Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Adventures in making udon

Really, I need to call this adventures in writing about making udon. But I'll get to that in a minute.

First, what is udon, you may ask? Well, if I'm waxing poetic and trite at the same time, I'll tell you that it is a bowl of heaven. But the straight answer is that udon are thick, chewy Japanese noodles made from flour, water, and a little salt.

You can eat udon in many ways, though the most common way is to have it in a delicious soup with fish or meat and vegetables. There are many varieties of soup recipes, but the basic one has a soy base. You can have nabeyaki udon, which tends to be hardier than your regular soup.  Or you can have tempura put into the soup and yes, I'll reiterate this: It's a bowl of heaven. It's just so much yum.

I have had udon cold. I have had it in nabe, a kind of communal Japanese hot-pot dish that is a meal of SIN it is so good. (Yes, I appear to have a heaven/hell thing going on here. Cope.) I have had yaki udon, which is basically udon stir-fried like lo mein in soy sauce with vegetables and meat.

Most of those times, I was eating at a restaurant or a noodle stall (if it was while I was living in Japan). Or I'd buy the udon noodles already made, vacuum sealed in plastic, and stir it in a nice premade broth and add whatever other ingredients I wanted like mushrooms, spinach, or carrot. They also sell dried udon (like spaghetti).

What I have yet to do is make homemade udon noodles. I've never made noodles from scratch, ever. Not pasta. Not ravioli or dumpling wrappers. None of that stuff. But this changed when E came to visit me.

She wanted to make udon noodles. She had never made them before--which means she rolls the same way I do. (Which is to say, if I'm cooking for you, there's a really good chance it's the first time I've made that dish.) However, she thought it would be fun, and she was right.

Now, to the part about finding the recipe and writing about it. E got her recipe from a Japanese site. I am functionally illiterate in Japanese though I can still speak it some (admittedly, I've lost a lot). However, her recipe, unlike the one I will link to, did not require us to take the dough, put it into a plastic ziploc bag, and knead it with our feet.

Me dancing. DON'T JUDGE.
(I should never do this. What will happen is that I will turn on some music and rock out dancing on the dough, and my friends will be like, Uhhhh, do we need to call 911? Did you like, hit a live wire or something? and I'd be like, YEAH CALL 911 BECAUSE I'M AFFLICTED WITH AWESOME DANCE MOVES-ITIS and they'd be like Uuuhhh, yeah, time for you to just. . .stop.)

Every recipe I can find on English language sites seems to do this. I don't know if this was in E's recipe and she thought "Ha ha! NOPE" or if that recipe was unusual. However, we kneaded the dough by hand and it took a dog's age. We kneaded, over and over and over again, until the dough felt like our earlobes. And yes, that is what E's recipe said. "It should have the consistency of your earlobe." She said it's a common thing in Japanese recipes/cooking, and I'm going to take her word for it since, as I said, I am functionally illiterate in the language and was not much of a cook while I was there. (Except for the odd pasta or Mexican feast, but that is another story.)

"This place has the best free-range earlobes. Very tender."
So we kneaded and kneaded and kneaded and squeezed our earlobes and pinched the dough to see if they matched up. And I was thinking, Well what if my earlobe is squishier than the average earlobe? Or firmer than the average earlobe? And then I was wondering Hey, if bears ate us, would they consider the earlobe a delicacy? But I didn't ask her that because she already got enough of my tendencies to being a weirdo and I didn't need her to get back to Japan and tell her mother "You know, your friend Pamela is wackadoodle. You know that, right? She was all MY EARLOBES MIGHT BE ABNORMAL and BEARS THINK THEY ARE A DELICACY and seriously, Ma, I think she needs help. She needs professional help."

The other thing about the recipe differences is that we didn't need to let the dough rest for several hours. The recipe I'm about to link to--which is typical of what I found on the Internet--requires this. We had to let it rest for a little bit--about 15 minutes or so--but not four hours.

