Monday, 28 September 2009

Peaches for Me!

Well, I don't have ninjas attacking me, I'm not moving to the country, they weren't free, nor did I get millions, but I did find peaches - peaches for me (or, well sort of...)! (and yes, I have had that song running through my head for the past few days!!)

After looking for peaches in the local grocery stores without any success I figured I'd have to give up and wait for next year to make Andoh's Poached Peaches in Lemon-Ginger Miso Sauce. But with an old friend from high school in Tokyo with her husband, U offered to drive us all to Mt. Fuji for the day. It was a bit cloudy, so we didn't get the greatest views of the mountain, but we had a great time enjoying the mountain air, visiting a shrine, soaking in the hot springs, and enjoying the local food. Lunch was a Yamanashi speciality: hoto - thick chewy hand-made udon noodles cooked in miso broth with kabocha squash, cabbage, carrots, and all sorts of other veggies.

Yamanashi prefecture also happens to be known for grapes and PEACHES! Yay! I had forgotten this fact, and got very excited when we drove past a roadside stand selling fresh local fruit.

We ended up splitting a box with my friends, and coming home with 3 fresh peaches. One got cut up into slices for breakfast the next morning. I was really excited about this, and wanting to properly enjoy the treat of fresh peaches, decided to enjoy them all by themselves, after I had eaten my granola. I savoured one slice, and had just speared my second when U asked me a question, to which I wanted to look up an answer. I responded "wait a sec..." and turned around to my computer. It hasn't been feeling well recently and is really sluggish, and 5 minutes later when I turned back to the table having found my answer I was shocked as the table had been cleared of everything - except for my half-drunk coffee. "Where are the peaches?" I asked U, dreading the answer already. He had eaten them of course, including the one that had been skewered by my fork and had a bite taken out of it! My peaches! Aaaaa! I was annoyed because he had been the one arguing for not getting so many peaches, we didn't need any to eat fresh, just the ones for the recipe, he had said... I proceeded to give him nasty looks for the rest of the morning, to which he responded with admirable generosity (at one point half-seriously offering to drive back to Yamanashi to buy more!). U pointed out that as the eldest of three, if you wanted yummy food you had better claim it fast before it disappeared... this only child has learned her lesson!

The other two peaches (one white and one yellow) were cut into slices and turned into poached peaches (it is quite possible that some of the slices didn't make it to the pan to be poached, but I'm not admitting to anything! ;) ). I was really worried about this recipe, despite having read the good reviews. I didn't want to get to the end of it and regret having "wasted" the yummy (and expensive!! eeek!) peaches. But of course I should have trusted my fellow Washoku Warriors, and Elizabeth Andoh herself too! These were delicious - tangy and sweet and gingery, with a lovely hint of saltiness from the miso. But none of the flavours was overpowering and so the taste of the peach itself still shone through. Definitely not a waste! Mmmm!

Wednesday, 23 September 2009

More Miso!

After reading the round up for the Washoku Warriors' Miso Challenge I decided I was going to have try a few more recipes - namely the Miso-Marinated Broiled Fish and Poached Peaches in Lemon-Ginger Miso Sauce.

U was down for most of the 5-day weekend (National holidays fell on both of Monday (Respect for the Aged Day) and Wednesday (First Day of Fall) which made Tuesday a generic holiday, giving us what has been dubbed "Silver Week" (both in respect to the "Silvers" and because the big holiday in May is known as Golden Week)) and was as eager as me to try a few more miso recipes.

Unfortunately the big grocery store we went to didn't have fresh peaches (we ended up having to settle for canned peaches with ice cream... yummy but not quite the same!)I will have to wait for peach season, but with all the rave reviews (Coraa, and Sassy Chronicles) I will have to try them sometime!

We did, however, of course find a large selection of fresh fish. U wanted to try a white fish, but I insisted on salmon (he later freely admitted that the salmon had been the right choice). We mixed up the marinade as soon as we got home and put the fish in the fridge. We had planned to eat it the next day, but in the end it got an extra day and a half of marinating and so the fish was deliciously flavourful. The salmon and sweet saikyo miso and lemon were a such a wonderful match! But the best part?

Was that I didn't do any of the cooking!! Classes start up again tomorrow after the summer holidays, and I have a project due on Friday that isn't quite done (lets blog... can you say procrastination?!) So U offered to make dinner. He boiled the komatsuna greens and prepared the ohitashi (Andoh calls spinach ohitashi "spinach steeped in broth"). He made tofu and nameko mushroom miso soup. He grilled the fish. He then plated everything and brought it to the table. All I had to do was take the pictures -

and then eat - YUM!

Oh, and it gets better! As we tucked in to the meal and I was gushing about how good it all was and how great it was of him to cook for me, he remarked that cooking was fun and he'd like to try his hand at a more complicated dish next time. I immediately offered to be his guinea pig!

