Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Bachelor Padding

'Tis the season, and I got an inclination for s sandwich but I am frankly not crazy about the store-bought kind. So, I rode the bike across town to the Co-Op (which has everything), and invested in a fresh loaf about two feet long.
Bread is about half the secret to a very good sandwich of any kind, and Boise is blessed with at least a couple of the best bakeries in the world. That makes the rest easy.
For this particular project, I used about a half-pound of sliced baked ham, a similar amount of pepper salami, a half-pound of Mozarella, of which half was sliced and the rest shredded. I added two sliced Italian tomatoes, half a red bell pepper, a handful of basil, oregano, thyme, rosemary and ataragon, four thin-sliced cloves of garlic, and a couple of splashes of balsamic vinegar over the tomatoes. The technique for making this is not really a technique: a couple of splashes of virgin olive oil over the bread, then a base of mozarella slices, then layers of meat, tomatoes, peppers, and the shredded cheese on top, a few shakes of parmesan, the garlic slices, and some pepper on top, then into the oven on a baking pan at 400F for 15 minutes.
Since the portion control is over the top for even a serious sandwich craving, I cut this in half, wrapped one half in aluminum foil for later, and ate the other half with most of a bottle of Cab.
It's just one of a bunch of possibilities for fine solo dining I plan to expand upon in a screed I am working on called Bachelor Padding. The point of Bachelor Padding will be to show that a person who is single, specifically an old fart like myself (although similarly unattached females could surely do it too), can survive happily on a minimal income. I'd be glad to address any questions on the finer points or take any helpful hints anyone would care to pass along for the general good of all. Cheers.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Holidays, Gradualluy

One friend and former colleague in Tokyo lamented having to listen to Christmas songs at the supermarket around Halloween. I have always found it difficult to get in a Christmas mood without seeing at least a little snow, so here we are, having seen and actually fiddled with, snow and almost finished the Thanksgiving leftovers, gradually getting ready to get ready to be in the mood for Christmas-yearend holidays.
It costs a lot to relocate from one part of the world to another. The cost is emotional, as well as monetary, of course, but at least part of the expense of moving for me was in shipping a lot of candles, bears and Christmas decorations that I could have replaced easily and at far less than the cost of shippping. Sigh...
Having said that though, I'm glad to have some of those familiar bears, candles and decorations here. I even found a decent replacement pseudo-tree, which is now up and looking not bad at all. So the holiday mood is gradually moving in. I've been to the mall already, helping Mom get new boots, and getting lost while trying to find the holiday meat-log shop. I did buy one gift that I actually wanted to buy, plus a couple that I frankly don't know quite what to do with because I was so besmitten by a lovely saleslady named Maya, whose sales pitch was impossible to resist (at the time). I need to watch that.
The rest of the Christmas shopping will consist of finding a bulk source of chocolate-covered cherry cordials. As the countdown continues, I have so far heard identifiably Christmas-song music only three times. Since it is just about to become December, I consider that a positive sign that I have not surrendered to the season too far ahead of plan. In any case, happy holiday of your choice, whenever and wherever that may be.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Pre-Thanksgiving Stew

With Thanksgiving just a couple of days away, and nights chilly enough for something substantial to follow the previously posted adobo (which disappeared without a trace), I built the first beef stew of the season. This has always been something I made intuitively, but for my daughter and a surprisingly large following who don't have the same intuuition, I finally put it down on paper and here.
This recipe makes enough for at least four people. Most of the things I make are intended for about that many portions, and I am not good at making meals for just myself.
1 pound of beef sirloin, cut into cubes.
1 10-ounce bag of pearl onions
1 pound of baby carrots (peeled and washed
1 stalk of celery, de-stringed and cut lengthwise, then into half-inch bits
1 pound of baby potatoes. Core out the eyes but save as much peeling as you can, as this is the part that has lots of vitamins and minerals.
4-5 ounces of sliced mushrooms (four or five large mushrooms)
1/2 clove of garlic, thinly sliced
1 Tbsp. mixed herbs if already prepared, or 1/3 cup if chopped from fresh ingredients, such as sage, basil, parsley, rosemary, thyme and oregano.
Three whole bay leaves
1 tsp. ground black pepper, plus 1/2 tsp. ground five-color pepper.
1 each beef boullion and vegetable boullion cubes

The Prep
Dredge the beef chunks in a mixture of two tablespoons of flour, the herbs and pepper.
Prepare a large pot with a blend of half canola oil and half olive oil, enough to cover the bottom of the pan.
Brown the beef cubes on all sides and stir in the sliced garlic. This uses relatively high heat, so stir often to prevent sticking or burning. Add a splash of wine, stir again, then add the rest of the flour mixture and the boullion cubes. Cover the beef cubes with water, add a splash of red wine and let the beef simmer briefly. Uncover, add the potatoes, carrots, mushrooms and celery, and enough water to come just to the top of the potatoes. Add the bay leaves, cover and turn heat down to low to simmer for at least an hour, stirring now and then.
The wine for this was Golorado Grand Valley DeBeque Canyon Red Fox Merlot, vintage 2003. This has 13 percent alcohol, which is good for bringing out the flavor of decent beef without overwhelming it. It is also a darn good drinking wine, fairly bold with ripe fruit and a plum-like finish that makes the stew broth worth enjoying with some crusty French bread and, as I like to say, "more wine."
Bon apetit!

