Flu Season Comfort

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Ever wonder what everybody else eats when they’re down with a cold? Having been brought up on okayu, or rice porridge, whenever I came down with the flu as a kid, I started wondering what other cultures do when the sniffles take over. Of course, the great American cure is chicken soup–apparently it’s even good for the soul; and there have been scientific studies done on its actual physical benefits too, like the steam from hot soup being good for congestion, or the inhibitive effects on inflammation which is the cause of sore throats.

matzo

matzo ball soup

Most comfort foods during times of illness are easy to digest and kind of on the bland side because, let’s face it, we don’t have much of an appetite when we’re sick anyway. Hot broth like chicken soup does make us feel better, doesn’t it? It’s also the recommended food in Germany too, and the Jewish variation is Matzo ball soup, often called the “Jewish Penicillin”.

bianco

bianco

In Italy it is of course pasta, but it is strictly dieta in bianco, meaning a white diet. Nothing more than boiled pasta with a little bit of butter or olive oil and parmigiano, the water used to boil the pasta can be a beef broth, but it has to clear, strained, and fat-free. Other cheeses are too strong, so parmesan is used as the only flavoring, and small pasta is used so it can be chewed easily.

Australians love their Vegemite on toast when they’re sick, even though it hasn’t beenvege described in flattering terms by others. President Obama once said “It’s horrible” and called it a “quasi-vegetable by-product paste that you smear on your toast for breakfast.” Vegemite is actually leftover brewer’s yeast extract mixed with vegetable and spice additives. It’s been described as salty, slightly bitter and malty, but it is rich in umami, similar to beef bouillon.

khichri

khichri

In India, a simple porridge of beans, vegetables and rice called khichri (pronounced kich-ah-ree) is their comfort food–used to nourish babies, the elderly and the sick. To many Indians it even has spiritual meaning as a detoxing and cleansing health food. Many versions use spices like curry powder or tumeric, and the white rice (basmati) and lentils are usually cooked to a porridge texture when introduced to babies as their first “adult” food.

congee

congee

And speaking of rice porridge, the Chinese version of okayu, known as congee, and the Korean jook, are both also popular foods for the sick because it is easily digested. Compared to okayu their rice gruel is more soupy. There are similar dishes in other Asian countries as well, under different names of course. In Burma it is hsan byok, in India it is kanji, and in Indonesia it is known as bubur. If you would like to try Japanese okayu, you really don’t have to wait until you’re sick. You don’t even need a rice cooker if you have a thermal food jar like the one in this recipe from Zojirushi. Many rice cookers also have porridge settings, but be sure to read the instructions carefully before cooking this special type of rice dish.

Depending on where you grew up in the world, I’m sure there were comfort foods that you still remember to this day, and I’ll bet if you have kids, you’ve passed it on to them. Being sick wasn’t all that bad, now was it? What did you have when you were sick?

Credits: Matzo Ball Soup by sassygirlz, Bianco Pasta by rinaz, Khichri by inner-gourmet, Congee by shavedicesundays

 

Where Am I?
Can you guess where I took my Zojirushi bottle? Let me know!
Hint: I was only here for about 5 minutes!
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Wishing You a Happy Thanksgiving!

Time is flying dear friends, and we have so much to be grateful for this month. November marks our favorite American holiday, the tradition of Thanksgiving! Thanksgiving embodies everything we at Zojirushi believe in. From coming together with loved ones, to sharing a homemade meal, Thanksgiving is a great time for cooking, eating, and giving. It is a time to reflect on all that we have, give thanks for our blessings, and also to give back to the less fortunate. Food drives and community potlucks are some of our favorite weekend outings this time of year.

As we meditate on the spirit of giving, we recognize that it is not only in the charitable sense. Giving thanks is an obvious one for November, but we can give in so many different ways! Ask your kids to give a little more when they do their homework, give more to your spouse, or hold the door open that much longer for a stranger. Whatever giving may mean to you, put it into practice this November. Let’s pay it forward and give!

Although this month is all about giving, it is not the only thing on our mind. We’ve got eating and cooking on our minds as well. With all the delicious seasonal produce available in November, who wouldn’t have food on the brain! From hearty fall pumpkins and squash to luscious persimmons and sweet seasonal quince, we are endlessly grateful to our local farmers!

