Lisa See's Shanghai Girls was a great transporting read. From the moment it started I was caught up in the story and couldn't put the book down. See does a great job of depicting Shanghai in the 30's and immediately drawing the reader in by making us care about the characters. This is one of those books where everything that possibly could go wrong for the characters does go wrong. Pearl and May are middle class teenagers who live a comfortable life in Shanghai with their parents, living it up and enjoying the cities exciting nightlife and modeling as calendar girls. The sisters are each others best friends but are also each others rivals for their parents attention and love. The narrator is Pearl, and from her perspective, her parents favor her younger sister May, who is prettier and more carefree than Pearl, who is also beautiful but more serious and expected to take care of her flighty sister. One day, the girls father tells them that he has sold them as wives to men who have immigrated to the United States. Their father was forced to sell his daughters because of his gambling debts. As the girls plot to escape their fate, WWII descends on China and the Japanese invade Shanghai. The girls and their mother go through a horrible and violent ordeal trying to escape the city, and eventually the girls get on a boat bound to San Francisco. They suffer through a long stay at Angel Island off the coast of San Francisco and eventually meet the husbands their father sold them to and move to LA. Unlike their middle class life in Shanghai, they live in a Chinatown tenement and must work in kitschy souvenir store. The girls at least get to live together in the same apartment, with their husbands who are "brothers" and their in laws. One husband is developmentally disabled, and the other is handsome and kind but he is just a "paper son" not really related to the family, just a son as part of an immigration scam. Their lives in the United States are filled with disappointments, and just when you think things might be evening out and looking up for them, more tragedy occurs. The book is an engrossing soap opera. The sequel to the book just came out, can't wait to read it!
I followed the recipe on http://www.steamykitchen.com/ - this is a great recipe with great instructions! The secret trick to soup dumplings is soup jello! You make a flavorful soup, add gelatin and turn into soup jello. Then you fill your dumplings with mean and pieces of the soup jello - when you steam them, the jello turns back into piping hot soup, so when you bite into the dumpling you get a hot mouthful of flavorful soup. This was quite an ambitious undertaking for me. These dumplings rocked though, they are worth the effort for special occasions. Save them till fall though when it is a bit cooler in the kitchen!
Soup Ingredients and Directions [Note, I cut the recipe in half for the soup and filling but not the dough, so these amounts are the amounts I used, for the full recipe go to http://www.steamykitchen.com/]
1 quart and 2 cups water
1 lb chicken wings
2 ounces Ham - chinese ham if you can get it, I used whatever thick cut ham I could find at Wholefoods
1/4 lb pork skin and fat (I actually used instead about 1/2 lb pork belly, which is very fatty)
1 inch piece of ginger, sliced thinly
1 green onion, cut into 3 inch pieces
2 large garlic cloves, smashed
1 teaspoons Chinese rice wine or sherry (i used sherry)
1 and 1/2 teaspoon unflavored gelatin
[note, if you increase the soup volume, you need to increase the amount of gelatin]
Directions: Place all ingredients in a stock pot, and bring to boil. Immediately turn heat to low and simmer for two hours, skimming surface to keep soup clean and clear. After the two hours, strain and discard the solids.
Put four cups of the soup back into the stock pot, turn heat to low, when the liquid is hot, add the gelatin and whisk for 2 minutes until powder is dissolved. Put into any sort of container really and refrigerate till set. I left mine overnight.
400 grams all purpose flour
3/4 cups hot boiling water
1/4 cup cold water
1 tablespoon oil
Directions: Put most of the flour in a large bowl, pour a third of the hot water into the bowl and stir vigorously with chopsticks (I have never used chopsticks as a cooking impliment before, they worked great!) Add more hot water and stir, and last of water and stir, stir till dough starts to form. Add cold water and oil, stir, stir, stir till dough comes together. Dust counter with remaining flour, place dough on floured surface and knead until it is smooth and elastic, 8-10 minutes. Cover with plastic wrap and let rest for 30 minutes.
1/2 lb ground pork
1/4 lb shrimp pealed and finely chopped
2 stalks green onion, finely chopped
1 teaspoon sugar
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 pinch white pepper
1/2 teaspoon grated fresh ginger
1/2 teaspoon sherry or chinese wine
1/4 teaspoon sesame oil
Mix all ingredients as well as the 1 cup of the soup jello (you should just chop up the soup jello before mixing it in)
Cut the dough into 4 different pieces. Take one piece at a time and roll into a log. Cut each log, using a pastry cutter, into golf ball sized pieces. For each golf ball, pat into a circle then roll out into a circle. Cause I was a dumpling newbie, I kept my wrappers fairly thick so there was no breakage. Thinner would have been better.
To fill, put in about a tablespoon of filling in the center of the dumpling wrapper. Pleat and pinch the dough up around it so it forms a little package. Mine were not pretty. Go to http://www.steamykitchen.com/ for better instructions.
Line a bamboo steamer with cabbage leaves - Napa or Savoy. Put the dumplings on top a couple of inches away from each other cause they will expand (note, I did not do this and they stuck together a bit). Boil a couple of inches of water in a walk, but the filled steamer on top, steam for 12 - 15 minutes. Enjoy! Eat carefully! I like to bite off an end, using a spoon to hold the dumpling, and let the soup drain into the spoon and then I slurp it up without any mouth burn!