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Moving!

Thank you all for your support all these years!!! I’m going to be leaving WordPress and moving to Squarespace and a new blog! I hope you all will come and visit! My new blog is called My Little Tamago. Here’s the address: http://mylittletamago.com

Tea and Scones

In a world of commercial coffee and tea chains, Teja was an original. This one-of-a-kind tea house was located where the Himalayan Kitchen is now in Kaimuki. To this day, I still miss it.

The first time I went there, it was with my mother. When we arrived at that second floor dwelling, rich in dark wood, the owner greeted us. She was a Japanese woman in her mid-thirties. She was well-traveled and had learned about tea all over the world.  She was also an amazing collector of cups and saucers and teapots, that would make even the grumpiest person smile. Her tea house wasn’t Asian, nor was it the frilly stuff that only appeal to women. For lack of a better word, it was more artsy.

The owner invited us to smell a variety of teas. There were spicier teas from India and more herbal ones from Japan and China. I chose one called Wedding Chai. You never know. Tea could bring a man into your life. You should try for luck anywhere you can get it. We sat down at one of the tables and the tea was brought out on black lacquer trays that would normally be used in teishoku cuisine. In all the compartments, she fit the cup, the saucer, the strainer, the teapot, the thing to hold the tea leaves etc. She also brought a separate pot of hot water so that we could continue to drink our tea.

In addition to the tea, we had small round scones with lovely strawberry jam. That day with my mother exploring some place new I will always remember for the rest of my life. I even wrote a story about it, which I’ve included at the end. I absolutely adored Teja. I would take friends there. I had my tea leaves read there. I would go there to study. It was just such a unique place. I think they had live music too.

Recently, I’ve been making scones for the first time in my life. I make two kinds, one with lemon, rosemary and currants and another with pumpkin. I’ve included the first recipe here. I’m still working on the pumpkin recipe.

I hope that the owner of Teja sees this blog and one day opens another place like that. We need originality in this world. And hers is greatly missed!

lemons

Lemon, Rosemary and Currant Scones

(Adapted from Agatha Kulaga’s and Erin Patinkin’s book, Overly.)

3 cups all purpose flour

1/4 cup sugar (could even put less)

1 1/2 T baking powder

3/4 tsp salt

1 stick very cold, unsalted butter, cubed

1 cup dried currants

2 cups heavy whipping cream or 1 1/4 cup half and half

2 T finely chopped rosemary

Zest of one lemon (two, if small)

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Line baking sheet with parchment paper. Whisk flour, sugar, salt and baking powder in a bowl. Cut butter into flour mixture until it is the size of small peas. Stir in lemon zest, currants, and rosemary. Then mix in half and half or heavy cream until a dry, shaggy dough forms. Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Knead gently until it comes together. Pat dough out to 3/4 inch thick, then fold in half. Repeat pattern three times to form a layered dough. Cut into 8 triangles. Place on baking sheet and chill for 30 minutes. Bake for 30 minutes. Leave in the oven an extra 10 minutes with the heat turned off for a golden brown crispy outside. Serve warm.

————————————–

Harumi Worries About the Geckos

         Once you mention gecko, everyone has a story. It begins in a dream, in that time of night when the subconscious glows as naked as a disco mirror ball. The gecko disembarks. He waits patiently in the Freudian abyss of our heroine, Harumi Goto. She is experiencing a nightmare, a recurring nightmare with location variation. This time, she is stationed in front of the paint samples at City Mill. Her expression, a look of utter bewilderment. There are no choices. She is forced to purchase Bridal White. She screams, petrified her life at thirty will be over without her having found a proper suitor. Our lovesick gecko is encouraged. He scatters across the ceiling just above her bed. He has gotten ahead of himself! Her glow-in-the-dark stars, trappings of the feng shui kind, cause him to miscalculate his mission. The gecko loses his footing, plummets six feet, landing on Harumi Goto’s cheekbone. He sputters his last soliloquy like a reptilian Hamlet before she turns on her side, slipping into the fantasy of the Brazilian soccer player, leftover paella, and a bit of bossa nova, unaware of the gecko corpse sliding gracefully into her mouth.

Harumi Goto wakes up spitting. Enough saliva leaves her mouth for a twenty-pound cat to thoroughly clean his body. And when she cannot force the purification any longer, she resorts to gargling with the oolong tea left on her desk three nights ago.

How do they find her? She made sure the night before. Used her duct tape like a hardware store Picasso. Sealed every crevice, every crack, every orifice of the house in strange cubist designs. But one cannot block out dreams.

She picks up the phone, calls her mother.

“Nancy Kwan Feng Shui,” answers an airy voice at the other end that sounds as if it should be followed by a gong.

“Since when are you Chinese?” Harumi asks.

“Since business started booming and your father wanted no part of it.”

“Oh.”

“Pretty clever, huh? Maybe they’ve seen Flower Drum Song.”

“Isn’t that the story about the prostitute?”

Her mother snorts into the phone like a wildebeest with sleep apnea, “Name recognition is everything, Harumi.”

Harumi doesn’t answer, thinking she’s just seen another gecko on the ceiling.

Hallucinating is the first step to depression, the words of her therapist ex-boyfriend echo in her ears. His image stays suspended in her vision—the dancing dwarf donned in his Reyn’s inside out aloha shirt neatly tucked into belted black slacks. He cackles when he sees her fear. I-I-I ssseee dead reptiles, he hisses. Harumi growls like a Chihuahua. It’s been three months since he left her for the acupuncturist but it still makes her mad when she thinks about him.

