16 October 2018

Objects of Use and Beauty - Japanese culinary tools

Wall hanging, Kitchen Tools, Robin Hoshino.

Recently DH and drove to the Fuller Craft Museum, in Brockton, Massachusetts, to view Objects of Use and Beauty, on view from June 2, 2018 through October 28, 2018.  This exhibit is a celebration of the Japanese batterie de cuisine.  Japanese master craftspeople make cooking tools not just for function but for delight. And why not? What is more important, or fundamental, than feeding our families, friends and guests.

The traditional beckoning cat, welcoming guests to food-related establishments.

An except from the wall text, by co-curators Merry White and Debra Samuels,
Japanese tools for the kitchen are admired as objects of beauty.  They are also practical, functioning utensils for the preparation of food.  Dedicated craftspeople design and produce them in materials ranging from metal and wood, to stone, bamboo, reeds, grasses, ceramic, silicone, fiberglass, and plastic.  These tools reflect their makers' art, as well as the functions each object serves - producing and serving foods desired for their taste and beauty around the world.  In Japan, food is a multisensory experience: me de taberu, "eat with your eyes," the saying goes.  Aesthetic pleasure, too, applies to the tools that produce it. That "beauty in use" - yo no bi - inspires this exhibition at Fuller Craft Museum.

For what chef - Japanese or otherwise - could not enjoy the feel of a perfectly weighted knife, the warmth of a wood rice paddle, the glint of light off a hammered pot, and the textures and tastes of foods cut, sieved, grated, or simmered with such utensils?

Plastic food - looks good enough to eat, doesn't it?

Chopsticks rests.
I've had the opportunity to enjoy and try a wide variety of foods, in restaurants both in the US and in my travels.  When my children were still at home, a favorite restaurant was a noodle shop (now closed, sadly) near Boston University.  My husband would rig up a kind of "hinge" using an elastic band and a folded napkin to help the kids learn to use chopsticks.  We didn't know about "training wheels" chopsticks.

Chopsticks for kids or any beginners.

Chopsticks are also used in cooking, to manipulate food or cookware - the adorable pig lid below can be lifted by inserting a chopstick into the pig's nose; the "nostrils" also vent steam.  The pig pan rests on a pretend cooktop, with cookware and serveware neatly arranged on shelves as they would be in a real Japanese kitchen. The tools displayed include small hand-made baskets, identical to ones used a century ago, and the latest computerized rice cooker.

THE most adorable cooking pan I have ever seen.

Japanese-style kitchen, complete with a home cook's white apron.

Teapots, bowls, plates, sake set, chopsticks and other items.

The exhibit kitchen reminded me of the home of Kyoto-base artist Yoshiko Jinzenji; Ms. Jinzenji was kind enough to host my textile studio group in 2012.  She and her staff served us a most delicious cheesecake.

The kitchen of Yoshiko Jinzenji.

Another view of Ms. Jinzenji's kitchen.

Plastic food aside, most of the utensils in the exhibit are made from traditional materials, using techniques taught by one generation to the next.  Below is a mortar thrown on a potter's wheel and glazed after the inside is incised with a pattern of grooves. The groove pattern improves the pulverizing of foods like sesame seeds.  The pestle is hardwood, which does not damage the ceramic bowl. The small mat keeps everything from slipping around.

Mortar and pestle.

Detail of grooves on unglazed interior of mortar.

In addition to clay, traditional materials include bamboo and reeds used in making baskets and rolling mats, used to shape sushi.  This exhibit featured delightful short videos, edited by Alex Griswold, showing craftspeople making the objects in the exhibit.  In one of the clips, Mr. Tanaka Kotaro splits bamboo and weaves the splints into rolling mats using cotton thread. Cheap Chinese imported mats have cut into the market for the mats but Mr. Kotaro also makes custom screens and window blinds.

Strainers for noodles.

Bamboo rolling mat made by Tanaka Kotaro, pictured.

