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!.

Snow Talk

mainWhen I first heard about the unusually early November snowfall in Tokyo, the first time in over 54 years for the nation’s capital, it immediately brought back memories for me because, yes, I am old enough to have been there for the last time that happened. Just to put that period of time in perspective, in 1962 there was no bullet train yet, there were no skyscrapers in Tokyo, and there were no Western style toilets yet! The second thing that came to mind was global warming, but that discussion belongs on another blog.

Here in sunny SoCal we don’t do snow, do we? But we do make snow–we make it at our local mountains during ski season. And we can drive up there in a few hours! So you can grumble all you want about not having real snow, but it’s hard to complain when the surf and mountains are so conveniently close!

Snow MachinessnowmachinePersonally, I find it incredible that real snow can be blown out of machines and cover a whole mountain enough to ski on. These snowmakers literally break water up into small particles, freeze them and blow them into the air in one process. They use massive amounts of water to do this–to cover an area of 200ft. by 200ft. with 6 inches of snow, they need 75,000 gallons of water! Most ski areas are converting 5000 gallons of water per minute, into snow.

And besides making snow for skiing, these machines can create snow blankets to protect crops during freezing weather and are also used to test the snow worthiness of cars and airplanes. Recently snowmaking has resorted to using reclaimed waste water, which not only conserves water during our drought–it gives all of our ski resorts a way to stay in business.

Snowflake PerfectionflakeThis amazing photograph of a single snowflake was taken by amateur photographer Alexey Kljatov, who says that anyone can do the same thing with a simple point-and-shoot camera and a lot of persistence, patience and luck. This is his hobby, and it fascinates him for the same reasons snowflakes mesmerize all of us–they’re beautiful to look at up close.

Even though they say that no two snowflakes are alike, that’s not entirely true. If you look at them with a microscope, down to the molecular level, of course they’re all different. But at the superficial level, they start to look alike and can be classified into 35 distinct shapes. These flakes form their distinct shapes based on the atmospheric conditions surrounding them. Different conditions and temperatures, different shapes.

What causes snow anyway? When water vapor in the air drops below freezing, it crystallizes around particles of dust–then boom, snowflakes!

The Sacred Snow LeopardleopardI had a friend once who traveled to Nepal and came back with all kinds of insights into the meaning of life and our place in the universe. Nepal will do that to you I guess, being close to the highest elevation point on the planet.

Imagine being high up in the mountains at close to 17,000 feet. The snow leopard hunts wild sheep and goats in silence, almost as quietly as the falling snow. They are built for this harsh environment, with long thick fur to protect them against the cold and wide padded paws that make for natural snowshoes. They also have extra long tails which help them balance when climbing steep, rocky slopes. These magnificent big cats are fascinating to me, and sadly they are on the verge of extinction as farmers encroach on their habitat, and natural food sources become harder to find due to climate change. They are also being hunted and killed by poachers for their fur.

It is estimated that there are only about 6000 snow leopards left in the world, most of them in China and other parts of Central Asia. Interestingly, they have been protected the most by Tibetan monks, who live in close proximity to their habitats. Buddhist beliefs dictate a respect and compassion for all living things, and protecting the snow leopard is just one aspect of their spiritual values. For more information on the disappearing snow leopard you can go to the Snow Leopard Conservancy site.

Hawaiian SnowshaveiceHa! Just an excuse to get my favorite dessert into this post! Shave Ice is basically snow with syrup on it, right? So don’t eat the snow off the mountain–it might be recycled waste water! Eat shave ice instead!

photo credits: snow in Tokyo by Shizuo Kambayashi (AP) for Japan Times, snow machines courtesy of SMI Snowmakers, snowflake by Alexey Kljatov, snow leopard courtesy of The Hindu, shave ice courtesy of Lynn’s Hawaiian Ice

Hawaii Bakes!

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I have a sweet tooth. Aside from my weakness for donuts, my next fav is probably Hawaiian sweets. There are certain local cakes, pies and puddings that are best eaten when you’re in the Islands, and I always make time to get some whenever I visit. BUT you can also get them on the mainland, if you look hard enough. And like everything Hawaiian, diverse cultural influences have combined to make the most exotic dishes in the world.

Paradise Cake
A wonderful name for a wonderful cake, and so appropriate. A tri-colored and tri-flavored spongy chiffon cake, this is the one that most kids go for in Hawaii. Each slice is a 3-layered masterpiece, flavored in pink guava, yellow passion fruit and green lime. The guava pretty much takes over the taste, but the colors are so happy, who’s going to complain? The shot above is from my favorite bakery called King’s Hawaiian, so I’m going to give them a shout out. I used to go to this bakery when I was a kid living near King Street where they were located. Sadly, there is no King’s Hawaiian bakery in Hawaii anymore.

