Monday, October 10, 2011

Soy-braised tofu with butternut squash

You've got no idea how time-consuming suffering from crippling anxiety is. All the space that I used to occupy is now occupied by anxiety. There is no room for anything else. That is all there is left of me. All I can do is perform tasks to a very basic level and respond by turning my head when someone says my name. But my eyes are glassy. There's very little left of the person at home.

There is a TS Eliot poem, most of which I don't understand, (I don't understand any poetry, let alone anything by TS Eliot), that says something along the lines of this is me and I am here and everything else is not everything else, rather it is simply everything that is NOT me. Well right now everything in the whole world is only a thing in relation to my anxiety.

I went to see the doctor. My husband politely suggested it might be a good idea. I went with one sole aim: to not cry in his office. I had a shower and washed my hair. I put on non-mad clothes. I put plasters on my fingers where I had been attacking my cuticles and they were sore and bleeding. I put blusher on to hide the fact that I hadn't eaten or slept much recently.

But I cried anyway. Because you do. When you're anxious or depressed and you go to the doctor to ask for a referral to get your head examined (again) you cry. It's just the rules.

This is a long way of saying that I haven't been cooking much. When you suffer from chronic anxiety you tend not to be that interested in food. I've never been that bothered about food, just generally, in life, that's why I never learnt to cook until I had to feed a family. Left to my own devices I would (and have) live off McDonalds and pre-prepared macaroni cheese.

But once my anxiety (trembling hands, multiple night-wakings, constricted throat, leaden weight in the chest, nausea, clenched teeth, clearly hearing my child's cry in my head) has dragged on for a week and I have exhausted all permutations of takeaway, baked potatoes, dinners out and things my husband has cooked I have to return to the stove. And once I have run through my entire repertoire and Recipe Rifle hasn't been updated for nearly three weeks, it's time to hit The File.

The File is a stained purple cardboard file in which I occasionally shove torn-out recipes I mean to test out. Except that I don't always put the torn-out recipes in The File because I quite often lose The File and so shove the torn-out recipe somewhere else and then lose them.

So when I turn to The File, there is often not much interesting in there and always five or so recipes that I know I am never going to try (twice-baked souffle? Sorry, Xanthe Clay, can't be arsed) but am too superstitious to throw out.

Anyway this time I thought it would just pick something at random and cook it. It happened to be soy-braised tofu and butternut squash with spinach.

And it goes something like this:

For 4

1 pack cauldron tofu from Waitrose, about 350g
1 butternut squash
2 star anise
1.5 tbsp soy sauce
thumb-sized piece of ginger, sliced
2 tbsp soft brown sugar
250g spinach OR some baby bok choi
1 red chilli, sliced
500ml water

1 Peel and chop up your bastard butternut squash. I have had such bad experiences with butternut squash remaining rock hard after several days' sauteeing that I nuked this fucker in the microwave for about 5 mins before cooking. I advise you do the same. (Chop, place in plastic container with 2 tbsp water. Balance a lid on at a jaunty angle. Toy for the 500th time with putting something metal in there too, just to see what happens. Reject idea, despite living very near a fire station. Press 5 min and hit Go.)

2 Get tofu out and stick it between two chopping boards and then put something heavy on the top to squish all the water out. Leave it for about 15 mins then dice into 3cm-ish cubes.

3 Fry off the tofu in oil and set to one side. Then sautee your butternut squash for 10 minutes (which will be enough if it has been prepped in the m/w).

4 Throw over the squash the ginger, soy, star anise (which I personally don't like, but works fine here so any haters can approach with confidence), sugar and water and the tofu and boil all this briskly for about 15 minutes. The sauce ought to reduce to a syrupy consistency and the squash out to have relaxed but not be complete mush.

5 Take off the heat, add the spinach/bok choi, sprinkle over the red chilli and serve.

Giles loved this but I wasn't that crazy about it so I wouldn't bother with it if I were you.

Go to McDonald's instead.

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