Friday, August 31, 2007

life of a cicada

At the beginning of summer, you'll notice all these empty skins called utsusemi left by the semi (cicada). If you ask me, they give me the creeps. But amazingly, they are quite fragile. You can sometimes see them blowing around on the ground.

According to Satoshi, during the summers when he was growing up, they would go around with a net to catch the hatched semi or catch them with their hands (eww!). He said they would look in the trees because that is where the hatched semi fed on the sap of the trees.

Nowadays, you often see children roaming around the neighborhood with these LONG handled nets and a little plastic box--this is where they keep their bounty. (Sometimes you can hear the semi screeching from inside the plastic box--which is actually quite irritating.)

The semi fly around looking for young trees to feed off of and make noises which remind me of those cartoon space ships taking off and/or garden sprinklers.

Apparently, Osaka has a huge population of kumazemi (bear cicada?). This type of semi is supposed to be larger than other semi and they have clear wings. Satoshi says that when he was young, if you were able to catch one of these, "you were the hero" (the kumazemi was a rare species then).

Another type of semi is the aburazemi (oil cicada?), these cicada have darkened wings. Both of these semi have different chirping/screeching sounds, which I can't really describe but when Satoshi describes them for me, it makes me laugh.

The thing I don't like about these semi is that they die anywhere and everywhere. I'm kind of leery of passing under trees because they sometimes just drop dead onto you, or sometimes they fly aimlessly hit you and then die (kamikazes?)....blah. Walking around the neighborhood, it kind of looks like a battlefield of sorts-- bodies of dead semi, wings of semi, road-kill semi--you get the picture. This little guy decided to let out a few screeches before keeling over on my lanai. I'm glad he was kind enough not to die on my lanai slippers (believe me, I've found them there too!)

Towards the end of September, when the weather starts to cool, the suzumushi(bell-ring crickets) and koorogi(cricket) start to come out in the evenings and chirp their chirp. That's when you know you've survived the heat and humidity of another Japan summer.

We still have a ways to go until the weather starts to cool, but it is the end of August and technically summer is over. What a hot and humid one it was...whew!

Thursday, August 30, 2007

suzuki shoten

We got these ice candies (popsicles) from Satoshi's staff the other week. (Thank you!)

It was made by Suzuki Shoten (shoten means shop or store). The packaging is very retro looking. They have 4 flavors--banana, calpis, milk and milk kintoki (milk with azuki). Calpis is an interesting drink that kind of looks like watered down milk with a little citrus flavoring but is really sweet.

I did a little surfing and found out that they have been in business for about 60 years and only sell 1100 of these a day. They start selling them at 5:30am and usually sell out within 2 hours! Wow!

The one that is pictured is the calpis, I also read that the banana one has actual slivers of banana in it. I can't wait to try the other flavors!

Suzuki Shoten
3-1-1 Tanaka-cho
Higashinada, Kobe
Phone: 078.431.5744
Closed Tuesdays & Wednesdays
Open from 10:00-16:00 or until everything sells out!

p.s. I forgot to mention that most bars are 60 yen (about US $.60)!

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

gesshoku

Last night, we were able to catch the ending of the lunar eclipse from our lanai. (It was really cloudy, so we missed the beginning.)

In Japanese, lunar eclipse is called gesshoku. The chinese characters are tsuki (moon) and shoku (eat). In a sense, the full moon is "being eaten" by the shadow of the earth.

By the way, a solar eclipse is called nisshoku. The chinese characters are nichi (day/sun) and shoku (eat) and the sunlight is "being eaten" by the new moon passing between of the earth and the sun.

Hope you were able to see the eclipse where you were.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

culture shock

Japan's customer service in department stores are wonderful, and sometimes I think it is a bit too much. You get treated like royalty when the doors first open and everyone bows to you. I honestly thought someone famous was along side of me, until I realized that they were bowing at me! (and everyone else around me.) No one working in U.S. department stores would ever imagine having to give this type of service.

When you go to a gas station here, they give you "full service", throw out your trash, clean your windows and even stop traffic and bow as you leave!

Customer service in other industries, like banking, can be a bit iffy.
In Hawaii, as well as the U.S., you can do your banking anytime of the day or week, on the computer or over the phone. We are definitely spoiled in the U.S.

This is not the case in Japan.

If you want to withdraw money from your bank's ATM, you have to do it between the designated times or be prepared to pay a "penalty fee" (isn't it my money? apparently not).

