Amanda gets down on the kitchen floor with the curry paste tonight.
During our Chiang Mai vacation, we indulged in a lot of Thai food and took several cooking classes. The first class was a day at the Thai Farm Cooking School where we visited a farmers' market, toured the school's organic farm, ground curry paste by hand and made more food than we could eat, including curry with our fresh paste and a dessert of mango with sticky rice. A few days later, the cook at Maesa Elephant Camp led us through some simple recipes at dinnertime. Back in Chiang Mai we did an evening course at Baan Thai and made fish cakes, soup, more curry paste and the local noodle dish, khao soi.
I was sort of surprised at how none of the cooking methods were exotic - mainly stirfry and simmering.
Curry is basically fried vegetables simmered in coconut milk. There's no major mystery to making tom yam soup; it's just a lightly boiled soup. Steaming rice is a bit different than boiling it, but even that is just steaming.
It was the ingredients that made all the difference. So many good smells in Thai food, as Tod says. We worked with kaffir lime leaf, fresh lemon grass, members of the ginger family and oh, those tiny bitter eggplants! We despaired of ever recreating these dishes in Tokyo, despite our instructors' enthusiastic entreaties to "Please cook Thai at home!" But today, Tod discovered a Asia Superstore, a Thai grocery in Okubo near Higashi-Shinjuku station. He biked over and came back with a mortar and pestle and everything else needed to make curry paste. They even had the eggplants.
I recently noted elsewhere that I prefer vegetables to fruit. This is strange because I generally prefer sweet over savory. But given the choice between a tomato and an apple, I'll take the tomato. So why is that? I think I figured it out.
Fruit doesn't meet my expectations. It should give me instant gratification. I want to grab a whole fruit cold and crisp from the fridge and eat its sweet, juicy goodness, as if it were nature's candy bar. But it rarely works that way. Fruit usually needs as much preparation as vegetables - peeling, coring, slicing. I don't expect it to be so even though my experience proves it is.
Fruit is unpredictable. It may look gorgeous, but it isn't always ripe or juicy and it's hard to tell before you taste it. The surprise of a mealy apple or a sour plum isn't a good surprise. And fruit doesn't stay in its optimal state very long before going bad. While a wilty carrot makes good soup, a withered peach is trash.
But I have found a solution that solves my issues. I turn my fruit into juice. Blending a couple of fruits together evens out any unripe bitterness, and I expect juice to need preparation so I'm not disappointed that it isn't instant food. Plus I can toss in vegetables, ice and other flavors to make smoothies. Tomorrow I'll share some of my smoothie recipes with you.
Part of my circle of friends is very much into detox diets and fasts as a method of controlling health (and weight, I suppose, though none of us are very big people). Now I am on the detox bandwagon. Thanks to Tracey and Rachel, I am doing a two-week detox program of herbal supplements and a caffeine/sugar/alcohol-free whole-grain vegan diet. Today ends the first week of four herb-scented, enormous, brownish pills a day.
I have fallen into some really bad eating habits over the last couple of months: sweet snacks and desserts every day; mindless consumption of beer or wine with most dinners; buttered toast (heavens!); bits of cheese at parties; an occasional pizza. I was dragging myself down. Reverting to better practices was hard, so the detox is a line drawn in the sand.
The 'Quick Cleanse" seems to be having a good effect on my digestion and I have been feeling energetic and well. The detox headaches were mild and I am accustomed to the healthy vegan diet already, so it was more a matter of falling back into my good cooking habits than a shocking new lifestyle.
But the few times I have toppled off the wagon, I have noticed it. Yesterday was a big screw-up. After I locked myself out of the house, I opted to go have a curry & naan for lunch instead of sitting on the stoop waiting for Tod to notice his phone ringing and rescue me. And at dinner time, I ate a heap of oily stir-fried greens and sauced vegetables at an Asian restaurant. The consequence is a bloated, uncomfortable tummy that feels a lot like it did a couple of weeks ago. I hope a few of days of diligent detox eating will bring me back into line.
Such dramatic effects from simple mistakes make me wonder what is the best possible food style to maintain my health? Is curry out of my life forever? Can I never have "deep fried nasty" again? And what is going to happen to me when I have a glass of wine?
Sigsy has been on a one-month raw food detox that she is loving so much that she plans to keep going. I wonder if I ought to do that over the summer? I don't think I have the patience for all the blending that takes the place of cooking, but seeing how much she glows right now and how energetic she is makes me want to try it and see.
But first I have to get through the second week of the herbal detox.
I really don't know what I was thinking. Was I overcome by nostalgia for summer cuisine? Were my omnivore "friends" so persuasive? Did I drink too many Coopers before the grill was going? I am not sure.
If you are squeamish, you might want to stop reading here.
Now that I have your attention, let me swear to you that I am never going to eat another sausage ever again. It was a delicious treat; a truly guilty pleasure. A bratwurst charcoal grilled into a crispy, juicy bundle of yum, stuffed inside a bun and slathered with pickle relish and mustard. The combination of char and nitrates and the sweet-sour-bitter of the condiments was overwhelming. I liked it so much that Tod and I shared three of them.
The next morning I woke up and knew exactly where the 1.5 sausages had landed in my digestive tract. In fact, they landed and stayed put - nothing was moving and by late afternoon I felt awful, so I took a dose of milk of magnesia and crossed my fingers.
I should have been pinching my nose. The end result was something that smelled exactly like the rotting, maggoty compost I got rid of from the balcony of last month. The stench was horrifying. Did I really do that to my body? Poor intestines. Sad, poisoned me.
Now I am contemplating a cleanse or fast or detox of some sort to ensure that I've gotten rid of it all. I don't want that nasty crap inside me.
I must not forget that dead flesh in = rotting flesh out. Even when it tastes good.
These are the samples I hauled home: Italian oranges, honey from For All (thanks, Natalia!), bottles of Taiwanese fruit tea, Greek olive oil, Japanese rice, fresh wasabi, seasoned salt, and a lot of sweets and other treats.
Thanks to Sachiko and the New Tree chocolate company, Tod & I got tickets to attend Foodex, an enormous food industry exposition. We lied about our professions to get in (I was a" food planning specialist in the Hotel and Leisure category" which is a big exaggeration of what I really do) and it was worth the deception. We were in tasting heaven - 8 exhibition halls of local and imported foods from all over the globe! In four hours we sampled over sixty different foods and drinks. Even the tiny portions quickly added up to a very full belly!
I tried to make a list, but there were so many things that I lost track. Here are some highlights:
Weirdest: Cinnamon-dusted, chocolate coated, dried natto
Most Available: Mango in various forms
Most Tasted: Olive oils - so many, all so good
Most Filling: Farro and chickpea soup
Best Fried Dish: Breaded catfish
Best Japanese Food: Tempura fried gobo pickles
Best Alcohol: Mexican cherry tequila
Best Chocolate: Thyme chocolate from New Tree
Best Fruit: Blood orange
Best Vegetable: Avocado
Most Surprising: Black garlic
Nicest Presentation: Tomato and mozzarella
Best Spiel: Chia seeds to me; Tod talked to the wasabi folks for a long time
In the holiday spirit more than usual, I've decided to make a gingerbread house. Here's what it looks like in my kitchen today:
Pre-prefab. These templates will form roof, front, back and sides.
Ingredients measured and ready to go.
This recipe uses 1.5 cups of cream, whipped, instead of butter and egg.
I hope my bowl is big enough to add 9 cups of flour.
At the seventh cup of flour, I was tired of stirring.
I used foil-covered cardboard braces to roll the dough to a consistent thickness.
Halfway through baking, I trimmed and straightened the pieces.
House trimmings make a yummy snack.
Some of the goods at Goodies and Grains
I just arrived in Adelaide this morning and am already in deep trouble. The Adelaide Central Market is food heaven! There are so many amazing grains, flours and other locally sourced whole foods. I am considering moving here just for the organic produce.
The trouble is that everything I'd like to buy won't fit in my suitcase, plus my luggage allowance is only 20 kg. What to do, what to do? I am planning to cook a lot while I am here, but I want to share the wholesome treats with Tod & my Tokyo friends.
Lemon amaranth pancakes with homemade peach jam
We celebrate the summer solstice today and began the happy day with a breakfast of pancakes, jam, and the luxury of precious butter (the butter crisis is still in full swing here).
The jam was made by Kasada-sensei, my Friday afternoon Japanese teacher. It is really excellent - full of peaches and not too sweet. Tod said it was "wonderfully tart." We spread it generously atop these pancakes:
Lemon Amaranth Pancakes
Makes 8 pancakes
2 cups white flour
1 heaping tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 tsp ground fenugreek
juice and zest of one lemon
2 Tbsp cooked amaranth grain
Mix together the dry ingredients in a large bowl. In a separate bowl, whip together the lemon juice, zest and eggs. Mix the eggs into the dry ingredients adding enough water to make a batter. Stir in the amaranth.
Pour ladles of batter onto a medium-hot non-stick or oiled grill or pan. Cook on the first side until bubbles form and burst in the center. Flip and alow to cook another minute or two. Serve hot.
Last day of the challenge.
At lunch today I confirmed my new theory that mid-level Western restaurants in Tokyo are not serving Food. I ordered a "salad lunch" of chopped salad, fresh baked focaccia, and soup. It seems like it ought to be Food, but it wasn't. The salad was dressed with some icky commercial vinaigrette (and it was full of chicken and bacon not listed on the menu, but that is another story); the bread was fresh baked, but the consistency of a meringue; and the soup was probably made in house, but with instant broth. It was wretched and I felt crappy all afternoon.
However, I made up for it at dinner by cooking a pretty green soup of spring vegetables: fava beans, asparagus and green beans flavored with leftover pesto. That and a grainy roll took away all the ick from lunch.
Looking back, I think this has been an interesting ten days of scrutiny of foods and attention to my eating habits. I succeeded in getting off the junk food snacking and I feel more energetic, but there were no stunning changes to my health like when I stopped eating meat and dairy.
Since we were eating mainly Food before the challenge, there weren't any noticeable changes in my shopping habits or budgeting or menu planning. I am glad we ate out so much, though. It drove home the necessity of choosing restaurants wisely.
And one final note: Tod was excited to realise that it's over and now he can eat the giant corn and the chips he bought earlier in the week but set aside.
After a scanty breakfast of coffee, 12 almonds and a glass of orange juice, I went for a walk in the sun.
For lunch, I met Tod at Nezu no Ya, a macrobiotic restaurant we have been meaning to try for a while. The lunch set was delicious: tofu sauteed with bean sprouts, brown rice, miso soup with red seaweed, kimpira (grated burdock and carrot salad), and three kinds of pickles.
For dinner I made whole wheat pizza dough and fresh basil pesto then put together a couple of pizzas. We had thought to grill them along with some vegetables, but Tod was stuck at work until 8:30, so we abandoned the grill and cooked our pizzas in the oven and had a salad on the side.
I used the last of the pizza dough to make a sort of pesto-anchovy-olive stromboli. We baked it off and sampled it to ensure it was done, then saved it for breakfast (and lunch) tomorrow.
I spent some time today reading labels at the supermarket for fun. Kewpie mayonnaise is very nearly Food, but it has coloring in it. There are some good Belgian cookies which are probably Food - no weird chemicals, ingredients I wouldn't have at home, or health claims on the labels, but more than 5 ingredients. Any homemade cookie recipe is going to have more than 5 ingredients (flour, sugar, salt, leavening, shortening, egg, flavoring), so maybe that is forgivable. There is a brand of potato chips that is "all natural" and only contains potatoes, oil and salt. Not healthy, but Food.
Tomorrow is the last day of the ten day challenge.
It was a bad and disappointing day for Food.
