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I Ate Crab Brains

I ate crab brains.BLEGH.A promise I made comes back to haunt me far too often – this year I will eat more traditional Japanese foods.Enkais are work dinner parties held in Japanese pubs or restaurants usually after key events. An opportunity for staff to drink and relax together, celebrating the success of an event or hard work, everyone indulges in gourmet food and alcohol. These are very popular events.So crab brains… What do they taste like? How about we take a look at the whole menu first. I've tried to include the Japanese names for the dishes as best I can. A colleague told me about each dish as we ate them. Well, as she ate them, and ate mine too.Keep in mind that I received a ‘special’ version of the menu in that they boiled all of my food so that it wasn’t raw. Mmm plain boiled seafood, my absolute fave… The thought was endearing though.Place setting upon arrival.Seafood egg custard. Wobble wobble. I've had other versions of this sevred in small dishes and called 'chawan mushi'. Some of them are nice, I've learnt to try them.Crab, squid, and bean curd. All the other diners received sashimi, but my serving was boiled. Mmm chewy.It just kept getting better and better! Snap! Render the head from the body. Slowly, glide the poop shoot out. If I wanted to clean and shell my food, wouldn’t I have cooked dinner at home? The stuffed shell is a very popular dish in Imabari near the sea here, called ‘sazae tsuboyaki’. Go on, dig on into it with the twiggy stick provided.Sorry, this dish deserves an extra photo. Look at the expressions on their faces haha – abject misery!Substance! Biting into this fish felt like a solid, satisfying, mouthful. This is white fish and tofu served with negi (green onions). The flavour of this dish was delicious – yes I ate it. I enjoy cooked fish, it is the texture of raw foods that I struggle with. ‘Yakibidashi’ is grilled foods, served in cold ‘dashi’ which is a flavoursome broth. Cold dishes are often served in warmer weather.Yum? I wouldn’t know, would I. How do you even eat this? It looks like a lot of work and I think my fingers would smell fishy… Please correct me if I’m missing the best dining experience ever.Crunchy… Is it only me that thinks this looks like somewhat of a health hazard? I ate all the other tempura though. I adore tempura! This little guy is called ‘honesenbei‘ which roughly translates to ‘bone crackers’. According to my coworker it is a snack hugely popular with men because this dish compliments sake.Of course the other diners had fish topping their sushi. The staff were so kind at this venue and used meat and bean curd to top mine instead.Fruit is so expensive in Japan that yes, it classifies as a dessert even at a fancy restaurant. I must say it was very delicious fruit though. Serving it with small Japanese sweets was perfect.Ok, crab brains. I want to throw up as I write this – sometimes it is not exclusively brain. It can be all the leftovers, a mishmash of the innards after the flesh has been removed.Well… I thought it looked like baby poop and tasted like chalky green tea. When I voiced my opinion it nearly caused a riot and there were a whole lot of adamant ‘Stop calling it baby poop!’ demands thrown my way. Note to self, do not insult the delicacy. It was really powdery in texture and the flavour was not too strong. ‘Kanimiso’, literally ‘crab brains’ can only be eaten fresh and as such is a little rare. Served in the shell, kanimiso is usually accompanied with a small jug of sake. Pour the sake into the shell, mix with the crab brains and enjoy.Don’t worry, I washed that muck down with some nihonshu. Mmm fruity. Apparently the bottle was slightly rare and had a price tag to match.When I came home and told my husband, he said ‘I didn’t think crabs had brains… Don’t they just have a membrane sort of thing?’ That is either possibly the dumbest thing he has ever said to me, crabs are living things so they must have some kind of brain to function right? Or something got lost in translation at the dinner table and I have no idea what I ate. Wait, is it jellyfish that don’t have brains?My husband knows me well though. When I got home he had two glorious bowls of cheese gyudon ready and waiting for me. Gyudon is rice, topped with simmered beef and onions in a Japanese sauce. There are many topping variations – cheese is my favourite!Yes, two – have I mentioned that I eat a lot? Dessert was magical, he conjured up fudge brownies and donuts. Night salvaged.Crab brain is probably the most unusual thing I have eaten. Now I am curious, what is yours?{ Ashes }

