Frying the Trickster

It was a thought that startled a friend of ours when we stayed with her in the UK.

I said that I had never seen a fox alive. I know they’re a massive pest here in Australia, but the only time that I had ever seen one before this point was as a mangled shape¬†on the side of the highway. Usually the Hume Highway, between Sydney and Canberra. I don’t know if that’s significant.

So our host put out some chicken offcuts in her backyard, leaving a low light on and keeping a firm hand on her little West Highlands Terrier. Soon enough, to the Westy’s unhappy growls, we watched through the glass door as a trio of foxes, barely more than pups, hopped over the rear shed and dropped into the back yard. They warily snatched up the chicken before departing again, and I couldn’t help but feel like these strange animals were more like possums than dogs, leaping and clambering over fences and knocking over bins. Maybe I’m just more used to having possums near the house. For any imaginary readers who haven’t been to Australia or New Zealand, consider it a mercy to have not heard a possum’s voice at night. Scary shite right there.

Anyway, I was talking about foxes. I had met them in another context, in which they were neither flesh and blood creatures or flesh and blood road markers. Fox Shrines dot Japan, often in wild and partially forgotten places, or clinging quietly to unseen corners in the grounds of larger shrine complexes. There is a beautiful one to the side of Kamakura’s Hachimangu whose approach seems little more than a narrow forest path, leading to a flight of weathered stairs and, for me at least, a haunting sensation of being watched.

What all this fox related jabbering is leading to is the noodle recipe that follows.

Now there’s a leap of logic for you.

To explain: not long ago I attempted to make some Kitsune Udon for my partner and Ghorb, who is currently living with us. A rough translation would be Fox Noodles. I’ve never understood what appeal fried tofu has to foxes, but then I’ve never really felt much of an urge to delve into it either. Just sort of took it as given that the folkloric tricksters of Japan’s unforgiving ecosphere would , like me, be really into soy products.

So here’s how I did it.

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First, I chopped up a whole bunch of Shitake Mushrooms for broth. Because mushrooms are great.

Arrayed behind said mushrooms are my other ingredients; red miso paste, sesame seeds and firm tofu. You’ll be able to tell from these that I’m not making a traditional broth… this is really more an homage to a memory than a real recreation.

Because I’ve tried to arrange for silken tofu to hold its shape through the frying process before, and we all remember how that went.

Well, you guys don’t I suppose… it didn’t end well. Silken tofu just kind of disintegrates when you try to fry it, and this little blogger had to walk all the way back to the supermarket, which is… admittedly, right across the road, to get firm tofu.

So remember: Firm Tofu.

Here’s what you do with it.

You slice it into little steaks. I made triangles, but you could equally make rectangles or any other shape your knife skill wpid-20150629_183335.jpglevels allow.

Give them a quick skin mixed from flour, salt, pepper, and garlic powder.

Fry in oil until crispy.

Fry the mushrooms, then drown them in hot water and add a goodly dollop of miso paste to make a tasty broth. Sprinkle in some finely chopped spring onions, and your golden. Throw in noodles for your audience and… hey presto.

Get those noodles and that broth into a bowl, place the nice little tofu guys on top, and sprinkle with sesame seeds.

Much more attractive than most of the foxes I’ve encountered, to be sure.

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A Hill in Inuyama

There is a hill in Inuyama.

I know it says that in the title. I figured I’d repeat it for emphasis. Anyway, there’s a hill. Its beautiful, the whole thing set out DSCF3336as a woodland cemetery, the sun kind of crests it perfectly. There is a pathway that leads up the slope from the east side of the train station, and winds is way up to the crest of the hill where it disappears.

I’m probably going to need to explain this a bit better.

My partner and I went to Inuyama about two years ago. Its not a big place, a couple of hours north of Nagoya by the winding local services. Its high enough into the mountains that winter clings on a few weeks longer than it does on the coast. I had chosen to come here on a whim; the city is mentioned in Lian Hearn’s Tales of the Otori, and those books have always been favourites of mine. I admit, as we approached, it appears disappointing. The whole place looks like a burned out wreck of partially abandoned light industrial buildings, the shattered remnants of a once working body that all the life has drained away from. And for some parts of the city, that may be true.

DSCF3338But you get off the train, you take the north exit. The wide river greets you, and you follow it down a waterfront walk drawn in a vaguely European style. You take that corner, and everything changes. On arrival we saw a white castle, older than the written history of my country, was flying over a landscape of cherry blossoms and the river darkening like ink in the sunset. The winter wind bites, and turning on to the main street you find that the cars, lights and other trappings of modernity are politely ignored in favour of Edo era facades. We were lucky enough to catch the end of the city festival, purely by accident. It is a beautiful place.

In the twilight, we couldn’t see the detail of the hill I mentioned. That came later.

It was on the morning we left that we were able to really see it. The path over the hill captivated me. I considered taking that walk, but we had a bullet train to get to that would take us to Kyoto. I’ve wondered about it since.

I get the sense that walking over that hill will kill me.

In a kind of narrative sense, it feels like that action carries that finality. I have marked this place, and if I go past it the story ends. Like Enkidu ripping the life from the Bull of Heaven before the gods destroyed him, I can almost smell the weight of fate carried on this place.

And it has come to be reflected again. My partner and I have been traveling in Europe for the last seven months or so, intermittently working in Scotland. Our date of return is confirmed now, and I begin to feel the weight of things left undone. When we had left Australia, we had hoped to go on a Gaudi binge in Spain. To get a taste of Stieg Larsson’s fractured Sweden and its endless aurora riddled winter nights. Hell, we got within miles of Vienna before getting distracted. This is not to say I haven’t enjoyed our time here. I’m just seeing another hill, and wanting to cross it.

You can’t do everything. On a logical level my brain knows this, that the world is just too damn big to see it all in one lifetime. For all that we say we will have another chance to see the places we missed, for some reason it feels like the jig is up. Because once I’m on that plane, Europe as we experienced it will begin changing into something new, and will never be what it was in this time and place.

I have been haunted by a mantra of late, wandering through countries that by all rights seem to be driving themselves into the ground. It always looks like the end of the world from where you’re standing.

And I suppose that encapsulates the feeling. The world is going to be moving on regardless of where I am, and to be honest I am not entirely sure what home is going to look like when I get back there. But I’ve had a rifle around in the old brain box, and I’ve reinforced myself with the idea that I have done this before, and for all the years I accrue I can still adapt and change along with the world. Maybe I’ve been a different person than I was before, in these seven vagrant months, and maybe I’ll put that person in the grave when I step back into Kingsford Smith airport as summer turns to autumn and the world is again turned upside down.

We leave, and maybe Europe will disappear. It might fall to the Russians, or to anarcho-communism in the face of the near DSCF3339sighted idiocy of its corrupt governments. Maybe Tony Abbott’s gleeful curb stomping of the Australian economy will render us forever unemployed on our return, and leave the other side of our planet forever out of our reach, and my partner and I will be forced to live out our days as arse kicking cyberpunk bandits, crushing fascists and their corporate paymasters beneath the wheels of our murdercycles. Maybe these things will happen. But I don’t think it will be any of these things that will kill me.

In a week I will be back on the continent of my birth.

I suppose part of being human is that we so often live beyond the end of the story. The narrative would say that I cross the grand threshold, and that will be that. One day I’m going to front up to that damn hill, or any other hill in Poland or Haiti or bloody Tuggeranong, and I’ll cross the damn thing, Bull of Heaven or no. Maybe I see the other side, and maybe I don’t.

The hills gonna stay right there either way, and the old story is just going to keep on ticking along.

Still not sure if I’m ready to accept that.

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