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Haupia
No, this isn’t tofu, this is haupia, a traditional pudding made from the arrow root and flavored with coconut milk and sugarcane juice. You’ll often see it made into fillings for pies and layered into cakes. It’s a local luau favorite, but it’s been catching on with the health conscious too, as a vegan alternative, for gluten free diets and for the lactose intolerant. I love puddings, and the lightness of the flavor of haupia seems to really match the texture–somewhere in between creamy and gelatinous, you know what I mean?

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Andagi
Everyone should know by now that I’ve admitted to donuts being my Achilles’ heel. One kind of donut that I really like is an Okinawan type called Andagi. It’s more like a donut hole actually, but bigger and not full of air. These guys are anywhere between the size of golf balls to billiard balls when they come out of the deep fryer, and they’re a very solid cake donut—crispy on the outside and fluffy on the inside. And contrary to what you might expect, they’re not glazed or sugar coated; they’re just eaten plain. So good! And have them warm for best results!

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Malasadas
Now that we’re talking donuts, let’s stay on the subject! The malasada has Portuguese origins, brought to Hawaii by plantation laborers in the 1800s. Being predominately Catholic, the Portuguese immigrants would give up sweets for Lent by using up all their lard and sugar to make large batches of malasadas to share with friends in the plantation camps. Lucky us, this led to the widespread popularity of this deep fried, sugar coated donut in Hawaii. Malasadas come with all kinds of fillings today–custard cream, chocolate, haupia–but for me, the plain ones hot from the fryer are the best!

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Kulolo
If you ever want to try a real Hawaiian dessert, you should go for kulolo. This sweet pudding is more like Japanese mochi in texture, so it’s a firm kind of pudding. You can usually find it cut up into fudge like squares and sold in brick shapes. The main ingredient is the taro root, or kalo in Hawaiian, which is the traditional main staple of old Hawaii. In the old days kulolo was made with taro, fresh coconut milk and raw sugar–it was then wrapped in leaves and baked for 8 hours under the earth. Much harder to do these days, but you can still get taro. Over 80% of the state’s production comes from the island of Kauai, where Islanders say the kulolo is the best.

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Butter Mochi
Butter! In the name of the dish! ‘Nuff said. Seriously, if I told you the main ingredients were butter and coconut, wouldn’t that be enough to get you interested? Essentially a baked custard, butter mochi is made with a rice flour (mochiko) base, which gives it a soft, chewy, sticky consistency similar to mochi. There’s always one auntie who makes “da bess” butter mochi at every potluck family gathering. If you want to try making one yourself, Zojirushi has a recipe of theirs right here.

There are so many more Hawaiian style baked goods I could get into, but these are the ones I consider the classics–and I really like how they reflect the cultural diversity of the Islands. The ingredients are local, and each dish comes from the heart of the people of Hawaii.

photo credits: Paradise Cake by King’s Hawaiian Bakery, Haupia by Shakatime Hawaii, Andagi by JapanCentre, Malasadas by Robyn Lee for Serious Eats, Kulolo by Rowena, Butter Mochi by Uca’s

 

Guess The Burger

mainHow well do you know your hamburgers? By no means am I a burger geek or anything, but I give in to the craving like everyone else. Some might say a burger is a burger is a burger–but not true! They all definitely taste different, and a lot of them look different, right? What good is a burger brand if it can’t distinguish itself from the rest of the herd?

So here are a few major ones. Sorry, I can’t list them all, and I can’t let you taste them. But there are clues everywhere–so look (and read) closely. And if you can get through this write-up without immediately going out to get a burger for lunch, then you’re a better person than I am.

The burger shown above isn’t really a traditional fast food chain, which is why it looks so spectacular! But it’s not like a sit down restaurant either. It’s classified as “high end fast casual”. Whaa? They rose to fame in 2006 when they got a shout on the Oprah TV show, and there have been many such “gourmet custom built” burger places since then. These guys pride themselves in establishing a counter culture to the burger mainstream by offering Korean BBQ, lamb, carne asada and crab, among other innovative ingredients on their menu.

