Chestnut Rice – Autumn has come

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One thing that I really like in Japanese culture is that we can feel the season through food. Now it is autumn. In Japan, we say “Shokuyoku no Aki”, which means “autumn brings a good appetite”. This is because autumn is the season when a lot of fresh produce is in season, such as rice, ginger, sweet potatoes, pumpkins, mushrooms, salmon, saury pike, apple, persimmon, grape etc… yummmm….

I do not feel much of this “enjoy the season through food” concept here in Australia, however if you try, we can still see some differences in the supermarket in each season. Did you realise that apples are much tastier these days and persimmons are in the shops now? And…, do not forget my favourite, Chestnuts.

I especially love chestnut desserts; Mont Blanc Cake, Chestnut Tart, Chestnut Pound cake (see my recipe!), Chestnut Manju (Japanese sweet bun stuffed with sweet bean paste) and Chestnut Yokan (Sweet red bean past bar)…, yummmm….

However, to satisfy my nostalgia, I would like to introduce this Chestnut Rice recipe today. When my mother cooks it, our family realise that the summer has ended and that autumn is here now. This recipe reminds of my family and of Japanese autumn.

 

Ingredients (serving 4 people)

200g Chestnuts with shell – about 13-15 chestnuts

2 cups of Rice – Japanese Rice, Sushi Rice or Short Grain Rice (Please use Rice Cooker’s cup). If you wish, replace ½ cup of the rice to Sticky Rice (Mochigome), which can be purchased at some Asian food stores.

½ Teaspoon of good quality Sea Salt

2g of Dried Kelp – wiped with a wet cloth

How to prepare chestnuts

  1. Soak chestnuts in water over night. This is to make the shell soft so that it will be easier to peel it off.
  2. Using a knife, slice a little bit of the bottom of the chestnut off.
  3. Using your fingers, peel the hard shell off from the cut end. You can peel it off quite easily.
  4. Then, using a knife, peel the inner skin completely. Place the chestnut into a bowl of water as soon as it is peeled. Please be careful with your fingers when you peel the inner skin, as it is time consuming and slippery to peel small chestnuts.

Method:

  1. Put rice in a rice cooker’s removable bowl and rinse the rice. Rest the washed rice in the bowl for about 20 minutes (if your rice cooker includes this time into the cooking time, it is not necessary to do so).
  2.  Add water up to the line of 2 as marked inside the removable bowl (not included in the ingredients list above).
  3. Add sea salt and dried kelp to the rice.
  4. Place the prepared chestnuts on the rice.
  5. Set the rice cooker and cook it as per the rice cooker’s instructions.
  6. Once the rice cooker has completed cooking, let it sit for about 30 minutes (if your rice cooker includes this time into the cooking time, it is not necessary to do so). Remove the dried kelp. Fold over the rice with a rice paddle and serve it in a rice bowl while it is hot.

 

Happy New Year – 2017

Happy New Year. Wising everyone peace, health and a lot of joy throughout the year.

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Again I prepared Osechi. It takes time but it is very rewarding. Most of all, it is delicious…. I love Japanese traditional food.

Menu:

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Kohaku Namasu (pickled daikon and carrot)

Ebino Umani (prawns cooked in soy sauce, sake and mirin)

Gomame/Tazukuri (dried sardines caramelised with sugar and soy sauce)

Nishime (simmered vegetables)

Kurikinton (chestnuts and sweet potatoes paste)

Tamagoyaki (Japanese omelette)

 

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Koya-dofu (simmered dried tofu)

Simmered Shiitake

Konbu Maki (rolled kelp)

Kuromame (Simmered black beans)

Ozoni (soup with mochi/rice cake)

Grilled Miso Marinaded Salmon

Although Osechi is traditionally meant to be eaten for 3 days from the new year’s day, it did not work like that for us. Most of them are gone now…. They were just so tasty and we (mostly I) kept nibbled them with a glass of white wine!

Well, after the festive season, my stomach certainly became bigger…. I reckon that it is time for me to restart my exercise habit….

Japanese Valentine’s Day and the Really Difficult Biscuits

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Godiva, Pierre Marcoloni, Salon du Chocolat, Jean-Paul Hevin, Demel, Lindt…

These high-end chocolates are all over in Japan, especially in February. It is for the 14th of February, Valentine’s Day.

The Japanese custom on Valentine’s Day is that women give chocolates to men to tell their feelings. There are 2 types of chocolates that exist here. One is given to someone special (husband, boyfriend, prospective boyfriend), which is called “Honmei Choco” (Honmei means a real target). Another is for colleagues, bosses and male friends, which is called “Giri Choco” (Giri means obligation).

Obviously, this “Giri Choco” is the funny one. In the workplace, it is quite common that female employees are “obligated” to give chocolates to male employees. I remember that my dad brought a lot of boxes of chocolates back home on the day.

It sounds like a good custom only for men? HAHA! Sorry, Gentlemen, there is a catch. Off course.

We have a day called “White Day” a month after Valentine’s Day -the 14th of March. The day is for men to give gifts to women in return for the Valentine’s gift. White Day gifts are often confectioneries, such as cookies and candies etc. This custom applies to all men who got “Giri Choco” too. Imagine if you are a boss who got a box of chocolates from each one of your female staff in your workplace!!! I think that the real obligation lies here. I remember that my mum had to go to buy a lot of boxes of cookies and candies for my dad to take to work.

My workplace in Japan was pretty good though. As the company was a confectionery company, most of us were interested in sweets, so I guess that we took it as an opportunity to try something new and trendy. We, girls, chipped some money in and got something really good. In return, boys got something really nice treat to us. We all shared and enjoyed it at work. So we were technically buying what we wanted to eat at the time. I quite liked the arrangement.

