No, no. Omelet.
Not omwet, omelet.
What about this?
Sweet? And this?
Green, is it? Well, what about this?
That’s right, clam. And this?
On a cold day seven years ago, just two days into his retirement, Taihei’s wife died. When she still wasn’t up at noon, he’d gone to the bedroom to wake her, cracking a joke, is this how lazy you get when the head of the household doesn’t have to go to work any more, only to find that her heart had stopped beating. An ambulance took her away, and the cause of death was diagnosed as a subarachnoid hemorrhage. The night before she’d complained of not feeling herself and had gone to bed ahead of him, he recalled, but it had never occurred to him she would die just like that.
The funeral had come and gone in the blink of an eye, with no time to grieve. Two or three weeks later, when the number of visitors had dwindled, Taihei was sitting all alone in a daze one night when his daughter, who lived in Tokyo, called.
“I just remembered that the cooking class with Tomiko Sugiyama is tomorrow. It’s really popular and cancellations aren’t allowed, so why don’t you go instead?”
“What are you talking about?” Taihei asked in his stupor.
“Oh come on, don’t you know? It’s the cooking class. The one Mom applied for. She was really looking forward to it. Getting into a class with Tomiko Sugiyama for her was like winning the lottery. She’s already paid for it, you know.”
“That’s more your sort of thing.”
“I’d love to go, but I’ve got work. You haven’t got anything planned for tomorrow, have you Dad? You should go. It’ll help take your mind off things.”
“I can’t cook.”
“That’s a good reason to go, isn’t it? After all, it’s a cooking class.”
“Not for me, it isn’t. Give me her number and I’ll call to give her our apologies.”
“You’d be better off just going to it, though.” Her voice on the other end of the line sounded irritable. “Look, Dad, you’re going to have to do everything for yourself from now on. Think of it as a first step.”
“Just give me the number.”
“I think it’s in Mom’s address book. But you can’t turn it down, you know. It’s unheard of for anyone to cancel a class with Tomiko Sugiyama.”
“Whoever heard of not being able to cancel a cooking class for someone who’s died?” Taihei retorted caustically. He hung up and located the number, recorded meticulously in his wife’s address book.
“Tomiko Sugiyama’s Cooking Class. How can I help you?” said a voice brightly on the other end of the line.
“I’m calling on behalf of Misako Ishida, who was due to come to your class tomorrow. I’m her husband,” he started, but the bright voice cut in, cheerfully taking charge of the conversation.
“Oh, Mr. Ishida, thank you for calling. Your daughter contacted me earlier. I’m looking forward to seeing you tomorrow.”
“I beg your pardon?”
“As I mentioned to your daughter, all you need to bring with you is some salty-sweet shiitake, ready prepared.”
“Just some shiitake, simmered in sugar and soy sauce.”
“No, no, the thing is, my wife had a brain hemorrhage the other day.”
“Indeed.” The owner of the bright voice paused, as if struggling between a desire to express her deepest sympathies and needing to bring the call to a quick conclusion. “It’s such an awful thing to have happened. Please accept my heartfelt condolences. Well then, I shall look forward to seeing you at one o’clock tomorrow. Good-bye now.”
Taihei was left standing there holding the receiver, but he didn’t have the courage to call back. Instead, he called his daughter.
“Sorry, Dad, a friend’s over,” she said, her voice hushed as if worried about being overheard.
“OK, I’ll make it quick. I called that cooking class. What did she mean by shiitake?”
“Oh, right. Tomorrow you’re making box sushi. You have to take some salty-sweet shiitake ready simmered in sugar and soy sauce. Um, I think she said about five. Not fresh ones—the dried ones, reconstituted. Sorry, I’ll call you back later.”
Shiitake . . . ? The dried ones reconstituted, simmered in sugar and soy sauce . . . ?
Tahei sat down sideways on the chair next to the phone and remained there motionless for a few moments.
Then he made up his mind not to think about shiitake or the cooking class. He went to his study and ran his eyes over the business book he was reading, but the words remained elusive and refused to sink in. Even so, he carried on, glaring defiantly at the text for a couple of hours. Finally, he gave up and went to the kitchen.
I don’t want to have to look for any shiitake, let alone cook the damn things! Taihei grumbled to himself as he rooted around. And I refuse to go to the supermarket to get some. As it happened, they were surprisingly easy to find, almost as if they were submitting to Taihei’s muttered imprecations, in a bag right in the front of the drawer of dried foodstuffs.
