Thursday, June 20, 2013

The Thesis Statement Generation

My husband and I often have disagreements as to which of us is the more over-detailed when it comes to telling stories.  We're both story tellers, we love the parts of our life that give light to where we've been and what makes us what we are, and above all we love to laugh.  If you've been around either of us we've probably each told you the same stories a few times, sorry about that.

As science goes, my husband is way worse at over-detailing and over-tangenting his stories than I am, and you can't argue science.  Sometimes, it drives me nuts!  I mean, why is it necessary to give a history, a backstory and a three minute anecdote to tell me why you prefer peanuts to cashews?  I mean it doesn't, right?  And after it happened a few weeks ago, I really started paying attention to the way people tell stories and give information.

When I was younger my mom would ask me about something and I would give her a really long drawn out answer, mainly because I loved to talk and she would get this look in her eye that essentially said "mmhmmm, mmhmmm, are you seriously still answering?"  This is not an insulting observation about my mother, she was at the time and remains one of the hardest working women I have ever known.  She raised four kids, none of whom currently have felony records (hoorazies), she has a masters degree and about a million letters behind her name, she and my dad fostered kids for ten years because they are simply good people and she can cook like nobody's business.  All that's to say, my mom is awesome at about all thing, except idle chatter.  (I also cannot comment on her origami skills)

There are way worse things to not get a gold medal in, I actually think they probably award medals for being excellent at not engaging in idle chatter.  Both my parents are information gatherers, not pursuers of trivial things.  They are part of a generation that asked questions and expected answers that were facts, numbers or yes or no.  If it was your job to know something and you gave an answer, people trusted that you were telling the truth and your area of expertise denoted, well, your expertise.  But not us, not Generation "Why."  We are skeptical and second guessing everyone from doctors to pastors to mothers and I would like to blame fifth grade.

Yup, that's right, fifth grade is the reason we annoy our parents' generation and each other so dang much.  In fifth grade, our country's rather homogenous educational system, we all started learning about how to write a paper.  We were instructed that in order to tell a story, whether it was fiction or not, we had to have specific information to make it worth reading.  And first and foremost we needed a dreaded thesis statement.

We had to tell our reader in the first three sentences what it was we were going to tell them.  We had to sum up what the paper was about in the first 30 words, and you wonder why Twitter is so popular.  And it's not like those thesis statements ended in fifth grade after we learned them the way cursive handwriting or long division did.  No, we continued down the thesis thoroughfare long into college.  We were assured that this would impress future bosses with our ability to tell them what we were going to tell them in a few short sentences but then we could ramble for three pages about that statement being equally impressive the whole time.  We need to make sure you know that we know what we're talking about.  We preempt the inevitable "why?" with all the facts and answers we can think of so you don't have to bother asking.  In the end, we've created a people who don't bother asking because of the amount of time the answers take, leaving them sorry they asked.

Now, I'm not advocating for ignorance.  I listen to the news every day on my way to and from work not because it's happy but I think knowledge connects you to the big world we live in.  I'm also not saying that the brevity of previous generations couldn't be thrown in once in a while for a good old tangent.  I guess, what I'm saying after all these paragraphs, is it is hard to live between information overload and a quick answer.  "News" isn't a once a day occurrence any more, it is a constant stream of information that uses the term quite loosely.  And we feed on it so when someone asks us why we have all the answers.

I hope that my son learns to trust professionals to give him an honest answer, one he doesn't feel he has to double check with wikipedia and WebMD.  I hope that I have the courage to use an actual answer more than "because I said so" when he asks me "why" but I also hope he trusts me enough that "because I said so" is also a justifiable answer.  And I hope when he has to write his first thesis statement it goes something like "The reason my parents are the best ever is because they tell great stories."

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Opart Thai, Yellow Curry & Planning a Menu

Noah posted a picture on Facebook the other day of some yellow Thai curry I made.  Frankly it was delicious and quite a few people asked me for the recipe.  I decided to make again a few nights later with just a few tweaks and it was better, in fact it reminded me so much of the yellow curry we loved so much at Opart Thai in Chicago, that we had ourselves a little Opart night with our two favorite dishes, yellow curry and Tiger's Cry.

If you are ever in Chicago and want to make a trip up to Lincoln Square, get off the Brown Line at the Western stop and go almost directly beneath the stop and you'll find Opart Thai.  Go there, trust me, just do it.  We first went to Opart when we moved to Chicago, we found it on Yelp and decided to try it out.  It was a life changing decision.  We explored more tastes there than almost anywhere else and we are better for it.  So moving to the suburbs of Seattle has left us longing for the tastes of North Chicago, one of the most diverse zip codes in the nation.

