Snail Mail

IMG_1252Signs that I am getting old: I remember when I used to receive chain mail in a tangible mailbox.

I also used to have a pen pal. A girl I’d met at…circus camp. So maybe my childhood was a little unusual, but I promise you millennium babies, getting a letter in the mail used to be a normal occurrence.

When email took off in middle school, I loved getting chain emails. I loved all the pretty font colors and the suspense of scrolling through

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to get to the answer of some joke or riddle, or some ridiculous good luck charm.

Fast forward to now: I get so many emails, I sometimes dislike getting mail. One week, I went without internet except for classwork-related research, and I ended up with over 100 unchecked emails. Half of them were actually semi-important. Oops. And even the best of email filters can’t protect me from Joyce the Voice bombarding the radio station e-list with updates on her back surgery. Lady, we all hope you get better, we really do. But please, please stop emailing us an hourly status report. There’s other places on the internet (read: Twitter) for you to do that.

Receiving a letter in the mail has become a special occasion, almost as infrequent the birthday of a child born on February 29th. (No but seriously, I could count on one hand how many letters I’ve received in the past four years.)

Today, my friend JMeter sent me a beautiful piece of mail. It was so beautiful and so rare, I had to take a (crappy IPhone) picture. Scroll down to see the picture:

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(And why did I used to think these were fun and exciting? They’re freaking annoying.)

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Behold, a letter with a skull bead enclosed. It made my week.

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So beautiful, it brought tears to my eyes.

With the decline of our postal service and our cursive writing abilities (does anyone even still use cursive?), beautifully written letters on beautiful stationary are quickly disappearing from our society. What used to be a deluge of communications between distant siblings, friends, and lovers has now become a trickle of thank you letters and wedding invitations. But even as we turn to 140-character expressions of our emotions and the immediate gratifications of the internet, we still have not forgotten the joy of riffling through the mail and discovering a personal letter.

So you want to know how to make a far away friend’s day? Write them a letter. Thanks, JMeter, for making mine.

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Oyakodon

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When we were younger, my sister and I often had to, as my dad described it, “fend for ourselves” while my parents were at work. Back in those days, no one trusted me with anything stove-related, so my sister used to make us simple dinners. I affectionately remember these dishes as “spoon food,” saucy curries or simple scrambled eggs and tomatoes atop a bed of rice, perfect for eating with a spoon. Rather than mac n’cheese or pizza, spoon food was our family’s comfort food.

Oyakodon is the epitome of spoon food. I first experienced oyakodon at Porter Exchange, an enclave of Japanese restaurants underneath Lesley University. It was love at first sight, or rather, first bite. The meat was tender, the eggs half-cooked and runny, and there was an undertone of sweetness in the sauce, perfectly balancing the otherwise salty dish. It quickly became one of my favorite Japanese-style comfort foods.

In Japanese, oyakodon means “mother and child.” If you think about it literally, you’re eating the mother and her child, but the more socially acceptable spin is that the dish is a harmony between the chicken and the egg, an ode to the eternal question of which came first.

I also like to think that “mother and child” refers the tradition of a mother passing her culinary secrets onto her child. Some of my favorite dishes are the simple ones, like the roast chicken my mom used to make every year for my birthday, the sausage pasta sauce that my dad whips together on a busy weeknight, or the green curry my sister used to make. In my childhood, these dishes seemed like magic to me, and my parents the wizards who could control fire. Even now, these childhood comfort foods are special.

So as I head off into my last year of college, I (and basically every other young adult) am trying to figure out what I want to do, and who I want to be. It can be pretty scary stuff, but at least after all the jobhunting, the interviews, and hopefully settling into a new place in a new city, my oyakodon and all my other spoon foods will be there to warmly encourage me to face the next chapter of my life.

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Katsudon

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A year ago, I studied abroad in China, one of the best experiences of my life. While I was at the Beijing Foreign Studies University, I discovered the beauty of simple Japanese fare. (Which is a euphemism for ‘I became slightly obsessed with it.’) Before going to China, I had associated Japanese food with sushi and teriyaki. Then I discovered Japanese curries. I still remember my order, tudou gali (土豆咖喱), a rich potato curry atop a fried potato cake with a bed of rice, served with miso soup. My friends and I went so often, I’m pretty sure we singlehandedly gave them enough revenue to get new fancy menus.

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Love this woman, love this place.

Oh ribenfanguan’r (日本饭馆儿), how I miss you. You carried me through many a torrential rainstorm, through midterms and finals and all the tests in between. I have never attempted the tudou gali because I prefer to just remember how wonderful it was. I still hold out hope that one day I will return and enjoy my potato curry again.

However, all the other curry dishes are fair game. Up today: katsudon. I absolutely loved zhupai jing (豬排丼) in China. Fried pork with a sweet yet savory sauce on a bed of rice…mmmmm. They also served it with a dollop of Japanese mayonnaise (Kewpie) that is infinitely better than American mayonnaise.

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So crispy, so juicy, so delicious.

I also came to love how the Japanese cook their eggs, half-cooked and runny so that it sinks into the rice, flavoring the dish all the way to the bottom of the bowl.

I owe it to the ribenfanguan’r for showing me that Japanese food is so much more than just fancy arrangements of sushi rolls. Here’s my rendition of katsudon, combining some of my favorite aspects of Japanese comfort food: the sweet-salty sauce, the crunchy yet juicy pork, the half-cooked eggs. This recipe absolutely nails it.

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