Kumamoto Earthquake Releif

AAR Japan

There are many great places where you can donate to Japan’s Kumamoto Earthquake relief fund, including Yahoo Japan and Japanese Red Cross.

I donated through an organization called AAR Japan (Association for Aid and Relief, Japan). It’s a silly reason but I chose this organization because of its donation site’s ease of use. You don’t need to create an account and the entire process took me less than 3 minutes.

Go to http://www.aarjapan.gr.jp/
Click on the red “English” button on the upper right hand corner.

1. Enter the donation amount (in dollars)
2. Assign a destination. Type in “Kumamoto Earthquake.”
3. Hit the “Donate” button. You will be directed to a PayPal site … and voila! You’re done!

If you need any assistance with translating something from Japanese to English, or vice versa, please feel free to leave a comment on this post. I would love to help where I can!

Thank you for your generosity, as we come together to help those in need.

Sending Love to Japan

Today was a sad day for Japan. The Kumamoto Prefecture was struck by a 6.2 magnitude earthquake, which resulted in several casualties, with many sustaining injuries. Thousands have been displaced from their home to ensure safety. It was reported that this was the strongest quake since the Great Tohoku Earthquake that devastated the country in 2011.

I can’t help but to feel helpless during a natural disaster and other tragic event like this one, but I like to believe that even a small loving thought can set positivity in motion. I think tonight might be a good time to hug your family a little tighter or make that phone call to a friend you’ve been wanting to catch up with.

I’ll be praying for the safely of those who were affected by today’s event.

遠い場所からですが、皆さんの無事と、これ以上の被害が出ない事を祈っています。

Eating Ehomaki on Setsubun

I picked up a few Ehomaki (恵方巻き which translates to “lucky direction roll”) at Mitsuwa and ate them at home to celebrate a Japanese holiday called Setsubun (節分).

It’s a tradition to eat a giant hand roll sushi on February 3, facing the lucky direction.  The direction changes every year and this year was South South East (南南東) … I know, it’s SUPER strange but I’m all for a holiday that you celebrate over delicious food.

In addition to eating Ehomaki, you also do a thing called “mamemaki (豆まき)” as part of the celebration, where you throw a handful roasted soybeans outside the door while yelling “Demon out, Luck in.”  I skipped this part this year because I was out of soybeans.

I know — you can make these things up!

Happy New Year 2015

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The New Years Eve rituals continued at the Lavender and OLiVE household, starting with assembling the Osechi boxes on the New Year’s Eve at the in-law’s house. We started earlier this year at 9:00 a.m. instead of the usual noon so we could be home in time to prepare for the NYE party with our friends at home.

I took a bunch of photos this time around so I can compile them into one photo book for memory and record. Here are the photos and a short description of each dish:

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Kaki to Daikon no Namasu (柿と大根のなます):

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Matchstick daikon radish and persimmon marinated in vinegar.  This is a new menu added to Osechi this year, thanks to abundant crop of the fruit in grandmother’s backyard.

Renkon no Umezu Zuke (レンコンの梅酢漬け): 

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Thinly sliced lotus roots marinated in plum vinegar.

Kuri Kinton (栗きんとん):

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Mashed chestnuts and yam cooked in syrup, with chestnut on top.  It’s very similar to the Italian dessert, Monte Blanc, and very lovely.

Kawasagi no Nanbanzuke (かわさぎの南蛮漬け):

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Fried wakasagi marinated in sweet vinegar.

Tataki Gobo (たたきごぼう): 

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Pounded burdock roots cooked in dashi, soy sauce, mirin, and sugar.  Yes, as the name indicates, these poor little branch-looking burdock sticks are pounded with a rolling pin into submission, but don’t fret, they come back as delicious vegetable dish.

Kouhaku Namasu (紅白なます): 

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Shredded carrots and daikon radish marinated in sweet vinegar.  It’s very similar to the persimmon and daikon sunomono, but the vegetables are shredded much thinly than its red and white cousin.

