Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Pancit




For a few brief months, between the move from North Dakota to the Rocky Mountains, we lived in Kansas. Alas, I didn't fit in any better in Kansas than I did in North Dakota. My parents chose a suburb with a concentrated Jewish population--a rather wealthy suburb, at that. We weren't rich. Or Jewish.

As per her usual, my sister made friends within days. Her best friend, Julie Schwartzman, was a smart, pale-skinned girl with jet black hair. Julie was popular and had a bowling alley in the basement of her home, along with pinball machines and skee-ball. I found Julie fascinating, particularly the carpet of black hair that covered her pale arms. I'd never seen a person that hairy in my life. Luckily, Julie's arm hair didn't phase her in the slightest; she even let me play with it sometimes. Nice girl, Julie.

The only friend I was able to wrangle up was a skinny Filipino girl named Maria Vergara who was just as out of place in that school district as I was. Maria had four older brothers who, evidently, thought it important to school her in the finer points in life: whacking the heck out of a tetherball, cheating at cards, and cursing like an old sea dog.

I remember one spring recess, while playing on the teeter-totter with Maria, I did something that apparently vexed her. She spit out a choice epithet and raised her middle finger at me, defiant. I'll never forget that moment, Maria ascending above me on the cracked red seat, finger waving in the air, stunning me into silence.

I came home that afternoon, wide-eyed. "Maria gave me the finger," I told Mama. I think I even whispered the word, I was so shocked. "I didn't know second graders could give the finger."

Mama promptly explained to me that ladies--particularly ladies in the second grade--did not give people the finger, and that Maria's brothers were obviously working overtime on Maria's education.

Luckily, Maria forgave me, and she was my only friend for the brief months I lived in Kansas. Maria's parents were both doctors, and worked long hours, but the one meal I did eat at the Vergara home, I was introduced to pancit. Pancit is a Filipino dish with Chinese influences, and it's delicious and quick. Silky rice noodles, cooked meat, and fresh vegetables are tossed with a savory sauce and stir-fried for just a few minutes. It's perfect for a quick weeknight meal.

Maria and I kept in touch for years--she was a stellar pen pal--and Maria now is a mother of two, living just outside of Boston. I only hear from her once a year now, at Christmas, but her letters are always full of vivid detail, written in her impeccable and beautiful cursive. I look forward to them.

Interestingly, Maria remembers neither giving me the finger nor what it was I did that raised her ire. She assures me that nowadays, she keeps her middle finger to herself.



Pancit
serves 4

1 (6.75 ounce) package thin, Pad-Thai style rice noodles
4 tablespoons canola or vegetable oil
1 small onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced/crushed
1 teaspoon fresh ginger, minced/crushed
3 cups diced cooked chicken, shrimp, pork or beef (or any combination)
3 cups shredded bok choy or napa cabbage
1 cup bean sprouts or carrots
2 tablespoons oyster sauce
1 tablespoon fish sauce
1/4 cup chicken broth
1/4-1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
2 green onions, chopped, green parts only
Lime wedges and peanuts, for garnish*

Soak the rice noodles in warm water for 20 minutes or until pliable; drain.

Heat 1 1/2 tablespoons oil in a heavy large skillet or wok over medium-high heat. Saute noodles for 1 minute. Remove and keep warm. Heat remaining 1 1/2 tablespoons oil in skillet. Saute onion, garlic, ginger, and meat for 1 minute. Add bok choy, bean sprouts, oyster sauce, fish sauce, chicken broth, and red pepper flakes. Cover and cook for about a minute or until bok choy is slightly wilted. Toss with noodles. If desired, squeeze lime over noodles and sprinkle with peanuts.

* The lime and peanuts are my addition; I don't remember them in the original version, but I like the tang and crunch they lend to the dish.

42 comments:

  1. Do they make hair-nets for arms?

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  2. We stayed in one place my whole childhood. I remember a new family that moved into our neighborhood from Minnesota, and they had a funny accent. Rhonda Carlson was in my class and sat next to me, I remember I had to give her my scissors. We were somewhat friends for years, but Rhonda was a perfect student and I was far from that. Lets just say I could of been if I would of studied. Anyway I don't know what that has to do with anything, just wanted to share I guess.

    The dish sounds awesome, easy enough to try. It's on my list.

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  3. Fusion dishes are the best. This looks like a perfect weeknight meal for the summer!

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  4. My granddaughter had that problem with her arms. I introduced her to waxing when she was old enough. She was thrilled with the results. Whether she still does it or not I don't ask...perhaps the hair has lightened up, but at any rate, her arms look fine.
    Nice recipe for pancit. I've never heard of it, but it looks doable and sure looks yummy!

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  5. That really looks good, and I have 80% of the ingredients needed already...hmm time for a trip to the store before dinner maybe! :D

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  6. Ooo. This sounds really good--will have to forward to the husband to put in the "save for a fairly hot day and need something fast" pile.

    I love your growing-up stories!

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  7. That looks amazing.

    And I love your vivid memories of growing up. I wish I could remember all of my growing up stories.

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  8. I love how you lead into your recipes with such relevance. As for the recipe itself, I am definitely going to try. Looks to be gluten free if I can find oyster and fish sauce that is GF. We'll see.

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  9. I enjoy pancit and make different versions of it at home, although it's been a good long while. I love its simplicity and how it calls for pantry ingredients that are staples in my home.

    You have inspired me to add that to my weeknight menu. Thank you!

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  10. Wow...must make this pronto. Looks FABULOUS! And healthy...bonus!

