When my father and mother got married, my mom was not really ready to be a housewife. She did not know how to cook.
My dad and mom met while they were working at the same company in Yasugi, a small town in Shimane prefecture in Japan. Shimane is like West Virginia in the US. If you ask people in Tokyo, many would say they may have heard of it, but not sure exactly where it is.
Both of my parents belonged to the company outdoor club and went mountain hiking on one weekend. My dad asked my mom out, and they went out on a date several times, after which, my dad proposed her.
In the beginning, she hesitated and refused to get married. However, her parents and relatives all told her to rethink and suggested she should get married, saying that if she missed the chance, she would never get married.
My mom did not want to get married because she wanted to continue working. She wanted to become a successful businesswoman just like her grandma, who was a successful local entrepreneur running her business.
She kept saying no to my dad, and her family kept pushing her and finally, she gave up, and they got married.
Because she never planned to get married so early in her life, she was not prepared to become a housewife. In Japan, young girls were supposed to go through training to become a housewife, learn to cook, clean, saw and all the other chores around the house from their mother. Apparently, my mom skipped all of that and when she got married, after she said yes and before the wedding ceremony, she learned as much cooking as she could along with all the other skills she needed to become a Japanese housewife.
I remember, in the kitchen and small pantry, there were many cooking magazines, cookbooks, and cut out recipe articles all piled up with my mom’s pencil marks and notes. Back then, most of the pictures were black and white, and since I never seen most of them, I had no idea how they tasted or looked like in real color. I tried to imagine the color, but my imagination, or lack of it, gave me no color to add to the picture. I imagined that my mom read all those and studied cooking. I wanted to but couldn’t read most of them because all of them had kanji, Chinese characters and I had not yet learned them at school.
My mom always cooked a variety of dishes, always adding something new to grow her repertoire.
I remember her Kimpira Gobo – burdock and carrot simmered in sweet soy sauce, miso soup with seasonal vegetables so chunky, homemade udon noodles she made only from flour and water with a touch of salt. After making the dough, she would lay it on the floor, covered with cheese clothes and then step on it with her feet and then let is sit for an hour or so, to bring out more gluten in the dough and makes the texture of the noodle firm, yet not too chewy.
She put just about every vegetable she had in the fridge because she heard in somewhere that we are supposed to eat thirty different foods every day. Thirty foods, that was a lot and her way of accomplishing that was to make a dish, which she could put anything in. I did not mind so much about the amount of food and vegetables in one dish. What I disliked was the fact that when there were too many ingredients, some of them, did not go well together.
Thirty foods a day, you should eat, she kept saying as if it was a mantra.