The day began as most do with coffee, muesli and soy milk. I left the house early for shiatsu, then went to meet some friends for lunch and an informal meeting to discuss next year's Australia Day ball.
We were going to eat at a place I love in Hiroo but it was closed so my plans for a healthy steamed vegetable platter were dashed. The cafe where we ended up had no vegetarian selections and nothing without cheese. I ordered with a bagel, cream cheese, lox and lettuce of which I think only the lettuce was Food. I ate the bagel and the lox anyway, but I removed the cream cheese. The bagel was really plastic-y and sponge textured. It filled me up, but it wasn't very good.
After eating, I ordered a cardamom-infused Turkish coffee, but spilled 80% of it when I reached to prevent a jar of honey from tipping onto the floor. The sip left in my cup was delicious.
Things didn't get much better at dinner.
I had set some black chana to soaking and the sprouted. That was good. I reserved a few to plant them, the cooked rest into a dry curry with onions, caraway, black cardamom, peppercorns, garlic, ginger and chiles. It wasn't bad. Not as great as I had hoped, but it was good enough.
I also pressure-cooked some brown rice and tossed in a bit of coconut cream powder. I always forget that the ratio of water to rice is different in pressure cooking and as usual, I ended up with soupy rice. Not only was the texture poor, I ended up not liking the coconut flavor in combination with the curry. It was not horrid, it just flattened out the flavor of the curry and made everything taste sort of sweet.
After dinner, I wanted halva. We have some readymade, but it has artificial flavor in it, so it isn't Food. I decided to make some and found a recipe online. Sugar syrup and tahini. Easy! I cooked up the sugar syrup with some rosewater for flavor, and grabbed the old tahini jar from the back of the fridge. Only it wasn't tahini inside. It was spicy peanut sauce from last week. Peanut halva would be ok, but peanut/garlic/chili halva doesn't work.
Fortunately, I had a backup plan. It is cherry season and I'd bought a few today. I also had some dark chocolate in the pantry. So I made fresh chocolate covered cherries. They were delicious and satisfied my dessert craving.
Today we are went to Hiratsuka for a picnic with Mj & her family. Unfortunately we hadn't exactly planned ahead as a group and when I woke to see Tracey's 1 am message "what time do you plan to go?" I figured we'd be having a dinner picnic rather than a lunch one. I wasn't wrong. Seemed like everything conspired to delay us.
I was ready to leave by noon and get to Hiratsuka by 2, but Tod needed more coffee and waking time. So we left at 1 to arrive at 3. But there was an accident on the Tokaido Line and our train didn't depart Tokyo until almost 2. So we got there around 3:30.
So because of the delays and unplanning, our food day was a little wonky.
At 10 am, there was coffee and a terrific little seeded raisin bread from an artisinal bakery Tod found. When we didn't leave at noon, I dished up some of the farro salad for us and served orange juice. But on the train we were getting pretty hungry so we bought beer and cashews.
Around 5 pm, everyone arrived and we laid out our picnic, not at the beach or along the river, but in MJ's lounge room. Ashley made falafel, hummus and tabouleh; we brought farro, brownies, castagnaccio and a tomato salad. It was an incredible feast of 100% Food!
There was so much on the table that we didn't even get to MJ's yummy-sounding baguette sandwiches. There were lots of leftovers so she won't have to cook a meal or two this week.
Last week I planted some vegetables seeds in pots on the veranda. They are sprouting now. I look forward to having fresh, home grown lettuce, onions, and broccoli in the coming weeks and months. If I don't kill them.
Today I did some cooking for a picnic tomorrow. I made a farro salad with soy beans, bits of vegetable, and a citrus dressing. That was also part of our dinner tonight. I also baked brownies and Castagnaccio, an old Italian sweet made of chestnut flour. They are flat little bars that are dense and moist underneath and slightly chewy/crusty on top. They are odd and I can't decide if I like them. The recipe is vegan, gluten-free and sugar-free, too. In addition to chestnut flour, then contain water, pinenuts and rosemary. And that's all. Peasant food, for sure.
Today, since I was home and cooking, Food was very easy to achieve.
B: coffee, toast with natural peanut butter
L: muesli with soymilk
S: tasting the things I cooked
D: farro salad, mujadara burgers, salad, bread, castagnaccio, brownie
Day 5 began with a few goals in mind: go to my Japanese lesson, take a walk in the sunshine, and eat steamed vegetables for dinner. I hit all three points, but not as planned.
Yesterday I found bakery-baked bread with no preservatives, just flour and yeast listed in the ingredients, so I bought a half a loaf. We had toast with natural peanut butter for breakfast, a nice break from muesli. Before leaving for my Japanese lesson, I used the bread again to make a sandwich of juicy ripe tomato, lettuce, and a bit of Marmite. I also treated myself to some bananas yesterday and had one of those with my light lunch.
After class, I visited Jim in his new apartment and went to work helping him and Ben clean the place up a bit. We took a break for lunch (#2 for me, but very welcome) around 3, and Ben and I picked up some deli dishes at Origin Bento. I did my best to pick Food, but I am sure that commercial mayonnaise isn't Food, so I sort of blew it on the broccoli and shrimp salad bit. The simmered greens with sesame were Food, and some of the other salads were probably as well. Overall, I could have done worse for an impromptu take-away meal.
We finished up and I left at 7 to walk home. It wasn't in the sunshine, but it was a great hour long stroll. I got home and took a shower (my feet were black on the bottom!) and Tod & I cooked dinner together. The meal we made wasn't quite what I had in mind and it wasn't quite what he had in mind, but it combined elements of both into something pretty tasty. Seasoned grain and steamed vegetables are certainly Food! I'll post the recipe separately.
Last night's debauch left me hungover this morning but my usual cure of a turmeric genki drink is out of bounds. I had to suffer on liquids and time to fix me up. Coffee and muesli didn't make a dent in it.
Lunch made me feel right. I met Yuka and we had soba. Hot salty broth, buckwheat noodles and lots of mushrooms gave my body what it needed, I guess, because after lunch I walked up to Kanda and met Tod, Ashley and Mason, who had just finished a sushi lunch. Sushi is about as Food as you can get and they were all very happy to have feasted.
Back at home, I finished the ningyo-yaki (seet bean filled cakes) that I picked up at Asakusa yesterday, and ha them with bitter green tea. It was a nice pick me up.
But by dinnertime, I was feeling beat. Late night drinking not gives me an achy head, it screws up my sleep. So instead of cooking dinner at home and eating healthy steamed veg and grains, we had dinner at Ampresso, our favorite little local Italian place. We did ok for ourselves, ordering the fresh vegetable salad with homemade dressing, garlic crumb-stuffed shiitake mushrooms, a pizza topped with basil and anchovies, and some pasta with Ito-san's incredible fried tomato cream sauce. Decadent!
So I think today was mostly Food. Tomorrow I will cook for myself and be absolutely certain.
Today I showed a visiting friend around town. It was great fun, but nearly everything I ate was in restaurants and on the run. I had two failures today, but overall, it was not so bad. We had tempura for lunch and watched the chef batter and fry everything in front of us.
Dinner was yakiniku (Korean BBQ) at Mon Cheri in Shinjuku. They make their own kimchi - I watched them mixing it up in the alley! Definitely Food and I ate lots of it.
I also drank lots, starting with Manhattans at a bar overlooking Tokyo. We had beer with dinner, then went to Araku for some Australian wine. Good thing booze is Food.
Here is what I ate, and when:
The failures today: a throat lozenge after my Japanese lesson; a bottle of Pocari Sweat during a 90 minute walk (I had already had a bottle of water, but was still dehydrated).
Day 2 was failure free, as far as I know.
I spent most of the day at home, so eating Food was easy. Pretty much what is in the house is food. There are some snacks, but I am happy not to eat them now.
Tonight we went to dinner with friends, but it was to a place I am confident serves Food. Cafe Devi prides itself on fresh ingredients and spices. I think they are making Food. I ordered carefully regardless.
Breakfast was my typical one: several cups of coffee followed by Dorset Cereals muesli with soymilk. Lunch was leftover chickpea salad with some extra lettuce and green pepper. I had a snack of an apple and some almonds. A little bit later, I ate two rather stale whole wheat biscuits I made 3 days ago - not a brilliant choice.
Dinner was out with friends at Cafe Devi. They are all into doing fresh ingredients and spices, so I think everything I ate was real food. My great grandmother probably wouldn't have recognised Indian curry, but my friend Abhjit's great grandmother would have known most of these dishes: onion bahji, tandoori shimla, sag paneer, aloo ghobi, shrimp masala curry, rice, garlic naan.
After several stressful weeks that caused me to indulge in junk food, I am coming to my senses. Stepping on the scale and seeing an additional 2 kg on my body was a good alarm. I need to be more careful. So for the next ten days, no junk food.:
- No processed foods.
- Only food my great grandmother would recognise.
- Nothing in a package that has more than five ingredients.
- Foods that are fresh, not "fresh made"
- No food with chemicals or preservatives or fractionated food products.
- Nothing bearing a health claim.
This will exclude most of the crap I've been allowing myself to eat lately and should be enough to jumpstart me back into better eating habits. I had them before and kept them a long time. When I am not lazily feeding my emotions, I do eat well. I love to cook and I want to eat fresh things.
Today I had lunch out with Tod at a place that makes Xi'an style ramen from scratch. Even though it was restaurant-prepared, it was definitely Food. I snacked on dried fruit and then made a really great dinner: tandoori cauliflower, chickpea salad and handmade chapati. My chapati are never round, but they taste OK anyway. The tandoori cauliflower was super excellent and I will post the recipe separately.
My one slip today was that I used tinned chickpeas as part of our dinner. I didn't realise that canned garbanzos contained calcium chloride, sodium sulfite and calcium disodium EDTA. I will be more careful about my assumptions tomorrow.
There are a few hours left to sign up for my latest swap, the Eat Food 10 Day Challenge.
For ten days, the other swappers and I will be avoiding processed foods and journaling about it. I am hoping that this will help get me back on the healthy eating bandwagon. I've recently fallen off and find myself nibbling on too much junk food during the day, instead of eating lunch. During my ten days, I will keep a paper jounral to send to my partner, but will echo those writing here, as a record for myself.
Here's mostly everything you need to know about the swap. If you'd like to participate, click on the link at the end.
Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.
This is sage advice about how to eat healthily. It makes sense, but have you tried it? How about giving "eat food" a try for ten days and see what happens? While you're at it, keep a journal about the experience to send to your partner.
About EAT FOOD
What does "eat food" mean? Author Michael Pollan says this is about eating foods your great-grandmother would recognise. Avoid processed foods: foods with more than five ingredients; anything bearing a health claim; ingredients you can't pronounce (or additives, even if you can pronounce them); anything made with high fructose corn syrup; foods that are not perishable (like Twinkies).
Michael Pollan wrote the Omnivore's Dilemma and In Defense of Food, two books about sensible eating. He has a good (long) article in the NY Times called Unhappy Meals that lays out the fundamental principles of eating food, not too much, mostly plants. Skip to the second-to-last page for some advice about how.
About the CHALLENGE
For ten consecutive days of your choice before the end of the swap, strive to eat no processed foods. Cook from meals scratch. Love your food.
Keep a journal of your experience.
About the JOURNAL
Whatever notebook is handy will work, or you can use your computer to create your journal for print. I'd suggest at least one page per day.
You might want to explore some of these topics:
Why are you doing this challenge? What was it like to shop for food? Did it increase or decrease your food spending? How did "eating food" make you feel; did you notice any changes in your digestion, your skin, your mood? What do you normally eat? Did you have a triumph in the kitchen? Did you slip and eat some junk food? Did your family participate, too? What did they think of it?
