I’m thankful that we are alive… that’s really the only thing I’ve ever learned from this, my favorite of all western holidays, a very pagan holiday with a long history that Christianity was never able to stamp out. I always take October 31st and November 1st off from work. Always always. And I enjoy it every year!
This one was a relatively quiet one for me. I didn’t attend the costume balls at any of the local clubs of the preceding weekend. I didn’t work on an elaborate costume of any kind. Instead, I enjoyed a quiet Wednesday afternoon carving 3 butternut squashes into small jack-o-lanterns, simultaneously doling out candy to trick-or-treaters when they knocked. There were more than usual this year, and let me tell ya: some of them were quite an eerie sight! The most memorable? A mother and her three young daughters- all dressed as witches, another mother and her two children dressed as Japanese spirits or something, and the next-door kid who donned a fantastic grim reaper (death represented as a black-hooded-and-caped skeleton wielding a scythe) costume, complete with remote-controlled blood that oozed down his face. Lovely. Have some candy.
Night fell, the holiday truly commenced, and I set my jack-o-lanterns outside to ward off any stray evil spirits. By 8 o’clock the trick-or-treaters became sparse, and because I was in a sociable mood and tired of being inside the house, decided to venture out to a local haunt. Halloween is one of the western gay community’s most popular holidays, and, although the weekend costume balls had come and gone, I felt sure that this particular Wednesday would still draw a crowd out into the night. I was right! It was nice to mingle with familiar faces, most of which I thankfully recognized!
I thought I’d also share a little recipe with you. My old friend May taught me this dish, so I assume this is a Hmong dish, but it could be Laotian, it could be Thai, it could very well be known and enjoyed throughout this region. Who knows- I’m not even sure of the proper name for this dish! I tend to call it Bitter Flowers, as this is what the finished dish reminds me of. Flowers. Very spicy and bitter flowers. If you are a person who would enjoy taking a piece of lemon-rind, sprinkling it with ground chiles and salt and devouring it with glee, then this dish is for you! It is essentially a stir-fry of bitter eggplants, those in the photo above being a popular type of these (nope, dey ain’t no pumpkins), but I know of two more: a type that is more egg-shaped with lengthwise ridges as well, and a teeny-tiny eggplant often called “pea eggplant” (as they look like large green peas). All three of these are remarkably bitter and widely available here all summer and autumn in the “Asian” markets and at the farmers’ markets. Heaps and heaps of them. And I usually make this dish a few times during the season, but this year I didn’t get to it until now, and barely at that as some of my stash had become soft. Luckily, most were still usable!
1-2 T oil
fresh red chiles, seeded and sliced- I used 3, but to taste…
1 stalk of lemongrass, sliced very thinly at a diagonal (discard the dry outer leaves and use the paler portion near the root end)
Uh….a quantity of bitter eggplants- such as what would fit into a pair of cupped hands…sliced 1/8″ across into “flowers”
salt to taste (yep, salt…nam pla is not used in this dish- disturbs the colour scheme probably)
1)Heat the oil in a wok over med-low heat and add the chiles and lemongrass; stir-fry for about a minute, just enough to infuse the oil with flavour.
2)Add the bitter eggplant slices and stir-fry just until until a bit wilted, but not entirely soft; they should still retain their shape.
3)Remove from heat and add salt to taste. Serve hot or at room temperature with khao nyao (sticky rice) or any other rice on hand.
This is most refreshing in hot weather, or anytime that the appetite is a bit jaded. Perky, very perky. Oh. and before I forget: this simple recipe is also used for bitter melon.
May you all enjoy the bounty of the harvest, good health, and good spirits. Et men…er Amen.