Vikings, Rome, and Tofu

Started my period, so much of my day was spent napping and watching Empires, my favorite PBS series of all time. I also watched a documentary about Vikings, which got slipped in there, somehow. Thanks, Hulu, you weird bitch. It was interesting, but I spent a few minutes deeply confused.

Hulu is trying very hard to find ads that appeal to me, and failing in a big way. I’m not going to buy a car, a new mattress, or life insurance; I need neither Viagra, nor condoms; and I let my doctors decide what meds I should be taking. At this point, I think the algorithm is just throwing ads at me, resigned to my inevitable, digital rejection.

It turns out that my midnight note-taking was a really excellent idea. While fixing bento, this afternoon, I referred back to the plan, and now I’m all set. Except that the enchiladas don’t reheat well, so I’ll probably end up tossing the rest of the leftovers. Yikes! Bad cook, no candy!

Instead, I’m draining tofu and marinating vegetables. I’ve got cooked rice noodles in the fridge, so if the weather stays warm, I will make Japanese food for dinner the rest of the week. There is very little cooking involved in a lot of Japanese dishes, which makes it perfect for summer.

I got Elizabeth Andoh’s Washoku for my birthday, a couple of years back, and I’ve recently checked out her two latest cookbooks. I have little doubt that I will end up buying Kansha. For what it’s worth, I think Andoh is probably the best curator of Japanese home-cooking currently publishing. Maybe the best ever. She has the potential to be the Julia Child of Japanese cooking, if only the publishing industry would let her do her thing.

I’m fortunate to live in an area with lots of Asian markets, serving a variety of income levels and cultures. There’s a huge Japanese market in our version of Chinatown, but also tiny, family-owned and operated versions scattered throughout my own, less prosperous neighborhood. As a result, I can get many staples cheaply, nearby. But is a good resource for those less gifted by propinquity.

I’m a big fan of non-Western cuisines, since discovering I am gluten-intolerant. I always enjoyed eating Japanese, Thai, or Indian food in restaurants, but eliminating gluten from my diet motivated me to learn to cook foods that I can eat and enjoy and reproduce. Japanese food raises subtlety and appreciation to a high art, but it’s often simpler and easier to fix than any other cuisine. It’s a very Zen type of sophistication.

In a way, much Japanese food is processed: polished rice, tofu, miso paste, soy sauce, mirin. But the processed ingredients are not then combined and processed into a finished product that only needs to be popped in the microwave. Not that instant food doesn’t exist of course; this is the same culture that invented Top Ramen. The instant noodle bowl is a whole thing, in fact. But, in general, processing stops at drying or salting or fermenting. These ingredients are then added to other, whole foods, to make something delicious and easy.

Japanese food hits the same place as Soul food does, for me, but from an entirely different direction. Both give me pleasure, preparing and eating. They often use very similar ingredients or concepts. And, at the core, is the idea of not wasting anything, of using everything. That makes me happy.


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