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Listening to Ann Cole. Growing Hakurei turnips and tatsoi. Not sure where any of this is going.
In the meantime, to help the Tohoku region of Japan (or just to get some fine recipes), please go buy a copy of Elizabeth Andoh’s Kibō.
In Tokyo on the evening of February 15, I was sitting cross-legged in the private dining room of Takara, a modern izakaya, with John Gauntner and his students taking the 2011 Advanced Sake Professional Course. At the table with us was John’s own sake sensei, Haruo Matsuzaki. The night felt auspicious. We toasted, shouting, “kampai!” Mori-san, the maitre d’, organized the perfect service of numerous courses of food matched to the seven sakes John had chosen for the evening. After we ate and drank ourselves into a happy flushed stupor, people began crawling like babies over cushions on the wood floor to talk to others. The very long table was covered with tall 1.8 liter bottles of sake, many katakuchi (sake flasks with open tops), innumerable o-choko (small sake cups), and the plates from dinner. The conversation was animated, enthusiastic, and a bit drunken. Delight and déjà vu: back in 2005 through 2008 when I lived in Japan, Takara had been the site of nine memorable John Gauntner dinners that had solidified my interest in sake.
One of the sakes on February 15th was Sharaku 冩楽 junmai ginjo from Fukushima, a rich, tingly, and delicious pure rice sake named after the 18th-century ukiyo-e master whose identity is a mystery. The neck of the bottle had a label that read, “Pure Love Brew,” a pun on the word jun for “pure” [100%] rice sake, with a mixed meaning of something like “love of pure rice sake brewing” and “brewed with pure love.” I was so taken with the phrase that I pledged in a slurred voice that I would pursue a jun life, making it delicious and full of love.
And that is where I stopped writing when I heard the news of the earthquake/tsunami/radiation crisis in Japan. This post was going to be about my love of sake and sake people: my sake sensei, John Gauntner, and John’s coordinator in the sake courses and sake tours (sake expert in her own right), Etsuko Nakamura. I wanted to share photos of the toji (master brewers) and owners of the breweries we visited and the two sake experts that shared their knowledge with us in the class, Shunsuke Kohiyama, and Matsuzaki-san.
After much thought I think that my impulse to highlight the lives of individuals remains the best way we can relate to tragedy. Waves crashing over entire towns can too easily be abstracted in one’s mind as a trailer for a movie about world destruction. But what is lost is moments and memories we can grasp one person, one moment at a time. This is all I can offer today: names and faces of individuals in Japan, some of whom I know are safe, some I hope are. I offer my broken heart with pure love for the the people who died, the people who will suffer, and all that will be lost.
Sunday outing with a friend who speaks Japanese, with whom of course I rarely converse in Japanese. We have resolved to do better…sometime. First we have lunch at Mitsitam Café at the National Museum of the American Indian. I quite enjoy a cup of lamb and quinoa soup, a roasted squash side, and a Navajo fry bread. Then we’re off to a lecture by Andrew Maske at the Freer Gallery, “Tracing Tea Bowls: Elite Ceramics in Edo Period Japan,” including the development of Takatori ware. We pause on the way out to ogle the curvy 10th Century Indian bronzes.
At the entrance to the L’Enfant Plaza metro station, we see a large crowd of college-age kids, a Fox News cameraman, and a few photographers with tricked-out equipment. We have no idea why the kids are gathering, but from their voices we feel their exuberant titillation. Always a good sign. Nothing grabs my attention like young, (reasonably) good-looking people skipping along excitedly saying: “Oh my Gawd, look at all the people! When do we do it?”
Yellow line heading south, fairly crowded train, people with suitcases headed to the airport, a normal assortment of locals and tourists, except that as soon as the doors closed most people on the train pulled off shoes, unbuttoned and stripped off their pants. We saw lots of costume-ish flannel boxers paired with striped socks. I respected one guy whose worn, gray, cotton boxer briefs indicated he had not indulged in much self-conscious attire planning. A young woman wore a snug pair of panties printed with V-shaped text:
I was weighing my options for next year (one should heed mother’s advice to always wear presentable underwear), when it occurred to me that the pantless riders were dressed more respectably and were acting more politely than many of the “IT’S NOT THIS STOP! WE HAVE THREE MORE TO GO! GO SIT WITH YOUR FATHER!” August-sweaty tourists who ride the metro every summer.
Here’s to scenes of chaos and joy in public places. And underwear.
QUESTION: Has Madam been silenced by an evil cartel of Tea Party enthusiasts and vegetarians? –WL
ANSWER: At some point during the hot summer here in D.C. the sake ran out; things looked bleak. Time passed. After a short vacation in Maine, Madam came home to her local bar, was offered a Dogfish Head Punkin Ale, and she realized it was already autumn. She has a story or two to tell…
Just ’cause are my favorite kind of gifts. My mother sent me Grace Young’s Stir-Frying to the Sky’s Edge, not for any particular reason, but because she suspected it could be a cookbook I didn’t already own. I skimmed the book on the bus to work this morning and—remembering two homegrown cucumbers given to me by my next-door neighbor—I decided to make the recipe for stir-fried cucumber and pork with golden garlic. The cookbook features many stories from ex-pat Chinese who speak of trying to recreate “real” Chinese food in Peru, the United States, Burma, Jamaica. Some of the stories ramble a bit and could have used tightening up. And one particular story concludes with an attempt at a kind of metaphysical food writing that can fall very flat. Writing about how a simple eggplant stir-fry is delicious made either with or without ground pork, she states:
I no longer ponder how the magic works—how one meatball’s worth of pork or that tiny pinch of minced ginger can even be detected in the final dish. That is part of the mystery of a well-constructed stir-fry. It is built on layers of flavor and texture, and every ingredient, no matter how seemingly insignificant in quantity, contributes to the alchemy.
Besides the fact that this could describe almost any cooking anywhere in the world (layers of flavor and texture), I’m not sure magic and alchemy explain being able to taste ground pork in an eggplant stir-fry. It seems more like, well, logic and chemistry to me. I do love good food porn, but I like it well written. I’ll give her a pass on the poetics: the photos of Chinese women holding up woks and bowls full of Chinese food are very sweet and make me hungry.
The technical information is very clear and well-written. For example, she spends 16 pages on buying, seasoning, and caring for a wok. I was extremely surprised and smugly gratified to find a page with a photo of a carbon-steel wok that had been used for two years (and was therefore properly seasoned) that looked exactly like my well-used black beauty that I bought 17 years ago. Yes, ol’ Grace had me there. So, having convinced me with her good tips and ego stroking, I decided to get to work right away trying out the recipes.
For the pork and cucumber stir-fry, I had the cucumbers and I bought some Niman Ranch pork. I was already starting with delicious ingredients; it would be up to me to not screw them up. In this recipe you mince a large amount a garlic and pre-fry it to infuse the oil. The garlic cooks only until “light golden” and then is strained from the oil and reserved. The pork gets a marinade of soy, sugar, salt, and corn starch. Like most stir-fry recipes, you must prep everything in advance and then go for it because after you fry off the garlic, the rest of the recipe takes about 4 minutes: fry up slivers of ginger, brown pork in wok, but do not cook through, add cukes, toss, splash in some soy sauce, mix in reserved garlic, serve. I added hot chili flakes because my Bolivian husband gets nervous if his food lacks capsaicin.
Good stuff, thanks mom.