No Animals Harmed

In this traditional fried rice dish.

click to enlarge NEW AND IMPROVED FRIED RICE: Now with fewer household pets! - Jaden Hair
Jaden Hair
NEW AND IMPROVED FRIED RICE: Now with fewer household pets!

At stoplights, most people chat on the phone, daydream or play air drums. Me? I sit and rehearse apologies to lay on my kids' daycare teachers — "I am SO sorry Mrs. So-and-so, my Mom warned me that if I ate too many spicy chilies during my pregnancy that my kids would turn out the same as me. Sadly, I did not listen."

For those of you who have small "energetic" children, I doubt I need to explain that wrangling two kids under the age of 5 is like a cowboy trying to walk with 30-pound giant spinning spurs on each leg. It's exhausting work.

But they MUST be good kids at school, otherwise they would have already been expelled, right? Every afternoon when I pick them up from daycare, I sneak into the class, hoping to catch the kids in a cherubic moment, sprinkling flower petals over little classmates and graciously refusing all offers of sugar-packed snacks with, "No thank you. I've had my fill of sugar today. May I have a broccoli spear instead?"

A few weeks ago, I quietly slipped through a crack in the classroom door and observed a circle of 2-year-olds listening to their teacher read a book about animals. The kids were sitting cross-legged, all eyes on the book, intently listening to the wondrous, fantastical story.

Each page of the book featured a different animal. As she read the little poem about Steve the Silly Snake, my rugrat Nathan popped up like a jack-in-the-box, pointed to the picture and announced for the world to hear, "I ATE THAT!!"

The other kids cocked their heads in Nathan's direction, and the teacher raised an eyebrow but continued on to the next page.

Freddie the Flippy Frog ...

"I ATE THAT!"

Billy the Baby Buffalo ...

"I ATE THAT!"

Douglas the Dancing Duck ...

"I ATE THAT!"

Pete the Pouncing Puppy...

"I ATE THAT!"

Imagining poor little Pete the Pouncing Puppy being devoured, the teacher glanced at Nathan with a crinkled nose and promptly snapped the book shut.

HOLY SON OF A FOODIE! In one embarrassed motion, I swooped up my kid and said in a high-pitched nervous tone, "Sweetheart! We don't eat puppies! You silly!"

I've always prided myself on introducing lots of different foods to my kids at an early age. Being Chinese, sometimes that means relishing some of the more traditional Asian delicacies like shark fin soup, jellyfish, baby octopus, hairy crabs and frog legs.

But, sigh, not puppies, which brings me to this very tasty vegetable fried rice. No animals are harmed in the construction or cooking of this recipe.

Vegetable Fried Rice

Serves four to six as part of a multicourse meal

4 cups cooked day-old rice, grains separated

1/2 tsp grated ginger, grated on microplane grater

1 tsp finely minced garlic

1 cup or more minced vegetables (red bell pepper, chives, fresh shitake, extra firm tofu, frozen peas/carrots, cabbage, etc.)

1 tsp and 1 1/2 tbsp soy sauce

pinch of sugar

1 tsp sesame oil

salt and pepper to taste

1. Heat 1 tbsp cooking oil on medium-high heat. When hot, add tofu cubes and brown on all sides. Remove, set aside. Tofu is browned first, removed and added back in later so that the delicate cubes do not get crushed during frying.

2. Add 2 tbsp cooking oil, and heat on medium. When oil is hot but not smoking, add ginger and garlic and stir fry for 15 seconds until fragrant. Turn heat to high and add vegetables — one kind at a time — in order of what takes longest to cook. Season with 1 tsp of the soy and a pinch of sugar to bring out the flavors of the vegetables. Fry until the vegetables are 80 percent cooked through.

3. Add rice. Add remaining soy sauce, sesame oil, salt and pepper. Fry on high heat until each rice grain is heated through. Add tofu cubes back in. Taste. Add a touch more soy if needed.

Jaden Hair blogs at steamykitchen.com.

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