Entering springtime is like getting to color again with bright lemon and blushing rose crayons. Stark tree branches now blossom with flowers. It’s a season of hope.
Perhaps the plethora of lemons used in spring baking, reflects the optimistic moods of recipe makers. Ironically, winter is the prime time for American lemon and its Japanese citrus cousin, yuzu. Italian lemons (specifically in the Sorrento region) are at their best in spring to late fall.
Whatever the season, I’m confident the Ninja Baker’s Easy Japanese Lemon Yuzu Bars will always...
Magic, mother’s love and memories are wrapped up in Betty Watkinson’s cranberry bread. Betty was my husband, David’s mom. Holidays for David, always involved Betty’s cranberry bread. Betty was a master baker. Every Friday, after school, she’d bake pies and cakes with her mother. (My husband’s grandmother.)
Sadly, soon after I met my mother-in-law, she had a stroke. Her mind was never the same. But Betty’s heart remained sweet.
On one visit, I popped a quick bread into the oven...
Japan springs into party and festival mode with the appearance of cherry blossoms. From mid-March to April’s end, national TV news concludes with a cherry blossom forecast. The climb of the pale petaled wonders from Japan’s subtropical Okinawa to the tippy top island of Hokkaido is announced. (Okinawans start their festivals in late January. Hokkaido farmers typically celebrate in late April or early May.)
Hirosaki Castle in Aomori hosts their annual famous festival between April 23rd and May 5th. (A hop and a jump across the Tsugaru Strait and you’re in Hokkaido.) Celebrating a centennial of cherry blossom festivals in 2017, the Hirosaki Festival will run until May 7th this year. This is sakura (cherry blossom in Japanese) enchantment at its best. You and the kidlets can row in the castle moat. In the evening, you can cuddle with your spouse as the cherry blossoms are illuminated. (Lights illumine the sakura during Tokyo’s Bokutei Festival, too.) The pale pinks and white petals blanketing Hirosaki Park are impressive, too.
Speaking of blankets, when sakura appear, Japanese flock ...
LA is a city buzzing with hip, slick and cool conversations and people. Imagine entering an ice cream store in LA that feels less like a fashion show and more like a place where friends go to hang out. A spot where scrumptious ice cream flavors evoke childhood. Isn’t it comforting to know that such an ice cream store exists? It’s called Salt & Straw. And there are three locations in Southern California. Kim Malek, the owner of Salt & Straw believed so strongly about creating community via ice cream that she cashed in her 401k, recruited her culinary wizard cousin, Tyler Malek and established Salt & Straw. All ingredients are locally sourced, organic and non-GMO. The ice cream menu changes with the seasons. (Similar to the Japanese aesthetic.) Owner, Kim Malek loves all the Salt & Straw flavors but is particularly fond of the Roasted Strawberry and Toasted White Chocolate. A bestseller year-round is Sea Salt and Caramel Ribbons. Love to hear which Salt & Straw flavor brings you back to the joy of childhood.
The vegan lifestyle is new in Japan; vegetarianism is not. Shojin ryori (精進料理) - the vegetarian diet of the Buddhist monks - has been around for centuries in Japan. Japanese cuisine (and markets) are conducive to vegan cooking. (Lots of lovely veggies.) If you are used to fancy vegan fare and need a kitchen, consider renting an apartment. If a microwave will do the trick, you can probably rent one. Budget travelers staying at the nationwide Toyoko Inns will generally find a microwave in the lobby area.
Trees naked of blossoms shivered under gray skies. The steaming hot Japanese nikuman meat buns were a great comfort. And wonderful hand warmers! Soft snow-white bread gave way to slightly spiced pork. Spring seemed an eternity away but the nikuman vanquished winter chills.
In Japan, you know it’s winter when nikuman meat buns appear. Steaming up glass cases are the plump Japanese buns. (There are also buns stuffed with sweet red bean paste, which are scrumptious, too.) Nikuman are basically the Japanese cousin to the Chinese bao.
Seeing snow in Tokyo is rare. (Travel north towards Hokkaido and it’s another story.) As a child happily home from school, I’d turn on the oven. Soon bread was baking.