Monday, November 02, 2009

Soul Pagluto

Ask most folks from the Philippines what food they like best and they will probably say "adobo, of course." But pinning down just what adobo is involves a lot more than opening a Filipino cookbook. Adobo is basically stewed pork, chicken or seafood, or a combination of two or all three, sometimes with vegetables. and there is beef adobo and adobo sa gata, with coconut milk... Adobo originates in the Spanish word for marinade. But again, the marinade for adobo can include all sorts of things. One helpful Filipino cookbook says adobo is a kind of pork teriyaki. But equating adobo marinade with teriyaki marinade is about as useful as trying to compare oatmeal and roast duck. In short, getting the definitive recipe for adobo is as elusive as nailing Jell-O to a barn door with a pitchfork.
That said, however, and being a foodophile with friends in the Philippines, I herewith venture a version of adobo that I think is pretty good, and some of my Filipino (and Filipina) friends have grudgingly agreed. It is a nice change of pace from other kinds of stews, and is not all that hard to make. Here we go.
2 pounds of pork or chicken. (I'm using a pork roast for this particular demonstration)
1 clove of garlic
1 medium onion
1/2 cup soy sauce (Use the real thing, please)
1 cup water
1/2 cup sake--rise wine
1 tablespoon paprika
5 whole bay leaves
1 thumb-sized chunk of fresh ginger
1 Tablespoon rough-ground black pepper and 1 tablespoon whole black peppercorns
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup vinegar. I use balsamic, which has a more elegant flavor.
2 Tablespoons corn starch
4-5 Tablespoons cooking oil. I use half canolla oil and half olive oil.

Tools: You will need a stew pot, a frying pan, and three mixing bowls, and a few sheets of paper towel.


Trim excess fat from meat and cut into cubes, roughly thumb-sized, or the same size you would use for stew meat.
Combine the water, sake, vinegar, soy sauce, salt, paprika, pepper and peppercorns and bay leaves in a big bowl. Add the cubed pork and stir so the marinade covers the meat. Cover with plastic wrap and let it marinate for at least an hour (refrigerate for safety, especially if you are in a warm place). I added a little cilantro to the marinade, simply because I had some handy.

Chop the onion and garlic fine and saute in two tablespoons of oil, stirring often, until translucent. Dump into a bowl and set aside.

Peel and thinly slice and chop the chunk of ginger.

Now, time out here to say that adobo is usually served with plain white rice, but I made saffron rice, and added a couple of shots of sake to the water for cooking. Use whatever rice you like, even minute-rice.

Pour the marinade and pork into a cooking pot, sprinkle the chopped ginger over the top, and add the bay leaves. Bring the pot to a gentle bubble, then reduce to simmer for about 30 minutes.

Steam the rice. (It takes about 45-55 minutes to steam two cups of Japonica rice)

Stir the pork now and then and notice how the aroma becomes more sophisticated. When it's ready, separate the pork from the juice. Slowly stir in the two tablespoons of corn starch into the juice and add the sauteed onions and garlic. Simmer and stir now and then as it thickens into a gravy-like consistency.

Add the rest of that cooking oil to a frying pan, just enough to cover the bottom of the pan, and crank up the heat until a test piece of meat sizzles as soon as it touches the oil....back off the heat a bit and gently add the pork, stirring often, until it is browned. Note that the pork will already be more or less brown from the soy sauce and balsamic vinegar in the marinade. What I mean here is brown as in cooked-meat brown. Take out the pork pieces with tongs (carefully) and drop into a paper towel-lined bowl to absorb the excess oil.

You should have been stirring that brown gravy-sauce during all this, and it should be about ready.

The rest is easy: spoon out some rice, add the chunks of pork, and ladle the sauce over the combination. This is nice with chopped tomatoes, or, for the brave of heart, salsa (which I used here).

I'm not sure what bon apetit is in Tagalog, but ... enjoy!

