I can't say I find getting older all that gratifying. Yes, it's nice not to worry about acne, or spelling tests, or hiding behind my locker when changing for PE, but let's be honest: I was, and continue to be, an excellent speller.
Wait, I got off track -- one of the other things about getting older. That, and morning breath. I firmly maintain that my breath smelled like fresh mountain air, and tender sprigs of spearmint, until I hit age 30.
One thing has changed for the better, though: my increased tolerance for spicy foods. I don't know if my taste buds peaked in my twenties or I accidentally lost a couple thousand during childbirth, but I now keep a bottle of Sriracha in the house and actually enjoy the sensation of burning off large parts of my tongue. It's a good pain.
I remember a few years ago, when I was writing an article for my college alumni magazine. I visited campus and toured the dining center, and when I got to the condiment table my mouth hit the floor. When I was a student, back when Stevie Nicks didn't have to share a Grammy stage with long-limbed upstarts, we had things like, I don't know, salt and pepper. Maybe ketchup and mustard, probably mayo. But that was it. We didn't have Sriracha back then. There was no little fridge with red curry base. Three kinds of Green Mountain Coffee. Chai Latte Mix. A George Foreman grill for making your own paninis. Who the hell do these kids think they are?
But now I have Sriracha in my own kitchen arsenal, and though I use only the barest, wimpiest squeeze, I still feel a rush of power as the roof of my mouth becomes a screaming inferno and my tongue begs for mercy. I may be old enough to be someone's mother, but I can now, finally, take the heat.
Bring it on, all you youthful collegians! You've got absolutely nothing on me.
Recipe for Green Tea Soba Noodle Soup with tilapia, portobellos, and sriracha
This demure and healthful soup gets a devilish kick in the ass from a tiny dollop of Sriracha, a thick chili sauce that stokes a fire in your mouth in the most invigorating way. A sprinkling of Chinese five spice powder adds complexity, and mushrooms add that elusive 5th taste, umami. Don't you just love that word? Umami, umami, umami.
One 7-ounce package green tea soba noodles (I used Hakubaku), or plain soba noodles, or, fine, spaghetti
6 cups chicken stock, or, fine, low-sodium chicken broth
Three 1/4" slices fresh ginger
1/2 teaspoon Chinese five spice powder
12 ounces tilapia (about 3 or 4 fillets), any visible bones removed
1 large portobello mushroom (furry gills scraped out and discarded), sliced
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
Fresh cilantro leaves and Sriracha sauce, for serving
Bring a large pot of water to a boil and cook the noodles according to package directions. Drain.
Meanwhile, heat the chicken stock, ginger slices, and 5 spice powder to a hard simmer. Add the mushrooms. Gently lower the fish into the broth, add the salt and pepper, and turn the heat down as low as you can. Cover the saucepan, and poach the fillets for 8 minutes, or until opaque and cooked through.
Divide the noodles among 4 bowls. When the fish is ready, use a slotted spoon to carefully lay a generous piece atop each tangle of noodles. Ladle with the broth and mushrooms (discard the ginger). Garnish with a leaf or two of cilantro, and pass the Sriracha alongside.