As someone who used to suffer the most evil of pre-menstrual tension (the crying, the temper tantrums, the despair) I have rules around cooking and being pre-menstrual. As a teenager, still getting to grips with the vagaries of being a woman, I was often unaware that, what appeared to be the imploding of my life, my hopes, dreams and self-respect, was in fact a hormonal merry-go-round. While still in college I was put on Microgynon – the first choice pill – reliable, well tested, not massively expensive. My mum came home one day to find me rocking in the corner of the kitchen, clutching a torn piece of bread in one hand and the butter knife in the other. Streaming with snot and tears I tried to explain that I was such a pointless person that I couldn’t even spread bread without TEARING THE BREAD WAAAAAARRR SNORT SNORT I JUST DON’T KNOW WHY I’M ALIIIIIIIIVE etc. I dropped the pills and felt fine in a day but vowed to remember and to learn that this feeling was hormonal, not the emotional apocalypse it felt like.
However, sometimes knowing you’re pre-menstrual when you’re pre-menstrual is not enough and averting the more serious tantrums requires a few basic rules, especially around food and its preparation, my own personal root to happiness and despair.
1. When you are pre-menstrual it’s ok to eat whatever you want to eat. Even if that’s a whole packet of sliced Jarlsberg straight out of the packet standing in front of the fridge. Because frankly, at this point you have no control over yourself, physically or mentally or emotionally, so you might as well roll with it and not try to beat yourself up.
2. Drink lots of water. It helps.
3. Do not attempt to cook anything new, anything elaborate or anything that takes more than 10 minutes to prepare.
4. Emotional instability is not a good time for gastronomical experimentation.
Now that I’ve had the coil fitted (too much sharing?), this PMT stuff is mostly a thing of the past. So when last week I turned into King Kong on gin and beta-blockers I wasn’t ready for it. I even went to go and see a counsellor in case I was actually falling off the road to sanity into the undergrowth of serious mental health issues. Unfortunately, I hadn’t read the signs and attempted to cook something that was a) something I’d only tried once before b) complicated to prepare c) something I didn’t have all the necessary ingredients for. This made for a tumultuous afternoon with mixed results.
I was trying to make Momos – Nepalese steamed dumplings. They are fiddly and require several stages of preparation. Here is the original recipe which comes from the SOAS Cookery Book Mark 1.
For the dough:
350g plain flour
150-200ml warm water
pinch of salt
For the filling (vegetarian):
2 medium onions
5cm piece of ginger
3 cloves of garlic
(this is not in the recipe but I cannot resist the urge to tinker so I added it and was tasty: soy sauce, toasted sesame oil, fresh coriander)
Dough: You can probably guess. Mix it all together to make a dough. Umm… Knead it for a bit until it’s smooth and then wrap it clingfilm and set aside.
Filling: Grate the cabbage, sprinkle with salt and set aside to draw the liquid out (this is what it says in the recipe but I didn’t do this but in retrospect I think I had the wrong kind of cabbage). Grate or chop everything else and put in a bowl. Add soy sauce and sesame oil to taste. Give it a good mix.
Construction: Either, roll out the dough and cut out circles of dough about the size of the mouth of a teacup OR pinch off pieces of dough and roll them out individually to the same size. The dough needs to be quite thin, so you can almost see through it. Put a spoonful of filling in the centre and then draw the edges together to make a pasty shape. It says in the book that you then draw the two corners together ‘to make a small pinch’ and then flatten the bottom slightly – please do do this if you can.
Oil a steamer and set over a pan of boiling water and steam them for about 12 minutes. Eat with sauce.
Here is the recipe I made. I recommend not trying this one (although, in fairness, they were quite tasty).
Amy’s Reject Momos
Some warm water
Half a courgette
Half a kohlrabi
One small onion
Zest of half a lime
Put the flour in a bowl and add a pinch of salt. Mix in enough water to make a soft and elastic dough. Knead for five minutes. Marvel at how the texture of pasta flour is different from normal flour. Feel worried that this may be a bad thing. Set aside, covered in cling film.
Look in fridge for carrot, onion, cabbage, coriander, garlic and ginger and find only old courgette, a vegetable you cannot remember the name of but turns out to be kohlrabi, a wrinkly red pepper, a lime, garlic and goat’s cheese. Consider that it may be better to make proper Italian egg pasta. Find there are no eggs. Have a tiny cry holding the fridge door. Feel despairing of empty fridge but incapable of putting on shoes and venturing out. Have only got 27p.
Resolve to make the most of crappy fridge contents. Grate courgette and kohlrabi into bowl. Try and fail to grate wrinkly pepper, grate knuckles. Chop pepper inexpertly and angrily and add to bowl. Slice onion and garlic thinly and grate the rind of half the lime into the bowl. Feel concerned about lack of flavour. Add grated goat’s cheese to bowl even though unconvinced by lime/goat’s cheese combo.
Look around kitchen for inspiration. Add chilli powder. Think about goat’s cheese and think that adding something sweet maybe a good idea. Discover three very old dried apricots. Slice finely and add to bowl.
With a wine bottle attempt to roll out dough. Remember that last time you failed to make neat little dumpling parcels by hand. Consider the Italian technique for making ravioli. Roll out dough into square. Imagine accolades in national media ‘Hackney Cook Wows World with Fusion Cooking’. Make little piles of suspect filling on square. Roll another matching square, finding that second piece of dough is not big enough. Roll out thinner. Lift square off surface only to find that it then rapidly shrinks before you can get it onto the patiently waiting bottom sheet and filling. Feel bottom lip trembling. Attempt to do it piece by piece. Find dough does not stick together well and holes appear. Find that bottom dough is stuck to deck. Feeling rising panic/anger/frustration. Take knife from drawer. Attempt to lever sticky mess of surface. See red. Draw veil over following events.
Steam messy piles of dough and filling for 12 minutes. Eat whatever can be rescued from the ruins. Buy take away.
Suffice to say this was not a runaway success but they were edible. Even better, I did find the goats cheese and lime combo surprisingly tasty, even though everything was slightly marred by the liberal seasoning of blood, sweat and tears. Just remember next time, Amy, if the dough being slightly sticky is enough to make you cry, back away from the dough, Amy, back away from the dough.