June 2008 Archives

First harvest salad

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Tonight we harvested the bulk of our first crop of baby lettuce, an eggplant from the nursery plant we bought yesterday and some of the tiny onions that needed to be thinned. It wasn't much bulk at all, but I turned them all into a delightful salad. Eating food from our own land (collection of pots) was exceptionally satisfying.

First Harvest Salad
serves 2

1 handful baby lettuce
1 tiny eggplant
10 minuscule green onions
1 tsp sesame seed
1 lime wedge
olive oil
salt

Cut the eggplant into 1 cm cubes. Mince the onions. Wash and dry the lettuce.

Saute the eggplant in some olive oil. Add the sesame seeds & cook until toasted. Add the onion and squeeze in the lime wedge. Remove from heat. Dress the lettuce with a bit of oil, salt and a few drops of lime juice. Top with the eggplant.

Legitimize your Presence

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Twice a week, I walk to my Japanese lesson through busy lunchtime crowds and I've been people watching as I go. It is interesting that about 75% of the people I pass along the way are wearing ID/security badges on straps around their necks. Those cards are truly ubiquitous nowadays.

I've been playing a game with the other 25% of the people on the street. If you hung a security card around their necks, how does my perception of them change? The guy in the black jeans and funky styled hair goes from "college student" to "designer." Anyone moderately well dressed turns into an office worker if they have an ID badge.

Even unlikely prospects can become legitimate with an ID badge. The old lady with the cane tottering down the sidewalk is professor or a volunteer of some sort. The woman with the toddler is a flex-time worker on a day-care run. The multi-pierced goth chick now works at the record store.

What if as a tourist you wore a security card as a disguise? The perception of people passing you on the street would change. Not a tourist anymore, you become one of the crowd.

If you don't have an actual ID card from your current or former job, you can easily fake one. Since you aren't going to try to enter a building with it, nobody is going to look too closely, so make it neat but don't worry about being perfect. Use a computer, cut and paste, or draw the elements by hand.

1) Buy a strap and card holder. I've seen them in the 100 yen shops here; I'm sure any office supply store would have them.

2) The ID side of the card should include an image of you or someone else and a name printed underneath. It needs a company or building name and logo. It may have a decorative element like a colored stripe or a subtly patterned background. A barcode orreally long ID number is a nice touch.

3) On the back side of the card, make a fake magnetic strip. A 1/2" stripe in black pen will work fine. Add some tiny text as a disclaimer or "if found return to" section.

4) Put the card in the holder and test your new identity.

Tod's Picture in Print

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The spread in The Sunday Times Travel Magazine (click for a larger version)

Tod's photo of Chowpatty Beach was featured in this article on urban beaches in the June issue of Travel. Isn't it cool that an American photographer living in Japan can sell a photo taken in India to a magazine in the UK?

All hail Flickr and the Internet.

3 Views of Ueno Skyline

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The weather was terrific today, so I walked to Ueno with my sketch box and did a bit of drawing.

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The Ueno skyline in pencil and watercolor

I am not a very good watercolorist and so I decided to take a photo to work from later. Maybe make some improvements to the piece later on at home....

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The skyline, photographed for reference

As it turns out, I did not too badly. My lines are not straight, but they never are. The perspective is off a bit, but overall, the painting is recognizable as that place.

But then I decided to play with the photo. I printed out a copy and used an oil pen to practice drawing the buildings in proper perspective and slightly straighter.

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Drawing on photo

I like how the details and atmosphere of the three images differ, even though they are all the same place and time.

Vegesh

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Vegesh is pronounced "veggie shu"

Meet Vegesh, a collaboration between brewer Asahi and vegetable/juice company Kagome. Yes, you guessed it, this is boozy juice. It is a "Vegetable and Fruit Sparkling Cocktail"

With 21 vegetables and 5 fruits in the juice mix, it tastes surprisingly like...juice. Juice with fizz and a kick, but almost healthy. Definitely better than the too sweet, artificially flavored chu-hi sparkling cocktails that are popular every summer.

The vegetables included are (in order from the label): carrot, spinach, asparagus, red pepper, komatsuna, cress, pumpkin, cabbage, broccoli, another kind of cabbage, beet, red shiso, celery, lettuce, chinese cabbage, kale, parsley, eggplant, onion, daikon radish, and a third sort of cabbage. The fruits are not the apple and grape juice that you might expect, but grapefruit, lemon, pineapple, banana and pear.

