Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Ebi Chili from Japanese Soul Cooking

I made my first recipe out of Japanese Soul Cooking last week!  After going through the book several time I couldn't decided what to try first, but John made a request for ebi chili.  I was surprised because John normally isn't a big fan of shrimp, but the photos make it look SO good.  It's essentially a quick dish of shrimp cooked in a tangy spicy sauce that we both really enjoyed, though I would make a few small changes in the future.

One of the reasons I've been so excited about this book is because it breaks down and explains so many ingredients that are basic to Japanese cooking.  I've learned my way around the grocery store here, but there are still so many things I don't have the slightest idea about. For the most part I buy fresh ingredients that I can identify and make just about everything from scratch (no joke, last week we had tacos and I made homemade tortillas and homemade salsa!) It's pretty healthy since there's not much prepackaged or prepared stuff that I buy, but I'm still curious about all the mysterious things I can't identify.  For this recipe I got to buy four new ingredients: torigara (basically a powdered chicken bouillon base), tobanjan (a spicy pepper paste), sake (I know what this is, I've just never cooked with it before), and katakuriko (potato starch).  Before heading out to the store I did a google image search of all the ingredients (except the sake) so I would have an idea of what to look for.  Seriously, the amount of things I google on a daily basis is amazing.  I can't even imagine how difficult it must have been to live here before the internet.

The recipe was really clear and easy to follow.  It listed all the prep that needed to happen first so that I was all ready to go with the cooking which happens really quickly.  John and I both thought it tasted great.  There was a lot of flavor and a good amount of spice from the tobanjan.  It's definitely calibrated to the American palate rather than the Japanese, which I appreciated.  

So, here's what I would change.  The recipe called for a pound of shrimp to feed four, so I cut it in half for the two of us.  I actually bought 200 grams which is slightly less than half a pound because that's the size they were selling. I haven't cooked with shrimp very much, but wow did they shrink up! They started out looking the right size, and by the time they were done were about the size of pennies.  And 200 grams is not enough to feed two people. My pictures actually don't make it look as bad as it was, but I was mortified to feed it to John for dinner.  Thank goodness there was a lot of rice and edamame.  If you make this recipe, buy bigger shrimp than I did (even though mine were labeled for ebi chili) and make more! On the other hand, there was a lot more sauce than necessary.  If you looooove sauce, then by all means keep it as it is, but be aware it won't look like the photo in the book where the shrimp are deliciously coated in sauce - they'll be completely drowned and hidden in sauce.  At the end of our meal we still had so much left in the bottom of our bowls.  Next time I would make half of the sauce called for to the full amount of shrimp.  Despite these two issues, it was a quick and delicious recipe that I would happily make again.  Can't wait to try another recipe!

Read About Other JSC Recipes:
Oyakodon/Gyudon/Shiso Pasta
Mabo Dofu
Sapporo Soup Curry
Sesame Karaage
Tan Tan Men
Pork Gyoza
Japanese Soul Cooking Review

New Ingredients: Torigara, Sake, Katakuriko, Tobanjan

The Recipe

Dinner Time

Before and After (so much sauce!)

Monday, July 28, 2014

Godzilla at Tokyo Midtown

Every summer Tokyo Midotwn has a mojito garden on the lawn out back, but this summer it's gotten way more interesting. They've set up an enormous Godzilla bursting out of the earth to celebrate the new Godzilla movie.

Of course, Raku and I saw this as a perfect opportunity to have another goofy photo shoot. Godzilla will be up until the end of August, but be warned, it gets really crowded on the weekends. If you want to get better pictures come on a weekday or come early.  Apparently they have a smoke and lights show every half hour from 7:00 to 9:00 at night, but I haven't seen it yet. Surely John will be willing to check it out though, maybe from the mojito garden?


Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Book Review: Japanese Soul Cooking

Last week was my birthday (I'm entering the last year of my 20's!) and I was totally spoiled in every way. Raku and I went out for afternoon tea, John took me out for drinks at a brand new rooftop bar, and on top of that I got presents! Don't worry, posts are coming soon about the latest afternoon tea and the gorgeous, fancy, futuristic purse that John got me.  But today is all about the amazing cookbook Raku gave me!

If you've read this blog with any regularity (or if you know me) you know how much I love to cook. But I'll be honest, I don't usually love cookbooks. I love the idea of them, but sometimes they're fussy, or I want more explanation/description/direction, or the pictures are boring, or worst of all my palate/cooking style just don't match up with the book's.  I get most of my recipes from the internet either from food blogs that I love to read, or by trying to recreate something delicious I've eaten in a restaurant.

