Being different is a lucky– and forgettable– thing. Especially when your difference makes you “diseased,” “aberrant,” “strange,” etc. I’m all three and more, technically. “Diseased” thanks to celiac et. al., no matter how many ways us academic pundits may like to spin the term cleverly, as a matter of societal “dis-ease” (even the pun is trite). “Aberrant” because of my sexuality; politically or genitally speaking, I have never been right.
And “strange,” well– the proof is in the pudding.
But I was thinking about what all this has to do with luck while I was cooking this sesame tofu vegetable stir fry for dinner on Thursday night. A gay friend was visiting (you can thank the debauchery he inspired for my long absence from your silent arms), and we had plans to live it up in New York for four days straight.
I had been feeling unlucky for days on end, with all the petty revelations each day initiated. Unlucky that I can no longer indulge in Irish car bombs, my unexpected favorite drink (I will never be the sort of GF-guru to lie that Guinness is inessential). Unlucky that I should have “comorbid” conditions that rally each other on like frat boys in a hazing ritual that will only end in accidental death or psychological scarring. Unlucky that I read the full label on the mysterious, new Snickers “peanut butter squares” but didn’t bother with the plain white chocolate bar and then spent a whole subway ride clutching my stomach home.
Then Thursday night came, and after making this meal to much kind applause, I found myself at an amateur drag show at the Barracuda in the West Village. There weren’t many women there, except for a completely out-of-place, hugely entitled bachelorette party that gave single women a bad name. Our brilliant emcee, Tina Burner, made sure they knew it, too.
Tina performed several songs while the queens themselves moseyed in tardily. Mash-ups of pop hits and old interviews and commercials about menstruation, Rihanna’s domestic abuse, Whitney Houston’s death.
She played on the crowd’s emotions openly, with nothing to hide. The mood shifted effortlessly from slapstick attempts to snort cocaine from the stage floor to lip-synching Whitney admitting, from one of her most devastating interviews, “Nobody makes me do anything I don’t want to do. It’s my decision. So the biggest devil is me. I’m either my best friend or my worst enemy.”
When the “contestants” came on, they were as “hungry” as Tina had promised. Even so, they had heart. And I realized, watching one gallivant through the crowd on skinny, stilettoed legs, while I nursed my empty whiskey sour and ordered another from a Brazilian cocktail waiter who looked like Freddie Mercury, that I was lucky to be there. I feel like it’s rare, especially when you’re sick, to remember that you’re among the living. These people were bleeding light, with a radiance that most ["normal"] people don’t have the privilege to see.
Sometimes your difference gives you a ticket into a bar, or a cruise liner, or a lifetime of terrible, terrible circumstances. It’s all part of some kind of initiation ceremony, right? The fact is, there’s always some place that wants you– a sort of “Bethlehem in broad daylight,” to lift from one of my favorite gay poets, Mark Doty. And even if you can’t chug Guinness, hold your girlfriend’s hand on a street in Ohio, or even walk down a street in the Village without some papery lipped old woman jabbing an index finger at your tattoos, you’re probably capable of having a way better time, if not for any other reason than that you’ll find yourself in stranger and more wonderful places.
Store-bought hoisin sauce, like most soy sauces, is usually not gluten-free; many generic brands use flour as a filler. For the literally 99.99% of Americans alone who don’t have a gluten intolerance, flour is admittedly a far less toxic choice than, say, partially hydrogenated corn syrup, or maltodextrine.
I, for one, am gambling what’s left of my luck with the presumption that I can’t possibly also contract whatever cabalistic illnesses massive consumption of corn byproducts promises (Diabetes? Mercury poisoning? Hit me with your best shot). Even so, the over-the-counter alternatives for regular Asian sauces peaks around six bucks a bottle.
So, the answer to this dilemma is exactly the same as it is to virtually every other granola-chomping, white girl problematizing, pseudo hipster quandary: do-it-yourself. With recycled cardboard from the cereals you can no longer eat.
Or peanut butter. Whatever.
