Sushi Making Class

Finally, here’s my last post of milking my 40th birthday.

I gave it away in the title, but my gift from Michelle at the end of the secret girls’ weekend birthday outing was a sushi making class.

Monday night, after all that walking we’d already done, we trekked over near Columbia University to the apartment of Misako “Misa” Sassa, a Japanese cooking instructor who does individual and group classes for both adults and children. Check out her website here.

Her apartment was a super-cool pre-war, with high ceilings, big windows, hardwood floors and this strange connecting hallway between the main hall and the kitchen that she turned into the most excellent pantry I’ve ever seen and which I covet greatly.

Misa was down-to-earth, funny, and a really good cook, in addition to being a great teacher. She also has a son who struck me as being a somewhat quieter version of my #5.

This is his artwork:

If there is a unifying theme to making sushi, it is to always begin with exactly the right ingredients.

The first thing Misa taught us is that sushi is all about the rice. People think it’s about the fish, but really it’s the rice– rice and presentation.

You have to start with the right kind of rice, and then there’s a lot of work involved– not in the actual cooking part, but the before and after part.

I already knew that this was going to be way beyond me to recreate at home.

Misa demonstrated how she doesn’t need to go to the gym because she works out with the rice. She polished it first, which is basically scrubbing the crap out of it in a giant pan with all your might, rinsing, and repeating, over and over.

My sister (the nurse) asked, “Don’t you lose a lot of the nutritional value of the rice by doing that?”

Misa looked her in the eye, said, “Yes,” and kept on polishing.

When the rice is prepped, it goes in the rice cooker. It doesn’t take up a burner and it never screws up the rice. Once it’s in, you don’t have to think about it.

While the rice was cooking, she prepped some fish. In line with our theme, she told us the most important thing about the fish is to get the freshest possible sushi grade fish you can. The guys at her fish market know her now and are a little bit afraid of her.

“This is good,” she said. “Now they see me coming and just run to the back to get the freshest piece of salmon they have. I don’t have to threaten them anymore. Saves time.”

She pointed out something that I’d heard but never really integrated: truly fresh fish has no odor. It doesn’t smell fishy. I practically buried my nose in the salmon she had and didn’t smell a thing.

When we made Ebi (shrimp) I learned two things: stick it on a skewer before cooking to keep it straight, and remove the mud vein after cooking, not before.

Isn’t she beautiful?

We made Unagi (eel), one of my favorites.

Misa buys it pre-prepped and heats it in her eel oven:

I love that her toaster oven is the eel oven. It’s the only thing she uses it for.

Prepped eel is super, super sticky from the sauce that comes on it.

The last dish Misa demonstrated in the kitchen was Tamago (egg). I used to order it when I went out for sushi but it’s cold, often oversweet and rubbery. I never order it anymore. Misa said in Japan, Tamago is truly the measure of a sushi restaurant. If you order it here in the US, pretty much always the restaurant is buying it from a distributer and not making it themselves which is why the quality is so low.

This Tamago is something else entirely.

There’s a special Tamago pan. The mixture is egg with a bit of sugar and salt and whatever subtle secrets the chef wants to include, and it is cooked in layers. One thin layer of egg goes in, bubbles, cooks and then is rolled to one side. Another layer goes in and cooks the same way. Then the layers are rolled together. Another layer goes in. It takes a while.

We ate this Tamago right away and it was like nothing I’ve ever had. Maybe a combination of crepes, omelettes, popovers, and unicorns.

If I could get Tamago like that, I would order it every time I went for sushi.

The rice came out of the cooker and was seasoned with a blend of sake, sugar and vinegar. Then the fanning began– the other reason Misa doesn’t need to go to the gym.

Even though I do go to the gym, I did not fan well. I was relieved of my responsibilities in short order.

We went to the table to assemble our creations.

Here’s another one of the coolest things ever that we did.

We made a roll that Misa said in Japan is the palate cleansing roll. I’ve never seen it on the menu here, although it is possible that I’ve missed it.

Rice, a flat Japanese basil, radish sprouts, and a pickled plum in bits.

I had never had any of those things before. Well, except the rice.

Misa helped us make spicy tuna hand rolls and instructed us on how to assemble our sushi. Then she disappeared into the kitchen and whipped up a few other dishes for us while we were making this:

There was dessert:

When Misa learned it was my birthday, she gave me a gift:

It was most definitely a multi-win night.