“What’s wrong? Why are you calling me at five in the morning? I thought you were the lady who kept crying but refused to take that damn fountain out of her—”

“The geckos—” Harumi can’t bear to finish.

“Again?”

“Can’t you do something? Feng shui the house one more time?”

“Did you clear out the southwest corner?”

“In my closet?”

“Of course. More space is happiness. Clutter cancels.” This is the way her mother spoke to her nowadays, as if Confucius had a daughter. Her mother had studied feng shui from a Buddhist reverend who moonlighted so who knew if she were moving furniture correctly? Two years later, Nancy Kwan’s good intuition blossomed into her very own technique. It seemed to be working. Business was booming.

“Well, I was going to throw away my magazines, but then I thought, one day, I’m actually going to reflect on my life for an extended period of time and then I’ll need Oprah’s advice.”

“Excellent. You made 380 degrees progress.”

“You mean 180.”

“No 380—only twenty percent. Harumi, I already feng shuied your house for love, for money, for happiness, for prosperity, for health. I don’t know what to do about the geckos.”

“This is the twelfth time, Mom!”

“All right, all right. Take me to lunch.”

Harumi hangs up the phone slowly, her eyes locked on a gecko suctioned against her window screen. She fills her mouth with Oolong tea like a human pastry bag. She creeps closer and closer to the window like a cheetah that has just spotted its dinner on the savannah. With the force of a high-pressure garden hose, she expels the tea, sending the gecko flying into the mock orange hedge. She sat back in her bed and sighed. Yes, Harumi remembered. All this hoopla was the astrologer’s fault. He said a man would come into her life, the yang to complete her yin. That was too much pressure for one woman! The expectations were infinite. She should have listened to her mother. Nancy Kwan never liked that astrologer anyway. He was always cleaning his ears while he talked, so any flying snow was to be avoided with suspicion.

At five minutes to ten, Nancy Kwan is perched outside, ready to leave her role as the wife. She files her nails into perfect crescent moons glancing up every now and then for Harumi. There was no time to make a list of things to do, no time to premeditate her day. Her daughter’s geckos had ruined her pattern of predictability.

She tries to create a spontaneous itinerary in her head: Malama Salon for free tea and unlimited use of all the essential oils, Neiman Marcus to use the bathroom, and a visit to the dentist who feng shuied her molars with more gold than a Buddhist altar. It is no use. She needs paper. Nancy Kwan is a woman of lists. She makes lists of vegetables, birthdays, things she needs to say, things she wants to remember she said. She inventories her toilet paper, dates the dishwashing liquid to predict longevity. She charts her dreams on large kindergarten calendars. She lives on paper.

Harumi is different. Her plans stay in her head, float around all day like algae in the ocean at low tide. Her life is prone to getting tangled, claustrophobic like her father’s. In fact, their personalities are so identical, that Nancy Kwan has always wondered if Harumi could really be her child. After all, Harumi had no desire for revenge, no desire to teach people a lesson. She lacked fire. Too much water could bring one to tears.

Nancy Kwan blamed the astrologer. She hated that that man with the snowing ears could be right. He had warned her before Harumi was born. He had warned Nancy Kwan that she was about to give birth to a Scorpio rabbit if something wasn’t done.

“Can’t you suck her in for another two months?” the astrologer asked her with a grim face.

Nancy Kwan was appalled. “Are you crazy? I’m not an elephant, you know.”

“But, she’ll be a Scorpio rabbit. A Scorpio rabbit is fine, but if you wait two more months, she’ll be a fire dragon. That is the one you want. All the leaders and CEOs of the world are fire dragons.”

“Why didn’t you tell me this before I got pregnant?”

The astrologer shrugged his shoulders and began to pick his ears again. “At least she’s not a water rabbit. Too much of a water element and they’ll be crying all the time.”

 

Nancy Kwan blamed the astrologer. Then she blamed her husband.

After Harumi was born, he began to create a bona fide Daddy’s girl. Translation: water rabbit. She followed him everywhere. She laughed at everything he said. She cried if she had to stay with her mother. If men could nurse, Harumi would have stayed with her father. It was the ultimate ego expander for her husband. That’s why most men prayed for a daughter. They wanted to experience their very own cheering section—daily. Nancy Kwan disapproved of that much praise. Every daughter needed to be independent. She needed to got to preschool and then on day become a lawyer at a good firm. And this could not happen without some inner strength and that didn’t just come with praise. It came with suffering.

But her husband wanted to create a happy universe for his daughter. When Harumi could not stop crying after the first month at preschool, her father allowed her to stay home with him. And thus, her kindergarten year was two steps away from major delusion. Harumi clung to her father like an old blanket. She had to literally be yanked from him every day for the whole school year. Of course, Harumi’s father was willing to miss work and stay wit his little girl but the teacher absolutely forbade it.

Years later, Harumi finally got used to school. But she never outgrew her dislike of reality.

Nancy Kwan begins their day with something familiar—Kahala Mall. They immediately begin browsing at Liberty House searching for anything to buy. At least if they found a bargain, the day would be worthwhile. A few minutes at Liberty House become an hour. Nancy Kwan becomes restless. Her initial desire at adventure moves into routine just like when you’ve outgrown your childhood blanket and its rough edges are no longer comforting against your skin.

Then, Nancy Kwan spots an outfit for Harumi. “Look how special this fabric is. It’s beautiful,” she remarks.