Tazukuri (田作り): 

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Dried sardines cooked in soy sauce.

Koromame (黒豆):

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Another type of Kuromame (黒豆):

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Soy beans cooked in brown sugar.

Okara (おから):  This is my favorite dish in Osechi, and I don’t know the proper name of this dish!

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Okara mixed with marinated mackerel, radish, and carrots.  This is pure deliciousness.

Kikka (菊花):

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Chrysanths flower made out of radish.

Kouhaku Kamaboko (紅白かまぼこ):

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Red and white fish cakes.

Daikon to Samon no houshomaki (大根とサーモンの奉書巻き):

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Smoked salmon rolled in paper thin radish marinated in vinegar.

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There’s an art in packing each item in the ojyu, or Osechi box.

The top layer is called “ichi no jyu” and typically contains nerimono (fish cakes, etc.)

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The second layer, or “nino jyu,” contains seafood.

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The third layer, or “san no jyu” contains “nimono.”

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So, after we were done with Osechi packing, we headed home to prepare for the shabu shabu dinner party we were hosting. It has become a ritual for the four of us to enjoy shabu shabu on the NYE. Last year, we only make it to 10:00 p.m. before everyone passed out, but we actually make it past midnight this year!

I wish everyone a happy, healthy, and prosperous 2015!

How do Japanese Women stay so thin?

sampleIt’s not a myth but a fact that the majority of Japanese women (living in Japan, that is) are thin. Living in Japan and experiencing the way they live for two weeks, I figured out how they manage to maintain their svelte physique. I even lost three pounds doing it, although I probably gained it all back in the last two days … shucks. They eat three, small, nutritiously balanced meals regularly every day and walk everywhere. I think they strive to eat at least 30 different types of food daily. That’s all. These are few of the wisdoms I picked up in Japan.

Small Portion Forgives a Little Gluttony

This is a meal my mother, my aunt and I enjoyed at Muji’s downstairs cafeteria (equivalent of, say, the Ikea cafeteria) in Kyoto’s shopping district. When you order a four-item plate, you get a choice of two hot and two cold items. I ordered a mashed pumpkin salad and fish marinated in vinegar (cold) and pork and cabbage layers and salmon, daikon radish and mushroom in cream sauce (hot), with a side of 10 grain rice and corn soup. They are not low calorie foods, but small portions forgive a little gluttony and over indulgence.

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Quality Wins Everytime

My cousin Chiaki and her husband Toshio took me to this beautiful, tea house / restaurant / café in Kyoto and I devoured this roasted pork lunch set. It was served with a simple salad, a bowl of rice cooked in special kama (pot), and a bowl of miso soup on the side. The pork was one of the tenderest pieces of meat I’ve ever tasted. Even in small portion, your taste bud screams with satisfaction.

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Simple Flavor

Later that day, we stopped at this unique sweet shop on the way back from Kiyomizudera and had Kuzukiri, a special dessert in Kyoto. Kuzukiri is a gelatin dessert that you dip in molasses syrup like soba or udon noodles. It’s strange when you just read about it but it is absolutely divine. I look forward to this every time I’m in Kyoto.

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Small but Satisfying Portion

This is a lunch from a neighborhood coffee house called Teramachi. It’s in the middle of the shopping district in Kyoto, owned by a father-and-son duo. It specializes in selling special coffee beans and also serves lunch and dinner. Even though the entire meal is very satisfying, the portion is still considerably smaller than the ones served in the states.

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A Little Reward Doesn’t Hurt

However, they do indulge in a little decadent dessert once in a while. The key here is that these sweets are enjoyed occasionally, usually to celebrate something special.

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These things so simple and straightforward but why is it so difficult to incorporate this lifestyle back in the states?

