Monday, March 31, 2014

Our Get-Together Dishes -1-

OMG! I can't believe that I did this again! I neglected this blog for more than one whole month! Sorry for being lazy... and sorry for setting the date of this post to the last day of March. It's just so sad not to have anything for March 2014 in the archive...

So, what food did I enjoy in March? Many, of course. But let me focus on our get-together dishes for this post.

These photos were taken on Mar. 15th when we had dinner together to welcome an instructor invited from Tokyo. He was here to teach us interpretation. We thought that a nature lover would enjoy local specialties made with edible wild plants and local fish. Hence, these dishes.
Japanese Knotweed Stir-fry and Mola Mola Simmered with Miso (soybean paste)

Not many Japanese know what a mola mola would taste like. It's quite bland and the texture is rather rubbery. But if simmered properly and seasoned with miso (soybean paste) and ginger, it makes a tasty side dish with an interesting texture. :)

Yellowtail Sushi

I like to call this fish yellowtail rather than amberjack, but whatever the name is, it is the most loved fish in this area.

Japanese Traditional Pilaf with Mushrooms and Batter-fried Coastal Thistle

Seems like we Muroto residents are not the only people in the world who eat thistle. The plant looks like this, if you have never seen one before.
 Yeah, look at all the spines. You think that our mouths bleed every time we eat them? Ouch!
... Don't worry. We only eat the young roots and leaves of the plant. Growing on coastal sandy or gravelly beach, they look like this:
The photo shows how they are being sold at a local farmers' market. But we the locals do not have to buy them... we just go to certain parts of the beach and dig them up. :D

Yep, now it's the season to enjoy the blessing of nature. Here in Muroto, even if you're totally broke, you will not starve in spring... Pick shoots of wild plants in the mountains. Catch fish and pick shellfish and seaweed on the beach. There's plenty of them.

But let me tell you... if you love doing so, and if your neighbors and relatives also love doing so, and if each family always picks these things way more than they can consume at home... do you know what happens?

A tragedy.

I mean it.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Hot Orange Drink, as I Promised

Homemade Hot Orange and Ginger Drink

Dear Readers,
When you read my previous post about my overcooked and hardened orange jam, didn't you say in your mind, "Oh, Obachan! You can solve the problem real easy!"
I guess some of you did, but were hesitant to say it aloud until today.

Don't worry any more. I found the solution myself.

All I needed to do was adding some hot water into the jar of my orange jam, then microwaving it for a couple of minutes and stirring it thoroughly. It worked just like that. The jam is now properly runny and easy to handle!! :D And now it is much easier to make hot orange drink with it.

Actually I tried to make the drink before I found that solution -- when the jam was still as hard as soft candy. Yep, it took me a while to scoop the jam (candy) out of the jar and place it at the bottom of the cup. AND it took even longer to dissolve it in hot water.  :(
Today it was easy to transfer the proper amount of jam to the cup. Very easy. :)

And the drink looked like this when some boiling water and grated ginger were added!
The drink is pretty good, honestly. After all, it was worth peeling, squeezing and cooking those not-so-good oranges instead of throwing them away. The drink does have slightly annoying smell of overcooked sugar, but adding some spice like cinnamon or cardamon would help. ;)

And the best part is ... YES! Eating the flesh of the oranges that sank to the bottom of the cup!!
Mmmmm...  This is soooooooo good.  :D

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Orange Jam?

Orange Jam? or Soft Candy?
I'm wondering what I should call it because it is actually as thick as soft candy. XO

As I wrote before, dad cannot take care of his orange orchard any more, but the trees still bare fruit. We rarely pick the oranges, and most of them just fall to the ground. But they're not necessarily bad -- they're still edible. So I can understand that if someone in my family felt like bringing some home to find out how they taste.
... But not too many, please!!!
Actually this always happens. Every year, I find lots of no-good oranges like the above photo in the kitchen. And usually, they don't taste so great or anything. After my parents taste some and get disappointed, they -- the oranges, not my parents -- tend to sit in the kitchen until they turn moldy and no one feels guilty throwing them away.

But the other day, I came up with an idea of using them to make something with my mom to have her use the abilities she has left. Since making marmalade is a bit too much work, I decided to go for orange jam. Basically, my thought was that if I cook the juice and flesh of the oranges with sugar, I should get something edible. And if it was not too successful, I could dissolve it in some hot water, as a last resort, to make hot orange drink. Right?

So I asked mom to help me with these preparations...

... and cooked the juice and flesh with lots of sugar.
Yes, for too long, I guess... :O
Do you think the jam sort of looks nice in the photos? Do you? Thank you. But when I ate it with these English muffins, it stuck to the teeth, which was almost annoying!