Harumi wrinkles her nose. It is not very attractive on the hanger—a two-piece deal in turquoise, her least favorite color. It reminds her of the Caribbean, cruise ships and senior citizens eating shrimp cocktail and frozen yogurt.

“But Harumi, that’s the kind of girl you are. You look good in things that don’t look good on the hanger. At least try it on. You never know.”

The two of them stand in the dressing room together as Harumi pulls the top and skirt over her body. She turns to the mirror. There is a long pause between them and in that moment Nancy Kwan thinks she hears the voice of the Buddha. The overlay netting of peacock feather designs is beautiful against Harumi’s skin. Nancy Kwan admires her daughter as if Harumi were a goddess wearing the Mediterranean Ocean. It is a perfect fit.

“I’m starving,” Harumi announces after the Buddha stops talking. Without a word, Nancy Kwan digs into her purse for her embroidered bag of aromatherapy oils. She rubs tangerine and vanilla oils on Harumi’s forearms until they glisten and the illusion of creamsicles and summertime permeate the dressing room air. Harumi is almost satiated by the smell but then her stomach turns to hunger again—agitated hunger.

Nancy Kwan looks in her purse, looks in the compartment with her emergency fund, the money she slowly siphons from her husband’s wallet for extracurricular activities. She offers Harumi her find, a neatly packed bag of almonds. Harumi gags at the sight of them.

“They’ll save you from hunger. Do you know that your father would rather get the shakes and die of hunger before he’d pack almonds in his pocket?”

“They make me want to throw up. They look like tears. I don’t want to eat any more sadness.”

“So sad. Suffer, then.”

They walk in silence down the long, wide halls of Kahala Mall: Harumi’s mother eating from a tiny Ziplock bag of almonds and Harumi looking for a place to eat. There are too many people here, Harumi mumbles to herself. Summertime is best spent away from the malls, the beaches, the restaurants. One should just curl up in his or her bed and live in the space of dreams.

Nancy Kwan decides they should go to Kaimuki. She wants to find a new teahouse, the one she has seen on the news. Harumi wants to talk about the geckos. She wants to go someplace familiar.

“That’s your problem, Harumi. You don’t like the unknown. You don’t like the possibilities right here in reality.”

“Yes I do.”

“No you don’t. You can’t deal with reality. Remember when you were little and the first recess bell rang? What happened?”

“I went out to recess.”

“No you didn’t. You told the teacher, ‘there’s too many people,’” Nancy Kwan mocked in a voice on the verge of tears.

“I don’t remember that.”

“You’re just like your father.”

“What’s wrong with that?”

“You don’t change. Even as you got older, you were always afraid that the neighbor’s Christmas party would never end. You stood by the bathroom window counting the cars that were left. I should have been a stay-at-home mom. Then you wouldn’t be so afraid of reality.”

Harumi doesn’t say a word. She was feeling bad that she didn’t have anything in common with her mother. At least she wanted to see the thread that connected her. Even adopted kids began to look like their parents. Even dogs began to look like their owners. Harumi didn’t look like her mother at all.

 

They park on the street. A parking space opens closer to the café. Harumi’s mother insists they move the car to be completely in the southwest, the marriage direction. When they move it, another car leaves. Her mother gives her the eye. Harumi ignores her.

They find the place and arrive just as the owner opens for business. She lets them inhale the aromas of as many teas as they want: African Mauritius, Argentinean Mate, Indian Darjeeling, Jasmine Pearls, Chrysanthemum and Amber Oolong.

“No, no tea from India. You never know. Child labor. I don’t support that.” The owner and Harumi exchange glances.

Harumi’s mother, always attracted to vanilla, picks a black tea called Phoenix, mumbling something about feng shui. Harumi chooses one called Wedding Chai. Her mother thinks it will purge the ex-boyfriend and lead her to an auspicious wedding. They order salads and papaya scones to go with their tea.

The rattan chairs near the window entice Nancy Kwan. She sees a red crystal heart hanging above the chairs and verifies with her compass that it is indeed in the southwest direction. Two men sit nearby in the corner next to the Java tea root. They both chatter loudly on their cellular phones.

“I hate people who use cellular phones in restaurants,” her mother begins in a loud obake voice, “I won’t be able to digest my food properly. I’ll feel like I’ll have to listen to their whole conversation.”

“Look. They don’t even talk to each other,” Harumi adds feeling brave, knowing they would never hurt a senior citizen.

The owner brings the tea on separate trays. “Teishoku tea. Everything in compartments. Look at all this paraphernalia!” her mother chirps happily. She begins touching and admiring the teapot that holds the water, the individual teapot for each person, the tiny bowl filled with tea leaves, the cup and the saucer, the strainer and the tiny ceramic plate to rest the strainer on.

“Very Japanese,” Harumi’s mother says to the owner. “Everything is presentation.”

Nancy Kwan likes the food too. The greens are fresh. The scone is warm. There is no need to stage a silent protest.

Last Saturday, Nancy Kwan ate with her husband at a pricey, upscale café where they serve their Nalo greens with wasabi dressing. Harumi had taken her mother there before and it had always been perfection. But this time, half the salad was rotten. Harumi’s father quietly ate the lettuce, rotten and all, too engrossed in the planes ascending into the clouds. But her mother would not stand for it. She plucked each rotten leaf out of the raw vegetable wasteland and placed each one artistically in mermaid tails around the edge of the plate. The waiter saw her protest and quickly offered her a haupia pudding pie as a peace offering. For Nancy Kwan, that hardly made up for a missed lunch. She waited there until the chef allowed her to make her own salad.