Graters of all descriptions feature in Japanese cuisine, specialized for the type of food - daikon radishes, ginger, garlic, for example -  to be minced. The image below, on the left, show three graters made from bamboo and wood and used for radishes.  This type of grater is affectionately known as a "demon grater" as the teeth resemble the teeth and horns of a demon.  Meet the demon, who is more silly than scary to me, in the tenugui, or hand cloth, on the right.  And what is a tenugui? From the wall text:
Tenugui (literally, "hand-wiping") are cloths used for many purposes, from head cloths for actors, festival revelers and cooks, to drying towels and sieving in cooking.  Originating in the Heian Period (794-1192) they have become the "canvas" for designers and advertising, and wrapping for gifts.  They are made of cotton, measuring 35 cm by 90 cm, and the ends are unfinished, to hasten drying.
When I was in Japan, I learned that many traditional-style ladies restrooms did not stock paper towels, so to dry my hands after washing I began packing my own tenugui in my handbag. These small textiles are also fun for home decorating and special hangers can be ordered from sites such as Etsy.

Cooking in Japan is largely based on seasonal availability of ingredients and this applies to garnishes too. Below is a delightful collection of twelve stainless steel cutters for vegetables, each shape relating to a month of the year.  I've tried to label the image, and here's the list: 
January: Pine
February: Narcissus
March: Plum
April: Cherry
May: Spring Greens
June: Bellflower
July: Bamboo
August: Gourd
September: Chrysanthemum
October: Gingko
November: Maple
December: Fan

Seasonally-themed garnish cutters.

Cutters decorate a wall - my photo doesn't do it justice.

Another set of identical cutters formed a delicate display on a museum wall.  This made me wonder if vintage cookie cutters might be displayed in a similar way; the decorating world is way ahead of me, as shown in this lovely photography by Polly Eltes, below.


Bento boxes, used for food transport, make an equally charming display.  Talk about "a place for everything and everything in its place" - a complete tea ceremony set is nestled in its custom-made box, below.

Bento boxes, practical and fun.

Tea ceremony set, neatly packed and ready to go.

The cast iron teapots below are made by the Oigen foundry, in Oshu City, which has been in business since 1852; this region of Japan has been noted for iron work for 800 years.  I'll end with a close up of the cat teapot, in a nod to my cat, who turned seventeen this year.

Cast iron teapots.


14 October 2018

Rite of autumn - homemade applesauce

Color on the Charles River.

A seasonal tradition in our home is venturing out to a local farm and picking apples. Or just buying a peck from our farmer's market here in Newton.  Then DH makes applesauce using three ingredients: apples, water and his secret weapon, Calvados, apple brandy from Normandy. Here follows a boringly detailed method for home-made applesauce.

A peck of apples, large pot and food mill.

The equipment - large pot, and a food mill (we use one by Oxo). The ingredients - the aforementioned Calvados, and about fifteen apples (we like Macoun).

Scrubbed apples.

You do not need to peel the apples, but wash them well. We use "low-spray" apples, which means the farmer uses fewer chemicals.  Cut each apple in half and remove the core and seeds, and any stem fragments.  Place apple halves into large pot (DH uses an 8-quart pot.) Add a scant cup of water and bring the pot to a boil. Turn the heat down to medium-low, and simmer, covered, for about one hour.  The apples release plenty of liquid as they cook.  Stir occasionally.

Apples being prepped.

Pot full of apples.

Cooking down.

After an hour, almost all of the apples chunks should be soft; it's time to add about 1/2 cup of Calvados. Cook, on low heat, for another 30 minutes, or until all the apples are mushy.  The fragrance of the apples and brandy will delightfully perfume your home.

Good quality apple brandy.

Cooked apples, ready for the food mill.

Then set up your food mill over a large bowl, using a medium grinding disc. It's hard to believe, but my grandmother had to make all her own baby food using a food mill back in the 1920's, before the Gerber baby food company began industrial production in 1927.

