Saturday, July 9, 2011

This is what I eat when life gives me lemons

Welcome to a new feature on Running, Recipes, and Reading!

Let me tell you a little bit about why we're all here:

I always knew I was a foodie but I didn't realize what a huge roll food plays in my life until now.  When I think back to my most vivid memories, food is always there.  Not in an obsessive eating-an-entire-bag-of-cookies in the closet kind of way, but as the epicentre of my memories.  The presence of food helps me remember what the moment smelled like, what it tasted like, and what it felt like.  Take my first date with my husband, for example.  We went to (what we thought was) this fancy restaurant in downtown London, Ontario.  Somehow we knew that this date was different, that is was special, and we decided to commemorate this different feeling by ordering something different, something neither of us had eaten before.  We agreed to both try the deep-fried alligator.  Fast-forward 17 years and I don't remember much of what we said that night or what I wore or what I ate besides that appetizer.  But I do remember how that alligator tasted: it was chewy and crunchy and salty and didn't taste like much besides the cornmeal breading and creamy chipotle dipping sauce.  And the memory of that taste reminds me that this was one of the greatest nights of my life.

I could also tell you about the last really special day I had with my father before he passed away.  We had a driver take us out to Niagara-on-the-Lake where we had the most amazing meal in an outdoor cafe before watching a play.  I don't remember what I ate but I do remember what he ate: tuna poached in white wine. When the waiter came to check on how we were doing, my father raved about how delicious his meal was.  He went into such detail about the preparation and execution of his meal and why it is was so wonderful, insisting that the waiter relay this information to the chef.  The chef, in turn, was so flattered and impressed with my dad's detail and knowledge that he  came out to personally thank us.  And if you are as much a foodie as I am and my dad was, then you'll know that that's the equivalent of (insert name of favorite rock star here) personally thanking you for enjoying his concert.  That was my Dad.

Food is my Xanax.  When I am stressed, nothing calms me down more than baking cookies or making a giant vat of chicken soup.  I don't even need to eat it…just cook it.  The thing is, when you are cooking, you are not thinking about anything else.  You can't say that about watching TV or reading a book or going for a run or anything else because cooking is the only thing that demands the use of all of your senses at the same time, leaving little to no room to think about anything else.

Besides being a great solitary activity, cooking and food also brings people together.  I have a son and without growing up with brothers, I had no idea how to "play" with a boy.  I'm not good at football or soccer or pretty much any other sports.  Its awkward to wrestle with your mom and I hate Lego and video games.  So, for as long as I could remember, I've had my son cook with me.  Now, at the age of 11, he, too, is developing into a major foodie.  Weeks before my dad passed away, he skipped a doctor's appointment to make a special trip to this bookstore, where these famous chefs were signing their latest cookbook, to get my son a personalized copy…along with a full chef outfit.  My son thought it was the greatest gift he ever got.  And when he is really in the mood for something special, he cooks something from that book…all by himself.  And he is so proud.  And so am I.

I could go on and on…and I will!  With the recipe or meal or snack or drink that was at the epicentre of the memory I am sharing with you.  I hope you like them, both my stories and my food.

so now, without further delay:

This is what I eat when... life give me lemons:

I say, "Hey look! Free lemons!" 

Lemon #1:  My flight home from Florida. 

My husband and I were not seated together (that's not the lemon…wait for it) and I thought, "No biggie, I'll just ask them to switch our seats." No luck. The flight was sold out (still not the lemon…be patient!).  "Still no biggie," I said.  "We'll just ask whoever is one of our rows to switch so we can sit together."  Problem solved…or so I thought.

We got on the plane and hubby's row was first.  Sure enough, there was a woman already  in the seat next to his.  I leaned in, flashed my sweetest smile, and asked in my most polite voice, "Excuse me, my husband and I are not seated together and would really like to be.  Do you mind switching seats with me? I am only two rows back."  For what seemed like eternity, she just stared at me, stone-faced.  At that point, I though that maybe she doesn't speak English.  But that idea was put to rest as she very clearly responded with, 

"No. (long pause here).  Once I wanted to change seats and nobody would change for me so I'm not going to do it for you." (That's the lemon!)  


Now, if you know me, you'll know that I don't lose it very often and hate confrontation but the lethal mixture of travel-stress adrenaline, Gravol, and airport cheeseburgers coursing through my veins forced me to respond with:

"So now you have decided to be mean like those people?" Ignoring the glares hubby was shooting me, I then marched to my seat, leaving him to share a very little bit of leg room and personal space with this now very pissed off and bitter woman.  Oops!

Don't fret, there is a happy ending to this story: the man sitting next to me agreed to switch seats so hubby and I finally got to sit next to each other…where we both fell asleep for the majority of the flight.

Lemon #2:
Arriving home from our flight, I was so excited to check out my vegetable garden because according to the veggie calendar on my IPhone, my peas were ready for harvest and to play a starring role in the sweet pea & chicken stir-fry I was planning on making.  I had taken care of them lovingly for weeks: trained their vines ever so delicately to climb the fence, watered them with chemical-free rainwater from my rain barrel, organically protected them from pests using nothing but egg shells and hot sauce, and just well, loved them!  Apparently, the squirrels loved them too, because when I got home, this is all that was left on my vines:

At this point, I felt like throwing in the towel, saying F**k it and just ordering a pizza.  But I decided that I had another choice for the "free lemons" life had handed me and, supplementing sugar snap beans and mango for the deficit of peas, made this:

Stir fried chicken with vegetables, mango, and Thai basil
1. Cut 500g (or two medium boneless breasts) of chicken into bite-sized chunks
2.  Cut 1 mango into bite sized-chunks
3.  Cut up (or not, if using peas) two cups of veggies.  Obviously I used the peas and beans but you could used whatever…from peppers to spinach to broccoli.
5.  Mix 1 tsp on cornstarch and 1/4 cup of water together until smooth and have on standby
4.  Heat 1 tbsp oil in a large pan; use a wok if you have one.
5.  Over a lower heat, add in 2 tsp chopped garlic and stir around until fragrant.  BE CAREFUL!  It browns easily and then its gross.
6.  Toss in the chicken, turn the heat way up, season with s & p, and cook until almost done.  
7. At that point throw in the veggies and mix around for a couple minutes.  They should be a bit cooked, still crunchy and sweet. 
8.  Add in the mango and toss until it is warmed through and starting to get really juicy & add in 1 tbsp soy sauce.
9.  Mix in the cornstarch stuff.  This will make the liquids thicker and thus, the flavours will "stick" to the chicken and veggies.
10.  Turn off the heat and top with about 10 leaves of chopped Thai basil (you could also use coriander but I despise that wicked weed!)
11.  Serve immediately over rice…or not.  If you let it sit around, it gets slimy and not nearly as good.

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