Feel free to include grocery receipts, recipes, photos, or any ephemera that documents your 10 days.
This is an international swap. Swappers in good standing only, please.
I am allergic to scallops, hotate in Japanese.
Eating them causes a really unpleasant reaction: my lungs seize up and I panic as I try to catch my breath. As a result I am pretty careful about avoiding scallops but twice this week I have been caught out in dishes where they lurked without warning.
I thought I was ok because I discovered them and picked them out of my food both times, but I was wrong. After years of successful avoidance, after lunch today I discovered that in addition to making my lungs unhappy, scallops cause my tongue and face swell up. Wheee.
I will exercise extreme caution with my seafood orders from now on and doubly so in February, the height of hotate season.
This weekend has turned into a festival of food. Though I hoped to get out and about and to catch up on some creative projects, I really cannot fuss much about spending my time in the kitchen. Especially when the process is fun and the results are so delicious.
Around dinnertime, Tod offered to do the shopping while I worked on starters but the trip destroyed his bicycle. A Morsbag full of ingredients dangling from this handlebars got caught in his front wheel. Fortunately, Tod was spared injury and the bottle of wine that did the damage was opened with the help of tin snips and pliers. The bike will be replaced later today.
Dinner was a feast and we were happy to have Rob over to share it with us. We made crackers from Heidi Swanson's recipe and they were fabulously light and flavorful. I whipped up an avocado spread with dried tomatoes, and we served mohamara and oat crackers, too. And that was just the opening.
Our main was aqua pazza with clams, red snapper and Chilean sea bass served with green rice, which seems to be short grain brown rice and cooks up beautifully nutty and robust. Tod made an amazing salad of strawberries and rocket. I don't think we had dessert; we certainly didn't need it.
makes about a dozen
1 cup rolled oats (not instant)
1/4 cup warm water
Mix the oats, salt, and water with your hands until a dough forms. Press the dough into a disc, sprinkle with oats and roll out thinly between sheets of waxed paper. Cut into cracker shapes and bake at 170C for about 15 minutes, or until the crackers are thoroughly dry and crispy. Store in an airtight container.
2 or 3 large sweet red peppers
1 Tbsp water
2/3 c. walnuts, lightly toasted
2/3 c breadcrumbs
1/4 c olive oil
1.5 tsp ground cumin
1 clove garlic
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
1 Tbsp pomegranate molasses
2 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
1/2 tsp salt
Roast the peppers until charred all over. Peel, stem and seed them, then chop coarsely. Place everything in the food processor and process until smooth. Taste for salt. Rest at least a few hours, ideally overnight, and at most 7 days. Serve at room temperature.
Normally in aqua pazza the vegetables are removed from the liquid and discarded before the fish is poached, but I like to serve the vegetables so I leave them in.
1 stalk celery
5 small tomatoes
1/2 yellow bell pepper
3 cloves garlic, halved
1 bunch mitsuba (or parsley)
2 Tbsn black olives
3-4 firm fleshed fish fillets, skin on
2 dozen small clams
cheap white wine and/or water
salt & pepper to taste
Chop the vegetables into serving size pieces. Put all the vegetables and seasonings into a heavy pan with a lid. Pour in wine to a depth of 3 cm - or a little more if you like. Bring to a boil, cover, and simmer for 10-15 minutes to soften the vegetables. Add the fish and clams, cover and simmer another 5 or 6 minutes until the fish is cooked and the clams are open. Serve with rice or bread to sop up the broth.
This was inspired by Tod"s love of strawberries and black pepper and Mark Bittman's strawberry salad recipe which incorporates both, plus balsamic vinegar and arugula.
1 pint strawberries
1 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
fresh black pepper
1 blood orange
1 Tbsp goat cheese
5 stems fresh spearmint
2 cups rucola/rocket/arugula
Quarter the strawberries, mix with balsamic & lots of black pepper and marinate ten minutes. Peel, section, remove the inner skin, and chop the blood orange. Mix with the strawberries, crumble goat cheese over, and toss with rocket and spearmint leaves. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Drizzle with your best olive oil.
Today is my first weekend off in what seems like forever, and it is a long weekend to boot, so Tod & I celebrated a lazy Saturday by spending most of it in the kitchen. After so many weeks of dinners at the office, I have access to my own kitchen and pantry. I am in heaven.
We started off our culinary day with "Wilty Frittata" made with three eggs and a leftover lettuce, tomato and parmesan salad with croutons that I found in the fridge. Leftover salad (undressed, of course) has a lot of possibilities and we often use it as sandwich filling or as the base for a fresh salad, but this is the first time I've made a frittata with lettuce. It was worth remembering.
1 Tbsp olive oil
3 eggs, beaten
2 cups of leftover salad, mostly greens
1 Tbsp parmesan
salt & pepper to taste
1 small tomato, diced
drizzle of salad dressing
Heat the oil in a fry pan that has a lid. Pour in the eggs, and arrange any non-lettuce bits of the salad and the parmesan evenly over the eggs. Reserving a few leaves of greens for the garnish, place the rest in the pan with the eggs. Cook, covered, over medium heat for about 10 minutes. The eggs should be cooked through. If not, slide the frittata out of the pan onto a plate, then invert the pan over the plate, turn the pan-plate over and remove the plate. Cook another 5 minutes or as needed to firm up the eggs.
Top the finished frittata with the reserved leaves, diced tomato, and a drizzle of salad dressing.
For lunch we had a surprisingly tasty fusion of Japanese "ganmo" tofu and shiso pickles with carrot and lettuce wrapped in flour tortillas. After lunch, I baked some oat crackers and made red pepper and walnut dip for tomorrow. Later on in the day, we tried making oven-roasted beet chips from Mark Bittman's excellent "How to Cook Everything Vegetarian", but they failed - they were either burned to a crisp or soggy. It was a sad mistake. However, Bittman redeemed himself with a recipe for popcorn brittle that I vamped on to make a spiced movie snack.
Spiced Popcorn Brittle
serves 4 or more
2 cups sugar
1/3 cup water
1/2 tsp each: ginger, cinnamon, cardamom
6 cups popcorn, salted
1/2 cup sesame seeds
oil for greasing
Grease a cookie sheet or baking pan and set aside. Mix together the spices, sugar and water in a saucepan. Simmer over medium heat for about 10 minutes or until the sugar carmelises. Drizzle the sugar syrup over the popcorn, stirring to coat. (Take care not to actually stick your hands into the bowl to mix this - hot sugar hurts!) Sprinkle with sesame seeds. Spread in the greased pan and allow to cool.
Mom asked me to share some well-seasoned vegetarian recipes with her. She doesn't eat a lot of meat and wanted to learn a bit more about the tasty stuff I'm always going on about. So I made her a little cookbook. I called it "Almost Vegan" because although the emphasis is on vegan things, there are a couple of recipes with optional shrimp and one with non-optional eggs.
We cooked quite a few of these together, and I think she liked them. I used the recipes while we were in North Carolina, too, and the dishes were well-received. Everyone at the NC beach house claimed they don't have time to cook. I think maybe they just don't enjoy it enough to make time for it. I love to cook and it takes up too much of my time, sometimes.
Anyway, I wanted to share the little cookbook with you, in case you're looking for some nicely spiced, healthy, vegetable rich homemade foods. It's divided into sections based on region - Middle East, India, South Asia, and Europe - with a few recipes in each section. You might recognise a few from past Recipe Thursdays. Hope you enjoy it!
Almost Vegan 132KB PDF
If you've ever wondered how on earth you're going to serve your health-conscious (or just fussy) guests at the holiday dinner table, this 11 page booklet will get you started. It comprises meal planning, ideas for dinner, dessert, cocktails, casual meals, & breakfasts. The range of dietary choices and food options are neatly organized with charts so you can see at a glance who will eat what.
What to Feed a Vegan (172K PDF)
If you prefer not to download the PDF for printing and reading offline, you can read back through the posts beginning October 16th for the full series. But the PDF has bonus recipes.
This recipe is a part of one of our standby quick meals along with some tortillas and chopped vegetables. There's no need for an Old El Paso spice mix when you can easily make your own (and tailor the blend to your tastes, too!)
Spicy Mexican Beans
(suitable for vegans, vegetarians, omnivores, low/no fat and gluten-free diets)
1 can beans (navy, pinto, black, etc)
1 pickled jalapeño, minced
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 onion, minced
1 tsp cumin
2 tsp chili powder
salt and pepper
In a deep frying pan or pot, sautee the onions and garlic in a bit of oil until the onions are translucent. Add the beans and stir vigorously to smush them up a bit. Additional oil will make the beans creamier, but isn't strictly necessary. Mix in the spices & jalapeño. Salt and pepper to taste.
Lest you think I am picking on the cooks & hosts here and putting all the burden of a successful meal on them, guests have their duties, too.
Be a tolerant and appreciative diner. It is horrible behavior to have a snit or be militant at the dinner table. Your fellow diners are not likely to be converted to your diet by discussion of slaughterhouses, weight loss or health issues. Let them find their own best eating habits.
Politely decline dishes that you can't eat. Usually a simple "no thanks" will suffice, or just pass the serving dish to the next person. If you are asked to explain why you are not eating Aunt Joy's cheesy sardine and rye bread casserole, do it in a way that doesn't make her feel like an idiot for not knowing you are vegan, gluten intolerant or whatever.
Praise the dishes you can eat and thank the cook if she made an extra effort to accommodate you (even if she didn't get it right).
If you are attending a pot-luck, the menu planning ideas on page 3 apply. Find the common denominator. You don't want to be the only person at the event enjoying your casserole.
If you are dining with company that you know won't accommodate your diet, eat before you get there and pick at a few things for show, if necessary. Or plan to arrive after the meal to enjoy socialising without the awkward table scenario. It it generally not OK to bring your own individually portioned meal in a plastic container and to microwave it and serve yourself.
Is it better to let a hostess know your dietary restrictions or to do your best to find something to eat at the table? This is a difficult question to answer, as each case is different.
If you decide to let your host or hostess know in advance, help your hostess understand what your dietary restrictions are in simple language – avoid medical terms or diet jargon. Try to put the emphasis on your hostess' ease - she doesn't have to do anything different, you will just not be eating the roast/bread/cheese/whatever and wanted her not to worry. It is gracious to offer to bring a dish that everyone can enjoy and share. If she wants to know what she can make for you, have a suggestion ready that is not too time-consuming or expensive.
No matter whether you're a vegan staring down a plate of creamy mashed potatoes and a slab of roast beef, or a lucky gluten-free eater whose hostess cooked rice instead of pasta, be as charming, happy and fun as you can be. That will make the meal a memorable one, no matter what is on the menu.
Cocktails and snacks are another easy buffet situation. There's not much difficulty in throwing a festive cocktail party - choose good music, supply sufficient cocktails (but not too many), and an assortment of things to nibble. Kick everyone one out after a couple of hours, ideally to a restaurant or an event you've arranged elsewhere.
Here are some snack and alcohol suggestions:
Tomorrow: good guests
If you have holiday house guests, you'll have to tackle breakfasts. Unless you are a morning person, you may not have the energy to supply a huge spread of options.
Vegans are likely to eat fruit and unbuttered toast (though nut butters and vegetable spreads are good for vegans); no-carb & gluten-free people will prefer cheese omelets and sausage without toast on the side.
The only commonality among everyone is coffee and tea, so brew up a pot and then have a look at the options in the chart below to see what's going to work for your groggy group.
Tomorrow: cocktails and snacks
It doesn't seem like a party without some sort of dessert, but this is probably the most difficult course to create harmony in.
Typical baked goods of all types are out of bounds for vegan, no-carb, no-fat and gluten-free diets because of butter, sugar, flour and eggs. Custards are ok for gluten-free folks, but not no-carb, no-fat or vegan diets.