Currently, I’m In Southern California. Not too much snow. With the perpetual sunshine I’m out a lot. Time is a precious commodity. With a can of Pillsbury Grands, I created timesaving, easy-to-make Japanese nikuman meat buns.
The buns are delicious. The filling I created with chicken meatballs is surprisingly almost identical to Japanese nikuman. The bread shell is not quite as soft as the Japanese bread. Still, the trade off for time is well worth it. If you’re a bread maestro...
St. Patrick’s Day always brings back fond memories of Boston. One of the largest populations of Irish is in Boston, MA. The luck o’ the Irish has it that Boston is also home to one of the biggest St. Patrick’s Day parades.
Fun fact: Every year my hometown of Tokyo’s St. Patrick’s parade grows larger and more popular, too.
Summers with my mom in Massachusetts were so different from Tokyo where I spent the school year with my father and stepmother. Hot dogs, scrambled eggs and noodle dishes were the dish du jour at Mom’s. Her talents won her tennis trophies from Wimbledon and around the world. Blue ribbons for her culinary skills were never seen. I didn’t mind. Even in Japan, my go-to was ramen noodles if my Dad and stepmother went on date night.
Fun fact: Japanese ramen noodles were more expensive than soba noodles served in restaurants. In 1958, ramen were a luxury item!
Nestled in the mountains of Mie Prefecture is Iga Ueno: Home to Japan’s famed ninja. Iga Ueno ninja alongside Shiga Prefecture’s Koga ninja (in Koka) were said to be the stealthiest. Mission impossible? Samurai summoned the Iga ninja and the Koga ninja.
Arriving at the isolated Ninja Park in Iga Ueno, I wondered if real ninja were hiding. The mountainous town is a trek from Tokyo. Transportation time depends on which trains you catch. Our journey to the ninja town took under two hours. (Thanks to our Japan Rail Pass.) The return from fun with the ninjas, took about 3. However, I’d do it all over again. Yes, the ninja experience was amazing. But, also, the scenery outside the local train was breathtaking. A rushing river sang to the trees and rocks.
Defying the evening mist, Kyoto’s Fushimi Inari Shrine stands proud. A blaze of vermilion torii gates parade up a steep slope. Fox statues stare at you. The twisty trail takes you to a breathtaking mountaintop view. A fairyland of lights twinkle magic.
Many an atheist may have become believers at Fushimi Inari Jinja. (Shrine in Japanese is jinja.) Besides the majestic beauty, the magic is almost palpable. Maybe that’s due to the prayers of the faithful. Or perhaps Inari, Japanese Shinto god of the harvest, blesses the shrine grounds. Could it be the fox statues – messengers of Inari, god of the harvest – come to life and actually deliver good news?
40,000 shrines are dedicated to Inari, the deity of the rice harvest. Fushimi Inari was built in 711 AD as the headquarters. The harvest is, of course, important. But a harvest blessing has blossomed into a metaphor for prosperity. How does one get to a life of riches? In Japan, entrance into an Ivy League university paves the path to success. Entrance exams results are important. So, one of the sub-shrines at Fushimi Inari is dedicated to the deity who helps students. The proper method to make the gods hear your prayers at Shinto shrines is in the short YouTube below.
Cooking Japanese food for a Jersey boy can be challenging. No azuki bean paste. Definitely no dried squid. Classic American chicken and rib roasts were standard fare in my husband, David’s childhood. Fish was the primary protein during my upbringing in Tokyo. Once in a while Japanese tsukune chicken meatballs were served. Familiar flavors of scallions, soy sauce, ginger and garlic accented the Japanese chicken meatballs.
Fellow ASIJ (American School in Japan) teens also munched on the meatballs alongside illegal beers! (Japanese restaurants are stricter in the millennium about serving only to those who are adults.) After an ASIJ basketball game or theatre rehearsal, we’d go to a yakitori or ramen shop. (Yakitori are bits of chicken skewered on a skinny stick. Think Japanese shish kebab.) Japanese tsukune chicken meatballs are often served at yakitori restaurants.