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12 February 2009

the smell of fresh ginger

spontaneous ramen with Kurabota pork

The other day, the Chef and I pushed our grocery cart through Uwajimaya. We're always a little dazzled by the place, the red bean curd desserts, the tiny Japanese ladies pushing past us on a mission for the right fish, the shelves of Kewpi mayonnaise and Pocari Sweat. When we drive there, we quote our nephew Elliott, who said, a few years ago: "When I am in Seattle, the place I like to go is called Uwajimaya." (He was only 3 then. For those of you who have been reading this site for awhile, you might be as astounded as I am to find that Elliott is turning 6 next month.)

Little Bean, it seems, was just as dumbfounded as we were to be there. Normally chattering away, in her multi-syllable babbles and chants, she stared up from her car seat attached to the cart, taking in all the cans of coconut milk, the tempting shelves of notebooks in the bookstore, the cases full of sushi made that day. She drank in everything with her eyes.

The Chef and I discussed what to have for lunch later that day. Silly as this sounds, we sometimes forget to eat lunch. I don't know how this happens, since the mere fact we can eat three times a day is pure delight. But we eat breakfast late, usually a plate full of potatoes and eggs, or a big bowl of something hot. And then Little Bean distracts us. The computer pulls me away. He's working at something in the kitchen — pomegrante sherbet; six-hour brisket with horseradish cream; a yellow split pea soup with the ham hock slowly shredding in the simmering liquid. And then we leave the house to run errands, and Little Bean needs a nap, and we find ourselves laughing about something else instead... And then we're ravenous.

So we stood there, discussing something to eat. There are so many possibilities, always. On this afternoon, we happened to be standing in front of bags and bags of Taiwanese rice sticks. "I love this kind of noodle," he said.
So do I. And they're gluten-free.
"Ramen," we both said.

We went straight for the produce department, throwing Daikon sprouts and mushrooms in our cart. While the Chef went in search of baby bok choy, I reached for the ginger.

The smell of fresh-cut ginger is one of my favorite sensory experiences in the world. Lean down toward the cutting board and drink in the sharp whiff of sweet perfumed sharpness and everything else fades into darkness. No matter where I am, or how foul a mood I am in, that smell brings me right back to now. I had to give Little Bean that experience.

Since she was two weeks old, and home from the hospital, we have been putting herbs and spices under Little Bean's nose. During those first few weeks, she lay in a large Moses basket as we cooked on the other side of the kitchen. Now, she sits in her highchair, kicking her legs in time to the music playing and we are all singing together. At first, sniffing was a passive experience. Now, she leans in, takes real whiffs, repeatedly, and smiles. She's not fond of raw onions or citrus fruits. But roasted carrots, hot coffee with milk, and fresh thyme? These make her eyes go wide, and she leans back in for another smell.

I snapped off an arm of the ginger root, tucking the other part in the bottom of our cart. Removing a fibrous thread or two, I sniffed the fresh ginger, and then passed it under Little Bean's nose. Her nostrils flared as she gulped in the air before her. She looked at me, and then moved toward the root, landing her nose on it. She sniffed and sniffed, transfixed. And then she threw her head back and let out a high-pitched squeal, a singing sound of pleasure and amazement.

The Chef rushed back, carrots in his hands. "Was that her?"
"It was," I said, tears in my eyes. "She loved this smell."

We wish for her a lifetime of smells she always remembers, pleasant or not. The surge of fresh-cut grass on a baseball field in March, just before the first sounds of Play Ball. The dank mass of water swirling next to the curb on a corner in New York City, in July. The aroma of onions simmering in oil, garlic and fresh herbs waiting. A whiff of the sharp tinge of green stem at the top of a tomato, warm in the sun. The whoosh of exhaust from a city bus she has just missed. The unmistakable smell of cool air and wet pavement after a hard rain, long awaited, when she can almost smell the clouds. The reek of a bag full of dirty diapers, desperately needing to be taken out the garbage. The smell of a wood-burning stove, outside the house, in cold air. Tart apples mellowing in the oven, cinnamon among them, crisp topping browning in the heat. And hopefully, someday, the sweet cake batter smell of her own daughter's skin, just days after being born.

