Tag Archives: food

Celebrating Summer Stalk

Yahoo! The sweet & sour stalk of American pie and jam legend lives and breathes in the archipelago!

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Someone gave me this fresh rhubarb today that I’m thinking to pie-ify soon. My main concern now is the oven. I’ve baked cookies in these cubby-hole contraptions that double as real ovens besides being toasters and microwaves (very tedious, involving temperature conversion, adjustment and re-preheating every four cookies, juggling sheets and cooling racks), but never a whole pie, which at least is one piece instead of a few dozen. I’ll have to find out exactly where, but I do know it was bought locally.

Silly Stalks: A Little Background

Writing this blog often leads to serendipitous learning, and this time was no exception. Out of curiosity, I checked Wikipedia, and found out that although rhubarb is normally considered a vegetable, since 1947 in New York State it’s legally a fruit since it’s mostly used as one.

Beyond that, Wikipedia reports that

In British theatre and early radio drama, the words “rhubarb rhubarb” were repeated for the effect of unintelligible conversation on the background.

“Rhubarb” was [also] a 1969 British short film written and directed by Eric Sykes, starring Sykes and Harry Secombe. The dialogue consisted entirely of repetitions of the word “rhubarb”, all the characters last names were “Rhubarb”, and even the license plates on vehicles were “RHU BAR B.”

As I’ve been becoming a bit of a connoisseur of background chatter, it’s a bit of a letdown to think that a bunch of nothing but rhubarb could have been just as effective as the real thing. I wonder if they used varied intonation. It’s no surprise Sykes was a cohort of the Goon Show gang, predecessors of Monty Python.

Aisle By That

The Bottom Line

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Not sure exactly what the angle is with these banners at Seiyu supermarket, and I don’t present them here for criticism, but for me the effect was ultimately a good one – it kept from buying snacks or food that would make me gain weight. From a public service point of view, Seiyu could be doing a great thing, though I doubt that’s their, or parent company WalMart’s, intent.

You have to admit the weight aspect, in such a svelte country as this, is utterly conspicuous and not merely (co)incidental, if only for attention-grabbing or, one hopes, non-hurtful amusement. Maybe it’s supposed to make customers feel thin by comparison. Or maybe it’s just meant to be creative. Seiyu’s last series of these aisle-ending banners, though I can’t recall exactly what they depicted, were, I do specifically recall, high on shock value, to the point of being off-putting. I suppose it’s nice to see a Japanese business really trying to be different, but from a purely marketing standpoint I don’t think that’s the kind of innovation that’s needed. The customers are already in the store, so why turn them off?

But of course short-term profit from sales isn’t everything, and I’m only being a cynical marketing-devil’s advocate. I think it’s possible to be responsible and make a profit, and maybe if other customers are affected by this campaign the way I was, they’ll show their appreciation in the form of loyalty to Seiyu as it listens, perhaps in spite of itself, to the market and winnows out less healthy food choices. Win-win.

Nah, just wishful thinking, probably. Gotta blog about something. But if customers are at least subliminally influenced to skip the chips and dips, and store executives do pay attention and respond by catering to demand more, maybe it can be a bit of a model for twentieth-century business lions successfully making the transition to leaner, more responsive and responsible, leading-edge lynxes weaned off of subsidies and good-old-boy backscrubbing. Just don’t bother the stuffed shirts telling them too many of the pesky little details, like the fact that everyone benefits from a healthy society.

Eight Hours On Foot

Extremity Remedy

Though outdoor winter temperatures here are relatively mild, indoor is a stripe of a different color. Or something. For battling mix & match idioms cold limbs in rooms that only get heated so much, don’t forget kairo, handwarmers, for occasional spot relief. At work I’m having to resort to these footwarmers that go on your socks, as this year it seems colder than normal on my feet.

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They go about ¥700 plus tax for 15 pairs at Sugi pharmacy, and last about eight hours. In-shoe types are also available.

Speaking of keeping in the warmth, today was kagamibiraki, a traditional day to use up your New Year’s mochi rice cakes in zenzai, a soup of sweet adzuki bean paste. In the office, we’ve also been foil-roasting sweet potatoes, yakiimo, on the kerosene heater in the background in this photo.

Chicken Run, Cake Walk, and a Table for Two

Early Birds

Among the first customs I encountered here (besides those at Narita Airport) were things unique to Christmas Eve in Japan. Behold the national Christmas Eve rush on fried chicken, when lines of cars back up roads, and, if KFC is your choice, a decked-out Colonel is there to greet folks picking up birds reserved perhaps months in advance. With today happening to be a de facto national holiday and the end of a three-day weekend, traffic has probably been especially heavy.

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Another Christmas tradition probably dreamt up by Japanese pattisiers in between visions of sugar plums and ghosts of Christmas past, though practiced in other countries as well, is the obligatory exchanging of Christmas fruitcake, which half the recipients probably end up not eating.

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This was the scene at Toki Patisserie Le Bellcour, which has an LED sign scrolling snowfall and Christmas messages. They even have a guard directing traffic at Yuletime. A sign also said there was a live performance, but there was no sign of one (other than…the…sign of one) when I walked by.

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And how can we forget the custom here of spending a romantic Christmas Eve with your sweetheart, usually reserving a special dinner for two somewhere?

However you spend yours, may it shake down mirthful and light if not sparkling and white, and don’t be afraid to use your fingers.

More Apple Teardowns

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More apple sampling while it’s in season: the one above, depending on the kanji reading, may be called Wasei. From Aomori prefecture, it seems to be closest (not to say close) in taste and texture among Japanese breeds to macintosh. I think cinnamon might complement it well, and can see it being used in pies. I just cut my apples into eight and peel, eating the sections as is.