Okay, so here's the recipe for the udon noodles. I think you should try it one rainy day. It's a delicious adventure that uses ingredients you already have. Don't forget to squeeze your earlobes and keep bear repellent nearby. And please, for the love of all things holy and profane, make sure your feet are clean if you insist on kneading it the way they instruct you to.

Monday, April 27, 2015

I was a tour guide and it was kinda fun.

My friend's daughter flew in from Japan last month for a visit to New England. She hasn't been to the US before, but she's been to a whole host of other really cool places--Fiji (for a month), Spain, Italy, Cambodia, Taiwan, and Australia. We spent one evening looking over her pictures of her awesome trips.

So, E was five years old when I left Japan. She is now old enough to drink, which I think gives you some idea of how old I am (here's the spoiler--I'm wicked old). We did a lot and we're going to keep it up until she leaves this week.

First, if you are in Massachusetts and you want a real taste of history, you should absolutely go to Plimoth Plantation, which includes the Wampanoag Homesite. Plimoth Plantation is a living history exhibit; there are true-to-life reproductions of the homes the English lived in during the 1620's, and actors in full costume who speak in the dialect and tell you what you want to know about their life there. They are acting, so if you ask them anything about a historic event that takes place after the year they're supposed to be living in (I believe this year it's 1623), they will feign ignorance. They will also profess opinions that the people they are playing held--so keep in mind that these are actors and they do not necessarily agree with what they're saying. This year, there is a section of the settlement that also has people who are not in costume who can answer any questions you have about things that happened later in history, etc.

Plimoth Plantation also has the Wampanoag Homesite, which features people--all Native American, but not all Wompanoag--in traditional Wampanoag clothing from that time of history. They are not role players so they can and will answer questions about modern times and will not pretend to be ignorant of things like who Barak Obama is or where South Carolina is. We were talking recipes with the staff member there because let's face it, FOOD IS HOW WE ROLL.

Yes, we went all around Boston and saw all of the local sites. The Freedom Trail, Faneuil Hall, Old North Church, The Old South Meeting House, Newbury Street, The North End, Beacon Hill, and did the requisite bus tour where we went by the Charlestown Navy Yard. We went to Hyannis and also went to Chatham Light. We went to several places on the Cape, including South Cape Beach and Craigville. We went to Salem and toured the House of Seven Gables. We had afternoon tea with my friend, her husband and his mother (who made the tea; she used to host them regularly in her house). We hung with my parents and had dinner with them. We hung out with my friends. My cat and my friends' cats and dogs all kind of fell in love with E, to the point where I joked we needed to make sure they didn't sneak into her suitcase to go home with her.

We also went shopping for things like towels and linens after she saw a circular in the Sunday paper and was kind of amazed at the prices. "Um," she said, "can we go there?" So we went because as she explained, she needed things like sheets and towels and blankets and bathroom things; she was going to move into her own apartment a couple months after returning to Japan.

We froze because it was still cold and intermittently snowy in New England. She came prepared--or thought she did. But a warm coat in Osaka, Japan is like wearing a light jacket in New England. I have a long, puffy down coat that is a sleeping bag with sleeves. I made her wear that.

We also made homemade udon and miso soup (I'll post the specifics later). We have one thing in common: As she was kneading the dough, she said, "You know, this is my first time making this, so here's hoping it comes out well." Which, maybe is too much information, but a lot of the time I do the same thing when I have people over for dinner. (THANK YOU ALL FOR BEING MY GUINEA PIGS.)

She enjoyed my bread, got the recipe, and is determined to make it. I am not sure if the ovens there will do the job (ovens aren't a real fixture in Japanese cooking; in my time there I never lived in a place that had an oven, just a stove and maybe a small broiler). If anyone can MacGyver it, it's E.

And yes, I was a wet, sopping mess when I had to drop her off at the airport. She was five when I left Japan and she's 22 now. She is old enough to drink. She is old enough to vote. She is old enough to live on her own and get married and/or have kids. She is starting a full-time job soon.