Michelle has taught me that the greatest gifts are experiences. I highly recommend Misa’s cooking class. Too often we think, “Oh, I’d love to do that,” and then never make it a priority. Time passes and we carry on, not trying that thing we’d love to do. Is there something you’ve always wanted to try? I just read an article about a woman who took a trapeze class. That sounds awesome, and terrifying. I wonder what Michelle would do if I got her that for her birthday.


Toilet Paper, Tuna, and Advil.

Alright, now that the trees are off my house–at least for the time being– I can get back to milking my 40th birthday.

This is the list of items Michelle said I must bring with me for my secret birthday outing:

Multi Tool

Yoga Clothes

Paper and Pen


Something to Sleep in

Bath Salts

1 outfit that is not fancy but a step up from yoga clothes


Toilet Paper

Metro Card

1 can of Tuna

Bus/train pass to get back to New Jersey

An Open Mind.

I had no idea what she was up to and was a little concerned. There were also exact instructions for my arrival: I had to be dressed up and call a specific phone number before being allowed entry to the building.

Sunday morning, my first day off after opening the new show. I’d stayed up late the night before playing Scramble online with my sister in Indiana. CC let me sleep in. When he went to pick up the kids from Sunday school he told me he was going to take them shopping to get them outfitted for their spring sports.

I was sitting at the table having breakfast when they came home. All of a sudden, my sister called out from the bottom of the stairs and then walked up into the living room.

I thought to myself, man, I know I haven’t been home much but I swear she went back to Indiana. She’d come and stayed to help with the kids while we were in the long hours of production. In that moment, I thought that she’d been there all along and I’d forgotten. In reality, she went back home about a month prior.

And then I realized she was one of my birthday presents. She’d flown in just for this weekend. I’m pretty sure I swore in front of my children. I was quite happy about it.

Beth helped me pick out something to wear and then I started assembling my items. I naturally assumed that she also needed to bring the same items and figured they were in her suitcase.

I discovered I’d left my multi tool at work. Likewise, my bank card (production kind of fries your brain). I had to borrow those things from CC.

We were inexplicably out of tuna. Also I had no bath salts. At the time, I had no idea there was a drug by the same name, but no matter- I didn’t have any of that kind either.

In discussing, I discovered that Beth hadn’t brought toilet paper, bath salts, or tuna because she didn’t have room in her suitcase, so we had to stop by the store on the way out to the city.

Finally at the stage door in New York, I called the number which connected me to our door person Christine. She allowed me entry but then went over the list of items with me before I could go any farther. She had a copy of the list. We checked off every item.

Christine: What about a paperclip?

Me: Crap! I totally forgot. It was a late add. It’s not on the original list.

Christine: I have to see if you can still come in.

Christine then paged Michelle over the paging system and informed her, and everyone else, that I had no paperclip.

Permission was granted for me to come in anyway.

We took the subway up to Harlem. We got hit up by some breakdancing kids in the subway car. There are all kinds of subway performers and you tend to get desensitized to the ones you see all the time on the route you take every day. However, this wasn’t my normal train, and I was impressed as hell.

Three guys were breakdancing, one at a time, in the middle of the subway car. It’s not very wide. They did backflips and spins and handsprings without ever once hitting a seat or a commuter. The air from their handsprings moved my hair. They climbed the pole too- one kid held himself out from it completely horizontally for several seconds. I gave them a wad of cash and later hoped it was my ones, and not my twenties by accident.

When we dropped our stuff at Michelle’s I pulled out my items from the list. That’s when I found out the entire list was bullshit. All those subsequent phone calls (“the tuna has to be dolphin safe” and “make sure it’s the kind packed in oil” and “you also need to bring a paperclip”) served only to mess with me.

100% unnecessary

Well done, friends, well done.

Michelle had made us dinner reservations at Red Rooster in Harlem. It’s hard to get into, and well worth it. Here’s a picture of us that our cute actor/waiter who didn’t protest nearly enough when they told him it was my 40th birthday took:

It’s a little dark, but in the one with the flash we all look either insane or satanic. I also like this picture because it’s a good boob shot of Michelle.

We had corn bread with honey butter and tomato jam which was amazing, and I had the Mac & Greens- the best mac & cheese you’ve ever had, with a side of greens. Seriously good mac & cheese, even better than The Eatery’s mac & jack, which is my other favorite. For dessert we split an order of Sweet Potato Donuts and the Warm Semi-Melted Chocolate Tart with Red Velvet Ice Cream.

