I've talked before about making time for writing; either through the habit of writing every day, or by cutting out certain time consuming activities - like going to the gym.
But there's still so much that eats into my limited time to write and cooking dinner is one of the worst culprits. Now granted, I don't have kids. Feeding my animals is as simple as pouring some food pellets into a bowl. So I'm not going to say that this midweek meal is going to work for everyone. In fact, my recipe is single-serving, but it can be made in less than fifteen minutes with basic Asian food-pantry items that can be purchased at your grocery store, Asian grocery (like Hmart), or even Amazon.
This is my quickie version of ramen noodle soup, made a little healthier for weeknight meals. I suppose it could be doubled for two people if you'd like, but it really works best as a one-pot, single-serving meal.
Here's what you will need:
-First, boil the broth in a small pot. Add your soy sauce little by little and check for taste. Then add the mirin and a shake of cayenne pepper. Let it come to a boil. Taste and adjust these components as necessary.
-Add your dried noodles to the boiling broth. My soba noodles take six minutes. If you are using tofu, add the tofu in with the noodles.
-Subtract 1 min 45 seconds from your noodle boiling time. So for my soba noodles, that's 4 minutes 15 seconds.
-At 4 minutes 15 seconds after I added the noodles, I crack in the eggs into the boiling pot. Don't stir them. You want to poach them directly in the broth. If you prefer a more cooked egg, just add them a little earlier. The goal is to get the egg and the noodles to finish cooking at the same time.
-When the noodles/eggs finish, add the spinach very quickly, maybe even 15 seconds before everything is finished. Poke it into the broth (be careful not to break your eggs). The spinach will cook down right away.
-Remove from heat and pour into a bowl. Careful, it will be hot! So consider putting the bowl on a plate for easier transport.
Then enjoy! Simple, quick noodle soup that has a nice balance of carb (noodles), protein (eggs and tofu), and vegetables (spinach). Yes, there's too much salt, but eh, nobody's perfect :)
If you get the timing of the egg just right, you'll get a nice soft-boiled egg yolk. It's not quite as good as a real soy-sauce marinated egg, but it's a fast approximation.
This instant dashi stock mix would probably upset a purist (and frankly, what part of this recipe wouldn't), but I find it's a nice pantry staple for making an even more delicately flavored broth if you don't feel like using chicken or beef stock (or are out, as I usually am).
So there you go, a tasty, one-pot, Asian inspired noodle-soup that can be made in fifteen minutes or less. Enjoy!
P.S. Also makes a great hangover cure. I made this particular bowl on Sunday after waking up with a headache following a night with friends that involved just two Pabst Blue-Ribbon beers and half a glass of homemade cider - this is thirty I guess!
If you took the Internet at face value, you might think that the only places worth living in the United States were New York City and San Francisco, particularly if you had artistic or entrepreneurial goals. This has never made sense to me. At the start of your career, when you are making the least amount of money of your life (or perhaps none at all), why would you choose to live in a place with one of the highest costs of living in the world?
New Yorkers will submit the city’s excellent food and culture as evidence in its favor, which is of course true, but I don’t believe these things are essential, and may even be detrimental to good writing. Getting distracted and broke just seems like a bad way to finish that novel.
But New Yorkers are right on one count for sure: humans like to be entertained. Why else would we continue to live in expensive cities that we can’t afford and read novels, which arguably have little tangible benefit to society. What was it that T.S. Elliot said? “Mankind can only take so much reality?” (edited: yeah, the quote is actually, "human kind, cannot bear very much reality," from his Four Quartets, but you get my drift, there's value in entertainment)
There may be a better compromise for the competing professional and personal needs of the writer that goes beyond the usual metropolitan suspects. Across the U.S., a small city revival has been taking place. Towns like Buffalo, New York, which had been more or less abandoned as American ghost towns, have started to experience a popular regrowth. Maybe this is a reflection of millenials’ taste for city-life or the fact that the economic cycles of cheap real-estate eventually lowers the risk for entrepreneurs to start new businesses, but for whatever reason, it’s happening. Small cities are filling up again with people hungry for good food, entertainment and community, but at a fraction of the cost of New York or San Francisco, and maybe with a little weirder, local character.
This same revival has been taking place in Durham, North Carolina and has been noticeable even in the last two years since we moved here. My husband actually used to live in Durham as child, right next to Duke University on Monmouth Ave., some twenty-odd years ago. Back then, he says you didn't go into the downtown area, even though it was only a 10 minute walk away, because there just wasn’t anything to visit. Businesses had shuttered around the same time as the collapse of the tobacco industry, which had thrived there during most of the early and mid-part of the 20th century.
What remained were some art deco-buildings, red brick warehouses, and smoke stacks, the remaining artifacts of the tobacco industry like Liggett-Meyers and Lucky-Strike. But there was so much amazing architecture that I think developers and business owners saw an opportunity for a second life in the city. They were smart enough to retain that visual character, which has helped set Durham apart in some ways.
