Tofu and vegetable lo mein (and notes on meeting Santa)
It's Thankful month. Seems somewhat ironic, in the face of an election year that delivered punches left and right, shocked and devastated. On the same token, the traditional reminder for conscious contemplation and gratitude couldn't be more timely.
Here are a few things I'm thankful for this week, starting with the most prosaic, which may seem shallow yet is also awesomely useful: I'm very thankful for my new Cuisinart food processor. I'm in awe of its fabulous options, offering chopping, medium and fine slicing and grating. I love the smooth, swift way it can swallow the likes of woody broccoli stalks, peppers, carrots, celery...and whatever I throw in it, and transform the bunch into slender, flavorful vegetable ribbons that are a brighter, tastier throwback to finely sliced, old school chow mein. Along those same lines, I'm grateful for the beautiful deliciousness and ease of stir-fries; the colorful, healthy way the cluttered contents of what's left in the fridge combined with the distracted methods of a muddled mind can form a cohesive, satisfying, variable dish. It's what we're eating pretty much all week. And I'm thankful to have had coffee with Santa.
We all know it takes many hands to do good work, to share in spreading joy and cheer the weary and growing wearier world over. There’s a need for many helpers, none of whom make any of the others any less real. For Longmont’s John Chilson, an international marketing consultant, teacher, and speaker, a remarkable journey began in October of 1999, when he spotted a particularly fun $35 Santa suit, complete with covers for boots, a wig, bag for toys and cozy hat, at Walmart. "I've had a beard since '72, and was a natural fit for a Santa" he told me Tuesday morning at a local coffee shop, eyes twinkling over his red flannel shirt while sipping his drink. "The outfit looked like fun. I put a note on neighbors' doors that Santa would be sitting outside our house at certain dates, and there it began. Before I knew it, I was Santa."
Mr. Chilson helped to found the Society of Santa, where people can search for available Santas who are reliable, professional, and with completed background checks and performance and liability insurance, for their events. His website, Santa Claus at the North Pole, dazzles with cheerful offerings including videos, Santa-approved gift recommendations, downloadable coloring pages, updated calendar of Santa's schedule, recipes, favorite music and more. And upon meeting Santa John, it goes without saying, being Santa is far more than a job. It is a year-round lifestyle, one which entails always wearing red and driving a red car with the license plate "North Pole", among many other fine details. Meeting him Tuesday brightened my day. He was so kind, so compassionate, so authentic.
Wednesday morning I woke up feeling despondent for our country and the hate, fear, and violent simmering of its stark divides. The feeling was at first immobilizing. I found myself returning to pieces of my conversation with Santa the day before. Namely, the magical potential of little kindnesses. Santa John shared stories of hospitals, shelters, family events, each special and stirring in its own way. He talked of teens whose eyes filled with tears when he told them he believed in them, because, "no one had ever said that to them before." He talked about how blown away he was by an older woman in the hospital when he recognized how much comfort he was able to give her by simply saying, as Santa, 'you have permission not to get everything done for Christmas'. The red suit delivers. "It's rather addictive putting on the red suit," he told me. "There's power, and not the kind that comes from personal gain, though I do gain so much from it. In fact, I'm happier with myself, more accepting of myself. That is a big part of what I love most."
I know I've taken a huge leap and tangent talking about a talk with Santa in a post about an easy stir-fry you could probably make with your eyes closed. I can't even say I know whether Santa John himself would enjoy this noodle dish, but I do know he'd sample with appreciation. But somehow this week, Santa and noodles seemed to deserve a shared space, if only in my mind. I am only one person, and without a red suit. But I can choose kindness where possible, and that does mean something. This week Santa reminded me, little things are powerful. They are the way forward to cohesive, colorful hope.
Tofu and vegetable lo mein
1 8-ounce package of extra firm tofu, cubed
1 1-inch piece ginger root, peeled and minced
2 garlic gloves, minced
1 medium carrot, thinly sliced
3 bell peppers (red, orange, yellow), julienned
1 large broccoli stalk, thinly sliced
1 cup mushrooms, thinly sliced
1 8-ounce can water chestnuts, sliced and drained
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1/4 cup low-sodium vegetable stock or broth
¼ cup hoisin sauce
¼ cup low-sodium soy sauce
1 tablespoon rice vinegar
1 tablespoon maple syrup (or honey if non vegan)
1 T tomato paste
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
Preheat oven to 400 F.
Prepare a baking sheet with cooking spray or line with silpat. Evenly spread cubed tofu on tray and bake 30 minutes, turning halfway through.
In a pot of boiling water, cook noodles according to package directions. Drain well and set aside.
In a small bowl, whisk together broth, hoisin sauce, soy sauce, rice vinegar, syrup or honey and tomato paste. Set aside.
Heat oil (or cooking spray) in a large nonstick skillet. Add ginger and garlic and cook for 1-2 minutes, or until garlic is lightly browned.
Add all the vegetables and water chestnuts to pan. Cook, stirring, 3 minutes.
Add sauce. Bring mixture to a near boil, reduce heat and let simmer until slightly reduced and thickened, about 4 minutes.
Stir in noodles and tofu and serve.