My Favorite February Days

It’s time again to review the wacky “Holidays” of the month and get silly. February has its fair share of holidays, but this month I’m going to do something different and direct you to my favorite Zojirushi recipes that everyone can make—to help celebrate these special days. There’s a recipe for everything my friend, and Zojirushi usually has one.


February 4th is National Stuffed Mushroom Day
I kind of get why this dish has its own special day. Versatile as an hors d’oeuvre and always appreciated as an appetizer, they can be filled with practically anything and can either be served right out of the oven or at room temperature or even out of the refrigerator. Try these Stuffed Potato Mushroom Skewers—juicy mushroom caps stuffed with classic parsley and mashed potatoes. Looks easy and looks delish!


February 6th is National Chopsticks Day
My favorite eating utensil! Sorry, but forks are a waste of time for most things to me—even salads. The only disadvantage is if you want to eat a steak, but you can pre-slice the meat before you serve it, right?

Practice makes perfect for handling your chopsticks. Anyone can pick up short grain Japanese rice because it’s sticky and clumpy. You could even scoop up a mouthful with your off-hand if you needed to. BUT try picking up the drier Chinese long grain kind, or for an even bigger challenge, try picking up a grain of rice at a time. To get to this level, you’ll need a sharp pair of excellent quality chopsticks and the hand-eye coordination of a surgeon. For practice, look up this Zojirushi recipe for Kurigohan. This is very easy to make with your rice cooker. Practice picking clumps of rice first, then graduate to single pieces of chestnuts, then focus on single grains last. Master this, and you are a hashi pro.

For more on chopsticks, read this.


February 9th is National Pizza Day
Alright! Who doesn’t love pizza? Now here’s a day where we have an excuse to eat one! Of course, on this day you can order one to go or visit the pizzeria on the corner, but you can also scratch-bake one if you have a breadmaker. And you can make it with whole grain wheat so that’s a bonus. Try the Whole Wheat Chicken Pizza from the Zojirushi website. Home made pizza dough—that’s the way to go!


February 14th is Valentine’s Day
Of course it is. Want to impress someone with a unique dessert? Try this interesting one that was developed for one of the Zojirushi Food Jars. It’s a fresh fruit jelly dessert that you can chill in the jar, and eat right out of it. I was thinking this is perfect for a day outdoors if the weather is mild enough— but if not, it’s transportable so you can bring it with you on movie date night at home. This looks good. Red Cranberry Gelatin with Mixed Berries


February 16th is Chinese New Year
This is the Year of the Dog and will mark the beginning of year 4716 on the Chinese Lunar Calendar. If you were born during this year, it is said that you possess the best traits of human nature. Dogs are a symbol of loyalty and honesty. Dog people are said to also be friendly, smart, straightforward and have a strong sense of responsibility.

How about some hot tea to celebrate? Oolong, a fragrant and mild Chinese tea, is loved by tea fans everywhere. This Silky Milky Oolong Tea recipe is a modern take on it—easy to make and so soothing on a cold night!


February 24th is National Tortilla Chip Day
Believe it or not, the familiar triangle shaped chip was born in Los Angeles, California, and not Mexico. In the 1940s Rebecca Webb Carranza decided to make use of the tortilla rejects from her tortilla manufacturing machine that she was using at her Mexican deli. The snacks became popular and the rest, as they say, is history. She received the Golden Tortilla award in 1994 for her contribution to the Mexican food industry.

So help celebrate National Tortilla Chip Day with a hot Cheese Fondue using your Zojirushi Electric Skillet—YUM! CHEESE! You can prepare lots of other ingredients to dip too, and make a party out of it.

There are crazy holidays for every day of the year—which on is your favorite?

 

Valentines Chocolates by Stewart Butterfield, Creative Commons license
All other images by Zojirushi

 

Good Vibrations in 2018


Good, good, good, good vibrations!
—The Beach Boys

So this is my one resolution this year: stay positive! Each year my family asks me, “What’s your New Year’s Resolution this year, Dad?” And I try to come up with one, but only one, because I know how hard they are to keep. They’ve not always been successful, but I’ve got to set an example, right? I think I’ve grown more cynical as I get older, and that’s not good. As I get older, I figure I’ve earned the right to get crusty, but I don’t want to dry out and get crumbly…ha!

Too many haters out there today, and the problem is that everyone has a voice that can be heard everywhere, know what I mean? And this isn’t a positivity blog, so I’m not about to tell anyone what to do or offer suggestions. I will, however, tell you what I’m going to do to stay positive and invite good, good vibrations.

Here’s one of my favorite quotes:
“Let us rise up and be thankful, for if we didn’t learn a lot today, at least we learned a little, and if we didn’t learn a little, at least we didn’t get sick, and if we got sick, at least we didn’t die; so let us all be thankful.”
—Buddha

How utterly Zen is that?

