New Dietary Guidelines Released Today

The U.S. today released new nutrition guidelines today.  Bad news for people who have other people cook most meals for them in cafeterias, nursing homes, through take-out, from prepared deli items in the supermarket, from fancy food in gourmet shops, in fast food restaurants, and in fancy or not so fancy restaurants.

Why is that?

In a word: Salt.

Back on 4/4/10, I wrote about this in The Boston Globe Sunday magazine: www.boston.com/bostonglobe/magazine/articles/2010/04/04/getting_chefs_to_pass_up_the_salt/.

Hoo-wee!  judging from the reaction, you’d have thought I was personally responsible for robbing people of their god given right to stoke up on salt.  Increased risk due to salt of coronaries and high blood pressure?  Well, never mind.

Anyhow, today’s piece in the Times on the new U.S. government standards on salt tells the full story:  www.nytimes.com/2011/02/01/business/01food.html?_r=1&hp.

Highlights in the new standards:

• “Among the recommendations: that anyone 51 or older, all African-Americans, children, and adults with hypertensiondiabetes and chronic kidney disease should cut their salt consumption to 1,500 milligrams a day; the recommendation for everyone else is 2,300 milligrams.”

•  “The guidelines recommend consuming less than 10 percent of calories from saturated fatty acids, replacing them with so-called good fats like monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids.”

Well, who has the time to cook at home?  Who, I ask, who?  Will the guidelines lead the cooks to lower salt in the prepared they sell?

Don’t count on it.

A Review: Sakanaya!

Imagine my surprise on Sunday, less than 24 hours after returning to Earth, to discover: Sakanaya.  Located on a small side street in Allston.  Being in this fish store, which opened only a week prior, was like being back in Tokyo.

Sakana, in Japanese, means fish.  I ought to know.  Oh, the many, many times I’ve said to Japanese wait staff: “Sakana deke!”  Meaning: “Only fish.”  (Shellfish allergies.)

Small cuts of beautiful sushi-grade fish.  Shelves of basic Japanese pantry items.  Fresh, shredded daikon.  Ajitsuke Ajari Age.  Iraq, Iran.  Sushi to go.  Fish to make your own sashimi.

Get those knife skills going!

Anyhoo, as mom would say: The place is the best Japanese fish store I’ve ever seen in the U.S.

Dude who runs it?  Chill, too.

Sakayana
75 Linden St
(between Gardner St & Brighton Ave)
Boston, MA 02134
Neighborhood: Allston/Brighton

(617) 254-0009

The Shuttle Lands on Planet Japan

Nick to Nam.

After breakfast in the room, the city below not yet aglow, we cabbed the short 710 Yen to Tokyo Eke and N boarded the train to Narita.  I thought of course of other fathers and sons parting ways and how lucky we were that the war was over.  The American war, they say in Nam, but any war will do.  Mind, I didn’t feel lucky trudging back on the JR to the hotel.

So I did what I often do to combat stress: I ran.  I ran six miles and felt a measure of relief from the transcendence of physicality.  Yikes!

Later, that same morning, I made my way to Park Hyatt Tokyo for lunch with Rie at Kozue: Can you say kaiseki?  Delicious, as always.  Then a Japanese whisky tasting @ NY Grill for a long piece I’m doing for the Slow Food Quarterly in Italy: The stuff challenges the idea of terroir.  How do they create something so closely associated with soil and cellars and tradition…and get it exactly right?  I think it must have to do with the unconscious Shinto thing of getting inside a space to see from inside it what goes on outside it.  Huh?  Wha’?  Or maybe it’s just genius at refinement.

A ride to Narita at 3:05 and the shuttle took my pass.  I’d cashed in AA points accrued for years and found myself in 1C to Chicago.  “A Streetcar Named Desire,” was available and a big gin and after that final embrace in the movie and an empty glass, I dozed off.  Waking up 90 minutes from The Windy City.

Day Six on Planet Japan: Dwindling Oxygen Supply

Early A.M. meeting with prominent boss who is pushing upscale ryokans followed by a spectacular lunch at Butagami: “The Pork Gang.”  If you know a better tonkatsu joint, tell me, I’m all ears.  Butagami, on this my third visit, was every bit as delicious and entertaining as before.  Motown playing in an old wooden house, regional and flagged pieces of juicy pork, cold beer, I mean, hello?  Could it be any better?

Strolling then through Roppongi to meet Reiko @ Nuno: No show, but a brilliant afternoon as all the ponces were still asleep.

Later, that night, we met up with my old friend Yuko who led us to yakitori near Tsukiji.  Ever have chicken sashimi?  It’s to die for.  Then: A lovely walk to Ginza for tea.