We hope to share pictures, recipes and ideas with you throughout the month as well as through the winter holidays. We find that YOU are always our biggest inspiration so let us know what you are cooking and eating this month, and Happy Thanksgiving! Cheers, Zojirushi!

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Finding Zen in the Japanese Garden

The Japanese Garden or Nihon Teien is a magical place where one may find peace, serenity, art, and balance. These traditional Japanese gardens create perfect miniature landscapes that can be surreal and breathtaking. Throughout Japanese history you will find royal gardens for pleasure and art, or Buddhist gardens for peace and meditation. Stepping into a Japanese garden today is sure to calm the mind as well as please the senses!

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Take a moment, close your eyes and imagine a monk delicately drawing lines in the sand of a Buddhist rock garden. Now imagine some golden Koi as they swim through a trickling pond. Then, there is that smell of bitter green tea from a teahouse nearby or a woman shuffling along in her kimono and tabi. These are all characteristics that can be expected in a Japanese garden.

While Japanese gardens seem distinctly of Japanese culture today, they actually originated in China. Japanese merchants who were inspired by the Chinese gardens of the Asuka period, approximately during the years 538 – 710AD, brought the concept back and made it their own, although the culture of the Japanese garden is known to date all the way back to the year 74AD!

Like most things, Japanese gardens have evolved over the centuries while remaining an essential part of the culture. You can find old and modern style gardens all over the world. That’s right, you don’t even have to go to Japan to experience the zen of the Japanese garden. Most American cities keep their own! So check your local parks and museums for a Japanese garden today and enjoy!

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An Ancient Game Still Popular Today

Sugoroku is a popular game played in Japan. It is almost exactly like backgammon with a few minor differences. The illustrious history behind this game is fascinating as well. Once outlawed in Japan for nearly 100 years due to it being used for gambling, it is now a commonly played game by both young and old. What helps make this game popular is the vibrant artwork displayed on the playing board. The rules never change but the elaborate decorative element makes each board unique. There are more variations of game boards than we can even count!

http://www.sugoroku.net/index_e.html

Product of The Month: Gourmet d’Expert® Electric Skillet (EP-RAC50)

For November, we have selected a Product of The Month that could be a huge help to you in the kitchen this Thanksgiving. We’d like to present the Gourmet d’Expert® Electric Skillet. This electric skillet can serve for multiple purposes. Its unique design allows for deep soup-type recipes, a flat plate for traditional grilling, and also works as a steamer! Because of how easy it is to clean along with the quality of the product, we are confident that this will be a wonderful edition to your kitchen countertop.

http://www.zojirushi.com/products/eprac

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Everyday is a Holiday

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November 17th is Homemade Bread Day

You’ve heard of those wacky holidays that you read about sometimes, that nobody seems to take seriously? Like Houseplant Appreciation Day (Jan. 10th), Lumpy Rug Day (May 3rd), or Be Late For Something Day (Sept. 5th)? I like that last one better than the one that follows it on Sept. 6th, Fight Procrastination Day–honestly, make up your mind–are we supposed to be lazy, or not?

A lot of these days are legit though, and have websites and events that support them every year. Did you know there is a National Rice Ball Day (April 19th) and that September is National Rice Month? It may not surprise you that it’s sponsored by the USA Rice riceballFederation, which promotes rice awareness by helping thousands of grocery stores across the country set up special displays during the month. Retailers typically see an average increase in their rice sales of 50% to 400% during these campaigns, so you know why they’re marketed.

So here are some of my favorite holidays. One special day from each month. Not all have official origins, but I’m sure that someone is remembering these special days somewhere.

January 23rd is National Handwriting Day. Remember that pen and paper is still cool and way more personal than email. Created by the Writing Instrument Manufacturers Association (duh!) back in 1977 to remind us not to forget this basic skill. They chose January 23 because it’s John Hancock’s birthday, who provided us with the most important signature in U.S. history.
hancocksignatureFebruary 27th is No Brainer Day. We can all use a day like this–don’t do anything that requires more than a minimal amount of thinking. Don’t worry, you’ll get the hang of it quickly! This day was actually created by someone that’s been documented, but I didn’t want to research it because that would be against the spirit of this day.

March 10th is Middle Name Pride Day. I like this one–some of us hate our middle name; some of us use it regularly. But someone in your family gave it to you for a reason, so honor them by remembering it once a year.

