Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Green and Orange

Those are the colors of the Autumn CSA bag.  A bit of purple - late plums and some beets, a little red - in the apples.  But green and orange prevail.  It is hearty leaves, squashes and onions.  If the frost ain't here yet - it is peeking at me from around the corner.

(Truffle salt... pipe down.  You could be here, but not everyone has you.  I  know, you are ever so clever with fall stuff.  Another day, you will get more of your due.)

This week's challenge:

delicata squash or sweet potato squash*  (see below for trivia)

The other things I needed to make this AMAZING!**

vinaigrette dressing - (vinegar, mustard, garlic, s&p, and oil)

metal spoon
flipping spatula

salad bowl
good knife & cutting board

1/2 sheet pan/baking sheet
smoked paprika, oil, & salt &

sauté pan, lid, salt & chicken broth

How it went down:

Cut the squash in half, scoop out the seeds & peel it.  Toss on the baking sheet with oil, salt & smoked paprika.  Put that in the oven for 15 minutes, check for doneness (fork tender?)  Flip to brown the other side, 10 more minutes - remove when the pieces are a bit brown on the edges, and temptingly tender.

Cut the tough green parts off the leeks.  Cut them in half, longways, and rinse to remove any sneaky sand between the leaves.  Place them cut side down in the sauté pan with a little oil over medium heat.  When they start to sizzle and get a little cooked looking, turn them over, cover the bottom of the pan with chicken broth, lower the heat to simmer, clap on the lid for no less than 10 minutes.  (Longer is better, just check and maintain moisture in the pan).  Cook until the leeks are at least tender, and at best have melted.

Wash the arugula.  Tear or chop if they are big leaves.

When the leeks are done, roughly chop them into large bite size pieces, toss them with the arugula and dressing.
Make lovely piles of bitter-sweet salad that are a mix of crunchy & soft, cold and warm.
Top with the warm, crispy-edged, creamy-inside, gently smoky-spicy slices of squash.

Someday, I need to take some pictures before we all dig in.
Why This Works: 

Arugula is bitter, so the savory and sweet flavors of the leeks and spiced squash mellow it out.
The creaminess of the the squash and melted leeks contrasts with the crispness of the raw arugula.
The melted leek and squash are essentially sweet, so the sour, salty and garlic flavors of the dressing contrast with them.

This is a salad of contrasts, but ones that balance and support each other, rather than clashing.

*Delicata trivia

Delicata is an heirloom (up until recently not commercially produced) squash.  It is a small, long squash (as opposed to a ball).  It is usually about the size of 2 large onions side by side.  It's skin is ridged, and always has yellow on its striped skin.  Stripes can be green, orange or cream - and are often a combination of the three colors.

The "sweet potato" designation comes from the particularly dense, sweet, orange flesh - that is pretty close to that of a sweet potato.  In fact I could see using them interchangeably.  The important point being delicata will grow in colder climates where sweet potatoes won't grow.

This squash is delectable, won't last as long as some hard/winter squashes, but does pretty well.  Any recipe with it will work with other sweet, dense fleshed squashes.  Its flavor is subtle and fine, so lends itself to applications where you want to taste the squash - soups, baked squash, salads.


The sweetness of this squash makes a great ingredient to play with.  Pomegranate seeds would be a natural as would balsamic vinegar or oranges (orange marmalade?  That could be interesting....)

Truffle salt is a natural here, so that means sautéed mushrooms would go great - but would need the boost of plenty of garlic, or some glazed onions.

Nuts that combine a sweet and bitter element - pecans, pine nuts or hazelnuts would make great additions as well.

Sweeter indian curries (whether spicy or tame) are a natural with this squash.  Anything tomato-y would overwhelm the squash, but ones that depend heavily on herbs and spices would be excellent.