Turning Japanese : The Interview

So, my husband and our children are going through the long process of becoming Japanese citizens. Tuesday, we finished everything on our part and now all that is left is to  wait. But getting to this point has been strenuous. Perhaps later, I will write about the paperwork that needed to be collected and those steps, but this time I'd like to talk about the interview. It is the last thing to do once the caseworker has all of the information before they start processing everything. After everything in with the caseworker, and everything was checked , double-checked, and stray documents sent in, my husband received a phone call for his appointment time. Our family took the hour and a half car ride out to the office, and arrived exactly on time.First, my husband was brought back to a different room, and the kids and i hung out in the waiting area, not really knowing how long it would take. With three antsy and nervous kids, it was a pretty stressful wait, and there wasn't really a space for children. Then it was my turn. So here are some of the questions I was asked in my interview.Why am I not applying for citizenship, only my husband and children?When did my husband and I meet?When did we move in together?When did we get married? When did we get engaged?How did we meet?Why did I marry my husband?If you notice, most all of the questions are just to create a timeline. My questioning lasted only about 15 minutes. However, I am not the one applying for citizenship. My husband's interview, which was just before mine, lasted over an hour, and he was basically asked the same questions as I was, except way more. He was also asked when and why he moved, every single time he had moved in Japan. If you have lived here as long as he has, that really adds up. My husband is also divorced and because we are wanting his two daughters from that marriage to be naturalized as well, it's added a complicated bump in the process. His ex-wife had to be interviewed. Her cooperation was also the biggest hurdle in obtaining all the necessary paperwork. But she was interviewed as well and now it is a matter of waiting. Hoping everything went well, and from now goes well, it will be just a few more months before we know the results.

Coping with Less is More

The minimalist movement must have originated in Japan, where the concepts of zen, ma and wabi-sabi are very apparent in most aspects of life here, most notably architecture, interior design, packaging, flower arrangements and cuisine.  Famous Japanese minimalists such as Marie Kondo, Tadao Ando, Oki Sato and many more are also recognized for their work and contributions to make this world a more acceptable living space.Whether it is Influenced by Zen Buddhism, tiny homes, a necessity to keep little in case of earthquakes or going against a over indulgent consumerist society, more and more peole are letting go of their materialistic burdens to create an aesthetically cleaner (or empty) living space, to declutter their minds and have a deeper appreciation for things.Being someone with serious OCD, I am all for being minimal.  I want to see space in my house, so I feel I can breath.   Our move to Japan must have triggered my passion for lesser belongings.   When we moved here, we threw and gave away a bulk of our belongings, just so that we can fit into a smaller living space. When we had settled down, I had to again purge more stuff to make our home livable.  Gradually, purging and decluttering has become a habit for me.  I now find myself going through my belongings on a very regular basis to try and fish out what I haven't used, don't really need or feel nothing for and try to sell, give and throw way.   After a purging exercise, I feel great but that euphoria only lasts me a few days, and I feel uneasy again...The problem I am facing is that It is really difficult to let go! Despite my very frequent purging exercise, I spend more time deliberating whether I should ditch something than I actually declutter. While researching, I was super motivated by Marie Kondo's philosophy of "if you don't feel for it, let it go" but quite frankly, it's quite difficult to decide if I really don't feel for something or I do kind of feel a little for it, sometimes.  The other question is about wastage.  When I purge, a bulk of the things becomes waste.  I feel guilt about this waste, number one for the financial aspect of it; next, for the opportunity cost of this waste.  Aren't we already running really low on natural resources?  By ditching stuff I don't want or need, I must be scoring high on being environmentally unfriendly.   If owning less is helping the environment, then how do I explain having to ditch more?  It's really a catch 22.So I always wonder how do people cope with decluttering here?  Or if they even consider it important?  How about those with multiple kids/generations, where do they store all their hand me downs?  What happens after Christmas and birthdays?  How do they achieve an equilibrium in the amount of things that they own and use?  How can you minimalize waste?I also wonder if to achieve a minimalistic lifestyle, it's is just a matter of owning less or is it something deeper?  Is it an advanced form of self control that I am so flawed in, which render me unsuccessful no matter how many times I try?Until I figure it out  I will have to continue with my mini purges and struggle with the profound questions of whether or how much I feel for things.