Overall it has a tangy-sweet grapefruit and carrot flavor, but there are touches of everything present if you taste carefully.

I bought it as a lark, but Vegesh is a lot better than I expected. I would drink it again. Unfortunately, it is way too easy to swig down like a big glass of juice, instead of the beer-strength cocktail that it is so I will have to be careful!

Solstice Breakfast

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Lemon amaranth pancakes with homemade peach jam

We celebrate the summer solstice today and began the happy day with a breakfast of pancakes, jam, and the luxury of precious butter (the butter crisis is still in full swing here).

The jam was made by Kasada-sensei, my Friday afternoon Japanese teacher. It is really excellent - full of peaches and not too sweet. Tod said it was "wonderfully tart." We spread it generously atop these pancakes:

Lemon Amaranth Pancakes
Makes 8 pancakes

2 cups white flour
1 heaping tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup sugar
dash nutmeg
1/2 tsp ground fenugreek
2 eggs
juice and zest of one lemon
2 Tbsp cooked amaranth grain
water

Mix together the dry ingredients in a large bowl. In a separate bowl, whip together the lemon juice, zest and eggs. Mix the eggs into the dry ingredients adding enough water to make a batter. Stir in the amaranth.

Pour ladles of batter onto a medium-hot non-stick or oiled grill or pan. Cook on the first side until bubbles form and burst in the center. Flip and alow to cook another minute or two. Serve hot.

The things you "need"

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Some of the things you need aren't really needs, they are entitlements, not in the legal sense, of course, but in a social sense. They are things you believe you have a right to own or consume. An article, 12 new necessities that drain your cash, lists a few that I have heard people swear they need: premium cable TV, a second car, bottled water. The article makes the point that these entitlements are really more burdensome than they are truly necessary.

It made me think about my own entitlements. Do I have any? How did I get them? I came up with a theory.

Luxury --> Habit --> Entitlement

Entitlements start out as treats, like having a coffee at Starbucks once in a while. Then they become habits. You have a coffee at Starbucks every time you go shopping at the mall with your friends. Finally they pass over from habit that you could skip into a daily necessity. A daily Starbucks fix is so entrenched in the way you live that you can't imagine what you did without it. You need your entitlements and you can justify them in many ways: you have enough money to afford them, so why not? You need a way to unwind after a long day at work. You always wanted this. You need the caffeine.

So with this in mind, I looked into my life, consulted Tod about our daily habits and found some entitlements. Most of them were pretty minor:

Nice soap. We buy fancy and exotic bath soaps. All different kinds. We started picking them up as souvenirs when we travelled. Now we get them from boutiques locally. Of course Lux or Muse would do just as well.

Expensive lotion. I have been using the same Clinique skin cream for over 20 years. It costs a stupid amount of money. I am sure there is a more reasonably priced substitute.

Good linens. We both love high thread count sheets and big thirsty towels. They do last longer than inexpensive linens and we only have three sheets and two sets of towels, so maybe this isn't as much an entitlement as good spending.

Imported foods. There are several bottles of fancy olive oil in the pantry. We have Greek olives and French bread from the good bakeries. We seek out imported oddities at the supermarkets.

And there is one really big, wallet-draining, nearly burdensome entitlement in my life. Travel. It absolutely follows the luxury-habit-need pattern. If I do not see some new and different place in the world at least once a year and more like two or thee times annually, I get edgy. I need to travel.

Of course I didn't used to be this way. Travel was a luxury 20 years ago - we had no money. Any far-flung excursions were occasional, though we did take a lot of day trips and weekends to our friends' farm in the nearby countryside.

Then we settled into a pattern of traveling to celebrate our anniversary. The trips started out as gift of a weekend at a B&B not too far away from home. It was such fun, we made it a habit that expanded scope when we moved abroad. Now our annual anniversary trips have gotten us to Italy, Ireland, India, Fiji, France, and all over Japan.

And here I am, on the verge of jetting off to Australia for a few weeks to visit a friend, and it isn't an anniversary trip. This will be my 4th time to Australia. I've been to China twice (four times if you count Hong Kong before the handover), to London several times, all over the US and South Asia.

