About Bert Tanimoto

Oldish father of two youngish kids. Zojirushi enthusiast and professional writer. California resident with roots in Hawaii and Japan. Classic rock, popcorn movies, audio books, spam, sushi and cone filtered coffee. Guilty pleasures include donuts and pop bands like ABBA and Wham!.

Offbeat August Holidays

In the U.S., we don’t have any national public holidays in the month of August—no wonder the summer seems to drag on, right? But in some countries they celebrate some very odd ones during August, compared to what we’re used to here in the States.

Taiwanese Valentine’s Day—In Taiwan, the Qixi Festival is celebrated on August 17th, when many Chinese couples schedule their wedding day and hold traditional ceremonies (in traditional costumes like you see above). Weddings held en masse are also common. The traditional folk tale behind Qixi Day is a story about a downtrodden ox-herder who falls in love with a fairy maiden, even though an ordinary mortal cannot marry the daughter of a god. When the Queen Fairy Mother finds out, she takes back her daughter and keeps them separated with a line drawn in the stars, which becomes the heavenly Milky Way. The story has a happy ending though, as the couple is allowed to see each other—but only during one day of the year, on Qixi Day.

Today more than 70% of Chinese couples celebrate the holiday in one way or another, with a romantic dinner being the most popular, followed by gifts for their S.O., movie dates, writing love letters, and going to a motel to celebrate(!). That last one is surely universal?

National Picnic Day—In Northern Territory Australia, Picnic Day is a public holiday and a day off for the general population on the first Monday of August. Imagine getting paid to go on a picnic!

Aussies use the extra day for a long weekend to go on trips or to attend the annual Harts Range races, an activity filled day of riding, bbq and dancing. Others go to the town of Adelaide River to have a traditional Railway Picnic, the way the holiday got started back in the late 1800s—as a way to give the hard working rail workers of the area a day of rest and fun.

Why not have our own Picnic Day? Take along a Zojirushi Food Jar and a Stainless Bottle or two, and you’re pretty much set for a whole day outdoors!

National Melon Day—August 12th is Melon Day in Turkmenistan, a country in Central Asia near Afghanistan and Iran.

Since 1994, they have celebrated their favorite fruit that is recognized for its importance in Turkmenistan’s culture and history. Fairs and festivals are held in different regions of the country, inviting guests to taste their juiciest and sweetest melons in the world. Over 400 varieties of melon are grown here, including some of the rarest—not an easy feat considering more than 80% of Turkmenistan is desert. Hot sunny weather and long summers are natural factors which contribute to the Turkmen melon’s distinctive feature; a high sugar content that approaches 18 percent! Makes me want to try one…

“Yama No Hi” (Mountain Day)—Japan honors its mountains on August 11th, continuing this newly established national public holiday that was established in 2014. With the island nation being mostly mountainous, the Japanese have long revered their peaks—especially Mt. Fuji, a striking, nearly perfectly shaped active volcano and Japan’s highest elevation.

On Mountain Day, the Japanese are encouraged to take the day off, go hiking on the beautiful mountains, and spend some disposable income to help the economy. In truth, the first day off just got underway in 2016, so it may take some time to get traction and for people to go climbing. Apparently August 11 (8/11) was chosen because the kanji character for “8” resembles a mountain and the number “11” looks like two trees. That’s a good enough reason for me! “Yama-no-Hi” is Japan’s 16th public holiday.

Hawaii Admission Day—My home state joined the Union on August 21st, 1959. What was I doing in back in 1959? I was living in Hawaii and playing with swords instead of lightsabers, pretending to be “Zorro” instead of Obi Wan Kenobi. I mean, check out the old cars in the background! And BTW, if you don’t know who Zorro is, I’m not going to bother telling you. Just Google it.

Obviously I didn’t care whether Hawaii had become a state or not, even though an overwhelming majority of locals voted in favor of statehood, so apparently it was a big deal.

