The Lights Next Door and Vegan Lo Mein with Tofu

My next-door neighbor still has her Christmas lights up. Every night at dusk they go on, festively illuminating her house. In February. At first I thought she was leaving them up for New Year’s week, then I thought maybe she was going to leave them up for the month of January.

Then one night they weren’t on and I thought, surely she’ll take them down any day now. But the next night, there they were again, twinkling through the night.

So now that we’re halfway through February I don’t know what to think. All I know is that she’s hanging on, keeping the festive feeling alive for however long she sees fit.

And I admire that.

My neighbor is an elderly woman who used to own the house that I live in now. She tells us stories about when our house was a little neighborhood market, and spills gossip about the other neighbors who have lived on the street a long time. We help her carry her groceries in once in a while and bring her cookies now and again.

I, by contrast, took our lights down on New Year’s day. Done. I’m finished with the bitterly cold temperatures and heavy holiday foods. I’m ready for spring. My hope for Spring is what inspired this week’s Vegan Lo Mein with Tofu. Filled with fresh ingredients and a simple, light, flavorful sauce, it feels healthy and energizing yet warm (a compromise since I can’t force the temperature to change).

My neighbor’s health isn’t all that great. I have to wonder if she thinks she’s celebrated her last Christmas and wants to make it go on as long as possible. But hell — for all I know, she’s hopeful for Springtime too. Maybe the bright colors of her lights remind her of the sleeping iris bulbs in her yard, the cactus blossoms yet to come, the plum tree blossoms in bright pink.

Whatever her reasons, I hope the lights make her smile. They certainly make me smile. And I hope every night when she plugs them in, she feels joyful and alive.

 Vegan Lo Mein with Tofu
Adapted from Robin Roberston’s 1000 Vegan Recipes

10 oz linguini or other egg free pasta
2 Tablespoons toasted sesame oil
5 Tablespoons soy sauce
1 Tablespoon water
Pinch of sugar
1 Tablespoon cornstarch
2 Tablespoons canola oil
1 pound extra firm tofu, drained and cubed
1 medium onion, halved and thinly sliced
3 cups small broccoli florets (fresh or frozen)
1 medium carrot, cut into ¼ inch rounds
1 red bell pepper, seeded and sliced in to thin strips
2 garlic cloves
2 teaspoons grated fresh ginger
2 green onions chopped

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook the pasta until tender. Drain and return to the pot. Toss pasta with one tablespoon of the sesame oil and set aside.

For the sauce, combine the soy sauce, the remaining sesame oil, water, cornstarch and sugar in a small bowl. Whisk vigorously until corn starch is dissolved. Set aside.

In a large skillet, heat one tablespoon canola oil. Cook the tofu, stirring frequently until evenly browned. Remove from skillet and set aside.

Heat the remaining oil in the same skillet used for the tofu. Add the onion, carrots and bell pepper and cook until vegetables begin to soften about five minutes- if you’re using fresh broccoli, add it as well. I used frozen broccoli, steamed it in the microwave and added it with the next step. Add the garlic, ginger, and green onions and cook until spices are fragrant and green onions begin to soften. Add the vegetables and sauce to the noodles and toss well to mix. Stir in the tofu and serve immediately.

 

Nothing is impossible to a willing heart.

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