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  11. ahhh pancit. =) it's pretty much a staple in our cuisine. my lola (grandma) can make pancit in like 10 minutes. she used to work in a busy restaurant and as a way to make the dish more flavorful, she has a pot of simmering stock next to her and she uses it to cook the noodles. the broth evaporates and you get fantastic, perfectly cooked noodles.

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  12. Perfect summer meal. Thanks, TKW!

    By the way, the idea of skeeball in a basement is oddly appealing. I'm almost tempted to check eBay. Bad call, methinks.

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  13. What a beautifully written story of those fish out of the water childhood days you briefly lived, and how nice that you still keep in touch with the friend you made back then. I confess I had never before heard of pancit.

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  14. Those updates, even if they're once a year, mean so much, don't they? In an age of hurried, abbreviated communication, I'm always cheered to find that there are still people out there who write personal letters.

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  15. I love adding nuts to dishes. They give such a satisfying crunch. One of these days I have to get over my fear of fish sauce and try cooking with it again. I really fear the stuff.

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  16. Perfect timing: my kids' swim coach just told me she's been shaving her arms since high school, when she did it before big meets. I asked her about stubble. I mean, arm stubble! She says it's not an issue, but... I also went to college with a woman who had face fuzz. All over her cheeks, this blond fuzz. And that's all I remember about her.

    The pancit? Looks delish! I might just have to try it!

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  17. Never heard of it but looks delicious...and I love the story...it reminding me of Olivia's arms! ;)

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  18. MMM- I need to go to the grocery store now.

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  19. I just love your stories. What an interesting childhood you had!

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  20. If that is your actual dinner photo, I swear I'm moving in with your family! It looks and sounds delicious. I love the way you write. You are such a great storyteller.

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  21. Interesting. I always wonder what gets kids excited enough to do such things as giving people the finger. It's so neat that you still keep in touch.

    This is such a wonderful and traditional Filipino food. I like that your pancit is full of veggies.

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  22. Oy, vay. Reading about a fiery Filipina reminds me of how I can be one at times. I'm oddly compelled to apologize to you on Maria's behalf, how weird is that. I've been working on the cursing but am proud to say my middle fingers are demurely tucked alongside all others.

    Your pancit looks divine. Mmm hmm.

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  23. Love Pancit, this looks great! As for the middle finger well Mr Man has been giving us a series of words that he has heard around the house I kind of wish I only got the finger :-)

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  24. That looks so very, very scrumptious. If I had time to make that for dinner these days, I might be able to stop cursing like a sea dog myself ...

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  25. I only give the finger to drivers who rudely cut me off.

    Mmmm, this looks good.

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  26. Being quite the hairy little Jew myself, TKW, I will tell you that I was pretty horrified when I sprouted furry arms in adolescence myself. Right now, amazingly enough, and for the last 10 years, I'm looking down at hairless arms. Yes, I shave the beasts.

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  27. That was a great story TKW, I made a Thai salad similar to this only yesterday, I can't remember that last time I flipped the bird...

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  28. My assistant head nurse at my first job out of college was Filipino. Parties at her house always had the BEST food!
    This is such a funny story; I don't think I even knew what the finger was in second grade. That damned evil influence of older siblings; my son, my oldest, still sang Gymboree songs at 6. My youngest was singing pop songs with the radio at 4 and playing video games with her brother at 6.

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  29. May I say, no one tells a story on their blog like you do. Really. All the sensations abound here my friend!

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  30. An absolutely delicious story. (And the pancit looks pretty damn good, too!)

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  31. I love your story - I feel like I've met these people, having read your descriptions and your carefully recounted details. Love the recipe too - REALLY looks yummy. I try a lot that you post here, btw - have a whole new recipe repertoire thanks to you!

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  32. I love when you write about being younger. It's beautiful.

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  33. That looks yummy! I love the story that goes along with it, too.

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  34. I'm so sorry you didn't like Kansas. Now that I have moved out of a toxic neighborhood like the one you evidently lived in, I love it. I never want to leave!

    I will have to try this recipe because quick night meals are the key to my success.

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  35. I loved reading your story, your descriptions are so vivid, I felt like I was living these moments too; Julie and Maria sound like interesting characters!
    I know pancit from our filipino house employees here in Lebanon; we used to make it (well they would make it) once a week and we all loved it!

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  36. This story is fantastic -- you are a really wonderful writer, and obviously a killer cook, too!

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  37. Yay, I can't wait to try this pancit recipe. I have taken two different recipes and combined them to where I finally like it, but it's much more complicated than this one. This lookd prettier, too. Yummy! Love the middle finger story!

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  38. I always appreciate fish-out-of-water stories. Your Kansas days reminded me of a guy who lived in our old Hollywood building when we first moved to LA. He'd grown up as the only Jew in a small town in Nebraska. That sort of toughened him up, and by the time I knew him he had a predilection for dressing like Humphrey Bogart and writing crime fiction.

    Perhaps there is something about being the outlier that becomes foundational for writing.

    As for the bird, and your vanished epithet... it sounds like it was part of the bonding that kept you linked all these years.

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  39. Sounds like a dish for my repertoire (quick & easy). I had to read it twice when you said "her beautiful cursive"; I was still thinking cursing...glad she doesn't send you letters swearing at you!

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  40. How did I miss this?

    I'm glad I saw it because I just need to say that I L-O-V-E your childhood posts. LOVE them. I mean, where else can we read about children playing with other children's arm hair?

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  41. That looks amazing. I wonder if my family is up to it.

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