Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Sushi Paddle Part II - Japanese Goodies!

We didn't quite make it to the George Washington Bridge, which was the original plan - one of our newer paddlers hadn't seen the trip details & missed that part & there's nothing like going on a strenuous paddle, thinking you're at the midpoint lunch break, and then being told "Oh, no, we've got six miles more before we eat." Instead of suffering in silence (which is what I would probably do once I figured out I'd misunderstood), she asked me about turning back...well, honestly with it being as cold as it was, and with a pesky beam wind to contend with, I had been thinking about eating one of the energy bars I always carry in my PFD on our next water break, and going back to the food court for something hot didn't sound like the worst idea to me either - and somehow when we announced that we were going back, everybody else did too. I guess nobody really had their heart set on the bridge. Arrival at Edgewater - ever so ready for a hearty lunch the Asian food court! Onolicious!

Actually I think that we turned back at a good time. If you look behind these bundled-up kayakers, you can see the area that becomes the dreaded Mud Flats of Edgewater as the water level falls. More like tarpits. The problem here is that the bottom slopes out VERY gradually here & once it gets beyond the stones on the beach, it's really nasty. The section along the wall does have stones almost all the way out to the end, and you can usually get boats out there for a while after the rest of the area becomes, if not impassible, at least very awkward - but those rocks are very slick, and as you can see there are sharp pointy things sticking up here and there...back when I was guiding for Manhattan Kayak Company, if you ever asked me where a lawsuit was most likely to happen, I think I would've named this without much hesitation. I could name other spots that might engender bigger lawsuits, but for just a sprained ankle or broken leg being able to happen easily, this was it (we caught on pretty fast - well actually Richard, the guy I'm usually referring to when I talk about my earliest mentor, caught on pretty fast - & started scheduling the sushi trips earlier in the tide cycle, that was better). With the water level where it's at in this picture, we were fine - had we gone to the bridge, though, things might have gotten pretty messy by the time we got back!
As I'm writing this, I'm sitting here nibbling daifuku (a Japanese sweet made of mochi, made from special mochi rice) stuffed with red bean paste. I've been told it's an acquired taste, but it reminds me of growing up in Hawaii, where mochi-pounding is part of New Year festivities. This is not something my family did, of course, being haole (Hawaiian word for "stranger" - exclusively applied to Caucasians & can be anything from neutral to really hateful depending upon the spirit in which the word is pronounce), but I think I remember some of the staff at Iolani, the high school I attended there, bringing in plates of mochi after their families had mochi-pounding parties, just like mainland people bring cookies to the office. Of course any office would have plates of cookies or candies too, that's Hawaii for you, you get the cookies AND the mochi too. It's funny, with all these Pacific Rim bloggers that have reached out & found our little - but growing - circle of Western kayak bloggers, I was getting thoroughly nostalgic over posts like this one, or this one that somehow replicated that sense I used to have that this was going on, and although my family didn't do it it was all part of the fun of the holidays in Hawaii. Anyways, one of my favorite stands at the Mitsuwa Marketplace is the U.S.A. Minamoto Kitchoan, which sells the most beautiful wagashi - and this time I finally had a camera! Look, aren't they beautiful?

Now these are the very fancy kind, which I would never buy for myself - as you may be able to read on the spring-looking ones (the designs and ingredients change with the seasons), these are generally served as part of tea ceremony - or you would give them to someone as a hostess gift or something. They have much humbler-looking ones - still very delicious, just not as painstakingly crafted & much more suitable for popping into the day hatch of a kayak & taking home for personal consumption - and I'm afraid I'm not very generous with my wagashi - for starters, on the occasions I have been generous, the response to the flavor has been lukewarm, and since I consider these a special treat, I get selfish now.

Also there are other things there that are more shareable - like these!

Everybody likes these - they are a kind of sweet waffle filled with either red bean paste, white bean paste, or (a new development since my last sushi paddle) custard. They make them fresh all day & you buy them hot off the iron - in fact the fish ones are empty because I just bought the last two taiyaki (that's what the fish ones with the red bean paste are called) - two to make sure I had plently to share!

These are wonderful, especially on a cold winter day. In fact although we always call this Edgewater trip a "sushi paddle", I don't think anybody actually ate sushi this time - too cold, we all walked in dying for soba and udon and ramen and what have you. No picture of that, I was too hungry after our chilly chilly paddle up - can tell you though, it tasted wonderful. The one funny thing was that they've renovated the food court completely since I was last there - it's all spiffy-looking now, with big screens over the seating area showing (while we were there) sumo wrestling, kite flying, and the Hi Hi Puffy Ami Yumi Show. Cool, but we did feel a little more self-conscious than usual,

especially when two cleaning people came over and started mopping up around us - you know the picture of the ice coating my kayak had by the time we got to Edgewater? There was a fair amount on the paddlers, too, and when that thawed out it ended up all over the floor...sheesh. Paddlers, can't take us anywhere without things getting all soggy, yeah? Like big retrievers that insist on jumping in the water then shaking themselves off all over you or something. However, this was a first - I'm sure we've gotten a little water on the floor before but to have not one but 2 cleaning people come racing with mops - that was a surprise! Next time I expect we'll be a little more careful about leaving as much water outside as we can - this is one of New York paddling's more unique destinations (as opposed to that run-of-the-mill old Statue of Liberty, ho hum...HA HA HA! I'm kidding, I have been to the Statue about a zillion times on various boats, not bored yet!) and it would be terrible if we wore out our welcome! The only problem with the renovations are that they've moved things around, and the ramen stand menu has changed, it is still VERY good but there was this one kind that totally used to give me Shiro's Saimin Haven flashbacks, (Shiro's being an absolute institution in Hawaii, wonderful saimin there) which they don't seem to have now - maybe I just got the wrong kind though. Have to go back and try again!

We left just as the edges of the mudflat were beginning to show & had a beautiful paddle home - it had warmed up enough by this time that the ice had melted from our kayaks (although I took yesterday's ice shots on the way home).

Heading for home. Notice who we are sharing the river with? Nobody. That's right. That's one of the joys of winter paddling around here - there's still commercial traffic in the channel, but they all move in predictable patterns & as long as you see 'em coming, you can stay out of their way - but the edges of the river, the pierhead line and just beyond - we had those all to ourselves. Beautiful.

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