If you want to celebrate Hawaii becoming our 50th state with me this month, eat “local food”, or better yet, make some local food at home. Like Loco Moco, Spam Musubi or Butter Mochi. There is no better comfort food, in my opinion.

 

Photos: “Chinese folk wedding” by llee_wu is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0 
“a feudal picnic basket” by alex lang is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0
“Fuji japan” by Travelbusy.com is licensed under CC BY 2.0
Rail Picnic from the Rail Heritage WA Archive
Statehood Girl from the Hawaii State Archives
“Swordfight” taken by Beatrice Tanimoto, circa 1959

 

 

I Love My New Water Boiler

We recently bought a new Zojirushi Water Boiler, after we were forced to retire our old one after so many years of faithful service. The inner pot started developing rust spots and the water started to smell funny, but I feel it lasted a long time, considering we kept it turned on 24/7—unplugging it only when we went out of town. We decided on the CD-LFC30, a cute, chunky looking model in sleek white. In our kitchen it breaks up the monotony of all the stainless steel appliances we have.

Ahhh! To have great tasting tea again! We’re heavy green tea drinkers at home, so my whole family uses hot water constantly. A water boiler that keeps hot water available any time makes total sense for us. But we use it for so many other things too, which is probably why ours is on all the time.

I have mine set at 195°F, which I think is OK for most uses. If I was doing a pour-over cup of coffee, I’d want it hotter so I’d be using boiled water from a kettle anyway. And if I got some really expensive tea, I might want to set it lower so I don’t scorch the tea leaves. If you want some real good information on how water temperature affects your tea, read more here.

Besides tea, we use our water boiler for instant hot cocoa.

Also for instant oatmeal for a quick morning breakfast.

Instant miso soup! Have you tried these? They come with miso paste packets and dehydrated green onion, tofu and wakame seaweed. Just add hot water, and voila! Amazingly good miso soup!

And of course, the most popular emergency snack in the world, cup of noodles.

Speaking of cup of noodles, here’s our old water boiler performing like a champ during my daughter’s 13th birthday when we had a sleepover with a bunch of her friends. Mind you, this was self-service for the kids, which was perfectly safe when hot water is being dispensed out of a water boiler and not a hot kettle.

If all these uses weren’t enough to justify getting a water boiler, did you know plain hot water actually has health benefits too? Many people drink a cup of hot water first thing in the morning or right before bedtime as a holistic health remedy.
•It can help the body relax—makes sense; many people drink hot tea to calm nerves. Hot water can serve the same purpose without the caffeine or the sugar.
•It relieves nasal congestion—tell me if you haven’t experienced this benefit. Next time you have a stuffy nose from a cold, try sipping hot water while inhaling the steam from the cup.
•Helps digestion—hot water soothes and activates your digestive tract. Water hydrates and lubricates your organs, after all. Plus, hot water can help dissolve and break down troublesome foods.
•Keeps you hydrated—in the end, it’s water and your body needs it; and this might be an easier way to get your daily requirement that nutritionists recommend.

My Review of the CD-LFC30
So far, so great. The water is tasting good again. I tested the Quick Temp feature by filling the tank with cold water and heating to exactly 195°F. It was ready to go in 19 minutes—not bad for almost a gallon of water. My old boiler used to boil to 212°F and I had to wait until it cooled down.

I also wanted to test the lid as I opened it for refilling. My old one would drip condensation where the lid hinged with the tank, whenever I opened it. You can see how the accumulated condensation now drips neatly back into the tank. No mess!

I used the Slow Dispense Mode on all these shots, which is perfect for pouring into cups and bowls without splashing.

The big wide window of the refill indicator is so much easier to see than my old boiler.

I love the stubby low profile of this boiler. It looks so compact, but it has plenty enough capacity for our family—no less than my old boiler, so I know it’s enough.

If you’ve never owned a water boiler, and especially if you drink a lot of tea, I would recommend getting one just for the convenience of having hot water anytime. It beats putting the kettle on the stove, or filling an electric one and turning it on every time, or microwaving and waiting for it to heat.

