23 February, 2009

Jai Ho: May Victory Be Yours

Last night I was watching the Academy awards and along with the rest of you rooting for a little film that is perhaps the best I have seen in years. Slumdog Millionaire is a rags to riches story that stretches itself away from formulaic Hollywood by its depiction of street children in Mumbai, and covers difficult themes such as child exploitation, torture and suicide. Yet throughout the film love floats up and ends victorious. Not romantic love, though that exists between the main characters, but the love of brothers, compassion bred of necessity between lost children, and sacrifice for others, which must surely be possible only through love.

This video shows the last moments of the movie, with the surprise of Bollywood dancing throughout the winning song, Jai Ho. If you haven't seen the movie, this might make you want to.

Notice the children dancing. Look at the little girl in the yellow dress leaping up victorious.

Jai Ho on youtube.

14 February, 2009

Doraku Restaurant: Food From Home

I wonder if there are any ex-pats in Japan now drooling at the memory of good whole wheat toast, black tarry and salty sweet licorice, turkey with cranberry sauce, a pile of mashed potatoes, a thick crusty and juicy pizza, or any one of a number of foods that to you spell comfort or "home".

The list is certainly not exhaustive but it contains a few of the foods I craved in Japan that were hard or impossible to come by, or at least without a lot of forethought and a bundle of money, since they had to be imported. I admit I succumbed occasionally and shelled out for something I thought I really needed to get over the hump of yet another Thanksgiving or Christmas away from family.

Strange thing was, when I did get my hands on something it was not always a successful experience, because different countries have their different ways of cooking things, different sized ovens and dishes and implements and this makes an enormous difference to the results of your cooking. As you may have noticed when you are in a strange kitchen your results can vary and be frustrating; cooking in another country poses a number of challenges that only experimenting and experience can help you to overcome.

Japanese ovens are tiny table-top versions that do cook efficiently and quickly, but take a bit of manoeuvring to get the results you want, especially if you are using recipes from home. You might need to reduce the pan size and cook your recipe in batches. You will certainly need to pay close attention as the cooking time may be half what you are used to. You will need to adapt your serving style as well, as plates will usually be significantly smaller than at home. And you will almost certainly adapt by serving things in unaccustomed dishes, perhaps in small bowls rather than on plates to facilitate eating with chopsticks.

You won't be able to produce identical results even for foods that you could make with your eyes closed at home. Unless, that is, you have a western-style oven, in a western-style kitchen, in a western-style house, and you eat off dishes from home. This would be hard to pull off in Japan without a lot of effort and money.

So when I tell you that I have discovered a Japanese restaurant in Halifax that faithfully reproduces the Japanese experience you can understand how difficult this must have been, and how special this is. A few weeks ago my son treated me to lunch at a small restaurant on Dresden Row called Doraku. I was not only fed authentic and delicious Japanese food but came away with that sense of repleteness that you only feel when you have been treated to the best comfort food you can imagine. Some of that comfort came from the fact that looking around made me think I had been teleported to a small neighbourhood restaurant in Japan. There was a sumi-e scroll on the wall in black and white. There was a simple green plant whose stem was wired to climb corners at unusual angles. There was a pot of genmai-cha and the right cups to drink it from. There was sushi that was so flavourful and meltingly tender that it was even better than much I had eaten in Japan. There was a steaming bowl of Kitsune soba, chopsticks on rests, gracious service and a horikotatsu-style private room to eat in.

On leaving there was even a goshiso sama deshita from me and an arigato gozaimashita from them. Really, I am the one who feels thankful. I have been missing Japan, a place that I spent 9 mind and soul altering years of my life and that I think of as my second home. I have been missing the temples at New Year's with the bells ringing, the beautiful garden outside my apartment, the cat left behind, my herb garden with its mature Rosemary, the students I taught for many years. Many things I have been missing, and while I knew that, it was not in the forefront of my mind every minute. It took this meal, and the enormous sense of well-being it brought me to acknowledge that while I may have left Japan, Japan has not left me. Part of me has become Japanese, I think, and that side responds with love and gratitude whenever I encounter places that allow me to feel, even for a short time, that I am at home.

Now that I know that I intend to keep that part of me alive and happy with further studies and by pursuing things I started there. I think I may have another go at sumi-e and studying Japanese. I know for sure that I will be cooking more Japanese food at home, and as often as I can I will be visiting the little miracle that is Doraku for meltingly tender sushi and food from home.

Doraku Japanese Restaurant
1549 Dresden Row

Halifax, Nova Scotia
Tel: (902) 425-8888

Tuesday to Saturday 11:45-2:30, 5:00-9:30
Sunday 5:00-9:30

I can recommend the fried sweet potato sushi, the asparagus sushi, the kitsune soba, and the genmai-cha. The sake is okay, too. But if you want something else, I'm pretty sure everything is delicious.

12 February, 2009

Pete Seeger: Eighty Nine Years of Raising his Voice

A few of you who've been reading here awhile may remember that I featured a post about Pete Seeger still performing and singing to kids in schools. If you watch this excerpt from the PBS American Masters series you'll see that he started out that way when his politics of peace made them the only audiences he could get.

Pete knew what he was doing because those kids brought change to America. And Pete always made sense, never more than when he sang,

" The world needs housing, food, and schools.
Bring 'em home, home, home."

A close parallel to the current situation in America, I think.

And Pete must know it, since at 89 he's still singing.

Thanks, Mr. Seeger, for being such an inspiration. While you keep raising your voice, I feel we'll be all right.