Friday, 11 September 2009

Summer Vacation - Berlin Part 2 - MUSEUMS!

At the start of my summer vacation I spent 4 days in Berlin with an old friend and her partner. 4 days packed full of catching up (it had been four years since we had last seen each other) but mostly full of lots of good food and museums. The excuse for the trip was that I was supposed to be doing an interview - research for the thesis (D-day minus four months now, stress level = amber). My contact got sick, however, and in the end my trip was just too short. I still managed to spend plenty of time in museums, however, packing five (two of three of which were HUGE) into four days.

Day 1 - Museum for Communication (after jet-lag induced late morning and an attack of "WOW! Clothing in this country actually FITS! that resulted in half a new wardrobe)

Day 2 - German History Museum (DHM)

Day 3 - Jewish Museum

Day 4 - Gandhara - an exhibit of Buddhist Art from Pakistan at the Martin-Gropius-Bau & Technology Museum

I enjoyed all - for different reasons. Unfortunately, however, my time at the Communication Museum suffered from my jet lag induced cotton ball brain-ness, and I just couldn't get beyond the lack of explanation of the large robots drifting around the larger inner atrium. I had seen pictures of and heard talks about the DHM, but I was still overwhelmed by the museum (my friend gave up on me and left me to wander at my own pace, going on to see the whole exhibit and two special exhibits before browsing the gift shop and going across the street for coffee and rhubarb cake, and reading a chapter or so of her book before I finally came out of the regular exhibit area...) The Jewish Museum was an unforgettable experience and very thought provoking - also hands down the BEST museum cafeteria I've EVER tried! The art exhibit was fascinating, especially with pieces on display from museums in the Swat Valley, an area in the news at the time. The Technology Museum was also overwhelming in sheer size - I thought I had seen the whole thing and was feeling rather pleased with myself when I met up with my friends at the appointed hour - only do discover I hadn't even found the largest wing of the museum!

With the exception of the art gallery, I was rather surprised to find copious amounts of natural sunlight in the museums. Both the Technology Museum and the Communication Museum also had open windows in the exhibit space. One of the things drilled into undergrads in the curatorial certificate program in Japan is the need for climate-controlled exhibit space and the evils of natural light. When you are exhibiting wood-block prints or ink paintings in a country where summer weather can reach the high thirties with 90% humidity on a clear day, the need for such protection is obvious (heck, VISITORS need the climate-controlled environment to be able to happily visit a museum with those conditions). Although it is definitely arguable as to whether they actually do much, almost all exhibit cases in a Japanese museum will contain some sort of desiccant. Given the regular occurrence of earthquakes, all objects are securely and safely fastened. The lack of all these familiar things really surprised me at first. I was surprised and began getting worried about object conservation. After a few museums, however, I realized just how conditioned I am to the Japanese museum, and I began noticing unique and interesting techniques being used to protect objects while also having them on view.

There were your average pull-out drawers, dressed out with eye-catching colours and at an easily viewable height.

There were spiffy glass covered cases with multiple levels of documents on sliding panels that retracted slowly back when released.

There were traditional pull-out drawers topped by heavy covers that revealed documents when opened (and due to their weight would not be left open by even the most absent-minded of visitors)

And there were these canisters on the wall that, after a good ten minutes spent trying to figure out HOW to open them, delighted me to no end (simple minds, simple pleasures, right?).

I was also impressed by the use of bright colours and whimsical touches in many of the museums we visited. The Gandhana exhibition was in a white space, but all of the case bottoms were either bright orange or lime green - a strong contrast to the grey stone of most of the objects! All of the museums, however, used bright colour, something I found refreshing from the blandness of most (older) museums in Japan.

Of course the first section of the Jewish Museum has no colour - it is all white, black, and cold greys. The lack of colour further and effectively heightens the impact of the space.

I'm really still only beginning to think through the museums I visited, and look forward to presenting on one of them next week when our inter-university grad student museum studies group has our first meeting back after the summer vacation. I really want to think this through some more... I loved being shocked out of my "Japan-centric" museum mind-set, and being reminded that things are done differently in different museums around the world. I'm eagerly awaiting my next chance to explore more "foreign" museums!


For the third year in a row I spent part of the uggly muggy-ness that passes as Tokyo's summer on a museum internship in the lovely cool mountains of Nagano. Much to the delight of the older ladies in the local community, all our meals are prepared by my advisor - a Japanese man in his 60s. His menus are basic (who wants complicated when you're cooking on 2 burners for 15 people?) and delicious. The base of every meal is rice (brought by a student who's family grows rice) and miso soup, with a range of okazu (dishes - meat/veg/seafood). The soup is basic but infinite in its varieties - tofu and seaweed one day, nameko mushrooms the next, and daikon radish and bitter melon the next.

