Friday, June 30, 2006

the last day of june

It is the last day of June and as I dread Japan's summer, it is coming at lightning speed...along with sour things to eat such as ume (pickled plums) and things made with vinegar, another food to beat natsubate (suffering from summer's heat) is unagi (eel).

In Japan, there are several types of eels which we consume. I only know of three: unagi (anguilla japonica), anago (conger eel) and hamo (pike conger or sea eel).

Unagi is usually prepared kabayaki style. This is where the eel is split down the middle then skewered and grilled. In Eastern Japan, they grill the eel, then steam it, then grill it again. Western Japan just grills it until crispy to get rid of some of the fats and oils. Unagi is also a very popular dish in Nagoya, they have a layered dish with rice and unagi in a huge lacquered serving bowl called hitsumabushi.

Hamo has lots of bones, so it takes a really skilled chef with a razor sharp knife to prepare the hamo for consumption. When eating in Kyoto, you usually find hamo in a clear soup called o-suimono.

Anago is usually found on top of sushi and sometimes fried as tempura. Did you know that the word tempura comes from the Portugese word "tempero" (meaning seasoning)?

A big producer of unagi is Lake Hamana (Hamanako), in Shizuoka. They usually can their unagi and it is what we find in our stores in Hawaii.

Changing the subject, here are some pics taken from around the neighborhood on my walk this morning.

A camera-shy sunflower, which was actually taller than me.

It is gardenia season here, the smell reminds me of home. Gardenia is called kuchinashi (literally means no mouth) here.

A duck trying to keep cool in the Minoo river.


I've started eating the bar on the right, Domori's Barrique. It is a 75% cacao combined with pink peppercorns, mace, cinnamon & ginger. I was a bit disappointed with this one as it sort of tasted like wine.

Hope you enjoy the weekend and keep cool!

Thursday, June 29, 2006

'tis the season...

It is summer, there are lots of fruits in season here.

One in particular is the cherry--very popular now, you can tell because the price is very HIGH!

The prefecture known for producing them is Yamagata. Yamagata is located in the Tohoku area of Honshu, which is in the North-Eastern area, near Niigata.

In Japanese, cherries are called sakuranbo. They are similar to the Rainier cherry in Washington. I got these on sale at a local supermarket, they were having a discounted price for point-card holders.

If you live in Japan--and shop, you'll know that almost EVERY store has a point-card, some give money back after collecting so many points, some give discounted prices to card holders. I think most places have them just to test your memory. My wallet would definitely be a little thinner if I didn't have to carry so many point-cards. And if I could only remember to present them at the check-out, I would probably be able to save a little more $$! But, if you had this many, would you be able to? (and this is only half of what I have!! yipes!)

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

eating local (part 2)


Last month I wrote about eating local--(here). Remember that I also mis-ordered an item? Well, this time I got exactly what I ordered. (Yeah!...I even had Satoshi double check my order form...)

(In fact, I think they changed the order form because of me--now the two items which I made a mistake on are now separated!)

The little onions at the bottom of the photo are called rakkyo. They are pickled in umesu or pickled plum vinegar. They have a little kick to them with those little red chili peppers also soaking in the juices. These rakkyo are great with curry--kind of like eating chutney with your curry, only with a little more crunch and sourness.

The purple-ish package are rakkyo wrapped in shiso (perilla or beefsteak leaf). These are really good, sweet & sour. My mom & aunties love this one!

At the edge of the photo are two bottles of different types of ume, one is pickled with katsuo (bonito).

Can't wait to dig into these!!

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

the sun will come out...

You know, I should talk about rain all the time. Why? So that the sun will come out. This morning started a bit overcast, but then the sun came out and raised the temperature 6 degrees to 30C (86F), 9 degrees in other places, yipes! The weather report didn't help by reporting that the humidity was 74% (I think it is WAY higher, though!)

I wanted to share with you about the different ways people protect themselves from the sun here in Osaka. There is the sun umbrella, these umbrellas are made of fabric and sometimes so frilly I think they are just for decoration. The one I have can be used in rain or sun, but the best part, is that it has an aluminum coating on the inside, this is to supposedly stop the UV rays.