“Tell me about the geckos,” her mother says while scraping the yogurt dressing form the salad and removing the grapes, unsure if they’re from a country that uses banned pesticides.

“Well, I keep having the same dream, the one with David Attenborough narrating. According to David, the gecko goes up on the ceiling, falls onto my head and then into my mouth.”

Harumi’s mother keeps eating and blotting the oil from the papaya scone, shaking her head in acknowledgment.

“The worst part is he makes it sound like it’s my fault the gecko died.”

“Harumi, you should feel so privileged that David Attenborough chose your dream to narrate. I hear he’s very good at documentaries.”

“Mom. The geckos.”

“Well, do the critters ever say anything to you? I mean, when we had that ant problem where they thought nuestra casa era su casa, your father talked with them. He’s such a pacifist, you know.”

“What does he say to them?”

“Well, he stuns one with a rag and then he says to the rest that scatter, ‘Now go tell your friends never to come back here.’”

“You’re joking, right?”

“No. So what do they say, these geckos?”

“Well, it’s only one. He says to me before he dies, ‘Helloooo Harumi. I’ve been waiting for you all week.’”

“Is that how he says it?”

“Yes. But in a more sultry voice. I think he’s a smoker.”

Nancy Kwan doesn’t say a word. She watches her daughter’s face for the slightest twitch that this might be a lie. But her face stays as smooth as an egg. She had no other choice but to conclude the inevitable—her daughter was weird.

Of course, this wasn’t the first time she thought that. For a mother like Nancy Kwan, Harumi was always a weird child. Live in reality! Tap the glass at the pet store and scare the fish. Pledge allegiance to yourself. But no matter what Nancy Kwan said, Harumi lived in dreams. She was like runoff in a storm. You wondered how much of your patience she’d erode.

“I don’t even like geckos,” Harumi continues, unaware of her mother’s revelation. “They’re not very nice looking creatures, and about the most they can do is to grow back their tail.”

“That’s partial reincarnation. How exciting! You don’t know whose tail they’ll have next.”

Harumi gives her mother a stare.

“Continue.”

“They’re always around, Mom. You can’t get rid of them. Last year on Maui, I spent an hour trying to get one out of my hotel room because I couldn’t bear the thought of a baby gecko falling into my mouth as I slept.”

“At least you’d have someone in bed with you.”

Harumi unsuccessfully tries to throw her mother a piercing glare. Nancy Kwan continues talking.

“So, changing the subject, did you go out with Warren Lee?”

“Who?”

“The guy who works at the bank. Your father said that he always makes happy faces on your deposit slips. How cute!”

“Really. What Dad failed to tell you is that Warren Lee has a face of linoleum with two bulging eyes that are beyond hapa haole. His face is shaped like some, some—”

“Gecko?”

“Yes! Gecko!”

“You know, Harumi, looks aren’t everything.” Harumi stares at her mother, watches her blot every last possibility of cholesterol off her plate. “As you get older, the personality really does take over.”

“That’s not true.”

“Yes it is. By the time you’re seventy with enough sun exposure, you’ll have cataracts and you won’t be able to see your man anyway.”

“But that’s when he’s seventy. I don’t want to start out bad. Dad was very good-looking when he was young.”

“If you say so.”

“You don’t think so?”

“Oh, Harumi. You’re not a child anymore. I’m not going to purposely pull the wool over our eyes just because you only want to feel warmth.”

“But you do love, Dad, right?”

“Oh yes.”

“What do you love about Dad?”

“Well, he’s such a good man. And he’s very handy around the house. He’s good with the finances too.”

“That doesn’t sound like love.”

“Okay, he’s smart and funny and very responsible.”

“Doesn’t he give you gifts?”

“Yes. But I don’t like his gifts. I buy my own birthday, Christmas, New Year’s and Valentine’s Day presents.”

“Mom, it’s the thought that counts.”

“If you don’t think, Harumi, it doesn’t count.”

“What?”

“Yes. If I give a diabetic a box of candy for Christmas, do you think that’s thoughtful knowing that he can’t eat it?”

“I guess I didn’t see it in that way.”

“Exactly.”

“Well, what don’t you like about Dad?”

“He’s a pacifist, you know. That’s great and all but he should do more in a day. Not spend his evening watching the ants that are sleeping under the kitchen sponge and then come to me and tell me such facts about nature like ‘ants sleep too, you know.’”

“Oh, I didn’t know.”

Harumi continues to chew on her scone. Thirty seconds of chewing makes for good digestion. Her mother doesn’t even have to speak for Harumi to hear her voice. Nancy Kwan cannot help but smile. She smiles a triumphant grin, one that makes her crow’s-feet curl up into tiny waves that seem to crash into her twinkling eyes. It is a smile Harumi never did enjoy.

“What?” Harumi says finally.

“Thank goodness! You’re not weird, Harumi. You are a snob. It’s much easier to have a snobby daughter than a weird one,” she sighs in relief.

“I’m not a snob.”

“Yes you are. You want a perfect man.”

“No I don’t. I went out with that guy who had his leg amputated. What was his name?”

“Ah, yes. Lee Wachi, Hapa Haole Brad Pitt. And you think that makes you sincere? Please, Harumi. You would never date a man who looked like a gecko no matter how good his personality, how large his IRA among other things, nor how big his heart. You’re a snob. You want someone perfect.”

