Am I going to saddle you with horse puns? Neigh!

Happy Lunar New Year! Everyone take a minute to figure out what the Year of the Horse means for you. (Though I would argue that "WATCH OUT FOR VOLCANOES" applies to all of us, every year.) Being a fan of the fresh start, I am always pleased to see this new year quick on the heels of the last one, especially since I consider the whole month of January sort of a resolutionary warm-up period. You can't change habits without stretching first, you'll hurt yourself! So here we embark on another new quantified stretch of time, thankfully one that gives us a reason to eat Chinese food.

As you know, I had to earn my Chinese food this year because my self-imposed project dictated that it be so. It also means that you have to earn your pictures of my Chinese food by reading about Book #2: Falling Leaves: The Memoir of an Unwanted Chinese Daughter by Adeline Yen Mah (or by making the very difficult and personal decision to skip this paragraph to get to the pictures). I want to start by pointing out that all royalties from this book have been donated by the author to a scholarship program and that she withstood all manner of terrible treatment in her life and I certainly wish her the best as a human. I should also note that when the phrase "the human will to endure" appears on the front-cover blurb, it is almost 100% guaranteed to be a book that I will not enjoy. And I didn't! Not one single bit. I think most of the problem lies in the fact that I am a hugely self-centered empathetic person and cannot read about other people suffering without making it about me sharply feeling that pain. I mean, seriously Dan, how could you marry a half-French 17-year-old right after I died giving birth to your fifth child? I'M GLAD SHE ENDS UP BEING A SOCIOPATH. Ahem. It's sort of an unyielding downer, is all I'm saying. And I know that some people like to feel sad or outraged the same way some people like scary movies and that is cool with me if that's your thing but reading about child and elder abuse pretty much just makes me feel terrible. Not in a way that spurs me to want to do something about it or even gain perspective on the general pleasantness of my own life, just regular-unproductive-terrible. Fortunately, I had a plate of dumplings in which to drown my her sorrows.

The Book Lover's Cookbook gives us two recipes to go with Falling Leaves. First up is Tianjin Dumplings, which are made up more or less of this pork filling but cooked by steaming rather than frying.

They look nice, right? And they are. Dumplings are delicious, everyone knows this. Let's take a look at the excerpt that goes along with them:

After dinner one stiflingly hot day, 2 July 1943, we were planning next day's menu with Cook. Aunt Baba suggested we have Tianjin dumplings instead of rice. Freshly made with chives, ground pork, and spring onions, these dumplings were a great favorite among us children. We were all shouting out ridiculously high numbers as to how many we could eat. Grandmother developed a headache from all the commotion. She went to her room, lit a cigarette and lay down. Aunt Baba sat by her and narrated a story from The Legend of the Monkey King. Even though Grandmother knew many tales from the well-known Chinese classic, she found it relaxing to hear them told again and again by her daughter.

Now, if you need me to tell you that MINOR SPOILER ALERT Grandmother is dead by the end of the paragraph, you have not been paying attention. YUM, DUMPLINGS!

The other recipe is for Uplifting Rice Noodles with Peppery Meat Sauce. I guess the attending excerpt is "uplifting" in the sense that she meets the man who will become her first husband, but it's also sort of "down-shoving" in the sense that he will be a rotten husband who will beat her and abandon their child.

I did really like this recipe, although it wasn't at all what I first imagined (something more like goulash, maybe?). The Chinese sausage was worth seeking out, as it had an unusual sweetness that would have been hard to substitute for. And I will eat rice noodles with almost anything, including literature-induced depression.

Next up: I will be re-reading Little House on the Prairie for the first time in at least 20 years. Laura Ingalls Wilder's birthday is February 7th, so that's the goal date. Hey, maybe I do like children facing hardship after all? Speaking of…

Guess who has finally been felled by the mysterious snot-and-mild-fever monster?

Didn't stop her from insisting that the peppery meat sauce could use more peppering.

(She wasn't wrong.)

And don't worry if you were up most of the night with your sick toddler and spent all morning eating Chex Mix straight from the bag and this already isn't feeling like the freshest of second-chance fresh starts: tomorrow is the beginning of a brand new month! New month, new us, right kids?