If you want to deposit money, you have to do it between designated times, or wait until the next working business day. (so now they don't want my money? apparently yes.)

You want to transfer money from one bank account to another, you have to pay a handling fee, even if the bank is the same but the branch is different.

How about if you want to do an automatic transfer over the phone? You have to do it during the designated times. (isn't everything computerized? apparently yes, but you still need to do it during the designated times.)

And if all this doesn't frustrate you to the point of keeping all your savings in your socks, the interest rate is something like 0.0001%! (so there was really no point of keeping your money in the bank in the first place)

All ranting aside, I wanted to share some exciting news, my friend, Michael Mischer's chocolates are now being sold on Hello Delicious! (look under the chocolate section) Now you can purchase his chocolates on-line. Congratulations Michael!---UPDATE: (9/11/08) just checked the Hello Delicious page and they are no longer in business, for chocolates by Michael Mischer you have to go directly to his shop (though I see a spot for online shopping in the works on his site).

Monday, August 27, 2007

mottainai!

"Mottainai" is a word that we use that means "wasteful" or "what a waste". In Hawaii, we would say "poho". I didn't realize this but the prized waterfall in Minoo is actually "fake".

I was saddened to find out that when the city of Minoo or the Osaka prefecture (I'm not sure which) built a tunnel which now saves drivers 17 minutes to get from point a to b, apparently cut off several natural rivers and springs, including the one that supplies the falls. To remedy this, the city is now paying 34 million yen (about US $300,000) a year to run electrical pumps to pump in the water for the falls.

Many communities that were affected by this tunneling now say that their natural well water was contaminated and that they cannot drink from it anymore.

We don't own a car, so we don't know what value tunnels or roads have here. But, I can tell you it isn't worth saving 17 minutes to destroy something that was there hundreds of years before we were.

(Photo taken from the Minoo city website)

Sunday, August 26, 2007

organic beer

Awhile back, a fellow blogger, Martin, posted about Japanese organic beer, here. I don't know if it was the word "organic" or the word "beer" or a combo of both that piqued my interest, but I wanted to try it. The other day, I happened upon it at the market, so I picked up a couple to try.

Made by the Yahho Brewing Company, they have several beers. (Yahho by the way, is what the Japanese yell in the mountains as a kind of yodel, kind of like Yode-lehi-hoo (sorry don't know how to spell it) in other countries.) The organic one is called Shinshu San-San. Shinshu is an area in Nagano prefecture that is known for their soba(buckwheat noodles) and beautiful mountains and san-san (means to shine brilliantly). On the can it is written sun sun (the sun shining brilliantly, get it??). Both the hops and malt are 100% organic from Germany. I was surprised that it was relatively inexpensive. I would have thought since it was organic that it would have been more pricey. I was also surprised that this beer was a little fruity and the foam didn't last too long on top. It still went nicely with the spareribs and cole slaw I made for dinner on Saturday.

Another beer made by this company is called Yona Yona Ale. (I'm not sure if yona yona means something) This beer has won several awards and was more expensive than the organic one. It is also a bit darker than the organic one. And like the organic one, is a little fruity, but I think I like this one better. It paired nicely with the okonomiyaki that I made for dinner tonight.

They also have a dark one which I am really interested in trying, hopefully it will appear in the supermarkets around here.

Hope you are enjoying the weekend, have a nice week.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

letting off steam

As if it weren't hot enough outside, I need to vent some steam from the inside...

I don't know about you, but when I go grocery shopping, I bring my own bags, even the produce ones. (My goal is to eventually stop using those produce bags.) After buying items, I re-use the produce bags and only when they are used to hold meats/fish, do I throw them out filled with raw garbage.

So, I go to the store today and bring a produce bag. None of the items I bought needed a produce bag, so it was in my basket un-used. The girl at the register took my items from the basket and put them into another basket as she rung everything up....then throws away my un-used bag into the trash!

I was so mad! I told her I brought that bag to re-use. She didn't even apologize, she just gave me a new produce bag! which defeated the whole purpose of my recycling!

I think Japan is really two-faced when it comes to recycling. On one hand they are all about separating your trash and recycling this and that. On the other hand, you go to a department store and they wrap EVERYTHING in nice paper, which looks nice but is totally wasteful. And when you go to the bakery or bread shop, every item is separately put into its own plastic bag then stuffed into a plastic/paper shopping bag! Even when you buy a bento(boxed lunch), they don't ask if you need chopsticks, they automatically put them in the plastic shopping bag with your lunch.

