Cold Peanut Butter Noodles1 liquid ounce soy sauce
1 squirt (~ 3/8 tsp) 100% black sesame oil
1 Tbs Japanese seasoned rice vinegar
1 Tbs apple cider vinegar
1 Tbs sugar
1 or 2 Tbs peanut butter (smooth or crunchy, up to you)
2 people's worth of cooked noodles rinsed in cold water
shredded cucumber and/or ham and or veggies (optional)
Blend the first six things together using whatever you might have. A jar with a lid will also work, just shake it until there are no lumps of peanut butter left. Stir it with the other two things just before serving (the veggies will wilt with long exposure to the sauce. It's cold, perfect for hot days, and combines legume and grain proteins decently.
I love cold peanut noodles. I forgot how to make them and I knew Mom knew, so when we went to visit it was one of the first things I asked to see and to get a recipe for and then Mom also planned to make them for Sunday's dinner. So we had them, with teriyaki salmon, grilled chicken, and I also grilled shrimp in the shell. Salad to boot and we all munched happily. Saturday night was a visit to the Chinese restaurant where John and I had our wedding banquet, it's been 12 years since we've been there and it was fun to go back and see all the old decor. It used to be the only Chinese banquet room that could hold 200 people in San Diego, now there are dozens of establishments that could accomidate that many. They recognized Mom, and the food was excellent. We got a few freebies as well, simply from them recognizing Mom. Turns out that the owner sometimes cooks entirely vegetarian meals for the local Buddist temple, that was interesting to know.
First thing off the plane was In and Out burgers with the crisp, all-potato fries. Kathy took us there as the parents didn't want to eat there. Kathy also took us, Monday night, for sushi at Sushi Ota, which is a most excellent sushi place, she even got us reservations at the bar. I love great sushi places, where everything is fresh, the chef knows, thoroughly, what it is that is being served and how to make it even better for the person eating it. Ken did really, really well by us.
Singer taught me, really well, the respect one should have for the chef and with Shiro, we usually just let him do what he wants; but he also knows Singer, so knows the kind of astonishing things to pull out that Singer and, by association, we, would enjoy. Ken, our sushi chef for the evening, didn't know us from j-random person off the street. Kathy has taught me, really well, how to order what it is that one wants and then go from that. At the bar I've always been mildly shy of ordering things for myself, but with Kathy there ordering all kinds of wild and crazy things simply because she likes them, it was much easier. I still like respecting the idea of a progression of tastes, of moving from simpler, milder fishes to something more complex and richer. Kathy started right off with the uni, the sea urchin, which is fruity, rich and really, really overpowering. I just couldn't do that, so, instead, John and I started with albacore, white tuna as the Japanese sometimes call it.
Ken topped it with a little red pickled stuff, some yellow pickled stuff and said, "You don't have to put soy on this..." as John had already dumped a big wad of wasabi in his soy, which is a mild insult to a sushi chef because most good chefs feel that they've balanced the sushi for you to what should be the optimum taste and texture combination. If you dunk such a chef's works in soy so thick with wasabi it's green, they assume that all you *really* want to taste is wasabi and write you off as someone with no taste buds and tend to either ignore you or not do their best work for you. Ken, in this case, was prefectly right and the fish was rich and tender and very nice and the tiny bit of gently sour, crunchy, sweet, and salty pickled items lent it good depth along with just the slightest bite of wasabi, for me, and a rather heftier portion for John.
So, to start, I knew we were in very good hands. Next salmon, cut like gorgeous goldfish with creamy orange-gold tails of tender fish, just a touch of soy because I like the salt. Then hamachi, yellow tail tuna, mellow and warmer than the albacore, milder than the salmon, but still about as rich. Kathy asked for and got two huge chunks of ankimo, or monkfish liver pate, and while she probably could have finished it, I happily snapped up chunks of it when she offered. I could never have finished that large an order on my own. It's extra rich and a very strong taste, so would have completely overwhelmed even the hamachi. Now that I'd stepped into the arena of the richer items I ordered my order of uni. Uni looks like little orange brains set in the seaweed and rice cup. It tastes like cantalope and sea, sweet and briney and complex and rich and fruity. It has to be ultra fresh for it to taste like that. Anything with any age on it will be bitter and awful.
The softshelled crab arrived soon after I ate my uni, and it was spiny and golden crusted and crisp and there were two of them cut in half for the three of us. We happily dipped and crunched. Mmmmm... calcium. It's tender in the center with the lovely juicy sweetness of crab and the lovely crunch of the soft shells deep fried in very light tempura. Before this trip, John and I had eaten at a sushi place in Boulder and were terribly disappointed when the soft shell crab had been laden with a breadcrumb crust instead of the nearly cloud light tempura we were used to, and the rest of the sushi had been completely overwhelmed with the frontal palette flavors of salt and sweet. That had been really bad and sad, especially since we paid nearly as much for the bad sushi as we were paying for Ken's work.
After the crab I had my favorite, saba, which is pickled mackerel. A firm, solid fleshed cut with a beautifully shiny silver skin and the pickling gives it this additional density and deep sea fish richness of fat. He cut me two pieces in my order and I ate the first and enjoyed the density, texture, and flavor of the richly flavored fish. Ken watched me eat the first and the suddenly snagged my second piece and then went into a refridgerator storage area, pulled out a neat, square storage container, and pulled out what looked very much like clear plastic. When he handled it it was more like a thick, clear sheet of some hardened gel substance, which he carefully sliced a piece off of exactly the size of the saba slice on my sushi and he laid it on top of the fish. He then gave it back to me, and watched me intently while I ate it. The sheet was tangy, crunchy, and complimented the richness of the saba perfectly. John and Kathy, watching me, said, immediately, "We want what *she* had!!" So Ken, laughing, gave them each an order of the saba with the transluscent sheet on it, they both liked it and both gave me their second pieces. I ate my first, and then Ken again picked up my second piece and put a few of the pickle accents on it and looked at Kathy and John again, "Want another two?" Much laughter.