Since coming home I've been making miso soup myself, and realizing again how much I like it! I've decided I prefer an awase miso, a mixture of the Saikyo and Sendai misos that I got for the Washoku Warriors challenge this month, but I still haven't figured out the right balance of miso to gu (stuff in the soup) and often end up with a bowl full of tofu and leek with a very little bit of broth...

I've loved exploring the Washoku Warrior's theme ingredient of miso this month. And you know how it is when you are thinking about something you seem to see it EVERYWHERE? Well, that's how it has been for me with miso recently!

There was the miso cheese at the Nagato Dairy Farm in Nagano prefecture.

The miso and cheese flavours mixed really well, and paired with the farm's crusty and still warm from the oven bread, disappeared almost immediately despite the fact that we had already eaten a delicious lunch of cheese pizza and ice cream!

Then there wasy the miso jam and miso pudding at a specialty stall at the Dangozaka rest-stop on the highway between Matsumoto and Tokyo.

Creamy and sweet - yum! A little more solid than the average Japanese pudding. I enjoyed it but was a little disappointed that the miso flavour was all but undetectable.

Also at a rest stop I had a surprisingly good katsudon (breaded pork cutlet on rice) with miso sauce.

Then there was the miso-marinated beef on the menu at the yaki-niku (Korean BBQ) restaurant.

Yaki-niku is yummy in general, and the miso marinade/sauce only made it better! The subtle saltiness of the miso blended well with the meat and was especially good wrapped in leaves of sanchu.

Then I stumbled across an amazing miso store in my neighbourhood!

There are glass-covered bins with what I'm sure was at least 30 varieties of miso for sale by weight. There were also miso sauces, miso pickles, and even miso bread! (as well as non-miso items too)

Who knows what else is out there to be tried?

Wednesday, 9 September 2009

Falling for Miso

As I mentioned in the last post, this month's Washoku Warriors challenge is miso. As part of the challenge, U and I made three different miso-based sauces, one of which made a delicious dressing for chilled Chinese noodle salad (hiyashi chuka). The other two, the pungent red miso and citrusy miso sauces were for Fall Fruits with Flavored Miso Sauce.

The recipe calls for persimmons, figs, apples, and nashi (Japanese apple pears) to be combined with two miso-based savoury sauces. I was a bit worried about the pairing - miso and sweet fruit?! I'm not a persimmon fan, so decide to skip them. I've never bought fresh figs before and unfortunately most of the box I chose were over-ripe and mushy. The apple and nashi, however, were a success. The apple paired well with the citrusy sweetness of the paler sauce, and the nashi with the darker and more savoury red sauce. My friend, not a big sweet fan, was very happy with my desert, and declared it was a great way to end a meal.

Monday, 7 September 2009

A Tale of Two Bowls

This month’s Washoku Warriors Challenge is a little different. Instead of one or two recipes, we’ve been assigned a challenge ingredient – by the book’s author, Elizabeth Andoh herself. Unlike the Japanese TV program Iron Chefs, however, we have not one hour, but a whole month to explore miso in all its different flavours.

As recommended I started out with a light sweet Saikyo miso and a dark Sendai miso. I decided to start by making the creamy sesame miso sauce and using it for Chilled Chinese Noodle Salad (hiyashi chuka) (two recipes in one!) and the pungent red miso and citrusy miso sauces that Ando pairs with fall fruits (three recipes there!) for desert to take to a friend's place.

My boyfriend, U, who lives in a company-provided dormitory without kitchen facilities, doesn’t cook but has long been keen to join me in the kitchen. Since he also wants me to teach him English I figured that using an English recipe would be a good way to combine two different lessons and have a bit of fun in the process. Turns out that while he needs help with bagging groceries (“Don’t put a litre carton of milk on top of the package of fresh figs!... No not the bread either!... Eeek! Not the eggs either!") but the whole making sauces thing was a cinch. He’s a scientist of the chemical experiment doing type – so measuring out ingredients, stirring, and heating over a gas burner is just up his alley. Of course being able to actually eat the end result is a new experience for him!

We made all three sauces in advance, refridgerating them overnight. Lunch the next day was hiyashi chuka. I must admit I’m not a ramen fan and so have never much liked this dish. Notice I'm using the past tense here! The sweet/savoury and incredibly flavourful mushrooms were delicious and the sesame dressing – wow! WOW! I’m glad we had made up a double recipe of the creamy sesame miso sauce, I’m guessing its going to turn into a regular inhabitant of my fridge and I don’t think I’m ever going to be able to buy my old standby of commercial sesame salad dressing again. (I also LOVED the flavour of the white sesame paste, and am going to have to look into other ways of using it or the black sesame version... mmmm...)

As I carefully placed my toppings on my noodles, camera at the ready, U made a comment about not caring how his would look as he was just going to eat it – not photograph it. Of course, I couldn’t help but respond by including his in the photo shoot too! So, I give you a tale of two bowls: