Cooking, companionship, and Thai chicken.

This year for National Poetry Month, I am going to give you a clue about why I picked a certain poem. This is one I heard on NPR’s Splendid Table, and this is what it made me think of.

“Cook” by Jane Hirshfield

Each night you come home with five continents on your hands:
garlic, olive oil, saffron, anise, coriander, tea,
your fingernails blackened with marjoram and thyme.
Sometimes the zucchini’s flesh seems like a fish-steak,
cut into neat filets, or the salt-rubbed eggplant
yields not bitter water, but dark mystery.
You cut everything to bits.
No core, no kernel, no seed is sacred: you cut
onions for hours and do not cry,
cut them to thin transparencies, the red ones
spreading before you like fallen flowers;
you cut scallions from white to green, you cut
radishes, apples, broccoli, you cut oranges, watercress,
romaine, you cut your fingers, you cut and cut
beyond the heart of things, where
nothing remains, and you cut that too, scoring coup
on the butcherblock, leaving your mark,
when you go
your feet are as pounded as brioche dough.

Mike and I are both wired so that we would rather spend time together than to buy each other presents, and we are fortunate in that we enjoy many of the same things. So spending time together is easy: we can take walks and watch basketball and run errands and we both feel good about the time we have spent together.

After Alisa moved in, she made an offhand comment about the fact that we cook together a lot. Which isn’t something I had thought about before, but, indeed, we do cook together a lot. Although I am a person who needs solitude, I enjoy having input on my decisions. And thus, when I cook, I like having someone else there to help me think about spices and to be my taste tester. So we will often work on different parts of dinner together, trading off stirring and chopping and tasting. I like all of that part. It’s the cleaning up that I don’t have a lot of patience for.

A few weeks ago, Mike had a meeting, so Alisa and I went to Phoenix for dinner. Shocking everyone, I suggested that we split the Thai Chicken with Basil. I do not like Thai food (peanut sauce and coconut milk are not on my list of things I enjoy), but I couldn’t find anything objectionable in the description. And it was wonderful! And therefore clearly not actually Thai style. (That was for Susan. And Andrea. And Dawn. And Alisa. And anyone else who keeps making me eat Thai food.)

The next day, my issue of Fine Cooking came in, and it had a recipe for Thai-Style Stir-Fried Chicken and Basil. So of course, Mike and I tried to make it, and it tasted very similar to the dish from Phoenix. When I ate the leftovers, I added some jarred jalapenos to kick up the spice a little bit, but that was my only complaint. So I am offering you the recipe so that you, too, can enjoy its tasty deliciousness.

Thai-Style Stir-Fried Chicken and Basil by Lori Longbotham

2 Tbs. vegetable oil
4 medium shallots, peeled and thinly sliced
2 medium cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1/4 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
1 lb. chicken breast cutlets (about 1/4 inch thick), cut crosswise into 1-inch-wide strips
1 Tbs. fish sauce
1 Tbs. fresh lime juice
2 tsp. packed light brown sugar
1 cup lightly packed fresh basil leaves

Heat the oil in a well-seasoned wok or a heavy-duty 12-inch skillet over medium-high heat until shimmering hot. Add the shallots, garlic, and red pepper flakes; cook, stirring frequently, until the shallots start to soften but not brown, 1 to 2 minutes. Add the chicken and cook, stirring, until it’s no longer pink and the shallots are beginning to brown, 2 to 3 minutes.

Add the fish sauce, lime juice, sugar, and 1/4 cup water. Cook, stirring frequently, until the chicken is just cooked through and the liquid reduces to a saucy consistency, 2 to 3 minutes. (If the sauce reduces before the chicken is cooked through, add water, 1 Tbs. at a time.) Remove from the heat, add the basil, and stir to wilt it.

We used spring onions from the Farmer’s Market rather than paying for shallots. Since that was what we had. Also, we found the fish sauce at Harris Teeter, and we got the basil for cheap at an international food market. I am going to try to convince Mike to add some jalapeno next time, but he thinks the flavor is fine as it is. (I just like all those extra levels.) Serve it with rice and enjoy.

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