More Good Music
Listening to great music always puts me in the right frame of mind. and I don’t care what anyone else is listening to, because I’m listening to classic rock—the way songs were written when they were called tunes. The best songwriters can compose catchy melodies that are memorable, and combine them with meaningful lyrics that aren’t pretentious or sappy. To be fair, there are many contemporary bands that I listen to as well—good music is good music, after all. But music preference is generational, and I prefer the songs that speak to me. From one of the greatest songwriters of all time:

I’m not the kind of man
Who tends to socialize
I seem to lean on
Old familiar ways
And I ain’t no fool for love songs
That whisper in my ears
Still crazy after all these years
Still crazy after all these years
—Paul Simon

More Good Food
We got ourselves a Gourmet Sizzler griddle this year for Christmas. My wife wanted one so she could do some tabletop cooking with the family, and I thought it was a good idea. I’ve noticed that whenever we eat at home, we each have our little places to go to inside the house, so we grab a plate and scatter to watch our own TV shows or sit at the computer while we eat. As much as I cringe at the thought of dining out and paying for the expense, I feel like it’s worth it because we’re all in one place together and we actually talk. Believe me, this gets harder as the kids get older.

Anyway, I’m looking forward to doing some teppanyaki or Korean BBQ or okonomiyaki at home this year. Who knows, maybe we can turn it into a regular family activity. If you decide to get one, there are some easy starter recipes on the Zojirushi site, so look them up. And if you’re interested, there’s some more information on griddle cooking here. I definitely wouldn’t have bought this if all I was going to do was make pancakes and grilled cheese sandwiches—that’s not enough to bring the family together!

More Good Moments
The trick to experiencing the good moments in life is to be able to recognize them. I am notoriously bad at it, so I resolve to be more sensitive to my surroundings from now on. I have an Instagram account, but I’m not all that active on it. When I think of the hundreds of funny or interesting images that I see all the time, I think if only I stopped to take a photo and just comment on my IG page, I’d probably have a decent collection of moments that I could have shared. These days we can do that so much easier than we used to—all we have to do is whip out our phones. It’s a matter of looking at things through our own unique lens, you know? Here’s an example of what I mean. This was taken when we went to go get breakfast at a local diner called Phanny’s. Excellent breakfast burritos, BTW.

A resolution to eat healthy—forgotten at the bus stop.

This year I’m going to see More Good Movies, write More Good Stories, read More Good Books and feel More Good Vibrations! What are you gonna do?

 

images: Good Vibes by P&J Productions, Buddha by Gaijin Pot, all others by Zojirushi and Bert Tanimoto

 

Mele Kalikimaka

When I was a kid growing up in Hawaii, Christmas was always depicted with Santa on a surfboard. I mean, what would you expect, living on a tropical island? Doesn’t make sense for him to come down a chimney, riding a sleigh pulled by reindeer, does it? Christmas in Hawaii is definitely a unique experience, with its own flavor and culture unlike anything on the Mainland. And as a kid, I never wondered how Santa was able to deliver our toys on a surfboard—I only cared that I got them.

Christmas was introduced to the Hawaiians back in the early 1800s when Protestant missionaries first came to the islands. Prior to this the Hawaiian religion celebrated Makahiki, which was a time of thanksgiving, and all warfare was forbidden while communal bonds were renewed. Eventually King Kamehameha IV and Queen Emma of Hawaii declared Christmas an official holiday in 1862.


Mele Kalikimaka means “Merry Christmas” in Hawaiian (roughly translated). It’s not as difficult to pronounce as it looks, BTW—just say “Meh-leh Kah-li-ki-mah-kah” and flash the “shaka” sign and grin! There are 2 songs that say Mele Kalikimaka that I know of; the original is by Bing Crosby from the 1940s and the other one is a more updated version by the Beach Boys. Maybe you’ve heard these before?


What’s for dinner at Christmas? My guess is that most of America has ham or turkey during the holidays, or maybe roast beef. Being Japanese-American, someone would always bring sushi because that’s what you eat on special occasions. But there would be Kalua Pig too, just because— who doesn’t like roast pork, Hawaiian style? If you go to any luau in Hawaii, you’ll be able to see how they roast a whole pig and bury it an underground oven called an imu. As a tourist attraction it’s pretty spectacular to see the entire pig being hoisted out of the ground, but luckily by the time it hits your plate it basically looks like shredded pork. My wife’s family, from her Hawaiian side in Maui, really did have a pit in their backyard where they did this every year.

