Gratuitous Autumn Food Photo
We had a beautiful, cold autumn day today, perfect for cooking. It was also the first day I've felt up to doing anything really involved. Matthew seems to be recuperating quickly, so I decided to shake up the cooking from just soup or spicy things. We can't quite get away from the desire for spice right now, and I've added a tofu craving to the mix (Japan life = tofu cravings ¡½ who knew?). Thus, mabo doufu
was in order.Mabo doufu
originates in Szechuan cuisine, according to the internets
. The Japanese have adapted it by adding sake and miso to the sauce, which also includes tobanjan
, a spicy Chinese bean paste. I made a Japanese interpretation, and it totally hit the spot.
I plated it with some grilled satsumaimo
¡½ Japanese sweet potatoes. I wanted the potatoes unadulterated because the mabo doufu
and the third dish (more in a minute) both had very strong flavors, so I didn't oil them (bad call) or anything prior to grilling. Unfortunately, they were a) totally fugly; and b) good, but not complementary to the other dishes. Which was too bad, because I love satsumaimo
. They're autumn produce, so there's plenty of time to make more.
I rounded out our dinner with a simple dish of hourenso no goma-ae
, spinach dressed with sesame. My cookbook tells me this is technically a winter dish, but I figured I was in the clear because October in Tohoku might as well be winter. It was lovely and tasty, but as with the satsumoimo
, it didn't harmonize so well with the other dishes. Clearly, I've still got a lot to learn about arranging menus here.
After a week of cold-induced sloth, I'm finally returning to life and the world. Judging from the number of people around town sporting medical masks today, it's not just me. And Matthew seems to be getting the cold now, which is a bummer because we have a Sunday road trip planned. Also because the cold blows, even if you're able to find some measure of relief.
Early in the cold, I started thinking like a New Mexican in search of a remedy. When we had colds in the States, we'd rely on green chile to help clear out our heads. A bowl of green chile stew is like a sauna: partaking leaves you all sweaty and drained, but you're certainly breathing easier. It is superior to a sauna, however, because it comes with tortillas.
Without ready access to green chile, we had to look elsewhere for our capsaicin fix. Fortunately, we are very close to Korea, which has its own frequently incendiary delight — kimchi. Kimchi, or fermented cabbage that is often mixed with a red chile paste, is widely available in local restaurants and stores. I did not feel like cooking much (that should tell you something), so the delivery udon joint was getting a lot of love from us last weekend. A bowl or two of pirikara (spicy-hot) udon and an order of kimchi chahan (Japanese fried rice) later, and I felt less like I had a particularly efficient marshmallow factory operating in my head. Unfortunately, kimchi doesn't do anything for the insomnia and fatigue accompanying the cold, but between being able to sleep and able to breathe, I'd rather be able to breathe.
So, while I'm feeling much better, the course of treatment has had a lingering effect: mad kimchi cravings. And the opportunity to eat more kimchi may be the one silver lining if Matthew does, in fact, develop the cold.
Along with everything else (we even saw azaleas in bloom today), the morning glories are blooming.
Of course there are plenty of bugs to go along with all the autumn flowers
, and it's hard to photograph flowers without getting a few insects as well.
September Showers Bring October Flowers
Overheard in the park today while walking the dogs.
Adorable 3-year-oldish Japanese child looking at Moki: Ookii kuma! (Translation: Big bear!)
Child's amused mom: Inu da, yo. (Translation: That's a dog, actually.)
Incidentally, the big bear decided to eat a couple of green tea bags later in the day without our knowledge. At least he'll have a healthy immune system.
Grr. I'm trying to fight off my third major cold since arriving in Kitakami. At the same time, I'm attempting to reconcile the otherwise healthful effects of living in Japan with more sickness than I can recall having in a four-month period. Matthew hasn't had the same problem, so I can only wonder if there's some Washington component (Red Line? Patio at Les Halles? Irradiated mail?) of my immune system that's lacking.
In many ways, our lifestyles here are healthier than in Maryland, not that we weren't taking care of ourselves there. We're getting plenty of exercise: we ride our bikes most places, and take the dogs on two long walks along the river every day. We have rice and umeboshi or nattou for breakfast most mornings. I've been cooking mostly Japanese food, but no tempura or tonkatsu because we haven't gotten around to figuring out the oil temperature monitor on the cooktop. We eat a lot more tofu, fish, and vegetables, and smaller portions of everything. Consequently, we both have lost quite a bit of weight and are in pretty good shape. Doggies, too.
And yet, with the good diet and exercise, I find myself getting sick on an almost monthly basis. The first cold hit within 48 hours of entering the country, so I think that one can be chalked up to stress. The variable weather may also have something to do with it ¡½ Kitakami is a lot like Albuquerque, with its cool mornings, warm-to-hot days, and cold nights. We've been away from New Mexico for eight years, so we're no longer acclimated to those kinds of temperature shifts. Or the germs are just different here, and I have no immunity to them.
At any rate, I'm armed with a C.C. Lemon (70 lemons worth of Vitamin C in every bottle!) drink, plenty of green tea, and lots of miso soup and seaweed. Shoo, cold!
How to silence a bar in Kitakami: Request funk music.
Matthew and I went out with some friends on Saturday night, and wrapped up our evening at a teeny-tiny bar downtown. It was a divey place known for its huge collection of vinyl, which the bartender was spinning throughout the night. The patrons at the bar seemed to be regulars: they were chatting with the bartender and singing along to Japanese traditional and pop music and American country, classic rock, and pop. The Doobie Brothers even warranted some bar piano.
The bartender ("Nice hige.") offered us the chance to make a request. Sadly, he had no Cutting Crew in his inventory ¡½ 60s and 70s were better decades to choose from. He could, however, fulfill a request for the Commodores (but no "Brick House"?!), and fulfill it he did.
And . . . the bar went silent. Bar patrons looked at each other in befuddlement. We could hear the bartender explaining who was playing, to continued silence. He changed the disc after the song was over, and soon the bar was once again singing along . . . to Hall & Oates.
*sigh* I wonder what would have happened if I'd requested Prince.
Farmers have started harvesting their rice. It gets cut and bundled, then the bundles are hung on poles. Most, like these, use vertical poles with the rice stacked in columns. Others use horizontal poles, with the rice bundles hanging over them rather like a clothesline.
Incidentally, the guy in the blue jacket is not a rice farmer. In fact, he's not even a guy — he's a scarecrow! The rice farmer's the one in the white shirt.
Tired of the izakaya
scene in Kitakami? Maybe it's time to come to American World! Its combination of shopping, restaurants, and amusements seems to be very attractive to young people in Kitakami. I can't say it's all that American — the bookstore has hardly any books in English — but it does offer fast-food burgers, Baskin Robbins ice cream, and a Ferris wheel (invented by an American engineer
(It's also home to the only hobby shop in Kitakami, but alas, they have no trains