Singing the Praises of Lunch With Barbra
Before becoming a food writer, I specialized in typing other people's words rather than my own.
A number of years ago I had a script typing service in Los Angeles. Mundane, boring, laborious - perhaps. Not nearly as much fun as writing about food.
But the stories changed with each job and each client, and I had the privilege of meeting many people whose paths I would never have crossed in another occupation.
A regular client of mine, who needed a rush job done over a weekend, suggested perhaps it would be easier for me to work in Malibu where he was. I would take my typewriter (pre-computer era) and stay the weekend, making it easier for late-night/early-morning hours. "Where are you staying?" I asked. "At Barbra Streisand's Malibu ranch," was the reply.
I was packed and gone quicker than you could say Yentl!
The four-house, 32-acre Malibu compound was astounding. I worked, perched on a patio of the white bleached wood house, with black-and-yellow checked floors, I swam in the pool beside the impeccably stylish gray, maroon, and black art deco house; and I slept at the main house, the original log cabin of the four-house enclave, decorated in early Americana.
Only the peach house was off-limits to me that weekend because that's where Ms. Streisand was staying.
Though I was not a guest, per se, I was treated as one. My first afternoon there, I joined Streisand, my client, and a producer for a casual, sumptuous lunch. We were seated at a cozy table in a garden adjoining the main house overlooking flower-lined paths, impeccably laid stone walls, and a bubbling brook.
We dined on Streisand's favorite chicken salad. Everything about the salad was perfection - a blend of textures and tastes, lots of crunch, everything cut to size, nothing fell off the fork - and it all melded with a seasoned dressing that provided a subtle sesame, sweet-and-sour punch that punctuated each bite.
Despite being in such esteemed company, the chicken salad was so delicious that I untied my tongue long enough to ask for the recipe.
I left after two days, the script complete, feeling more as if I'd come from a two-week vacation - and with a copy of the Chinese Chicken Salad recipe clutched tightly in hand.
Chinese Chicken Salad
4 chicken breasts, cooked
3/4 cup slivered raw almonds
3 stalks celery
4 scallions (green onions)
1 bunch cilantro (coriander)
1/3 package of 7-oz. bag of rice sticks (approximately)
1 small head romaine lettuce
2-1/2 tablespoons hoisin sauce
2 tablespoons sesame oil
2 tablespoons toasted sesame seeds
1/2 cup rice vinegar
1/3 cup sugar (or honey)
1/3 cup vegetable, canola, or peanut oil
Poach or roast chicken breasts; (if poaching, cover with cold water, bring to boil, then simmer for about 20 minutes). Skin, debone, and shred chicken with a fork, into bite-size pieces. Place shredded chicken in large bowl.
Toast almonds in a pre-heated 450 degree F. oven for about 10 minutes - watch closely, stir every few minutes until just browned. Remove from oven, allow to cool, and add to chicken.
Cut celery sticks and scallions (include green part) into matchstick-size pieces, about 2-1/2 inches long; add to chicken.
Wash and pat dry cilantro, remove stems, and cut up into same bowl with chicken.
Deep fry rice sticks in hot oil according to package directions. (Basically, heat two inches of oil in a pan until very hot. Drop in small amounts of noodles until they sizzle, expand, and puff up, (about 1 or 2 seconds if oil is properly hot enough). Remove rice sticks with tongs or slotted spoon and drain on paper towels. When cool, crush and add to chicken.
Prepare dressing by placing all dressing ingredients in a jar. Shake well. Taste, adjust seasonings, and add about two-thirds dressing to chicken. Toss thoroughly. Add more dressing if you wish.
Wash, pat dry, and cut romaine lettuce into bite-size pieces. Place lettuce on large serving platter; arrange chicken salad on top of lettuce. Serve with remaining dressing and a quality soy sauce.
Serves 6 to 8.