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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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:

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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!

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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

Seaweed the Superfood

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Seaweed has got to be the most traditional and most futuristic food in the world, at the same time. It’s so interwoven into our culture and diet that we Japanese probably take it for granted, but as we sit here and wrap our onigiri (riceballs) in our nori (laver seaweed), there are real organizations out there that are researching seaweed as the answer to world hunger.

By the year 2050, the world population is projected to reach 9 billion. The big question is, how are we going to feed all those people without severely affecting our environment? Agriculture employs more than 28% of the world, whether it’s directly or indirectly, so we need agriculture for our global economic health. But agriculture also accounts for a major percentage of greenhouse gases, deforestation of our jungles and uses the majority of all the freshwater we take from our rivers and lakes. I don’t expect to be around in 2050, but my kids and their kids certainly will be; so this is serious business.

And being taken very seriously as a sustainable food source is the humble seaweed, familiar to many Asian countries for centuries. Today seaweed has been elevated to superfood status because of its nutritional benefits and the fact that it may save the world from starvation. And farming it requires no maintenance like weeding, fertilizingseafarm2 or watering; it leaves the environment cleaner by removing harmful excess nutrients from the water, and it doesn’t consume much in resources. Talk about the perfect crop!

Seaweed farming began in Japan as early as 1670, so as an edible food, you might say the rest of the world is just catching up. The West has only just begun to realize its importance beyond being a wrapping for sushi. Don’t forget that seaweed is a potent source of umami as well, and world class chefs are well aware of how kombu is used to make soup stock.

kombu2There are basically 6 types of commonly used seaweed varieties in Japanese cuisine.
Kombu, which I just mentioned, is probably used everyday by homemakers in Japan. A kelp loaded with umami, kombu is an important ingredient in making dashi, or soup stock, especially for miso soup. The best kombu is gathered from the shallow waters off of Hokkaido; like most seaweed, it is high in calcium, iron and iodine, which the body needs.

 

wakame2Wakame, which is more like a vegetable, is used in salads, in soups, marinated in vinegar, or simmered with other vegetables. Even though it’s bland and pretty much tasteless on its own, wakame becomes an excellent companion ingredient because of its semi-crunchy texture and its delightful, faint aroma of the sea. Wakame is probably the most popular type of seaweed in Japan.

 

 

nori2Nori, the seaweed that almost all Westerners know now as being edible and synonymous with sushi, is farmed and dried and cut into sheets like papermaking. You’ve also seen nori wrapped around riceballs, floating in bowls of ramen, and cut into little strips on top of cold soba (buckwheat) noodles. Some types are flavored with a little soy sauce and sweet mirin (rice wine), called Ajitsuke Nori, and can be eaten alone with plain white rice. You’ll see this in a classic Japanese breakfast sometimes.

 

aonori2Aonori is another kind that you may not have noticed, used to sprinkle over yakisoba (pan-fried noodles) or okonomiyaki (savory pancakes). This green, fine-flaked nori gives these dishes an added seasoning and makes an attractive presentation.

 

 

 

hijiki2Hijiki, a dark, almost blackish sea vegetable that can be found dried in stores, has been a part of the Japanese diet for centuries. Its nutritional properties and the macrobiotic movement of the seventies made it popular and more readily available in the West, where hijiki is now recognized for its culinary uses. In Japanese cuisine, hijiki can be found as a seasoned side dish, as flavoring in mixed rice, or as an added ingredient in stir frys and simmered vegetables.

 

kanten2Kanten, also known as agar-agar, is a popular diet food because it contains no calories, yet its fiber content helps the body as an intestinal regulator–it’s been taken seriously in obesity studies. Basically a vegetable gelatin with no flavor on its own, kanten is popular in Japan for its versatility and used in sweet desserts like puddings, custards and cakes, or eaten like Jello.

 

 

mozuku2Mozuku, produced mainly in Okinawa and popular all over Japan, may be the most foreign to Westerners. It has a stringy, slimy quality that might need some getting used to, but the refreshing taste, especially when marinated with a sweet vinegar, can be habit forming. You might say it most resembles a seaweed that you fished right out of the ocean, but it is surprisingly mild and not as briny as you might think. Take a leap of faith and try this one.