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Autumn Leaves

A noisy gust of wind passed through the neighborhood a few minutes ago, reminding me that autumn is here and getting serious about it. The leaves are beautiful, but they are falling fast, which is what I understand they tend to do at this time of year.
A couple of nights ago, I watched the ducks swimming in circles on the river. When they do that, a change in the weather is imminent, according to those Old Farmer's Almanac prognosticators.
Here, at least, many of the ducks and geese who graze on the grass in the park nearby are in no hurry to fly south, because they have it good here. And whatever else happens around Halloween (The season actually started Oct. 5 this year.), geese seem to know that this is not a good time to be flying very close to shotgun range.
Other critters are targets at this time of the year, too, including deer and elk, bighorn sheep, bears and wolves. So it's a good time to stay indoors and drink eggnog.
One auto dealership in the Boise area is promoting a "Buy a truck, get a gun" sales offer. The purchase of a pickup or larger truck from this dealer entitles the buyer to a new rifle, shotgun or, as the ad puts it, "Whatever else you can dream up." The radio spot also seems to tie this together with the notion that buying a truck and getting a gun have something to do with "our American heritage." I know the right to bear arms (meaning have guns) is guaranteed in the Constitution for members of a militia, and that has been accepted by the Supreme Court to mean "anybody." But I am not sure that the right to own a pickup truck is similarly assured.
Speaking of geese (nice segue), I notice that the more or less permanent-resident geese in the park like exercise. I say this because they arrive early for grass-grazing around the lake, flying in over my apartment, then touch down on the river, swim to shore, then struggle up the embankment and waddle across the grass and the Green Belt and street pavement to get to their favorite meal venue. Since there is a big lake right there, I wonder why they don't simply fly over to the lake, touch down there and start eating much sooner.
So, we may have hit upon two notions about waterfowl at this time of the year. One is that ducks swim in circles because they are forecasting a change in the weather. The other is that gees are silly.

Sunday, October 11, 2009


I'm getting acclimated to Boise, which is a fair accomplishment, considering I was in the moderate and damp climate of Tokyo for the past 32 years and am now high and dry here. So cold is not as awful where I am now as it was when I was where I was. Even so, as nighttime temperatures range in the 30s, it is a good time for soups and chili and stews to ward off the different form of cold.
Today is chicken-vegetable soup, which is another way of saying "cleaning out the fridge soup." I found a packet of three decent chicken thighs with the skin and bones still there, hiding in the freezer, put them in a big pot with a nicely chopped medium onion, three cloves of garlic, two carrots, two sticks of de-veined celery, a chopped fistfull or two of green beans, a tomato, a half-dozen sliced white mushrooms, and six golf ball-sized redskin potatoes and covered with water, added about a teaspoon of salt and a mortar-ground blend of black, white, rose, green and Jamaica peppercorns, one each of chicken and vegetable boullion, and a finely chopped fistfull of herbs (basil, parsley, rosemary, thyme, and chives) and a little more dried Italian parsley, a dash of chili powder, and three chopped green onions. It's a good idea to allow at least a couple of hours for this. First vover the pot and bring the combination to a bubble, then reduce the heat to a low simmer. Stir once in awhile, until the chicken kinda gives up and sheds the skin. Drain off any ugly brownish bubbles. Pause a moment to remove the chicken, remove the skin, bones and gristle and shred the chicken meat, returning it to the pot with the veggies. Add one 5.5-ounce can of V-8 juice, unless you have a good reason not to, and stir the ingredients again, cover the pot and let it simmer again for an hour, stirring now and then.
By this time, no doubt, you will have had at least one glass of wine and should be rooting around for a baguette or some other nice crusty bread to soak up all the delicious flavor melange you are creating. Resist the temptation to ladle the soup out for at least 90 minutes, and longer if possible, because all those flavors are getting to know each other better, and you will reap the benefits.
Stay warm, and bone appetit!

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Chef's Delight

You may notice I'm wearing my other, slightly more serious chef's hat here, because I actually wrote down the recipe rather than just wave the finished dish around. This is an actual chicken-walnut-broccoli salad I made for my sister and her husband, who are throwing a party tonight. I hope I've made enough for at least 10 people, but a lot depends upon how many people eat how much.
The basic ingredients are: 6 boned, skinless chicken breasts
2 heads of Calabrese broccoli
1 clove of garlic
3 stalks of celery
5-6 stalks fresh cilantro
1/2 cup chopped green onions
1 6-ounce can black olives
1 whole red bell pepper
1 cup chopped walnuts
3 lemons
1 bottle cheap (under $5 if possible) white wine.
Riesling works nicely.

6 Tbsp mayonnaise (NOT salad dressing!)
3 Tbsp mustard (brown is best)
1 Tbsp raw (unrefined) sugar
2 Tbsp pickle juice
Other stuff that helps jazz it up: 1 Tbsp rosemary (whole)
1 Tbsp lavender
1 tsp. dill weed
1/2 tsp Chipolte smoked pepper
1 Tbsp crumbled blue cheese