Then, quite serendipitously, one of the women in my Moms & Kids group taught us how to make traditional Thai curry and explained the secret was the ingredients, not secret ingredients just correct ones and for those you need an actual international market.  So, I'm including pictures with these recipes so you have an idea what to look for and if you don't have an international market, does. Please forgive the poor quality iPhone photos, I was sans big camera at the moment.

Yellow Thai Curry -

  • 2 cans coconut milk (I use one regular, one light)
  • 1/2 yellow onion, chopped roughly
  • 1 sweet potato or yam, peeled & chopped into bite sized pieces
  • 1 red, orange or yellow bell pepper
  • 2 Tbsp Yellow Curry Paste
  • 3 Tbsp Fish Sauce
  • 2 Tbsp sugar
  • 2 chicken breasts, thinly sliced
  • Lime (optional)
Start by sweating the onion in about 1 Tbsp of vegetable oil (I use canola because it has the least flavor).  When the onions become translucent add the coconut milk bring to a low boil.  While it is heating add curry paste, fish sauce and sugar.  Now, the paste is where the flavor and the heat come from, so if you want it hotter, add more but don't over do it or you'll find yourself sweating out your dinner.  The fish sauce is almost purely salt, so if you want more saltiness add it sparingly, but don't think it's going to add a fish-flavor or Omega-3s because it won't.

Here is an example of what you should be looking for, and my friend from Moms and Kids gave me a great piece of advice, if you are cooking Thai food, look for ingredients made in Thailand.  I know that sounds a little simplistic but since I don't speak or read Thai, it was totally helpful.  

The curry paste comes in a container that has a bag inside, it will last for a while in the freezer after you open it and doesn't really freeze solid so you can squeeze it out pretty easily.  But don't kid yourself on how much you'll need, this is a TON of curry paste, don't buy four or five jars of the same thing.  If you want one yellow, one green, a massamun, a panang and a red, that's fine, but this yellow curry paste will last us for quite some time.

As the mixture starts to boil, carefully add the sweet potatoes.  Don't add them too early because you don't want them to be mushy when you're ready to eat, a mistake I have made twice now, and if you're counting that is both times I've made this.  Also, now is a good time to make some Jasmine rice to go along with it.  I know, I know, brown rice is healthier but the Thai use Jasmine and frankly, it cooks faster and just plain tastes better.

Now slice up the bell peppers and set them aside, you'll put them in during the last three or four minutes so they stay crisp.

Now, slice up the chicken, I do this in this order so I only have to use one cutting board and it can all be safe, you're welcome, Mom.  I didn't take a picture of the chicken because I think showing people pictures of sliced chicken is equivalent to asking them not to like you anymore but I just thinly sliced two chicken breasts.  Think about how much hot chicken you want to actually fit in your mouth at one time and slice accordingly.  Now, add the chicken.  The chicken should be cooked through in about five minutes if the curry is boiling, if not it'll take a little longer.  When the chicken is no longer pink inside, add in the peppers.

Cook for a few minutes, just to soften the peppers a little, but again, not mushy.  And you're done!  Scoop some rice into a bowl, follow with the curry and using a microplane or grater, grate a little lime zest on top, maybe add some sliced green onion, sweet basil, kafir lime leaves or cilantro, whatever your fancy.

Now for the Tiger's Cry.  This was 100% our favorite appetizer.  In fact, more than once it was just a meal.  Our favorite quote was my cousin's husband, Chris, who after taking his first bite said, 

 "This is the meat I dream about"

All it is, is a good steak, seasoned well with salt and pepper and then charbroiled and rested to have a good crust and stay juicy.  The magic is the sauce, well friends, here it is... feel free to face-palm yourself when you see how easy it is

  • 1/4 c Lime Juice
  • 2 Tbsp. Fish Sauce
  • 2 tsp sugar
  • Green onion (however much you want floating around, I used half of one)
And you're done and it's amazing and you'll never regret it.

This blog post came about, not because I just wanted to share this with everyone, which I did, but because Noah and I have become menu planners and it's one of the best decisions we've made.

We sit down each week, plan our menu, go shopping with a budget in mind and eat really well.  It's cut down on going out and eating cheap junk. We even got a funky chalkboard for our fridge. We feel better, we spend more time together, it's awesome, we love it and I could go on longer but I think my friend Sarah does a better job of waxing poetic here. Plus you should check out her Etsy site here, she's awesome.

Grace and Peace and good curry