July 22, 2012

Stress is the best appetizer.

My father is in the habit of pouring liquid to the brim of his cup, much to my mother's annoyance (oh, the joys of matrimony!). He'll inevitably grin once he makes the trip successfully from the counter (or wherever he poured it) to its final destination without spilling a drop. I never understood why my father did this, and I couldn't imagine creating that kind of (albeit minor) stress for myself. Perhaps it makes that first sip all the more glorious for him. Or perhaps he's just too lazy to get up to refill his cup, so he tries to fill it up as much as possible. But over the years, I've come to the conclusion that he's simply the kind of person who thrives in — and even seeks out — a stressful environment.

Meanwhile, those 7±2 steps from the kitchen to the dining table would always drive my mother nearly to the brink of madness. My mother and I are alike in that way: We're both worrywarts who picture the worst-case scenarios in every situation, and end up taking precautions accordingly.

A repeat accomplice in my father's mischievous stress-inducing behavior is mung bean soup. I can't imagine a better partner on a hot summer afternoon than an icy bowl of this fare. It's a hearty dessert, and one of my favorite year-round standbys, consumed hot in the winter and iced in the summer. I have many a memory of my dad ladling out a full bowl for himself, and then slowly walking with the bowl in his hand to the table as my mother and I sat with our sensibly portioned bowls, biting our nails and not knowing whether we were rooting for him to succeed or fail. I'd reckon that he has about a 98 percent success rate to date.

Speaking of family memories and dessert, the following quote exemplifies one of many reasons to eat some cake...or any other dessert: stress eating. When you feel stressed out about something or other, it definitely helps to enjoy something rich and sweet like a slice of cake. Which brings me back to my original conjecture that my dad creates stressful situations like pouring liquid to the brim of the bowl or cup, simply because the beverage or soup tastes better after he's gone through some kind of minor struggle to enjoy it. Interesting thought, eh?
Luke was both alarmed and angered by the revelation of his family history. Luke knew Sara was worried about how he felt, along with feeling bad about losing her temper and yelling at Pearl. Luke wanted cake and knew that if he asked for a specifically small piece, he would get a larger one than if he had not specified the size. Luke could not stop himself from feeling alarm or anger. He could, however, and did, get dessert.
Blind Sight, Meg Howrey
Mung Bean Soup
1/2 cup green mung beans, rinsed and drained
6 cups water
Brown sugar, to taste

Put the beans and water in a covered pot over high heat. Once they reach a rolling boil, turn down the heat to low and cook until the beans are soft and mushy (or whatever texture you like them), about 45 minutes to an hour. Turn off heat.

Add the sugar while the soup is still hot. You can eat it hot like this in the winter (or in the comfort of an AC environment). Or, if it's a sweltering day, let cool and then transfer to the refrigerator. Or make popsicles out of the soup. It will get thicker in the fridge, so add water accordingly. Ladle out a bowl for yourself — whether filled to the brim or doled out at a safe serving size, it's sure to taste delicious all the same.

July 5, 2012

Paris in the Twenties; Noodles in Minutes

When she was well, I rarely asked her for help or advice, even in the raising of my children, though she was always kindly and willing. I tried to be both in return, but it was always an effort for me. I was terrified of getting too close to her weakness for fear it would become my own.

That night in the kitchen she cried on, and I brought her a plate so we could share the spaghetti. We did not embrace, did not promise to take care of each other forever and always. We were characters in a gritty, frayed, unsentimental movie for which the 1970s are celebrated.
—Elizabeth Benedict, "Paris in the Twenties"

Wonderful story. Sharing a hot plate of food really can act as a band-aid on any problematic relationship, such as the one between this mother and daughter. The daughter is afraid of becoming her mother, and her mother is afraid that her daughter will leave her, just like her husband. Since the family is having money problems, they resort to eating spaghetti for weeks on end. It certainly makes sense; spaghetti is definitely an economical comfort food. A pack of spaghetti is priced, at most, at $1.25, even in the absurdly priced supermarkets of New York. You can probably find a jar of tomato sauce for just around $2 to $3. Throw in a few cheap but aromatic additions (onions and garlic, maybe a few mushrooms) and you've got a meal for a small family, with very little effort.

Out of all the foods one could choose to stress eat when one is on the brink of disaster, I'd take a plate of spaghetti over a bag of potato chips any day. A hot plate of food is infinitely more satisfying. But then again, I'm the kind of girl who finds it hard to turn down a plate of noodles even when she's full. For me, the hierarchy goes: noodles* > rice > bread. *Noodles include most pastas except orzo (my least favorite carb of all time, probably).

But what's even more quick and simple than spaghetti? Somen noodles (skinny Japanese wheat noodles that come in small bundles). Just bring a pot of water to a boil. Unwrap a bundle of somen noodles and drop them in the water to cook for about 1 or 2 minutes. Drizzle some soy sauce and sesame oil in a bowl. Fish the somen out of the water, but leave the pot of water on the stove. Mix the somen into the sauce in the bowl.

Poach an egg, some broccoli, and a handful of corn in the noodle cooking water. Spoon them out of the water and on top of your seasoned somen noodles. Add some slivers of cucumber, if desired. There you have it: A quick, easy meal that's just as simple and delicious as spaghetti.