nakata japan – a taste of some japanese sweets

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i just couldn’t resist any longer. i ended up searching for a japanese market. i discovered a couple of stores and settled for the one closest in my area.

i knew i would fall in love with some cool stuff so i gave myself a $20 budget before i walked in. i was adamant i would only buy the most necessary things to make at least one wagashi with – like kanten and red bean paste. and i was hoping to find matcha kit-kat.

i grabbed a red plastic basket, and i was greeted by an old japanese woman. i snailed my way through all the aisles like i knew how to read hiragana, katakana, and kanji – luckily, they labeled the stickers with english, too. and i recognized some of the things on the shelves. but oh, the pottery, tea pots, and beautifully crafted plates. i died a little at each aisle. eyeing every shelf  the way i do strolling through japanese gardens in awe of maple trees.

i thought about taking pictures of the small nakata japanese market, but it was the closest to japan i’d ever been, and there were so many things that distracted and peaked my curiosity, and i just lingered in those moments. but i will be a repeat customer, and i bowed a goodbye to two old japanese women like i knew what i was doin’.

i picked out various treats to take home and sample. i’ll update with a comprehensive guide later.

mizu yokan:

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tap on the plate to get your own taste of japanese goodness.

i’ ll start with my favourites and down to the ones i can live without.

sanshoku dango: it’s nothing like good marshmallow (i don’t like ‘mallows) but has similar consistency. it’s extremely soft and light to touch. it’s slightly sticky once you get a bite, and then it dissolves in your mouth. it’s made with mochi and filled with delicious red bean paste that isn’t too sweet. you have to consciously eat and chew because you will quickly forget as if you’ve sailed through the lethes snacking on these. time stops and ceases to exist and you’ll be transported to a happy place. you will deny you’ve eaten one until all but one is left. it’s one of the best stuff in the world. share sanshoku dango with the people you love.

pocky : i love the crispy, crunchy cookie stick, and coated with sacred creamy matcha, with what tastes like it’s been mixed in white chocolate or cream. if you like the green tea frapp over at starbucks – this is like the stick version. good, good stuff.

?: it’s like the skin of poundcake and filled with firm red bean paste jelly. i like this very much. it reminds me of really good pancakes and maple syrup for some reason…

mizu yokan: firm red bean paste jelly with chestnuts. not too sweet and it reminds me of another asian dessert that i love. don’t hate me if i sprinkle fresh grated coconut on top of these.

awashimado kuri manju: a bread bun filled with slightly powdery white bean paste with just a hint of sweetness.

chocolate pastry roll: basic natural yeast bread, thinly marbled with chocolate. extremely light and fluffy. nothing spectacular. it would probably taste awesome heated and buttered up.

anpan: a baked bun filled with white bean, more powdery than a paste. other variants with matcha. delicate and subtler sweetness.

??: uh… jellied lemon candy coated with fine white sugar. less sweet than that of ‘turkish delights’ (i don’t like those either), which this reminds me of. not my favourite at all. but it sure is pretty to look at.

yakitori – japanese chicken wings + grilled flatiron steak w/ green onions

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ima not quite over my japanese kick yet. i have wanted to try some yakitori (bamboo-skewered chicken meat cooked over hot coals) for quite some time, but i involuntarily had to wait until the vegas haboob died out, and the winds no longer raged like starving banshees.

my grill died last year so i used our awesome old fire pit, and an old circular grate that did not fit. i didn’t want to bother asking my neighbor if i could use her grill again. she ends up cleaning the grill before and after my use – at her insistence. some days she borrows the family wok, which has to be over three decades old. it’s the same wok i taught her to cook one of her favourite asian noodle dishes in. i regretted not asking until the last ember waned in the night.

i started with the sauce for the yakitori. i tried to keep the lines of japanese tradition alive, but i couldn’t find a bottle of mirin, and i opted-out of using sake too. i poured soy sauce, rice wine vinegar, and sesame seed oil into the pot – tossed in some broken green onions, smashed garlic, and raw organic sugar. fired that up, and it wasn’t long before i was asked, what’s that smell? it smells like how i imagine this show would be. (we’d been watching mark wiens vlog – migrationology, all the hell of the time) it smells good! the sauce tastes similar to teriyaki sauce.

i then sliced up a semi-frozen flatiron skirt steak. threaded and skewered some green onions with it, and then asked my other non-injured nephew to prep and finish the rest so i could ignorantly begin to try and debone or bone the not fully thawed chicken wings like a skilled japanese butcher.

