Growing up, making mandu (Korean dumplings) with my halmoni (grandmother) was the most sacred kitchen ritual. Once or twice a year, the process would begin with her chopping up towering piles of Napa cabbage, onions and re-hydrated shiitake mushrooms.
Donning plastic kitchen gloves, she would then mixed the pounds and pounds of filling and I, her dutiful sous-chef, waited to pour extra soy sauce or sesame oil into her waiting cupped hands. For the assembly, my aunts and cousins would gather around the kitchen table, placing spoonfuls of filling in the center of circular wrappers and delicately enclosing the dumplings with imperfect folds. The hours of labor were rewarded with plates and plates of golden, pan-fried mandu, as well as filled freezer bags for us to ration until the next time halmoni came to visit.
These days, I’ve been chasing kitchen projects that I would have previously dismissed as too laborious or time-consuming to stave off idle quarantine hands. One day led me to handmade mezzalunas. With some elbow grease, a flour well filled with egg yolks was transformed into thin sheets of silken yellow dough. I gently folded the pasta over dollops of ricotta and cut out the painfully-cute, half-moon stuffed pasta, boiling some for dinner and freezing the rest for future meals. As I made these Italian dumplings, I found myself longing for my halmoni, who is currently quarantined in Los Angeles. I missed the companionable silence shared in the kitchen, the quiet joy of observing the culinary techniques that she had inherited from her mother, the sound of her laughter at my silly questions.