Or you could be like this lady and cover up from head to toe. They also sell UV gloves here, you can get them in short versions or long versions.

If you look closely at the picture with the ladies walking above, you'll see a lady with white gloves on as she pushes her bicycle. I am puzzled as to why women wear gloves to only cover up their hands, what about the exposed area from your wrists to the end of your blouse? She is also wearing a visor that pulls down over your face, I have often been scared by some of these women speeding around on their bicycles looking like welders or Darth Vader!

Changing the subject, awhile back I had bought a pre-made curry rue and totally forgot all about it in my pantry. So, yesterday, I made a pot of curry. Curry? but it is so hot...it is also another one of Satoshi's favorite foods.


The good thing about using the rue is that it makes making curry easy! The bad thing about the rue is that there are LOTS of preservatives in it. This version also had a demi-glace sauce packet. After sauteeing the onions, I added hamburger (or mince as it is called in Japan), then added the water amount that is written on the package and added my veggies. After the veggies are soft, add the rue and demi-glace packet and you have dinner! The demi-glace really toned down the spiciness of the curry.

If you ever eat curry with rice (curry rice as it is called in Japan), most places just have the curry sauce and rice, no meat, no veggies, just the sauce and rice.

Tonight's dinner was the curry with a pre-made beef croquette and green salad. Beef croquettes are made with mashed potatoes, onions and ground beef, they are molded into a little patty and then fried.
Well, I have started eating into my dark chocolate stash which I bought on my trip home this past April.

Baratti & Milano's Ecuador bar is a 75% cacao dark chocolate. It is quite bitter but really delicious.

Hope you are keeping cool where you are!

Monday, June 26, 2006

new...

Today is the start of a new week. Unfortunately, they expect it to rain ALL week. The bad part of all of this, besides the rain, is that the humidity will still be around even if it rains this much!

Satoshi needed to buy a book for one of his German language classmates, so I called a bookstore nearby to see if they had it. Since they had the book, I went to pick it up and also browsed and found two new cookbooks for myself.

One is by Sachiko Murakami. This one was quite interesting because she uses vinegar as an ingredient to make different dessert items. Vinegar is thought to help with blood flow and is also thought to help beat natsubate (suffering from the heat of summer). I think I'll give some of these recipes a try. Hopefully I can post about them and share them with you all.

The second one was by Hidemi Sugino. I had seen this pastry chef on television in Japan and seen some of his recipes done on Nordljus' blog. I know that most of the recipes are quite difficult to make but the thing I liked about this book is that it is written in both Japanese and English. Hopefully I'll get up enough courage to try something from here.

Oh, and I found a new scone recipe to try while surfing Tante Marie's Cooking School's website, so I decided to try it out today.

Tante Marie's Scones

Ingredients
3 cups all pupose flour
1/3 cup sugar
2 tsp. baking powder
3/4 tsp. baking soda
8 Tbs. (1/2 cup) butter
1-1/2 cups buttermilk
3/4 cup currants (optional)
extra sugar for sprinkling on top

Instructions
Cut the butter into 1/4 inch cubes and place in the freezer for a few minutes
Mix the dry ingredients together into a mixing bowl. Cut in the chilled butter.
When the pieces of butter ar the size of small peas, stir in the buttermilk, being careful not to over mix.
Stir in the currants. Knead briefly to bring together. Press out until about 1 inch thick. Cut with a 3-inch crinkly cutter and place on ungreased baking sheet. (It is important not to reform excess dough--just press together).
Sprinkle the tops of each scone with sugar. Bake in the middle or lower rack of a preheated 450F (230C) oven for 12 minutes. Let cool on a wire rack.

Enjoy!

Notes: This scone is very fluffy like a biscuit. I didn't put any currants or fruit in this one or sprinkle the sugar on top. It was very good with the strawberry jam that I made.

Hope you are keeping cool and dry where you are!

Have a nice week!

Saturday, June 24, 2006

trying to beat the heat (part 2)

So now that summer is here, and it is WAY to humid for my likings here in Japan, I've been in a salad kind of mode and looking for nice, refreshing ways to dress them up.

Here's a recipe I found today while reading Gourmet Magazine's April 2006 edition.

