Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Snowman is an "eat often" food

Winter became imperceptibly.

Ahh google translate, you never fail to impress me with your poetry. 

Friday, September 10, 2010

Picnic at Storm Mountain

I speak to people back home about the heat, and am met with cries (or 'types'!?) of "jealous!" and "give us a few degrees!". Natsubate is no fun, but I'm sure once winter sets in I will be yearning for 35degrees and 90% humidity (maybe not yearning...) So on Monday this week, a few friends and I tried to enjoy the heat by going for a picnic at Arashiyama 嵐山 (lit. Storm Mountain - sounds like a Disney ride or a supervillian's hideout!) Its one of my favourite places in Kyoto, with a beautiful bamboo forest, river, tree covered hills and a monkey park.

We enjoyed noodle salad, doughnuts, onigiri (rice balls), sandwiches... I contributed melted and messy NZ chocolates (Pineapple Lumps and Crunchie Bars), the dulcic tones of a ukulele... and Pizza Bread. 
I made the  base using the same recipe at the Pickled Plum Focaccia, then topped it with sweet chilli sauce, baby tomatoes, grated parmesan、herbs, rocksalt and... homemade cheese! My sister taught me how to make this simple recipe.
Its really satisfying to make - more like a mad science experiment than cooking!

Homemade Cheese

2 litres milk
3 Tbsp lemon juice (fresh is better than presqueezed)
Cheesecloth/ peice of fabric, balanced in a sieve or colander
Salt/ herbs to taste

Heat milk in a large pot - this takes a fair while! Stir frequently to prevent the bottom from scalding or the top from forming a skin.
Once bubbles start forming, stir constantly for 10 minutes

Take of the heat and add lemon juice to seperate the milk. You may need slightly more, depending on the lemons. Its very obvious once the mixture seperates - there will be a light yellow clear liquid and creamy white cheese floating in it (incredibly unappetising to look at!)

Pour this mixture into a cheesecloth or clean thin teatowel. I use very thin paper/fabric bags used for throwing out food scraps. Squeeze out excess liquid. This is the best point to add any salt or herbs - I usually add a teaspoon of salt.

The longer you leave this to sit, the harder the end product will be. It can range anywhere from cream-cheese to crumbly feta texture - up to you! This picture shows the crumbly end of the spectrum - it hardens more in the fridge. Once it has drained to your liking, scoop into a container and refrigerate.
This cheese doesn't have a strong flavour, but I really like the texture. I eat it on toast with tomato, cooked on pizza bread, on and through pasta etc. Because of its delicate flavour, I'm sure it could easily be turned in to some kind of dessert! One of the best parts, though, is proclaiming "I made it myself!"

Summer Fatigue

I've heard the phrase natsubate - 夏ばて - summer fatigue - so often here. I got the impression that it just meant heat or sun stroke, until I found this article through Just Hungry. Finally, an explaination as to why I've been feeling so strange for the past month! Its a sense of chronic lethargy, nausea at times, that extended spells in an air conditioned room can't cure (as the article says, this can make it worse! I, my chapped lips, dry skin and deep husky voice can attest to that!). 
So in an attempt to cure myself, I made the beautiful salad featured with the article. Mine's nowhere near as beautiful as the real thing (for lack of ingredients... and the fact that I knew I would just be inhaling it within seconds of taking these photos)

Japan's seafood never ceases to amaze me. I try to time my trip to the supermarket around 6pm, when all the fresh seafood starts to go on sale, but before its picked over and drying at the edges. I picked up 10 prawns for only 150yen - about NZ$2.40! 
The best part of the salad was the dressing - I can't get enough of seasame seeds and luckily Japan shares my obsession. I don't eat chicken, so replaced it with sliced up inari (a type of deep fried tofu, intended for making inari-sushi but I love it in any kind of stirfry). I also worked with the vegetables I already had, just lettuce and cucumber. 
Deliciously light and summery, but substantial enough because of the noodles - I feel a slight coolness in the air already! Bring on Autumn!