Kinkakuji and Izakaya in Kyoto

kinkakujiMy mother and I were off to Kyoto for a much-needed relaxation. The last few days in Chiba required us to take care of some business and fulfill family obligation so we were definitely looking forward to spending the stress-free week in the cultural and culinary capitol of Japan. We stayed at my other aunt and uncle’s house (my mother’s sister), located in the middle of all the historical action of the city. It was very strange to walk on the streets of Kyoto and find Seven Eleven sitting right next to a 1,000-year-old castle!

Our fist stop was to visit Kinkakuji, a gold covered, pimped out temple built in 1397 known as “Golden Pavilion Temple.” I was still very young when I was here last so it gave me the different perspective and a greater appreciation for this breathtaking piece of history.

green-teaMy mother, my aunt and I stopped at a tea shop and enjoyed a real matcha tea at Kinkakuji. Unlike the green tea Frappacino many of us are accustomed to, the traditional kind is very rich and bitter which is why it is usually enjoyed with a small piece of Japanese sweet. It was a perfect place to enjoy the scenery (people-watching in Japan is so much fun!) and rest our tired feet from walking around the temple.

After we got home and rested a little more, the family took us to a neighborhood izakaya called Sou for dinner. It was a traditional izakaya, the Japanese style tapas that offer small individual dishes, but all the waiters were all young, modern and very good looking. But what took center stage this night was not the hot waiters but the wonderful conversation with sweet Aunt Shigeko and Uncle Toru, my lovely cousin Chiaki and her charming husband Toshio and my partner-in-crime mother. Food, however, was a close second. Just take a look!

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Appetizer

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The sashimi platter

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Crisp assorted tempura

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Eggplant dengaku (miso sauce)

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This is a dish called, “dobinmushi.”  Inside are incredibly aromatic matsutake mushrooms and other seasonal ingredients swimming in simple broth. You drink the broth and eat everything else.

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Egg filled with cooked anago (saltwater eel)

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Chicken karaage

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Rolled cabbage (ground beef wrapped in cabbage leaves, simmered in special ketchup-based sauce)

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All dinner ends with some kind of rice dish. This is how the rice came in!

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Rice with shirasu and umeboshi

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This is how it looks when served

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Rice with salmon

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Rice with salmon, with salmon roe on top

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Green tea ice cream with fried gyuhi (textured like mochi)

Minfi Shines Brighly in Japane’s Culinary World

minfi-appetizerOne thing I was most looking forward to on this trip to Japan was to finally visit the Chinese restaurant my uncle owns in Tokyo called, “Minfi (明輝).” The name of the restaurant loosely translates to “shines brightly” which, I found out, is also the name of the uncle’s younger brother.

My uncle, Meisei Sou (曽明星) (well, he’s actually my father’s cousin so he’s not really my “uncle” but I just refer to him as such because I can’t figure out what our official relationship is) is quite known in Japan’s culinary scene, most famous for beating Iron Chef Rokusaburo Michiba in 1995 in the original Iron Chef series with his now famous avocado shark fin soup.

But what’s more delicious than the artistic and exquisite Chinese dishes he serve (if it were possible) is the chef himself, who, despite his fame, is one of the most humble and charming individuals one would ever come across. There is no question as to why and how he earned the success he enjoys today.

Please enjoy the pictures of the beautiful French-inspired but authentically Chinese dishes I had the privilege of devouring. I’m not even going to bother explaining the flavor because no words will do the justice! (And please forgive for my lack of knowlege in Chinese cuisine … I don’t really know the real name of many of the dishes!)

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Tofu appetizer

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Perhaps the most famous dish here, the avocado shark fin soup

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Crab au gratin

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Scallop with tarako sauce, with tomato and potato at the bottom

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Soft shell crab

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Shrimp with chili sauce

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Beef filet stif fry

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Hot pot rice with vegetable

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Fluffy eggs with ankake

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Dessert

明星(Minfi/ミンフィ)
東京都港区芝浦4-12-39 (田町駅東口より徒歩7分)
★★★★★

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(By the way, do you think it’s okay to develop a total crush on your uncle without having to move to Alabama?!?)