December 2007 Archives

25 words


2007 in 25 words, exactly.

Food ruled 2007: went almost vegan, developed recipes, and lost 10 kilos. Also sewed Morsbags, made political statements with robots, and explored Tokyo real estate.

Past years: 2006, 2005, 2004, 2003, 2002, 2001. Feel free to share your own 25 word summary in the comments.

Christmas Tree, 2007

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Fused plastic, crocheted top and pompom, blue bulb in Yoshi's lamp base

In daylight

This year's tree was small, simple and completely overwhelmed by an abundance of gifts:


Christmas Eve Dinner, 1570


We've recently finished reading Bill Buford's book, Heat. He tells the tales of a mid-life career change from editor to cook and everything along the way - including learning Italian and several long trips to Italy to learn to cook. One of his tutors is a 16th century Italian named Bartolomeo Scappi, who wrote a Renaissance cookbook called Opera dell'arte del cucinare.

Buford mentions in passing Scappi's mixture of beets and spinach as a tortellini filling and this intrigued me. Beets (yum!) and spinach (yum!) together? Wow. I wanted to try it. So I found a reference to Scappi's recipe. It wasn't beetroot, as I'd assumed, but beet tops, also known as chard. Still, it looked to be a delicious recipe with a surprising twist of cloves and cinnamon, so we tried it.

Scappi's beet and spinach ravioli

Here's Scappi's recipe (translated by Helewyse de Birkestad with my notes in []):

Per far minestra di tortelletti d’herba alla Lombarda Cap CLXXIX Piglinosi biete, e spinaci, taglianosi minute, & lavinsoi in piu acque, e strucchisi fuori l’acqua, faccianosi soffriggere con butiro fresco, & con esse ponasi a bollire una brancata d’herve odorifere, & cavinosi, & pongasi in un vaso di terra o di rame stagnato, & giungavisi cascio Parmeggiano grattato, & cascio grasso, tanto dell’uno quanto dell altro, & pepe, cannella, garofani, zafferano, uva passa, & uove crude a bastanza; & se la compositione fosse troppo liquida pongavisi pan grattato, ma se sarà troppo soda, mettavisi un poco di butiro, & habbiasi un sfoglio di pasta fatta nel modo che si dice nel capitolo 177. & faccianosi i tortelletti piccioli, & grandi, facendoli cuorcere in buon brodo di carne, & servanosi con cascio, zuccaro, & cannella sopra.

To make a dish of tortellini of herbs in the Lombard style, Chapter 179
Take beet (beet tops or swiss chard), and spinach [1 bunch each], chop very finely, and wash in more water and then drain out all the water. Put the greens to fry in fresh butter and with them add to boil a hand full of odoriferous herbs [we used parsley, chervil and oregano]. Take them out and put them (herbs and greens) into a jar of pottery or of tinned copper, and add grated Parmesan cheese and fat cheese [no fat cheese for us], more of the one than of the other. Also add pepper [1/2 tsp], cinnamon, cloves [dash of each], saffron [5 stamens softened in 1/2 tsp water], dried currants [we used about 10 raisins cut in half] and enough raw eggs [1/2 an egg, beaten]. If the mixture becomes too soft and bread crumbs, but if it is too hard, add a little butter. Have a sheet of pasta made in the way that is described in chapter 177. And make small and large tortelletti, and cook them in good meat broth, and serve them with cheese, sugar and cinnamon on top.

We made a few substitutions from the original recipe. Chard is not available in Japan, so we used a Chinese vegetable called ta-sai, which is related to mustard and broccoli. We made ravioli rather than tortellini, and we boiled our ravioli in vegetable broth instead of meat broth. With those substitutions in place, we found the recipe wanted no other changes. It was outstanding.

I'm looking forward to tracking down some other Scappi recipes and trying them.

Still, I want to try beets and spinach together. I think it would be interesting. Experimentation in the new year, I think!

Tod's Bad Christmas Joke


In Japan, Buddhists don't eat Christmas cookies, but Shintos love them. That's because they're jinja-bread.

Best misspelling ever

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KRISTEN DRQUFUTAI on a delivery notice from Nippon Express.

I think I shall spam people using this name:

Hello, my new friend. I am KRISTEN DRQUFUTAI, a citizen of the Republic of ZOGISTAN where my family was persecuted when my father hid 14.3% of the national debt in our attic. The total sum in gold, which I have removed from the attic upon my father's death, etc...

White Chocolate & Cherry Drunken Figs



In the West Village of New York City, I bought something called a drunken fig. It was a whole dried fig, stuffed with port-infused fig and chocolate filling and dipped in dark chocolate. It was pretty good, I liked the fig and chocolate combination, but the filling wasn't drunken enough and the whole thing was a little bit too dry. I thought I could do better. Tod & I brainstormed a luscious variation.

