That lazy afternoon, with Blue Juice dying on the radio towards one o'clock, the kitchen table had Sunday written all over it. The wreckage of someone's - or several persons' - late breakfast of maple-syruped pancakes lay almost buried under the outspread weekend newspapers. Yes, newspapers plural. At least three weekend newspapers find their way into this house. The death of the newspaper will not be on my head.
I cleaned the table. I like cleaning it. It is a mid-twentieth century original, of smoke-patterned pale green chrome-edged Laminex, over a tubular stainless steel frame that cleverly curves down at each corner into twin chrome legs that stand on the polished timber floor in neat black rubber stoppers, like little socks. It is as quintessentially 1950s as an R-Type Bentley. (And as long-lasting. Every year I see Ikea tables thrown in disgust onto hard rubbish collections, pathetic legs snapped like twigs, and deep scratches in their faux-timber veneers.)
I had prepared everything. In my youth, I had been the perfect scout. The rice was ready. It doesn't go as far as you think it will. You use sushi-grade rice, cook it to the twenty-minute absorption guidelines, douse it with a rice wine sugar infusion, and then fan it to cool it quickly, in a wide flat bowl. Sounds complicated, but it is one of those processes to which you become easily accustomed, so that you can think of other things while you work. I had also got the fillings ready. Assembly time.
A sheet of seaweed, shiny side down; a dredge of rice, a baton of raw tuna (or salmon, or cooked tuna mixed with mayo, or chicken crisped in breadcrumbs and sliced into fingers, or barbecued chili prawns, or scrambled egg, or marinated beef, or whatever); each variously topped with thin cuts of carrot or cucumber or avocado or capsicum or butter lettuce or a combination; and then, just to ram home the flavour explosion, some wasabe, drops of one of the soy varieties, caviar or substitute, toasted sesame seeds, chili sauce or mayonnaise.
The rolling up phase was initially the hardest part. But you refine that pretty quickly. The instructions on one pack of seaweed (or was it the rice?) prescribed a one-centimetre rice thickness. The first sushi roll I ever made looked like a white-wall tyre from a 1920s town car. Eventually I achieved a kind of half-acceptable uniformity. Sealing them, like rolling your own cigarettes, is also a quickly mastered skill, although unlike cigarette papers there is no gum. You need a few drops of water smeared along the outer edge.
Finally, the trick with eating sushi rolls is not to drown them in soy sauce but to let the ingredients work their magic. And use a bottle of soy; not those little plastic fish, of which there will soon be more in the ocean than real ones.