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Summer on a Stick

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Magic is in the air during the summer. The day is long, the night is short, and some of us tend to act crazy. And if you don't believe me, talk to Mr. Shakespeare, whose A Midsummer Night's Dream told the story of romantic entanglements, magical flower love juice, human-donkey heads, fairies and their moonlit forest, for starters.

There's something about summer that brings out the otherworldliness in we so-called civilized folk. We let it all hang out, be it in a halter top or on a rooftop deck, double-fisting frosty cocktails. We play hooky, we sleep outside and we eat like we're back in the Middle Ages.

More than any other time of the year, summer is when we eat stuff on a stick. From corn dogs to cotton candy, fudgesicles to foot-long kielbasas, stick food is de rigueur eatin' at classic summer venues, from the county fair to the amusement park. (Maybe on a subconscious socio-anthropological level, our love for stick food takes us back in time, when we ate dinner off our swords.)

When we eat dinner on a stick, there are no rules. There's no need for knife, fork, napkins or manners. It's just the food and your teeth, ready for a wild evening -- and that's a beautiful thing.

The back yard is another fine stick-food venue, and if you try the Vietnamese-style chicken thighs below, you may never leave your tiki hut.

Chicken on a stick, Vietnamese style

Adapted from the July 2006 issue of Gourmet magazine

This dish works as a party snack, or a light summer supper when paired with rice and cucumber

1 1/2 pounds boneless chicken thighs, skinned and trimmed of fat, cut into 1/2-inch wide strips

1/2 cup finely chopped shallots (about 2)

3 garlic cloves, finely chopped

1 tablespoon dark brown or palm sugar

1/4 teaspoon black pepper

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

2 tablespoons fish sauce

1 tablespoon Chinese rice wine or sake (vermouth would be OK, too)

1/4 teaspoon salt

Tools: About 2 dozen 6-inch-long wooden skewers, soaked in water 1 hour

• Combine all the ingredients in a sealable plastic bag. Squeeze as much air out of bag as possible and seal. Turn bag to coat chicken. Place bag in refrigerator and allow to marinate overnight, about 12 hours.

• Remove chicken from bag and thread lengthwise onto a skewer, keeping chicken as straight as possible. Discard remaining marinade.

• Prepare grill for cooking over medium-hot heat. Brush grate with oil to minimize sticking. Grill skewers, turning once, until chicken is cooked through, 4-8 minutes.

• For dinner, serve with rice, cucumbers and nuoc cham dipping sauce (details below).

Nuoc cham dipping sauce:

In a medium mixing bowl, combine 1/4 cup warm water and 1 tablespoon sugar, stirring until sugar is dissolved. Add the following: 1/4 cup fish sauce, 2 tablespoons rice wine, juice of 1 lime, 1 minced garlic clove and 1 thinly sliced chile pepper of choice. Stir to combine and cover. Chill for an hour (if possible), allowing flavors to marry.

Culinary questions? Contact Kim O'Donnel at kim.odonnel@creativeloafing.com.

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