Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Japanese Comfort Foods

So, when you think of Japanese food, what do you think of?  The sushi chef with the hachimaki around his forehead, thinly slicing fish and slapping it on pats of rice with a "Hai!"?

Sushi, while the most famous of Japanese foods, is in most cases not a daily food.  You are much more likely to dig into broiled fish, vegetables, maybe a pot of curry.  I love the cooked spinach here, which is doubly surprising, since I despise boiled spinach in the States.  But add some soy sauce, some sesame oil and fresh sesame seeds, and it's a whole other critter.

My kids favorite meal is nikujaga (literally meat and potatoes), a real winter comfort food.  It's a very simple meal to make, why not try this one night?

Take 1 lb of thinly sliced meat (you could substitute hamburger in a pinch) and brown it in a deep pan.
Add 2 onions, sliced into thin wedges, 2 chopped carrots, and 4 or 5 peeled, chopped potatoes.
Pour 3 cups of water in and bring it to a boil, then simmer for 5 or 10 minutes.  Skim off any fat or foam that forms.
Mix up the following sauce, then pour it over the top of the vegetables:  3 T sugar, 3 T mirin (a very sweet sake for cooking - if you can't find it, you can substitute regular sake or cooking sherry, plus 2 more T of sugar), and 6 T soy sauce.
Cover and simmer at very low heat for about an hour, then let some of the water boil off and it's done.

 Stir it carefully (the potatoes will be falling apart), and you'll have a mildly sweet and sour stew which you can eat with white rice or a baguette, maybe a salad or miso soup on the side.

If you try this, please let me know how it goes.  Feel free to add anything that appeals to you, like peas, snap peas or shallots.

1lb beef or pork, thinly sliced or shaved
2 large onions, wedged into 16ths
2 large carrots, randomly chopped into roughly 1-inch segments
4 or 5 potatoes, peeled and cut into large bite-sized pieces
2 or 3 c water
3 T sugar
3 T mirin (you can substitute cooking sherry and sugar, but the mirin has a much richer taste)
6 T soy sauce

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Something Wicked This Way Comes

Halloween rapidly approaches, and Japanese monsters are on the prowl.  Or at least the Cutie Honey, pretty witch and princesses are.

In the 20+ years I've been here, Halloween has gone from a virtually unknown holiday with strange gaijin in costumes on the train, to what is rapidly approaching mainstream status, even to the point of being printed on calendars.

One of my students, a 3-yr-old girl, was so excited at getting her new costume that she wore it to class.  On October 2nd....

And Japanese retailers love the holiday.  You can get Halloween versions of virtually every snack, even ones you wouldn't normally associate with Halloween, like seaweed-flavored potato chips.  The 100-yen stores carry all kinds of decorations and costumes (her costume above came from one), there are even events at malls.

The local mall asked me to bring some students for an event yesterday, where the kids played Monster Bingo, then paraded around giving snacks to the customers.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Your Feet Are How Big, Exactly?

I was a late bloomer, continuing to grow into my early 20's; I stand 180, and my feet are now about size 28.  I curl 28 plus the bar, but my bum knee won't let me squat more than 105.
I could tell you my weight, but then I'd have to kill you (don't worry, I'd have to catch you first...)

Now the Aussies, Kiwis and Brits out there are thinking "So what?"  So are the people from every other country on Earth except the US.

That's because we Americans are imperialists, baby!

I'm not talking about the land-grabbing, resource-gobbling kind of imperialist, I'm talking cups, pounds and inches.  We Americans learn the metric system in junior high or high school, and then promptly forget it, other than in science class.

It's such a simple little thing, really, but something most people (including me) don't think about until they have to deal with it on an everyday basis:  if you want to live in any country other than the US, you'll need to brush up on your metrics.

Grams and kilograms instead of ounces and pounds, meters and centimeters instead of feet and inches, Celsius instead of Fahrenheit.  While spoons and tablespoons have the same volume, an American cup is 240ml, but the Japanese one is only 200ml.  And if you buy Betty Crocker or other American boxed cake mixes, they're probably produced in Australian factories, where the cup is 250ml and the tablespoon is 33% larger (I made a couple of real hockey pucks before I clued into that fact).  My US XXL and XXXL shirts are 6L or 7L here, and too damned short.

Ready to try a little practice with me?

1) As I said, I'm just a smidgen over 180 cm tall.
2) I wear a size 28 shoe.
3) I paid 144 yen per liter for 61.5 liters of gas today.  And my Alphard only gets 8km/l.
4) Winds reached 45 m/s when the typhoon gave us a near miss last week.
5) It was 27 degrees today.
6) My dog weighs 11.5 kg.


1) 5' 11" (and that missing inch was the bane of my college experience!)
2) For men, basically subtract 19 (they're on the narrow side, though)
3) $6.83/gal - (¥144 x $1/¥78) per 1 liter x 3.7 liter per gal = $6.83/gal x 16.6 gal = $113.38
     The car gets 8km/liter x 1 mi/1.6km x 3.7 liter/gal = 18.5 mi/gal
4) 101.3 mi/hr - 45 m/s x 1mi/1600m x 3600s/hr = 101.3 mi/hr
5) 80F - (27C x 1.8) + 32 = 80F
6) 25 lbs 5 oz - 11.5 kg x 2.2 lb/kg

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Another Brain Fart

Wow, I just had another one of those mental disconnects that hit periodically, when something doesn't quite fit, but it takes forever to figure out what's wrong.

My wife and I have been shopping and we stopped at a KFC for lunch.  The food was good, but something just didn't feel right.

Went to the bathroom and listened to the background music clearly (nothing else I want to listen to in there, you know?). And it was Luke Bryan, singing about how "rain is a good thang".  Then that was followed by some Lee Ann Rimes to totally dislocate my sense of reality.  A bit of "Sheldon vs the brussel sprouts".

Now they followed that with some Rod Stewart, leading me directly to "Leonard's Land of Lactose Intolerance of the Mind"...