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helenjp

eG Foodblog: Helenjp (teamed with Marlena) - The New Year's here -

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Marlena and I decided to put our blogs up separately, because we want to see lots of questions, and would hate to miss any. We offer round-the-clock coverage for your every quibble, query, or latent culinary quest, so please don't disappoint us - ask away about the foodlife you see in our blogs, or whatever hidden aspects of food culture you think we might be trying to keep hidden in the shadows outside the blog world (that's right, isn't it, Marlena? :biggrin: ).

I was wondering what to call this blog, when I realized that my husband's belly was all but telling me - the end of New Year in Japan is a blessed relief from a surfeit of BEANS and SWEET POTATOES!

Talking of surfeit...while the third day of New Year started much the same as the breakfasts described way back in my first blog 18 months ago, lunch was very "oshougatsu" (New Year).

On our way to my father and mother in law's, we picked up two trays of sushi and a tray of mixed fried hors d'oeuvres (and certainly out of the reckoning of most people's culinary oeuvres, I wouldn't want care to be named as the creator of a platter of deepfried pork with onion sauce, deepfried green bean and meat rolls, deepfried prawns, deepfried potatoes and sweet potatoes, and something flat and squarish which remained unidentified and uneaten to the last.)

The sushi, however, was good. The expensive sushi was plump, glossy squid, sea urchin, salmon roe, schnapper, and tuna. The cheaper sushi focused more on things like cucumber rolls and omelet. Here's son1 forcefeeding son2 with a cucumber roll, just to set the tone of the blog...

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Here's what was left when we remembered the camera...the paper plates and cups are a nod to my mother in law, who is getting a little senile and gets terribly confused about laying the table - better for us to bring EVERYTHING, and take EVERYTHING home.

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Here's my mother in law dishing up buta-jiru (a winter miso soup with root vegetables and pork in it). After some bad experiences, we never eat anything at her table that we haven't seen prepared - this soup was unaccountably sweet, but she was once an accomplished cook, and you can see how she reacted when asked to pose with her soup! She's standing by her 2-ring gas burner, the standard cooking equipment for any Japanese kitchen.

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On the way home, we went back to the supermarket, and spent about USD73 or GBP42...with two big boys, I count our food supply in hours rather than days! Here it all is - the 10% off pork scraps, the NZ lamb, the wieners, the nori (seaweed) squares, the bean sprouts, the snacks, the tea, the udon noodles, the rice, the mochi rice cakes, the hot dog rolls...any questions?

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Now here's the prep for tonight's dinner. Any idea what we're having?

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Edited by helenjp (log)

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Welcome Helen!

I feel like we're in dueling foodblogs, and i love the fact, as you state it, that you and i are here for 24-hour a day food quibbles, queries, questions and everything!

that is true! i'm here when i'm awake, and when i'm sleeping, there you are on the other side of the world, ready to dish it up!

mmmmm.....i smell potatoes roasting. i'd better get over to my side of the blog, so they don't burn.

i don't have a clue as for what you're having for dinner. i'd better just check in and find out. just for the record though: i LOVE udon, and as for lamb: oh those sheep, those talented sheep. they are adorable to look at and delicious as well.

x marlena


Marlena the spieler

www.marlenaspieler.com

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Oh, yum yum yum! I'm going to be having lots of fun between your blog and marlena's blog!

Why do you not eat anything at your MIL's table that you haven't seen prepared?

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Helen, this is going to be a lot of fun.

I haven't been to Japan since 1992, so I am looking forward to seeing how much it has changed since I was there.

Sushi is very popular in Israel. There is a sushi bar on every corner in Tel Aviv. In fact, there are two sushi bars on the same block near where I lived. There is a bar separating the two. I don't know how they both stay in business.

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Marlena, I'll also be enjoying checking your side of the blog, as this is a time of the year when we eat more "Japanese" than "western" food.

