Thursday, November 27, 2014

Happy Thanksgiving to All!

In Japan, there is no Thanksgiving Day as we in the US and Canada know it.  There is an ancient late-autumn harvest festival called Niinamei-sai, still celebrated at Shinto shrines.  In 1948, when Japan adopted a new Constitution, significant gains were made in worker's rights.  To celebrate this, November 23, the day set for Niinamei-sai, was designated as Labor Day.  The current holiday as publicly celebrated focuses more on Labor and less on Niinamei-sai, but sometimes there is overlap.
Here in the US, we give thanks for the bounty of the harvest, and for family, friends, and for many of us, a long weekend!

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Old ways still work!

When I read, I enter different worlds.  There is a synergy involved as the words on the page create images and understanding in my mind.  It doesn't matter where I am, I can dive into a better place.  It's a totally different experience from watching film or listening to people talk.  I'm a much more active participant.

Give a child the gift of reading.  Get a free app for that device and give The Toki-Girl and the Sparrow-Boy for only $0.99 this holiday season.

I love the internet where my curiosity roams freely, I love the e-reader apps and the Kindle that allow me to carry hundreds of books in the palm of my hand.  The ease of research is mind-boggling.  But there is nothing that can replace a book.  Give your child a good one.  The Toki-Girl and the Sparrow-Boy await -- a new world for just $0.99.

These are modern colliers using a traditional oven to make charcoal.  So interesting!  Thank you, Internet!

Thursday, November 20, 2014


I am a huge fan of e-readers, because they give me lots of books in a tiny package!
Books open the door to the imagination, spark creativity, and tell deeper, broader stories than other mediums.  Books let you fly higher and adventure farther.
Add the capability of a computer to the e-reader, and journey by leaps and bounds anywhere in the world, wherever curiosity takes you.
Buy your child an e-reader!  Get that child an e-reader app for any device -- they are usually free.  Load that e-reader or app with The Toki-Girl and the Sparrow-Boy at only $0.99 and start a journey of learning and imagination that will never stop.

Coal and wood fires require chimneys to vent the smelly and noxious smoke.  Charcoal requires ventilation (as do all fires) to guard against carbon monoxide poisoning, but it doesn't require a chimney.  That's the main reason people preferred charcoal, besides it burning hotter and weighing less.  This image is a photograph run through a computer drawing program.  I love computers.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

No smoke, no smell!

Japanese people have used charcoal for millennia.  This may be why they skipped any bronze age and jumped right into iron!
Charcoal is made by partially burning wood in a low-oxygen environment.  This takes out most of the water and certain compounds that produce smoke.  Colliers are people who make charcoal.  There are several reasons to prefer charcoal to wood or coal.
Black charcoal -- kuro-zumi -- is heated at a relatively low temperature, then allowed to cool naturally before the heating chamber is breached and the charcoal extracted.  This charcoal burns very hot, hotter than wood, hot enough to smelt and forge iron.  It's soft, and it lights easily.  It's good for heating and general cooking, too.  There are special variants, like the kiku-zumi, that are made from a specific oak wood that produces a pretty pattern like a chrysanthemum when the finished charcoal is cut -- just right for a small brazier used for Cha-do, the classic Tea Ceremony.  Even today, colliers specialize in this lovely charcoal with a dedicated attention to detail.
White charcoal -- shiro-zume -- is heated at a low temperature until nearly done.  Then the temperature is cranked up until the wood is red hot.  At that point, the wood is pulled out and smothered with ash and sand to produce a smooth, hard charcoal that has a white coating from the ash, and is so hard it sounds metallic when tapped.  This charcoal burns a long time, and imparts a better flavor to grilled foods.  Binchotan charcoal, shown below, is prized by grill restaurants.
Remember, The Toki-Girl and the Sparrow-Boy is ON SALE at Amazon in the Kindle edition for only $.99!  Buying an e-reader or tablet for a child this holiday season?  Know a child who has one?  Give that child a book to captivate and motivate, and encourage reading -- for ONLY $.99.  Limited time -- act today!

Friday, November 14, 2014

The Toki-Girl and the Sparrow-Boy is ON SALE and SELLING FAST!

The Toki-Girl and the Sparrow-Boy is ON SALE in Kindle format at Amazon for just $.99!  This is a special holiday promotion, and people are sure taking advantage of it!  Sales have SOARED.