At first glance the six small dried shiitake looked more like pebbles than anything you could eat. Taihei stared at them for a moment, then for some reason took out a kitchen knife and brought the blade down on one of them.
He threw the knife down and frantically sucked on his left index finger, now spurting blood, and stamped his feet. The offending shiitake flew off the chopping board, bounced off the edge of the counter, and landed in the sink with a dispirited clunk. Taihei glared at it reproachfully, then went to get the first aid box. Why the heck had he tried to cut the damn thing in the first place, he wondered as he applied a Band-Aid to his still-bleeding finger.
Box sushi, his daughter had said. As far as Taihei knew, the shiitake used in box sushi was thinly sliced and sprinkled on top of its bed of rice. That’s why he’d thought he needed to slice it. But he had to admit it had been a mistake to think of doing so while it was still hard. Once the shiitake had been boiled to soften it up, slicing it should be a simple task for a grown man.
Taihei inwardly cursed the remaining five shiitake sitting there in a row on the counter, and tossed the one that had caused him to hurt his finger into the trash box in the corner of the sink.
He placed them in a pan—the one that Misako had used for making miso soup—and added some sugar and soy sauce. Salty-sweet, was what his daughter had said, and the cooking school woman had said the same when he called. As long as he simmered them with sugar and soy sauce, he couldn’t go wrong, surely. Soy sauce was salty, sugar was sweet. Anyone knew that. Well, whatever . . . He put the pan on the stove and lit the flame.
The shiitake were hard and it would take time until they were soft, so he sat on the kitchen stool and picked up a dog-eared old notebook that had been left lying on the shelf alongside the row of cookbooks. The cloth cover was the color of azuki beans and slightly frayed at the corners. It looked like his wife had used it as a recipe book, diary, and general notebook. It was the first inkling he had that she’d ever kept something like that. He opened it up at random and read:
When I was a child, I read a story called “The Soup of the Soup.” The protagonist was a Turk called Hodja, famed for his wit and tall stories. One day he treated a friend to a feast of roast rabbit, but word got around and the next day a friend of that friend dropped by. Hodja treated him to a soup made from the leftovers of the rabbit, but that soup was so tasty that the next day a friend of his friend’s friend came to visit. Hodja put a drop of the remains of the soup from the bottom of the pan into a bowl and filled it up with hot water, and fed it to the friend of a friend of a friend, telling him it was the “soup of the soup.” After that nobody else came to visit. That’s basically the sum of the story.
Sometimes I feel like serving up the soup of the soup. I feel like telling someone they shouldn’t feel entitled to eat my food. Then again, I’ve heard that Turkish people take care of their friends and have the custom of inviting visitors to dine with them, so I wonder whether this story shouldn’t be read completely differently. For example, perhaps it’s saying that you should always serve up something, however modest it may be.
Today my husband brought someone home with him again. He’s proud of my cooking. And I am quite a cook. But what comes of him being proud of that?
At lunchtime I used up some leftovers from the refrigerator to make a vegetable jabchae. Jabchae is a Korean dish, vegetables stir-fried with cellophane noodles. A touch of pork really adds to the flavor. Today I used bamboo shoots, yellow chives, shiitake, carrots, bean sprouts, and cabbage. Each time the ingredients are different. The only thing I surreptitiously bought especially for this dish was the yellow chives. Yellow chives are expensive, like cilantro and straw mushrooms. They’re not the sort of thing a housewife would usually put in a lunch she makes for herself, but sometimes you just have to treat yourself. And yellow chives make stir-fry tasty, and look pretty too.
All the vegetables need to be cut to about the same dimensions as the bean sprouts. The thin-sliced pork should be seasoned with salt and sake and fried first. Then you warm some chopped garlic over a low heat to release the flavor, before turning the heat up to full and adding the seasonings one at a time to the pan and flash frying. Once the meat changes color, there’s no time to lose. You toss in the shiitake, carrots, bean sprouts, cabbage, bamboo shoots, and yellow chives, then add the cellophane noodles reconstituted in hot water—of course you have to cut them to the right size, otherwise they’ll be unmanageable—and splash with water, and flavor with Chinese soup stock and yuzu-flavored soy sauce—the type you use for making the soup for winter hotpots. Of course you can sweeten it with sugar or mirin, but I prefer the flavor to be a little tart, the same way I like adding a little vinegar to yakisoba or fried rice vermicelli, and I found it to be surprisingly simple and tasty like this. But I don’t know if everyone in the family will like it, so I never serve it like this when we’re all together.
