Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Too Pretty to Eat?

The cherry blossoms are just coming into bloom, and the whole country is again in thrall to all things delicate and fleeting. And pink. Like sweets! Today, let's celebrate with old school wagashi. Or should I say ancient school? They go way back--fire, weaving, pottery, dessert. This is a culture with priorities I can respect.
The flower, made by hand from white beans, showed up at a stand in my supermarket. The cherry blossom flavor is so light, and the texture is like a delicate version of marron glace. The little turtle is plain bean, but with a sweet, dark, azuki bean center. Okay, he's not really a sakura item, but check him out with his bad little turtle self! My mother would sometimes come home from work with wagashi sweets like this, little sculptures of rabbits or flowers that she would wrap up in tissues and artfully folded envelopes. I used to hold one in my hand and marvel at it, not wanting to ruin it. Really, my inner conflict lasted two, sometimes three minutes. They were otherworldly--soft, sweet, and utterly pure. Looking back, I am most impressed that Mom made it home on the train without the little rabbit devolving into a primordial lump in her purse. Forget Sally Field's Lifetime movies--that is a mother's love.
Mochi on a stick! A classic in perfect colors for hanami (blossom viewing) and Girl's Day.
Smooth white and red bean in little cake-like dumplings. The little blossom pressed on top is a bit salty and perfumey--I know that sounds like coming home from a night out clubbing, but it's not. I promise.

A birthday shout-out to Ultra-Aimee, by the way! She visited Tokyo during the cherry blossom season and went on what I can only call a mochi bender. Way to turn those wheat allergy lemons into rice dumpling lemonade! You know, in the fat-free-obsessed 90's, you could eat all this stuff without guilt, but this recent wave of carbo-panic has added a dimension of naughtiness that I for one am really enjoying.

Both of these are filled with a smooth, red bean paste. The cherry leaf is preserved with salt, and it has a bit of a tang, as well as that fresh-cut-flower-stem fragrance. I know, I know. The salt sounds wrong. But you love a sea salt caramel, right? Once you get over the fear of weird, it is absolutely the taste of spring.

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