4th Thursday of April is Take Your Daughter to Work Day. Surprisingly, this day wasn’t initiated until 1993; I would have guessed its origins to be much earlier in our history. Not surprisingly, it was founded by the Ms. Foundation For Women as a way to give girls more insight into work opportunities and future careers.

May 9th is Lost Sock Memorial Day. Perfect! I have at least 12 of them in my sock drawer, waiting sadly for their mates to come home. Alas, they wait in vain…but their owner never gives up hope.

1st Friday of June is National Doughnut Day. Contrary to what you might think, this day was not a marketing ploy by Krispy Kreme® or Winchell’s® or Dunkin’ Donuts®. During WWI, the Salvation Army sent hundreds of brave women volunteers to the front lines in Europe to lend moral support to our fighting soldiers. They made home cooked meals and fried doughnuts, often in hot oil inside metal helmets. The day was established in 1938 by the Chicago Salvation Army to honor these volunteers.

hotdogs2July 23rd is National Hot Dog Day. You’ve gotta love the American hot dog, consumed by the millions on the 4th of July. Like that other “mystery meat”, SPAM®, no one is quite sure of what’s in a hot dog, and no one really wants to know.

August 13th is National Left Handers Day. Are you a southpaw? I mean, I feel your pain, but I’m sorry–you’re only 10% of the population.

September 13th is Fortune Cookie Day. These are real fortunes found in actual cookies (which is an American invention by the way):
•You will receive a fortune. (cookie)
•You will be hungry again in one hour.
•You are not illiterate.
•Life will be happy. Until the end when you’ll pee yourself a lot.
•The fortune you seek is in another cookie.
•Hearty laughter is a good way to jog internally without having to go outdoors.

October 2nd is National Custodial Workers Day. I love this one. It’s only right that we recognize the thousands of janitors who work tirelessly behind the scenes at our schools, churches, offices, etc., to keep the place clean and in good working order. At schools, they are often long time employees who love their work and genuinely love the kids.

November 17th is Homemade Bread Day. No explanation necessary–just start baking; it’sbread so easy these days. If you want to bake the mouth watering Blueberry Bread at the top of this post, take out your breadmaker and go here.

December 10th is Human Rights Day. On a serious note, the United Nations created this day to promote the awareness of human rights around the world. It’s something we take for granted in America, but don’t forget that freedom is not a given in many parts of the world.

So do you feel like you want to create your own holiday? Unfortunately, it takes an act of Congress to get a holiday passed, but anyone can declare a holiday–it’s free. Once you declare your own special day, it’s up to you to publicize it. If it’s interesting enough, you might get some support and people may start to remember it and even celebrate it with you. Good luck!

Where Am I?
turkeyleg2Can you guess where I took my Zojirushi bottle? Let me know! Hint: This is a very famous place. BTW, have a great Thanksgiving!

 

October’s Greetings!

We hope that you are having an enjoyable fall this year. As summer green turns to gold and brown, we enjoy the crisp dark nights of autumn. Warm squash and potatoes fill our plates and hearty stews take the place of light summer salads. There is so much to celebrate this time of year! A brisk evening walk can remind you of the magic this season has to offer.

Between back to school madness and holiday party planning, it can be difficult to stop and enjoy the little things. Give yourself a break this year and enjoy a little. Isn’t that what it’s all about anyway? Take time to enjoy the smell of the changing leaves and flickering pumpkins on doorsteps.autumn-19440_1280

Holiday projects can create space for new adventure, shared memories and edible treats! The simple act of carving pumpkins creates endless seeds for roasting or homemade granola. Fresh fruit can be cut and decorated in festive shapes for Halloween and trick or treaters can try artisanal snacks in lieu of commercial grade candy.

No matter how you spend your fall, be sure to ENJOY it! As always, Zojirushi will be there with you every step along the way. We hope our stainless products provide space for elevated boxed lunches and our water boilers allow you to sip on home brewed green tea You can rest easy knowing that we’ve created the best of the best to help you get through the holiday season with ease. As always, happy cooking!

 

Shogi: The Japanese Strategy Game

 

Just when you think you know everything about Japanese culture, we will surprise you with a fun new fact. Ever heard of a Japanese board game called Shogi? It’s a 2 person strategy board game similar to the American game of Chess. Shogi can be traced all the way back to Chaturanga in India in the 6th Century. It can be traced in its current form back to the 16th Century – now that is a long time ago!

