So it may seem like I’m a little obsessed with my diet lately and maybe I am. When I gave up wheat, dairy and sugar 4 years ago, I thought I had my diet sorted. I gave up all the things that I was intolerant to and I should live happily if somewhat restricted ever after, right? Well no, that doesn’t seem to be the way it works. As I said in my last post, I am a sugar addict so over the years, I’ve slowly back slid into eating sugary snacks. It’s nearly impossible to be Japanese and not have any sugar since it’s in so much for the food. But it’s not the same as having a piece of cake. So with a few exceptions since my last post, I have been able to cut out all sugar snacks from my diet.
Now there is the sticky issue of carbs. I read the Six Pack Chick by Bridget Hunt and while her particular diet doesn’t fit with my lifestyle, I thought I would at least cut back on the grains and other sugar producing foods she mentioned. Well the combination has done remarkable things for my middle. I have lost very little weight but my middle is visibly smaller. My jeans are comfortable again but best of all, I feel lighter in the gym. So what was that stuff hanging around my middle? Who knows? I’m just glad it’s gone. It is very hard as a Japanese person to not eat rice. But where I used to have one biggish bowl, I’ve cut back to half a bowl. I’ve also experimented with quinoa for rice. While it is not as satisfying, it is fine as an occasional substitute. The only problem is, when you don’t eat anything starchy, it’s hard to stay full. So I’ve gone back to snacking regularly on Kinomi (shameless plug). Nuts really are satisfying things to eat and now that I understand that all fat is not the enemy, I love my two handfuls a day. As I have a tendency to go overboard, I have to remember that all things, even good fats in moderation.
But while the low carb low sugar thing seems to be working for me, it’s probably not the answer for everyone. So how do you figure it out? Is there a test? Do you have to consult a nutritionist? Anyone have the answer? Oh and I did have a small bowl of muesli with my two eggs this morning. Hope this is not the beginning of back sliding. It’s only been 3 weeks.
As it says in the title, I have a really hard time with sugar. I don’t know if a sweet tooth is born or made but ever since I can remember, I have loved all things sweet. I have a mother who would rather eat sweets than meals. She was pretty good about it when we were growing up, eating proper meals with us and everything but now that there are no more kids in the house, I think she lives mostly on sugar. I guess my favourite form is ice cream but since I gave up dairy 4 years ago, there hasn’t been a good substitute in this country so that hasn’t been much of an issue. I also gave up refined sugar 4 years ago but it’s amazing how many things are on the market that use unrefined sweeteners to tempt me. Then there is of course chocolate. I love dark chocolate but have recently discovered if I eat it at night, it keeps me up. Oh the joys of growing older.
It’s a slippery slope this sugar thing. First you have a little something after dinner because it is nice to end dinner with something sweet. Then before you know it you crave something sweet after every meal and that includes breakfast. There were cookies, chocolate, cake readily available in the house so I had a choice whenever I had a craving. The inevitable consequence was even with lots of gym time, I kept putting on weight in my middle. It got to a point where my usual jeans were uncomfortable. This is a very familiar pattern to me. So you’d think I would immediately know the cause. But no, the light bulb finally went off this time and so I decided to go cold turkey. No more snacking on anything sweet, no more desserts. Within 3 days I could see the difference to my stomach. I don’t know if it’s weight or bloat that happens when I eat sugar but visually the results are the same. I spend so much time at the gym, if I was more careful about what I eat then I could look like someone who spends a lot of time at the gym. Of course I know what I should be eating, but it’s a constant battle between doing what’s right and laziness. But to make changes and make them sustainable, I need to take things slowly. First I’ll tackle the sugar, then the fat. I’m sure I will slide back now and again but as long as I can remember what happened this time and hopefully get to it sooner, I should be okay. Wish me luck.
So I spent a long weekend in New York. Hubby currently has a job there so it was a quick visit to see him. Of course we have been married forever and in typical unromantic form, he failed to take any days off. So I had a couple of days on my own to fill and somehow that was not a problem. The weather was just beautiful and it was great to walk around in flip flops and complain of being hot.
