After getting a super-early start from Komaki, I managed to make it into Shin-Osaka station at 8:25, dropped my luggage off at my hotel and was at Tennoji Station by 9:20. 9:30: Starbucks, nonfat Cafe Mocha in hand and jazz music on the stereo. Our group was supposed to meet outside a bakery in the station, and I was the first one there. Our instructor, Elizabeth Andoh, has lived in Japan for 45 years and authored numerous award-winning cookbooks on Japanese cuisine and food culture. Her latest book, Kansha, is a tribute to Japan's vegan Buddhist cuisine (as we sat around after dinner, she said her publisher actually wanted her to make the book vegan; it wasn't even vegetarian in its original form).
There were five other students. Two were acquaintances of the instructor, one was a young Japanese man, another was a Canadian ESL teacher in Osaka, and the fifth was an Australian journalist who works for the Daily Yomiuri (she's also married to a Japanese man). We took the streetcar to Elizabeth's neighborhood, which is in a very upscale suburb.
Before starting, we sat seiza-style on zabuton for a cup of green tea and wagashi (Japanese sweets). One of the students brought Namagashi, elaborate pressed sugar candies in the shape of sakura (cherry blossoms) and spring themes, and another brought a sweet made from egg yolks. Elizabeth also generously gave out tickets for a maiko / geisha dance performance and tea ceremony in Kyoto (the price on the ticket was 4,500 yen!), so I'll go in two weeks when I'm in Kyoto for my next cooking class.
Elizabeth quickly put us to work making decorative carrot garnishes out of two types of carrots: regular, and the bright red Kyoto carrot. We started on the main dish, Thick Fried Tofu and Broiled Tofu Braised with Root Vegetables, first, and then made the Simmered and Blanched Vegetables in Nutty Tofu Sauce, Rice With Salted Cherry Blossoms, and Burdock and Wheat Strips in Dark Miso Broth.
As we worked, Elizabeth shared a wealth of information on Japanese ingredients, food culture, and historical facts (for example, Japanese cheesecloth, or sarashi, was originally sold as diaper material!). We were a little slow with individual tasks at the beginning, but we started to pull together as a team and had the meal on the table around 2 pm. We each got to pick out dishes from Elizabeth's well-stocked pantry (except I mistakenly used a rice bowl for my veggies!), and she showed us how to arrange them properly. Finally, we sat down to eat, and then everyone chipped in on washing and drying dishes before heading to nearby Bandai Park.
At the park, numerous varieties of cherry trees were in full bloom, with others close behind. Several families were having hanami parties on blankets; some people were lying on their backs staring up at the fragile blossoms. The blossoms were absolutely spectactular, and much farther along than the ones in Kyoto or Nagoya despite the fact that they only officially opened on March 31.
We wrapped up the day at the Kintetsu department store food hall, where Elizabeth showed us various kinds of mountain vegetables (sansai), including ferns, shoots, and leaves, and how to prepare them. She also talked about radiation, and the fact that produce (including dairy) from the five prefectures surrounding the Fukushima nuclear plant has been banned as imports by other countries, but is not banned in Japan (pity I can't read all the prefectural names in kanji!).
All in all, a fun day, but an exhausting one!