Good Luck Veggie: Renkon (Lotus Roots)

Good Luck Veggie: Renkon (Lotus Roots)

It is a good luck vegetable so Japanese people eat Lotus Roots as part of special New Year meal.  Why is this root vegetable is good luck?  As you can see you can see holes of Renkon as photo shown below.  It is said that you can see the future.  Also, Renkon produces tons of seeds, therefore it means “productivity.”  Kind of clever, huh?

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I am fortunate enough to be able to buy Renkon at Asian market in International District so I keep it in my fridge often.  I usually simply sautée it with different kinds of seasonings each time.  Last night, I sliced it in ½-inch thick, sautéed with sesame oil (I love sesame oil by the way, so fragrant), sprinkle of salt, splash of fish sauce and dash of black vinegar.  I am very enthusiastic about black vinegar.  This is one of  several fermented seasonings that I am in love with.  Black vinegar is very smooth, malty and mellow, not stingy.  When you cook vegetables, any meat or fish, your dish ALWAYS come out complex, yet mild, rich and delicious.  If you use black vinegar when making hot and sour soup, your soup would taste divine!

Anyway, here is last night’s magic.  Black vinegar and home-shaved bonito on top of sautéed renkon.  It only takes about 10 minutes to cook.  All you need besides the renkon dish is white rice.  Savory and comforting dinner is ready.

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Chickpea Journey: to Japanese Homemade Miso

Chickpea Journey: to Japanese Homemade Miso

She is very intelligent, creative, sweet, classy and smart.  She grew up in Hiroshima in Japan and teaches Japanese at private elementary school in Seattle.  I met her for the first time through our mutual friend about month ago.  We hit it off right away and her stories sounded so interesting to me.  She mentioned making miso at her home when we first met and I thought she was my kind of people 🙂

Today she and I got together for brunch at Terra Plata in Capitol Hill.  She brought me a jar of her miso, made with chickpea!  When I opened the lid of the container, it smelled so vibrant. That was the first time for me to try homemade miso ever.  I decided right there to prepare cabbage miso soup tonight.

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This is tonight’s miso soup, made with miso that she poured her passion and love into.  It came out SO delicious.  It reminded of her.  Sweet, wholesome and healthy.

Story of Shotgun Trip to Seoul & Tokyo: over Via Tribunali in Georgetown

Story of Shotgun Trip to Seoul & Tokyo: over Via Tribunali in Georgetown

March 12 Thursday         left Seattle

March 13 Friday               arrived Gimpo Airport, Seoul, South Korea

March 14 Saturday          flew from Seoul to Haneda,Tokyo

attended concert of this Jin YiHan dude in the afternoon in Shibuya, Tokyo

flew back to Seoul from Tokyo in the evening

March 15 Sunday             Facial, city tour, massage, body scrub, shopping in Seoul

March 16 Monday           flew back to Seattle from Seoul

Who does this?

She and I have been friends since May 2000.  She is unique and I am quirky so we make sense together.  She is the one person whom I don’t feel uncomfortable seeing after not seeing each other for a long time and we can go back to where we left off.  We got together last Friday and we did not have any awkward moments whatsoever and we started our non-stop 3-hour conversation as soon as we met in Georgetown.

We went to Pizzeria in Georgetown in Seattle called Via Tribunali.  They have 20 descent kinds of pizza and some pasta dishes. We ordered one pizza with prosciutto and mushroom and linguine vongole.  To be honest with you, I don’t even remember how they tasted.  It must not have been bad because I didn’t notice.  I was too busy catching up with her whirl wind, insane travel story and it was way more interesting than the food we ordered.  She told me that this trip was her 10- year wedding anniversary gift from her husband, while he stayed behind to take care of his business and their 5-year old daughter.  I have no intention to be criticizing their decision.  I’d rather embrace how understanding her husband is and how hard Amy works every day by working full-time, being a mom and being a wife at the same time.  I guess her mom was so upset hearing Amy was traveling alone and leaving her daughter behind.  I understand where her mom is coming from but she should know already by now that Amy is spontaneous, curious and a determined person, which makes Amy so unique and interesting.