Jack finalFounded and headquartered in San Diego, California, this company pioneered the 2-way intercom at its drive-thru restaurants, when customers would give their orders by talking directly at the mascot’s face. Although this signature burger put them on the map, they actually sell more tacos than burgers, even though they’re not known for Mexican fast food. Which burger giant is this?

in&out finalYou cannot do a list on hamburgers without this one–especially if you’re from the West Coast. Their fame and notoriety has reached mythical proportions in the East, where my son, who goes to college in Boston, says his friends ask him about this legendary burger as soon as they find out he’s from California. Best known for their fresh cut fries and a “secret menu” that most people know about, this chain also pays their employees well. Managers have been known to make into six figures–did you know that?

wendys finalThis one is almost too easy because no other hamburger looks like this. The idea behind the uniquely shaped patties is that the corners stick out from under the bun to show the quality of the meat. Makes sense, right? This famous chain has the third most locations in the world and became the first to introduce the salad bar. If you’re old enough, you might remember their hit commercials in the 80s, which featured an elderly lady who kept complaining about her burger, “Where’s the beef?”

carls finalAs a classic American success story, it’s hard not to love how this popular hamburger chain grew from a single hot dog cart, started by a husband and wife in Los Angeles. That cart multiplied into 4 carts, then became a full service restaurant, which grew to 24 restaurants, and today operates in over 1300 locations all over the world. “If it doesn’t get all over the place, it doesn’t belong in your face.” Ring a bell?

mcdonalds finalThere’s too much to tell about this famous hamburger, so the more I say, the easier it gets to figure it out.  So let’s just quote the famous astronomer Carl Sagan on this one, who used to day, “A galaxy is composed of gas and dust and stars–billions upon billions of stars.” Get it?

fatburger finalHere is the last great hamburger stand, which started as a 3-stool stand in Los Angeles that catered to celebrities who would come in at late night hours to get the best burgers in town. The name was the founder’s idea, who “wanted to get across the idea of a big burger with everything on it–a meal in itself.”

burgerking finalIn terms of global franchises, this burger chain is second to the real King. Still, that’s no small accomplishment, as there were a whopping 15,000+ locations worldwide as of last year. In fact, their most famous ad campaigns featured direct challenges to the number one guy, much like the way Pepsi went to war with Coke. And they were the first to start product tie-ins when they collaborated with a “Star Wars drinking glass” promotion back in 1977. Now they all do it.

Just For FunsiesshaveVSin&out finalThis is the never ending debate, right? To see how these guys smackdown the best of the West Coast and East Coast, check out this Thrillist article and read how they duke it out.

Bonus Burgerssmash fnal5guysfinalI’m not even giving you hints on these guys. Look carefully at the images–you’ll see clues if you have a sharp eye and know your burgers.

“Mmm, this is a tasty burger!”Kahuna finalAnd finally, can you guess this one? This is the most famous movie burger in Hollywood. Never has a hamburger played such a pivotal role in one of the all-time classic scenes. A cult classic. Hint: that thumb belongs to one bad m*ther f***er.

credits: McDonalds (thriftyfun.com) Wendys (businessinsider.com) Burger King (smaakit.co.za) Jack-in-the-Box (tasty-eating.blogspot.com) ShakeShack vs. In&Out (thrillist.com) other images by @ironchefmom and Bert Tanimoto

Pan (The Breads of Japan)

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Rice might still be the number one staple in Japan, but bread is so popular that a typical breakfast might be toast and coffee as it would be fish and miso soup. The Japanese word for bread is “pan”, but if you look up the etymology you’ll find the same word for bread in the Portuguese language. It makes sense since bread was first brought to Japan by the Portuguese in the 1500s.

I love all the dessert breads and savory combinations that make up the selection at a typical Japanese bakery. I even like the old-fashioned An-pan pictured above, which I think is still a comfort food to many Japanese. It was invented by Yasubei Kimura, a former samurai who turned to baking when the samurai class was dissolved with the influence of Western culture. Today the Kimuraya Bakery is the oldest chain in the country, and An-pan can be found everywhere, filled with sweet chestnut, white bean paste, and other dessert fillings as well as the traditional red bean paste. The black sesame seeds on top is the classic An-pan look.

melonpan

Melon Pan is another of my favorites. It’s not even usually melon flavored, but there’s something about the crusty, cookie dough outer shell and soft, moist bread inside that is so good, it doesn’t need any filing. This is an awesome sweet bread, loved by everyone in Japan, and instantly recognized by its signature cross hatch pattern and round shape–like a melon.

creampan2

Cream Pan is a soft bread very similar to an-pan in fluffy consistency. The big difference is the filling, which can best be described as a creamy custard. There are all kinds of variations on the outer shape, but to me, it’s the filling that makes a really good cream pan. Not too soft, but firm enough not to ooze out; and eggy like a good custard should be.

shokupan

Then there’s the Shoku Pan, a very ordinary loaf of Japanese white bread. This is the kind of bread served at breakfast–sometimes as a simple slice of buttered toast with coffee, called a “Morning Set”. The unique thing about shoku pan though, is the thickness of the slices–sometimes over an inch thick for breakfast, sometimes a thin, one-third inch for sandwiches. Unlike American white bread, shoku pan has a soft, creamy taste and a stretchy kind of texture that is unbelievably habit forming. When making tea sandwiches with the thin ones, be sure to cut off the crust for a better presentation. When I used to make my daughter’s lunches for school, her friends were impressed that the crusts were cut off! LOL. The thick ones make an excellent breakfast–toasted to a golden brown goodness.

