About Bert Tanimoto

Oldish father of two youngish kids. Zojirushi enthusiast and professional writer. California resident with roots in Hawaii and Japan. Classic rock, popcorn movies, audio books, spam, sushi and cone filtered coffee. Guilty pleasures include donuts and pop bands like ABBA and Wham!.

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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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!

 

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.

fryspam loadrice loadspam

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!

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

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!

Zojirushi Gets Invited To My Daughter’s 13th Birthday

So recently we threw a13thB_day sleepover party for my daughter with 6 of her friends, to celebrate her becoming a “real teenager”. Wow, that’s a scary thought, right? Wait–are we talking about the party, or the fact that she’s now a teenager?

Anyway, we decided to have all of her favorite foods—chicken kara-age, Japanese style finger sandwiches, edamame, fresh strawberries, “Cuties” (the tiny tangerines) and…instant udon! And what I realized is that we take for granted that we have hot water at our disposal anytime with our water boiler. It obviously becomes very important in situations like this, and I wondered what we used to do before we got one. We don’t have to worry about boiling the water for the girls, and they can serve themselves to hot udon or ramen even in the middle of the night! What a concept!

Our family drinks a lot of green tea, so I have our boiler set at 195°F so that it’s just hot enough to brew the tea without scorching the leaves. That’s still hot enough for instant noodles anytime of the day, and my kids use the hot water to make hot chocolate during wintertime. Since I’m picky about my coffee, I like to use boiled water right off the stove and drip brew. But my wife, who likes to drink those instant cappuccino mixes, uses our water boiler to stir up a steaming cup of café au lait without even having to put on the kettle in the morning. I am a firm believer in the importance of readily available hot water.

Just so you know, the sleepover was for exactly 13 hours because it was her 13th birthday. We played a game where the girls had to answer 13 questions about our daughter, and we gave away 13 prizes. It was a fairly manageable night for us parents. Girls aren’t as noisy as boys. When my son was 12 years old, we made the mistake of inviting 12 of his friends to a sleepover. That night was a horror story that I’ll save for another day—we did not have hot water available for a bunch of 12-year-old boys.

Zojirushi Goes to Calico

Recently I went on a camping trip with my son and a bunch of Boy Scouts to Calico Ghost Town. For those of you who aren’t familiar, Calico is a Historical Landmark located near the Mojave Desert in California. Nestled against the mountains, Calico was a silver mining town in the 1880s during the Gold Rush days. Today the old town has been restored as a tourist attraction, and visitors can go to see what an old western town used to look like. If you’ve ever driven the route to Las Vegas on Interstate 15, you’ve probably seen the signs pointing to Calico Ghost Town.

We went to visit Calico too, but we also went to fire off model rockets at a nearby dry lake bed–and I took my Zojirushi Stainless Mug with me. I just thought it would be fun to get the bottle into the shot–doesn’t it look like it could be on another planet?

BlastOff

It was typical desert weather; cool and crystal clear when we got there, and warming up a lot by the time the first rockets took off. The ice water that I brought in the bottle helped–a lot.

At camp, it was more of the same–sleeping on rockscampgrounds by the side of the mountain! But it was fun; the food was great, the boys all had a good time visiting the ghost town and learning about the history of the mine, and we all fulfilled our scout camping requirements. I have to confess though, I got zero sleep…

To see the rocket video, click this link.

Teppanyaki: Iron Plate Cooking

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Griddle cooking usually brings up images of a short order cook frying hamburgers, right? Teppanyaki is Japanese griddle cooking and it’s a lot more than hamburgers. Characterized by fresh ingredients in bite sized portions, teppanyaki is a communal way of dining with friends and family because you eat while everyone cooks their own portion on a centrally placed hot griddle.

Even at a restaurant where the chef is doing the cooking and doing tricks with his spatulas and building “volcanoes” with a tower of onions, guests are seated with complete strangers and everyone has a good time. Diners wait while the teppanyaki chef juggles pepper shakers, flips shrimp pieces into the air, and deftly slices cubes of steak with astonishing speed.

Typical ingredients are cabbage, bean sprouts, onions, bell peppers, shrimp, chicken, steak meat and sausage. Dipping sauces are used for flavoring sometimes, but these little mouthfuls can also be enjoyed with very light seasoning that serve to enhance the original flavors of the ingredients.

In the home environment, your electric griddle can replicate the teppanyaki experience. You don’t need to juggle knives to entertain your guests. They will entertain themselves just by being able to cook their own dinners on the tabletop griddle. Other typical dishes cooked on the griddle are okonomiyaki and yakisoba, two classic favorites that everyone enjoys making because there really is no wrong way to cook them.

Okonomiyaki is a mix of meat, vegetables and batter, in a savory pancake meets pizza kind of dish; while yakisoba is a distinctively Japanese chow mein. Both dishes require the cook to personalize his/her cooking method by the choice of ingredients, order of frying, and use of cooking utensils. No wonder it’s more fun than frying a hamburger! If you ever get the chance, try “iron plate cooking” at home–you’ll feel like an iron chef.