Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Garlic Noodle Bowls and the Great Paint Conundrum

I didn't know Dadi, my paternal grandmother, at least not like I knew Mumma. My Dadi passed away long before I came around. She left behind my dad and my two uncles who aren't big talkers, much less storytellers, so all I know about Dadi is what I've gleaned from random tidbits my mom has shared over time. Under ordinary circumstances, the prospect of losing such a crucial part of my family's history would sadden me but the fact is, the few Dadi stories I have are so awesome, I know my family's history will be just fine.

Cue the story of Dadi and 516. That was the number of the house my dad grew up in. See, 516 housed all men (four burly ones, to be exact) except Dadi. No one really cared how the place looked, except Dadi. The 1960's orange floral furniture didn't match, the table creaked, and try as he might, the gardener simply couldn't revive the lawn. No one was interested in freshening up the place, except Dadi. Well one day, Dadi decided she'd had enough. She got some paint (yellow, mind you, because the women in my family are nothing if not trendy) and painted the living room. Except she was 5'1 (another trait we share) and well, she was only able to paint the bottom half of the wall. And of course, the men didn't care or even notice for that matter. And so, the half yellow walls remained. Forever, I imagine.

I love this story. I picture a petite woman with gorgeous braided hair, navigating around piles of sporting goods and car parts and electronic doodads, deciding that amidst all this manly chaos, she was going to take charge and make something beautiful. I tried to channel that same can-do spirit when we bought our house. The house was the epitome of builder basic but the truth was, I loved that the house was a blank canvas just waiting for me to go all Pinterest and DIY happy on it. But over the last few years, we've been so busy and lots has changed in our lives. Unfortunately, not much has changed in the house. It remains a blank canvas and the beige'ness of it all is just overwhelming.

A few months ago, I decided we'd start with something small. We would paint the living room grey. I patted myself on the back for choosing a color rather easily. Except I failed to realize there are 500 kinds of grey all slightly different than the next. Pewter, charcoal, stone, rainstorm, burnt ember. Convinced that the color choice would be easier after I got it on the wall, I bravely painted my sample paint squares. Except none of the colors felt quite right. And I couldn't explain what about them didn't feel right. So there I was, unable to identify what was wrong and paralyzed by making the wrong decision. And so I did nothing.

Sometimes, I sit at the bottom of our staircase, staring at the three painted squares, hoping for some sort of divine decorating inspiration but alas, nothing. I've been staring at these ridiculous squares for more than six months now. And it's only recently that I've begun to accept the walls will get painted when they do. Unpainted walls, or better yet, walls with three random paint squares, won't stop us from having friends over for dinner. They won't get in the way of Little Man and his friends playing with blocks in the living room. They can't stop us from laughing at taking ourselves too seriously. And most importantly they won't prevent us from making great food for our family.

Luckily, cooking is nothing like decorating or else we would most certainly starve. Where I question every single decorating decision, cooking involves a series of steps that feel like a second nature. Take these Garlic Noodle Bowls that make their way into our weekly dinner rotation (sometimes, two or three, okay five nights in a row). Cook your garlic (lots of garlic because this ain't no first date food) until slightly golden. Throw in your noodles, stir it around and let 'em sit in the pan undisturbed so they get crispy around the edges. In the meantime, grill your veggies (last week, grilled asparagus made its way into the noodle bowls. Every. Time). If you have a protein around (or live with a staunch carnivore), throw that in too.

The hubster and I recently ate our garlic noodle bowls at the bottom of the staircase so we could stare at the paint squares, hoping for some magical inspiration. "Looks like 516," he said with a grin. "Yup, it does," I agreed with an even bigger grin.

Garlic Noodles

16 ounces dried pasta
1 lb. asparagus (or broccoli, or green beans, or spinach, or or or)
2-3 chicken breasts (or flank steak, or firm tofu, or turkey, or or or)
6-8 cloves of garlic, minced
2 tb. butter
3 tb. olive oil
1/2 tsp. crushed red pepper
salt and pepper

Boil pasta. While pasta is boiling, cook asparagus (or vegetable of your choice). I recently got a cast iron grill pan and I have been using the heck out of it to grill up veggies and meat alike. Basically, anything cooked on super high heat takes on a delicious grilled BBQ flavor without having to deal with well, an actual BBQ. So yeah, cook the asparagus until it gets those delicious grill marks. Drain pasta, reserving a bit (maybe 1/3 cup) of pasta water.

Heat oil and butter in a large skillet until butter browns just a tad (just a warning that there are only a few seconds between browned butter and burnt butter. Not that I know from experience or anything. Just watch the butter closely). Add the minced garlic and cook until garlic is just starting to brown and get crispy around the edges (again, garlic goes from golden to burnt pretty quickly. Or so a friend told me). Add your pasta, pasta water, and crushed red pepper flakes. Toss to coat completely and let the pasta cook, undisturbed. In the meantime, prep your protein. I'm partial to coating chicken breasts in a bit of panko and pan frying it for a quick katsu or grilling chicken in my beloved grill pan but really, any protein works.

Stir pasta (by now, the edges of the pasta should be crispy and deliciously browned). If not, let it cook undisturbed for a few more minutes. Throw in the veggies and meat and season with salt and pepper. Eat. Preferably not while sitting at the bottom of a staircase, staring at paint squares.