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Now let’s get into some savory breads–my favorite thing for snacks and lunches. First up is Curry Pan. Real Japanese style curry, thickened and stuffed into a deep fried dough coated with bread crumbs. Amazing! Maybe a bit oily sometimes, but so good if you’re a fan of curry. These football shaped snacks are very popular and can be found anywhere in Japan–convenience stores, train stations, corner bakeries, vending machines; anywhere!

korokkepan

Then there is the Korokke Pan, a deep fried potato croquette wedged in a soft roll and drizzled with a sweet/salty sauce. Even if the croquette (korokke) is unlikely to be crispy anymore after having been on the shelf for awhile, this is still good stuff! A close relative to this sandwich is the Katsu Sando, made with a pork cutlet in place of the croquette. Now that’s a lunch, man.

yakisobapan

The last one is the very popular Yakisoba Pan, which seems a little top heavy on the carbs when you realize it’s a noodle sandwich, but it works somehow! I guess you have to first be a fan of yakisoba, the chow mein like fried noodles that most Japanese kids grew up with. I’ve always loved this tangy dish because it’s so loaded with flavor. If you can put it between two halves of a hot dog style bun and call it a sandwich, then so be it! I won’t complain.

So that’s my list of top breads of Japan. What are yours? Here are some recipes from the Zojirushi site. Try them for yourself!

An-pan

Shoku Pan

Curry Pan

Melon pan

credits: an-pan and yakisoba pan by JPinfo.com, shoku pan by JapanTimes.com, melon pan by JapaneseCooking101.com, other images by Bert Tanimoto

Son Of A Peach!

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August is National Peach Month; and if you really love peaches, August 24th is National Peach Pie Day, and August 22nd is National Eat a Peach Day. But in Japan, the most famous peach is MOMOTARO, the Peach Boy! So in honor of Peach Month in the USA and Peach Boy in Japan, I want to take some liberties and retell the legend of MOMOTARO from a slightly peachier perspective…

Many, many years ago, there lived an elderly couple in the rural lands of Japan known as Okayama. They were childless but were content to live a simple, uncluttered life. One day, as the old woman washed their clothes by the clear, crisp water of the river, to her utter amazement she saw the biggest, juiciest looking peach come floating downstream. Elated with her good fortune, she quickly scooped it up and took it back home.

One thing the old lady was good at, was her skill in the kitchen. And her specialty just happened to be Peach Pie. Her pies were so delicious, just the smell of one of her freshly baked pies was enough to bring her husband home, even when he was deep in the woods gathering firewood. In fact, during those days, it worked better than a cell phone ever could.

peachpie

But just as she made her first shallow cut into the peach, a baby boy sprang out from inside and nearly gave both the old woman and old man a heart attack. They recovered quickly though, when they saw what a cute little boy he was. And so the legend of MOMOTARO was born. The bonus was that the rest of the peach was still good, so the elderly couple was still able to have their peach pie.

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In time, MOMOTARO grew up to become a healthy and noble young man, having been raised by old fashioned parents who loved old fashioned peach pie. So when he learned of a band of delinquent Ogres terrorizing the townspeople of Onigashima, he couldn’t stand idly by and watch the injustice. He decided to clean up the village.

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Japanese ONI (ogre)

Reluctantly, his parents sent him on his mission with nothing more than a handful of homemade kibidango (millet dumplings). Of course, these kibidango were about as delicious as his mother’s peach pies, so he had no trouble recruiting allies on his way to Onigashima, just by offering them the soft chewy desserts in exchange for their fighting spirits. And so it was that this motley crew of a brave boy, a pheasant, a dog and a monkey, approached the great gate to the lair of the Ogres.

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Kibidango

The plan was simple. Pheasant flies over the gate and starts the attack on the Ogres, distracting them long enough for MOMOTARO, Dog and Monkey to sneak through a secret passage and launch a full scale offensive. It worked to perfection–after a lot of snarling, biting and yelling, the Ogres just gave up. In a symbolic gesture of surrender, the Ogres had to cut off their horns so they could never threaten the townspeople again, and all the treasures they had stolen were given to MOMOTARO to be returned to the people.

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Statue of MOMOTARO in the city of Okayama

Thus it was that MOMOTARO and his brave band of unlikely soldiers returned home triumphant, heroes with great tales to tell. And since that great adventure, the region of Okayama has been known to grow the best peaches in all of Japan.

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Okayama white peaches

Happy National Peach Month everybody!