My favorite time is when I cook for myself, the way I please. Cooking for my family is a bit of a chore, to tell the truth. And it’s even worse when my husband brings home work colleagues, because I’m so nervous I can’t enjoy it at all. Although you’d have thought that after thirty years or so I should have gotten used to it by
Taihei looked up in alarm—not because of what he’d read, but because of the smell of burning soy sauce and sugar assailing his nose.
He hurriedly turned off the gas and opened the lid to see the chocolaty-looking soy sauce bubbling fiercely, and the dried shiitake converted into small black stones. He picked out one to test it, but hastily dropped it back in with a loud “Ouch!” Now he had the red trace of a light burn on his right index finger to match the cut on the left one.
Frowning, Taihei waited patiently for the black lumps in the pan to cool. Then he took one out and tested it between his front teeth. It made an unpleasant crunchy sound. What was supposed to be a salty-sweet simmered shiitake tasted bitter, overly salty, and a little charred. On top of that, the blackened lumps were lacking in any tenderness.
“Hmmmph,” he said dismissively, to no one in particular.
In any case, he hadn’t the slightest intention of going to that stupid cooking class tomorrow—let alone taking any simmered shiitake with him. What man in his sixties would get excited about a cooking class anyway?
He added some water to the burned pan, then took his wife’s recipe notebook with him back to his study, and settled down to read it instead of his usual business paper. It was filled with gripes, recipes, and things she was proud of. In among comments such as, “My husband can be so sneaky!” or “I couldn’t tell Sato. I feel so bad about that,” she had jotted down recipes or stuck in clippings culled from newspapers and magazines. As he read through them, Taihei recalled various things that he had eaten.
If she disliked cooking so much, she should have told him! The passage he’d read first kept niggling tortuously at the back of his mind. If she didn’t like him bringing his coworkers home, he needn’t have brought them! But then, although she’d written that having to feed people was such a nuisance, she’d also boasted, “Mrs. Murata said this was so tasty that she wanted the recipe, so I emailed it to her,” so he wasn’t quite sure what she really felt about it.
Turning the pages, a passage titled “Shiitake” caught his eye and his hand paused.
The botanical name for shiitake is Lentinula edodes, and because “edodes” sounds like “Edo desu” (“This is Edo”) some people have said it’s from the Japanese, but actually it comes from the Greek εδωδιμος meaning “edible.”
I find those rounded Greek letters charming, somehow. I particularly like those two o’s with a tail making them look like ladles. But more than ladles, they look like mushrooms—upside-down mushrooms. And the fact that there are two of them side-by-side is really cute. It wouldn’t be so appealing if there was only one of them.
Maybe I liked them so much because of a story I read when I was little. It was called “Little Miss Mushroom,” about a little girl called Mushroom who gets lost in the forest and meets another Mushroom who looks just like herself.
Little Miss Mushroom had short brown hair with red ribbons in it, but I’m convinced she was a shiitake. Two shiitake together are really cute. If I could go back in time to another age, I think I’d choose to go back to the time when I was a shiitake.
Taihei couldn’t get his head around the idea that there had been a time when his own wife had been a shiitake. He simply didn’t have the imagination. It was like thinking that he’d once been a dog, or a cat, or that he’d been Kobo Daishi or an archbishop of Rome in a previous life.
Feeling peckish, he went back to the kitchen for some “just add hot water” noodles. They were basically instant chicken ramen, to which you added hot water, closed the lid, and waited three minutes before eating just like any others, but were apparently from a famous restaurant, with “Authentic xx Restaurant taste!” written in exquisite calligraphy on the packet.
“I thought you might not feel so miserable eating these ones,” his daughter had told him. “After all, I can’t come and cook for you every day.”
Now that he’d filled his stomach with the warm soup, he decided to have a bath and go to bed. With nothing in particular to do, he might as well get an early night.
When he opened his eyes the next morning, he noticed a rather appetizing smell.