Seasonal and Local Foods in Japan

旬 Shun, or season, is used to refer to foods being best in their season. I love seasonal and local foods in Japan! If you're lucky enough to live in a part of Japan famous for one of your favorite foods, you can enjoy it in everything from cheap dagashi to high end ryokan dishes. I want to focus on the seasonal flavors we can find in snacks or sweets like senbei or ice cream. If it says Seasonal Limited Edition (季節限定) on it, sounds good to me.Maybe a nice way to look at this is by season? Let's start with spring, as it's right around the corner!(Has anyone tried one of these? Tempting, but they're SO expensive, right?!)First off, I think of sakura when I think of spring flavors. The cherry blossom is the symbol of things which only last a while, the sort of bittersweet, short spring season, when everything is ending and beginning again. It makes perfect sense to flavor limited edition foods with sakura flavor. Sakura is different from cherry flavor, although it is often confused as it's a cherry blossom. The delicate flavor is used to flavor everything from ice cream to rice balls in spring, and the blossoms are even pickled to place on top of high end custards and other desserts, just to look pretty. Prepared cherry leaves are also used to wrap some sweets, or sold as a powder, although I've heard the taste isn't that great. Another popular spring flavor is strawberry, especially here in Fukuoka prefecture (where we have amaou strawberries) and in Tochigi prefecture. Starting in winter, strawberry is one of my favorite flavors for can chu-hi and crunchy snacks – I've tried strawberry Cheetos, Pocky, and Tohato corn snacks. The strawberry is the perfect red winter fruit for decorating both Christmas cakes and Valentine treats, but is grown in 'vinyl houses' for that purpose and naturally ripens around late spring in June. For that reason, we can enjoy strawberries for a longer period, although they start to get cheaper as it gets warmer out. Ume fruits are collected in spring before they ripen. They aren't eaten as fruits because they are toxic in their unripened state, but instead are used to make into umeboshi, umezu, and umeshu, usually enjoyed after some time during the summer. I've been enjoying umeboshi flavored senbei when I can find them, so ume is not limited to use for sweet or sour foods. Umeboshi is a little more popular during spring, probably because of it's pinkish color (which is actually from using red shiso in the pickling process). What a lot of people might not know is that in late spring or early summer, green tea is in season. The most popular regions for green tea are Kansai area Uji, near Kyoto, and Yame in Fukuoka prefecture. I'm excited to try tea picking this year, but also looking forward to eating lots of Yame-cha flavored foods. Green tea ice cream or soft serve is probably my favorite flavor, and I usually stick with the Super Cup brand. I've tried a Yame-cha Monako ice cream and the flavor was amazing. The locally made Yame-cha Shirokuma (ice cream bar, see photo below) wasn't nearly as nice. (sakura, Fukuoka amaou strawberry, and chestnut flavors) In summer there are more fruits readily