 

 

Images: Peach Pie by Aliston Ashton, Ogre by gapyear.com, Peaches by Ackley, Momotaro and Kibidango by jpinfo.com and web-japan.org

How To Eat Japanese

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You’ve been served a traditional Japanese meal for the first time. So many plates, so many dishes all at once! What happened to the soup course, the salad course? What do you eat first? The miso soup is the best bet, right? But maybe you need to respect the rice or something by taking a bite of that first. The side dish looks like an appetizer—that seems like a logical starter. But you’re a foreigner, so you might be forgiven for diving right into the main dish. Or does that make you look like you have no class?

Lucky for you, there is no wrong answer. The typical meal you see above is called Ichiju Sansai, which means, “one soup, three dishes”. For more on this classic style of Japanese meal, look up this article from Zojirushi. Some people do indeed go for the soup to whet their palates. Others dive into the main dish or one of the side dishes, especially if it’s calling out to you, begging you to taste it NOW! But the second move is almost always a bite of the rice. Once you have a mouthful of salted fish, or vinegary pickles, or sweet sour vegetables, you’ll crave a bite of hot, moist, fluffy rice to balance out what you just ate!

Are you beginning to understand why it’s not necessary to flavor your white rice with soy sauce? Ugh!

But even before you scarf up, let’s put you into a Zen type of mood so you don’t inhale your food. You may have heard about the custom of saying “Itadaki-masu” before actually taking that first bite. You may have even seen your Japanese friends clasping their hands in prayer and bowing to their meal. As much as it seems like this is the Japanese version of saying Grace in Western culture, it really isn’t. The literal translation is “I shall take” (the food before me); but it really implies, “Thank you for this meal.” Thank you to the farmers who raised this food with their hard work, thank you to Nature for allowing the farmers to do so, etc. It’s a more holistic gratitude than a worship.

Itadakimasu

By the same token, the companion phrase, “Gochiso-sama” is used after you’ve finished the meal to indicate being very satisfied with the feast, and to give thanks again before leaving the table.

OK, so now that the formalities are out of the way, let’s talk chopsticks. You can save yourself a lot of embarrassment by knowing some simple rules about chopsticks. You can be forgiven for not knowing how to use them properly–after all, you’re a novice, right? But you don’t want to commit any of these faux pas:

chopsticks manners

In particular, don’t stick them upright in your rice (they resemble sticks of incense at funerals), and don’t pass food from chopsticks to chopsticks (again, a ritual performed at cremations when metal chopsticks are used to pass the bones of the remains from relative to relative). Whew! You can see why these acts might actually make people uncomfortable. I’ve got another one to add to this list that’s strictly my pet peeve: “Kosuri-bashi”, the way everyone seems to think it’s necessary to rub and scrape their chopsticks together to get rid of splinters. In reality, unless you’re using some very poor quality chopsticks, modern wooden ones these days don’t really have splinters. In fact, you might be creating more shavings this way, or you might start a fire!

chopsticks

NOW you’re ready to start eating Japanese without looking like a Barbarian. Keep in mind that the rice and miso soup bowls can be picked up and brought to your mouth to drink directly from the bowl. Don’t slurp–just because you’re allowed to do it with noodles, doesn’t mean you can do it for soup. And don’t shovel the rice into your mouth; take a bit with your chopsticks and eat. The rest of the dishes should stay on your tray or table and eaten from the plates directly. If you’re serving yourself from a communal large dish of food, just bring some to your own plate before eating. It’s OK to bring your plate to the food to shorten the distance. And try to use the other end of your chopsticks instead of the end that you’ve just stuck in your mouth–better yet, hopefully a utensil has been provided for that purpose.

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A lot of this is common sense, i know…but not all of it. Don’t even get me started on the ritualistic ways of eating sushi, or the formalities involved with drinking in the company of your boss or colleagues. That’s a whole topic for another day.

Photos courtesy of Iromegane, Zojirushi, Nairaland

 

For Dads Everywhere

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“Anyone can be a father, but it takes a lot to be a daddy.”
–Anonymous

I’m guessing most Dads have one of these fine art pieces on their walls, created by their own personal artist. When kids are this age, us Dads can do no wrong. We are the heroes of the universe, and we damn well deserve to be! As they get older of course, priorities change and maybe they don’t have as much time for arts and crafts, but it’s nice to know we’re still recognized on that one day of the year. Here’s my Instagram post from just last year, on Father’s Day:

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My son, who is way too cool to make a homemade card, actually drove out to my favorite breakfast place and bought me a plate lunch of Corned Beef and Eggs (without me asking for it) with his own money! My wife and daughter gave me some great new shorts, and we all went out for sushi for dinner. Pretty nice! Oh, and that screenshot in the corner? That’s the alert I got from Verizon that day, telling me that my kids had gone over the data usage limit on their cell phones. Oh, well…

In the grand scheme of things, Moms get more attention than us Dads–as well they should, I suppose, but can’t we do better than recycled Father’s Day cards? Ouch!

