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Dashi: The backbone of good food

  Dashi ready to help! Dashi is probably one of the most important elements of Japanese food. To be fair, it is one of a long list of important elements, but dashi is integral. Comprised at its most basic level of konbu (kelp), shiitake mushrooms, and/or katsuobushi flakes, dashi serves as the foundational element of any number of dishes for everyone from the home cook to the high-end chef.  What dashi brings to any dish it joins is a hearty dose of umami. The fifth dimension of taste, umami is the nearly undefinable thing that makes us want one more bite of a juicy hamburger or that hunk of cheese so irresistible. Kikunae Ikeda confirmed its existence in his laboratory in 1908, but the Ainu, one of Japan's Indigenous peoples, were probably the first ones to really put it to use and trade it. The word, konbu, is likely a form of kompu, the Ainu word for this delectable seaweed. It shows up in third century Chinese most likely, scholars believe , as a result of trade between China a
Recent posts

Review: Oishii: The History of Sushi

One of the great pleasures of this foodly life I lead is reading books that others write about food. A recent one to come my way is Oishii: The History of Sushi by Eric C. Rath. A historian specializing in pre-modern Japan and traditional Japanese food culture, Rath weaves together a scintillating tale of transformation, economic policy, and social change that never fails to surprise. Thoroughly and rigorously researched, Oishii is conversational in tone and very approachable. Read the full review at my author website , and then go read the book !

Sweet Potato Stew: Updated

  Sweet potato stew! A white bowl with orange soup, beans, and pieces of sweet potato. Sweet Potato Stew has been my standard response at the first sign of a sniffle since forever. Based on a recipe I found in the early days of our marriage, I've hung onto it and tweaked it as we've moved cities and countries. The current version is much different than the early version , and the response to a recent Instagram post about it makes me realize an update is much needed. This is the vegetarian version, but I will add instructions at the end for adding chicken. Sweet Potato Stew Updated 2-3 medium sweet potatoes, washed and cubed 2 Tbsp olive oil 1-2 tsp whole cumin seeds 3 cloves garlic, peeled and pressed 2 inches ginger, peeled and slivered 1-2 tsp turmeric 1 tsp nutmeg 1 tsp allspice 1 tsp cinnamon 1 tsp curry powder 1 tsp chilis  1-2 15-oz cans of colorful beans, i.e. kidney, black, or adzuki beans, drained and rinsed 2 cups dashi or broth 2+ cups of orange juice Splash of miri

Happy New Year!

  Festive kabu waiting for the nukadoko. Photo of a purple and white turnip on a tray plate with trimmed stems. Happy New Year! May 2022 be filled with joy, discovery, and a community of friends who make good things possible.

Sourdough Starter and Nukadoko: Musings and Metaphors

  A toasted slice of homemade sourdough bread with pickled Kanazawa carrot. Photo of rectangular bread with green carrot and thick piece of butter on wood. The nukadoko and my sourdough starter both spent the vacation tucked away in the refrigerator. I worried about them, but I also imagined them hibernating and dreaming of vegetables, loaves of bread. However, I also liked to think the two of them had plenty to discuss during their stay. I wonder now, of course, if they did converse, would it be small talk like two strangers waiting at a bus stop or would it be like two big wedding parties in separate halls at the same hotel suddenly realizing how much they have in common? Each is, after all, made up of the wild yeasts that live in my house, my kitchen, and even on my hands.  Kanazawa heirloom carrot and regular cucumber after vacation. Photo of fat green carrot halves and cucumber halves on the brown lid. Would some of the guests meet in the hallway, admiring outfits, wondering what

Nukadoko Progress Report: A Refrigerator Stay

Ready to go into the refrigerator! Beige nuka paste in a rectangular, plastic container. We decided to take a trip. I'd been home to see my family, but Mr. JFM had not been anywhere. This, my friends, presented a problem. Mr. JFM is nothing if not social. A global pandemic that kept him indoors, away from people, and not talking very much when he was able to be out and about pushed him, perhaps, to his limit. Fully vaccinated, we donned our masks and headed to Kanazawa. However, before we left, there were a few things to do, not least of which was decide what to do with the nukadoko. Because this trip would be considerably shorter than my autumn trip home, I opted for the refrigerator. What I Did Using my bare hands, of course, I transferred the paste to a freshly washed and dried plastic container. The paste felt pleasantly wet but not mud-pie-goopy, and I gently pressed on it to remove any air pockets. The pieces of konbu I'd recently added were still visible, but the togaras

Nukadoko Progress Report: Draining Excess Liquid

The moisture in the nukadoko glistens off the paste. Photo of nuka paste in brown pot. Upon seeing the pH test results , Elizabeth encouraged me to go ahead and drain some of the liquid. This was a big moment, and I was super excited. She talked me through the process, and I took copious notes, and she also sent a series of photos of the draining process so I could have some visual support of this process, too.  The sake cup I used to drain liquid from my nuka paste. Photo of blue, black, and white cup held between thumb and forfinger. I patted down the nuka paste so that it was flat in the nukadoko. I then inserted a small sake cup, pressing firmly as it went straight down to the bottom. I chose a wide, low cup that I thought would accommodate the depth of my paste at the time (about three inches or so).  Sake cup immersed in nuka paste with sides sloped toward it. Photo of black, blue, and white cup in nuka paste. Per Elizabeth's advice, I then "banked" the sides around