I believe I need travel to keep my creativity and intellect in balance and I can't imagine life without traveling. Although it is expensive, I have enough money to afford it. I know how fortunate I am to be able to afford this.

But I don't really need it. I could probably get what I need in my own backyard, just like Dorothy Gale. Maybe.

Do you have any entitlements?

At the Library

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Today we went out wandering and ended up at one of our local branch libraries. We borrowed some CDs, a book of children's songs, and a bilingual version of the Japanese constitution with historical commentary.

I'm already enjoying the constitution. I am a big fan of the US constitution; I enjoyed studying it when I was in school. If I had taken up law, it would have been constitutional law. I ought not have overlooked the Japanese constitution for so long. It is an equally interesting document. I find myself already thinking "Really? That's not how things seem to work, at least not what I understand from current events" about quite a few points. Perhaps it will all come clear when I get to the Amendments.

The other book is a bit of a lark. Children's songs are a different sort of window into culture and I want to know some of the ones that every Japanese kid knows. Now I have a book of 600 of them. I need some help to narrow the field. Aside from Zousan, which I already sing to the elephants at the zoo sometimes, what song(s) do you think I ought to learn? Tod likes Oppai ga Ippai., Boobs are Full, which is more innocent than it seems, I think...

Dream House for Sale

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Way back during one of our many house hunting periods, we saw a lovely old Japanese house in Taito-ku near Ueno Zoo. It had tatami rooms over looking a garden, a cedar lined bath, a sun room, and a total of 7 bedrooms. It was big and drafty and I fell in love with it the moment I walked inside.

We were all set to rent it, but the owner's mother disagreed. She didn't like foreigners and didn't want her son to approve us. So we didn't get the place. It was very disappointing, but how can you argue against an old woman's prejudices? We kept looking.

Yesterday I discovered that it is on the market. All 7 bedrooms, the garden, the bath and everything for 15,680万円, or about 1.5 million US dollars. The house is around 160 sq meters (1725 sq/ft) on 172 square meters (0.04 acres) of land.

That's way over our budget, so I am destined to be disappointed once again. But seeing the floor plan flooded me with memories and for a few moments I daydreamed about living there. I could run a B&B. I could host an artist's colony. I could sit in the tatami rooms and gaze at my garden. Maybe someday, somewhere.

Eat Food, Day 10

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Last day of the challenge.

At lunch today I confirmed my new theory that mid-level Western restaurants in Tokyo are not serving Food. I ordered a "salad lunch" of chopped salad, fresh baked focaccia, and soup. It seems like it ought to be Food, but it wasn't. The salad was dressed with some icky commercial vinaigrette (and it was full of chicken and bacon not listed on the menu, but that is another story); the bread was fresh baked, but the consistency of a meringue; and the soup was probably made in house, but with instant broth. It was wretched and I felt crappy all afternoon.

However, I made up for it at dinner by cooking a pretty green soup of spring vegetables: fava beans, asparagus and green beans flavored with leftover pesto. That and a grainy roll took away all the ick from lunch.

Looking back, I think this has been an interesting ten days of scrutiny of foods and attention to my eating habits. I succeeded in getting off the junk food snacking and I feel more energetic, but there were no stunning changes to my health like when I stopped eating meat and dairy.

Since we were eating mainly Food before the challenge, there weren't any noticeable changes in my shopping habits or budgeting or menu planning. I am glad we ate out so much, though. It drove home the necessity of choosing restaurants wisely.

And one final note: Tod was excited to realise that it's over and now he can eat the giant corn and the chips he bought earlier in the week but set aside.

Eat Food, Day 9

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After a scanty breakfast of coffee, 12 almonds and a glass of orange juice, I went for a walk in the sun.

For lunch, I met Tod at Nezu no Ya, a macrobiotic restaurant we have been meaning to try for a while. The lunch set was delicious: tofu sauteed with bean sprouts, brown rice, miso soup with red seaweed, kimpira (grated burdock and carrot salad), and three kinds of pickles.

For dinner I made whole wheat pizza dough and fresh basil pesto then put together a couple of pizzas. We had thought to grill them along with some vegetables, but Tod was stuck at work until 8:30, so we abandoned the grill and cooked our pizzas in the oven and had a salad on the side.

I used the last of the pizza dough to make a sort of pesto-anchovy-olive stromboli. We baked it off and sampled it to ensure it was done, then saved it for breakfast (and lunch) tomorrow.

