Comfort food, Food, food bloggers, food blogging, Pasta, personal, Recipes

Eating Your Feelings

spanish-chip-buttie

A Spanish Chip Butty from The Pen Factory in Liverpool. Unquestionably, one of the best things I’ve eaten this year.

I haven’t felt much like writing recently. I started 2017 with so many great plans and amazing intentions. This, I told myself, would be my year. But so far, things haven’t been going according to plan. Work has been slow and my many (many) hustling emails have mostly been met with a ‘no’ or – even worse – no reply. Numerous opportunities have fallen through. The sink is blocked. I broke a nail. I pulled my favourite necklace out of its box last week to discover that it had snapped in two. Trump is president and seems to be on a mission to cause as much damage as possible. And my Dad had a heart attack.

There was no prior warning, no prep time. Just an unexpected phone call from my brother one Friday night informing me that my Dad was in surgery. It’s not my Dad’s first medical emergency, or even his first heart attack, but no matter how many times you find yourself in this position, it still comes as a shock. As I write this, he’s recovering from a heart bypass and growing increasingly weary of being stuck in hospital. I can’t say I blame him. Thankfully, he’s recovering well. Hopefully, he’ll be discharged by the end of this week, but in the interim, I spend my time flitting between Liverpool and Manchester. The house I live in, the house I grew up in and the hospital adjacent to where both of my siblings were born.

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It would be a lot to deal with even if it wasn’t all happening during January, that long dark Monday of the soul. So, I cope with it in my own way. I switch Twitter off. I read. I go on long bike rides around the wild, ragged coastline near my house. I watch an unhealthy amount of ‘America’s Next Top Model’ (while simultaneously praising and cursing Amazon Prime). And I cook.

I read this Bon Appetit piece yesterday about the joy that can be found in cooking for others. One paragraph in particular really leapt out at me. Mincing onions, making stock, kneading dough, and setting a table with care shouldn’t, and can’t, replace volunteering, protesting, and other forms of activism. But building and caring for community is absolutely vital right now. My hope is that this kind of nourishment—real food, made with love, for myself and for my friends—will better equip me to engage in the long fight ahead.’

I tell myself that I am cooking for the people I love – lunch for my husband to take to work with him, dinner for my Mum so she has something warm and nutritious to eat when she comes home late from the hospital. But I am also cooking to heal myself. I cook because cooking is an all consuming process. You follow these steps and (usually) something delicious will result in the end. I cook because cookbook writing is an art, and because a good cookbook can be read in the bath like a novel and transports you to places you never even knew existed. I cook because butter always makes things better. And I cook because in the hardest of times, we need to look after ourselves and others. We need to nourish our bodies and minds for the struggles ahead, to provide ourselves with comfort and strength when the obstacles feel almost insurmountable.

It is easy to dismiss thinking and writing about food as being a frivolous act when huge events are taking place in the world. But I place just as much importance in ensuring the people around me are well fed as I do in other radical activities. We still need full bellies and comfort food in dark times, whether that be brownies warm from the oven, an enormous plateful of Shepherd’s Pie, or just a giant bag of Doritos and hummus to munch on while watching your favourite film. Today, I will be heading over to Manchester and making a pot of bolognese sauce for myself and my Mum – some for tonight, and some to freeze for later when the thought of cooking from scratch seems like an impossible task. Food is good. Food is important. Sometimes it’s OK to eat your feelings.

Some Comfort Food recipes I’ve been cooking recently:

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Comfort food, hangover cure, lunch, recipe, Soup

Chinese Style Chicken Soup with Pork Dumplings

Asian style chicken soup with pork dumplings For various reasons, life is a bit annoying at the moment. This happens occasionally – these dips into a void full of work, mild illness and insomnia (recently, I had a sleepless night which was so brutal that the next day, I thought it would be a good idea to whisk tahini into my chicken soup instead of sesame oil. It wasn’t. Never do this.) I am grumpy, sneezy, mildly disheartened and in need of some comfort.  In such circumstances, there’s only one dish which can soothe my soul. Chicken soup with dumplings.