So, I have photos of what we ate that night but I don’t have any comments on them.  They were good.

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Really, who would do this kind of trip?  My crazy friend Amy does.  I am so glad that I have such an insane friend who makes my life way more entertaining and fun.

Embrace your craziness, Amy.  This is a huge compliment.

In Three Weeks: 1200+ Years Old City – Kyoto

In Three Weeks:  1200+ Years Old City – Kyoto

I called our dog sitter today and she told me she was going to take care of my overweight Chihuahua.  Right after getting off from the phone with her, a flush of excitement went through my body.  It was quite strong.

I am leaving for Kyoto exactly in three weeks.  My parents and my brother’s family still live in Tokyo and I am not telling them that I am coming to visit Japan.  This is a huge deal.  Please don’t get me wrong, I enjoy visiting my family every time I go back.  I have to admit however, I don’t feel like I “travel” when I visit my family.  I enjoy the food, hanging out and catching up with them but it is visiting my family, not a travel experience. 1518981_10152091511682230_328486914_n

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Kyoto’s history starts in year of 794 when Emperor Komu stated Kyoto as the capitol city.  It is 1200 years old and there are over 3,000 temples in the city.  Millions of old buildings are still intact.  Not like in Seattle (ugh!  Ugly new developments!), they don’t demolish  old architecture. During World War II, the Allies actually did not bomb Kyoto because of the conscious choice not to destroy tons of historical sites.  In a way, it is like Paris.  Kyoto tries very hard to preserve the way of living and Japanese historic culture.  It does not mean they are not open minded.  It just means they embrace and respect its history.

My grandma was born in 1906 who passed away in 2004.  She had been through a lot.  She was a strict Asian grandma yes.  I remember she never wanted to do things in a convenient way.  For example, she taught me how to make bonito/kelp stock (dashi) from scratch instead of buying ready-made packets at the store.  She showed me how to filet a fish yourself instead of buying fileted fish.  Those thing take time.  To me, people in Kyoto in general seem that they choose traditions over convenience.

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I am beyond excited.  I have my passport, Green Card and the bestest travel companion that I can ever ask for.  I am all set.

What would you like to do if you have a chance to visit to Kyoto?

Sakura: Cherry Blossom

Sakura: Cherry Blossom

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Every year I experience this bitter sweet feeling.  I grew up in Tokyo, Japan.  I had been waiting for getting out of that country since I was five even though I am very proud Japanese.  I felt like I was living inside of small box and there was no way to go and I was dying to search for my independence and freedom.  Now, I love Seattle.  This beautiful city has been treating me so wonderfully and it has been delighted to be here.

It is spring and cherry blossom (sakura) season.  I think sakura is very special to majority of Japanese people and the most admired flower/tree in Japan.  I see gorgeous sakura trees in Seattle as well.  Every time I see it, my heart aches.  I feel slightly homesick.  It is interesting indeed to feel that way because I always tried to be away from Japan.

When I retire, I want to go visit Japan every spring to see these sakura trees.  Then I die, I want my ashes to be spread underneath of my favorite cherry tree.  It would be nice if the tree is one of these in the photo (this is very near to where I used to live).

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Mother and Child over Rice: Oyako-don

Mother and Child over Rice: Oyako-don

Not human mother and child.  This is not going to be weird, spooky story at all.

It’s one of many Japanese soul food dishes.  Oyako means “parent and child(ren).”  This dish is made with chicken and egg and that’s why it’s called “Oyako”-don.  Some Oyako-don restaurants are very serious about what they serve, like this very famous and beloved Oyako-don restaurant called Tamahide in Tokyo, established in 1760.  This is something my mom barely made when I was growing up.  I felt I was struck by thunder when my kindergarten class mate’s mom (our neighbor.  My mom and she were so close) made it for me one day.  Nostalgia…

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Oyako-don for 2:  Chicken (I used breast, cut in bite size), 1/2 x  onion, 2 x eggs, sugar, sake, mirin (sweet wine), soy sauce, dashi (bonito stock).  Mix all the liquids, then cook onions for a few minutes and then add chicken. Cook until chicken is tender.  Turn the heat off.  Then add beaten eggs and cook about 3 minutes with low heat or until eggs are done per your preference.  Add that over rice.

