Monthly Archives: April 2011


深緑 (shinryoku): deep green

Springtime is prime season for going to the grocery store and having no idea what on earth is on the displays in the produce section. One item I did recognize was kogomi (こごみ) or kakuma (かくま),  fiddlehead ferns, but only because I tried them last spring in a soba shop in Aizu, Fukushima.

I saw them again on a pre-hanami grocery run in the city a couple weeks ago, so I decided to give them a shot. Lauren Ulm of Vegan Yum Yum recommends preparing them like asparagus, so I blanched them before sauteing them in a little butter. Although she doesn’t mention kogomi in the article, fiddleheads with other spring vegetables make great tempura, as Makiko Itoh of Just Hungry describes in her article in The Japan Times, and I often see them served in spring-vegetable soba or udon dishes. Finally, the shopping site Sansaiya recommends boiling the fiddleheads and dressing them with sesame, soy sauce, and sugar.

Fiddleheads have a slightly nutty flavor and they make a good asparagus replacement in a meal. They should not be eaten raw, so be sure to cook them first. I’m hoping to have a chance to try cooking them in an entree before the season ends, but I ate these as a side vegetable to homemade falafel in pita (of all things).

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My Tribute to Michigan: Cherry Salsa

Some people say that they’ve left their hearts in their hometowns, but with the amount I’ve moved in the last 8 years, I’m starting to feel like Voldemort with his horcruxes. The piece of my heart (or horcrux, or whatever) that represents my time in Michigan is housed firmly in Cherry Republic, Glen Arbor, MI.

The Happiest Place in Michigan

Northern Michigan is orchards and nature as far as the eye can see, and because the orchards had some financial trouble during the 70s, many of them opened wineries to make the fruit into something recession-proof. I found Cherry Republic quite by accident while on a trip to Great Lakes Tea and Spice in Glen Arbor during my honeymoon. Cherry Republic makes anything and everything out of cherries. We were lured into the restaurant/store by the pulled-pork cherry barbecue, and I’ve been a fan ever since.

The product is actually more pink, but hey.

My friend who taught me how to make Tex Mex and salsa and I have been discussing regional foods and specialties for a month now, and it made me homesick for one of my favorite Cherry Republic products: cherry salsa. Since I had found a can of tart Michigan cherries at the import store in the fall, I decided to research cherry salsa and make my own to share with my foodie friends. It was a hit at our movie night, and, per my friends’ request, the recipe is below.

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やっぱりアメリカ人: Peanut-Butter-Chocolate-Chip Brownies

「アメリカの料理は?」<What about American food?>

「やっぱりピーナッツ・バター!ピーナッツバターが懐かしい。」 <Definitely peanut butter! I miss peanut butter. >

「甘い。。。」<But it’s sweet…>

It’s the nature of an expat to be perpetually food-frustrated–if I’m in Japan, I want turkey and fancy cheese; if I’m in America, I want bamboo shoots and yuba. The ultimate American comfort food for me is peanut butter.

Peanut butter is a quintessentially American food and Japan just doesn’t get it. There’s no dearth of interesting foods to eat in Japan, of course, and there are a lot of good Japanese substitutes for ingredients, like nerigoma for tahini. That said, Japanese “peanut cream” is basically peanut-butter frosting in terms of sugar content and consistency, so, while I’m sure it’s lovely on white cake, it’s horrifying as a peanut-butter substitute.

This is what sadness tastes like.

After the quake, all I wanted was some sort of comforting American-style peanut-butter and chocolate sweet, but I couldn’t bear to use my fancy Alishan peanut butter in baking. Luckily the big grocery store by my gym carries Meidi-ya peanut butter. This brand is a bit sweeter than I like, but it was good for cooking and came in a glass jar instead of the plastic ones the tiny and overpriced imported Skippy comes in.

Regarding the actual recipe, Cooking Light has become my go-to site for baking this year because the magazine’s philosophy is the same as my own: make it from scratch and make it healthier. I need to ascend my soapbox for a moment and say that I dislike the American trend of buying low-fat, low-carb, low-cal prepared foods. I can taste the preservatives, and the amount of non-recyclable/reusable packaging is obscene.  Cooking Light  focuses on three things: 1. learning about food; 2. learning how to cook with healthy ingredients; and 3. revamping classic recipes so as to be lighter without sacrificing the flavor. That is, it’s not about paying lip-service to a diet, it’s about making conscious decisions about food and being able to enjoy your meals. Desserts included.

These brownies are the perfect combination of peanut-butter and chocolate and have the lovely brownie top and texture. What’s best is that a brownie pan (8x8in; 20.5×20.5 cm) is the perfect fit for the Japanese oven range, so there’s no need to worry about the center not cooking through.

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Taiyaki Tour

ほかほか (hoka hoka): steaming hot food

“So, taiyaki is shaped like the tai, which is considered to be—well, you know how this sentence is going to end. The way all my explanations end.”

“’Good luck’?” my mother asks.

“And also the other way all my explanations end: filled with bean paste.”

There’s nothing like biting into a fresh taiyaki (たい焼き、鯛焼き) just off the griddle. Don’t be fooled by its shape—the tai, or sea bream, is a fish that symbolizes celebration in Japan, but the taiyaki is a fish only in shape. The outside is a sweet pancake-like batter, which is painted onto a fish-shaped griddle, and the inside is traditionally filled with anko (あんこ), sweet red-bean paste; the two are cooked together in a machine similar to a waffle maker.

I used to buy frozen taiyaki at Hiller’s in Ann Arbor all the time and microwave them; when I moved to Japan, I would grill fresh or frozen taiyaki from the store in my fish grill. However, the frozen can’t compare to the fresh, and I’ve “quit” grocery-store taiyaki in favor of hunting down fresh taiyaki with unusual or local fillings. Here are some of the highlights of my taiyaki obsession:

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