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LIVING: Sonoko Sakai

Sonoko Sakai is a LA based writer, teacher and cook. Her recipes reflect a rich cultural upbringing and the essence of practices rooted in her Japanese heritage. 

She shares with us her intention and daily ritual for living well.
Shaina Mote — LIVING: Sonoko Sakai

Do you have a morning ritual?  If so, what does it consist of?

I get up early in the morning to bake bread (twice a week). I like to have miso soup and toast (made with my bread) for breakfast.

Do you have any self care or beauty habits that you consistently practice? 

Eat umeboshi, salted ume plums for overall health (especially, digestive health). Umeboshi even travels with me.

Sonoko making umeboshi

Describe your home in five words:

Home life is your art.

Do you have personal practices for living or well-being that create a reduced environmental impact or are zero waste?  (share a recipe, practice or how to)

I compost my kitchen scraps. I believe that cooking starts in the garden and ends in the garden.

Try as we might, humans will inevitably negatively affect the environment in some ways, both on a local and global scale. With this in mind what are some specific intentions and convictions that you hold close?

The planet is for all living things. We must live in harmony.

What is a project for home or living that you have recently started or finished? (share a how to, recipe, etc.) 

I am presently working on a garden project with my friend and permaculturist Jade Luu.  (she is the woman in the photograph with me.) Permaculture gardening incorporates techniques and practices that combine wildlife gardening, edible landscaping, and native-plant cultivation into a single and productive ecosystem.  It’s actually practicing a way of life rather than doing a goal oriented project.

What distracts you?  How do you remain centered?

My iPhone, I put it away in a mini-nap bag I made to limit my social media time.

How has your relationship with your immediate surroundings and the environment at large adapted or changed through the years?

Our relationship with our immediate surroundings have been affected by the pandemic that we are living through at the moment and by climate change. I have become more aware, more concerned, and more pro-active in finding solutions to combat the changing realities that affect the health of our planet, and by this I mean solutions I can put into action on a daily basis at home. (such as the composting or permaculture that I practice)

Describe a practice in living well that you admire from someone in your community.

Farmers Bill and Miriam Keener and their extended family (4 generations) of Sequachie Cove Farm in Chatanooga, Tennessee.  They are my dear friends. They don't’ live close to me but I feel we are part of the same community of people that share the same life values and goals – everything from raising a family to growing food and appreciating art and culture. I have been invited to their farm to teach cooking classes and hope to return soon.

Share a well-loved family recipe: 

Japanese Curry Brick

For The Spice Mix

1 (2-inch) cinnamon stick, pounded into small pieces
1 dried bay leaf
1 tablespoon brown mustard seeds
1 tablespoon coriander seeds
1 tablespoon fennel seeds
1 tablespoon cumin seeds
1 teaspoon fenugreek seeds
½ teaspoon whole cloves
2 cardamom pods
1 dried shiitake mushroom, broken into pieces
1 (1-inch strip) dried kombu, cut into bite-size pieces
1 ½ teaspoons whole black peppercorns
1 orange, zested
1 tablespoon ground turmeric
1 tablespoon ground ginger
1 tablespoon sea salt
1 teaspoon sweet paprika
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper, or more to taste

For the Roux

1 ½ cups/340 grams unsalted butter (3 sticks)
2 ¼ cups all-purpose flour


1. In a large skillet, toast cinnamon, bay leaf, mustard seeds, coriander seeds, fennel seeds, cumin seeds, fenugreek seeds, cloves and cardamom pods over medium heat, stirring until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Be careful not to burn the spices. Transfer the toasted ingredients to a spice grinder.

2. Add the mushroom, kombu and peppercorns to the spice grinder, and grind at the highest speed for 30 seconds. Shake the grinder a couple of times as you blend to make sure the cinnamon stick is pulverized. (You can also grind the spices in batches, if necessary.) Transfer the pulverized spices to a small bowl. Add the orange zest, turmeric, ginger, sea salt, paprika and cayenne pepper.

3. To make the roux, melt the butter in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. When the butter is nearly melted, lower the heat to medium-low. Gradually whisk in the flour, and cook, stirring constantly, until the roux turns light brown, 15 to 20 minutes. Be careful not to burn the roux. Turn off the heat, add the spice mix and stir until well combined.

4. Divide the mixture among three mini aluminum loaf pans, adding about 3/4 cup per loaf pan, or transfer the entire mixture to a parchment-lined quarter-size sheet tray. Let cool for a few minutes at room temperature, then transfer to the fridge so the bricks can solidify. Once firm, unmold, cut each brick into 9 small curry brick cubes (or, if using a sheet tray, cut the mixture into 27 pieces total) and wrap tightly in plastic wrap. Store in the refrigerator for about a month or in the freezer for 3 months.


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