By Sharla Rae
I grew up in the Midwest and I love to cook. My first efforts were the comfort foods I grew up with. In the farming Midwest that meant hearty, fill-the-belly dishes.
Composing a story is a lot like cooking. It blends emotion, story and character into a delicious tale that fills the belly of imagination and satisfies a reader’s tastes. The right combinations make gourmet delights.
As I matured and logged in miles of experience and travel, my culinary tastes in comfort food changed. Then a few years ago, I learned that the IBS and joint pain I was suffering was largely due to a growing intolerance of grains and other starches. No more homemade breads, and noodles, flour coated fried foods, cakes or cookies.
I grieved for my comfort food and even now, the yeasty aroma of baking bread is nothing short of orgasmic. Unfortunately, eating my old favs isn’t worth the incapacitating pain. And surprisingly, there’s been an unforeseen side benefit to my new diet. I lost excess pounds and now have more energy to dedicate to my writing.
Mind you, I was not willing to give up all the yummy stuff. Thankfully, my knowledge of food and cooking had grown since those days back in Iowa. I exercised my creativity, applied new techniques to my base knowledge and embraced the delicious results.
Writers work in much the same way. We are constantly honing our craft and in our ever changing world, we’re challenged to leave our comfort zones and add new ingredients to our writing.
Remember the bodice-ripper beginnings of romance? If you don’t, you at least understand the reference. As modern women evolved from helpless, Suzy homemakers into lean mean executive machines, so did the heroines in our books.
Story genres progressed too. Yes, there have always been paranormals, mysteries, thrillers, and historical romances. And yes they take turns in popularity, but always with a modern day twist. And let’s not forget the technological innovations. Not long ago, writers used note books and electric typewriters. No back-up. Eek! I am so glad for computers.
But here’s the rub. (Darn, there’s always a rub.)
The fast-paced digital world is now kicking writers into the cold mean streets of self-promotion. No longer can we depend on outside sources to toot our horns for us. Blogging, Facebook and Twitter. We have to use them all to put our names and faces all over the Internet and build our brand.
We’re expected to demonstrate the knowledge, willingness, and ability to market our talents long before we publish a single line. Why? Because with the advent of digital publishing the competition for readers is now astronomical.
The proof is in the pudding. Adults spend an average of more than 8 hours a day in front of a computer screen, on the cell phone, in front a TV or on some other digital device.
Internet horn tooting really does work. The movie industry has been doing this for years. Movie trailers are shown on TV and now on the Internet long before the actual movie debuts. Likewise, Internet media works to build a readership before a book appears online or in bookstores.
Good thing my new comfort food has revved my energy levels. I need it! Writing, plus blogging, Facebooking and tweeting take more time and energy. And while it does cut into writing time, it’s less expensive than a publicist and the author is the head chef. You choose the ingredients.
From the beginning, I didn’t mind blogging. In fact, I’m close to loving it. It’s a new means of expressing myself and it allows me a medium for sharing ideas.
I think of Facebook as a spice added to my professional image. It’s a quick and easy method to connect with readers and fellow writers.
And then there’s Twitter. I’m sold on its publicizing merits, but I still don’t like it much. I told my crit group that my tweets were more like baby chick peeps. They promptly told me I had mangled modern slang and that peeps meant people. Okay, whatever. So now I tweet about my peeps to other peeps.
My “peeps” were right. While I wouldn’t go so far as to bless Twitter as a spice or comfort food, I will give credit where it’s due. Tweeting is a super-duper vitamin. It’s boosted not only our group blog but my personal Internet presence. So I’ll swallow a few tweeting vitamins a day and keep my writing career healthy.
Someday, becoming my own agent, publisher, and publicist will be as easy and comfortable as my new comfort food diet has become. I just hope that happens before someone throws more vitamins at me.
Just for fun, I’m posting an old comfort food recipe and a new one. What are your favorite comfort foods?
My Old comfort Food: Homemade Egg Noodles with Beef
Cooking the Beef
- 1 to 1 ½ lbs of lean stew beef, cut into bite size pieces
- 2 cans of beef broth-more if making a large serving of noodles (see below)
- 1 to 2 cans of chicken broth (more if needed)
- ¼ to ½ Cup cooking wine – red or white as you desire (red for a rich heartier flavor)
- 2 Tbs. thyme or fresh Basil [My personal fav is basil]
- In a large Dutch oven-sz pan stew the meat in the broth. Make sure the meat is completely covered with liquid. Add wine.
- Note: The wine serves to flavor and tenderize the beef. Some people have been known to use beer for this stage, but I prefer wine.
- Cover cooking pot with lid set a jar. Broth or water may be added to keep the meat covered in liquid as it cooks. Give the meat a stir once in a while.
- When the meat turns color, turn heat to simmer and cook at least two hours or until tender. (Stew grade meat needs to cook longer so it will be tender.)
- While the meat cooks prepare the noodles.
- 1 beaten egg
- 2 Tbs. milk
- 1 Cup flour
- ½ tsp. salt
- If feeding a family of three or more triple the above – or if you have a man who can really eat!
- In a lg. mixing bowl beat egg and add milk and salt.
- Gradually stir in flour with a fork. When it forms into dough, flour your hands and kneed into a nice dough.
