On Fall, Death, and Ramen

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The transition from summer to fall has felt like an abrupt one in Seattle this year. As if someone was holding a heavy door open for me kindly, and then let it close without any warning. But it’s not like we didn’t know it was coming. We knew school would start, with all its associated meetings and responsibilities. We knew the weather would change. And we knew, of course, that our dog would eventually pass away.

This week has been gorgeous in Seattle, but colder. It’s different to spend the day’s early hours huddled around coffee cups not just for their caffeinated contents, but also for their warmth. I’m back to throwing on the kind of fleecy pile sweatshirt that, if it were made for an infant, would have ears on the hood. Every morning, I wonder whether they make them for grown-ups with ears. I just looked it up on Etsy, and the first thing I saw was a photo of a dog that reminded me of Bromley, with a hood covering her ears.

It would have been a travesty to put a hood over those velveteen ears. In fact, if I had to pick a body part, I’d say I miss her ears the most. When she was dying—it wasn’t any of our other worries that got her, but a new tumor on her spleen that had grown suddenly soccer ball-size and began pushing on her lungs, making it hard for her to breath—she let us pet those ears. It was as if she’d known, for 13 years, that if she refused to let us near them all her life, but let us touch them as the vet put her to sleep, we’d forgive her for everything else. For eating the one-pound donut and the bag of flour and the bag of sugar and the garden greens and the dog beds and the toys and the tomato plants and, just a few weeks ago, a whole box of little foil-wrapped juice pouches. We did, as she was dying. We forgave her for everything. And I think in her own way, she forgave us for ever having expected a dog who might pee on command or greet people kindly or come when called. Jim’s lip wavered dangerously and I sobbed, but it ended just the way it was supposed to—calmly, easily (if there is ever such a thing), and (we like to think) without much pain. But the house feels colder without her. It’s as if we’re learning now that her bed’s spot in the fireplace, which we really only chose out of convenience, was heating our whole house.


That must be why when my friend and mentor Kathy Gunst sent me her new cookbook, Soup Swap, it felt like a very large condolence card. I can’t be there now, but I can help you make soup, it said. And that will help your heart. More than any person I know, Kathy cooks to heal people. And her soups have always healed me.

It occurred to me to look for a soup made with the kind of beef bones Bromley used to love. When I was interning for Kathy a million years ago, and I used to bring Bromley to her house when we tested recipes, we’d give Bromley a big bone in her back yard, so she wouldn’t bother us. Opening the book, I discovered a short-rib ramen recipe. It looked like the kind of thing I could imagine Kathy feeding me in her big, airy kitchen on a cold fall day. Eat this, she’d say. You’ll feel better.

Also, admittedly, it looked like a really good vehicle for kimchi. As if my new habit of eating it on eggs each morning, to the soundtrack of my husband’s constant reminder that I spent years steadfastly refusing to eat kimchi, wasn’t enough. As if the silky, rich stock Kathy prescribed for her ramen wasn’t already incredibly flavorful.

In the end, it was the ultimate warm-up. It was the comfort of ramen and the healing powers of a good broth and the heat of the chili-flecked kimchi, all scooped up together in each bite. It was Kathy (who knew Bromley as a tiny puppy and understands how simultaneously relieving and devastating it’s been to lose a difficult animal), doing what she does best—giving me an edible hug from across the country, full of every flavor I could possibly need.

Short-Rib Ramen with Kimchi (PDF)

This super-rich short-rib ramen comes from Kathy Gunst’s Soup Swap, a book that celebrates that great fall tradition of gathering with friends to exchange recipes and nourishment. I’ve done a few similar swaps in the past, and the concept appeals to me—except when, as is the case with this elixir, the soup at hand is something I want to keep all to myself, generosity be damned.

At the heart of it, this is her recipe. But because I was trying to tailor the ramen to my own crowd at home, and to my current obsession with kimchi, I changed a few things. This recipe is a much-edited combination of two of her recipes—first, a short-rib version of her Rich Beef-Bone Broth (which can probably cure anything), and then her Short-Rib Ramen with Soy Eggs. (One of the things I love about the book is that while it offers clear, approachable recipes for just about every one of my favorites, it also leaves room for creativity.)

I used dried ramen noodles that I cooked separately in boiling water, but almost any sort of noodle will do for this—try udon or somen, if you prefer, or fresh or frozen ramen.

For the short ribs, you want the English-cut kind (with larger, meatier chunks) rather than the flanken-cut kind, which are long and thin and have smaller pieces of bone in them.

Serves 4.

For the short-rib stock
3 pounds short ribs with bones
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 tablespoons tomato paste
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 large onion, peeled and quartered
2 medium carrots, chopped
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
3 sprigs fresh thyme
6 black peppercorns
4 garlic cloves, crushed

For the ramen
2 large eggs
8 ounces ramen noodles
Raw kernels from 1 fresh corn cob
1/2 cup kimchi
1/2 cup roughly chopped fresh cilantro
1/4 cup julienned green onions (white and light green parts only)
1/4 cup julienned fresh ginger

First, a day before you plan to serve the ramen, make the broth: Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. In large, heavy pot or Dutch oven, coat the meat with the olive oil and tomato paste and season with salt and pepper. Add the onion and carrots. Roast for 1 hour, turning the meat and vegetables every 15 minutes, or until the ingredients are deeply browned. (The meat won’t be quite cooked.) Remove the pan from the oven and add the vinegar, scraping up any brown bits on the bottom of the pan, then transfer it to the stovetop and add the thyme, peppercorns, garlic, and enough water to cover the ingredients by about two inches. Bring the stock to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for 2 hours, scooping off any foam that rises to the surface at the beginning and adding water as necessary to keep the water level about 2 inches above the tops of the ingredients. Transfer the beef to a plate to cool, strain the stock, and transfer it to a large bowl. Let the stock come to room temperature, then refrigerate it overnight.

When the short ribs have cooled enough to touch, use your hands to shred the meat. Transfer it to a small sealed container and refrigerate overnight.

When you’re ready to serve the soup, remove the stock from the fridge, scoop off and discard the congealed orange-hued fat, and transfer the stock to a large saucepan. When the stock is hot, season to taste with kosher salt, if necessary.

Fill a two-quart pot with water and bring to a boil. Carefully add the eggs and boil for 6 minutes, then use a large spoon to transfer them to an ice bath, leaving the boiling water in the pot. Cook the ramen in the water according to the package instructions. While the ramen cooks, peel and halve the eggs.

To serve, pile the cooked, drained ramen into four big bowls. Add the reserved short rib meat and corn, and pour the hot stock over the meat and corn until the liquid comes almost to the top of the noodles. Garnish each bowl with some of the kimchi, cilantro, green onions, ginger, and half an egg. Serve hot.


Filed under recipe

2 responses to “On Fall, Death, and Ramen

  1. Nancy Thomson

    Loved her ears although at five in the morning I did want to hear them
    Tears today reading this. Missing
    Her and our kitty, Wally.

  2. Sophia Katt

    The dog part of this post reminds me of Emily Yoffe’s book https://www.amazon.com/What-Dog-Did-Formerly-Reluctant/dp/B000OFOIYA. The recipe reminds me that I have leftover ramen noodles in the pantry!

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