Monday, September 26, 2011

Cutting It

Hosogiri vs. Sengiri  (I call these cuts Skinny and Fatty 
after the classic Japanese movie of the same name)

My poor sengiri chops
This is sengiri, literally "a thousand cuts," but I haven't come anywhere near to perfecting the knife skills needed to slice these vegetables (gobo, or burdock root, and carrot) to perfection. Strikingly similar to the julienne, sengiri is one of the basic cuts used in traditional Japanese cooking. Today I'm making kinpira gobo, a simple side dish that involves cutting gobo and carrot into thin strips and then sauteing them briefly in a little sesame seed oil before simmering the combo in a broth consisting of soy sauce, sugar, and sake (the Three Musketeers of the standard Japanese culinary set up followed by the sweet cooking rice wine, mirin, playing the role of  d'Artagnan) before topping the whole thing off with a sprinkling of sesame seeds and chili pepper flakes. I'm making as part of tonight's supper but I'll save a little to go in my son Jiro's bento box (that's the traditional Japanese lunch box)tomorrow morning.

Bento Italiano
I'm not so confident about my Japanese culinary skills so the other day I decided to go Italian with Jiro's lunch menu. My plan was to stuff his Monday lunch box with rotini (those noodles that look kind of like screws) doused with my legendary killer tomato sauce, along with a couple of meatballs and a sauteed vegetable medley. I spent a good portion of Sunday making the sauce and 
Pizza topped with cheese and fall
veggies (sliced pumpkin, eggplant, etc.)
meatballs. Since I wanted to avoid serving the same kind of meal two days in a row, I decided to embark on another nearly half-day project of making pizza dough which I could top off with some sauce, cheese and sliced meatballs for Sunday night's meal. Everything was moving along like clockwork. The pizza went off without a hitch and was voraciously consumed with absolute delight by absolutely everyone. 

Came Monday morning, I was up at near-dawn boiling the rotini, sauteing the veggies and laying on the holy grail of gravies. The sauce was sheer perfection. I don't care what anybody says, the whole thing was a meal to die for.

I wrapped up Jiro's bento box with a kerchief (aka furoshiki) along with much fanfare and sent him on his way to school, imagining the look of serendipity that would flash across his face the minute he pried open the container holding this miniature Feast of San Gennaro.

That evening I anxiously awaited his return, as I usually do, only this time there was a twist to my anticipation of his arrival home. I was lying in wait ready to pepper him with a zillion questions about the magnificent lunch I so lovingly prepared the minute he crossed the threshold.

Then suddenly my heart skipped a beat as I heard the gate latch being lifted and the iron gate swing into the steps leading to the door that was now opening wider and wider as Jiro made his long-awaited entrance.

"I just couldn't do it." Those were the first words out of Jiro's mouth as he bounced into the portico while handing me the slightly weightier-than-usual empty lunch box. The full impact of what he said didn't really hit me until I peaked inside his lunch tin. Nothing could have prepared me for the sight I had just witnessed. I had never seen anything like it heretofore. It was untouched, unempty, completely full! Wiping the tears from my eyes,I heard some mumbling emerge from the corner of Jiro's mouth. "I love pasta but maybe not for lunchtime," he said with a shrug.

I guess it was too much of a shock for him. Thinking outside the box just isn't his forte. He's very traditional in some ways. If it's not a serving of rice accompanied by some Japanese culinary odds and ends, it just doesn't belong inside the lunch box as far as he is concerned. So I'm back to the Japanese bento basics. The Italian bento had been squarely defeated by tradition and along with it my dreams for a whole United Nations of bento boxes all cut to the quick in a death by a thousand cuts.

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