I spent some time today reading labels at the supermarket for fun. Kewpie mayonnaise is very nearly Food, but it has coloring in it. There are some good Belgian cookies which are probably Food - no weird chemicals, ingredients I wouldn't have at home, or health claims on the labels, but more than 5 ingredients. Any homemade cookie recipe is going to have more than 5 ingredients (flour, sugar, salt, leavening, shortening, egg, flavoring), so maybe that is forgivable. There is a brand of potato chips that is "all natural" and only contains potatoes, oil and salt. Not healthy, but Food.

Tomorrow is the last day of the ten day challenge.

Eat Food, Day 8

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It was a bad and disappointing day for Food.

The day began as most do with coffee, muesli and soy milk. I left the house early for shiatsu, then went to meet some friends for lunch and an informal meeting to discuss next year's Australia Day ball.

We were going to eat at a place I love in Hiroo but it was closed so my plans for a healthy steamed vegetable platter were dashed. The cafe where we ended up had no vegetarian selections and nothing without cheese. I ordered with a bagel, cream cheese, lox and lettuce of which I think only the lettuce was Food. I ate the bagel and the lox anyway, but I removed the cream cheese. The bagel was really plastic-y and sponge textured. It filled me up, but it wasn't very good.

After eating, I ordered a cardamom-infused Turkish coffee, but spilled 80% of it when I reached to prevent a jar of honey from tipping onto the floor. The sip left in my cup was delicious.

Things didn't get much better at dinner.

I had set some black chana to soaking and the sprouted. That was good. I reserved a few to plant them, the cooked rest into a dry curry with onions, caraway, black cardamom, peppercorns, garlic, ginger and chiles. It wasn't bad. Not as great as I had hoped, but it was good enough.

I also pressure-cooked some brown rice and tossed in a bit of coconut cream powder. I always forget that the ratio of water to rice is different in pressure cooking and as usual, I ended up with soupy rice. Not only was the texture poor, I ended up not liking the coconut flavor in combination with the curry. It was not horrid, it just flattened out the flavor of the curry and made everything taste sort of sweet.

After dinner, I wanted halva. We have some readymade, but it has artificial flavor in it, so it isn't Food. I decided to make some and found a recipe online. Sugar syrup and tahini. Easy! I cooked up the sugar syrup with some rosewater for flavor, and grabbed the old tahini jar from the back of the fridge. Only it wasn't tahini inside. It was spicy peanut sauce from last week. Peanut halva would be ok, but peanut/garlic/chili halva doesn't work.

Fortunately, I had a backup plan. It is cherry season and I'd bought a few today. I also had some dark chocolate in the pantry. So I made fresh chocolate covered cherries. They were delicious and satisfied my dessert craving.

Eat Food, Day 7

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Today we are went to Hiratsuka for a picnic with Mj & her family. Unfortunately we hadn't exactly planned ahead as a group and when I woke to see Tracey's 1 am message "what time do you plan to go?" I figured we'd be having a dinner picnic rather than a lunch one. I wasn't wrong. Seemed like everything conspired to delay us.

I was ready to leave by noon and get to Hiratsuka by 2, but Tod needed more coffee and waking time. So we left at 1 to arrive at 3. But there was an accident on the Tokaido Line and our train didn't depart Tokyo until almost 2. So we got there around 3:30.

So because of the delays and unplanning, our food day was a little wonky.

At 10 am, there was coffee and a terrific little seeded raisin bread from an artisinal bakery Tod found. When we didn't leave at noon, I dished up some of the farro salad for us and served orange juice. But on the train we were getting pretty hungry so we bought beer and cashews.

Around 5 pm, everyone arrived and we laid out our picnic, not at the beach or along the river, but in MJ's lounge room. Ashley made falafel, hummus and tabouleh; we brought farro, brownies, castagnaccio and a tomato salad. It was an incredible feast of 100% Food!

There was so much on the table that we didn't even get to MJ's yummy-sounding baguette sandwiches. There were lots of leftovers so she won't have to cook a meal or two this week.

Eat Food, Day 6

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Broccoli Sprouts

Last week I planted some vegetables seeds in pots on the veranda. They are sprouting now. I look forward to having fresh, home grown lettuce, onions, and broccoli in the coming weeks and months. If I don't kill them.

