Writing last week was not going to happen. Cooking last week held about as much charm as dental work. Well, I guess I shouldn’t EXACTLY say that, since Monday was Memorial Day and I did make an apple pie and some pretty tasty pimento cheese to go on grilled burgers with fried green tomatoes. No, my week took a serious digger on Tuesday.
I once had someone tell me that when things are REALLY bad, try to take step back and look at it like it’s a Seinfeld episode. In most cases, I think that can sort of work, however, my Tuesday was so bad that I think my brain was in a complete state of shock.
My day started off with an email from my aunt, which is USUALLY a good thing. This email contained (in addition to family chat and affection) news that my cousin had sold the land that my grandparents house/farm had been on. That sucked to hear as I truly loved that little bit of land. Then she let me know that she had been diagnosed with a form of Leukemia that will need to be monitored. That REALLY sucked. We emailed back and forth a little bit discussing my worries over the health of both my mom and my dad. Yep, the morning was not something I would put in the ‘awesome’ column on my day rating sheet.
I continued on… Towards the mid-afternoon I got to sit down with the people I work for and learn that the company I am working for is closing at the end of June. What JOY! YAY!! The stress of looking for another job and financial insecurity! What fun! Are you fucking kidding me?
After finally making it home and sitting down I decided to call my parents for my weekly 10 minute conversation that has pretty much had the same script for years. This one was a bit different. My dad told me that at his doctor’s appointment that day ‘they found something’ on his bone scan - it could be ‘this or that.’ What the fuck kind of diagnosis is that? Getting clear information from either one of my parents is often an act in futility. I knew that it was bad though, even if I couldn’t get clear information, as it was concerning bones in his pelvis, ribs, shoulder and neck. It was confirmed the next day to be bone cancer.
When I got off the phone I just sat there. I said ‘fuck’ a couple of times. I cried for about 20 minutes. I poured myself a really big glass of wine and went and sat in the bathtub. Needless to say my mind was an absolute teaming nest of rabid weasels. When Lynn got home and found me in the tub, I told him, ‘I had a not so good day today honey.’
I really didn’t want to eat much during the week, though it seemed like the only thing I did eat was junk food, usually with pimento cheese participating in some way (usually on a cracker). Even when I went out to eat, once again pimento cheese mysteriously showed up on little bbq sliders with pickled jalapeños (with duck fat fries at Augustine’s for bike night - an attempt at distraction with Lynn putting me on the back of a motorcycle for a little while).
I made it through my week, though when I got to Saturday I had way too much solitary time on my hands. I woke up at the crack of dawn because that is when Lynn gets up to go to work, and it’s the time that the two new small furry blue eyed monsters begin their day by chasing each other around the room and attacking one another on the bed. I was awake. I ate the last of the pimento cheese on crackers. I ate some cold apple pie. I did a few chores. I tried to read a book. I slept. A LOT. When I couldn’t sleep any more I tried thinking of something that would distract me and keep my mind from focusing on all the trouble at hand.
Noodles? I had been wanting to make some kind of stretched or pulled noodles. It was something that wouldn’t take much focus, but kneading the dough might be soothing. It would be a process. It was after 4 in the afternoon though, so this was going to be a late meal - with the kneading, resting, and me retardedly wanting to braise some pork hocks to go with them. I said what the fuck, dragged my ass out of bed and decided to do it anyway.
Pork hocks in the oven to braise first.
Oven preheated to 275º. Hocks washed and into a Corningware dish that had a lid. (I have this weird fetish for Corningware. You know, the old school white dishes with the small blue flowers on the front?) These were fresh pieces of pork, not the smoked kind used for flavoring greens and other heavenly vegetables. I have braised trotters with the same flavor profile in the past, but these small(er) pieces wouldn’t take 10 hours to cook. Into the dish went:
• 4 Fresh pork hocks
• 1 Sliced onion
• 3 Cloves of chopped garlic
• Dried Thai chilies
• A couple of spoons of home made Sichuan peppercorn oil whole spices and all (recipe sort of based on the one from the Lady and Pups’ Dan Dan post)
• A spoonful of Doubanjiang (broad bean paste)
• 1 three inch piece of ginger peeled and slivered
Lid on and into the oven.
