What IS your favorite food?

13 Jun

I can eat pretty much, anything.

I can also drink, pretty much anything.

…pause…

My ultimate childhood dream was to be given a spoon, and an endless container filled with salmon roe, or ikura – the brilliant orange mini spheres bursting in one’s mouth, snippets of alternating saline and ocean…. Ah – the ultimate would be to be given free reign of such decadent snacking…

I digress. Or not?

The girls’ favorite hors d’oeuvres – ikura (salmon row) adorning cucumber slices, 1/8 inch thick.

Orange gems bursting, salty, in one’s mouth – complimented by refreshing slices of pale green cucumber…

Need I say more?

Gochisosama!!Thank you so much Uncle K for our gorgeous treat!!!!

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When I get homesick…

13 Jun

As a child, my father, the stereotypical Japanese business man, often played golf on Sundays.

My mother, the dutiful wife, was left at home, tending to the chaos of home life with the children (my brother and I).

My father was left to his own devices – and he made a quick breakfast of instant ramen with the protein addition of a raw egg. Common process in Japan (tsukimi udon, tsukimi soba) but a freakish contribution of endless debate and derision by many over here….

Personally, my argument is, if the egg is fresh and the poultry farmer known, I am willing to take the leap…

Needless to say. I would wake up after my father left – often, the ramen broth left behind, and I would happily finish off as Sunday “Golf Ramen” – wishing Sundays happened more often so I can enjoy the remnants of my father’s rushed breakfast.

Three decades later, ramen is now trendy, widely accepted in American culture -ranging from gourmet Zagat NYC dining to college dormitory survival essentials.

On those days I have a brief moment to breathe – or I’m so homesick for a bowlful of noodles in savory, hearty, fragrant broth topped with generous toppings – and the company of forgiving and understanding colleagues who don’t mind my inhaling and slurping my noodles, I escape to the local Japanese eatery – Shiro of Japan – to enjoy their ramen special.

Wednesday. Wednesday, my dear reader, is the key day!!!

20140613-005333-3213607.jpgRamen day at Shiro restaurant 401 Old Country Road Carle Place, NY

A step off of the beaten path

13 Jun

I’m used to trudging along my daily routine. Get up, pack bento, choose outfits for girls, make breakfast (may it NOT be cereal and milk), braid hair, shoo H out of the house to ensure she makes bus, get ready for work, herd little one to car, drop off at school, drive to work, and WORK.

Sometimes a hiccup sets my schedule way off course. Other days, I arrive at work unruffled, early, and presentable.

Needless to say, today was an off-day with the little one’s pre-K performance taking over prime time from 11:30 – noon, and my attempts to work remotely being thwarted by every other element.

I’m happy to say, I managed a run to Kerber’s Farm – a farm stand I’ve watched over the past 18 years go from functioning farm stand to neglect – and then to rebirth.

I will post a photo of my indulgence of the day that left me with massive “workout” guilt, addressed with “but-this-was-so-incredibly-delicious” indignation.

Fried egg and roasted vegetables on a homemade cheddar biscuit…. Inhaled in two minutes, BEFORE I reached route 110, less than two miles away.

If I were a cat, my paws would have been washing my eyebrows, and behind my ears.

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Visit the farm! 309 West Pulaski Road Huntington, NY 11743

Burdock what?

28 May

I often lamented I was unable to find organic burdock… Until I discovered them in a box at, yes dear reader, Fairway during a lunch forage.

I leapt for joy. My heart beating quickly, I picked out six pieces – each about six inches long, and about an inch in diameter.

The woman who checked out my groceries inspected the burdock, and asked what it was, and how was I going to prepare it.

Kinpira Gobo came to mind.

I rinsed the burdock root well, and trimmed the ends. I then took the back of my knife, and scraped the thin skin off of the root. The dusty, brown, skin peels off easily, exposing a delicate, fragrant, white flesh. I had a bowlful of cold water handy, and plunged the peeled root into the water to prevent them from browning (due to oxidation, similar to peeled apples turning brown).

Once peeled, I cut them into 1 1/2 inch long slabs – which I then, julienned into thin matchsticks. Again, I put the cut pieces into cold water.

