Tuesday, January 31, 2006

This Is How the Weekend Went...

Sorry. Like I already mentioned in my replies to the comments, I couldn’t take photos of the tea ceremony last weekend.

It was not really a formal tea ceremony anyway. It was actually some kind of event for “the commencement of the sightseeing season in Muroto city,” and people sold food and local specialties at 5 to 6 booths built along the path going down to the beach of cape Muroto. They made a set menu of a substantial bento, a bowl of fish’n vegetable soup and matcha with wagashi as a dessert for 1000 yen or something altogether. They sold about 150 meal tickets for this set menu, so my mom and her students needed to make tea 150 times and more. So you can see how far it was from formal tea ceremony. ;)

You might wonder how tea ceremony was related to the sightseeing in Muroto. It’s not that the traditional performance is especially popular in this area. But tea ceremony was something nice to add cultural and traditional touch to the event, I guess, and more than anything, it can use the leading product of the area – “deep sea water.” Yes, my mom and her students used deep sea water (desalted) for making matcha. I’ll talk about how it affected the taste of the tea later.

Anyway, these are the food photos I managed to take before we started setting up our booth. After that, I didn’t have a chance to take out my camera.

This was the booth by local chefs and they made and sold nigiri-zushi bento there. They started working earlier than any other booths.

This was the booth right next to us and they sold dried fish. I guess this was a rare opportunity to see hanging dried squid and matcha being served by women in kimono right next to each other. ;)

At our booth, we spread white cloth over the foldable tables and set 10 foldable chairs. My mom and her students made tea in one corner which was hidden from visitors by red-and-white backdrops. Three RELATIVELY young women (incl. myself) in kimono received tickets from visitors and told tea-makers the number, then brought matcha and wagashi to the tables.

The funny thing was that most of the wagashi was rice cakes with anko inside, and the rice cake part was so moist and sticky that the guests couldn’t cut it easily with a wooden pick. Most of the local people don’t really care about the manner of tea ceremony, but since women in kimono brought tea and took a bow as serving it, they seemed to have thought that they had to behave elegantly, too. So all of them tried to cut the wagashi nicely instead of stabbing it with the wooden pick and biting it off. It was hilarious to see them – even big old guys – trying so hard to cut the small rice cakes.

The most amazing thing was that there were three or four kids who really loved the matcha and asked for seconds, or thirds. One of them even came to the “backstage area” to say thank you to my mom and her students. I guess those of you readers who have tried matcha know how bitter it is. Even though we made weaker matcha for kids, it was totally amazing that kids loved it so much. The secret was the deep sea water. I don’t know why, but when you use deep sea water for cooking or making drinks, it always makes the taste a lot milder. Maybe because of its rich mineral content?? So, some think it ruins the real taste and flavor of tea or coffee, but some do like it.

Well, helping the event was kind of fun, after all, but I don’t know if I want to do this again in the future.

And the izakaya work that night just completely killed me. Honestly. :O
Dear readers,
Please help me with English. What's the difference between "desalted seawater" and "desalinated seawater?" The former had 217 hits and the latter had 9,540 hits with google, so the latter seems to be more popular, but is this a grammer thing or is there a difference in their production process or something?

Saturday, January 28, 2006

So Happy Now...

Nabeyaki Udon

Having a late night supper now after my izakaya work. Nabeyaki-udon, inspired by Amy’s recent post.

The fridge was delivered this morning. No more freezer defrosting in my life. Yay!! :D What I have now is a new fridge, clean kitchen, warm udon and sake on my kotatsu. And I’m watching Dae Jang Geum videotaped tonight. No work tomorrow.

...This IS happiness.

I’m going to stay at my parent’s house this weekend to help mom with some kind of tea-ceremony related event in my hometown. I’ll be serving matcha in kimono on Sunday. Then as soon as it’s finished, I need to come back to Kochi and work at the izakaya Sunday night because we have the biggest-ever reservation that night. But I don't want to think about it right now...