in season so of course we can find peach, watermelon, grape, mango, and Japanese pear flavors. As it's kakigori and ice cream season, a lot of the seasonal foods are used to flavor our frozen treats. Miyazaki prefecture is famous for their mangoes and I'm looking forward to visit there and try them when I get a chance. Check out the limited edition concentrated Calpis flavors available in addition to local kakigori and ice cream shops that use seasonal flavors. Peanuts are harvested in late summer or fall, so if you live in or near Chiba prefecture, you can enjoy their local food, boiled peanuts, as well as lots of flavored coated peanut snacks. These are so nice with a drink. Fall is my favorite season, and the food available during fall is one of the reasons. First off I think of kuri (chestnuts)! Fun to collect if we can find them and cook ourselves, these are everywhere in fall and on desserts like Mont Blanc (see photo below) all year in candied form. Last fall we often got the Super Cup 'Maron' seasonal flavor, and I was so sad when they stopped selling it. A super popular fall food, sometimes available all year, is yaki-imo. Kyushu is known for purple sweet potatoes, and I used to love them as a kid, but unfortunately have an allergy to any sweet potatoes now. The sweet potato flavors lots of sweets as it's naturally sweet, but is also used often for savory and salty snacks, like sweet potato chips/crisps. Another sweet fall vegetable is kabocha, or Japanese pumpkins. There are tons of ways to cook pumpkin and use all of the vegetable, including it's seeds and skin, and it's quite popular. Kabocha chips are so nice but this one is also often used for sweets like tarts or ice creams. Mmmm. Winter season would have to be a mochi and azuki flavored season, with roasted soybean flour or kinako thrown in. As there isn't much growing, the popular flavors are foods which are harvested in fall then processed for lasting through the winter. Oshiruko is so yummy on a cold day, so of course we can also find snacks with the same flavors. If you haven't tried kinako mochi, I recommend that as well – either homemade by boiling mochi to soften it then adding kinako and sugar, or in the snack form. The packaged snack kinako mochi literally melts in your mouth it's so nice. Tirol also makes a kinako mochi 'chocolate' (see photo below) that's really good. Of course these foods can be eaten all year, and the first time I experienced kinako, it was in spring in the form of a kinako sauce dipped mochi kinako ice bar. I was smitten since then and enjoy kinako on my kakigori too. Winter is also the season for citrus fruits, so mikan and yuzu flavors frequently pop up at this time. There are so many other citrus fruits, depending on where in Japan you are. Kinkan, or kumquat, is one that's popular, like grapefruit, although they are usually grown in warmer regions. Locally grown kiwi becomes ripe during winter, and don't forget about the amazing apples northern Honshu is famous for. If you live in Japan, what are the local seasonal flavors your area is famous for? Hopefully they're foods you like and can buy in the form of omiyage to share with family when you visit.

