The culinary genius that is Mrs. Ishii

Aside from her seeming unwillingness to accept that there are not four of me to feed, Mrs. Ishii is a wonderful host. Each evening meal turns into a Japanese lesson for chefs - she keeps a Japanese/English dictionary on the table to help translate each food item. This only works to a certain point, I thought "beefsteak plant" was a particularly unfortunate translation and one that I'm not sure sure has a lot of practical applications. Some vegetables don't seem to have an English equivalent and when I asked Mr. Takahahi about something Ishiisan called "wallabee" (my spelling!) he seemed surprised and said "wallabee? That's mountain food!"

Mountain food indeed. On Friday, Mrs. Ishii and an undermined number of other people went up to the mountains to pick the elusive "wallabee" among others. (She returned home to tell of beautiful orange Azaleas that covered said wallabee and the rest of the mountainside) She then boiled the wallabee (wow, I know I'm really butchering it, you're probably all thinking of a marsupial from another hemisphere) and soaked it overnight and used it as a side dish for our Saturday dinner. As for the taste of the wallabee, I couldn't tell you... soak anything in soy sauce for long enough and it will become pretty edible. In broken English she told the story of a friend who lived in America for ten years and who, upon seeing mountains (Rockies?) went in search of wallabee but sadly there was none to be found.

There is no apparent designation between where you live and where you get your food. In the mile or so that I walk everyday, if there's not a building on it (or a park) or cars parked on it, then there is a small field of edible growing thing. I am sure that there are fewer and fewer women with Mrs. Ishii's mountain-foraging skills as you go to younger and younger generations, but I hope that she's not the last of a dying breed. She makes her own jam, she pickles her own various veggies and fruits (she has these particularly potent plums that every time she eats one she screws up her face and says "sour! sour!"), last night she made tempura and she serves homemade soup every evening. Desert consisted of some sort of sweet carrot-based cold pudding that included the "beefsteak plant" and I think plum or some such. After showing me this desert "for tomorrow" she opened the refrigerator with an "aiii" upon discovering that the entire fridge was chock-full of her various canning jars and there was no precious real estate for the pudding .

Occasionally Mrs. Ishii will try to teach me a non-food related word (she seems fairly unconcerned about whether or not I'll ever really use the words, but I try to be good natured and she is quite patient with my amateur pronunciations). The other day, the weather report was on, and I was alarmed to see square red frowny faces with sunglasses on. She explaned to me that since it was supposed to be sunny there was a high risk of sunburn. "Oh," I said, "sunburn" and pointed to my face. She looked at me sternly and said, "No. Japanese word san-bu-ru." Who was I to argue?

(Picture is of Mrs. Ishii's "backyard")