I’ll see you all sometime next week, if I survive this weekend. ;)

Thursday, January 26, 2006

I Shouldn't Be Doing This...

Mississippi Mud Cake

I hear you saying, “Obachan!! What are you doing!? Have you finished cleaning?!”
NO, not finished yet. But I had some leftover heavy cream from the caramel butter cake I made the other day. Now that my old fridge has been unplugged, I wasn’t sure if the cream would be OK without being refrigerated. So I took a break from cleaning and googled a little while to find a cake recipe that calls for heavy cream. And I finally found this Mississippi Mud Cake recipe.

Since I baked a butter cake just the other day, I wanted to stay away from butter this time, so I went for the Crisco. I had no chocolate for frosting, so I whipped the remaining heavy cream after the batter was put into the oven. And I needed to use up one more thing: frozen cream cheese frosting that had been thawed since the fridge was unplugged. I decided to slice the cake in half and sandwich the cream cheese with the slices.

The result? Well, I’ve never tried adding coffee to chocolate cake batter before and I was a bit skeptical, but the cake turned out great—at least, tastewise. (I didn’t do a good job mixing in the dry ingredients as you can see in the photo.) Yes, I like the taste. To me this seems to be a keeper... This is rather dangerous kind of cake for me, though. It is sweet but not heavily sweet, and I end up eating too much at one time.

Ahhh… still have some cleaning to do….!!! :O

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Freezer-Emptying Chowder

Freezer-emptying Chowder

Is this something universal? Does this happen to you, too? I mean, when home electronic products break down, they break down one after another, don’t they? Isn’t this Murphy's Law? Or does this happen only to me?

Anyway, I finally bought a new refrigerator today and it’s going to be delivered on Friday morning. Before I decided on which one to buy, I shopped around all afternoon till I was totally exhausted. What made me mad was that for having the fridge delivered, I had to pay extra 2000 yen, and what was worse, they charged me for another 5,355 yen for throwing away my old fridge that broke down.
※#●X !!! ** OK, sorry, I was wrong. The 5,355 yen was for the cost of recycling, not the cost for them to throw away the old appliance.

Now I need to empty the fridge I have now and clean the kitchen by Friday. Hence, this supper tonight. Maybe I should call it “chowder.” The quickest way to use frozen spinach, broccoli, corn, seafood mix, pork and chicken stock that were in the freezer. The taste? Edible, at least.

OK, let’s see the bright side of it. On this coming Friday, I’ll have a new, slightly bigger fridge with a self-defrosting freezer AND clean kitchen! For that kind of joy, I should be happy to go through the hardship of cleaning my old fridge AND the kitchen.

Oh, I hope I don't have to buy a new lanudry machine anytime soon!

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Too Much Information Meme

Lucas of Cooking In Japan tagged me for the Too Much Information meme, and looks like I’m supposed to post 10 random and interesting (and maybe weird) facts about myself and tag 5 people. OK, here’s 10 random facts, but I’m not sure if these are interesting to anyone.

1. I have practiced Aikido, Kyokushin Karate and Kung fu when I was young. Not all at one time, of course. My Aikido and Karate are all rusty now, but I still practice some Kung fu moves just to stay fit.

2. Before coming back to Japan after my stay in the U.S., I traveled around in Arizona for about a month, and I joined the Pink Jeep Tour (Broken Arrow!) in Sedona. That was really awesome! :D

3. I can play Japanese traditional instrument called Koto a little. I’m not very good, but I think I can still play a piece called “Roku-dan,” if I practice it several times.

4. I think I enjoy karaoke but only with friends who like the same kind of songs as I do.

5. In addition to the well-known cedar pollen, I’m allergic to some perfumes.

6. There’s a “dream pool cue” for me to adore watching in catalogues (but never really want to hold in my hands. Too good for me!)