 

shogibox2-httpwww.japanese-games-shop.comshogijapanese-chess-shogi-in-a-box-is-backattachmentshogibox2If you want to play this game, you’ll have to learn the Kanji. Pieces are not shaped like kings and horses, but marked by their kanji. There are kings, pawns, bishops, rooks and so on. The game is like chess in that it is about movement, strategy and turns. It is believed that shogi has the highest game complexity of all chess variants.

There are two professional organizations for the game in Japan – one for men and one for women. Both organizations plan various tournaments around the country. But you don’t need to be professional to play. In fact, you don’t even need to buy a board! These days, there are plenty of online games available at one’s fingertips.

 

Whether you are a seasoned chess player or just looking to get your feet wet, you can dabble in the game of shogi without much commitment. So go ahead, try something new! Let us know what you think!

 

 

Ankimo: The Foie Gras of the Sea

 

Can you imagine a rich briny pillow of sea? It’s just salty enough, but creamy and smooth like butter. In Japan we call it Ankimo, which is monkfish liver. It is treated with salt and sake, steamed and rolled into a cylindrical terrine. It is then sliced and served with fresh vegetables and ponzu sauce. The finished product epitomizes the Japanese flavor profile.  h

Are you intrigued yet? If you are a fan of pate or foie gras, this might be for you. The creamy, buttery quality is not unlike chicken and duck liver. Because it comes from a large fish, it could be too fishy for some. Perhaps it is an acquired taste for the American palate to be discovered and then enjoyed. In the spirit of trying new things, order ankimo next time you are out for sushi. Who knows, you just might surprise yourself! Happy hunting….

Product of The Month: Stainless Mug (SM-KHE36/48)

SM-KHE-GroupIn September we would like to bring attention and talk about a simple yet amazing product from Zojirushi. Our Product of The Month is the SM-KHE Stainless Mug. Not only is it featured in some dashing new colors but it performs perfectly maintaining hot or cold beverages for hours. If you are looking for a high quality water bottle this is it!

http://www.zojirushi.com/products/smkhe

Hawaiian Kine Rice

finishedI was raised in Hawaii “during hanabata days, when Chunky’s was da bes’ plate lunch in Moilili fo’ ono grindz.” Although I just dated myself tremendously with that statement, I’m guessing that most of our readers don’t even know what I just said, so I’m not too worried. The point is, as important as rice is to the culture of Japan, it is equally as important to our tiny state in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.

Probably the most famous Hawaiian variant of a Japanese rice dish is the classic Spam Musubi, the Hawaiian rice ball (more like a brick) made with SPAM®, rice and a sheet of nori (seaweed). There are 2 basic styles–with the slice of SPAM® on top of the rice and a strip of nori wrapped around its waist like a belt, or with the SPAM® slice buried in between two layers of rice and completely wrapped with a sheet of nori, leaving the ends exposed.

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SPAM® is the canned mystery meat that everyone loves in Hawaii. Introduced by the Hormel company in the 1930s, SPAM® became a popular wartime food for the military because it could be shipped easily without spoiling. Even after the war, the large military presence on the Islands made it a local favorite, and the Japanese-Americans there created the Spam Musubi, their own version of the traditional onigiri (rice ball).

Today, you can make Spam Musubi with a rectangular rice press, designed to form perfectly shaped little bricks of rice. The SPAM® is sliced, pan fried and seasoned according to family recipes that add anything from teriyaki sauce to flavored rice sprinkles to pickled vegetables for extra zest.

2ndlayerrice press rollnori

Earlier I mentioned the “plate lunch”, a unique meal most certainly native to Hawaii. With most plate lunches, there is an entree, macaroni salad as a side dish, and rice. What is distinctly Hawaiian, however, is that the rice is always served with an ice cream scoop, forming one or two balls of rice on your plate. “One or two scoops” of rice on a plate lunch essentially makes the difference between a small or large plate lunch. I believe the aesthetics of eating rice that’s been mashed into a perfectly round ball may not be to everyone’s liking, but hey, it works in Hawaii!

Another local favorite is Fried Rice, which you may say, is just fried rice. But if you think about the thousands of different ways this simple dish is prepared all over the rice eating world, you’ll understand why “Hawaiian style” is unique to the 50th state. It almost always has bacon in it, if not Portuguese sausage or SPAM®, or all three if they happen to be around. This would truly be a deluxe version. If you added bits of the pink and white kamaboko (Japanese fish cake), you’d really be stylin’. On the other hand, if you’re a student on a budget or just out of ingredients around the house, you can make the “junk kine fried rice dat only get peas and carrots inside.” Rest assured, it will still taste great and be quite filling if you do it right.

