Hand to Mouth

misadventures in eating

It’s always the worst in us that brings out the worst to put in us.

with one comment

It’s a gray, disgusting day in North Carolina, the sort of afternoon and evening and day that makes you think of London or Seattle at its very worst — Vancouver when it’s particularly hateful of the meelee of movie crews and TV shows that film there. The rain was a steady drizzle and the leaves underfoot were all mashed into a gray puss that oozed gray runoff whenever your shoe passed it — actually, it reminded me uncomfortably of some of my first attempts to cook.

Friday’s should, by all accounts, be my best days: no classes, just the j-o-b. Instead, I fell into my bed last night at midnight and slept straight through three alarms to wake up finally at 10:30 a.m. — half an hour late for work because I’m just that kind of rockstar.

Everything started to go downhill there.

I ended up eating day-old salad and fat free Ranch dressing (which you all know has a weird consistency and taste that bears no actual resemblance to Ranch dressing) and a “baked potato” left over from a faculty luncheon. And then my coworkers gave me a bag of Granny Smith apples and a bag of cookies since apparently I am the least overweight person in the office and therefore doomed to take it with me. Explaining to my coworkers that I am on a fast track to diabetes did nothing to move their frozen hearts.

Came home, slept for another 5 deplorable hours, woke up to stumble round heat up a can of Progresso canned New England Clam Chowder and ate mac and cheese made from a box. I tried to make cheese sauce to lessen the shame but I couldn’t get my cheese to melt — guys, it was that kind of day: I couldn’t get my cheese to melt. How does one even mess that up?

It got me thinking that the times we need good food the most are the times we’re least likely to get it: when we’re busy, when we’re ill, when we’re sad or when it is raining like bejeezus outside and you’re afraid you’re about to lose a couple of extremities to cold.

So it’s always good to have a few recipes on hand that are easy and delightful in crappy circumstances — not just for yourself, but for when your roommate comes up like the living dead, when your significant other collapses in your front door, when your friend can’t talk for the coughing.

Chinese chicken soup

1 large handful of dried shitake mushrooms (available at all Asian grocery stores) that have been soaked in hot water.
1 knot of ginger.
1 roasting hen, defrosted.
salt to taste.

(1) Remove most of the fat from beneath the skin of the chicken, don’t be overly meticulous about it; a little fat will only enhance the flavor of the soup.
(2) Fill a large pot with enough water to cover the entire hen completely and set it on high heat — bring it to a boil before turning it down to a simmer.
(3) Chop and add a few generous thick slices of ginger to the bottom of the pot — in Chinese cooking, ginger is used to remove xin qi, a word with no direct translation but could be called the “fishiness” of raw meat. It also adds a really lovely heat in the background of any dish and mellows out certain harsh flavors.
(4) Let the soup simmer, skimming off any foam that gathers on top until the meat is tender and falling from the bone — this process may take several hours, but I do not recommend using a slow-cooker.
(5) Add the shitake mushrooms and lower the heat to warm. The soup should no longer be simmering, but heating through on a warm setting on your stovetop.
(6) Salt to taste. Serve hot.

My mother used to make this soup for me when I was feeling six kinds of shitty, and I still remember her bringing me tiny, beautiful bowls of it: with a few pieces of chicken and a single brown shitake for color. It’s a long, slow cooking process that coaxes the natural flavors out of the chicken, and despite my violent allergy to liberal bullshit about organic always equaling better, I definitely encourage everybody to use free range or farm-raised chicken if possible. For the same reason farm-raised and heirloom turkeys and chickens have more flavorful dark meat, this soup will fare better if you do it with good chicken.

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Written by lshen

October 28, 2006 at 2:25 am

Posted in Uncategorized

One Response

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  1. I made this today, after taking a leisurely week or so to collect the ingridients. I was the only white chick in the Asian grocery near my flat in Dublin, but it was worth the slightly injured looks to get the dried mushrooms, fresh ginger (it seems like no one even knows what that is, in the average grocery here), and chicken stock cubes. I added in a handful of garlic cloves too, because I love the flavor so much.

    Now, it’s dark and cold and I have this gorgeous broth with shittakes poking out of the top; while it isn’t particularly fragrant, the intense flavor of the chicken combined with the residual, mellowed bite of the ginger is perfection. This was a great recipe, and a pleasure to cook.

    SA

    November 4, 2006 at 9:03 pm


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