Traditional Dessert Spread
So you can see that there is no one desert to suit everyone and for some of these diets, the options are limited unless recipes are modified to exclude the unwelcome ingredients. But in baking that can be tricky, so here's a chance to get your guests involved. If someone offers to bring something, suggest they bring a sweet dessert. Nearly everyone on a special diet has a favorite after-dinner treat, so you're likely to get an interesting range.
If you want to serve a dessert course just in case promised desserts don't turn up, how about a Continental twist: fruit and cheese? Just like the taco or salad bar, this allows everyone to choose their own.
Continental Dessert Spread
If you're reading this series as a holiday host, maybe you're panicked about how to make a tofu turkey, or what to do about stuffing for your no-gluten guests. Don't worry. The spread at a holiday meal is a wide and varied as a taco bar, and even though each holiday dish is composed of many pieces, you can adjust recipes to suit your guests.
Adjusting recipes often means simplifying them by doing things like not buttering the vegetables or excluding ham pieces from the potato casserole. Some recipes can be adjusted by substitution (replacing butter with vegetable oil for example), or by changing the cooking method from sauteed to steamed.
Many of the dishes in this menu can be enjoyed by only a few types of eaters. And the vegan guests are going to leave hungry or have to compromise their diets. How can we modify this menu to allow more people to eat dinner?
Now everyone has at least five dishes to dig into.
It can be a challenge to come up with a meal that satisfies omnivores, vegans, and other guests with special diets. And the more diversity you have in the guest list, the more creative you will have to be.
But there are two similar options perfect for lunches or casual dinners - Build Your Own Burrito/Taco or a Salad Bar. By offering a variety of ingredients buffet style, you allow guests to take their diets into their own hands and choose what they can eat.
But you have to figure out what to offer to give everyone enough to eat. Burritos with meat and cheese filling, lettuce and tomatoes will leave your vegans guests a little hungry. Only serving flour tortillas will give the gluten-free guests nothing to wrap the filling in! No-carb folks will appreciate
Here are some ideas for ingredients to include and which guest can eat what. As always, the ingredient listed are in their most natural forms, not variations manufactured for “low fat” or “no carb”. Please read labels when purchasing packaged foods – many contain hidden sources of gluten, fat or animal byproducts.
Another delicious option, if the weather is cooperative, is food grilled on the barbecue. Vegetarians will enjoy grilled vegetables and of course the meat-eaters will be happy with the meaty bits. Because everything is cooked separately, there's no meat-veg overlap, though it might be best to grill the vegetables first to avoid charred meat bits from clinging to the peppers and onions. Again, please read labels on any manufactured foods you buy - especially sauces and dressings - to avoid hidden gluten, fat and animal products.
(Note: my plan is to put all of these charts and the text together into one PDF that you can download when I've completed the series. Please be patient and suffer the on-screen charts until we're through with this topic!)
When hosting a meal for people who eat differently than you do, it is wise to consider what you have in common and focus on that. The chart in yesterday's post can help.
- You're gluten-free and your friends are vegan. Excellent, you can all eat rice and vegetables. That sounds like a stir-fry to me.
- You're vegan and your friends are low-fat eaters. How about pasta primavera or a grilled vegetable sandwich?
- You're an omnivore and your guests don't eat carbs. Sounds like a great excuse for a roast chicken and vegetables (but skip the potatoes, please).
- You're no-carb and your guests are both vegan and low-fat eaters. This might be a little tricky...what do you have in common? Looks like only vegetables. Better serve soup and salad.
So it's certainly possible to cook delicious meals for a mixed crowd. But I will offer a few words of caution:
In general, it's best not to replace an original or whole food with a formulated version unless you are absolutely sure your guests will accept it. For example, there are no vegan cheeses that are remotely like cheeses non-vegans eat. Vegans may love them, but they are not really very cheese-like to anyone who eats the real thing. Serving them will only make your guests wonder how you can stand being vegan.
It is also bad form to foist your preferred specialty foods on your guests. Omnivores know it's rude to slip bacon into a casserole being served to vegetarians. Vegans understand that serving flaxseed lasagna is probably not going to go over really well with the omnivores. If you want to introduce your friends to the more esoteric aspects of your dietary plan, warn them first.
Tomorrow: three menu ideas for casual meals.
As the holidays roll around, friends and families gather to celebrate the season but with a new emphasis on healthy eating, you may find yourself with a table full of guests who have dietary preferences and restrictions that are incompatible.
What to do? You want to be a good hostess and ensure that everyone goes home happy, healthy, and well-fed. How can you make sure that the vegan and the no-carb dieter both enjoy their meal?
It's tricky, but not impossible. My set of friends range from omnivores to vegans, lacto-ovo vegetarians, no carb, no fat ,and gluten-free eaters and I usually manage to throw a decent party. The next few days will help you get a feel for who eats what, how you can plan menus around these differences, and recipes that suit a combination of eaters.
An overview of diets and food categories
A vegan is a vegetarian who eats only plant-based foods. They do not eat meat, poultry or seafood. Vegans also don't eat honey, milk, or eggs. No animal products at all.
Lacto-ovo vegetarians eat plant-based foods and also dairy, eggs, and other animal products that don't kill the animals, like honey. Vegetarians do not eat meat, poultry or seafood.
Omnivores eat just about everything: plants, animals and minerals (but only the tasty ones). Omnivores are easy to cook for but sometimes they have restrictions, too, such as the next three categories.
People on carbohydrate restricted diets avoid starchy foods like bread, pasta and potatoes, and also sugary foods including many fruits.
No- or low-fat diets exclude oils, butter, eggs, and fatty meats. How much fat is acceptable depends upon the diner's individual restrictions.
Gluten free diets exclude wheat and all of its cousins: barley, rye, semolina, spelt, triticale. Oats don't have any gluten, but they are often contaminated with wheat, so many gluten intolerant people avoid them.
Download a printable PDF (76 KB)
A note on the foods listed. I am talking about the recipes your great-grandmother would have made, not manufactured foods that use plastics, chemicals or cheap fillers to declare themselves "X free!". In my chart, milk has fat; pasta is made of wheat; cakes and cookies are baked with butter, sugar and eggs. Of course you can find specially formulated substitutes to suit your guests' needs, but I'm not considering those in this chart.
It's too hot too cook in the thick of summer, so I am thankful for the variety of vegetarian, vegan and vegetable-friendly restaurants in central Tokyo. Here are a few more from our explorations.
It's Vegetable/Linlin Saikan, Kinshicho (Kinshi 4-1-9)
If you crave Chinese food this is the place, a classic under-the-tracks Chinese dive but every dish is meatless and they do wonders with faux meats. Su-buta (sweet and sour pork) is their signature dish and we enjoyed a konnyaku-tofu squid and soy-based pepper beef. When we ordered, the waiter asked what we can't eat - we said dairy and received a soymilk cream sauce instead of regular milk with our vegetable nimono. Everyone who works there is vegan and Taiwanese; the chef has been vegan for 25 years. This is definitely a place we'll return to frequently - especially as there is a bus that goes practically door-to-door from our place to theirs.
Half Sweets, Shinjuku (Shinjuku 5-11-5 Park City Isetan 1)
This cafe is located in a beauty & spa complex, making it pretty much exclusive to women (though there were men dining there when I had lunch). They have a raw menu and an organic menu with salads, combination plates and lots of fruity desserts. I had the Raw Foods Lunch (1200 yen) which was interesting and tasty but not so exciting that I wanted more. Half Sweets is a fine casual option for healthy dining in Shinjuku but I don't think I'd specifically head there except as a curiosity with friends.
Saladice, Otemachi (Otemachi 1-7-2 Sankei Bldg B1F)
Saladice specialises in salads and is excellent for take away lunches. It's not specifically vegan but you can build your own salad from a wide variety of ingredients including various beans, tofu and nuts as well as seasonal vegetables and a base of either lettuce or spinach. A stomach-busting salad will set you back about 1200 yen. There are outlets in Hibiya and Hamamatsucho, too. I really with this chain would grow!
Cafe 8, Nakmeguro (Aobadai 3-17-7)
I have not been here in person yet, but I've enjoyed their catering and I own their cookbooks (Vege Book, & Vege Book 2). They do a delicious fusion of Japanese and Western recipes featuring "Vege Standards" like tofu mayo and tofu cream. Their tempe meatloaf is one of the few ways I can enjoy tempe.
In Kunitachi, not far from the station, there's a gigantic daikon emerging from the 3rd story of an otherwise nondescript building. This is how you will recognise Nouka no Daidokoro, a restaurant that specialises in fresh produce.
There's a living, growing garden in the middle of the dining area but most of their vegetables come from farmers around the city.
An ice covered table is the all-you-can eat salad bar. It's not the sort of salad bar where you peer at the offering through a sneeze guard and where you pile your plate with lettuce, pale tomatoes and fight for the last black olive before settling on a few scoops of mayo-laden salads. Everything on this salad bar is freshly prepped by a salad chef who is on hand to tell you about it, with every ingreditent at the peak of its seasonal deliciousness and completely raw. I'd never eaten raw corn before - it was sweet and crunchy! I also tried baby cucumbers (sour!), and eggplant-black peppers. And oh, the tomatoes!
The menu changes every month, depending on what's coming from the local farms. August is so abundant that it was difficult to tell what was the focus of the menu. There was a flight of fresh juices, "summer vegetable steak," udon made with different vegetables for seasoning and color, rice salad with cucumber dressing, and a strange and delicious yuzu-scented sweetened gourd dessert. I suspect in January it might be a little easier to know what's in season and with a monthly change of menu, it seems like 12 visits a year would be reasonable just to discover the joys of changing seasons.
While it's not a vegetarian restaurant, Nouka no Daidokoro do have a "100% Vegetable" set menu and many of the ala carte items are vegetarian and some seem to be vegan. One small nit to pick - it would be helpful if the menu specified which items were meatless and/or vegan.
That's not going to stop me from going out to Kunitachi for dinner. It's 45 minutes from Tokyo station on the Chuo Rapid, or just over half an hour from Shinjuku. That's too far for lunch, but not unreasonable for dinner.
Although the Japanese idea of vegetarian food includes fish, there are some vegan and vegetarian friendly restaurants in Tokyo. Tod & I have been checking them out, one by one, and I'm posting my reviews so that I'll remember which is which.
Eat More Greens, Azabu Juban (Azabu Juban 2-2-5)
This may be the elusive vegetarian-restaurant-that-serves-actual-vegetables and it has outdoor dining, too! At lunchtime, the menu offers several specials including a bread, soup and salad set, and a filling rice and grains plate that is served in a huge bowl of salad. The menu notes which items contain wheat, soy and peanuts for the allergic among us. The dinner menu is more extensive with more than half vegan dishes. The desserts in the case by the register were tempting. Next time!
Nataraj, Ginza (Ginza 6-9-4)
This is the only pure vegetarian Indian restaurant in Tokyo. They note the dishes that have milk in them, offer a choice of brown rice or turmeric rice, and offer several macrobiotic choices, too. The spinach and lentil curry topped with fresh ginger was especially delicious. Tod's Nataraj curry of gluten meat and creamy red sauce was not as spicy as I expected it to be, but a treat nonetheless. At lunchtime they have a 1,000 yen buffet. There are branches in Minami Aoyama and Ogikubo, but the Ginza one is convenient for us.
