Japan Before The Last War

Shigeru Mizuki

Shigeru Mizuki is one of Japan’s masters of animation and cartooning. He specializes in yokai, cultural anthropology tinged with the supernatural and filled with animals thought to possess magical powers, some of them taking the form of monsters (think: Mothra, Godzilla, etc.). At age 92, however, Mizuki has turned his gifts on the even larger, stranger animal of his homeland, to create a four-volume portrait of twentieth-century Japan thousands of pages in length (this volume alone has 560 pages). Daunting as that sounds, Mizuki is as playful as he is thorough, using a narrator named Rat Man, who serves as his guide through the wreckage.

Showa 1926-1939: A History of Japan, the first volume of this epic, has just been published by Drawn & Quarterly, which published his stunning look at World War II from behind Japanese lines, Onward Towards Our Noble Deaths, two years ago. That book was drawn almost entirely from his own experiences during the war, in which he lost his left arm to an Allied bombing, nearly died from malaria and was a prisoner of war on New Guinea.

Showa is as brilliantly drawn and meticulously footnoted as Onward Towards Our Noble Deaths. It is also a chilling reminder of the relentless plodding toward world war that began as early as the aftermath of the “Great War” (World War One). Showa takes Japan right up to the brink of Pearl Harbor.

Showa 1926-1939: A History of Japan by Shigeru Mizuki, Drawn & Quarterly, 560 pages, $24.95, www.drawnandquarterly.com

Raising Pigs Right

Feed has been identified as a suspect in the epidemic diarrhea virus that’s killing industrial-farmed baby pigs. The feed? Pig blood. They’ve been feeding pig blood to piglets since the 1990s. It’s stomach-turning.
Compare that to this newletter I received from John Boy’s Farm about how he raises his pigs. It brought tears to my eyes.  John farms in New York State and brings his products to farmers markets in Mt. Kisco, and to the Farmers Table in New Canaan. Continue reading

Foraging for Dandelion Salad

The first dandelion salad of the season! Picked from the pesticide-free backyard. If you revel in the fresh bitter flavor of this rite of spring, dress the leaves in a garlicy, lime vinaigrette made with good olive oil.  To mellow the bitterness, add diced avocado and red pepper and dress them in apple cider vinaigrette. It’s the healthiest thing you can eat today. (Dandelions are a very good source of dietary fiber and vitamins A and C.)


Mired in Malevolence


Last year Swamp Thing survived the global apocalyptic cataclysm known as The Rot. Then he had to battle to maintain his role as the key liaison between the plant world and humankind. Now he’s been suckered into giving up his Swamp Thing form and getting contained in unworkable human form. He never catches a break, this green guy. Continue reading

Monkee See, Ugly Do


The 36th issue of Ugly Things, the singular garage rock zine that’s been exalting obscure brilliant bands for over three decades, is a must-read for followers of an extremely popular ‘60s band: The Monkees. A nearly 50-page treatise on the versatile, long-lived, barely famous California rocker Craig Smith contains a lengthy digression about his being cast to star in a ‘60s TV series called The Happeners, a more realistic version of what The Monkees were doing around the same time. A later chapter gives details of then-Monkee Mike Nesmith’s interest in Smith’s band Chris & Craig. Nesmith met the group while they were rehearsing in a recording studio, and he ended up producing their first album. The article also mentions that Smith had attended the same school as Micky Dolenz. Nesmith was interviewed for the story, and while he seldom gives interviews about his Monkee days, he’s very open about other bands and projects of that time. Ugly Things (named in honor of one of editor Mike Stax’s favorite bands, The Pretty Things) has the power to raise the importance of bands thought minor, and can add fascinating tidbits to the legends of bands you thought you knew everything about.

British Invasion, British Perspective


MOJO Magazine, which has maintained a rep as the most thoughtful and historically minded of rock magazines throughout its 20-year history, is published in England. They had no real need to weigh in heavily on the 50th anniversary of The Beatles appearing on Ed Sullivan, since there’d been numerous Beatle 50th anniversaries in the past couple of years which could have been considered a higher priority to British readers. Continue reading

Cheesemaking 101

cheesemaking grated

Homemade aged whole milk ricotta

  The great thing about being a home cook is there’s always something new to learn. When my husband came home with raw milk, it inspired me to make cheese. I set out to make fresh cheese. Though ricotta is traditionally made from whey (the clear stuff that separates from the curds), making whole milk ricotta is one of the simplest ways for a beginner to learn about the steps of cheesemaking.
After the curds drained, however, I wasn’t thrilled by the bland white cheese. So I decided to age it. Ricotta salata is dry, salted ricotta. After molding and pressing the cheese to remove more moisture, I rubbed it with salt and placed it on a high, cool shelf in my drafty kitchen. I checked the cheese frequently, rubbing it with more salt.


This was the first cheese I made. This is early on in the aging process.

At the end of a month or so, I ended up with a nice grating cheese. It had a pleasing texture, and round, rich, lactic flavors.
Making cheese at home reminded me that there is no great mystery to preserving milk into cheese, but it does require attention and patience. (And, as the books warn us, cleanliness.) The preciousness of homemade aged cheese made me realize why we’re willing to pay $26 a pound for raw-milk artisan cheese.

A good book for beginners is “Home Cheese Making” by Ricki Carroll. I picked this up at Maltose Express in Monroe, a wonderful shop for home fermenters of hops and grapes. The owners are Mark and Tess Szamatulski. They’re award-winning home brewers who know a ton about craft brews. (I’ve been in awe of Tess’s ability to describe flavors during Yankee Brew News Tasting Panels.)  Tess has made cheese too, and can offer tips. www.maltoseexpress.net

Who’s Hungry

Whos Hungry (2)
This sounds weird and interesting. “Who’s Hungry?” is an experimental table-top puppet theater play that weaves the real stories of five people in Santa Monica, California, who find they must choose between food and necessities. Angel tumbled into homelessness after a prominent career as an interior designer. Mike was evicted during a health crisis. Sharon stayed clean while working as an addiction recovery caseworker. All became hungry. The characters tell their stories through words, dance and music, and a range of puppetry styles. The audience are guests, viewing a banquet; the action takes place on a 24-foot dinner table. Each story has its own aesthetic treatment, and Delft china, Matchbox cars, televisions, rod puppets, Japanese Bunraku-inspired puppets are part of the visual feast.
Information from the press release:
Who’s Hungry is the brainchild of award-winning playwright, composer, choreographer and performer Dan Froot, an associate professor in UCLA’s Department of World Arts and Cultures / Dance. Working in close collaboration with Froot is Dan Hurlin, a nationally acclaimed puppet artist who designed and constructed the objects and sets, and directed the piece.
Performances will be Friday, April 4 at 7:30 pm and Saturday, April 5 at 3:00 pm in Sara Victoria Hall at the Silvermine Arts Center. Tickets are $20 for members and $25 for non-members. Reduced price tickets will be available for community partners. Tickets can be purchased online at www.silvermineart.org or by calling 203-966-9700 ext. 22.