For more ideas on how to use an electric water boiler, check out these recipes on the Zojirushi site.

 

 

credits: all photos by Bert Tanimoto, product images by Zojiushi

Udon, The Straight Noodle

A while back, I wrote a post on Ramen and its popularity here in the U.S. It hasn’t dwindled one bit, seems like, and ramen shops keep multiplying. And while I love ramen in all its forms, I’m also a great fan of udon; it might be my favorite noodle of all time. Of the three great noodles of Japan—ramen, soba and udon, I feel I can never get tired of udon. Soba is healthy, gluten free and probably the best summer food when eaten chilled; but many friends I know don’t like the texture or nutty taste. Ramen can get heavy when the broth is pork based tonkotsu, often to the point where I can’t finish it. It’s an amazing meal in itself though, I’ll admit.

On the other hand, there’s not much to dislike about udon. Unless you can’t digest wheat flour and you need to stay gluten free, udon noodles are satisfyingly chewy, adaptable to practically any kind of broth and condiments, delicious hot or cold and slippery good! Maybe the only complaint would be that you have to be fairly skilled with chopsticks to pick them up!

Udon is made by mixing flour with lightly salted water to make a dough, which is then kneaded, rolled and flattened like pizza dough, and sliced into the thin strips to look like udon. It really is the easiest type of noodle you can make at home. Most people use the “stepping on it with your feet” method to knead the dough (after covering with a cloth of course), because it’s easier than using your hands. If you have a breadmaker to knead it for you, all the better. Here’s a recipe from Zojirushi for Teuchi (handmade) Udon using their breadmaker.

A professional sous-chef at a restaurant uses a dough slicing machine to get perfect strands of udon noodles.

 

With summer and hotter days coming, you may think udon season is over, but you would be wrong! There are so many cold variations of this noodle, it doesn’t always have to be in hot broth. One of my favorites is this very simple dish called Bukkake Udon, where a cold broth is splashed over chilled udon. This is so unbelievably refreshing—I mean, take a look at these ingredients; katsuobushi (shaved bonito) flakes, green onion, grated daikon, and tempura crisps. Easy to imagine the flavor about to explode in your mouth, isn’t it?

Bukkake Udon with a beef bowl rice dish

 

An even simpler cold dish is Zaru Udon, which is eaten by dipping the noodles into a cup of cold broth, much like the popular Zaru Soba version. Learn how to make the dipping broth with this Zojirushi recipe.

Zaru Udon with dipping sauce

 

And not all udon is made with a hot broth. Being so closely similar to pasta, udon is often used in Western interpretations, like this wonderfully cheesy, rich and creamy Gratin Udon. This is my daughter’s favorite whenever we go to our main udon restaurant.

Cheese Gratin Udon

 

A popular tapas style appetizer at Japanese izakaya restaurants is this stir-fried dish called Yaki Udon. There are hundreds of versions, but here’s one you can make on your own with Zojirushi’s help. Yaki Udon is quick to make, you can use leftover ingredients, and you can have it year ‘round.

Yaki Udon

 

Some more traditional udon styles. Classic Kitsune Udon, with its signature deep fried tofu.

Kitsune Udon

 

Beef Udon, for meat lovers like me—but the beef is shredded to better suit this dish, and it’s not heavy or greasy at all.

Beef Udon

 

Kanitama Udon; crabmeat in an egg scramble—so sublime and perfect for crab lovers.

Kanitama Udon

What is your favorite udon dish?

 

photo credits: Bert Tanimoto, @ironchefmom, Zojirushi

 

 

 

 

 

Japanese Soufflé Pancakes

Have you seen these fluffy Japanese Pancakes all over social media lately? I stepped out of my comfort zone last weekend, just to try my primitive cooking skills at making these babies. Not bad, eh? I’d say it was a success! (But I have to admit after a lot of trial and error and a lot of eggs) Mind you, I’m not totally helpless—I’ve done pancakes before. I mean, breakfast is relatively easy. But these were a real challenge and nothing like regular pancakes. So good! Light, airy, jiggly and fluffy!