Next came the noodle dough.
I wish I could say that I did this in a very scientific and pastry chef (one who works with flour) kind of way. I did not. I didn’t measure anything. I didn’t time anything (well, I did LOOK at my watch when kneading). Flour is a fickle thing anyway - it always depends on the weather as to how much liquid you will need to add!
I put flour into a bowl (I think a couple of cups). I added a generous pinch of salt, and a generous pinch of baking soda (though that is kind of a joke because when I went to pour the backing soda out into the palm of my hand, MUCH more baking soda ended up dusting the surface of everything, so there might have been some spillover into the flour). As for the baking soda… I remember reading, and I don’t remember exactly where — it was either David Chang in Lucky Peach or Ivan Orkin in Ivan Ramen — that wrote about baking soda and the chewiness of noodles. At least I think I remember that, and that explains the bit of baking soda added to the dough.
I added enough water to encourage the dough to come together. I oiled a mat and kneaded and kneaded and kneaded - about 20 minutes maybe? I wished that I had a thick bamboo pole and a place to put it so that I could knead the dough like I saw in the No Reservations - Hong Kong episode Tony Bourdain did with a feature on artisanal noodles and the dying art. Repeatedly squishing a piece of dough while bouncing on a piece of bamboo would have been much more satisfying than kneading on my much to small cutting board.
I kneaded mine and dropped it into a bowl and covered it with oil and plastic wrap and just let it sit. My enthusiasm I confess was something I was trying REALLY hard to generate. I lacked the space to thwack the dough on a surface or sling dough around - so I thought that pulling multi strands of noodles all simultaneously was out of the question. Again, space might be an issues for the pulling of one long continuous noodle. I HAVE seen some thicker individually pulled noodles, so that was going to be my goal.
After a couple of hours I pulled the pork out of the oven and put a squirt of hoisin on top of each piece and put it back into the oven. I dumped my dough onto the board and pressed it out until it was about 1/4 inch thick and cut it into about 1/2 inch strands. Back into the oiled bowl.
When the pork was about ready (another couple of hours - tender, falling off the bones) I put a pot of salted water on to come up to a boil and sautéed some oyster mushrooms, some chopped gai lan, and some scallions. I was telling myself that I needed to eat something besides just meat and noodles glossed with a little bit of pan jus.
When the water was boiling I attempted to take each strand and pull it into a longer thinner noodle. My dough was REALLY soft and without any pliant stretchy consistency. It would start to stretch nicely and then promptly break. At this point I really didn’t give a shit. Short, long, medium. Every stretched and broken bit went into the pot. The way they felt in my hand made me think that they would disintegrate the minute they hit the boiling water and turn into a big glutenous soup. I cooked them in batches, scooping them out with tongs after about 3 minutes. Surprisingly enough they had a great springy and chewy texture despite the ragged Franken-noodle appearance. Baking soda? Were you my hero?
When they were all cooked I divided them into two bowls and portioned out the vegetables. I added hocks to the top of the noodles, strained all the braising liquid and poured it over the top. It was super spicy, chewy, and satisfying. Even if it was 10 p.m. The little bits of bone marrow scooped out and quickly eaten didn’t hurt either.
I hope that with the coming days/weeks/months(?) I am going to be able to put some focus on cooking some decent meals (i.e. not just junk food). I realize that I need to take care of myself or I am not going to be much help to anyone and I am going to need to be able to do more than just function. I am hoping that if I can nourish myself then I can create a place of peace for my brain where I can cope and maybe do a bit better than that. I DO have to find another job after all.
Here’s to trying to get all of these fucking ducks in a row.
Maybe I should cook some duck.