Photo: (Clockwise from bottom left) Yuki hinode (snow sunrise) miso, tāsai (tatsoi in English), parsley, radishes, shinmai mochi.

Off I went this morning to meet a fellow Navy wife blogger in Japan (Hi Kate!) for coffee near the Zushi train station. We had a great chat, and I was reminded once again how efficient the Internet can be in bringing together people with similar interests. The trick is to get off the computer and actually go meet in person. I’m glad I did.

All fired up on corporate coffee, I wandered around Zushi finding any excuse to pester shopkeepers in crappy Japanese. Ah, you have miso in large bins, not the prepackaged supermarket stuff. What would be best for miso soup? Can I use it to marinate fish as well? A little sake, mirin, and miso, then grill? I see. I’ll take 500 grams.

At the vegetable lady: Parsley and radishes some of that shinmai mochi, please. What is this green? I’ve never seen it before. Tāsai? Is that Japanese? Ah, Chinese. What do you do with it? Stir-fry, hmm. [She puts some in my bag for free.] Oh, you are too kind. I can’t wait to try it. Yes, I will stir-fry it.

It occurs to me that I have quite the scam going: Approach older salesladies, chat them up, ask too many questions, receive free stuff. What an awesome country.

So, now I’m thinking, tomorrow grill the mochi with a miso paste (dengaku—except dengaku is made with tofu, but why not mochi?), and make a radish salad. Tonight, the parsley will go in spaghetti with clams.

Photo: Asari and shijimi.

I’m at the fish market across from the station and I ask for one basket of asari and one of shijimi. The fishmonger wants to know what I’m going to do with them. “What kind of cuisine?” I tell him I’m cooking Italian, spaghetti with clams, vongole they call them in Naples. “Yes, yes, of course,” he says, “the asari are vongole, but do they really put the small ones in pasta?” Why, yes, they have teeny tiny clams in Naples, and sometimes they would put a mix of clams in the spaghetti con vongole. We both stare at the clams for a moment, as if the clams might have an opinion on the subject. They remain silent and glistening. I’m smelling garlic in my head. And I’m stupid happy to watch him wrap the clams in cones of paper and then newspaper. No styrofoam and plastic wrap.

Photo: Notebooks and my favorite pens.

Stationery shop: Look at these notebooks. “Specially Prepared in Tokyo,” that’s pretty funny. I have to get some. I’ll make a cooking kanji notebook, and a notebook for sake tastings, and one for when I’m studying for my regular class, and I don’t know what the last one is for, but I want another one. And I need a handful of my favorite pens, Pilot Hi-Tec 0.5 in blue-black and black.

Now I need bread to sop up the clam, olive oil, and garlic sauce. There’s the bus for home. On the bus I remember how my fishmonger in Naples used to ask me the same question, “How are you cooking that?” I’d tell him “Santa Lucia style” or “I’m grilling it,” and he’d nod with his lips pursed. “Be sure to add enough hot pepper,” he’d say, or, “Oh yes, with only a squeeze of lemon, perfect.” Then, only after he had approved my methods would he hand me my package wrapped in newspaper.

A little Lina Sastri would be good to get me/you in the mood…