The prep: Rinse and blot chicken breasts with paper towel. Place in a large stainless bowl.
Rinse and grate the peel of 3 lemons. Slice lemons thinly and place slices under and over the chicken breasts, sprinkling the zest over the chicken. Peel and finely chop 1 clove of garlic (depending on your love of garlic) and sprinkle over and under the chicken. Pour in 1 bottle of white wine. Massage the chicken in the wine/lemon/garlic mixture. Note that 1 bottle of wine may not be enough to cover the chicken, so you may need to open a second bottle and nurse the leftover while doing the rest of the preparation. Let the chicken marinate in the wine/lemon/garlic mixture for at least an hour.
Place the chicken and liquid mixture in a large pot, cover, and bring to a boil over medium heat, reducing to simmer for about 20 minutes, or until the chicken meat is white all the way through. Drain the broth and chop the chicken into chunks. Place the chicken in a large bowl and set aside to cool.
Strip the stringy stuff from the celery, chop and add to the chicken. Thinly slice and chop the red bell pepper and add to the chicken. Finely chop the green onion and add to the chicken. Finely chop the cilantro and add to the chicken. Drain and chop the black olives and add to the chicken. Sprinkle the crumbled walnuts over the chicken. Blend all the ingredients well.
Chop the broccoli into small florettes. Add some of the stalk, which should be thin sliced and chopped first. Bring a pot of water to a rolling boil and add the broccoli. When the water returns to a boil, remove from heat, drain well, and cover with ice cubes, turning once in awhile to cool the broccoli evenly and quickly. Add the broccoli to the chicken-walnut combination and blend well.
In a separate bowl, mix the mayonnaise, mustard, sugar and pickle juice. A little horseradish can be added for extra zest. Blend in the crumbled blue cheese and mix well. Add more mustard or pickle juice to balance the taste. Pour the dressing mixture slowly over the chicken-vegetable mixture and blend a little at a time for even coverage. Grind the rosemary and lavender in a mortar and sprinkle over the mixture, blend well.
Cover with plastic wrap and chill overnight.
Before serving, sprinkle a little paprika or smoked paprika over the salad mixture for added color. This is a great summertime main dish with crusty French bread or garlic toast and, of course, more white wine, preferably a little more expensive than what was used to marinate the chicken.
Sidelights: Chicken is a great all-purpose source of protein, low in cholesterol and all that other healthy stuff. Broccoli is an excellent source of essential minerals and vitamins, and an effective cancer-inhibiting agent that has been found to help men reduce the risk of colon cancer.
The walnuts are another healthy element of this salad. Nuts in general, and walnuts in particular, help reduce cholesterol and complement the benefits of the broccoli. The salad overall has an appealing combination of appearance, taste, texture, and health benefits that is hard to beat.

Monday, August 24, 2009

On the Trail

Since I've been in Boise, I have spent considerable time watching people float down the river, whooping and having a fine ol' time. I have only done it once so far, but of course I am going again. But I have been working on the logistics, checking out the take-out point, which is about a mile and a quarter downstream from my abode. And today, I finally found how to get to the entry point, which is at Barber Park, in the southeast part of the city.
The trip To Barber Park by bike is not so bad, as long as you keep a lookout for low-flying golf balls and don't get distracted by Ed the Elk. (Ed wasn't there today. The cows were on some kind of sit-down strike in the pasture, possibly anticipating a thunderstorm, but Ed was probably still up in the foothills.) i found a crossing past construction on what will be a new wetland area and park (Boise is really impressive for the many parks that are named after wives of prominent Boise citizens. Those husbands must have loved them very much indeed to invest in such classy real estate as parkland!). There it is, just across the bridge.
Finding the bike path back is not quite so easy, mostly because the sole map that shows the river rafting route and associated hiking and bike trails has been faded into monochrome. But by using the Braille method, I found a bike path that follows a fenceline past the backside of a residential area. Because of more construction, part of the path is currently detoured through a new subdivision before coming out near the crossroads at Bown Crossing.

Bown (pronounced bone, as in T-Bone Walker) Crossing was a famous ford across the Boise River along the Oregon Trail, and there is a nice little business district in the wash between the path of the old pioneer trekking route and the river that includes an excellent candy shop that sells not only all the favorite penny candies of my childhood but those of childhoods of people waay older than me.)
Anyway, I made it. And the river rafting plan ultimately is to have a vehicle of my own, so I can enter the river just outside my apartment, float down to the takeout point, deflate the raft and haul it and myself down to Barber Park to the entry point, re-inflate the raft, and float back down to the takeout point at my apartment, deflate the raft again, and go have a shower and a glass of wine.
How does that sound to ya?

Friday, August 21, 2009

Buon appetite!

