Thursday, July 30, 2009

Fig Compote with Ice Cream

Fig Compote on Vanilla Ice Cream

It seems that this extremely long rainy season gave the fruits and veggies in our garden a break. The rain killed almost all my zucchini plants. My blueberries didn't ripen for several weeks. Even mom's figs were taking a break for about half a month!

But finally today, mom said that some figs were ready to be picked. Being sick of fig jam already, I made fig compote with red wine.

The ice cream was great with fig-wine sauce, but the compote itself was... mmmm...

Maybe I should forget about compote and make fig and red wine sauce next time. The sauce could be more versatile.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Easy Kabocha Pumpkin Pudding

We have four different kinds of kabocha pumpkins ripening in our veggie garden now. Again, none of them are for sale. It's just for my family and extended family to eat. Then why do we need to grow so many different kinds? Well, it was dad's curiosity; he wanted to compare the taste and texture to pick his "favorite(s)." As a result, we have been eating simmered kabocha VERY often lately, and as you can imagine, I was getting sick of it.

Then this recipe (Japanese) came into my life and saved me. It's an easy pumpkin pudding (or "flan") recipe which doesn't require pressing the pumpkin mash through a strainer. All you have to do is to puree it in an electric blender with other ingredients, and I liked that very much. (Well, to be precise, the original recipe tells you to blend eggs and cream in a separate bowl and then mix with the pumpkin puree mixture made in the blender. And the pudding mixture needs to be strained through a strainer once, but it's no big deal.)

Baking in the oven

I had to admit that the texture was not quite smooth, but it was tolerable. And the taste was pretty good even though I substituted heavy cream with vegetable whipping cream and milk with soy milk so that dad can eat the pudding. The substitution was worth it because he ate it and loved it so much. Perhaps this pudding was the most successful dessert I've ever made here... Both my parents and even mom's tea ceremony students loved it.

* Sorry, there was a mistake in what I wrote about the instruction in the original recipe. I fixed it.

(Added Jul. 29, 2009)

I guess I have been using the word "pudding" quite loosely. But if what I just read on this site is right, I think this dessert should be called "flan" instead of "pudding." This IS quite thick and firm.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Need More Repertoire...

Aji no nigiri-zushi (Hand-formed sushi with Japanese jack mackerel)

One of the challenges in the kitchen at my parents' house is "unpredictability," especially when it comes to buying fish. (I know. This topic should have been included in my "challenges" series, but I kept forgetting to write about it. :P )

Here in this very, very small town near the Pacific Ocean, fixed netting is the main fishing method in the community. Local folks go to the fishing port first thing in the morning and buy fresh fish that were swimming in the ocean just about an hour earlier. When there was a big catch of variety of fish and help was needed for sorting them, community people take turns to help out (and perhaps get some give-away fish when they go home?? )

In our family, it is dad who goes to the fishing port to buy fish or to help out there. In the latter case, the whole community gets notified about the big catch, so mom and I at least know that we will have some fish that day, though not sure about what kind. But dad doesn't tell us beforehand when he goes there just to buy fish, which gives us more challenge.

There is a strict rule in my family: fresh fish good for sashimi (sliced raw fish) MUST be enjoyed as sashimi first, preferably on the day it was bought. So, no matter what mom and I were planning to make for lunch and dinner that day (and even did some preparation on the previous day), it has to be postponed if dad comes home around breakfast time with a big Styrofoam container full of fish. Yes, sashimi has the highest priority.

When dad buys aji, Japanese jack mackerels, he buys about ten of them at one time (if available), and that makes mom and I busy with gutting and filleting. Some aji is used for making sashimi, of course. But we have to make other things, too, with the rest, and we are running out of repertoire because dad buys the fish so often...!!!

So last night, wanting to try something different, mom and I made what we seldom make: nigiri zushi (hand-formed sushi) with the Japanese jack mackerels dad bought in the morning.

The sushi was OK, but we concluded that we should stick with smaller mackerels when making this sushi, because deboning was such a pain in the neck. :P

FYI, we have made these with Japanese jack mackerels since I moved in here:

(I took this shot on the bottom-left before putting the dish in the oven.)

Sorry, no photos of more popular dishes like grilled or deep-fried aji. We make them quite often, but for some reason, I never had time to take photos of them before eating. I'll post about them someday in the near future.

BTW, here's a big news. I went for a morning walk on the beach the other day and guess who I saw there!

YAY!! :D

(Added Jul. 21)
According to a neighbor, someone (perhaps one of the fishermen?) seems to be taking care of Jonathan now. He is given a "birdhouse" somewhere in the rocky part of the beach near the fishing port and getting fed almost every day, I heard.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Seventy Percent Home Made???