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Father’s Day had a hard time getting off the ground, apparently; but it shouldn’t have been, considering Mother’s Day had already been established by the early 1900s. It was met with skepticism in the early years of its formation, when people thought it was just another commercial holiday inspired by merchants to make money. Even though Mother’s Day became popular because it had the backing of retailers for exactly the same reasons, Father’s Day was a harder sell because fathers just don’t have the same sentimental appeal that mothers have. But eventually we made it, and here we are!

And have you seen some of those cute Dad videos on YouTube? When it comes to our kids, Dads can show a softer side too, and as only Dads can. I’m pretty sure we all have our moments with our kids–they just haven’t been filmed yet.

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Here’s another one that shows why Dads are heroes (we have quick reactions).

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This Father’s Day, treat your Dad, or GrandDad, or StepDad, to something he likes. After you’ve given him the necktie, power drill, golf balls and remote controlled drone, take him out for BBQ ribs;

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…or buy him a box of donuts!

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Happy (upcoming) Father’s Day everyone!

 

Images courtesy of Bert Tanimoto, Zazzle, @ironchefmom, Zojirushi, and thanks to Lucille’s

Hawaii 5-O

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I was feeling a little nostalgic today, so I thought I’d write about my home state in terms of 5 Hawaiian “Local Grindz”. Being on the mainland, eating like a local is the closest I can get to being there! Hawaii is such a mixed bag of cultures, the choices that I could come up with seem infinite, but in my opinion there are a handful of favorites that never change, no matter how many generations have passed. I also qualified my 5 based on them being distinctly native to Hawaii; although I refuse to verify whether they actually originated there. Close enough, I say.

1. Poke
Regardless of what Polynesian fisherman first started cutting up his leftover ahi catch into little pieces so he could eat it as a snack, Hawaii gets the credit for this dish which has become a mainland sensation. Since most Americans are more used to raw fish now since the widespread popularity of sushi, poke (pronounced po-keh) has found it easier to gradually work its way into the mainstream.

Poke has been around for a long time in Hawaii, available in containers at almost every supermarket in the Islands; kind of like how salsa is sold in the refrigerated section here. Usually seasoned with soy sauce, sea salt and sesame oil, the raw ahi tuna is mixed with green onions, Maui onions and limu, an edible algae that has long been part of the ancient Hawaiian diet. Sprinkled with sesame seeds, a bowl of fresh poke is like eating the catch of the day, right on the beach.

teri-beef2. Beef Teriyaki
Teriyaki is an interesting study in origins. In Japan, where the taste of tangy-sweet soy sauce and sugary flavor was undoubtedly first made, the term teriyaki is mainly used to describe a cooking method. The “teri” part refers to the glaze of the teriyaki sauce, and “yaki” means to grill. With all the Japanese immigration to Hawaii in the late 1800s, the taste was brought over, but it can be said that the sauce itself, as the marinade that we know today, was a Japanese-American invention.

It took an influence of Western culture to apply teriyaki to beef, I’m sure. If I think back to my early days of basic plate lunches, “teri-beef” was always a staple. It makes sense–what can possibly go together better as a combination than beef teriyaki, macaroni salad and rice? Add some chopped cabbage and you’ve successfully fended off your guilty conscience of not eating your vegetables. I can smell it on the grill even now…

spamshelf23. Spam Musubi
There is no way that this isn’t a Hawaiian original. Who the heck else glorifies Spam like this? Think about it, locals consume more Spam there than anyplace else in the U.S.; it’s available as breakfast meat at McDonald’s and Burger King. Another Japanese influence, Spam Musubi is like the perfect portable snack food. And they even stack up like bricks because they’re shaped that way!

It is the ubiquitous picnic favorite, bake sale staple and pot luck standard of local cuisine. Even though every family has their own way of making Spam Musubi, in the end it’s still rice and spam and shaped the same way. Even though the high sodium content is probably not that great for you, I love it anyway. If you’ve never heard of Spam Musubi, read my post here on how to make it.

saimin4. Saimin
My Dad would always complain about not being able to find good saimin when he was living in California. He was right. It’s tough to find–in many ways this Hawaiian classic has been supplanted by the ramen juggernaut that is taking over the world, even in Hawaii. But to me, there will always be a place for saimin, and I predict it will make a strong comeback one day.