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my makeshift grill turned into a rebel. i almost lost the entire meal to the fire and ash. and my thumbs still hurt. but it really was some good stuff, and i was thanked over and over. i didn’t get quite enough good pictures in the end ’cause  i was really hungry.

chicken wings: 

slice in the middle and sever all the meat from the bone. do your best. then skewer. season chicken wings with salt and pepper.

steak:

season sliced flatiron steak with salt and pepper. slice to preferred thinness or thickness. skewer. with or without green onions.

green onions:

two stalks of green onion. find the thickest ones. cut into thirds.

bamboo skewers: soak for an hour overnight.

sauce:

1/3 cup soy sauce

1/2 rice wine vinegar

1/4 cup raw or brown sugar

3 smashed garlic cloves

3 broken pieces of green onions

put all the ingredients into a pot and cook over low heat for at least 10 minutes. stir and be sure the sugar is completely dissolved. let it cool. use half of the sauce for the meat, and save the rest as a dipping sauce.

grill:

oil the grates. get ’em coals hot and bothered. start grilling! brush the meat and chicken wings with the sauce every so often. do it often! be an avid flipper for this. flip until fully cooked.

japanese kishu binchotan white charcoal | premium natural bamboo paddle skewers | konro yakitori charcoal grill | eden mirin | murakan rice wine vinegar | kishibori shoyu artisan soy sauce | kadoya sesame oil

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check out some of these yakitori grilling essentials for a japanese style grilling experience.

homemade takeout – orange popcorn chicken for the broken

 

one of my nephews is nursing a fresh hurt. a day before his birthday last month, he had to get stitches on his jaw. he went back to the skate park right after the procedure. now, it’s a fractured ankle from a freak tray flip landing, (that produced the most divine drug-induced comedy in the er) which won’t allow him to return to the skate park until possibly the end of summer. but he’s out of the tunnel and mostly he’s been asking for pancakes – the syrup doesn’t fall far from the maple family tree. he’s also got a thing for orange chicken. it’s not my favourite, but since we’re all doing our part to dull some of his suffering, i fried some up.

i didn’t expect almost a hundred pieces of orange popcorn chicken but that’s what happened. everyone was happy with this meal. i was asked a lot of what was in the sauce, and how i made it. the orange zest really added a foreign flavour, almost ginger-like. there’s a slight gentle heat before the slow sweetness of the orange juice, and the tang of the rice vinegar comes through. the chicken was  really crispy! pretty good stuff.

 

 

orange popcorn chicken:

2 lbs pounds skinless, boneless chicken thighs

two cups non-glutinous rice flour (you can use wheat flour, but i find rice flour doesn’t burn as much)

1/2 cornstarch (i find this makes a crispier fry)

2 tsp salt

1tbs garlic powder

2 tbs onion powder

2 tbs paprika

1 tsp pepper

slice ’em chicken thighs to bite sizes pieces.

egg wash:

1 yolk

2 egg whites

1/2 milk

1 tsp salt

1 tsp garlic powder

1 tsp onion powder

1 tsp paprika

1 tsp pepper

mix the rice flour and cornstarch, and season with salt, onion and garlic powder, pepper and paprika.

mix the milk, yolk, and egg whites, season with season with salt, onion and garlic powder, pepper and paprika.

salt and drown the chicken pieces in the egg wash, then toss ’em in the flour. coat ’em really good. a deep tupperware with a lid works best. i find things fry up better when they’re cold. freeze the coated chicken for about 15 minutes.

heat 4 cups of oil

fry ’em chicken up in batches to a golden brown

orange sauce:

1 tbs sesame oil (you can use whatever oil you have)

3 cloves garlic

3 tbs soy sauce

1/3 cup rice vinegar

2 sweet oranges

1 tbs red pepper flakes

1 tsp paprika

slurry:

1 tbs cornstarch

1/3 cup water

mix together.

on medium heat, toss ’em minced garlic in the heated oil. add the soy sauce, rice vinegar, and zest one of the oranges into the sauce. then squeeze the juices too. add the red pepper flakes and paprika. cook for at least five minutes. turn the heat down to low, add the slurry and cook until it thickens to your liking. then pour the sauce through a sieve.

coat, dip or drizzle the fried popcorn chicken with the sauce.

matcha flan

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i had more of that sacred green powder left. i did try and make the japanese pudding, purin. that never made it to the table until two days later because it was a failure.

i swore i had a sachet of agar powder – i ended up cleaning out the entire pantry (two hours) in search of the damn thing, but no. it was never there. i had to use the agar sticks, and i just couldn’t get the measurements right.

