There was a period of time in 2011 when I became convinced that I needed medicinal food. I had had a sinus infection for more than three months, and it was so intense that my face creaked like an old cellar door if I threw off the balance of the junk inside my head by lying down, or sitting up, or walking in any direction. I took a lot of drugs during this time, some of them were even specifically for sinus issues. My sister, who teaches yoga, told me to hum, that humming would break up the junk, and sent me a hand-drawn multi-page set of yoga exercises for relieving sinus pressure. That was super helpful, because when I tried to get into Position 1 of the set of sinus yoga poses, I just placed the pages between the floor and my face because I immediately gave up and lay down, and they could soak up anything that came out of me while I hummed, alternately, “Girlfriend in a Coma,” by the Smiths and John Philip Sousa’s “The Stars and Stripes Forever.” I believed this humming might work because a poet/opera singer had once told me that he could get clear of any cold by singing full throttle. I don’t think The Smiths count as “full throttle,” but the Sousa seemed on target. Anyway, it did not work.
Neither did any of the cold medications I took, the face steaming, the neti pot, or anything else, until my doctor prescribed me prednisone. My doctor is an intuitive doctor who seems to find me troubling and says things like, “sometimes, what seems unbearable is a sign that you need that thing, and that thing will clean a part of you… it will clean a part of you that needs cleaning…” and I watch her face fall as she watches me pretend to understand what she is talking about but really I’m just wondering about hygiene at this point, and taking it not metaphorically at all, and pressing my arms closer to my body. Because I don’t know what she means! If I’m not stinkingly filthy, I am assuming it means suffer and carry on, or follow a hippie to a second location, which I will never do. She also told me that prednisone can make you batshit crazy, and after a pregnant pause where she just kind of held the pen over the prescription pad, clearly at war with herself, added, “…so you should really watch out. Have some monitor you a bit.” However! The prednisone did not make me crazy, and it completely worked. Three days of it relieved the pain of three months’ standing and I felt, yes! A new lease on life!
I decided to make some changes, maybe a few too many, maybe I lost perspective on what is possible. I was all like, “I’m going to say ‘yes!’ to life! I am going to Make Things Work!” One of these affirmative choices involved consulting cookbooks while cooking, and I would just follow the fucking directions, and not deviate in any way, and through that means, eat edible food whose ingredients did not actively battle each other, like the hot diggity danged everyday heroes of the American Gladiator series, the true Americans who battled each other with big foam Q-Tips while greased up and standing on platforms before an audience of me and a bunch of other people in Augusta, Maine in 1995. Also, I was only going to follow recipes for foods that had some kind of extra medicinal value, things with turmeric or gingko, and thus, my face was never going to be stuffed full of mucus again. I was going to be mindful or whatever.
First stop, then, Thai Chicken Soup. I found a recipe for it, and the whole shebang was only going to take 30 minutes, and it involved coconut milk and lime juice.
In Sanskrit, the coconut palm is known as kalpa vriksha – “tree which gives all that is necessary for living” and coconuts are highly nutritious and rich in fiber, vitamins C, E, B1, B3, B5 and B6 and minerals including iron, selenium, sodium, calcium, magnesium and phosphorous, and it’s lactose-free. And the lime with the coconut is just… I liked singing the song while prepping this.
There were only 12 ingredients, and I had checked beforehand and had them all! People can change, I thought. I can be the best version of myself, or possibly a different person than I am! Everything was great! I chopped everything, I added the curry paste, I had the noodles. The recipe ordered me to take the raw chicken and dump it in the savory boiling broth. Just slip it in there, just put it right in. The raw chicken would just cook right up in the broth. The layer of slime would… dissipate or something, and that is what you do, just put it in there. You don’t just hold the lump of raw chicken uncertainly in your hands, your suddenly sweaty hands, like you’re making Chicken Ceviche. This is not going to be salmonella soup. Just put it in. Put it in. Put it. In the broth. Like you’re told to. Put the chicken in the broth. It puts the lotion in the basket.
In Yu Hua’s The Past and the Punishments, there is a story called “Classical Love.” In it, a starving population turns to a system of cannibalism. People, mostly women, are kept alive just so they can be hacked into saleable pieces of meat that will be “fresh.” Butchered and cooked to order, so to speak. This cooked flesh is described as “white, boiled meat.” Now, whenever I see white, boiled chicken, I relive the horror of the section where a merchant demands fresh meat of a restaurant proprietor, and a living woman’s leg is cut off in the kitchen while she screams and the guy who is about to eat that leg listens impatiently to the screams and just waits for the white boiled meat to come out on a plate so he can eat what was once this woman’s calf.
I feel that chicken should be broiled, or sautéed, or grilled, perhaps. I do not feel that chicken is best boiled. If you do boil it, a kind of pale froth bubbles up and then thickens, and becomes a thick skim of sea scum in your pot. The chicken itself looks like a mozzarella ball but is not a mozzarella ball. Though it comes apart in strings, like a mozzarella ball. I just – I decided to deviate. I decided to broil the chicken, and then put it in the soup later. But with preheating and whatnot, this took some time. Instead of stopping all progress, I decided to go ahead and make the entire pot of soup, sans chicken.
The problem with this is that rice noodles really can’t handle much, in the scheme of things. They are like an infant at the beach. Also, if you get loose with the measurement of fish sauce it smells like picnic time near the Gowanus. Additionally, thinly sliced red peppers are not meant to wallow for a long time in broth. So, but the chicken is broiling and looks sort of brown and has those sear marks, because I had the presence of mind to use one of those ribbed pans. Things are going to be fine!
Except the rice noodles have gathered in two areas in the soup pot. On one side is a crispy little section of uncooked noodles, and then sunk at the bottom is a gummy wad of what just looks like cornstarch, or laundry detergent, but with albino hair extensions in it. The timer on this deal is now 55 minutes. I call it. It’s going to be fine! I get the chicken, chop it up without really looking at it, divide all the glop into bowls, and put enough cilantro on top that it looks like really badly conceived booby trap for a small animal that loves to sleep on herbs but will end up dying from exposure to Thai Chicken Soup.
People are due home for dinner. I have mis-timed this. This is “ready” but they are not here. I decide to do the decent thing and try the soup. I stick a fork in and emerge with what looks like an eyeball with no pupil or iris, a pointy shred of chicken that is burned on the outside and pink on the inside, and the sticker from one of the red peppers.
Did I throw up a little bit in my mouth? I did. Did the Thai Chicken Soup go right down the drain, into the Disposall, where it made shrieking sounds as it was ground up? Maybe. Did the person who almost always has to eat with me come home only to hear me say we were going out for dinner? Yes! Did he like that idea? Did this make me feel like a failure? No! Well at that time it did, yes, BUT recently-ish I realized that it just made me feel like Andre 3000 according to Key and Peele in this sketch, if my husband is Big Boi and you watch it from minute 3 on.