Of course kids can always get under your skin, and mine have been going through a potty word regression that’s really bugging me. I tried to stay even tempered over that (with only moderate success, which didn’t make things any better), so of course I overreacted to everything else.
Even my thoughts were ticking me off. I have an insane neighbor. Totally deranged. She appears normal and lucid, but inside she’s a seething volcano of crazy. It’s like living next door to Mount Whackatoa. You never know when she’s going to erupt. Summer is her active season, because her kids are home and she finds ways to compare mine to hers (and of course mine come off second best) and then she takes it on herself to instruct my nanny on how to control them (because she won’t expose her crazy to me directly). At least once every summer I have to point out to her the inappropriateness of this behavior. Today I was thinking about some of the things she’s been doing lately, and of course, that didn’t make me particularly chipper.
Then I ran out of white wine after only three quarters of a glass. Need I say more?
Michael Jackson died today, which doesn’t make me particularly sad (we weren’t close), but I have 27,000 Facebook posts saying “RIP MJ” and variations from people I know didn’t care a whip about him when he was alive. Yes, I’m sure his family is devastated, and he recorded some good songs (although I never wore a single glittery glove, obscenely tight black chinos. and tried to moonwalk with zombies). Under normal circumstances, the tributes to Michael Jackson via social networking probably wouldn’t bother me in the least, but today is another story.
Naturally the radio in the car wasn’t functioning. Alex replaced the motor that operates the driver's side window last weekend, and the car is new enough (although not that new) that it has one of those radios that when you disconnect the power supply (as in stealing it), you can’t use it again until you enter some secret code. Naturally we haven’t the first idea where said secret code is. It’s on some scrap of paper somewhere that’s been moved around four times each time we've moved, and each time whoever puts it away says to themselves, “I’m going to put it HERE and I’m going to REMEMBER that it’s here.” Then we promptly forget where “here” is. So no radio.
I went to the grocery store (three quarters of a glass of white wine just doesn’t cut it), and was put out to find that there were no new cooking magazines. A new cooking magazine might have turned everything around, but it was not to be. Could this get any worse?
Evidently, yes. I was on my way home (admittedly, I was probably going a little too fast) and listening to what I thought might be a good grump-reduction song on my iPod (clarification: iPhone--I was using the "speaker" function; not listening to music via earbuds jammed in my ears, thus blocking out all other road sounds, I promise) because the song itself was pretty grouchy and negative (my life would seem fine by contrast? I don’t know, I guess that was my strategy. Otherwise why else would I have been listening to The Kinks’ “Father Christmas”?) when the car in front of me started getting bigger and bigger (and its brake lights brighter and brighter) for no good reason I could discern. Praying that whatever mammoth vehicle behind me wasn’t also the bad combination of cranky-speeding-inattentive, I too hit my brakes, only to see a deer prancing across the road in front of the Volvo ahead of me. Seriously? Not that I wanted the Volvo to hit the deer. Actually, I just wanted the deer not to be there at all. Frankly, the Volvo too.
So what are you going to do about all of this?, you might reasonably ask. When are you going to stop inflicting your personal brand of snarly on us?
The answer is, I made dinner. Yes, I chopped garlic, and mixed up fish sauce and brown sugar (it’s better than it sounds, I promise) and did various other cookly things and now I feel quite a bit better. I also watched an episode of The Mary Tyler Moore Show, and that helped a lot.
Like so many things in my life, The Mary Tyler Moore show is tied to both my emotional and my culinary memory. My parents used to let me stay up late to watch it on Saturday nights on our grainy black and white portable TV set. This would have been after our dinner of Chick’n Bucket pizza. I can’t say if that was really the best pizza I ever had, but it seems like it. First I ate off the toppings (pepperoni and sausage; I never ate the pizza my mother ordered—pepperoni and onion. Ew.), then I ate off the cheese, then licked off the tomato sauce, and lastly I ate the crust. I remember that the crust had concentric circles stamped into it, just as though…well as though it had been stamped out by a giant crust-making machine (which, let’s face it, it probably had been).
Anyway, at some point later in the evening, I was permitted to stay up late to watch that old CBS classic line up—M*A*S*H*, All in the Family, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, and The Bob Newhart Show. I loved Mary. I wanted to be Mary. So anyway, tonight I watched the episode where she invites the Congresswoman over and serves her Veal Price Orloff (what a 1970s dinner party—I love it!). And I made dinner.
Our dinner was a lovely spicy-sweet stir fry of chicken thighs with a brown sugar-based sauce on it. I added a chopped Napa cabbage to the mix, because there were really no vegetables in the meal otherwise. Doing so had a nice added side benefit—as my boys were getting ready for bed (the four year old twins), they begged to taste the cabbage and one declared he wanted it for breakfast tomorrow morning. We’ll see if that holds, but it certainly helped tremendously to relieve my crankiness.
Caramelized Black Pepper Chicken
adapted from Food + Wine Magazine
½ cup dark brown sugar (I only had light brown sugar; I used it, and it turned out fine, but yes, that didn’t help my snippy mood)
3 Tablespoons fish sauce
¼ cup water
1 teaspoon minced garlic (I used three cloves, actually; love garlic)
1 teaspoon finely grated fresh ginger
1 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper
2 fresh Thai chilis, halved (I left these out; I don’t like things too spicy. If you like spice, by all means, add them)
1 tablespoon canola oil
1 shallot, thinly sliced
1 pound boneless skinless chicken thighs, cut into 1” pieces
1 medium head Napa cabbage, cut into 1” pieces
Combine the first 8 ingredients in a small bowl (brown sugar through chilis [if using; otherwise, through pepper]).
Heat oil in a large deep skillet over high heat. Reduce heat to medium, add shallot and cook until softened, about 4 minutes. Add brown sugar mixture and chicken, and simmer over high heat until chicken is almost cooked through, about 8 minutes. Add cabbage and stir to incorporate. Let cook until cabbage is softened, but not wilted, about 2 minutes. Sauce will be somewhat watery. I have good luck turning the heat up high and reducing the sauce for about 2 minutes. It doesn’t get as saucy and thick as it might, but the cabbage stays more crisp.