Sushi and attention

sushiSushi has become a favorite food of ours. We usually get tuna, california, cucumber, and pickled radish rolls, and sometimes other veggie rolls, tempura, or dumplings. It sets off a few twinges in me – after all, few of the ingredients are, or even can be, local and in-season, and I worry about the sustainbility of the tuna harvest. On the other hand, it’s healthy, and far less meat than we’d eat if we went elsewhere. (I try to eat vegetarian if I’m not sure of the origin of the meat on a menu, but I’m only hitting about 50% at this point. And my sweetie hasn’t made that a priority when eating out, so at least half our order has meat.)

A week ago, we made our own sushi, and it was a really amazing experience. It was part of our wonderful food Sunday, which started off with some great “with” time grocery shopping and sampling salamis. While we were out, we got the ingredients we needed to make our own veggie rolls. (It felt bizarre and exotic to buy a cucumber in January!)

Once home, we got the rice going and started chopping vegetables. Cucumber, carrot, and daikon were all sliced thin, and then into matchsticks. It took a lot more attention and patience than just chopping things into rounds or wedges, which I can practically do with my eyes closed. When the rice was ready, we took turns making the rolls: a layer of nori, spread the rice out (we discovered thinner is better, and wetting the bamboo paddle helps a lot), then line up the shredded veggies along one edge. Rolling was way trickier than I’d expected. We each did 2 rolls before we ran out of rice, and only one of those looked halfway decent. It took concentration and nifty finger dexterity, and we both came away with a much greater appreciation of even run-of-the-mill sushi chefs.

After all that, it seemed wrong to load up plates and head to the living room to nibble and read, as we usually do for dinner. And there’s all that soy and wasabi to deal with…so we actually sat at the table, on a Sunday night, just the two of us, with a tray of homemade sushi and the dipping sauce bowls my mom gave me years ago finally being put to use for their real purpose. We’d even bought real chopsticks, and using them required a little more attention (there’s that word again!) than usual, because the balance was ever so slightly different from the throwaway bamboo kind.

We’ve also noticed that a sushi meal isn’t one that can be hurried. You can fit one piece in your mouth at a time, and there is no talking with a mouth full of sushi. And of course, you want a sliver of ginger after each bite, so you don’t have another forkful waiting for the moment you swallow the one you’ve got.

This homemade meal was no different. Everything about the meal – from preparation to the last sliver of ginger – invited us to slow down. Our attention was on the food, and our accomplishment, and also each other (because we’ve only been together twelve years, and so are really just crazy kids in love).

I’d love to pay this kind of attention to every meal, but often have trouble doing so. Some of those reasons sound at least halfway legit (like, we get home from a long work day and cook, and when the meal is ready to eat, we’re both ready to check out and be “off” for the first time since waking) and some are more like excuses (we got trained to eat fast in college). So it was really nice to feel *invited* to slow down, rather than making myself slow down because It’s A Good Idea.

We started brainstorming ideas for garden sushi and our own house rolls. Things from the garden that would be excellent in a roll: cucumber (natch), red bell pepper, radish, mustard greens, snow peas, carrots. Other things that would make a sushi chef come at me with a santoku: terriyaki chicken with a sliver of grilled golden pineapple, and experiments using dino kale leaves instead of nori. Do you have any ideas that would help make sushi more local and seasonal, especially in the winter?



  1. Leasmom said,

    January 19, 2009 at 9:43 pm

    I love sushi!

  2. January 19, 2009 at 10:41 pm

    Hi, I am a lurker, and even relatively local (about an hour West).

    We have started making our own sushi recently and love the prep time, and choosing what to put in each. Last weekend we made a big batch for 9 of us and kept the spicy ones seperate for the four of us that like it hot (those had Sriracha or extra wasabi). We also made a pot of miso soup with shitake mushrooms for those who were not too keen on sushi. It is definitely a treat, and we have tried to find ingredients that would work locally to make it more frequent. Our friend who taught us to make them uses regular spear pickles, slices of omelet, marinated pork, lettuce or cabbage, or even sausage. We have used kimchi and fried ginger as well. It may not be authentic restaurant sushi, but it might be similar to family sushi.

    I enjoy your blog and wish it was even more local so we could participate in Preserving Traditions.

  3. Momster said,

    January 20, 2009 at 10:08 am

    Julienne winter squash and give it a quick parboil, cook a scrambled and leave it very flat, then cut in thin strips. I love avocado (not local but the fat is good in winter) Also, to make rolling easier, put Saran Wrap under and over the mat.

  4. Jason said,

    January 20, 2009 at 10:24 am

    What great story. I too love cooking with my partner.

  5. Dakota said,

    January 21, 2009 at 3:39 pm

    We make sushi all the time, it’s awesome! 🙂 Usually we just go for some tuna and peppers, like you say. Marinated portabellas or smaller sliced mushrooms might be very good, bok choy, lightly wilted swiss chard, seasoned cabbage, and thinly sliced marinated eggplant might be good in the rolls too.

  6. Jennifer said,

    February 8, 2009 at 6:53 am

    Making sushi with some preserved/pickled veg gives you get variety out of the season’s staple crops. One of my favorite musubi (rolls) is made with takuan, a type of pickled daikon. The Japanese have one of the greatest pickling traditions in the world, including an astounding range of little dishes and condiments that are quick pickled for only 1-3 hours. The Ann Arbor library has some great Japanese cookbooks if you need other ideas.

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