Reading Sweet Bean Paste and making dorayaki #weekendcooking

The title of the book – and the writer’s name (Durian? As in like the fruit? Or does it have some other meaning?)- was what attracted me at first, as well as the lovely color scheme of the cover.

And what a poignant and moving story this was.

It’s an odd couple kind of story. An ex-con working at a dorayaki shop to pay his debts and a 76-year-old woman with gnarled hands who asks him for a job at the shop, offering to teach him her recipe for sweet bean paste, which she says she’s been making for fifty years.

(Dorayaki is a Japanese confectionary with sweet red bean paste sandwiched between two small pancakes.)

Sentaro doesn’t want to hire her at first, even though she offers to accept a lower pay. But it turns out that Tokue makes amazing sweet bean paste.

“Unlike the ready-made paste, this was the smell of fresh, living beans. It has depth. It had life. A mellow, sweet taste unfurled inside Sentaro’s mouth.”

Sentaro had been using a commercially-made paste which isn’t exactly the best. He’s been pretty much grudgingly doing his work every day, it’s more about paying off his debt than anything else.

But after he hires her, business begins to improve. And Sentaro starts to be more interested in the making of dorayaki. They experiment with beans from different countries. And since Tokue doesn’t work every day, Sentaro begins to make the paste himself.

However word soon gets out – to the customers, to the shop owner – that there may be something wrong with Tokue. People stay away from the shop, the owner wants Sentaro to get rid of her. But how can he?

Sweet Bean Paste is a story about loneliness, about prejudice, about two outsiders who become unlikely friends. I loved how the focus was just on a few characters and the friendships that developed among them.

And oh, the changing of the seasons, especially with all the cherry blossoms!

“Blossom surrounds him on all sides, as if he is at the centre of a deep, sparkling lake. He senses the full force of emotion that has been dormant in the trees all year, waiting for this once-a-year explosion of joy: their pure, unadulterated happiness.”

And most of all, this book will make you long for a taste of dorayaki. Or maybe you’ll be tempted to try to make your own!

And that was exactly what I did.

One thing I like to pick up when we visit Japanese supermarkets is dorayaki. I especially love the dorayaki with chestnuts in them. I’ve never thought to make them! But I was really inspired by the book and just wanted to try making my own.

I found this recipe from Just One Cookbook and hey, I had all the ingredients in my kitchen. I had also seen a couple of recipes like this one from Chopstick Chronicles which added a teaspoon of mirin or sweet rice wine so I added that too.

So we made it just yesterday, a rainy Friday after school.

It was a nice treat for all of us, as we have all been catching coughs and colds one after another these past few weeks.

The recipe was easy enough and didn’t require any special equipment besides a whisk. The kids took turns cracking and beating the eggs, adding ingredients.

And they stood by the stove and watched for bubbles. And soon became quite good at spotting when it was time to turn the pancake. It needs about 1.5 minutes or so on the first side.

 

The pancake batter has both sugar and honey in it. So it does brown quite a bit.

 

I didn’t have adzuki beans on hand but I did luckily have this tin of red bean paste or anko.

Tada! Freshly made dorayaki. So good!

I’ll have to try making the red bean paste myself another time but for now, this was great!

Weekend Cooking at Beth Fish Reads is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book (novel, nonfiction) reviews, cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, quotations, beer, wine, photographs

Advertisements

The Perfectionists: How Precision Engineers Created the Modern World by Simon Winchester

The topic – precision engineering – isn’t something that immediately draws me in. But having read Winchester’s books before, I know them to be well-written and thoroughly researched. And when I listened to the sample of the first pages, which he reads, I was drawn in to the story because he began with how his father used to work as an engineer in a factory and one day brought home some machined metal tiles called gauge blocks used for measuring things. And I liked how Winchester talked fondly about visiting his father in the factory and watching the machines and how Winchester started writing this book about precision.

And in the end, this book was full of fascinating insights into the world of precision – from cars to guns to airplane engines. It’s not easy to make notes while listening to an audiobook and part of me wishes I had had a printed copy alongside but I quite liked that Winchester, in his sore-throaty voice, read the book himself.

The Perfectionists is full of facts and insights that I had never thought to think about, all these big and small things that make our world go round, that enables me to type this sentence out on my phone. How our world has changed so much in what is just a few decades. You don’t have to love science or engineering to read or listen to this fascinating book. You just need a little bit of curiosity about how this world is as it is today.