Mochihead, my mother in law has little appetite these days, and her awareness of what's what is a bit shaky, but every now and then she goes on a cooking spree...and the food either languishes in the fridge, or sits around in saucepans until somebody turns up to eat it.

My husband and I once politely ate some rice that we were both sure was off, wondering why the other one didn't speak up, and suffered horribly for our manners! :shock:

Michelle, there are somehow two separate thriving sushi outlets within the one supermarket here - we bought one tray from the upmarket one attached to the fish counter, and one from the cheap one attached to the deli counter. Supermarket sushi is of reasonable quality these days - though only in Japan.

I forgot to say that the shopping and the dinner prep are lying on our heated table (kotatsu). You can see the covering blanket - under that lies a thick quilt, and below that is the electric hot carpet! We not only eat all our meals there in winter, we rarely leave the kotatsu for any reason at all if we can help it - much cosier to prepare dinner there than in the kitchen, which easily drops to 8degC (46degF) and below if I turn the heating off for 30minutes.

Expect to become very familiar with our kotatsu during this blog. It's fairly big - but if you lie down to sleep in the kotatsu, please make sure your feet aren't in the face of the person opposite you; and if you accumulate more than 5 tangerine peels in front of you, you need to get up and carry them out to the kitchen, please!

I'm off to bed now - it's only 11:30pm, but I'm keeping holiday hours for a day or two more.

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Michelle, thanks to bird flu, swine flu, and BSE, sliced (shredded) lamb is one of the cheaper meats now. The pack that I bought cost JPY158 per 100g, works out about USD13-14 per kg, or GBP7 - 8. For premium trimmed cutlets, double that...

I used to be able to buy chicken and pork at about JPY100 per 100g, now I mostly have to pay about 20% more than that, and chicken wings or breasts at JPY70-80 per 100g are a rare find too.

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Wow. That's really pricey meat, not that I eat any land meats. But, wow! Is there anything foodwise in Japan that is cheaper to buy locally than in other parts of the world? I know Torakris had talked about rice being more expensive in Japan than in the US. We've also heard about the astronomical fruit and fish prices - but would that only be for premium supplies?

I can't imagine sitting at a heated dining table to eat - not when the weather doesn't get below 65 here. :) Are the kotatsu expensive to buy? Do they normally come with the home and are they standard within a Japanese household?

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Brr, I wish I had a kotatsu right now! I had lovely ozoni at another eG member's house on New Year's day, and I'm craving another bowl.

When you say that at this time of year you eat more Japanese food than Western food - are you from somewhere other than Japan, originally? I assume so, since your English is impeccable (with the exception of your totally lovable typo: schnapper). That really made me giggle!

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It's nice to see you blogging again, Helen.

On the way home, we went back to the supermarket, and spent about USD73 or GBP42...with two big boys, I count our food supply in hours rather than days! Here it all is - the 10% off pork scraps, the NZ lamb, the wieners, the nori (seaweed) squares, the bean sprouts, the snacks, the tea, the udon noodles, the rice, the mochi rice cakes, the hot dog rolls...any questions?
gallery_7941_3_75731.jpg

Wow, I can see a bag of rice, and that's koshihikari from Niigata! Did you go on a splurge because it's oshogatsu?? And the bag of rice cakes... I usually buy much cheaper ones. Who is going to have the Pocky? Does the konkun milk taste better than other brands?

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Helen, I am blown away by the price of groceries in Japan! I can plan on spending US$50 at my local supermarket and coming away with 4 bags!

What do your boys do for lunch on school days? What do they eat for breakfast?


Susan Fahning aka "snowangel"

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Mochihead, I guess I pay between USD7 - 14 per kg of meat - the lamb is at the top end of my "everyday" level of spending, and anything below USD10 per kg is a find.

Fish is flat out expensive. Sadly, dumping of caught fish in order to keep prices up is not unknown. We eat mostly what are known as "blue" fish in Japan - the oily fish such as sardines or mackerel, plus salted dried fish (these are not the same as Chinese salt fish, they are normally dipped in brine then dried in the wind).