Equipment:
Zojirushi Gourmet Sizzler Electric Griddle
Turns out this was great for making pancakes because I had so much room to work with. The temp settings are too high for Japanese Pancakes but I was able to adjust by tweaking it a little. More on that later. The included lid is necessary, so I wished it was clear so I could have seen the pancakes as it cooked, but there’s ways to get around that too, if you need to.

Recipe:
My basic recipe was from Tasty Japan, but I also got a lot of tips from Just One Cookbook on the basics of baking.
Ingredients for 4 servings
2 egg yolks
4 egg whites
1/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup pancake mix
1/2 cup milk

Japanese Pancakes require 2 things for success. Egg whites beaten to the right stiffness to make meringue and low temp steaming to bake. Making the batter was easy, the egg whites need to be finessed.

First get the egg yolks, sugar, pancake mix and milk into a bowl so you can whisk them together. Make sure not to leave it lumpy!

The egg whites need to be beaten with an electric blender. Some recipes called for them to be beaten with powdered sugar, instead of using granulated sugar in the batter. Preference thing, I guess. Anyway, the trick is to whip the egg whites until they get stiff enough to form peaks. I would do it at the highest speed.

Here’s one I did with powdered sugar. See the peaks?

By the way, did you know there are such things as egg white separators? This was a great gadget! No mess and it really gets all the whites separate from the yolk! Lot better than transferring the yolk from one shell to the other like old school!

This really works!

Next you fold the meringue into the batter. Don’t mix it in so thoroughly that it flattens the egg whites. All you’re doing here is combining the two parts.

And now you’re ready to put it on the griddle! Here’s a word about the griddle. This is a soufflé pancake, so you’re supposed to cook it on low heat for a long time, and covered with a lid. This recipe called for 10 minutes, while the steam did most of the cooking. My Zojirushi Griddle’s temp setting only goes as low as 300°F, which is way too hot for slow cooking these pancakes, so I actually had it on a setting barely above Keep Warm.

Here’s my setting.
The pour!

I used a bowl to steam it on low heat. Clever, right? With this griddle there was plenty of space so it was easy to do this. I did a couple with a pancake mold, which some of these recipes call for, but you don’t really need them to get them to come out fluffy and tall. If you do use molds, make sure they’re made of silicone like this one. You don’t want to scratch the griddle surface with metal. To get your pancakes taller, spoon the batter onto the surface, wait a little as it starts to cook, and layer more batter directly on top of it. It’s cooking so slow anyway, you’ve got plenty of time to do this.

“Update: Zojirushi does not recommend using this griddle at this temperature setting or using glass bowls on the surface. This post does not reflect usage guidelines provided by the manufacturer.”

Looking good…

When you’re ready to turn them over, put a spatula under it and roll them over gently. You can’t flip these guys. Dress with strawberries or powdered sugar or whatever you like. I really didn’t even need any syrup—they were already just the right sweetness all the way through.

Yummy!

For more pancake recipes from Zojirushi, try these. They’re not the soufflé kind, but they look delicious!

Blueberry Whole Wheat Pancakes

Gluten Free Pancakes

All photos by Bert Tanimoto

Tell a Story Day

April 27th is National Tell a Story Day. Libraries around the country actually participate in National Tell a Story Day by holding special storytelling times for children. Storytelling is the ancient practice of handing down knowledge from one generation to the next—over thousands of years. It encourages creativity, communication and the lost art of listening. So in honor of National Tell a Story Day, our new Zojirushi drink mug (seen above) is going to flip its top, spout off, and tell the tale of How Rice Saved The Great Wall of China. 😂

Thousands of years ago, around 220 BC, in the great kingdom of China, the Emperor Qin Shi Huang decided to start building a wall to keep the Mongol barbarians of the north from invading his country. In order to accomplish this monumental task, he captured and enlisted over 300,000 soldiers and forced them to labor. The Emperor would never live to see his creation become reality, but the massive project was kept alive for almost 2000 years, as governments came and went over the ages. During the Ming Dynasty, when the wall construction was at its peak, there lived the brothers Huang, who were a family of commoners indentured in servitude to build the Great Wall of China.

