Tattoos, Sushi and the Golden Triangle of Mark Pearce
RECIPES TO DIE FOR (Japanese Hot Pot) with Suzi Conklin
As we sit in the silence of the tatami room at Sushi Okalani, Hood River’s favorite sushi restaurant, I’m listening to server Mark Pearce talk about tattoos, Buddhism and food, three disciplines in his life. Buddhism is the impetus for the other two, with his tattoos being the storyteller.
Mark’s enthusiastic about his three disciplines. Even when talking about hard times, it’s clear he derives as much from having endured them as he has from the good times. His embracing of pain, and the openness to learn from it, has inspired his tattoo designs, and keeps him moving forward. Food comes into the equation through Mark’s awareness that mind and body don’t function well unless they’re fed conscientiously.
I remember the first time Mark served me sushi. The plate was a masterpiece, however, it wasn’t the golden yolk of a quail egg, nested in scarlet flying fish roe, wrapped in shiny black kelp that caught my eye. It was his tattoo. My eyes followed a crisscross ink pattern flowing into solid black as it disappeared under the sleeve of Mark’s T-shirt. I wanted to lift that sleeve and see more.
To me, the pattern on Mark’s arm resembles fish scales. He says that when he bartended at a local brewpub, everybody thought they were hops cones. Around kids, everyone thinks he’s Spiderman and, in the sushi bar, everybody, like me, sees fish scales. The interpretation depends on the environment. The tattoo, he says (applied by Jennifer Billing, in Portland, Oregon) evokes “everything from shock and awe, giggles and smiles, to simple excitement.” The design, however, is just one phase of a larger piece, one that tells a deeper story.
Through spiritualism, Mark has learned to embrace life’s struggles as well as the easy times, and both are depicted on his body. He had Chris Henry of Oshkosh Tattoo illustrate a colorful rising sun, with a Japanese symbol in the center, on his right arm, around the time he’d immerged from a difficult period.
“Tattoos show a road map of my life,” says Mark. “For me, tattoos are a very grounding right of passage. There is a meditative process I go through during different aspects of getting a tattoo, the most painful parts, where I focus on that area of my body. I mentally go away and push through.”
The past ten years have been difficult for Mark, as expressed in ink on the left side of his body. The left is reserved for black, illustrating dark times, like when his brother died in an automobile accident. An all black lotus blossom over his heart was inked to aid in Mark’s healing. Mark leaves the room and returns with an illustration of two koi fish, a design he plans to have tattooed over his body. The fish will curve into each other yin/yang style, representing two brothers. The illustration is colorful, a sharp contrast to the dark drawings he’d been creating in the past.
The right side of his body is for colorful illustrations, representing the positive times in his life. In designing, he considers musculature and how muscles create a three-dimensional flow. Eventually, he says, he’ll be covered all over, because he intends to keep designing and illustrating his creative existence. In the end, color and black may merge, as part of the whole mix that makes up his life.
Food sits at the third point of Mark’s golden triangle, because, even in eating, Buddhism plays a part. In those all-by-himself moments, when Mark goes for comfort food, his choices are still healthy. He’ll create one of his one-bowl concoctions, with mashed potatoes as the foundation, then sweet corn, some marinated grilled chicken, maybe some broccoli or any number of other ingredients he has around. Simple and minimalist, that’s Mark’s approach to food, his way to feed both mind and body.
Mark is currently into Japanese hot pot cuisine called “nabe.” This healthy, communal, do-it-yourself way of cooking and eating fits perfectly in his life right now. With nabe, diners all eat out of one pot set in the center of the table, either in an electric skillet or in a pot set over a flame. A dashi (broth) is prepared and brought to a boil in the pot. Fresh vegetables, fungi,and slivers of meat are arranged decoratively on platters. Using chopsticks, diners pick up slivers of beef, pork, chicken or fish and cook the meat in the hot broth for just a couple of minutes. They add their choice of mushrooms and vegetables to the pot as well. Mark’s favorite nabe is the kind into which you drop a raw egg and dip items in the simmering yolk. He likes ritual, whether in spiritual practice, tattoos or dining with friends. And as his life evolves, so will the tattoos, to the point where color will eventually merge with the black on the left side of his body. That’s the artist in him, aware that you can start on a project in one direction, but at anytime things can shift. If Mark has learned anything, it’s that nothing is permanent, so you had better embrace the ride, every step of it.
JAPANESE HOT POTS–EATING AS CEREMONY
Road Trip Tattoo created a hot pot party with Mark Pearce. Like Italian Minestrones, American vegetable soups and Spanish paellas, it’s anything goes. Instead of giving you a specific recipe, we’ll walk you through what we did, but show you how to make it by providing lots of options to make it your own. Even in our last-minute rush, we ended up with a fabulous dish with no fuss
Mark was harried the day of our party. He has a lot on his plate these days. At the last minute, I was rushing around our small community trying to find a particular size of butane canister for the cooker that we’d use to make our dinner on the tabletop, and Mark was gathering ingredients for the meal. But he’d left his wallet at home. It was already 3 p.m. and dinner with Baxter and Mary was at 6.
“No worries,” I said, with a bit of a lump in my stomach. “I’m at the grocery store now. Just tell me what you need.” Fortunately, the list was small and I had already picked up a couple of ingredients I thought would be fun to add to the pot.