Vegan Healing Cafe Shibuya (Udagawacho 6-20)
In a small storefront in the surprisingly quiet fringes of Shibuya, Vegan Healing Cafe serves up the usual beige vegan food - brown rice, bean stew, tempe sausages and falafel - a little over salted for my taste, but certainly not bad. They have excellent desserts, including a chocolate tart that would give any cream-based one a run for its money. In the review I first read of this place, the writer said "I knew I was getting close when I saw the PETA truck." Sure enough, as we were leaving after lunch, the PETA folks were coming in.
Fangsong Cafe, Akasaka (Akasaka 6-10-39)
This is Jim's favorite lunch spot, I think. They have low seating, an interesting variety of music, a dog hiding under a table and lots of lifestyle information. The lunch menu is limited to two options - a macrobiotic curry set or a vegetable plate with a variety of tidbits and delicious purple rice. Both are good and around 1100 yen. I particularly like the tempura battered soy meat on the vegetable plate.
Mother's, Jimbocho (Kanda Jimbocho 1-15-2)
Although Mother's bills itself as an organic foods restaurant, there is not a speck of meat to be seen on the buffet, though perhaps there is fish in the stock. I couldn't tell and didn't bother to ask. The all-you-can-eat buffet is 1260 yen and there are take-away options at a lower price. At Sunday lunch, they refreshed the table frequently with new items. Vegetable curry rice was my favorite, followed by a mix of fried root vegetables. All you can drink houjicha and coffee is a treat, too. Downstairs from the restaurant is an organic grocery store with a range of bento lunches, produce and the usual mix of crazy health foods and cosmetics.
Avocado and Marmite on full-grain toast
Isn't this beautiful? And with its heavenly amounts of fat, whole grains, and B-complex vitamins, I'm ready for the day.
六鳳居 in Chinatown, Yokohama, presented this quirky garnish on our plate of Peking Duck. It's so cute that perhaps I will start serving dinner with little vegetable representations of all my meat products.
Meet Japan's post-nuclear food: Cheese In Norimaki Arare
What's post-nuclear food? Tod & I are certain that Combos (a popular American snack of processed & flavoured cheese-filled cracker nuggets), along with Twinkies and CheezWiz, will nourish the survivors of any nuclear disaster. So little of nature goes into Combos they seem indestructible.
This week I found Japanese-style post-nuclear food. These are "Camembert" filled rice crackers wrapped in sheets of dried seaweed. I like them about as much as I like Combos (not very much at all). Tod also likes them about as much as he likes Combos (quite a bit).
I guess if DRPK drops a bomb, I'll know what to snack on afterward!
The master at work
We spent yesterday afternoon with Maeda-san in the kitchen at Amoroso learning some of his cooking techniques. We racked up a lot of procedural knowledge in a few short hours and I jotted down five recipes as we went. By 6 pm we were pretty well impressed with what we'd learned and we got out of chef's way so he could finish up before guests arrived.
At 7 pm, we returned to enjoy the fruits (and veggies) of our labor: oven baked fish that we'd gutted and filleted ourselves; lamb chops we trimmed and bathed in boiling oil and for which we'd prepared a balsamico sauce base; red pepper mousse that started with thoroughly charring the peppers; chicken smoked on the stove top under a crusty well-carbonised bowl; bolognese sauce completely scratch-made...we cooked lots that afternoon.
But watching Maeda-san behind the counter finishing, plating, refilling glasses, washing dishes, and chatting with customers, I realised that despite all we'd contributed to the evening's repast, it was only a fraction of what went into our meals. Everything we'd cooked, he completed.
The bolognese was heated with a lump of butter, some shredded gobo and a handful of Parmesan (and Maeda-san's own hand made pasta tubes). The fish came out of the oven to be drizzled with oil, sprinkled with pepper and plated with a lemon. Our lamb was reheated, carved into parts and plated with creamy potatoes and spears of grilled asparagus before being topped with the balsamico sauce that chef brought to perfect consistency with a bit of butter.
He also served to us (and nine other guests) a magnificent fish soup, ravioli with vongole and vegetables, oxtail stew, and a luscious ice cream and fresh chocolate dessert. We waddled away from the table.
I have great respect for this man and look forward to another afternoon in his kitchen in the coming months.
Maeda-san presides over his five fork restaurant
Last night we had the good fortune to get a last minute seating (hooray for cancellations!) at Ristorante Amoroso, a swank, Italian restaurant around the corner from Kagurazaka. We've been told "It's the best meal you'll eat this week/this year/ever" but such praise seemed overblown.
But it was the best meal I've eaten all year - probably the best meal I've ever enjoyed in Tokyo. Here was our menu - all chef's choice, made fresh in front of us by Maeda-sensei with a fair bit of tasting, frowning and adjusting as he went.
Serrano ham and dried persimmon
Kyoto carrot mousse with sea salt and olive oil
Hand smoked chicken, and liver pate
Stewed tripe with tomato
Cream of seafood soup seasoned with ginger
Homemade tagliatelle with tomato, crab and anise
Pan seared Iberico pork with porcini, mashed potatoes and turnip
Chocolate-rosemary mousse topped with salt and olive oil
Each course was more stunning than the last. Maeda-san has a true talent for marrying contrasting textures and flavors into a dining experience.
He's a sommelier, too. He paired all the dishes with exactly the right wines - a simple champagne with the starters followed by a raisin-y Valpolicella, a glass of white for the soup, another completely different red, and a French version of grappa. No wonder my head is feeling quite a bit precious today.
I recently read about the 100 Mile Diet, a year-long project by two Canadians to eat only foods that were grown or raised within 100 miles of their home. It turned out to be quite a challenge for them as they discovered there was no locally grown wheat, no fresh vegetables until May, and that sugar really is necessary to make jam.
They uncovered many interesting facts about food production in North America. Here are a few excerpted facts from their 100-Mile Index:
- Minimum distance that North American produce typically travels from farm to plate, in miles: 1,500
- Ratio of minutes spent preparing food by English consumers who buy ready-made foods versus traditional home-cooking: 1:1
- Estimated number of plant species worldwide with edible parts: 30,000
- Number of species that currently provide 90 percent of the world’s food: 20
- Major river dams constructed to irrigate California, now the world’s number five agricultural producer: 1,200
Could I do this? I checked a map and drew a 150 kilometer circle around our house.
I can eat things from many of the nearby agricultural centers, including all of Chiba, Kanagawa, Saitama, Yamagata, Ibaraki and 95% of Tochigi and Gunma. There's a good swath of ocean in there, too, so seafood would not be out of the question.
And since many Japanese grocery stores label the prefecture of origin of their produce, meat, fish and other items, it might not be so hard to manage. The local growers produce good variety in every season, too, to I shouldn't be stuck with a winter menu of all potatoes.
I think I'll give it a try, starting with a 100-mile dinner or two. I think I'd miss sugar too much to make it a permanent thing, but maybe making more informed choices while shopping will help reduce the food transportation burden I am putting on the world.
Tod was describing the unusual miso soup he had for lunch today, rich in aonori. His dining companion said she didn't like it and preferred wakame in her soup.
He told me this and I laughed. I knew exactly the subtle differences in flavour he described. Maybe to most non-Japanese, one seaweed is as good as another, but the difference between aonori and wakame is as stark as the one between peas and lima beans.
I wondered what other foods can be paired like that - obviously different if your palette is familiar with them, but indistinguishably similar if it is not. Tod & I made a list of a few. Can you come up with any?
Coke and Pepsi
Basmati rice and jasmine rice
Spaghetti and egg noodles
Chicken and...frog/crocodile/fill-in-the-blank exotic meat
Chocolate cake and devil's food cake
Butter and margarine
Roquefort and Gorgonzola
Shiraz and Merlot wines
Budweiser and Heineken
We enjoyed a feast of simple Japanese dishes in Matsudai. I've put some photos on Flickr describing the individual dishes.
In a surprising but unanimous blind taste test, Meiji Super Cup vanilla ice cream was voted superior to Haagen Dazs vanilla.
|Super Cup||Haagen Dazs|
|Flavor||Mild vanilla start to finish||Strong alcohol aftertaste|
|Texture||Airy with soft lumps||Dense and creamy|
|Price||100 yen/200ml||250 yen/120ml|
Maybe our three person sampling wasn't statistically significant, but we were amazed by how much we disliked the Haagen Dazs and enjoyed the domestic brand. And at quadruple the cost, how can we ever buy Haagen Dazs again?
Skinnless kyouho (giant grapes) stuffed with foie gras. Skewered. Breaded. Deep fried.
Only in Japan. Only at Hantei. Quite good, though decidedly strange. Check for it on Recipe Thursday soon.
I had the honor of paging through the only printed copy of my friend Elizabeth's new book this week. It's gorgeous, though she worries it is too heavy. I disagree; the book has a good heft.
But better than weight, it has recipes! From fish to desserts, there are fabulous Japanese dishes to cook, a richly illustrated "pantry" section, and lots of tips and kitchen techniques. It really is a marvel. I've eaten with Elizabeth many times and she is a master chef, even when we're just having a casual lunch while computer troubleshooting.
Washoku, Recipes from the Japanese Home Kitchen is due in bookstores next month and available for preorder from Tenspeed Press, and at Amazon.
Elizabeth talked with me about the book, along with one of my favorite topics, Japanese pickles, in my recent Hanashi Station show, Japanese Kitchen. (12.1 MB MP3)
Have a listen and order the book (unless you're on my Christmas list, in which case...surprise! You're getting a cookbook this year!). Elizabeth has a US book tour lined up, so check her calendar at Taste of Culture and see if she's going to be in your area soon.
Matt doing his thing in the kitchen.
What a treat. It's nearing midnight and I'm sitting here on Jim & Yuka's sofa, watching their house guest, Matt Peterson, bake his famous chocolate chip cookies. He says he usually makes them at 2 am. I think that after our dessert, I'm going to be ready to walk home and crawl into bed.
One morning recently, we amused ourselves for more than an hour reading recipes from the Three Rivers Cookbook series. Here are some of the best titles and taglines:
Sesame Cheese Ball
"Opens the door to good taste"
If you rub the cheese ball, you get three wishes.
Tomato & Sausage Soup
"Tastes like Pittsburgh"
No way; Pittsburgh is not made of tomatoes and sausage.
"Will make you tipsy"
"If you can pronounce it, you can make it"
We joked at university that if you could spell Existential Phenomenological Psychology, you'd get an A in the class.
"Before you do anything, find the mangos"
Then go chutney huntin'
"An original masterpiece"
"Comments range from 'Delicious!' to 'Terrific!"
This curry includes crushed pineapple, coffee cream, and curry powder. I can hear the sarcasm in those Delicious! comments.
Sweet Potato Balls and Walnuts
"Especially nice around a ham"
I can just see them schmoozing with the meat now.
Nanny's luncheon salad
"Is easily expanded to serve an indefinite number"
Not good enough, I need a recipe that serves an irrational number.
Chicken cupcake. Cute but the mound of icing forming the head makes them too sweet. From a recipe in Martha Stewart Living magazine.
Hedgehog cake. The quills are made of chocolate-dipped pretzels. He looked even better with long thin birthday candles stuck in all over him.
Tod & I often crave Indian food, even though we've never been to India. We're always scouting new restaurants, trying recommendations from Tod's Indian co-workers, and slowly building up a list of favorites. Here are three worth visiting if you are in Tokyo.
- Darbar India, Yaesu 2-7-9 (Tokyo Sta). Lovely dosas, fabulous methi mutton curry and the best roti I've ever had.
- Cafe Devi, Jingumae 1-15-1 (Harajuku/Meijijingumae Sta). Fresh spices and herbs make even the standards stand out.
- Ajanta, Nibancho 3-11 (Kojimachi Sta). Excellent South Indian food including chicken chettinadu, dahi rice and masala dosa. Open 24 x 7!!!
We're also very fond of the Darjeeling branch near our house. We eat there so often, they always give us free stuff.