I try to stay one step ahead of these cashiers by saying that I don't need a bag, or I'll take the item as is. And some stores have started giving little discounts for people who bring their own bags.

Still, Japan and I have a long way to go with recycling. Thanks for listening.

Friday, August 24, 2007

yuuhi

Even between the buildings and electrical wires, you can still find some beautiful yuuhi (sunsets).

Have a nice weekend!

Thursday, August 23, 2007

snap, crackle, boom

The whole sky lit up with lightning and our building shook with the thunder.

The X like thing is the reinforcement in our glass door leading out to the lanai.

I think this is to prevent break-ins and also to prevent the glass from shattering in case of an earthquake.

I know, I know, you aren't supposed to stand close to the glass while lightning and thunder are going on for fear of electrocution, but it was so exciting to see the lightning rip through the sky!

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

deconstructed lettuce cups

Satoshi and I really like minced pork with lettuce cups. It was an appetizer we used to order at a bar we used to often go to in Hawaii. (Ryan's Bar & Grill, I wonder if it is still on the menu?)

Last year, after finding hoisin sauce here, I made this using minced chicken and posted about it here.

Since I had some water chestnuts left over from our foodie staff parties, I decided to make minced pork with lettuce cups.

I was a bit disappointed with the lettuce though, they were so puny! (Must be due to the weird weather that has been occurring around Japan.) So instead of using the leaves as cups, I tore them up and made it into a warm salad of sorts.

It still hit the spot.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

another kind of latte

I know I've been whining endlessly about how scorching it is outside, but inside with the a/c on, brrr...it is cold.

I wanted to use up some matcha (green tea) & kinako (powdered soy bean) that I had, so I looked in a cookbook and found a recipe for matcha milk (green tea milk). I used the recipe and substituted the matcha with the kinako/matcha mixture.

Kinako Matcha Latte adapted from "Onomimono wa ikaga desu ka?"

Put one teaspoon of the matcha/kinako mixture into a pot with one tablespoon of sugar and one cup of milk. Heat. Using a milk frother, whip it up. Add a dash of the matcha/kinako powder on top for decoration. (If you don't have kinako, just make this with matcha only.)

The froth wasn't as thick as when you froth up milk alone, but it was really easy, a little sweet (not as sweet as Starbucks chai latte, which is way too sweet for me) and tasted wonderful.

Changing the subject, as I was cooking pasta for my dinner, I noticed the clouds outside.






When I looked in this direction, the clouds looked like they were bursting out from one point.



And these just looked huge--something I have never seen before.

Hope you are beating the heat where you are!

Monday, August 20, 2007

foodie staff party (part 3)

Over the weekend, the 2 staff parties went well. The only bad thing was that outside the temperature was about 38C(100F) and our a/c was overworked with the amount of people in our place at one time so the inside of our place was 33C(91F)--talk about sauna!

We received all kinds of gifts from his staff. In Japan, when you receive a gift like fruit, cake or wine, it is an unwritten rule, but you are supposed to serve it to the people you received it from. When I first encountered this, I was appalled because when you give a gift you don't give it with intentions for receiving or partaking in it.

The other week we received those giant grapes and also some cookies.

Ramen from Kyushu. This is Kumamoto ramen from Maruichi.
Tonkotsu(simmered pork with bones and root veggies) soup base. We had to add our own green onions and yakibuta (roast pork). A delicious treat for the hostess who spent all the time in the kitchen cooking while Satoshi ate and drank with his staff. (I think the 8 of them drank about a case of beer and they were all women!)

Petits Gateaux Assortis, which I think means assortment of petite cakes from Henri Charpentier. These were so cute! I just can't imagine buttering these tins. Pictured are the madeleine (plain), pyramid (orange peel), madeleine au te (earl grey), financier au chocolat (chocolate), and praline (cake with praline paste and amaretto). Delicious!

And a semi-tropical bouquet of flowers.

There was lots of laughter, lots of drinking and lots of eating. I think everyone enjoyed themselves.

Hopefully the temperature will go down, I water my plants twice a day now and in the morning they are still kind of limp.

Take care and have a nice week.

Friday, August 17, 2007

o-haka mairi

Yesterday Satoshi had the day off so we decided to do ohaka mairi (visit the graves of his ancestors), since it is the end of O-bon (the season to visit your ancestors graves).