Golden Tresses of the Dead

I tend not to be a series continuer. Duologies, trilogies I do manage to finish. Maybe because I know that there it is, that’s the end, I can read that and be done with it. But when it comes to series with many books, like Laurie R Kong’s Mary Russell series, or the Outlander series, I tend to take my time with them. And to be honest, sometimes I forget about them, distracted by all the shiny pretties that publishers keep churning out and bookstagrammers keep posting beautiful photos of.

But somehow this series by Alan Bradley is something I always remember to pick up. And not terribly far from its publication date either.

In this tenth book, Flavia has two cases to solve. One involves a finger found in her sister’s wedding cake. Yes, Feely is getting married. As a result we don’t see very much of her – or Daffy really. Instead it’s become the Flavia and Dogger show with a side act of Undine, Flavia’s cousin, who apparently knows quite a bit about automobiles.

.

The case itself was interesting enough and I loved having more of Dogger and getting to know the snarky Undine but I did miss that banter among the three sisters. But as always, it was a delight to jump into a new mystery with Flavia, severed finger and all.

The Library Book by Susan Orlean

This was a great read. If you like books (and since you’re reading my blog post, I’m presuming you do) and libraries, this is a book for you!

I’d seen some reviews and synopses where it mentioned the Los Angeles public library fire of 1986 and I had thought, oh wow a book just about this library fire? I hadn’t known that this huge fire had occurred – it burnt hundreds of thousands of books and damaged many more – so that already had me intrigued. So I thought it would some kind of investigative reporting about the fire. It wasn’t exactly. And I was thankful it wasn’t.

We are told about the terrifying fire. How it burned for hours, hit 2500 degrees (!), had more than 3 million gallons of water dumped on it

Orleans discusses a variety of related issues like book burning in history. And how, as part of her research, burnt a book herself. Her research into the history of the Los Angeles Public Library is really interesting and thorough.

But for me the loveliest – and saddest – parts of the book was when Orlean talked about visiting the library with her mother. How her mother used to take her to the library as a child and as a teenager. How her mother had thought that being a librarian would have been the job for her. But sadly her mother had been suffering from dementia. I loved how she wrote the book for her mother, and shared her mother’s love for libraries with fellow library lovers and readers of this lovely book.

“In Senegal, the polite expression for saying someone died is to say his or her library has burned. When I first heard the phrase, I didn’t understand it, but over time I came to realise it was perfect. Our minds and souls contain volumes inscribed by our experiences and emotions; each individual’s consciousness is a collection of memories we’ve cataloged and stored inside us, a private library of a life lived. It is something that no one else can entirely share, one that burns down and disappears when we die. But if you can take something from that internal collection and share it–with one person or with the larger world, on the page or in a story recited–it takes on a life of its own.”

Aquicorn Cove by Katie O’Neill #bookreview

Happy sigh. I adore the work of Katie O’Neill – she of the lovely Tea Dragon Society!

In this book, a young girl and her dad visit her aunt who lives on a small island that’s been hit by a storm. Lana discovers a baby aquicorn, a kind of seahorse-like creature and she nurses it back to health. It is a tale of loss and grief – Lana is learning to cope with the death of her mother. And also one of the environment – the underwater creatures’ homes are being destroyed by overfishing and pollution. And all accompanied by O’Neill’s gorgeous vibrant illustrations

Recently read: Nevermoor by Jessica Townsend

A middle grade fantasy filled with a hint of danger & darkness (Morrigan Crow is a Cursed Child, blamed for local misfortunes, doomed to die on her 11th birthday), plenty of charm & humour (a giant talking cat does the housekeeping). Also there are trials to get into the Wondrous Society and even after I’ve finished the book I still haven’t the faintest idea what the society is about, but I’d love to join it any day (where’s my invitation?)

Holiday reading: The Music Shop by Rachel Joyce

A quirky book for holiday reading that was ultimately a bit disappointing. I really loved how it talked about music and the small community feel of the street. And I loved Frank’s devotion to his record store. It was charming at times but the plot line just took too long to get going and I never quite felt that “happy sigh” feeling when a good romance happens. So for me it’s a 3.5 ⭐️ read.