Harumi Kurihara… My Saviour! (Or, The Art of Simplicity)

Everyday-Harumi-covercoverI thought of an old blog post of mine yesterday, on a book reviewing blog I used to have, Attic Door Loves Books, during my student days, working weekends at Fogarty’s Bookshop. I thought it, now in these desperate times of inflation on the rise, all the more relevant… I hope you will take its sentiments to heart!

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Harumi Kurihara… My Saviour!

Studies nigh over, I recently took the plunge and moved into my own place after a budget-cutting extended sleepover at my grandparents’. (I’m quite aware that this piece of information makes me sound like a premium loser, but that’s okay. They’re good people. Thanks again, nan & paps!) Considering that I’ll be 28 in a couple of sleeps, you’d think it was about blooming time!

Anyhow, I’ve thus far managed to gather together some beautiful plants for my flat balcony (most of which will have to wait till next month to be paired with actual pots, as it goes), decorative-but-functional kitchenware and a bad-ass Japanese chef’s knife (a knife that slices through butternut like butter, but which, if I’m really honest, I only picked out because it was a lovely turquoise blue). I also have lots of books and CDs. Other than that, the general feel of my new home is minimalist. A TV (sans aerial), a couch that used to be inhabited by my aunt’s dogs, one faded-but-very-comfy pouf, a futon, and a vanity table that appealed to me as a writer’s desk and became my first Grown-Up Purchase*. (While it may look/sound impractical, its close proximity to the ground makes it Just Right for this vertically-challenged lass.) So, slowly but surely, the process of nesting has begun. Well, not so much ‘nesting’ as the making of a space where I can write and read for my personal pleasure and cook, hopefully, for the pleasure of others (and there is pleasure in that for me, too, of course).

But whatever you call it, it can be an at times daunting task. There’s the dustpan and broom you only realise you need when you’re using your index finger to pick up all the little shards from the smashed wineglass your inebriated friend just let fly. And then there’s the shiny-apple-red KitchenAid that parades itself in front of you every time you visit @Home, flaunting a price tag you know to be well WELL outside your monthly income. I know I sound like I’m whining here (and that’s because I am) but before you’ve locked peepers with that hunk of handsome metal and its whipping/juicing/blending/extrapolating/atomising facilities, be forewarned: Your panty lining might just evaporate*. No jokes.

I think, too, that whether we like to admit it or not, being ‘Well-Adjusted’ and ‘Adult’ and other words like that, it generally seems to mean you’ve accumulated stuff in your life. You are able to provide a knife and fork for each and every one of your dinner guests, for instance. You don’t serve your food from the surface of a cardboard box. That’s another example. If your guests are lucky, they can drink wine out of a decent glass, rather than out of the bottle. (And in their defense, I happen to have friends who — bless them and their kind little cotton socks — wouldn’t bat an eye if I were to ask them to eat with their hands* from a cardboard box whilst slugging their wine as it comes ‘in glass.’)

Nonetheless, I am very wary of this accumulation business. I’ve watched women purchase shoes at R2000 a pop for their 5-year-old daughter. I’ve watched on as these same women swipe their credit cards for ridiculously priced designer gumboots. More ridiculous is that these women seldom seem to actually garden, or play out in the rain (which might be another way of putting designer gumboots to good use).

All that said, I like pretty things. I can’t wait for my little Desert Rose to surprise and delight me with its bold, scarlet flowers. I love, too, the craftsmanship in old things, in details that might never be noticed, but have been executed with such finesse just because. Pretty, pretty things.

So where does a newly-sprung ‘Adult’ draw the line when carving out a place for themselves in this consumerist-driven world?

Befuddled, it was Harumi Kurihara who came to my rescue — not personally of course, but through a consumerist-driven purchasing of Harumi’s Japanese Cooking. In my defense, it was discovered at a 50% off Fogarty’s book sale. (And as all savvy ‘Adults’ know, the fastest way to save a buck is to spend half a buck!) To Harumi’s credit, I’d been coveting the pages of her book for weeks. But I’d also promised to make a concerted effort to curb my book-buying ways. This was yet another attempt to prove to others (namely my grandparents) that I really really was an ‘Adult’.

So Fate conspired, and I was finally able to claim the book I’d been longing to have and to hold…

At the risk of sounding silly, when I sat down with Harumi’s Japanese Cooking it was as if I’d found a secret spot of quiet. The roar of the city first became a squeak, then nothingness… I dipped one toe in the cool of a pond, with the pretty blossoms and dappled light of a wild pear tree overhead… And it was like this, that I began to read Harumi’s wonderful contribution to the world of food…

Of course, all these things were only in my head. Well, other than the bit about reading Harumi’s book. That wasn’t in my head, unless you’re implying that I wasn’t reading aloud.

But there are things that feel so real that they might just be. So please believe me when I say honestly and truly I couldn’t over-emphasise my next point enough.

Harumi Kurihara is a global treasure.

I find myself surrounded daily by gross excess on one side, and gross impoverishment on the other. People are more likely it seems, in this country of mine, to ask after the size of their steak than its origin or the quality of the meat. And they could care less about the vegetables served on the side. Pizza-franchises shamelessly stuff their pizza crusts with sausage or cheese or both, layering their bases with cream-cheese filling. And they’ll merrily throw in a free 2 litre of Coca Cola while they’re at it, because they value their customer

that much.

But when I turn to Harumi’s ways of cooking and eating, I’m met with an approach that is nothing if not reverent. Instead of building towers of meat and chips and cheese sauce on a veritable smorgasbord of a plate, Harumi proposes Japanese plating where each ‘accompaniment’ is considered a prized dish. It is placed in an individual bowl where it can be individually appreciated as well as for its contribution to the larger ensemble.

Contrast and diversity similarly emerge as key ingredients when it comes to the Japanese table, as Harumi advocates the importance of balance. This is apparent not only in her food, but also in the presentation. Shoots of bamboo add a freshness in flavour during the warm summer months, while glass bowls and bamboo wood surfaces create an equally ‘cooling’ aesthetic. In the colder months, the earthy comfort of mushrooms replaces the bamboo in cooking, with lacquered dishes becoming the winter-serving staple. Because of this, Harumi remarks that Japanese women are unlikely to go out and buy dinner-sets for their homes. Rather, they will slowly acquire small and unique items for their dinner tables over a lifetime. Again, Harumi returns readers to the principles of contrast, diversity and an unmistaken reverence for life’s simpler bounties.

Her books are not about impossible-to-find ingredients or hours of finicky detail and drudgery in the kitchen. They’re about remembering what is important, what is good in being a living, breathing human bean. Thanks to the shared wisdoms of Harumi Kurihara — who graces my kitchen with both Harumi’s Japanese Cooking and Everyday Harumi (equally invaluable!) — gone is the sense of panic and inadequacy when I look at my sparse environment. I now see, in every room, the opportunity of a lifetime to fill a space with love. A space brimming with a love for friends, food and beauty seems not only do-able, but safely do-able from the confines of my debit card.

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Some Asterisk-ed Asides:

*This is only because I’m not so sure a rainbow-striped hammock marked down to R75 qualifies as a Grown-Up Purchase.

*I have to pay due homage to Pitchfork’s Al Green re-issue review for this comparative ‘panty-lining’ gem!

*My point aside, I am quite a fan of hands-on eating and feel something akin to pity (and confusion) when people are compelled to eat their pizza with a knife and fork. Ag shame.

To visit Harumi’s official site: http://www.yutori.co.jp/en/about_harumi/ (and I urge that you do!!)

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