Yesterday Mr. Dog and I went for a walk with my friend and her dogs. As an aside: it is hilarious to watch Mr. Dog in a pack of dogs on the beach. He is a little muppet thing and my friend has a huge white dog and a medium red retriever. They are dog dogs. So Mr. Dog is treated with loving condescension wherever he goes by the humans. The dogs somehow think he is a real dog.
“Oh, yeah,” said Indy Clause, master of all things socially graceful, to her friend. “Are you guys celebrating Hanukkah?” My friend laughed and said, “Not really. Some years we light candles.” This is the same friend who does not eat pork, but every once in a while a piece of bacon will just fall into her mouth. Whoops.
We are one of the few houses on the street that has no discreet candles in the window, a wreath on the door, a Christmas tree lit up inside, insane lights on the outside, or inflatable Santas. There we are again, refusing to play along. I claim it’s because I’m Jewish, but I also hear my father’s Depression-era disapproval from beyond the grave. Fuck it. Playing along is boring.
Winter and shorter days are hell on the mental health. So one of the candles I light against the darkness is food. Yesterday I made Real Deal Kung Pao Chicken. I didn’t quite follow the recipe. You are shocked, I know.
- Combine 2 ts soy sauce, 2 ts of mirin (or Chinese cooking wine of choice, I was all set to use white wine left over from Thanksgiving until I found the dregs of mirin in the back of my pantry) and 1 ts of corn starch (we use tapioca/arrowroot in Fangs and Clause Central).
- Cut up 1.5-2 lb. of chicken into bite size pieces and add to the marinade. Let sit in the fridge for as long as you can stand.
- Now might be a good time to make rice and refresh your drink.
- Slice three scallion greens thinly. Add 1-2 Tb Sichuan peppercorns. Yeah, right, not available at my small-town grocery store. I added plain old peppercorns. Sichuan peppercorns numb your tongue and prepare your palate for spice, they say. Set aside.
- Mince the white parts of the scallions with 2 cloves of garlic and a Tb of fresh ginger. Set aside. I also added a handful of grape tomatoes cut to wee little pieces because I had them and no one was going to eat them otherwise.
- Make the sauce: 1 Tb distilled white vinegar, 1 Tb chili paste (generic Asian chili garlic paste that you can actually get even in my small-town grocery store), 2 ts sugar, and 1 ts corn starch. Mix.
- Slice up a leek in preparation. My stir fries take forever because I find it easier to have it all ready beforehand and then I throw each thing in and feel like the Sorcerer’s Apprentice. Hey, whatever works.
- Now for the fun wok stuff. This also works in a frying pan. Add 1/4 c of oil (we use rice bran oil, but the recipe calls for peanut oil) and let it get all hot and smoky. Take a sip of your drink. No one should do this sober or unhydrated, depending on your drink of choice.
- Add dried chiles, should your small-town grocery have them. If not, add a shit-ton of dried crushed red pepper. And by a shit-ton, I mean a good 1/8 c if you like it hot.
- Let the peppers flavor the oil, and then take out as many as you can. Put in half the chicken (if cooking in a wok) or all of it (if you’re using a frying pan) and let it sit for a minute.
- Then stir fry that chicken for a good minute further. Take it out and put it on a plate. Do the same for the rest of the chicken.
- Add oil if necessary and stir fry the leeks.
- Put the chicken back in and add 1/2 c peanuts.
- Clear out a well in the center and put in the garlic/ginger mixture.
- Let it sit for 15 s and then mix it all together.
- Add the sauce and cook until the chicken is done. Add scallion greens and pepper at the very end.
- Eat the spicy goodness over rice and be happy. Make someone else do the dishes.
What candles do you light?