All of those hopes were there for me, in her barbaric yawp after sniffing fresh ginger for the first time. Little Bean, we hope you experience them all that awake.

p.s. If you have not read this yet, you simply must read Molly Birnbaum's piece from The New York Times, "Finally, the Scent of the City." Molly's blog, My Madeline, has always been one of my favorites for her poignant, pointed writing. But this piece of hers condenses a profound experience into such a small space that it will have you experiencing the world differently all day after reading it.

Spontaneous Pork Ramen

As the Chef said after we finished eating, and he couldn't stop exulting: "This is just one of those dishes where you want to eat and eat and eat. You want a little bit of hunger left over at the end of a meal, and you do here, because it's light. But my god, I haven't had anything like this in a long time."

I could eat this at least three times a week.

2 cups chicken stock
couple glugs fish sauce
1/2 tablespoon oyster sauce
couple glugs tamari
pinch chile flakes
1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar
3 ounces thin sliced pork
Kosher salt and cracked black pepper
2 tablespoons canola oil
1/2 small onion, fine diced
1 large garlic clove, peeled and thinly sliced
1/2 cup sliced mushrooms, sliced and then julienned
1 baby bok choy, leaves chiffonade, bottom sliced thin
1 tablespoon Thai basil, chiffonade
1/2 package rice sticks
1 tablespoon sliced ginger
1 carrot, peeled and julienned
handful daikon sprouts
1/2 cucumber, peeled and julienned

Flavoring the stock. Heat up the stock in a large saucepan at a medium simmer. Add the fish sauce, oyster sauce, tamari, chile flakes, and rice wine vinegar into the stock. Keep it bubbling, at a slow simmer, while you finish the rest of the dish.

Searing the pork. Season the pork slices with salt and pepper. Bring a large sauté pan to high heat. Get it screaming-ass hot, as the Chef likes to say. Pour in the oil. Put the thin strips of pork in the hot oil. Sear one side of the pork pieces, and then the other. Remove the pork from heat. Drop the pork into the simmering stock.

Sautéing the vegetables. Bring the sauté pan back to medium-high heat. Drop the onions into the leftover oil and goodness from the pork. When the onions have started to soften, put in the mushrooms, garlic, and the roots of the bok choy. Cook for 2 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the onion has become soft and translucent. Add the Thai basil. Cook until it releases its fragrance. Spoon all the sautéed vegetables into the stock as well.

Cooking the rice sticks
. Bring a large pot of salted water to boil. (The water should taste like the ocean.) When the water is full roiling boil, drop in the rice sticks. Cook about 5 minutes, or until they are soft with a bit of bite left (al dente). Drain the rice sticks. Put them in the fragrant pork and vegetable stock now too.

Finishing the ramen. Put the ginger into the stock and bring the liquid to a boil. Taste the broth. Is it what you want? Season with salt and pepper, if necessary, plus any flavorings you feel are missing. Toss in the bok choy leaves and remove the pan from the heat.

Divvy up the ramen into bowls. Toss in the julienned carrot. Top with the daikon sprouts and cucumber.

Feeds 2.


At 12:26 AM, Anonymous m said...

An FYI: Ramen is technically the name of the noodles used in the dish. The noodles are made of kneaded wheat and therefore are glutinous.
I don't know what to call your dish with the rice noodles, but it is absolutely fantastic looking. I can't wait to try it.

At 1:00 AM, Blogger Pearl said...

mmm fresh ginger.. :)

At 4:38 AM, Anonymous Eat at Joes said...

I love going to the market and coming up with something spontaneous based on whatever's fresh. This is the way food is supposed to be experienced (and the way they eat in most of the rest of the world). Bravo to The Chef for reminding, and inspiring us.

At 7:15 AM, Anonymous beyond said...

what a lovely story. not many babes are luck enough to have their sense of smell stimulated like that. the ramen looks yummy too.

At 7:26 AM, Blogger caitlin said...

