The Revenge of the Firefly Squid

Firefly squid.  Just think how much fun life could be if your first name was “Firefly.”  Firefly Vapnek sounds very interesting, don’t you think?  I think the name “Firefly”initially influenced how I felt about eating these small creatures.  Fireflies are beautiful; to be caught, enjoyed and valued as a seasonal treat.

firefly

I’d never heard of firefly squid until we traveled to Ishikawa Prefecture in Japan for a self guided tour of the Noto Peninsula.  From what I’ve learned since our visit, they have spectacular bioluminescent properties in the water, glowing a pulsating electric blue as they congregate in the spring to mate. This is the time of year they become targets for the fishermen and for the mouths of eager Japanese.

blue squid

The squid made its first appearance in my life as part of a set menu at a famous sushi restaurant in Kanazawa. I’d had several cups of sake before the grinning chef put the squirming little guys on a small platter before us.  I watched and videoed as the chef separated and cooked them on a hot rock in front of us.  I was equally fascinated and horrified, but the world of fish is ruled by the maxim of eat or be eaten.  I wouldn’t have been at a sushi restaurant if I believed the catching, cooking and eating of fish and other ocean creatures was unethical.  In case you missed the- not -for -the -squeamish- or -animal -rights -activists video on my facebook page, here it is:

Unfortunately, my firefly squid encounters continued for several days.  They were on every set dinner menu that was presented to us at ryokans we visited.  I ate them raw, as tempura, then preserved in vinegar. I went from initial curiosity to decidedly-less-than -happy to see them reappear on my plate, but I managed to eat them with no problem, especially since I try to fit into my adopted country. But, the squid had started to be a running joke for me and my husband.

Until they appeared at my breakfast table!

shabu shabu

This time, they were served as an ingredient of shabu-shabu.  They were to be placed and cooked in a pot of boiling broth, along with other, more savory ingredients. I cooked most of the vegetables first, but ultimately I was faced with the remaining squid. I gamely put it into the sizzling pot.

All went ok until I tried to remove the squid from the broth.  It unexpectedly split in two as I tried to extract it, literally spilling its red guts into the broth.  My usually calm and appreciative demeanor while eating Japanese food vanished abruptly. I watched  in horror as the simmering both, which you’re supposed to drink after all ingredients have been cooked in it,  slowly turned pink and pinker. Breakfast was now over.

Yuck!!! was quickly followed by, “This is disgusting, I can’t even look at this anymore!”  My husband was amused.  I was not. I quickly covered the remaining uneaten squid with a small bowl, so that I didn’t have to see it.  I was forever done with eating firefly squid.

I won’t be changing my name to “firefly” anytime soon.

 

Coming to Terms with a Memory

Renge-ji temple is a small out- of -the- way Buddhist temple in Kyoto that has resonated in my memory for several years.

flowers

In typical Japanese fashion, the garden doesn’t appear to the viewer immediately. The simple unassuming entrance reveals nothing until you turn and enter into the quintessential “room with a view.” Here is a garden that asks nothing more of the viewer than to sit down and open your pores to the scene before you.

sugar egg

For me, viewing this garden is similar to the feeling I’d get as a child when looking into a snow scene in a glass ball , or peeping inside the magic world  hidden inside a fanciful sugar Easter egg.

snow globe

It was raining on my first visit here.  The sight and sounds of the rain falling on the pond were mesmerizing.  I could feel the earth breathing with me.

On my second visit, it was autumn, under a crystal blue sky.  The Japanese maples set the vista aflame with color, reflected brilliantly in the pond water.

fall 2 at rengenji fall at reen-ji

On my most recent visit, nature was not showing off, at least not at first glimpse. Now, the young maple leaves spread a chartreuse green swath across the garden.

tree and temple

Although beautiful, the garden didn’t have the same punch for me as it had on earlier visits. I felt mildly disappointed. Then, I was disappointed that I was disappointed. I sat with that disappointment and allowed myself to take in the garden as it was NOW.  I watched my disappointment gradually dissipate.

thinking reflections temple testure bridge

When I lit a stick of incense within the temple, a profound sense of calm had replaced my earlier unease.

buddha

ZIP-A-DE-DO0-DAH

This ikebana arrangement exemplifies the expression of spring.

Only a very few days, at a certain time of the year, in a certain kind of place, at a certain time of day, qualify for exalted Zip-a-dee-doo-dah status.  Yesterday was one of “those” days.

zippadeeLeaving the city of Kyoto for a break in the Let’s Play House routine, we drove (make that we were driven) on a  single lane road, through small villages, one and a half hours north of the city, into the mountains and back in time.  I’d made a reservation for an overnight stay at the highly recommended ryokan, Miyamasou. It is situated along a winding stream, a short distance from a 900 year old temple. When built, it housed Buddhist monks.

When guests arrive at a ryokan, they surrender themselves to the impeccable and attentive care of the staff.  The only decisions required concern the time to eat and the time to bathe.

Platform overlooking the stream as viewed from our room.
Platform overlooking the stream as viewed from our room.

IMG_3097

Miyamasou is renowned for its mountain based cuisine. This is not faddish, but a path that’s been followed in the mountains for millennia.  They’ve just made high art out of the presentation and preparation of the ingredients.  We were up to the task of eating and appreciating the exquisite food put before us.

Please note river shrimp.  Our first course.
Please note river shrimp. Our first course.
Tempura mountain veggies.
Tempura mountain veggies.

IMG_3086

Our beautiful server at dinner, in rather formal attire!
Our server at dinner, in rather formal attire!

I really did break into song in the morning of the first day in May.  The day and the setting were perfection.  Daffodils huddled together on the banks of the stream. The  earth seemed to explode with the urgency of new life. Violets, ferns and mosses vied for space at the edge of the pathways, birdsong filled the clear mountain air, and the rushing stream provided constant background music to our ears.

IMG_3164

Inspired by the loveliness of the day, and by books I’d been reading about courageous people deciding to walk ancient Japanese pilgrim routes , I took, what to most hikers would be, a “baby step.”

Before we paid the fee at entrance to the temple grounds, the wisened temple caretaker looked doubtful that my husband and I could do it. She tried to tell us several times how steep the climb was. Before we set off, she shouted, “Gambatte!”  which means good luck.  Walking sticks in hand, we slowly climbed up 430 vertiginous stone steps to the ancient wooden temple.  We descended with aching thighs and weak knees,  but otherwise intact!

Climbing to the temple
Climbing to the temple

Sorry, no photos are allowed of the temple.  It’s a simple wooden structure on stilts, poised near the top of the mountain we’d climbed.  Needless to say, my husband and I both felt quite pleased with ourselves once we’d made it intact to the bottom.

Returning to our ryokan, there was only time to say goodbye to our gracious hosts, before our taxi wound its way back to the city to resume life in our newly adopted city.

IMG_3172