I’m eagerly counting down the days until 2 a.m. means soulfully gazing at my navel – or more accurately, at my fingers on my laptop. As much as I try not to, I’ve been staring off into empty space and thinking a lot about, oh, you know, LIFE! – the kind of ridiculous big thinking that requires both capital letters and exclamation points.
I write down a sentence and an hour goes by. I turn back to the study books. No use at this point though, I’ve burnt out. Can’t force myself to review material I’ve learned before, none of sticks. It’s hard to admit that weakness, and to think of how little that matters anymore. I tell myself that wearing a suit and heels for 14-hour workdays isn’t part of whatever I hope I’m ultimately going to do. I’d feel a lot less irresponsible if I could say all of these feelings are the result of some deep thinking and reflecting, that’s not truly true. It is sort of because I never wear heels, and I think I’d be a poseur if I did. More importantly, it is almost wholly because I’m tired from trying to keep up with a life that I’ve outgrown and mentally checked out of years ago. No matter how many times I spin it in my mind, I can’t find a reason in pursuing that sort of life. So here I am, at the end of something, and I don’t know what’s next.
The only conclusion that all of that thinking has brought me to is this: no perfect right answer exists. We can only hope it will work out. I’ve gone around and around in circles – literally, pacing around my apartment – and mentally too, and I always come back to that same place. It’s juvenile to presume there is an surefire approach, to have the arrogance. And frankly, you shouldn’t believe any person, any book or blog or teacher that tells you otherwise. Sitting or meditating or traveling to some place where the people look a lot like me (small and brown-skinned) is not going to give you that either. No, there’s just living, not the perfect, glossy version where everyone’s eternally grateful and never has a bad hair day, but real stuff: the mistakes and bad ideas, the ways we seek beauty, how we alleviate our loneliness, put food on the table, and the work we do that informs us. In that we find the shimmering elusive thing that we were seeking, because it was inside of us all along.
I promise I’ll be back, very soon. And I’m trying very hard NOT to add another “I don’t know” because, really, that seems to be the current running theme in my life.
So this recipe is really all about the sauce. I’ve been experimenting for a few months with stir-fry sauce based on Szechuan pepper, and I think this one’s worth sharing. It’s peppery, garlicy, and full of umami and big flavors.
Szechuan Pepper Tofu Bowl
12 oz. tofu, cut into ½ inch by 1 inch pieces
2.5 tbsp cornstarch
2 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp sesame seed oil
Paper towels/clean tea towel to drain
For the pepper sauce
1 tbsp black peppercorns*
1.5 tbsp Szechuan peppercorns*
1 tsp. olive oil
4-5 garlic cloves, finely minced (about 2 tbsp minced)
1.5 inch piece ginger, grated (about 1 generous tbsp, grated)
1 tsp or so of cornstarch, leftover from the tofu
1/2 cup good-tasting, low-sodium broth
¼ cup light/white soy sauce (I used this, cheaper here)
2 tbsp dark soy sauce, preferably tamari
2 tbsp water
1 tsp rice wine vinegar
3 tbsp chives, chopped
1 tbsp sriracha
1 lb steamed broccoli (or other vegetable)
1 cup cooked brown or white jasmine rice
Toss the tofu cubes with the cornstarch. Save the leftover cornstarch in the bowl for the sauce. Heat wok/pan on medium high heat for one minute. Add the sesame and olive oils, and fry the tofu for 1 – 2 minutes per longer side, or until the tofu is golden-brown. Save the oil in the wok/pan used for the tofu. Drain on paper towels/clean tea towel
Grind the Szechuan and black peppercorns. Add the teaspoon of olive oil to the same wok/pan used for the tofu. Re-heat to medium heat, add garlic, ginger, and fry for 2 minutes, or until lightly brown. Add the Szechuan and black peppers, fry for another minute.
While the garlic/ginger is cooking, combine the light and dark soy sauces, broth, water in the cornstarch bowl. Whisk out any cornstarch lumps. Add this to wok of garlic-pepper. Bring to a gentle boil, and cook for about 3 minutes, stirring occasionally. The sauce should be thick enough to coat your spoon. Add the chopped chives, and if using, sriracha.
Heat the tofu and vegetables with the sauce for a minute or two in the wok, and serve with rice. Serve with additional sriracha and/or soy sauce.
*if you’re using pre-ground, you’ll have to reduce the amount. I think after grinding, the whole peppercorns yielded about 4 teaspoons of ground stuff.