I’m sorry. It’s been a week–I have been surviving mostly on Frosted Flakes and take out. Went out for a Subway sandwich last night. I brought it home and ate it in my dark bedroom, right now the only livable space in my apartment. I left Chicago in good weather and came back a few days ago to find my place sweltering hot and smelling like ripe, days-old garbage. The air is thick in this city: heavy, wet. When I went to bed it was still too hot and too humid and I dreamt of the dry summer heat of Los Angeles, and of central air.
But last night, patting bits of oxidized lettuce off the floor with a mustardy napkin, I decided I’d had enough of the mopey shit. And like Hemingway after his oysters, I began to feel happy and to make plans.
You see, you may have noticed, I have been in a funk. I used to feel smug and impervious when I witnessed post-graduation sadness in my peers, but recently, true to karmic logic, I’ve been deep in it. From a distance I watched them perform all the reliable old tropes: Home isn’t home anymore, I feel lost, placeless, etc. And I used to chuckle. First world problems. The Holden Caufield snafu. But now, I am sorry to admit, it all kind of rings true.
Bottom line: I have decisions to make, and all the equipment and information I need to make them, but still I drag my feet. Certain things help: cooking, writing, exercise. Cooking especially. It’s the thrill of the concrete, of immediate accomplishment, of making something I can point to and say, I did that. So today, even though it’s still too hot, I said fuck it and boiled a pot of water and made something good.
Chinese cold noodles. Perfect for the heat because it’s (they’re?) simple and refreshing and yummy, so yummy I’ll stand over a stove in a 90 degree kitchen to get a taste. The cold, the crunch, the salt, the acid, the fragrance. Which is what it takes, right? To snap us back into the business of living: an object so worthwhile, so seductive, that we are willing to bear discomforts, even significant ones, to reach it. The right job, a fine piece of writing, a good man, a great meal. All of it, perhaps, a reaching for the same elusive fulfillment.
But that’s another story, for another time.
Chinese Cold Noodles
Again with the flexible recipes. This is how I like it, but do what you want. All crisp, fresh veggies, and practically any meat, will do.
(Makes two normal-sized servings or one whopping big one)
– 1/4 lb dry spaghetti or linguini
– 1 boneless skinless chicken breast
– 1 cup seedless cucumber, julienned
– 1/2 cup carrots, julienned
– 1/2 cup red bell pepper, julienned
– 1/2 cup cilantro, chopped
– 1/4-1/2 cup red onions, thinly sliced
– Chinese black vinegar
– Premium soy or Maggi Sauce
– Chinese chili sauce (brand rec: Laoganma Hot & Spicy Sauce)*
– Sesame oil
*When I say chili sauce, I’m not talking Sriracha, which is excellent, even if it’s not right for this. I’m talking chunks of dry red chili flakes and maybe also nuts suspended in oil. Laoganma’s sauce (far left) is nutty and fragrant and not too spicy.
Poach the chicken. Cut the breast into large chunks and place them in a shallow bath of cold, heavily salted water. If you wish you may add cooking wine, bayleafs, and peppercorns to the water, as I did. Bring the water to a gentle simmer and cook the chicken for 7 or so minutes, until done. Remove from heat, cool, and shred.
Cook the noodles in salted water. Once they are al dente, drain the noodles in a colander and run under cold water until they reach room temperature. Drizzle with sesame oil so the noodles don’t stick, toss, and set aside. Prepare the vegetables. It is best if they sit in the refrigerator until the moment you chop them. A fine julienne works beautifully–the thinner, the better.
Combine noodles, chicken, and vegetables in a large bowl. Season to taste with soy sauce (or Maggi sauce), black vinegar, and chili sauce. I like about equal quantities of each, plus some extra chili sauce. Alan likes to go crazy with the vinegar. As my mother used to say, Whatever suits your boat. The only thing I insist on: your noodles should look like they’ve been generously doused in soy sauce (remember–a lot of it is vinegar). Do not be meek…white noodles have no flavor.