Gluten-free,  Savoury,  Spicy

Peanut chicken stir fry and food glorious food!

Memories are triggered by different senses:  Smell (olfactory memories), sound (echoic memories), sight (iconic memories) and touch (haptic memories). For me, without wishing to plagiarise Proust and his beloved madeleine, there seem little doubt that my memories are triggered by food (perhaps known as gluttonous memories).
By far the most vivid recollection of my first visit to the East Coast of the US when I was seven is not, delightful though they were, the Empire State Building, the Statue of Liberty or The Guggenheim, but a generous portion of sublimely tangy lemon meringue pie – the first I’d ever come across – in a drugstore in Manhattan for breakfast one morning. Clams on the beach in Westport, Connecticut come a close second.
My frequent visits to Scotland as a child were punctuated by fish so fresh it crumbled the second it glimpsed a fork. Crucially, it was always served with a side order of pure, bracing, iodised air. School food was obviously a low point in my gastronomic narrative; the less said the better, but I will just point out that I was properly traumatised by spam fritters at a very early age, and the words ‘Angel Delight’ still set off a Pavlovian gag reflex. I think the better you eat at home, the more potential for grievous bodily harm the food you eat – or try your hardest not to eat – at school presents. This was certainly true in my case.
The highlight of my trip to the Italian Riviera in the late 80s was not the picturesque, colourful and much revered Porto Fino, but a plate of the most exquisite home-made pasta stuffed with walnut paste and dripping with gorgonzola sauce served to me in a simple family-run restaurant in the backcountry. I could easily have eaten several helpings and it’s just as well I wasn’t given the chance, because that wouldn’t have made for one of my finer, more elegant moments…
My memories from the two years I spent in the US in the early 90s? Wilhelm’s dark chocolate and raspberry cheesecake and the 6cm thick chargrilled steaks at The Hyde Park Grill. Do I remember dancing at my wedding? No I’m not sure I do, although I suspect I didn’t as my husband was sporting several broken ribs and a fractured sternum, having being thrown off my engagement ring (a Lusitano stallion). There’s a sentence that’s probably never been written before. I do remember the guinea fowl in apricot sauce though, and believe me, I certainly wasn’t the sort of delicate, blushing bride who had lost her appetite to nerves. We honeymooned in Burgundy which is famous for its many Michelin starred restaurants.
Randomly, the most perfect, simple green salad with walnuts after a day on the ski slopes in the Pyrenees about five years ago left an indelible mark. Usually after skiing, you’d think that a rich and satisfying fondue or raclette would be called for. But no; I have never, before or since, experienced such a rush from eating what was essentially a plate of rabbit food.
I suspect Léo’s childhood food memories will feature carrots and broccoli quite heavily because they are just about the only vegetables that don’t motivate a lengthy speech on nausea-inducing unpalatability. I try to avoid serving him other vegetables unless I have my earplugs to hand.
Ingredients (serves 4)
2 tablespoons groundnut oil
1 red onion, peeled and sliced
2 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed
2 carrots, peeled and sliced
4 mushroom, peeled and sliced
1 broccoli (I used romanesco), cut into florets
4 chicken breasts, cut into strips
3 tablespoons peanut butter
2 tablespoons soya sauce
1 tablespoon honey
100ml chicken stock
1 teaspoon fresh or ground ginger
1 teaspoon chilli powder (optional)
Sea salt and freshly-ground black pepper
Handful of crushed peanuts to garnish
Brown the onion and garlic in a wok, adding the other vegetables and chicken pieces gradually. Cook for a few minutes more before adding the peanut butter, soya sauce, honey, stock and seasoning. Stir fry over a medium heat until the chicken is cooked through and the carrots and broccoli are tender. Serve with noodles, rice or quinoa, garnishing with the crushed peanuts.


  • apuginthekitchen

    Wonderful food memories, and I have to admit it made me laugh reading about your wedding, the husbands broken ribs and sternum and a horse is your engagement ring. The stir fry looks and sounds so good, I’m sure Leo will fondly remember this dish,

    • The Healthy Epicurean

      Thank you! I hope so – he was actually quite complimentary about it and told me I could make it again! Funnily enough, I’ve just put a photo of my ‘engagement ring’ on insta! Much more fun than a piece of jewellery! Hugo and Java say ‘woof woof’ to Percy. 🙂

  • KJ

    Food, wine and such were all part of my growing up, after I left home. My maternal grandmother threw wonderful dinner parties, during the summers I spent with her. My mother, alas, did not pick up her culinary skills and it was only after I entered the bar and hotel world that I learned about more about exquisite dishes and wines. It’s funny that your post came today, as I was just looking through a wonderful book given to me by Alexis Lichine, at a private dinner I attended many years ago, wherein I admitted to him – with some trepidation – that I liked a Merlot with my grilled halibut. He was most gracious about my choice and we spent some time talking about food and wine. Now, whenever I have a Merlot, I think of him and that delightful evening. (I was all of 24!) The only other thing that brings back memories as much as food and wine would be music, in my humble opinion. By the by, did you ever get the recipe for the salad with walnuts?

    • The Healthy Epicurean

      Hi KJ! How funny saying that you like Merlot with halibut. I was just saying to Luc this evening that, although I know absolutely nothing about wine, I just can’t imagine red wine with fish. Having said that, horses for courses and why not? I do agree about the music though – it’s certainly the second most evocative thing for me – once my stomach has been fed!! I never got the recipe for the salad with walnuts, although it was so simple it wouldn’t even have involved a recipe. It could have been the after ski, mountain air effect, or perhaps perfect proportions in the dressing? I imagine though that if I were to return to the same restaurant to order it, I would likely be disappointed… Hope you’re well. F

  • KJ

    His comment to me, about my wine choice with halibut, was: “If you like it, do it.” Many years later, when I had just returned from a business trip to NYC, I was dining late at a little restaurant in Laguna Beach, California, where I lived at the time. As luck would have it, I was dining on halibut with a Merlot, when I noticed a heavily-bejeweled hand placed elegantly on the edge of my table, near the bottle of wine. Looking up, I found a rather elegant woman of mature years standing in front of the table, which caused me to rise immediately, of course. She smiled and said: “I admire your courage,” and then continued on her way, with her companion. I doubt that I will ever forget her.

Leave a Reply