SUMO

Day Five began with a run to stave off the lingering effects of sharing my friend’s love of sake.  Followed by the Japanese speciality of crispy bacon.

Yumi, my stalwart friend, arrived breathless at 11 A.M.  I told her I love to observe people.  She showed us all types in all sorts of surroundings:

A hipster in a Ginza tea shop who made exquisite expresso green tea.

Shopkeepers who sold paper, tofu, and miso.

The old temple site.

Sections of Tokyo where we bumped into delicious octopus balls, seasonal fish, gangsta jackets, and plastic food and beverages.

Culminating in SUMO:

We had tatami-style seats nearly ringside and were ideally positioned to see big men, one after another, posture twice and tackle once.  Twenty-five warriors took the stage.  We drank cold beer and ate hot yakitori as the men hit the mat or triumphed.  Three hours of viewing that will last a lifetime.  What was amazing was the persistence, the focus, the repetition of movement, the clear link to an ancient time when sports were more physical than now.  I can’t wait to return.  Maybe I’ll bulk up and take to the ring: Scotto.

Later, that night, we met up with Takeshi.  He showed us Jiro’s sushi place: A three star affair hidden in a subway station.  Twenty pieces, $360.  Don’t try this at home.  Pass?  We passed.

Instead it was my favorite of things: Izakaya Time.  On the 7th Floor, we dined on fish and vegetables.  More beer, more sake, lights out.

Day Four: Tokyo Metropolis

After two baths and a memorably delicious breakfast, which involved one of us speaking again of princes and the short term effects of drinking large amounts of alcohol, we boarded the Shinkansen back to Tokyo.  Fuji-san was hiding, brushing perhaps, and no snow was evident, only clouds.

Having helped the chef at The Peninsula on a project to get U.S. chefs to the hotel for an annual food event, we stayed there.  Nice, big place.  Near Hibuya Koan and Ginza.  Not nearly as ooo-la-lah as Park Hyatt, but the location made up for that.  We could walk everywhere.

Under the JR tracks just down the street are dozens of mom and pop joints: Literally holes in the walls where good, greasy food is served 24/7.  From there it’s a short distance to mad Ginza and if you’re energetic, Tsukiji market is nearby.

We ran, we biked, we took the train to Mandarin Oriental for drinks.  A very good French-informed meal followed and was followed, in its turn, by a second dinner with a friend who also writes about food.

His place was an izakaya: Salt, vegetables, meat.  Lots of sake.  Too much sake.  My friend doesn’t like sake.  He loves sake.

He took us then to little, tiny places where beer was served by inebriated bartenders and Coltrane played long into the night.  These were filled with dissolute, alienated characters, disenfranchised, corrupted by their environs.  Once young, no longer.  You know the type, I’m certain.  Allen said it best: “I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked,: dragging themselves through the negro streets at dawn looking for an angry fix.”

Japan: Day Three – The Japanese Alps

The morning at the ryokan began, as usual, with hot baths at 6 A.M.  I never sleep on Planet Japan.  I don’t think anyone does.  I opened the sliding glass doors and as the snow fell in the forest, bathed alone in hot pools.

Breakfast followed: Lovely Japanese cuisine centered on heat, texture, color. Dried fish, little potatoes, tofu, seaweed.

In the car, a drive deep into the mountains.  As snow swirled, mountaintops of pine trees drooping with snow were downright poetic and inspiring.  The silence and visual aesthetic of the Planet always inspires my emotional life and, as a result, I feel more at home in the world.

We reached a tiny tofu factory and enjoyed stunning, double fried tofu.  Double portions, one could not stop eating.  The secret?  The secret is in the water.

Later, we had lunch at our host Jiro’s favorite Italian restauarant: Bigoli and shitake and duck.  Wow!

The village of Yamanaka, adjacent to The Kayotei, our ryokan, is filled with guests enjoying this onsen “hot spot.”  We visited a wood worker I have met twice before: This time he had a Shiba with him, which looks like a fox.

In the evening: Shabu-shabu, sparking sake, and first-rate Japanese whisky.

One among us noted, hearing the tune played: “Someday My Prince Will Come.”

Planet Japan: Day Two – Yuki and Shinkansen

The day began with a two mile run overlooking Fuji-san and the city coming to life 40 + stories below us and then a swift breakfast in the room of eggs, bacon, and that emerald colored melon I think of when I think of Japan.  I forgot to say, “crispy bacon.”  My bad.  Still, the pork is the best anywhere due to its high fat content and its being so juicy.  A drunk American in the hallway shouting, “Why does everyone want to fuck with me?” spoiled the mood.  Then, again, he made it more memorable.