Abra, I used the "schnapper" spelling for old times' sake! I'm from New Zealand, from what used to be a small village on the coast of the Manukau Harbour. We spelled "snapper" that way in Australia and New Zealand way back then, though not now, I notice. I can still get a bag of flounder for NZD5 there, though there are only a couple of commercial fishermen left now. The fishing and farming village on the outskirts of Auckland that I grew up in is now one of South Auckland's roughest suburbs, sadly. The good side of that is the booming Polynesian culture of South Auckland, which my family was heavily exposed to through our local church.

I've been living in Japan for over 15 years this time, and lived here as a student for 2-3 years at different times before that. We now live in Matsudo, which is a perfect match for Manukau in terms of general light industrial grimness, but also has an underlying culture of its own - it lies on the Edo River, and as the "do" part of the name tells us in Japanese, it was a river port serving the trade with Edo. Where I live in the northern part of Matsudo, there was an official waypost and inn on the Mito Road running from Edo out to Mito on the Pacific Coast of Ibaragi prefecture, and government runners and other travelers passed through here. The location is not by chance - the early Tokugawa shoguns of Edo razed all the castles near Edo that they could, to prevent opposition from building up, and the new Kogane-juku inn was built near the old castle and the surrounding Buddhist temples in the area, to keep an eye on local developments as well as speeding travelers to and from the Tokugawa Mito clan.

One might think that the area would therefore have its own special dishes and confectionery, but I have found no trace of such things so far. One reason is that this is not traditionally agricultural country - we live just where the low, rolling land meets the river valley swamps, not good rice land. In former times, most of the upland area was given over to the herds of wild horses that the shogun's own horses were drawn from. The shoguns used to come and "hunt" here...in other words, they sat on a dais set up in an enclosure, and watched people hunt game that had been previously released into the enclosure!

Hiroyuki, we got the Niigata rice because 1) I asked my husband to go and grab a bag while I lined up at the cash register, and 2) he said it was, oddly, cheaper than the other rice on offer - about JPY2200 for 5kg.

We usually buy Hokkaido milk, being a little cautious about buying milk from the area surrounding Tokyo. That's partly because of dioxin, partly because I feel suspicious about the amount of milk labeled "fresh milk" from these regions, vs. the actual total dairy herd count!

Those rice cakes don't contain mizu-ame - they have a much nicer texture. However, since my family thinks that "ozouni" means having 2 rice cakes in the soup, plus 4 more on the side, I think that I should look at cheaper options!

Snowangel, about 25% of that grocery bill went on rice. Of course, we DID come away with 4 bags - Japanese-sized bags, that is :raz: .

My sons currently have hot lunch at school. However, son2 will probably need packed lunch for 6 years starting this April, with son1 starting the packed lunch routine for 3 years starting next year. More of that later...

I went to bed with a thumping headache last night, and when I got up this morning, found my husband and sons had breakfast all organized - they had reheated the porridge (half and half steel cut oats and fine oatmeal) in the rice cooker, dished up some home-made yogurt, and grilled themselves some mochi (rice cakes) to serve with nori (laver seaweed sheets) and soy sauce.

Unfortunately, my camera is away for repairs until today, and son2's camerawork was a little shaky, so no breakfast photos, sorry.

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Back to last night's dinner: we had gyouza (chiao tzu, potstickers).

Here's my husband folding them - this is a job that the whole family often joins in, but my sons were (according to them) finishing their New Year's cleanout of their rooms. I've yet to see any evidence that the cleanout has even begun, meanwhile...