Lemon Oregano Vinaigrette : Adapted from The Signature Room at the 95th, in Chicago. Makes about half a cup

1/2 garlic clove
1.5 teaspoons finely grated fresh lemon zest
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon distilled white vinegar
1.5 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1.5 teaspoons mild honey
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil (EVOO)
2 tablespoons canola oil
1.5 teaspoons chopped fresh oregano

Blend all ingredients except oregano in a blender until combined well. Transfer to a bowl and stir in oregano, then season with salt and pepper.


Notes: if you are using a small food processor, like I did, make sure to slice up the garlic clove before pulsing or you will have a mess in your kitchen (because the garlic moved the blade up and leaked some dressing)--like I did. Also, I used 5 Tablespoons of EVOO, since I didn't have canola oil. And I used about a 1/2 teaspoon of dried oregano.

This dressing was really good! Lemony, not too garlicky really refreshing. Definitely worth making again!

Another food that is popular in Japan, especially during the summer, is edamame (soy beans). I like it because it is really easy to prepare, and I don't have to stand near the stove as it cooks. In Japan, they come packaged--still in their pods, and sometimes they are even still attached to the plant!
Get a saute pan with a lid, or any shallow pan with a cover will do.
Snip the bean pods (where it was attached to the plant), I think this is to allow for even cooking and seasoning.
Rinse them.
Lay them as flat as possible into the pan.
Add a cup of water and cook for about 7 minutes on high heat. (You can add some salt before turning on the heat, or after cooking, whichever you prefer.) After the 7 minutes check to see that most of the pods have opened a bit, if not, you can cook for a minute or two more, take them off the heat and run under cold water.
Sprinkle with some kosher salt and enjoy!

Notes: try to make this ahead so that you can chill them in the refrig before eating!

Gaban, a spice maker in Japan teamed up with House Foods, a company which makes curry rues and other "quick food" items and came up with a black peppered potato chip. The chip is a "fake" potato chip (formed into a chip shape like Pringles), but the taste is great--nice and peppery! They also have a chili pepper version, in a red container, for you thrill-seekers!

Today, my student, Tomomi, brought me some onions which her parents got from some of their friends. They are huge! Will definitely be roasting some of these in the next couple of days. (Thank you!)

Here's another bead stitch project which I just finished. I still need to get it graded by the teacher. The 3 similar rings are the actual project. The "Louis Vuitton" marked ring was an extra project. Boy, those seed beads are tiny!

Hope you are keeping cool where you are and enjoying the weekend!

Friday, June 23, 2006

foodie sweets

This is the omiyage (souvenir) that Satoshi brought home for me from Tokyo. It is made by a company called Festivalo.

Most airports around Japan have this brand, but with different types of desserts--this is so that you have to actually GO to the specific airport to get the certain type of dessert! A couple of years ago, we bought a version called Caprese from the Fukuoka airport, which had chocolate on the top and the sweet potato filling on the bottom.

For this version, called Tokyo Mont Blanc, they combined murasaki imo (purple sweet potato) and kuri (chestnut), it wasn't very sweet, so it was very easy to eat!

There is also a chocolate shop in Umeda which I really like called Palet d'or. I noticed that they had a new product--macarons, so I got some to try.

Unfortunately, they didn't have a chart which explains what flavor each one was, so this is what flavors I thought they were.

light green = lime with green tea
light pink = cherry with chocolate ganache
lt brown with cocoa nibs = an orange/citrus filling
brown = chocolate
dark brown with cinnamon = a cinnamon filling with ganache

It's supposed to rain the whole weekend here, hope you enjoy your weekend!

Thursday, June 22, 2006

bead stitch

Well, today was the last day of my beads class. I'll be starting another class in about a month.

Since I have graduated bead crochet, I have started bead stitch. This method is very popular in the U.S. but has only started to pick-up here in Japan recently. Bead stitch uses very thin needles and waxy cord-like thread. Here is the necklace I made using the spiral stitch.

One more day until the weekend!!

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

trying to beat the heat

The weather has been hot and humid lately. I don't know about you, but I really dread Japan 's summers mainly because it is so humid! I know, I know, I'm from Hawaii--but until you have experienced a Japan summer (which I never wish on anyone!), you can't know how miserable a time it is here. During summer in Japan, I also dread standing anywhere near the stove to cook something--so, we end up eating a lot of things like salads, edamame (soy beans), tofu (soy bean curd)--stuff that are usually eaten cold.