Buy the print edition, and get the Kindle Edition for FREE!

If you're buying a child an e-reader or tablet for any occasion in the near future, BUY THIS BOOK and give that child something wonderful to read at a very, very, very low price!


Now for the curry!

I cook by taste and ingredients, mostly, but this is a very free-form recipe.  The method is the same as is used for a basic white sauce or pan gravy.  It starts with what you have, and you add things until it's just right.

Chop onions (maybe two; white or yellow, regular or sweet) and garlic.  Put in a skillet with oil and cook over low to very low heat, stirring OFTEN, until all nicely caramelized, which means golden brown.  This takes a while, maybe 45 minutes to an hour, but you don't have to stand over it.
Stir in your curry spices.  A prepared curry powder is fine.  Try 2 T to start.  Stir this around for several minutes to take the raw edge off it.  While that is working, make your slurry.
Make a slurry of water or vegetable stock and cornstarch, or other non-wheat starch such as rice, potato or arrowroot.  You want the translucent look that these starches give.  Try a T of starch to a cup of liquid.  Stir that in, and up the heat until it comes just to a boil.  Back off the heat, and give a taste.
Adjust the seasonings, adding whatever you like.  More curry?  More of any given individual spice, like turmeric, cardamon,  black pepper, bell peppers, sweet peppers, hot peppers?  It won't take long until it tastes just right.  Adjust the liquid using more stock or water until it is the texture you like.

This is a basic sauce.  Pour it over rice and serve with red ginger and pickled garlic if you have them. Put crisp-tender cooked and warmed vegetables -- broccoli is a favorite of mine -- and/or prepared seitan, cooked tofu or hard-cooked eggs over the rice before adding the sauce.  Scallions, peanuts, currants and shredded coconut are Indian-style toppings.  A mango chutney is also excellent with this dish.

It's worth learning to make your own Japanese-style curry because it's easy and very, very good!

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

It starts with the rice.

I've started Book Two, and as I follow Azuki and Shota on their new adventures, I think about how they lived, what they ate, where they slept, and generally how people like them, ordinary people -- well, sort of -- lived from day to day.
This makes me homesick for things I love about Japan, and that often makes me hungry.
Japanese curry is in class of its own.  I love it, and generally get my curry fix at a friend's Bombay Bazaar cafe in Daikanyama (a very trendy and fun district of Tokyo), where the food is organic and there is a large vegetarian selection, but I also learned how to make my own.  I can find red pickled ginger in the US, but am having trouble finding the pickled garlic -- both served as condiments.  Next time, a package of pickled garlic comes back with me.
So -- want some Japanese curry?  It's good!
First you have to make rice.  Japanese everyday rice is a medium grain white rice.  I get organic rice grown in California.  Brown rice is becoming popular in Japan, as well as in the US, but whichever you prefer, be sure to get the right variety!  CalRose is probably the most common Japanese variety available in the US.  Measure out the quantity you want (it usually triples in size, but see what your rice cooker recommends) and wash it thoroughly until the water runs clear.   Place the drained rice in the rice cooker, and add water as indicated by the directions with the cooker.  The Taiwanese-American chef Ming Tsai -- his food is fantastic -- adds water to the first knuckle of his index finger above the rice.  That works very well when I don't feel like measuring.  Let the rice soak for at least half an hour.  After that, turn on the cooker, let it do its thing, and that's all there is to getting perfect Japanese rice every time.  With my cooker, I let the rice rest on warm for ten or fifteen minutes after the cooker clicks off, but that's because I like the crusty part that can form around the outside -- in many places, that part's a delicacy.
Here's the finished product.  Normally, a small amount of rice is used as a Buddhist altar offering in gratitude for food.  Being a highly practical people, after the offering ceremony is complete, the Japanese people I know return the rice to the cooker and eat it!

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

No nuts for you!

Croissant dough formed into a circle and fried -- what's not to like?
Well, it's not as good as it sounds, at least not to me.  OK, but not worth the raves.  I wonder how it would be in Japan, if this craze crosses the Pacific?
Bakers in Japan are experts at European pastry, but there is often a twist to make the result purely Japanese.  The twist often involves sweet red or white bean paste.  I like them both, but prefer the white because it tastes like chestnuts.
Maybe a filling of white bean paste?  And no glaze?
That sounds pretty good.
I like my pictures of this one, though.