I could very easily live on a dumplings-only diet. From Jewish matzo to Mongolian momo, if it’s small, doughy and delicious, I’ll probably eat it. Recently, I’ve become obsessed with making potstickers, a Chinese dumpling which is briefly fried before being simmered. They’re (relatively) easy to make, freeze beautifully and make the perfect snack when you can barely be bothered to boil up a bowl of noodles. I have wonderful memories of eating huge bowls of super-cheap-and-super-tasty dumpling soup from when I lived in Camden as a student, so knew that the pork and cabbage ones I’d cobbled together would work well plonked into a spicy, head-clearing bowl of chicken broth (even if my pleating skills leave a lot to be desired.)

I’m not going to pretend that this soup is authentic. But on a cold day when life feels like one punch in the gut after another, and you can barely write an email, it really hits the spot.

CHINESE STYLE CHICKEN SOUP WITH PORK DUMPLINGS (Makes one big bowl of soup. Dumplings recipe makes roughly 30 dumplings.)

Dumplings recipe adapted from The Dumpling Sisters

For the soup

  • 300ml chicken stock (preferably home made)
  • 1 thumb sized lump of ginger, sliced into matchsticks
  • 1 tbsp light soy sauce
  • 1 tbsp Chinese rice wine
  • 1 tbsp Chinese black vinegar (if you don’t have any, balsamic is a good substitute)
  • 1 tsp sesame oil
  • 1 tsp chilli oil
  • 1/2 Chinese cabbage, cut into ribbons

For the dumplings

  • 1 pack of frozen dumpling wrappers (you can get these from most Chinese supermarkets)
  • 250g fatty pork mince
  • 1 thumb sized lump of ginger, minced finely
  • 2 cloves of garlic, minced finely
  • 1 tsp light soy sauce
  • 1 tbsp Chinese rice wine
  • 1 tsp sesame oil
  • 1 tsp ground white pepper
  • 1 tsp white sugar
  • 1/2 Chinese cabbage, diced very finely
  • 1 spring onion (green part only), diced finely

Make it!

  1. PREP THE SOUP: Add the ginger matchsticks to the chicken soup, and leave to simmer over a medium heat while you’re prepping the dumplings.
  2. FOR THE DUMPLINGS: Place the shredded cabbage and spring onion in a bowl with the pork mince, sesame oil, rice wine, sugar, soy sauce, minced garlic and ginger and white pepper and mix well (I find it works best if you use your hands – make sure they’re clean!) To check the seasoning, fry a little of the mixture to taste, and season again, if required.
  3. To make the dumplings, lay the wrappers on a clean work surface and cover with a damp tea towel to stop them from drying out. Place 1 teaspoon of the filling onto the middle of a wrapper, brush the edges with a little water, then fold the wrapper in half over the filling into a half moon shape. Pinch the edges to seal (pleating them makes them look nicer, but simply pinching them together with your fingers should work fine – make sure they’re properly sealed before cooking though!) then place bottom-side down onto a plate which has been lightly dusted with cornflour (a tablespoon or so should do.) Repeat with the remaining ingredients – you should end up with roughly 30 in total. Keep five for the soup, and freeze the remaining 25 (or just place them in the fridge so you can snack on them later.)
  4. Heat a good splash of oil in a large non-stick frying pan over a high heat, then add the potstickers, bottom-side down, in a single layer (you may need to do this in batches). Reduce the heat to medium and fry for 2 minutes, or until the undersides are brown and crispy.
  5. While you’re frying the dumplings, add the soy sauce, Chinese rice wine, vinegar, sesame oil, chilli oil and shredded Chinese cabbage to the chicken stock, and leave to simmer for around five minutes. Taste, and add more seasonings if required.
  6. Once all the dumplings have been fried, gently add them to the soup. Leave to cook for 5 – 7 minutes. Serve immediately with a good squirt of Sriracha.
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