I did some serious damage at my two favourite shops and saw lots of friends old and new. Saturday night, one of my friends from college organised a dinner and a bunch of us got together. We all went to school together and some I’ve known for 35 years. My that makes me feel old. But the upside to all this ageing is having history with people. We don’t keep up on a regular basis although thanks to Facebook, I keep up with some better than others but every time we see each other, we just fall into a very easy dialogue. It’s just great that I have these friends and great that we still get together after all these years. The funny thing is, there have been gaps of years with some of them, I guess these things happen when you know each other over 30 years but then we just pick up again.
So on the one hand, there was much catching up and on the other, I met someone I was introduced to on Facebook through a mutual friend. It really didn’t feel like we had never met, we sat and chatted for 2 hours in Starbucks and didn’t run out of things to say. The truly astounding thing is, her best friend lived on my floor freshman year. How is that for a coincidence? We did not go to the same school and are no where near each other in age and yet… This year has been filled with so many people coincidences that I am no longer surprised. The world seems vast but in fact it is one global village.
I kept meaning to take photos of all the delicious food I had but I’d forget and eat it. I could never be a food blogger. I would say the highlights of my food trip were the two meals I had at Candle Cafe, a vegan restaurant around the corner from where hubby lives. I’m not vegan but I am dairy free and he is veggie so it was a good compromise. I had a wheat free brownie sundae with coconut ice cream. How great does that sound? On the opposite end of the spectrum, I had a 1 pound lobster for lunch at Chelsea Market. That and a couple of American size martinis made my weekend.
Now I’m back home and dealing with the mountains of things I have to do. But the sun is shining and I can’t complain. Life is good.
Well, I’ve done it. I was an exhibitor at the Speciality and Fine Food Show. For 3 days a 1 metre by 2 metre stand was my home. It had to be the face of my brand which is essentially me. But I’m getting ahead of myself. I guess I should have been blogging about the prep, but really I didn’t have the time or the mental space to chronicle that part. Suffice to say, it involved many stickers, much backing and forthing and even a list! I never make lists because I think lists lull you into a false sense of security. I think if I have everything on the list, I am fine. But what if I forget to put something on the list. See what I mean? Anyway, me and the ever growing list managed to pull it together to pack everything I need for the show into two large Ikea bags. Of course I forgot to photograph that, but you can kind of guess what it might look like. Actually I haven’t unpacked yet, I can go get a photo now.
Not too bad, right? But keep in mind, my stand is only 1m x 2m. It’s just the blue bags by the way, not the boxes in the background. Saturday was set up. I arrived at Olympia and found my stand and here is what it looked like. For some reason, the photo refuses to upload so you’ll have to use your imaginations. Just think of the photo below, but with nothing in it but a gross white cabinet,
I wasn’t sure about the ice cream shoppe look to the stand but what can you do? I was very thankful for the large but very beat up cabinet. I probably could have bought one for as much money as it cost me to hire that one for 4 days but then I’d have to get it there and back. It’s nothing that a little decoration can’t fix. But it was big with lots of storage and it kinda sorta locked. So it was good.
I had my wonderful friend H helping me for the whole time, it would have been a very lonely thing to have to do alone. Everything is better with a friend. Sunday, Monday and Tuesday, we stood in my stand smiling and trying to get people to sample Kinomi. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn’t, but I was very happy with the positive feedback I received. Now of course lots of people could have just been polite but I saw enough changes of expression (in a good way) after they tried them to know that they genuinely thought it was good. My neighbours on both sides were first timers like me and we were in the small producers area which meant no big corporations. Just lots of people like me, trying to get our products out into the world. Everyone was really friendly and positive.
Visitors come in all shapes and attitudes. No one was horrible, but I did have some people who obviously aren’t trade but just in for a nosh. I don’t mind at all, I want as many people to try Kinomi whether or not they have the authority to stock them but if you know you’re just munching on free samples, at least make eye contact, smile and say hello. I don’t begrudge people tastes at all, it’s just not very pleasant when they do it silently without eye contact. On the opposite end were people who wanted to try them but felt they shouldn’t because they couldn’t buy from me. People are complicated.
