Spring is a delicate season, marked (and marketed) by the ephemeral blossoms of the cherry -- the sakura. In spring, the Japanese nation gathers collectively underneath the pink clouds of sakura, and contemplate the transience of all earthly things as the fragile blossoms flutter down. 春の象徴は優美なさくらでしょう。それで春はつかの間の生について考える季節でしょう。
Funny how that contemplation seems to take the form of mass drunkenness in public parks, as people jostle for position under the cherry trees from early in the day, with their piles of boxed lunches, coolers packed with beer, and maybe even the occasional portable karaoke machine. 考える季節だけでもない。。。飲む季節でもあるの春：週末の上野公園の大衆はお弁当、ビールで朝早くから場所競争を。。。
But the culinary delicacies of nubile like a newly admitted college coed (the school year starts from spring in Japan), and just the palest green, like a cherry-blossom-contemplating drunkard. でも春の食べ物は確かに入学したばかりの女子学生のように自然、それにさくらを眺めている大酒飲みのように薄く緑色している。
Tara no me: shoot of the angelica tree. たらの芽。
Yama udo: a relative of ginseng, apparently. 山ウド。
Both these shoots caught my eye at the local green grocer. Although once I got them home I didn't know what to do with them. Or, rather, I knew what I should do with them, but not how. I knew they should be battered and fried as tempura. But I don't know how to make tempura. And since I make it a point of pride that I like to improvise most everything I cook, I wasn't confident that I'd be able to "wing" tempura. この芽で春の目が覚めるとわかった。確かに天ぷらでおいしいでしょうね。でもレシビをよく無視して料理作るの私は天ぷらを挑戦でもいいかな。。。
I'm not really one for delicate cookery. I'll break down a duck. I'll flambé bananas. I'll braise a lamb's head. But follow a recipe? It's the great hurdle that has kept me from getting a handle on "real" Japanese cooking. 和食はがまんが必要。それで、もちろんレシピをちゃんと読んでから作るのも必要です。その理由で私に正式な和食は今でも不思議です。
But enough of these words. A whiff of spring and suddenly I fancy myself a literary lady. Basically, I decided to try to make this the most delicate meal I could possibly have the patience for. I picked three Japanese standards that I have never made: tempura, chawanmushi (a savory egg custard), and suimono (a delicate clear soup). それで、今回は和食挑戦にした：天ぷら、茶碗蒸し、吸い物。
I had the most elaborate fantasy for the chawanmushi. A little research showed me that it's actually a pretty simple dish, just eggs and broth, steamed. To make it even more delicate, I decided I wanted to try to serve it in eggshells. So how does one cut open an eggshell? I cut one slowly with a serrated knife, and at the last moment, it shattered, although remained mostly whole. The second, I attacked with two pins, blew out the insides and then tried to make a little perforation line around the top with the pin:
Oh no! It shattered, too. But I had at least two imperfectly opened eggshells. あらっ！それでも使えた。
Chawanmushi is basically eggs, broth, and flavoring with a bit of mirin (sweet cooking sake) and perhaps citrus. I chose to use a little bit of sudachi. 茶碗蒸しにスダチを入れた。
A little grated rind went into the mix.
Then this went into the eggshells and the eggshells went into the pot with water to steam. それで卵の殻に入れて、蒸し蒸し。。。
Here is the very unsexy photo of my scrambling to prevent all the custard from leaking from the egg with the pin holes, and struggling to improvise egg holders from jars. ちょっと大変だったけど。。。
In the meantime, I peeled the yama udo stalk and sliced it. I parboiled the slices, along with enoki mushrooms for the clear broth soup. それで、吸い物のために山ウドの皮を抜いて、湯通しておいた。
I arranged them in a bowl, as delicately as my clumsy hands could, and attempted a kind of elegant flourish with some sudachi rind. 吸い物の茶碗においた。
In the meantime, I began to worry about the tempura. I read that tempura batter requires very cold water, so I was chilling the water, and just generally worrying. それから、天ぷらのことについて心配し始まった。本当に揚げ物の初心者であるので。。。
What kind of an alchemy is tempura? One that still eludes me. The batter was mixed, the oil was heated, and tested with a bit of batter. The glob went halfway down, then floated up. I coated up a shoot, and dipped it in the oil. It emerged a sassy green, but with no tempura aura. あまり結果が。。。天ぷららしくなかった。
Vaguely tempura-ish fried tara no me. Well, at least the soup's up, and it looks okay...
Ah... delicate. And the chawanmushi?それで茶碗蒸しは？
With a bit of dramatic tobikko (which I also used to great effect here), it turned out to save the show. トビッコに合わせたら、悪くはなかった。
But these simple delicacies still elude me. The mysteries are deep....
And dark... like this vision that confronted me in the used oil...
A universe in a frying pan.