  1. your writing style and stories always brings smile to my face :) I could just imagine the whole thing as I read stories about 516..noodles make their way into my dinner and leftover for lunch on a very regular basis..have yet to try with garlic though. hope you get inspiration soon

  2. I love your stories. No need to bring up unfinished project with me, the table I brought home a couple of months ago is staring at me every time I pull in the garage. I agree, I'll get to it when I get to it is the best attitude. Hunger on the other hand can not wait. I wish I had some noodles, I might have this for breakfast. I do have to go to the store later though. It's funny about colors, one day it will just present itself to you.

  3. I'm having paint issues also. I SO WANT to paint our drab living room walls navy.

    LOVE the garlic noodles and, yes, why isn't everything as easy as cooking? :-)

  4. OMG...i just have to mention that one of the CAPCHA numbers was 7516! i mean, it would've been cooler if it was JUST 516, but still! :-)

  5. Ditto what everybody else said - love the story :) those noodles look delish!

  6. When I first started dating my husband, I happened to mention that I like colored walls in a house. He was partial to the same but I didn't expect to see two rooms painted when I visited the following weekend. One was green (and though it's my favorite color, he didn't pick the shade I would have chosen). The other was yellow. The rooms stayed this way for a long time--I appreciated his pro-activeness and also didn't want to hurt his feelings. But eventually (years later), those colors were painted over. :) Our living rooms are gray so I agree with your choice of color--no rush on the exact shade--it will come to you. Love the noodles! :)

  7. Loved the story. I have had the same paint dilemmas before so I know how you feel. I finally did paint my kitchen yellow because it reminded me of sunshine and the kitchen is where I love to be :) You can never have enough garlic in a dish if you ask me! Your dish with the chicken looks very tempting!

  8. At least your family painting projects take place indoors. My husband and I started painting our first house and only made it 2/3 before some crazy thing or another took us away from our project. We went another year before we finished. Oddly enough, the color was yellow, so I can totally relate to half painted yellow walls, only mine was a half painted yellow house (and the old color was green!).

  9. What a great story, you tell it so well I can almost picture the half painted yellow walls :) We helped my In Laws paint their dining room and that is when I was introduced to the three million shades of white. Who knew there were so many variations of paint!

  10. Haha. ....great story! I vote for the middle one.

  11. your Dadi sounds so fun, and what a brave lady! I love your stories Azmina, it feels so real as if I am really staring at your multicoloured wall. And if u ask my pick, I like the first grey colour on the left;-)

  12. You could always put frames around the three squares and glue paper flowers in the middle. :)

    Your Dadi sounds like quite the pistol. I'm sure she held her own very well, even though she was swimming in a bath of testosterone. Bravo to her for attempting to bring sunshine and brightness to the home!

    I love your pasta dish and I'd be all over that amount of garlic. I'm not sure what veggies I can scrounge out of the fridge, but I might just have to make this part of our dinner tonight.

  13. This looks soooo good. I didn't meant my Dadamma (paternal grandmother), but it was similar in that my dad, his parents and his 11 brothers and sister (he's #10 of 12) all lived in the same little house in Guntur in South India. I love hearing the stories of how he'd help his mom cook breakfast each morning and how she made the best puris and dosa. Related: this recipe sounds delicious. I'll have to try it with tofu!

  14. I've struggled with the zillions of grays, also terrified of making the wrong decision. But I couldn't be happier with what I ultimately chose: Benjamin-Moore's Northern Cliffs 1536. It is the PERFECT color.

    Now if only I could figure out something decent for dinner for a change....

  15. such a great story. I love the way you connected your Dadi's paint story to your home. Well done! Your writing style is wonderful too. That takes a lot of courage to go out there back then and buy some yellow paint and paint the walls. I don't know if much has changed, men still don't do that much at home. :-( These noodles look brilliant. :)

  16. Its so much fun to read your stories. How you weave food and family into each post.
    I love yellow too..maybe has something to do with the fact that Seattle is grey all the time and yellow matches :)

  17. Choosing a great color is a lot like seasoning a recipe. You know when it's right. It's harder to tell if it's wrong (or at least HOW wrong). You'll do great. GREG

  18. I really enjoy reading the opening story for your posts.

    I am on a noodle eating kick these days, I'll be surely trying this one!!!

  19. This recipe looks so good! And I love how you described it "this ain't no date food"... I also like that you call your husband "the hubster" and that you sat on the stairs one night just staring at the paint squares on the wall.... You painted a picture of comfortable intimacy. Even though the squares sound like they have become part of your life and home, I hope at some point you find a color that works. :)

    Have a great day!

  20. Hehee I can relate. I have attempted to pick the right color for my kids' bedrooms and I failed. For our old house exterior paint, I picked and MAJOR fail (and that was somewhat yellow tone - oh big fail!). I dream about painting all our rooms but my husband is scared and doesn't trust me! Grey sounds like a hard color to choose! xD Your garlic noodle sound delicious! I make garlic rice but not garlic noodles! This sounds like a great quick and delicious dish!

  21. I love this story about your grandmother - she sounds like she was the can-do, take charge sort of gal! I'll bet the half-yellow walls were lovely :) And you're absolutely right - you'll get to the walls when you get to them. Although, if it helps at all, I do like the leftmost shade best :)

    These garlic noodle bowls are getting pinned right away. I love garlic almost as much as I do noodles!

  22. Loved the story about your Dadi :) Loved the way she decided to take charge of the situation and paint the lower half of the halls... I can just picture them in my mind the way you tell the story. B/w loved your blog and garlic noodles as well :)


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