Friday, February 22, 2008

Icebox Experiments: Lunar Eclipse Kaiseki

I have been thinking about where seasonal eating and living in Cleveland intersect since I read Mark Bittman’s Jan 23 Minimalist column. In it, he says, “The days when late-fall vegetables had to last through the winter are long gone, but eating summer vegetables in midwinter doesn't make much sense, as most people recognize now.” (Emphasis mine) For some people, Mexico and other destinations have negated seasonality; for others, environmentalism, food politics, elitism, and/ or taste have reignited/ issued the call to seasonal eating. But, what does all this mean in practice? What does a Clevelander, who does not live on a farm and fears botulism too much to can food, eat in the middle of winter? If you searched by blog, you will find that I use carrots & onions extensively. I love winter squash in, well, winter. Some seasonal fruits, citrus, can hold with them other environmental problems. (Beware, there are cases of clementines coming very fast towards Cleveland from Spain burning lots of carbon along the way.) That is the problem—one solution, or one stance, causes another problem. Local but not organic; seasonal but large carbon load. Where are the right choices? I don’t think anyone has the “right” answer, or more accurately, all answers (and answerers) come with them their own agendas. So, in Cleveland, in winter, you do your best—walk by the asparagus, buy the red peppers once in a while (because the lack of diversity in the seasonal diet can be depressing.)

The awakening national consciousness about food production and having summer veg in the winter has triggered the American memory of the seasons. Sometime in the 20th century we forgot the connotations of preparation and preservation that the words (and concepts) spring and autumn had. This awareness of the seasons is acute in Japan and China, where blossom viewing and moon viewing are points of celebration and eating. I have been in Asia for mid-summer’s festival—the joy and tradition are palpable.

When my husband called and said he would like view the lunar eclipse with me, after working late, it felt like the perfect time to recreate the feeling of moon viewing—if slightly out of season. (Sorry Bittman, I am inherently insensible.) In full disclosure, I was also inspired by a meal at the restaurant Ame in San Francisco, a sort of Japanese fusion place that is a slice of heaven. And, I had been reading a cookbook called Kaiseki recently. So, while Belle slept, and my husband worked, I attempted to turn my bare fridge into a five course moon-viewing meal.

Kaiseki and moon-viewing are two separate things. Moon-viewing parties celebrate the harvest moon in the Autumn; rice dumplings and cracked eggs are commonly part of this celebration. Kaiseki is the meal that is associated with a Japanese tea ceremony. The tea ceremony, a manifestation of Zen Buddhism, is just as much about meditation, performance and ritual as it is about tea. The rarified culture of the chanoyu, way of tea, includes with it an appreciation of aesthetics, from the serving dishes to the food. Food might be as simple as a mochi sweet to a full meal. A typical kaiseki meal has many courses, and the consumption (and creation) of the meal could be considered a meditation. The courses might include a small amuse, a sashimi course, a warm course, a vinegared vegetable, and rice course. My meal was more likely an evocation of the concept of kaiseki and the seasonal meal—I had 5 courses with no fish or even rice.

I wanted to focus on citrus as the flavor that unified all the elements—this is the season and the pantry was replete with an assortment. My love of citrus has softened as my stomach and taste buds have aged, but I still enjoy good citrus once in a while. For the acidic first course, I made a fennel slaw with meyer lemon supremes, black pepper and olive oil. In homage to the tradition moon-viewing dumplings, I used rice flour to make small dumplings filled with apple and turnip pouched in vegetable & white wine broth. For the broiled course, I grilled pears and served them with manchego and honey. For the substantial part of the meal, I made an egg pouched in water and white wine served with julienned fennel, carrots and fennel infused salami. For dessert, I also wanted to summon up some of the food from Ame. He had a great buttermilk panna cotta, and I thought about making a buttermilk/ condensed milk rice pudding. Instead, I made a simple plate of condensed milk and brown sugar topped by Satsuma orange supremes. (I remade this meal this dessert this evening but put everything under the broiler—it became a nice remake of the 50’s grapefruit.)

When my husband came home, the eclipse has already started. We stood and watched the moon for a while, and then began dinner. I had my husband’s dinner on a large tray. Like a Japanese tea hostess, I had eaten prior to his arrival, and I sat quietly as he consumed each dish. Between courses, we snuck out in the cold for a gaze, and then returned to our seasonal citrus meal. Not quite moon-viewing, not quite seasonal, but lovely nonetheless.

1 comment:

Cgirl said...

the fennel slaw sounds divine!