7. I haven’t been to a movie theater for about 8 years… or could be… 10 years!

8. When I was working as an "office lady" in Osaka, I used to go dancing at Studebakers in Umeda about once a month.

9. I might have to buy a new laundry machine and/or fridge sometime soon. :( They don’t seem to be working properly these days…

10. I’ve been hooked on a Korean drama, Changumu no chikai (Dae Jang Geum,대장금, 大長今).  It’s a Korean dynasty drama and the heroine, changumu is a talented young woman working in the kitchen of the imperial court. It’s her success story, with lots of interesting information about Korean foods, and I heard that she becomes the king’s doctor eventually.

I’m going to tag fooDcrazEE, but I’m having trouble finding more fellow bloggers who are not tagged yet. Help me! Please leave a comment to let me know if you want to be tagged for this meme. The ten facts about you don’t have to be food-related. :)

1. fooDcrazEE
2. vivilicious (Thanks! :D)
3. Tokyoastrogirl (Thanks! :D)
4. Sara, The Wine Makers Wife (Thanks! :D)
5. Winslow (Thanks! :D)
And Liz (Thanks! :D)

Gee, thanks guys.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Caramel Butter Cake

Caramel Butter Cake

I have never had a real great success with my small kugelhof pan yet. Maybe it’s a stupid idea to bake pound-cake type cakes, not real kugelhof, in this kind of pan? I have seen photos of a fruit cake or cocoa cake baked in kugelhof pan, so I thought it should be OK... But no matter how long I baked, the side of my cakes didn't turn brown like the photos I saw on the net :(

Anyway, today I tried something I wanted to try since I read this entry on "she who eats." And I couldn’t resist the temptation to turn it into a caramel marble cake after I saw this site. Since my kugelhof pan is a small one, I reduced the amount of ingredients of this recipe (in Japanese) to 2/3, and added a couple teaspoonful milk to the batter because it looked a bit too thick without the caramel blended in. I thought everything went pretty OK. The batter didn’t flood like the time I made a cherry pound cake for Christmas, and the caramel was browned but not burned, leaving only a slight bitterness. Just one thing… again, the side didn’t turn brown.

What am I doing wrong? I buttered and floured the pan, but would it make a difference if I use oil instead of butter next time? (I can't get a non-stick spray here.) How can I bake a caramel butter cake like this? Should I set the oven temperature higher?? Mmm…. Need more practice, I guess.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

No Work Tonight!

Prawns with Chilli Sauce?

I felt like something spicy and prawns from Vietnam were on sale at the supermarket today, so I went for this Chinese dish using a ready-made sauce (retort pouch stuff) again. Tell me, what’s the most popular English name for this dish?

Soup dish for tonight

Another dish for tonight: “Trying-to-make-some-room-in-the-freezer soy milk soup.” Ingredients were: frozen salmon scrap from the bouillabaisse night, frozen gyoza dumplings from…I don’t remember when, leftover shungiku (garland chrysanthemum?) and very-close-to-the-expiration-date soy milk.

My boss at theIzakaya called me this afternoon and told me not to come to work tonight, so I’m enjoying an unexpected free time right now. Yay!

Maybe I’ll bake something tomorrow.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Foods I Enjoyed Last Sunday

Takoyaki (Octopus balls)

I went to see a traditional bow-shooting festival in a town called Yasu last Sunday. It was about noon when the festival was finished, and I bought one pack of takoyaki to eat in the beachside park called Ya-shii Park. The guy at the takoyaki stall was very nice. He gave me 2 extras because those takoyaki were rather dry from being left in the pan for quite a while.

A Huge Baked Sweet Potato and Ameyu (Hot and sweet ginger drink)

These were the treat at the festival called Momote-sai. You can see how big the sweet potato was in comparison with the paper cup (180 mL cup, I guess).

Iced coffee with ice cream, whipped cream and almond-flavored syrup

This is the coffee drink I had at “Café-Ya” near JR Yasu station while waiting for the train. The cream was so sweet, but it was a good contrast with the bitter coffee.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Project Mochi - Vol. 2 -

Mochi-Mentaiko-Cheese-Shiso Rolls

I know. I know. The vol. 1 of the “Project Mochi” series was posted LONG time ago -- actually a year ago -- on this blog. Now here’s finally "vol.2" after one year of silence! ;P I’m determined to try out a couple more recipes this month, so stay tuned.

