“If you observe a really happy man, you will find him building a boat, writing a symphony, educating his son, growing double dahlias in his garden… He will not be searching for happiness as if it were a collar stud that has rolled under the dressing table.” –W. Beran Wolfe, as quoted in the Sun Magazine
Record breaking warm weather + a bike ride to work in my garden + an afternoon spent slicing, mixing and tasting in the kitchen = a day as perfect as it gets for me. Only 3 weeks ago it was snowing in Seattle and today it is over 70 degrees. I sang all the way as I peddled to my garden plot. My sweet husband had come over to the plot on Sunday and raked the newly delivered compost into the soil for me. I took a picture to prove to myself later that I didn’t dream him playing farmer for an hour! So today, the soil was flat and rich and ready for me to plant more rows of seeds (cilantro, cosmos, asters, basil starts, and fennel today) and form little hills for my newly transplanted zucchini and spaghetti squash starts.
In the parking lot of the grocery store today, I ran into a former client of mine, and she pulled over to say hello. She is doing very well and it made me happy to see her sustaining her success (still sober, living in her own apartment, retaining custody of her son and working full time in a professional job). She is the second former client of mine that I have seen in a week. Last week I went to a fundraising luncheon for my former employer and heard another former client address an audience of 2000 people, describing her history of hardship and her work to overcome them. She is almost finished with the college program that I had encouraged her to start, and is living in her own apartment as well. She acknowledged me in her speech and it really touched me. A social worker cannot look for regular gratitude or acknowledgement and be happy in their work, because it comes sporadically and far between. So, I am tucking these encounters away in my memory to keep.
But, you probably didn’t stop by here to read about social work. I bet you would rather hear about my activities in the kitchen today. Right? Well, let me tell you! I made some baked tofu that I will cool and use in salads this week. I baked a loaf of banana bread (and I snuck in a little grated carrot… I am not sure why… but it sounded like a good idea. When the bread cools I will tell you if it was a good idea after all.). But best of all were my salads.
I used my Cuisinart to shred and slice fresh veggies and then split the vegetables into two separate bowls, and continued mixing and cooking to make two different salads to eat this week for lunches at work.
To make the vegetable “base” for these salads:
Set up the Cuisinart with the cutting blade. Pulse to chop one bunch of cilantro. Change the blade to the grater blade. Grate a two inch piece of ginger. Without cleaning out the bowl, grate two large carrots.
Change the blade to the slicing blade. If the bowl is filling up, empty it into a separate bowl, otherwise just keep going. Slice in two red, yellow or orange bell peppers. Then slice in one bunch of washed green onions.
Okay, here is where your salads diverge. Split the vegetables into two separate bowls. You will be making a noodle salad with peanut sauce, and a Chinese chicken salad.
Noodle Salad with Peanut Sauce
Blanch two handfuls of green beans. To blanch, boil a pot of salted water. When boiling, add the green beans. Keep them in the boiling water for two minutes. Drain and run under cold water to stop the cooking process, or drain and submerge in ice water.
Cook about 1/3 of a pound of spaghetti. Cook for the full time indicated on the package and check for doneness. You don’t want it to be “al dente” but rather, you want it fully cooked. Although normally, “al dente” is the way to go for pasta, when eaten cold, pasta will seem chewy if not fully cooked. Drain the cooked spaghetti and run under cold water. Toss with a little oil to prevent sticking. I also sprinkled a little Cajun seasoning on mine (salt, pepper, cayenne, dried garlic and onion and who knows what other goodness is in there) but that is not necessary.
Make your dressing by blending:
¼ cup peanut butter
2-3 Tablespoons coconut milk
1 teaspoon fish sauce
1-2 Tablespoons rice vinegar
1-2 teaspoons soy sauce
1 Tablespoon sesame oil
1-2 teaspoons red curry paste
1 minced garlic clove
Pinch of sugar (unless your peanut butter has sugar in it already)
Pinch of salt and pepper if desired
Mix all of the ingredients together. I put ranges of amounts for some of the ingredients because you will want to adjust the balance of flavors to your own preference. I like mine sharp and spicy and so I use more vinegar and curry paste, but you may like it sweeter.
Toss the vegetable “base” you made before with the blanched green beans, cooked noodles and the dressing. Serve cold. This will keep for at least 3 or 4 days in the fridge… although I made mine to eat for lunches this week and there is already a large dent in the bowl from all of my “tastes” that I had to take.
For the second salad…
Chinese Chicken Salad
Unless you have some leftover cooked chicken already, cook one boneless, skinless, chicken breast: Heat a small skillet over medium to medium-high heat. Add ½ cup of water and 2 tablespoons of olive oil and bring to a simmer. Sprinkle the chicken breast with salt and pepper. Add the chicken breast and two smashed cloves of garlic to the oil-water. Cover. Simmer until the chicken breast is just cooked through. You should probably use a meat thermometer if you are not sure that you will know when it is done. When cooked, remove from the oil-water and allow to cool completely. Shred the chicken meat.
Peel one cucumber. Slice in half, the long way. Use a spoon to scoop out the seeds. Slice the cucumber halves into thin slices. Toss the cucumber, the shredded chicken, and the “vegetable base” together.
Make the dressing:
2 Tablespoons of sesame oil
2 Tablespoons of rice vinegar
1 teaspoon of soy sauce
Pinch of sugar
Pinch of pepper
Toss the salad with the dressing. If you happen to have the dark pink matchstick variety of pickled ginger in your fridge, add it to this salad. This should be eaten within 2 days on account of the chicken.
I use to make this a lot when I was in high school, and I would include those crispy noodles that you are probably thinking of when you think Chinese Chicken Salad. If I remember correctly, I would take dry bean thread noodles and puff them up by sliding them into a wok of very hot oil. They would puff up immediately and I would drain them on a paper towel. If you try this – tell me how it goes. Keep the puffed noodles separate or they will get soggy.
Pretty soon, I will be able to make these dishes almost entirely from my garden and I am so excited! When my friend came over a couple of weeks ago to eat meatloaf sandwiches for dinner, she asked me mid-meal, “did you grow this lettuce?” I paused because I thought maybe she was teasing me, but she really believed that I may have. Pretty soon the answer will be “yes!” and I know at least two friends of mine will be rolling their eyes.
(here is my little friend enjoying the banana bread - the carrots were just fine, by the way!)
“My creed is this: Happiness is the only good. The place to be happy is here. The time to be happy is now. The way to be happy is to make others so.” –Robert Ingeroll, as quoted in the Sun Magazine