Tuesday, October 10, 2017

happy sad spicy roasted green beans

Last May, shortly after we decided to move from California to Washington, we were attending our SoCal church and the pastor gave a sermon about comparison. I am sorry to say that I recall almost nothing about the context or the particular anecdotes that were provided (apologies to all my pastor friends) but an aspect of it did stick with my husband and I because over post-Church brunch, we talked about it. We concluded that in moving from California to Washington we wanted to be very clear with ourselves, and in talking with others, that we did not view the move as choosing a new place because it is somehow better than our old place. We love California. The decision to go to Washington was not a push to leave California but rather a pull to do something new and different. We did not want to do the comparison thing where it's like "Oh we love Washington: all the clean air, there's no traffic, housing is so less expensive! Suck it LA." Sincerely, that has never been part of the narrative for us. We love both places and do not compare them to each other because they are very different. Another way to put it: our new love for Washington does not mean a rejection of California and the reasons why we lived there. I think it's a misstep to think that a yes to something new suddenly requires an eschewing of the former, as in "I can't believe I used to like this..." While I am very much in the honeymoon stage in my new hometown, I still carry the same love I had for where I used to live.

I think I want to share this because right now my outlook can best be described as happy sad. We purchased a new home and have been moved in for about three weeks and it is wonderful. I am so glad to be unpacked and surrounded by familiar objects and am also enjoying picking out new things for the home. (For those who have followed along with my attempts at Instagram stories, you got some awkward video of me excited for my new washing machine and TV room couch. Thanks for enduring). But unpacking has brought a new realization of the permanency of this change. It's as though seeing my California things in my Washington home deepens my understanding of "Oh, I really don't live there any more." Today I spotted a book on our shelves with a deeply faded spine. It's color stood out to me in contrast to the other books it was stacked next to. I remembered it has that faded spine because of the light it was exposed to in the guest bedroom of our California home. As I processed the memory of where it used to sit compared to where it is now,  I felt sad. That place where it used to be, where I used to be, is gone. 

I used to think that for a decision to be validated as the right one everything about it had to feel right and good and happy. As you can imagine, this has caused me no small amount of heartache over the years. Thankfully, intellectually at least, I have learned this is not the rule. I think it would have helped me all those years ago to hear more stories about the hard parts of change and transition. I know it helps me now to acknowledge them. I am okay and happy in my new place but I am also homesick for California. I can be both of those things at the same time.

It isn't the highest item on the list of things I miss about SoCal, but we did have some really great local restaurants in our neighborhood. In my opinion, the best casual dining Thai food restaurant in the US is within 2 miles of our old home (feel free to argue with me about it, but I am sticking to it). There were also places that weren't like "the best ever" but were just our places: familiar, easy, consistently good. Places where we could always count on a spot at the bar for an end of work-week margarita or short wait time for take-out. There is a Chinese food restaurant a block south from my old work that was a standby for a quick weeknight dinner. I would text my husband "Spicy green beans for dinner?" and he would text back a thumbs up affirmative. Technically, the dish was spicy green beans with chicken, but I didn't care about the chicken. When I ordered, I asked for more green beans than chicken and the staff would smile and indulge me, switching from a wide serving spoon to tongs, to better select the beans from buffet dish.

The green beans were crazy good: charred on the edges and slicked with spicy oil. Because the restaurant was so close to my work, it was also a favored lunch spot among my colleagues. And so when I say I miss these green beans, I think I am really saying I miss them too and the everyday things we shared together. 

I have not tried to replicate the exact dish (I am sure it is actually cooked in a wok), but rather give an approximation of it. For comfort, I just wanted to get a similar enough flavor profile. When I can, I love to roast in the oven because it requires less active work than minding something on the stove top. In my new Washington home, I served these beans alongside some ginger chicken and coconut rice (more later on the coconut rice.)

I am happy because these green beans are so good and sad because I miss the place where I used to eat them. 

spicy roasted green beans 

If you're not familiar with sambal oelek, it is a paste made with chilies and vinegar. The brand I've always used is from Huy Fong, the same folks who make the much beloved sriracha sauce. It packs quite a fiery punch, so I've indicated to use 1-2 teaspoons but if you love spicy foods, please feel free to add more. (Also, if you or someone you love is a big sriracha fan, this documentary film was a fun watch. It's available on Amazon Prime.)

I like to roast the green beans until they are charred in places and sort of slump in their softness but if you prefer more of a bite, please feel free to reduce the cooking time.

I think this recipe would double or triple easily but would recommend using additional baking sheets to ensure the beans roast. If the veggies are too crowded it results in steaming.

3/4 pound green beans, ends trimmed (I like to leave them whole, but you could certainly cut into segments)
3-4 cloves garlic, minced
1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
1-2 teaspoons sambal oelek
kosher salt

1) Preheat oven to 450. On a rimmed baking sheet, toss green beans with garlic, olive oil and a generous pinch of salt.

2) Roast for about 18 minutes or until beans have charred on the edges and softened up. Then, remove baking sheet, dollop on the one to two teaspoons of sambal oelek and stir to coat the veggies. Return beans to oven for another 3 minutes and then remove. Serve the beans hot or they are also very good at room temperature. 

1 comment:

  1. I love this and completely understand (even though we haven't moved). I've seen so many people move away from here and post nothing but comparisons on Facebook... In fact, my own mother-in-law does it every time she visits – the comparison between her old home in Southern California versus Northern California... We have been to that Thai restaurant and this post reminds me that we need to go back. We loved it! When we eat Thai, we order takeout from a local place in Glendora – that has a couple really good dishes. Yes, just a couple ;).