I almost accidentally found this recipe on the net yesterday. Wrapped in spring-roll wrappers are shiso, thinly sliced mochi (rice cake), karashi mentaiko and sliced cheese. Absolutely no seasoning necessary. Just roll them up, seal and deep-fry.

Ahh…. the crunchy wrapper, silky mochi spiced up with mentaiko…! The overall taste is mellowed with cheese and freshened up with shiso. Mmmmmm.....
I used store-bought mochi made from glutinous rice (not the ones made from rice flour). The spring-roll wrappers seemed a little too big, so I cut them into quarters and made mini-rolls.

These mochi-rolls tasted heavenly with a locally brewed junmai ginjo-shu called Bijofu (美丈夫), my new favorite sake ;)

Friday, January 13, 2006

Izakaya Chronicles #1- Veggies! -

Leaf vegetables are expensive now. One cabbage costs something like US$4 at supermarkets around here, and the price of lettuce is said to be doubled in many places. It’s because of the cold wave and the heavy snowfall in the northern part of Japan this winter.

At our izakaya, we see less and less green veggies used for makanai (employees’ meal) these days. With our carbohydrate-rich meal in front of us, we joke that leafy veggies are poisonous and bad for health, and that’s why we shouldn’t use them for our own meals. Some nights are just so slow that we have nothing to do but to indulge in cynical jokes.

… I hope the snow in the north stops soon.

* The rubber boots in the photo are what I wear in the izakaya kitchen.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Lazy Morning with Biscuits

Yogurt Biscuits

Every month, the first week is the most hectic one at my daytime work. I have to complete and email a file by the midnight of the 10th and that task keeps me a little nervous at this time of the month. So after the 10th, I usually feel quite lazy, which is probably a rebound? ;P

This was my breakfast on a lazy morning in the second week of the month. I made yogurt biscuits with the trans-fat free shortening I mentioned in my blog before. (Yeah, I ordered a couple when I mentioned about it in my post at the end of last year.) I used this recipe, but added just a little bit of sugar.

The biscuits were pretty good, even with the cheap “cake syrup” to which they claim that pure Canadian natural maple syrup is added. I still have plenty of biscuits left, so for my late lunch I will probably get some sausage and try "biscuit sausage sandwich." I’m ready for something savory now … :)

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Sweet Seasons/January 2006 - Celebrating the New Year -

Wakatake (Young Bamboo)

In Japan, happy occasions are often celebrated with wagashi, and New Year’s holidays are no exception. At this time of the year, almost all Japanese confectionery shops sell wagashi that represent themes related to New Year’s celebration. They are often in the shape of the zodiac animal of the year, or animals/plants associated with good luck, such as crane, turtle, bamboo, pine and plum.

Wakatake (young bamboo) is associated with good health, strength and endurance because it grows fast and remains green all year round. Gold leaf is often used for New Year’s wagashi to add a festive touch.

Read More

Hanabira-Mochi (Flower Petal Rice Cake)

Hanabira mochi is a traditional New Year’s wagashi with a long history. Its origin is a dessert called “hishi hanabira” which has been part of the traditional New Year’s dishes at shrines and the Imperial Court for hundreds of years. In olden days, they had a custom of eating certain chewy foods as part of their New Year’s ritual of wishing a long life. (The idea of “keeping good teeth” was associated with “living long"). Included in the chewy foods was oshi-ayu (sweetfish with its head and tail cut off). Eventually the ritual was simplified and they started eating special rice cakes called hishi hanabira instead of the original ritual foods. It is said that the sweetened burdock strip rolled in the hishi hanabira rice cake is the substitute for the oshi-ayu, and the miso added to the sweet bean paste also rolled in the rice cake is associated with zoni soup, another traditional New Year's dish.