It was just as if his wife had been stewing something. Well, not his wife, but maybe his daughter had come to make something for him? Spurred by some vague kind of hope or dreamy notion, Taihei left the bedroom and followed his nose.
Sitting atop the gas range in the kitchen was the saucepan as he’d left it the day before, and in it five round black objects floated in a burned brown liquid. He picked one of them out with his fingers. Surprisingly, it had completely transformed since yesterday and was now soft. The dried ones reconstituted, simmered . . . his daughter’s words resurfaced in the back of his mind. “So you guys have reconstituted after all!” he muttered.
His mistake yesterday had been to overlook the step of rehydrating them. Dried goods were made fit for eating by first soaking them in liquid and then simmering them. His ham-fisted measure of putting water into the soy-sauce and sugar-burned pan and leaving it overnight had unexpectedly resulted in the stonelike lumps swelling into their original mushroom shape. What’s more, they were giving off a highly appetizing fragrance.
Taihei couldn’t resist the temptation to nibble at the edge of the shiitake. While still retaining some crunch, it had absorbed the salty-sweet sauce and was soft and juicy. On top of that, the original flavor of the shiitake seeped through as he bit into it, and it was no exaggeration to say that it tasted exquisite.
Taihei stared at the pan. Then he quickly took out the rest of the mushrooms, removed the stalks, and thinly sliced them. Though they had stubbornly repelled his knife yesterday, they now cut surprisingly easily. The liquid left in the pan was slightly salty sweet, and it occurred to him that he could reduce it to make a thicker sauce. Feeling encouraged, he put everything back into the pan and put the heat on low, careful not to burn it. An initial slightly bitter smell gradually diminished as the flavors of the shiitake stock and seasonings deepened, and a delicious aroma filled the kitchen.
When the simmering shiitake took on an attractive sheen, Taihei decided to go to the class after all. The shiitake were so beautifully prepared that he wanted to show them off. What’s more, he hadn’t had anything decent to eat since the meal at his wife’s funeral. Plus box sushi was one of his favorites.
He checked the address for Tomiko Sugiyama’s Cooking School and left the house.
The school was in a smart residential area in Yoyogi Uehara. He went up the narrow street and pressed the doorbell of the elegant house on the hill, to be greeted by a small woman who showed him into a large, sparkling-clean kitchen. He sat on a folding chair, holding the Tupperware container of his shiitake, as he waited for Tomiko Sugiyama to appear.
The countertop held an array of small dishes and plates containing carrots, chopped eel, broccolini, bright pink dried fish crumbs, and crushed sesame, along with some clams, eggs, sugar, salt, and vinegar. Some clean dishcloths, cooking chopsticks, wooden spatulas, and so forth were also neatly laid out.
“Sorry to keep you waiting.” Mrs. Tomiko Sugiyama had long hair swept up and secured with a large hairpin, her plump body encased in a dress with a tiny flower-print pattern and covered in a crisp white apron. “It’s a private lesson today.” She smiled at Taihei, who regarded her nervously. So the two of them would be alone together in the kitchen. “Did you bring the shiitake?”
Her voice rang in his ears. Shiitake . . . ! Taihei suddenly felt shy about giving them to her, but seeing him vacillate, she smiled broadly and held out her hand to take the Tupperware he timidly proffered.
“I always get my students to make one thing to bring with them. After all, the good thing about box sushi is that it mixes up a lot of different flavors. You have to prepare all the different ingredients one by one before you can put them all together. It’s not as if you can simmer dried gourd, shiitake, and carrots all together. You have to prepare them all separately to draw out their individual flavors. Then you arrange them on the vinegared rice. The vinegar does a wonderful job of enhancing their individual characters. The more intense the flavors, the more appealing the final dish. That’s why, rather than using only ingredients you yourself have prepared, it’s more interesting to get other people to make something too. It adds to the charm of box sushi. Oh my, these shiitake are wonderful,” she said as she opened the lid of the Tupperware container. “It looks like today’s sushi is going to be good.”
She proceeded to wash the rice and put it into the rice cooker along with a strip of dried konbu for flavor, then put some vinegar with sugar and salt on the stove to make the sushi vinegar. As she did so she lectured him on the quantities and how to adjust the heat, but he wasn’t taking anything in. He simply responded mechanically to her instructions to take this or pass that.
