Seems as though time simply disappeared after my return from Iceland. Between my work, as well as the holidays that, AGAIN, stomped in from Thanksgiving and beyond, I’ve been trying to maintain my sanity.
November whirled by, bringing in multiple birthdays, a wedding anniversary, amidst a typhoon of events. November also brought the passing of my beloved grandfather in Japan, which effectively terminated any remaining spark of holiday spirit which had been desperately clinging onto me.
My parents, always considerate, thoughtful and most Japanese – told me of my grandfather’s passing a few days afterwards in the hopes the news didn’t affect my family’s celebration of birthdays, anniversaries and Thanksgiving which happened to fall within a clustered week.
I was devastated, but had somehow known within my heart, he had passed on my birthday. Just a flitting pain that didn’t get confirmed until I picked up on a suspicion I honed in on, based on my parents’ communications. My normally technologically connected parents were unavailable on skype or phone, and the emails coming back seemed reserved and almost forced.
I mourn my grandfather’s passing, deeply, as I now have officially not attended any of my grandparents’ wakes or funerals, due to timing, finances or logistics. Yet, I am thankful he decided to depart on my own birthday, so I know he departed on a day that is near and dear to me.
Memories of my grandfather, who lived in central Japan in Gifu-City, Gifu, most famous for their cormorant fishing and their garment industry in the early half of the 20th century, revolve around food. The tofu vendor, blowing his distinct horn, pulling up in front of my grandparent’s house, carrying soft and freshly made tofu cubes to be scooped out by the vendor into a plastic bowl hastily grabbed by my grandmother, as she rushed out to stop him in front of our house. The slightly charred, sweetfish or ayu that the cormorants capture on the Nagara River, grilled, and eaten from head to fin – my grandfather holding up the fish with chopsticks, and showing me how he ate every bit. The morning routine he would have – he always had a fresh batch of steamed rice, freshly made, that he would transfer into a rice warmer. He would have a pot of miso soup on the stove – he liked to use aka or red miso, into which he would toss in tofu (he would literally grab a cube of fresh tofu, and crush it with his hands instead of carefully cubing into smaller pieces), or eggplant slices (raw, instead of those that were first sautéed in sesame oil per my mom’s version) and hand me the shichimi or seven spice pepper and tell me to put as much as I wanted in my soup, and to hurry up, and eat. He would tell me to pour the miso soup on my rice if I wanted to create “Shii Shii gohan” – I have no idea of where the name came from – perhaps some onomatopoeiac origin of sorts of the sound of someone slurping the soupy rice? I recall my grandfather laughing, and with a wink, tell me not to tell my father I was being fed neko manma, or literally, “cat food.” I believe there’s a historical element as to when pet cats (and dogs) were simply fed leftovers over rice.
Bento in November is summarized by gallery – I just happened to discover this function!
I had a couple of interesting bentos – some included leftover youngchow fried rice, which included peas, bacon, egg and onion, and not heavily seasoned with soy sauce. Baked chicken wings also made an appearance, as well as chicken drumsticks. My daughter insists her favorite are chicken drumettes and wings, so I do keep this on the menu quite often. Beets remain on her favorite bento items as well, so I had roasted regular magenta beets, as well as chioggia beets, and cut the slices out in various shapes ranging from star, hearts, and penguins. Broccoli, cauliflower and carrots remain favorites – I find them a colorful and healthy addition to her boxes. I also slip in grape tomatoes for color – she sometimes is not too crazy about them, but I feel they add a nutritious color-punch to her bento… One elaborate morning, I managed to cut her nori into patterns over her steamed multi-grain rice. I painstakingly layered them, and she told me her teacher was quite impressed at lunch time!
Fridays I continue to allow pizza day – which also gives me an occasional break.
The Saturday after Thanksgiving, I offered to pack her schoolmate’s lunch box, after finding out her father had been hospitalized. I simply wanted to help her mother, who I know had been going through a challenging time. I packed in both girls’ lunch boxes, boiled egg in a star shape, roasted beet stars, carrot sticks, baked chicken drumsticks and wing with a soy-sauce/lemon seasoning, carrot sticks, and multi-grain onigiri wrapped in nori. My daughter beamed that day, and said she was so happy to have the same lunch as her friend, S__. I was simply happy I was able to help S___’s mother – and was thankful both girls enjoyed their bentos.