Saturday, July 28, 2007


Sorry for the silence...we're not currently having Adventures in Japan. Fearless Husband arrived home in Sasebo after a two and a half month absence. 12 hours later, we found out his mother was in the hospital and gravely ill. We scrambled, and with some help from the Navy and the Red Cross, we arrived in Nevada less than 48 hours after FH got off his ship.

My mother-in-law is an amazing woman. She's raised FH since he was about a year old, and has been a wonderful, loving, kind, laughing mother. She's tall and willowy, with big beautiful dark eyes and rich, dark hair and a gleaming, almost-constant smile. She and FH loved to trade books, and to tell each other about new authors each thought the other might like. She welcomed me like a long-lost daughter, taught me her recipes for FH's favorite dishes, and traveled all the way from Nevada to North Carolina to see her son marry me (and got along with absolutely everyone, the entire time!) She's gracious, elegant, and just plain fun to be around.

It's hard here right now for everyone. The grief and sadness is so sharp and heavy it's sometimes overwhelming. However, family has been brought together, old rifts have been healed, and though the illness was sudden, there has still been time for goodbyes to be made, and last words spoken. Those are the silver linings here.

.My mother-in-law is the absolute opposite of all those old jokes. I'm so lucky to have known her, and could not have picked a better mother-in-law if I'd had the choice of any in the world. Thank you, Annette, for your friendship, for your laughter, for welcoming me like a daughter, and for doing such a great job raising the incredible man I married.

I love you.

Edited to add: Annette died this morning. I'm so glad we got to come and say goodbye, and receive that last, beautiful smile.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

The Tomato Sandwich

No photos, as my camera batteries are dead but...

Imagine, if you will, that you are walking through a small neighborhood market in Japan. Your basket is laden with twelve tiny, incredibly sweet local tangerines, two skinny, glossy purple eggplant, ten pale green asparagus spears with tight, fat, rounded heads (almost like a cartoon of asparagus, or pale green Sharpie markers) in two bundles of five fat spears each. You nod and smile at the other shoppers, mostly little old ladies shuffling along like hump-backed snails or young mothers moving at the speed of light with silent infants in tow. (If you're me, you're probably imagining yourself as an integral part of this community, "The Interesting American" as opposed to just another clumsy, loud Navy Wife with a beat-up car. Enjoy this dream while you can.)

After looking over the various prepared foods -- fried octopus, sushi rolls with what looks like a filling of hot dog and lettuce (!!), various rice preparations decorated with nori -- nothing seems quite right with the humid, heavy summer weather outside. Instead, you're drawn to that distinct,slightly spicy scent of summer, the display of large, dusty rose, locally grown tomatoes. How about tomato sandwiches for dinner? Thick slices of scarlet summertime on bakery bread with a little mayonnaise, a little kosher salt, a grinding of black pepper...light, yet luscious, full of childhood memories.

Carefully you select a single fat specimen, fragrant and perfectly ripe -- the kind of tomato that would be delicious tonight, possibly tomorrow, but overly sweet and mushy by the next day.

You peruse the mostly incomprehensible labels on the shelves, selecting (you hope) a small squeeze bottle of the delicious, silky, not-as-heavy-as-American mayonnaise (Kewpie brand, which makes you smile). You've heard the lowfat Japanese mayo is not as sweet as the American brands, so you take the chance on the stuff that has (you think) a quarter of the calories of the regular stuff. Into the basket it goes, and you hold your head high, proud of your health-conscious behavior.

Bread...hmm. The loaf of white bread is cut far too thick, and would be cottony and hard to swallow. There are no whole-grain options, as this is a very small Japanese bakery, running more towards little pastries and loaves of white bread with no heels. Besides, the right summertime tomato sandwich begs for soft, plain bread, not a hearty loaf. Oh, perfect! A package of flat, pale, soft little buns, each with a small sprinkling of black sesame seeds. Each one is just a tiny bit larger than the circumference of your single tomato. You imagine splitting a couple of these, filling them and making that dinner, along with perhaps a little cucumber salad. You even grab your favorite tart lemon soda as a treat, "70 lemons' worth of Vitamin C in every bottle" it proclaims in English.

You check out, proudly using your few words of Japanese with the harried cashier as she rings up your purchases. "Konnichi wa. Arigatou gosaimasu. Arigatou." Nod as if you understand when she tells you how much, sneak a peak at the register display, and hand her your money. When she offers you your trading stamps with an incomprehensible question, refuse them and gesture that she give them to the next person in line, who collects them. She smiles and bows. The cashier smiles and bows. You smile and bow. Once more, with feeling, "Arigatou gosaimasu."

You unpack your bounty at home, and begin supper preparations. You carve the perfect tomato carefully, and taste the mayonnaise (yes, it's amazingly good for lowfat!). Get out the salt and pepper. Open the package of beautiful rolls and pull out two, wrapping the rest for later. Use your serrated knife carefully, so you don't smash or tear the bread.

Wait...the roll is dragging at the knife in a really odd way. The knife emerges smeared with something thick and purply brown. What the...?


These aren't little white bread dinner rolls. These are dessert buns filled with a paste of sweetened adzuki beans. Good? Sure...a little bland, a little heavy, but not bad. But for tomato sandwiches? Not even close.

The dream of "The Interesting American" fizzles away, as you slink to the freezer to pull out a Lean Cuisine, hoping it isn't too frostbitten.

Oh well. There's always tomorrow. And now you know the kanji for "adzuki bean paste."