Monthly Archives: March 2011

Healthy Comfort Food: Whole-Wheat Strawberry-Orange Muffins

しっとりした (shittori shita): moist (food)

It’s been a rough couple of weeks here in Japan, and even though my region is perfectly fine and safe, the mental strain of having to reassure people that we are not being irradiated is starting to wear on us. The latest (actual) issue with the Fukushima plants has been the possible contamination of food, specifically milk and leafy greens, from that prefecture and three others. The Japanese government has wasted no time in stopping the shipping of those products, and most of the food in my prefecture comes from Aichi, anyhow. That said, if you are ever curious where your meat and produce come from in Japan, read the packaging or the sign above the display: ____産 (for example, 福島県産 or アメリカ産), means “grown/raised in ____.”

I feel a bit silly writing a muffin recipe when so many in Tohoku do not have good access to food and shelter, but these muffins are perfect for my mood right now: a snap to throw together, which is great because I’m mentally exhausted; the muffins turned out wonderfully moist, and their bright flavor is lovely on a dreary morning.

If you are wondering what you can do to help relief efforts after enjoying your muffins, please consider contributing to Second Harvest, an NPO whose efforts to bring food and supplies to the affected areas have paid off, according to their twitter feeds. There is still a lot of work to be done here, so please continue to contribute to this NPO, the Red Cross, or your favorite trusted charity. Foreign Buyers’ Club, the source that feeds my addiction to Alishan peanut butter, is also supporting Second Harvest as they get their own business fully up and running again.

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Disaster Relief: Second Harvest Japan

Dear readers,

My region of Japan remains unaffected by the March 11 earthquake, aftershocks, and tsunami, and we are far from the nuclear plant in Fukushima.

Last night, I was talking to a friend who lives in Tohoku, and he told me about the food and power shortages there. He managed to get some mabo dofu mix and curry roux at the store and was hoping to be able to purchase a vegetable or two to have in his curry. He jokingly teased me not to judge him for using boxed mixes.

Even though it was a joke, his comment made me think about how comforting it is to have good food. I have a fridge full of vegetables, electricity and gas to run my appliances, clean water, and an undamaged kitchen to cook in. There are no food shortages here, no black outs. I am grateful and lucky to be able to cook.

This is is a food blog, and I can’t think of a better charity to promote than Second Harvest Japan (セカンド・ハーベスト・ジャパン). Second Harvest is an NPO that helps get food to the displaced and disenfranchised. (Bilingual mission statements here.)

Second Harvest is collecting monetary and food donations and is in the process of bringing food to the affected areas, particularly Sendai. You can read more about their efforts and contribute via credit card or bank transfer here: English; Japanese. (Also, you can follow their twitter feed in English or Japanese!) I donated to Second Harvest and the Japanese Red Cross via bank transfer, and it was very easy to do.

Having access to food is as good for the body as it is for the mind, and not having to worry about running out of food or the effects of malnutrition is something that will help survivors feel normal again. Please help Second Harvest’s efforts to rebuild Tohoku one bowl of rice at a time.

Open Sesame! Sesame-Roasted Kabocha

開けゴマ (hirake goma): open sesame!

Sesame oil is my new favorite cooking oil. It’s high in antioxidants and, as a result, has a long shelf life. As friend once said, the flavor of Japan is sesame oil, and I use it whenever I’m going for Asian-inspired flavors rather than European (olive oil) or neutral (grapeseed oil).

Sesame suits Japanese vegetables well and is a lovely complement to kabocha, a sweet orange squash. I hadn’t considered it as an oil for roasting vegetables before, but it’s perfect for this simple dish.

If you chop the kabocha ahead of time, this is a easy side-dish to have in the oven or oven range while you make Komatsuna and Chicken Stir-Fry, which also uses sesame oil.

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When Simple is Best: Komatsuna and Chicken Stir-Fry

乙な味 (otsuna aji)- strange taste; spicy taste

I often don’t have a lot of time to cook dinner in the evenings after work. The quickest thing to make on busy days when I haven’t cooked ahead for the week is stir-fry, and this is one of the easiest ones I’ve made. Komatsuna (小松菜), “Japanese Mustard Spinach,” is very easy to find year-round and costs less than spinach in Japan; the slight mustard bite of the greens, while a bit odd when raw, really complements the chicken when cooked together.

The longer I live here, the more I find myself enjoying really simple flavors and actually tasting the ingredients, which is precisely what this stir-fry achieves. If you want to spice this up, you could add a little shichimi (七味), seven-flavor spice.

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My Secret Weapon: Chocolat Brewery Cupcakes

This post appeared in the July 2011 Japan Blog Matsuri “Drinks in Japan,” hosted at NihongoUp.

ほろ苦い (horonigai): bittersweet; something that has a strong taste adults favor

“Can I lick the bowl?”

From the Sapporo Beer site, Feb. 2011.

As Japan gears up for White Day, the day when men who received chocolate for Valentine’s Day prepare to return the favor, the aisles of the grocery feel as if Valentine’s Day never ended. While I dislike the consumerism of Valentine’s Day in the US, I do enjoy the culinary benefits: my favorite tea shops and bakeries make chocolate products, and Sapporo Beer teams up with Royce Chocolate to produce Chocolat Brewery’s (ショコラブルワリー) chocolate beer.

Each year, the companies do something slightly different for this seasonal event. This year, they sold two kinds of the beer—sweet (スイート) and bitter (ビター)—in two packs; presumably the man in a heterogamous couple would drink the bitter and the woman the sweet. My friends and I aren’t much ones for gendered drinking habits; we decided that the sweet beer would be best left to ice-cream floats, while the bitter chocolate beer was more enjoyable just to drink as dessert.

I felt that my dinner party needed a dessert other than beer, and then I remembered the Guinness cupcake I had once tried at Cake Nouveau. What better way to celebrate Chocolate Beer Day than by recreating this cupcake with Japanese chocolate beer?*

The cake is exquisitely moist and soft, and the flavor of the chocolate stout in the batter and frosting makes for a complex, luxurious cupcake. In fact, this recipe is so good that I’m convinced it will someday cause someone to fall madly in love with me.

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The Quest for Kabocha Curry, Part 2: Raisin Flatbread

「ナンは何だ?」<What’s naan?>

「ナンはパンだ。」<It’s bread [Japanese: pan da].>


-a terrible joke (寒い冗談) a friend once told during an Indian dinner night at Middlebury Japanese School

No Indian-style curry meal would be complete without naan, of course. When I order the sitafal curry, I like to get a side of kashmiri naan, which has raisins and coconut in one of the restaurants. (I miss the almond-and-cherry kashmiri naan back home!)

The day I planned to serve my spicy kabocha curry to a friend, I was in a bit of a rush and meant to buy some premade naan at the grocery store. Of course, I decided to go to at the smaller, closer grocery, which doesn’t stock naan or naan mix, and since I don’t have a Tandoori oven just laying around, I reworked a quick toaster-oven flatbread recipe into a fruity but not sweet “naan.”

Apologies for using the same picture twice!

This would probably be great with 1-2 Tablespoons of dried coconut, but I was fresh out. Nevertheless, it was the perfect complement to the spicy kabocha curry.

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