Stillness and shadows


December 1, 2022

December blew in on an icy north wind. We brought the first load of wood up to the house and built a fire in the wood stove. I pulled sheepskins out of storage, one at each bedside to caress bare feet on cold mornings.

Outside, branches are laid bare and the steps leading up the hill to our house are carpeted in fallen leaves. Only the camellia thrives, sending out a fireworks like display of pink petals that glow against glossy green leaves.

As autumn gives way to winter, we tilt further and further away from the sun towards a season of stillness and shadows. Warmth becomes a singular focus, fires in the hearth, soothing soups made of roots that sweeten underground. Heartier fare made of turnip, radish, and potato make their way to the table.

I recently discovered a new and thrilling tuber. Beni-tsukune-imo, a naturally tinted variety of tsukune-imo, is a stockier cousin in Japan’s family of yamaimo mountain yams. With crisp flesh reminiscent of nashi pear, they turn viscous when grated. Known as tororo in this form, they are often eaten raw over rice or barley, or with seasoned yellowtail sashimi, or thinned with dashi into soups. But I like them deep fried into piping hot, and in this case purple, pillows. The viscosity is subdued and a crunchy coating gives way to a silky smooth bite. Served with grated shinshoga new ginger and a dashi-soy dipping sauce, they warm the belly, filling it without weighing it down as their starchier potato brethren do. 

It is a true diamond in the rough, or amethyst really, twisted and gnarled with the drabbest of dirt colored skin. But peel back the dull cloak and inside you’ll find a bouquet of lilacs in the form of a slippery, starchy root that when grated turns thick, viscous, and violet. It is a bright spot in these darkening days.

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