So here's something: I recently inked up February 2 on our calendar with the letters S-U-P-E-R-B-O-W-L.
Here's another something: Sunday night, I served popcorn and apples for dinner, in front of the TV, and kept the kids up hours past their bedtime, all in order to watch football. Maybe I should've cautioned you to sit down? At least those of you who've, say, met me?
Because see, if you know me at all, you know I'm almost as likely to scale Everest backwards, in stillettos, yodeling Greek opera.
I do not exaggerate. Five years ago, I couldn't tell you football was a Fall sport. Actually, I didn't know sports had seasons. Indeed, this past game day, I had my son—my chess-playing, science-loving, math-whizz son—explain to me what this "down" thing was that everyone kept rattling on about.
Finally, he took pity, drew me a diagram, whereupon I finally (mostly) caught on.
But the Seahawks were playing! And it was a big deal game! And what's a Seattle girl to do, but stay connected, any way she can?
My takeaway? Their costumes look better than I remember. Pig piles and huge jumps made the second half neat. People get really excited about downs. And knitting furiously makes football manageable. (Costumes? Uniforms? Whatever. Their duds.)
Oh, and we won. (!!!)
You just never know.
To that end, another surprise something: last week, I was SO going to be Productive! All buckle-down, grind-that-nose, hit-it-hard, capital P-roductive! My to-dos were so arrogant and ambitiously self-important long, I had to fold the darn thing over, just to fit it all in. And then, fevers, tissues, you know how this ends, cancelled commitments and plans, galore. Turns out my To-Do looked a lot like A Light in the Attic, plus Magic School Bus and lemon-ginger tea, by the bucket. And pixies, pixies flying everywhere.
Not a bad trade, really. Just not exactly according to plan.
(Some things—like boys who turn nine!—can't and won't be postponed. Cakes were baked. Streamers hung. Balloons blown. Slumber parties held. Birthdays, like mailmen, always deliver.)
One last something: Wednesday evening, we were sitting down to supper, chatting and munching when Zoë, supremely non-chalant, says, Mom, I think there's a bird in the house. Or a moth. Anyway, something's flying around.
Mmm hmmm, I say.
Must be a moth, I say.
Anyone need a fork? I say, and sit down.
Max: Mom. There's a bird. In the LIVING ROOM.
(Insert mad flapping, dive-bombing, shouting, sheet-taping, goggle-wearing, and general chaos, here. And for forty-five minutes, hereafter.)
Three lessons: 1) Basements are excellent not only for tornados, but for storing children while wild animals run amock. 2) Birds fly at speeds that put all insects and most commercial jets to shame. Particularly when in enclosed spaces. 3) Just because a bird is a guest in your house, it does not follow that it is house-trained.
My advice? Stick with parakeets. Skip the starlings.
Anyway, what I took away from last week was that I'd best season my words well, seeing as I often eat them for days. See, a week prior, I'd scrawled "Expect the Unexpected!" in chipper wise letters across the blackboard. I wrote in response to some small curve ball that unsettled some little in not-so-little-ways. I was sage and parental and totally in the teachable moment and set forth this truism to impart perspective.
Which I tried to remember as I caught myself up, all twitterpated, all the week long. As in, But I had plans!, or My, that's a large moth, or But I can't even pronounce football! See above, my late father would've said. Eat crow, I might add. In any case? Anticipate surprise.
Do I sound like I'm avoiding the issue? Am I tracing proverbial toe circles in word dirt?
Darn it. Let's just do this thing. I'm here today to talk food that stares back.
The eyes are really, really tiny, if that helps. As are the wee pink bodies that surround them. Also, they're very inexpensive. Also, they're the aquatic equivalent of bacon bits. Addictive, crisp-salty umami bombs that I (and a few 9-year-old boys I know) eat by the fistful, fried, happily, greedily, all by their lonesome. (Those cakes, granola bars, snack trays above? Evidence I'm not completely off my taste rocker.)
