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?
Chopsticks 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. 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.
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
Strawberry 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. 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!
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.
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.
We 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!
So recently we threw a 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.
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?
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 rocks 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.
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.