THE GOCHISO GOURMET: The new normal

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Kuromame and konbu. photo by Ryan Tatsumoto

columnist-logo_ryantatsumoto_FINALFrom raging wildfires in both the Golden State and Down Under, racial tensions that erupted into massive civil unrest not seen since the 1960s, an ongoing pandemic and a divided country whose issues aren’t about to resolve anytime soon, the turning of the Year of the Rat could not have come any sooner, and I’m sure that I, along with legions of citizens, welcome the Year of the Ox. But will this new year suddenly resolve all the woes of the past year? Not anytime soon.

Continue to Mask Up
At the time this column was written in early December, the FDA had yet to approve a COVID-19 vaccination. I’m aware that the two earliest trials showed greater than 90 percent efficacy, which is better than the annual influenza vaccination. However, we don’t know how long that immunity persists; there are documented cases, albeit just case reports, of people who were infected early in the pandemic coming down with a second infection a couple of months later. Granted, the two cases of re-infection were with a slightly different strain, but what I fear is that the emergence of a vaccination will give people a false sense of security so that they’ll stop wearing face masks, stop social distancing or start congregating in large groups again. We need to continue practicing these measures until the majority of the population is immunized.

That’s why I’m still waiting for my high-tech face masks funded through IndieGoGo. I received two other masks with N-99 filters (which technically protect better than medical grade N-95 masks) that are silicone, to produce a complete seal against the skin. Of course, because everyone’s face is shaped different, they don’t provide a complete seal for some people — like me. Since I have an upepe (Hawaiian for flat) nose, I lack the bridge to provide a complete seal. Thus, I hope the Leaf UV and UVMask provide a better fit over my schnoz!

And until the majority of the population is vaccinated, we’re still primarily dining out via take-out. As contact tracing is being refined, it’s still apparent that indoor dining is associated with the spread of COVID-19, even more so than coffee shops or indoor gyms. But we want to keep as many local restaurants in business as possible, so we knosh on food from restaurants once or twice a week, whereas we might have dined in about twice a month pre-COVID. And while the 50th hasn’t experienced a second major resurgence of COVID-19, because our economy is tourism-based, many restaurants and small businesses have folded permanently, just as they have in the Bay Area. We were bummed when Chef Chris Cosentino shuttered Incanto more than six years ago, and were just as crushed when Cockscomb closed their doors for good. So, while my waist is still expanding like the galaxy, we still plan on doing our part to keep our restaurant industry solvent.

Dried over Canned
As the pandemic spread across the Pacific, there was a run on disinfecting supplies, paper goods and dried staples, including rice, pasta and flour. While we usually have a full 30-roll package of Kirkland toilet paper on hand, we started stocking a full backup of paper towels. And we’ve gone from Lysol spray to generic since Lysol is nowhere to be found in the 50th. We also purchased more dried grains and legumes, since there was a run on canned goods. And while everything — other than Lysol spray — is back in stock, I’ll continue purchasing more dried grains and legumes, even after COVID-19 has been reduced to a bad memory. These pantry items don’t take as much space, don’t tear the handles off your reusable grocery bag like canned goods, and are easy to prepare with a pressure cooker. I’ve been fortifying all of our chili, curries and soups with farro, barley and lentils in a slow cooker for added protein and fiber and it’s as easy as open the bag, dump in the cooking vessel and slow cook for a couple of hours while performing other chores or watching TV.

Kuromame and konbu. photo by Ryan Tatsumoto

Legumes are just as easy to prepare if you have an Instant Pot or other pressure cooker, with the only difference being an overnight pre-soak before pressure cooking them. Some legumes (like dried soybeans) don’t even require an overnight pre-soak. When I prepare my kuromame (sweet black soybeans) every Oshogatsu (Japanese New Year), I simply place the dried kuromame in my trusty Fagor multi-cooker (I’ve used Fagor well before Instant Pot was a buzzword) with water, sugar, shoyu and a touch of baking soda and salt with a small piece of dashi konbu (vegetarian stock) then let it pressure cook for one hour.

Support Local
Though I’ve been preaching this for a while, the difficulties businesses are facing during the pandemic are as daunting as being infected with the virus. It’s critical to support those local neighborhood businesses so neighborhoods don’t turn into ghost towns of shuttered businesses. So, we continue to place regular orders for produce delivery from local farmers and protein from Chef Bob McGee, who butchers and packages beef and chicken from O‘ahu and Hawai‘i Island, lamb and venison from Ni‘ihau and pork from Wai‘anae.

Local booze. photo by Ryan Tatsumoto

This also includes seeking local Maui vodka and gin, local Kohana, Lahaina and Kaua‘i rum, Maui Wine sparkling Rose, Hawaiian Shochu Company or Islander Sake Brewery, as well as rice from The Rice Factory in Kaka’ako. During these hard times, I’ve also curtailed my purchases of frozen natto (fermented soybeans) from the Motherland, as I previously found that it was convenient to store in my freezer door and always available, but since the pandemic hit, I just reach for the local natto from Aloha Tofu. The downside is that local Aloha Tofu natto doesn’t have the same strong aroma and flavor and because it’s refrigerated, it has a use by date. However, it is packaged in larger containers than Japanese natto, and because natto is basically steamed soybeans that have “gone South,” I don’t pay attention to the use by date. Consuming them after the use by date probably makes them a little funkier like natto from the Motherland!

Year of the Metal Ox
As the Chinese zodiac contains 12 animals representing subsequent years, along with the five elements of metal, water, wood, fire and earth, a full cycle is comprised of 60 years. That’s why a kanreki is celebrated when someone turns 60 years old as that person has completed the full cycle and is in a sense, reborn. The last time we were entering the Year of the Metal Ox was in 1961 when yours truly made his appearance on this little orb. I’m not sure if I should be celebrating or tremulous, as while a kanreki is meant to be celebrated, a yakudoshi is a time to be wary. Sixty-one is considered an unlucky year for men. Since Japanese citizens are considered 1-year-old at birth, 61 years in the Motherland is 60 years here … And since the year before and after a man turns 61 are also considered unlucky years (and 2020 was pretty bad by anyone’s measure), I think I’ll keep a low profile this year (and wear that traditional red vest and hat on my birthday).

About five years ago, before an acquaintance passed away while in hospice, in one of the last photos people shared of him on social media, he was wearing a T-shirt with a simple message, “Life is short, drink the good wines now.” Since that time, we’ve embraced that sentiment, finding any little “occasion” to uncork any good bottle. You too should make your own little celebratory “occasions” during the year. So as usual, in this Year of the Metal Ox, I wish you health, happiness and peace of mind. Shinnen akemashite omedetou gozaimasu.

The Gochiso Gourmet is a column on food, wine and healthy eating. Ryan Tatsumoto is a graduate of both the University of Hawai‘i and UC San Francisco. He is a clinical pharmacist during the day and a budding chef/recipe developer/wine taster at night. He writes from Kane‘ohe, HI and can be reached at gochisogourmet@gmail.com. Views expressed in the preceding column are not necessarily those of the Nichi Bei Weekly.

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