I wanted to give you a post about Shirakawa-Go and ancient Japanese graveyards too busily sun dappled to photograph and Shinto shrines I probably didn’t deserve to see. I was probably married to the idea because wander starts with the same letter as Wednesday. And it’s Wednesday for at least another couple of hours. At least it was when I started writing this. I’m neurotic like that. Most of my inertia (of which I experience quite a bit, despite appearances) stems from hilarious, self-imposed, compulsive rules. But it has to be in chronological order. It can only have so many photographs. Too much time has elapsed, it needs to be reframed. The narrative has holes. It needs to have a title. Should I number them? Is there a theme? Maybe it will be a series? It needs to have a recipe. Or a how to. Or a guide. For someone who categorically failed at following rules her whole life, I sure do make a lot of them for myself. But I know when to tell myself enough is enough and good enough is good enough. It’s my mantra lately. And this dish is born of that mantra. And the funny thing is, when you let good enough be good enough, you frequently get great. And this wholesome bowl is great. It’s a savory, umami bowl of cravings satisfied.
Here’s the thing. My cooking is dictated largely by cravings. And those shift, tectonic plates. Lately I don’t crave cakes. I crave savory, umami bowls of vegetables and whole grains with big punches of protein from stir fried tofu or farm eggs. I make some iteration of this almost every day. My vinaigrette, if you can call it that, varies. It usually has some or all of the following in it: umeboshi paste (pickled plum, highly acidic and salty), white miso (warm, umami, salty), sambal oelek (acidic, heat, salty), ponzu (acidic, salty), toasted sesame oil (warm, nutty, a little goes a long way), sumac (acidic), tahini (unctuous, earthy, bitter, creamy), raw honey (warm, sweet), and grapeseed oil as a filler. I’m also very keen on z’atar and dukkah.
Salty, savoury, it’s a theme lately. But there’s something special about these savory ingredients. Something I can’t quite articulate. They possess a meaty warmth that makes me forgo land animals and sea creatures in favor of roots and leafy things and pearlescent grains. I’m learning to cook rice. Properly. And to use my donabi. I always leaned towards western cooking, a self taught student of the French raised beneath the Mason-Dixon line.
But more and more, the East, both middle and far, is creeping in. I do hope I can find myself exploring the flavors of Morocco, Egypt, Turkey, Iran, Vietnam, and Japan in the next year if only so that I can bring what I discover back to everyday eating. The beautiful thing about cooking is it’s truly the most intense way to travel without leaving your own backyard. You can experience other cultures, other people’s memories, right at home, if only you venture to try.