Yesterday, I noticed that the lemon I had just bought was starting to turn a bit brown. I decided to zest the skin and use it to make Mildred's scones, which I posted before about (here). This scone recipe is really good and the scones come out really flaky! The lemon zest really matched with the blueberries that I used.

I also juiced the lemon to make a lemon-tarragon dressing. I didn't have a recipe to follow (plus I was too lazy to search for one), so I just eye-balled everything and it turned out pretty good (if I do say so myself!). It was really nice on a green salad.

Lemon-tarragon dressing

1 lemon, juiced
10 grinds of pepper
tarragon, amount to be measured by one cupped hand then crushed with both hands
while whisking, add olive oil to create dressing consistency
a little sugar

Notes: Remember, I eye-balled everything, so the measurements are not exact, I just went by taste and smell.

Today, as I was walking back from the grocery store, I wanted to make a dressing using raspberry vinegar, somehow raspberry vinegar has a nice refreshing imagery to it. Luckily, I found a recipe on the internet at About.com

Raspberry Vinaigrette
INGREDIENTS:
1/4 cup Dijon mustard
1/4 cup raspberry vinegar
1 tablespoon dried herbs de Provence
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1/2 cup safflower oil
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
12 raspberries, optional
PREPARATION:
In a small bowl, whisk together the mustard, vinegar, herbs, and pepper. Gradually whisk in the oils. Add raspberries to vinaigrette if desired. This salad dressing can be made a day in advance, but bring to room temperature before using.

Enjoy!

Notes: I cut this recipe in half, plus I only used the EVOO.

Satoshi is off on a business trip to Tokyo--he'll be back tomorrow night.

Hope you are keeping cool where you are!

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

kyushu-oita & kumamoto

We had a nice 3-day weekend. Satoshi got to take a day off for his birthday, so we went to Kyushu.

Day 1: Our trip started on Saturday and we flew to Kumamoto. The weather was unfortunately rainy. We rented a car and headed towards the town of Aso--which is located inside of a big caldera. Surrounding the town of Aso are 5 mountains--Nekodake, Takadake, Nakadake, Kijimadake & Eboshidake. Inside of this caldera is an active volcano called Mt. Aso. The road to the crater and ropeways were closed to the public due to the weather, so we made our way back down the winding mountain road and went to look for lunch.

Lunch was at a cute little restaurant we found by accident called Linlin. They specialize in pizza and coffee. This older couple runs this restaurant out of their home. They have a beautiful garden and a wonderful view of the 5 mountains. The owner cures his own bacon and uses only mineral water for his pizza crust. The pizza was really tasty and everything was fresh.

After lunch we went to a lookout point called Daikanbo. This lookout point was great, you could see the 5 mountains. Actually standing at the top of this area it felt like you were at the top of the world. Really breathtaking view!

We then made our way to the inn--Yusai. This inn is located in an onsen (hot spring) area called Kurokawa. Kurokawa is a very luxurious area in the Kumamoto prefecture that has managed to keep commercialism out as much as possible. Our inn had a facelift done recently. The lighting is very soft but has a really nice style about it. There were about 6 hot springs within the facilities! As we walked around before dinner, we found a cute little pastry shop, Patisserie Roku...we shared a great cream puff.

Dinner was kaiseki style. If you've ever gone to a Japanese inn, you'll know that kaiseki style can be the most elaborate style (I think) of Japanese food. There are LOTS of little courses to try and taste as you can see on my Flickr album. We were so stuffed, it didn't help that after dinner, the hotel brought us a platter of fruits, compliments of the hotel...(thank you!)

Day 2: Breakfast was again kaiseki style--very good and filling! We checked out and made our way to Yufuin. Yufuin is a little town in Oita prefecture. This town was recently featured in a soap opera that Satoshi and I watched. We drove around and found the Yufuin winery. This winery is located on the outskirts of the town area, and they have a great view of Mt. Yufu. We bought a bottle of their Merlot and a bottle of their Gerwurtztraminer (sp?). We then dropped off our bags at the inn-Shoya no Yakata. This hotel was amazing! It is a huge property located at the foot of Mt. Yufu (Yufudake) and has many bungalows. We then headed for town to look for lunch. Luckily, we found parking and found a nice place to have soba (buckwheat noodles).

