First Snow November 2006
I love the idea of new beginnings, wiping the slate clean, starting anew. I’ve spent much of my adult life in a constant state of transit. I started right after college with three years in D.C., another two in San Diego, San Francisco four years, Beijing two, back to San Fran for another two years, Shanghai four, and Florida 2two. I’ve been living in Vermont for seven years this November 2013. It is the longest I’ve stayed anywhere.
The smell in the Vermont air reminds me of when I first arrived; a mellow aroma of burning wood, dried leaves, and cold, clean air heavy with moisture. The smell, the open spaces and landscape like you’d see in a Virginia Burton Lee picture book reminds me of where I grew up in Indiana. My quest to move here was simple. I wanted a good place to raise my son fueled by a desperation for a brand new start. I’ll never forget the day I arrived to my new life in the Green Mountains.
I was coming from sunny, warm Naples, Florida where two years transitioning back to American life after living in Shanghai for four years. My re-entry wasn’t only cultural, but a new and frightening frontier alone as a single mother of a toddler. I felt like I had stepped out of a time machine where friends had moved, changed jobs, and had children.
Living in Florida, I worked tirelessly on my food memoir to distract me from my divorce and the scariness of raising an infant alone. Rather than resting with my baby son, I wrote everyday carving out time during morning and evening nap time and a late night writing schedule of 8:30 pm – 1:00 am. I held my breath hoping that my son would sleep through the night.
When I finished, my agent Carol shopped the manuscript around to publishing houses for six months without no success. Calling me from California, she said bluntly, it wasn’t going to happen. My hopes were dashed but, I got up and dusted myself off. I equivocally decided I would move to Vermont. I could almost taste a place free of memories, associations, old haunts, and attachments to my former life. In Vermont, I’d figure out what to do with the book. Maybe shop it around myself. My rationale was half-baked and full of holes. I went for it anyway!
It was early October 2006 and my move South to North had to take place before the first snow. That November a week before Thanksgiving, I flew into Burlington airport and met the movers at my rental home in Charlotte, Vermont just before twilight as big fluffy snowflakes were beginning to fall like cottonwood.
Fresh from the moving truck, I got behind the wheel of my car blazoned with a colorful Florida sunset license plate and no snow tires. I drove through white-out conditions to get to a friend’s home where I’d spend the night before unpacking my new home. From the passenger seat next to me, my dog Oscar looked at me with questioning eyes . Wearing thin leather loafers and socks, a jacket for sixty-degree Southwest Florida weather and slipping and sliding in the snow shower conditions, panic suddenly gripped me and I thought, what am I doing?
Safely arriving at my friends’ home, laughter, a warm fire, the safety of old friendships and a hearty meal awaited me. Feigning tiredness from the plane flight, I retired early and under the cover of thick quilts and a dark room I self-indulgently cried in Oscar’s nape.
My cell phone buzzed in my handbag. I was too cold to get out of bed, so I let the call go into voicemail. Cry over, I listened to the message. It was Carol. She said a small publishing house in California wanted to buy my story. Outside the frosted window, the pitch blackness that felt ominous and hopeless moments ago suddenly felt different. It was the same darkness but now it was all better. This was my new start.
Japanese Pizza or okinomiyaki
I unpacked and prepared my rental house for the arrival of my nearly 3-year old son. I experienced moments where I thought I had made a mistake and even now seven years later, I still do. Over the next year, it was the million dollar view of the Adirondacks right outside my picture window that would become my friend.
As I unpacked, I found dry Japanese ingredients: bonito flakes, dried kombu and fun Japanese condiments. All the things to make okonomiyaki (Japanese pizza) what I consider to be the ultimate comfort food.
Okonomiyaki (Japanese pizza)
This is a great recipe to use whatever leftover meat and vegetables you may have.
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
2 cups dashi (instant or homemade)
1 egg, beaten
4 ounces ground pork (can also use shrimp, chicken, or octopus)
1/4 cup grated carrots
1/4 cup frozen peas
2 green onions chopped
Toppings and Condiments
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon soy sauce
Mayonnaise (Kewpie brand, sold in Japanese grocers, has a pleasant sweetness and creaminess)
Japanese pizza toppings
Dried bonito flakes
Red pickled ginger (sold minced in a jar)
Shredded nori (seaweed)
Sift the flour and baking powder into a large mixing bowl. Add the dashi a trickle at a time, stirring until the batter is smooth. Fold the egg, meat or seafood, carrots, peas, and green onions into the batter.
Pour batter into a hot skillet. Flatten each with circular motions, spreading the batter thinly and evenly to make circles. If the pancakes are too thick, the texture will be doughy.Cook until bubbles appear in the middle of the pancakes and the edges are brown.Carefully flip the discs over and brush the browned side of each with the Worcestershire and soy sauce mixture. Continue cooking a minute longer, or until an aroma rises. Remove from pan.
On the side with the soy sauce and Worcestershire sauce, drizzle to taste mayonnaise, tonkatsu sauce, and sirracha. Finish with a sprinkling of bonito flakes, red pickled ginger and shredded nori. Serve immediately.
Makes about 4 – 8″ large discs or 6 – 8 4″ small pizzas
Dashi (Bonito Fish Stock)
The kombu in dashi
3 cups of water
5-inch square of konbu (dried kelp)
1/3 cup katsuo (dried bonito flakes)
Gently wipe off the powdery white flakes on the dried kelp with a dry paper towel.
In a small saucepan, soak the kelp in the water for 30 minutes.
Watch the water as it heats up over a medium high flame. When bubbles begin to appear around the surface of the pan, remove the kelp and discard.
**Do not boil or overcook or the seaweed flavor will overwhelm the stock**
Add the dried bonito flakes. As soon as the water comes to a boil, turn off the heat. Leave the flakes in the water until the flakes sink to the bottom of the pan.
Strain the fish flakes through a metal strainer or tight weave cheesecloth. Discard the bonito flakes and set the fish stock aside.
Makes 2 servings