Spoon Theory

Susan wrote me with a great link to a poignant, touching post on living with a chronic illness. The author referenced Spoon Theory, which I hadn’t heard of but serves as a more tangible tool for explaining how Lupus feels than perhaps The Wolf does. Do me a favor: read it (or put it in your pile), then come back here.

I have many more spoons than Christine does, and reading about her twelve made me realize how much I’ve forgotten about those first few awful months, and how lucky I am to have escaped them. I probably have about fifty spoons today, and although I haven’t had to use them for small daily activities (buttoning shirts, walking down stairs, blowdrying my hair) in a few years, I’ve also tended to take on things that use up multiple spoons at once, or spend a week’s worth of spoons in a day. This is what has to stop.

I have the luxury of earning spoons back, like accruing secret weapons in a video game. A nap is worth a spoon; a good nap is worth two.

These past few years I’ve been running with my (relatively large) bouquet of spoons, all heavy antique silver spoons with curls and flowers on the handles, glancing backwards as if there’s some spoon-eating Pac-Man coming after me, scooping up what I drop with those v-shaped jaws and taunting me until I have a chance to pant in the corner of the screen while the game starts over.

I haven’t forgotten to tell you about the dinner in Boise – I’ve just been trying to think of how to explain it, and Spoon Theory is perfect.

Here’s how the dinner works: every year, my friend Melanie (who you will one day know as a great Idahoan winemaker) and I auction off a wine pairing dinner at an event that raises money for the ski racing club we both participated in as kids. Someone buys the dinner (for $2500 this year) and I design a menu. She pairs wines to my courses, typically digging deep into the knowledge of the Chateau Ste. Michelle wines she acquired while she was a winemaker there. This year, we had the opportunity to include her first vintages of viognier and rose from her own winery, Cinder, which were wonderful. (I’m sure she could describe them more intelligently.)

This year was a seated 5-course dinner for twelve people, and it went relatively flawlessly. I’d have preferred if the client’s brand-new Wolf range hadn’t had a layer of primordial ooze on the bottom of the smallest oven that I neglected to see when I preheated it, the smallest of three, if you’re not counting the warming drawer or the convection-equipped microwave. But no one seemed to notice the smoke, thank goodness, and the lamb was just the rosy shade I’d planned. And because my saintly father had taken the day off of work to help me wash dishes and shell (grooooaannn) about 500,000 fava beans, I was completely calm and organized by the time the guests arrived, and dinner pretty much went off without a hitch. As the last course went out, I swelled inside, riding a self-congratulating wave of pride in my work, excitement about the evening, and inspiration for future meals. It was bittersweet, though. As I stood at the counter drying dishes while the guests moved into yet another after-dinner bottle, I felt sad to have let go of something that makes me feel so successful.

But 18 combined hours in that sweet, sweet kitchen used a week’s worth of spoons. The next morning, after a fitful night of sleep, I crept down to my parents’ living room couch and curled up next to a dog, semi-conscious, not yet able to approach a coffee cup because the dexterity necessary, what with the cream, the sugar, the spoon, and all that, seemed entirely too complicated. I felt like a fern growing backwards, curling back down toward the ground. Now, almost a week and ten hours of sleep a day later, I’ve rebounded.

So yes, the dinner went well. But it was my last personal cheffing job, maybe ever, which was deflating and depressing and disappointing. I like doing it, but alas, I am a spoon counter (albeit a lucky one), and I’d prefer to spend my spoons on other things. Melanie looked crestfallen when I told her that next year, when Cinder will finally be releasing a full palate of food-friendly wines made from Idaho grapes, I won’t be volunteering.

The next night, when my father was looking for a way to explain to another parent that I wouldn’t be awake and available to transport teenagers at 2 a.m., he simply said, “my daughter is sick.” It was simple, and effective, I suppose, but hearing him say it out loud for the first time made my heart break, because I knew it was hurting him to say it. Maybe Spoon Theory will travel far enough that he’ll be able to say “she doesn’t have enough spoons to pick them up” and that will be that. Because that’s what he meant, I think.

My husband asked me if he could be a spoon, and I told him yes. He can be many, many spoons.

Here’s one for a tired night. If chopsticks hurt your hands, just use a fork, dammit.