“When cooking clams,” she said, placing two large shellfish in a pan and splashing some sake over them, “first you steam them in sake like this, then you take them out and add some soy sauce, sugar, and mirin to the juices in the pan and boil it down to make a salty-sweet sauce. It needs to steep overnight, so I have one here that I prepared earlier. Next let’s make the thin strips of egg.”
They worked together in silence, beating the eggs, adding a little sugar and a pinch of salt, and pouring the mix into a hot frying pan to make a paper-thin omelet. Taihei stood at Mrs. Sugiyama’s side, trying to copy her movements as he fried the egg, then nervously turned the paper-thin circle of egg with the tips of his cooking chopsticks. As he cut the finished omelet into thin strips, her gaze fell critically on the Band-Aid on his left index finger, and when he told her what had happened, she laughed.
Once the steamed rice had plumped out nicely, they set to making it ready for the sushi. Mrs. Sugiyama opened up the steamer on the dining table and added the vinegar mix, stirring it in with the wooden spatula, while it was Taihei’s role to stand at her side and cool the rice with a large round fan. Then she added some thinly sliced gourd and carrots, and chopped eel. She finely chopped half of Taihei’s shiitake and added them too, telling him, “I’ll use the other half for the topping.”
“My wife was supposed to come today,” Taihei suddenly said as he fanned the rice.
“Yes, my receptionist told me. Didn’t she pass away?” Mrs. Sugiyama answered without pausing her hand.
“It was a stroke. It was very—how can I put it? Sudden.”
“How old was she?”
“She’s five years younger than me, so fifty-five.”
“That’s terrible. Please accept my condolences.”
“It seems that my wife was once a shiitake.”
Taihei himself was taken aback by the words that slipped out of his own mouth without any warning. He had no idea why he should have said such a thing. It was what he had read last night in his wife’s recipe book. If I could go back in time to another age, I think I’d choose to go back to the time when I was a shiitake. He hadn’t thought anything of it when he’d read this, but it now struck him as bizarre. Had his late wife been going strange in the head, by any chance?
“Anyone can be one,” Mrs. Sugiyama said equably as she mixed some shellfish in with the vinegared rice.
“Anyone?” Taihei stopped fanning the rice and looked up.
“That’s what cooking is all about,” she said. Then she smiled brightly and announced, “OK, it’s time to dish up,” and cheerfully produced two vermillion-lacquered boxes. She divided the sushi rice, slightly colored by the salty-sweet stock, between them and pressed it down so that it filled all the corners.
“People don’t really understand the art of cooking. Especially people who don’t cook. I’m sure your wife must have been a good cook.”
She came to stand next to Taihei as they finished up the dish. It was just a matter of arranging the various ready-prepared ingredients as they pleased, but she said, “We start with this,” taking some of the fine strips of omelet and fluffing them up as she spread them evenly over the rice. Following her example, Taihei too inlaid his box with the golden egg.
“For example, right now I’m thinking about the time this egg was in the mother hen’s belly. By the way, this is a fertilized egg. It was laid at the foot of Mount Daisen. When you hold an egg in your hand, its memories are communicated to you through its shell, you know.”
“Yes, memories of when I was in the belly of a hen at Mount Daisen come back to me.”
“In that sense, my most beautiful memory has to be of the time I was a watershield blossom.”
“A watershield blossom?”
Mrs. Sugiyama took each of the ingredients on the dining table in turn and placed them on top of the egg strips.
“I was still just a young girl.” She narrowed her eyes and raised her chin as if remembering the distant past. Her hands paused briefly in their work of arranging the dish as she began talking of the time when she was a watershield bud, swaying all day long, bathed in abundant fresh water and sunlight.
“The marsh was some distance from the village. In winter it was covered with a thin coat of ice, but the spring thaw brought warmer water and in our naturally sunny spot we would feel the life force welling up within us. Our broad leaves were already drifting over the surface of the lake by the time that, feeling the urge to give a big yawn, I stretched up high enough to see two oak trees stretching themselves on the other side of the marsh. The marsh water is so clear that in the sunlight it makes a detailed reflection of the sky, like a mirror. The blue sky and white clouds are reflected between our leaves, and so when the breeze blows we sway together with the sky, bathed in sunlight. As the warm days continue we are unable to contain ourselves any longer and eventually, in early summer, we too produce small flowers. These are rather plain compared to the likes of the water lilies, but the exquisite charm of our buds swelling and proudly bursting open is unforgettable. When the flowering season is over, although we’ll eventually send forth new shoots we now begin to slowly disintegrate. You know, the sensation when we are born shuddering in the limpid water, protected by that innocuous but strong, gelatinous mucus, is . . . well, I might be lacking the discretion expected of someone my age, but I’d say it was something close to ecstasy. Spending the days just swaying, swaying, on the surface of the water. That was the happiest time of my life.”