Decanting equipment (photo by Tod)
We had a disappointing run of wines at a recent party. There were a few bottles that were drinkable but not enjoyable. Too young. Too harsh.
One of the revelers taught us about decanting wine. I thought decanting was a process reserved for old wines full of sediment, but the aeration makes a huge difference in the flavor of the wine.
So how do you do it? It's easy and you don't even need a special decanter.
- Pour the wine from the bottle into a glass pitcher or wide-mouthed jar. Do it from a bit of a height so that the wine splashes into the pitcher.
- Allow to sit a few minutes, then swish the wine around in the pitcher. This exposes maximum surface area of the wine to the air.
- Pour the wine back into the bottle. A funnel is handy for this step, particularly if you've been testing previously aerated wines.
- Taste and repeat as desired.
Some sources suggest decanting wines hours in advance. I don't have the patience for that. The pour and swirl method works well enough for me; mediocre wines become quite decent. Even wine in screw-top bottles can be rescued with this technique.
Two articles today about mad cow testing. First from the US (via Reuters)
A government investigation on Tuesday gave the U.S. Department of Agriculture poor marks in testing cattle for mad cow disease, saying the agency was neglecting to test the majority of cattle most at risk.
"The problems identified during our review, if not corrected, may ... reduce the credibility of any assertion regarding the prevalence of BSE (bovine spongiform encephalopathy) in the United States," said the USDA's Office of Inspector General.
And now this news from Japan (via UPI):
A top Japanese official said Tuesday blanket mad cow testing may end soon, a move widely seen as opening the door to resumption of U.S. beef imports.
Hiroyuki Hosoda, chief cabinet secretary, made the comment ahead of beef talks to be held in Tokyo in late July between experts and government officials from Japan and the United States, the Kyodo news agency said.
The question of whether all slaughtered cattle should be tested for mad cow disease should not be dealt with "politically," Hosoda said, indicating Japan may end its blanket testing if experts find it unnecessary.
Tokyo has blocked U.S. beef imports since the first U.S. case of mad cow disease was found in a Canadian-born cow in the state of Washington last December.
To remove the import ban, Tokyo has been asking the U.S. government to test all slaughtered cattle for the disease or provide equivalent safety assurance.
U.S. officials respond that blanket testing is unscientific.
Right hand, may I introduce Mr. Left Hand?
Let's Make Ume Shu 4'38" (28.7 MB MP4)
As promised, here's a how to video with everything you need to know to make ume shu (Japanese plum wine). Learn how to choose plums, wash and dry them, sterilse the bottles, layer the fruit with sugar and fill. It's surprisingly easy.
For your shopping and kitchen convenience, here's a recipe to print out.
1 kg green ume (Japanese plums)
1 kg rock sugar
1.8 liters white liquor (35% alcohol)
Sterilise a 4 liter glass jar by filling it with boiling water, rinsing and drying carefully. Wash the ume, culling any fruit with bruises or broken skins. Dry the ume and remove the waxy bit in the stem end. Dry the fruit again. Layer ume and sugar in the jar, pour in the liquor. Seal tightly. Upend theh jar once a month until the sugar is completely dissolved. The ume shu is drinkable after 6 months, and fully mature at the end of a year.
February's plums are yielding fruit now, so Tracey & I spent the afternoon making ume-shu. Check tomorrow for a how-to video and a recipe.
Seth's in my kitchen making brownies as I write this. He and Tod are discussing karate--I hear him talking about blocking, guarding, and leverage points--so I wonder how much brownie making is occurring. I am sure the conversation it is but a momentary distraction and I will soon smell the sweet scent of baking chocolate.
This is not the first Seth to bake brownies in my kitchen. (Hi, Seth & Tara!) And I hope it's not the last. Brownies by Seth are a special event. So to any stray Seths out there with brownie recipes, come on over and enjoy the facilities.
What a nice end to a slightly frustrating day working on a print ad project.
There is something about picking meat off a chicken carcass that fires my imagination.
I feel connected to the frugality of my grandmothers' era. They grew up during the Depression and every morsel of food was precious. I imagine what it must have been like for them. Were they hungry? How often did they get a chicken for dinner? What did their mothers do in the kitchen? Probably the same thing I'm doing now: slipping on an apron; washing my hands; abandoning the knife to use my fingers.
Every time, I'm surprised at how much meat remains on the chicken after it's been carved at the dinner table. Last night we had roast chicken dinner; today's lunch menu featured open-faced chicken sandwiches. Tonight I am making croquettes, and there's still enough for chicken curry and a rich soup.
As I dig between the bones, searching for hidden pockets of meat, my thoughts drift towards other people who once needed this bountiful chicken: the starving Armenians my mother told me about when I didn't finish my dinner in the 1970s; the Ethiopians I bought charity albums to help in the 80s; the little girl in rural Thailand who I sponsored when I was a teenager. I wonder what happened to them?
They would have liked my chicken croquettes.
My appetite for Japanese food, maybe food in general, gears up when the weather cools. Last week we had our first oden nabe of the season.
Oden is a soup made of protein-rich foods and root vegetables stewed in a salty clear broth. Most of the nuggets in our pot, which is sitting on a portable gas burner on the dining room table, are made of fish paste.
Fish paste sounds a little weird, but it's delicious. It's made of scraps of white fish, ground together and mixed with flavorings. It's economical and definitely peasant food. Of course, we buy ours at the grocery store just like most everyone in Tokyo.
One of my favorite items in oden is chikuwa. Fish paste is wrapped around a bamboo pole and toasted. Then the pole is removed, so you end up with something that looks a little bit like a hollow marshmallow.
This oden included all sorts of things wrapped in fish paste--quail eggs, shrimp, burdock root--and plenty of flavored fish pastes, too--crab, liver, burdock. Sometimes people add hot dogs, fried tofu or eggs to the pot. Daikon often makes an appearance along with strips of wakame seaweed tied in knots.
Oden nabe is one of my favorite wintertime dinners.
Tod & I were talking over dinner the other night about why homecooked meals usually taste so much better than restaurant food.
Is it the fresh ingredients? I don't think so. Restaurants use fresh ingredients and so do I.
Is it the love and care put into a homecooked meal? Nice thought but I doubt it.
I think that what makes homecooked food taste so good is that we are in it. Minute flakes of our skin, eyelash mites, our exhalations. Maybe, if we used the tasting spoon twice, a bit of our saliva.
Sounds gross, doesn't it? But it makes sense.
Our pans are "seasoned" with the oils of things that have cooked in them, so residual flavors contribute to the overall flavor of our efforts in the kitchen. The curry from a week ago blends ever so subtly with tonight's cream sauce. Not that you'd notice but it's there.
Also, since pantry ingredients are stored where they can pick up the odors of cooking and the household in general, even these basics carry along a certain signature scent. My flour smells just like flour to me, but a bloodhound could probably tell my flour apart from my neighbor's.
For centuries, painters have mixed a bit of one pigment they are using with other colors in the same painting to produce colors with a harmonoius tint. It makes the tone of the painting hang together.
Why shouldn't that be true for food, too?
This ramen shop at LaQua, Ichiran, allows the diner to be almost entirely anonymous--just like a love hotel.
After selecting and paying for your meal at a ticket vending machine, you are handed a slip of paper and sent to your own private eating booth ion a row of similar booths.
The paper lets you choose the amount of garlic and spice in your ramen, how you want your noodles cooked and wheter you want slices of charshiu (Chinese pork) or not. After you circle your selections, you ring the bell and from the other side of the red curtain, hands come forth to take your ticket.
A perky voice behind the curtain, accompanied by a glimpse of apron-covered midsection, explains that they will make your ramen now and please wait a few minutes. An egg in a bowl appears. You can have this for just 100 yen, if you want it. An empty water glass is set on the counter next to your private tap.
In a few minutes, a steaming bowl of ramen is delivered. The egg, being unwanted, is removed. You are wished a pleasant meal and the bamboo curtain is lowered. Whether this is to keep you from watching the staff moving around mysteriously, or whether it's to spare them the sight of your slurping, I'm not sure.
It's quaint and different. The ramen is good with a Hakata-style broth. I can understand why there is always a queue to get in.
As I wrote in a previous entry, Japan's nutritional guidelines specify 30 different foods a day.
If you eat a traditional Japanese diet, this isn't too hard to do. A classic Japanese meal is a variety of small servings: a simmered dish with carrot, diakon, taro, konnyaku; grilled fish served with ginger; pickled cabbage and cucumbers, a slice or two of sashimi, a salad of hijiki and beans; miso soup with clams; and of course, rice. Right there, you've got 14 foods out of the way!
But if you eat a more Western diet, getting up to 30 is really a challenge. Western portions are bigger and there are fewer dishes per meal. Steak, potato, cooked vegetable, bread, butter. That's only 5...maybe six if you eat the parsley garnish.
But the companies that make bento for convenience stores have hit upon a great idea. The "10 Things" food. It started out with salads. Today I bought a "10 Things" sandwich. It was pretty good for a conbini sando.
What was in it?
- brown rice bread
- soy beans
- milk solids
So that, combined with my fruits-and-vegetable juice (7 vegetables and 4 fruits), a container of yogurt and some raisins brings me up to 23 foods for today. 24 if coffee counts as a food.
All I need to do to reach the quota is remember to eat the garnish at dinner tonight...
Tucked inside a box shipped back from the US, two cookbooks. In honor of this windfall, I present a recipe from "Cooking Thai Food in American Kitchens" by Malulee Pinsuvana. I've never made anything from this 1976 cookbook, but I bought it in Thailand and it's in Thai and English, so how bad can it be?
Ms. Pinsuvana describes the dish, "Roast chicken, Northeastern style is a speciality found in a row of restaurants behind the famous Rajdumnern Boxing stadium where all Tourists go to see Thai boxing matches. It is so identified that when you refer to this dish you call it "Boxing Stadium roast chicken," just as famous as Kentucky fried chicken, I suppose."
Cabbage Salad, Roast Chicken
1 young chicken, cut into 4 pieces
3 cloves garlic
1 slice ginger root
1 teaspoon minced corriander root
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1 Tblsp vegetable oil
1 teaspoon salt
Pound together the garlic, ginger, pepper, salt and corriander root. Add oil and marinate chicken for 1-2 hours. Bake in a 375 F oven for 30-40 minutes. Serve with cabbage salad.
1 cup cabbage, finely chopped
2 cherry tomatoes, quartered
1/2 cup carrots, finely grated
1 teaspoon lime peel
1 Tblsp dry shrimp, crushed
1 teaspoon garlic salt
1 teaspoon sugar
2 Tblsp lime juice
2-3 hot chili peppers, crushed
Mix vegetables together, season with garlic salt, lime peel and sugar. Top with crushed chili and dry shrimp.
Meet the winners in the 2003 Sausage Masquerade! These lovelies beat out their competition, earning a place in tonight's frying pan.
Winner, most elegant costume: All-around-meat. Bacon wrapped, black pepper sausages. You could pretend it's a filet mignon, or just add pancakes, toast, juice and a big bowl of cereal for a complete, balanced breakfast.
Winner, best disguise: Sausage legs. Finely ground meat paste, spiked with cheese and pierced with a chicken bone. The new other white meat?? Or, perhaps, Fred and Barney's Corndog-on-a-Stick.
Through an unscientific survey of friends, I have concluded that my entire generation uniformly hates liver. Yet our parents like it, and so did their parents.
Isn't that strange?
"Maybe not so strange," Tod posited. Liver's full of iron, vitamins A & D, the entire panthoen of B, plus bits of elegantly named components that give us bright eyes and glossy coats.
Our parents and grandparents liked liver because their bodies craved that nutrition. That's the same reason some people eat clay and dirt.
