Ten years ago today, in China, we became a family. In many ways, April 10, 2000, and the weeks that followed are a blur now. We four were groping for one another through the fog of all we didn't yet know. For Birch and me, it was a time of many questions: How could we comfort these baby girls when we didn't even have a common language? How could we express our love? How could we let them know we meant no harm?
What those early days were like for the eight-month-old babies, I still quake to imagine. When I see photographs from the first day, I can't look for long. Fear radiates from their eyes. They were so confused.
One memory remains vivid. Birch was gone. I was sitting on the edge of a bed with a baby in each arm. They were crying. I was singing and jostling and talking to them. And they only cried more -- brokenhearted, all-is-lost wailing.
So I started crying too.
And that's how Birch found us. Fortunately, he ushered room service in the door. He rolled the cart between the two beds, took a daughter on his knee and handed me chopsticks. It was a feast: Noodles and egg custards and greens melted to a sweet tenderness. We began to feed the babies and ourselves.
The babies ate eagerly. We did too. We dangled the noodles from the chopsticks, and they gaped for them like baby birds. Fern got one noodle by the end. She slurped. It slapped and whirled and sucked right into her red little lips. Then...she laughed. And so did we. We ate more noodles and laughed some more.
Later we would all cherish the fact that a noodle was there in the moment we really became a family. Birch and I soon understood that we did have a common language with our daughters: food. We saw how they were soothed by ginger and rice when they were sick. We saw how avid they were for pork buns and dumplings and noodles, noodles, noodles. We recognized ourselves in their appetites.
We embraced Chinese cuisine as a gift we could give our daughters. We taught ourselves to make noodles the Chinese way and steamed buns and green beans with charred garlic and... We discovered Barbara Tropp, whom I consider the Julia Child of Chinese cookery. If I had to leave my burning house with one book in hand, it would be my signed copy of Tropp's The Modern Art of Chinese Cooking. (Especially now that I see a new one could only be had for $216.66...for shame! for shame! Somebody, please, bring this book back into print.)
Our Chinese New Year's gift to one another this year was David Chang's Momofuku. Making a meal of pork-belly buns affirms the family we have grown to be (especially since the Jewish papa could never have imagined himself eating pork let alone pork belly).
Birch fires up the outdoor oven for the barbecued pork.
I whir up the Kitchen Aid to churn out the bun dough, and Fern sets up the bamboo steamer in the wok so we can turn the burner to full blast and steam the buns over boiling water.
Blossom makes Chang's quick pickles out of sliced cucumber, a tablespoon of sugar, and a teaspoon of kosher salt.
We still laugh when we eat. We laugh almost as much when we are eating as when we are cooking together. Food makes our family. Food is love.