Sunday, September 29, 2013

A Single Shard

It's been a nearly nightly ritual since both of our children were born to read to them before bedtime. We just finished this book, "A Single Shard" by Linda Sue Park. My kids have patiently endured many a gallery exhibit, pottery show, or studio open house but they usually need to be bribed with ice cream to make it patiently through any of these for the proscribed amount of time. This book about a potter in 12th Century Korea, however, held their interest from start to finish. And, they learned a bit of pottery history as well.

I've yet to post any kind of a book review here; and since I'm no literary critic to begin with, this will not be the first. Instead, this will just an endorsement of a book that I think will appeal to those interested in pottery, Korean pottery, pottery history, or just a well-written story for children of all ages. I enjoyed reading it for myself just as  much as I enjoyed reading it for my children, who are eight and ten. The characters jumped off the page so vividly for me that I felt as though I was watching a movie (and I'm quite surprised that a movie has yet to be made from this story.) It's a story that could be translated into many cultures and many crafts, even though it is specific to this period in Korean history.

I don't want to spoil the story for anyone, so I won't describe the plot in any detail. I'll just do what the publisher did and quote the inside jacket teaser page:

    "Tree-ear was so called after the mushroom that grew on tree trunks without benefit of parent seed. A good name for an orphan.
    Foraging in the fields and on rubbish heaps, and sharing the food with his friend Crane-man, used to be enough to fill Tree-ear's days. But now all Tree-ear wants to do is watch master potter Min at work.
    Ch'ulp'o is a potters' village, famous for delicate celadon ware, and Min is the most brilliant of all the potters in Ch'ilp'o. He is also known to be short-tempered. Even so, Tree-ear is drawn irresistibly to Min's workplace. He is fascinated by the miracle of the potter's craft and dreams of making a pot of his own someday. His quest leads him down unexpected paths, with hazards and rewards beyond imagining.
    This account of a creative spirit on its journey toward fulfillment is set in twelfth-century Korea, where the course of human destiny could be determined by a single celadon shard."

The author, Park, is a Korean-American writer of a number of children's books that have a historic or cultural backdrop to them. "A Single Shard," published in 2001, was awarded the Newberry Medal by the Association for Library Service to Children , recognizing it as a "most distinguished contribution to American literature for children. I also recall my daughter telling me a few years ago that a good book was read to the class a few years ago about Africa called "A Long Walk to Water." This NY Times best seller was another of Park's novels, and tells the story of one of the Sudanese "Lost Boys" of the 1990's.  In other words, she's a good writer. Even if you're not a pottery nut like me, you can't go wrong with this one.

Saturday, September 07, 2013


We recently hosted a birthday dinner for good friends and brought out some of the pottery collection for a Summer menu inspired by local, seasonal ingredients (many from the birthday boy's own garden) and Japanese kaiseki-style courses. I say "kaiseki-style" in that my food doesn't really compare to true Kyoto Kaiseki Cuisine. It just wants to be that when it grows up. It's the end of the summer in the Pacific Northwest, and we're been enjoying the remaining days of long daylight, warm sun on the tomatoes, the last of the berries, and the first corn harvests. It's a great time to select from a wide variety of ingredients.

Kumidashi Course: 
Not quite an appetizer, the kumidashi course is just a welcoming opener. Often a fragrant beverage, or as simple as warm water to take the chill off during the winter months; I chose this time to serve a chilled watermelon and shiso soup. The vessels are vintage era Japanese porcelain demitasse cups. They show images of the flowers of different seasons such as iris (late spring, early summer,) wisteria (summer,) chrysanthemum (fall,) and winter peonies. These delicate cups are probably Kutani-yaki from the early-mid 1900's.
Also served was mizudashi karigane-cha,  cold-infused karigane (stems of Gyokuro) tea. This is one of our popular Charaku teas throughout the year, but especially now as it infuses well both hot & cold. Served in stemware, along with the porcelain demitasse, it is a elegant diversion to the mostly stoneware dishes to follow in the rest of the meal.

Mukozuke Course:
The mukozuke dish here is replaced by another unexpected piece of glassware, a vintage cut-crystal martini glass with a bamboo motif.
It contains a small salad of NW spot shrimp with avocado, dressed simply in light soy sauce, lime juice, and freshly grated lime zest.
The glass gets replaced later by an actual mukozuke dish with which to eat the rest of the meal.  

The remainder of the mukozuke course is comprise of a small bit of kaiseki rice (rice cooked with not only water, but also some sake and a small bit of salt) and miso soup. The soup today is white miso soup with pureed fresh corn from Small's Farm in Ferndale, WA. From the same farm is a round of dashi-simmered zucchini, topped with a dab of karashi Japanese mustard. The rice bowl is Kyo-yaki with a floral motif, and the soup bowl is Sendai-nuri (black lacquer ware from Sendai in NE Japan.)

Yakimono (Grilled Dish) Course:

On a vintage Mashiko-yaki plate with a Mt. Fuji motif, painted by Minakwa Hiro, was served a simple Beef Tataki dish with homemade ponzu dipping sauce. The plate is not necessarily seasonal, but it was a nod to the recent announcement of "Fuji-san" being named a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The beef was "Kobe Beef" from Snake River Farms in Idaho. I say Kobe in quotations because although it is marketed as Kobe Beef, it is technically American Wagyu and not really from Kobe, or Hyogo Prefecture, from where true Kobe Beef hails. Still, it's some of the best beef we've had in America, and we're lucky that our local market carries it a few times a year and that this week was one of those times. Simply seared on the outside, and left rare in the center, it was then marinated in a mixture of sake and soy sauce for about an hour. It served with a citrus-soy dipping sauce with condiments such as green onions, grated daikon radish, and chili. The vessels here are a half round of green bamboo, and some simple local pots, the pitcher on a karakusa (Chinese grass)- motif saucer.

