Happy Fall!

Seems like no matter how many polls you listen to, people have a different season of the year that they like best. Spring and Fall lead the others usually, probably because the weather is milder—and Fall fans are really into it because Halloween is so popular. These pumpkins look scary enough for Halloween, don’t they?

I took a couple of Zojirushi Stainless Mugs with me this month and took some random shots—hope you like them!

This is a local park near our house called Los Arboles, more popularly known as Rocketship Park. There are only a handful of these rocketship slides left in SoCal, mainly because cities are constantly in fear of being sued by parents whose children might get injured. Geez! What happened to kids being allowed to play like kids? Torrance tried to take this one down in the middle of the night, but residents protested so strongly, they were forced to set it up again; and today it’s a historic landmark. I’ve heard there’s another one somewhere in L.A. county, but they decided to cover it up with steel plates to prevent anyone from climbing in. Sheesh…I’m so glad ours is still standing.

 

My gym where I’ve actually kept up my New Year’s resolution to this day!

I’m such a wimp tho…

 

The reason getting in shape is hard—I’ve already confessed I have a weakness for donuts. These apple fritters are AMAZING from Randy’s Donuts®. Highly recommended.

The iconic donut sign outside. It’s been in so many movies and TV shows, the big donut is an L.A. icon. Randy’s is open 24/7 and the fritter is only $1.50; I’d say that’s pretty reasonable!

 

This is the 3rd Street Promenade in Santa Monica. We love coming out here on a weekend, to people watch, enjoy the street musicians and shop at one of the best outdoor malls in Los Angeles. My only complaint is the lack of independent specialty stores, which are becoming more rare everyday, being taken over by the big chain retailers. But that’s everywhere you go, right?

Cool dinosaur topiary sitting under colorful polka dots.

 

Slurp! Ready to dig into an icy shaved ice dessert, flavored with mango ice and melon balls—served in a melon bowl! This was every bit as good as it looks. Cheers to Oakobing down in Koreatown, L.A.

 

Pumpkin season has officially begun! But before you order your pumpkin spice latte, go visit a pumpkin patch—a real pumpkin patch. This is Tanaka Farms, a working farm in Irvine, CA located right off the freeway. It’s been years since I visited this place, and the last time was during strawberry season. I was surprised at how busy it’s gotten—with an expanded gift store, produce stand and farm tours; but they still haven’t lost their identity as a farm that serves the local community.

Tanaka Farms is privately owned by a 3rd generation Japanese-American family. It covers 30 acres and they grow over 60 varieties of fruits and vegetables year ‘round. Thank you Tanaka family, for keeping your amazing farm going so all of us can visit an authentic farm so conveniently close!

Happy October everyone!

All images by Bert Tanimoto, Ugly Pumpkins by @ironchefmom

 

 

 

Bert-san’s Take—My Zojirushi Lunch Jar

It’s National Bento Month again! And even though I bring my lunch to work every day anyway, I thought I’d give the Zojirushi Lunch Jar a spin, to see how it really works. Hey, let’s all get behind this great holiday and get some momentum going. We’re supposed to be evolving from the brown paper bag, remember??

Actually, what inspired me to try the Lunch Jar out was the really, really good beef stew that we had the night before. I wanted to bring it for work, so what better way than to keep it hot enough to enjoy at my desk? But that wasn’t all that I was interested in—I wondered how easy it would be to pack everything in the first place, and after I was done, how easy it would be to clean.

I used the largest container for my stew and packed as much rice as I could into the bottom soup bowl. Then my biggest challenge was coming up with what else I wanted to bring to fill up the other 2 containers. Here’s a Zojirushi tutorial on how to use their Lunch Jar:

BTW, did I mention that in Hawaii, we always eat our beef stew with rice? It’s a popular kind of plate lunch, actually, normally served with a side of macaroni salad. Since I couldn’t place a chilled salad inside the jar with my hot beef stew and rice, I added some fruit and a slice of homemade cake in the top 2 containers.

This worked out pretty well—I had some slight melting of the frosting on my cake, but my lunch was still warm, so the jar did what it was supposed to do. And I didn’t mind the fruit being room termperature anyway. I also found the carrying tote bag that comes with the Lunch Jar to be indispensable, and the spoon-fork thing to be handy.

Next up was my chilled test. I again brought our pasta salad leftovers from the night before—looks yummy, right?

I have to say this worked better than the hot lunch; but maybe it was because you really don’t have to keep a salad icy cold—just chilled enough. And it didn’t really matter how cool the other parts of my lunch got; my peanut butter didn’t melt, so I was happy. The top container held a packet of instant miso soup, which was perfect because I couldn’t bring a hot soup with this cold bento. I’ve got access to hot water and paper cups at work, so for me anyway, no problem—I just made the soup there. The spoon-fork wasn’t as useful with this type of food; I just used a plastic fork from our office cafeteria.

Speaking of instant miso soup; if you’ve never tried these, I highly recommend them if you love miso soup and you want some fast. It comes with a packet of real miso paste and a packet of dried ingredients like green onion, wakame seaweed, and dehydrated tofu. Combine them in a cup of hot water, and boom—instant soup!

Just for fun, I tried one more cold bento of cabbage salad, Chinese broccoli, and chicken wings. And using a trick that some of you may find useful, I loaded that bottom soup container with ice. I figured the soup container is leak proof, so it could work as a cold pack for the ice to keep my salad even colder for even longer.

This worked pretty well, surprisingly. I don’t know how often I would need to use this hack, but if you have that extra container available, why not? The ice sits at the bottom, so it kind of acted as a mini fridge for my salad.

Finally, after all is said and done, Did I have fun washing all of these containers? Ha-ha! Since I’m the primary dishwasher at our house, I didn’t think it was a big deal. We handwash everything anyway, and I do believe handwashing is the best way to make the product last longer. Air dry overnight, and it was good to go the next day!

IMHO, the best way to use the Lunch Jar is to plan what you’re going to bring the next day, whether it be a hot or cold lunch, and you can decide for yourself whether your night’s leftovers would work or not. All the containers have to be used to keep everything from rattling inside the larger jar itself, so you may as well find something to pack. The trick is to figure out what to keep temperature controlled, and what to leave room temperature. You might think the containers are too small for you, but trust me, if you use them all for your lunch, the SUM TOTAL of food is plenty for a complete meal. And the best part is that it makes you think about filling them with a balanced, healthy meal, instead of gorging out on one big lunch!

 

 

Images by @ironchefmom and Bert Tanimoto

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