What I'm talking about are tiny dried shrimp, which admittedly, you may never have thought about. Or known about? I myself walked past them for years at Asian markets, where they occupy yards of shelf-space and go for pocket change. It wasn't until I saw Fuschia Dunlop's Stir-Fried Greens and Shrimp that I dropped $1.79 on a bag. Now, I'm never without at least two. Few ingredients go from unheard of to occasional visitor in my pantry, much less staple. Dried shrimps are one.
And while I imagine they have endless applications—fried rice? laksa? popcorn?!—I've never made it past Dunlop's greens. This is, like so many of Dunlop's dishes, so simple you commit it to memory on the first go, so excellent you've a dozen rounds behind you before you know it. (Remember Dunlop's genius smoked tofu with celery and peanuts? Same lovely, same easy.) The low-down: briefly fry a toss of dried shrimp in hot oil until crisp and sizzling and blushed, two minutes tops, then remove. Follow this with a small head of cabbage, finely slivered, and stir-fry until supple, but just, five or so. Add some scallion greens (the greens! the unloved greens!!), a splash of soy sauce, sizzle, stir, done.
Hello to this tangle of tender greens, juicily sweet owing to all that cabbage, stippled with WOW, thanks to the shrimp. On paper, it is almost this cabbage. On chopsticks, it's a fourth cousin, twice removed. Those shrimp, they alter everything. They act like bacon bits on baked potatoes, edible bling to fancy up plain, savory tidbits you hunt down and hoard. Indeed, I'm so busy proportioning each bite, I never notice the bite's looking back.
Nor, I wager, will you, if you're lucky enough to wrap your hands around a bowl. It might not be quite what you expected. It might be far better. You just never know.
Stir-Fried Cabbage + Shrimp
adapted from Every Grain of Rice, by Fuschia Dunlop
serves 4-6 as a side; 2-3 as a main
Dried shrimp are available at nearly any Asian market (and in well-stocked grocery stores, such as Seattle's Central Market) for pocket change, $2-3/bag. Lo and behold, even Amazon carries them, though the prices and quantities are rather impractical. Dunlop calls for light soy sauce, which does make for a more aesthetically pleasing dish. That said, I ordinarily stock the ordinary stuff, which works beautifully, even if it does stain the greens a touch brown. My taste buds never complain.
Dunlop suggests all manner of greens, here, from round white Chinese cabbage, savoy cabbage, choy sum, bok choy, even sliced Brussels Sprouts. I've tried it with all three common European cabbages (Savoy, Napa, Green), and prefer the .49/pound cheap green, best of all. I often make a lunch of a bowl or two, solo. Also excellent alongside stir-fried smoked tofu, or under a canopy of soft-fried egg.
1 small green cabbage (1 pound, give or take)
4 spring onions, green parts only
4 Tbs. peanut or vegetable oil, divided
6 Tbs. dried shrimp
2 Tbs. soy sauce (light if you have it)
Discard any tough outer cabbage leaves, quarter the cabbage, cut out the core, then slice very thinly. Cut onion greens into thin slices.
In a wok or large heavy skillet (or even a Dutch oven), set the flame to high, add 3 Tablespoons oil, swirl, and add the dried shrimp. Stir-fry until crisp and fragrant but not burnt, 1-2 minutes. Shrimps will darken slightly, turn a shade more pink, and become very fragrant. Remove and set aside.
Return wok to stove with remaining 1 Tablespoon of oil, add the slivered cabbage, and stir-fry steadily over high until hot, slightly slumped, and crisp-tender, 3-8 minutes. I find green cabbage takes less time; heartier savoy, more; though ultimately, the cut-size will determine cooking time. Test several strands, and continue to stir-fry until texture is crisp-tender, or to your liking. Return most of the shrimp, reserving some for garnish, and the soy sauce, tossing and cooking another 30 seconds. Add the slivered scallion tops, stir a few more times to wilt, then taste for seasoning. Dunlop suggests extra salt may be necessary, though I've always found the shrimp + soy provide plenty. Season to taste, garnish with reserved shrimps, and serve piping hot.