When dining with new people, I like to ask this: If you had to survive on the cuisine of one country, which country's food would you choose? It's a thoughtful question. Of course, we would hope to always be in a place where we have a free choice among the countless delightful and delicious foods of the whole world. But, for the sake of conversation, what would it be? French? Well, the French certainly know how to eat and how to enjoy food. We can go on about that in a future Blog. Chinese? Well sure. China is a very big place, and it is really not just one cuisine but many, with specialties of the many regions and ethnic groups that occupy that vast space.
For today though, how about Italian? I love scenes of Italian extended families hauling out the tables and chairs beneath the olive trees and bringing out loads of delicious food, pastas, breads, salads, meats... and the wine!
Yesterday, I found a hice pork tenderloin, boneless, hiding in my freezer compartment. And in this heat of high summer, I said, well, sure, why not Italian. So we have an inspiration. This is a dinner featuring the pork tenderloin, beaten into submission with garlic, oregano, parmesan, basil, parsley, thyme, and such, marinated with some red wine, then blotted dry and dredged in panko (Japanese bread crumbs) mixed with more of the same herbs and more parmesan and fried in olive oil. First browned on both sides, then simmered slowly to make sure the pork is thoroughly cooked but still juicy.
The color comes from red, yellow and green bell peppers, cut into strips with two onions and a bud of elephant garlic and some smaller buds of more normal-sized garlic. The garlic is browned separately, drained and set aside to keep crunchy. A half-dozen mushrooms are sliced, sprinkled with pepper and oregano, and sauteed in olive oil, then splashed with red wine. The heat is reduced to allow the wine to cook away, then the mushrooms are also set aside to be added later. I heated a big frypan and added olive oil, then quickly added the peppers and onions, stirring them quickly and thoroughly while adding more red wine. Then the mushrooms. I covered the pan and reduced the heat, allowing the veggies to cook down a bit and absorb the wine.
Meanwhile, in a nearby saucepan, I had water boiling, into which I dropped a fat zuccini donated by my sister. I had sliced it thin so the slices would blanche quickly when they hit the water. I drained the water, added a tablespoon of butter and a couple of hearty shakes of grated parmesan, covered the pan again and shook the pan to cover the zuccini slices with butter and parmesan.
Separately, in yet another pan, water was at a rolling boil. I added a cup of gorgonzola-stuffed ravioli (the technique for that will have to come in another Blog later.) and turned down the heat by half and covered the pot. When the water started bubbling again, I stirred it and gave it about eight minutes, to have the pasta puffy but still al dente!
Serving, you see, includes an herb salad with cucumber and Italian tomato (also out of the garden), and some toasted garlic bread chips, plus what's left of the wine used during cooking. Just before serving, I sprinkled the fried garlic over the peppers. It's not bad. I may be criticized by Italian purists, but I am glad to have contributions of other recipes and advice on how to make it better next time. I am thinking maybe sausage and peppers with a nice tomato sauce...

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Another Milestone

Well, tomorrow I come upon another milestone, or maybe it's millstone, when the odometer registers my 66th birthday. It's a little surprising, what with all I've been through and all that's been through me, to have made it this far. I am hoping for at least the biblical threescore and ten, and the parts that need to work still work quite well.
So I am rummaging around now for the carrot cake recipe, as that is what I plan to bake for myself to mark the event. I remember the last time I actually blogged about a birthday was when I turned 64. Gosh that seems like a long time ago and many events and thousands of miles have intervened since then. But then, and I think it is still clickable here, I offered the Beatles and When I'm 64 as the birthday song.
Maybe one reason I didn't write about being 65 was that I couldn't find a song about being 65. But there is a song about the current number. The prolific singer-composer Botty Troup wrote it in 1946, and it was popularized by Nat King Cole and covered by artists as diverse as Chuck Berry, The Rolling Stones and many others.
Route 66 was also a long-running TV show that helped fuel my teenage desire for a Corvette. But the subject of the lyric, of course, is the legendary 2,448-mile-long highway that wound from Chicago to LA, through eight states and three time zones. Stuff like that makes me think it's appropriate as the theme song for this year's birthday party. Join me in the sing-along?