Today I did some cooking for a picnic tomorrow. I made a farro salad with soy beans, bits of vegetable, and a citrus dressing. That was also part of our dinner tonight. I also baked brownies and Castagnaccio, an old Italian sweet made of chestnut flour. They are flat little bars that are dense and moist underneath and slightly chewy/crusty on top. They are odd and I can't decide if I like them. The recipe is vegan, gluten-free and sugar-free, too. In addition to chestnut flour, then contain water, pinenuts and rosemary. And that's all. Peasant food, for sure.

Today, since I was home and cooking, Food was very easy to achieve.

B: coffee, toast with natural peanut butter
L: muesli with soymilk
S: tasting the things I cooked
D: farro salad, mujadara burgers, salad, bread, castagnaccio, brownie

Anchovy Quinoa and Steamed Vegetable Salad

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There is quinoa under this pile of vegetables!

We shared the kitchen and ended up with a meal neither of us intended. I thought we'd have steamed vegetables with a dipping sauce and a side salad of grain. Tod imagined an integrated grain-veg salad. Instead we topped a wonderfully flavored quinoa with dressed steamed vegetables.

Anchovy Quinoa and Steamed Vegetable Salad
serves 2 as a main dish

1 cup quinoa
2 cups water
1 onion, minced
1-2 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
3-4 anchovy fillets
oil (olive or from the anchovy tin)

vegetables of your choice, cut to serving size
(we had 4 baby potatoes, 2 enoki mushrooms, 5 spears of asparagus, a big handful of green beans, one carrot, a green pepper, and tomatoes for garnish)
juice of 1/2 a lemon
salt
olive oil

Boil the quinoa for 10-15 minutes. Meanwhile, sautee the onion, garlic and anchovy in oil until very soft. Combine the two finished products.

While you're doing the quinoa, steam the vegetables. Toss steamed vegetables and any raw garishes (like tomatoes) together with lemon juice, salt and olive oil. Serve over the quinoa.

Eat Food, Day 5

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Day 5 began with a few goals in mind: go to my Japanese lesson, take a walk in the sunshine, and eat steamed vegetables for dinner. I hit all three points, but not as planned.

Yesterday I found bakery-baked bread with no preservatives, just flour and yeast listed in the ingredients, so I bought a half a loaf. We had toast with natural peanut butter for breakfast, a nice break from muesli. Before leaving for my Japanese lesson, I used the bread again to make a sandwich of juicy ripe tomato, lettuce, and a bit of Marmite. I also treated myself to some bananas yesterday and had one of those with my light lunch.

After class, I visited Jim in his new apartment and went to work helping him and Ben clean the place up a bit. We took a break for lunch (#2 for me, but very welcome) around 3, and Ben and I picked up some deli dishes at Origin Bento. I did my best to pick Food, but I am sure that commercial mayonnaise isn't Food, so I sort of blew it on the broccoli and shrimp salad bit. The simmered greens with sesame were Food, and some of the other salads were probably as well. Overall, I could have done worse for an impromptu take-away meal.

We finished up and I left at 7 to walk home. It wasn't in the sunshine, but it was a great hour long stroll. I got home and took a shower (my feet were black on the bottom!) and Tod & I cooked dinner together. The meal we made wasn't quite what I had in mind and it wasn't quite what he had in mind, but it combined elements of both into something pretty tasty. Seasoned grain and steamed vegetables are certainly Food! I'll post the recipe separately.

Kasuga to Harajuku walk

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I am trying to make the most of the good weather between the rainy days in this early part of rainy season by getting out and walking. I know it will soon be more sodden and a lot hotter and I won't want to be moving around so much. So two of the last three days I have walked from home to Harajuku. It's about 90 minutes and just under 8 km.

The first 15 minutes from home to Iidabashi is a walk I make at least twice a week. It takes me though a formerly quaint neighborhood that has been ravaged by an 8 lane highway and a building project that ate an entire five blocks of housing. The building will be the tallest on in Bunkyo-ku and will block the view of Mt Fuji from the ward office. I am not a fan.

