I am not a bright ray of morning sunshine.
Even after eight hours of sleep unfettered by evening caffeine or smoke-alarm chirping, the first hour is not pretty. Obviously this is the perfect time to introduce knives, boiling water, splattery hot grease, or electric grinding appliances into the mix. It’s not pretty.
Other key fact: My routine demands I adhere to the following mantra: “Out the door at 8:04.” With keys, wallet emptied of all cash (vending machines), fully charged celly, Coffee Mug, ziploc bag full of tea, separate ziplo bac full of ice, fruit, and extra pair of socks. And, most obviously, lunch. I’m “Still Alive at 8:05,” but if I push it much farther… consequences can be profound.
I cope, mostly. Most of this stuff can be taken care of the night before: put keys and wallet by the door, measure out my 25 grams of coffee, have half of dinner ready to serve double duty as lunch. I conquer the snooze alarm at about 7:20, boil the water, grind the beans, and have about 20 minutes to sort of ease into my day before I need to actually need to truly, actually Get Ready.
Lately, however, it gets kind of tragicomic. I’m not cooking “dinner” as often. At least twice a week now I’ll just graze rather than plan a meal, which I’m okay with, save for the fact that if I don’t do something about the next days lunch, I risk putting myself in a position where I am going to have to dirty dance with a hot pocket.
It hasn’t happened yet, because I find myself falling into this weird habit lately of cooking both my lunch and my dinner between roughly 7:25 and 7:45, while, during the same time frame, I’m brewing my coffee and my tea, heaping handfuls of store-bought ice cubes into freezy bags, rinsing out my portable coffee ziggurat… and shaving. Not to mention breakfast, which is usually a hunk of homemade ciabatta and a few strawberries, washed down with an epidemiologically questionable but utterly manly jug-swig of OJ.
Twenty minutes is plenty of time to boil a carb and chop/cook something to put on top of it. Certainly there is mental effort involved – it helps to take care of your pantry and it helps to always keep a lot of “flexible” veggies on hand (like onions and mushrooms and zuccini and carrots and broccoli and red/green peppers), it’s important to be able to an work efficiently (like chopping while the water is boiling) and it helps if you are comfortable with a sense of timing, but, realistically, a quick, thrown-together meal is no more difficult than a drive to the office.
I seem to have a system developed around three UR-lunches. Prototypes, basically.
1. Penne with a cast-iron skillet full of veggies, with basil chopped tomatoes thrown in right at the end of cooking.
2. Rice, tarted up with tomato paste and chicken broth, with a skillet full of veggies, with cilantro and tomatoes thrown in at the end. Add Mexican chorizo if I’m feeling sassy.
3. Noodles (Soba, Udon, other Asian noodles), with a wok full of veggies. Meat is always an option.
Option three is always the most fun, and tends to be a go-to. I’ve also found that I really do enjoy a 1-1 combination of fermented bean paste (dao jioa) with this chili-garlic paste I find around. I add a squirt of fish sauce and a squirt of lime juice and a bit of sugar, and I stir in an egg just after I turn off the on the work. If my timing is perfect, the noodles will be done cooking at the same time, and I “swoosh” them around in the wok, and they take on this comforting brown color.
Specific combinations of vegetables are obviously endless. If I’m making this in the evening, my favorite preparation is broccoli, where I include the stalks after cutting off their thin outer layer. This last time was, I think, my favorite preparation so far. I used green beans, and just happened to have pork shoulder on hand. The fact that this took maybe ten or fifteen minutes to cook was, I think, the best part.
Hasty But Tasty Pork and Bean Stir Fry
This dish should take no more than 20 minutes.
Start the boiling water for the noodles immediately. Remember to add salt. Add the noodles to the boiling water. Turn your wok to low with the oil. Meantime, chop your meat/veggies.
1 Big handfull green beans, stringy tips removed
1 T dao Jiao (fermented been paste)
1 T (you can use more, but I am kind of a sissy) garlic chili paste
1 T or so fish sauce
1/2 ounce of lime juice (about half a lime)
pinch of sugar
1 T vegetable oil
8oz pork shoulder, extra fatty, cut into strips and salted. Obviously you can omit this, just don’t tell me about it.
scallions and carrot slivers for garnish
4 ounces (or more) of noodles, cooked in salty water.
You know what to do here. But, for the record:
turn your wok to high. as the oil heats, spread around the wok the best you can.
Add the pork, stirring just a bit until the surfaces are mostly cooked.
Pour in the bean paste garlic-chili mix, fish sauce, lime juice and sugar. Stir.
Beans in the pot. Try to make sure the sauce comes in contact with all of the beans.
One tip: you can, if you wish, cover the wok with some kind of large lid to allow the beans to steam.
Stir-fry for four or five minutes until the beans are tender. Drain your noodles and add to the wok. Stir to combine.
Optional: turn off heat and stir in one egg, just until barely curdled.
garnish with carrot slivers and scallions if you have some sort of food blog.
Divide in half, take part to lunch, do what you must with the other half.
Back in my job-coaching days, one of the pieces of advice i liked to give is how we need to recognize that not only are our problems interrelated, but the answers to those problems dovetail into one another. I think this is why I’m so willing to endure such a blizzard morning routine – it gives me at least a fighting chance to control my hunger, my cravings and my stress triggers. Ice begets ice water, a fruit snack and lack of money keeps me from buying M&Ms, and a homemade lunch just makes me very, very happy. I’m going to keep trying.