This year’s Valentine’s Day was on Sunday. I had a plenty of time to prepare so I made this cookie; the famous cigarette shaped biscuits from Yoku Moku. Since I got the recipe from my friend, I had wanted to try out. But! OH! This was really really difficult!!! The biscuits have to be rolled while they are hot, but to do so, it has to be the best timing to take them out from the oven. If you take them out late, they are too crispy to roll. If you are too early, it is easier to roll, but the biscuits do not become crispy.

As a result, 6 out of 14 were presentable. 2 out 6 were crispy…. I think I need more practice. At least, my husband will welcome that.

 

Unlucky Year s “Yakudoshi” and the 40th Birthday

In Japan, we have “Unlucky Years” called “Yakudoshi”. We say that unlucky things happen to you during the “Yakudoshi” years. The years come to you when you are 19, 33 and 37 years old for females, and 25, 42 and 61 years old for males. The year before and after each of the years is pre and post unlucky year, therefore, you need to be careful too. So technically, “Yakudoshi” continues for 3 years every time. This is a very old belief with no scientific proof, but this idea still remains and somehow the majority of us in Japan believe it.

And…, just be careful, as how to count your age is different from the normal way. We have to think how old you will become (or you became) this year and add 1 on it. For example, if you are 39 years old now and your birthday has not come yet, you are 41 years old under the “Yakudoshi” chart, just like my husband.

It sounds really horrible and harsh, doesn’t it? It does…. It sounds just scary. In Japan, what we normally do to get rid of the unluckiness is to go to a shrine and pray. A priest at a shrine can perform a special “Yakudoshi” purification for you. There is a special charm “Omamori” available in a shrine, which is believed to protect us from the unluckiness or evil.

On the other hand, my mum always tells me that it is not a “bad “year, just an “unlucky” year, so we do not need to worry too much. The important thing is to behave, do the right things and don’t forget to appreciate others. Just do what people are supposed to do and do not bring evil in your mind. This will help to reduce your unluckiness or assist you in getting out from the unluckiness which might have occurred.

Maybe my mum just tried to be positive, but somehow for me, this thought makes sense. I guess you cannot be lucky all the time in your life, however, if you live properly, maybe unluckiness will not grow too big to handle.

My husband has just turned to 40 (pre-Yakudoshi Year). We headed south to celebrate. His parents and his best friend joined us. We had his birthday lunch at Voyager Winery. It was a fabulous long weekend. Although I’m not sure if “Yakudoshi” affects Australians, considering the fact that he has wonderful parents and a best friend travelling interstate for him, I think that no unluckiness has come close to him.

Happy New Year – 2016

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FAQ

“Do you celebrate Christmas in Japan?”

Answer

“No, we don’t. We enjoy Christmas.”

Japanese people love different cultures. We know how to adapt and enjoy to make our life more colourful. Christmas is one of them. Although we roast chicken (not turkey), Father Christmas comes to give presents to Japanese children, Christmas cake is sold at a bakery and streets are decorated. It is party time.

Instead, we celebrate New Year, just like we do for Christmas in Australia. The day is the most important holiday for us in Japan. Traditionally it is the event to invite a god (one of Shinto’s gods) who brings a household happiness for the new year. In modern days, at least for me and my family, the day is for family or the loved ones to get together, and celebrate and pray for each other’s health and happiness for the new year. What we do is pretty much the same though. We clean our house before New Year, decorate our house in certain way, go to a shrine to pray and cook&eat the traditional food- Osechi.

Osechi is a set of several dishes prepared for New Year’s Celebration and normally packed in Jubako – which is like a big bento box (but 3 layers!). Just as an obento, Osechi contains several kinds of dishes. Each dish in Osechi has each meaning to describe the reason why it is served for this celebration. Osechi is prepared a day before New Year. The amount is big since Osechi was traditionally meant to be eaten for the next 3 days, and women should not work in the kitchen during those 3days except for preparation of Ozoni (Mochi/ Rice Cake in soup).

As you can imagine, my mum’s Osechi is wonderful. I went back to Japan to eat her Osechi every New Year on the first 4-5 years in Australia (I have stopped doing that now since Japan is too cold for me in winter). And then, it was last year. I realised how much I missed my mum’s Osechi! So I decided to make it by myself. Of course my mum assisted me with some tips and advice over the phone. I have to say it was pretty good for the first time. This year I did it again. Here is the menu:

Kuromame (black beans cooked in sugar and soy sauce): While mame means beans, it is also used to describe the person who has dedication. This is a wish to become a person who can dedicate.

Konbu Maki (rolled kelp): Kobu sounds associated with “Yorokobu” , which means joy.

Kohaku Namasu (pickled daikon and carrot): Red and white is the colour for celebration in Japan.

Tazukuri (dried sardines caramelised with sugar and soy sauce): My family calls as “Gomame”. “Tazukuri” means making a rice field, describing an abundant harvest.

Ebino Umani (prawns cooked in soy sauce, sake and mirin): It is to wish for a long life until we stoop from old age, just like a shape of prawn.

Kurikinton (chestnuts and sweet potatoes paste): The yellow colour describes gold and richness.

Nishime (simmered vegetables): traditional Japanese dish which was eaten from a long time ago. I use Daikon, Carrot and Konnyaku.

Koya-dofu (simmered dried tofu): The square shape looks like a shield for protection.

Tamagoyaki (Japanese omelette): This is the substitute for Datemaki- egg and seafood extended mix omelette, which I cannot obtain here. It represents knowledge and learning from the rolled shape (books in ancient time were rolled).

It takes so much time to make Osechi since there are several dishes involved. But I feel so happy to look at the completed Osechi. Don’t you think it is beautiful? It is beautiful for both your eyes and mouth. I believe that it is the best dish to eat on the first day of the year.