After lunch, we walked around the town. It was a bit weird, the map we had didn't really match a lot of times and we finally realized that the town was so small that it couldn't really be mapped! Like once when the information center told us to turn right, we realized that it wasn't the type of "turn right" that we had envisioned. I think it is kind of like when you are driving in the countryside in America and they say "turn left" when you see the Smith's mailbox, or something like that. Anyway, we found the cafe that I had looked up on the internet, B-speak cafe. This cafe is located inside of the Yufuin Art museum and they have one of the fluffiest rolled sponge cakes I've ever tasted!

After our dessert, we found another shop that I found on the internet called Kotokotoya. Kotokoto is the onomatopoetic sound of something simmering. This shop specializes in jams. I bought the Yuzu (citron) marmalade because Oita prefecture is known for their citrus fruits.

Dinner was at the inn again kaiseki style. Boy, was it filling. After dinner, our waitress quietly told us that they would be taking some of the guests to see hotaru (fireflies). We were happy to be asked and excited to see them. It was the very first time for me to see fireflies, as we don't have them in Hawaii.

Day 3: After a very large kaiseki style breakfast, we set out to check out the rest of the town of Yufuin. But after walking around a bit, we realized that we had seen the majority of the town the day before, so we set out to Beppu. On the way to Beppu, we heard about the irises being in bloom at a park near a lake called Kagurame. The park was so large and there were many iris, but on such a hot and humid day, everything seemed to wilt, even me!

Beppu is a town that has many onsen (hot springs). It is also known for its "tour of hell" called Jigoku meguri. This is 9 hot springs which are too hot to enter for bathing and located at different places around Beppu. It was interesting to see these hot springs, but with the weather being so hot and humid, the heat from these hot springs were a bit much for me.

Our last stop was to see the carvings of the Buddha and another demi-god on the side of a mountain. This was called Kumanomagaibutsu. We hiked in about 300m then came the "stairs" it is actually rocks which form a staircase that shoots almost straight up! Luckily they have a hand rail to climb up and to climb down....At first when I saw the "stairs" I told Satoshi that I would wait for him at the bottom, but then I got up the courage to climb the stairs and I was glad I did. It was definitely something to see. Too bad this older lady spoiled the tranquility of it all by saying really loudly, "is this it? this is what I climbed up to see?"

All in all, we had a wonderful 3-day weekend filled with lots of good food, new experiences and great sights. I hope you enjoyed your weekend.

Hotaru no Sato Lin Lin
377-1 Koike
Aso city, Kumamoto Prefecture
Phone: 0967-32-3669

Patisserie Roku
6610 Oguni Manganji
Aso-gun, Kumamoto Prefecture
Phone: 0967-48-8101

Yufuin Winery
1140-5 Nakagawa
Yufuin, Oita Prefecture
Phone: 0977-85-5458

B-speak Cafe
2995 Kawakami
Yufuin, Oita Prefecture
Phone: 0977-28-8788

Jam Factory Kotokotoya
3037 Kawakami
Yufuin, Oita Prefecture
Phone: 0977-85-2203

Kat & Satoshi's Flickr album

Thursday, June 15, 2006

dark chocolates

Today it rained ALL DAY long. I think, if I didn't have a lesson to go to, I would have cooped myself inside all day. Of course, since I did have a lesson, this meant that I had to go out into the rain. I put on my Crocs and set out for the train station.

By the time I reached the station, I was dripping wet from the knees down! (so much for the umbrella!)

The only gross thing about wearing these Crocs is when you have to step into a relatively deep puddle. The feeling brought me back to highschool--when I was in marching band. We used to march in parades and of course at parades there are horses (who often poop on the roads.) The clean-up crew were usually at the very end of the parades, so this meant that we had to step into the poop--no swerving around it, we had to keep our formation and march right into it, so to speak...anyway, walking into the puddles today reminded me of this because sometimes there was no way to go around some of the puddles...needless to say, I quickly washed my feet after coming home...