Perfect Japanese Karaage { から揚げ }

Make this karaage. Even your Japanese MIL will love it. It's THAT GOOD. Promise.(To be clear, I promise that it's delicious, not that your MIL will like it, or you...)I spent my first year in Japan trying to recreate dishes from Australia as I best I could with the ingredients and utensils available in Japan. This year, I am making an effort to embrace Japanese cooking and it’s a lot of fun! One of the first things I learnt to make was karaage, Japanese fried chicken. Karaage is available everywhere. At convenience stores, restaurants, markets, cafes, you can always count on karaage as a safe option for fussy eaters (like me!).Karaage is a popular dish in home cooking too. The ingredients are affordable, and the chicken pieces are a good size and last well for lunch the next day. Well, when I say ‘last well’ I mean they are just as delicious the next day – I can’t promise that there will be leftovers…A lot of recipes are overly complicated, with extra ingredients and preparation time. My recipe is as simple as I could make it. My husband says it’s his favourite karaage! That boy has eaten a lot of karaage. We spent three years living in Imabari, a town famous for chicken.Honestly, this recipe is so easy and tasty, you should definitely make it. Be sure to make a lot because it’s too easy to eat it all. You’ll find yourself breaking into the container of leftovers and snacking on them cold. Perhaps try my sisters trick – wrap them in foil and shove them to the back of the fridge – though I don’t know if that is as effective at hiding them from yourself as it is from hungry siblings who ignore such a nondescript bundle. Good luck!JAPANESE KARAAGE RECIPEINGREDIENTS:The quantity of ingredients is for 1 cup of cubed chicken. If you use two or three cups of chicken, simply double or triple the recipe.Chicken Breast – 1 cup Potato Starch – 1/2 cupVegetable Oil – to fill an inch in your saucepanSoy Sauce – 1/2 tablespoonGinger – 1 teaspoonGarlic – 1 teaspoonChicken Stock Cube – 1 cubeServing:Salt & PepperLemonIf you're making this outside of Japan, you can try to substitute potato starch with corn starch but it will change the texture of your karaage batter. This is an example of what to look for in the supermarket if it's your first time searching for potato starch. The brand isn't important, just look for the three main kanji. METHOD:Finely grate the garlic and ginger. It should be paste-like in consistency.Place in a bowl with the soy sauce.Cut the chicken into bite-size chunks, about an inch square.Put the chicken pieces into the marinade, mix well, let sit for at least 10 minutes and no more than 30minutes.In a small bowl, mix potato starch and chicken stock cube. You can add salt and pepper to taste if you like.Heat an inch of oil in your saucepan.Coat each piece of chicken in the starch and cook in the oil. Fry for about 4 minutes, rotating each piece while cooking to ensure it cooks evenly.When cooked, remove from the oil and place on a wire rack to drain.Sprinkle with salt and serve with a slice of lemon.TIPS:Use the ginger. Even if you don’t like ginger. You can barely taste it, and it really helps remove the gamey taste of the chicken.Leave some skin on the chicken pieces if you can. It cooks nice and crispy. If you are worried about the extra fat on the skin, well, maybe this recipe isn’t for you, you’re about to fry it in oil after all. I coat the chicken pieces one at a time in the starch. If you tip the starch into the bowl with the chicken and marinade it will have a stronger soy sauce flavour and your chicken pieces will be a darker colour too. Both methods are delicious!Make sure your oil is hot enough when you put the chicken in or the coating will be greasy not crispy. To test the oil, I put my wooden chopsticks into the pot and check that bubbles rise small and fast as the air leaves the wood. Don’t use plastic chopsticks! Duh.Lastly, you must place your karaage pieces onto a rack when you remove them from the oil. If you don’t drain the oil from the chicken straight away your karaage will be soggy. I also put my cooked and drained karaage pieces into the oven toaster to keep warm while I cook the next batch.  Happy Cooking!{ Ashes }P.S. Leave a comment if you make this recipe and let me (and everyone else) know how awesome it turned out! I have faith in you. But uh, don't tell everyone how annoying the cleanup is... Oil. Flour. Everywhere.

Ishikawacho Steet

It was a busiest sunday for me. Despite of busy schedule, I managed to capture few shots while walking at Ishikawacho street, japan.Visit my website

Sakura-time at Starbucks 2017

As every year Starbucks Japan released their sakura products just two weeks ago. This year they have the Sakura Blossom Cream Frappuccino and the Sakura Blossom Cream Latte. For sure I tried them and they tasted really nice. As their name says they are creamy, topped with a maple sauce-flavoured whipped cream, pink-colored chocolate flakes and small pink rice cracker balls. A pretty nice combination in my opinion. I personally like the Sakura Blossom Cream Latte better than the Frappuccino. The prices rank from ¥ 530 to ¥ 650 for the Frappuccino and ¥ 430 to ¥ 550 for the Latte. But if you want to try them hurry up. The sakura products are limited until March 14th. Furthermore they also have a Sakura Chiffon Cake which costs ¥ 380. However, for me, the taste was not so special. It is topped with a salty cherry blossom what felt a bit strange while eating. Japan really has interesting food combinations, doesn’t it? Who wants to have one of the sakura goods like tumblers, cups, glasses and more should be quickly. Many things of the first line “Harmony Collection” are already sold out. On March 1st the second line “Purity” will be released. How about you? Did you try any of the Starbucks Sakura products?

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