But my body doesn't crave liver or dirt because my vitamins and minerals come via supplements. And not just vitamin pills. I get my vitamins thanks to food manufacturers (and they do it becasue of the military, according to this January 2003 John Hopkins University report.)
- Iodized salt (1924).
- Vitamin D milk (1932).
- Fortified breakfast cereal (1933). Try this nifty experiment.
- Enriched bread (1941).
- Calcium-added orange juice (1987).
- Vitamin A enriched rice (1999).
- Thiamine enriched beer?? (tba)
Maybe liver's looking better than it used to.
This product caught my eye the other day. I must have been hungry for junk food. Or maybe it was fond memories of morning-after pizza for breakfast that drove me to buy it.
Pizza was always best if it had been unrefrigerated overnight, which gave it sort of an "aged" flavor and dehydrated the cut edges of the crust so they turned inwards towards the center of the slice. The cheese separated from the crust a bit, giving the sauce a bit of air and extra viscosity. Mmmmm.
But these Morning Pizza treats were refrigerated and well sealed in plastic. No food poisoning roulette this morning. I decided to eat one myself and save one for Tod.
After popping one into the toaster oven, I reminisced about another morning pizza--"breakfast pizza" from back in the days when I worked at UBS.
Downstairs in the arcade of the building was a little bakery that had all kinds of pastries. My friend and colleague, Seth, and I used to procrasinate from our morning tasks and go down to get breakfast pizza--an oblong piece of dough slathered with toppings and backed. My favoriate was the potato salad one. But there were also breakfast pizzas with corn and vegetables, with shrimp, and even one that was sort of cheese pizza-ish. I can still taste the onion one--slightly sweet but savory at the same time. Greasy and fattening but a good antidote for office stress and too much coffee.
Unfortunately, the Morning Pizza cannot hold a candle to breakfast pizza. This was a pretty indifferent, bland bit of bread with a thin coat of orangish sauce, some rubbery cheese, and a thin slice of salami on top. Next time, I'll make my own or head over to Otemachi for the real stuff
Last night, Jenn, Helen & I went to a Japanese restaurant that opened just a few weeks ago. It is a teppanyaki restaurant--called hibachi in this neck of the woods--the sort of place I've never been to in Japan. I'm sure they exist, but maybe only for an expense account budget.
I felt strangely out of place and homesick. The restaurant was pretending to be Japanese and it was close, but it wasn't quite right. The decor was inspired by Japan, but the wainscotting and dentil molding didn't quite work. There was entirely too much space between tables. The food was delicious, but it wasn't Japanese, though it had a Japanese style. The quantity alone pegged it as not Japanese--my meal was piled high on platter the size of an LP.
On top of that, I was the only person in the restaurant who could speak Japanese. I found this out because our waiter asked me if I'd lived in Japan (maybe he overheard me telling Helen about Japanese things or wondered why I asked him what brand the sake was) and confided that all the staff were Chinese.
One week down, three weeks 'til I can go home. Don't get me wrong, I'm enjoying my trip. It's great to see everyone and I'm amused by America. But I miss home. Tod, darling, could you please bring me some mochi, senbei, and Lemon Water in your suitcase? Onegai shimasu
Tokyo has more restaurants per capita than most major cities. Home kitchens are small and there are lots of overworked single people who just want an easy, quick bite to eat after a long day of work. With so many restaurants, statistically speaking you know there are going to be some exceptionally good ones. And some really bad ones, too.
Tonight we visited a really good one. A little Indian restaurant tucked around the corner from the main drag in Yotsuya. (Little India Yotsuya 1-1-6 B1F, for those of you in town). This little gem has three Indian chefs running the show and there were dishes on the menu we'd never seen anywhere, including a potato-spinach croquette and a paneer curry in onion gravy. Yum!
Unlike some of our lucky stumbles (out of the rain, usually) Little India was not a chance find. Their business card was tacked up on the restroom wall at Ampresso. Tod took note. And I'm awfully glad he did. Dinner was delicious.
Years ago we devised a scale to evaluate a foodstuff compared to its original. We called it the Philly Cheesesteak Continuum because there is only one place to get a true Philly Cheesesteak (a long sandwich of Amoroso's crusty bread filled with fried beef, optional onions, and topped with cheese)--Philadelphia where this sandwich was invented in 1930.
The farther you get from Philadelphia, the less true to the original. Somewhere North of Camden, NJ, they stop using fresh steak and use Steak-Um frozen beef slices. In Chicago they call it the Italian Beef and though you can see a resemblance to the Philly Cheesesteak, they use seasoned beef, hot and sweet peppers and no cheese. Maybe in California they use whole grain bread, organic beef and soy cheese. On the moon, it's probably rocks and dust topped with green cheese.
All of this backstory is to explain the weird breakfast I had today. I stopped into a Vie de France cafe for a quick bite before running errands this morning. Vie de France has all kinds of lovely pastries pretending to be French, but we all know there are no bean jam doughnuts in France. They also carry savory baked goods like Vienna sausage rolls and curry doughnuts. This alone puts them pretty far along the continuum from French cafes.
But today's piece de weirdness was the Fish Dog I found among the savory baked goods. The Fish Dog is a split bun filled with fingers of crispy, breaded, fried fish topped with creamed mushrooms and cheese, then broiled to brown the cheese. It was quite tasty, but if I were to notch it down a level in quality, I'd end up with a white-trash American delight: a hot dog bun with fish sticks, cream of mushroom soup and pizza cheese.
If the Fish Dog was meant to be kin to a hot dog, it is far, far down the continuum. Then again, Fish Dog might be a Vie de France original--at the start of the continuum-- and all others are simply imitations.
At this time of year, half of Tokyo's population is suffering from bonenkai hangovers. Unlike American holidays, where overeating is the festive indulgence, here in Japan we have overdrinking--nomisugiru.
There is an entire industry of hangover cures. Genki drinks full of caffeine and nicotine, mineral and ionic drinks to replensish lost liquids and salts, and scads of vitamin and herb supplements.
One remedy which I am ready to swear by is ucon, turmeric in English. Last night at the Kajiro's bonenkai, I had entirely too much 80 proof sake. Fortunately for me, I won a bag of Ucon Kuro Tou, brown sugar and turmeric candy. It is the weirdest stuff--very sweet but bitter, and the texture is like fudge that's crystalized--but a few chunks of it last night kept me from feeling too horrible today.
I handed it around at the party, and everyone was chiming in about ucon's tonic properties. Good for the liver. Keeps you healthy. I added "nomisugitara..." (when you drink too much...) and everyone laughed.
Like cough drops, Ucon Kuro Tou's medicine that's actually pretty tasty in its weird way. So I'm munching on some now as I type this. My liver will soon be singing my praises or asking for beer.
Semi-related to my recent discussion about taking too many (prescription) drugs as we get older, I read this on Reuters today:
"Studies in yeast, rodents and other organisms have found that drastically cutting calories extends life span, and researchers are striving to find out how that happens. The hope is that human drugs may be developed to mimic that effect, without having to eat less."
As a Tod laughed "In other news, scientists are busy researching how to spend even more money after you've used up all the money you had before."
Sure I am not the only one who thinks this is insane...
Holy cow, it's Thanksgiving in the US. I forgot until a friend e-mailed me a happy thanksgiving message this morning.
Today at the gym, MJ was noting that there are no food-based holidays in Japan. Some of the holidays have special foods, but there are no gorge-yourself family banquets. Even the most elaborate holiday food in Japan--New Year's osechi--is pretty minimal and even healthy!
Tonight we're having take-away bento for dinner. Tod's on a deadline and I'm not inclined to cook.
Last night was one of those chilly, wet November nights that required chill-chasing, warm foods.
We had ours in the form of kimchee nabe and zousui. Nabe (nah-bay) is Japanese for cooking pot. But it also means a soup or stew cooked tableside. Not only is the food delicious, but the heat of the portable gas burner is cozy, too.
Our kimchee nabe had spicy Korean kimchee, slices of pork, carrot & onion plus shiitake and enoki mushrooms and plenty of hakusai (Chinese cabbage). When the hakusai turns translucent, it's ready to eat. We spooned the broth and bits into our little serving bowls, using our chopsticks to eat the meat and veg and slurping the broth directly from the bowl. taking more as we ate.
After we'd finished all of the morsels, we made zousui (zoe-swee), a rice porridge, with the remainder of the broth, plus some bean sprouts, greens and rice. It cooked for about 7 minutes until the rice had absorbed most of the broth, then we turned off the heat and added whisked egg to firm up the porridge. The rice is hot enough to cook the egg and even though I don't like eggs, I have to admit zousui's not the same without them.
By the time we finished our meal, we were toasty and content. Made it hard to do work after dinner and I didn't even attempt to fold the laundry. I really ought to go do that now.
"Whole squids are kinda squicky," says Tod after we attended a fish cooking class at A Taste of Culture.
We started with very fresh whole squid, cleaned them, stuffed them with their own legs and some rice, then simmered them for an hour. They turned a lovely red color and softened into the most delicious, chewy treat.
But cleaning squid is not for the squeamish. Today's class wasn't too much of a problem for me, as I had ample practice when I worked in an Italian restaurant ten years ago. As lowest prep cook on the totem pole, I got to clean at least five jillion partially frozen, still defrosting squid for calamari.
But poor Tod got stuck with a rather large squid that was quite attached to its innards. The ink sac broke, the guts refused to drop out, the legs were recalcitrant--but he somehow managed to pull the cartilege quill out before the rest came free.
Elizabeth sent us home after class with our completed "ika meshi" squids plus a spare, uncooked squid, so tomorrow I'll make a spicy Indonesian squid sautee for dinner. Mmmmm.
The first couple of years we lived in Japan, everyone on my holiday gift list got yukata, silly Japanese foods, washi books and other tidbits from the land of the rising sun. Then I realised that they probably didn't want them and the effort to purchase, pack and ship them really wasn't appreciated.
So now I send food from catalogs.
When I was a kid, I used to think that the food baskets from Harry & David and Omaha Steaks were extremely lame, though I admit to liking the little sausages. Now I realise how truly great these gifts are (at least for the gift giver). Everyone eats!
So if you're on my gift list, now's your chance to weigh in: fruit or meat for you this year?
A report issued by the Japan Food Service Association says that restaurant sales from April through September slumped 6.6% compared to the same period a year ago. They blame it on people staying home for the World Cup and during the summer rainy season, but I don't buy that.
I think it's another indication that the economy is not recovering and that people are being more frugal.
To back me up, there are also these reports this week: air conditioner shipments were down 10.1% (blamed on the cool summer weather--felt sweltering as usual to me); Matsuzakaya department store announced its profits were 16.6% lower than last year; and Tokyo's consumer price index fell again for the 37th month in a row--down another 0.8%.
Now that the weather's cooler, we're roasting coffee again. There's nothing as good as a cup of java from freshly roasted beans.
Today looks like it's going to be a big coffee day. I started with two mugs this morning, then some during a meeting and when I arrived back here a few minutes ago, Tod had just made another pot. Tonight, I'll be filming at 2 am, so there's bound to be coffee involved then, too.
If I'm extra jittery tomorow, I'll know why.
The convenience stores are stocking oden now. These stewed bits of fish paste sausages, daikon, whole eggs, and tofu-based dainties will stink up the stores in a matter of weeks. There's a certain scent--bitter, acrid, fishy--that punctuates winter-time conbini visits.
At the supermarkets, end cap displays are laden with pottery nabe, portable gas ranges, and gas canisters. There are nashi, grapes and mikan in every fruit aisle. Chestnuts are everywhere and expensive matsutake mushrooms are carefully displayed in wooden boxes. And there are all the makings of oden, which is much better done at home than from the conbini.
