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December 02, 2009


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Rodney Fong

It's funny that I never stopped to think about the food rituals we go through. Sometimes they are personal habits that you pick up, just like the tangerine peeling you described. While not so ritualistic, I cut my left thumb preparing Thanksgiving, and I found I could not peel a tangerine with my right hand. I don't quite go to the extent of the Japanese ritual, but I do try to keep the peel in one piece. And done with my left hand. Doing it with my right was foreign to me. Your piece made me stop to think about observing people when they eat, and I do notice that Japanese visitors here are very regimented in how they eat. Of course, I love how they always have to take photos of their food. I guess that's because they are documenting their travels and experience, but still funny to me, as I don't think I would think of doing that on my travels. Great to read your posts again.

Jo Lynn in Virginia


Last week before lunch with you at CP, I popped in to Andronico's for a few items and was immediately sidetracked by a small mountain of Satsumas- organic, too. So I filled a bag (gleefully), knowing my parents would later enjoy this treat of "zipper tangerines." Last year when I introduced my father to them, he and I played a game to see who could peel the fruit in a perfect spiral. Then we re-coiled the peels in the fruit basket for the next (and unsuspecting) eater to discover the ruse.

I do like your exercise on the rituals we follow, and thought about how they can comfort us and bind us in welcome ways (like the traditions and rituals at Thanksgiving) or suffocate us (as you pointed out). My mother-in-law (a steel magnolia from Tennessee)was adamant about bringing any and all condiments to the table in little dishes, with tiny serving spoons or paddles. The prep for a simple sandwich lunch was pure tedium (and waste) to me. I would scoop dollops of mayonnaise and mustard, and small amounts of sliced pickle or olives into miniature bowls (think the smallest French Arcoroc brand glass prep bowl. Then these would be borne to the table on a tray, where they would accompany plates of bread, cold cuts, sliced tomato, and romaine or butter lettuce. Of course, the reverse process of returning the unconsumed condiments took even longer, and with a wild-man toddler to supervise, I found the whole routine crazy-making. It was all so very civilized and in an odd way, relaxing- because once seated after all that fiddlywork, I made sure I stayed there as long as possible before cleanup duties. And because we'd just been through this ritual at breakfast, with toast, eggs, butter, jam, tea, and cut-up fruit. Absolutly no unpeeled tangerines at the table!

Your photo, as always, is beautiful and evocative. The pottery- is it one of Tadaaki's or Andrew's, or perhaps an antique? I can imagine the bowl resting in the palm of one hand, with the fingers of the other following the hills and valleys of the glaze. And the light- morning? How early?

Nancy Singleton Hachisu

Rodney: Great to hear your perspective. I can see all the Japanese tourists snapping photos of their food (and everything else). But so do I. Sometimes I just give in to the moment and enjoy myself, however. Taking photos does put a little buffer between fully experiencing the moment. I wonder if you've seen a drop off of Japanese tourists in Hawaii with the economy decline? I've been thinking a lot about the homogenous nature of Japanese culture, but am leaning towards finding our own American culture a bit more so than I thought. I'm working on the next post but am veering between Thanksgiving and deeper cultural issues and need to find a middle ground. I don't want to piss off my American compatriots.

J-L: Loved the mother-in-law story. I've held my ground about no milk cartons or tupperwear (gog forbid) on the table, but gave in on the stacking. Here in Japan, they scrape and stack at the table...yuck. I've held that practice at bay, thank god. I can also sympathize with the little dishes. There are about a zillion little dishes involved in a Japanese dinner. I'm curious about the custom of making sandwiches at the table. Is this southern? Why not just make them in the kitchen? But I've given up on the idea of serving dishes all together. I found guests were uncertain on how to serve and how much, often using too much restraint when a more generous dollop was needed. I now put together the plates in the kitchen and send them out to the tables (but only serve a reasonable & smallish portions). Guests fend for themselves for seconds). i think I've mentioned this before, I'm not the "hostess with the mostest." When I'm done, I'm done.

The photos were taken just before 3pm right in front of our entry door (so full sun). Traditionally, Japanese build houses facing south for the best sun exposure for the guests coming to visit. The top plate is my very favorite plate and was made by a young Australian potter here, Richard Ballinger. He went back to Australia and we lost contact. The lower plate is Christopher's (also a favorite).

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