Peanut chicken curry – Yow!, and remembering “Mill Valley”

Peanut chicken curry – a Phalanx of Phlavors

We haven’t made many Asian dishes here (or at least I haven’t), but on a whim we grabbed some rice noodles at the supermarket and started to scheme what to do with them. Here’s what resulted, and it is among the most delicious lunch (or dinner) dishes I’ve ever had.

…and here’s all you need!

DSC_9992smallThat’s right! All it takes is (l to r, back) soy sauce, lime juice, rice vinegar, peanut sauce, fire oil, olive oil, noodles, sesame seeds, sesame oil, red pepper flakes, curry, onion powder, garlic powder, powdered ginger, black pepper, (l to r, front) chopped spinach, peanuts, chicken, chopped green onions! That’s it! Nothing more!

This dish uses a ridiculous number of ingredients – what I call a veritable phalanx of phlavors – but for all the endless uncapping and recapping of jars and bottles the dish is actually very simple to make. Let’s get to it: To serve two for lunch or supper, you’ll need (here’s the list again):

  • about 1 1/2 cups pieces of roasted chicken (we used a store-bought rotisserie chicken because it’s delicious and ultra-tender)
  • fettuccine-style rice noodles for two (check the package directions)
  • a large splash of olive oil
  • a splash of sesame oil
  • squirt of lime juice
  • sprinkles of rice vinegar
  • Tamari gluten-free soy sauce
  • about 3 tbsp. Thai peanut dipping sauce
  • a little water (if needed to keep the sauce from thickening too much)
  • 1 tbsp. chopped green onion (scallions)
  • 1 tsp. onion powder
  • 1 tsp. garlic powder (or 2 cloves, pressed)
  • 2-3 tbsp. curry powder
  • 1/2 tsp. black pepper
  • 1/2 tsp. powdered ginger (or 1/2 tsp. minced fresh ginger root)
  • 1 tsp. cayenne pepper flakes (or: 1/2 tsp. powdered cayenne pepper)
  • (optional) a splash of Mongolian fire oil for extra heat

And at the very end:

  • 2 tbsp. sesame seeds
  • about 3/4 cup dry roasted peanuts (or cashews – your choice)
  • about 1/4 cup finely chopped fresh baby spinach

Note that for milder palates that you can skip the hot stuff.

Cook the noodles according to directions – about 7 minutes in boiling water with a little olive oil. Make sure the noodles don’t stick to each other or the pan (they will, given half a chance, and they stick to things like Gorilla Glue). Drain, and rinse gently with cold water for a few seconds.

Heat olive oil in a pan. Add chicken pieces and green onion and gently stir over medium low heat for a minute or so. Now sprinkle in the other wet ingredients – soy sauce, rice vinegar, sesame oil, lime juice – and then add the peanut sauce. Add the ginger, garlic, onion, and curry powders, black pepper and cayenne flakes, and keep stirring. If sauce seems too dry, add a little water. When everything looks, smells, and tastes terrific, add the sesame seeds, chopped spinach, and peanuts (or cashews) and stir for about a minute. That’s it! Ladle this over the rice noodles in bowls and serve right away. It’s an OMG! gustatory experience!

Good, zingy stuff!

Good, zingy stuff!

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Musings on “Mill Valley,” a 1970 song about Mill Valley, California

I’ve been to northern California – from San Francisco north to Santa Rosa – enough times to have mixed feelings about it. Yes, it’s sunny and beautiful and hilly and happy, but I’ve always found it a bit too-too. A little too happy, a little too rich, a little too pleased with its own specialness. But I’m already digressing, because Mill Valley, a relatively small town of 13,000 at the southern end of Marin County, may be all of the things I’ve just groused about and still bring a tear of joy to your eye.

(boomers should remember this…)

That’s largely due to the incredibly unlikely pop hit of 1970, “Mill Valley,” sung by a bunch of Mill Valley third graders and their teacher, Rita Abrams, who wrote the song. The song is pretty simple – it’s all about how pleasant and caring and joyous life is in Mill Valley, and not much more – but it caught the attention of Warner Bros. Records “where guys in suits stood up and gave it a standing ovation.” I liked the song when it came out, and I still like it today. The Youtube film below, made soon after the song became a hit, was shot by a struggling young documentary filmmaker named Francis Ford Coppola.

It’s a catchy tune, the kids and grownups are tanned and cheery, they love their town, they exchange hugs, they giggle (and I could add, if the song doesn’t affect you in some way, you might want to check to see if you’re human). It’s about a narrow and idyllic slice of America, and not at all about other places in 1970 like the South Bronx or rural Appalachia or My Lai, Vietnam. And it was a fitting childhood anthem for the launch of the 1970s, what Tom Wolfe called the “Me Decade,” when so many of us ended up Rolf-ing and est-ing and self-actualizing ourselves into a near-stupor.

Still, I’m a bit of a fan of the song and what it’s meant to millions of people – boomers like me – who heard it. It may be the only hit song ever whose sole message is “isn’t life wonderful here?” And the town, small as it is, may be as good as it’s portrayed in the song, since it’s been home (at one time or another) to Jerry Garcia, Janis Joplin, Bonnie Raitt, Peter Coyote, Dana Carvey, Jack London, Eve Arden, Jonah Hill, Mariel Hemingway, and gobs more artists and writers and celebs. Go there, cafe-hop from one coffee house to another, zip in and out of dozens of art galleries, eat organically and veganly wherever you want. And come election time, know in advance 80% of the people vote Democratic.

I write about this because I’ve been asking myself how this song occupied a pivot point in our cultural evolution, which I believe it did. I think, beyond being a song of praise to a place, it strengthened the notion of the sanctity of self – very much a ’70s core value – as seen in the faces of the children (and adults, too). When we got past that – into the ’80s and ’90s and beyond – we lost a lot of the heart of “Mill Valley” and no doubt gained other things of no less worth, if we only knew what they were.

Thanks to Rita and the kids from 45 years ago. The song gave us a small refreshment of innocence and joy and sunshine in a time that was otherwise one of the darker years in our country’s history. We’re better off for that song, and maybe better off that its time in our lives was brief, but bright.

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There it is, for now.

 

 

Ned White

About Ned White

Ned White is a writer, novelist, crossword puzzle constructor, humorist, traveler through 49 states, and at times a danger in the kitchen. He lives with his wife in South Thomaston.