Frying the Friendry Skies – Mahn-doo

mom's mahn-doo (korean fried wontons)
I realize that I am dragging this Vegas thing out much longer than necessary, since the entire trip was less than 24 hours, and I am now dedicating three whole posts to it, but I can’t help it. I have this problem of not being able to let things go. Let me explain once again how horrible America West Airlines is.

America West Airlines is horrible.

Hmm. Nope, I don’t feel any better, so I absolutely must must must go into full detail about my return flight home.

Mom loves Vegas, so if it had been up to her, we would have stayed and played in Vegas through Monday. Maybe even Tuesday, if we had to make up some losses. However, I had only agreed to accompany her on this wedding trip with the stipulation that we return to LA at the earliest possible moment. I would have packed my bags and hopped the last plane out on Saturday night immediately after the wedding, but Mom didn’t want us to be preoccupied with travel during the wedding reception. I conceded, but only after my highly audible *sighs*, grimaces, and horrible pouting facial expressions made it absolutely clear that I was not happy. We were on the first flight out of McCarran on Sunday morning at 9 am. There were two other flights before that, but they had stops in Phoenix. Now that is some brilliant flight planning. Who gets to LA from Vegas by going backward via Phoenix?! I guess America West does. (Yes, yes, I know about the hub-and-spoke system, but this is my moment of hyperbolic venting therapy.)

For a 9 am flight, you have to be check in an hour before – that’s 8 am. In any other spatially and temporally parallel travel universe, that means you can arrive at the airport about 15 minutes before, give or take a few minutes for potential man-handling by security. However, this is the 21st century at McCarran International Airport, so you have to arrive an additional hour before because 1) you are doing the steeplechase through the terminal, dodging huge crowds of over-eager Sunday-through-Wedensday-is-cheaper Arrivals, hurtling bags that are most certainly out of their owners’ possession, and doing giant slalom around alternating See’s Candies carts and slot machines; 2) filthy, fraying tarpaulin suspiciously draped over precarious scaffolding has narrowed the concourse to the width of an artery on an Atkins diet because McCarran is trying to improve the airport experience, so “please excuse our dust”; and 3) America West is to airlines what Drew Lachey is to celebrity – a B-list perpetrator – so their gates are so far at the other end of the terminal that by the time we’ve walked there, I was sure we had crossed the state line.

The narrowest bottleneck, however, was at the security gate. Everyone was required to remove all loose clothing like sweatshirts, sweaters, and hats, as well as their shoes, no matter what type of shoes they were. Every single person had to walk through the metal detector in bare feet (thank God I was wearing socks). It created a huge mass of people bending or kneeling over, kind of like the doorway to a Korean person’s house that’s hosting a Friday night Bible study dinner. A trailer trashy woman with crimped hair refused to remove her shoes and started screaming at the guard that she was from Orange County. (And that is relevant, how?) She was severely retarding flow of people through the gates, but I didn’t mind because I was thoroughly amused by her claim. Oh! Orange County! The OC! Well, step right this way and we’ll have your personal cavalcade escort you, Ms. ’80s Flashdance, carrying an Esprit backpack purse.

So, none of that has to do directly with America West, but it made for an anxious Sunday early-morning with a mild hosted-bar hangover. And it sure made our direct interaction with America West all the better!

We checked in. We sat down next to a very lovey-dovey, suspiciously married couple. Tao the night before? Maybe Green Valley Ranch. Anyway, I watched my Mom with amazement as she pulled from her purse a couple of oranges and a tiny plastic bag of dduk (Korean rice cakes) that she had brought from home the day before. Breakfast, she told me, since we wouldn’t have time in the morning with such an early flight. Amazing.

About one minute before the quoted boarding time, the caffeinated gate attendant’s voice came over the PA system and happily announced that our flight would be delayed because our plane had not yet left Denver. Denver?! If it hadn’t left Denver, didn’t that mean they knew about it at least two hours ago?! To make matters worse, they said we wouldn’t leave Las Vegas for a couple of hours, either, until the plane arrived. Then I swear I heard her giggle over the PA. I was mad. Anger leads to brilliance. I went to the gate agent and told her to switch our flights now, right now! To the next flight our of Vegas for any airport in LA. She put us on a flight to Orange County (okay, that was kind of funny), boarding in 15 minutes. We made phone calls. We left messages, and arranged for a ride from John Wayne airport back to our originating airport so we could pick up our car in long-term parking…and then…because I was standing next to the podium, I heard one of the gate attendants on the phone say that they had found the plane. They “found” the plane? Was it lost? I didn’t know you could lose a 10,000 ton tube of metal with wings on it. Wasn’t the plane in Denver!??! No, they thought it was Denver because they didn’t see it outside, but haha! It was actually on the other side of the ramp and they just didn’t see it.

OhmahGodtheydidn’tseetheplanesotheythoughtitwasinDenver *breathe* don’ttheyhaveCBradiosorsomethinglikethattotelleachother!??!?

My confidence in the skills and abilities of America West employees just dropped at three Gs. Was I really going to be entrusting my life with their “pilots?” I had to, otherwise I’d be trapped in the desert forever. We switched our flight back just so we’d end up in the same airport we started, then made our way down the ramp onto the plane that they thought they had “lost.”

