Friday, November 4, 2011

a Pair of Red Chopsticks... and Shrimp and Veggie Stir Fry

These are my red chopsticks.  They are world travelers!  Among a few other treasures - my paper lanterns and prayer flags from Tibet, an intricately dyed and embroidered green batik from South China, coins, my photo albums (I didn't have a digital camera at the time) and a few special items that I bought for my first apartment - I brought my chopsticks home with me.

I love my collection of chopsticks, and I wish I'd bought a few more while I was there.  I have a few fancy ones, given to me as gifts from my students, and my everyday ones similar to what I ate with in the Chinese households to which I had the honor of being invited to dinner, but these red ones are some of my favorites.  I even wear them in my hair (not these exact ones, I have more than one set for different uses).

Ask my friend Jessica, and she'll tell you that I wanted to bring everything home with me when we returned to the States.  My towels.  My bathroom rug.  Even my flowered plastic trash can.  It was my first place, after all, and everything was special to me.  But after much indecision and a lot of restraint, I limited what I brought home to just two jam-packed suitcases that flew back with me on the plane (this was when you were allowed to pack them up to 70 pounds each), and two boxes that I shipped back.  (Now, it's very hard to imagine all of my belongings fitting into two suitcases and two boxes!)  From my kitchen, I kept just two dishes that I had bought, a green coffee cup and a smaller green cup with a matching saucer.  Amazingly, they didn't break on the journey home.

Last night, I pulled out the box containing little colorful silk purses from the Pearl Market in Beijing, my coins and paper money (including a counterfeit 20 yuan bill that I didn't know was a fake until I tried to spend it!), a few trinkets from Tibet.  A glass Coca-Cola bottle from a dinner out with friends.  Various business and hotel cards, as well as my coffee shop punch card and even my Bank of China card.

Some people might consider all this junk.  And maybe it is.  But these are my treasures and they carry so many memories.  They tell a story of another life, and even though I may never go back, I don't want to lose something that was such a significant part of me.  And after all, it's just one little box of stuff, so I don't think I'm in any danger of becoming a hoarder.  :)

Jamie and I make stir-fry for dinner just about every other week.  It's healthy and quick to prepare on a weeknight, and we can vary it up with chicken, beef or shrimp, and any kind of veggies we want.  I've never written down how I make it, but to share it with all of you, I jotted the recipe down last night.  I like it a little spicy, so I'm pretty liberal with the chili garlic sauce, but go easy on that if the stuff scares you.  This recipe can easily be tailored for many kinds of veggies and meat, so really this is just a starting point for your favorite combination of flavors.

I've made it many times before without adding cornstarch, but then there's a lot of flavorful liquid left in the bottom of the wok, so using the cornstarch will thicken everything up into a delicious sauce that coats all those wonderful vegetables so that you don't lose any flavor.

And the little rice pyramid...  that was just for fun.  Because food should be pretty - even simple and plain brown rice.

Shrimp and Veggie Stir Fry
printable recipe
  • 1 pound raw shrimp, thawed
  • 3 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 4 tablespoons light or low-sodium soy sauce, divided
  • 2 teaspoons chili garlic sauce, divided
  • 1/4 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
  • salt and pepper
  • 2 broccoli florets, cut into bite-sized pieces
  • 1/2 red onion, sliced
  • 8 Baby Bella mushrooms, quartered (or your favorite mushroom)
  • 2 cups (or a large handful) snow peas, trimmed
  • 1 bell pepper, seeds and ribs removed, cut into bite-sized pieces
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 tablespoon rice vinegar

Peel and clean the shrimp, rinse well with cool water and place in a bowl.  Add the cornstarch, 2 tablespoons soy sauce, 1 teaspoon chili garlic sauce and sesame oil.  Add a pinch of salt and pepper, and toss to coat well.  Set aside to marinate while you prepare the vegetables.

When the vegetables are prepped, heat the remaining 2 tablespoons soy sauce, 1 teaspoon chili garlic sauce and 2 tablespoons oil in a wok over medium high heat.  Add all the vegetables and a little salt and pepper (don't over-salt the dish - remember that even light/low-sodium soy sauce still contains a good amount of salt) and cook, stirring frequently, for about 10 minutes until the vegetables are crisp-tender and still have a bright green color.

Add the shrimp and cook, stirring frequently, until the shrimp are cooked through, approximately 5 minutes.  Remove wok from the heat and finish the dish by sprinkling with the rice vinegar.

Serve with white or brown rice.

Yields 4 servings.


  1. Such treasures...and I loved seeing them all. And your stir fry looks as delicious as it is beautiful...the rice pyramid is lovely!

  2. What a beautiful story to go with your chopsticks. When my husband visited the orient, he brought me home some chopsticks that I've used for over 20 years now...

    ....I enjoyed seeing all your treasures! The meal looks amazing! Thanks!


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