Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Everything's Coming Up Morgenstern, And Fragrant Chicken.

It's something Husband noticed the other day about me, when I was feeling tender and full of uncertainty about my future due to the Situation I Will No Longer Talk About (rhymes with shmoblessness.) Something I didn't even notice about myself. It seems that
when I'm thinking heavily about my mother, I break out my "As Time Goes By" DVDs and watch them obsessively, because Dame Judi Dench looks exactly like my mother, and Lionel Palmer is so much like my father. And when I'm feeling nervous about life and unsettled about myself, I tend to gravitate towards my 'Best Of Rhoda' VHS tapes, or my newest Rhoda treasure, Season 1 on DVD.

Rhoda Morgenstern. Patron saint of needless insecurity. Famed wearer of headscarves and often-questionable polyester garments. Wild hand gesticulator. Wisecracker with perfect delivery. A woman with such a hefty guilt complex, she actually felt responsible for World War II.

A woman after my own heart.

Why Rhoda? What is it about her that I find so reassuring in times of personal crisis? Perhaps it's seeing this woman, so beautiful, firecrackery and independent still working out the demons of a chubby childhood and a freakishly overbearing but loving mother. Maybe it's seeing someone who is so openly neurotic and still loving her so completely; something you don't see on television much anymore. I watch her and I see someone fighting herself and I breathe a deep breath of relief because here, at last, is someone I can relate to.
She reminds me that it's okay to be unsure, but that you have to keep going, regardless of whether you feel capable of it. And you can't lose heart.

Watching Rhoda also reminds me that the 1970's was the most awesome decade ever. Woodstock and bra-lessness. (I would kill to go bra-less) Annie Hall and Kris Kristofferson. A man on the moon! But the foundation of my crush on the seventies is built primarily on its fashions - Gypsy tops and peasant blouses, sundresses and stacked heel boots . And my fondness for bellbottoms goes unabated; not only are they figure-flattering, but they offer the opportunity to wear an ankle holster, so you can hold up a convenient store in total comfort and inconspicuousness. Or, if you're not a thug, you could put some breath mints or your house keys in the holster, thus eliminating the need for a purse. Which is an ongoing goal in my life because I am missing the 'I buy good purses' gene and instead rely heavily on my sister's generosity with her good taste.

Another ongoing goal in my life? Simple food. A chronic over-complicator, I am still doing battle with my impulse to add another flavour, another layer, to any recipe. In aid of my affliction, I purchased a tiny cookbook that I'd flipped through at my sister's house, called "Just 10 Minutes", by Carol Wilson. Although the '10 minutes' claim makes me laugh - clearly this woman isn't a food blogger who stops to take photos and strategically arrange foodstuffs every 3 minutes - the recipes are clear and innovative. (And I was attracted to the book because its cover is a gorgeous metallic teal colour and I am in some ways perpetually 12 years old and drawn to sparkly, shiny things.)

I'd settled on a recipe called Fragrant Chicken.
To me, chicken is the versatile meat. It is the little black dress of the animal-protein world. There is nothing simpler than making chicken taste good (other than over-cooking it and making it taste awful.) And on a day where I went through yet another awful job interview (seriously, asking me when I plan on having babies is NONE of your business, Potential Employer!) all I wanted was to make something tasty that wouldn't ask too much of me.

The recipe called for 1 fresh red chili. Fact: fresh red chilies are virtually impossible to find in Bloorcourt village. I've now been to over 7 grocery stores and fruit markets, and it's like searching for the vegetable Polkaroo. Where are they?!? Anyone?

So instead, I stocked up on some jalapenos; I fell in love with the sunset colour of this one:

I was also supposed to cut a knob of ginger in wafer thin slices, but after an attempt that left me with too-thick pieces and fearing for my fingertips, I decided to dice them finely instead.

I used pine nuts for the first time ever. These pale, creamy beauties aren't cheap! But then I looked them up on Wikipedia and apparently, in the United States, they are primarily harvested by Native American tribes, and so I hope with all my naivety that they receive a fair share of the profits.

I pan fried the chicken slices, then added the chili/jalapeno-spice mixture and the smell! Fragrant indeed! I was in for a good dinner.

