Ruth Ozeki's "A Tale for the Time Being" & Sweet and Spicy Shrimp with Udon Noodles
In her latest novel, Ruth Ozeki tackles the elusive nature of time, and does so with grace and precision. A Tale for the Time Being is a story within a story, a deeply layered and personal account of two very different women, and the way time, distance, and culture work to tie their stories together. Nao Yasutana is a teenager in Japan who has decided to end her life, but before doing so, wants to record the life of her great grandmother in writing. Ruth is a middle-aged Japanese-American author who discovers Nao’s journal when the tide washes it to the shore of her home, on an island near British Columbia. Ruth decides to read Nao’s journal one entry at a time, keeping pace with how quick Nao wrote to better understand her mindset.
We are given short bits of Nao’s journal to read through Ruth's eyes, with her footnotes and thoughts connecting the two stories. Though Nao wrote her journal years before Ruth finds it, the two women are both looking to find home and understanding, and are helping each other through their journeys, despite the distance of time between them. Nao writes to her future reader, imagining who they will be and how they will use the information she has recorded, while Ruth reads the stories and feels an immediate kinship with Nao at a time when she feels lost in her life.
The novel, in that way, is like a story of time travelers without the mysticism, a realistic account of life, with its pain and beauty, but with the element of time re-imagined almost as a character of its own.
As I read A Tale for the Time Being, I knew I wanted to create a modern Japanese dish, as the country’s politics, geography, and culture all play vital roles in the story. Because the sea is what originally connects the two characters, I also knew seafood would have to be a key ingredient, and so I tried my hand at a simple shrimp and noodle dish. The sweet and spicy sauce reflects the honesty of the story, which never shies away from showing subtle, sweetly innocent moments alongside harsh realities that pack an emotional punch. The result is a quick, easy, and ultimately delicious dish, one I found almost as satisfying as this wonderful novel.
SWEET AND SPICY SHRIMP WITH UDON NOODLES
½ cup soy sauce
1 tsp sesame oil
4 tsp sugar
½ to 1 tsp crushed red pepper, to taste
4 tsp cornstarch
1 tbsp vegetable oil
1 small onion, chopped
1 small green bell pepper, chopped
1 medium carrot, sliced
1 lb shrimp, peeled and deveined
1 packet of udon noodles
Begin by boiling 4 quarts of water on the stove in a large pot. When water reaches a boil, add noodles and leave to cook.
While waiting for your noodles, mix together soy sauce, sesame oil, sugar, red pepper, and cornstarch in a bowl until cornstarch dissolves.
Return to the noodles once the pot begins to boil over. Lower the heat, and add 1 cup of cold water. Let pot return to a boil once more. Do this 2 more times before taking the pot off of the flame.
In a large skillet, heat oil and stir fry onion, bell pepper, and carrots for 2 to 3 minutes.
In the same skillet, stir in shrimp and soy sauce mixture. Stir fry for about 5 minutes, or until shrimp are pink and fully cooked and sauce has thickened.
Return to your noodles and drain the remaining water from the pot. Rinse noodles once in cold water before serving.
Combine shrimp and sauce mixture with noodles, and enjoy!
Adapted from Betty Crocker