the index

A meal to remember

Filed in: spring

An album of food memories

Tai bozushi

Spring erupted prematurely with a vigor that felt almost desperate, as though the earth were breaking from the shackles of winter and running for its life. But it’s been said that perceptions reveal more about the observer than the observed. I’m sure I’m not alone in feeling bound, shackled by a relentless uncertainty, a blurry vision of a vague future that is sure to come but takes no visible shape. It’s called languishing, I’ve learned. If there were ever a time to let go of the past, detach from any expectation of the future, and focus on the present, it’s now. Surely a lesson I needed to learn, though delivered in package I surely could  never have imagined. I doubt I’m alone.

Sushi rice

Sushi picnic

Early as spring was, the cherry trees put on a marvelous show. And for the second year in a row hanami, the annual gatherings to relish the fleeting beauty of sakura blossoms over a leisurely picnic lunch, didn’t seem prudent. And yet it also didn’t feel right not to celebrate, celebrate life and beauty and the return of the sun and the songbirds. It didn’t feel right not to take Kuniko, who suffered a second stroke back in January, out to see something beyond the four walls of her home which is more than ever the epicenter of her shrinking orbit. Because how many more orbits does she have? How many do any of us have? Today is all we ever have.

Also, I recently learned to make bozushi, a type of sushi pressed into a long rectangular shape and cut for serving. There may be no more elegant and delicious picnic than sushi made with seasonal snapper and kinome, the fresh leaves of the sansho tree. So really, how could we not. We drove to the top of Kagamiyama on a weekday and walked through the large and spacious park until we found a cherry tree we could call our own. I doled out slices of sushi rice topped with kinome leaves, snapper sashimi, and itakonbu, a thin flavored kombu soaked in vinegar that holds everything in place. It was a glorious day, the trees in full bloom, and to my delight Kuniko seemed delighted by the sushi more than anything else. 

Hanami cherry blossom viewing picnic

Kuniko’s recent stroke wasn’t nearly as severe as the first seven years ago, but it caused a pronounced shift, most notably in her capacity to hold on to short term memories. What was a three week hospitalization, she remembers as three days. And she can’t remember from one day to the next what she ate the day before. Neither can I sometimes, for that matter, but for Kuniko, a woman whose lifelong folio of memories is built upon the framework of food, it’s a clear indication of an inured mind. Which is why it was a surprise when Hanako reported that she had mentioned the sushi again the next morning. And a bit of a shock when it was the fist thing she mentioned when I saw her a week later. She said just how delicious it had been, going into detail as to how it was pressed just right so that the grains of rice held together but maintained their structure on the tongue. I can think of no higher compliment than the impact of a meal I made firing a synapse so strong that despite the odds, it joined her already full and vibrant album of food memories.

Snapper

Sushi rice

comments +

  1. how WONDERFUL that your culinary skills can bring such delight to Kuniko! and how wonderful that she can find pleasure in food again!

    • Prairie Stuart-Wolff says:

      Elizabeth, She often says food is the only pleasure remaining, and her appetite is as healthy as ever!

  2. Mora says:

    While much saddened learning of Kuniko’s January stroke, I was truly heartened that it was your bozushi that fired a synapse for her. What an album of food memories she must have. And how fortunate your life with her from which to learn and share. We are all on journeys unknown but embracing our todays adds comfort for sure. Sending many blessings to Kuniko and you all. – Mora

    • Prairie Stuart-Wolff says:

      Thank you Mora, Her album is the most vibrant of all. Though she doesn’t remember for long, in the moment she still relishes each meal with the same verve.

  3. Anne Alderete says:

    Can you ship a box of this tai bozushi to L.A. please? It looks absolutely wonderful and looks nice and delicate (sometimes bozushi looks brick-like and can be a bit intimidating with its high rice content!). Love that it made such a lasting impression on Kuniko:).

    • Prairie Stuart-Wolff says:

      Anne, I so wish I could send it! Or better yet visit and make it together.

  4. Meg Rosenberg says:

    Lovely story of spring, seizing the day, cherishing your elder AND beautiful, delicious food. All the pieces fit together so well.

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If Kuniko, my mother-in-law, were to write the story of her life it might read more as a menu than a memoir. 

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