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I tried to eat this at a couple of different restaurants but  I always prefer to eat at home.  I think that is because I want to cook my eggs MY way and also my memory of that evening when our neighbor made it for me while my mom was out.  I was missing my mother but I couldn’t hide my excitement to eat this dish I hadn’t seen before.  It smelled sweet and looked so colorful and fun.  I remember it tasted so joyous!

I don’t make my Oyako-don with that much of excitement anymore, but I still enjoy it when I do.  The combination of smells between the sugar, dashi, soy sauce, chicken and onions!  You don’t have to do much, all you have to do is to wait until it creates its magic.  That few minutes of patience, that alone is worth cooking this dish.

It was delicious.

This Book Made Me Tired: “Saraba!”

This Book Made Me Tired:  “Saraba!”

疲れた。上巻を読み終わった時に感じたのはそれだけ。どっと疲れた。私が本を読むのは、現実逃避したい時か、仕事とか、友達とか、家族とか、しがらみとか、やらなきゃいけない事とか、責任とか、そういうもの(特に人とかかわる事)から自分を完全に引き離して、頭も体も休息したくて、酸素の足りないフナみたいになってる時だから、こういう本は読みたくなかったなあ。大きな賞で本を読む訳ではないけれど、(その証拠に、小路幸也の本達は大好きだけど、直木賞も芥川賞ももらってない)参考にはするし、評価されるには理由があるのだから、それは読んでみたいと思って当然だとも思う。シアトルの紀伊國屋の本棚に陳列されてたのを見た時には、「これだけの文字が読めるとはなんて幸せな事だろう!」と思って、心躍ったし。

林真理子の評では、スケールが大きいという事なんだけれど、ロケーションがイランだったり、エジプトだったり、大阪だったり、東京だったり、サンフランシスコだったりするから、その描写は確かに面白い。それをスケールの大きさだというのは、賛成できないし、書いてあることのスケールはちっとも大きくない。家族がどう壊れていくかと、主人公がどう自分と落とし前をつけていくかを書いてある本だからなあ。こんな事があって、あんな事があって、こんな風に考えて、こんな結果になったっていうのを、時系列に延々350ページとちょっと。疲れて当然だ。

さて、これから下巻。全部読んでみせますとも!

Chopping Therapy: Prep for Gyoza

Chopping Therapy:  Prep for Gyoza

It really helps me when I have a bad day or I am upset about something.  Chopping vegetables is one of my meditation methods.

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When I was a young child, helping my mother and grandma in the kitchen was mandatory.  My mom started to let me use “old person’s kitchen knife” when I was 4.  I always wanted to sound like them.  They make this passionate, happy and fun sound of their knives hitting wooden cutting board with 100 miles per hour speed.

When I have a rough day at work, I tend to choose a dish requires a lot of chopping.  Gyoza (dumpling) is one of them.  I have a fond memory of helping my mom to prepare and wrap gyoza.  You chop Chinese chives, garlic, ginger, napa cabbage and onion.  You chop them all as finely as you possibly can.  How fun does it sound?  I feel like I am getting high, just thinking about it.  I guess I am a creature who is easy to be pleased.

This is my amusement and is also delicious.  You have umami from soy sauce, pork and veggies and sweetness from pork and other ingredients.

1.  Mix REALLY well ground pork (or mix of ground pork and ground beef), chopped Chinese chives, garlic, ginger, napa cabbage, onion, soy sauce, salt (lots), pepper, potato starch (needs to be potato starch, not corn starch), sesame oil.  Use your hand.  It gets messy, but no utensils or tools, just your hand.

2.  Wrap 1 with very thin gyoza wrappers (you can buy them at Asian grocery stores).

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3.  Place them in oiled and heated skillet.

3a.  Cook over high heat for 1 minute or so

3b.  Reduce heat to medium and add little bit of water (not too much) and put the lid over skillet.  Leave it for 2-3 min

3d.  Remove the lid and increase heat to medium high and add oil.