Veggies from our garden

Don't you love the way they look? :D

There's a dish that I always make when I have plenty of summer vegetables.


The ingredients of this ratatouille were: eggplants, tomatoes, onions, zucchini, garlic, basil and thyme. I'm proud to say that they were all home-grown. Olive oil, salt and pepper were the only store-bought things. So can I say that this ratatouille was 70 % home-made??? (The green tomatoes in the top photo were not used for this dish.)

The other day they officially announced the end of the rainy season in the areas around Tokyo, but not around here. Yesterday was a hot, sunny, summer-like day, but today it's getting cloudy and they are calling for rain later tonight. Yes, rain. Again. I'm sick of it... :(

P.S. Woops! I forgot about the rosemary and dried bay leaf. Now it'll affect the percentage...

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Morning! -3-

See the bird?

It's still rainy season around here and we haven't seen the morning sun for quite some time now.
But anyway, here's some morning photos. (Some of these were taken in early June, actually. )

After a storm, you see some unusual things on the beach...

No, the kitty-chan was not sitting like this when I first saw her. I put her there to make her feel comfortable. ;)

In our garden

Oranges are bigger now.

Have a nice day!

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Two Bean Dishes

Bush String Beans?

IIRC, I think this type of beans were called "string beans" when I was in PA, USA, but I also heard "snap beans" and "green beans" somewhere else. Anyway, its season is already over around here, thus it is not a threat to me any more. :)

Ingen no Goma-ae

Now, this doesn't happen very often, but the other day I measured the ingredients(!!) when making this dish so that I can post a recipe. Here it is.

INGEN NO GOMA-AE (blanched string beans with sesame dressing)
Obachan's version
Ingredients (three to four servings)
120 to 150 g string beans
a pinch salt (for blanching)
3 Tbsp. toasted white sesame seeds
1 Tbsp. sugar
1 Tbsp. soy sauce
2 tsp sake

Blanch string beans with a pinch of salt. Drain and chop into 4 to 5 cm pieces. Grind toasted sesame seeds with a mortar and pestle. (Coarse grind is OK. If you don't have a mortar and pestle, put sesame seeds in a plastic bag and crush them with a bottle or a rolling pin.) Mix ground sesame seeds, sugar, soy sauce and sake. Dress the beans with the sesame seed dressing and serve.

Ingen To Atsuage No Miso-Itame

This is my favorite dish, but so sorry, I didn't measure the seasoning ingredients. I made this dish at least four times since I came here, but each time I gave up measuring because I kept adding some of the seasoning ingredients until I felt enough... Anyway, if you are interested, the ingredients are:

Blanched string beans
Atsuage (deep-fried tofu)
White sesame seeds
Salad oil

And I always mix the seasonings marked with * in a small bowl beforehand, then pour over the ingredients being fried.

I'll try to measure and post the amount of each ingredient someday. Yeah, someday... hopefully.

Saturday, July 04, 2009

Deliciously Red

Fresh Tomatoes ("Momotaro" and "Sicilian Rouge")

Dad said the small ones were not "Aiko." "Sicilian Rouge" is a variety developed in Japan by a collaboration of an Italian tomato breeder and a Japanese company. It is said to contain much more lycopene, pectine, GABA and glutamic acid than regular varieties. As they say in the ads, the sauce made with this variety of tomato thickened pretty quickly and was very tasty.

The herbs are from our garden, too.

Making Tomato Sauce

This was a test batch so I didn't use a big enamel pot.

Tomato Jam turned out great!

1 kg tomatoes
330 g granulated sugar
1 tsp. lemon juice*
2 whole black peppers

*Dad's meyer lemon. Whole black peppers were added when the jam was poured into jars (one for each).

Oven-dried Cherry Tomatoes in Olive Oil

Halved cherry tomatoes sprinkled with salt. Pat-dried with paper towel in five minutes.
(Baking at 140C for 15 minutes + pat-drying) x 2
(140C for 30 min. + pat-drying) x 2
Keeps for one month if stored in olive oil.

You see I've been working hard? ;)

This was my first time making oven-dried tomatoes. I think my oven did a good job.
But I want to try sun-dried cherry tomatoes, too. Maybe after this rainy season is over...

Thursday, July 02, 2009

And the Challenges Go On.. Part 5

Now my nightmares are in red color...

A fact of life in a super-rural area in Japan: Farmers' relatives are also farmers.
Living in the same climate, they grow mostly the same crops. And the crops become ready for harvest at about the same time... :O

Our tomato season has started. Dad and mom pick tomatoes and bring them into the kitchen every day. I already made tomato sauce twice. And my family eats fresh tomatoes at every meal. Then yesterday dad came home carrying a big white plastic bag like a Santa Claus, and the bag was full of tomatoes! Yeah, I should have known... One of our extended families grows tomatoes in a huge greenhouse and they give us some every summer. Gosh, it's already that time of the year...!!! OK. Time for the biggest enamel pot and a wooden spatula again!

