Self-Experiment: Dinner Party 101

I don’t cook.

I won’t quite say that I can’t cook — when presented with a microwave dinner or brownie mix with instructions printed on the back, I have done an admirable job. But a combination of Google cafes and living in a neighborhood with the highest concentration of Zagat-rated restaurants in San Francisco has made me regard the kitchen with fear and bewilderment.

Therefore it made complete sense for me to volunteer to host a dinner party. What follows is a step-by-step template for how to throw a dinner party for 20+ people, vegetarians accounted for, where your guests happily do most of the work for you and eagerly ask you afterwards for a recipe that doesn’t quite exist.

Step 1: Throw a dumpling making party
I can’t think of a more efficient way to produce delicious food in bulk. And since the guests themselves make the dumplings, they taste that much more delicious to them.

Step 2: Consider the recipes
My mom sent me her dumpling recipe. I remember it had always produced the most delicious dumplings as I was growing up. Of course, that was when she had made the mix:

Vegetarian dumplings

Dry Black Mushroom*
Dry Black Wood Ear*
Bell Pepper*
Fried Tofu
Green Onion
Water chestnuts, well chopped
Soy sauce
Olive oil
Sesame oil

Dumpling wraps

1. Put Dry Black Mushroom and Dry Black Wood Ear into cold water and let them become soft. Wash each piece using cold water (may have some dirt, especially at root of mushroom). By hand, squeeze some water from washing and cut into small pieces
2. Wash the Napa (you only want the leaves and tender inner stems); cut to small pieces; put it in a bowl, add some salt, stir thoroughly. Put aside for awhile till some liquid can be see in the bottom of the bowl. Using your hands or a cheesecloth, squeeze liquid out of chopped napa. If you like, wash the squeezed napa again and re-squeeze as before.
3. Wash Carrot, Celery, Green Pepper, Fried Tofu (this one needs some of the liquid squeezed out after washing also), Ginger, Green Onion and Water Chestnuts and cut them into small pieces.
4. Put all above (1-3) into a big bowl, add salt, soy sauce, egg (you may only want the whites), olive oil, sesame oil, cilantro) and mix well
5. Put proper amount mix on dumpling wrap and make sure closed tightly (you may use some juice from mix or little water to help)
6. Boil water and then put dumpling into and continue cooking. Add cold water three times during cooking whenever the water boils.
7. Serve with sauce on the side (soybean sauce, olive oil, sesame oil, green onions) for self-service

Pork and chive dumplings

Ground pork (or chicken/beef/lamb/etc)
Dry Black Wood Ear
Water chestnuts, well chopped
Soy sauce
Olive oil
Sesame oil

Dumpling wrap

1. Prepare Dry Black Wood Ear just like above
2. Cut garlic, ginger and water chestnuts into small pieces
3. Wash the Chives; cut to small pieces and squeeze some liquid out similar to Napa above. Save the liquid from squeeze into a bow. Then mix the Chive with a little oil.
4. Put meat into a bowl, add egg (you may only want the whites) If meat is too lean, you need to add some of the chive liquid from #3 also. Stir mixture in one direction until it become a little sticky. Add #1-2, salt, soy sauce, sesame oil and mix in the same direction. Note: if the soy sauce be added gradually will be better.
5. Add Chives into the mixture and mix well
6. Follow steps 5-7 as above in vegetarian section

Step 3: Eyeball it
You might notice as I did the distinct lack of numbers in the recipes above. This was by design as my mother always knew how much of each ingredient to put in. There are also a few ingredients in each recipe written in grey. These were items that weren’t in the original list and I ran out to a store in panic to get them when I saw them later in the recipe. Here’s to avoiding that the next time.

So… from microwave cuisine to this. I did the only thing I could: swallowed my fear and eyeballed it. Fortunately dumpling mix is very forgiving and invites a “what the hell” kind of attitude when it comes to preparing it. The only real criteria I used were:

Vegetarian mix: if you’re happy with the mix of colors, then it’s ready. I ended up not even including the carrot, celery or fried tofu. I kept feeding ingredients into a food processor and tossing it into a mixing bowl until the final result looked pretty enough to eat. The food processor is your best friend in this process, except for the items followed with an asterisk. These items either don’t get chopped evenly or get liquefied in a processor, so prepare them by hand.