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Ocean's Bounty

OK, I admit Boise is not too near an ocean, and having seafood more than an hour from a sea invites suspicion about the freshness of the catch. Still, I was inspired today to try a seafood salad.
Inspired for several reasons. One, it was in the 90s again today. I had a vague hankering for beef bourguinon after having recently enjoyed the movie "Julie and Julia." You should see the film, because it is good. And if you appreciate food or like to cook even a little, you will find some resonance in the interwoven tales of how Julia Child became a household word in the kitchens of America and how a young lady living above a pizzaria in Queens was influenced by Julia's "Mastering the Art of French Cooking," and how it changed her life.
But it was too hot for the beef, and I had already pigged out on my favorite breakfast (bacon and eggs, half a pink grapefruit with honey, yogurt and blueberries and toasted wheat pita washed down with OJ and black coffee). Nope. The beef will wait. After all, Boise is pretty close to beef central, so I don't need to worry about finding good meat here.
Among the thousands of possible alternatives that would be lighter, healthier than the heart-stopping breakfast, and easier to prepare (maybe), I opted for a seafood salad.
Now there are a gazillion possible seafood salads, I know. But I made this one up because I wanted something summer-like and green and crunchy that would go well with a cheap pinot grigio.
The seafood is a combination of frozen baby shrimp, scallops, and a seafood mix that includes octopus, squid, mussels, shrimp and another kind of shelfish that I take to be little-neck clams, but who knows. I have spent the past three decades and change in Japan, where, believe me, the folks know real seafood, and are the world's biggest consumers of it. So they don't mess around with frozen if they can get fresh. And I wouldn't either. But, as I said first-off, I am in Boise, not Tokyo.
So, for safety, I let the various frozen creatures thaw out in some lightly salted water for a half-hour first. I am oookinv cod ons, zo I would say that a cup and a half of the seafood variety of choice, or even all shrimp, all scallop or bits of your favorite seafood--even smoked salmon would be good--will do for one portion.
I made limeade yesterday, with just a little raw sugar, so it really tastes like lime. I mixed a cup of that, a half-cup of cheap white wine, and a fistful of cilantro, and brought it to a boil. I drained the seafood, then dumped it into the limeaid-wine broth and stirred it around until it came to a boil again, then quickly removed it and drained it again, adding a dozen ice cubes to bring the temperature down.
While I was letting the seafood mix soak, I was busy having a glass of that pinot and chopping up some herbs and greens, some snow peas, green onions, garlic, and a fancy-looking purple bell pepper. I also made a sesame-ginger vinagrette as a dressing, using real ginger root and toasted white sesame, ground up with balsamic vinager and just a bit of mirin (sweetened cooking sake) I added some cilantro and peppercorn and some lime peel zest.
Ok. I had a little more of the pinot and decided that a graceful handmade blue bowl I got at the Saturday Market would be the best way to treat myself to the salad.
I made a little bed of the herbs and greens, then added some chopped celery and some garlic and green onion. I sprinkled a little of the sesame-ginger dressing on the greens, then added the drained seafood mix. I dribbled the juice of the leftover lime onto the seafood and added more dressing. I then sprinkled some sliced snow peas, green onion and cilantro, and added the remaining sesame-ginger dressing.
As we speak, I am enjoying it with some black pepper-olive oil triscuits and what little is left of the pinot. I am not too humble to say it is pretty good.
And if you are reading this, you probably already know that I am a serious fan of cooking and enjoying good food and wine. I would like it more if I have someone to enjoy it with. Still...
What Julia Child did to popularize and demystify French cooking, I wish I could help do for cooking that involves ingredients and techniques from other parts of the world. During my time in Tokyo, I had the pleasure of eating and enjoying very good food from many places. Often, I would ask the chefs how they prepared a certain dish, then try to replicate or enhance it at home. This is one of my favorite hobbies and has served me well. So before too much more water passes under the bridge, I want to share some of what I have discovered and enjoyed, and in the process, I hope to demystify and help others appreciate what I have enjoyed and discovered, so you can make it too.
Cooking is a skill, and it can be an art. I prefer approaching it as a way to enjoy something we need every day. So, as Julia would surely say, "Bon appetit!"

P.S. The heart-stopping breakfast pictured above is really not so bad in moderation. Yes, I am aware of the nutritional needs of humans and the modified Food Pyramid. I am also aware of the healthy choices and the importance of food that is pleasant to look at, tasty, and involves the best possible combination of protein, essential vitamins and minerals and all that stuff. So maybe one reason I chose to make seafood salad instead of the beef was to balance out the heavy stuff. Maybe tomorrow, I will be back in the carnivore bracket!

Monday, July 20, 2009

Midsummer Night's Dream

Temperature was 108 yesterday, and it felt like it while I was out on the bike, wearing me down to the need for another shower and a little lie-down. It was a good idea. I awoke refreshed enough to decide it's time for a little pseudo-California cuisine. Some of my best friends have done time in California, so a little toast to them was in order.
Food o' choice was chicken-broccoli-walnut salad, plus a fresh-herb salad with olives, pickled asparagus and pickled green beans and some five-grain artisan bread. This was accompanied by a bottle of Night Harvest Chardonay, which is basically a supermarket wine, so not expensive, but quite good. Dessert was key lime pie. And yes, I can get key limes here in the High Desert.
To make the salad, cut the florets off a a head (is that what they're called?) of fresh broccoli, blanch them in boiling water for about a minute, drain and let them cool. Thoroughly cook two skinned and boned chicken breasts in a small pan of half water, half white wine, with a little salt. Bring the liquid to a boil, then reduce to simmer for at least 20 minutes. Drain and cut the chicken into small cubes. You will want about a cup of chopped walnuts. Beyond that, other ingredients are your choice, but I like to include a stalk of celery, half an onion and about three garlic buds, half a red bell pepper, some cilantro, basil, Italian parsley, and lavender (yes, lavender leaves or the seeds that come after the blossoms are done). I also add a tablespoon of finnes herbs, simply to round out the flavor. Combine the chicken, herbs, broccoli and walnuts, and add a dressing mixture made with four tablespoons of real mayo (not salad dressing), a teaspoon of prepared mustard and two teaspoons of brown mustard, a tablespoon of raw (unrefined) sugar, and three tablespoons of the juice from a jar of bread-and-butter pickle sticks. Blend this in a big bowl, cover and allow to chill about a half hour in the fridge.
Key lime pie for summer should use a graham cracker crust, and I make a simple egg white merengue with a dash of vanilla essence and a little (maybe a tablespoon) of powdered sugar, with just a bit of key lime juice and the grated zest off the lime itself.
That was pretty good stuff, and I think my friends would approve. Cheers.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Mojito Time