Rice is awesome, isn’t it? Even the haoles eat rice in Hawaii!

Where Am I?
gym copyStarting this month, I’d like to share my shot of my Zojirushi Vacuum Bottle, out in its natural environment in the great outdoors and not stuck in my kitchen cupboard. Can you guess where I took it? Let me know!

The Secret Life of Rice

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Shhh! When your favorite grain isn’t being served steaming hot in a bowl or wrapped snugly in a sheet of nori, this modest staple can be found in places you might not expect, secretly turning water into wine!

beerSake is no secret, but did you know about Rice Beer? More than 15% of all the rice produced locally in the U.S. is used to brew beer. When first generation German-American immigrants like Adolphus Busch, Adolph Coors and Frederick Miller built the American beer industry in the late 19th century, they were searching for ways to adjust their beers to the American palate. We were not ready for the heavy, full-flavored malt taste that was the trademark of the European beer; we preferred a lighter, crisper brew, and ingredients like rice and corn were perfect for the recipe.

Today, even the aficionados at the craft breweries are embracing the use of rice as a way to achieve that delicate balance of lightening the body and cutting down some of the maltiness of lager. Rice is widely recognized as the key to producing complex, full-flavored beers that can have a subtle fruitiness and a bright finish.

Still more on rice drinks–with all the alternatives to cow’s milk available today, ricemilkingredients copythe one that I like is made from rice. Rice Milk is advantageous for what it doesn’t contain; no cholesterol and saturated fats, no lactose for the lactose intolerant. Allergies to rice are rare, making this milk one of the safest alternatives to animal milk. It is not a great source of protein and does have more calories per cup than almond or soy milk (about 113), but it is formulated to contain adequate levels of calcium, vitamin A and vitamin D. It is a milk that is very palatable and easy to drink, making it unnecessary to  mask it with sweeteners, although these are also available.

If you like sweet milk, there’s nothing better than Horchata, a traditional Latin American beverage that originated from Spain, made with rice. It’s really not a milk at all–it just horchata2 copyresembles one because of the milky color which comes from the ground rice, nuts and seeds, sweetened with sugar and flavored with lime and cinnamon. As exotic as that sounds, Horchata can be found sold by street vendors in Mexico, and you can sample it at most Mexican restaurants.

How about Rice Bread? Even though it sounds like 2 staples that don’t belong together, a lot of breads, cakes, pastas and even tortillas that are traditionally made from wheat are being made from rice flour these days. And since rice does not contain glutens, it’s a Gluten Free Breadfantastic alternative for those with gluten allergies. Rice flour also has the advantage of being lower in calories than wheat, and is nutritionally better for you, especially if it’s made with brown rice. Breads made from rice flour tend to have a soft, springy texture that brings out the natural sweetness of  the rice when you chew it. This texture and shape seem to hold up better when frozen or defrosted in a microwave, where wheat flour breads can become tough and shapeless when subjected to temperature changes.

And jam for that bread? Yep, you guessed it–Rice Jam takes advantage of the distinct sweet flavor of the rice that occurs with a fermentation process, without the addition of any extra sugar. If you’ve tasted a Japanese sake called amazake, the flavor is very similar. Korea has also developed a Rice Jam, which is a lot healthier than regular jam because of the lower sugar content, resulting in a better taste for the real fruit in the jam.

Who knew rice had so many secret identities? Long regarded as a “super food”, rice is more powerful than we know!

Changing with the Leaves this Fall

Fall is the time to welcome transition. Shorter days, crisp evenings and busy back to school schedules all mark the natural changing of the season. Summer slips away as we pack boxed lunches and backpacks, while autumn brings the promise of apple pies and holiday gatherings. These days, the weather stays fairly warm through the beginning of September, and the long shadows of summer remain in the form of bright red tomatoes, sweet corn and juicy strawberries. At the same time we are met by acorn squash, cider apples and textured blackberries in the markets. Needless to say, it is a fantastic time to be in the kitchen!

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As the glow of summer begins to wane, busy schedules take over, football grabs our attention and another holiday season is hot on our heels. The multitude of fall activities can feel overwhelming as we pack them into shorter and colder days. Don’t let it stress you this fall! Welcome the change of pace with open arms, and know that with a little planning and the right equipment, you can shift into the season with ease.

