Buddhists and Chinese food

About a Lit­tle Gingko Tree in the Rain

We’ve just had seven mixed Bud­dhists to stay with us for 10 days. They would rise at 6.30 am, drive across the estate to Casa Garuda for lec­tures and med­i­ta­tion, return after lunch for a siesta, then go back to Casa Garuda for more enlight­en­ment. They would finally return to us at about 10.30,  Pros­ecco merry, and we played mah jongg with Andrea’s adorable Chi­nese girl­friend Zhong Yu Shan, whose name means ‘Lit­tle Gingko Tree in the Rain’. Her mother changed her name two years ago when she was 17, fear­ing that she lacked suf­fi­cient wood and water for good feng shui with what­ever she was called before. Andrea — who could well be a model for a Car­avag­gio angel — teaches Ital­ian near an enor­mous glit­ter­ing New York-like city built on a river, called Cheng Du in Sichuan.

Zhong Yu

Zhong Yu

Dan has taken to yoga with the way­ward zest of a mad natur­ist. The day after the arrival — and depar­ture to Casa Garuda — of our Bud­dhists, he took advan­tage of the peace and trop­i­cal heat to do an hour of yoga in the nude on the back patio. He was a proud war­rior, he was an unwa­ver­ing tree, he stood on his head, he snored gen­tly in shavasana. Then, still clothed in air, he sprang to his feet and sprinted around throw­ing ten­nis balls for the edi­fi­ca­tion of Elvis and Laika, the two res­i­dent dogs, entail­ing a fair bit of run­ning and shout­ing. At this point it turned out that Lit­tle Gingko was not one of the Bud­dhist crew. Whether she took in the glo­ri­ous view of the back patio from her bed­room win­dow we do not know.

Zhong Yu's carp

Zhong Yu Shan’s carp

Lit­tle Gingko was con­signed to our care each day, did not speak a sin­gle word of Eng­lish and only two of Ital­ian, so we felt for her iso­la­tion. Dan set her the task of draw­ing one of the Chi­nese bronze carp he inher­ited from his mum. She laboured away and did an excel­lent, con­fi­dent, strong pen­cil drawing.

In addi­tion to her graphic tal­ent, she is a quite amaz­ing cook — she made us what Ken Hom calls Pot­sticker Dumplings (jao dse is my pho­netic guess) with breath­tak­ing skill. We went shop­ping together, for which a lot of body lan­guage was required (you try a com­pare and con­trast imper­son­ation of white and whole­meal flour), and come home with flour, cel­ery, spring onions, minced pork, dried chill­ies and Chi­nese soya sauce. Back home she  grated the cel­ery and spring onions, added the pork, and then effort­lessly knocked up a small batch of flour and water dough. This she shaped into a sausage, from which she sliced medal­lions, rolling them out into 19 per­fect 3″ cir­cles. Into each she dropped a table­spoon of the meat/veg mix­ture, then folded and pleated the dough up into 19 iden­ti­cal cres­cent moons. A mere child, she was just so cool. She put them into a huge pan of boil­ing water for 10 min­utes or so, then served them in bowls (Dan got the extra one, being a boy) with a soup of tomato mixed with egg. A cou­ple of lit­tle bowls — with a) soya sauce and spring onion tops, and b) chilli flakes in oil — for dip­ping, and voilà, lunch in the sun on patio of ill repute.

Brilliant! Pinwheel ravioli


The fol­low­ing day she made us gnoc­chi (it would take the inter­ven­tion of Bud­dha him­self to raise gnoc­chi from their spuddy dull­ness), then in the evening stir-fried match­stick pota­toes with gin­ger, gar­lic and red pep­per. Her grand finale was egg ravi­oli dough with which she did some­thing deli­cious, clever and a huge improve­ment on nor­mal ravi­oli. She con­cocted the usual fill­ing of spinach and ricotta, nicely sea­soned. Effi­ciently she made a well of flour into which she dropped an egg yolk or two, mixed it up to a smooth, bright yel­low boules ball and divided it into two. She rolled these out into neat rec­tan­gles, each of which she spread gen­er­ously with the spinach mix­ture. She rolled them up into two sausages, wrapped them in clean tea cloths, tied their ends with string (that took some act­ing on her part and find­ing on mine) and sim­mered them in the wok for 15 min­utes. Cau­tiously unwrapped, cut into pin­wheels, sprin­kled with grated parme­san, and there was our new, improved, easy to make and unstodgy ravi­oli. Well, easy for a neat, dex­trous, del­i­cate Chi­nese juve­nile per­son to make.

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