Baked with lots of thyme or rosemary or sage or oregano... anyway, this squash plays very nice with herbs.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Day 12 - Part III - This Town is Really Crowded

 As Tavin and I wandered around the endlessness that is Tokyo, it would suddenly strike me just how crowded this town is.  In some ways it is deceptively small.  Almost nothing is over 10 or so stories.  Certainly, there are a few newer buildings that are 30 or so stories,

We ate lunch at one of the restaurants on the top floor.
Heck of a view - authentic business lunch fast food,
and the waitress wanted to know about Tavin's chopstick boingees
but most buildings top out at around 10.  Much of this is due to stringent building codes for earthquake purposes. 
But due to lack of space almost nothing is shorter than 3 or 4 stories.

There are just lots of people!
Can you tell it's cold/flu season?
As an elementary school student I’d watch movies of the salary men and school kids being squished onto the trains by the subway guards, and I would worry that they might get squashed on the tracks by all the other people.


A 3rd grade part of me was relieved that there is evidence of the measures they have taken to keep people safe in the crush of rush-hour commuting.

American high schools sprawl all over the place with play grounds, athletic fields, parking lots and woods to go smoke in.  But here in Tokyo high schools are shore-horned in along shopping streets, and cantilevered out over the sidewalks.

And when the density of the city was really getting to me, and the sheer price of real estate becomes evident, there is the Imperial Palace. 

That is some expensive real estate, especially considering the moat.

It feels a lot like Buckingham Palace in London, but instead of the high wall that lets you see nothing at all, you can gaze across the moat at all those trees and empty spaces.

The recipes are UP!

Cooking Your Local Produce

Want to tackle the produce from your Farmers' Market (if you still have one, Lucky!)?  The last CSA boxes of the season (or are you year round)?  Stuff from your winter garden?  Stuff you have in the freezer?  Or do you just need to make some tasty veg?

The recipes are up on Google docs.  The links on the pages in my blog.  Clicking the recipe title links you to the recipe.  They are open for comment.  Let me know if a recipe just doesn't work, or the wording is muddy, or the I've just done something dumb.  If it is as good as I think it is, that's nice to know too.

What do you get out of helping me?  Other than tasty food?  I'd love to have any and all commenters in my acknowledgements section.  I've never been in one.

There will be 6 pages - one for each plant part.

Check 'em out and cook up a storm.







Me, with the big knife.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Recipes for cooking leaves!

Or... the cookbook is starting to exist.

Cooking Your Local Produce

More than just a bunch of ideas and loosely associated files, it is beginning to have substance.

The first two sets of bunches of recipes; Leaves and Stems have been through the 1st draft process - red penned, and are now ready for their first release into the wild.

Anyone wanting to take a look at some (or all) are welcome to.

I'll post my recipe list now, and let me know what you want to see.
I will figure out how I want to cache documents so you can look at what you want easily... and make comments/corrections/suggestions/biting sarcasm - you know....

But for just this moment, let me know what you would like to see, and I'll send it to you.


*Start with Chard
*Crispy Kale
*A Big Chopped Salad
*Green Goddess Salad + Dressing
*Hearty Greens for Grilled Food
*Braised Greens & Spicy Sausage
*Green Rice
Herbs go everywhere
*Pesto – Basil & others
*Herb oils


*Roasted Asparagus
*Raw asparagus salad
*Pea Shoot Stir Fry
*Garlic chutes/scapes
*Fennel & Cabbage Slaw
*Beet & Fennel Salad
*Black Bean Kholrabi

Fruits, Seeds, and Roots are on their way.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Day 12 - Part II - Tokyu Hands & Ito-Ya

What happens to Home Depot when it can’t spread out, is supported by a buying public with an appetite for both the “kawaii” and the crazy invention?  You get Tokyu Hands.

It is where you go to buy the mundane – the light-bulbs, screws, hammers, nails  (pretty much all individually over packaged) paint and bungee-cords.

But you can also buy inflatable mannequin portions....

Not selling the socks, just the AirQuin.
magic music monkeys

A version of these are being pushed as the hot new thing
next to this year's Elmo
random usb port plug-ins that do nothing but do sit-ups and, ummm, other things.

