This week, I took an unplanned trip to nostalgia… and Midas.

When I was six or seven years old, my dad began preparing his own Chinese food. Takeout could not compare in the least. I remember sitting at the table with my mom and talking, about what I don’t know, but the air was full of steam and ginger.

There wasn’t a single unappealing dish on the table. The ribs were marinated to perfection. The pork loin was moist, and its accompanying dipping sauces were the closest to heaven a six-year-old could get. The fried rice… well, it could admittedly use a little work, but it was still delectable.

And then, there was the soup.

For me, it was the crowning achievement of the dinner table, a bowl of what my father refers to as “Long Soup.” There is nothing remarkable about this soup. It’s got strips of pork and some kind of noodle. There are water chestnuts and cabbage and scallions. All of this is immersed in chicken broth flavored by ginger and splashed with a bit of soy sauce and toasted sesame oil just before serving.

It tasted exotic.

I’m sure it has been over a decade since I have had a bowl of that particular soup, one that takes me back to childhood. Over time, the table became too crowded with other delectable Chinese dishes to harbor even one iota of space for something so negligible as soup. The ribs in black bean sauce, the stir-fried noodles, the beef and broccoli… the usual rotation kept reappearing, but the soup seemed forever absent, almost as if the soup itself had turned to steam and fogged the windows.

My father once confided to me that it was in part a time constraint. “There’s so much food already,” he would say when I voiced my disappointment. “And besides, I spent so much time wrapping egg rolls that I just ran out of time.”

He made plans repeatedly, only roughly hewn but balanced in their own right, beautiful and ornate. Life simply shrugged before casting that orderly dish onto the floor. Did he cut his hands when he tried to pick up the fragments? Did the rough edges of ceramic bite into him on some level I can’t see? If I had to wager a guess, I would say no. He is more Taoist than he knows, letting the flow of life simply sweep him along without resistance, whereas I am constantly swimming against its current and half drowning on my own shattered plans.

I had a plan. I swear I did. As of two days ago, my Monday was reserved for nothing but homework. That was before the rear brakes on my car needed attention, before I had to spend nearly five hours sitting at Midas waiting for the repairs. As of two years ago, I was going straight to a PhD, but that was before I realized I was not seasoned enough. My life wants a little spice, maybe not to a Kung Pao Chicken level, but certainly a hint of ginger wouldn’t hurt. Last night, I was supposed to get eight hours of sleep, but I only got six. And this afternoon, I was supposed to write a semi-decent blog post, but for some reason, the day has overbeat me to a stiff sort of grogginess that makes the edges of every object seem less than real. I’m about ready to collapse like a roughly-handled soufflé, but here I am tenderizing my keyboard once again.

Yesterday, I was supposed to make soup, and I did… but it wasn’t supposed to have quite so many noodles. No matter, though, since they are the centerpiece of this particular soup, the slightly warped dish that came out of my careful planning. It is more stuff than broth because that is precisely what I have become.

My only consolation is that a bowl of nostalgia is waiting for me, waiting to ease away all of these rigors and, in the process, dissolve what remains of my plans to resist the current.

The Third Bowl

Chinese-Inspired Chicken Noodle Soup for the Sole

Ingredients

  • 3 frozen chicken tenderloins
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp pepper
  • 1 tbsp canola oil
  • 1 tsp fresh ginger
  • 1 tsp fresh garlic, minced
  • 4 cups chicken stock
  • 1 can water chestnuts (8 oz)
  • 7 0z rice noodles
  • 2 heads baby bok choy
  • ½ bunch green onions, chopped

Directions

  1. Defrost chicken tenderloins for three minutes in the microwave. Cut into small strips. Dust with salt and pepper.
  2. In a 3-quart sauce pan, heat canola oil and fry chicken strips until they are golden brown.
  3. Add garlic and ginger. Sauté for additional minute.
  4. Pour chicken stock and soy sauce into pan. Add water chestnuts. Simmer for 30 minuets.
  5. Cook noodles according to package directions. Rinse under cold water.
  6. Chop bok choy and green onions. Add bok choy and noodles to pot. Simmer for 5 minutes.
  7. Add green onions. Simmer additional two minutes.
  8. Just before serving, add sesame oil and stir.

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