Hi Shauna,

I have been reading your blog for several months, since being GF. The Dr. 'said' I am not Celiac positive, and altho gluten is just a piece of my sensitivities pie, it's a big piece. I am grateful to have found both your blog-and your book, which I bought a couple of weeks ago.
As I read about all the wonderful smells you & The Chef present Little Bean with, I can't help but be a little sad. I have never had a sense of smell! When I went GF, I thought perhaps? maybe? possibly? I might develop one, but again, with so many sensitivities, I may never eradicate all the effects from my body to allow my smell to return. I'm 57 years old; it may never happen. I can only imagine the delights that everyone around me experience, but honestly, your decriptions of things certainly make it(smell) almost real to my nose!

At 8:06 AM, Blogger Erin Swing said...

The smell of ginger is intoxicating. I love it. I wish we had a grocery store like that in Cincinnati; just someplace I can buy keffir lime leaves (my latest obsession). You were able to find GF oyster sauce? That's amazing; probably more difficult than finding GF black bean sauce. That recipe sounds delicious. The only thing to make it better is a hint of sweetness with palm sugar, or brown sugar. Then you have completed the Asian portfolio of tastes: savory, sour/tangy, spicy, and sweet.

At 8:36 AM, Blogger Allison the Meep said...

Oh jeez, I have never even thought of making ramen as a nice meal! What a great idea! I used to eat those disgusting packages of ramen noodles when I was super poor and working as an intern in L.A. because they were about 16 cents a package. This recipe sounds so so much better than what I've always thought of ramen.

I love how you're starting so early with introducing Lucy to smells. Even if she's too young to taste these foods yet, she still hugely benefits from learning about the different scents.

I also love to hear that other people cry as much as we do, over seemingly small things.

At 9:53 AM, Blogger Molly said...

What a beautiful post, Shauna. And, obviously, one close to my heart as well! It is so wonderful that you are teaching your daughter to appreciate smell - so important in cooking, and in memory - at such a young age. She is one lucky little girl.


At 11:20 AM, Anonymous La Niña said...

I wish your blog was scratch-n sniff! But- hey- tell me which oyster sauce you use. Booth and I spent at least a half hour staring at all the oyster sauces in Uwajimaya trying to figure out which one(s) were gluten-free.

Scent-sational writing...

At 12:19 PM, Blogger Marisa said...

As I read your post my sick boyfriend on his laptop in bed next to me declared his desire for soup, and this gave me the perfect thing! I broke up the rice sticks to make the noodles smaller and substituted hoisin sauce for the oyster sauce (haven't been able to find that gluten free). Glad I keep all these ingredients on hand (fish sauce lasts forever!)

At 12:34 PM, Blogger katt said...

Aah, ginger. Sweet, spicy, simply amazing.

I have put different herbs, veggies, etc under my kids noses from day one. At ages 4 and 8, they can name more things by smell than their contemporaries. I think it is wonderful that you are exposing little Bean to so many of lifes pleasures.

At 12:41 PM, Blogger Crystal said...

We have Mitsuwa sounds very similar.(
We love to spend ana fternoon there...the gift shop, the pottery, the grocery and, just before we leave, we stop for a coffee jelly in the food court.

What I love most, is the spontanaiety of the meals we make from what we bring home...usually very similar to your noodles here, but we have a deep fondness for pickled vegetables....whatever looks promising that day.

Lucky Little Bean, that you share it with her!

(And ginger...Oh yes. I dry my own, sliced, in a barely warm oven....the house smells of it for days.)

At 1:13 PM, Anonymous Maya said...

What brand of oysetr sauce do you use? I cannot find any without modified food starch.

At 2:19 PM, Blogger Zoomie said...

Now, that just sounds downright delicious. Easy, nutritious and tasty - and a delight to Little Bean - what more could one ask for?

At 8:29 PM, Blogger Anna Lee said...

What a lovely story. I do love the smell of fresh ginger. We smelled fresh grapefruit at our house today. One of my favorite scents. I, too, am curious which oyster sauce is gluten free. I feel like maybe I've seen one at Whole Foods. I can't wait to try the recipe, it should be fun, and it will go along with our theme at home this month. Around the World soups and stews. :) Thanks for the thoughtful sharing of your recipes.

At 10:24 PM, Anonymous sahmnsays said...

