If you haven’t heard about Cook the Books, let me tell you this: it is a great reading and cooking club founded by me, Rachel of Crispy Cook and Deb and Kahakai Kitchen. Every two months we read and cook from a selected book and very often we are privileged to have the book’s author judge the submissions.
This time it was Rachel’s pick, Untangling my Chopsticks, by Victoria Abbott Riccardi, which kept us good company both in and out of the kitchen. It is the author’s memoir of her time in Kyoto, where she decided to travel in order to learn the art of tea kaiseki. I had never heard of the term before, although I knew that there existed tea ceremonies in China and Japan.
Japan has always been top of my list (China much less so) of places to visit, because I admire the aesthetics of minimalism Japanese people bring into everything they do, especially food and architecture and I was happy to delve into the intricate details of a westerner’s experience in this faraway exotic land.
Despite being well written, Untangling my Chopsticks is an easy read, so I finished it in about a week. I was really impressed by the delicate descriptions of Kyoto and its nature, by the flavours and textures of food, as well as the artistry and philosophy behind the dishes that accompany the tea ceremony. The book proved to be the best remedy to my sleepless, tired existence. The only slightly odd part in the story was Victoria’s relationship with her husband, which was described so clinically that I was certain they would split up by the end of the book and was largely surprised to read that they actually got married!
Apart from a wonderful journey through Japan’s tea culture, Untangling my Chopstics also is a good source of tasty recipes. I had bookmarked a few to make, but getting hold of ingredients near where I live turned out to be more difficult than I thought. In the end I opted for something slightly westernised, a Wagamama style noodle soup, perfect for the terrible weather we have been experiencing lately. For vegetables I used red peppers, bean sprouts, snow peas (mangetout), chinese cabbage, shiitake mushrooms, and leeks. I did find udon noodles and shiro miso to make the broth, although I think the soup would have been tastier with dashi. I loved the final result which was light, healthy and flavoursome, but I do feel guilty a little bit, because I did not make the book justice.