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I'll put a recipe in recipeGullet if there isn't one there, but if you scroll back up to yesterday's post, you'll see the ingredients: ground pork, dried shiitake mushrooms, bamboo shoot left over from New Year, Chinese chives (expensive and scrappy), negi dividing onion, ginger, and an old friend from my last blog, garlic pickled in miso. Normally I would use cabbage or Chinese cabbage, but chose a cheap bag of beansprouts instead. I used a little of the miso, plus salt, soy sauce, sake, a teaspoonful of sugar and a splash of vinegar (recommended by my Fukien friend). The seasonings and "fragrant vegetables) are mixed with the meat until it is very pasty, then I mix in the chopped beansprouts/cabbage, etc.

Here are the finished gyouza - this is the most usual way to cook them in Japan - fry on one side, then pour over water/sake, and steam briefly. Behind the electric griddle, you can see a bowl of soup - that's left-over ozouni, minus the mochi, and plus some extra root vegetables such as burdock and taro. At top left, you can see a small pottery jar of chili oil (raa-yu). I made about a liter of it at least 5 years ago, and fully expect that it could outlast me if allowed to, though it might lose a little savor.

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After dinner, the intrepid ate a monaka each (a thin wafer "package" filled with stiff bean-jam). Sorry about the photo, by the way.

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Then son1 disappeared upstairs to Skype his friend downcountry, update his blog, and fiddle with his server, while the rest of us watched a New Year concert of opera highlights on TV and nibbled tiny cookies from a well-known confectioner, Morozoff. A very old friend of mine sent them - and they are very much in keeping with her character and background - a famous but not trendy brand, from a maiden lady of a certain age who researches Coleridge but studiously ignores his rumored lifestyle!

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helenjp,

This will be a very interesting tag blog! My son(9) has had something of an obsession with Japanese culture and food since he was about six. In fact, tonight is his night to plan dinner and it is mostly Japanese.

For the sake of comparison, I would love to see pictures of both kitchens. And I'm intrigued the warm table and looking forward to reading more.


If only Jack Nicholson could have narrated my dinner, it would have been perfect.

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Fou de Basson, I'm looking forward to hearing how your son's dinner went. Son2's best friend and "star twin" (they share a birthday) has wanted to be a Japanese chef since he was in kindergarten. He hasn't changed his mind once in the 8 years or so since then...

I'll reveal all about the kotatsu later - with some photos of the structure. They are not expensive, in particular, ours is not expensive, just a bit bigger than usual. I'm glad it was cheap - otherwise I'd worry about the ink stains, the knife cuts, the heat blisters etc that already scar it!

Photos of kitchen...I'll do my best, but it will have to wait a few days - I've pulled out a lot of stuff, trying to streamline things so that it will be easier to get up before 6am this year to make breakfasts and lunches. And I'm still in the middle of the pre-New Year spring clean, too!

We're just munching a quick lunch of Japanese apples, raw ham, and string cheese, then walking over to pick up my camera - should take us an hour each way, with a donut stop as a special treat for my skinny, starch-loving husband. We'll take photos where we can, but many privately owned shops will be closed until around the weekend.

We get a 25lb box of apples delivered each month from late September through late February, a great source of winter snacks and breakfasts, and for the holidays we also bought a box of mikan (Japanese mandarin oranges).

Time to chase everybody into their coats and gloves - see you later!

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The correct pronunciation of that prefecture is ibaraki not ibaragi. Sorry for nitpicking :raz: . http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ibaraki_Prefecture

As a native Japanese, I didn't realize that a kotatsu could be topic of such great interest. We have one in our house, but we use it as a low table, with no covering. My wife sometimes says she misses a kotatsu and wants to use ours as a kotatsu, but every time she says so, I talk her out of it because I'd hate all the mess around the kotatsu. Besides, we have a powerful, commercial FF type kerosene fan heater. Who wants a kotatsu then?

Could you tell us a little bit more about the osechi ryori you had for oshogatsu?

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Behind the electric griddle, you can see a bowl of soup - that's left-over ozouni, minus the mochi, and plus some extra root vegetables such as burdock and taro.

I never thought about adding taro to ozoni. I'll have to add some to our leftovers - we have a whole pile of it in the fridge yet. Like Hiroyuki, I would love to hear more about your New Years foods and also any traditions that you keep for the New Years, aside from the cleaning, of course. :)

Fantastic looking gyoza!