Changing the subject though...I've been snacking on my dark chocolates stash...

The Moonstruck Dark Chocolates that I got from my Aunty awhile back were delicious! I really liked the Espresso Bean bar, every bite had crunchy espresso beans in it. The beans were a little bitter, but the sweetness of the chocolate really balanced it.

The Chile Variado bar was also good, unlike the Vosges' Fire Bar, this bar didn't have any cinnamon in it, so after the sweetness from the chocolate died down in your mouth, the chilies kicked in! Wow!

The Hershey's Extra Dark with Cranberries, Blueberries and Almonds that I got from my mom is a 60% cacao bar with lots of almonds, cranberries and blueberries--3 of my favorite foods to eat with dark chocolate!

Hope you are keeping dry where you are, one more day until the weekend!

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

garbage and recycling

Kind of a "stinky" subject to ramble on about...garbage.

When I came to Japan 5 years ago, I had to "learn" how to separate our rubbish. (In Hawaii, we don't separate our garbage and recycling has only started to pick-up due to the deposit of 5cents for every drink container. I was shocked when I went to the supermarket in Hawaii at how many plastic bags they use, almost 1 for each item!) In Japan, there are days that they only pick up burnables, days that they only pick up non-burnables and days that they pick up recyclables. Different cities have different rules for rubbish and recycle pick up.

I'm amazed at how small the trucks are here and 3 guys still ride in the cab of the truck--2 guys jump out to collect the garbage (I miss seeing that in Hawaii!)

For our city, Minoo, the plastic bottles that usually have drinks sold in them (called polyethylene terephthalate or PET bottles) have to be washed and turned in to local supermarkets along with egg containers (yes, they are clear and only 10 come in a pack) and styrofoam trays. The trays have to be washed too!

Milk containers must also be washed and cut like this then turned into the supermarket.

Aluminum cans, steel cans and glass bottles, have to be washed and sorted and left outside to be picked up.

Anywhere there are rubbish cans, you can always find them separating the garbage. These rubbish cans were in front of the 7-eleven nearby.

One thing you want to watch out for are the crows! I think they are they most evil birds around...Not only, do they poop on you while you walk under them, but, if you don't cover your rubbish with a net like this.....

He'll flip off any netting that isn't secured down and attack your garbage, looking for something to munch on---kind of like this....

Every resident in Minoo is allowed 20 liters of garbage for each pick up. Our city gives us 120 free garbage bags every April, if we use up our allotment before the next distribution (I think it was September), then we need to purchase more bags.

And you can't use any old garbage bag, it has to be the city's bag or they won't take your garbage! (Believe me, I've had my garbage bag refused!!) You may think that 120 bags should last a long time, but with all the junk mail and excessive plastic bags that are given to you when you buy things (I'm hoping they'll impose a 5yen charge for plastic bags--that should cut back the amount of bags that end up getting thrown out)--you'd be amazed at how fast a 20 liter bag fills up!

In order to cut down the amount of plastic bags that I keep, I have these two gadgets which I found at the 100yen ($1 ) store, it sticks to your refrigerator and you put your plastic bags inside from the top slot and take it out from the bottom slot--this way, if the gadget is full, I throw out the extra bags that I have. I usually use my cloth shopping bag, so the amount of plastic bags that I receive has dropped!

In our house, we also separate our garbage, left side for recyclables and right side for burnable rubbish.

Although, I have been separating and recycling for the past 5 years, I think I still have a lot more to learn about cutting back on waste!

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

strawberry jam

Well, I made the strawberry jam...now, what to eat with it?
1. Fresh out of the oven (plain) scones with this jam, chilled (and a nice cup of joe) is out of this world! It kind of reminded me of eating strawberry shortcake, without the whipped cream.

2. On pancakes. The pancake mix that I buy doesn't have any added sugar in it, so this jam matches perfectly.

3. A dollop in my morning yogurt was also very good.

Changing the subject, have you seen this movie? It was one of the movies that my Aunty Merle let me borrow. Calendar Girls is a very uplifting movie about the women in a little town in Yorkshire, England that band together to raise money for a good cause.

Hope you are enjoying your week, it has been very humid the past couple of days for us.