This may be the perfect post-holiday cookbook. When you’ve gorged on cookies, sated yourself on butter, sluiced it all with champagne, it’s time for elegant restraint.
Which sounds dull, but this book’s recipes, anchored in the life of Hachisu’s family farm in the Saitama province of Japan, are not. Their flavors are just as Hachisu describes them, “bold, clear, and direct.”
As are her descriptions of life on the farm, beginning with what initially drew her to Japan, how she and her husband fell in love, and how after marriage, having a family, and founding a school, she still sometimes feels like an outsider. Tall and blonde, Hachisu moved from California to Japan as a young woman and immersed herself in the culture. But it wasn’t an easy step into a warm bath.
She writes about their season-focused farm life as well as the need for occasional escape to Western culture. Her children, her teaching, and her culinary life are toggles between two worlds.
But the recipes in this book are firmly anchored in Japan and on the farm. And they are honest—sometimes so simple, like Raw Egg on Hot Rice, flavored with nothing more than soy sauce, that you can’t imagine they’d have any flavor at all. Other times, so complicated—like homemade tofu—you can only read in awe of the effort.
But the mindfulness with which the dishes are made will refocus your cooking style and perhaps your palate. A dish of Soba with Walnut Dipping Sauce is a focused balance of earthy and salty flavors. Egg Custard Pots with Asparagus and Peas are comfort food and simple home cooking—if you don’t have asparagus, mushrooms are a nice variation—as would any bit of leftover vegetable you have on hand.
They feel like entrée into a culture and into Hachisu’s life and the book is infused with a steady calm that she brings to cooking, teaching, and writing.
And as someone who is in the culture but not of it, she is an excellent translator. The glossary of ingredients will direct you through the mysteries of kombu and karashina. Once you know the ingredients, you can round out your pantry with recipes in the chapter of dressings and dipping sauces that make authentic flavor easy to accomplish.
Likewise, her shopping tips are easy and reassuring. When faced with a shelf full of nori or noodles, she suggests that after you check the ingredients for the least processed, choose the one with the “coolest packaging.” It’s part of trusting your instincts, which is how Hachisu made her home in Japan and how she suggests cooking her recipes—with attention to seasons, simplicity, and your own common sense.