Nancy Kwan clasps her hands together. “How fabulous! You must be my daughter!” She stands up and begins clinking her teacup with all the other customers and shouting, “Kampai!” as if they were at a yakudoshi party.

Harumi continues to eat her scone in silence waiting for her mother to finish her latest hoorah.

“Harumi,” Nancy Kwan begins as she returns to her seat, “Listen to me. You have nothing to worry about. I, Nancy Kwan, have never birthed an ugly child and I don’t intend to let you marry one either. All right?”

“All right,” she murmurs and Nancy Kwan clinks her glass.

 

They have a long lunch. They talk about how there is too much traffic in Waikiki. They talk about if Harumi wants her Uncle Hiroshi to come to her future wedding, she’ll have to get him a room and a driver because his one good eye is filled with cataracts. They decide on the Turtle Bay Resort. They decide Harumi has too many friends.

“You really should try to get rid of the clutter, Harumi. Get rid of some friends every year and then you’ll be able to afford your wedding.”

They decide that spaghetti strap dresses with bra cups are the most flattering for Harumi’s thin body. And the best flowers are orchids because they last.

Nancy Kwan laughs all of a sudden. “But all this is for nothing. You have no man. All you have are gecko-chans—half possibilities. You always do things backwards,” Nancy Kwan says in a loud voice. The patrons turn to look at Harumi.

Harumi can do nothing but smile defensively.

 

It’s 2:30 p.m. and Nancy Kwan wants to go home.

“I forgot my cellular and that lady with the fountain in her bedroom might call me again.”

“Why do you help her if she’s so much trouble?”

“I feel bad. She keeps telling me her brain is shrinking. It’ll happen one day to all of us, Harumi. So I help her.”

“I hope it doesn’t happen to you, Mom. How will I ever deal with the geckos?”

“Don’t worry. It’s the good that die young. I’m going to live forever.”

When they reach her house, Nancy Kwan leans in as if she were about to reveal her adjusted gross income and tells Harumi, “I had fun today.” She smiles gently at her daughter and in that moment her face loses the harsh lines, the wrinkles of silent protests and revenge.

“Remember Harumi, you’re never going to find someone perfect. Every man has an inner gecko waiting to come out.”

“An inner gecko? This is supposed to help me?”

Nancy Kwan sighed. “This is all your father’ fault. Fathers, you see, like to tell their daughters the Disney version of life.”

“And what is that?”

“That life is black and white. This person is evil and this person is good. This person is handsome and this person is ugly.”

“And it’s not like that?”

“No. Life is messy. Love is messy. There are no absolutes. I can feng shui your place again and again but it’s you that has to change, Harumi.”

“I guess you’re right, Mom.”

Nancy Kwan gets out of the car and shuts the door. She sticks her head in the open window. “Don’t worry about the geckos, Harumi. Make friends with them. They’re harmless.” She smiles at Harumi and walks toward the house.

As the door closes, Harumi hears her mother’s voice, a faint echo in the garage, “Helloooo Harumi. I’ve been waiting for you all week.”

Konbu Maki: Tied, Sealed, Simmered–I’m Yours

I love New Years! Unlike other holidays, New Years is about possibility. Everything is fresh on January 1. You can have big dreams again and believe that yes, this year they will surely come true. In Japan, it’s the day you go to the shrine and get your fortune and pray for good luck in the coming year. But for me, the big draw has always been the food.

When I was young, we would spend New Years Day at my aunt’s mother-in-law’s house. By the time we got there, the Red and White Song Festival was on and a multitude of traditional Japanese New Years dishes patiently awaited us. Sadly, I don’t remember what we ate. There was too much food! But to this day, I can never forget her ozoni or mochi soup.

Ozoni is often times the first meal of the New Year and it differs by region in Japan. Some prefectures like Kyoto may use white miso, others may include lots and lots of seafood. But my aunt’s mother-in-law’s version was simple. It was just a clear broth with a few sprigs of mizuna and a toasted mochi. With so few ingredients, the broth is everything. I don’t know for sure if she used an instant broth or made her own, but it was so good. I’ve been making ozoni for a few years now and mine has never turned out as good as hers.

mizuna

Here’s mine from this year. I used chicken, carrots, mizuna and of course, mochi. The broth was made from an instant dashi. I know, not homemade. But as you’ll see below, my time was taken up elsewhere. That’s what happens with New Years. We spend so much time on the other dishes that the ozoni suffers.

ozoni

During New Years in Japan, families will eat special dishes called osechi. They are so beautiful to look at, especially when everything is packed so nicely into a lacquered box. But most of these items are pickled or preserved in some way because the family will be eating it over the next three days of celebration.

While I love to look at pictures of osechi meals, I really like simple for New Years. Konbu Maki is my favorite. It is usually chicken or pork and gobo (burdock root) rolled in konbu and tied with kanpyo (gourd). Then it is simmered in a shoyu sauce for a few hours. That’s what you see in the top picture.

Now, I’m not going to lie to you. This is not a quick weeknight dinner. It does take time. But it is well worth it. I love making konbu maki because it involves my whole family. My mother is the supervisor. She tells my father and I what is best. This is because she is logical, left-brain. My father and I are artists. We don’t mull over what is best. We just do. We’re very Yoda-like in that way.

Here is a Konbu Maki recipe based on the Honpa Hongwanji Favorite Island Cookery Book II. (Their recipe uses pork, which is also good.)

