My little friend Yoyo is one of those people you'll never forget. You know how Japanese women are just sweet, timid, blushing little flowers who never utter a disharmonious note? Yes. Yoyo is absolutely none of the above.
She and I were mission companions. We shared all sorts of tender moments. We'd be walking down the street in a little town in Shizuoka Ken and the public announce system would start informing us that a little old lady had gone missing. Yoyo would pause, grab my arm dramatically and start humming the theme to X-Files. Or there was the time that she was rather upset at a decision our zone leader had made, incensed that such a young American boy thought he knew best. She called him and when he answered, she said in very dramatic accented English: "When you were 12, I LIVED BY MYSELF." And then promptly hung up.
She is probably one of my favorite people in the world. And last fall, she made the world that much better: she brought Koko Chan into it. Koko Chan is the fattest little half Japanese baby I've ever seen, and utterly adorable. I don't get to see them nearly often enough so I invited them over to dinner a couple weeks ago.
Usually when I see them we eat Asian food of some sort. Yoyo actually taught me how to cook like a Japanese grandmother, for which I will be eternally grateful, but this time I felt like mixing it up and cooking something a little more "exotic." So let's go with France.
I got some frozen tilapia fillets - tilapia is the poor pescavore's friend. I thawed them out, patted them dry, and battered them in a flour, egg & salt mixture. I then did what France would have me do - sautéed them gently in butter and garlic. I'm pretty sure my soul was sautéed in butter and garlic at one point. If not, I'll have to figure out how to get that done.
I also boiled some red potatoes and made a simple white sauce to which I added Brie cheese. Brie cheese! It covereth a multitude of sins.
Finally, I got a couple lovely artichokes at Sunflower Market and steamed them. I don't even have a proper steaming pot, but I just used a big pot with a few inches of water in the bottom and boiled them for about 40 minutes. Turned out perfect.
"I don't know what you guys like on your artichokes," I said to Yoyo's husband Timmy. "My mom always liked to make a mustard sauce but sometimes I just eat them in butter."
"On our what?"
"Artichokes. How do you like them?"
"How do you even eat them?"
I had realized that maybe this was Koko Chan's first artichoke - I wasn't too surprised to find out that it was Yoyo's as well. Made sense... I don't think I'd ever seen an artichoke in Japan, come to think of it. But Timmy? Are there Americans who don't eat artichokes? Apparently there are. Well, I was glad to oblige the entire family.
Yoyo took a bit to warm up to the idea that it was an edible object. I showed her with the outermost leaves how you scrape the meat off the very base with your teeth.
"There's almost nothing there."
"It gets better."
"Do you ever get full? Or is this just a way to make you feel like you're eating. Maybe a very good diet."
"You're dipping it in butter. Pretty sure it's not going to be a very good diet."
As they got closer and closer to the heart they got more and more excited. Koko Chan even perked up a little bit. She found that gnawing on the leaves was a wonderful way to pass the time, and Yoyo agreed. "Can we take these home? She can just chew on them all day and keep herself entertained."
There was much rejoicing when we finally got to the hearts. "It's full of hair!" Yoyo cried incredulously.
"It looks like Koko's hair," said Timmy, smoothing his daughter's wild locks. Koko almost has Japanese baby hair - the kind that grows straight up - but its American tips weigh it down slightly at the ends, creating a lovely wave-like crest that adorns the top of her head.
We finally got to the hearts and ate them triumphantly, covered in butter - "American diet!" and enjoyed ourselves all around.
Yoyo, with her impeccable Japanese demeanor, posed demurely for a family photo: