When I landed my editorial assistant job at Bon Appétit Magazine, I thought my life was going to change forever. It did, sort of. But not in the way I expected it to.
I was a week away from graduating college. And unlike a lot of my peers, I was leaving school with a “cool” job. Coolness can be a misplaced ambition sometimes, but in my early twenties, it drove me to take risks. I was coming off of hosting my own college radio show, blogging and assistant styling for Nylon Magazine, and hitting the Los Angeles party scene in my mom’s Volkswagon Jetta with my then DJ boyfriend. It was only natural that I’d find myself working at a respected, national food magazine. Cool.
The Devil Wears Prada had just come out. While everyone was flipping out that I’d be bossed around and tortured like Anne Hathaway’s character was, I was fantasizing about becoming the next editrix. My ambitions were not entirely sadistically motivated, however. Ego played a big part. I wanted to see my name climb the masthead until it was 2 font sizes bigger. By the time I turn 30, I thought, I’ll be a well-traveled editor-in-chief of some amazing publication. Cool.
The first three years at Bon Appétit were dreamy. I worked alongside smart, savvy editors who perfected their French accents so that when they talked about “sous vide” or “mire poix,” you’d think they’d just walked out of Joel Robuchon’s kitchen. They were like the cool upperclassmen I looked up to in high school. There was Hugh, a senior editor, who spent his early aughts hustling at the Village Voice. When I pitched a global hot dog story to him, he took me seriously. Heather, the Wine & Spirits editor, gave me free bottles of wine, just because. I’d embarrassingly Google the crap out of each bottle so that I’d know what I was talking about when she quizzed me later. And if it wasn’t for senior editor Nina, my first feature about my grandmother’s beef noodle soup would never have been published.
But it wasn’t andouille sausages and chocolate pudding cake throughout my tenure. By year four, I hadn't moved up on the food chain. My bank statements were making me sad. My patience started to wane. So I left. I bid both the magazine and the food world adieu.
One of the first things I remember eating as a kid was Po-Po’s chicken soup, not the canned noodle kind, but the Chinese medicinal kind. To make it, Po-Po poached chicken thighs and legs in stock with ginseng, ginger, goji berries, jujubes, and mushrooms for hours. The soup would smell like an acupuncturist’s office, kind of sweet, kind of bitter. Today I think of it as zen in a bowl.
A few years ago, I came down with a cold. I needed Po-Po’s restorative chicken soup. With Po-Po across the country I decided to make it myself. This is what I learned: Preparing it is simple. Waiting for the soup to come to its peak tastiness is torturous. I kept taking the soup off the heat prematurely, which resulted in too many distinct, unfriendly flavors swimming around in a pot. From my first-hand fuck up, I’ve learned to start the soup hours before dinner, just like Po-Po would. It’s even easier to do in a rice cooker. Throw all of the ingredients in there and wait, patiently.
After I left Bon Appétit, I’ve cycled through a lot of jobs, personal projects, and even careers. It’s been a process of elimination, motivated by ADD, ego and a false perception of success. Now, when I look back at my four years at Bon Appétit, I’m jealous of how much fun my former self was having on the job. If only I had the patience to get past the humps. If only I had patience to see what my interests and talents could become when tested. Ah well, now I know.
And this is what I learned, summed up perfectly by Rousseau: “Patience is bitter, but its fruit is sweet.” No wonder the chicken soup I made two days ago still tastes so darn good.
Restorative Chicken Soup 雞湯
Makes four servings or one large serving
2 chicken legs
2 chicken thighs
8-10 whole fresh or dried Shiitake mushrooms
handful of goji berries
6 pieces of dried ginseng
5 thickly sliced pieces of ginger, each about 2 inches in length
handful of red dates aka dried jujubes
half a pot of water
Soy sauce and sesame oil (optional for dipping)
If using dried Shiitake, soak in water for 30 minutes to rehydrate. Then, in a rice cooker, add all ingredients. Set your rice cooker to the appropriate soup setting.
Let the soup cook for at least 2 - 3 hours for optimal flavor. Serve with rice and optional dipping sauce.