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A reunion, a game, a windstorm, a party

jason

Except for a four hour round-trip commute to an unpowered office on Friday, and a seriously long delay at the UPS facility where I was trying to pick up a shipment that I needed to distribute as quickly as possible to some Christmas customers, I was largely unaffected by the fallout from Thursday’s crazy windstorm. Or rather, I was far more fortunate than many others, as the only serious problems for me were a minor loss of income and, unfortunately, a seriously long delay trying to get to a football game that Hiromi had planned to attend months ago.

Hiromi came back to Seattle for a few weeks starting last Wednesday. Thanks to my work schedule, I haven’t been as attentive a host as on previous short-term visits. In fact, thanks to some of the usual last-minute holiday gift orders, I immediately took advantage of her to help me pack some shipments.

We tried to go to the football game on Thursday night, but a tremendous windstorm started to strangle the city just around rush hour. I thought it would be clever to take the bus instead of trying to find parking, but thanks to insane traffic, the normally 40 minute bus ride extended to well over two and a half hours. Hiromi was equally stuck on a bus going from Fremont to downtown… both of us bailed on the bus when we realized we could walk faster… Hiromi got out near Queen Anne and I got out at Westlake… we arrived at the Seahawks game just seconds before halftime.

Friday, my home had no power troubles; we just saw predictable plant destruction. But that wasn’t true for much of the rest of the area. The Wallingford post office was darkened and had ominous handwritten “CASH ONLY” signs plastered all over the windows, like you’d expect to see in a shop owned by a survivalist.

We had planned a party on Saturday, and some people called and wondered if it was still on… Since we had no power interruptions, we just plodded on as planned, and things worked out swimmingly.

Tonight I made a dish I had planned to serve at the party, but didn’t quite get to… Let’s just say I was a bit distracted that night. I served about 16 or 17 dishes and skipped a few things I had originally planned.

Shiso-Shio-Koshou Toufu

Shiso-shio-koshou-agedoufu

Agedashi-doufu meets Hong Kong-style Salt-and-Pepper Tofu, with the help of a bit of shiso for a flavor contrast.

Daikon to Ninjin-zuke

Daikon-to-ninjin-tsuke

I served one of my favorite short-term tsukemono (pickle), daikon to ninjin-zuke, at the party, but fortunately, I reserved some of them for us to enjoy later.

Nasu no tsukemono with ginger

Nasu-shouga-tsuke

I usually prefer, I think, salt-cured or nuka-cured eggplant pickles, but I was pressed for time last week, and I don’t have the gear or patience for nuka-zuke anyway. So these vinegared pickles, sweetened a tiny bit with honey, would have to do. Just for tonight, we served them with a bit of ginger, which turned them into something a bit magical; before, they were a bit tart for eggplant pickles, even with the honey. Somehow the ginger balanced everything out.

Abalone mushrooms with yu tsai

Awabitake-to-aburana

I served a prettier version of this dish at my Saturday party, but tonight I had one abalone mushroom left, and a tiny amount of yu tsai or yu choi (similar to rapeseed plant greens or nanohana). So I revisited the idea, this time with a bit of a heavier hand with ginger. Both Hiromi and I really find these “abalone mushrooms” fascinating… they have a great texture, and can actually look very similar to slices of abalone when stir-fried.

Acorn Squash Korokke

Kabocha-korokke

I’ve made nice kabocha korokke before, and these are fairly nice, but they almost browned too much. This is what happens when you  freeze them and fry them frozen… I had some left over from the party, and tonight we went all out with the fried food to make a bigger dent in our party leftovers. Usually I make squash korokke with butternut squash or kabocha, but I only had an acorn squash handy. The result was just as nice, though a little sweeter and a little less nutty.

 

Black trumpets and a whole wheat bruschetta

jason

My weeknight meals have tended to be a bit dreary recently, as I’ve lamented elsewhere. I just haven’t been so inspired.

But sometimes, even the slightest flash of inspiration is enough to motivate me to make something simple and satisfying… Fortunately, I had the good sense to make a last minute trip to the Pike Place Market Sunday evening, and so I didn’t have to think much.

Bruschetta and black trumpet omelette

Surprisingly, there were still some passable heirloom tomatoes at Sosio’s, and some good west coast water buffalo mozzarella. So my day-old whole wheat bread became a sort of bruschetta.

I ate half of a two egg frittata, made with shallots and black trumpet mushrooms. Black trumpets have some of the foresty sensuality of truffles, a hint of the texture of fresh wood ear mushrooms, and some of the flavor of chanterelles. They absolutely love eggs.

A little watercress balanced out the richness of the rest of the food.

Nothing terribly impressive… but ideal for an after-8 dinner.

Dinner and a movie: a date with myself

jason

Friday I finished work at my survival gig late, as I had been trying to partially make up for time lost Tuesday, when the ice made car travel to the Eastside ill-advised. Fortunately, I finally got everything I had planned for the week done.