Pork and chive mix: You never have enough chives. Whatever you prepare initially, double the amount. For that matter, you really can’t have enough water chestnuts, either. Have fun with this one — compared to the veggie dumpling mix, this one is easy.

5lbs of ground pork among other things

5lbs of ground pork among other things

Step 4: Put your guests to work
Have plenty of baking trays and plates sprinkled with flour. Spread out spoons and dumpling wraps evenly amongst the chairs and let them go nuts. The quest to create the perfect pleated dumpling will keep everyone entertained for a very long time. We had many very very beautiful ones at the end:

Art of dumpling making

Art of dumpling making

Step 5: EAT
Dumplings go well with friends, good music and just about any kind of alcoholic or non-alcoholic drink in existence. Thank everyone for attending and start planning your next party 🙂

Bubbling deliciousness

Bubbling deliciousness

TL;DR: Dumplings at a dinner party are delicious and impossible to screw up.

All things in perspective

Over the past 7 days I have:

  1. gotten sick during a Tahoe trip and had to watch others ski from the cabin
  2. stayed sick and had to cancel a long-planned trip to Hawaii
  3. been in so much pain that an attempt to brush my teeth brought me to tears
  4. overdrafted my checking account for the first time ever
  5. had Jeremy drive me to a doctor’s appointment, which resulted in his car getting towed
  6. been unable to eat anything other than soup and hummus

However – this morning, I could not remember feeling happier.

After waking up, laid in bed for over 10 minutes, sulking from ongoing pain. Jeremy (who had just had his car towed last night) jumped on me, tickling and telling jokes until I finally could not stop smiling. He then announced that he was staying home from work to make sure that I was getting better.

7 days of misery were completely wiped away by one kind gesture.

For the next few days as I count the hours until my next dose of Vicodin, I’ll remember that pain truly is fleeting and insignificant. I’m lucky enough to have people in my life to remind me of that.

Self-experiment: Blogging-while-drugged

I am staying home from work today. My out of office message says:

Hi everyone,

I am at home with the flu and will be available by e-mail after noon PST. Please do not call my phone as I currently sound like Vito Corleone with laryngitis.


Not only did writing this make me feel slightly better during a time when I couldn’t remember feeling more miserable – I also got 3 replies from co-workers within 15 minutes about how much they loved my away message. Highly-targeted e-mail marketing could not have asked for a better response rate.

Now to justify the title of this post… here are all of the ingredients currently coursing through my bloodstream:

Hydrogen peroxide (I must have swallowed some of it while gargling)

All of this confirms what I feared when I visited the doctor this morning – they don’t actually know if it’s the flu or something else entirely… just that my mouth feels like it’s swollen twice its regular size. So the best course of action was obviously to throw every drug they could think of at it while the lab techs do their work to diagnose. Where’s Dr. House when you need him?

As someone who never gets sick beyond the occasional sniffles (squashed within 24 hours with obscene amounts of vitamin C), this situation wasn’t likely to repeat itself. Why not make the most of it? Especially since Vicodin = codeine + acetaminophen, and the last time I had codeine following wisdom teeth surgery left me passed out for 12 hours.

Today, I’ll experiment with doing various things while drugged, all intended to provide maximum amusement:

  1. blog (already done!)
  2. have a serious business phone call (scheduled for 30 minutes from now)
  3. film a funny video
  4. learn Java (I’ve had the lesson plans downloaded for weeks)

Additional suggestions are welcome!

Buzzwords for Good: Week 1

learning OR “drill down” OR “ducks in a row” OR “hard stop” OR “think outside the box” OR “synergize” OR “move the needle” OR “it is what it is” OR “impact” OR “take it to the next level” OR “manage expectations” OR “low hanging fruit” OR “utilize” OR “circle back” OR “take it offline” OR “reach out” OR “deep dive” OR “bandwidth” OR “have that conversation” from:me

The above search of last week’s e-mail correspondence revealed:

learning – 1
reach out – 2
deep dive – 1

To this I’m going to add a blatant use of:

take it to the next level – 1

…in speech when I was psyching myself up to jump from 5.10d to 5.11a in rock climbing. It wasn’t work-related – but it was a clear case of generalizing when I could have chosen something much clearer and more specific.

$5 has been earmarked for Room to Read.