This site has a hanabira mochi recipe with a photo showing inside of this elegant wagashi. (Scroll down and click to enlarge the photo.) Yes, the name “hishi (diamond shape) hanabira (flower petal)” came from the diamond-shaped pink rice cake inside. This wagashi has been used at the first tea ceremony of the year by urasenke school of tea ceremony since they got a permission from the Imperial Court about 100 years ago. Recently hanabira mochi has become popular among those who do not practice tea ceremony, too.

* Wagashi by Shingetsu

http://www.yamakosenbei.co.jp/HAKU/hana.htm (Japanese)
and a few other sites.
Comments and corrections are welcomed.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Sorry, Not Nanakusa-Gayu

Just a regular-porridge, not nanakusa-gayu

As I wrote before, my dad likes observing traditional customs very much. So maybe some of you expected my family to eat nanakusa-gayu (rice porridge with the seven herbs of spring) on January 7th? Well, sorry to disappoint you, but we don’t. (For a very thorough explanation and an authentic recipe of nanakusa-gayu, visit Amy’s site. ;))

You might expect traditional customs to be better observed in rural areas while gradually dying out in big cities, but this nanakusa-gayu custom could be an exception -- it might be spreading from bigger cities to countryside now, at least in some parts of Japan. The reason is that to obtain the “official” seven-herbs for nanakusa-gayu at this time of the year, you need to be in an area with good distribution system. In many places in Japan, some of the seven-herbs are not available in the field at this time of the year, and the only way to get them is to buy a “nanakusa kit” at franchised big supermarkets. So if there’s no such supermarket in the area, there's no way to get the “official” ingredients. I guess that’s the reason why this custom is not observed in some very rural areas or the ingredients are substituted with whatever locally available.

I may be wrong but from what I have read, this porridge-eating custom was imported from China, and in place of the herbs Chinese people were using at that time, our ancestors picked seven Japanese herbs for the ingredients. I assume the person who decided the “official” seven-herbs in Japan picked the ones available around the New Year's Day in old Chinese calendar in the particular area where he was living.

In my hometown, my family has never made nanakusa-gayu, and I don't remember any of my elementary school classmates mentioning the porridge-eating custom. Teachers made us memorize the names of the seven herbs, but we had never seen most of them. In Kochi city where I live now, I saw the packed nanakusa herbs at a nearby supermarket, though I just didn't feel like buying them this year.

Perhaps, as franchised supermarkets and convenience stores become popular in rural areas, and as TV cooking shows feature nanakusa-gayu more often than before, the custom would be introduced to rural areas including my hometown. I might try making the nanakusa-gayu myself next year. After all, it seems to be a good idea to rest our stomach with this kind of meal after a week of osechi-binging and sake-drinking.

Anyway, my porridge in the top photo isn’t nanakusa-gayu. I cooked leftover rice in the soup of yudofu (simple tofu soup?) from the night before, just to finish up the leftovers ;P

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Apple-Walnut Muffins

Apple-Walnut Muffins

After the intensive osechi consuming period (???), I craved sweet smell of apple, butter and cinnamon. So I made these for breakfast this morning. Yes, my first baking of 2006.

Hmmm... so good. :D

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Unorthodox Osechi at My Parents' - 2006 -

New Year’s Day is a time for tradition in Japan. Just like many other families in this country, my family (my parents, my sister, her husband and two kids and me) got together and celebrated the holiday. (Photos with '*' mark can be enlarged.)


As I wrote in my New Year’s celebration entries last year, my family, especially my dad, always makes a big fuss about observing the traditional customs, but the funny thing is that our family tradition is quite different from the mainstream practice. For example, I don’t know any household in my hometown (or anywhere else) that makes a decoration like the one in the left photo. Dad calls it "yone" and I assume the name probably came from "rice." I have no idea when and who started this custom in my family...
Looks like dad forgot to add taro last year but this year he didn't forget to do so.

We did the ceremony with otoso (sake dedicated to god) and zoni (rice cake soup) in the morning as we do every year, then we went into the dining room and had a big feast. (I heard that otoso usually means sweetened sake, but at my parents' house, it is straight sake.)

