Wednesday, November 9, 2011

NaBloPoMo Day 9: Pea Rice and a Book

Green Peas Rice (mame-gohan) is a popular dish in Japan and among Japanese in the US. When I was little, I used to hate it. I hated the mushiness of the peas and how it made the rice smell stinky. Over the past few years, I had read various Japanese bloggers rave about making peas rice with English peas from the farmers market, and the one I go to had a big box of shelled peas so I gave it a try last summer. Oh my gosh, heaven in a bowl.

The recipe I referenced included a splash of sake, and also cooking the peas separately and letting them cool by dumping the whole pot of peas and hot water into a bowl, then putting that bowl into a larger bowl with ice and water, to let the water and peas cool at the same time. The water that the peas were boiled in was used to cook the rice, then the peas were added toward the end of the rice-cooking. This kept the peas firm and perfectly brightly green, like emeralds, and the sake made the fragrance of the peas so much sweeter.

I made it about five times last summer, but this year I was only able to make it once. Below is this year's, made with brown rice and accompanied by miso-sesame broccoli and simmered bamboo shoots, carrots, chicken and shiitake.

In the News
Well, thank goodness Amendment 26 was soundly defeated in Mississippi. I guess "personhood" is a pretty extremist view even among the anti-abortion circles. I'm glad cooler heads prevailed in this fight, and kudos to the grassroots movement in Mississippi that advocated No on 26.

But Mississippi approved a voter-ID requirement for voting. One step forward, two steps back. Even though I'm just a bystander, sometimes I feel discouraged by the myriad of assaults on human and civil rights. Why do we have to keep revisiting voting rights??

Today's Reading
I just finished reading a book earlier this week. It kind of started out slow, and I wasn't sure if it was really my kind of book, but I got really hooked about halfway through, and by the end I was so engrossed that I missed my bus stop.

"Shokudou Katatsumuri" (Little Snail Diner) by Ito Ogawa is a book from 2008. It's already been made into a movie of the same name (in English: Rinco's Restaurant).

The story revolves around Rinko, whose live-in boyfriend disappeared one day with all of their belongings and money, and she was left with a jar of pickling base that was handed down from her grandmother.

In shock, she leaves behind her life in the city and heads to her rural home. She realizes that she's lost her voice from the trauma. At home, she is found by her estranged mother, and gets help to start a small restaurant on her mother's property.

Trained as a cook in many different restaurants, and with a deep, soulful connection to food and cooking, Rinko creates many magical dishes from locally-sourced meats, vegetables and fruits. She only serves one set of customers at a time, and when she can she'll interview them (meeting in person but writing on paper) so she can assess foods important to them, what they're desiring now, etc.

The story gets a little predictable but I really, really enjoyed this book. Normally I don't read these "chick-flick" type stories. Ms. Ogawa's writing is so lyrical. She goes into great detail about the freshness of the beets grown in the neighbor's garden, the fresh bread she bakes daily for her mother's pet pig (!), the feel of the little depressed rabbit suffering from anorexia (!!). It's a little fantasy-like, but doesn't really get unbelievable, and there are successes and setbacks, and they are all dealt with reasonably, I think.

I'm trying to pinpoint why exactly I liked this book so much. I think it's the respect the writer shows to nature, food, cooking, and people. But it's not like the writer is too nice or naive - she writes frankly about relationships, brash nature of some rural people, possibly evil people. I also loved the use of language - a modern-style narrative, peppered with what I can only describe as "classic" words - beautiful descriptive words and phrases that are generally only seen in classical texts (I think, maybe it's just my ignorance - it's certainly not seen in newspapers and magazines and such).

Interestingly, this book (the main story, anyway - there was a side story included at the end) had NO chapters. Maybe that contributed to the lyrical flow of the story. It felt like I was gliding down a peaceful river in a lush, green forest amidst rays of soft sunlight. I hope that's what the writer was trying to convey.

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