Wednesday, June 9, 2010
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.
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.