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helen, your gyouza are beeee-youteefull. absolutely gorgeous.

now i'm going to get all asian-dumpling-y and won't be able to rest until i am whipping up a batch!

x marlena


Marlena the spieler

www.marlenaspieler.com

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Hiroyuki, I know it's Ibaraki on NHK...and on the maps...but round here, where the girls all refer to themselves as "ore" instead of "watashi", it's pronounced "Ibarrrrrraghhi"! :biggrin:

Tomorrow is the beginning of the "lesser cold" (shoukan) in the old Chinese calendar, and I have lots of food plans related to that.

However, tonight I am going to bed early - still fighting a migraine that started yesterday as I waved my brother-in-law goodbye - I think that's all part of New Year too!

While I languished, my husband made udon noodles for dinner, according to his patent method - bang it all in a pot, and boil it up! Never fails. He used most of the New Year kamaboko in it, reserving just a little for his first bento lunchbox of the year tomorrow. Looks like he also used some sliced chicken breast, komatsuna greens, very fine scallions, and a swag of mixed fungi that I had sitting in mirin (sweet sake) and soy sauce over New Year, for just such purposes.

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P.S. Sorry I am so uninteresting today, will make it up tomorrow, I promise!


Edited by helenjp (log)

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Hiroyuki, I know it's Ibaraki on NHK...and on the maps...but round here, where the girls all refer to themselves as "ore" instead of "watashi", it's pronounced "Ibarrrrrraghhi"! :biggrin:

Tomorrow is the beginning of the "lesser cold" (shoukan) in the old Chinese calendar, and I have lots of food plans related to that.

However, tonight I am going to bed early - still fighting a migraine that started yesterday as I waved my brother-in-law goodbye - I think that's all part of New Year too!

While I languished, my husband made udon noodles for dinner, according to his patent method - bang it all in a pot, and boil it up! Never fails. He used most of the New Year kamaboko in it, reserving just a little for his first bento lunchbox of the year tomorrow.

P.S. Sorry I am so uninteresting today, will make it up tomorrow, I promise!

What is Kamaboko?

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What is Kamaboko?

Kamaboko is basically a pureed fish paste. You can read more about it on this thread.

helenjp, please get some rest and speedy migraine recovery!

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I hope you're all recovered soon, Helen. I'm really interested in your blended-culture family, as I am in Torakris'. I notice that you eat a lot of dairy products, which is not something I associate with Japanese food. I aslo see that your husband cooks, another thing I don't think of Japanese husbands doing. I love to be wrong about such things!

I love taro, and gobo, and all sorts of fish paste cakes, so now I'm thinking of having a little extra ozouni here at home, even if it is a bit on the non-traditional side.

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What is Kamaboko?

Kamaboko is basically a pureed fish paste. You can read more about it on this thread.

At the risk of drifting slightly off-topic: could anybody tell me why kamaboko is always packaged on those little wooden boards? I'm assuming they're traditional, but I was wondering if they had a functional purpose.

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What is Kamaboko?

Kamaboko is basically a pureed fish paste. You can read more about it on this thread.

At the risk of drifting slightly off-topic: could anybody tell me why kamaboko is always packaged on those little wooden boards? I'm assuming they're traditional, but I was wondering if they had a functional purpose.

The primary purpose is to remove excess water in the steaming and cooling processes.

Helen:

As for ibaraki, I knew you were going to say something like that. :biggrin: How about this one: Akihabara or Akibahara? Akihabara! Some girls here also refer themselves as ore (not oRE but Ore) :shock: .

Could I have some pictures of Hondoji temple (also known as Ajisai Dera), the two pickle shops called Kuromonya and Akamonya on the approach to that temple, and the recent developments around Kita Kogane Station?? Do you remember that I lived in Matsudo more than a decade ago? I'd like to see how things have changed...

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