KONBU MAKI

2  3oz. packages of Konbu Maki konbu (kelp) cut into 6-inch lengths

5  boneless skinless chicken thighs cut up into 2-inch strips

2 packages kanpyo (gourd) cut into 12-inch lengths

2/3 cup soy sauce (I like Kikkoman.)

1/2 cup sugar

4 T mirin

1 stalk gobo (burdock root) cut into 2-inch lengths

konbu

Soak konbu in water until pliable. Rinse off excess salt and dry. Cut konbu into 6-inch lengths. If your konbu is wide, you may have to cut it in half lengthwise. You want the width to be 2 inches. Soak the kanpyo. When pliable, cut into 12-inch lengths. Don’t skimp on this because you need the space to tie and this stuff can be slippery.

konbumakichicken

To cut the gobo, cut into 2-inch lengths first. Then cut it in half lengthwise and then cut that half in two. Soak in water to prevent discoloration.

gobo

Place a piece of chicken and gobo on the konbu. Roll it up and tie with the kanpyo. Cross the kanpyo on one side and then turn it over and tie it in a knot. Place konbu maki in a sauce pan. Add just enough water to cover and cook for an hour. Drain out the water. Add shoyu, sugar, and mirin and cook for another hour to hour and a half.

finishedkonbumaki

The length of time it will take to cook the konbu maki in the sauce depends a lot on the thickness of your konbu. If it is really thick, you need to cook it a little longer in the water and then in the shoyu mixture. Also, at the halfway point with the shoyu mixture, we shift all the konbu maki that’s been on top to the bottom of the pan and move the bottom to the top. That way, the taste is even all around. Now, if you have a super large sauce pan, you won’t have to do this.

Hope you all had a wonderful New Years! Make this year a good one, a kind one and one filled with love. (See my kagami mochi! The mochi is supposed to be bigger than the tangerine, but you work with what you have, you know what I mean?)

kagamimochi

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Persimmons and the Morning Fog

Note: I wanted to publish this in November, but alas, there was no time. It’s an older post but I just love it because that memory of being at the Ferry Building with all that fruit is still vivid in my mind, even years later. So please, enjoy!

Ah, it’s November. And sadly, I’m in Hawaii. Don’t get me wrong. I’m grateful for the blue skies, the tradewinds and the daily sunshine. But nothing says autumn to me like the morning fog rolling in over San Francisco Bay and lovely, orange persimmons!

November makes me nostalgic for my first trip to the Ferry Building’s Saturday Farmer’s Market. That year, San Francisco was experiencing a record heat wave for November and the days were a balmy 75 degrees and sunny. The skies were so clear and blue, it made me wonder, “Where am I?”

sanfranciscomorning

Yes, everyone gets all worked up about summer and its berries and ripe sensual fruits, but frankly, I prefer fall. When I wandered around the stalls of fruits and vegetables, it was a wonder for my eyes:  eggplants as large as boxing gloves, dark green kale with coy ruffled leaves, deep red bell peppers, plums, grapes, apples of all kinds and of course, persimmons.

bellpeppers

I was never a persimmon lover in Hawaii. Unless you’re willing to spend $5.00 a pound for the Hashimoto one grown on Maui, the stuff we get is mediocre at best. But in San Francisco, I couldn’t get enough of it. I think in the two days that I was there, I must have eaten at least six or seven persimmons total.

For those new to the fruit, there are two kinds of persimmons: Fuyu and Hachiya. A Hachiya looks more like a heart and you have to wait for it to be soft and really ripe in order to eat it. If you don’t wait, you will be sorry and left with a mouth that looks like an old man’s without his teeth. A Fuyu is more like a mini pumpkin. It’s crunchy and firm and its sweet flesh looks like and sometimes, in my mind, tastes like there’s cinnamon sprinkled all over it.

persimmonscloseup

But don’t think the Hachiya is useless. Not at all. My late uncle used to dry them. The result is what looks like a large date heavily dusted with powdered sugar. At first, I thought that my uncle must have added something. Even a date doesn’t excrete this much sugar, right? But it was all the persimmon. I kid you not.

For our family, the dried Hachiyas are like gold. The process of drying them is ridiculously labor intensive. You don’t just leave it out and let the sun do its trick. No, you have to massage the fruit every day. I haven’t had a massage myself recently so what makes you think I would want to give a massage to my fruit? So when we received those dried persimmons, I definitely felt loved knowing how much work went into it. Now that he’s gone, I feel like something is missing come fall.

So all you people who live near the Ferry Building in San Francisco, eat a Fuyu persimmon for me or two or three because autumn has definitely arrived.

When You Least Expect It

As a forty-something-year-old woman, I hear it all the time. “You’ll find him when you least expect it.” Married people love singing this refrain often. While I don’t know if I can apply it to my love life, I can certainly connect it to waiters I have met in my lifetime. Some of them have even saved my life.

I think you can relate if you’ve ever dated. It’s hard to meet a guy for the first time. You’re basically having a meal with a stranger. And you don’t know if he’s going to be THE ONE or the one who only talks about himself for an hour and half or the one who keeps wiping the condensation off his glass and fixing his fork to a perfect right angle. Perhaps the worst date I have ever been on is the one where the guy left five minutes after he arrived.

“I have an emergency,” he said. He didn’t look anxious or stressed out, but he was out the door faster than I could say my name. But I am not one to miss out on a meal and neither was my waiter.

“What an ass!” he said. “You know, if you don’t want to eat lunch, don’t worry about it. No charge on the drink.”

“Are you kidding? I’m starving. I don’t care if I have to eat here alone.”

