It’s been ages since I felt like the whole “back to school” thing affected me. But here I am, in full mom mode, having dropped my child off for his first day of preschool. He put his lunch away in his little cubby, kissed me goodbye, and charged into the classroom in his walker without looking back. I was so proud of him.
Sure, things might be changing for him, but I feel like they’re also changing for me. Sitting down, I feel like I need to have a little come to jesus with my computer. Where am I? Who am I? What am I writing next? I have so many exciting small projects, but I need big picture focus. I need lesson plans.
In the meantime, I want to share a few things with you. They’re like announcements, only the loudspeaker is hopefully much less annoying:
- First, the September/October issue of Edible Seattle is out, and The Recipe of Summer (or The Recipe My Wife Won’t Put Away, if you ask a certain someone) is on the cover. Yup, that’s it, right up there – the vermicelli noodle bowl that’s taken over every dinner party, every weekend, and every ingredient in my refrigerator. I’ve made it a gazillion ways, often with squash, sometimes whirling hot peanut butter into the dressing, sometimes topping it with grilled spot prawns, sometimes containing it in rice paper wrappers, like Vietnamese-style summer rolls on steroids. I’ve tinkered with the vinaigrette until it’s just the way I love it. The recipe is below. Pick up a copy of Edible Seattle for more recipes; they’re designed to help you use the abundance of squash hanging fat on their vines these days.
- Tomorrow, September 7th, a joint art exhibit opens at the Gage Academy in Seattle. Spearheaded by my friend Hannah Viano, a papercut artist, “Straight Back Home to You” explores the concept of home through physical art, dance, voice, and smell. (Guess where I come in?) You can experience all of them together at the opening reception on September 21st.
- I’ll be teaching a doughnut-making class in Manhattan on October 20th, at the Hell’s Kitchen Sur La Table, with Top Pot co-owner Mark Klebeck. Join us! We’ll be covering recipes from Top Pot Hand-Forged Doughnuts–including devil’s food cake doughnuts, naturally.
- Dishing Up Washington: 150 Recipes That Capture Authentic Regional Flavors is officially coming out on November 21st! You can pre-order it here.
In the meantime, here’s that new favorite…
Summer Garden Vermicelli Salad (PDF)
Originally published in Edible Seattle’s September 2012 issue
serves 4 | start to finish: 30 minutes
This flexible, colorful salad takes advantage of whatever your garden gives. These days, that probably means cucumbers, carrots, and squash, but use whatever vegetables you prefer—think tomatoes, thinly sliced peas or beans, or shredded basil. Use the marinade on chicken, per the recipe below, or substitute tofu or fish. If you’re feeling fancy, fry thinly sliced shallots in canola oil and use them as a crunchy topping.
for the dressing
3/4 cup water
3/4 cup fish sauce
2/3 cup freshly-squeezed lime juice
1/4 cup sugar
5 large garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 to 3 teaspoons sriracha, to taste
for the salad
2 tablespoons canola oil
1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts (about 3), trimmed of excess fat
About 8 ounces rice vermicelli (8 little bundles)
2 large carrots, peeled
2 small yellow or green zucchini, trimmed
2 small cucumbers, trimmed, peeled if needed
2 cups thinly sliced crunchy lettuce, such as romaine
4 sprigs mint, finely chopped
12 sprigs cilantro, roughly chopped
1/2 cup peanuts, chopped
First, make the dressing: Whisk the dressing ingredients to blend in a medium bowl.
Combine 1 cup of the dressing, the canola oil, and the chicken breasts in a baking pan, turn to coat, cover, and refrigerate for 1 to 4 hours.
Preheat a gas or charcoal grill to medium heat (about 400°F). Soften the rice vermicelli according to package instructions.
Put the chicken on the grill, allowing any excess marinade to drip back into the pan first. Cook for 10 to 12 minutes, turning once, or until the chicken is well marked on both sides and cooked through.
Meanwhile, divide the noodles between four large bowls or plates. Grate the carrots, zucchini, and cucumbers with a food processor or hand-held grater, and add them in little piles next to the noodles, along with the chopped lettuce. Slice the chicken and divide it between the salads. Top with the mint, cilantro, and peanuts, and serve while the chicken is still warm, drizzled with plenty of the dressing.
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 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.
Filed under commentary, kitchen adventure, Pasta, recipe, shellfish, stir-fry, Thai