I know I've also expressed my gaijin guilt here before that while living in Tokyo I've been trying new Thai, Indian, Mexican, Korean, Greek, French, and Italian recipes and pretty much ignored Japanese food entirely.  Part of this is because it's so easy to just get Japanese here that it seems silly to cook it myself, but it's also partly because sometimes the ingredients are scary or I don't know what they are and where to find them.  I've looked at a few Japanese cookbooks, but so many of them are all about dishes that I am totally unfamiliar with even after more than a year and a half of living here, and require a LOT of effort for dishes that don't necessarily look like John or I might want to eat them.  At the same time there are a lot of Japanese dishes that John and I are growing to love, and I want to be able to make them someday when we can't just walk down the street to get them.

And that's where Raku, genius that she is, came to the rescue.  Japanese Soul Cooking by Tadashi Ono and Harris Salat is a gorgeous book full of Japanese recipes that I can't wait to make!  Each recipe gives a history of the dish, advice about how to serve it (from appearance to accompaniments), and an explanation of the Japanese ingredients, where to find them in Asian markets, and what to substitute from a regular grocery store if you can't find them.  There are beautiful photographs, some showing step by step techniques and other showing dishes and Tokyo street scenes.  The pages are thick and high quality, and for some reason I love that the photos aren't glossy.

The recipes aren't necessarily the healthiest, but they are all the things you'd find in home kitchens, lunch sets, and izakayas: gyoza (dumplings), karaage (fried chicken), ramen, curry, omurice, soba, and the list goes on.  I've never seen John show any interest in a cookbook, but even he looked through the whole book and couldn't stop commenting on how great the photography was and how delicious everything looked. I can't wait to cook my way through it and blog about all the recipes as I go!

Read About JSC Recipes:
Oyakodon/Gyudon/Shiso Pasta
Mabo Dofu
Sapporo Soup Curry
Sesame Karaage
Tan Tan Men
Pork Gyoza
Ebi Chili

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Japan's Earthquake Early Warning System

Dealing with earthquakes is something you have learn to do if you're going to survive in Japan.  The summer we spent out here before moving permanently was full of small Tohoku aftershocks, and at the time they seemed like such a novelty - kind of exciting in fact.  Then we moved out here for real and they suddenly seemed much more sinister.  This was real life, and a real risk we were taking.  And now, living on the eighteenth floor we feel even the slightest sway.

Over time my panic has dissipated.  I don't think there is anywhere in the world free of natural disasters, be they tornados, hurricanes, earthquakes, or even just droughts and blizzards.  We take the steps we can to protect ourselves, like having an earthquake kit, a plan of where to go and how to reach each other if a major one happened when John and I are in different places, and knowing safety protocols like where evacuation areas are (our neighborhood doesn't have a risk of fires, so we don't have to evacuate.)  I'm now at a place where I try to stay ignorant of how overdue Tokyo may or may not be for a giant earthquake (because there is some scary stuff on the internet, but reading it isn't going to do me any good) and trusting Japan's ability to handle earthquakes.  I've said it before, but newer construction here is fantastic - rolling foundations and reinforced building that are actually safer the higher up you go.  In the Tohoku earthquake, less than 8% of deaths were from earthquake damage, it was almost entirely tsunami devastation, and Tokyo, being in a bay, is more protected than much of the coastline.

Japan also has an earthquake early warning system that detects p-waves (the earliest, less destructive waves) immediately alerting new organizations and cell phone companies.  Cell phone companies then automatically send warnings to their customers (on the iphone you can enable emergency alerts under settings.)  These warnings are supposed to give 10 to 90 seconds of warning depending on how close you are to the epicenter and how quickly the quake builds in strength.  These warnings can allow people to take cover, cars to pull over if they're driving, doctors to stop surgery etc.  They can also scare you to death if they go off around 4:30 in the morning like one did last night.

