Monday, 22 October 2012

onna kokoro to aki no sukiyaki mo...

The other day I stepped out to meet friends for brunch at a restaurant located about an hour's walk away.  Gone is the record-setting gorgeous Indian Summer of Thanksgiving weekend, so I needed to dress appropriately for both brunch and the weather. Being late October in Vancouver, this means more thought had to go into what I wore than just first pants, then shoes. In fact, alot of what I wore needed to be complimented by a contrasting item of clothing or accessory:  the singlet undershirt needed a warm sweater; the warm sweater needed a light jacket; sunglasses and an umbrella.

Stepping out as such, I suddenly remembered an old Japanese adage: "onna kokoro to aki no sora." The first proverb I ever learned as an exchange student inYokosuka, "onna kokoro to aki no sora" roughly translates as "a woman's heart is like an autumn sky."  In other words, the reason I was dressed prepared for anything is because an autumn sky change in an instant. It starts out as one thing, but before you know it something completely different has happened. To my east it was a blue sunny sky, to the west dark forboding clouds; with no prevailing wind, there was no telling which way the weather would go.

Such, according to the Japanese, is the way of a woman's heart. Single for a long time and without sisters as a cross-reference, I cannot stand as a relationship expert that can verify to which planet each sex is from (though my best guess is Earth).  Still, I've had female flatmates and colleagues, and my experience tells me that there is a cloud of truth in this saying.  However, like the autumn sky, chances are there are reasons for the sudden changes even if you don't fully see them. It doesn't take a meteorologist to know that if it looks like sun or rain, then chances are it's going to do one or the other. A good day can be found if you're prepared for either with both sunglasses and an umbrella.

With these saying stuck in my head all day (it ended up mostly cloudy), I developed a craving for my favourite Japanese meal, sukiyaki.  The cooling autumn temperatures are kept at bay with the warm, bubbling broth of stock, soy sauce, sake, mirin, sugar, and ginger. The formula for the broth is easy: start with 2 cups stock and halve your way down the list (1 cup soy sauce, 1/2 cup sake, 1/4 cup mirin...). Into the pot go a hodgepodge of ingredients, traditionally paper-thinly sliced beef, tofu, shiitake mushrooms, enoki mushrooms, Chinese cabbage (hakusai in Japanese), and shirataki noodles (made from yam flour), but any ingredients will do. Cook in a shared hot-pot until liking, then remove, dip in beaten raw egg (the heat of the food cooks the egg coating), and eat with rice.

To me, it's a perfect autumn dish and a nice addendum to the proverb (to sukiyaki mo means "and sukiyaki too"). Like a woman's heart and an autumn sky, sukiyaki is complex but full of many great surprises too: raw egg can be delicious, clouds can turn to sunshine, and a woman's heart can love forever. All you need to do is prepare yourself appropriately.

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