After the concert, we spilled out into the streets with thousands of other music lovers, and the masses, naturally, filled the nearby watering holes. To say that the businesses were crowded is an understatement. It was standing room only as we darted from one establishment to the next in search of a table, some nourishment, and refreshment. We visited with a few other friends that had made the trip to the concert and ultimately decided that our best course of action was to get a cab and head back to our hotel. The crowds were brutal, and we were hungry. At the hotel, we could order a pizza and open the bottles of wine each of us had smuggled in our suitcases. Simple plan, right?
It wasn't so simple. It was March and there were bitter cold windchills that night. Of course being the practical women that we are, we were dressed for a pop concert, not the winter weather. First, we all tried standing together and hailing a taxi. A couple cars stopped and rolled down their windows, but when we named our hotel that was only a few blocks away, they drove off. Really. They decided to leave us standing there in the cold. After awhile, we took turns trying to get a cab to bless us with the privilege of being their fare while the rest of the group stood just inside the doors of a bar to keep warm. It wasn't just cold. It was miserable. And, the taxicabs kept, one after another, driving away.
Finally, one friend comes running into the warmth of the bar and grabs us. Another friend has scored a ride for us! Awesome! We can't believe the luck! We all piled into the dark sedan with a slight, young man behind the wheel. Then, I noticed there was no meter. There was no radio to connect this car with a dispatch office. This was not a cab. This. Was. Not. A. Cab. Yikes.
There were four of us and only one of him. A couple of these women worked out regularly and one handled all her farm chores in addition to her full-time job of nursing. Additionally, we all were empowered by the music of Pink. We could handle this. There was nervous laughter about our predicament and jokes about how he had better not be taking us to the country to kill us because we could kick his butt. It was a tense moment as the driver made a u-turn, but it wasn't to kidnap us, it was only so that we could arrive on the right side of a one-way street in front of our hotel. In the end, he dropped us off at our front door, provided some lively chit chat about the concert scene in St. Paul, and almost sheepishly asked for only $20 for the ride. We were safe. We ordered pizza. It was all just a story to tell about our wild night with Pink.
Still, we couldn't believe the number of legitimate taxi drivers that either didn't stop at all or drove away as soon as they learned our destination was not a big fare. I had no idea when presented with take it or leave it, they would leave us there on the curb. I am incredibly thankful for kind, random drivers that venture out to make a buck or two after crowded concerts and save the day. (And incredibly thankful ours wasn't a serial killer.)
Like a St. Paul cab driver, I can take or leave most Chinese food. I find many menu items too sweet, too salty, too...not suiting to my tastes. Given the option to take it or leave it, I leave it. Except for Kung Pao. It is the dark sedan that saves the day for me. The extra heat of the dried peppers really makes the difference for me in these dishes. An area steakhouse is owned by a Vietnamese family, and Kung Pao is included in their menu. You guessed it. I don't leave it. I take it. Almost every time we dine there.
This Kung Pao Chicken isn't quite the same as that famous at The Homesteader, but it is a very good home-cooked version. Dark sesame oil adds a flavor hit to the dish. Instead of the broccoli and red onions that I often see along side the chicken in a Kung Pao dish, this recipe includes crisp snow peas and red peppers. It is colorful, flavorful, and quick for a weeknight meal. Take it, or leave it.
(adapted from Cooking Light)
2 tablespoons dark sesame oil
1 cup chopped onion
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 pound boneless-skinless chicken breast, cut into 1-inch pieces
3/4 cup water
3 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons corn starch
1 teaspoon brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon fresh ginger, minced
1 1/2 teaspoons crushed red pepper flakes
1 large red pepper, cut into strips
1 cup snow peas, trimmed
2 tablespoons chopped dry-roasted peanuts (cashews are good, too)
Heat sesame oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat.
Add onion; saute until softened.
Add garlic; cook 30 seconds, stirring constantly.
Add chicken; saute until chicken begins to brown.
Combine water, soy sauce, corn starch, brown sugar, fresh ginger, and crushed red pepper flakes. Stir until sugar is dissolved.
Add mixture to pan, bring to a boil.
Add bell pepper and snow peas to pan; cook until crisp-tender and sauce thickens.
Sprinkle with nuts and serve with rice. (Yield: 4 servings)