Recently, I have spent quite some time repairing home items.
All the heavy cast iron pots, the handmade tamagoyaki pan and the wok I carried all the way from Tokyo – every speckle was polished and every corner well-seasoned. For the kitchen knife from Aritsugu, Kyoto, and Chinese cleaver knife, I held the wooden handle with one hand and gently pressed the blade with another, and pushed it back and forth on a soaked whetstone in a careful, amateur way to sharpen the edge. I had a new Ise cotton bag which somehow bore four tiny holes. To avoid the holes getting larger, I tried to sew them up right away. It’s a piece of fabric printed with mustard yellow, and blue and white stripes. Since no one single thread could match the colours, so I used red to turn imperfection, which I didn’t mean to hide, into beauty. I thought that’s what kintsugi art is about too. Fabric weaved by Ise cotton was extremely soft and the warp was so loose that whenever I tightened the sewing seam, the hole seemed enlarged…Anyway, the holes were mended, roughly, although they didn’t look anything like I pictured. Before Lunar new year, I bought two branches of Japanese cherry, one of them blossomed beautifully and the other one generously budded but not a tiny flower or a single leaf was sprouted. And after weeks, there was still no sign of flowering. I held the brown branch, its fainted fragrance lingered in my hand. I couldn’t bring myself to throw it away but instead, I placed it under the sun for drying. I picked away the dried buds, snipped off the twigs and put them into a bottle infused with Japanese hinoki essential oil, turning it into a diffuser. For the wood remains, I shaved it into small chips and threw them into an old cast iron pot with patches of peeled interior. I lined the pot with aluminum foil, sprinkled a dash of brown sugar and the cherry wood chips, and I smoked two pieces of halibut fillet in it.
Here is the project of a larger scale. The leather upholstery of two of my dining chairs were ragged as time went by, and, with a curious cat which kept scratching the fabric, the tattered parts grew larger and larger that, at the end, all parts ragged except for the wooden chair frames. I didn’t care much as I was the only one who used those chairs. Until one day, some old friends were to come visit me, so I finally got on fixing the chairs so that they didn’t look too shabby. I turned the chair upside down, unscrewed the slip seat and took it out to remove the peeled leather upholstery. The slip seat was “reupholstered” with a store-bought cotton cushion cover and attached back to the frame where the four cushion cover corners were tucked under and secured with pins. It was much more complex to work on the backrest. The curved pad was attached to two sides of the chair stile with thick screws. It took me quite a lot of effort to pull the backrest out after unscrewing. The seams were too strong that the fabric was impossible to remove, so I just left it there. I slipped the backrest into another cushion cover and folded up the excess fabric to sew up. And again, I realised I didn’t have agile fingers for needle work that I spent an entire afternoon sewing the two seams. The first seam was a total mess and the second one, where the stitching was done in another way, was slightly better but it’s still ugly. Anyways, the “upholstery” was done. I snipped two holes on the two sides of the backrest for the screws. Using both hands and legs, I pulled the chair frame apart and stuck the backrest back into the frame. It took even more effort to align the holes on the frame, fabric and the original backrest for the screws to pass through.
When I saw “Sofa refurbishment and restoration” advertisements on the street in the past, I thought who would spend a fortune on repairing old possessions nowadays. Getting a new chair is easy. Restoring or fixing the obsolete, on the other hand, requires much more effort. Not being nostalgic, I might have upcycling in mind, or, probably understand that letting go is easy, and I would rather take a challenging path so as to stitch an interlude onto life and objects with time and effort, as well as colouring up pale and weary chapters in life.
An object may be created for a designated purpose. However, when the flower fails to bloom and wilt as it should be, its fragrance can still be preserved in food and infused into memories. In a broken pot, in another vessel, the life of an unbloomed flower relived. So could life.
Halibut fillet 2 pieces, 220g
Mirin 2.5 tablespoons
Japanese soy sauce 2 tablespoons
Sake 1 tablespoons
Japanese cherry wood A stalk
Coarse brown sugar 1 teaspoon
Mix mirin, soy sauce and sake, and marinate the fish in the mixture for 30 minutes. Oily fish like salmon and mackerel make great options for smoking
Shave the wood stalk with a peeler, set aside. Not all kinds of wood are suitable for smoking. Large supermarkets sell apple wood chips and cherry wood chips for smoking use.
Line a deep pot with aluminum foil, place the wood chips and sugar on top of it. Heat the pot over medium to high heat till there is smoke.
Pat dry the fish and keep the marinade. Pan sear the fillets into half cooked and golden, set aside.
Reduce the marinade into a thick consistency in the pan, then put the fillets back into the pan to cook till it’s almost done.
Place a steaming rack and metallic mesh into the pot. Place the fillets onto the mesh. Lid on and smoke for 5 minutes. If you use a lighter pot, wrap the lid rim with layers of aluminum foil to ensure the smoke doesn’t escape.
It’s raining outside, crisp and bleak. Three chubby sparrows took shelter on my balcony and I gave them the baguette bits left on my breakfast plate but they flew away. I stayed in, played Damien Rice on vinyl and made apple crumble. Repeat.