on friday i didn't know exactly what i had planned for our dinner. very fly by the seat of my pants in my mind all day. it was a crazy day at work, crazy with brandon -- oy -- and then i looked at my e-mail, personal e-mail (yes, i know -- during work. shoot me) and saw this subject line in an e-mail from my ex-husband -- UNFORTUNATE NEWS. since i've already received some sizable unfortunate news from him and since we don't correspond unless it has to do with nicholas and brandon, i couldn't even fathom what this could be about. i mean, we don't "touch base" or have any contact regarding our lives on any level besides the basic for the kids, so i wasn't prepared for getting news that my former father-in-law had passed away that morning. he, as my brother said when i told him, was "one of the good ones." bill smith. jesus, it's hard to write without smiling... and crying. billy wayne smith. that's his actual birth name. amazing, huh? tall, strong, lovely man. such a lovely man. and my heart just broke. bill smith was one of the warmest, most delightful and genuine human beings i have ever known. and he didn't let the fact that i was no longer married to his son stop us from having a relationship. he e-mailed me and signed them "dad," which, considering the fact that i had lost my dad long ago and bill didn't have to be that for me beyond what our hearts told us, warmed me beyond reason. and just hearing his voice on holidays brightened them, especially in a new place with no family besides us. it warmed them and made them worthwhile. and he was gone. and i had to tell my sons.
brandon was at a football game with friends and nicholas was with me for the night. i realized i could play this two different ways. i could be straight with him, treat him like the young man he is and let him know his grandfather had died and be there for him. or i could talk around it, treat him like a baby and be all about "nicholas, sometimes in life..." philosophical sweetening the pot stuff. i chose to be straight with him. because nicholas deserves that. so, i told him his grandfather had passed away, i told him how (which, considering how health conscious we are being and involved in the depth of that, was quite excellent to underscore that) and i held him as he cried. as we both cried. and so, instead of flying by the seat of my pants and knowing nicholas was going to be the child with me for the night, i knew i was going to make him something that was his favorite. i would make a chinese meal fit to beat the band. or close.
food is something, isn't it? when you love cooking, love putting your heart into it to create a feeling, an emotion that encompasses you and assuage whatever or enhance, it changes everything. it isn't just about sustenance. it's about communication, connection. love. and, so, i made the following from two different cookbooks. yep, double whammy, folks. feel pretty good about that.
first cookbook SEDUCTIONS OF RICE by Jeffrey alford & Naomi Duguid recipe EGG FRIED RICE and, finally, THE THOUSAND RECIPE CHINESE COOKBOOK by Gloria Bley Miller recipe BASIC BRAISED SHRIMP BALLS. i'm sure you've noticed the shrimp factor in our meals. nicholas LOVES shrimp. i'm a fan as well, but nicholas worships the ground they crawl on. and so we go:
first EGG FRIED RICE
2 large eggs
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp soy salt
2 tbs peanut oil or veggie oil
1/4 cup finely chopped ham or lean bacon (if vegetarian, then use half cup finely chopped fried tofu squares and increase salt to 1 tsp or marinate the tofu for a few minutes in some soy sauce)
2 large scallions, finely chopped
1/4 cup finely chopped carrots (optional)
3 1/2 cups cooked long- or medium-grain rice, cold or at room temp
Cucumber slices for garnish (optional)
what to do:
1. whisk the eggs in a small bowl with salt and soy sauce.
2. Heat a wok over high heat. when hot, add the oil and bacon or salty meat if using (you can use any cured, salty meat that's leftover if you want). Then add the scallions and optional carrots and stir fry for 30 seconds. Add the egg mixture and cook for another 30 secs, using your spatula to break up the eggs so they cook evenly. Add the ham, if using, and the rice, and use the spatula aggressively to break up the rice into the eggs. With the back of the spatula, press the rice against the surface of the wok, making sure that all the rice actually comes into contact with the wok, to sear it. Stir fry aggressively for 3 minutes. Turn the rice out onto two individual plates and serve, garnished with teh cucumber, if you choose.
here's what we did:
instead of bacon or ham, which i did not have, i used bulk sausage, which i did. i also added a handful of broccoli florets, handful of bean sprouts, handful of sugar snap peas (would prefer snow peas, but my market didn't have them), and 3 cloves of garlic, finely diced, and a 1 inch piece of ginger, finely diced. i stir fried the garlic and ginger with the scallions and then added the veggies and did the rest of what it says. okay, so that's what we did with that, now on to the shrimp balls -- shut up, all you immature guy friends of mine (and you know who i'm talking to). i know what you're thinking, so knock it off. the report card comes at the end of both. hang with me.
the next, BASIC BRAISED SHRIMP BALLS.
1 pound shrimp
1/4 pound pork
1 tbs sherry
1 tbs soy sauce
1 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp salt
2 tbs water
3 tbs oil
3 tbs water
what to do:
1. shell and devein shrimp; mince or grind with pork, then blend with sherry, soy sauce, sugar and salt.
2. blend cornstarch and cold water to aste. add to shrimp mixutre, mixing well. form into walnut-size balls, then flatten each slightly.
3. heat oil. brown shrimp balls lightly on all sides.
4. add remaining water and cook, covered, over medium heat, turning several time, until done (6-8minutes).
here's what we did:
instead of pork, which we didn't have thawed and trying to go lighter on, we used chicken thighs. i measured everything that needed to be measured on my funky little scale thing that cost me nothing, no joke. i'm not one of those people who says "great deal at $250" for something that could easily cost "$9.95" and still work, brilliantly. so, really, this thing cost me probably four bucks. i used mirin wine instead of sherry because, once again, i didn't have it on hand and the rest, as they say, is history. oh, and i didn't flatten the little guys, but they braised BEAUTIFULLY.
okay, now report card and thoughts. nicholas was in heaven. simple and total heaven. this was some seriously yum stuff and he adored it. i pulled out the chopsticks, he sat and relaxed and ate. and we loved bill quietly and wonderfully. SEDUCTIONS IN RICE is an exceptional book, or at least it is in my opinion. i'm a major rice lover. big time. and this book is a terrific addition to my library. THE THOUSAND RECIPE COOKBOOK is terrific as well. and i don't mean that as an afterthought. i mean it is awesome. one of the most wonderful things about it is the way it shows you options for pretty much every recipe in the book. it's terrific and i make my egg rolls out of it as well as dumplings. something about shrimp -- don't forget to devein. DO NOT FORGET. they taste muddy and ick if you don't and if you ask any fish market, even the seafood/fish section at your local grocer, to do it, they should without any issue. it can be a real pain in the ass to do yourself, so ask for help. really. make your cooking experience easy. don't mess with what you don't want to mess with. ask for help from butchers, fish mongers, bakers, etc. that's what they're there for and they will do it. without stress. if they give you issue, then they're not for real, no matter what big of a write up they received somewhere. they look good if your finished dish looks good, so ask for assistance. they love it when you use them for their expertise. it makes them feel special. trust me.
and so, how did this make nicholas feel? he felt good. loved and special, which he most definitely is. i also bought tilapia filets that night because brandon adores tilapia and i'm making them tonight for din. because his heart was broken over bill as well and he needed to know, beyond words, that he is revered. and he is.
i miss bill smith. i haven't seen him in person in over 8 years, but i miss the hell out of him. because he's gone, ya know? and we were going to invite him and his wife, ellen, to thanksgiving and christmas. a formal, mailed invite. i was buying it on friday. i think i'll set a place for him anyway. he was one of the good ones.
he really, truly was.