Archive for September, 2010

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September 29, 2010: Dobinmushi Soup

September 29, 2010

Today’s unique soup from Okonomy is Dobinmushi Soup. The break down of the Japanese is such: “do”=earth; “bin”=bottle; “mushi”=steamed. Thus, dobinmushi is a soup “that is steamed in an earthenware container.” The main ingredient of the soup is matsutake mushroom which is a rare mushroom and gives a very distinctive taste to the soup. I asked Chef Saito “How rare?” and he looked up current prices from Japan. Matsutake goes for $1000/Lb! That’s about $420 for three pieces that would fit in a small carton like the ones you get cherry tomatoes in! Chef assures me that the taste is worth the price. Chef Saito also includes his homemade dashi stock and yuzu (Japanese Lime) as the broth. He also adds scallion and mitsuba (otherwise know as “Honeywort” or “Japanese Parsley”) Mitsuba is like parsley and has a “fresh” taste somewhat parsley and celery combined. All these flavors combine for a very unique blend for a soup. Dobinmushi is considered a fall soup as the mushroom are just being made available.

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September 29, 2010: “Kiri’s Piano”

September 29, 2010

 

James Keelaghan-Kiri's Piano

 

I met with Yoshio, yesterday to start to organize photos for his book. As always, we had wonderful conversations about photography, food, and various topics. Yoshio showed me his Powerpoint lecture on his mother’s history in Denver at the beginning of her life. In his presentation was a short history of Governor Ralph Carr of Colorado who during his term, advocated for the basic human rights of Japanese-American interned by the US government during WWII.

For those Americans who are unaware of this blemish of our nation’s history: on February 19, 1942, President Franklin Deleno Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066 ordering all people of Japanese ancestory on the west coast of the US to be relocated to internment camps to the interior of the US. From 1,200-1,800 Japanese were forced to give up their homes and most of their possessions in this move. About 62% of these people were American citizens. Even though were we simultaneously at war with Japan, Germany, and Italy, German-Americans and Italian-Americans (strong voting-blocs) were not subject to a similar internment. American citizens with as little as 1/16th Japanese heritage were interned as well as Korean-Americans, as Japanese occupied Korea at this time.

Governor Carr was a strong advocate for these Japanese-Americans interned in camps in his state. He urged tolerance from his fellow Coloradians and urged them to welcome the interns. In a speach at the time he said:

If you harm them, you must harm me. I was brought up in a small town where I knew the shame and dishonor of race hatred. I grew to despise it because it threatened the happiness of you and you and you.”

Because of his strong stance of racial tolerance at a time of war, Governor Carr suffered and his political carreer ended soon after. Gov. Carr’s efforts were immortalized by a statue in Denver’s Sakura Sq. by those Japanese-Americans he tried to protect.

Above is a link to my introduction to this dark spot on our nation’s history. It a song by Canadian singer/songwriter James Keelaghan titled “Kiri’s Piano” and does a good job of putting this part of our history on a personal level. For years I found the ending to be hopeful that even a person motivated by greed, feelings of racial ambiguity, and lack of empathy, could change. Now, I feel different. A later examination of conscience does nothing for the individual harmed at the time by a crime of indifference or intolerance. We must remember that as a society, nation, and as individuals, that we are often given only one chance to do the right thing.

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September 07, 2010: Okonomiyaki, Panini-style

September 7, 2010

Today’s original okonomiyaki dish from Okonomy is Chef Yoshio Saito’s panini-style okonomiyaki. This is the traditional okonomiyaki recipe but made in a modern panini machine. Chef Saito has a variety of sauces and toppings for this style, but he devised this dish to show how okonomiyaki can be made with other, non-traditional cooking tools.

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September 07, 2010: Kurosawa’s “Sanjuro”

September 7, 2010

I am slowly working my way through all the Kurosawa films that I have missed seeing over the years as well as revisiting some old favorites. Last week I saw “Sanjuro” from 1961. Sanjuro is a story of a conflict between a samurai clan’s chamberlain and superintendent. It seems that when the clan’s leader is out of town, these two are in charge and there has been corruption to the point that nine retainers take it into their own hand to find out who, and deal with the culprit. The nine young men meet clandestinely to discuss their plans. Unknown to them, is a ronin (a masterless samurai who is Sanjuro, played by Toshiro Mifune) who is sleeping in another room and who overhears their plans. The retainers have already picked the superintendent as the innocent one (mostly on the basis of his good looks) and are prepared to go against the chamberlain. Out steps Sanjuro, unkempt, scratching, and moody (as they have woken him up) to tell them that they are all wrong and why. This starts a pattern that runs throughout the film: the young men, making spontaneous decisions and running pell-mell into trouble with Sanjuro pulling them back and saving their lives over and over. Of course, the young retainers initially  stand up to Sanjuro, but as he almost immediately saves their lives, they quickly trust him and he becomes their ad hoc leader. The group cannot rescue the chamberlain from the superintendent’s retainers, but they can save his wife and daughter. These two add a much-needed yin to an (up to this point) yang energy. The mother chastises Sanjuro for being “too sharp, like a sword” after he has killed several men in their rescue and reminds him that “good swords are kept in their scabbards.” They also coax Sanjuro’s name out of him. Up to this point of the film the ronin is the quintessential “man with no name” prevalent in many of Kurosawa’s films as well as many of the Sergio Leone spaghetti westerns. Looking out into a courtyard, he sees a camilla tree and proclaims his name to be “Tsubaki Sajuro” (“Camilla 30-year-old”.)

“Sanjuro” has a good story, fine acting, good fight scenes, but I was most surprised (and pleased) by the understated humor: Sanjuro’s lackadaisical, unkempt manner is fun to watch Mifune perform. His constant attempts to catch a nap, while receiving constant “reports” from the retainers is a riot, but the most amusing was the captured guard from the superintendent’s side who would act as a mini Greek chorus, except he is constantly banished (or is banishing himself) to the closet.

Two small criticisms of “Sanjuro”: One is that, as a non-Japanese speaker, I rely on the subtitles to relay accurate meaning. When a character is subtitled as saying “No, No” when even my unpracticed ear hears “Yes, Yes” it throws the whole trust in the translators away. Also, I thought it odd that Sanjuro could put away a room full of men with absolutely no blood on him, his sword or the men! I had no idea that Kurosawa was saving all the blood for the final showdown with the superintendent’s chief henchman. Then it comes across as cartoonish, a Monty Python-like caricature. Other than these two faults, Sanjuro is a good period piece, well worth a rental.

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