It started like this: “Your son has influenza, type B.”
The words we all hate to hear fell on my ears like an anvil from the sky. It was the second round of flu season, or was it the first round for 2017? However you see it, Lucas was to be quarantined for five days, no interaction with friends, family, schoolmates, the immunity-impaired or the elderly. We began planning the ballet of who should stay home with him: first his mom, then his grandmother, then my house, followed by the weekend.
My time came Thursday and I took off work to practice my nursing skills. I could tell just a couple days into this that he was lucky this was a mild illness. I was lucky I was catching him on the very end of it. By the time he was in my care the fever was marginal and my duties mostly involved making sure he didn’t overdo it.
We planned our low-impact day and decided an early visit to the grocery when no one was there would be okay. I snatched up everything for a stellar chicken noodle soup that can almost raise the dead, full of trinity, carrots, garlic and a touch of spinach. As we were picking out his choice of noodles, the light bulb flashed above Lucas’ slightly stuffy head. “Dad, what if instead of noodles we have dumplings?”
Now he’s starting to think like a budding chef. Dumplings in a chicken stew would be outrageously good. We finalized our grocery shopping and went home to unpack. It was then we realized we’d forgotten the dumplings. No problem, we’d grab some on our way home from lunch.
Since he was showing no signs of fever, I took the young man out for some egg drop soup and fried rice. This is a new favorite of his that I knew would lift his spirits. After that I ran into the nearest grocery store, only to find zero frozen dumplings. In no mood to roll my own, my mind raced and I found myself grabbing a package of piecrusts. My little gourmand assured me he’d seen someone do this before. Who? He doesn’t remember.
At home I made the stew I knew would put some pep in his step and read a hundred recipes about pie crusts for dumplings. They weren’t getting high marks, I can assure you. Some of them even called for adding other rolled-out dumplings. At this point I had to move forward with what I had out of curiosity.
The result was that it turned out delicious, thanks to the stew, but the raw crust I’d carefully sliced to perfect-sized dumplings and tenderly dropped into the boiling pot basically disintegrated. It thickened up the soup a bit, but they just didn’t stay together. You live and learn.
So this begs the question of what to do when you don’t have the energy to make “made from scratch” dumplings? I hate the mess. I don’t have a rolling pin because I hate baking. I hate flouring the counter and leaving my kitchen looking like Scarface. So my favorite dumplings for the past 15 years or more have been the frozen strips straight from the low-boy cooler in the center of the supermarket.
It’s obvious what I did to the crusts was not the proper route. I sure wished I could have spoken to both of my grandmothers at this point because the internet had failed me. Aha! I couldn’t speak to MY grandmother, but I could call Lucas’ grandmother!
Post-pie crust debacle I had Khaki (my mom) on the line. Imagine a Southern drawl that can put three syllables into my first name. “Ayundee, I’ve never used pie shells for dumplings, but do you remember Vicky? I always loved hers. When my daddy died there was a big ol’ pot on my stove when I got home. The way she made hers was with flour tortillyuz.” I love it. Sorry, ma, I’m not making fun of you. It’s charming.
Wow, tortillas as dumplings. Think about that. What could be easier? Grab a pizza cutter or a pair of scissors and let the kids get into it. You could even cut them into funny shapes like circles and triangles. That’s a project in our future, maybe after Graham finishes his culinary course.
I’ve tried drop dumplings before. This is a doughy version that can be done with Bisquick or any biscuit batter. Yeah, you’re mixing up a batch of dough, but at least you don’t have to roll it out. Heaping spoonfuls dropped into the boil are a lazy man’s (I’m speaking of myself) way of feeling like he’s done something like the chefs, our forefathers. I’m pretending like I could be a guest on “Pioneer Woman,” but really I’m cooking from a box.
Another super lazy method of making dumplings without the mess is canned biscuit dough. Yes, pop open a tube of Pillsbury Grands and cut them into small pieces. This surely is the method of all that will make the snobby food TV junkie feel like he’s cheating, but it beats having a countertop that looks like the back room of Studio 54.
If you haven’t figured it out by now, I will do just about anything to avoid flour in the cracks and crevices of my workspace. I’m not a neat freak by any stretch but the thought of cleaning it up raises my blood pressure. I’m certain most of you can contain the mess, but I am far too clumsy. Let’s just say when I change my oil I use the entire driveway.
But what is a little mess of salt and flour for a sick 11-year-old? Let’s remember it was his idea to use the piecrusts. I was glad he was part of the process. And though they didn’t turn out the way we’d hoped, we had that time together. I’d gladly roll out a thousand dumplings should he ask, and believe me, next time he may.
It started with, “Your son has influenza, type B.” It ended with me waving goodbye knowing he was returning to school, and it didn’t matter which dumplings we used.