- If you have tripled the recipe for family, divide the dough into about four parts.
- Flour a flat surface and dust a rolling pin with flour.
- Roll dough to about 1/8 inch thickness or slightly less. As the dough is rolled, constantly toss flour on top and beneath to prevent sticking to the surface and to the rolling pin.
- Gently roll the flattened dough, jelly roll fashion. [May need to add flour with each turn to prevent sticking] With a very sharp knife, cut rolled dough into about ¼ inch sections. When unrolled these sections make the noodles. Set aside separated noodles on a dry floured surface or wax paper. Lift and let the drop to the surface once in while so they dry on all sides.
Putting the Noodles and Beef Together:
You’ll need more broth, water and wine.
- When the meat is tender and you’re ready to add noddles, turn up the heat and add more broth and water to fill the pan half full with liquid.
- Gradually drop the noddles into the broth, stirring gently and constantly so they don’t stick and form a glob of dough. (A wood spoon works well for this)
- The broth will thicken from the flour on the noodles. This is good, but you’ll need to add more broth and or water until all the noodles are in the pot.
- The cooking time on the noodles varies according to how thin you rolled and cut them. (Try a noodle. It should be chewy but not raw. Don’t cook it mushy.)
- Optional: When noodles are almost done, pour in a ½ cup wine of your choice. Sprinkle in more fresh basil if desired. (Do not add salt as there is salt in the noodles) A little white Pepper is okay.
- Serve beef & noodles hot over mashed potatoes or by themselves. If by themselves, you might like dotting a bit of grey poupon mustard onto the noodles. Very tasty.
- Note: You may enjoy cooking some mushrooms with the beef. Add them when the beef is at least half done.
- Note: Left overs may be refrigerated. Warm them in a pan on the stove by adding some beef broth to them. The sauce becomes thick in the frig so adding broth is necessary. Gently stir so as not to break the noodles.
New Comfort Food: Tofu Pork
At a glance this looks difficult, just like tweeting. It’s not but it does take forethought on the preparation. My husband is Chinese and his mom taught me to cook this. Enjoy.
Meat Stir Fry Ingredients:
- 1 to 1 ½ lbs Pork loin sliced thin and bite size for stir fry.
- Chopped, spring onion or cut yellow onion
- 1 ½ tsp. chopped garlic – set aside for stir fry
- 1Tb. Fresh ginger chopped – set aside for stir fry
- Sliced shiitake mushrooms – set aside for stir fry. Amount is optional (Using the dried is fine. Make sure you soak them first)
Marinade Ingredients for Meat:
- 2 Tbs. Hoisin sauce
- 1 Tbs Soy sauce
- 2 Tbs. water or chicken broth
- 1 Tbs. white wine
- ¼ tsp. sesame oil
- Dash black pepper - If this doesn’t seem to enough to coat all the meat, then you can double recipe minus the soy sauce. Too much soy sauce will make the meat salty.
- Stir sauce into sliced meat and marinate for at least an hour, the longer the better.
- Soak dried mushrooms in a bowl of water. The amount is optional.
Cooking Sauce ingredients: This is added while cooking the pork.
- 2 Tbs. Oyster sauce
- 3 Tbs. water
- 3 to 4 Tbs. chicken broth (use as much as needed for a nice gravy—if you use more broth, more
- Corn starch will be needed for thickening)
- A dash of black pepper or white pepper
- 3 to 4 tsp. corn starch for thickening.
- Veg oil for frying: about 2 or 3 Tbs.
Clean and prepare 1 bag of baby bok choy (veggie). Cut in halfs and and set aside.
- Tofu: 1 to 2 boxes of firm tofu)
- Tofu usually comes in blocks. Cut the thickness in three layers and cut across the top to make 3 layers of approximately 1 inch squares.
- Separate the squares and drain on paper towel on both sides.
- Turn oven to 200 degrees
- Place tofu in fry pan with veg. oil over med. heat. Occasionally turn it. Using thin wood spatulas or chop sticks works well. (Be careful-Tofu is very moist and sometimes pops in the oil.)
- When tofu is golden brown but not crispy, place in a glass cake dish and set in oven to stay warm.
Cook Bok Choy:
- Heat about 2 Tbs. oil in a wok
- Add ½ tsp. garlic and ½ tsp ginger.
- Stir until fragrant.
- Add bok choy, constantly stirring.
- Fry veggie, leaving it slightly crispy.
- Drain off oil and pour the veggie over the tofu in the glass dish and return to oven to stay warm.
Cooking the Pork:
- Before you start, make sure your cooking sauce is readily at hand.
- Pour cooking oil in a wok and if using sliced yellow onion, add to oil and sauté until wilted.
- Add remaining chopped garlic and ginger and stir with onion.
- Add Pork and mushrooms. Stir fry.
- When pork is almost cooked through, add the cooking sauce. Cook long enough to make sure that starch in the sauce is thickened. If the sauce is too thick, simply thin it by adding some chicken broth. (water may used to thin also but it dilutes the flavor)
- Note: If using spring onion instead of yellow onion, add it just before adding the sauce/gravy mixture.
- Remove the veggies and tofu from the oven and set on oven-safe surface.
- Pour meat mixture over the tofu and veggies.
- Eat by itself as I do, or eat it over rice as most Chinese do.