The noodles are practically the same between the two dishes, but the saimin broth is much lighter than ramen, both in taste and color. Typical toppings would be some scrambled egg slivers, green onion, Chinese cabbage, char-siu (a Chinese style BBQ pork) and kamaboko, the pink and white Japanese fish cake that you see everywhere with the swirl in it. How much more Hawaiian can it get, with all those cultural roots. Plus, a common substitute for the char-siu that you’ll often see is Spam!

By the way, there are McDonald’s locations in Hawaii that serve their own brand of saimin, which isn’t bad–I’ve tried it.

shaveicesyrup5. Shave Ice
“Shaved” Ice, or kakigori, as it’s known in Japan, was no doubt the influence that became the Hawaiian “shave” ice as we know it today. But the Hawaiian version has earned its place as an American original. The ice is much finer than Japanese kakigori; and the flavors are distinctly tropical, like guava, pineapple, coconut, passion fruit, lychee, and mango. Some of them taste so much like the real thing it’s uncanny–they remind me of how they get those flavors into the tiny little jelly beans.

There’s no doubt every country in the world has its own version of finely shaved ice dessert, but this one that evolved from kakigori has its unique toppings and fillings at the bottom. Ice cream and/or adzuki beans inside, for example; or flavored with sweet condensed milk along with the colored syrup, often called “Japanese style” or “snow cap” among the locals. Read more about some ice desserts here.

If you go to Hawaii, you must make a pit stop at Matsumoto’s Shave Ice stand on the way to the North Shore of Oahu–everyone else does, including busloads of Japanese tourists everyday, since 1951!

Images: Poke by IronChefMom, Teri-beef plate by Chad YamamotoAisle of Spam by SassySSSShave Ice syrup by Lilly Zay, Saimin by Aloha-Hawaii.com

Straight Coffee Talk

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So at the expense of revealing how ancient I really am, I want to make it clear that Japan had their own coffee houses long before there was a Starbucks, which as everyone knows, is a big part of what makes Seattle famous–and where tourists come by the thousands just to stand in line to get into the “original” one.

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The original Starbucks in Seattle, WA

Of course, Japan probably borrowed the idea from the European cafés anyway, but the Japanese have a unique way of taking something and refining it somehow. In the 70’s, when coffee shops called kissaten really took off, there were thousands of mostly Mom and Pop places all over country. They would serve gourmet coffee, brewed carefully and individually, from beans imported from all over the world. Sound familiar? Just for some perspective, the first Starbucks store didn’t open until 1971, and they weren’t on every street corner back then.

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A kissaten today (a nostalgic hangout) — The original Cafe Almond (first opened in 1964!)

The market was so competitive, if you were a coffee drinker, you had a vast amount of choices in exotic beans and style of brewing. You could pay for the privilege of an expensive cup of Blue Mountain coffee from the hills of Jamaica, brewed by pour-over with filtered water heated to a precise temperature. It might not seem like a big deal today, but it was this artisanal touch that made you want to go there to experience the ambiance. It’s just not the same when a giant stainless steel machine can do it with a few quick lever pulls and button pushes. *Sigh*

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Load beans, grind, open drawer to get coffee!

For my money, the Pour-Over (pictured above) is still the best way to brew a great cup of coffee. Perfect for a single cup, it makes me wish I still had my wooden mill that I used to have, when I would grind my own beans every morning. Nah, who am I fooling? It’s too easy to have it ground for me at my local Starbucks!

I also had my own personal Siphon coffee maker too, which came with a little alcohol burner to heat the water. I remember first seeing this method at one of the fashionable coffee shops in Tokyo (yes, back in the Seventies) where the barista would tend to 6 or so glass pots, each boiling over a Bunsen burner. After watching the water boil and rise to the upper chamber, each pot of coffee was on a timer, set to go off at the ideal brewing time before being allowed to be taken off the heat and drop down to the bottom chamber for that perfect cup. It’s hard to fully understand the process until you’ve seen it, but it’s one of the most fun ways to brew coffee, and the brew is delicious!

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Hario siphon brewer — Bialetti French press

Then there’s the French Press, which has its fans, but I am not one of them. The idea is to brew the coffee in the glass with the grounds and the hot water, with the plunger all the way up. When your coffee is done, you simply push the plunger down and a built-in filter pushes the grounds down to bottom, leaving your coffee ready to pour. Many people like the fact that there is no paper filter to throw away, but I dislike cloudy coffee; and sediment always remains with the French Press. Purists will argue that the flavorful oils of the coffee beans are protected better with this method.

In 1972 after Mr. Coffee® introduced America to automatic brewing for the home, there have been hundreds of automatic coffee brewing systems that heat and drip the water into a cone or basket filter, which then drips into a carafe. The machine is basically a home version of the machines that have been used in diners for decades, and is ideal for when you want more than one cup of coffee. Some of the good ones like this one from Zojirushi have thermal insulated carafes that can keep your coffee hot for hours, without having to keep it on a heating element.