Ginger has that, "WAKE UP" scent, lol. I live about 20 miles from Seattle, and when we have the opportunity to go to Uwajimaya, my children think we're visting Chernoble. When you wrote about remembering scents, I remembered how I love the scent of airplane fuel. It reminds me of vacations when I was a child. Funny how scents can do that to a person. Something I've just recently discovered is the smell of Lavender and Lemon... gorgeous:)

At 12:59 AM, Blogger Jessmeca said...

Hi Shauna,

I do love your writing soo much. I'm new to reading your blog, but it has inspired me to find your book while we are travelling in the states and Canada later this year. Im an Aussie and i cant track down your book over here unfortunately :(

I do have a question for you & the Chef though.

I have Anaphylaxis to Iodine & All Seafood as well as Cealiacs and i was wondering if there was anything i could use to substitute instead of the various Seafood sauces??


PS to me Fresh Ginger will always remind me of my Grandmother, who fed it to us raw & crystalized whenever we had an upset stomach as a kid.

At 8:08 AM, Blogger Victoria said...

Oh please please PLEASE reveal what oyster sauce you are using!

At 8:12 AM, Blogger herrad said...


At 9:31 AM, Blogger Shauna said...

Thank you for all the comments, everyone. I'll come back for more commenting later, but I just wanted to drop a quick note about the oyster sauce, since so many are asking:

We use Dragonfly premium flavored oyster sauce, which is from Thailand. Red label with a photo of an open oyster on it. The only ingredients are water, oyster extractives, sugar, salt, and corn starch. No MSG. No caramel coloring. I have been using it for the past two years and have never gotten sick.

Other gluten-free bloggers seem to use Kame oyster sauce, although I have not tried it myself.

And Wok Mei sells an oyster sauce that has been certified gluten-free! So there are plenty of options. Some of you may have to order online, but we find Dragonfly at Uwajimaya.

At 10:03 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

of all the posts this one made me well up with tears- there is something about the way you are showing your daughter the world and all it holds that gets me right to the core. Beautiful. I hope one day I get to share all of that with a little one as well.
Best to you and lots and lots of ginger smelling days

At 4:27 PM, Blogger jbeach said...

Yum. This sounds delicious. Different from the ramen I'm used to, but soothing nonetheless. And I love the imagery of Lucy sniffing different food items! 'Can't wait to experience this fun with my own baby someday! :)

Thanks, also, for posting the link to the NY Observed piece. I could relate in a sense (although I didn't suffer an accident) as I've been going through all kinds of testing lately to figure out why my sense of smell (and therefore, taste) have been dwindling. Something to do with allergies and a post-nasal drip, I'm to presume (not appetizing, I know). This was a great read.

At 6:23 PM, Blogger GFE--gluten free easily said...

What a terrific post, Shauna. I love that you guys are exposing Lucy to the smells of herbs and spices. I've read that smell is the most powerful sensation for memory and I believe it from my own personal experiences. Ginger is one of my favorite smells.

The recipe looks fabulous. I have some nice rice noodles in the pantry. Thanks so much for the info on the oyster sauce. I have been wondering about safe brands, too.


At 6:23 PM, Anonymous Dee/reddirtrambings said...

I loved this post, Shauna. My children are all older now, but I remember when they were little like Little Bean. Being a gardener, I would pluck antique roses for them and move them beneath their noses. Thank you for the memory.~~Dee

At 3:41 AM, Blogger suz said...

Hi Shauna,

I've been reading your post for ages, but have never commented. I just wanted to say how beautiful it is to hear about you introducing smells to and sharing cooking with your daughter. It's such a pleasure to read about so much joy in other's lives.

And the recipe is great too! My diet won't allow me to try it at this time, but one day, I'm breaking out some lovely soup with rice sticks, yum!!

At 5:30 AM, Anonymous Katherine said...

Two things: She will remember that moment and all the others, even without knowing. I always stop and smell flowers in borders along the road in people's gardens. Didn't know where it started until I was visiting an old family friend in Germany, walking and we both did it "oh" she said "you remembered!" - she lived with us when I was between 6 months and 1.5 and taught me how to do it.