Anyway, I’ve done my three days, I’m now doing my follow ups and only time will tell if any of the nice people I spoke with will stock Kinomi. I hope so but even if they don’t I had a great experience that I never dreamed of when I thought it might be a good idea to turn my snacks into a business.
I think next year I’ll do a bit more to the walls. Looking a bit bare I think.
I will leave you with a photo of H and H at my stand. Doesn’t it look like we had fun?
I just got back from my annual trip to Tokyo. I’ve been doing this for awhile now, going to see my parents on my own. Three weeks is a long time to be away from your life and I am paying the consequences now, but still I thought I would take a couple minutes to put down my impressions.
For the first time, transport did not run like clockwork. I was on a train that was running over 20 minutes late. Now of course, there was snow and someone had thrown themselves under the train but still, little delays happened throughout my stay. What does it mean? The day of the 20 minute delay, I remembered what it was like to be on a real rush hour train. People had to get to work, so there was no mercy. Not a word was uttered, silently everyone just pushed on and with their backs toward the car, so they wouldn’t have to actually see the people they were squashing. It was a little eerie. It makes the occasional rush hour trains I get stuck on in London seem like a walk in the park.
I had a run of meals in a variety of price ranges and it was an eye opener. I have a favourite series of cookbooks, they are written by the owner of Waketokuyama. So it was with great anticipation that I went to eat in his restaurant with a friend I hadn’t seen in a couple of years. The food was beautiful and the ingredients very luxurious. But the experience overall didn’t fill me with awe. Of course it was delicious but at the price, you would expect that. So I tried to figure out what had left me cold. You really couldn’t fault the food or the service, but I felt it was lacking warmth. They didn’t make you feel special. God that makes me sound like a spoiled brat. But I do think restaurant eating is more than just consuming, especially when you pay top dollar. Maybe they just had an off night, I would like to go again to see if there’s any difference. Compare that to my meal the next night at MayuZen in Nishi Azabu. Now of course this is a place owned by my mom’s friend’s daughter so I do have a personal connection. I brought a friend of mine, the two of us sat at the counter and were just blown away with dish after dish of amazing food.?It is an intimate little restaurant and maybe that was the difference, even though I spent most of the evening catching up with my friend, the owner joined in where appropriate so that my friend went away feeling like he had found a new great place to go. There was not the distance as there was at WakeTokuyama where I very much felt we were strangers as opposed to guests. So the next night, another meal with another friend. We stumbled onto AnNon looking for a place to eat in Naka Meguro. It is a combination of Japanese and Okinawan food. Although we had the set dinner which didn’t feature any Okinawan dishes, everything was again really pretty and delicious. The restaurant itself was gorgeous, a spacious place with lots of blonde wood. We felt like we’d found the deal of the century given that it was dinner. Skipped a day and went for what has to be the highlight of the trip in terms of fish. A friend drove me out to a fishing port to have brunch in a diner owned by a fishing family. I don’t think I have ever had fish that fresh. No nice decor, no gorgeous crockery, just amazing fish. I was very bad at taking photos, but here are a couple taken by my friend at brunch.
Note the iphone in the photo for scale
The individual slices were very large as well
I’m going to sign off here, but there will be more posts to follow about my time in Tokyo, I hope. I start with the very best intentions, then life happens.
rice with umeboshi
I was chatting with a gym friend in the locker room the other day and I was telling her about the importance of rice. If you have a pot of rice made, you have a meal. Now ideally you will have a rice cooker and you will have hot rice always. But that isn’t always the case. But rice is one of those truly versatile things that tastes good in a variety of ways.
There is nothing better than a freshly cooked pot of rice. You open the lid, the steam comes pouring out and it smells wonderful. The Japanese prize white rice. Even though I know that brown rice is better for you and I actually like the way it tastes, it’s not the same. For people of my parents’ age who grew up in a period when there was no white rice because of the war, brown rice just brings back those memories. So in my house growing up, there was always a pot of white rice. When the rice is fresh, it is an anchor to your meal. Whether it’s a bit of grilled fish, a little stewed veg, some pickles, or even umeboshi, the pickled plum, they are all wonderful accompaniments to the rice. If you’re ever had umeboshi, you know it is very sour and makes you salivate. Just writing this, the thought of the umeboshi is making me salivate. There is a story in rakugo, a classic form of comic storytelling in Japan, about a man who was so tight that he would eat a bowl of rice just looking at the umeboshi. In addition, Japanese curry and hayashi rice are stew like things that can be poured over freshly cooked rice and are a big hit with kids.
