Midori Takahashi likes to reread essays by actress Sadako Sawamura (1908-1996), and "Watashi no Kondate Nikki" (My menu diary), in particular, serves as a guide to "ways of living and cooking" for the 60-year-old "food stylist."
The book lists the menus that Sawamura began recording when she was 57. It shows that despite her busy schedule working on films and TV dramas, she based her life around the dinner table she shared with her husband and planned thoughtful menus.
For instance, her rice dishes include rice cooked with green peas, chestnuts, "matsutake" mushrooms and bamboo shoots, as well as "osekihan," sticky rice cooked with adzuki beans.
"You can tell that she offered a variety with love to sharpen (her husband’s) appetite," says Takahashi.
Sawamura writes in another essay: "This lump in my heart that is totally wearied by the impatient world out there disappears along with the faint steam rising from the pot."
The actress would simmer beans or polish her tools when she felt frustrated. Learning about Sawamura’s mind-set from her essays, Takahashi says, "She set her mind right through cooking, took command and never wavered. I wanted to be like her."
When she was around 40, Takahashi also spent hectic days working on advertising and cookbooks almost nonstop. At that time, she would become tearful all of a sudden and could not stop crying for a while. Although she was proposing "a stylish lifestyle," her own life was less than perfect.
It was around that time that she read Sawamura’s essays and decided to follow the actress’s example and re-examine her life. She reduced her workload and ate breakfast and dinner at home with her husband as much as possible. This created a rhythm in life, and Takahashi was able to pull herself together.
This week she introduces mixed sushi. Following Sawamura’s menu diary, she prepares the ingredients when she has time. When they are frozen in small portions, all it takes is to thaw them and mix with vinegared sushi rice before eating. It is a handy dish when you are busy. Adding "jako," dried baby sardines, is Takahashi’s twist.
"You can use up leftover sashimi if you freeze them and add them to the mixed sushi," says Takahashi.
(Serves three to four)
For sushi rice:
2 go rice (1 go is 180 cc)
3 Tbsp green-plum vinegar
1 tsp soy sauce
Bit of salt
1 thin deep-fried tofu (abura-age)
30 grams dried baby sardines
3 dried shiitake mushrooms
1 medium-size carrot
1 section medium-size lotus root
1/2 burdock root (gobo)
2 tsp sesame oil
1 Tbsp each of sake and sweet mirin sake
2 Tbsp soy sauce
Some green-plum vinegar
1 tsp sugar
Bit of salt
40 grams "kinusaya" bean
20 grams red pickled ginger (beni-shoga)
1 Tbsp white sesame
Some crushed dried laver (nori)
For green plum vinegar:
750 grams green plum
450 cc rice vinegar
500 grams honey
(Place all in jar for preservation, leave in dark cool place for about three months)
Rinse rice, immerse in water slightly less than normal for more than 30 minutes and cook. Mix green-plum vinegar, soy sauce, salt and pour on freshly cooked rice and mix.
Peel lotus root, cut into 5-mm dices and immerse in vinegared water. Cook in hot water with bit of vinegar until desired firmness. Remove and immerse while still hot in green-plum vinegar that just covers it. Cool. Immerse baby sardines in green-plum vinegar in separate bowl. Cut fried tofu, carrot, burdock root, reconstituted dried shiitake mushroom into 5-mm dices. Stir-fry in sesame oil, add sake, sweet mirin sake, soy sauce and simmer. Mix all ingredients.
Mix 5 Tbsp of above ingredients into sushi rice.
Add sugar and salt to egg and mix. Heat 2 Tbsp cooking oil in frying pan, pour in egg, mix with chopsticks to make scrambled egg. Briefly boil kinusaya bean in hot water with a bit of salt. Cool and cut into fine strips.
Serve sushi rice in bowl, garnish with scrambled egg, kinusaya bean, red pickled ginger, white sesame and crushed dried laver.