At Iidabashi, I walk along the Outer Moat down past Ichigaya Station to Yotsuya. If I walk on the canal side, with a view of the Chuo and Sobu lines across the canal, I am in Chiyoda-ku. If I walk on the building side of the street, I am in Shinjuku-ku. I prefer the tree-lined canal side as there aren't so many pedestrians so I can walk fast, and I like the shade. But sometimes it is too buggy over there and I walk on the building side of the street. I also have the option of crossing the canal and walking along a shady park path most of the way to Yotsuya. I usually don't do this unless I am with Tod.

At Yotsuya, I take the right fork towards the Akasaka Detached Palace. It is currently all covered in scaffolding and cloths, but usually the view of the palace through the black and gilt iron fence is quite regal. It's only a glimpse as I walk past and then I am on a green borderland. There is a stone wall and grassy embankment punctuated with guards posted at the palace gates, and various parks and planted buildings on the other side. The stretch of the road is a big dip so I get to walk downhill part of the way, then back uphill.

At the top of the hill, I am at the side of Jingu Gyoen. Although I'd like to be able to walk straight across the grassy park, I can't. I have to follow the road. The straightaway leading to Aoyama Itchome is lined with tall ginkgo trees. It's beautifully formal and upright.

It's quite a jolt to torn the corner onto Aoyama Dori. I'm back in the land of shopping and offices. From there, the route is new to me. The first day I walked it, I went straight down to Omotesando, then up to Harajuku. The route took me past all the insanely high-end shopping places and designer boutiques. The second time I walked this, I turned at Bell Commons and tried to thread my way through the back streets. But I didn't have a map, only a mental picture and I got lost! Not so lost that I missed my destination, but I was momentarily turned around and confused. Then I spied a streetside map and headed off in the right direction.

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Eat Food, Day 4

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Last night's debauch left me hungover this morning but my usual cure of a turmeric genki drink is out of bounds. I had to suffer on liquids and time to fix me up. Coffee and muesli didn't make a dent in it.

Lunch made me feel right. I met Yuka and we had soba. Hot salty broth, buckwheat noodles and lots of mushrooms gave my body what it needed, I guess, because after lunch I walked up to Kanda and met Tod, Ashley and Mason, who had just finished a sushi lunch. Sushi is about as Food as you can get and they were all very happy to have feasted.

Back at home, I finished the ningyo-yaki (seet bean filled cakes) that I picked up at Asakusa yesterday, and ha them with bitter green tea. It was a nice pick me up.

But by dinnertime, I was feeling beat. Late night drinking not gives me an achy head, it screws up my sleep. So instead of cooking dinner at home and eating healthy steamed veg and grains, we had dinner at Ampresso, our favorite little local Italian place. We did ok for ourselves, ordering the fresh vegetable salad with homemade dressing, garlic crumb-stuffed shiitake mushrooms, a pizza topped with basil and anchovies, and some pasta with Ito-san's incredible fried tomato cream sauce. Decadent!

So I think today was mostly Food. Tomorrow I will cook for myself and be absolutely certain.

Eat Food, Day 3

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Today I showed a visiting friend around town. It was great fun, but nearly everything I ate was in restaurants and on the run. I had two failures today, but overall, it was not so bad. We had tempura for lunch and watched the chef batter and fry everything in front of us.

Dinner was yakiniku (Korean BBQ) at Mon Cheri in Shinjuku. They make their own kimchi - I watched them mixing it up in the alley! Definitely Food and I ate lots of it.

I also drank lots, starting with Manhattans at a bar overlooking Tokyo. We had beer with dinner, then went to Araku for some Australian wine. Good thing booze is Food.

Here is what I ate, and when:

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The failures today: a throat lozenge after my Japanese lesson; a bottle of Pocari Sweat during a 90 minute walk (I had already had a bottle of water, but was still dehydrated).

Eat Food, Day 2

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Day 2 was failure free, as far as I know.

I spent most of the day at home, so eating Food was easy. Pretty much what is in the house is food. There are some snacks, but I am happy not to eat them now.

Tonight we went to dinner with friends, but it was to a place I am confident serves Food. Cafe Devi prides itself on fresh ingredients and spices. I think they are making Food. I ordered carefully regardless.

Breakfast was my typical one: several cups of coffee followed by Dorset Cereals muesli with soymilk. Lunch was leftover chickpea salad with some extra lettuce and green pepper. I had a snack of an apple and some almonds. A little bit later, I ate two rather stale whole wheat biscuits I made 3 days ago - not a brilliant choice.

