13 March, 2008

Eating My Way Out



One thing about leaving Japan, if you're a teacher, is that you will never leave hungry. Thanks to students and employers I have been treated so far to at least four dinners from a company banquet at a huge wedding hall to lunch with students at the neighborhood Indian restaurant, a dinner at a tony Japanese-Italian fusion place, and just leaving my stomach but not my memory, a home-cooked meal made with enormous care and forethought to accommodate my allergies and vegetarian diet.

Last night my young married student made a wonderful dinner for me that changed my mind about macrobiotic cooking. I had expected rather bland fare, but she surprised me with food that was fresh, flavourful and honestly good. Some of the combinations were sublime. She cooked chunks of Japanese pumpkin in a simple fresh tomato, coriander and lightly spiced sauce so that the the earthy pumpkin came through as the strongest element, while the other flavours were each distinct and opened one by one on the palate. Like Japanese double consonants, each pronounced distinctly, no blends. She followed that by dredging renkon slices (lotus root) with potato flour and flash deep-frying them before adding a little sauce of soy and vinegar. They were nutty, crispy, and sublime.

There was a tiny bowl of onion soup, a whole small onion floating in a bath of a mild vegetable broth finished with a tiny bit of butter. It was so soft that each layer of the onion could be picked up with chop sticks and dropped into a waiting mouth. There was no hint of bitterness; it was simple and perfect.

She stir-fried fresh green onions in a bit of ginger, soy sauce and balsamic vinegar. Wow. And the main dish was a bowl of genmai, brown rice, which she had cooked perfectly in a large Le Creuset cocotte and topped with sturdy short lengths of steamed green onions and twin fried tofu chunks, which she had bathed with a bit of flavourful sauce and scattered with shredded nori (thin crisp mild seaweed). Just enough to make me almost full but with room left for a simple dessert of a bowl of big sliced strawberries and tiny shortbread cookies made with rice and potato flour.

With this wonderful dinner we had a bottle of Sakura wine, which is a light and slightly sweet white in which a cherry blossom has been marinating until it resembles a translucent and gracefully floating sea creature. My first experience with this particular wine, it had a delicate flavour reminiscent of ume (Japanese plums). Or for those in Japan or in the know, the same undertone as the cherry-leaf wrapped manju just coming into the cake stores now.

Can the real cherry blossoms be far behind?

I think not with mild weather this week in the mid teens and lots of sunshine. The rape blossoms are in blinding yellow flower, the fields are full of green vegetables, we are eating broccoli rabe fresh from the garden, and the wonderful promise of a spring I will not see here fills the air. A sadly sweet time to be leaving, but with a contented full belly.

16 comments:

  1. Kia ora e hoa VJ,
    What a beautiful dinner that must have been! My wife and I both oohing and ahhing about the descriptions as we read. We have discovered so many new ways to enjoy food.
    I woke up early this morning and went to the Farmers market here, and for once, rather than rushing and buying stuff straight away, I walked slowly through and eyed up the veges and fruit first. Which is just enjoyable in itself, but also allowed me to plan our meals a bit, and the buy right stuff. our carrots now are so nice, small and sweet, not like the big tasteless ones in the super markets, and the broccollis are huge! I also picked up some excellent Maori potatoes, small purple potatoes with a purple white creamy flesh, I reckon you would enjoy them. Beautiful just steamed or boiled with a bit of olive oil drizzled and fresh mint. I ended up buying about $35.00 NZ dollars worth, which was a lot, and a far greater savings than the super market, never mind the quality. And fun!
    Thanks for the ideas with my new prized camp oven, and yes please do stop by with any recipe you can think of! The dumplings sound excellent. Every recipe of yours I have attempted thus far has been delicious, fun to prepare - and certainly healthy. Have a great day VJ!
    Ka kite e hoa
    Robb

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  2. Hi Robb (and wife):

    What a nice comment; it has me smiling at he thoughts of you and your wife reading together. Hopefully you will make and enjoy many wonderful dinners together. There's something about cooking for someone that makes them feel special and cared for. I know I was able to feel the love my grandmother put into her meals and pies even before she learned to unbend a bit and give hugs.

    It's so good to hear that you have discovered the treasure of the Farmer's market. They are one of the few places still full of life and good feelings, community and good bargains, unlike modern supernmarkets which are convenient (sort of, if you don't mind acres of goods to wade through) but leave you exhausted and grumpy. The farmers and sellers love to chat and will often give out cooking tips if you ask.

    You can feel good about spending your money there, because as you noticed the food is good and cheaper, but also your dollars are encouraging and maintaining the small farms and farm economy in your area. A very good thing!