So, pretty much a no brainer on enjoying freshly cooked rice. But what about rice that gets a little older or if you don’t have a rice cooker that keeps it warm? I do not like the microwave and try never to use one, but rice is one of those things that warms up beautifully in the microwave. Just remember to put a lid on it and if it’s really old and crunchy, sprinkle a bit of water, zap in on high for about 20-30 seconds and it revives beautifully. If you are one of those very organised people, you can freeze leftover rice in portions that make sense for later and zap when you need. It freezes very well too.
You can fry rice that is no longer fluffy and warm. In addition to the classic fried rice, you can put chopped onion and whatever else is lying around your fridge and season with ketchup for a western style fried rice. Or season with a little curry powder and add raisins for curry pilaf. But when it’s beyond even fried rice, put it in a pot with lots of water and cook it into congee. You can start from stock, dashi or just plain water. Swirl some egg, throw in some green leafy thing and whatever else strikes your fancy, it’s the perfect one person dish in front of the TV. A thin rice gruel just made on water with umeboshi is what you eat for an upset stomach or when you have a fever and have lost your appetite. My kids still associate it with being sick and being taken care of.
So remember, if you start with a pot of rice, you can eat for days without getting bored.
It’s now been over a year since I started teaching Japanese cooking in my flat. During the course of that year, I have been fortunate to have had the support of many friends who took my classes as well as a wonderful array of people who have simply come to learn Japanese cooking.
I decided to throw a drinks party for my cooking class students and people who had expressed interest in my classes. It was a good way to launch my autumn classes as well as introduce my students to each other. So I sent out my invites using a spiffy e mail marketing programme and waited to see what would happen. It is hard to plan for numbers when many people don’t RSVP (pet peeve). In the end, I figured between 25-30 people would show up. I planned my nibbles carefully since I wanted to showcase the kind of things they would learn in class but also make it reasonable for me to make quantities for 30 I did a couple of different kinds of sushi, fried tofu balls, salmon and of course, my Kinomi nuts. I also had goody bags with Kinomi nuts and a class schedule to take home. My florist, A florum on Caledonian Road did a spectacular job with the flowers and the flat was ready.
Gorgeous flowers, but I failed to take a photo of the table set with food.
I stepped into my dress just as the first guests arrived and then it was a non stop whirlwind 3 hours of socialising, nibbling, answering the door and generally keeping things going. Not that anyone required any help, people did a great job of meeting each other and getting to know one another. There were so many fascinating conversations going on, it was hard to decide which one to join in. The food was going too, a good sign for me as a cooking teacher.
All too soon it was over. I had a great time and it appears my guests did as well. I do love a good party, so I’ll have to plan another one soon.
PS Thank you to my friend S for the photo. Without her I wouldn’t have any evidence that it happened.
So in part 1, I told you about how the Kinomi nuts came about. Now let me tell you a little bit about what it took for me to make a little cellophane bag of nuts into an actual product.
I could not have done any of this on my own. You know it takes a village to raise a child, it’s a bit like that. You can’t do everything by yourself and do it well especially if it is a new venture. I have gotten to this point thanks to the support of many people who very patiently held my hand. So thank you.
As for the details, first there’s the spreadsheet. It appears to be an essential tool for all product development. What did people do before them? I remember back when I had a corporate job, we had spreadsheets. Or should I say, we had blank copies and we filled the data in by hand, calculated it in pencil and when we made changes, we would have to erase each cell and recalculate the entire thing by hand. Thank goodness the calculator had been invented or I’d still be at it 22 years later. Back then, only the department secretary had a computer so she would only input the final copy. She couldn’t be running spreadsheets for 5 different people with the same deadline. But I digress. So the only spreadsheet I had to work from was a template for running a cafe which is kind of the right idea in terms of it being food, but entirely wrong for what I need. But I used this until last night actually when wonderful husband made me a custom one that actually reflects what I’m doing. Yaay!