Durham went from depopulated and dead to having independent breweries, music venues, bookstores, and excellent restaurants. A new baseball stadium was built for the local minor league team, the Durham Bulls (made famous in the Kevin Costner movie, Bull Durham), and thankfully, the old wooden one has been left standing and is used by high school teams and clubs, maintaining a lot the 20th century character and charm in the neighborhood All of this is within minutes of Duke University, and under a 45 minute commute to either Chapel Hill or Raleigh, both of which are experiencing their own versions of this municipal rebirth.
We used to live in downtown Durham and would walk to get a beer at Fullsteam or Motorco, or pop down the street for an independent movie at The Carolina Theatre. I'd buy my books at Letters Bookshop, The Regulator, or Nice Price Books, all within walking distance of our place. We lived in one of the tobacco warehouses and had a large loft apartment that cost us all of $1300 for two bedrooms, two baths, in the very thick of the downtown scene. We could have gone cheaper, but we liked the building too much.
This past weekend we visited one of the recently renovated, classic mid-century buildings, The Durham Hotel, and got a drink on the rooftop bar, which had amazing views of the city. This was exactly what Durham was missing.
We also tried out the new ramen restaurant, Dashi. I am a huge ramen noodles fan (the real soup, not the instant kind). When we first moved to Durham, it didn’t have much in the way of Japanese food, but now it has a legitimate, serious ramen shop with a bar upstairs for small plates. I had the shoyu style, T had the tonkatsu. I dug right in and totally ruined the bowl’s presentation before even thinking I’d might want to take a picture to share with you guys, but here it is. Doesn’t that soy sauce egg look incredible? Perfectly soft-boiled, jelly yolk. And the noodles, crinkly and chewy, just the way I like them.
So there you go, you can get delicious ramen some place other than San Francisco. You can walk to the movie theater without going broke for the privilege. And you can use that saved cash to pursue professionals goals and take risks that maybe aren’t the most financially practical. For this reason, Durham is a great place for writers, or painter, or brewers, or farmers, or whatever it is that you want to do or be.
So check out Durham or some other small city if you’re thinking about a change. New York would be fun, but at what cost really, both financially and personally? Maybe it would be fun for a little while, but is it really sustainable or productive for a struggling artist to live there? Smaller cities might be a real alternative for living your own life, not the one the Internet thinks you should have.
Recently, I stopped by Pittsboro, NC to get a new library card. Pittsboro is such a classic example of Mainstreet, USA that I felt it deserved a brief spotlight so I could share a few things I really enjoy there.
Pittsboro is located about 45 minutes west of Raleigh, not far from Jordan Lake. It’s not a large town, but there’s a nice collection of small, family owned businesses. If you’re in the market for reasonably priced antiques that make good hipster home décor (e.g. wire bird-cages, typewriters, rococo mirrors, etc.), then you should visit Pittsboro. I like Reclamation Home Furnishings and while I was there I nearly bought a set of bar glasses that had this fun fox pattern, but I’m trying really hard to not fill my house with too many “things,” books not withstanding…
The Phoenix Bakery is on the main drag (Hillsboro St.) in Pittsoboro, actually right across the street from Circle City Books & Music. The doughnuts are baked, not fried, but the dough tastes more akin to croissant than cake. They are chewy and snappy and usually filled with some delicious crème. They’re not completely glazed like a Krispy Kreme doughnut, so it’s not a sodden bite of corn syrup. There’s just the right amount of icing or ganache on top. The Phoenix Bakery has a lot of options as you can see below. There are also cupcakes and bread, and I believe they bake cakes for special occasions, but I’ve only tried the doughnuts so far.
…because there’s also an excellent used bookstore in Pittsboro, called Circle City Books & Music. This is a classic used bookstore. You walk in without any expectations and walk out with three or four books you had no idea you wanted to read until you saw them sitting there on the shelf. I love used book stores. They break you out of reading ruts and expand your sphere of influences. The last time I visited I picked up Larry McMurtry’s Lonesome Dove and Tom Wolfe’s Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, two classics I've always wanted to read.
Books and hipster-ware aside, the thing I may like the most about Pittsboro is the doughnuts. My god, these doughnuts. I’m not even a real fan of doughnuts, but these are just so good that I’ll make an exception. If you are in the area, you must go to the Phoenix Bakery.
My favorite is the boston crème. The filling is not like the usual syrupy custard you usually find. Phoenix’s uses more of a whipped crème filling, so it is super light and fluffy. I bought this doughnut ($2.75, totally worth it) after checking out my library books. I wasn’t actually that hungry at the time, but I still wanted a taste. So I had two bites of this boston crème and was originally planning to throw the rest away. But then those two bites turned into half the doughnut. And then I couldn’t help it, I ate the rest. That may sound a little gluttonous, because as I said I really wasn’t that hungry, but the flavor and texture was so good that I just focused completely on it and enjoyed every bite. I finished it without any guilt because it was such a high quality pastry. Normally, I tend to engorge myself on food without really tasting it. This was the totally opposite, mindful experience.