Friday, 2 December 2016

Don’t Let The Laksa Stop Your Gob

Warming the bowls.
I’m cooking chicken noodle laksa this week, & thinking about people who tell other people to shut up.

In these post-election weeks, I hear rational voices advise liberals, men & women alike, to not get over it.  To not be so politically correct, to stop politely looking away, stop being tolerant of people with bigoted opinions, stop giving dangerous people a chance to be better.  Instead, call them out for what they’re doing when it’s wrong.  I hear liberals, men & women alike, admit they have to consciously make eye contact, make themselves speak up, confront, complain about the outrageous, as if that’s outrageous in itself. 

I look for myself on that spectrum, think about all those male voices that’ve told me to tone it down, get back in the femininity box, & I wonder how much of that was about them not wanting to hear something true, rather than about me being a jerk. 

Because, you know, I got myself a veritable talent at being a jerk.  Or as I’d rather call it, being an enfant terrible (French for jerk).  Did I ever mention El Punko’s poor 7th grade teacher . . . I probably scarred that girl for life.

She was one of those ‘90s fresh face, big hair, all American middle school teacher types who, despite living in rural West Virginia, didn’t know there was any side but the bright side.  Imagine the assault to my misanthropy when at our first (& only) parent-teacher conference, she went all Judy-Garland-Mickey-Rooney-let’s-put-on-a-show because she saw a physical resemblance between El Punko & myself. 

I kept it together for about four choruses of, ‘I can’t get over how much you two look alike.’  Then my mouth simply opened & said, ‘Really?  Because he’s adopted.’ 

See the non-flinching resemblance?
El Punko's father threw me under the figurative school bus for lying.  El Punko himself politely asked that I never attend another parent-teacher conference. 

Twenty years later, El Punko doesn’t flinch at the type of person his mother is.  Well, there was the time I asked the guy on a Dublin bus how much fucking room he needed, but usually my son takes me with a grain of salt.  I sometimes wish his message of self-acceptance had come earlier for me.   Mostly I wish I had a better filter between my brain & my mouth.  At 60, I’m only slightly better.  I don’t swear as fucking much.

When we decided he’d host Thanksgiving this year & invite a few of his friends whom I hadn’t met, it sat in the back of my mind, that little demon of insecurity who asked me => how are you going to not be an asshole?

One of El Punko's friends agog
at our Thanksgiving bounty.

Neither said demon nor myself came up with an Asshole Prevention Plan, so I focused on sharing the fruits of my new cooking lark with El Punko.  No better place to start than chicken noodle laksa.  

As it turned out, I learned something more than cooking from that soup.

I can’t find a link to the recipe I used, but it came from Mary Berry’s Foolproof Cooking & was developed by one of her staff, Lucinda McCord.  Here I say – Lucinda, you’re my Soup God.  Fantastic recipe, but being me, I had my wicked way with it.

Spicy paste fixin's.
You'd think that since Siobhán now includes my ingredients in her weekly shop, I’d be done with Hag Improv, but no.  There were a gaggle of shrivelled up limes in the crisper at the time, so I didn’t order more.

A thinking person might consider whether shrivelled up limes have as much juice as fresh limes.  Me, well I didn’t think about that until I got to the squeezing part.  My first Hag Improv was to juice six* wrinkly ole limes for the spicy paste, after which I promptly forgot myself & doubled both the chillis & the ginger, then threw in an extra garlic clove or two.  Just to be on the safe side, you know.

The recipe suggests a mortar & pestle to mix this bad stuff,
but I used the chopper thing.

The paste also includes peanut butter & muscovado sugar, in case you’re wondering what else is in it.  Too yum!

Hag Improvs out of the way, there came one of those, well-shit moments.  Someone who knew what they were doing would’ve taken the chicken breasts out of the freezer ahead of time.  However, after making that kickass spicy paste & smelling that kickass spicy paste & yes, tasting some of that kickass spicy paste, no rock solid chicken breasts were going to stand between me & my laksa.  

Problem solved.

Hmm . . . so, I got me a big-ass ole knife & what do you know?  It cut through that frozen bad boy like it was butter on a summer day.

There's also the upside of not having to grab squishily old dead chicken flesh.  

Defrosting the chick chick.

I put the bowl of sliced chicken on the plate warmer & they defrosted themselves nicely.

Browning the pasted chicken.

The chicken got pasted & browned, after which the spring onions got themselves fried a little, so then it’s time to put in all the liquid stuff.  

I opened the first tin of coconut milk, saw this thick white gunk inside, turned the can over & gave it a hefty thwack into the wok.  If, like me, you don’t know anything about coconut milk, then you might not’ve expected this result:

Spilt coconut milk.

Fortunately, Siobhán threw herself between me & the 2nd tin of coconut milk.  

Adding the 2nd tin
of coconut milk.

In addition to more lime juice & Thai fish sauce, you use one lemon grass stalk.  Mary Berry suggests that you beat the feck out of it before putting the lemon grass in, so that’s what I did.  

Medium rice noodles.

The recipe uses medium rice noodles, but this soup is so delicate in flavour that after my first batch, I switched to fine noodles.  I hear there’s even extra fine rice noodles out there somewhere, so if I ever find those, I’ll try them next.

Lastly, my brain says coriander tastes like soap.  Since in this instance, coriander’s only used as a garnish, I skipped that part & didn’t look for a substitute.

Chicken noodle laksa.

Isn’t this fantastic looking?  
I made that.  I did.  

Despite how well my Hag Improvs turned out, when I cooked the laksa for El Punko’s pre-Thanksgiving lunch, I obediently followed the recipe, used fewer limes, chillis & garlic, grated less ginger, & didn’t even freeze the chicken.  El Punko thought the flavour was good, but not strong enough.  

I’d toned things down so he’d like it, & he didn’t.

Now there’s a life metaphor . . . here’s me, who sometimes (a lot of times) says things that I shouldn’t.  As a result, people’ve told me to tone it done, to shut up.  A lot.  Enough that my little black heart believes my voice is something too caustic to take out of the box.  And even though I haven’t shut up, the idea that I should is the single belief by which I define myself.  I measure myself against a standard I can never in my wildest dream hope to meet.

And I shouldn’t measure myself in only that way.  As a card-carrying introvert, I’ve never really mastered the art of social finesse, that's true.  But I’m kind & generous, occasionally tolerant, funny (at least in my mind), a great problem solver & a kickass good listener.  I love my dogs & brush my cats.  My garden is my biggest vice, I recycle like a crazy thang, & there are actually 3 digits in my I.Q.  Oh, & if I’ve known you for more’n 30 seconds, there’s a good chance I’ll knit something ugly for you.  So why shouldn’t I speak?  Why shouldn’t you listen?

Besides all that, if those yappity rational voices are right, speaking out is a trait a lot of Americans are going to need over the next 4 years.

Anyway, the day after Thanksgiving, El Punko & I wake up to a kitchen full of turkey & brownies, cinnamon swirls, apple crumble, the world’s best cornbread, stuffing, ice cream, candied carrots, cranberry bread.  He looks around at all this food, then says to me, ‘I’m hungry for your soup.’

El Punko at work.

You gotta love that guy.

*After making this recipe several times, I’ve learned that 3-4 limes work fine, depending on size & freshness.

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