These alerts sound great, right?  Totally lifesaving.  But I'm still a little unsure of them, they don't seem to happen all that reliably, and when they do I haven't always seen any results.  In the year and a half we've lived here I've experienced four.  The first two only vibrated my phone like a text or email, but the later two came with a screaming alarm.  (I always keep my phone on vibrate, so any noise it makes is startling)  The first one terrified me. It said Emergency Alert in English, and then a bunch of Japanese followed.  I dashed into the nearest convenience store just so I wouldn't be alone if a disaster struck, but nothing happened and I slunk out five minutes later.  The second came in English and alerted me that North Korea had pointed missiles at Japan.  I'd already heard that in the news, so it seemed a little unnecessary.  The third happened last year in a starbucks when suddenly everyone's phone went off.  Everyone grew very quite and waited but nothing happened.  It turned out to be a malfunction predicting a catastrophic earthquake in Nara that never materialized (thank goodness!)  Last night's was the first I've ever seen any result from.  John and I woke up terrified and disoriented before we figured out what was going on.  About ten seconds later the shaking started, and we laid in bed listening to our paintings bang against the wall wondering how much worse it would get.  It turned out to be a 6.8 in Fukushima, but honestly we felt a stronger one in the night a couple months ago.  Who knows why we never got an alert from that one.  I'm glad there is a system in place, but I wish I understood it better.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

New in Akasaka: Aoyama Flower Market Tea House

Last week Aoyama Flower Market opened a tea house in Akasaka. The flower shop has been here at the Biz Tower as long as I've lived in Akasaka, and I always find their fresh bouquets so tempting when I pass by. When I saw that they were adding a tea house I couldn't wait for it to open. I was worried there would be a long line and we'd have trouble getting in, but either the secret isn't out yet or no one is as excited as me because we were able to walk right in on their opening day, and it's never looked unpleasantly crowded.

The decor is wonderful, even better than Nicolai Bergmann. There are green plants growing along the walls and little trellises near the ceiling and each table has plants below the glass with little vases built right in. They seem to have new fresh flowers each week (last week's were sunflowers, this week's are orchids) . It felt so fresh and airy, almost like a cafe built for woodland fairies. The only bad thing I will say is that I could smell someone smoking a cigar at the bar next door and it really bothered me. To be fair, Raku said she couldn't smell a thing and I am far more sensitive to smoke than the normal human being.

They serve lunch and dinner as well as snacks, tea, and wine. We went later in the day after writing, so we both ordered herbals teas. They came out in glass teapots with generous bunches of herbs steeping in the hot water. We ordered a pot each of Relax and Refresh, but couldn't tell much difference in the flavor. At 800 yen the pots of tea are a little pricey, but I suppose you're paying to enjoy all the fresh flowers too. We'd read a review of their Omotesando location that recommended the french toast, so we ordered that as well. It came out crisp on the outside and custardy in the middle with a little pot of honey, a small bowl of cream, and a shaker of cinnamon. I'm not a fan of honey, but the cinnamon and cream were divine on the french toast. Subtly sweet and so satisfying.

It's not the cheapest place to get a cup of tea and a snack, but it's far less than doing a full afternoon tea, and the atmosphere is certainly relaxing and refreshing. I'd definitely recommend it as a way to recharge when the stress of crowded sidewalks, stuffy trains, and towering building is getting to you.

Aoyama Flower Market Tea House - Akasaka Location
Hours: 11:00-11:00
Phone: 03-3586-0687
Address: 5-3-1 Akasaka, Minato-ku, Tokyo

Monday, July 7, 2014

Apartment Upgrades

I've been so bad about posting lately! It seems like most days I'm using up all of my brain power on writing and then when I get home I just want to completely shut my mind off and watch tv or cook or really do anything that doesn't involve my laptop.

Despite my laziness, John and I took some time this weekend to put up some new pictures in our apartment. I think I vented about it back when we moved in that it's so hard to decorate because Japanese apartments don't allow you to put any holes in the walls. But we've slowly come up with a work around. Our wallpaper (that even covers the ceilings) is gently textured, and we've found that we can put very tiny pins in without making visible holes. Honestly, we bought the pins you use to display dead butterflies and other insects. So then the challenge is what can these tiny pins hold up? The answer is very light picture frames of fabric hangings.

We've found inexpensive picture frames at Bic Camera made from extremely light wood. Because they're so cheap they don't even have glass in them, just a thin sheet of plastic to protect the photo. They're basically perfect. I've also finally purchased a tenugui, a dyed fabric that can be used as a tapestry, to wrap gifts, or for a number of other purposes, and a wooden hanger to display it. It's really fun and I'm already obsessed with finding new ones to match the coming seasons.

Besides the wall hanging, John and I put up some pictures from North Carolina this weekend. We have a series of three that John took: Thomas Wolf's look homeward angel in Western NC, the lucky strike tower in Durham, and some swamp grass in Eastern NC. It makes me pretty happy to walk by them every day now.

North Carolina Love

Summer Wall Hanging

Very Tiny Nails