Counting to Ten: Where It Led

14 11 2009

This summer we had so much fun doing vacation “homeschooling” using old childcraft books that we’ve started back up again with occasional evening “lessons.” Still working along in Mathemagic, we had come to a section that has you learning to count to ten in various languages.  So, OK, first language:  We would learn to count to ten in Mandarin Chinese.

We started with a video tutorial to help us get the tones right. (Apparently learning to count is one of the easiest things to learn in Chinese. Not that you could tell by me.)

But then we wanted to write the numbers in Chinese characters. Google again supplied a worksheet for us to practice.

And as I wrote out my single horizontal pencil line for yi, the Chinese word for one, I thought: This is ridiculous. I have an ink stick, I have a suzuri, why not just dig out the paintbrushes and try a little Chinese calligraphy? So we did, which was fun, and nice practice writing out the numbers.

But then I remembered making Sumi-e scrolls in grade school. Our teacher had spent a year in China; it was this class that left me with enough of a fascination with the art form that I bought the ink stick and suzuri in the first place. Back to google, for an introduction to the Four Gentlemen of Sumi-e painting: Bamboo, Wild Orchid, Chrysanthemum, and Plum Blossom Branches. So we began to paint:

Floppy had been itching to use the “resume” paper, so after several tries with the recycled paper he was given one precious sheet to paint. We may make them into scrolls later.

Finally it was time for dinner. In a perfect coincidence, DH was making David’s potstickers!

Here is the recipe, which we got from our former CSA farmer, David Hougen-Eittzman. We make them vegetarian, and usually with whatever veggies are on hand (not necessarily Chinese cabbage and shitakes, or any mushrooms at all). Tonight’s, for example, included carrots, Napa cabbage, bok choi, and daikon radish. They do need a base of greens and some kind of “earthy” vegetable to taste right. And yes, we really do make the wrappers by hand. A pain, but once you’ve tasted them with homemade wrappers, you’ll never go back, and besides, flour is cheaper and more conveniently on hand than commercial wonton skins.

David Hougen-Eitzman’s Potstickers (makes about 40)


  • 2½ cup All purpose flour
  • 2/3 cup boiling water
  • 1/3 cup cold water

Add boiling water to flour, mix, then add cold water.  Knead it very well (about 5 minutes) and let stand for at least 15 minutes.

Vegetarian filling:

  • 10 dried black or shitake mushrooms, soaked and minced
  • ¼ lb. fresh mushrooms
  • ¾ lb. bok choi or Chinese cabbage, finely chopped (about 2 cups)
  • (or can use regular cabbage if you blanch it first)
  • 1 med. rib celery, trimmed peeled and finely chopped
  • 1 TBS green onion, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 2 tsp fresh ginger, minced
  • 2 TBS soy sauce
  • 2 tsp toasted sesame oil
  • 2 TBS canola oil
  • ¼ tsp freshly-ground black pepper
  • ½ tsp salt


Filling: Combine all filling ingredients in a bowl, mix well, and refrigerate for at least 1 hour.

Wrappers: Remove dough to a floured board, knead again until smooth.  Divide off ¼ of the dough and roll it into a sausage shape, about 1 inch in diameter (set the reminder aside in a covered bowl)  Then divide it into 10 pieces.  Flatten each piece with hand and then roll into a 2½” round thin wrapper with a rolling pin and a little flour.  Put about 1 TBS of filling in the center; moisten ½ of the circumference (the half towards you) of the wrapper with water and then fold over to make a half circle – pinch edges together.  I usually fold pleats on the upper layer of the wrapper when folding (3 on each side for a total of 6), but this is mainly for looks.  Carefully stretch the dumpling to make it a little longer (do this only if your are going to fry the dumplings).  Set finished dumpling on a floured surface or pastry cloth – if they stick to your surface they will rip open when you try to pick them up.

Cooking: Heat a frying pan until very hot, add 1 TBS peanut oil.  Add enough dumplings to cover bottom of pan without touching each other (about 10-12).  Fry dumplings until bottoms are golden (about 1 minute), then add about ½ cup water, cover and cook until the water has evaporated.  Fry one more minute, then place on a serving plate.  Now cook the rest of them!

Serving: Serve on a platter with dipping sauce and enjoy!

Dipping Sauce:

  • 6 TBS soy sauce
  • 3 TBS rice wine vinegar
  • 1 TBS toasted sesame oil
  • 2 TBS minced scallions
  • 2 tsp hot pepper oil or chili paste (optional)

Mix and serve!

We had the potstickers with rice and gunpowder green tea, on antique blue willow china and those $1.50 soup bowls you can buy in Japantowns everywhere, laughing about how far into Chinese culture our little plan to learn 1 to 10 had taken us.

(A final, but really important, aside: One issue I was acutely aware of as I wrote this post was the problem of cultural appropriation. It’s interesting, and an important point of discussion for the lesson, that the video tutorial I link to above features a White man; all of the lessons and materials I’ve linked to are in English, and the potsticker recipe I’ve given you is the original creation of a White man based on his visits to China. One of the things I’ve really struggled with in Floppy’s formal education is the degree to which tone-deaf cultural appropriation is rampant — this season of “pilgrims” and “Indians” drives the point home with more racist and inappropriate imagery than I can tolerate coming home in his school bag. And yet, I do think it is important to expose children to other cultures, other languages, other traditions than their own. Floppy has two Chinese-speaking children in his class; something as simple as the fact that tea and homemade potstickers are ordinary fare in our household has obviously helped them to bond with him, and perhaps correcting his accent when he counts to ten will give them another building block for their friendship. I don’t see this as a bad thing. But I do think homeschool lessons about other cultures do need to include a consideration of cultural appropriation issues, so you don’t end up “exploring Japanese culture” on Nagasaki Day at the National Atomic Museum.)

Recap Lesson Plan:

  • Learn to count to ten in Mandarin Chinese using an online video tutorial. (Extra credit: learn about tones in Chinese.)
  • Paint the characters from one to ten in Chinese calligraphy. (Small paintbrushes and black watercolor paint will suffice if you don’t have an ink stick or a suzuri, but for extra credit, learn about the history of these “Four Treasures of Sumi-e” online and/or visit a local Chinatown to purchase an inexpensive set and practice the meditation of making ink yourself.)
  • Try painting one of the Four Gentlemen of Sumi-e painting using this Powerpoint presentation as a guide. (For extra credit, make a scroll with your finished painting on fine paper — this pdf suggests using a paper scroll, but in grade school, we glued our elegant resume paper paintings onto strips of fancy wallpaper which were mounted on dowels — much nicer and fancier for a final product.)
  • Finish with a dinner of homemade potstickers, rice, and tea, and a conversation about cultural interaction, racism, and cultural appropriation.



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