I was a little worried because one of the projects I’ve been working on, which was messy and complex when I started working on it, has been a real bear to clean up, and every inch of progress was fraught with new complications. Now things are almost pretty, and I can move on to other work.

Anyway, I felt this urge to do something interesting, and it was a little late to start cooking, so I went to a downtown-ish restaurant hoping to have some interesting nibbles. Suffice to say the experience was unremarkable; the interior was pretty, but the cocktail I drank had a top note much like the aftertaste of an artificial sweetener, the little appetizer that I ate was forgettable, and the only redeeming feature of the meal was a simple but reasonably well-executed dish with green beans and tofu. The front of house staff were pleasant even though I probably looked excessively serious and maybe even slightly dour when I arrived.

I left the restaurant slightly poorer and smelling loudly of garlic.

Initially, I thought I’d just go home after that, but I had a sudden urge to see a film. So I was turning my evening into half a date… the kind without a partner in crime… it might be pathetic if I were a more sympathetic character.

I didn’t do any advance research, but I settled on Babel, which I think I had heard a bit about on Ebert & Roeper sans Ebert last weekend.

For a Friday night, the film was Somewhat lightly attended. I suspect the whole parallel timelines thing is a hard sell for “date night.” Some of the online reviews I’ve seen since watching the film complain it is a poor variation on Crash, but I think that’s a bit myopic… The device of parallel timelines with scripted coincidences has been used in movies like the 1989 Mystery Train and the Tarantino “tributes” to that style, such as Four Rooms. It’s not like Crash invented that device. Crash and Babel are similar only in the sense that they are melodramatic rather than quirky in style.

Compared to Crash, Babel’s premise is far less heavy-handed, though perhaps similarly didactic. It is built on vignettes illustrating alienation, inhumanity, self-centeredness (both sympathetic and not), and occasionally, sacrifice.

The premise of the film, apparently, is that small tragedies needn’t explode into fiascos if we would, in the heat of the moment, stop a moment and listen to each other, rather than just reacting with some kind of misguided self-preservation impulse and escalating the small misunderstandings that result from our hasty judgments. That’s a complex premise, which might in itself be a weakness, but it would be unfair to the film to oversimplify the message. This isn’t some sort of goofy “if we all just communicate better we’ll achieve world peace” hippy idealism.

None of the tragedies in the film would be less tragic with less miscommunication, but perhaps such tragedies would not become such fiascos. And that’s essentially the message… Like most films with a message, the success or failure of the film is how much it draws you in and connects you with the characters. On that regard, it’s a successful film. It’s hard to build two complex characters into a film, and it’s amazing to build no fewer than 4 fully developed, evolving personalities into a film.

The most impressive achievement of this film is its sensitive portrayal of universal conflicts set in several complex cultural contexts, without devolving into some caricature of those cultures. Two preteen boys in Morocco play out predictable sibling rivalries, and do exactly what you’d expect them to do when handed a gun… and their behavior is not some canned stereotype of a Moroccan family, but a believable portrayal of the dynamic relationships between people in circumstances that escalate from ordinary to extreme.

Chieko illustrates classic coming-of-age dramas in the context of urban alienation, a handicap, and a complex family story. She’s starved for affection, detached from the world and yet wishes for nothing more but to be a part of it, and simultaneously suffers from feelings of guilt related to her mother’s suicide. She acts out in nearly tragic ways and yet is treated with great sympathy.

The scenes in Mexico are simultaneously unlikely and believable portrayal of a rural, poor family, and the implicit trust the children have for their caretaker even when she’s exercising terribly poor judgment, is fascinating and full of contradiction.

Brad Pitt’s character as a loving but somehow fatefully inadequate husband is more complex than at first glance, and avoids the trap of dwelling on the troubles in their relationship while still completely integrating that backstory into every gesture the two characters make.

It might be a bit overblown to tie together all of terrorism, sibling rivalry, the trials of coming of age, immigration, marriage troubles, the emotionally unavailable father dynamic, racism and fear of Islam.

Outside of the world of this film, it’s clear that policial forces that create hysteria around terrorism have other causes beyond poor communication; in that case, anyway, communication problems are a result, rather than a cause, of the execution of a tragic political agenda. And I wouldn’t buy that poor communication is the underlying cause of most of the other social problems examined in the film; it’s merely a catalyst of further alienation and inhumanity.

But perhaps that is the key theme… this film is not pretending to articulate a solution for all of the problems of  contemporary world politics, interpersonal relationships, and everything else, but perhaps a small examination of one of the fuels of human tragedy.

The acting is almost without exception above par, even the otherwise rarely nuanced Brad Pitt. It’s not a great movie, but it’s certainly a good one. I know that the end-of-year release is calculated primarily to extend the film’s theatrical life on hopes of the “Oscar effect”, but if it does win for cinematography, director, or a supporting acting role, it wouldn’t be undeserved.

(Trailer)