4.  Enjoy

Only thing I would like to mention is that it is SUPER important not to move around gyozas in the skillet.  Just leave them as they are until they are done.  Oh, that smell while cooking!  This Japanese soul food’s glorious aroma takes me right back to where I grew up.  My mom teaching me how to wrap dumplings and my small hands trying to mimic what she does.

Now, pull out your well-sharpened knife and start chopping.  You will know exactly what I am talking about as soon as you finish chopping first clove of garlic.

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Art of Eating Ramen: Properly

Art of Eating Ramen: Properly

No, you are not offending anyone or being improper.  It’s OK, you have a permission.

BIG slurp!  There you go.

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It’s winter and cold outside, and it’s perfect timing to tackle a bowl of ramen.  Properly.  Eating a bowl of ramen is art, y’all.  If you are like me (rebellious), this is a perfect food because you get to do something your mother taught  you NOT to do.  You get to make some noise while eating.

First, you need to know exactly what you want to have.  Shoyu (soy sauce), Miso, Shio (salt), Tonkotsu (thick pork broth).  Then thick or thin noodle?  Heavy stock or lighter stock?  Extra pork meat, bean sprouts, corn or bamboo shoots?  Know exactly what you want, otherwise wait staff won’t wait forever for you to decide.  I actually recommend to practice on what to order outside of the shop for a couple of times.

Then, you go in.  Usually ramen shop is relatively small.  Most of ramen shops I like in Japan only have counter seats so pick your seat and sit down, quickly.  Ramen guy behind the counter or wait staffs are not really talkative since the shop is running 186 miles per an hour.  This is why it would be helpful if you know what you want.  Anyway, you tell them what you want to eat.  Omit “how are you” and “I heard your ramen is delicious!” because they know they make awesome ramen and they cannot waste time being social.  Ramen is serious business, everyone.

I also recommend to go to ramen shop alone or with someone whom you don’t need to worry about carrying on a conversation with because ramen must be eaten at the moment it’s served.  You need to eat your bowl quickly.  If you are from South, you may have a hard time but this is not proper time to eat it daintily.  Why?  The longer noodles sit, they start to suck up the soup into the noodles because the noodles are made of flour. They are like a sponge and they get all mushy (yikes).  Not only that the ramen does not taste as it should after noodles suck up all the soup, also that might upset ramen shop owner.  You don’t want that at all. That said, I would not recommend you to go to the ramen shop on your first date.  If she or he is delighted to go to your favorite ramen noodle place with minimal conversation, congratulations, you just found your soul mate.

So now, how do you eat it fast with correct manner?  Big slurp with noise!  Making some noise is a huge part of eating ramen bowl artistically and properly because it has a cooling effect.  Who knew, right?  We Japanese do.  Our slurping training starts in the mother’s womb.

Oh, don’t forget…Hashi (chopsticks) in one hand and renge (ceramic spoon) in the other hand and embrace them both.  That will help you immensely to taste a perfect marriage of noodle and carefully and deliciously prepared soup.  If you want to look like you are a pro, pick up your bowl and take last drops soup from the bowl at the end.  Ramen shop guy would be impressed, I promise.

Think of it as riding a bicycle for the first time, practice, practice and practice.

OK, ready?  Slurp!  Make some noise.  Proudly.

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One Japanese word to remember: Oishii!

One Japanese word to remember: Oishii!

Asian mothers…they are so mother.  They are always worrying about your well-being, especially if you are well fed.  I grew up in that kind of household in Japan.  What still echoes in my ear is these words, “have you eaten?”  My mom’s signature line.

Now I do that even though I am not a mother.  I am constantly asking like “are you hungry?” or “do you want to eat more?” Last night, I made seared ahi (nice reddish pink in the middle…perfect) and arugula, cilantro and kale salad with ponzu sauce. That fills my tummy and soul.  Pure deliciousness.

If you travel to Japan and happen to meet my mother, she probably would ask you “have you eaten?” and if you haven’t, she would cook for you.  Her dishes are all tasty, I guarantee you.

So, here is one word you need to memorize just in case you meet her there.  “Oishii!!” = Pure Deliciousness.