Of course, on some level I did care. Being a Sunday, the restaurant was super crowded, and I was seated in a corner near the door. Everyone who entered the restaurant saw me. But it didn’t matter. My waiter understood. He kept coming around and talking story, no matter how busy the restaurant got. If he didn’t have to work, he probably would have sat down and eaten with me. In the end, I was glad my date left me at the table. I would have never experienced such kindness if he didn’t.

mariposaview

Perhaps nowhere have I experienced kindness best than at Mariposa. For those of you who have never been there, it’s the top floor restaurant at Neiman Marcus in Ala Moana Center. The picture above is the view from the lanai. I had eaten there many times before and so had my father. But my mother had never been there. So this year, we decided to celebrate her birthday there.

We sat out on the lanai. I, personally, like the outside because the restaurant itself can be a little noisy. But the lanai is like you’re in your own personal sanctuary. The lunch started out like any other lunch. Our waiter introduced himself and of course, they came with the pop overs and that strawberry butter. This is not the place to be if you are staying away from carbs. It’s hard to refuse that pop over! And then we ordered. My mother and I shared the Eggs Benedict and a salad. My father had some pasta dish.

mariposapopovers

I have never been a big fan of Eggs Benedict. I think it’s because the Hollandaise sauce makes the biscuit soggy underneath. It just looks so unappetizing. But here, I got my sauce on the side. And when you do, you notice the biscuit. I’m sure there’s lard or some kind of shortening or butter, but I didn’t care. It was the most delicious thing in the world. My mother couldn’t stop talking about how wonderful that biscuit was. She even told the waiter that they should sell just that biscuit. (which they do on Sundays) They really should. They would make a killing.

mariposadessert

If you’re celebrating a birthday, the waiter will bring out a dessert on the house. Our waiter didn’t know about my mother’s birthday. But when he heard me mentioned it, he felt so bad. You should have seen him. He made a beeline for the kitchen and came back with their signature ice cream, which you can see in the top photo. We ate two desserts that day. So delightful!

But our waiter saved the best for last. Before we left the restaurant, he came back with a large bag and offered it to my mother.

“What’s this?” she asked.

“Guess.”

When she looked inside, she nearly squealed. He had bought her a biscuit to take home. Oh my goodness. Could that day get any better? It’s nice when a waiter does that for you, but when he does that for your mother, that is beyond words. My mother was so happy and let me tell you she did not feel the need to share that biscuit. She ate it all by herself.

If you’re wondering why I have no pictures of the Eggs Benedict and the aforementioned biscuit, it’s because by the time I realized that I needed a picture, that biscuit was already in my stomach. It’s that good.

Have you got a waiter or waitress story? Share it with us in the comment section. We like reminders of kindness.

Twenty-first Century Good Luck

If it weren’t for the orange door, it would be easy to miss Shop Toast in Kaimuki. The favors showroom is hidden away in a corner of a small shopping center on Waialae Avenue. But for those who love designer Jeremy Shoda’s unique favors, “kawaii” creations, and reinventions of traditional Japanese goods, Shop Toast is easy to find. Some customers even make special trips from the mainland to see him and his creations.

shoptoastorangedoortwo

Although Shoda’s store is about the size of a walk-in closet, what it lacks in size, it more than makes up for in merchandise. Lining the many shelves are favors for every holiday and event imaginable.

shoptoastwallthree

Think carrot gift containers with small wooden rabbits for Easter, Frankenstein and his bride for Halloween, and the traditional nutcracker for Christmas. Then there’s apples, pineapples, lucky cats, dogs, reindeer, ninjas, sumo wrestlers, and even the frog prince.

carrotcontainer

But perhaps what Shoda and his former partner Michelle Kaneko are best known for is their unique take on Japanese good luck items. “Both Michelle and I had worked for years at a small Japanese boutique called Iida’s at Ala Moana, so we became very familiar with traditional Japanese goods. I wanted to reinvent these traditional goods to make them both accessible and relevant with the younger generation. I think it’s a great way to keep these traditions alive, even if they’re only loosely based on the original design.”

shoptoastteruteruboozu

Shoda has made good on that promise. Since Shop Toast’s inception nine years ago, he and Kaneko have created their own versions of Japanese favorites such as the kokeshi, daruma, teru teru bozu (good weather amulet), koinobori (carp for Children’s day) and maneki-neko (lucky cat). But unlike their traditional counterparts, Shoda’s creations are much more than just symbols of good luck.

One of the hallmarks of his design is a dedication to personalizing his creations. “It was very important for me that the new iterations had a use beyond the original design to avoid dust collector status. As I learned in architecture, you want to have things that look great but are useful at the same time.”

shoptoastkoinobori

An example of this is his Koinobori or Carp Favor Flag. At first glance, the koi flags resemble the cotton carp windsocks that adorn rooftops in April and May in Japan. They are flown in honor of Children’s Day on May 5. The carp is filled with the promise of courage, strength and the ability to move forward through obstacles, qualities that the Japanese have long prized in their sons. But in Shoda’s version, the once spirited rooftop carp can now be held in one’s hands. In addition to the cloth design above, he also has a version with a clear tube filled with milk chocolate balls and topped off with streamers. It’s not hard to imagine a child, running with Shoda’s koinobori in his hand, making his own wind.