Buckyballs were all the rage when we went, both in the US, and in Japan, but the one thing I wish I had gotten was a planetarium nightlight/tub toy.

However, Tokyo has it’s formal side as well.  In contrast to all this wild and crazy colored silly cuteness is the nearly restrictive culture of stationary and invitations. 

Their use of paper – for decorative wrapping and as statement making when chosen for visiting cards, business cards, invitations, thank yous and cards accompanying gifts makes Martha Stewart and the DAR look like rank amateurs and untutored bumpkins.  If you are searching for a palace of such papers, Ito-Ya, of the giant red paper-clip is a wonderful glimpse into this world.

So for the pen-junkie that I am, it was almost torture to have to stroll through this store at a pace that meant we would leave before lunch time.  I did manage to find some beautiful wrapping paper though, so I could present the gifts that I brought to our “hostess for a day” (see Day 13) in a little bit of style.

Day 12 Part I – Hachiko & Kawaii

Back to the trains! 

Tavin and I hit the subways, feeling pretty comfortable getting around as long as we had a station to go to, and a surface map of the surrounding area.
The first journey turned out to be a trip down memory lane as we exited the Shibuya train station at the Hachiko exit.  I was read a picture book version of this incredibly faithful dog way back when I was in elementary school – and here I was at the actual train station where it all took place!

And the Japanese still love Hachiko.

I got to see the Hachiko wall
Plenty of directions to places refer to the "Hachiko Exit"
This sort of instruction is actually essential since
leaving a train station by the wrong exit can leave you
0.5 km, or more, from where you want to be.

the Hachiko statue,

and there is even a special shuttle around Shibuya, the Hachiko bus.

And for those Akita fans out there… yes, Hachiko was an Akita.

Now notice for a moment what they’ve done to Hachiko on his bus.  They’ve made him super round and fuzzy… really, really, unrealistically cute.  

The Japanese word for this extreme cuteness is “kawaii” (kuh-why).

This is a way of life for some Japanese, especially girls between the ages of about 11 and 18.  And some continue on with it for much, much longer.  It is usually accompanied by high-pitched giggling.

We headed for kawaii central – Kiddy Land – and were not disappointed.  They were remodeling the main store, and had a young woman dressed like a school girl, standing in front of the construction, handing out maps to the temporary store.

Here are a few things we found:

Yes, Hello Kitty in a pink leopard print suit.
She giggles, and that tail makes her roll around.
Yes, it is next to a monchichi display.
This just about undid me - Elmo in a Hello Kitty suit, and Hello Kitty...
I can't even say it.
And yes, just to the left, I now see there was also
 a Cookie Monster option I was blind to at the time.
And we even caved a bought a sushi thumb drive.  And Tavin scored a couple of stuffed animal Pokemon.

And yet, there were plenty of odd gag-gifts

A vending machine that would sell you
your own cringing middle-manager? 

Is this one a commemoration of President George H.W. Bush’s visit?

And we found kawaii in some odd spots in other places – road barriers, 

and souvenirs at the aquarium.  

Hello Kitty, out for a cruise on her pet manta ray.
Hello Kitty really is everywhere! 

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Day 11 - Part III Dinner from the Basement

What do you do if you live in or around Tokyo, in a tiny little apartment without a kitchen?  You certainly have a hot water pot and a rice maker (this is equivalent of a coffee maker and a microwave), but for dinner you certainly can’t eat out all the time – that would break you financially.  

You can eat ramen from the Japanese equivalents of 7-11 or, if you want something more substantial, healthful, or downright delicious, you might pick up dinner in the basement of a “Depah-to” or department store.  That sounds depressing it you are thinking of the bedding displays or clearance tableware or end of season decorations one often finds in the basements of American department stores.  Not so in Tokyo. 

The basement level is what delis would look like if Willy Wonka had been into savory foods instead of sweet.  This is the depachika.