As she talked, Mrs. Sugiyama’s hands moved between the little dishes and the lacquer box, adding touches of color to the sushi. “You should arrange all the ingredients the way you like them.” She sprinkled on some of the pink fish crumbs, then added some pickled lotus root and shiitake. “It isn’t as if there are any rules or fixed ways to do it.”
Taihei nodded and, picking up the small dishes, clumsily added a steamed clam and some broccolini.
“Why, how pretty that is!” Mrs. Sugiyamia sighed with satisfaction as she contemplated the finished result. It seemed the cooking class was over.
Taihei was given the lacquer box with the sushi that he himself had arranged to take home with him. “Will we meet again?” he asked before leaving.
Mrs. Sugiyama paused a moment then said, “My cooking classes are oversubscribed, so I ask people who have already participated to refrain from booking another one. Cooking is always a uniquely precious experience, you see. However,” she paused a moment, then added, “it is possible that sometime, somewhere we will meet again.” She waved good-bye with a big smile.
That day Taihei ate his box sushi, washed down with sake. Somehow it tasted exquisite.
Since he had nothing else to do, he took out two more of his wife’s notebooks from the shelf of cookbooks in the corner of the kitchen. There were three in all. They weren’t that old—the oldest appeared to be from about ten years ago. Perhaps she had started keeping them from around the time their daughter had left home, leaving the two of them on their own together.
Right from the beginning she had jotted down recipes, gripes, and things that interested her. There were things he had eaten and things he hadn’t, but he felt particularly interested in those that he hadn’t eaten. This was because he intuited that these revealed a side of his wife he had never known. He had the feeling that rising up before him now was the wife he wished he’d known when she was still alive, but who he would never now come to know; the side of her that she herself had wanted to keep secret.
The next day, Taihei started spending time in the kitchen. He decided to try making all of the recipes his wife had written down, one by one. Some were delicious, others less appealing. Sometimes, when he found the flavor to be lacking, he added this or that seasoning and noted it down in his wife’s notebook. He would never even consider cooking anything now without these old dog-eared notebooks.
Seven years went by all too quickly, although looking back it was also long enough for a number of things to have happened. Tomiko Sugiyama’s Cooking School continued to prosper, her name being regularly bandied around in TV programs and magazine articles. Taihei’s daughter, Sato, married the man who, all those years ago, had often stayed over at her apartment; she later gave birth to a daughter, Ito. However, two years ago she divorced and now she and Ito were living in their own apartment in the city. Ito would be four this year.
Being divorced with a small child, his daughter was naturally lonely—either that, or despite herself she needed his help, for she often called to ask him to come over. She would bring Ito to visit him surprisingly often, too. Taihei did all kinds of things for his granddaughter that his wife would have done had she been alive. Fortunately he could cook, so he could be of some use.
The doorbell rang and Taihei opened the door to see Sato standing there with Ito in tow. “Grandpa!” his granddaughter shouted, running to him.
It was early March, the Sunday before the Dolls Festival, and they had come for lunch. Whether she really meant it or said it only to flatter him, Sato declared, “Grandpa’s box sushi is the best ever!” and begged him to make it for them every year. As they sat down to the lacquered boxes arranged on the table, his daughter and granddaughter would squeal with delight.
As Ito picked up some of the thin strips of egg in her little fingers, Taihei would ask her, “What’s that?”
She hadn’t learned how to pronounce omelet and shiitake properly yet, even though she was getting quite big.
For his part, having been cooking for some time now, Taihei had begun to have some understanding of the art of cooking. Now he, too, could remember the time when he’d been a shiitake. He could see himself sitting quietly on an old chestnut oak log feeling the breeze on his cheeks.
And he recalled that he hadn’t been alone, for snuggled up next to him, trembling slightly, there had been another shiitake.