We were getting a little punch drunk by now. On fish, no less. And we had Ken make us each something that he thought we should have. Kathy got nigiri built from something cooked a little as she'd just had anagi, sea eel that's cooked with a little teriyaki sauce on top. I got something that looked like a domino with contrasting color tops. There seemed to be some kind of chopped tuna or salmon underneath, a gentle blob of dikon mixed in some white sauce with two transluscent globes of some kind of fish on the whiteness. The fish eggs had transluscent shells and deep orange centers. On the other side was a nice, fresh blob of uni with a flake of something white. The colors balanced and when I put it in my mouth it was smooth and rich and creamy in texture and a mild blend of fascinating flavors of sea and dikon, mildly sweet and utterly delicious. John asked for something spice and Ken asked back, "Spicy spicy spicy?" "Three spicy?" asked John, back. Ken nodded vigorously... and then proceeded to wrap three rather spicy things into one roll. John had been eating rolls up to that point, which made the progression actually make good sense. I liked that he noticed that.
I finished off with my favorite sushi of the moment, tobiko with quail egg. I love how the flying fish roe crunches between the teeth and the richness of eating a thousand eggs is just kinda cool. So, when the three of us were completely and totally stuffed, the waitress came by with three small dishes of red bean ice cream. There is always room for ice cream, sometimes less than others, but we managed to spoon the creamy, cool, light dessert in, though gradually.
We didn't just eat.
We also went to the 99 Market and bought a bunch of stuff that I don't find easily here in Boulder. Stuff like a bottle of 100% black sesame oil. The market was, as usual, packed and filled, every row had some different treasure, everything from fruit based beef jerky of a particular kind that's only found in California, to a sushi rice that I've loved but haven't seen anywhere other than in 99 Market. Then there was the Chinese restaurant supply place, that had 20 inch long chop sticks for cooking and deep frying, plenty of gorgous shrimp frozen in blocks of ice, one gallon cans of hoisin sauce, and various other beauties. That was really fun to walk through and see what there was to see. There were even bags of wheat glutin in nicely fried balls for cooking with. Yum.
Okay, so it wasn't all food, either.
Beaches were a theme as well, various beaches. Kathy took John and I out into the fog and mist on Point Loma, by all the naval cemetaries filled with people for Memorial Day. And we wandered through the lighthouse and down to the tidal pools out on the point, never seeing, even for an instant, the view of the city, and the bay all around the Point. The fog was so thick we could breath deep and nearly feel drowned. Ragged curtains of fog blew by us on the roads in and Kathy apologized for the day; but John and I really revelled in the moisture. After so many years of feeling dried out coming to San Diego from Seattle, it was astonishing to arrive here from Boulder and feel like it was actually humid! Kathy then took us to La Jolla Shores, so she could get a sandwich and we could actually get beach. We walked all the way down to Scripps beach and back again, just watching the hundreds of people out on the beach, swimming, kayaking, surfing, building sand castles, and generally burning even under the mildly overcast sky.
Mom and Dad took John and I on their traditional walk around downtown La Jolla, where they knew all the shops, the only available parking, the route they liked to take, the street performers, and an occassional homeless person they had always seen there. The night was balmy and the place was hopping with people, and an art store had a bunch of wildlife pictures, and I, of course, bought a few tiger cards.
John and I had a few hours to ourselves one afternoon, while folks were napping or otherwise occupied, and I took him to the beach that was just a few hundred yards from my old high school. Birdrock, I guess it's called. We just went down and walked back and forth in the small cove, cool water lapping at our feet, the crash and hiss of the waves, a little girl screaming with delight as a wave kissed her nose, the spray coating my sunglasses and skin, and sand between the toes. There is one spot in this small cove that has great waves, and there was a pod of surfers out in it, taking advantage of what they could while they could do it. Ray had half-jokingly asked us to bring some sea water and sand back for him; but it's never like being there.
I miss the sea.
I am glad I got to see her again, but I gradually am more and more aware, as Geoff once said, that I really feel like an exile. Someday, we'll go back to the sea. Probably not a Californian one, and much more likely up north where we can feel the rain again as well; but we'll see.
Kathy got to show us some of her video treasures as did Dad. We got to see Iron Giant, which really, really should have been promoted much more than it was. It's an excellent animation, better quality of character and plot, I think, than anything Disney's ever done and better than the majority of animated kid stuff in the U.S.. Mom and Dad got to show us King of Masks, which is an utterly excellent Chinese movie about the quest of an old master of street entertainment and quick-change of masks storytelling for an heir to his skills. I really, really enjoyed that greatly. Glorious cinametography and some really engaging characters. Good enough that I have to buy a copy of the DVD as soon as I can.
So, all in all, it was a great visit. Didn't hurt that I brought back a dozen nearly ripe mangos in a box cradled carefully in my arms. The van driver from the baggage claim to where our car waited in the budget lot noted that with approval. The ticket agent in San Diego cheerfully tried to appropriate them for himself, and laughed and gave them back sadly. The ripe richness was so good, and I peeled and froze the majority of the really ripe ones as there really wasn't any way I was going to be able to keep them good for the time it would have taken me to eat them. So I'll have memories of the vacation each time I eat 'em.