Within a week or so, the vending machines will convert to hot drinks and soups. I'm looking forward to a crisp day and a nice hot cocoa to warm my hands.
Glico is marketing Tic Tacs in Japan now. I hadn't realised I'd missed them until I tasted their imitation vanilla coating. Ah, childhood memories....
When Zoupi returned from Belgium, he brought some original Belgian Frisk mints with him. They're blue! And they have sorbitol in them, the stuff that gives Velamints their slippery texture (and laxative properties).
Penguin has a new flavor of their caffeinated mints--chocolate mint. Tod imports cases of the regular, cinnamon red and decaffeinated "lights" and sells them at the office. I guess he'll be offering a new variety after the next order.
We found the holy grail of watermelons. Of course, I didn't have my camera...
Since reading about square watermelons last summer, we've been keeping an eye out at all the fancy fruit mongers. Last night, we finally found one--at the supermarket down the street.
It was about 30 cm on a side with rounded corners. They put the young watermelon into a glass box while it's growing to give it a refrigerator-friendly shape. The cost for custom form factor? 9800 yen (about $80).
There were other specialty watermelons on display. One was the size and color of a pumpkin, orange with darker orange watermelon stripes. A very striking watermelon was a completely matte black beachball and a bargain at 5800 yen. A Jumbo Suika was quite large by Japanese standards, though not much bigger than a good-sized American watermelon. It was wrapped in woven straw with a braided handle for easy carrying. Price: 9000 yen. One melon came packed in a wooden cage--I guess they were worried that it might escape.
For those on a budget, 1/8 wedges of watermelon selling for a budget 600 yen. Or a mere 398 yen would buy half a dozen chunks of fruit in a plastic cup complete with toothpick.
I have 12 servings of an extremely rich, flourless chocolate cake sitting in my fridge. MJ will take it home with her this morning (it's the remainder of her birthday cake) but not before I scarf down a slice along with some nice strong coffee.
I'm already anticipating the sugar-caffeine rush. I'm feeling a bit sluggish this morning (too much late-night billiards again) and I hope it will kick me into gear. Or maybe it will send me into shock and I'll just go have a nap...
Last night's birthday extravaganza was an all-American calorie fest. Before the cake, we had mashed potatoes, salad and Kentucky Fried Chicken. KFC has recently switched to domestic Japanese chickens. Signs in the store announce the change and apologise--domestic chickens are smaller than imported chickens. The store manager gave Tod an extra piece for our party. I guess Tod looks like a hungry guy with a big appetite.
An entire endcap display at our supermarket is devoted to healthy juices. There's quite a variety and I was captivated by the interesting combinations. Soy-sesame-brown rice. Apple-sweet potato. And myriad fruit and vegetable mixes. Even at 200 yen a pop, I had to get some.
The apple-sweet potato drink was a happy surprise. It was bright magenta and tasted like a really good autumn dessert. Sweet potatoes contain SOD, a super anti-oxidant, and this drink has 1,000 IU (way more than the recommended daily dose) so my skin should be glowing with fresh health very soon.
The soy-sesame-rice drink was not good. Enough said.
Two cans of mixed juices appealed to the artist in me: Orange Yellow Fruits and Vegetables, and Yellow Substantial Fruits and Vegetables. They were mainly the same juice, one with celery and one with pumpkin. Tasty and easy to drink. Perhaps the most striking thing about them was the English on the label: . Contains various micronutrients and well balanced roughage. A pack of flavory juice just squeezed from fresh vegetables and fruits.
I should drink "flavory juice" every day.
Gluttony isn't so bad when it's all based on soba.
We tried a restaurant in Asagaya last night on the recommendaiton of a friend. We splurged on the 4,000 yen "all soba" course and were presented with eight courses, all involving buckwheat. Everything was astonishingly good and as each course arrived we declared it better than the last.
Three dishes really stood out. Soba miso is a unique presentation of soba grains mixed with salty-sweet miso paste, spread on a small wooden paddle and lightly grilled. It was accompanied by translucent slices of daikon and cucumber. We scraped bits of the miso off the paddles and wrapped a slice of daikon around it. Mmmmm.
Soba tofu squares were topped with grated cucumber. The taste was very rich and earthy and the texture a little bit firmer than soy-based tofu-- the wheat gluten was well developed and heading towards gummy. It was a simple, subtle and surprisingly filling dish.
My favorite was soba sashimi. There was no fish involved at all. Instead, it was triangular sheets of soba noodles served cold with a pile of shaved gobo (burdock root) and wakame (a sea vegetable). The dipping sauce was soy and wasabi and there was a sweet soy sauce as well.
If you want to go, the restaurant is tucked behind the Suginami City office at Minami-Asagaya 1-15-18.
Yesterday's scary shellfish is a geoduck, a giant burrowing clam. Pronounced gooey-duck, it digs three feet deep into sand and lives there for up to 150 years. Wow. The Washington State Department of Ecology has great information about geoducks, and if you're interested in cooking one, here is a recipe.
Thanks very much to Lisa Kim and Kristen Elsby for clearing up my mystery.
The Santoku supermarket near our apartment caters to gourmets and the local French population. There are five different varieties of escargot (three frozen, two fresh), and a frozen meats section that has every hard-to-find meat we've ever craved: turkey, quail, duck, and even American bacon.
There are lots of esoteric things, too. Like this 7,000 yen ($53) ostrich egg. They had six of them and two seem to have been sold.
And then there's this. Despite the sign, we aren't sure what it is. It has a clam-like shell but the muscle that protrudes (and hangs over the edge of its styrofoam container) is the size of my forearm. Is this tasty?
It might be better for self-defense. "Get back or I'll show you my giant shellfish! Any closer and I'll make you eat it!" For only 1,500 yen ($12), it's better than mace.
My passion for sushi waxes and wanes. Over the past four years, it's been waning more than waxing which seems a bit odd since I live where sushi originates. There are a few places that I enjoy, even when all I get is vegetable makki and ebi. One of them is Edokko Sushi in Kanda. It's quite fantastic. The chefs are friendly and the patrons are characters from all walks of life.
Last night, a middle aged man and his cheery, white haired mother sat at the end of the counter near us. As they left, the elderly sushi chef called out to the woman, "Grandma, I work the early shift on Tuesdays and Wednesdays." They were of similar age--was he hoping she'd meet him when he got off work?
Around the bend of the counter, a couple in their early twenties ordered ala carte. The fashionably dressed, neatly coiffed woman looked slightly ill at ease as her date slouched over and ate with gusto while proclaiming opinions about the food. I'd say these two are not well suited to each other.
But the man and woman next to me certainly were. They ate quietly, sharing their selections and ordering things I'd never seen before: a literal pile of sashimi tidbits; a soft, pale beige eel served with ginger and sesame seeds; a gorgeous crab lag twice as long as the plate it rested on. They knew what they were ordering and enjoyed every morsel.
I enjoyed my steamed shrimp sushi and pickled gourd rolls as I people watched.
Differences in the culinary standard. We're a long way from Rome.
Classic Caesar Salad
Lunch is a treat. I found a great little bento shop nearby.
Bento, the traditional Japanese box lunch, is one of my favorite meals. Half the box is rice; the other half is bits and dollops of vegetables, tofu, meats, fish and other dishes.
The bento shop in our neighbohood has a unique feature. You get to select your own dollops and bits from their display of dishes. When Tod & I went yesterday, there were easily 2 dozen things to choose among.
After much deliberation, I selected shitake mushrooms simmered in a sweet broth, spinach and tofu cooked in a smoky broth, cabbage cooked with carrots and a wiener. The woman who put our beno together thoughtfully added a small bonus--two spheres of konnyaku (devil's tongue starch) flanked my weiner. Very cute.
Chanko nabe is what makes sumo wrestlers fat.
Last night, too tired to cook at home, we had dinner at Kushikyu, a chain of restaurants that focuses on food to eat while swilling beer and whiskey. (I think of Kushikyu as the Denny's of the drinking set)
They were having a special on chanko nabe, so we indulged. Chanko nabe's a hearty soup of meat, fish and vegetables. Sumo wrestlers eat it in huge quantities. I shared a bowl with Tod last night. Recipes vary from kitchen to kitchen, of course, but I liked ours.
Large chunks of chicken, fish, and tofu swam in a clear chicken broth along with spinach, cabbage, onion and several varieties of mushrooms. Thick, wheaty udon noodles rounded out the dish.
I can see why sumo stars can eat this every day. It's delicious, like Mom's chicken soup on steroids. I could have eaten two bowls myself.
Bento, Japanese box lunches, come in a hundred varieties. Every convenience store competes on the quality and variety of its bento. And it works, I always get my bento lunch at the Family Mart; the 7-11's bento aren't nearly as good.
But conbini bento, even the best of them are prepared in advance, trucked around the city and heated while -you-wait in a microwave. They are handy and even tasty but they lack a certain freshness. Fortunately, convenience stores are not the only places that stock bento. A higher grade of bento can be found in department stores and in tiny, local bento shops.
Last night, Tod selected some bento from a hole in the wall shop, literally a window on the street near Sendagi Station. They were made to order while Tod waited. And what a feast for the eye and the stomach...
Inside each container was a rectangle of rice topped with a red pickled plum, as is common to most bento. Two circles of deep-fried chicken perched atop a bed of spaghetti. Nimono, simmered foods, held court in one section of the box, with a speckled slice of sesame tofu, a fancy twist of gummy dragon's tooth starch and a cut of gobu reigning. Two slices of breaded, deep-fried fish, a spoonful of creamy potato salad and a foil cup of akajiso pickles rounded out the meal.
I can understand why plums are often included in still life paintings. They are very beautiful.
For the next few weeks, plums will grace the tables of our local fruit store and our dining table. These plums are not the shiny, tight-skinned, full-to-bursting black globes I used to eat in the US.
These are yellow-green with blushes of pink, coated in a layer of fine white dust. Others are the color of a bruise, spreading purple with flesh tones underneath and the same layer of white powder that vanishes under your fingertips.
These are the plums of 17th century Dutch painters who paid such particular attention to detail--the fly on the pear, the lizard on the wall, the frost on the plum.
They are the plums of my dinner.
Substitution of ingredients is a fine art.
My collection of cookbooks contains a number of books purchased at the source. Thai cookbooks from Thailand; Singaporean food information direct from Singapore. The recipes they contain are completely authentic, down to odd local measures, seasonal vegetables with unpronouncable names, and spices that exist only in a two kilometer radius of the author's home. Trying to cook from them here in Japan is a challenge.
Last night we had friends over for a barbecue. Tod settled on satay, spiced beef on skewerd served with a chili-peanut sauce. I made gado-gado and compressed rice patties to accompany it. It was delicious, but not quite the same as when we made it in Singapore.
Shopping for exotic groceries here is a multi-step process. In Pittsburgh, I might spend a morning in the Strip, asking for something at all the oriental groceries there. But here, not only do I have to try to find blacan, a hard block of dried shrimp paste used in the gado-gado sauce, but I have to translate it into Japanese. How does it sound? What kanji might be used on the label--shrimp, dry, black, sauce, spice, foul-smelling? I haven't yet found the Tokyo equivalent of Pittsburgh's wide-ranging food wholesale district so my searching is confined to local markets or else takes me zigzagging across the entire city.
I suppose it could be worse. I have a few cookbooks in my collection that offer Asian recipes from an American perspective. They are quite amusing. "Asian barbeque sauce" combines tomatoes, green peppers and pineapple. I've never seen that in any part of Asia I've visited. The authors have obviously rewritten recipes to suit American tastes and ingredients. Ironically, I can't find their substitutions in Tokyo. I'll stick with the originals.