Yesterday Sarah and I took a day off together to spend some time enjoying the holiday season. We had planned a day of doing some shopping, walking, and cooking together. We had a theme to the day as we were inspired to finally use our gift certificates that we received last Christmas at a kitchen supply shop. We both knew what we wanted which was a cleaver knife.
As soon as we arrived at the store one of the owners greeted us and showed us his selection of German and Japanese steel cleaver knives. I instantly knew the Japanese knife felt perfectly balanced. Sarah agreed so we got it and a variety of additional accessories for keeping the blade sharp and a new end grain cutting board.
The inspiration for Japanese cutlery was inspired from having just watched a cooking show that featured miso soup and teriyaki chicken rice bowl recipes that we were anxious to try.
I have a very strong affection fo miso soup in the winter time and it seemed like a great way to celebrate the winter solstice this year.
Years ago I had gone cross country skiing alone in -13 degree cold weather at Moraine Lake in the Canadian Rockies. When I returned back to downtown Banff from the outing I had a craving for miso soup. I found a Japanese Restaurant and settled in for an evening of warm soup and Sake. The combination of the outdoor adventure and the warm glow from the soup afterwards has stuck with me for almost 20 years.
After finishing our shopping at the Kitchen store we decided to head downtown for lunch before heading out for our walk with our furry friend Murdoch. We couldn’t find parking in front of the deli we wanted to go to so I ended up parking a few blocks away in front of the Suki Yaki Inn.
This iconic restaurant had just closed for good due to the owner’s retirement. Sarah and I couldn’t help but laugh as we recalled a trip to Bellingham with friends who used to live there. They gave us what we jokingly called the “this used to be…” tour as they described all the changes that had taken place since they had lived there.
As I stopped and looked at the Suki Yaki Inn signage I started telling Sarah that since I had never taken her there I would now be guilty of telling her about what it used to be like.
I had my first experience with Japanese food at this restaurant while on a date in high school. We sat in a tatami room with private screens. I still remember the flavor of the pickled vegetables and honey mustard dipping sauce and the kindness of the server. I cannot remember with exact certainty the name of the girl I was with, but I am pretty sure I ended up photographing her wedding years later!
I don’t remember many other details of the night but I remember the essence and joy of the experience. I also remember the sense of adventure these early experiences had as I recall youthful nights roaming downtown’s iconic bars and restaurants like the long gone and forgotten Flaherty’s and Albertini bars where Evil Knievel would hang out. I can actually say I met the legendary Evil Knievel long before I ever took up motorcycle riding!
I was more of a night owl in my youth, especially when I finally turned 21 and later in my thirties when I had a photography studio downtown. I started and ended my work days just down the street at the Satellite Diner.
Today I am content to celebrate the solstice with a home cooked meal by a fire with my wonderful life partner.
I often play the “this used to be…” game with Sarah because I have lived in Spokane since I was nine years old and she just moved here about 10 years ago. So much has changed just in the last few years.
It can be a fun game to play for the person remembering but a bit meaningless for the outsider with no connection to the past.
Local artist Chris Bovey has made a wonderful career of this game of “this used to be…” by creating nostalgic artwork based upon iconic business signs that locals appreciate. Just this week I read a news article about how he and a friend are taking over running the iconic Garland Theater which is another local landmark.
I hadn’t intentionally parked here in front of the Suki Yaki Inn but I guess the subconscious law of attraction seems to have supported our Japanese theme day and brought us here so I could recount my first experiences with Japanese cuisine and subsequent experiences learning about Japanese American Culture.
I also am reminded of a dear friend in High School named Ted Hayashida. He was half Japanese and half Hawaiian. He was passionate about road bike racing before Americans knew of Greg LeMonde and Lance Armstrong. He was a good friend who would come tap on my bedroom window at 4am and then accompany me and my dog as I did my roadwork training as a boxer down at the school track. I will never forget my dog Thunder running after me one time and charging straight into the front wheel of Ted’s bike and knocking him over.
Spokane wasn’t a very diverse place and Ted felt lonely living here. I remember staying up with him until sunrise on a snowy night during winter break on the last day before he moved back to Los Angeles. He was a good friend. We didn’t have cell phones, email or social media back then and I lost track of him soon after.
As I looked at the sign that said that the restaurant was founded in 1949 which was such a short time after the tragedy of internment camps and Hiroshima and Nagasaki. I couldn’t help but think about how challenging opening a Japanese business in that era must of been. The Latah Valley area was known locally as Vinegar Flats because there used to be Japanese family farms down there. They have disappeared as the children of the farmers pursued other opportunities and their own piece of the American Dream.
I also remember studying Karate with Sensei Chinen who came from Okinawa by way of Tokyo. I remember spending Friday nights at his home after a workout in the dojo. He would cook food for us and serve tea by his fireplace. He was a kind man.
Later I would have the opportunity to work for Pam Tajima Praeger who shared her culture and the local history with us. She is one of the nicest people I ever worked for.
Sarah and I paid for the parking and walked back to the Wanderlust deli where we were having a wine and cheese sandwich lunch and continued to play the used to be game. As we stood at the counter the owner of the deli recognized me and immediately told her employee, “his father used to be my teacher!”
After a delightful time visiting with Amber and reminiscing about her experiences with my father as her favorite teacher in high school, we left with six bottles of wine drove up to Manito Park for a wonderful walk with our dog.
As we rounded a corner Sarah noticed that the little train that used to be there for the Christmas Light tour was gone.
We made one and a half loops around the park and then visited a dear friend at the liquor store up on the South Hill where we could buy some Sake for the recipes we planned to make.
Sarah call’s the liquor store Carolyn’s even though that isn’t the real name. Carolyn is the manager and is just such a nice human being that we won’t shop anywhere else even though we could find many items at a lower price at a big box store.
Carolyn is also part of our “this used to be…” game because I always get to remark how I knew her back in high school and she was just as nice then as she is today. It wouldn’t be the holidays without one last trip to visit Carolyn.
Someone else I used to go to high school with owns the meat shop next door and across the street is Luna which is a wonderful restaurant that used to be a local grocery story run by a friend of mine from high school’s family. Almost everywhere on the South Hill I can recall some person or place I remember.
During the holiday season Auld Lang Syne is in the air and offers up a wonderful opportunity for for a cup of nostalgia and gratitude.
After dropping off our shopping items at home we made one more trip out before dark to visit dear friends and drop off a gift.
Jay and Cindy live off a scenic road that loops gently between both ends of the south hill from Hatch Hill to the Palouse Highway. It is a road filled with sentimental memories and rural beauty that I continue to revel in during my many motorcycle rides around it’s twisty corners.
I found a music station on Spotify that had Christmas Cocktail Lounge music and we held hands and took in the scenery as we drove to their house which was decorated so beautifully with antiques and holiday decor.
We got back home after dark and settled in to cooking our Miso Soup. When it came time to open the Sake we remembered Carolyn’s instructions that we had to pour the Sake for the other person and not ourselves and say Kampai!
We rewatched the cooking show as we followed the recipe step by step. We were rewarded with a wonderful bowl of warmth and comfort as we sat in front of the fireplace with a glow of contentment and love. Nostalgic Christmas carols continued to play in the background.
We ate and toasted our having survived a challenging year that had just now reached the darkest day on this solstice night with nothing but a brighter future ahead.