Dinner was out with friends at Cafe Devi. They are all into doing fresh ingredients and spices, so I think everything I ate was real food. My great grandmother probably wouldn't have recognised Indian curry, but my friend Abhjit's great grandmother would have known most of these dishes: onion bahji, tandoori shimla, sag paneer, aloo ghobi, shrimp masala curry, rice, garlic naan.

Kasuga to Otemachi walk

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Yesterday I walked from home to Otemachi to meet Tod for lunch. I've done this many times and it is a lovely little stroll through diverse neighborhoods. Let me describe them to you.

The main street in Kasuga is Kasuga Dori, a busy four lane road. It was a pilgrim route to Kawagoe and it still leads there. Once I tried to walk there. Yesterday I turned my back on Kawagoe and headed down to Korakuen station and Tokyo Dome.

Within ten minutes of leaving my apartment, I reached a bright and cheery entertainment and shopping area. Tokyo Dome itself hosts baseball games and concerts. It is flanked by LaQua, a shopping mall with a hot spring, roller coaster, and Ferris wheel on its roof. On the other end of the Dome, Meets Port has an event hall and many restaurants. "Tokyo Dome City" is a man-made, marketed, commercial destination. I walked through it as quickly as I could.

At the end of Tokyo Dome City is the Suidobashi JR station and the more down-to-earth Jimbocho neighborhood. Jimbocho is famous for used books and sporting equipment. The buildings are a mix of low tenements and 20 year old highrises, but all of them have street front shops. It seems like about a third of them are bookstores, but there are all sorts of things to buy and great places to eat at reasonable prices, too. I like Jimbocho; it is a human-scaled place in a city that is sometimes overwhelmingly glittery or depressingly sterile.

But it doesn't take long to walk through Jimbocho and after skirting around some slow moving office ladies out for lunch, I turned east onto Kanda Keisatsu Dori. This strip is a broad street with bigger, taller buildings: a couple of schools, some minor corporate headquarters and the Kanda police station that names the street. Even though the buildings are blockier and larger than the ones in Jimbocho, the street feels sort of cozy. There are sculptures near several of the buildings and the cross streets are one-way. The street makes a good transition between Jimbocho and Otemachi.

Turning off Keisatsu Dori and crossing over the Kanda River (or is it the Nihombashi River at that point?) I reached Otemachi. This is where a lot of banking and business take place. Every building is a skyscraping office tower with a granite courtyard or a marble entranceway punctuated with a tree or two. It is modern and imposing and quite dull. I'm glad I don't work there anymore, but I am always happy to visit Tod for lunch.

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Tandoori Cauliflower

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tandoori-cauliflower.jpg

This looks worthy of center stage at Sunday dinner, doesn't it? There is nothing like an entire head of spicy cauliflower on a platter looking delicious and tasting so very wonderful. If you are cooking for two hungry vegetarians, one head will be enough. Any more people, though, and you might want to consider making two or three cauliflowers.

Tandoori Cauliflower
serves 2-4

1 medium cauliflower
1 cup yogurt
1.5 tsp coriander powder
1.5 tsp paprika
1 tsp cumin powder
1 tsp chili powder
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ginger
1/8 tsp fenugreek
1/8 tsp clove
1/8 tsp cardamom
1 clove garlic, minced or pressed
1 Tbsp oil

Drain the yogurt in cheesecloth for 30 minutes. Wash the cauliflower, trim leaves and stem, but leave whole. Steam cauliflower for about 10 minutes or until cooked but still firm. Drain well. And transfer to an oven-safe platter for cooking and serving, because you don't want to move it around too much after it is steamed. Mix yogurt, spices, salt, garlic and oil. Rub all over cauliflower, working into crevices and up underneath. Allow to marinate for at least an hour (longer is better). Bake at the highest heat your oven reaches for 5-10 minutes or until the marinade browns and bubbles.

Serve plain, or with onions sauteed with cumin seed and chilis as pictured above. Or make a basic curry for gravy.

Nutrition info: 375 calories for the whole thing! Also 19 g fat, 19 g protein, 37 g carbohydrates, and a full day's salt ration. You might want to cut back on the salt...