We got up at our "normal workday" time and left for Shiga Prefecture, which is about an hour and a half by train. The weather was sunny--HOT and very HUMID. Our first stop was Nagahama. We visited here last year to do ohaka mairi and I posted about that here.

Since then, they have renovated the station and have this huge stained glass.






There were many utsusemi (shells of the released cicada) on the graves which was actually kind of creepy.









And also this little guy was hanging around the gravestone.

From Nagahama, we went to Hikone. We prayed for Satoshi's mother's ancestors here and then had lunch at a cafe called Milk House. They specialized in Mediterranean food and wine.

We each had a plate of appetizers (smoked mackrel, brook trout fritter, octopus carpaccio and tuna carpaccio).

Satoshi had the seafood pasta.

I had their homemade bacon with tomato pasta.

And we each had an assorted dessert plate (grapfruit gelatin, chestnut cake, coffee gelatin, and pannacotta).

After eating a big, delicious lunch, we walked back to Hikone station. Walking down the street was kind of like taking a trip to old Japan. There were many wooden signs.

Like this pachinko parlor, the top half of the building is modern, but the bottom half is maintaining the theme of the town.









There were also these cute tiles all over the place.

It is the "world series" of high school baseball now, many teams from around Japan play-off to enter this event. This event happens every spring and summer. Summer's games are a bigger deal than the spring. The whole town kind of stops to watch their team play and the team get lots of attention--like this team from Shiga.

From Hikone, we went to Kyoto to visit Satoshi's father's ancestor's graves.

We decided to take a taxi since we were in no mood to stand in a crowded bus. The line was long for the taxi. But, still moved rather quickly.

The taxi driver we had, had zero personality (he didn't even answer us when we told him where we were headed, but could stop and shout out to his friend to go drinking!), plus he smelled REALLY stinky. BLAH! Thank goodness the ride wasn't too long!

I noticed on many of the graves that families have their mon (crest) on the container that holds the candles. Satoshi's family crest is the chigai kashiwa (different oak).

As we were making our way down from the cemetery to catch the bus, we were lucky to come upon a taxi with a very personable driver. After chatting with the driver, we caught the train and made it back to Osaka. (What a hot, sticky day! I think they said it was 37C(98.6F) in Osaka.) It definitely felt hotter, almost like when you stick your hand in the oven to take something out.

We bought ourselves some Nagahama beer, made by the Nagahama Romanticist Beer Company.

I got their stout--a smoky dark beer and Satoshi got their Weitzen (he didn't let me taste it! must have been good!)

It was a very long, sizzling day and a very long post, but at least we got to do all the things we set out to do, and they say today will be even hotter...oh, boy!

Milk House
3-5-46 Kyomachi
Hikone, Shiga
Phone: 0749-22-1676
Lunch: 11:30-14:00
Dinner: 18:00-21:00
Closed on Wednesdays

Thursday, August 16, 2007

keeping cool

After reading this on Sue's blog in May, I've been wanting to try her recipe for Bi bim kook soo. I only used her recipe for the sauce and put some bulgogi on top so that it would make this a bit more hearty for dinner. The sauce has just the right amount of zing to it, not to sweet, not too spicy, just right. I would definitely make this again.

A new limited edition beer from Minoh Beer, a local brewery. I've tried their Stout and written about it here. This beer was a bit different though, they used the juices from the cabernet and viognier grapes and then added the hops and stuff to turn it into a beer. It smells like wine, tastes like wine with fizz then the wine taste ends with a beer taste. Different indeed!

The other day, I made another batch of Coffee Azuki Gelatin. This time I didn't use condensed milk, I substituted skim milk for it and just let the sweetness come from the an (sweet bean paste).

It was a little bitter, yet refreshing and helped me forget about the heat and humidity if only for a bit.

Hope you are keeping cool/warm (depending on which hemisphere you are in)!

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

asari no kare rice

The hot and humid days continue. I think they said that the temperature yesterday was 36C(96F) and the humidity was 67%...blah! Somehow it felt more like 196C and 150% humidity and people seem more in a zombie-like state walking about.

With school out for summer, I've noticed more grandparents/parents in the markets with their grandkids/kids. I understand that the grandpas/dads need to keep their grandkids/kids entertained while grandma/mom shops, but please don't stand in the middle of the aisles in zombie-mode. I get so frustrated because I say "excuse me" (in Japanese) and no one moves!

