Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Spring Break, WOOO!

(At left, two dead blossoms I trimmed from Moxie)

Spring Break, woo?

I admit, I've had a love-hate relationship with this Spring Break. I wanted to visit my family, but plane tickets were in the $900 range. I wanted to visit my friends in NYC, but we're all playing phone tag. Everyone I know here is out of town for vacation. The weather's not nice enough to be worth the hour-long bus ride to Virginia Beach (It's only half an hour by car). I also realized I have 54 three-page papers to grade and reading to do. My vacation suddenly seems a lot shorter!

I spent the weekend recharging and being quite lazy. I ordered Chinese food for the first time in many months (Restaurant food isn't generally in my budget.) and proceeded to eat portions of it for the next five lunches and suppers. It was awesome. I also watched 300 and had a Veronica Mars marathon. I've come to love the television series so much that it's one of the few things I've replaced, post-burglary. Luckily, Amazon.com had an amazing discount. Humor and teen-angst film-noir style? Yes, please.

Yesterday, I ran out of fresh fruit, veggies and Chinese leftovers, so I strapped on my backpack and hiked over to the grocery store in Ghent. I've been told Ghent is Norfolk's answer to the Village in NYC. Well, there are some ethnic restaurants, bourgeois (read expensive and fancy) grocery stores, a theater, and an art-house movie theater, but that's where the similarities end.

On the walk back, I realized why walking here creeps me out in a way that it never did in Des Moines, Storm Lake, Sevilla, Harlem, Spanish Harlem or the Bronx. I live pretty close to the university and fifteen minutes from Ghent. My apartment is in a "transitioning" neighborhood, surrounded by a mixture of student housing, low-income housing and family housing. The thing is, the buildings are widely spaced, but there are lots of fences and trees blocking sight-lines. Between my neighborhood and Ghent is an industrial district. In other words, there are all these areas where bad things could happen without witnesses. It also bothers me that as a strong, independent woman, I still have to think about these things. I hate feeling afraid just to walk around.

In my Harlem neighborhood, there were lots of weird guys loitering in front of the liquor store at all times, but they didn't make me nervous the way the loitering guys here do. These guys just stand there, alone or in clumps, all day long. At first I thought they were really bad at being homeless. (Skillful homelessness is done either in high-traffic areas with lots of opportunities for donations or in areas that provide lots of shelter from the elements.) Then I thought they were residents of the local Christian housing unit that doesn't allow alcohol or cigarettes. Perhaps they were just out on the street where they could enjoy a beer and a cigarette and occasionally run into friends. Last week, though, one of them just stood out there in the rain all day long facing the gas station on the corner. Say what?

Now I suspect it's drug-related. You see, quite often, a car is parked at that gas station, and people are always getting in and out of the backseat of that car. When the car isn't there, a cop car usually is. So there's a drug-ring on the corner that the cops are really unsuccessfully trying to stop. Fabulous. (There were dealers in NYC-- and Iowa-- but they always worked really hard to be subtle!) On the plus side, I've always been polite to the standing-around-guys, so they're friendly to me. I feel it's always better for the neighborhood criminals to have vaguely-positive feelings toward you.

When I got to the apartment, I tried cooking stir-fry for the first time. Before I broke down and ordered Chinese food, I'd been craving Thai. I don't know if any of the local Thai restaurants even deliver. Anyway, I wanted to learn to make some myself, so I bought some peanut sauce. Yesterday, I finally got the chance to use it. I found a recipe online. It actually would have allowed me to make my own peanut sauce, but using the stuff from the bottle was easier (not to mention comparably priced and probably spicier). Yum! It tasted so fresh and less fatty than restaurant Thai food. Here's the recipe from Cooks.com, including the make-your-own-sauce. Enjoy, my friends!


2 whole chicken breasts, skinned, boned & cut into bite-size pieces (I suggest slicing before it thaws completely. It's easier.)
1/2 c. peanut butter
1/2 c. water
2 tbsp. soy sauce
1 tbsp. brown sugar
2 tbsp. peanut or vegetable oil
2 or 3 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 tsp. crushed red pepper
3 to 4 c. sliced broccoli or spinach

In a small bowl, blend peanut butter, water, soy sauce and sugar; set aside. In a wok or large skillet, heat oil over high heat. Add garlic and pepper; stir-fry 30 seconds. Add chicken, stir-fry until firm and white, about 5 minutes. Add broccoli or spinach, stir-fry until bright green, about 3 minutes. Stir in peanut butter mixture. (If you use the bottled kind, just drizzle it on to taste. I used half of an 11-oz. bottle.) Cook, stirring constantly until sauce is smooth, about 3 minutes. Serves 4. (I served mine on a bed of spaghetti noodles. Rice would also work well.)

It's quick, easy and tasty. Enjoy!

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