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Pleasure Practices with Sami Schalk: Spice up your life

In these winter doldrums, reach for a flavorful kick.
An illustration shows the face of the column's author, Dr. Sami Schalk, smiling against a rainbow background. In the foreground are a sandwich, a cup holding a steaming hot beverage, and a stack of books on which the text "Pleasure Practices with Sami Schalk" appears. Two candles sit on top of the books. Illustration by Rodney Lambright II.
Illustration by Rodney Lambright II. Image description: An illustration shows the face of the column’s author, Dr. Sami Schalk, smiling against a rainbow background. In the foreground are a sandwich, a cup holding a steaming hot beverage, and a stack of books on which the text “Pleasure Practices with Sami Schalk” appears. Two candles sit on top of the books.

In these winter doldrums, reach for a flavorful kick.

Welcome to 2023, readers! I hope your year is off to a pleasurable start. With some time off recently, I’ve been cooking more again. During the winter, I’m especially inclined toward hot food in both senses: temperature and spice. A lot of my winter meals involve something hot and spicy I can hold in a bowl. I’m originally from Kentucky, and though I’ve lived in the north for nearly a decade (almost six years here in Madison), I don’t know that I will ever get used to, let alone enjoy, the cold. Instead, I find pleasure in doing things that help warm me up and make me feel like I’m not in the tundra.

Now, I understand that spicy food as a pleasure practice runs counter to the mostly mild tastes of many Wisconsinites, but hear me out. Spice equals flavor and you can adjust heat levels to your taste. When I say “spice up your life” for this month’s pleasure practice, I to encourage you to try something new and flavorful—and maybe listen to the Spice Girls, too. There is something so pleasurable about eating something I haven’t had before. It’s exciting to my brain, even if I don’t end up loving it. There are two ways I encourage you to spice up your life this month.

First, refresh your spice cabinet! I recently went through my cabinet and tossed old or expired spices. I didn’t realize how much some of my cooking spices were lacking in flavor until I bought new ones. If you afford to buy the higher-quality spices (often in glass containers), definitely do. You can also visit Penzeys Spices on University Avenue (or their location near East Towne) to peruse an array of options and get support picking things out. While you’re in the spice aisle/store, consider trying out a new spice blend. Sometimes when I’m bored with what I’ve been eating, I like to pick out something new, but easy to use. Penzeys is especially great for spice blends that aren’t necessarily spicy-hot, just flavorful—like their frozen pizza spice blend, which, as you might imagine, can be used to punch up the flavor on a frozen pizza.

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The author is shown in a selfie, smiling at the camera and holding up a packet of noodles with the word "Momofuku" printed on it.
The author is shown in a selfie, smiling at the camera and holding up a packet of noodles with the word “Momofuku” printed on it.

Second, get saucy! Another easy way to spice up your life is to try out a sauce (hot sauce, dipping sauce, stir-fry sauce, etc.). My current food kick is Omsom sauces and Momofuku noodles. I found Omsom through an Instagram ad. They sell a variety of Asian sauces in easy-to-use packets. Just cook some protein and veggies and add the sauce of your choice. You can also use some of the sauces, like the bulgogi, as a marinade before cooking. My partner is a fan of the Thai Larb and I love the Thai Krapow which is pretty spicy but so flavorful and good!

While Omsom sauces are only available online, Momofuku noodles are available at Target. Essentially a fancy instant noodle, Momofuku noodles come in a $12 bag with five single-serving portions individually packaged inside—great for single folks and couples. I personally love the two spicy flavors (tingly chili and spicy soy) but they also make a not-hot soy and scallion flavor. You boil some water, cook the noodles for three to four minutes, drain, and add the sauce packets. It’s like an elevated version of the ramen many of us ate in college, but without broth. I like to top mine with chicken and veggies (sometimes the leftovers from cooking with an Omsom sauce the day before) as well as Momofuku’s chili crunch sauce, which adds heat, flavor, and texture. You can also top with a fried egg, ground turkey, diced Spam, pork belly, fried tofu, or even a dollop of peanut butter, as one of my Twitter followers suggested to me (it was delicious with the tingly chili noodles, sort of like a pad Thai). I really enjoy that  Momofuku noodles are quick and easy to creatively adapt with whatever else I have in the house. Even if I had them yesterday for lunch, I can make them in a totally different and equally delicious way tonight for dinner.

So take some time this month to fight the cold and spice up your life. A little heat and variety go a long way when it’s been cold and gray for days on end. And when you’re about to dive into a delicious flavorful bowl of noodles inspired by me, make sure to say “I’m a spicy badass bitch.” It tastes better that way. 

This is our newsletter-first column, Microtones. It runs on the site on Fridays, but you can get it in your inbox on Thursdays by signing up for our email newsletter.

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