Husband was out at band practice, so I had the house to myself. I poured a glass of wine, curled up on the couch with my dog and what was indeed a freaking delicious dinner and watched the movie "Sunshine Cleaning". During one bittersweet scene, I found myself choked up and started crying a little. And it dawned on me that this, my sensitivity, my resistance to becoming a hard person when life has handed me one or two reasons to be, is something rare and valuable, something essentially good in me. And perhaps that's all I truly need to get by in life; an undamaged heart.

And maybe a headscarf.

Fragrant Chicken, from "Just 10 Minutes" by Carol Wilson:

1 fresh red chili, seeded and finely chopped (or a jalapeno if, like me, you can't find red chilies)
1-2 garlic cloves, finely chopped ( I left these out, as usual)
2 scallions, finely chopped
1/2 inch piece of ginger, peeled and cut into wafer thin slices (I finely chopped mine)
1 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
3 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp pine nuts, lightly crushed
salt and pepper
2 skinless, boneless chicken breasts, cut into thin slices
1 tbsp chopped cilantro
avocado, for garnish, if desired


1. Combine the chili/jalapeno, garlic, scallions, ginger, ground cumin and coriander, 2 tbsp of oil and the pine nuts in a bowl and season with salt and pepper.

2. Heat the remaining oil in a wok or large skillet and when it's very hot, add the chicken slices. Cook over high heat for about 4 minutes, or until the chicken is browned on both sides, stirring frequently.

3. Add the chili/jalapeno mixture and cook for 4-5 minutes, or until the chicken is completely cooked.

4. Stir in the fresh cilantro and avocado, if using and serve immediately, on a bed of basmati rice, or you could use this as a pita or tortilla wrap filling.


  1. And this is the best reason to have a BlackBerry - so I can read these entries the second they're up. I cheered with every paragraph (got a little teary too). Thank heavens for Rhoda and thank heavens for you! Xo mrsbs

  2. Zoodle! You kill me. Thank you.

  3. Seriously even when you are sad you are the funniest most articulate lady...I am so very proud of you! the chicken sounds divine..I can almost smell it from here...

  4. mmmmmmmmmm cumin, coriander, ginger .. all my favourite flavours! and it looks easy enough for me to handle .. thanks for the recipe!

    the 70s fascinate me as well, but i was born in '81 so i missed all that :( but i can live vicariously through your post!

  5. Kris Kristofferson...he'll never lose it.

  6. I'm smiling so big right now because of this post! (Except for the potential employer asking you about your baby schedule! That's truly shocking and disgusting.)

    Come produce shopping along Roncesvalles one time--they've got red chili (just like Jamie Oliver always uses) coming out the waazzooo.

  7. Melissa, thank you. I'll make you and P the chicken one night; it's sooo yummy - even Husband tried a piece and liked it! And then I can tell you about the idea my sister has for us...stay tuned!

    Leslie, it IS easy! I highly recommend! And yes, those are fast becoming my favourite seasonings too, along with cardamon!

    Temp, you know how I feel about Kris Kristofferson. We'll have to watch 'Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore';you'll melt.

    JRA, bless you (in a totally non-denominational way) for always saying such great things.

    I'd love to do the Roncesvalles veg market crawl some time! I actually thought to go there for the chilies, but it was hot out and I was feeling too lazy.

  8. looks really delicious, i think i will have to try this one.

    I wonder if a serrano pepper would also make a good substitute (can never find hot red chilis here either), the seasonings look like those I see in a lot of indian cooking, and those dishes usually also call for serranos. would probably be very spicy

  9. Adam, you should definitely give it a try!

    I must admit I don't know my chilies very well, but the serranos sound right up my alley; I do love a spicy dish! Thanks for the tip!

  10. hmmm now I am intrigued....

  11. Keep that sensitivity! I am often told I'm too nice. Too nice? I don't think anyone can be too nice and if I am, well, even though the insensitivity of others can often wound my heart and soul at times, too nice is a quality I will keep! :)

    We should have a Rhoda party! Everyone in headscarves!

  12. Candice, you are right, and you've made me feel a whole lot less like a freak of nature for being so wounded, as you put it so well, because I'm not thick-skinned.

    And I am crazy about the idea of a Rhoda party with manditory headscarves! Let's do it! I'm totally serious! I've recently discovered that several of my friends are Rhoda fans too!