rice with umeboshi
I was chatting with a gym friend in the locker room the other day and I was telling her about the importance of rice. If you have a pot of rice made, you have a meal. Now ideally you will have a rice cooker and you will have hot rice always. But that isn’t always the case. But rice is one of those truly versatile things that tastes good in a variety of ways.
There is nothing better than a freshly cooked pot of rice. You open the lid, the steam comes pouring out and it smells wonderful. The Japanese prize white rice. Even though I know that brown rice is better for you and I actually like the way it tastes, it’s not the same. For people of my parents’ age who grew up in a period when there was no white rice because of the war, brown rice just brings back those memories. So in my house growing up, there was always a pot of white rice. When the rice is fresh, it is an anchor to your meal. Whether it’s a bit of grilled fish, a little stewed veg, some pickles, or even umeboshi, the pickled plum, they are all wonderful accompaniments to the rice. If you’re ever had umeboshi, you know it is very sour and makes you salivate. Just writing this, the thought of the umeboshi is making me salivate. There is a story in rakugo, a classic form of comic storytelling in Japan, about a man who was so tight that he would eat a bowl of rice just looking at the umeboshi. In addition, Japanese curry and hayashi rice are stew like things that can be poured over freshly cooked rice and are a big hit with kids.
So, pretty much a no brainer on enjoying freshly cooked rice. But what about rice that gets a little older or if you don’t have a rice cooker that keeps it warm? I do not like the microwave and try never to use one, but rice is one of those things that warms up beautifully in the microwave. Just remember to put a lid on it and if it’s really old and crunchy, sprinkle a bit of water, zap in on high for about 20-30 seconds and it revives beautifully. If you are one of those very organised people, you can freeze leftover rice in portions that make sense for later and zap when you need. It freezes very well too.
You can fry rice that is no longer fluffy and warm. In addition to the classic fried rice, you can put chopped onion and whatever else is lying around your fridge and season with ketchup for a western style fried rice. Or season with a little curry powder and add raisins for curry pilaf. But when it’s beyond even fried rice, put it in a pot with lots of water and cook it into congee. You can start from stock, dashi or just plain water. Swirl some egg, throw in some green leafy thing and whatever else strikes your fancy, it’s the perfect one person dish in front of the TV. A thin rice gruel just made on water with umeboshi is what you eat for an upset stomach or when you have a fever and have lost your appetite. My kids still associate it with being sick and being taken care of.
So remember, if you start with a pot of rice, you can eat for days without getting bored.
Happy New Year. This is a post I meant to write at the end of last year, but in true procrastination form, never quite got around to it.
2011 was a very eventful year for me and the world. The world you know about, but here are some highlights from my year, good and bad.
The year did not start off great with my dad in the hospital recovering from heart surgery. I learned that Japanese medicine is crap at telling you worst cast scenarios, so he went in thinking that this was a routine procedure (triple bypass) and came out not knowing his PIN number. I couldn’t make it to the surgery due to the masses of snow on the ground, so arrived to find my dad in ICU post op, completely disoriented, hallucinating and looking ancient. A bit of a shock when no one has prepared you for it. Anyway, a year on, he is making slow but steady progress to the point where he is starting to make more sense and according to my mom, his eyes are regaining their focus. I’ll be home next week so I can see for myself but it did really make me think about existing as opposed to living. He was a vibrant, vigorous man who at 85 had a very active social life and was out on his own all the time. Maybe it would have been better for him to have had a couple more years on medication but maintaining his lifestyle as opposed to having a surgery that will probably rob him of maybe two years of his life. He made the decision so this is the way it turned out but it does make you think. My kids came out to help and they were wonderful, they took turns so my mom would have support for an extended time as opposed to everyone turning up for 2 weeks and disappearing. My son, who was on his gap year stayed for a month taking his grandpa for walks everyday even if it was to the end of the condo building and back.
Back in London, I resumed my cooking classes and pursued the opportunity to turn the roasted nuts I serve in class into a product. Working with a distributor, Kinomi was born. I had never done anything like this before and I know if it wasn’t for J, I would have given up. By the end of May, I had a product that I could actually start selling. I had really good feedback at the first show I did and there is nothing like having someone who isn’t your friend like what you are selling and actually pay money for it. The next step beyond that is having people who haven’t even met you buy your product. Obviously we all do it all the time but when you’re on the producing end, it’s surreal in a good way. By the end of October I was selling in Harvey Nichols. Hopefully they are selling well enough so that the store is willing to keep stocking me. I even got a little write up on their website http://www.harveynichols.com/hnedit/food-and-wine/whats-in-food-wine/kinomi-nuts-by-hiromi-stone-at-harvey-nichols/. I have also started selling in some local shops and hope to grow the stores I supply in 2012. Any suggestions or leads are most welcome.
My husband came home after a year in Prague and so the whole family went to Hawaii on our summer holiday, including my parents. My niece got married, the first of the nieces and nephews to do so. We became empty nesters in the autumn when my son went off to university. He and his sister are at opposite ends of the country having very different experiences, but they are both enjoying themselves so my day to day obligations as a mom no longer exist. I now enjoy them when they come home and know that the chaos in the house won’t last. They are kind, smart, thoughtful young people and I am very proud of them. And did I mention funny, some of the best times are when we all sit around after a meal and just “banter” as my kids call it.
2011 turned into an unbelievable year for meeting new and wonderful people. I guess it is because I am now doing something specific that I can tell people about, I have met some really interesting people. People have been so supportive and kind, I really appreciate it and hope to do the same for anyone else who might need a hand. I am also settling into the neighbourhood and making new friends. It’s great to feel connected to a neighbourhood and see people you know in the street to have a quick chat. This is probably the friendliest place we’ve lived in, we are very lucky to have found it.
This is definitely turning into a novel so I will sign off. But you can’t look back on 2011 and not mention the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster that hit my country. The people who live in that region are used to natural disasters, they had training days and scenarios worked out for what to do when a tsunami hit. This one exceeded everyone’s expectations and just wiped the area out. As tragic and horrible as it was, they can rebuild. But the man made disaster of a nuclear meltdown, the effects are so long lasting I worry about the future of the region and Japan. As a Japanese person living overseas, I was very proud of the way the Japanese people reacted in the face of the tragedy. I was also touched by the outpouring of support globally The last time I gave any thought to Japan in the world was the 80′s, when Japanese cars were being smashed in Detroit and Japan bashing articles were fairly common in the American press. I guess a lot has changed in 30 years.
Okay, I’m really done now. I don’t make new year’s resolutions because I’m not that great at reflection or forward planning. I hope that 2012 is a wonderful year for all and may we take a step closer to peace.