So, I'm pretty sure that my next post will be about "my homemade hot orange drink." LOL

Friday, February 07, 2014

Hot Buttered Rum with Good Memories

Hot Buttered Rum

My first encounter with this warm, winter drink was in PA, U.S.A., more than 30 years ago. It was a cold winter and the temperature outside was -20 degrees C on the night of Christmas Eve that year. On our way to my host family's house from the church, my nose hair froze, which was something totally new to me.

And as soon as we sat at the table in the kitchen, my host mom made hot chocolate for kids and hot buttered rum for me. Oh, the hot, sweet, rich and spicy drink... :D  I had never tasted anything like that before in my life.

And still now... 30 years later... hot buttered rum brings me back the memories of the spicy aroma that filled the host mom's kitchen, and the color of the candy canes hanging from the Christmas tree.

Today it's pretty cold, even here in Muroto. It snowed a little early in the morning, and later it turned into a cold, sleety rain. I made this drink to warm up myself. And I thought that a couple of nice photos of this drink with steam coming up from the cup would warm up the readers of this blog, too.

But... too bad.

Though I almost boiled this drink, much more than necessary, still I couldn't get the steam in the photos! Mmmmmm....  ;P
I guess I didn't have enough light.

Hope everyone is warm and happy on a day like this... :)

Tuesday, February 04, 2014

Fortune Rolls

"Fortune Rolls"to Be Eaten on the Night of Setsubun

I bet most Japanese ate rolled sushi like these yesterday (Feb. 3rd) to celebrate Setsubun? In a nutshell, in the old days, the day of Setsubun was thought to be the official beginning of spring. And the traditional custom was throwing roasted soybeans to chase bad luck away and bring good luck into your home. They say that if you eat the same number of the roasted soybeans as your age, you'll stay healthy throughout the year.
Details here.

That was all about Setsubun, at least in this part of Shikoku Island, until 5 or 6 years ago.
I believe that it was only in certain areas in Japan where this rolled sushi was an important part of the Setsubun ritual.

In the extended version of the ritual, in addition to the soybean-throwing, you need to do the following to wish good luck for the year:
- prepare (or buy) Futomaki zushi (thick rolled sushi) but do not slice it,
- face the "lucky direction of the year" and
- close your eyes and eat the unsliced sushi in silence.

The special rolled sushi is called Eho-maki, which seems to be translated as "fortune roll" these days.  "Eho" is the lucky direction of the year, determined based on ancient Chinese astrology and Chinese zodiac. And according to this site, seven fillings are traditionally rolled in to associate the dish with the "Seven Deities of Happiness."

Some say that this was originally the custom of Kansai region. Thus, for us in Kochi prefecture, this part of the Setsubun celebration is nothing but the product of a marketing strategy. I heard that it was one of the convenience stores that started to spread this custom throughout the country. And now most supermarkets as well as convinis in Japan sell fortune rolls on Feb. 3rd. Yep. Just like Nanakusa-gayu (seven-herb rice porridge) custom and White Day have become popular here...

I'm not saying that it is bad. Perhaps many of famous Japanese traditional customs have spread in this country in similar ways, only at a slower pace in the past. Maybe it's just me that I slightly feel like a slave of conformism once in a while...

But no matter how I feel when I put a package into my shopping basket, I always enjoy the taste of the food when I eat it at home with my family. And I always end up thinking, "Well, maybe it's not totally bad as far as the custom gives something for the whole family to do together and talk about..."

Maybe that's a subvariety-conformist's thinking? ;)

...And see? We did slice the rolls before eating ... :P

I mean, how many families actually follow the traditional steps strictly as they are? Do they really close their eyes?? And eat it in silence?
Do you, REALLY???

Friday, January 17, 2014

And the Challenges Go On..Part 10

Seaweed, being cooked with soy sauce and sugar

Long term readers of this blog probably know that my posts labeled "challenges" here are usually about my mom. And the last time I posted about her on this blog was Aug. 2010. Wow! Four years ago!! :O At that time, dad and I were aware of her memory problem and minor confusion. But she didn't get diagnosed with dementia then, because her MRI scan showed no brain shrinkage.

Now let me give you some updates. ;)

Her problem gradually got worse, as you might have guessed. It became harder for dad and I to deal with, not only her memory loss but the stories she made up to compensate for it. (And in this four year period, dad underwent bladder cancer surgery twice.) We tried to take her to the hospital several times, but she kept refusing. Dad consulted with his relative, who used to be a vet, and he said that the medication may not do her good so we should avoid it.

