Wednesday 25 November 2009

Coming of age

It is interesting and unexpected when turning points arise in our lives. We may see the same person, the same scene every day and be unaware of the small changes, the signs of growth and the passage of time. Then, one day, we realise that they have changed, and things will never be the same again. Today was such a day.

Sora, my daughter, turned twelve last month. I baked her a cake, Mika decorated it, and we all sang happy birthday as we have for the last twelve years. She is now in year 6 at primary school, and every year the grade sixers at our local school get a chance to learn how to cook a five course dinner, taught by a professional chef.
His name is Kazunori Otowa, the french cuisine owner chef of Otowa Restaurant in Utsunomiya, the prefectural capital. First they went to his restaurant and enjoyed a meal there, then he and his staff came to the school to teach the children how to prepare the meal. But today......

Today the children prepared a meal for their parents, dividing into five groups, each group responsible for a separate course. They then prepared the meal from scratch for a total of sixty people, students and parents, and the parents were allowed to watch, but not interfere!

Of course the meal needed plates, and each child had to take dishes from home, so over the weekend Sora selected out some of my vessels for the meal. I watched, as the children cooked under Otowa chefs guidance, biting my tongue. The other parents shared this new spectator status, wanting to help, advise...but we must merely watch and wait.
I set up a small photo space on the window ledge, and as each course was served I photographed it just as they served it!

I have always said that my vessels are only complete when they are in use, and today my daughter and her friends took my vessels and served me a delicious five course french meal on them. As I ate, as I enjoyed this beautiful cuisine, I realised that this was a turning point. My child had become my creative partner, completing my works for me in delightful and independent ways.

I remain, as always, the happiest bloke I know.

Wednesday 11 November 2009

The Simple Life

The art of living is a very simple thing. It is about recognising the beauty in our everyday lives, appreciating the miracle of it, and sharing it with those we love. Modern life and social pressures tend to inure us to the quiet, intimate beauty around us, but if we take a moment to catch our breath, there is joy to be had in even the simplest of things. The turning of the seasons, the light from the kitchen window, the fragrance of salmon baking in the oven.

Autumn is in full swing. The trees are shedding leaves in flurries of amber and gold, the days are shortening and the evenings are cold enough to need the wood stove. The rice harvest is done, and we have new rice from Mika's parents paddies, grown with pure spring water and no chemicals. We have picked the last of the capsicums and the first frost has withered the plants.

Yesterday our neighbour brought us a salmon which he caught in the Nakagawa river during the afternoon. The Salmon run up the river every autumn to spawn, searching for their own birth place to lay their eggs. Our neighbour is licenced to fish a limited number every year, and brings us a few over the period. We give them vessels from the kiln in return.

I decided to bake the fish whole in the wood stove for dinner last night, and as I opened the fish to clean it discovered two huge sacks of roe inside! I reserved these in a bowl while I finished dressing the fish and put it in the slow oven. I added nothing to the fish, allowing its own flavours to develop. It took an hour to cook, so while I waited I prepared the roe to marinade.

I followed Mika's recipe, pouring 70 degrees hot water into the bowl with the roe and separating the roe from the sacks. I then rinsed the roe several times in cold water before putting it into the fridge to chill. Once chilled I added a mixture of 6 tablespoons of Soy Sauce, 2 tablespoons of Sake and 2 tablespoons of Mirin, and then left it in the fridge overnight.

We ate the baked salmon with steamed vegetables and rice, but there was far too much for one meal, even with the 6 of us! I boned the remaining fish and put it with its own baking juices into a sealed vessel in the fridge.

Today we made steamed rice with a slice of "Kombu" (kelp), the fragrance of its cooking like the distant smell of the sea. When the rice was cooked I added a mixture of vinegar, sugar and salt to make sushi rice. For 3 cups of dry rice, I would add 4 tablespoons of vinegar, 3 tablespoons of sugar and 2 spare teaspoons of salt.

I made a series of stackable cylindrical bowls for the dinner and exhibition last month and use them today to make individual "Chirashi Zushi". Firstly I spread a serving of the sushi rice into the bottom of the bowl. Then I make a few thin omelettes and slice them into fine slivers and spread this on top of the rice. On top of this I sprinkle sliced red and green capsicum and avocado. I then flake the cold salmon from last night and add that to the top of the dish. Last of all I sprinkle the marinated roe and "Lo, a feast for the senses!"

The seasons come and the seasons go. This day, this moment, however, is ours to share now, and it will never come again. Oh, there will be other days to come with other joys, just as there have been times and seasons past that we have shared with others that we have loved. The ones gone remain in our hearts forever, along with hope for the ones to come, but there is no where I would rather be than right here, right now, with those I love, sharing the simple joy of this season.

These vessels are available for purchase on my Recent Works Blog

Friday 6 November 2009

Peculiar Customs

A television production company from Tokyo phoned me last night while I was trying to cook dinner for my family. It was a special curry and naan dinner to celebrate the success of the Mashiko Pottery festival. The gentleman from the TV program wanted me to be involved in a program called "Travelling around the world without leaving Japan". The gist of the program is for a TV personality to visit the home of various foreign born people now resident in japan and to experience something peculiar to the culture of their native land.

For two hours the gentleman quizzed me about Australian culture and what peculiar customs we performed in our home that they could notch into their program. Christmas was discussed, as was New Years Eve. He asked me if there were traditional songs and dances that we do, and even if I'd won any major awards. Basically he was hunting for the "Oh, aren't they different!" factor.

Australia is a multicultural nation, each family has its own traditions. If, as a nation, we have a defining quality, I should imagine that it is our recognition that all humans, regardless of culture, race or creed, share more commonalities than differences.

Mika waited dinner for me, but by the time I got off the phone the kids were starving, so we had a quick curry and rice and off to bed boys and girls. After they were in bed I cooked apple chutney like mum used to make, and tonight we had a real curry dinner, as promised, with naan and saffron rice.

If just one phone call could spoil our weekday dinner, imagine a TV crew at Christmas? It was kind of the gentleman to enquire, but I don't think my family or our customs are peculiar enough for his program. Needless to say, I declined.

Tuesday 3 November 2009

Mashiko Workshop with Ikuzo Fujiwara

Fourteen potters, artists and art educators gathered last weekend in mashiko for the tenth World Art Educators Workshop. Fujiwara Ikuzo, the premiere mural and architectural potter of Japan was the presenter of the workshop, and played host to us in his own studio here in Mashiko. It was a brilliant experience for everyone, and far more than I can put into words here (particularly considering I am writing this during the Mashiko Pottery rest for the wicked!)

For me personally it was a chance to understand the philosophical and religious basis for his sculptural work. Translating and interpreting depends on my understanding the original expression, then re-expressing it so that others can understand it. As Leonardo Da Vinci said; If you can't explain it, you don't understand it. Hopefully, everyone came away with a greater understanding of Fujiwara san and the Japanese culture.