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“Life is short.”  It is one of those cliché sayings that we hear all the time.  Then every once in a while we get a reminder that it is true.  When we moved to Calgary, we were slow to get to know our neighbors.  We live in an older neighborhood, so no one on our immediate block had kids the same age as ours.  I could not help being curious though, and eventually we got to know our neighbors a little bit.

I learned from that our nearest neighbor’s name was Darrell.  He looked to me to be in his early fifties, and nothing short of healthy.  The months passed, and we learned more about Darrell.  We found out what he did for a living, and that he liked to entertain.  He occasionally had large parties in his backyard with a live band that played classic rock favorites until the early morning hours.

Last spring we found out that Darrell had been diagnosed with ALS.  I knew what a devastating disease this was, and I often thought of how it must have felt for him to be diagnosed with a disease that only had one outcome.  Over the following months I watched Darrell go from having a small limp, to walking with a cane, and then eventually being confined to a wheelchair.  A For Sale sign soon appeared in his front yard, and quickly sold.  Before Darrell moved last summer to what I can only assume was a hospice, he had one last party in his backyard.  His friends gathered to celebrate his life, rather than to mourn his declining health.  I heard the band leader say, “this is the last party, so let’s make it a good one.”  At that moment I realized how lucky we were to have our health, and I also realized how brave Darrell was to be celebrating with his friends and family, knowing that he may never have that opportunity again.

I found out late last night that Darrell had passed away last weekend.  I had made lettuce wraps for dinner.  They were delicious, and I was planning on posting something about how they would be a great way to “wrap up the week,” but this turn of events made me realize that I had more substantial things to say.  I was sad to hear about Darrell, but also I was filled with gratitude for the life I have.  I also was reminded that when faced with even the worst case scenario we can choose to mope, or we can celebrate the blessings that we have had.  I like to think I would choose the latter.

I am not trying to be a downer with my story about Darrell, but quite the opposite. I am glad I am here, and that I can do the little things I love still, like cook a healthy meal for my family. I also hope that in those moments when I feel stressed about life, I can look over at Darrell’s house and remember that life is short, and I can choose to be happy and celebrate my own life even in the roughest times.

These lettuce wraps are a perfect appetizer for your next celebration, or even a weeknight dinner when you want something light. The secret to the best lettuce wraps is in the lettuce.  It is essential to use the living Butter or Boston lettuce as opposed to iceberg; it makes a world of difference.  The filling comes together really quickly after the cooking starts, so it is best to have all of the veggies chopped and ready to go beforehand.


Asian Tofu Lettuce Wraps

¼ cup fresh squeezed orange juice

¼ cup fresh squeezed lime

¼ cup soy sauce

14 oz extra firm tofu drained, patted dry with a tea towel, and cut into ½ inch cubes

1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon cornstarch

2 tablespoons peanut oil

1 tablespoons sesame oil

1 bunch green onions, thinly sliced

1 jalapeño, finely diced

2 garlic cloves, minced

1 inch knob of fresh ginger, finely grated

1 small can water chestnuts, rinsed, drained and diced

3 baby bok choy, thinly sliced

1 handful fresh cilantro leaves, chopped

½ cup raw cashews

1 head Butter lettuce (or Boston/Bibb lettuce),  leaves washed, dried and separated

 In a medium bowl, stir together the orange juice, lime juice, soy sauce, and 1 teaspoon of cornstarch and set aside.

Place cubed tofu on a plate and sprinkle with the remaining cornstarch, toss to coat.  Heat one tablespoon of peanut oil over medium heat in a wok or large non-stick pan.  Add the tofu and cook turning every couple of minutes until all sides are golden brown.  Move the tofu from the pan to a bowl or plate and set aside.

In the same pan, heat the remaining 1 tablespoon of peanut oil and sesame oil.  Add the green onions, ginger, garlic and jalapeno.  Cook stirring frequently for two minutes.  Add the water chestnuts and baby bok choy to the pan and stir-fry two more minutes.  Return the tofu to the pan, and add the soy sauce mix.  Cook for 5 more minutes stirring frequently.  Remove the pan from heat and stir in the cilantro and cashews.  Serve immediately atop the lettuce leaves.