noodles, soup and coping

Anyone who’s had depression will tell you that it fucking sucks. Sometimes you have no imaginable reason to be sad but you are. These three wet, grey days I spent alternately staring at my laptop screen, lying on the floor or curled up on the sofa, sobbing like there was no tomorrow.

In these sorts of situations it’s hard to turn to people. Isn’t it terrifying when you see someone you know and love suddenly dissolve into a crying, shaking heap? What can you do, what do you say to them? (Take note: it’s not “are you okay?”) I don’t like putting someone I love through that kind of secondhand pain, especially if I don’t know that they won’t get scared and run away.

And the thought of being abandoned is also scary as all hell, especially when someone walks away because they can’t deal with the intensity of your tears. So I’m quite thankful I live alone – no one else has to witness my unabated sobbing until my eyes are tired and swollen and the tabletop pooling a little with tears.

The worst thing is that there is no meaning to these tears, not these ones. Some days the chemicals in my head – or lack thereof – get the better of me. Other days maybe I miss some important people who are very far away, and sometimes when this happens to them I can’t do anything because I’m here and they’re not.

I dragged myself out of the house yesterday for a walk. It was chilly and the supermarkets were closed, but I did come across Vauxhall City Farm next to the park pretty near home. Parks in cities are always some kind of amazing – a sudden patch of rolling greenery and buildings looming above you. Did you know there’s a llama there? And sheep sound more guttural in real life. The baa you hear in kid programs doesn’t really do it. It’s more like a groan – blaaAAAAAAHHH I’m a sheep and I’m BORED blaaAAHHH.

When I returned home I still wanted to cry, but it was good to get some fresh air. And after I’d picked myself off the floor, it was time to make some food. Cooking is great therapy. Food doesn’t make everything better, but it is a welcome distraction. There’s something constant in being able to put together a meal for yourself, to push dark thoughts off to one corner and ease into the pleasing monotony of slicing and dicing. Even when you’re depressed, a hot bowl of noodles, a stew – these things will not let you down. For the duration of cooking and eating the bowl of noodles (and maybe an episode of Hakuouki), my mind is concentrating on something other than crying.

I’ve had these soupy noodles twice in two days, and the stew once. If there’s one good thing about the miserable weather hanging over London right now, at least, it’s good soup and stew weather. You should make them, even if you aren’t feeling down. They’re easy. They’re very amenable to you chucking random things from the pantry at them, whether it’s an old carrot or two leaves of Chinese cabbage. And most importantly, they’re hot and delicious. (Which is far more than you can say for most boys!)

Recipes under the cut.

Hot Noodle Soup
Adapted liberally from Everyday Harumi by Harumi Kurihara

The nice thing about soup noodles is how forgiving they are, within reason (and even then) – the following is just what I happened to throw in. Spring onions, old carrots, onions, spinach, bok choy, inari, pressed egg tofu, sliced meat, mushrooms – it’s all fine. Just make sure you don’t have too much of each ingredient – about one third of a carrot, or a quarter of an onion, is probably enough – or your bowl might overflow. But I suppose that problem is very easily solved by using a bigger bowl.

2 – 4 dried mushrooms, soaked in a little boiling water (optional)
1 – 2 large Chinese cabbage leaves
3 spring onions
40g pressed egg tofu, sliced thinly
1/2 piece of inari, sliced thinly
300ml dashi stock (homemade, or from granules)
45ml soy sauce
45ml mirin
100g dried soba noodles (I used green tea)

1. If using meat, slice it thinly. Chop the spring onions into 5 – 7cm-long lengths. For the Chinese cabbage, separate the stalk section from the leaves. Slice the stalk into 5 – 7cm-long lengths, about 2cm wide (not that it really matters too much). Slice the leaves.

2. Heat the dashi stock. Add the soy sauce and mirin. If using the dried mushrooms, strain the soaking liquid and add it into the pot. When it comes to the boil, add meat if using. Add the mushrooms and chopped cabbage stalks. Bring back to the boil, skim the surface of any scum, add the spring onions, cabbage leaves pressed egg tofu, and cook for 1 – 2 minutes.

3. Bring a saucepan of water to the boil. Add the soba noodles, and cook until almost done; I usually let them go for a little under three minutes. Drain them. They should be cooked but still a little firm. (A matter of personal preference: I like to rinse them under cold running water to get rid of the surface starch, something one usually does for eating it cold.)

4. Put the noodles into a large bowl. Or, if you’ve rinsed them, return them to the broth, which shouldn’t be boiling too furiously.

5. Stir through to warm the noodles. Check that the meat and/or vegetables are done. Tip the broth, noodles and all, into your bowl, and add the inari. Garnish, as you like, with a sprinkle of shichimi togarashi or toasted sesame seeds, a teaspoon of spicy garlic sauce or some thin avocado slices.

Yield: 1 serving.

Kimchi Fish Stew
Adapted from Fueling for Fitness

Another one of those soup-stew type concoctions that will also take whatever you throw at it. An excellent way of using bits and pieces of food up. I grilled the salmon for 9 minutes before putting it in, but you could simply add it directly to the pot and let it putter away until just cooked through. Whatever you put in, make sure the kimchi flavour still shines through – if it’s not strong enough, kick it up with more gochujang.

6 cloves garlic, finely chopped or sliced*
1 carrot, sliced into 6 -7cm-long and thinnish sticks
1 onion, sliced
1/2 – 3/4 cup sliced kimchi, juices and all
broth (dashi, chicken, etc) and/or water
1 salmon fillet, marinated in a little soy sauce, mirin and sugar
spinach, frozen or not
a handful of peas
gochujang (red pepper paste), mirin, soy sauce, sugar
sesame oil, spicy garlic sauce and black pepper for serving

1. Heat the oven to 190C. Fry the onion in a little oil on medium heat for a few minutes until slightly softened and turning translucent. Add the garlic and carrots, and continue to cook for a few minutes.

2. While this is going on, grill the salmon for about 9 minutes at 190C. Remove and let cool when done.

3. Turn the heat up, and add the kimchi plus juices. Stir for a few minutes, letting it bubble and brown in spots. Add broth and/or water to cover the ingredients – more or less depending on how much liquid you want. Add gochujang, about a teaspoon to a tablespoon. Cover, bring to a boil, and simmer on medium heat for anywhere from 10 – 20 minutes.

4. Uncover, and check that the vegetables are done to your liking. Stir in the spinach and peas. They should cook more or less instantaneously. Add the salmon and warm it through, making sure it’s cooked. Season to taste: for more intensity and heat, gochujang; to temper the spiciness, mirin or sugar; for a saltier kick, soy sauce.

5. Serve with a few drops of sesame oil on top, and rice on the side. I like stirring a teaspoon of spicy garlic sauce into the soup, and grinding a little black pepper on top.

Yield: for two of modest appetite, or 1 very hungry person.

*A word to the wise: I like garlic. You may not like it as much as I do, in which case, you should halve it.

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This entry was published on April 9, 2012 at 6:35 pm. It’s filed under Food and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.

2 thoughts on “noodles, soup and coping

  1. Hi, I found you via haikugirl’s blog!

    “There’s something constant in being able to put together a meal for yourself” There really is. It’s one of the simplest and satisfying things you can do to look after yourself when you might not really feel like it. I need to try this soon ^^;; It’s also refreshing that you’re able to be so candid about depression – I haven’t quite managed that level of honesty in my own writings.

    • Hello Rhiannon, thanks for stopping by!
      Probably it’s just that I decided depression isn’t something that should be stigmatized :) It happens, and it’s not everything that defines me anyway! Tell me how the noodles turned out if you ever make them ^^

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