Dad shoved some tomatoes into a smaller plastic bag and hurried to another relative's house. Oh, well. It can't be helped. In a place like this, you just have to be caught in the big cycle of the free distribution of fruits and vegetables and get drowned. :P
And it's fig season as well. Soon you'll read about our endless "battles" with hakubishin (masked palm civet?) that comes to our garden almost every night. Maybe you'll find him (them?) smarter than us.

Then our watermelons will be ready... one after another. Tell you what. Currently 37 watermelons are ripening in our veggie garden. Thirty seven. You heard me? THIRTY SEVEN! That was all my parents were able to count, so they must be forty-something actually. And none of them is for sale; they are all for our family (and extended families, probably) to eat. Where would we put them after harvesting them?! Personally I don't mind sharing them with non-human guests to our veggie gardens -- as far as our family can get more than half of the fruit -- but my parents can't stand it.

The unwelcomed guests are crows. Do crows eat watermelons in your country? Around here, to protect watermelons from the greedy birds, people usually a) hide watermelons with straw or weed, b) spread a net over the watermelon plants or c) set up fishing lines across the field over the watermelon plants.

Our neighbors must have been puzzled if they saw my parents and I walking around in our veggie garden for hours with big old fishing rods in hands. No, we didn't start a new religion or anything. It was us doing the c). We decided to use the fishing lines on dad's old fishing rods, and they were too terribly old that the reels didn't come off the rods. LOL

It's also pit viper season. Every year several people are brought to the hospital in ambulance in this part of the prefecture. I always try to bring my cell phone with me when I go to the orchard with my parents, just in case. (But many times I forgot. :P) You know what. When choosing a cell phone service around here, there is more important thing than fancy functions like decomail, one-seg TV or games. It's a wide coverage in mountains and on the beach so that you can make emergency calls!

As for my mom, things got much better. She doesn't go on hunger strike any more, though she still avoids eating meals with dad for a while after they had a quarrel. But she doesn't try to starve herself, and pays more attention to nutrition when she eats alone in the kitchen or in her room.

The freezers are not jam-packed like before because -- thank goodness! -- she is not obsessed with buying frozen food now. In the past she just kept buying but almost never ate the frozen food. These days she checks what's in the freezer and once in a while uses the stored food to make some space in there. Perhaps she began to understand that it feels better when there is a "flow."

Honestly, I really tried hard to keep the "negative" happenings in the kitchen to the minimum. You know a kitchen can be such a great source of stress if negative experiences accumulate while being there. Letting a lot of food rot or "fossilize" in the freezer is by no means empowering, you know. So I did my best not to waste food. If grilled eggplants turned out yucky, I made them into hummus. When leftover white rice dried up, I microwaved it and made doria or risotto with my homemade tomato sauce and summer vegetables from our garden. Mom's fig jam was baked into pound cake a couple of times like I did with my yamamomo jam.

And whenever I experimented with food, I always had mom taste it. While dad doesn't like anything new and different, she enjoys trying something new. Recently she even tries to experiment on her own.

But I guess that what worked the best for both mom and I was quitting my driving practice with mom. :P

BTW, I would like to be straightforward about this since being indirect didn't serve its purpose:
Mom is not currently being treated for dementia NOT BECAUSE her family does not know anything about dementia and/or in denial of the idea that a family member is "crazy." I had my training in mental health in the U.S. with DSM-III-R (I know. Old. :P ) and have a basic knowledge of Petersen's classification of MCI as well as the tests doctors use to diagnose dementia (esp. AD) in Japan and side effects of drugs commonly used for aged people.

Mom has certain health problems (physical) from before, and whatever treatment to seek, it has to wait for the result of her annual checkup including MRI scan of the brain scheduled this month. And living in a super-rural place where the one and only clinic in town closed more than 30 years ago, finding an appropriate hospital/doctor and securing transportation for hospital visits is much harder than you might think. It usually takes time and it IS taking time. That's the situation now. (I have received good many emails so enthusiastically trying to convince me that mom is "crazy." I do appreciate their concern and enthusiasm, and I don't want to hurt anyone's feeling, but I hope, reading these paragraphs, the readers understand that that's not the kind of support I need.)

I'm going to post about all these in more details on another blog of mine sometime soon. I'll link to it when it's ready. Like I wrote before, this is my foodblog and I want to keep it that way.

As for myself, things are looking up, too. I might be doing some translation work for a local volunteer group this summer. Also in August, I'm attending a course to be a volunteer tour guide here in my hometown. It'll be fun. Yeah, it's about time I do something other than cooking/baking and fishing...


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