"Time to eat," Auntie An-mei happily announces, bringing out a steaming pot of the wonton she was just wrapping... The wonton soup smells wonderful with delicate sprigs of cilantro floating on top."
August has arrived, as mild and as grey as any I can remember. With its arrival, I have entered my final month as a nanny. It was a job I fell into quite without meaning to, intending at first to stay for a few months, which became six, and eventually became more than a year and a half. In the context of my working life, it has been an entirely unique experience: to move into my place of work, and to blur the line between employee and member of the family. Unlike all the children I have taught and worked with over the years, with whom my interaction has been clear and finite, I can't imagine waving farewell to these two and not coming back to visit. I have been changed by it, in ways I probably can't yet see.
But, for now, I am moving on. Over the next six or seven months, I will be without a base: subletting one month, visiting friends and family the next. My book will come out, and I'll be off around the country (this one, and a couple of others too) visiting bookshops, cooking for people, and talking about new projects. It is a strangely uncertain time, and I'm not sure what the end of it will bring. But whatever happens, one day, sometime in 2018, I will put my suitcase down in a place I can finally call home. My books will line the walls, and my favourite cast iron frying pan will sit on the hob. I will paint the walls (grey, I think - and I have thought about this a lot), pull my favourite woollen houndstooth blanket from the box it's been in for nearly two years, and put it over the end of my duvet. I'll plant things in a garden, or at least in pots, I'll put some flowers in a vase on my desk, and I'll figure out what to do next.
In the meantime, I am making foods that warm me, that take time and make me feel at home, and that I can share with these friends and family who are taking me in. A chicken pie, rich with sherry and tarragon and caramelised onion, shared with my best girlfriends; a lamb curry, so hot our lips went numb, made for my Cotswolds family with the last of the meat from a roasted shoulder; handmade dumplings, for a dear friend, dropped into simmering broth. I've been reading stories about families too - about Rachel and her mother in Margaret Laurence's gorgeous A Jest of God, about Sophia and her grandmother in Tove Jansson's The Summer Book, and about generations of Chinese American families in The Joy Luck Club, a re-read of an old favourite before I have to pack my books up into boxes.
2 brown onions
2 sticks celery
A peeled thumb of ginger
12 skiitake mushrooms
1tsp grated ginger
1 spring onion
2 stiitake mushrooms
6 raw prawns, peeled
1tsp soya sauce
1tsp sesame oil
Generous pinch white pepper
24 wonton wrappers
1 spring onion
Handful of coriander leaves
Food processor or chopping board and sharp knife
A couple of bowls
Medium sized saucepan
1. First, make the stock. Roughly chop the onion, celery, ginger, and mushrooms, and add to the pot with two litres of water. Bring to the boil, then reduce to a simmer and leave to bubble away (with a lid on) for at least on hour. Strain, and set aside. Any you don't use later can be frozen until you need it another time.
2. Next, make the dumplings. Blitz, or finely chop, the ginger, spring onion, mushrooms, and prawns. Stir in the soya sauce, sesame oil, and white pepper.
3. I imagine your wonton wrappers will be frozen (mine normally are, except on the rare occasions I decide I'm going to make them), so give them five minutes to soften so that they don't crack when you pull them apart. Flour a plate, to ensure the dumplings don't stick.
4. Place a teaspoon of the filling into the middle of a wrapper. Wet the edges with a tiny bit of water. Press two opposite corners together, and then pull the other corners up to meet the point. Press the edges leading to the points together, trying to ensure there's no air trapped inside.
5. Once you have filled the wonton wrappers, bring 600ml of the stock to a simmer. Drop the dumplings in, and cook for 4-5 minutes. Be gentle with the stock; a rolling boil might break the wrappers.
6. Distribute the wontons between the bowls, and add the stock. Slice a spring onion and divide between the bowls, then add some coriander leaves too. Serve immediately.