Here in Brooklyn, there’s a popular Australian coffee shop that does a brisk brunch business catering to folks who seem to come more for the fashionable crowd than for the coffee (which is excellent, though perhaps not as good as that at another Australian-owned spot a few blocks east). Now, it’s a bit of a misnomer to call this cafe’s food offerings a proper brunch, as the menu mainly consists of “toasties,” a quaint-sounding (and quaintly sized) open-faced sandwich. For two dollars extra, one can add a dollop of chunky guacamole to the toast; an additional dollar fifty buys a poached egg, which sits jauntily and wobbly atop the avocado. It’s an almost ridiculously simple concept, and in that sense brilliant from a business perspective: a toastie with avocado and an egg plus coffee can run well over $10, plus tip.
Excellent coffee aside, this is an experience that can be easily replicated in the comfort of one’s own home. Aside from provisioning the right ingredients – fresh bread, ripe avocados, and interesting seasonings – there is almost no labor involved in the creation of an avocado toast. But what, exactly, comprises a good avocado toast? Or better yet, what is the ideal?
Readers, I’ve missed you so! Summer has officially passed, and so far all I’ve managed to write about is frozen sweets. Rest assured, my love of vegetables has not waned in the slightest, but I’ve found myself short on time to cook them in new and interesting ways. This recipe, however, is an exception. The inspiration for this dish came by way of a small restaurant in Matsumoto called Dengaku Kiso-ya. Housed in a traditional wooden building just a few paces from the Metoba river, the shop specializes in a simple dish known as dengaku (田楽). At its most basic, dengaku is tōfu or vegetables (usually eggplant) slathered in a sweet miso sauce and broiled until crisp-edged and caramelized.
Ah, August, that most bittersweet of months. Its early, languid days shimmer with heat and promise, offering the tantalizing prospect of an endless summer. Within weeks, dusk vibrates with the hum of cicadas, hinting at autumn’s inexorable approach. Those days are not far off, but there’s something I’ve been dying to share with you before it’s too late: peach and white miso ice cream. Imagine: creamy, caramelized custard layered atop salty tang, each mouthful tinged with the acidity and fragrance of impossibly ripe peaches. The mood of this ice cream is slow and sensual, like eating peaches licked with sea spray and sand after a leisurely day at the beach. It’s summer in a spoonful, and it’s both as peculiar and delicious as it sounds.
In the spirit of brevity, I’ll leave you with the recipe and some favorite scenes from summers past.
Having experienced a few of Japan’s notoriously hot and sticky summers, I’ve picked up some survival tricks that don’t necessitate cranking up the air conditioner. This was particularly important last summer, when energy-saving measures (setsuden) were in effect following March’s disaster. At the time, I was living in a dense Tokyo suburb that routinely ranks as the hottest city in the country. The heat-trapping effects of concrete and asphalt combined with the suffocating environment of a 15 square meter (roughly 160 square foot) apartment meant I had to devise some creative strategies for staying cool, not to mention sane. (Cold showers, frozen washcloths, and a trusty sensu were all critical components of this endeavor.)
Of all the wonderful shops and businesses I frequented while living in Matsumoto, one of the most memorable was a family-owned produce store in Sōza, a quiet residential neighborhood on the city’s northeastern edge. On balmy summer evenings, just as dusk was settling over the rice paddies, I’d take a stroll over to the shop and pick up whatever looked good for dinner: tiny eggplants with shiny, purplish black skin for nasu dengaku, locally made yakidōfu (grilled tofu), or perhaps a bunch of spiky, crunchy mizuna from one of the many neighborhood farms.
For a long time, I fantasized about traveling past the sprawling metropolitan areas of Kantō and Kansai to western Japan, which I’d hoped would be less developed than the densely populated and heavily industrialized area I live in north of Tokyo. Perhaps it’s something in my Scandinavian-American blood, this incessant urge to go west and explore unseen lands. (Admittedly, the promise of new and interesting food factored into my thinking as well.) Having already seen two of Japan’s least populous prefectures, Shimane and Tottori, I decided to swing south to the Sanyō coast and travel west along the Seto Inland Sea, which some have called “the Mediterranean of Japan.”
For the past few weeks, I’ve had an uncharacteristically low appetite. Some part of this is no doubt due to Japan’s notorious natsubate (summer fatigue), but I suspect it’s also because I know my time in Japan will soon come to an end. I’ve been here nearly two years now, a short time by most people’s standards, though it feels like an eternity. It has been an eternity, in some ways, considering all I’ve seen, learned, and discovered. Friendships have been made, while others have sadly faded. I’ve changed, too, in ways that may be difficult to comprehend for some of my friends and family back home. Some might wonder why I can’t accept a compliment without immediately waving it off, and others may find my habit of constantly nodding and bowing in conversation bit peculiar. To be sure, these mannerisms will fade with time, but there will be a rough period while I transition to life back in the States.
That’s still a few months away though. For now, I’m doing my best to soak up the remaining Japanese summer, and continuing to cook and eat this cuisine I have grown to love so much. In fact, summer is still very much with us here, much to my delight. Tomatoes, green beans, eggplants, sweet and hot peppers, edamame, cucumbers, peaches, melons, and plums are still in abundance, though some welcome newcomers — Asian pears, figs, baby kabocha squash, and tiny sweet potatoes — have also begun to appear at the market.