 

So if seaweed has the potential to save mankind from future starvation, why hasn’t it advanced beyond “ethnic food” status? Like any kind of food you haven’t grown up with, it takes time to acquire the taste. But researchers and chefs are working together these days, who really believe in the future of seaweed. After all, we’re eating vegetables that grow in dirt aren’t we? Seaweed just happens to grow in the oceans.

Credits: World Resources Report
Seaweed Farm by Adam Broadbent for Scubazoo
Seaweed salad by Steven Depolo
Kombu & Wakame by Robin
Ramen nori by Michael T.
Aonori by Alpha
Hijiki by TokyoViews
Kanten dessert by Alex
Mozuku by Pablo

Welcome to 2016

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Happy New Year, everybody! Here’s a snapshot of what’s coming in 2016 that I’ll be watching.

January: The month for resolutions, right? If December is the month where  everyone seems to be genuinely nice to each other, then January must be the most optimistic. I just saw the new Star Wars movie–and I’m a Star Wars geek. So my resolution comes from Master Yoda, who said, yoda
“Try not.
Do, or do not.
There is no try.”
That’s so Yoda, it makes me want to cry.

February: 2016 is a Leap Year, so this coming February will have 29 days. Scientifically, we need to adjust for the fact that earth takes a quarter-day more than 365 to circle the sun. Without leap years our seasons would shift gradually until we’d be off by as much 25 days within 100 years. Culturally, some countries believe leap years are bad luck and marriages shouldn’t take place. But in the UK, Feb. 29th is the one day that women are encouraged to propose to men. Whatever; Rome burned, Custer met his fate at Little Big Horn and The Titanic sank during Leap Years. On the other hand, also during leap years, Ben Franklin discovered electricity, gold was discovered in California and the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock.

March: My daughter’s birthday is this month. She’ll turn 15 on the 15th, which is going to be a great day for her, but it was a bad day for Julius Caesar, who was betrayed and killed by his Roman senators on the Ides of March.

April: On April 22nd we will observe another Earth Day, which has been going on since 1970. Go outside this day and plant a tree! A couple of years ago, NASA called on everyone to post a “Global Selfie” to observe Earth Day. They made a mosaic illustration out of over 32,000 pictures that they got over social media. How cool is that?GlobalSelfieMosiac_high

May: My son’s birthday is this month. He’ll turn 19, which thankfully to me, means he still can’t legally drink or gamble. He’s supposed to be studying.

June: I really don’t know when this project is supposed to start, but in 2016 China will start on the longest underwater tunnel in the world, to connect two cities on their East Coast. It’s going to be over 75 miles long, more than double the length of the longest underwater one now, the Seikan Tunnel connecting the islands of Honshu and Hokkaido in Japan. The longest and deepest tunnel of any kind will open in June 2016 in Switzerland through the Alps, just beating out Japan’s tunnel by less than 2 miles. Too bad they’ll only hold the length record for more than a few years though, until China finishes theirs.

July: I love science fiction, I follow NASA on Instagram, and when I was a kid I would tell everybody I wanted to become an astronomer when I grew up. Turns out being a scientist is harder than I thought, ha! But I can look forward to the spacecraft JUNO reaching the juno200904-640 planet Jupiter on July 4th, 2016 after a 5-year mission. The goal? To study how Jupiter might have been formed, and in turn learn about our own earth’s formation.

August: Summer Olympics scheduled to begin in Rio de Janeiro, olympicsBrazil. Since my big TV sport is pro basketball, I usually don’t have much to watch during the summer. But the Olympics are great entertainment and fun to watch. I always root for U.S., Japan and the underdog.

September: Rumor has it that the next iPhone 7 will be released this month. What’s the gossip? •No home button, only on-screen •Wireless charging •Waterproof •3gigs RAM •Thinner •Improved camera with zoom

For fanboys like me, this is an annual event that I look forward to. There are 2 visionaries that I greatly respect in the world of technology–one was of course Steve Jobs; the other was Akio Morita of Sony.