I almost drove my family crazy walking around the counters looking at the prepared foods of the world.  Not just Japanese, but French, Italian, Chinese, Korean and on and on.  The Japanese have no problem facing the fact that their meat comes from animals.  Even in this shiny setting there were whole pig haunches of prosciutto, trotter still attached, on display in glass-walled cool rooms.  Or roasted and bar-b-qued poultry with feet and heads still in place.  A guarantee of quality to be sure. 

Tavin and Alec were happy with a little sushi, or grilled chicken skewers.  I wanted to try everything – but knew I couldn’t, so had to choose something.  Agonizing and exciting – I could have just toured the food halls of Tokyo and been happy.  The highlight for Tavin was when he got to exercise his budding Japanese to the point of ordering his own dinner.  Hey, if you can speak food wherever you go, you’ll be OK.

The Japanese continued to prove themselves the master of over and precious packaging – all the way down to the tiny little blue-ice packs that come with your “self-catering” sushi.

We picked up drinks on the way home (purple Kagome for Tavin), spread out, and sat back to watch Japanese TV.  (The best on that is yet to come!)

Day 11 - Part II Going Somewhere

North is not up - it's north.

The park around the Tokyo National Museum introduced us to an idiosyncrasy of Japanese map use.  All the maps of the “You are Here” type in the transit stations, throughout the park, and later the city, are not “North Up” (What Americans are used to – north is always the “top” of the map).  Japanese maps are oriented to “what you can see when you are looking at this sign.”  If you look left, you will see what is to the left of the map, and what you see behind you is at the bottom of the map, and what is in front of you is at the top of the map.  Intuitive, sensible, BUT if it is not what you are used to, confusing until you figure it out.    

And to keep things interesting, in many places buildings on a block are not numbered in the order you find them, but rather in the order they were built.  Tokyo natives are not ashamed to admit they cannot help you find their way around, if it is not their part of the city.  And just about every business card you will ever get has a quick map of how to get to it from the nearest large cross street or transit station.

We did find finally find the Tokyo National Museum.  We got to follow the path of the Buddha into Japan.  On this blustery day, we definitely appreciated the meticulous conservator instincts of the Japanese, especially after the cavalier attitude of the Chinese.  The building was warm, nicely temperature and humidity controlled. We got to see Samurai armor,

Yes - that snail shell is a helmet.
beautifully painted scrolls
This was my favorite.
Yes - it really was a painting of a
tree pulling game.
and other esoterica of Japan.  Like their European counterparts, the paintings were interesting in their own right, but also a window into what (rich) people did at the time.  

The ocean theme was continued outside as we found the very large model of a blue whale.

See little Tavin way down there

  Despite the size it was not life size.  Those whales are almost unimaginably huge.

On our way out of the museum I got to see more of the oddities of the Japanese bathroom.  I know it seems odd to talk about toilets here, but it is hard to go to Japan and not mention them.  I mean heck, in the English language paper we got, there was even an article talking about how this year was the 30th Anniversary of the Washlet. 

This is the seat that has all the buttons to control water jets.  The temperature, intensity and aim are all adjustable. Some models have a heated air dryer as well, colorful lights and even songs.  The Simpsons did not exaggerate.  They didn’t have to. 

Not all of it is so showy; there are practical aspects as well.  The bathroom also featured the “false flush” and the most complete sink ever.  The politeness of Japanese culture has many ways of dealing with being so close to each other all the time.  One method is using flushing sounds to cover up any other sounds you don’t want to share.  But being an island nation, the specter of water shortage is always there.  Instead of wasteful flushing, just wave your hand in front of this device, and it will make as many flush sounds as you want.

The sink wasn’t about politeness, it was just cool.  All in one sink unit, you had the no touch faucet, no touch soap, and in the surface of the sink closest to you was one of those high-speed hand dryers.  Very nifty.
And speaking of nifty, the bathroom mirror in our hotel had a little heater behind part of it, so even when the bathroom fogged up one little square of the mirror was still clear.

Now we were ready to try getting dinner again.