Friday, September 3, 2010

Pickled Plum Focaccia Bread

I have seriously been craving 'Food from Home' lately. I have my first meal back in NZ all planned out - nice grainy bread, hommas, olives, feta, camembert, caper berries, artichoke hearts, sundried tomatos, avocado, smoked salmon.... and Monteiths Summer Ale!
So I decided to make Focaccia bread - with a twist! Instead of using olives, sundried tomatoes or rosemary, I used Japanese pickled plums - umeboshi - and capers. Umeboshi are delicous, they have a sour, saltyness to them which is totally unique, and very Japanesey!

Mixing the umeboshi and capers into the dough was the hardest part - but after much folding (not kneading) they all found their place. And don't they just look beautiful together! A salty, sour union made in heaven.

A friend and I ate the entire loaf in no time - topped with avocado and cottage cheese (the creamyness matched the sour plums perfectly). I'll be making (and devouring) this again for sure!

Pickled Plum Focaccia Bread
3/4 cup of warm water
1 tsp sugar
2 tsp dried yeast
2 Tbsp oil
2 1/2 cups flour
pinch of salt
2 Tbsp capers
5-6 pickled plums (umeboshi)
1/2 Tbsp rock salt

Mix the warm water, sugar and oil in a small bowl. Sprinkle with the yeast and set aside for 10 minutes (until the yeast is frothy).
Add this to the flour and salt, and mix to a dough. Knead on a floured board until elastic - you may need to add a little more flour until you can knead it without making a mess. 
Oil the outside of the dough a little (to stop it drying out), place in a covered bowl (a teatowel will do), and place in a warm area. Wait until the dough is doubled in size (1-2 hours). 
Lightly knead again. Place capers and plums (patted dry and cut into 1cm pieces) into the center of the dough. Fold dough until the capers and plums are spread throughout. 
Pat into a 3cm thick circle, lightly brush with oil and sprinkle with rock salt. Bake for 12-15 minutes at 230 degrees C, until the top is lightly browned.

Adapted from the Pizza recipe in the Edmonds cookbook.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Kanji practise!

The bane of any foreign students existance is KANJI (漢字)
Japanese is made of 3 alphabets. Two phonetic (one character = one sound), and one... one... one KANJI. Kanji are those elaborate characters that came from China, the type that people tend to get tattoo-ed on their upper arm, right above their butterfly and tribal pattern tattoos. Kanji have multiple pronounciations, and can look almost identical to other characters, which makes them so hard to learn.

But some just make sense. And so they should, having been derived from actual pictures and images, many many thousands of years ago.

This is a lantern advertising... take a guess!

串 = skewer (food on a stick!)
串揚げ (kushiage) means deep fried food on a stick - a specialty of the Kyoto area apparently. I've been to a few places that are all-you-can-eat deep-fried-food-on-a-stick. You batter, crumb and deep fry your skewered food right there at your table. Combine this with an all-you-can-drink deal (alcoholic beverages, yes), and you wonder how many deep-fried-drunken-hand accidents the hospitals here must deal with! 

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Japanese fuuuu ^^

I felt very Japanese-ey about what I ate today! This is what I could describe as a very early dinner... or a mid morning snack. I don't really stick to normal meal times anyway (anytime is mealtime in my books), but my sleeping pattern lately has messed up my eating times even more than usual! I woke up at... drumroll... 2pm. Hey, I'm a university student on summer vacation - its my right! So I had a normal breakfast, then only a few hours later enjoyed this wee snack with a friend. He went back to the USA, his home country, just this evening. So we shared a bottle of Kirin and a lovely Japanese sweet treat he bought at a well established sweets shop. A beautiful, monochromatic snack. Monochromatic snack - say that 10 times fast.
It was a huge grapefruit (!? slightly less bitter), cleanly cut then filled with grapefruit(!?) jelly. It was delicious, the jelly was a lovely texture that just turned to juice in your mouth, and the beer was... beer. How can you go wrong?

