Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Cinderella pumpkin

Last year when I made pumpkin pie for Halloween, I made the beginner's mistake of using flesh scooped out from our jack o'lantern and the result was disastrous -- a watery, fibery mess. This year I resolved to select the right variety but hardly got the chance -- as soon as we arrived at the supermarket my daughter spotted "Cinderella" pumpkins and, given her current enchantment (and desired Trick o'Treating costume), this is what we took home.

Deep orange red, flattened in shape and heavily sutured, the Rouge Vif d'Etampes do indeed resemble Cinderella's carriage pumpkin. And, as it turned out, it has thick moist flesh, almost custard-like in texture, and it made for delightful pie.

Cinderella Pumpkin Pie

-2 cups of pumpkin puree
-4 eggs
-1/2 cup cream
-1/2 whole milk
-1/2 cup maple syrup
-1/2 brown sugar
-1 tsp each of cinnamon, nutmeg, clove, ginger

Heat the oven to 400 degrees. Mix all ingredients and pour into prepared pie shell. Bake for 40 minutes and remove from oven. The still wobbly center should set during cooling.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Mame meditation

Japanese edamame, or young soy beans in their pods, have practically entered the English lexicon, but I doubt many have heard of sakana-mame, a type of heirloom edamame that is grown in the big rice producing region of Niigata. It's called sakana-mame because the delicate smells that waft from the beans while boiling is good enough to accompany one's cup of sake. Niigata people evidently have a special flair when to comes to naming beans -- another variety of edamame is called yunayo which means "don't tell," that is don't tell your otherwise industrious and frugal daughter-in-law, since everybody knows that you can't keep a woman away from beans.

In Ozu Yasujiro's classic Tokyo Story there is a comical scene where the shrill and tight-fisted hairdresser daughter is sitting at breakfast with her lazy and gourmand husband who comments on the tastiness of beans. His appreciative chopsticks go back and forth until finally she snatches the bowl away saying, "stop it! it's bad to eat so much!" then proceeds to rapidly pick at them herself.

Is it only Japan where bean-eating is considered essentially a female activity, like knitting or gossiping? I do think there is a something meditative about the act of eating beans, perhaps it is the repetition of small bites and gestures, that would encourage the kind of circular logic that supposedly characterize such women's talk.

I remember my grandmother, an expert bean-cooker, bringing out a bowl of black kuromame beans saying, "this batch is a success." I never found out exactly what her standards were but I think it had to do with the plump appearance of the beans and shiny black skins which had not shriveled during the braise. We would sit around the warm kotatsu, four generations of women (my grandmother, my mother, me, my baby daughter,) drinking green tea, nibbling the beans, chatting about everything and nothing.

Whenever I'm in Tokyo, I like to go to the Mamegen store in Azabu-Juban and stock up on bean treats. It's a veritable bean paradise; neatly packaged little bags of daizu (dried soy bean), soramame (Japanese broad bean) and endomame (green bean) beckon from all sides, colorfully and deliciously seasoned with miso, sesame, plum, wasabi flavors and more. (There are also peanuts and almonds, and flavors like coffee and yogurt.) But of-course the one that gives me that warm fuzzy feeling are the lightly sweetened kuromame black beans from Tanba. Nutritiously irreproachable, it's the ideal munchy for long autumn nights, conducive to pensive pastimes like moon-gazing.