One-Spoon Stir-Fry

One-Spoon Stir-Fry with Shrimp, Asparagus, and Snap Peas
Recipe 137 of 365

This is “Thai food” reduced to its easiest form, with flavors reminiscent of true yellow Thai curry but none of the techniques or ingredients that can make the process tiresome. I call it “one spoon” because according to Spoon Theory, you sometimes only have one spoon’s worth of energy to use on dinner (and I think this applies to everyone, not just those with Lupus). This an easy one for me, as long as I have someone to help me open that frustrating Thai chili paste jar. Serve it over brown or white rice, or rice noodles.

I used one teaspoon yellow Thai chili paste, but you could use red or green, also. Look for it in the Asian food aisle of your grocery store.

TIME: 20 minutes
MAKES: 2 generous servings

3/4 pound raw large shrimp, peeled and deveined (you can ask your fishmonger to do this, plus remove the tails, if you don’t want to hassle with them while you eat)
1/2 pound (about 1/2 bunch) asparagus, trimmed and cut into 2” pieces
1/2 pound sugar snap peas
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1/2 teaspoon to 2 teaspoons yellow Thai chili paste
1 (14-ounce) can light coconut milk
1/4 cup roughly chopped fresh cilantro (optional)

Place shrimp, asparagus, and snow peas in a large mixing bowl. Drizzle oil over all the ingredients, season with salt and pepper, and toss to coat. Set aside.

In another bowl, whisk the curry paste together with about 2 tablespoons of the coconut milk until all the lumps disappear. Whisk in the remaining coconut milk, and set aside.

Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. When hot, add the shrimp and vegetable mixture, and cook for 3 minutes, stirring, until the shrimp have begun to curl and are almost all pink on the outsides. Add the coconut milk mixture, increase heat to high, and simmer 3 more minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir in the cilantro (or just plop it on top of each bowl, like I did) and serve over rice or rice noodles.

Switched to a fork!

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10 Comments

Filed under commentary, kitchen adventure, Pasta, recipe, shellfish, stir-fry, Thai

10 responses to “Spoon Theory

  1. Sami

    I’m de-lurking to say how much I enjoy your blog – both your reminiscences and your recipes. Reading your blog (and the blogs of others) makes me feel quite inspired, so perhaps an acknowledgment of that from a stranger will give you a small “spoon” to bank? It would be a fair trade, I think…

  2. Yeah, that sounds fair to me! Thanks! And yes, Spoon Theory needs to recognize spoons of different sizes, for sure.

  3. Rachel H.

    Hi Jess,
    Until I read “The Wolf” I didn’t realize how bad things were for you when we were out in San Diego, so thanks again for all the awesome food. In two weeks I’ll be moving back to Woods Hole for the summer. I’m going to miss having you there and your cooking and peter’s fresh fish. (I still use “Peter’s” soy sauce/sesame oil/ginger recipe all the time)

    A few nights ago I made what must be the 1/2 spoon version of this recipe (it’s the last week of the semester, so just this week, spoons are at a premium here too). It was very similar to your recipe, but I used tofu (no deveining) instead of shrimp and this type of cilantro (no washing/chopping)that I was very excited to find at Trader Joe’s:
    http://www.dorot.co.il/Eng/Index.asp?ArticleID=38&CategoryID=27&Page=1

  4. Yum – and easy. I’ve been so curious about those little cubes; I’ll have to try them!

  5. Kim

    This recipe is calling to me. I have been on this asian/indian kick lately, so this dish sounds like exactly what I need to experience.

    I, too, have seen those little herb things at Trader Joes. I have purchased many and can say they are all that and a bag of chips.

    I’m going to make this dish for myself and my paramedic coworkers at work. Plus the chocolate/cherry thing for desert. I think they will begin professing their undying love for you by the end of the evening … in that non-stalking sort of way, of course.

  6. Ooh, an interesting combo – how seasonal of you :)

  7. Pingback: November Reading, Surfing, Cooking and Watching « hogwash

  8. Hi… I can’t help with the spoons, but… I sometimes transfer sauces from jars to takeout soup containers (you know, the clear plastic ones you get from Chinese restaurants?) to make them easier to open when I need them.

  9. Pingback: Get behind the mule and plow « hogwash

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