The abundance of fresh market produce available this time of year combined with our Zojirushi products and equipment should provide you with an arsenal of tools to stay organized and happy this fall season. Try making boxed lunches the night before; utilize leftovers to create hearty school time snacks. Embrace the farm to table mindset in the kitchen, utilize our Gourmet and Stainless products and you should have everything you need for an effortless fall season. As usual, we would love to hear how you stay grounded and well fed this autumn. Please keep us updated on Facebook and in the comments section below. You are our biggest inspiration! Happy Cooking!

Hozuki: The Japanese Winter Cherry

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Can you imagine a flower that looks like a paper lantern? The physalis alkekengi is exactly that. Also known as Japanese lantern, winter cherry or hozuki, this plant is as delicate looking as it sounds. Bright red fruit is covered by a Kyoto red papery covering that dries to a translucent white in the spring to reveal the fruit below. Though it’s not widely eaten, the winter cherry is known for its medicinal properties. It can be used as a diuretic, antiseptic and sedative in eastern medicine. The winter cherry has small amounts of poison that are not deadly, and can be quite bitter or unpleasant to the taste.

Because this exquisite plant is so beautiful, it is often used for decoration. Though widely unknown in the states, this species grows far and wide from Europe to Asia and its wide-spreading root system makes cultivation easy. Yes, the winter cherry can grow like a weed!

This plant has a lot of cultural significance in Japan. There is a deep symbolic meaning involved with the use of winter cherry seeds as an offering to souls during the Bon festival. There are many community marketplaces designated to this plant in July called hozuki-ichi. In a lot of ways the bright color, delicate nature and impermanence of the winter cherry embody Japanese culture. It’s no coincidence that it looks just like a lantern or a perfectly crafted piece of origami!

Bonsai: The Perfect Japanese Tree

If you have never seen a Bonsai, it is a beautiful and often asymmetrical tree grown in a tray and placed on a counter or table. They look like a miniature tree, and some are small enough to fit in the palm of your hand. Yes, it is just as cute as it sounds! Like most things uniquely Japanese, the bonsai traces its roots all the way back to the 6th Century in China. There is evidence of small Bonsais in art, stories and scrolls across the centuries and through the medieval period of Japan.

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After WWII the Bonsai gained popularity and availability across the US when US soldiers would bring them back as souveniers. A number of books, festivals and exhibitions made the Bonsai easy to access all over the world. It evolved from a novelty or souvenir to a trendy status symbol and suddenly a must have decoration by the 1970s. Highlighted in the 1984 film Karate Kid, the Bonsai has been depicted in a variety of ways in the western world. There has always been a spiritual significance to Bonsai trees that conveys deep symbolism for meditation, harmony and peace. The careful maintenance of a Bonsai tree helps the cultivator create order to their thoughts and creates a balance in life.

These days, you can find Bonsai trees at most nurseries, farmers markets and even grocery stores. Their “Zen” and craftsmanship bring calm thoughts and bring peace to busy work offices and homes across America. With the Internet, you can browse through countless styles and prices to find a Bonsai that is right for you. It also makes a wonderful and unique living gift. Did we mention that bonsais are easy to care for and can be left in or out of doors? Yes, they are the perfect companion! Happy hunting!

 

Product of The Month: Micom Rice Cooker & Warmer (NS-WAC10/18)

NS-WAC10WDThis September we would like to introduce our Micom Rice Cooker & Warmer NS-WAC as the Zojirushi Product of The Month. This is a must have for students going back to college this fall. Its size will perfectly fit in your apartment or dorm room. It is made with a very durable dent resistant plastic body and now comes in a new color, Cool White.

This rice cooker is packed full with technology that allows the machine to “think” for itself making small adjustments in temperature to ensure perfectly cooked rice with every batch! The Micom Rice Cooker & Warmer NS-WAC is also easy to clean…because doing the dishes doesn’t always have a high position on a student’s social calendar.

http://www.zojirushi.com/products/nswac

Chopsticks!