So I start calling wholesalers to try and see if I can get prices to plug into my spreadsheet. Run into snag number one. Hard to ask for prices when you don’t know how much you need. Kind of figure it out and run into snag number two. They will only do business with a real company. Which leads me to incorporating and opening a business account. The business account was a nightmare to open because even though it is with the bank we do our regular banking, they hadn’t gotten our change of address so I couldn’t open the account until the addresses matched. Why are banker’s phone numbers such a huge secret? I don’t have a direct number for the man responsible for my account. And I say responsible in the loosest way possible. But there I go again.
Anyway, after more stuff like above, I finally get to the point where I can go buy the first of my ingredients. Here is what I own now.
approximately 70kg of nuts
I also bought a ridiculously large cookie sheet and the world’s largest bowl. The spatula is for scale.
Armed with these new toys oh and did I mention the vaccuum sealer? I am ready to start producing. This is what the finished product will look like.
I will let you know when they are available for retail purchase. Fingers crossed, that happens soon.
I know I know, I go for months without a post then, bam! Two in a row. Well a lot’s been happening and I’d like to share.
Friday night I did the Underground Night Market. For those who have read my previous posts, you know this is the only market I do to publicise my cooking classes to the outside world. For those who read my post from Friday, you know this is where the Kinomi nuts got their start.
With my third outing, I think I can say that I have finally gotten used to doing a market. My preparations were so much more relaxed. This time I didn’t do a cooking demo, or Dragon’s Den panel. End result, much less stuff to schlep. It also meant that I could give a little more thought to my presentation and here is the end result.
We were really lucky with the weather. It was a gorgeous day which turned into a gorgeous evening. The market started at 6 pm and people started trickling in. Soon, it was a steady stream of people, most looking like they just got out of work but all looking for a fun and interesting night out. The live musicians in the garden and the DJ in the bedroom really provided a wonderful soundtrack to the evening. I chatted with many people both explaining my flavoured nuts and my classes. It was fun to have people say, ” Weren’t you at the last one? My wife brought some home.” I even met a guy who knew the previous owners of my flat and had been there. What a small world. Thank you to everyone who stopped by my table, it was lots of fun chatting with you.
There was a really buzzy mellow atmosphere, it felt almost like a private party. The market was officially over at 10:30 but when I left at 11, there were still people hanging out, enjoying the evening. Met lovely fellow stall holders, I was finally relaxed enough to have a chat with them.
Another one under my belt, thank you, Ms Marmite Lover for hosting a wonderful evening. Really looking forward to the next one.
I’ve been running my cooking classes for about a year now. Sometimes I have students, sometimes I don’t, but I figure it’s important to keep doing it so I do. But a very interesting thing has happened as a result of my classes.
I have hinted in past blog posts about the flavoured nuts I do for my students being very popular. Well, it’s official. It’s now it’s own product called Kinomi which is Japanese for tree nuts. How did I get here? Let me backtrack a bit. In December when I participated in the last Underground Market, I took part in a Dragon’s Den like panel which gave feedback on new products. My flavoured nuts were very favourably received and a distributor saw real potential in them. So we started working together to see if they could really be a product. I discovered very quickly that my brain is not set up to process spread sheets. I can read them (sort of) once they are done, but no way could I put one together. Thank goodness for inhouse help in the form of my wonderful husband whose brain is structured that way. I realized I could spend 2 days working it out for myself or I could ask him and have it done in 5 minutes. Knowing when to ask for help is a humbling but essential part of setting up a business.
So many times, I thought the project had reached a dead end, the numbers didn’t add up and I was ready to give up. But J from the distributor wouldn’t give up, showing me how to look at a problem from different angles. Ultimately, we came up with a product that is very cool looking and will hopefully appeal to people.
I wish I had a photo to post of the actual product, but I am still waiting for all my supplies to arrive. I’ll write more about it later as this could easily turn into something too long to read. Watch this space.