In our version the figs are soaked in cherry brandy, filled with white chocolate ganache and dipped in dark chocolate. The result is sweet, fruity and sinfully rich. At about 200 calories each, you might want to serve them split in half to reveal the pretty insides.

White Chocolate & Cherry Drunken Figs
makes 9

9 dried Turkish figs
cherry brandy
100 grams white chocolate
50 ml heavy cream
pinch salt
pinch nutmeg
100 grams dark chocolate

Cover the figs with brandy. Soak for at least 4 hours or overnight.

Finely chop the white chocolate and place it in a metal bowl. (Metal helps conduct the heat to melt the chocolate in the next step.) Add the salt and nutmeg tot the cream and bring to a simmer. Pour the hot cream over the chopped chocolate and whisk until the chocolate is melted and smooth. Refrigerate to cool.

When the ganache is cooled and the figs are soaked, drain the figs and gently squeeze out any excess liqueur. Remove the ganache from the fridge and whisk it into a slight fluffiness.

Using your pinky, carefully poke a hole in the fig on the flat bottom where there is probably already a small crack. You'll be able to open up the cavity inside the fig with your finger. Stuff in a teaspoon or two of ganache. This is messy, but kind of fun. You can use a pastry tube if you prefer, but I find the ganache too stiff to press through easily.

Any leftover ganache can be made into white truffles by forming them into balls (make sure the ganache is well chilled or it will melt in your hands) and rolling in minced nuts or cocoa powder.

Finely chop up the dark chocolate. In a double boiler, melt 2/3 of the chocolate, then remove from the heat and add the remaining chocolate, stirring until it melts. Dip or roll the figs in the chocolate to coat them and dry /cool on waxed paper.

While researching for this recipe, I came across this helpful and excellent madly scientific article on tempering chocolate.
I understand the mystery of heating chocolate now!

Portrait of a "Women Only" Train Car

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This morning, I had the pleasure of commuting in one of the Women Only cars that run on the Chiyoda line before 9:30 am. What a contrast to the train I'd transfered from. On the Women Only car this morning:

  • Nobody was sneezing or sniffling and I heard only one muffled cough.
  • Everyone in the car was awake and alert.
  • The women who were speaking (quietly) near me were talking about kittens.
  • No one had their newspaper or book spreading into another rider's limited space.

I think I like the Women Only car.

Three weeks without a server


Argh. It was only a few days into our three-week trip when our server crashed. So no blogging from the road and no e-mail either. I know you missed me.

Our trip was great. I'll backfill a few entries with things I want to remember (and to share, but 'remember' is the more important aspect these days), but to tide you over while I get caught up, here are some highlights:

Week 1
A November week on a North Carolina beach wasn't nearly as cold as I thought it would be. Most mornings, I dashed outside to the beach in my pajamas. While I was inside, I cooked a lot and I knit a hat and scarf in anticipation of the winter weather in NYC. Among all the McQuillin family, we filled up a whole customer appreciation card (in 24 hours) at the local shoe place and got a free pair of shoes. Seven of those pairs returned to Tokyo with me & Tod.

Week 2
Home for Thanksgiving was a once in a decade event. It was fun, even if we did have to cook two of almost everything - a vegan version for us and a regular version for everyone else. Jenn made an amazing raw foods cherry cobbler for our dessert. We helped Mom design and build hats for a 12 Days of Christmas program at the theatre. While I was in Ephrata, I bought a gown for the Australia Day Gala Ball; it's gorgeous and I can hardly wait to wear it. None of my new shoes go with it, though.

Week 3
Who could say anything bad about a week in NYC? Christmas in New York is a good time to visit; so many bright lights and pretty decorations. We went to the Radio City Christmas show, the Botanical Garden Train Show, shopped (briefly) at Macy's, sent gifts from Santa to some kids in Washington Heights and I am completely full up with holiday cheer now. We walked the city as much as we could which counterbalanced doing eating as much as we could. I managed to return home weighing the same as when I left, despite some stunningly large and delicious meals. I even ate cheese - no way was I going to pass up NY pizza.

A Week of Walking NYC

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Thanks to the City Walks: New York cards that Jeremy gave me a while ago, Tod & I had some excellent and interesting strolls around the city. We walked a lot to work off all the food we had enjoyed. I'm not sure about the scale of this map, exactly, but we spent many hours each day on foot, exploring. Felt like we were going miles and miles.

We travelled longer distances by subway, taking the 6 line all the way up to the Bronx for pizza, the Q line to Brooklyn for pizza, and the B one day when we wanted falafel in another part of town. I was surprised at how unscary the subway was - it has a bad reputation, but it was fine.

The day we went to the Bronx, there was an "incident investigation" going on at 77th and Lexington and the 6 was shut down from 42nd to 125th, so we quickly sussed an alternate route involving a walk through Central Park (where we saw Lucy Liu taping for "Cashmere Mafia"), an express 5 to 125th and then the 6 from there. It took a lot longer than we planned and we were hungry by the time we arrived at the pizza place.

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