I spent a college semester in Brisbane, Australia at the University of Queensland studying marine ecology and soaking up more sun than I should have. One of the more interesting classes I took was Poisonous and Venomous Animals of Australia, instilling fear and awe in all of the students taking it. The instructor for the class was the inimitable Anne Cameron. Save for the headmistress Miss V. B. Pratt at my primary school in the UK for two years, never have I had such an austere teacher. Dr. Cameron was the typical unassuming professor, looking like bored retiree wandering around Southern Florida, wearing modest, loose cotton button-down shirts and polyester trousers. Except if she talked or if you talked to her. Then she scared the *$@# out of me.
The first week of class, she made sure any Americans (and perhaps some of the Ozzies) were shot down for asking “stupid” questions, effectively silencing any questions from the students during class lectures and “tutes” (tutorials — hands-on sessions) for the rest if the semester. God forbid anyone make a joke: never. And smiling wasn’t allowed. We sat at attention in this lecture, taking copious notes about LD50, monotremes, cane toads, the dangers of snorkeling and cone shells, and the stupidity of Americans having clam bakes in light of Vibrio and red tide. She made it clear with her icy blue gaze around the room with rapt pauses during lectures that as long as she had our undivided attention, there would be no venom from her mouth.
It wasn’t until the death adder that I felt her icy stare melt a bit. Unlike most snakes, they wait to ambush. They are masters of camouflage, secreting themselves in brush and sand with colors to blend. They strike more quickly than any other snake in the world. One of our tutes involved a local herpetologist (I’m not sure where from — ?zoo) bring a deathly venomous common death adder, Acanthophis antarcticus, TO MILK ITS VENOM IN FRONT OF US. My first thought was, HE’S GOING TO MESS WITH THIS SNAKE SO ITS DEADLY VENOM COMES OUT ITS MOUTH NEAR SCARED PEOPLE. WHY??
We sat stock still on our lab stools, barely breathing, hearts pounding. I have never been in such a quiet room filled with so many people. I glanced at Dr. Cameron, standing across the room, the same tenuous look on her face as everyone else. The snake handler pulled the death adder from its glass cage with what ever tools he needed to do so (I honestly was NOT paying attention to the tools, just the snake), pricked its teeth into the top of cellophane-covered jar, and we watched the venom slowly drip out. I was flushed and hot: was it the rising humidity outside or the portent of impending doom? What IF the snake handler got bitten? Or one of the students? I blocked out the rest of the scenario: I have no idea how he got the snake back in its cage. They left before the end of class, the venom or snake teeth nowhere near our bloodstreams. And Dr. Cameron was back to her old self, shrill and grumbly. After the snake and POSSIBLE DEATH, I certainly welcomed it.
This “lesson” was either a ploy to turn some of the students into an exciting and adrenaline-rushed career of poisonous and venomous herpetology or just part of Dr. Cameron’s masochistic austerity. I was turned on to neither. I loved the course’s tutes in general, but chalked up the learning points in this one better served with a video and a textbook.
After this kind of day, I was ready for a good Ozzie beer and a cool meal. I don’t remember specifically what I ate that night, but surely a dish of cold peanut noodles would have hit the spot. This is a great dish in hot climates, slurpy and loud (don’t eat around the snakes!), with a sweet peanut-vinegar sauce. Just be careful: those noodles and the sauce, lying in wait, ready to strike your taste buds, may remind you of the death adder.
One year ago: dulce de leche in the slow cooker
Four years ago: smoky popcorn (the best!)
- 1 pound spaghetti (or Asian wheat noodles of comparable size -- though the spaghetti really is good)
- ⅔ cup water + 1 tablespoon water
- ⅓ cup smooth unsweetened peanut butter ("natural"style, with the oil on top)
- ¼ cup peanut oil (from the top of the peanut butter -- If you do not have enough, just top off with sesame oil and/or vegetable oil)
- 3 tablespoons soy sauce
- ¼ cup unseasoned rice vinegar*
- 3 tablespoons brown sugar
- 2 tablespoons toasted sesame seeds, and more for garnish
- 1 tablespoon chili sauce (less if you are not into spicy)
- 1-inch fresh ginger, peeled and roughly chopped
- 1 large clove of garlic, peeled
- fresh scallions, chopped
- 4 to 5 medium carrots, cut into matchsticks or similar
- 1 large cucumber, cut into thin strips
- a small bunch of cilantro, chopped
- boiled pork tenderloin, shredded (optional -- I never miss this but my husband likes it.)
- a drizzle of sesame oil
- Cook the noodles per package directions. Rinse with cool water and set aside in a large glass bowl.
- Using a high powered blender, process the water, peanut butter, oil, soy sauce, rice vinegar, brown sugar, sesame seeds, chili sauce, ginger, and garlic until very smooth.
- Pour the peanut sauce over the cooled noodles and toss to coat well. Put in the fridge to set up and chill, for at least 1 hour. The sauce may first look fairly thin: that's okay. It will thicken up.
- Toss a bit of sesame oil in the noodles just before serving, adding the scallions and cilantro. Guests can serve themselves on the amount of vegetables they want to include on the side. Allow them to add the meat, if you are also serving it.