Kindness of Strangers
A while back, having left my umbrella on the train for about the 26,000th time, I was making my way home through a typhoon (which really is just a lot of wind and rain and the occasional falling tree branch) when I heard the pitter-patter of feet swiftly approaching, and suddenly, this little old man appeared at my side and held his umbrella over my head, struggling to keep pace. And horrible me, amidst my protests and thanks, what I wondered was whether this old dude was trying to pick me up. (In my defense, I do seem to attract old ("old," not "older") men, much to my bewilderment; furthermore, whether it is due to the reluctance of Japanese to invade another's personal space or some other sociological reasoning, in my three years in Tokyo, I have not observed a lot of old-world chivalry, let alone common courtesy, from the male population.) Well, we finally neared my apartment and I escaped without any requests for a telephone number or an assignation to share warm sake in the moonlight. I was forced to accept that the elderly gentleman had simply been kind. How odd. But nice.
Then, quite recently, I received a wondrous package from someone I'd never met and with whom I'd scarcely even corresponded. If you check out my list of links in the sidebar, one of my favorite sites is eGullet, particularly the Pastry and Baking section. I don't participate that often, because most of the members are actually professional bakers and pastry chefs with quite technical questions and answers. But I do love to read the threads and I always get help when I post a query. Well, I recently asked a question about candying peels (that I hope will someday go into the fruitcake I'm planning on making), and one woman in particular gave me very helpful instructions. We only posted back and forth a few times, but I discovered she also candies her own ginger--something like 15 pounds of it at a time! And this process takes hours. I'm talking serious time consumption and a scary gas bill. Well, I must have expressed my awe and also regret that I probably wouldn't have any homemade candied ginger in my fruitcake in a fairly pitiful manner because the next thing I knew, she was offering to mail me some.
I immediately protested. In fact, I really didn't want the ginger because (a) I know how expensive it is to mail even the smallest parcels to and from Japan; and (b) I'm not exactly in the habit of receiving edibles from people I don't know. She naturally said it was no trouble, and because I didn't want to be mean and ungrateful, I wrote: okay, thank you so much.
Well, the package finally arrived, and I admit to being rather excited as I pulled out the enormous bag. The woman did not skimp. Having never tasted candied ginger before, my taste buds were all but whimpering. My husband was eyeing the bag rather skeptically, but I felt reassured when Mr. Levelheaded did not immediately tell me to toss the bag into the trash. Okay, I reasoned out loud, what is the likelihood that this woman would go to the exorbitant trouble of poisoning me--me in Japan--when there were so many more accessible victims in her own postal district? Had I been that annoying the few times I posted on eGullet? Did she want to ensure I never asked another stupid baking question again?
After a few moments of internal debate, I decided to trust this stranger with my life, pulled out a small, pale yellow oval encrusted in glittering sugar, and took a bite: a slight crunch followed by tender, mildly spicy flesh--no discernible fibrous strands. And then: ack, tongue-curling sugar flood. But no seizures or foaming at the mouth. Admittedly, the ginger is too sweet to ever be a snack, but I've already thrown a handful of chopped-up slivers into a fresh ginger cake, and it was pretty darn good.
I guess after my self assessment at the beginning of this post, some might think that, on the contrary, what I am is naive as hell. I ruefully concede that I should not have eaten the ginger. But it's done, and I'm still alive. I can only promise I won't do something like that again.
Worse still, now I have to go shopping for a thank-you gift for someone I know nothing about, when I can't even decide what to get my husband for Christmas. See the lesson here kids? If I'd just stuck to my distrustful nature and told that woman on eGullet to keep her kind gestures to herself, I wouldn't be in this predicament. But then I wouldn't be having real, homemade candied ginger in my fruitcake either.