Thursday, September 29, 2005

Equinoctal comfort

Since coming into possession of my new cookbook - The Enlightened Kitchen by Mari Fujii - I have been waiting for an opportunity to try cooking one of those delicate meals with all sorts of fancy side-dishes. I was very pleased with how this one turned out. Although I didn't go vegetarian as Fujii recommends in her gorgeous rhapsodizing of shojin ryori (Japanese temple cooking), her luscious pictures of unexpected vegetarian combinations perched on beautiful artisanal plateware zinged me into action.

So today I gave myself over to an hour of blissful indecision and happy preparation, and produced things out of ingredients I had on hand: fried eggplant drizzled with tomato sauce; lean pork sauteed with persimmon, and ginger rice. The latter came strictly out of Fujii's book - it was chockfull of flavor, good enough on its own with a heady aroma of ginger juice. The eggplant dish was also inspired by the book - but the sauce was my time-saving substitute for the more elaborate dengaku and miso flavorings featured. I didn't know what to expect from the pork and persimmon combination, but it went really well; the cubed persimmon thrown in had just enough time to render its sweetness to the pork but still retain some bite.

It was a good meal - ginger-tangy, persimmon-sweet, eggplant-savoury. And after the cooking was done I realized how autumny it was - the eggplants and persimmons in season, while ginger rice makes for a warming change-of-season comfort dish. This was one meal in which I enjoyed the cooking and anticipation as much as I did the eating.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Blue Boy Bakery, Uji

There is a little gem of a bakery right here in Obaku, Uji, which happens to be one of the best bakeries in the world. Its existence was conducted to us over lunch at the canteen, and knowing what kind of effect that always has on me, I make it my first stop leaving the university. 'The Blue Boy bakery,' whispers A., 'that's what I call it because it has a little boy on the sign - a blue sign'. 'It's right on the road just after where you would turn in to go to the JR station. It's good'.

'Does it have bread, baguette? European bread?' I ask because it has been so difficult to find non-sweet breakfast bread of the non-toast variety.

'It's good,' A. only repeats. Her boyfriend J. concurs with a nod. They say no more.

They needn't, because that evening, I find out where it is, and I find out via a carefully-planned stratified sampling scheme that they did good sweet as well as savoury breads, a tough balance to maintain. There is a good-looking crusty bread bowl made of potato flour filled with bacon and grilled cheese. That night, C. fights with me over the last morsel of foccacia but manages to finish the bacon bowl. Luckily, I'd already finished the sweet delicate apple crisp on the train.

Except for the apple crisp, I haven't bought anything twice because there's too much to try. And good thing I can't read Japanese, they must have out-of-this-world names. Today I am munching on a walnut-speckled plum-chestnut pastry with just a bit of adzuki-chocolate-tasting (but is it?) filling.

It is the kind of place people speak of in hushed tones. It is a two-person wide, four-person long store which just has enough room to conduct customers, holding on to trays, in conveyor-belt fashion, the only way to wiggle yourself to the line. No-one talks except for the smiley-friendly-efficient cashiers. In the back you can just glimpse white-cloaked angels zipping around baking tables, chopping stuff, the occasional slap of the oven door and the whiff of something good. The third time I let myself go in, failing to resist in my walks to campus, I meet R., whom I haven't seen in two months.

'Hey! How are you doing? What's up with everything?' then lowers his voice in reverence. 'Did I tell you about this place?'

'No it was somebody else. I've known it for a while'. I am saying as I eye a jam-and-cream confection and reach out to slip it on my tray.

'Careful with those,' R. laughs, seeing I have two sweet things on my tray, and it's only 10 in the morning.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Chicken livers with asparagus, onion and mash

C. worked up a sweat last weekend making his yummy butterless potato mash with tasty chicken livers, fried onions and the sort of pale asparagus you find here. A fancy change from the pizza we've been so inordinately fond of on our stovetop gas grille.