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Chances are you’ve split a pair of wooden chopsticks at a Japanese restaurant before enjoying that scrumptious morsel of sushi. Have you also noticed that those big plastic ones at the Chinese restaurant require superhuman skills to pick up that Dim Sum? Or have you had Korean food and used the thin metal chopsticks to eat rice out of metal bowls?

photoChopsticks were invented in China over 5000 years ago, and are made in different styles and of various materials today, depending on where you are. Chinese chopsticks are longer, rectangular with flat sides and have blunt tips; usually made of bamboo or plastic. The more exotic ones are made of ivory. Japanese chopsticks are shorter, tapered and shaped like rounded dowels with pointed tips. The most common ones are disposable wood but they can also be elaborately lacquered and handmade. photo[1]Korean chopsticks are made of metal like stainless steel or silver, short like the Japanese ones, and are ornamentally engraved. The durability of metal goes well with the heat of Korean BBQ cuisine.

The common disposable wooden ones you see actually have a great deal of processing that goes into them. They start as logs of spruce, are cut down to size, and “shaved” to the thickness required for chopsticks. Stamping machines do the rest, cutting the individual sticks out into pre-split, tapered pairs. In the past, wooden chopsticks tended to be rough edged, necessitating the ritual of scraping them against each other or rubbing them together to rid them of splinters. Modern wooden chopsticks are fairly smooth and even beveled on the edges for comfort, thus making this scraping action unnecessary.

spruce log spruce roll assembly line

With anything that happens to be over 5000 years old, there is always folklore and superstition. Chopsticks are no exception. You are not supposed to stick them upright in your bowl of rice because they resemble incense at a person’s funeral–a bad omen. The same goes with passing food from chopsticks to chopsticks, which too closely mimics another ritual that takes place only at cremation ceremonies. When you split a pair of wooden chopsticks and they break unevenly, it is a sign of unrequited love. Still others say it means you’re going to have ugly babies–ha-ha!

Do you know any chopsticks superstitions? Which kind of chopsticks do you like best? Share your thoughts with us! And by the way, we Americans have our own style of chopsticks, too. They’re called tongs!

Video screen caps courtesy of The Making, a Japanese TV documentary

Unusual Seasons Yield Unusual Produce

Summer has been slow to get going this year. While June and July were lukewarm, August and September promise that summer heat we’ve all been craving. The markets are full of beautiful melons, sweet summer corn and multi-colored heirloom tomatoes. This time of year, all one really needs, is to chop up fresh vegetables, mix in a bowl and feast! The produce is so fresh and beautiful, it doesn’t need much else, and with this warm summer weather seeping into the fall months, it looks like we might be eating this well for some time to come!

As the seasons continue to surprise us — either due to global warming or simply a natural shift in the earth — the produce available each month is a new surprise. This year we’ve seen fresh peanuts in March, squash blossoms in December and a cherry season that never really happened because winter never found its chill in California. This phenomenon has not shaken, but inspired chefs all around the country to embrace change and work with what’s available. When you are shopping locally and seasonably, it’s a no brainer!

Vegetables

While summer now seems to be right where it should be, keep an eye out for unusual produce or missing options at the market this season.  Talk to your local farmers and show your support by purchasing a variety of options, above and beyond what you think you might need. It should provide inspired and creative meals all summer long! Happy cooking!

Kendama and Koma: Timeless Japanese Toys

Walk into any shop in Japan, and you are bound to find a section of traditional wooden toys. In between the origami paper, the kites and the summer kimono, you will find kendama and koma in the aisle for endless and imaginative summer fun. For those of you scratching your head, you are probably familiar with both kendama and koma – in fact, there is a good chance you have played with one at some point in your life.

Can you imagine that handmade wooden toy with two cups on the end, a spike in the middle and a ball attached to a string?  Are you starting to remember this game where the principle is to connect one object with the other? That is kendama! Ever played with a handmade wooden spinning top? What about one with a string? This is essentially koma.

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Both toys are simple, handmade and date back hundreds of years. While they don’t offer the details and technology of modern-day video games and action figures, there is something to their simplicity and craftsmanship. Simple toys such as kendama and koma promote hand-eye coordination and leave plenty of room for imagination. Their basic design and simplistic decoration can act as a blank slate leaving children room to imprint their own thoughts and ideas on the experience. This is a type of play that is becoming fewer and far between in our modern day world.

Kendama and koma are easy to find and inexpensive on the internet. Most of them are hand-crafted and painted by Japanese artisans. Treat your child to the gift of imagination this summer with a special and simple new toy! Happy summer!