Sake is introduced with this course, and this meal's offering was "Tochigi Oni." As we used to live in Mashiko, which is located in Tochigi Prefecture; I thought it appropriate. It is also very smooth, and drinks well at room temperature. The guinomi in the foreground is a slip-trailed Onta-yaki piece. Those pictured in the group are (L-R): a warade (wheat straw) motif cup by local potter, Mika Sullivan; the Onta-yaki cup, a tall-handled bajyohai (cup for drinking sake on horseback!) of Shodai-yaki in Kumamoto, a red-glazed & slip decorated piece by an apprentice of Kawai Kanjiro, and a zogan-inlay guinomi by the late National Living Treasure, Shimaoka Tatsuzo.

Azukebachi Course:
This course left at the table was a another summer salad. This one was made with golden cherry tomatoes from our and our guests' garden, dressed in a mixture of freshly grated cucumber (also from our friends's garden) and daikon radish, plus lemon juice & salt.
It's very simple, but really exudes the flavor of the season maybe more that any other dish. It tastes and smells like harvesting tomatoes from your own back yard.
The bowl is a piece from the 1980's by Seattle potter, Liza Richardson. In Japan, it would be considered a donburi, but also works very well with salads and fruit. The floral pattern around the interior rim was perfect for this dish. Liza is someone with whom I used to work, but have lost track of over the years. We got many fine pots from her, and they are still used regularly in our home after all of these years. I hope to find her again!

Hassun Course:
The hassun course typically has two small items, one from the land and one from the sea, with which to enjoy a last cup of sake with the host.
The item from the sea is often something as simple as a few slices of smoked fish. In this case, I broke the rule and substituted something with a similar taste and mouthfeel, Prosciutto di Parma.  We have a good source for Italian & American prosciutto, as well as Serrano Ham from Spain, just north of us at Old World Deli in Bellingham.  I paired these with home-made Strawberry Conserves, with local favorite Sakuma Brothers Farm late-season Albions, topped with a drizzle of Balsamic Vinegar.The plate is an irregular-shaped dessert plate by an Orgeon potter, and decorated with summer dragonflies.

For the final rice course, I instead served cold noodles, a hot summer favorite. These noodles are cha-soba, green tea flavored buckwheat noodles. These are taken in small mouthfuls, dipped quickly in a soy and dashi broth, and then slurped noisily. The dipping cups are authentic soba choko, Imari ware from the mid-Edo Period (1600-1868.) Porcelain, with underglaze gosu (cobalt) blue brushwork.
The takuan pickles usually served with rice are substituted with kombu-pickled Beets, also from Small's Farm. I pickled these with kombu and rice vinegar for just a day to keep the fresh beet flavor and crispness. The dish is a small Onta-yaki plate with a combed design running through the glaze. I picked up these little dishes on a visit to Sarayama back in 2001, and they have been handy favorites for all kinds of side dishes since then.

For the dessert course, came the actual Birthday Cake. This was an idea I've had for a while and finally got to try out. It's a kare-sansui (dry landscape) garden made from cake, chocolate truffles, and matcha. The cake is a white cake, flavored with kuro goma (balck sesame) paste, then crumbled finely and dried to resemble raked sand. The "stones" are handmade chocolate truffles, and they are surrounded by freshly sifted matcha "moss." I enjoy making themed birthday cakes for my children, and this was a first attempt at a cake an adult who has spent time in Japan might appreciate.

 While we might enjoy sipping matcha contemplating a dry garden at a Zen temple in Japan, this matcha was meant to enjoy while "eating" the garden! As always, there were a variety of bowls for our many guests, but these two I thought best represented the season. The top bowl is a hira-chawan (wide tea bowl,) meant for summer use, by Sachiko Furuya. She excels in her use of bamboo ash glaze. This one has a mixture of Shino and take-bai (bamboo ash) glazes. We carry lots of her work on our WaSabiDou site. The other is an aohagi (blue Hagi) nodate chawan. Nodate tea bowls are small and can be used for outdoor use, such as on a summer picnic.

 There is rarely a shortage of desserts in the Tomeoka household, and had a few this day as well. We had a baked Peach Cake, with fresh Sun Crest Peaches from Eastern Washington. The peaches in the filling were marinated in Moscato Arancio, an American Orange Muscat Port, from Creekside Cellars in Boulder, Colorado, then roasted to concentrate their flavor and juices, thus reducing the sogginess often associated with this cake. The plate is another plate by Liza Richardson. The colorful pastel glazes look just as though the plate is decorated with pansies, that are revealed with each slice. Individual serving plates are by Mika Sullivan.

This was served with Lavender Ice Cream, home made by our guests, which was churning away on the front porch during dinner.
Washington State has a number of lavender farms, including a few on nearby Whidbey Island and on San Juan Island. Across the Salish Sea (Puget Sound) in the town of Sequim, one of the largest lavender festivals in the country takes place at nearly a dozen farms. This ice cream left a final taste & memory of a NW summer in all of our mouths. The dish is a porcelain mukozuke dish by Karatsu & Maine potter, Hanako Nakazato, whose work carry at WaSabiDou.

The last beverage was non-caffeinated and served in simple Mashiko cups. This was Natamame-cha (Sword Bean Tea) sent from Japan by a friend whose relatives are bean farmers and produce this bean, along with Kuromame (Black Beans.) They are in the Tamba region of Hyogo Prefecture, well-know for both of these beans. Currently, natamame-cha is enjoying wide popularity in Japan as a health drink.  It was a calming way to end a meal with good friends. I couldn't think of a better way to enjoy the end of another season.