Are you as interested in cooking asian food as much as I am? Some rhetorical question, huh? I walked by my bookshelf this morning and the book, “japanese farm food” by Nancy Singleton Hachisu caught my eye. I had purchased it for myself before Christmas but hadn’t really sat down with it to savor its contents as much as I had meant to do.
It’s a thick volume about Nancy’s Japanese life, having met and married a native Japanese farmer named Tadaaki and raising a family of boys for the past twenty years. She comes from hearty New England stock, it seems, after reading her descriptions about her independent mother, who was a professor of medieval English at Dartmouth.
The cookery described in the book is very un-restaurant-ish and there’s no glib food network host lurking anywhere nearby. Instead, what is so refreshing is its very country and home-made approach with simple, robust flavors; e.g., a recipe for Japanese mayonnaise. There’s a recipe for fresh white turnips, pickled in vinegar and salt. Tonight, I’m going to follow her instructions to wrap fresh fish (haddock) in serving sizes, with a sprinkle of Japanese rice wine, slivers of green onions and fresh ginger root. Coddled in their aluminum foil packets, they’ll be steamed in the bamboo steamer for twenty minutes. I already have my favorite sticky rice humming in the rice cooker and will choose between making some sauteed yellow squash with onions or plain cabbage.
What I really enjoy about this book are the many photographs of her home, scraps of old blue indigo fabric here and there; rustic looking pottery and cookware in her kitchen. The only incongruous thing seemed to be her stunning malachite countertop (I wonder what might have happened to provide such a luxurious stone in such a simple setting!) Maybe it’s a reflection of other cooking experiences that Nancy’s had, for example with folks cooking at Chez Panisse in Berkeley, California before she ventured to Japan. Whatever the influences, this book is a rare look inside a Japanese farmhouse, vegetable gardens and barnyard animals with appetizing recipes, an inspiring story about a woman’s transplanted life in Japan.
It’s also keeping me good company on this Spring day with the sun shining outside. And it’s helping me to edge inch by inch into a more simple, even sparse, cooking lifestyle which I feel drawn to in spite of myself. There’s some Yang to this Yin, though, because tomorrow, I’m finally going to try out the recipe for popovers made with black pepper and chunks of gruyere cheese. But that’s okay since opposites make the world go round, right?