 

Summer Grub in Japan

August in Japan can be hot and humid! Warm days give way to beautiful summer evenings filled with fireworks, barbeque and other celebrations. Two common summer snack items in Japan are dango and takoyaki.  Although these two are different snacks, it is easy to lump them together as both are typically round and covered in a sticky sweet brown sauce. In fact, where you find one, you are likely to find the other.

mitrashi-dango-84005_640Dango is a popular street food offering in Japan. It is a grilled round dumpling made from rice flour and can be likened to mochi. You will commonly see the dumplings skewered and roasting on outdoor grills. Once roasted, they are flavored with either savory or sweet toppings. The savory mitarashi dango is covered with a sticky sweet soy sauce glaze. These glistening little balls are a must have at outdoor food fairs and festivals!

大阪5-たこ焼き-cropAlongside dango, you are likely to spot takoyaki at food courts and outdoor events.  Takoyaki does not mean grilled tacos in Japanese!  Tako is the word for octopus, and takoyaki is ball shaped puff made of wheat batter, octopus and tempura scraps. It is typically topped with a sticky Worcestershire based sauce glaze, mayonnaise and bonito flakes. It gets its round shape from a special takoyaki pan made of cast iron where it is rolled around until it becomes a perfectly browned a delicious ball of batter – think savory Danish pancakes.

Next time you are at your Japanese market or local festival, keep an eye out for these sticky round delicacies. See if you can tell them apart! And as always, report back to us. We would love to hear about your Japanese dining adventures both at home and out in the world. Happy eating!

Product of The Month: Home Bakery Virtuoso® Breadmaker (BB-PAC20)

As the summer begins to wind down, you know in a few weeks life is about to get busy again. Kids will soon be returning to school and you might find yourself having a shortage of time to prepare a great meal or snack for your family. Zojirushi has developed a wide range of products for people with active lifestyles.

IB_S_BASIC_COPYRIGHT =Our featured product of the month for August fits into that criteria. The Home Bakery Virtuoso® Breadmaker BB-PAC20 is an easy to use home appliance that adds convenience to any kitchen. With the capacity to bake a traditional sized 2-lb loaf of bread and the technology to make Gluten-Free products there are few limitations to what you can prepare.

With the Home Bakery Virtuoso® Breadmaker delicious snacks for the kids are simple to create and while you’re at it, why not arrive home to the smell of freshly baked bread? The cooking process is simple…add your ingredients…select the menu setting…and in a little over two hours you whole family can enjoy!

http://www.zojirushi.com/products/bbpac

Zojirushi Goes Strawberry Picking

 

strawberry1Strawberry fields forever? It kind of looked like it went on forever, but it was only an urban farm in Orange County, where I took my family to go strawberry picking one sunny day last week. For city folk like us, the only way to experience a real farm is to drive to it and hope that the owners are kind enough to share their property. DSC_0057 One such “u pick ‘em” type of farm is the Tanaka farm in Irvine, California–surprisingly close to civilization and to the comforts of a van with AC! Just in case though, we did take our Zojirushi water bottle filled with iced green tea.

Nestled in a neighborly expanse between the Strawberry Farms Golf Course and the 405 freeway, Tanaka Farms offers daily tours of their fields on a tractor pulled trailer—and that was a neat touch. The produce that you get to pick by yourself changes with the season, and this tour was strawberries!

DSC_0060DSC_0061 As a bonus, we got some samples of their homegrown carrots, green beans, sweet corn and green onions; so delicious when it’s completely organic. We learned that onions are planted next to the strawberries because they have properties that help the strawberries resist disease, and they also repel slugs that will eat the strawberries.

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See them in the pics? You’ve also probably noticed the black plastic sheeting that’s covering each plant in every row. This is called plastic mulch, and the black color serves to block sunlight, which discourages weed growth. The soil under the plastic also gets warmer, which keeps the roots of the plants warm and accelerates the growth.

strawberry4We each got to pick a whole boxful, and even with 4 full boxes, they were all eaten fast once we got them home. One thing our excursion did was inspire us to grow our own at home. Apparently strawberries are one of the easier fruits to grow—they bear fruit immediately the very first summer so you don’t wait for years like most fruit trees; and they can grow in planters, pots, hanging baskets, on balconies, rooftops, patios or doorsteps. A sunny spot and TLC are all that are required. We’ve started some hanging baskets in our backyard.

I can’t wait for my strawberries and cream!