I’ve been on an Asian food kick and it shows no signs of abating. I know I should switch my thinking to French or Spanish or Greek or Lebanese flavors for variety. But not just yet. At the moment, Ruth Reichl has me thinking about spicy Asian noodles.
I’ve just finished reading Reichl’s new book, “Save Me the Plums: My Gourmet Memoir.”
It covers her 10-year stint at Gourmet magazine, from when she was wooed away from the New York Times, where she was restaurant critic, to the soul-numbing day in 2009 when the staff was summarily summoned to a conference room and told the magazine was dead as of that moment. Pack your belongings and leave.
The book is less about food than her previous memoirs, and more about the drama and nuts and bolts of turning the venerable but dated magazine into a relevant, contemporary food magazine filled not just with recipes but cutting-edge articles by some of the best writers on the planet.
Reichl takes us behind the scenes in the Gourmet test kitchen, but also writes about the opulence showered on Conde-Nast editors and how she initially resisted the more decadent perks such as a clothing allowance and liveried car service to the office each day.
In the course of telling the story of Gourmet’s last gasp, Reichl describes the terror of 9/11 and lugging chili and brownies through the ash-clogged streets to the first responders; parties at the penthouse of autocratic Conde Nast chairman Si Newhouse; and the untimely death from pancreatic cancer of Jonathan Gold, Gourmet restaurant critic and the first food writer to receive the Pulitzer Prize.
This is Reichl’s sixth memoir and although her writing has always been elegant, her skill at storytelling has only gotten better.
The books has a bare sprinkling of recipes. Here’s one for the simple meal she served her son after accepting the job at Gourmet — which meant she could have dinner with her family rather than dining nightly in a restaurant as a critic.
RUTH REICHL’S SPICY CHINESE NOODLES
1/2 lb. Chinese wheat noodles, dried egg noodles or spaghetti
1/2-inch-long piece fresh ginger
1 tsp. sugar
2 tbsp. Chinese black bean paste with garlic
1 tbsp. Chinese bean paste with chili
1/2 lb. ground pork
Cook the noodles in boiling water until al dente. Drain and toss with 1/2 tablespoon peanut oil, and set aside.
Peel and mince the ginger (you should have about 2 tablespoons). Chop the white parts and slice the green parts of the scallions.
Mix the sugar and the two kinds of bean paste, and set aside.
Heat a wok until a drop of water skitters across the surface. Add a tablespoon of peanut oil, toss in the ginger, and stir-fry for about half a minute, until the fragrance is hovering over the wok.
Add the pork and white scallions and stir-fry until all traces of pink have disappeared. Add the bean sauce mixture and cook and stir for about two minutes.
Stir in the green scallions and noodles and quickly toss. Add a drop of sesame oil and turn into two small bowls. This makes a perfect snack for two.
What I cooked last week:
Steamed asparagus with sesame oil and sea salt; filet mignon with wine sauce, steamed asparagus; spicy Chinese noodles; fava beans with olive oil, sea salt, tarragon and chives, pan-grilled pork loin chops, more steamed asparagus; peanut slaw with mint and Thai dressing (a duet with Tony); pan-grilled flatiron steak, pan-grilled bell pepper strips with chunky sea salt, a salad of baby lettuces from the garden; chilled tomato soup with dill, skillet-seared mojo shrimp.
What I ate in/from restaurants:
Larb at Papaya Salad in Cuyahoga Falls; a green smoothie at Smoothie King in Cuyahoga Falls; tuna poke at Poke Fresh in Akron; small popcorn no butter at Regal Cinema (“Rocketman” was outstanding); half of a Subway ham and pepper-cheese sub.
I was looking for info on Foley’s seafood salad mentioned in your last newsletter (no luck) and came across the Akron restaurants info and photos you’ll find on the enclosed link.
Some descriptions say when the restaurants opened and closed, with some not having much info at all. I have to say the info about Senier’s Tavern (opened in 1929) and the Merry-Go-Round was a good read, especially the part about the owner being arrested for allowing public dancing past 11:30 on Saturday nights! There’s a good amount of old Akron restaurant photos you and your readers might recognize or just enjoy. I’m thankful we’re able to see the history kept here: The Golden Age of Restaurants in Summit County
What a treasure! I hope everyone is able to access the information from the link you sent — I was able to from your email but not when I retyped the link for this column. I am hoping the glitch is in my writing program. The history of Akron restaurants is from the special collections department of the Akron-Summit County Public Library. I especially like the old menus and photos of places such as Kaase’s and O’Neill’s Georgian Room.
From Sally T.:
I saw a very interesting show on PBS about hijiki and it showed women diving for it, then drying it, and it all was fascinating to me. I thought you or your husband probably knew something about this. They used it in traditional Japanese food but what caught my attention was they used it in salad with fruit and spaghetti sauce. Of course, they talked about how good it is for you, which brought to mind that the Japanese are famous for long life and thinness.
I conquered kale so I thought it might be interesting to try this. I would love for you to write something about the different types of seaweed. What I read was hijiki is the most palatable to American tastes. Do the Japanese eat a lot of it?
Hijiki with spaghetti sauce? Yuk.
The three types of seaweed I am most familiar with are nori, kombu and hijiki. Nori is the pressed and dried seaweed sheets that are moistened and wrapped around sushi rolls. The crisp sheets are popular with U.S. kids right now as a snack.
You may have seen kombu chopped and floated in miso soup. It is also used in making dashi (fish broth), and is the base for the Japanese salad, sunomono, that is served at sushi bars, topped with bits of seaweed, vegetables and a soy-rice vinegar dressing. Kombu is incredibly nutritious and is used widely in Asia.
Kombu is flat, wide and smooth. The flavor is unremarkable to me — kind of kale-like in that respect. Hijiki has a more interesting texture. The squiggly, thin strands are dull green or brown and crisp. I find it in Asian stores, usually in the deli section where it is dressed with vinegar and sprinkled with sesame seeds for a refreshing salad. I cannot imagine eating it with spaghetti sauce or even fruit, for that matter. It is high in minerals and low in calories, as is kombu.