We Met and Parted
- Words & Photography / Jo
水 （煮飯用） 600 毫升
暖食水 （發酵用） 300 毫升
完熟甜柿 1 個
- 稀飯煮好後加入暖水，放涼至 65°C，加入米麴拌勻。
- 當溫度處於 60°C 左右，器皿蓋上棉布，布不要沾到米飯，放入蒸爐，以60°C 發酵 6至 8 小時。電飯鍋做法：放入內鍋後，蓋上棉布，不用蓋上鍋蓋，以「保溫」功能發酵。留意溫度變化，若過熱，可多攪拌及掀起棉布散熱。甘酒最佳發酵溫度為55°C 至 60°C。
- 每一、兩小時攪拌一次。在第 6 小時試味，若甜度、味道合意，便可停止發酵。按口味延續發酵時間。（甜味取決於溫度與發酵時間。我的甘酒以 58°C 發酵了 7 小時，味道甘甜醇厚，質感溫潤濃厚。）
There was a market street not far away from the dock at the small fishing village harbouring just a sparse line-up of fishing boats. The rest had yet to return, perhaps. Except for the restaurant by the shore, which was more established, the small street was the only establishment in the small town. A grocery store selling local vegetables, fruit and dried food; a candy shop, possibly established in the Showa time, displaying an array of sweets with bright yet modest packaging under a ceiling light in glass dome shade and dimly lit behind the daylight shone through clear plastics framed in a wooden sliding door; and a small shop up in the street with a large pot of steamy hot amazake at the shop front. I ordered a cup of it. The shop owner poured the liquid into a paper cup and handed it over. The cold and piercing wind during my boat ride earlier had numbed my hands and face. I held the paper cup in both hands, had a sip of the amazake that was slightly too hot. Although the overly high temperature gave the drink a sour note, nothing could beat the rich, sweet drink at that moment. I blew into the cup and kept sipping it on the spot. Outside of the store, there was a rack of local Yubuko squids being hung dried, and I could do some grilled squids. Pointing at the squids, and then the charcoal grill beside, I asked the shop owner in simple English whether that’s for sale. He shook his hands, it was a no. He then turned around and picked up two pieces of dried fish on the grill for me. Then, he threw one of the grilled fish to a calico cat walking down from the attic. Hmm, did the shop owner just see me as a feline too since the cat and I shared the same fish treat.
When I was little, grandma used to call me an “arrogant cat” since I was reserved and paid little attention to people. She brought a kitty home for me later at the cost of two dollars, as I was told, paid to the owner of a rice shop. The cat was of black, white and grey, with a dark shade over its left face and tail, and patches of mixed colours on the back. I have a strip of scar on my back from an accident. We both carried something unpleasant. We grew up together and slept together every night when she rested her head on my shoulder. We had each other’s quiet company for 23 years. Later, she told me that it was her mission to be my company in this lifetime, and now that her duty was over, I shall miss her not.
Years on, there came another kitten. She is a tabby cat with four white paws. A mix of grey and brown fur, leaving the chest, belly and the area around the mouth white, and a corner of her left ear was cut off. She was a stray cat that was caught and had been through a lot. When she first came to my home, there was a lot of anger and fear in her that she pushed her bowls and litter box over every night after the light was off. She hissed too whenever she saw human and scratched me when I fed her. One day, I took her out from the large cage, where she lived in when adapting to the new environment, for medical care to her wounded eye. We wrestled on the sofa for a while and finally the ointment was put on her eye. Quietly sitting on a fleece blanket, she tucked her tiny paws under the belly. I let her rest there instead of putting her back into the cage and went ahead with cleaning up. When I returned, she was sitting behind the sofa backrest, looking outside the window. I walked closer, she blinked at me slowly and then looked at the trees or birds again. “It is the first time that you can look at this world in a safe place, right? Go ahead. Don’t worry. You’ve got me here, fear not. Live here at ease.” I whispered in my heart. Since then, the cage was left open for her to walk in and out until she was fully adapted to her new home and the cage was no longer necessary. The cat is attaching but she doesn’t like to be touched. She always keeps a little distance while staying around. She loves petting but since no hand is allowed, I give her scratching with a bamboo-made scratching stick. In the morning, we bathe in the sun by the window when she looks outside and I drink my coffee; into the cooler nights, with a blanket on my laps, I read and have warm amazake on sofa where she lies by my feet and purrs in the shape of a fluffy ball.
The two cats came to me both in the time when my life was in a misery, neither time of it was even my choice. The more I thought about it later on, all lives we met in life are in fact planned; lives meet and part when the light of souls cross paths. If we can learn what ought to be learned in every beautiful encounter, it’s already perfect. We shall miss not. The old cat had said it.
Japanese rice grains (or other short-grain rice) 300g
Water (for rice cooking) 600 ml
Dried koji 300g
Warm drinking water (for fermentation) 300 ml
Ripe persimmon 1 piece
Tools: food thermometer, temperature-control steamer or rice cooker, cotton cloth
- Wash and drain the rice. Add water to cook it into porridge.
- Add the warm drinking water to the porridge, mix well and let cool to 65°C. Add in the koji, mix well.
- When the mixture is at around 60°C, cover the container with a cotton cloth. Keep the cloth away from the porridge. Put the container into the steamer and let it cook at 60°C for 6 to 8 hours. If you use a rice cooker: put the inner pot inside the cooker, cover it with a cotton cloth and keep the lid off. Set the cooker to “keep warm” function. Keep an eye on the temperature. If the mixture is too hot, lift the cloth and give it a few stirs to disperse the heat. The optimal fermentation temperature for amazake is 55°C to 60°C
- Give it a stir every 1 to 2 hours. Taste it at the 6th hour. If the sweetness and taste are good to your liking, the fermentation is done. You can let it ferment further to extract more sweetness from the rice. (The sweetness in amazake depends on the temperature and time on fermentation. Mine was fermented at 58°C for around 7 hours, tasting rich, deep and sweet with a thick and creamy texture.)
- Pour the amazake into a pot, quickly cook it to 75°C over medium heat. Pour the liquid into a sterilised container. Koji stops fermenting at 75°C, allowing the amazake to be kept longer and better, while retaining the nutrients in it. Keep it under 75°C when you reheat the amazake.
- wash, peel and pit the persimmon. Dice it into cubes and purée it. Add it to cold or warm amazake to your liking and stir well. Since amazake is very sweet, you can thin it up with water or unsweetened soy milk.
- Except for drinking, amazake can replace refined sugar in cooking, great for making dressing or sauce for cold dishes.
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.