710 Yen later and we were at the mouth of the world’s busiest train stain: Shinjuku where we rode to Tokyo station to catch the Shinkansen north.  Snow, aka yuki, delayed us by over an hour to our transit station.  The snow was magnificent, powerful, and stark.  As we went through the alpine region–Nagano, Nagoya–it was thrilling.  The next train was jammed–standing room only for two hours–due to all the trains converging and long standstills, etc.  It was fine as we were the only aliens and so we called it a “cultural experience,” exercising self delusion in a familiar way.

At last, Kaga Onsen.  Here we were greeted by friends who whisked us to an Irish Tea Room, set up stick by stick, piece by piece, in tribute to the Emerald Isle.  A talk on eggs by a producer followed over cake and tea and I genuinely learned more about eggs than I had ever known.  For example, expiration dates mean nothing without a production date.  Also, the best eggs are produced by young hens; meaning that these organic, free range birds?  Slaughtered en masse at about 18 months in contrast to older birds.

Later, at The Kayotei, one of the planet’s most remarkable ryokans, we donned yakuta, and undonned them for several outdoor baths.  The dinner was perfect kaiseki and included: Hollowed lime with local, wild mushrooms; candied walnuts; broccolini with bonita; blue fin and buri sashimi; and, a bowl of broth, noodles, and duck.

Bedding down on tatami, sleep came fast as it always done on…Planet Japan.

Planet Japan: The Debriefing Begins

The flight from Chicago to Narita: Uneventful but for two people, seated in the bulkhead, who were bumped to First, which led to our occupation of their former places in the bulkhead.  Legroom, sleep.

After leaving Narita Airport, we checked into Park Hyatt Tokyo.  Easily my favorite hotel in the world as it embodies the concept of a hotel as a world unto itself.  You could live here and never explore the city around it, and be just fine. Besides the views of Tokyo…but wait.  The views.  Our room, on the 49th Floor, was of an urban landscape that resembled a man-made forest.  The 52nd Floor, where the bar & Grill are, has floor to ceiling windows in four directions.  As a person for whom architecture is the one visual art form I respond to emotionally, this was deeply sensual.

A gin Martini, hamachi, and rare Japanese beef followed.

Oh, and prior to all that: A swim in the hotel’s spa area.  Oh, and, yes: I was a guest of the property.  Full disclosure, pip, pip.

A brief word on Japanese consciousness before closing out Day One: Two chief characteristics of the culture that inform the consciousness of Japan are its Buddhist and Shinto-rooted “striving towards perfection” and the essentially narcissistic way in which people there do not differentiate between themselves and the nature that surrounds them.  At its best, this leads to refinement, perfection, and an aesthetic sense of observation nonpareil.  One of many reasons that being in Japan fills my heart and soul is that its culture is based, principally, on observation and silence.  Most of my work, nearly all of it, as a shrink and writer: Same.  I shut up, listen, and document.

I am aware, too, of the downside of “striving towards perfection” and narcissism: The Japanese suffer for their feeling of being incomplete and imperfect.  Not differentiating between Self and surroundings?  An empty place within as the completion comes from outside the Self.

Day Two: Shinkansen, Yuki, & Kaiseki, hai!

A Review: Sichuan Gourmet (Brookline)

Having trekked or shlepped or made our way to Logan for Day Two of trying to get to Planet Japan, we found ourselves at the gate facing A.A. officials who looked as if they could use a drink.

Cancelled!  Mechanical failure.  In turn, I cancelled the entire trip, lacking logistical support for the journey, only to rebook it when I returned home after consulting with the Japanese, on the ground, on Planet Japan.

Tired, hungry, too agitated to eat, I reflect instead on Sichuan Gourmet.  The restaurant, a branch of the Billerica original, serves delicious food.  Sure, the menu has the same deep fried stuff you find everywhere.  We saw tables teeming with wings, General Gau’s chicken (why is that title capitalized?), and sweet and sour things, lots of them.  People looked happy.

Still, the Sichuan items sing:

Vinegary, sweet, spicy dumplings the size of teaspoons and stuffed with scallions and ground pork

Thin noodles in a peppery sauce and numbing peppers

Ma Pa Tofu with the soy soft and delicate while the heat was powerful

Great textures, temperatures!

The joint itself is very ordinary: Blaring daytime T.V. above the long bar, a staff that has no affect, rooms that resemble Gymboree waiting rooms.

Mind, my metabolism has changed with age.  I was drenched with sweat as I ate and drank water constantly.  Loved that heated feeling though, made winter seem like spring or summer.