homesick for the familiar ::::
Before I delve in, let me highlight the plate above, starting clockwise at top: avocado, perfectly ripe; pickled eggs soaked with beets with a sprinkled with furikake; hijiki salad; stained red carrots (orange carrots pickled with the beets and eggs); broccoli-mayo salad with sesame oil; pickled onions; mixed steamed grains and rice; soy sauce and ginger sauced salmon, perfectly cooked.
Basically, what you see above is infinite and impermanent. It is limbo. But it is perfectly right.
Our sweet Sky-Girl is adjusting to daycare better now, though it was a long time coming. She and I spent a daily routine up until that transition, of cooking, shopping, napping, playing, and lots of cuddling. She is a Momma’s Girl, sometimes Daddy’s, with little inkling to ever touch another adult without a look of fear in her eyes (the grandparents are slowly making gains). After our daycare debacle last year, I knew it would be a rough start for her. And for me.
The first week, my prior wish for some alone time was not magically filled with fun cooking projects, movies, working out for two hours without interruption. Instead, I moped around for two days watching the rain outside feeling dreary and down. I longed for the familiar. And those familiar pink yolky cheeks.
By the end of the week, Sky-girl was getting more used to things, so we thought. The teachers are attentive and loving. Her classmates are fun and energetic. By the following week, however, she was crumpling. She also longed for the familiar. Me. The topography, the scent, the voice, they are her landscape for comfort.
And although I have never been there, Japan seems familiar to me, with its natural and culinary landscape, its culture infiltrated by riffs on American pop culture. Perhaps it’s what Eat has told me about his trips there as a child, or movies, my sporadic reading, the recipes that make me homesick for a place I’ve never been. There is a yearning to see Japan, to quell an ache, an ache that sits heavy. Compare the feeling to when we realize time is at once too fast and lumbering along in our sleep-deprived parent years. Like I wrote in my Hello Kitty cake post for her second birthday, our baby Sky is not such a baby anymore. Now two years old, she often says, “No, Mama, I do it!” when I try to help her with something. With every milestone, there is a joy and a sadness in a child growing up. Even more so with our last baby, a mourning of every stage hovering like a gray, bright cloud. She’s rolling over. He’s reaching for me. She’s calling me Mama. She’s crawling. He’s walking. She’s speaking in full sentences. They’re figuring it out on their own. Instead of my body or breast being a lifeline, I become fuzzed and faded in the background sometimes, and the ache sits curled up, waiting to dissolve.
It is a strange purgatory, one of fragments that eventually fit together. It is a limbo waiting to be bridged to other parts, to be whole. It is a undefined emotional landscape, one that is simultaneously infinite and impermanent.
That is this dish. A riff on the familiar and perhaps a few things new. It is the crunch and tang. It is the creamy and sweet. It is the salty and chewy. It is the fine flake of fish. It is color. It is umami. It is whole. A life cycle. There may just be an ache of regret when you are done. Or maybe you simply ate too much. *burp*
The recipes to create this meal are an amalgamation of past recipes, except the the salmon, which I’ve included below. The salmon, ah! the salmon. At first I thought this was going to be too much animal protein. It was the perfect amount and perfectly cooked. I realize that beets and avocado are not traditionally Japanese. My four years in the San Francisco Bay Area have rubbed off on me! And the name “Japanese Ploughman’s Lunch” is deliberate: though the players are inspired by Japanese cuisine and flavors, the subtext is much like the English Ploughman’s Lunch of bread, cheese, pickled vegetables, and a swath of thick mustard, and perhaps some pate. We change the context and players to suit our needs.
For the pickled eggs and carrots (both with beet for color), use my do chua (pickled carrots and daikon) recipe. Just switch out the daikon for boiled, cooled eggs. The longer the beets sit in the vinegar, the more pickled and brilliantly colored its jar compatriots become. The beet-stained carrots also add great color. Using some non-pickled gently cooked carrots with a bit of salt would be good to bring out more sweetness in the dish. I personally like the crunch and tang of the pickled ones, as well as the almost neon color. You can also throw in the onions here, or see below.
For the hijiki salad, make a half recipe of the hijiki salad. There will be leftovers. A little goes a long way. I love the contrast of the creamy avocado and the vinegary and salty hijiki salad.
The creamy broccoli is a riff on my previously done broccoli-bacon salad with creamy dressing. I just mix up the dressing ingredients and the broccoli (the Japanese Kewpie brand mayo is best). A bit of sesame oil and sesame seeds finish it.
The above mentioned do chua is a great way to pickle onions. The pickled, beet-soaked onions are mild. Feel free to use yellow onions or sweet onions. You can also use red onions and not worry about pickling them with the beets and eggs. Another pickled onion recipe I like is the one I used with a black bean burger recipe (see the burger recipe notes for the onion pickling prep).
The steamed mixed grains and rice are nothing fancy. Just steam some rice and you’re set. Add a chopped green onion for a little color.
One year ago: zucchini latkes
Two years ago: watermelon-coconut breeze and apricot-mint fizz
Three years ago: roasted peppers with herbed breadcrumbs and peach leaf crème brûlée
Four years ago: homemade cherry pie lärabars and purple potato salad with gorgonzola
- salmon filet, as large or small as you like. I like a good 3-4 ounce piece per person.
- fresh ginger, peeled and sliced
- 1 green onion (per serving), chopped into 1-inch pieces
- vegetable oil
- 4 tablespoons soy sauce (per 3-4 ounce serving) <-- low sodium soy sauce works well here, but others are fine
- 1 tablespoon Chinese cooking wine (per serving) (like Michiu, from Taiwan). Sake is also a good substitute (and obviously more Japanese).
- 1 teaspoon sugar (per serving)
- Pat salmon with cornstarch to dry.
- Heat pan to hot, add 1 tablespoon oil. Add fish to brown each side, keeping rare inside at this step. Set aside on plate when browned.
- Wipe pan to remove any black bits, re-oil if needed, and turn heat to medium low. Add in green onion and ginger. Add soy sauce. Take off heat and add 1 teaspoon cooking wine and sugar.
- Place back on heat, simmering. Add fish and cook at medium low for about 5 minutes, depending on thickness of fish. When fish is brown with sauce has soaked into the fish, it is done. Allow to cool slightly before transferring to plate to serve. Add more green onion to garnish, if desired.
- Totally cooled, this fish can be wrapped well and frozen for months in the freezer. Microwave to reheat.