Use the medium grinding disc.

Load the cooked apples, peels and all, into the food mill and turn the handle to push the apples through the disc. Every now and then reverse direction to dislodge peel residue. By the way, children love to turn the food mill handle.  As the cooked apples are processed, simply add transfer more apples from the pot to the food mill.

Cooked apples loaded into food mill.

The chef at work.

Silky applesauce emerges from the mill.

Almost done.

Peel residue in mill.

Remember to get every bit of apple-y goodness by scrapping the bottom of the mill.

Yum! We will freeze some for mid-winter.

A bowl with just a touch of cinnamon. A taste of autumn in New England.

07 October 2018

Rising Star Quilt Show

Susan Campos, Autumn Glow pattern.

Autumn in New England - russett leaves, crisp, cool air, pumpkin spice flavoring overkill - and a highlight of the season, the Rising Star Quilt Guild's annual show, held this year on October 5 and 6, at St. Brigid's Church in Lexington, Massachusetts.  This is always a delightful show, and below are a few of the quilts which particularly resonated with me.

Falls colors and imagery featured in several quilts.  This year, I've tried to give links to the quilt patterns used by the quilters where applicable, just click on the pattern name. These links are provided only for convenience, I have no connection to the designer or vendors and no endorsement is implied.

Jessica Gillis, Fall Sunshine. Sunrise Sunset pattern.

Carolyn O'Hara, Bali Blast. Prism quilt pattern by Nancy Rink.

The show included a lovely tribute to the late Delores McCravy, a long-time guild member and some of her work was on display, including the appliqued and pieced quilt below.

Delores McCravy, Turning Leaves.

Turning Leaves, detail.

Folks of all ages enjoyed the show.

One thing which sustains us through the New England winter is our memories of summer, and several artists were involved with a group challenge related to summer, recalling memories of the beach, colorful tote bags, blooms, and rippling water.

Beach Buoys, Barbara Tarrh.

Marilyn Jackson, Happy Baskets.

Cathy Papazian, Reflecting on Monet's Waterlilies. 

The pattern above is based on the Japanese Jigsaw Block.  Elizabeth Habich was also inspired by flower imagery in the work below; Ms. Habich created the pattern from her photograph. Note the background fabrics, which Elizabeth hand-dyed.

Elizabeth Habich, Honeysuckle, detail.

In addition to her skill with applique and hand-dyeing, Ms. Habich is also an expert at painting with thread.

Elizabeth Habich, Eagle Lake, Acadia, detail.

Some of the small quilts have great graphic impact. I have to confess I am also partial to cardinals.

Deborah McKenna, Birds at the Feeder.

Since we have birds, why not butterflies? I did not know what a "QAL" is - it stands for Quilt Along, projects individually but as part of an online group all working to the same pattern, in this case one of Tula Pink's designs.

Angie Fitzreiter, I-Heart-QALs, detail.

Moving on to mammals, the quilt below made a big impression. (Sorry, couldn't resist. I have no idea who Susan B is.) In case you would like to make your own elephant, the pattern is at this site.

Peggy Boning, Susan B Elephant.

There's something about black, white and gray with yellow....but also rainbows.  The pattern for the Ombre quilt can be found here, https://huntersdesignstudio.com/product/ombre-star/.

Jean Necheles, Paul's Ombre. 

Christina Crouch, Hoops in the Dark, pattern Metro Hoops.

Dorothee Kennedy, Spring Fling Fun.

The Boutique.

This show always has a good selection of vendors and The Boutique features items made by guild members.  Finally, some quilts featuring red, always a fan favorite. Love to the Moon and Back is a Dresden Plate variation. The last quilt in this blog post goes wild with many, many traditional blocks together in a delicious scrum of red and white.

Jeanne Funk-Geddes, Love to the Moon and Back.

Susan Campos, Red and White Sampler.

Red and White Sampler, detail.