Poinsettias, which start blooming all over the place in pots during Christmas, are indigenous to Mexico and Central America. But they grow wild in Hawaii, where you can see them changing colors to their brilliant red on the hillsides. The tropical latitude makes for ideal conditions for Poinsettias, which can grow up to 12ft. and can be spotted everywhere, in backyards and along local roads. As winter comes in Hawaii, the shorter days cause the Pointsettia leaves to turn Ferrari Red, and everyone knows Christmas is coming. Be honest, when you see Pointsettias in pots it’s no big deal, but if you saw them like this, wow!

Let’s get back to Santa on a surfboard. Only in Hawaii can you get an ethnic looking Santa for a picture, right? Here’s my son at 19 months old, when we took a Santa picture at a mall in Honolulu. We’ve taken pictures every year since my kids were born, and we still make them take Santa pictures even today. My son is now in college and 20 years old, but he’s a good sport about it. This is my favorite though—with the local Santa who just got back from the beach.

Happy Holidays!

 

Photo credits: Ornament by Dave Dugdale Blocks by Daniel Ramirez Imu by DuffelBlog Kalua Pork by Daniel Lane

 

The Taste Test

With the holidays coming up, we’re all going to be doing a lot of eating, right? I got to thinking how we’re going to taste all this food that we’re going to consume. Have you ever thought about the science behind our taste buds? Did you know that the “tongue map” that shows how different parts of your tongue taste sweet, sour, bitter, and salty is completely wrong, and that it was debunked by scientific research in 1974? Since that tongue diagram has been around since 1901, I guess we were pretty gullible about our tongues for a long time.

The truth is that all parts of our tongue can taste everything, even though certain areas are more sensitive than others, like the sides compared to the middle. The one exception is that the back of the tongue is most sensitve to bitter taste. Why? Apparently this is the body’s defense mechanism so we can taste poisonous or spoiled food and be able to spit it out before we can swallow it! Yes, the human body is awesome!

Even though tasting starts with the tongue, being able to connect the taste with a flavor is also related to our sense of smell. A food’s flavor only happens when it’s combined with your smell—which is why we can’t taste much when we have a cold and our nose is stuffed up. So how do our tongues work? Those little bumps that you have on the surface, called papillae, contain many sensory cells more commonly known as our taste buds. These buds are what sends the signals to our brains that help us identify flavors.

The papillae are concentrated mostly at the tip and at the edges, where the tongue is most sensitive to taste. Most adults have between 2000 and 8000 taste buds in our tongues, but unfortunately we start to lose them as we get older or they shrink, along with their capacity to distinguish flavors. Bummer.

Today there are 5 basic indentifiable tastes—sweet, sour, salty, bitter, and umami, which was discovered by a Japanese chemist named Kikunae Ikeda in the early 1900s. Umami has now become common knowledge among the foodies, who like to show that they know such things, but it took a long time for umami to catch on here. Maybe it’s because umami is hard to define. The word savory and brothy is used most to describe the taste—a long lasting aftertaste that leaves a pleasant coating sensation on the tongue.

Recently researchers have been studying even more distinct tastes that can be isolated and identified. New evidence suggests that the tongue probably has the capacity to taste fat, which scientists have described as the sensation you’d get from “eating oxidized oil.” Ugh! Maybe this is a good thing though, like the body’s ability to warn us to stay away from it, like when something bitter might be poisonous. Eventually fat will probably become the 6th taste.

So what’s the sweetest food you’ve ever tasted? How about the sourest, or saltiest, or bitterest?

 

Sources: Thanks to U.S. National Library of Medicine for the taste facts.
Images: Cat by Dominique, Tongue Diagram courtesy of Educhien.com, 5 Tastes by Study.com

 

How To Eat Plain White Rice

If you’ve been guilty of this, you’ve probably been told not to pour soy sauce on your rice if you visit Japan (yes, it’s bush league). But that doesn’t mean the Japanese eat their rice plain and without flavor. No, the trick is to take a mouthful of salty grilled fish, tangy deep fried pork or whatever tasty dish you have in front of you, then eat your bland white rice. If you think about it, you wouldn’t want your rice to be salty or spicy too, if you’re eating it with another dish.

But what happens if you don’t have enough dishes to eat with your rice? Or if you’re still hungry and all you have left is a bowl of rice? You do what the Japanese do—you look in your refrigerator or cupboard and find the dozens of ways to accompany your rice so that it isn’t so plain anymore. You do not pour soy sauce on it!