    I'll be over to your site with a dumpling recipe soon. :)

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  3. hello j,

    it sounds like you have such support in japan and you will be greatly missed. the description of that dinner is beautiful and i think i'd like to try some lotus root now.

    as i was reading this i was curious to see how your cooking style might change when you're back in north america. i'm really looking forward to the transition.

    thank you for sharing this...it was a joy.

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  4. ginger:

    Thank you for your lovely comment. I will indeed miss them as well and much of my life here but I'm also looking forward to the future. Right now I am educating myself about permaculture with the ultimate goal of starting a sustainable homesite.

    There's a lot to learn and money is uncertain but I trust that the future will be as full as my life here has been.

    :)

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  5. Now I know what to do with those organic green onions I have left from last week's delivery! Thanks for sharing the details of your amazing final meals in Japan:-) Enjoy!

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  6. Great food writing!

    "Like Japanese double consonants, each pronounced distinctly, no blends."

    That is just spot on.

    And no doubt, your Japanese friends will come and visit you in Canada.

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  7. cha-chan:

    Glad to hear you're enjoying the organic produce, so much more flavour, non? Keep on cooking, sister. :)

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  8. Thanks, Martin. I've told them all they're welcome to come see me, though it is a good distance to the east coast. Hopefully some will make it, and for the others I'll try to put a bit of Nova Scotia up here. :)

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  9. Just for the beer alone, it is worth it to go to Japan to be a teacher then retire :D

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  10. djeb:

    I take it you are speaking about yourself? :) WISH I could afford to retire but I'd have to stay a lot longer for that.

    Have to agree the beer here is delicious, even though it's now off my list since it's got gluten. In fact I think it's as good as Black Horse from Newfoundland, and that's saying a lot.:)

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  11. Japan has left it's mark on you VJ, that's for sure. Such a beautifully written post.

    Macrobiotic cookery, done well, with good, focussed intent is a thing of true beauty, something you've captured perfectly.

    That Sakura wine sounds delicious!

    Good luck. I hope you'll be blogging when you head back home...

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  12. Thanks, Lucy. I know you're right. I'm already missing some things and finding it hard to leave many things I've been living with behind. I'm in the midst of sorting out what to take and what to leave with a bit of regret.

    I'm sure going to try keep blogging in Nova Scotia. It's been wonderful to work on the writing and try to get it under a bit of control. Still a lot to learn but occasionally I do feel happy with a piece. :)

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  13. Reading your last post here, I see you're going to Nova Scotia! My husband is from Enfield, and we plan to move to Halifax one day after we finish our bachelor degrees in Houston. (I had been trying to figure out if you were moving within Japan or to North America in your other blogs, didn't really say.)

    I plan to be in Halifax for Christmas this year, its a beautiful city and I love it, I just wish the economy hadn't forced us out a year or so ago.

    What have you been teaching in Japan? I heard that if you have a bachelor's degree of any kind, you can teach English there. I've considered looking into doing that after I finish my degree, my hubby's mom knows someone who did it and stayed for two years, earning enough to pay off his student loans.

    By the way, I just made soy milk today and am experimenting with okara again. (For over a month, the supermarket was out of soybeans every time I went!) I am making them walnut sized like you suggested, but am working on getting them to hold together. I might add ground flax seed with water as a binder and see if that helps. I tried deep frying and they fell apart in the fryer :( , I tried shallow and they fell apart when I tried to pick them up. I did an oil-less, dry pan fry but they still crumbled around the edges. I think I need a binder. Luckily I did my experimenting about 5 small pieces at a time so I still have plenty of my okara mixture.

    I hope your move goes smoothly! Welcome back to Canada!

    PS: I hope my blog isn't what made you think Macrobiotics would be bland! (Though I think some of my recipes come off bland, lol! I need more experience.)

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  14. Hi Allison:
    Thanks for your comment. I've left a response over on your blog.

    No, not your blog at all. Just had that impression from a few books I had seen and meals made by a friend.

    I've changed my mind, though, and want to explore it further.

    I had the same problem with the okara felafel patties if I tried to deep-fry them. The binder in my case was the gluten-free flour, I think. I used several combinations but think they all contained a bit of tapioca, rice, and/or bean flours. That might have been the secret. The best-tasting ones I made were half of the mixed flour and half besan or ground chick-pea flour, which you can get from any Indian grocery.

    If you try that combination let me know how it works. Good for you for trying the soy milk!

    :)

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  15. I may have to try it using a bit of wheat gluten since I don't have the allergy.

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