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.
Happy new year everyone, hope 2013 is a great one for you. New year is my favourite Japanese holiday. It is so peaceful as everything shuts down, people dress up and there’s a feeling of anticipation that the new year will bring good things. There is a mad rush in December to get ready, to do a thorough house cleaning, finish up business especially relating to money and prepare food which will be eaten during the festivities. There is always a temple or shrine visit during the 3 days of new year to pay your respects to the gods and start the year off auspiciously. From talking to my mom this year, it seems much of the stillness has gone with shops opening on January 1. When I was younger, everything was shut for the first three days. I remember about 15 years ago when the convenience shops started opening on New Year’s day, I thought that was the beginning of the end.
The nice thing about living overseas is that your memories can stay frozen in whatever time you choose. So even though I’ve been home for new year’s in recent years, the ones I recall most vividly are from the 70′s, the last time I lived in Japan as a child. Lots of food, ridiculous television, endless games and just hanging with my family are what I remember. Also in my memory, January 1 was always bright and sunny, it probably isn’t true but that’s what’s great about memories right?
But fast forward to 2013 and here I am in London where January 1 is more a day to recover from the excesses of December 31 than a day unto itself. I didn’t make any of the traditional foods for new year both because of a lack of ingredients and a general lack of interest from the other family members. I did want to make the soup we have on new year’s day but I hadn’t bought any of the ingredients. So rather than make a traditional Japanese ozoni with dashi, mouli, spinach, bright red carrot and of course mochi, the pounded sticky rice cake, I made a vegetable soup with onions, cabbage, jerusalem artichokes and carrot. It’s the mochi that makes it new yearsy I think and it didn’t disappoint. I felt like I had kept the spirit of the tradition. Here’s a photo.
My new year’s soup
I’m going to try very hard to do a better job blogging this year. Here’s to another year full of fun and adventure.
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.
Happy New Year. This is a post I meant to write at the end of last year, but in true procrastination form, never quite got around to it.
2011 was a very eventful year for me and the world. The world you know about, but here are some highlights from my year, good and bad.
The year did not start off great with my dad in the hospital recovering from heart surgery. I learned that Japanese medicine is crap at telling you worst cast scenarios, so he went in thinking that this was a routine procedure (triple bypass) and came out not knowing his PIN number. I couldn’t make it to the surgery due to the masses of snow on the ground, so arrived to find my dad in ICU post op, completely disoriented, hallucinating and looking ancient. A bit of a shock when no one has prepared you for it. Anyway, a year on, he is making slow but steady progress to the point where he is starting to make more sense and according to my mom, his eyes are regaining their focus. I’ll be home next week so I can see for myself but it did really make me think about existing as opposed to living. He was a vibrant, vigorous man who at 85 had a very active social life and was out on his own all the time. Maybe it would have been better for him to have had a couple more years on medication but maintaining his lifestyle as opposed to having a surgery that will probably rob him of maybe two years of his life. He made the decision so this is the way it turned out but it does make you think. My kids came out to help and they were wonderful, they took turns so my mom would have support for an extended time as opposed to everyone turning up for 2 weeks and disappearing. My son, who was on his gap year stayed for a month taking his grandpa for walks everyday even if it was to the end of the condo building and back.
Back in London, I resumed my cooking classes and pursued the opportunity to turn the roasted nuts I serve in class into a product. Working with a distributor, Kinomi was born. I had never done anything like this before and I know if it wasn’t for J, I would have given up. By the end of May, I had a product that I could actually start selling. I had really good feedback at the first show I did and there is nothing like having someone who isn’t your friend like what you are selling and actually pay money for it. The next step beyond that is having people who haven’t even met you buy your product. Obviously we all do it all the time but when you’re on the producing end, it’s surreal in a good way. By the end of October I was selling in Harvey Nichols. Hopefully they are selling well enough so that the store is willing to keep stocking me. I even got a little write up on their website http://www.harveynichols.com/hnedit/food-and-wine/whats-in-food-wine/kinomi-nuts-by-hiromi-stone-at-harvey-nichols/. I have also started selling in some local shops and hope to grow the stores I supply in 2012. Any suggestions or leads are most welcome.
My husband came home after a year in Prague and so the whole family went to Hawaii on our summer holiday, including my parents. My niece got married, the first of the nieces and nephews to do so. We became empty nesters in the autumn when my son went off to university. He and his sister are at opposite ends of the country having very different experiences, but they are both enjoying themselves so my day to day obligations as a mom no longer exist. I now enjoy them when they come home and know that the chaos in the house won’t last. They are kind, smart, thoughtful young people and I am very proud of them. And did I mention funny, some of the best times are when we all sit around after a meal and just “banter” as my kids call it.
2011 turned into an unbelievable year for meeting new and wonderful people. I guess it is because I am now doing something specific that I can tell people about, I have met some really interesting people. People have been so supportive and kind, I really appreciate it and hope to do the same for anyone else who might need a hand. I am also settling into the neighbourhood and making new friends. It’s great to feel connected to a neighbourhood and see people you know in the street to have a quick chat. This is probably the friendliest place we’ve lived in, we are very lucky to have found it.