A little research revealed apples were first grown in Japan in 1831. That explains a lot (slim pickings,etc.). Below, Shinano Sweet from Nagano is one of those I can’t glowingly recommend. This cross between Fuji and Tsugaru is actually closest in appearance to macintosh, though the green parts aren’t so visible in this picture.

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And a final fruit footnote – LaFrance pears have finally burst onto store shelves. I’m still waiting for my first ones to ripen at home.

Spread the Word

If you love real old-fashioned peanut butter but feel stuck without a choice in Japan, worry not. There is hope stirring amid the muck of sugary, processed kids’ goop out there if you just shop around.

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Though I’ve been on a p.b. diet for a couple of years, I recently allowed myself this brand that I picked up at Kaldi Coffee Farm specialty foods store at Airport Walk.

With any natural peanut butter, the oil separates, floating to the top, necessitating considerable stirring. This small jar had been sedentary for a long time. I think it took at least a half an hour. Think of it as a labor of legumes love.

I’ve found other good brands in Nagoya at Meidi-ya in Sakae (they used to carry a good Dutch brand but now sell one I don’t care for), and Dean & Deluca at Midland Square.

Update: I found this “peanut paste,” which also seems to be natural, at Frante in Tajimi:

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Made with Chiba-grown peanuts, besides sandwiches, it’s recommended for sauces, marinades, dressings and cooking.

Stalking the Wild Rhubarb

A Taste of the Old Country

Perhaps if I had to choose one food I miss from the US that I can hardly get in Japan, besides whole turkey, it would be rhubarb. Enter this rhubarb jam from Musée de Paris in Tsurugasawa, Midori-ku, Nagoya.

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I had some on toast and even with yogurt, in which it tasted especially like rhubarb pie. That’s a taste for sore buds, right at home in a midsummer night’s dessert. Yogurt (I prefer regular plain Bulgaria from Meiji) with jam for breakfast is also a good way to get a cool start on these sultry dog days. I just learned why they’re called that: It’s when Sirius, the Dog Star, rises and sets opposite the sun. So much for the lazy dog theory.

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While not unheard of, rhubarb is a rarity in any form in this country. I recall the Anna Miller’s family restaurant chain in the Kanto area (good Reuben sandwiches as well) used to serve the pie. And I remember seeing a recipe at a cafe in Nagoya for, I think, rhubarb lemonade. I’m still trying to find a place that actually sells fresh stalks. Don’t make the same mistake I made many years ago – promising to make rhubarb pie for my Japanese host family, only to find out that the fuki I bought shared nothing in common with rhubarb except similar looks. Unqualified fiasco.

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Below, pineapple and Paradis (amaou strawberry/passionfruit) varieties from Musée.

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A bowl of Grape-Nuts served by an Anna Miller’s waitress to anyone who gets today’s title. You’ll know if you lived consciously through the seventies in the States and had a TV.

Here’s Salt in Your Ear

A little reminder of home (yes, Virginia, Upstate/Western New York is covered surprisingly largely in cornfields), compliments of growers in Aichi.

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A little crazy on the salt, though this amount was intended for the whole circumference of the cob.

It brought back memories of dollar-a-(half-?)dozen, honor-system roadside stands, and shucking duties, husks deposited in brown paper grocery bags, on lazy summer nights of childhood and adolescence.

Don’t forget Toki’s fireworks are tonight. It seems like they start at 7:20 or 7:40, or maybe it’s the 8 o’clock hour.

Swordplay Wordplay and Lost Flight

I just had swordfish without realizing what it was – otherwise I would’ve taken a picture for you. Anyway, it’s supposed to be another heat-beater food, which I didn’t know or had forgotten. Here’s the by-now traditional “Too-late, ate-it-up” shot, the bits of charred swordfish sitting like stone islets at Ryōanji Temple in Kyoto (okay, maybe not):

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The thin-sliced ginger was actually from pickled cucumbers (don’t we call those pickles? But these definitely weren’t “pickles”). At first blush, the grilled meat looked like pork, or beef. Not particularly fishy in taste, which brings us back to yesterday’s Charlie the Tuna bit. Such an elegant world we live in, to come full circle like this in 24 hours. Like a limp-finned fish or something.

Speaking of rowing in circles, this unfortunate dragonfly spent its last hours flopping/floundering/foundering in circles on my baking terrace as Tajimi flew into “hottest city in Japan” standing once again today with a high of 38° C [pumps fist, full of “Yattaa! Knew we could do it” pride, yet head bowed in deference to the fallen dragon/damselfly (North America’s are so tiny by comparison), not having garnered actual permission to publish the image].

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It seems to me the ephemerality of the lives of dragonflies and cicadas (locusts) captures the sense of evanescence Japanese have so traditionally admired in the falling (not simply blossoming) of sakura, which has also been abused in the imagery of kamikaze pilots, but that reminds us of the urgency (though perhaps ultimate ungraspability) of the here and now. End of quasi-philosophical musing (Translation: Big dying/dead bug on davenport caught my eye, but made me feel guilty to commit such a solemn scene to pixel).

And speaking of flying in circles, we recently hit the 75th (is that all??) anniversary of aviatrix Amelia Earhardt’s disappearance. One of the first books I remember reading was her biography. It seems they’ve recently identified more cosmetic supplies as being closely associated with her and/or her era on a South Pacific Island.

Anyway, thanks to this evening’s meal, I’m no longer lost at sea and have joined the ranks of those who know (albeit may soon likely forget) the difference between/among swordfish, sailfish, and marlin. Someone was recently recalling memories of Oda(?), a Japanese Olympic fencing champion, hence my sword/fence reference vis à vis whatever the heck I just ate.

With appropriate respect for the fallen, may we all make the best of this fleeting season of growth while the sun shines, challenge the undared, and champion the cycle of life on land, sea and air.