And how apt that I'm reading this tucking into a speedy at office lunch of rice vermecelli noodles (they only need softening with hot water from the kettle), pea shoots (current obsession, a taste of the summer in the cold and packed full of vitamin C) and some ready prepared Abroath Smoked Salmon flakes from M&S (I live in London). I love noodles in so many forms...I have a shelf full of different ones picked up in different places, 100% buckwheat soba, rice in so many different thicknesses...hurrah for noodles and for continual food discovery! I'm so jealous that Little Bean has it all to come!!!

(p.s. for anyone in London, fantastic new restaurant discovery, VanillaBean near Chancery Lane tube, vegetarian restaurant, handled gf with considerable aplomb. A plethora of taste sensations!)

At 11:37 AM, Blogger Amy said...

Oh BOY! That sounds yummy.

And for some reason I teared up when I read of Little Bean's reaction to ginger. Thank you for sharing your life with us.

At 12:02 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks, Shauna, I'll have to order some online, I don't think the two asian markets in my area carry that one. Just a FYI, KAME changed their oyster sauce; the old ones are gluten free, but newer bottles contain wheat. I personally think KAME is too salty, with not enough oyster flavor, but it'll have to do until I can find more. :) -Christine

At 2:46 PM, Blogger Tokyoastrogirl said...

Sounds deeelish. Seriously, my mouth is watering.

Have you ever purchased Kewpie, btw? American mayo has nothing on Kewpie which is the creamiest, dreamiest mayo on earth. I've never been one to love gobs of mayo on anything, but Kewpie is good on just about anything. During the summer I mix it with some hot chili/sesame oil, a dab of peanut butter and use it to dip crisp sticks of Japanese cucumbers in.

Pocari sweat isn't bad either:).


At 3:44 PM, Blogger Dogmama13 said...


What a beautiful post! Thank you for paving the GF way for us new to Celiac.


At 7:07 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

is oyster sauce gluten free??? i have been skeered to use it!
i have trained the taste buds and olfactory senses of my 3 1/2 year old granddaughter. she loves "spicy water", which is san faustino mineral water, with naked juice in it, and also, "warm tea", pg tips tea with raw agave nectar as a sweetener.
also, she loves gf sesame and seaweed rice chips!

At 12:22 PM, Blogger asiajane said...

I always loved the smell of my girls' breath: fresh apples.

At 12:27 PM, Blogger k said...

Thanks for the great recipe - I made my own version with chicken and a few variations based on what I had, but the result was delish. You guys are always full of inspiration.

At 8:11 AM, Blogger Anita (Married... with dinner) said...

Oh, this brings back memories of the lovely lunch you and The Chef made us on Monday. I'm so excited I can make those fabulous soup noodles at home now!

Thank you so much for welcoming us to your home, for introducing us to Little Bean, and for sending us on our way with bellies full of delicious soup.

At 3:49 PM, Blogger sbrbaby said...

LOVE this story! My joy is two fold: 1. I've been experimenting with rice noodles lately but have been stuck in a pad thai rut, 2. I have a husband who adores noodle soups. Can't wait to try it this weekend.

At 3:51 PM, Blogger sbrbaby said...

I LOVE this post! My joy is two-fold: 1. I've been experimenting with rice noodles lately but have been stuck in a pad thai rut, and 2. I have a husband who adores noodle soups. Can't wait to try it this weekend!

At 7:20 AM, Blogger Miss Wahoo said...

I made this last night, fairly late, for dinner. We'd eaten a large lunch a bit too late, which pushed dinner back as well. This soup was wonderful! Prep took awhile, but the soup itself went together very quickly. I skipped the radish sprouts, because those are served as a garnish on my favorite crab cakes, and they just taste harsh to me. But I'll definitely make this soup again, thank you for posting this wonderful recipe!

At 1:38 PM, Blogger Julie said...

I was JUST wondering today (well, all week, really) how I was ever going to enjoy "ramen" again. Hooray for this recip. And your spontaneity!!! I am so excited to know of an alternative noodle I can use for one of my favorite dishes! Thank you!

And what a deeply precious moment you shared with Little Bean :-) Thank you for sharing it with us.

At 7:54 PM, Blogger Melissa said...

This is my first gluten-free comfort food! Delicious! I made it for dinner and it came together beautifully. You are absolutely right! The flavors made me want to eat and eat way past full. :) Easily adaptable to a vegetarian diet and definitely something I will eat again and again. Thank you!


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