WHIDBEY?RECIPES: Olympics-inspired Asian-style recipes

It gets harder and harder to find good news these days.

From e-coli outbreaks, bear attacks, murder trials, food and fuel prices, to a freak fatal stabbing of an American tourist in Beijing just after the uplifting opening of the Olympic Games, I can find little to be joyful about as I scan the newspapers or listen to television newscasts.

My blood pressure goes ballistic when I read that “protecting” our two candidates (from what, I wonder?) costs taxpayers $40,000 per day, each, and I’m almost apoplectic by the time I finish the story about Iraq’s $80,000,000,000 oil profits surplus while the U.S. continues to throw billions every week into that hellish place. Yes, that is the correct number of zeroes for $80 billion.

It occurs to me that our government should immediately insist that the Iraqi government use some of its bountiful cash surplus to match the monthly salary of each and every U.S. soldier serving in that country, and continue to do so until we get every last one of them out and home. It’s the least they could do.

In serious need of an anti-depressant that doesn’t involve medications, I decided to check in and see what was happening with the Olympic Games.

I’ve often admitted I’m not a big sports fan, and I certainly had no intention of getting hooked on watching the games. Too much time spent watching quite a few sports I know little or nothing about, I thought to myself, but it beats more bad news of any kind.

I tuned in just in time to watch that magic swimming machine, Michael Phelps, win his first gold medal, smashing all previous records. It was the most uplifting thing I’d seen on the tellie in weeks.

I actually heard myself shouting “Go, Michael” at my television set, during his make-or-break breaststroke lap, something I almost never do. That was only the beginning.

Earlier this afternoon, before I began this column, there was the USA men’s water polo team getting ready to hit the pool.

Water polo? Who knew it had become that important. There, clad in the briefest of Speedos, were some of the hunkiest men I’ve seen in a very long time, and yes, even at my age, I can very much appreciate a real “hunk.”

They were, unfortunately, also wearing exceedingly dorky swim caps. Surely someone could design a pool cap for water polo players that doesn’t make them look like Denny Dimwit.

Well, as it turned out, water polo is fun to watch, although it’s difficult for me to tell, usually, who’s doing what to whom. But, when they climb out, victorious or even in second or third place, they are jubilantly beautiful.

So, I’ve found my anti-depressant, and yes, I’m hooked on watching the games, even the ones I never watch at other times (basketball, for example).

For me, it’s not the sport, it’s the gorgeous young people, magnificent physical specimens, who’ve spent their lives working to get to these games. Watching them compete is exciting; watching their faces as they receive their medals and stand on the podium is uplifting, hopeful.

Perhaps the world is not so hopelessly messed up as it often seems. The Olympic Games at least give us that illusion for a brief period and, when they end, I think I’ll forego reading about or listening to all the bad news lurking out there, especially as election time approaches.

RECIPES

So, because I’m now spending some time every day in China, vicariously yes, but nevertheless thinking about things Chinese, I’m also pulling out some of my Asian-style recipes.

And, because fresh crab is now so readily available in our area, why not a quick, easy but delicious crab dinner, accompanied by a tossed salad and fresh baked bread? If you have a couple of cups of fresh-picked crab meat on hand, that’s the best, but if not, turn to the canned.

CRAB IN THE POT

¼ lb. bacon, diced

2 cups tomatoes, chopped

1 cup onion, diced

3 cloves garlic, minced

1 cup russet potato, peeled and diced

1 t. kosher salt

½ t. red pepper flakes (or to taste)

Ground black pepper, to taste

½ t. dried thyme, or 1 t. finely chopped fresh thyme leaves

3 cups chicken broth

4 cups fresh spinach, chopped

1 cup canned coconut milk

2 cups crabmeat

Fresh lime juice, to taste

Chopped scallions

Saute the bacon in a soup pot over med. heat until crisp, then remove and set aside on a paper towel. Pour off all but 1 T. of the bacon drippings.

Stir in the tomatoes, onion, garlic, potato, and seasonings; cook over med. heat, stirring often, until the onions are tender. Add broth and bring soup to a boil. Simmer for 10 min.

Gently stir in the spinach, coconut milk and crab; simmer for 3-4 minutes to heat through and serve, immediately, garnished with chopped scallions and bacon. Serves 4-5.

Note: If you have any problems with the bacon and drippings (oh, that flavor), omit and use olive oil.

And, one of my favorite Asian soups, no matter the time of year, Hot and Sour Soup.

CHINESE HOT & SOUR SOUP

6 cups chicken stock (use the fresher, carton style and if you can, purchase Chinese Soup Stock at an Asian market)

2 T. light soy sauce

¼ lb. lean pork, cut into a ¼-inch dice

6 dried shitake or other Chinese dried mushrooms, soaked, drained and cut into thin strips

2 t. minced fresh garlic

½-¾ t. white pepper, or to taste

¼ cup white vinegar, or to taste

5 T. cornstarch, mixed into 5 T. water

Salt, to taste

½ cup bamboo shoots, cut into thin julienne strips

1 cake bean curd or tofu, cut into ¼-inch cubes

4 eggs, beaten

Garnishes: Slivered, cooked ham, chopped green onion, grated carrot

Bring the stock to a simmer in a soup pot; add soy sauce, pork, mushrooms and garlic. Simmer for 10 min. Add pepper, vinegar and the cornstarch mixed with water. Stir until thickened. Taste and adjust seasonings if necessary, then add the bamboo and tofu (bean curd).

Bring soup to a simmer again and pour in the eggs in a very thin stream over the surface of the soup. Wait a few seconds then stir very slowly. Egg threads will form. Serve immediately, garnished with any of the above noted garnishes and adding freshly ground black pepper, as desired.

Note: If you want a “hotter” soup, add either red pepper flakes or red chili paste during the first simmer. Careful; it can get very hot.

Margaret Walton can be reached at falwalcal@msn.com.