So, it was Dec. 2013 when I finally managed to take her to the hospital for dementia screening. Yes, she was diagnosed with dementia, and she got on Aricept. (But believe it or not, her MRI didn't show almost no brain shrinkage again!!)

You think that made things better for us, like a magic? Huh! Let me tell you. It was the beginning  of a turmoil.
Yes, the medicine DID enhance her cholinergic function. But that means it made her more anxious rather than improving her memory.
Here's my post on my Facebook page in Dec. 2013, which was just a few examples of the agonies we had:

"Pleeeeeeeeeeeeease, mom!
Stop walking to the post office (wearing your heavy, painful artificial leg and using the cane) to withdraw money from your account again and again, and again!
Stop asking me where your bank card is again and again, and again and again and again! You agreed to let me keep it so that you won't withdraw all your money from your account.
Stop walking up to dad's orchard alone (wearing your heavy, painful artificial leg and using the cane) to take a look at the oranges when no one is around to stop you!
Stop walking down to the really ragged and rocky part of the beach (wearing your heavy, painful artificial leg and using the cane) to pick sea snails when no one is around to stop you!

About two weeks ago, Aricept made mom a bit hyper and she started withdrawing money from her postal saving account quite often. She said she lost her savings book and all the account statements. I had a hell of a time trying to check how much money she used up, because she refused to go to the post office with me and I had to go back and forth (3 times) to get an authorization letter done correctly and have her savings book re-issued.

Then two days ago, she lost her wallet. I kept the debit card of her postal saving with me, but her bank card was in the wallet. So I called the operator to put a stop on her card, then took her to the bank today. Yep, the same procedures again -- registering a new seal (hanko) and having the bank book and bank card re-issued.

Dad and I decided to keep her important bank books, seals and cards for her. I wrote on a piece of paper who has what and who to ask when she wants to withdraw money, and posted it on the wall in her room, because she kept asking us "Where's my card?""Where's my wallet?" every three minutes. (OK. I exaggerated.) And every time she was reminded that she lost her wallet, she felt down and so incapable. So tonight, I prepared dinner with her -- her favorite tempura --, which seemed to have made her feel better.

And she just came by and said that she can't find her cell-phone recharger. "


Every single day, she misplaced/lost something and had to go through a frantic search frenzy, and of course dad and I had to help her. Imagine what it was like to prepare New Year's feast with this person. LOL

And what about the photo on top of this post? Well, look at these photos below. Notice some rocks are covered with chocolate-like brown thing? That's seaweed. Today, being driven by the strong urge, mom went on the beach alone and scraped off some seaweed from the rocks and brought it home.

There's nothing wrong with that. Many of us locals do the same thing, because cooked with soy sauce and sugar or mirin (rice wine), the seaweed makes wonderful topping for cooked white rice. But knowing how slippery the seaweed-covered rock is when wet, I sure don't want her to go there alone...

Like I wrote on my FB page, living with her, life is always thrilling.  ;) 

Good thing is that she seems to be getting used to her new situation and the medication, so these days, she is less frantic when she needs to look for something. Thank goodness!


Friday, January 10, 2014

Long Procrastination...

Homemade Blueberry Jam 

Last year was a good year for my blueberries. The summer was quite hot and dry, but they yielded more-than-usual amount of berries. Mom and I had fun picking them and throwing them into carefully storing them in the freezer. Then I almost forgot about it. Hahaha... The berries came into my attention at the end of 2013 when I stored/defrosted lots of frozen food to prepare the New Year's feast. I kept telling them (in my mind, of course), "OK. I know you're there. But not right now!"

Now, it's 2014. The Osechi feast is gone and our fridge and freezer are getting back to normal status. And I thought it was time for this.
This is how they looked when they came out of the freezer.
Now what? Blueberry pies? Pancakes? Muffins? What I really, really loved to do in the States was eating them fresh, smothered in cream. MMmmmmm!!! I could eat a big bowlful within seconds.

But these were helplessly sour. I know. In the photo above, obviously some don't look ripe enough. But even the dark-colored, ripe-looking ones were sour. I knew it because I tasted some last summer. So, I decided not to take a risk.
Yes, I went for blueberry jam.
The jam turned out alright... It was sweet enough because I put lots of sugar.
But the texture! :(
I should have googled about "tough blueberry skins" before freezing them.
Anyway, at least it's pretty photogenic when served this way. 

Luckily, the tough skins and lots of seeds did not bother me too much when I ate the jam on a toasted bread. So that's how I'm going to consume the rest of it.


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