Perhaps I was being optimistic to the point of foolish, but I honestly thought we were done with winter. In the past week and a half, all our snow from the Groundhog Day Blizzard melted. That’s feet and feet of snow, which usually hang about, browned with dirt and gasoline emissions, until May. We actually saw our lawn! Our green lawn! And not just us — the whole town melted. I quickly adjusted to hearing cheeping birds in the morning and to not needing gloves to drive. I guess the “record” in “record highs” should have tipped me off, though. Snow is back.
It returned on Thursday night, in powerful force as Boyfriend and I left Devotay with some out-of-town friends on a (successful!) school visit. Full of patatas bravas, zucchini and aioli, chorizo, bacon-wrapped dates, and paella, we lolled out of the restaurant into a bracing shock of freezing air and, yes, furious flurries. Boyfriend and I waited for a cab for over half an hour before finally hailing one that carved a tenuous, fish-tailing path up Burlington, over the river, and down Melrose Avenue. On Friday, the snow proceeded to melt, but then returned overnight. And I’m not going to sugar coat this, friends: I’m ready for spring! I’ve got slingbacks and sundresses and open-knit tops bookmarked on my browser and I just want to feel, you know, not ridiculous for that fact.
But today, this gray and snowy day, I am happy to hole up inside and nosh my homemade take-out. It is a great disappointment of life here that there are no good Thai restaurants in Iowa City. Chinese, yes; Indian, reportedly yes; sushi, surprisingly yes again. But the Thai food we’ve sampled has been dishearteningly bland and boring, nothing to inspire repeat visits. So I am really excited to have found an incredibly simple, tasty, and fast at-home version of that classic, pad thai.
Sure, whipping out a wok will never be quite as simple as dialing out for take-out, and I can’t promise that I’ll continue making it when I’m back in New York (for the summer, say): there are too many authentic, delicious, and reasonably healthy restaurant options in every neighborhood to send me on a hunt for rice sticks. But for now, for me — and for any of you looking to satisfy a craving that your neighborhood place cannot — it works beautifully. It’s best with shrimp, which the original recipe calls for, but I had no shrimp and extra sugar snap peas this morning, and the substitution was just dandy. Add some scrambled egg, bean sprouts, garlic, roasted peanuts and the inescapable lime quarters and you’ve got yourself a lunch, a dinner, or a movie-in-bed meal.
(From Williams Sonoma’s Cooking at Home)
- 4 oz rice vermicelli (long, thin noodles like spaghetti), also called “rice sticks,” and sold in the Asian section of most grocery stores
- 4 tbsp canola or peanut oil
- 1/2 lb raw shrimp, peeled and deveined
- 3 cloves garlic, smashed and roughly chopped
- 2 eggs, thoroughly whisked together
- 2 tbsp sugar
- 1/4 cup fish sauce
- 1 cup bean sprouts
- 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
- 1 green onion, coarsely chopped
- 2 tbsp coarsely chopped roasted peanuts (to roast, bake in a 350 degree oven for 15 minutes; or, saute in a hot pan for a few minutes until charred and fragrant), divided
- 2 limes, quartered
- 2 tbsp cilantro, chopped
Bring a large pot of water to a boil and cook rice noodles according to package directions. Mine take 8 minutes.
In a wok or large frying pan over medium-high heat, warm 1 tbsp oil, swirling to coat bottom and sides. When very hot but not smoking, add the shrimp and stir until pink and firm, about 3 minutes. Add the garlic and stir until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Transfer to bowl and set aside.
Add another tbsp oil to pan, swirling again to coat evenly. When hot, add eggs and stir until scrambled, about one minute. Add to shrimp.
Add the remaining 2 tbsp oil to the pan, again swirling to coat. When hot, add the sugar and fish sauce to pan. When the sugar dissolves, add the cooked rice noodles and toss with the sauce. Return shrimp, garlic, and eggs to pan. Add bean sprouts, red pepper flakes, green onion, and half the peanuts. Toss everything together and turn out onto a platter or individual plates. Garnish with remaining peanuts, cilantro, and lime quarters. Serve immediately and enjoy!