This is definitely turning into a novel so I will sign off. But you can’t look back on 2011 and not mention the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster that hit my country. The people who live in that region are used to natural disasters, they had training days and scenarios worked out for what to do when a tsunami hit. This one exceeded everyone’s expectations and just wiped the area out. As tragic and horrible as it was, they can rebuild. But the man made disaster of a nuclear meltdown, the effects are so long lasting I worry about the future of the region and Japan. As a Japanese person living overseas, I was very proud of the way the Japanese people reacted in the face of the tragedy. I was also touched by the outpouring of support globally The last time I gave any thought to Japan in the world was the 80′s, when Japanese cars were being smashed in Detroit and Japan bashing articles were fairly common in the American press. I guess a lot has changed in 30 years.
Okay, I’m really done now. I don’t make new year’s resolutions because I’m not that great at reflection or forward planning. I hope that 2012 is a wonderful year for all and may we take a step closer to peace.
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.
I wrote this last night and edited this morning.
Well today was the day. Last night, all the components of my little Kinomi boxes were finally assembled in my flat. 10,000 boxes, 10,000 cellophane bags (okay I could only carry home 1,000 the other 9,000 arrived today), stickers, ribbon and of course my many kilos of nuts.
I did an event this evening at Craft Central with Creative Clerkenwell called New View of Clerkenwell roof party and market. My friend Amanda Li Hope has a studio there and I have supplied her with nuts for the last 2 open studios. The organizer of this show liked them enough to want me to participate despite the fact that I am not a designer maker. As this would be a show full of designers and creative people, I wanted my Kinomi nuts to look their very best. My gap year student bagged and boxed many nuts for me this morning so that I could bring them along to the market.
Ready for market
Now London has had the driest spring for some time and they are talking of water shortages. You certainly couldn’t tell that today when the skies opened up and the rain just came pouring down. So much for the roof party, the event was very wisely moved to the basement of Craft Central.
I had a wonderful time introducing Kinomi to a new audience and getting some enthusiastic feedback. The little boxes were well received, people thought it was a great look, very high praise coming from people in the design industry. The highlight of the evening was when one of the designers came back after purchasing 2 to buy 6 more to send to parents and in laws in Japan. Kinomi is going home, how fun is that?
Thank you Charlene from Creative Clerkenwell, it was a great evening.
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.
I get this question a lot. It was a question that was never asked until I moved to London. I grew up partly in Japan and the States so my English is very American. So when I lived in the States, people just assumed my parents were immigrants and in Japan, of course I sound native so no one ever questioned it.
But when people first meet me here, they try to place the accent, the body language; all cultural cues to figure out where I belong. And that’s where the problem begins. Because although my English is American, I am not, nor do I consider myself to be American. But from having lived so long in the States, my body language is very western, so I do not come across as a Japanese woman of a certain age either. So people ask me where in the States I am from or whether I am Canadian. I tell them I am Japanese from Tokyo and doubt is just written all over their face. Now really, why would I lie about a thing like that? I’ve managed to condense my life experience into, “I was born in Japan and spent a lot of time in the US”. That seems to satisfy most casual inquiries. If I am getting to know you as a friend, then the story would get fleshed out in further conversations.
The thing is, while we were living in the States, I pretty much identified with America as that’s where I had spent most of my schooling. But as I am now 13 years out of the States, I identify more and more with Japan, a country that is my spiritual home regardless of how much or how little time I have spent there. And now with my crusade to bring Japanese cooking into the homes of London, I’ve started thinking a lot about things I’ve taken for granted and comparing and contrasting my experiences with Japanese and western food.
But that’s another post.
I’ve posted here before about some questionable food claiming to be Japanese. I went to a cooking demonstration recently and saw Rick Stein make 5 dishes in an hour. Most of it looked good and simple to recreate at home. But I took exception to the second dish he produced, a plate of sashimi.
Now, I am not an expert in preparing sashimi as it takes special training. I don’t teach it in my classes because you need sashimi grade fish for which you have to go to a specialty shop. And while I am happy to slice some up to serve to family, I wouldn’t presume to teach it. But I do know the basics of what you can and cannot do. And you cannot, as he claims, just buy farmed salmon and eat it raw. As it says on the Food Standards website, “If a shop or restaurant buys fish to be eaten raw or almost raw, for example, sushi or raw herring, it must have been frozen at minus 20°C for at least 24 hours.” This is to kill off the worms that can be present. They are killed in the cooking process but obviously you don’t cook the fish for sashimi. So please, don’t buy fish at your local supermarket and think you can eat it raw.
Then he made a dipping sauce. I know that some very high end sushi places serve a special sauce which starts with dashi, the seaweed and bonito stock that is the soul of Japanese food. He used an instant one, which I understand since explaining dashi would have been an hour onto itself. But he used one which has as the first ingredient, MSG. But as it is the most popular brand, I am willing to cut him some slack. It is how he prepared it that was a problem. You cannot just put some into water and stir it up. It is granules and requires heating for it to dissolve and actually turn into stock.
Aesthetically he didn’t do a great job plating which was surprising given his credentials. All in all, I got the impression that he didn’t think anyone in the audience would try and reproduce it so he just whipped it off to have another dish in the programme.
I hope next time he attempts this, he watches the programme he did in Japan beforehand so he can remember what it’s meant to look like in the end. And note where the fish came from.
how I hoped it would look when he said "sashimi"