I have been, neglecting the blog, that is. Life intervenes all the damn time. The best laid plans of mice and men… (can’t help but think of Eddie Izzard there), etc. and so on. All the excuses don’t really get at the fact that I haven’t felt like I had much to offer. It’s been a hard year with one thing happening at the heels of another and, honestly, I have always loved that this is place where I can be snappy and light and talk about non-heavy things. And well, there hasn’t been much that was non-heavy that I wanted to talk about. So, in the spirit of the Law of Attraction or whatever you might want to call it, I am going to talk about light things and about my new obsession. I actually have two but the other one, redecorating and purging clutter, doesn’t really have anything to do with food either
About four months ago, I bought a book, Harumi’s Japanese Cooking, to be precise, and you know how I love to be precise (ha). It has honestly changed the way I think about food and cooking at home. So much so that I bought a second book.
The thing about both of Harumi’s books is that they present food in that uniquely Japanese way. The idea that several different flavors in one meal is more satisfying that one gigantic portion of one or two foods. The other big idea I have taken from these is serving small. Over the years I have collected a number of small dishes: Asian bowls, a set of dice plates (yes I saw them on Good Eats and had to have them), chopstick rests, tiny dipping bowls shaped like lotus flowers. I’ve always loved these but didn’t find myself using them very much. With my new big idea in the forefront of how I am cooking and we are eating at home I am serving everything this way, whether it is Asian or not. For example, for dinner tonight we had a filet of mahi mahi seasoned with salt and pepper and seared and a more elaborate pasta salad with tomatoes, artichoke hearts, zucchini, cannellini beans and fresh basil. Pretty simple overall, and definitely not Asian. In the past, I would have served it on a big dinner plate with a big portion of the salad to make up for the smaller portion of fish or we would have just eaten a large portion of the pasta in a pasta bowl. Tonight I served the fish all by itself on a small square plate and served the pasta in a 1 cup side bowl. No one had seconds.
As part of the presentation, we have all been sitting down together at a set table (napkins, placemats and candles) and enjoying some music in the background where previously we would have pushed whatever one of us was working on to the far end of the table and left the news on TV (bad habit, I know, and one that was fairly easily broken). This has been a truly amazing thing. I know that sounds funny and every third article about the degeneration of American family life harps on and on about families not sitting down to eat together any more, but it has been become an oasis of sorts. We have each other and we feel a little more special with candlelight and cloth napkins. It’s an event in the day for our family, not a fuel stop.
The added benefit is we are all eating less and enjoying it more. This has also helped with lunches as there are more leftovers and it is easy to take something with to work the next day. That has lead to a sub obsession: the hunt for bento boxes or thermal lunch jars to take to work. I’ve been cruising bento box lunch sites. I don’t think I have the time or, frankly, the patience to do anything nearly as involved as hard core art bento, but it is inspiring and lovely to look at. So my obsession has really been an eye opener and I have been reading everything I can get my hands on about the Japanese approach to nutrition and the culinary arts. We are looking at slowly replacing our Western-style dishes all together. That 11″ dinner plate looks empty with a sensible portion on it and that psychological empty space makes us want more food. A shocking thought is that today’s contemporary place setting plates are the same size as platters were previously. And when you start talking about restaurant portions and china, things turn to the ridiculous.
Surely there must be a downside?, you ask. Well, that depends. To really eat more in the Japanese-style requires a few more dishes than most of us have time to get to on Tuesday night. But it is working for us with two or three dishes. It does help that I am a trained cook and can take short cuts with some knowledge as to what they will produce. Most people who cook at all can come up with an extra veg or two on the fly and the added colors and textures get at that Asian ideal, especially if you just serve one that is cut beautifully and cold and nearly naked in its dressing, like cucumbers. Then you are getting at color, texture, taste and temperature. There are a few more dishes to wash, but they take up less space in the dishwasher. Yes, my chopsticks are bamboo and wooden so they have to be hand washed, but I wash my knives and pots and pans by hand anyway. And, yes, there are leftovers unless you are super precise about recipe amounts. Some people, I know, are adamant about not eating leftovers. I accept that, though I’ve never understood it. If you don’t take a lunch, you might be eating slaw for a few days for dinner or throwing things out after they get chucked in the fridge to moulder in the back. It gets easier to judge amounts after you do it for while (though, admittedly, I have what seems like a metric tonne of leftovers to get through this week). Aside from a few glitches initially, I haven’t run into a real negative. I’ll keep you posted.
In other happy news, Trader Joe’s is opening in Nashville next month. I love me some Whole Foods, but people don’t make fun of it being Whole Paycheck for nothing.