The fact of the matter is, I never did make it to my niece's graduation, nor to any number of other places I had a firm intention to be. Where I have needed to be has been shaped, lately, by tending to someone I love who is very ill. Consequently I have the frazzy brain and messy house of a person who is back-and-forthing under stressful conditions, and I don't have much to say about food. It's a challenge to wax poetic about hospital yogurt.
If I had to pick a food thread out of the lint tangle that is presently representing my circumstances, it would be miso soup. Miso soup is what this person calls for when deep hunger rankles her system, when she is feeling too hungry and unwell to imagine anything else she might want to eat. After the soup, she can imagine plenty of things she wants to eat, but nothing but miso can move her from the one state to the other. In a hospital that is not in a Japanese zip code, the options for delivering miso soup on demand are slim, but worth knowing about. In fact, I have sung the praises of these options before. Don't leave home without one.
Ironically enough, while I was away this last time, my little son experienced a bout of what we have come to call Special Occasion Flu. It goes a little something like this: on a day when the family has tickets or invitations to something, wake up, be uncharacteristically crabby. Fall suspiciously back to sleep even though it is mid-morning; sleep fitfully. Wake up, barf. Turn alarmingly pale and greenish. Repeat these last three steps while spiking a fever. After exhausting household supply of clean towels, fall into deep, deep sleep. Wake up and request large bowl of miso soup with a side of rice and ume plum. Be fine. Total down time: 8 hours. Contagion factor: zero.
On the most recent day that I had to bolt out of here to the Bedside, my girls were in their end-of year-dance performance. Calvin Trillin wrote of his beloved wife Alice's belief that if you missed any of your children's performances, even the special mid-morning dress rehearsal for the lower school, the State would come and take the child away. Whatever my beliefs about the State's potential involvement, I have long tried to emulate this remarkable mother in this regard at least. But circumstances are circumstances. Because I had seen the two performances the day before, I was prepared to dash off and leave the menfolk to handle the applauding. Until the barfing got underway.
I don't know what the State will have to say about the fact that I left anyway, but I do know that I missed not only the performance and the flu, leaving that all in my husband's good hands, but the Call For Miso that always, always follows this experience. So when I returned, many envelopes of instant miso later, the aforementioned small boy--though apparently recovered--was waiting for me with his bowl and spoon. He is just not set to rights until he has that soup. Miso is an excellent restorative: as a fermented food, it is essentially pre-digested and readily available to your body; it is full of the electrolytes you may have thrown off (or up) while ill, rich in elemental forms of protein, and boasts plenty of other micronutrients and minerals to paste you back together. There are legions of painstaking and complex and delicious ways to make a subtle, complex and elegant miso soup. But when I have exhausted the supply of clean towels, or just exhausted myself, I do it like this.
the house miso, lazy-man style
1 strip of dried kombu seaweed
1 handful dried bonito flakes
1 clove garlic (optional), peeled but whole
1 handful dried wakame seaweed
1/2 block tofu (firm, or not so firm, or the kind that comes in the long-life pack because then you are always ready), in half-inch cubes
2-3T miso paste, or to taste
handful of minced scallions or chives, or not
Put the kombu and bonito and the garlic (if you are using it) into a medium pot with about 4 cups of water and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer. After about five minutes, use a slotted spoon or small strainer to take the bonito, which is likely in a clump on the surface, and the garlic should it happen to be in there, out of the pot. Discard. Remove the kombu to a small cutting board to cool slightly. Roll it up from the short end, and slice the roll lengthwise once, creating two piles of long strips. Stack them, and cut crosswise into thin ribbons. Return to the pot. Add the wakame. Once it softens, turn off the heat and stir in the miso. Taste to establish that you have added enough and adjust as needed. Gently stir in the tofu cubes and scallions. If you are feeding my son after a brief illness, serve this with a bowl of sushi rice on the side, and a dollop of ume plum paste. Aahhh. That's better.