So stock up on some of these condiments—you can find them at most Asian grocery stores, so no excuses:

TsukemonoOh, if you’re not familiar with the amazing world of Japanese tsukemono (literally “pickled things”), you’re in for a treat. So many kinds, so many tastes, so good with rice! Just writing this is making my mouth water. I can’t get into every single kind here, but here’s a list of the most popular types in case you see them at the store. They’re named by the pickling agent that is used to make them:

Shiozuke (salt)

Nukazuke (rice bran)

Kasuzuke (sake)

Shoyuzuke (soy sauce)

Suzuke (vinegar)

Misozuke (miso)

You’ll find a variety of vegetables used to make tsukemono in all its forms, like cucumbers, eggplants, Chinese cabbage, daikon radish, carrots, turnip greens, ginger, scallions, etc. At Japanese restaurants, they’re usually served in their own little dish off to the side. Don’t ignore it next time—try it with some rice; it’s very addicting.

A lot of families pickle their own at home, which is very easy to do these days. All you need is a large earthenware pot, a heavy stone or concrete block, and a cool storage area or backyard to bury it underground. Just kidding! My grandmother used to do it that way, but you can just buy a spring-loaded pickling press and do it on your kitchen counter. These specialized Japanese kitchen gadgets an be found at most Asian markets.

FurikakeAffectionately known as “rice sprinkles”, the best part of this dry seasoning is that unlike tsukemono, you don’t have to refrigerate it and it has a good shelf life. They come in packets or jars, in multi-colored, multi-flavored varities, and it can be used as a topping on rice, vegetables or fish. Depending on the ingredients used inside the mix, furikake can taste like fish, eggs, sour plum, seaweed, spicy wasabi, or even teriyaki. This is a great way to eat leftover rice or as seasoning on bento rice (makes it look good too). My favorite way of using furikake is to mix it in hot rice and to roll it into rice balls (onigiri).

If you go looking for furikake, be sure to see what kind of ingredients are in it, so you’ll know whether it’s going to make your rice salty, sweet or sour. The seaweed,shrimp and egg varieties tend to be milder and have a slight sweet/aromatic flavor. Most of them fall into the salty range and many are quite deep with umami when sprinkled on hot white rice. If they have bits of dried plum bits (umeboshi) you can taste the tangy sourness mixed in. And if you’re not good with spicy, make sure it doesn’t contain wasabi or kimchi flakes—but if you like spicy, I think they really dress up your rice!

Here’s a handy chart put out by Asian Food Grocer, an online supplier. You can also find furikake at most Asian supermarkets.

Nori

The type of seaweed (nori) than you see on sushi doesn’t have any flavor added to its already rich umami, but there are flavored kinds (ajitsuke nori) that you can eat with white rice that are excellent during meals. You may have seen them as a common add-on at a typical Japanese style breakfast. They’re usually seasoned with a teriyaki tasting sweetness, and come in narrow sheets—packed in cellophane packaging to preserve crispness. If you want to eat this with your rice properly, practice your chopstick skills, because you’re supposed to wrap the sheet around a mouthful of rice like a small sushi roll and pop it into your mouth.I prefer tsukudani nori, which is more of a paste made with seaweed and strongly flavored with soy sauce. It’s not the most appetizing of looks for seaweed, but trust me, on hot white rice it’s so good! But use carefully because it is salty. And kids love it—I would slather this on my rice.

UmeboshiAnd of course, the classic way to eat white rice is a patriotic one for the Japanese. The mighty sour plum, known as umeboshi, is what decorates the center of a bed of plain rice when you make the traditional “Hi-no-maru Bento”. The traditional hinomaru is named after the Japanese national flag because it resembles it—a red dot on a field of white. Many years ago I remember seeing a comedy on Japanese TV, in which a penniless bachelor would make his umeboshi last by only having one piece for his dinner. He would hang it by a string in front of him and stare at it until the sourness of it made his mouth pucker so he could eat his rice and imagine the flavor. After his meal, he untied the umeboshi and put it away for next time! LOL!

Seriously though, umeboshi is very popular in Japan because they’re also thought to have health properties as a digestive aid, as a prevention against nausea and hangovers, and to help combat fatigue. So good on a bowl of rice, or stuff one into a rice ball (but watch out for the pit)!

And if you get desperate and there’s nothing in the house…Take an egg out of the refrigerator, beat it until scrambled, and add a generous amount of soy sauce to it. Pour the raw egg mixture over very hot rice and stir it up until the egg half cooks or gets frothy. Or drop the egg on the rice first, and pour the soy sauce over it before mixing. This is called Tamago Kake Gohan (egg on rice) and was my father’s favorite way to end his dinners. Don’t let the raw egg scare you—this is good stuff! And it’s the only way you get to pour soy sauce on your rice…

 

photo credits: Tsukemono by Japan-Guide.com, Hinomaru Bento by PamandJapan, Furikake Chart by Asian Food Grocer, Wrapping Nori by Gigazine, Tamago Kake Gohan by JP Info, and all other images by Bert Tanimoto.