The eldest brother, Shang, was a hard drinker who always wanted to forget his troubles with several cups of wine even before he made it all the way home. He had lost so many friends to mudslides and the freezing storms, as they carried heavy boulders up the mountain, day and night. Indeed, many men lost their lives building the wall and were simply laid to rest near it, being too poor to have a proper burial at their hometowns. It is said the Great Wall is also the world’s longest cemetery.

The middle brother, Zhou, was a kind and gentle man who loved his parents and tried to help them with their rice farm whenever he could, working in the rice paddies when he wasn’t at the wall. The problem was that there were so many rice farmers, the Emperor’s traders didn’t really have to buy from the smaller farms. Zhou’s parents struggled to compete with the larger rice brokers. But Zhou worked tirelessly to keep the farm alive, and Shang respected and loved his younger brother for his dedication, even against seemingly hopeless odds.

The youngest brother, Meng, was the most practical and the smartest of the three. He too, had to slave at the wall, but he was always trying to figure out a way to become free of this burden and to make a better life for himself. He looked up to his older brothers, but he never could understand the point of trying to keep the family rice farm going, “Why do you work so hard when you know Mother and Father are going to lose this farm?” he always asked Zhou. And he worried about Shang, who was always drinking too much.

Then during one particularly terrible monsoon season, after it had rained for what seemed like weeks straight, a huge mudslide came crashing down on one section of the wall, burying hundreds of laborers alive under the mud. Zhou was right in the middle of it. He would surely have been killed, if Shang had not kept his brother’s head above the mud and saved him from drowning, The heavy rocks, however, crushed his legs and he had to be sent back home, never to be able to work at the wall or his rice fields ever again.

Shang was furious that day and nearly attacked the guard who was keeping watch on the workers. “Why hasn’t the Emperor done anything to make it safer for us?” he screamed. “Doesn’t he see what is happening here?” Luckily, Meng was right there to hold his brother back from swinging his shovel at the guard. But he couldn’t help but wonder what would have happened if Zhou had been killed.

Meng took over for Zhou at the rice farm after that. He didn’t want to see him get more depressed as he sat helplessly in his chair while his parents gradually lost their farm. After a year of working the fields though, Meng started to understand why Zhou loved farming so much. He came to appreciate the feel of the cool water of the paddies and why Zhou lovingly picked each stalk of rice during harvest time. Each grain of rice became precious to Meng as he gratefully ate his one bowl of rice a day. Meng never wasted his rice. Even old rice was put to good use, to make rice milk, rice bread, rice wine, and RICE GLUE. Meng had discovered that the sticky rice made a wonderful paste that he could use to mend all kinds of things around the house. And that was when he got his amazing inspiration.

Meng made a huge batch of sticky rice glue and brought it to his brother Shang at the wall. Together they started packing the rice in between the stones as they built their section of the wall, to see if it held together better when the next big rains came. Luckily, they had several days of dry weather ahead for the rice to completely bond the rocks, and when the summer storm came, the wall was ready. It worked perfectly. Other sections of the wall started to crumble from the rain, but their section stayed firm. Excited, Meng and Shang brought their discovery to the guard, who had become Meng’s friend after the day he had stopped Shang from doing something reckless. He agreed to tell the Emperor about the rice glue that held the wall together.

Thanks to the Huang brothers, and a lot of sticky rice, building the Great Wall of China became safer for everyone, and this also pleased the Emperor. He rewarded the Huangs by giving them a lifetime contract to produce as much rice as their little farm could handle, so they would never have to worry about losing their farm again.

The End 😊

Images: Great Wall illustration William Alexander rice field by muffinn rice plant by U. Leone

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