I used a painless recipe for hoisin sauce for this sesame tofu veg stir fry from Nicole Hann’s Gluten-Free on a Shoestring, an invaluable resource my amazing best friend promptly bought and mailed to me the moment I told her that I could no longer drink beer freely.
So, stir stir stir the ingredients– peanut butter, GF soy sauce (I use San-J Tamari Soy Sauce– most of their products are GF), red pepper flakes, sesame oil, white vinegar, etc.
Whenever I’m making a stir fry, I chop all the vegetables first, because otherwise I get really stressed out about making sure nothing is burning simultaneously with making sure I’m not bleeding. This means red pepper, broccoli, baby carrot, shiitake, ginger, green onion, firm tofu.
You’re not human if you’re not jealous of my fantastic disemboweled lady cutting board (she’s my better half).
Since I’m neurotic, I kept an empty stove-pot ready for the vegetable mix to finish sauteing, since my crappy “large” pan obviously cannot hold more than what this picture shows (broccoli, carrots, pepper).
Next step: I smattered the tofu with sesame oil and sesame seeds. Smatter smatter. (I’m a little bit tipsy right now.)
It’s best to add the savory bits (ginger and green onions) last with the tofu! The soy soaks up the additional flavor, and neither will take long to cook.
Before combining everything, I added the rest of the hoisin sauce to the pan so that it would have a chance to heat up. Only for two minutes or so, because I didn’t want the tofu to get smashed (like me).
This is the closest I have to a finished photo of this meal, because I was so eager to consume it that I wolfed it down before I remembered to photograph my plate. ##firstworldproblems.
sesame tofu vegetable stir fry
prep time: 25 minutes
cooking time: 35 minutes
1 1/2 cups brown rice
1 medium crown of broccoli, cut into florets
8 oz. baby carrots, sliced vertically into quarters
1 red bell pepper, thinly sliced
3 bunches green onion, chopped
8 oz. shiitake mushrooms, de-stemmed and chopped
2 tablespoons fresh ginger, peeled and minced
4 tablespoons vegetable oil
3 tablespoons sesame oil
8 oz. firm tofu, patted dry and cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1 cup gluten-free hoisin sauce (homemade or store-bought)*
sesame seeds to taste
- Start cooking the rice by package directions (or, if you’re using a rice cooker, 1 1/2 cups brown rice to 2 cups water). If you’re using a stovetop, make sure to check it ever 5-8 minutes to make sure it does not burn.
- Chop up all the broccoli, carrots, bell pepper, green onion, mushrooms, ginger, and tofu according to the directions above.
- Make sure to drain and pat the tofu dry on all sides, twice.
- Prepare the hoisin sauce, if you’re making it from scratch. I used Nicole Hunn’s recipe from her GF cookbook, Gluten-Free on a Shoestring. You can find a very similar recipe here.
- Ready your stove with your all-purpose large pan and a large stove-pot on the left. Set the pan on medium-high with about two tablespoons of vegetable oil. Once it’s shimmery, add the carrots. Cook, turning them occasionally, for 8-10 minutes. If they start to brown, turn the heat down to medium.
- Once the carrots are almost tender (check with a fork), add the pepper, broccoli, and two more tablespoons of vegetable oil. Turn the heat to medium, put a lid on the vegetables, and cook for another 8-10 minutes.
- Once the broccoli and peppers are tender (again, that fork…), throw that batch into the stove-pot and put the lid on it, to keep them warm.
- Now add two tablespoons of sesame oil to the pan, followed by the tofu. Drizzle the tofu with the hoisin sauce; toss to coat, and shower them with your first round of sesame seeds.
- Use a square spatula or wooden spoon to turn the tofu evenly, browning the cubes 3-5 minutes. Add one more tablespoon sesame oil to the pan and throw in the ginger. Saute 2-3 minutes, or until fragrant.
- Add the last of your vegetables– the mushrooms and green onions. They should only need 2 minutes to soften up.
- Then pour in the rest of the hoisin sauce, to warm it up. It should start simmering within 2-3 minutes.
- Combine the hoisin mixture with the vegetables in the stove-pot. Coat the vegetables. Douse everything in one more round of sesame seeds, to taste. Serve over brown rice.