November 2011 Archives

Tottori Dunes

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Tottori Dunes is the only desert environment in Japan. It's a funny place, a large expanse of sandy hills with the ocean on one side and mountains on the other. It's a fifteen minute drive from downtown Tottori. This was not how I expected a desert to be. I imagined that desert had to be vast, arid, and secluded. But Tottori Dunes fails on all those criteria yet it is still a desert, albeit very small.


Tod's first act was to rush off to the oasis and scale the steep sand wall to the top of the highest dune. Heather and I took our time and a longer route but before too long we were all enjoying the view, watching the parasailers, and hooping in the gorgeous blue-sky day.


We clambered around the rocky shoreline nearby, too. It was so unseasonably warm that we stayed outside all day and ended up sunburnt. But the refreshment of sea air and exercise was worth the pink skin.

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We also filmed the Tottori version of the World Hoop Day dance. Tod manned the camera and music while Heather and I stumbled around in the sand. It was lots of fun. Bits from all four takes are in the video....


It rained the next day and Heather and I went out for an adventure while Tod stayed in the hotel to study for his upcoming Japanese N1 exam. I am glad he stayed behind because our adventure wouldn't have happened if he'd come along. We got the rental car stuck in the sand. First just a little, then we got it dug in good. When it seemed like I was not going to be able to push the car out with my brute strength, I called across the road to a parking attendant. She ran off to get us some help and several soggy minutes later five men appeared with a shovel. They saw me and Heather standing by the car and called us "kawaii" then proceeded to dig out the car and push it to solid ground in about five minutes. All smiles and good spirits there, even though they have probably done this way too many times. Heather gave them hugs, which is not usually part of the rescue process.

Tottori town was weird. We wandered around its many shopping arcades looking for a present for Nina, Heather's 4 year old daughter. There was nothing to be had except in the one big department store. No toy shops or bookstores on the streets, nothing really for kids except school uniforms. There were a few nice lifestyle shops and art galleries, but mostly the shops were sort of sad old places that looked like they'd been stagnating for years and served customers who were in the same shape. One shopkeeper told us he thinks Tottori is about a decade behind the rest of Japan, economically. That may be true but I think all of Japan is like this except for its metropolises and tourist destinations.

Red Quinoa with Green Baba Ganoush and Spinach

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I could kick myself for not photographing this, but I wasn't sure how the dish would turn out and didn't have a camera handy when I brought it to the table. Moments later Tod, humming happy food noises, asked me to write out the recipe but it was too late for a picture - we'd both dug in. This meal has a vaguely middle eastern flavour and the colors are muted reds and greens.

Red Quinoa with Green Baba Ganoush and Spinach
serves 4

1 cup red quinoa
5 small japanese eggplants
3/4 cup cashews
1 clove garlic
juice of 1/2 mikan (mandarin orange, satsuma)
few sprigs of parsley
1/4 tsp cumin
dash of cinnamon
dash of turmeric
olive oil
2 bunches spinach
2 long onions
1 Tbsp rayu* 
juice of 1/2 mikan
goji berries

Rinse the quinoa very well to remove the soapy layer. Bring to a boil in lots of water, then simmer until the kernels are the texture you prefer.

Roast the eggplants for about 20 minutes at 190C, or until the skins are blackened and the flesh is soft. Allow to cool until you can scrape the flesh from skins. Blend or process with cashews, crushed garlic, cumin, cinnamon, turmeric, mikan juice and parsley. Adjust consistency with olive oil; salt to taste.

Slice the onions into rounds; wash and trim the spinach. Saute the onions briefly, then add the spinach, mikan juice, and rayu. Remove from heat when the spinach has wilted.

Spoon the quinoa onto the plate, top with baba ganoush and encircle with spinach. Garnish with goji berries.

* Rayu is a Japanese chili oil. The one I use has bits of chili peppers and roasted garlic in it which gives it a delicious depth.

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