Boise was characterized for me as being in the High Desert, with average humidity of 11 percent or less and temperatures in summer ranging from damn hot to hotter than that. So far, though, it has been very pleasant. Temperature has gotten into the low 90s, but, maybe because of the low humidity, it has not felt hot. I am also fortunate to have a solid apartment with good insulation and good air conditioning, which I have used a little bit. Since I am on the second floor, I get the breeze off the river, and big trees and the river itself help, I think.
It is also good to have a mojito now and then. The mint, the lime, the fizzy water and, ahem, the rum, work just fine to make heat tolerable.
I am having one now, sitting on the balcony watching people go by on the river in their rafts, inner tubes, and whatever, listening to the river and the breeze in the trees. Would this be a time to say "It doesn't get any better than this?" I've not been here long enough to know, so I will just appreciate it as it is and try to avoid comparisons. I can say it is a lot better than being stuck in Tokyo during the prolonged rainy season and watching the mildew form on my shoes.
I believe I could use another mojito.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Why I Don't Drive

One of the nice things about living in a city is that a car is not an absolute necessity. And it is often true that, the bigger the city is, the more likely it is to have decent public transit. Tokyo is a prime example of clean, reliable and not terribly expensive train, subway and bus service. Even Boise, which is not very big as state capitals go, has a decent bus network (no trains or subways), and people with disabilities that limit their ability to get around can call for transport when they need it.
There was a time, not a century ago, when many other U.S. cities had good public transit, and even my little hometown of Marion, Indiana, was joined to other Hoosier cities by a really cool interurban rail network, as well as the Big Four railroads that joined bigger cities like Indianapolis, Chicago, St. Louis and all points between and beyond.
Gradually, people who preferred the suburbs bought into the Detroit scheme of individual car ownership, buses replaced trolleys and the interurban, trucks replaced railroads. Before long after World War II, there were more cars than people, and we're stuck with that imbalance today.
I've owned cars, and I could appreciate the convenience of being able to go about anywhere, any time. At the same time, convenience comes at a price. Gasoline and alternative fossil fuels are expensive. More environmentally rational ways to power a car may be cheaper, but there is still the cost of insurance, maintenance, finding a parking place, and eventually replacement.
In the half-dozen years I have been on foot, I have come to appreciate being without a car for more reasons than cost, environmental awareness and comfort. I can get exactly where I want to go with a combination of public transportation and footwork. Along the way, I can literally stop and smell the roses, watch the geese fly, the ducks swim and the woodpeckers peck.
There is supposedly health merit in walking or riding a bike, too. I am still overweight, but I feel better, because walking and even "townie" biking (not the Speedo-wearing skinny-tire kind) help improve circulation and lung capacity.
So I can feel better in the sense that without a car, I am doing my little part to use less fossil fuel and thus reduce pollution. And I can feel better just by the act of hoofing it or riding, or even using public transport, because I can enjoy the scenery, take time and regain a kind of balance with the rest of the world--the part that can do without driving. That's pretty cool.

Thursday, May 21, 2009


It's been a month now since I left Japan, settling in Boise, Idaho, after more than 32 years in Tokyo. To call it reverse culture shock is unfair, but there have sure been a lot of surprises. Today, for example, I wrote my first paper check in God-knows-how-long, to pay my phone bill.
It reminded me of what I thought I would miss about life in Japan and what I thought I might or might not find back in the U.S. So, yes, doing paper payments is a surprise. I had expected to handle it by Internet or card, and, to be fair, most daily purchases, such as supermarket and other retail shopping, is by card, which is cool. But I pay my rent by check. I pay my phone bill by check. Some smaller shops only take checks or cash too.
I was correct in thinking I would miss the washlet. For those of you who don't know, a washlet is a combination of Western-style sit-down toilet and bidet. Push a button and a little nozzle slides out and squirts warm water on the part you want to clean (there are two positions, so ladies are covered for both functions.) The washlet is a Japanese invention (Check the informative Website at that has been around since the early 1980s, and one I thought would have surely caught on in the States by now. Indeed, it is widely available, but, alas, not easy to find in use, such as in public toilets or in either of the two bathrooms in my apartment. (As an aside, I also miss the separation of commode and bathing equipment that is common in all but the tiniest Japanese apartments. To be fair, I do have a nice tub for a soak, but still... )
Having lived in Tokyo for so long, with the convenience of predictably reliable commuter train and subway and bus services, I am not impressed with a 20-minute wait for a bus (an hour or more on weekends and holidays), but I get around that by having a commuter bike with saddlebags, so I can do most shopping for daily needs by bicycle. And some government offices are virtually inaccessible by bike, which must be hell for the elderly and disabled.
On the other hand, I am still gobsmacked by the choices available at supermarkets, including the kinds of produce like organic veggies or shiitake or ginger, which I half expected would be hard to find. Here in the high desert of the Northwest, I am not sure how much to expect in the way of fresh seafood, but there is at least one market that has fish flown in daily, and I had pretty good sashimi at one of the Japanese restaurants in central Boise so far, which is a positive thing.
I have also been able to keep up my Japanese language at least in casual conversation with people I've met around town (Japanese people).
So far, so good.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009