So, waking up so late, I never got around to fulfilling my scone plans. Another time. But I had an AMAZING time with my new "bosses" and their family. We talked about everything from Japanese puns (the father really reminded me of my own - every utterance held a pun and elicited a groan), to whether Japanese men having the 'samurai spirit' is a good thing or not. Theres two great words in Japanese - 草食系男 子 (soushyokukei danshi) and 肉食系男子 (nikushyokukei danshi). Literally, herbivorous and carnivorous male types. Herbivorous refers to a 'new breed' of men, probably the closest equivilent in English would be "metro". They care about how they look, use skincare products and don't drink as much as their 'carnivorous' counterparts (although in Japan they take it a bit further than we see in the west - wearing makeup, styling hair to perfection etc). They also tend to groom their eyebrows, but this is a normal occurance amongst Japanese males, herbivorous or carnivorous. I've seen a few articles about this new breed of male in the newspaper, and some older Japanese seem worried that they will weaken the country. Theres a lot more to it, but basicly they don't fit traditional norms - its all rather interesting and I want to do some more research!

But ANYWAY, we enjoyed lively conversation (that made me feel, for once, that my Japanese has improved since I got here!), plenty of Asahi (from bottles ^^ I can TASTE CAN), amaaazing sushi, edamame (salted boiled beans) deep fried prawns and okonomiyaki. Okonomiyaki - a specialty from the Osaka area (above). Literally, "Your honorable preference, fried". That sums it up. A thick base batter, with a few veges (spring onions mainly), and your preference. In this case, prawn and squid ^^ And slathered in salty okonomiyaki sauce, Japanese mayonaise, seaweed and katsuobushi (bonito flakes).

It was a FEAST, but with enough chatter that I didn't eat until I had to lie down (as Soup Thursdays often ended!). I've read that some of the oldest people in Japan attribute their long life to a well balanced Japanese diet (somehow I don't think deep fried prawn and okonomiyaki fall under this though...), and eating until you are only 70% full. I'm on my way!

Friday, August 20, 2010

First Post!

I've noticed that the majority of photos from my times in Japan (this is my third time here), consist of pictures of food, or pictures of friends eating food. And most conversations I have in Japan revolve around food!
Its something we all have in common - something that even complete strangers can have a conversation about without resorting to weather chat (believe me, they do plenty of that in Japan too). So I thought I might share some pictures, recipes and anicdotes about my food life here, and tell you about some of the interesting ways Japanese culture relates to food. But that will all come later! To start off, heres a mish-mash of pictures from the year so far!


Doesn't this just sum it up - a kiwi, in Japan, eating kiwifruit with chopsticks!
Note: In New Zealand, we call ourselves 'Kiwis'. I am a Kiwi = I am a New Zealander. And we call the fruit Kiwifruit.

Japanese street food!
BBQd squid tenticles, Mochi ball (glutenous sticky rice) covered in seasame seeds, with ground up black seasame seeds inside (incredibly delicious!) and lightly brined cucumber on a stick

I babysit/teach English to the little boy on the left. Him and his cousin are waiting eagerly for the feast of raw fish, prawns, sweet fried egg, grilled eel and Japanese style pickles (bottom left), which you put together (in any combination, though Japanese people tend to keep it simple) which seaweed and rice. Right in your own hand - like a seaweed taco!

A lot of friends have been made over food this year. Five of us in the International House (dorm style place) I live in started a tradition called 'Soup Thursday'. Tomato soup, vegetable soup, peanut soup, creamy leek soup, laksa soup, pumpkin soup, creamy garlic soup... and plenty of garlic bread! People could smell the preparations three floors down! We deviated occasionally, like on 'Pizza Thursday', here arranged on the ever present strawberry mat (the floor around it saw a lot of food and drink spills, but the Strawberry survived relativly unharmed).
The bottom picture shows the aftermath of Soup Thursday. Phew.

This was a delicious summer drink that a friend and I made just last week. It consisted of
mashed up watermelon
triple sec
Simple simple - its all we managed to scrape together from the students who were returning to their home countries. But it was AMAZING and so summery.
My friend was in charge of mixing. I was in charge of watermelon rind carving. We both tackled the responsibility of drinking and taking artistic photos ^^

A sign in a konbini (convenience store). Which inspires me - perhaps I'll make scones tomorrow afternoon! I'm going to have dinner with a lovely family I just met today. I will be working casually at the nursery school (daycare) they run - playing with the kids and teaching simple English. They have invited me to their house for sushi tomorrow night, so I think I will bake something in the afternoon to take.

Why not Japanese style scones? I'm thinking... sweet red beans instead of raisins or currents. And maybe mix Kinako (ground soybean) with a little sugar into some butter - DIY Kinako butter! I'll update on how it goes!