Welcome to 2016

main

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

Deliberate Customs:  Tradition of Toshikoshi Soba

toshikoshisoba01

“May you live a long, thin life.”

As 2015 comes to an end, we hope you have a moment to be a part of the quintessentially Japanese tradition of enjoying toshikoshi soba on New Year’s Eve. For hundreds of years, Japanese families have shared this tradition as part of a year-end festivities. Toshikoshi means “jump from the old year to the new”. In the days leading up to the end of the year, families clean their homes from top to bottom, sweeping out the old and worn and stale to make room for a fresh and clean new year. Business dealings are finalized, loose ends tied and financial matters are settled. And, in between parties and revelry, families gather at home on the final day of the year to be close, enjoy a warm bowl of thin buckwheat soba noodles in broth, watch TV together and reflect, listening to the sounds of the bells from Shinto shrines ringing 108 times, banishing the traditional 108 evils.

According to Japanese tradition, eating toshikoshi soba noodles on New Year’s Eve is rooted in legend. One story says that the tradition began during the 13th or 14th centuries during the Kamakura or Muromachi periods, when wealthy feudal lords would feed their citizens the last meal of the year to represent their power and strength. Another legend states that eating toshikoshi soba began during the Edo period in what is now Tokyo. During that time, the merchant class began eating soba noodles that were made with the same type of fine soba flour used by goldsmiths to gather leftover gold dust. Eating soba noodles made from the same type of flour signified wealth and prosperity. Eating toshikoshi soba at the end of the year symbolized strength and resiliency, as the buckwheat plant would survive rain and wind. The thin noodles were also thought to represent a long life and the ease with which they were eaten represented the ease of cutting off troubles from the past year.

Regardless of the basis of the tradition, sharing a bowl of soba noodles is a treasured experience, full of comfort and warmth.

As the New Year approaches, we wish everyone a “long, thin life… full of good fortune and peace.” Happy 2016!

 

How to… Use a Takoyaki-ki

Street food is some of the most loved in the world… Middle Eastern gyros, American hot dogs, Indian chaat… and Japanese takoyaki!

Traditionally, takoyaki are fried octopus balls, made using a specialized pan and bamboo skewers. The crispy-on-the-outside, succulent-on-the-inside snacks are served piping hot and topped with lots of savory sauces and condiments.

takoyaki01

Takoyaki are made using a takoyaki-ki, or specialized takoyaki pan. The pans are generally made of heavy cast iron or a lighter coated aluminum so that they retain even heat. Takoyaki-ki are heated over a gas flame and seasoned batter is poured into the deep, round wells. As the batter cooks, small, 1-inch pieces of octopus, or even meat and cheese, are dropped into each well. Once the outer edges of the batter have cooked, the piece is turned ninety degrees with a bamboo skewer and allowed to cook again. The piece is turned over and over until the balls are round and golden brown on the outside. Each piece is served hot out of the pan, and garnished with green onions, okonomiyaki sauce, seaweed powder, bonito flakes and mayonnaise.takoyaki03

Drooling yet?

One of the best parts about getting fresh takoyaki is watching the cooks prepare dozens at a time, their bamboo skewers working steady and fast as each well of batter is turned into delicious snack balls!

Have you made takoyaki before using this pan? We’d love to hear your stories!

 

Good Taste: Shungiku

shungiku01

Shabu shabu or sukiyaki wouldn’t be complete without Japanese shungiku. Called Garland Chrysanthemum in English, or Tong Hao in Chinese, shungiku is a dark leafy green that is an essential ingredient in hot pot-style dishes. The greens are slightly bitter in taste, and very delicate, easily burned and over-cooked. When added to hot dishes, they are generally added last in order to retain their flavor and dark green color. Many modern chefs use shungiku in salads to add just the right amount of crunchy sharpness. The greens can be paired with seafood, persimmons, eggs, mushrooms, poultry, and even stuffed into gyoza (or Japanese style dumplings), or mixed into stir-fries.

sukiyaki

The plants are easily recognizable, bearing daisy-type flowers. They are hardy annuals that grow in mild or slightly cold climates. The greens are also nutritious, containing potassium, carotene, antioxidants and lactobacillus casei, the probiotic widely used make yogurt and support intestinal health.

Originally brought to Japan from Greece and primarily used in Asian cuisines, including Japanese, Chinese, Taiwanese and Korean dishes, these vegetables are readily available in the United States in Asian grocery stores and farmers markets. Try our recipes for sukiyaki and add shungiku to your mix!

 

The Zojirushi Holiday Gift Guide is Here!

Holiday Gift Guide

Our 2015 Holiday Gift Guide is here and we’ve got great recommendations for all of the special people in your life!

Take our clever Yes/No questionnaire and by the time you’re finished, you’ll know exactly what type of Zojirushi product you should be getting for that special person.  The best part, is that no matter what kind of gift you end up choosing, there are no wrong choices!