to see her was to redeem a birthday certificate my dad got me, and when the massage was finished, I poked around the room for a few minutes as I got dressed to try and find the bottle. I finally found it: white flower oil. The next time D and I ventured out to the large Chinese supermarket north of town, I bought my own bottle. The strong association I have with this scent and a feeling of total, loose relaxation means that a few drops in a bath, on a washcloth, or on the shower floor are enough to calm me even on the worst days.

chinese dumplings on a tray

Dumpling-making is another calming activity. The process of chopping many things into small, uniform pieces, mixing them, repetitively spooning the mixture into skins, folding, and lining up on the pan gives me a sense of order and accomplishment. I like seeing the cookie sheet go from holding one lone, intrepid dumpling to being crowded with them. I like sitting next to D while we do this together, watching something we’ve seen a million times because we can’t really watch it, anyway, since we have to watch the dumplings. I like how we fall back into inside jokes, congratulate each other on dumplings that come out folded like professionals made them, and how we make fun of the awkward ones, the ones we over-stuff, the ones that leak and won’t seal and will probably make a mess in the oil. I like hearing the oil pop when D drops the first one into the pot. I like eating one when it’s still too hot, dipping it in soy sauce that’s still reducing on the stove. I like how we say we can steam them, saute them, or bake them, but we almost always fry them, because I like the crispy exterior. I even like how, between the shopping, prepping, folding, freezing, and frying, it takes all afternoon to make dinner.

folding dumplings

Making a massive amount– about 150 dumplings– every few months has become a tradition, a centering activity, for us. I think D and I usually find ourselves drawn to an afternoon of dumpling-making when things have been stressful or hectic but are starting to calm down. Dumplings are a way to commemorate a slower pace; we have the emotional and practical time this weekend to spend several hours making one meal (albeit one that will feed us for days), as opposed to past weekends when we’ve had extra work or other commitments. Making these dumplings together makes me feel closer to my partner– dumpling-making is a team sport, and we are genuinely grateful for each other’s contributions to the big win we have at the dinner table.

deep-fried dumplings

Vegetable Dumplings
Makes about 150 dumplings

You will need:
1 pound soft tofu, diced
1 pound mushrooms (I used a mixture of woodear, shitake, and oyster mushrooms), chopped fine
3 carrots, grated
1 jalapeno, diced
4 scallons, chopped thinly
6 cloves garlic, minced
1 tbsp. grated ginger
1 tbsp. soy sauce
1 tbsp. black vinegar
1 tbsp. rice vinegar
1 tbsp. sambal
1 tsp. sesame oil
3 packages gyoza skins, thawed
Oil, for frying
Dipping Sauce, for serving

Combine tofu, mushrooms, carrots, jalapeno, scallions, garlic, ginger, and all seasonings in a large bowl. Mix well, breaking up the tofu as you go.

Working with one gyoza skin at a time, place about a teaspoon of the mushroom mixture in the center of the skin.

filling in the center of an open dumpling

Wet the outside rim of the skin and fold it, making pleats along each side. (Use  Real Butter has a great step-by-step tutorial of the folding process.) Pinch it well to seal, and set aside. Repeat until the mushroom mixture is gone.

lots of folded dumplings

Deep-frying: Heat about 1 1/2″ vegetable oil in a large pot over medium heat. The oil is hot enough when, if you stick the end of a wooden spoon in the oil, the oil bubbles up around the end quickly. Working in batches, cook about 6 dumplings at a time in the oil until they are a deep, golden brown, about 7 minutes. Drain them well on a dish cloth or paper towel.

Potstickers: Works particularly well for frozen dumplings. Place the dumplings in a skillet that has been preheated over medium heat. Pour water into the skillet until the water comes about 1/3 of the way up the dumpling. Cover the skillet and cook until all water has evaporated from the skillet and the bottoms of the dumplings are slightly crisp, about 5 minutes.

Freezing the dumplings is easy: Just spread the dumplings out, not touching, on a cookie sheet lined with wax paper. Put the cookie sheet in the freezer for about an hour, and then transfer the dumplings to a freezer-safe container. These will keep for several months in the freezer.