Anyway, instead of leaving the a/c on all day, I sometimes open my screen doors and open the front door a little with a shoe (to get a cross breeze) and to let in some fresh air. Today, I had a little excitement. While I was sitting at the computer, out of the corner of my eye I saw something jump...it was a little spider. This was the third time a spider had come inside (I wonder if it was the same one?). I shooed it outside, boy that spider was fast and could jump!

And if I thought that was exciting, later on in the afternoon, as I was about to close the glass doors to turn on the a/c, I noticed that a bee came inside and was hanging around the curtains. Big scary bugger it was. I quickly ran out onto the lanai and opened the screen door to let the it out. Luckily, it was cooperative and went out without much fuss, though my heart was pounding.

So enough of my rambling...Curry with rice, or curry rice as it is called here, is a favorite in our household. I am always looking for new ways to make curry and found a recipe in "Soshoku no susume - Summer recipes". This recipe uses asari (manila clams) which are in season now.

Serves 2
1/2 onion, diced
1 small carrot, diced
1 medium potato, diced
200g asari (manila clams)
1 tablespoon sake (rice wine)
2 cups stock
2 tablespoons flour
1 tablespoon curry powder

Seasonings: 1 teaspoon wasanbon (a soft brown sugar that is used in mostly in Kagawa and Tokushima prefectures and in most Japanese confections)
1 teaspoon shoyu (soy sauce)
salt and pepper to taste

Put the asari in a shallow water bath with salt and leave in a dark, cool place (the refrig) for 7 to 8 hours. (This is for the clams to spit out the sand)

Put the asari into a pan with a lid and sprinkle the sake over it. Heat with the cover on until the shells open and steam for a bit. Set aside.

In a pot, put the stock and juices that came out from the steamed asari, cook the veggies in this liquid until tender.

Take some of the stock from the cooked veggies and add to the flour and curry powder, to make a roux. Add this mixture to the veggies.

Add the seasonings and bring to a boil.

When the liquid starts to thicken, add the asari and when the mixture comes back to a simmer, turn off the heat.

Serve over rice.

NOTES: Following the recipe was....a mess. I think the next time I make this I would add the curry directly to the pot and mix the flour or cornstarch with some water. I ended up having to add more stock to melt the flour/curry clumps and then fish through the curry to take out the clumps that didn't melt. As for taste, the spiciness was just right and went well with rice and fukujinzuke (veggies pickled in soy sauce).

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

hiyashi chuka

Ever since summer started I've been wanted to eat this--hiyashi chuka. Apparently, when you plate it you are supposed to mound it up and it is supposed to look like Mount Fuji. Also, all the ingredients you use are supposed to represent the different seasons, like pink ham for spring, green cucumber for summer, brown menma (seasoned bamboo shoots) for autumn and white itokanten (stringy agar-agar) for winter.

I couldn't find a recipe that replicated this, so I used the one that I found on the internet.

I need to doctor up the sauce because it wasn't quite what I had in mind. Plus, I want to find thinner noodles. Still, it was a really refreshing dinner.

Hiyashi chuka translated from the internet
Serves 2
2 bundles of chinese noodles
sliced ham or yakibuta (roast pork)
diced tomato
julienned cucumber
egg made thin like a crepe

Sauce:
1/2 cup chinese soup
2 tablespoon shoyu (soy sauce)
1-1/3 tablespoon vinegar
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon sesame oil

Cook your noodles according to the package and chill in an ice bath.
Top with all the toppings.
Pour some of the sauce over your noodles.
Enjoy with a dab of japanese mustard.

NOTES: I think you could substitute somen for the noodles and top with your favorite veggies.

Monday, August 13, 2007

odds & ends

This photo is for Marianna--she wanted to see my basil. I think her basil looks way more healthy than the ones I have.





Have you ever seen grapes this big? They are called Kyoho (which literally mean top giant) and about 2 inches in diameter, the skins are quite bitter, so we either peel them or pop the whole thing in our mouths and spit out the skins after eating the insides. Some have seeds and some do not. If you want grapes that actually taste like grape, these are something to try, but be careful, these are really expensive. We received these from Satoshi's staff yesterday. (Thank you!)

My lace lavender has started to flower again. They first flowered in the winter and now have started again.





The other day, I found a shriveled up cherry tomato in our refrig, so I squeezed out some seeds and threw them into this pot. ( I hope it will be able to give us some tomatoes without something eating it first.)