Read More

As I wrote last year, our osechi (traditional New Year dishes) is quite unorthodox as well as the decorations. Sorry, the food photos are a little blurred this year. It was not my or my new digital camera’s fault. My sister’s kids were so excited and they tried to hug me when I was taking shots and also tried to get their hands with peace signs in the food photos. The bigger one above is the only shot that survived without being blurred. We have to give the kids credit, though. Three of the below photos are the jubako (lacquer boxes) that they packed. * For more detailed explanation of osechi, see these sites.

It has been our big problem that we make too much osechi every year, so this time we really made an effort to reduce the variety and quantity of the food. We bought no rolled-sushi and less of the colorful kamaboko (steamed fish cake), but we did make the "must-haves" like kobumaki (fish strips rolled in kelp), inari-zushi (sushi rice stuffed in deep-fried tofu pouch) and konnyaku-sushi. You can have a better look of the konnyaku-sushi this year. They are the gray, triangle-shaped stuff underneath the turtle ornament in the bigger osechi photo. We sliced konnyaku (devil's-tongue jelly) into triangular pieces, boiled and seasoned them with soy sauce, sugar, etc. then made a deep cut in each piece to make a pocket and stuffed it with sushi rice. Of course, we couldn’t omit the kids’ favorites: ebifurai (breaded and deep-fried prawns) chicken karaage (deep-fried chicken) and meat balls. But I must confess that about half of our osechi food was store-bought. (Oh, and what I called “a BIG mistake” was the red-and-white vinegared lotus roots. They had a real unpleasant bitter taste which the vinegar couldn’t hide, and my sis’s husband said it probably came from some kind of bleach they seem to have used.) :(

We should have used something better than a plastic tupperware to put the kazunoko (seasoned herring roe) in. ;P

Since the ocean was rough and local fishermen couldn’t go fishing at the end of last year, no wild yellowtail was available. The sashimi was pretty good, though... except the extra-chewy squid sashimi.

After the osechi, my niece prepared green tea for everyone (except my dad who was taking a nap). My mom teaches tea ceremony and looks like she gave my niece an intensive lesson a few days before the New Year’s Day.

These are the wagashi we had: the photo on the left is higashi (dry-type wagashi) and the one on the right is namagashi (moist-type).

So, we went through the necessary rituals again this year. It made all the family members really busy, but we know that we would have felt awfully sad and dull if we hadn’t done it (but once a year is definitely enough).

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year everyone!
I’m back! :D I left my parents’ house around noon yesterday, came back to my apartment in the afternoon, rested for a short while, and then went to work at the izakaya. Boy, I had a hell of a start this year!!

Since most of the restaurants and drinking places were still closed, our izakaya was terribly crowded last night with the people who wanted to celebrate the 2nd day of the new year, though we… at least I… wasn’t ready for work at all. Of course not… In Japan, most companies are closed at least for the first 3 days of the year. We are supposed to pig out and goof off, watching New Year’s special shows on TV, at least for the first 3 days!! But I had to work like crazy last night. I broke 2 glasses and 1 big plate, and finally dropped a big heavy cast-iron griddle on my right shin. Now I have a big bruise there. Oh boy… I was feeling pretty miserable until I came back to my apartment after midnight and found so many nice comments/greetings waiting for me on my blog :D Yeah, they really saved the day. Thanks a million!

Right now I’m relaxing for the first time this year, eating leftover osechi (New Year’s special dishes) I brought back in a tupperware container. At my parents’ house, I had fun but they – especially my sisters’ kids – kept me rather busy. The top photo is one of the osechi dishes we had at my parents' house. (More details will follow soon. ) My parents, too, must be eating the same thing again today :)
Jan. 5, 2005

I replaced the top photo. This is one of the (rental?) kadomatsu decoration they have now in front of the izakaya I work at. The osechi photo was moved to the next post. :)

* Oh, I'm using a special new year's template for my another blog until Jan. 7th, if you are interested.