Eat Food, Day 1

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After several stressful weeks that caused me to indulge in junk food, I am coming to my senses. Stepping on the scale and seeing an additional 2 kg on my body was a good alarm. I need to be more careful. So for the next ten days, no junk food.:

  • No processed foods.
  • Only food my great grandmother would recognise.
  • Nothing in a package that has more than five ingredients.
  • Foods that are fresh, not "fresh made"
  • No food with chemicals or preservatives or fractionated food products.
  • Nothing bearing a health claim.

This will exclude most of the crap I've been allowing myself to eat lately and should be enough to jumpstart me back into better eating habits. I had them before and kept them a long time. When I am not lazily feeding my emotions, I do eat well. I love to cook and I want to eat fresh things.

Today I had lunch out with Tod at a place that makes Xi'an style ramen from scratch. Even though it was restaurant-prepared, it was definitely Food. I snacked on dried fruit and then made a really great dinner: tandoori cauliflower, chickpea salad and handmade chapati. My chapati are never round, but they taste OK anyway. The tandoori cauliflower was super excellent and I will post the recipe separately.

My one slip today was that I used tinned chickpeas as part of our dinner. I didn't realise that canned garbanzos contained calcium chloride, sodium sulfite and calcium disodium EDTA. I will be more careful about my assumptions tomorrow.

Post Office Test

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Today I mailed some parcels off to the US. Normally I fill in a customs form with the contents and value, but today there was a new version of the form and a lot more detail required. The postal worker hounded me for answers. How many in in there? Are you sure? What kind of books? How much do they weigh?

I can do the items & their value ok - or pretty close in any case. But the weight? How should I know? Do you know how much a rubber stamp weighs? Me neither. I don't even know how much the package weighs in total. Is a Customs inspector going to pull each item out and weigh it to make sure I was correct? Gosh.

Even value is a little bit tricky. What is the value of a sample wedding dress made of gingham? How about the value of the sewing instructions and pattern for the dress? I said $20 and $0 but I might as well have said $100 and $500. They don't really have value as such and yet they are rather priceless.

The Japan Post has a page of instructions on filling in the new CN22 customs form. They don't tell you how to weigh your articles or warn that the postal employee isn't going to let you write in anything vague or that doesn't add up to the correct total weight.

More security theater to pass on hassle to the people. Grrrrr.

Eat Food 10 Day Challenge

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There are a few hours left to sign up for my latest swap, the Eat Food 10 Day Challenge.
For ten days, the other swappers and I will be avoiding processed foods and journaling about it. I am hoping that this will help get me back on the healthy eating bandwagon. I've recently fallen off and find myself nibbling on too much junk food during the day, instead of eating lunch. During my ten days, I will keep a paper jounral to send to my partner, but will echo those writing here, as a record for myself.

Here's mostly everything you need to know about the swap. If you'd like to participate, click on the link at the end.

Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.

This is sage advice about how to eat healthily. It makes sense, but have you tried it? How about giving "eat food" a try for ten days and see what happens? While you're at it, keep a journal about the experience to send to your partner.

About EAT FOOD

What does "eat food" mean? Author Michael Pollan says this is about eating foods your great-grandmother would recognise. Avoid processed foods: foods with more than five ingredients; anything bearing a health claim; ingredients you can't pronounce (or additives, even if you can pronounce them); anything made with high fructose corn syrup; foods that are not perishable (like Twinkies).

Michael Pollan wrote the Omnivore's Dilemma and In Defense of Food, two books about sensible eating. He has a good (long) article in the NY Times called Unhappy Meals that lays out the fundamental principles of eating food, not too much, mostly plants. Skip to the second-to-last page for some advice about how.

About the CHALLENGE

For ten consecutive days of your choice before the end of the swap, strive to eat no processed foods. Cook from meals scratch. Love your food.

Keep a journal of your experience.

About the JOURNAL

Whatever notebook is handy will work, or you can use your computer to create your journal for print. I'd suggest at least one page per day.

You might want to explore some of these topics:

Why are you doing this challenge? What was it like to shop for food? Did it increase or decrease your food spending? How did "eating food" make you feel; did you notice any changes in your digestion, your skin, your mood? What do you normally eat? Did you have a triumph in the kitchen? Did you slip and eat some junk food? Did your family participate, too? What did they think of it?

Feel free to include grocery receipts, recipes, photos, or any ephemera that documents your 10 days.

This is an international swap. Swappers in good standing only, please.

http://www.swap-bot.com/swap/show/15502

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