October: I think if I had an extra $75,000 to spare, I might take a balloon trip to the edge of the atmosphere. World View Enterprises is expected to start their voyages this year, but they haven’t set a date, I don’t think. It’s not exactly outer space, but for the price it seems you get reasonably high enough up that you can see the curvature of the earth and it’ll be pretty blacked out. It’s supposed to take 1.5 hours to reach altitude, then you get 2 hours of observation time before you head back down by parasail.457889-world-view-balloon-and-parafoil-credit-world-view

PresidentialSealNovember: It’s an election year–get ready to vote for your favorite horse in the race on November 8th. This will mark the 58th time we’ve elected a president and vice-president for our country. Our first president, George Washington, was voted in on our first election in 1789.

December: Having started this post with Star Wars, I have to end it with same. Hopefully December will bring the release of the next movie in this new series. All I know is that it’s going to be called “Rogue One”, but anything else I say would be just rumors so I’m not getting into it here. I’m not that much of a geek. If you haven’t seen the recent “The Force Awakens”, it’s worth seeing. Even my daughter, who has no real interest in all the previous Star Wars films, said she liked it and she’s looking forward to the next one.

That’s my preview of 2016. May the force be with you!

Credits: Yoda statue in front of LucasFilms shot by Jamie McCaffrey
Others: Juno courtesy of NASA, Global Selfie courtesy of NASA, World View Enterprises, New Year’s banner by Shayari Wallpapers

Twas the Night For Zojirushi

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holly-berries-icon-psd copy copyTwas the night before Holidays, when all through the house–
Nothing was stirring, not even a mouse.
And just when even a mouse wouldn’t squeak,
The Zojirushi products decided to speak!

rice copyThe Rice Cooker said, “They can’t live without me.
Rice is a staple, their dinners need me.
Whatever the side dish, whatever the soup,
You need fluffy rice, to complete the group.”

bread“I beg to differ,” the Breadmaker said.
“What staple is there, other than bread?
I can bake it fresh, and it smells so good,
The mornings are mine, that’s understood.”

waterboiler3“Hold on! Wait for it! Here comes the spoiler!
That’s not how it ends!” chimed the Water Boiler.
“It all starts with water and I heat it with ease.
Tea drinkers love me, everyone agrees.”

travelmug2 copy“Ah, but here’s one thing that’s wrong with you all.
You slaves are stuck, you’re plugged to the wall!
We’re cool, we hydrate, we stay with the runners.”
The Travel Mugs bragged, as they flashed their colors.

foodjar4The Lunch Jars and Food Jars, they heard the discussion.
They said, “We agree, we concur, we second that motion!”

 

gourmet2And that Gourmet guy, you know the one–
that Tabletop Skillet who has all the fun.
The life of the party, always looking so chic;
breathed out a sigh and rose up to speak.

holly-berries-icon-psd copy copy“Hold it, listen you all. You’re missing the point!
It’s not who’s great, or who rocks this joint.
We all serve a purpose; we follow a plan.
We make life easier whenever we can.

holly-berries-icon-psd copy copyWe all love to cook, and that’s the truth.
We satisfy cravings, or any sweet tooth.
So let’s enjoy what we do–we are truly blessed.
It’s not about skill, or who is the best!”

holly-berries-icon-psd copy copyA sudden silence then came over the kitchen.
The arguing stopped and they started to listen.
The Zojirushi spirit is alive and well.
“He’s right, good point! They started to yell.”

holly-berries-icon-psd copy copyAnd so it was on that Holiday night,
with the fire in embers and the stars out of sight,
a commotion was settled, the rebellion rejected.
Peace came again, with the kitchen protected.

holly-berries-icon-psd copy copyThose products decided to give up the strife,
and take Inspiration From Everyday Life.

 

–with apologies to Clement Clarke Moore

Happy Holidays everyone!