November & December, 2020

In a typical year, the cold weather alone would’ve been enough to drastically reduce my interest in taking photos. Throw in a covid lockdown on top of that, and all remaining interest to take photos outdoors went up in smoke. November came and passed with virtually no interesting shots to show for it. 

While indoors, I’ve taken interest in two related topics. The first is an obsession with cutlery and knife sharpening, which is frankly too ridiculous for me to explain. Thankfully, the second topic is cooking, which is a lot more practical and a lot less embarrassing to discuss.

Though I’ve always enjoyed cooking, I had always been lukewarm about time-consuming recipes due to a perceived lack of sufficient payoff. But now that there’s plenty of time to burn. I’ve been trying to make some new dishes that I wouldn’t have considered in the past.

First up is soba noodles. The version I made had negi, aburaage, chicken and shiitake, but really all you need for hot soba (besides store-bought noodles) is some dashi mixed in with some soba soup base (kaeshi), the latter of which only consists of soy sauce, mirin and sugar. The beauty of soba soups is that once you make the kaeshi, it can be kept in the fridge for a long time, making subsequent meals easier to prepare.

All in all, really not too difficult to make! I look forward to making some more hot soba for New Year’s with tempura and fishcakes.

I also made shrimp cutlet burgers, which is minced shrimp mixed with chopped shrimp that is lightly frozen before breaded and fried. It took an absurd amount of shrimp to make just two patties, and it really didn’t feel like an optimal way to enjoy shrimp. Thankfully, when combined with the brioche buns the wife baked, it made for a good meal; there is a subtle sweetness to the shrimp underneath the crunchy breading. With that said, I’d never make this again.

Next up is ramen, which is the very definition of a dish with an excessive amount of prep. The version I made is from Japan: The Cookbook by Nancy Singleton Hachisu, which is a greatly simplified version of the dish optimized for home cooking. The soup is made with chicken and vegetables, the meat topping the byproduct of the soup, and the soup base is just simple pantry ingredients rather than a whole separate process.

Even so, it takes quite a few hours on the stove to make the soup, not to mention having to cook the noodles, eggs, and greens separately at the very end of the process. It is quite rewarding at the end, but this truly is the limit to the amount of work I’m willing to put in for a couple of bowls of noodles.

After considering getting a takoyaki griddle for more than a year, I finally bit the bullet. I had always figured that octopus is too expensive of an ingredient for a snack food, but my tune changed ever since noticing frozen chopped octopus sold at Korean supermarkets. With the main ingredient taken care of, it became much easier to justify the purchase, as the rest of the ingredients I already have from making okonomiyaki regularly.

Forming the batter into balls is pretty simple, and at no point in the process did I worry about the batter burning, even though I was pretty slow at flipping the balls. The taste is pretty similar to what I remember, though the balls didn’t burn off the roof of my mouth like those from the stalls in Japan, which I am perfectly fine with not experiencing again.

Finally, I made some spatchcocked roast chicken with mashed potatoes and buttered corn and peas for Christmas. The recipe was from Serious Eats and a lot of the work went into making the jus using the chicken spine. The chicken came out great, and this is an really easy way to make chicken. I did find multi-tasking the sauce and side dishes a bit stressful, but overall it was rewarding, and I got 6 serving of good food out of an afternoon’s work. Would definitely do this again, hopefully for more people around the table in 2021!

Food wasn’t the only thing that happened these past two months. I removed the botched top coat on my HGUC Jesta, only to spray gloss top coat by mistake. Though unintentional, I liked how the shinier coating turned out, so I decided to stick with it. That said, I am a bit nervous about scratching the gloss coating, since the blemish will most likely be more visible than the flat coating.

Takeout bento from Sushi Nishinokaze, a local omakase sushi restaurant which had to scramble to adapt to the lockdown.

Anyways, that wraps up 2020. It has certainly been a strange year. While my own household has gotten by without any tangible losses to the pandemic, it’s been hard not to view the world without some emotional distance. There’s profound unfairness to the health and financial damage this virus has caused in the communities around the world, and I find it rather depressing to dwell on it.

So instead of heavy thoughts, let’s all think positive! The vaccines will work without a hitch! Your favourite local restaurants will survive! And I’ll finally cash in that raincheck on that ill-fated third trip to Japan!

But in all seriousness, I wish you all the very best for the new year — if 2020 was the world tumbling off a cliff, then let 2021 be the trampoline to get it back airborne.

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