You might imagine, just because Zoë's first birthday has come and gone, that I’ve forgotten. But sleep deprivation and sixteen months alone can't erase shallot-roasted green beans and brownies, black as dirt, rich as sin. Those early crazy days have faded to a pleasant blur, but not the slurp-worthy tubs of soup, beef barley, the heartiest split pea I've ever had the pleasure to scarf, chock-a-block with more smoky pork than I believed legal. That catering tray filled to its tiny aluminum curl of a brim with tomato-soused shells, nubbly with turkey, molten with cheese. Fed me through Zoë's second month, that one. And well. The parade of lasagna -- florentine, beef, vegetable -- that had me counting my good fortune to have friends so fluent in the language of layered pasta. Take-out mash, order-in pizza, the unspeakable luxury of salads. Garlicky gyros I crave to this day. A just-roasted chicken, thyme tucked under its skin and into its juices, that smelled so confoundingly delicious we barely had the dignity to bid farewell before
inhaling sampling it.
And you, dear Dania, Priscilla, Tricia, Kay, Kathy, Annette and Joanne, Kris, Margaret, Lynly,
I suppose, what with Henry approaching four and a half, you might think your meals have slipped from my memory. But your rosemary-garlic wings and big-brother-friendly sides of yogurt and sliced sugared berries sit side by side with my first impressions of his barely-there hair, his mostly-closed eyes. The casserole you learned from your mother, the Philippine macaroni that had us sparring over its final beefy bits. The majestic arrival of two barely-big-enough shopping bags, like some latter-day cornucopias, brown kraft overflowing with Rubbermaid®, tinfoil, Ziploc®, a collective contribution that fed us for weeks. That wine-dark stew bumpy with carrots and beef. Those dinner rolls, plainly labeled and freezer-bagged, which after ten minutes in a warm oven tasted of angels wings and sweet summer, only better. And oh, those braised short ribs, “made the right way, the night before.” And spoon-tender and thick with flavor and more restorative I think than anything I’ve eaten before or after. (The magic wand for Max? Such a sweet touch.)
And you, Carol, Matt, Kristin, Tracy, Sam, Caroline, Annette and Joanne (you again?),
Max may be nearly nine, I know, but no matter. You were our first inkling that a whole flock of friends lay waiting to feed us for a month. All we had to do was supply the baby. On the far side of a decade, maybe I'll archive that gulpable corn barley soup, plump with chicken, and the homemade whole wheat loaf that arrived alongside. But not yet. Nor the "we'll bring lunch" picnic delivered to our doorsteps, complete with chips, choice of meat, and good company. Nor the crooked apple pie and fresh-tossed salad, that first taught me the ridiculous thrill of green vegetables and honest desserts to a housebound new mother. The not-yet-legendary split pea, cinnamon-spiked pasticcio, and yes, lasagna. (Lesser friends might've felt obligated to keep up this triple-header when we brought home another son, a daughter. You just upped the ante: adding quiche, then cupcakes. Amen to that.)
So when word came of a new baby born in this new town of ours, of course my thoughts turned to dinner. I know just exactly how lovely it is to sit, late-afternoon, inhaling the sweet fleeting smell of skin seven days old, smoothing the ruffled feathers of sudden siblinghood, ignoring ingredients and appetites altogether. Thanks to you all.
adapted from Breath of a Wok, by Grace Young
This is one of a small clutch of stir fries I know that is as good at room temperature as it is hot from the wok, making it suitable for the tupperware circuit. As well as for anyone whose children are more patient early in the day than just before dinner: cook it early, and bring it out at supper. Don't be tempted to double this: I was, and ended up with twice as many that were half as good. Grace Young calls for canola oil only, which produces lovely results, but I prefer to start my peppers in peanut and finish them with a splash of sesame. Though the amounts are small, the salt and sugar make the dish. Consider the following small amounts a starting point, then taste and adjust until the sweet, smoky peppers sing and send you back for more.
2-3 Tbs peanut or corn oil
2 large, meaty red peppers, cut into 1-inch squares
1/4 - 1 tsp sugar
1/4 - 1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp sesame oil (optional)
1. Heat wok over high heat until water drop evaporates within 1-2 seconds. Add a generous 1 Tbs. peanut oil; swirl to coat pan. Add peppers, salt and sugar, and stir, 1-2 minutes.
2. Turn heat to medium, and continue cooking, 8-10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Peppers will turn a deep silken red on the inside. Adjust heat and/or add a little more oil as necessary to keep peppers from charring.
3. When skins begin to brown at the edges and buckle slightly, you're in the home stretch. Turn heat back up to a high-medium, and toss peppers just a minute or so, until juices thicken slightly and skins show occasional freckles. Splash with sesame oil, if using, and eat immediately, or leave at room temp up to four hours.