Now here is where it gets exciting, and that’s only if exciting means the same thing as f–king terrifying. Back in November when I travelled to Chicago, I specifically requested to book a flight on the largest plane available because I figured, just like luxury automobiles, the larger and heavier the vehicle, the smoother the ride. It’s sort of true, unless, of course, you happen to crash. Well, our America West plane was tiny. You know how Southwest Airlines flies those 737s, which are pretty small, but they’re still larger than a Greyhound? This was less than half that size. It felt like a very large Suburban with wings. I was nervous, but Mom told me not to worry so much, I’ll get wrinkles. Too late. Give me the La Prairie.

I noticed that there was one flight attendant with a very bad perm standing near the rear of the plane. Where was the rest of “her crew?” Apparently teeny-ass planes only need one flight attendant, and one pilot. One pilot! There’s a reason Maverick doesn’t fly without Goose, you know. I wanted to get up, de-plane, and take up permanent residence in Sin City.

The plane was less than half-full, which means there were about eight people on the whole flight, excluding Captain Solo and our stewardess (she had permed hair, so I’m allowed to call her that), and including two couples, each in matching football jerseys of opposing teams and heavily laden with 10 karat gold accessories. Mom and I were seated in the last row, but since half the seats were empty, I asked if we could move to the front. You know, because if we take a nose-dive and crash into the Joshua Tree National Forest, I wanted time to go in and strangle the pilot for killing me. She said no, and in her most official airline voice, she said that it would throw off the aircraft’s weight balance.

WHAT?! Did that mean that if, while we were in flight, someone in the front of the plane accidentally got up from his seat and walked to the back of the plane to go to the bathroom, someone from the back of the plane would have to simultaneously get up, and dance step for step up the very narrow aisle to maintain the blance, otherwise we’d all go spiralling downward in a plume of un-weighted, un-balanced smoke and fire?!?! I buckled my seatbelt, pulled the strap low and snug across my hips and had my Mom’s left hand in a sweaty death-grip.

It was the longest 38 minutes of my life. I felt every bump in the atmosphere, every dip, every bank and roll, every rush of air that shot up the side of the mountains that Captain Maverick thought would be fun(ny) to fly through. I was queasy, hyper-ventilating, sometimes on purpose to make myself pass out. Unfortunately, I didn’t pass out. I didn’t speak for fear that my breath would upset the cabin pressure and that my voice might throw off the aircraft’s sound balance. I’m sure that over the course of the flight my face had turned every shade of white and green and I had converted to at least four different religions just so I could pray to any god that would hear me. On the final approach, our plane was wobbling. Dammit! Someone was throwing off our weight-balance! When we finally bounced onto the runway, I made a silent, solemn promise to myself that I would never ever ever never not in one bazillion years get on a plane again. Never. I couldn’t formulate words in the car on the way home. Funny, my Mom had slept through the whole flight and said it was great.

very evenly weight balanced

When we got home, it was still early since America West luckily found the G-dd–n plane for that first flight out. Mom asked me if I wanted mahn-doo for lunch. I said no and went to go pass out in post-traumatic shock on my parents’ couch.

Well, now that I’ve gotten all that off my chest, I feel much better. Let’s talk about mahn-doo, which is sometimes Romanized as “mandu,” but which I find completely inaccurate because someone might say it as “man-duh.” Mahn-doo are the Korean version of what is popularly known as a “dumpling,” also as “gyoza” in Japan, “won ton” in China, and “f–kin’ tasty” in The Delicious Life.

When we were little, Mom always made the mahn-doo filling from raw ingredients, counting on its fully cooking during the deep-drying or steaming process. However, I have decided that cooking the meat and vegetables before filling the mahn-doo wrappers not only ensures that the filling will, indeed be fully cooked, but also renders fat from the ground beef, a health-conscious effort that gets completely negated when those babies dive head-first into the deep end of a pool of bubbling grease.

Normally, when you make mahn-doo at home, you want to take the time and energy to make several hundred at once, because they freeze, maintain their shape, and can be cooked straight from the freezer. However, because my freezer is reserved for the storage of other *ahem* important things like vodka, I just make them as I need them. The measurements for the filling should be enough for one package of mahn-doo wrappers.

In a wok or skillet over medium-high heat, lightly brown ½ pound ground beef. Drain off fat then remove cooked beef to a large bowl. In the same wok or skillet, cook 1 finely chopped medium onion, 2 bunches of scallions, 2-3 garlic cloves until tender. Add to the cooked beef in the bowl, along with: 1 c. finely shredded Napa cabbage, 1 c. chopped bean sprouts, ½ block firm tofu that has been crumbled into about the same size as the beef. Mix until everything is well-distributed.

Some people also add about 1 c. cooked chopped dahng-myun (thin clear noodles made from sweet potato or yam starch), but I don’t.

In a small bowl, combine 1 Tbsp. soy sauce, 1 Tbsp. rice wine, 1 Tbsp. corn starch, 1 tsp. salt, and a pinch of pepper. Sprinkle over the filling mixture, then stir everything together.

Place a heaping teaspoonful of the filling mixture just slightly off center of a mahn-doo wrapper. Moisten two edges with a lightly beaten egg. Fold carefully, making sure to gently squeeze out any air bubbles, then press to seal. You can get fancy and make “ruffles.” There are square and round mahn-doo wrappers. I like the round ones because they make half-moons, but the square wrappers will make mahn-doo triangles, which can be made into little crowns by pressing together the opposite corners.

Mahn-doo can be added to soup or eaten on their own steamed, boiled, pan-fried, or deep-fried (my favorite).

** a year ago today, osteria latini redeemed itself to me **

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