Learning Curve

I’d like to establish a new meal train. Remember that meal train that I talked about in February? The one where people from the community would bring us meals during Lilli’s first few weeks? That was great, but, there also should be a meal train for when both parents go back to work full-time. Talk about juggling a schedule!

Lilli in her vest

Until that idea makes the Style Section of The New York Times, I’ll keep on working at that full-time job/daycare/ spending time with my baby/three meals a day balance that I’ve been tackling for these past few weeks. I’ve chatted with some friends who do it — with two toddlers, no less! Some cook meals for the week in a flurry on Sunday night. Others eat a lot of hummus. The crockpot seems to be a tried-and-true friend. (Meat seems to play a large role in that one, though, so I tend to stay away from mine.) I know my pressure cooker will be making a huge comeback on this blog very soon; I’ll just give it a few more weeks. My friend Jason, who’s done a lot of coaching with me, said last week, “Invest in a wok.” Luckily, my cousin Roz gave us a wok as a wedding present, but I have to admit I’ve barely used it in the past six years. That’s about to change, as you’ll see below.

Thai Eggplant and Basil

But first, there are also a few logistical things I’ve figured out that help me to get dinner together as Rich gives Lilli her evening bath: First, I am constantly doing prep work for the next meal. For example, while my salmon and sugar snap peas poached last week, I peeled and sliced up the next night’s parsnips. I chopped the onion for this recipe before Lilli woke up in the early morning, figuring that, if onion makes my eyes water, it can’t be good for a three-month-old. I keep the chopped onion in a designated Tupperware container in the fridge I have marked with a Sharpie pen.

I cleaned a bunch of parsley by resting it in a bowl full of cold water, right next to some cilantro getting the same treatment. I rubbed down mushrooms and soaked escarole in two washes of cold water last night while chatting on the phone with both Sylvie and Gayle. My methods still need tweaking, as I figure out what works the next day. Mango, I learned the hard way, is touch-and-go two days later.

Now, when I now look at a recipe, I break it down into segments, the way we used to parse a sentence in grammar school. But instead of labeling direct objects and clauses, I break down the recipe into steps that can be tackled at different times, sometimes days apart.


This dish here is a wok dish, so the actual cooking time is very short. I would also advise wearing rubber gloves to chop the hot pepper if you’re going to be in contact with a baby any time following making this dish. I actually picked up the eggplant, sesame oil and Thai basil at Super 88 (Err, sorry, Hong Kong Market) during my lunch break. Now, I’m not expecting all of you to be able to swing by the market during your lunch hour, although I have learned that markets open very early in the morning. There’s a chance you might see me and Lilli at Russo’s at 8am before she gets dropped off at daycare. If you’re wondering who else is at the market between 7am and 8am, the answer is: seniors.

Do you have a rice cooker? Some people don’t like unitaskers in the kitchen, but honestly, I’ve had my rice cooker since I was 18 years old, and it’s more than made up its $20 price tag. I also use it to cook millet; it’s so nice to set it and forget it. (A pressure cooker can do the same thing, although I find a wok and a pressure cooker on our stove to be a bit crowded.) And rice and most grains freeze and defrost very well.

on the table

This is a pretty quick meal once all the ingredients have been assembled. You can make the corn starch slurry and chop the onion, hot pepper and garlic as the eggplant softens and browns in the wok. The Thai basil can rest in a bowl of cold water as you get everything in order on your counter. And, depending on how many are dining, there’s a very good chance there will be leftovers for the next day’s lunch.

Although the original recipe calls for thin strips of red and green pepper, I eliminated them for time’s sake. They’d be great in the dish if you have the time to clean them.

Thai Fried Eggplant with Basil Adapted from Epicurious.com


3 medium-sized Chinese eggplants, halved and chopped into 1” – 1.5” pieces

1 medium onion, chopped into large pieces

3 Thai or Serrano chiles, finely chopped (depending on how hot you like things)

3 Tablespoons chopped garlic

A generous handful of fresh Thai basil leaves, roughly chopped

4 Tablespoons mild-flavored oil, like canola or sunflower, NOT olive


2-3 Tablespoons fish sauce

1 Tablespoon soy sauce

1-2 Tablespoons brown or palm sugar

¾ warm water


2 teaspoons corn starch mixed with 4 Tablespoons cold water


Mix fish sauce, soy, water and brown sugar; set aside.

Heat wok on medium-high heat. Add 2 Tablespoons oil and eggplants. Fry for 6 minutes on either side, or until they begin to brown and turn soft. Remove from wok.

Add 1 Tablespoon oil to wok. Add onions and fry for 6-7 minutes, or until soft and glossy. Remove from wok.

Heat remaining oil. Add garlic and chiles and fry until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add onions; fry for 30 seconds, stirring constantly. Return eggplant to the wok, and toss to combine.

Add sauce to the wok, stirring for 1 minute. Toss in basil.

Add corn starch, cooking until the sauce becomes thick and coats the vegetables. Serve immediately over hot rice.