Being a writer, it’s a pretty amazing experience to have a personal relationship with your own fictional characters. “Personal relationship”- It sounds pretty crazy. Schizophrenia or something, right?
It’s not exactly the same thing; it’s not like our characters have audible voices or visual appearances (or at least not until we draw them.) It’s all just in the head; like a daydream, a conversation you have with yourself, except one side of the conversation is a fictional character that you’ve written into a story. Kinda like in the movie The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, except if Walter Mitty had been imagining fictional characters instead of his boss or the co-worker that he liked.
Sometimes, the conversation you have with a fictional character can be quite enlightening.
Lacy and I have been cooking stir fry for years now, but we could never figure out the way to master the meal. Chicken, tofu, etc… no matter what we tried… it tasted… “home-made”. Which isn’t a bad flavor, not bad at all. But not authentically Asian take-out.
“The trick is sesame oil,” we would always hear. But we’ve tried sesame oil, and it’s never worked well in our meals. We just… always seemed to do something wrong. The flavors don’t mix well with… whatever else we do… I’m not really sure why.
But finally, one day, we had the kitchen completely to ourselves as we chopped the veggies and prepared the chicken for the stir fry (which was as simple as opening the cans and draining the liquid from it). We were having fun, joking around in the kitchen, and “hanging out” with a character from one of our stories, one of our Asian characters. While I was on one end of the kitchen chopping garlic and onion and the veggies for the recipe, Lacy decided to take the advice of Ying – our character – and experiment with the chicken and sesame oil. She voiced the conversation out loud so that I could be a part of it. (Hence, the “having fun, joking around… and hanging out with a character” mentioned above.)
Lacy: Ying wants me to do something different with the chicken.
Kat: (sidetracked with chopping carrots) Oh….kay?
Ying: Please, please let me try it. I promise it will taste good.
Lacy: (hesitant) I don’t know… we don’t like sesame oil Ying. I don’t want to ruin the food for everybody.
Ying: Oh, please. It won’t be ruined.
Kat: (stops chopping to think) Well…
Ying: Please. I know how to do it. I cook like this all the time!
Kat: How different will it be?
Lacy: (still hesitant) Well it won’t be that different. She just wants to put the sesame oil and maybe some soy sauce and ginger on the chicken before she puts it in the wok to cook.
Ying: (begging) Please. I promise, it’ll be good. Everyone will like it.
Kat: Well… what’s the harm? It’s not that much different. We’ll just do it this once, so… just let her do it. (joking) Besides, she’s Chinese, she’d know how to do it better than we would, right? (to Ying) Go ahead.
Ying: Yay! Thank you so much, I won’t let you down.
Lacy: Ok. (shrugs) Let’s do this, Ying.
We were hesitant about changing our recipe, because we’ve never been able to make the sesame oil taste very good. But Ying was so confident in her knowledge on cooking Chinese food, we decided to take her word for it and experiment with the food.
What resulted was… by far the best stir fry meal we had ever made.
Lacy wrote down the recipe, in the diction of her character Ying. Here it is below:
Prep time: 20 minutes
Cook time: about 20 minutes
Cabbage, about 4 cups
Baby Carrots, about 4 cups
Celery, 4 large stalks
Broccoli, 1 (12 oz.) bag frozen
Onion, 1 sweet yellow
Garlic, 8-10 fresh cloves
Sesame Oil, 1 tablespoon
Ginger, 1 teaspoon ground + additional sprinkling
Canned Chicken, 2 (12.5 oz.) cans
Soy Sauce, 1 tablespoon + additional sprinkling
Coconut Oil, 3 tablespoon
Coconut Sugar, 1 teaspoon
Red Wine Vinegar, 1/4 teaspoon
Salt and Pepper to taste
If you want to serve rice with your stir fry, the first step is to put the rice onto cook. Having a rice cooker makes this very easy. I recommend jasmine rice as a wonderful compliment to this meal, but you can cook brown rice if it’s your favorite.
Step 1 – Open cans of chicken and drain liquid. Place chicken in a bowl and stir in sesame oil and soy sauce (1 Tbsp.), then evenly stir in the ginger (1 Tsp.).
Step 2 – Chop the vegetables. Cut the cabbage into large shreds, baby carrots into chopped pieces, and celery into crunchy slices. The onion should be diced, and the garlic also. This is all very good for your muscles and diet, to stand in kitchen and cut, except the crying part when you cut the onions, although some even consider that cleansing. I don’t know if I do.
Step 3 – The best pan to use with this recipe is a wok, because it is a deep pan that you can cook meat and vegetables in with a searing technique. Pour coconut oil into wok until the bottom is covered. Swish it around, to cover it more evenly. Add cut onions and garlic and cook for 2-3 minutes, until the aroma of the garlic fills the air and their colors change slightly (don’t burn it!). Drop chicken on top of the oil mixture, letting it stay on top, and cook on high heat until the garlic has browned, then stir, with a wooden spoon, the mixture together.
Step 4 – Turn your oven onto “Broil” setting. Did you know that by putting the frozen broccoli under the broiler for about 5-10 minutes, you can remove the excess water and ice, and give the stir fry a better quality? That’s why you want the broiler on. Open the bag of broccoli and dump the florets into a cake pan, opening the oven and putting it under the heat. Watch it carefully because you don’t want the florets to get black on them; so in about 4 minutes, take it out of the oven and stir the florets, placing it back under the heat for another 2-3 minutes. When it’s finished heating, the broccoli will be less icy and a bit rubbery to the touch. That’s ok. You will cook it all the way in the stir fry.
Step 5 – Keep searing the chicken on high heat. Juice is good. It keeps garlic and onion from burning. However, what you are trying to do is sear the meat until all the juice is gone and the chicken is being directly impacted by the heat, so you can brown the sides. Watch it carefully, letting it cook without stirring for about 3 minutes until you fold the chicken again, trying to turn it and let it cook on other sides. Cook until all the juice is gone and the meat is browned on different sides. (Some sides may be browner than others, and that’s good.) It’s about a total of 8 minutes cooking the chicken.
Juggle the task of checking the broccoli in the oven and chicken in the wok, keeping an eye on both while they’re cooking.
Step 6 – Add carrots to the chicken in the wok. This is a new layer, so begin with not stirring it in while you let it sit and cook for another minute on high. You can add more soy sauce if you want, and also, now it is time to season the stir fry with red wine vinegar and coconut sugar, because the carrots are delicious with their own seasoned taste. After seasoning, stir the carrots into the chicken and let it cook for 2-3 minutes.
Step 7 – Add a new layer: celery. In this layer, you may add more ginger to your liking, sprinkling it in, to give the vegetables a bit more flavor, stirring the celery in after you season it. Cook for another 4 minutes on high heat.
When you are able to slice a carrot with your wooden spoon, you are ready to move onto the next step.
Step 8 – Add broccoli on top. Do not stir it in. There should be enough liquid from the vegetables at this point, but if you need more (check the bottom to see) add more soy sauce. More ginger can be added (optional) in this layer, too, but only in a sprinkle. Cook for 3 more minutes on high heat.
Step 9 – In all it is about 10 minutes that you have been cooking the veggies. At last, add the cabbage layer and cook it only until the cabbage is slightly limp and less white in color, but it is best with a slight crunch which can only be kept with minimal cooking. Let the cabbage stay on top, and don’t stir until it’s almost ready to take off the heat. Salt and pepper this layer if you’d like to. I personally don’t like too much pepper but a little can add flavor. Add soy sauce, or take the soy sauce to the table for others to use it like they want. Some people like the saucy, salty taste while some the plainer flavor, I’ve learned.
Step 10 – Enjoy!