To die for. Wow.

Then we trekked back to Michelle’s apartment and somehow ended up watching Shrek 4 and enjoying it an awful lot more that is probably reasonable. I’m serious, I totally loved that movie. I ought to get out more.

I did end up using my newly-purchased, non-hallucinagenic bath salts. She has a great bath tub and I don’t have one at home. Well, there’s a bath tub in the kids’ bathroom but, ah, I don’t go in there.

For the next day, something was planned at night but I had a choice of what we could do in the morning/afternoon. My choices were Zumba, Yoga, mani/pedi, or walking the loop in Central Park. I picked Zumba.

But then when we got right down to it in the morning, I picked sleep.

Michelle’s apartment, even though it’s in Manhattan, is very quiet. In no small part because she does not have five children.

We we ended up walking the loop, which I’d never done before. I tend to see the same teeny-tiny bit of Central Park when I do go there, which is not often. The loop is 6.1 miles. It was a beautiful day; perfect weather, and a massive, welcome change from spending all the daylight hours indoors in a dark theater.  Somewhere after we passed the halfway point, I felt it: I was exhausted and my hamstrings were angry, angry rocks. And we weren’t even running.

It was very cool though. I got to see the city and things blooming and got to exercise while having conversations. Normally when I work out that’s not an option because I’m too busy trying to breathe, and not pass out.

I told Michelle that she could have strung me along longer with the list of items. She could have had me schlepping tuna and toilet paper through the park for six miles.

It was a whole day of hanging with girls and good conversation, a rare and unique experience for me which I greatly appreciated.

The grand finale of my secret outing was still yet to come.

Oh yeah, I almost forgot. What was the deal with the paperclip? That was my sister’s contribution to the list. You can read about it here. If I were making the list for my sister, I would include something relating to Santa.

One and Done Sunday #17

Welcome to One and Done Sunday: one picture, and five links that are worth your time.

Don’t fret, I’ll carry on milking my 40th birthday with my next post. I would like to say that this picture is a sign of my maturity, my newfound ability to not kill growing things in my garden. But really I think the credit goes to advances in horticulture technology:

Knockout roses:

The knockout roses we have have been through a hurricane, an October blizzard, and three winters of oh crap, we didn’t winterize the roses and they’re under nine feet of snow.

They don’t seem to be terribly bothered by any of it. I never knew how much I would love going outside and seeing roses there. It’s very cool, kind of like getting flowers every day for no reason.

Yesterday at work, before I left to meet CC for dinner between shows, I lightened my bag. The last thing I removed was my umbrella. Shockingly, there are no windows in theaters and I couldn’t see the sky. I went out a side door and saw one guy carrying an umbrella, but he was prancing a bit and it being New York and all, I thought it was merely an accessory. Then I saw others with umbrellas, then I felt the rain. I turned in slow motion to watch the side door–which opens only from the inside–close. If I wanted my umbrella, I would have to plow through the crowd at the stage door and walk all the way around the building again. So I chanced it.

It didn’t rain much, it wasn’t a big deal. At least, not until after dinner. About three blocks from work it started raining more. Then it poured.

Did I mention I was wearing white pants? I was mostly see-through by the time I got back to work.

I passed a complete stranger who actually laughed out loud at me.

And you know what? I really didn’t care. It was pretty funny. Chalk that one up to 40 too.

Speaking of thunder storms, Renee Schuls-Jacobson wrote a great piece On Sons and Thunderstorms.

CC sent me this link of before and after pictures of East Germany. This photographer took pictures immediately after the wall came down, and then again ten years later. It’s astounding. Pictures by Stefan Koppelkamm: A Massive Facelift for East Germany.

Melissa Stetton is a model with a blog that I totally dig. I don’t know her and if she’s noticed my comments at all she probably thinks I’m a stalker, which is sort of appealing. Here are her recent thoughts on doing a photo shoot nearly naked in Central Park in 55-degree weather. Pretty Bored: You Chose to Be a Model, Deal With It.

Sometimes life sucks. When you’re a writer, it’s all future material. Hannah R. Goodman guest posts on E. Kristin Anderson’s site: Dear High School, Thanks for Being so Sucky. Love, H.

I loved this post for so many reasons. Life Well Blended: On Being the Stepmom on Mothers Day

Happy Sunday.