Life is different at 2,200 feet than it was at 138 feet. I say this from my new perch in Boise (a river runs through it), after having spent/squandered 32 years of the past 65 in Tokyo. If you had asked me a year ago, or even six months ago, where I would be now, Boise would not have come to mind. Nevertheless, here I am, and it is pretty good. I am gradually settling in at a nice place along the Green Belt, which is the biking/hiking trail that follows the river, and I am just a short walk from a good sports bar with a microbrewery.
I am biking now, since there are no trains and bus service runs every 20 minutes or less. Even so, the Co-op wine store is within biking distance, and they give a special discount to people who go there by bike. Add to that the fact that my bike is equipped with saddlebags that can hold six bottles on each side and I am in good shape.
The balcony is already in bloom with miniature roses and lavender, and the basil and tomatoes are peeking up while other herbs are still waiting to be sure spring has truly arrived.
So life is good, despite adversity and a crap economy that includes unemployment in the 7 percent range for the second straight month. Being thrifty is easier here than in Tokyo. Instead of paying people to take my furniture and appliances, the appliances here, including washer, dryer, fridge, garbage disposal and dish washer, are all part of the rent, and I could furnish the place with very nice second-hand items, including a huge oak, roll-top desk, for very little money (thankfully).
I don't have all the goodies for daily life yet, as my pots and pans are still somewhere between here and Tokyo. But we're getting oriented--or is it occidented?

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Fallaces sunt rerum species

Ah Spring! The season of change is indeed upon us big time. This week--the first one in April -- is as nice as anyone could want. Sunny and mild by day, a full moon in a clear sky by night. The cherry blossoms are blossoming. It's all good. So I notice it is time to do spring cleaning, and in the process, I have so far found some hideous ties that have to go, as well as four good suits that, alas, are waaay to small... or rather I am waaay too big for four good suits.
The season also reminds that it is a good idea to get out, not only to enjoy the weather and the blossoms, but to shed some of that extra girth. This is not a fitness campaign, but a reality check. I was thinking of making pasta for supper, because that and a nice salad and a lot of walking are supposed to be a good combination. Let's see what happens.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Chuka Guy

This is now officially the Year of the Ox, and the moon is still large and nearly full. Last Sunday was the final parade of the festive period at Yokohama's Chinatown, and it was fun, even though there were way to many people.
My fortune for the year, according to the luck of the draw in terms of numbered sticks, is not particularly bright. I'm supposed to avoid taking chances. Ha! Not much chance of that.
This, I think is the year of change. Time for something different enough to make a break from the past. It's been fun and all that, and there are still some things to see and do and new places to go here. But after that, it's time to move forward, see new places and do new things.
Here I go!

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Headlines and Deadlines

It's funny how the mind works. Here we are in Japan, with companies laying off people by the thousands in the midst of the latest recession, and the Japanese government comes out with a statement to the effect that they've created 150 jobs. ``Stop the presses,'' a colleague said, pointing up the fact that 150 new jobs against thousands of non-jobs is hardly an exciting bit of news. And of course we are no longer in a ``stop the presses'' environment, being a 24/7 news operation that puts up headlines and stories whenever the need arises.
Still, I have been at this long enough to remember when that phrase was actually used, and I got to shout it once at my hometown newspaper, The Chronicle-Tribune, in Marion, Indiana. Without resorting to Google, I was able to recall much of the detail of that Saturday night of Oct. 31, 1963, when a propane gas cylinder blew up at a concession stand at the Indiana State Fairgrounds Coliseum during the opening night of a Holiday on Ice performance. It happened just as we were putting the Sunday paper to bed.
The tragedy, in which 74 people eventually died of burns and other injuries, still stands as one of the worst in the state's history. Our newsroom was a little more than 60 miles northeast of Indianapolis, but Bob Daugherty, our ace photographer, made it there in his Thunderbird in much less than that and got some stunning photos of the scene. We were able to get some of his pictures and a first-person account of the carnage (bodies of the victims were laid out on sheets of plywood on the ice as a makeshift morgue) into the morning edition.
I don't think I ever heard anyone say ``stop the presses'' in all my other newspaper years after that, and I do recall that the guys in the pressroom were not quite sure what to make of it when I did it on that night, but it worked, and it was the right thing to do. I'm glad I could hold onto the memory.

Thursday, January 01, 2009

Happy Moooo Year 2009

When the Lunar New Year comes around later this month, it will be the Year of the Ox. So the decoration on the table this New Year's Day includes the official Starbucks Bear, disguised as a cow. I took him to the flower shop and got good help matching flowers for the occasion. The eve was solo, so pretty uneventful. The Red and White Show was as awful as ever, and I managed to stay awake long enough to wish Happy New Year to some people. To those I did not reach, Happy New Year to you, too!