Karma (featuring Stir-Fried Ginger Chicken and Veggies with Ramen)
Multiple gnarly fingers of ginger, heads of garlic, sunflower oil, black vinegar, and a package of skinny ramen noodles mingled together on the far corner of our dining room table. My favorite carbon steel frying pan, a set of tongs, and a Microplane grater sat on the wood seam in the center. The closer edge of the table was open for the fresh ingredients that would be gathered the day of.
We still had three days before my parents arrived, but I love fantasizing about vacation cooking. Some women ransack their closets for the perfect outfits before traveling, pondering, “How many pairs of shoes can I fit in my suitcase???” while I’m rummaging through my kitchen cabinets wondering, “What if there’s a desperate need for fennel seeds or garam masala!?!?!”
My parents decided to travel from Connecticut to Portland, Oregon in early September. Terror was my initial reaction. I had a virus-eye view of my parents running from bag check to boarding gate encompassed by millions of desperately hungry Covid particles.
We talked about the risks at length. Rather than navigating the logistics of lodging, eating, and sightseeing in Portland, we would rent a house at the beach where we could invade each other’s spaces but not feel like our new protected zone was at risk. My dad found the perfect VRBO rental at Rockaway Beach with enough room for my parents, my brother and his girlfriend, me and Francis, and one bearded dog.
It wasn’t a perfect plan because my parents still had to get on a plane, but it had been a year since we’d seen them and the thought of never seeing them again had been on heavy rotation since day one of the pandemic. I took a deep breath and blew an effervescent pink safety bubble around the idea. When I felt the anxiety of negative possibilities sharpening like a hypodermic needle about to burst my protective orb, I scuttled it away. My parents are smart. They’ll don masks and gloves and plastic shields. They’ll slather themselves in antibacterial goop until they’ve surrendered their personal scents for sterile lab-tech “lemon”. They won’t pull down their masks to eat or drink and will not under any circumstances pee in the terminal or plane.
Pink bubble. Pink bubble. I need to see my parents.
Two days before their arrival I was standing in our guest room/ Francis’ office when my phone rang. It was my mom.
What can you tell from the tone of two words? Their downward sloping cadence bearing the weight of bad news approaching. Fasten your seatbelts, brace for impact.
“Oh, god…” I said, thinking someone had passed away. I looked at our cat lounging on the bed and then at my husband’s tense shoulders as he typed at his desk.
“Plumbing. There’s been a plumbing thing. A disaster or something.” She was stumbling. She sounded so far away.
“Ok, ok.” I tried a soothing tone to ease the transmission.
“Our rental just canceled.”
Pink. Bubble. Explosion.
“They said they had a plumbing issue, something with the toilets and showers, but we’re not sure. The guy sounded like he was making it up. We think he might be letting the people that were renting it already stay for another week. We’re trying to find another place but everything’s booked.”
I could hear my dad mumbling furiously in the background. Rental houses at the Oregon Coast are far and few between during normal summers, but after this particular fire-ravaged, protest-laden, pandemic-burdened summer, everyone wants a few moments of coastal peace. There’s a 6-month wait for yurts. Forget your last-minute booking of beautiful 3-bedroom beach houses.
First, there was scrambling. We hung up quickly and all took to our laptops in a race to find something… anything. Then there was frustration. Incredulence. Anger. So much sadness.
And one other teeny tiny unexpected feeling.
Because, though I would sacrifice anything to see my parents right now, I wouldn’t sacrifice my parents.
I wrestle with “everything happens for a reason” thinking (especially in 2020), but maybe this time I’ll concede. What if one of us had gotten really sick? I know the risks would have been on my mind the whole time. We are fortunate enough to have homes and food and our health. Maybe it’s too soon to ask for more. As a family, we decided to cancel the entire trip. It wasn’t worth the risks without the perfect landing spot.
I can wait for another 6 months. God knows how long it’ll be until I get to see my mother in England. I’ve gotten used to disappointments.
But let me just say, for the record, that if the VRBO manager had anything less than 3 feet of sewage throughout the home and poop streaming out of the showerheads, he’s in store for a karmic tsunami. How much money were you offered to cancel a reservation 2 days before your guests arrived? That sounds like something the president would do… screw us all over for a buck. Well, he’s got some phenomenal karmic retribution right around the corner.
A few days later, I was deep in depression, and a coworker of Francis’ offered his cabin by the coast to me, Francis, and Amelia for a few days. Though it wasn’t a family reunion, it was a much-needed escape from reality.
Into my car went multiple gnarly fingers of ginger, heads of garlic, sunflower oil, and a package of skinny ramen noodles so I could make my husband’s favorite dinner in the world.
Stir-fried Gingered Chicken and Veggies with Ramen
- 1 tablespoon sesame oil
- 1 tablespoon soy sauce
- 1 tablespoon Sambal Olek (you can use Sriracha if you like, but I prefer Sambal)
- 1 tablespoon black vinegar
- 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil, divided (not olive oil as it has a low smoke point)
- 3 tablespoons fresh ginger, chopped fine or grated
- 3 garlic cloves, chopped
- 1 pound ground chicken
- ½ pound skinny ramen noodles (I am normally a fan of thicker soba or udon noodles, but in this preparation, I use almost an angel hair version of ramen)
- Small head of broccoli, separated into florets
- Four baby bok choy, chopped into 2-inch pieces
- ¼ cup water
- 4 scallions, chopped into half-inch pieces
- Salt to taste
- In a small bowl, mix together the sesame oil, soy sauce, sambal, and black vinegar.
- Fill a medium pot with water, add a handful of salt, and bring to a boil.
- Heat 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil in a medium frying pan until it’s hot but not smoking. Add the fresh ginger and garlic and saute for 30 seconds to a minute, making sure the garlic doesn’t burn. Add the chicken and saute, tossing in a pinch of salt or two to season the meat and cook for a few minutes until the pinkness of the chicken is gone but it’s not dried out (you will be cooking the chicken a little more so it’s important not to overcook it here.)
- Scrape the chicken into a bowl. Do not wash the pan.
- Your water should be boiling by now. Add the ramen and cook according to the package. I get ramen that’s done in 2 minutes. Drain the ramen into a strainer.
- Put another teaspoon of oil in the pan and heat it until it’s hot but not smoking. Stir fry the broccoli and bok choy for about two minutes, adding the water and covering the pan after the first minute.
- Add the chicken into the pan with the broccoli and bok choy. Add the noodles and then the sauce mixture. Stir fry for a few minutes, mixing all the flavors together.
- Top with scallions and…
ps. Black vinegar is key to this recipe.
It’s available at a lot of supermarkets these days, and certainly easy to order via amazon. It’s worth it!