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Zojirushi Fresh Brew Plus — Keurig pod coffee

And I can’t discuss coffee brewing systems without mentioning the ubiquitous pod coffee makers made popular by Keurig®. It doesn’t beat the drip style coffee in my opinion, but it does make a pretty good cup. The company has taken some heat though, for impacting the environment with waste caused by their used pods. As modern convenience goes, it’s not surprising that you see these everywhere. Unlike a drip system, there’s not much to wash and nothing messy to dispose, other than that little pod.

The last method I wanted to bring up was the Drip Sachet, a beautifully engineered drip coffee bag, made to hang on a mug or coffee cup for a single serving. This ingenious marvel of paper die-cutting folds completely flat while it seals the correct portion of fine ground. Carefully unfold it to expose the coffee, prop it securely over your cup, and just pour the hot water–a complete drip system in miniature! From a per serving price point, it’s a little expensive, but so convenient! To me, it’s the best tasting “individual serving” method other than the Pour-Over.

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The coffee sachet folds out into a complete brewing system.

I’m also old enough to remember the Percolator (Google it if you’re interested); my parents had this high tech electric one when I was a kid. Coffee has come a long way indeed.

photos by: Bert Tanimoto, Ann-Marie, Japan Today, Humanosphere
products courtesy of Hario®, Bialetti®, Keurig®, Zojirushi®

 

A Day In The Life

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Well, maybe it’s more than a day, but I’ve always wanted to use that title. I just thought I’d share some of my cell phone shots, which show what I’ve been doing lately. Think of it as my Instagram feed, except in blog form. I haven’t been very good about posting these days, so this is my way of catching up.

superba4On weekends we go out to eat a lot–it’s become our activity to explore places we’ve never been, to see if those Yelp or Serious Eats reviewers know what they’re talking about. SUPERBA was one of those places. I got the beet marinated salmon on artisanal bread, dressed in herbal goat cheese and topped with capers. Pretty tasty, except it shocked me at first because I couldn’t figure out where the salmon was. Then I realized–oh yeah, marinated in beets!

I think this was the day we ended up with something less frou-frou and more to my liking for dinner–Croquette Curry at COCO ICHIBANYA, my favorite Japanese style curry place. I’m a bit of a wimp. I can’t go past Spicy #2 without setting my hair on fire.

Some Saturday mornings we’ll fight the laziness and make it to the beach (we live about a mile away) and take a morning walk. The seagulls and surfers are usually already out there by the time we get there, but at least we make the effort, right? Did I tell you we drive there even though we’re only a mile away?

My weekday mornings are much earlier. Since my work commute is pretty far (70 miles), I leave when it’s still dark and I come back when it’s already dark, during the winter months when the days are short. But it’s peaceful when there’s no cars yet in the city. You can see the sun just rising as the moon above is just setting. In no time though, I’m on the freeway and hitting morning traffic. I pass my time listening to audio books on CDs and MP3 players like the one you see here. I’ve “read” so many great books now, more than I’ve ever read in my entire life. How did I ever get through college as an English major?


Guisados3Recently on another “family activity day”, we drove up to downtown Los Angeles to have lunch at GUISADOS, a Mexican place we found on Yelp, where they’re known for their soft tacos. They have this sampler dish on the menu with 6 different tacos; I’ve never bothered to remember what I’m eating, I just know they’re all muy bueno. (My daughter goes there for the horchata.)

That day since we were in the area, we decided to extend the field trip by stopping in Hollywood, where we never go–and now we know why; bad traffic, bad parking, too many tourists. But I couldn’t resist taking a picture of David Bowie’s star on the Walk of Fame–I’m a classic rock fan, remember? RIP Ziggy, you were way too young to leave us on earth.

Sometimes dinner is simple. We’ll go to In-N-Out and just bring it home. I took a shot of thein_out employees hard at work, making the best hamburgers in the West, right from the car at the drive-thru window. My son, who is going to school in Boston right now, told us that people on the East Coast think In-N-Out is the holy grail of hamburgers. Lucky we live L.A., eh? But it’s all relative…a lot of people here think Shake Shack from New York is the best. I’ve had both, they’re both good and different so it’s tough to compare, but In-N-Out is the better value for sure.

honeyOur trending dessert for us right now is an ice cream place called HONEYMEE. It’s actually a rich and creamy kind of soft-serve, with a cube of real raw honey, still in its honeycomb, sitting on top. What it reminds me of is the old days when I would stop at a gas station to get a soft-serve from those machines. Of course, this is much better–the milk is real and flavorful, without being too sweet. I can do without the honeycomb, which is basically like chewing wax.

This was fun to write…thanks for reading!

All photos by Bert Tanimoto