Dumplings are not vegetables? Who knew? Why are things like this kept secret from me? I am 54 years old and you would think someone would have clued me in by now. But no, not a chance. Until a week ago, I thought dumplings were the vegetable version of scallops. Now I find out that a dumpling, according to one dictionary, is nothing more than “a small savory ball of dough (usually made with suet) which may be boiled in water or a stew.”
Suet comes in little pasty blocks and goes in small wire cages that get nailed onto tree trunks for birds. According to the same dictionary, suet is “the hard white fat on the kidneys and loins of cattle, sheep and other animals…” Fat from animal loins; that’s just great. Fat from animal loins pumped into a ball of dough and no one thought to tell me those tasty little dudes are not vegetables? What am I supposed to do with the seven cans of chicken with dumpling soup sitting in my cabinet? I bought them to help me in a recent fight with the flu. I thought I was doing myself some real medicinal justice by loading up on chicken and vegetables when what I was really doing was hardening up a few arteries and clogging up some veins for good measure.
I have had, as you might have guessed by now, a somewhat mixed and at times antagonistic relationship with food, with the culinary arts. My closest friend in the world, my brother of the heart, Michael, just has to look at food and it becomes a delicious meal. He is a culinary magician. It is as if the food sees him coming and just cannot wait to abide by his demands. Food sees me coming, cocks one eyebrow, develops a mischievous and I say evil gleam in its eyes, and salivates at the chance to inflict a bit of culinary vandalism.
A case in point. Back in the 1970s I lived in Seagate in Brooklyn. Michael, the culinary magician and foods’ favorite person on earth, lived right near me cooking up some of the best meals in all of Brooklyn. Not so yours truly. There was a young woman I was very taken with. Her name was Sharon. She lived with a nice family and was breathtakingly gorgeous – a knee-buckler. To my amazement she had accepted my invitation to dinner.
With Sharon coming to dinner, I wanted to cook her a classy dinner. Not my normal fare of macaroni and cheese and noodles with butter, but a real, honest to goodness, dinner. A dinner with class. I knew that you could not get much classier than shrimp. I went to the market and bought fifty shrimp. I came home and went about creating a feast. I dipped all the shrimp in egg and then in bread crumbs and cooked them up until they were a beautiful golden brown. They looked and smelled delicious.
Sharon arrived for dinner. She seemed impressed by the platter piled high with fifty golden brown shrimp. She sat down at the table. I had set the table earlier, so everything was in order. I shoved some shrimp onto her plate first and then shoved some onto mine. I then went to the refrigerator and got us each a bottle of what everyone in their right mind drinks with shrimp – soda.
I sat down, we smiled at each other, and began our meal. I was a bright light of pride over my culinary masterpiece. And then, reality turned the light out. Only one bite into her first shrimp, Sharon says, “These are really crisp.”
I say, “I know, that’s the way they’re supposed to be.” I had already eaten one and was well on my way to polishing off a second.
Sharon says, “Did you shell them?”
“Shell them. Did you shell them?”
I did not know they had shells. No one told me. Just like no one told me that dumplings are not vegetables. As for the seven cans of chicken and dumpling soup in my cabinet? I am going to eat them. I am going to eat them for two reasons. They are there, and I already know, thank you very much, that dumplings do not have shells.