Mark got lost trying to find my house. It was 5:15 and, fortunately, he remained calm enough to follow the fairly complicated directions to get him back on the right track. At 5:30, he arrived. Appetizers are the perfect stall for a party and I’d had the foresight to fry some cubes of tofu that I’d soaked in Japanese green tea and rolled in raw sesame seeds. They were consumed with wine, while we watched the magic of the hot pot come together.
Below, you will find a recipe for our hot pot, but you won’t find THE recipe. There would be ingredients we find only locally and I want you to make this your own, so I’ve given you enough choices and a formula to make YOUR own unique and delicious dish. That’s part of the magic, no one has tattoos like you. They are your own, created out of something inside you that is unique and inspired. Take this same approach to this dish, stretch the boundaries. You can’s mess up and if something does go wrong; you’ve just missed one meal, and there will be good friends, good drink and something in the fridge that will still make it a great night.
JAPANESE HOT POT
Serves six people as an entrée
Start With a Pot (Choose A, B or C)
Authentic Japanese Hot pot
Cast Iron Casserole pot able to be used over an open flame such as Staub brand or Le Creuset or a good ole Dutch Oven
Any ole saucepan you use in the kitchen
Have a Flame: Choose A, B or C
- Gourmet Chef Table Top Stove ($23—uses 8 oz. Butane cartridge )
- Camp Stove using gas canisters
- Stove top (you’ll need to gather the friends around the stove but that can work for four people
(Never use charcoal, unless you have your party outdoors. Carbon Monoxide is released.)
Make/Buy Some Soup Stock (Dashi): Choose A., B., C. or D.
A. We used Miso Broth. two 5” by 3” chunks of Kombu (Sea Kelp) to 8 cups of water and simmered it for 20 minutes I had some mushroom stems that I tossed in as well. Remove then add about 2 tablespoons bonito flakes to the pot and cook for no more than 2 minutes. Bonito flakes are tissue thin shavings of the Skipjack tuna and fish flavor to the broth. Use more or less to taste. Strain then add 3 tablespoons of any type of miso paste and stir to incorporate. Set aside, this is your broth base.
B. Use 8 cups of your own made chicken stock or canned low sodium stock/broth, or the organic chicken stock that comes in the recyclable box.
C. Use 8 cups of your own beef broth, or ready made.
D. You can use ready made vegetable stock but I recommend you dilute it with half water, half stock as it has a strong bullion flavor.
Season The Broth
Start with a tablespoon, work up tasting as you go. Here’s what we did with a miso broth.
1. Miso broth: 1/4 C tamari (a kind of soy sauce, soy sauce works, as does Braggs Amino Acids), 1 1/2 C sake (rice wine), 2 tablespoons sugar.
2. Optional: 1/4 tsp. flaked hot red peppers, beer, rice wine vinegar, or you can pull out any of those Asian bottled sauces and play around. Try a bit of BBQ sauce, chopped fresh herbs, fancy sauces you may have picked up for your pantry. A taste of horseradish for your beef broth, etc.
Chop Some Vegetables and Fungi
Chop some green leaves, choose one or more, into 2-inch-wide strips across the length of the leaf, about 2 large leaves per person (kale, stems removed), Swiss chard (stems removed), spinach (remove big stems), beet greens. Set aside.
Chop a large onion: Just Coarsely chop, no rules
Cut about 9 oz. of oyster mushrooms into medium size pieces. We couldn’t find oyster ones, so we substituted shitake, fresh and dried which we reconstituted in boiling water until soft. Stems removed and cooked in stock. Use wild mushrooms, dried or regular button mushrooms.
Add Color and Texture: slivers of carrots, shreds of golden beets, purple carrots, white turnip rounds, flat slices of yam, scallions cut on the diagonal, fresh shitake mushrooms, oyster mushrooms, etc.
This can be chicken, tofu, beef, pork, turkey, whatever, just slice it thin, if meat, and cut into small chunks if poultry or tofu. Set aside.
Here’s where the art comes in. Pack your Napa or Savoy cabbage onto the bottom of your now empty pot. Next, in groups, arrange around the inside of the pot, all that you’ve chopped and prepped. Your protein can be added first, laying strips over the cabbage, or arranging chunks around with the rest of the ingredients. Consider color contrasts and texture, just keep the ingredients in bunches as you place them around the pot on the cabbage, working toward the center. When the pot is full, consider something special for the center. We used bunashimeji, a popular cultivated mushroom that’s a cluster of small mushrooms. Enoki is the most popular for hot pots. Cut off a bit of the bottom of the clump but keep the grouping in tact. Place it in the center of the pot, after the other ingredients are in place.
Add the Broth
Now, pour the yummy hot broth over all the ingredients. and place the pot over a flame. Cook gently until simmering hot and the vegetables have had a chance to get tender. About 15 minutes.
With tongs, take the cooked ingredients from the pot into individual serving bowls. At last, ladle the broth over the ingredients and serve immediately.
Give each guest a naturally raised, no-hormone, no preservatives egg you’ve set out during the meal to come to room temperature. (*Pregnant women and the elderly may want to have one from the refrigerator, or one coddled first, or skip the egg.) Have guests break the egg against their bowl and drop the raw egg into the center of the bowl. With chopsticks (if available, forks work), dip your ingredients into the yolk as you eat. The egg will disappear into the broth eventually. Ceremoniously drink the broth from the bowl, after the ingredients have been eaten.
P.S. We found a jar of oyster mushroom seasoning salt at the store and garnished our bowls with it before serving. It was wonderful. Consider chopped herbs, or Mrs. Dash’s or other seasonings for a topper. Chopped, crisp shallots are wonderful as are toasted sesame seeds.