the purin was too jiggly, and it seemed to consciously want to tiptoe off the spoon. it reminded me of that film, ‘better off dead.’ when his mom cooks all kinds of weird things that seem to have souls. each time i peeked in the fridge to check if the purin had settled, i’d tap it on the side, and i was given a belly dancing performance. i’d laugh like mad, closing the door.

the last time i made my own flan was about a decade ago. it’s one of my top favourite desserts. my memory had screwed up that recipe, but it actually made a better flan. i’ve never had matcha flan so i thought i’d try it. i don’t have fancy equipment, and i whisked the matcha as best as i could, but i was still left with lumpy residue. i really didn’t mind because it gave it a pretty cool speckled effect.

this recipe is perfect for anyone who loves custard, pudding, and crème brûlée. and matcha. it was made for a 6 inch round pan. just double the recipe if you’re serving more people. also, just leave out the matcha if you prefer a plain delicious flan.

my matcha flan (good stuff):

4 teaspoons matcha powder (reduce for a subtler flavour)

4 yolks

2 eggs

1 cup condensed milk

1 cup evaporated milk

1 teaspoon vanilla

mix vanilla, yolks, and eggs, add the condensed and evaporated milk.

mix matcha powder with just enough water to create a paste, then add it to the ingredients above. mix with a whisk but don’t form too much foam.

caramel sauce:

1 cup sugar

1/3 water

stir over low heat until sugar dissolves. then heat on high and cook without stirring to a deep amber. quickly pour into a pan.

pour matcha custard through a sieve into the pan with the caramel sauce.

transfer pan to a prepared hot water bath.

bake at 350°f until center of flan gently sets. about 30 minutes.

transfer to a rack to cool.

chill in the fridge until cold.

to serve, loosen it by running a small sharp knife around the flan. turn it over onto a plate. tap or shake gently to release. lift the pan and let the syrup flow.

i rabbit kutani pottery teapot | tea cups rabbit kutani yaki yunomi | ryu mei japanese organic matcha powder, kyoto standard | bambooMN brand skinny black chasen (tea whisk) + tray + chashaku (hooked bamboo scoop) + black tea spoon

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have a taste of a traditional japanese tea ceremony.

 

 

saint patrick’s day wagashi

something green… i was in search of something green. i ended up hooked and spent way too much time in awe with japanese confectioneries than i care to admit that i forgot all about ireland.

the japanese have aesthetics down to a tea (yea, i know). from their haikus, calligraphy, kabuki, bento boxes, pottery, and gardens. i love their maple and bonsai trees. and so much more. some i’m not even aware of yet. their culture seems to have been touched with the unseen hand of grace.

i was introduced to the traditional confectionery art of wagashi. all assembled to depict elements of nature and each of the four seasons. traditionally made with various components such as azuki beans, sesame, chestnuts, mochi, and kanten.

i watched different impressions of methods from the ceremonial mochi pounding to a machine operated rice kneading. i was impressed by an old japanese wagashi chef so humble in his craft and not too confined by tradition, unbothered by the birth of what he calls ‘new wagashi’ – so long as it doesn’t veer off the mossy cliffs and loses grip of wagashi philosophy. i had him in mind while on this wagashi undertaking, and my heart repeatedly reminded me that i had forgotten all about ireland.

i tried not to deviate too much from the graceful ethos of wagashi tradition, but i’m preparing to be beheaded in my sleep by the ghost of the first samurai. i could be spared because both my nephews happen to be in their first and second year of japanese language course.

irish raindrop and irish moss covered stones. yes, well… it was dropped by the biggest raincloud in irish history on the foggiest day!

failed cloudy mizu shingen mochi – irish raindrop (i hang my head.)

matcha mochi – irish moss covered stones

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matcha ube mochi – o’my clover

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like brian fallon irish-ly sang,

i got an irish name and an injury, blessing and a curse cast down on me

i do.

happy saint patrick’s day. my sober matcha drinking leprechaun soul is closing the pub with a ballad from one of my favourite irish singers.

read more of the yet unknowing world

11:11

so… i remember i noticed these numbers on the clock about two years ago. i don’t know if they represent numerical faeries. a disorderly koan unleashed by the universe. simply just a meaningless noticeable pattern.

i’ve read enough about it. some gladly told like cherubs were blowing 11:11 down from their bubble baths. others clad in pure white and dance with abandon amongst the oldest and most mysterious monuments around the globe. (maybe some twerking is involved. ) then there are the people like me, confused and annoyed, succumbed to a gentle paranoia and awe but left with enough sanity to maintain ‘normal’ lives. read more of the yet unknowing world