More Thoughts on Rice Porridge (and Giveaway Results)

January 7 has come and gone, but I’m still enjoying leftover nanakusa gayu for breakfast. Mixed with some lightly beaten egg, it’s hearty, filling, and perfect fuel for a blustery bike commute on a winter morning.

In other porridge-y news, Google Japan featured nanakusa gayu in their January 7 “Google Doodle“:

See how the family is gathered around an opening in the floor, with the rice pot suspended from above? This is a representation (albeit a rather abstract one) of a traditional Japanese hearth, or irori. Nice work, Google!

P.S. Congrats to Margaret (aka Megsie) Siple, winner of the Humble Bean Cookbook Giveaway! If you have a chance, please be sure to check out her wonderful blog over at fishpondfever.wordpress.com

Seven Days, Seven Herbs

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I once found the passing of the holidays a rather melancholy event. After all the parties, baking, and gift wrapping, we’re left with empty bottles, stray crumbs, and crumpled paper. As a student, the unpleasant feeling was heightened by the prospect of facing the long march through the Chicago winter. Living in Japan, however, each new year seemed to hold so much promise. In Tokyo, the January sky is bright, blue, and unmarred by the humidity and clouds that settle over the city in other seasons. Returning from the States, the gentle, late afternoon light and long shadows streaking across the rice fields near Narita airport seemed to be as warm a welcome as any weary traveler could ask for. On the train back to Koshigaya, I’d find myself marveling at the fact that this seemingly strange place could feel so much like home, even in the year’s darkest days.

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Humble Bean Cookbook Giveaway

Humble Bean cover

As Shichimi readers, you probably understand that this blog is a purely personal project: I don’t accept advertising, sponsorships, or any other forms of patronage. (Any ads you see at the bottom of this page are there courtesy of WordPress.) However, I do enjoy promoting and supporting individuals and small businesses I admire, hence the list of blogs you see listed on the right. Of these blogs, there are very few I actually read regularly, but a small handful keep me coming back for their beautiful photography, creative approach to food, and engaging writing and stories. Azusa Oda’s blog Humble Bean has all these elements and more. That’s why I’m pleased to announce that I’ll be giving away a copy of Azusa’s latest recipe booklet, which includes 11 recipes and gorgeous color photos, to one lucky reader in 2013!

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Buckwheat Oyaki (そばおやき)

Nozawana oyaki

Nagano prefecture is known throughout Japan for its buckwheat, which finds its way into much of the region’s cuisine, from the famed Shinshū soba (more on which here, here, and here) to soba manju (sweet red bean paste wrapped in a thin buckwheat skin) and soba cha, a mellow, caffeine-free tea made from buckwheat kernels. The buckwheat harvest, which takes place in the late fall after October’s rice harvest, is hard and laborious work. Preparing the buckwheat for cooking is no easier: after harvesting, the buckwheat grains are threshed and sorted. Traditionally, stone mills are used to grind the grains into flour. Freshly milled buckwheat flour has the most delicate flavor, and so soba made immediately after the fall harvest is held in high regard.

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Transmutable Fruit

You never forget your first quince. I first saw this strange fruit while driving through rice paddies on the western outskirts of Matsumoto, in mountainous central Japan. The trees themselves were small and scraggly, their knotted branches laden with the golden, apple-like fruit. Though tempted to jump out of the car and gather a few, I continued on, only to discover that quinces were practically impossible to find at Japanese markets. Even here in New York, quinces are remarkably difficult to come by, appearing only sporadically in the autumn. Yet as any quince aficionado knows, finding the fruit is only the beginning, for they take as much perseverance to procure as to prepare.

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Parsnip Kinpira

In the past, whenever I found myself with a surfeit of parsnips, I’d turn to my standby technique: a giant roast with carrots, red onions, and leeks, liberally coated with olive oil and strewn with slivered garlic and fresh thyme branches. The ghostly pale parsnips, cut into thin batons and roasted into oblivion, transformed into a crisp-edged, caramelized tangle with a deep, earthy sweetness that almost belied their humble origins. This is a perfectly acceptable and delicious way to cook most vegetables, but after years of making the same recipe, I was ready for a change.

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Miso-Grilled Vegetables (Dengaku)

Readers, I’ve missed you so! Summer has officially passed, and so far all I’ve managed to write about is frozen sweets. Rest assured, my love of vegetables has not waned in the slightest, but I’ve found myself short on time to cook them in new and interesting ways. This recipe, however, is an exception. The inspiration for this dish came by way of a small restaurant in Matsumoto called Dengaku Kiso-ya. Housed in a traditional wooden building just a few paces from the Metoba river, the shop specializes in a simple dish known as dengaku (田楽). At its most basic, dengaku is tōfu or vegetables (usually eggplant) slathered in a sweet miso sauce and broiled until crisp-edged and caramelized.

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