yosenabe (Japanese hot pot)

If there’s a life conducive to food blogging, it’s being unemployed in a college town and newly attached. Conversely, if there’s a lifestyle conducive to letting that blog go stale as an opened box of wheat thins, it’s a nine-to-five job in a full-fledged city with your mate 370 miles away.

These things—with all their promise, exhilaration, and loneliness—have wrecked the most havoc here on these pages.

The excuses fly in: I don’t have the time. I’m too tired and too transient. I don’t have a car. I already spend my days thinking about and working on food. With three new housemates, there’s no space in the fridge for leftovers.

But every good excuse has a better antecedent: I have my weekends. I need the energy and the sense of home good meals bring. I have my bike, the metro, and a great co-op nearby. I can never get enough of food. And lastly, when you share life with great people, there are seldom leftovers anyway.

Perhaps without knowing it, my new housemates have helped eased my transition back into domesticity after more than a month spent country, county, and couch hopping. (Shout out to my wonderful sets of parents, June and Raul, and Rebecca and her parents for their respective hosting!)

They’ve been there with cookies at midnight after long days exploring the city. They’ve offered liver and onions before a treacherous bike ride through D.C.’s morning traffic. They’ve shared roast chicken and salad after a long day at the office, and left notes on perfectly-ripe avocados to spread on my evening slice of supper toast. And they’ve introduced me to Japanese hot pot: a first, and a delight to come home to one chilly Monday night.

As the chef herself put it, nabe is a “true communist meal”: each diner gives and takes according to their ability and need. There’s one big pot in the middle, steaming and stewing away with fresh cabbage, spinach, and seafood. Rather than tending your own little morsel, as is the case with fondue, you simply toss things into the pot at will and fish them out as you so desire.

In the end, everyone is amply fed.

I’m slowly relaxing into life here: exploring the smooth corners and rough edges of the communities around me, giving my hours to this new world and taking from its pool when I need to. There will be times, I know, when take-out will triumph and I will succumb to canned soup. But because I believe in and love good food, my fully-stocked (and darling) kitchen will call me back to a place I hope to never unlearn.

Until then, I owe it to my housemates.

Continue reading

packed like sardines

It’s been scorching in Central New York since last week, and the weather gurus are promising two more weeks of melting madness. I’m a Northerner at heart — heat like this makes me irritable at best. In our second floor, “afternoon sun-magnet” apartment, the temperature easily soars ten degrees above the outside world. If I wanted to live in dry sauna, I would’ve installed cedar wall paneling.

Surviving Syracuse heat waves has turned into a bit of a game: We’ll attend any cookout or BBQ we’re invited to, and even jump at the chance to run an errand for a friend at the mall. Mid-day showers have become a ritual, and I haven’t turned my stove on in weeks. We’ve even moved our 9 pm cocktail hour outside into our “front yard,” which, if you lack the imagination, bears an uncanny resemblance to a parking lot.

And, after completing three triathlons this season, swimming and biking will replace running for a few more days.

Just when I’d started to accept my regular afternoon evacuation to pool, cafe, or library, things took a turn for the better: A second air conditioner was bestowed upon us. The saying  “many hands make light work” turns out to be true in the appliance world as well. I guess all our bedroom unit needed was a friend.

And then, as our living space began to inch toward bearable, we inherited a charcoal grill. On the way home from the beach yesterday we picked up some corn (from a roadside stand), wood charcoal (from a big-box store), and sardines (from a boutique fish stop).

Cooking over coals isn’t as glamorous as using the cadillac back-porch grills: It’s far from instant, and you sort of have to crouch over the grill to tend the food. But it was delicious anyway. Skewers of  fresh bright vegetable and local corn complimented the little fish perfectly. At 1.5 grams of omega-3s per 3.5 ounces, sardines are near the top of the omega-3 pyramid and a cheaper alternative to salmon.* They’re also low in mercury, and a best choice in the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch initiative.

This past year I started eating canned sardines instead of buying pricey fish oil supplements. Last night, freshly roasted with their skin scarred crisp and brown from the heat, they were a whole different catch.

*Source: The Health Effects of Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids in Seafoods

Continue reading

sushi for the scattered

Sometimes you just don’t have time for a sushi party. Sometimes, when you’re surprised with July in the guise of April cool food is what you crave. Add to the mix an apartment that manages to keep itself 8 degrees hotter than the day’s high, and no one’s getting this good looker anywhere near her cooker. (All this was reported before Darling Husband brought home a portable air conditioner. No more boiled Jenny for dinner! And forgive me for calling myself good looking; I just couldn’t resist the saying.)

When the conditions are so, it is time for scattered sushi:

The other day a brief but precious rainfall interrupted some steady summer temperatures with a (I didn’t actually say this in April, did I?!?) refreshing cool. I seized the opportunity to turn on my stove – something I don’t dare when it’s over 25 (77 for the Yanks) – to make some sushi rice. I have a foolproof recipe that I swear takes half the time it does in any fancy-pants rice cooker.

At dinner time all we had to do was slice up a third of a pound of fresh salmon Mark darted out to grab, a half avocado, some scallions, a red pepper, and a bit of cucumber and our dining room morphed into our very own sushi bar. A funky paper lantern recently purchased from the Ottawa IKEA, and a bottle of French Chenin Blanc from an empyreal friend rounded out the meal nicely.

You don’t have to know how to make sushi for this meal. All you need are the ingredients for sushi, and you’re set. However, once mastering this meal, it’s just baby steps to the real thing. But when you MUST HAVE SUSHI NOW and aren’t feeling picky about appearances, this is a noble substitution — not to mention aesthetically pleasing in its own right, the ingredients in your bowl distinct in their raw purity.

Instructions follow, but for those of you interested in making the rolls and all, check out my collection of how-to videos:

  • over the pond these women win for the best accents, best rice making info, and great rolling advice.
  • In this one the chef does it a little differently than we do, using a half sheet of nori instead of a full. But he has some great tips I can’t wait to apply, like spreading the rice and cutting techniques.
  • this one is haphazard but cute, reflecting how I usually roll it.
  • this one provides incredibly thorough steps on how to make nigiri.
  • You want to learn fast? this one will teach you, in true Japanese rapid-fire form!

Continue reading