kokeshidolls

Shoda’s bestselling design is his kokeshi. Originating in Tohoku during the Edo Period, these wooden dolls were sold to onsen guests in the winter as symbols of good harvest and fertility. While Shoda’s kokeshi doll resembles the original in shape, a thin body without any arms or legs and a wider head, he has completely made over its features into a more “kawaii” or cute style. And unlike the solid wooden dolls, Shoda’s version is actually hollow. While the thin digitally printed wood veneer seals the body shut, the head can be opened to store a small gift or card.

darrenthedaruma

His most recent creation is Darren, a twenty-first century update of the daruma. In Japan, this red, round papier-mâché doll with no eyes has long been a symbol of perseverance and good luck. Its origins can be traced back to Bodhidharma, the founder of Zen Buddhism, who is said to have cut off his eyelids in order to stay awake during meditation. When you have a wish or a goal, you color in one of the eyes. Then when your goal is achieved, you color in the other. While Shoda’s daruma is made into a trunk shape with a digitally printed wood veneer, the concept of the original was preserved. Darren comes with only one of his eyes colored in so that the recipient can still set a goal and color in the other eye when the goal is achieved. But like his kokeshi doll, Shoda’s daruma is hollow.

darumacloseup

The container feature of this traditional wishing doll has inspired his customers. Not only has it been used as a favor and a money holder for graduations and retirement parties, a mainland store called Daruma even used his doll as a clue container for a scavenger hunt. Some customers have even written down their wishes on slips of paper and placed it inside.

Tokyo resident, Yoko Uchida received Shoda’s darumas as a gift for New Year’s. While she was familiar with the traditional version, she really liked the Shop Toast dolls. “I’ve never seen such a cute daruma! All darumas in Japan have a scary face, and my daughter used to cry when she went to my parents’ house and found the darumas I used for my entrance exams.” But as soon as Uchida’s daughter received her new gift, she quickly wrote down her wish to pass her own entrance exams and placed it safely inside her new daruma.

shoptoastdarumatwo

In addition to the container daruma, Shoda also makes a canned version with chocolate covered almonds inside. This daruma has no eyes, but it comes with two magnetic circles that you can move into the eye area: one, when you make a wish and the other, when it comes true.

The future looks very bright for Shoda. He plans to continue making newer versions of these cherished originals. “For me, even if customers don’t know the story behind it, I just want to keep the tradition alive. It’s my heritage.”

Shop Toast

3434 Waialae Avenue #3

Honolulu, Hawaii 96816

www.shoptoast.com

shoptoastlogo

I hope you enjoyed our feature on Shop Toast and designer Jeremy Shoda. Stay tuned next month for our Thanksgiving gratitude special on waiters and waitresses!

 

Food Is Love

Hi! I’m Mariko and welcome to my blog. I’m so glad you stopped by!

Momochan Conquers the World is a monthly blog dedicated to food. But truth be told, I come from a family who doesn’t really savor food. Let’s face it, they’re two steps away from slurping ramen, standing up at the train station in Tokyo. To them, food is fuel, nothing more. This is what makes me think I’m adopted. I’m the only one in my family who loves the sensuality of food, the journey a good meal takes to unfold.

But I wouldn’t say that I’m a foodie. Foodies seem to love EVERYTHING! I don’t. For example, I know that cilantro is the basis of several world cuisines, but take me to a Thai restaurant and I’ll pluck each leaf from my Tom Yum soup when they forget to take it out beforehand. I also have mixed feelings about avocado. I know it’s a super food and all, but I just can’t get past the texture. The only way I’ll eat it is if it’s with chips or some other food to mask its presence.

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So why start a food blog you say? Because there is nothing better than wandering farmers markets and tasting, tasting, tasting, or baking lasagna late at night when the windows are closed, and the aroma gets trapped inside. I love trading dessert and gossip over the back fence with my neighbor or lingering over long dinners where the conversation is as delicious as the food. And to taste something new in a new place is just the best. But most of all, I love being in the kitchen with close friends and family where home-cooked meals bloom with stories and memories. And not just the dishes that we make all the time because our mothers, fathers, or grandparents made them. I’m talking about the food that reminds us of first love, the closeness of family, the loss of a friend, childhood, culture and history. I love it all. Food is so much more than just fuel and with this blog, I hope to show you just that.

This year, I began chronicling my life through food. In a journal, I recorded the recipes I cooked, pasted in pictures of the finished dishes, and wrote the story or memory behind it. Some were longtime favorites that I had made over and over again, while others were brand new. Not all of them worked out, but in the end, I really enjoyed seeing my life, the ups and downs, through these meals.

momochancookbook

But as I was creating my cookbook, I wanted to do more. I remembered after a potluck lunch, one of my writing students said, “Look, we shared a meal. Now, we’re family.” I think that’s so true about food. It can bring people together. It’s an expression of love. It nourishes our souls as well as our stomachs.

Food is love. Thus, the idea for my blog was born.

Momochan Conquers the World is an extension of that love. But it’s more than just mouth-watering pictures of dishes at high-end restaurants. We want to give food meaning. So over the next year, we want to feature regular everyday people with their own special dishes and stories. We want to go on field trips to farms and restaurants as well as factories where food artisans perform their magic. There are also cooking classes, communities, and cultures to learn from and all sorts of other experiences to be had. We hope you will join us on our culinary journey.

Our next post will be at the ending of October. I’ll have a feature on one of my favorite designers in Hawaii, Jeremy Shoda of Shop Toast in Kaimuki. All I’ll say is he’s making tradition new again. Until then, enjoy this picture from Berry Cafe in Kyoto Station. I’ve never been inside, but a window of pies sure is tempting.