I also peeled four medium sized carrots, and cut them into similar sized matchsticks.

I heated up my trusty cast iron pan over medium high heat, added a tablespoon of sesame oil and a teaspoon of canola oil – and as they heated up, the most delicious, rich, warm aroma rose from the pan. I quickly drained the burdock pieces, shook the extra water off, and added them to the pan. The carrots followed as well.

A noisy chorus of sizzling vegetables, mixing with the intoxicating scent of sesame oil, woody-herbal burdock, and caramelizing carrots quickly filled my kitchen.

The girls looked up from their homework – their noses wiggling like bunnies.

I tossed the burdock and carrot mixture with tongs, and added 1 tablespoon each of soy sauce and mirin continuing to mix everything together, well.

After the burdock pieces start to wilt, and the carrots soften, I added a generous handful of ground white sesame seeds, and continued to toss well.

Once all was blended well, I removed the pan from the heat, stepped back, and inhaled the delicious fragrance.

It brought me back to my childhood, and mom’s homecoming.

The girls looked up, and each had a taste test. They chewed thoughtfully, nodded, and said, “Yum!”

One of the best things about kinpira gobo is that it tastes delicious warmed up, as well as at room temperature – perfect for a bento item!

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Ramping and porgy-ing into spring

28 May

My company moved recently, and although I groaned and complained about the perceived increase in commuting time, I soon realized, I was now in the midst of prime food foraging – both for lunch options, as well as for shopping!!

Where else could one ask to be relocated to an office where one can find a Fairway in close proximity to a Trader Joe’s, and option upon option of dining choices?

Nonetheless, on one food foraging lunch expedition, I was besides myself at the beautiful box of organic ramps beckoning from the produce section.

I grabbed those by the fistful, curbing my frenzy only by the fact it was two days until payday, and my household CFO’s voice of reason echoed in the back of my mind.

These ramps were cleaned, grilled, drizzled with olive oil, sprinkled with sea salt, and served with grilled whole porgy – aka “fish sleeping” per the girls.

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Alas – the skin stuck to the grill, but the fish was incredibly moist, and delicate, complimenting the fragrant, tender, sweet ramps.

We ate the grilled porgy with a light ponzu dipping sauce. A bowl of steamed multigrain rice completed our meal.

The girls and baba enjoyed every bit of dinner – and I can’t wait for another lunch foray for interesting eats.

A moment of reflection

23 Oct

It’s frightening to realize, we are nearing the bottom half of the month of October – in 2013.  Although my blogs haven’t been updated diligently, I carry a photographic journal of the bentos I pack for my girls – the oldest in first grade this September, and the little one, on her second round of Pre-K.

What has changed since the chaos of the last entry?

Not much – except for the fact, momentarily, I became complacent… and then a mudslide… allowed myself to lean on the photographic crutch of my iphone photo album of hundreds of pictures of bento, with no accompanying text.

Yet, I know I look back, and know that I carry the same principles… but I haven’t tended to my medium of dealing with my own personal struggles.  Yes, dear reader, my blog – it is an outlet for me to memorialize a day’s lunch in physical form – I’m forgoing the physical hugs, kisses, hand holding, the after school play-dates, dance lessons, cooking time…. for my role as co-breadwinner and career woman, capable of holding her end of the bargain.  My blog, it is a tangible composition of working mother’s guilt, woven through the daily, weekly and seasonal planning of food in the hopes, one day, perhaps my girls will realize, I hold them so dear to my heart….

I digress.

I have many updated bentos I haven’t uploaded, as well as food experiences.  Between my noodle bonanza and now, I’ve had a trip to Japan to visit family (with shameless eating!!), as well as the routine of my beloved bento production for the girls, I will find that sliver of dedicated time to etch my culinary accomplishments and dedication into this little corner of cyberspace!

Below is the girls’ first day of American school bento… the request was, “Mama, I want okra with the shoyu and katsuobushi topping, and edamame.

Mama complied!

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Let there be noodles!

17 Jan

The girls’ school offers a hot lunch sponsored by a student’s family, once a week. The little one joined her sister this fall at the school, and I realized there was a hot lunch slot available around the time of their birthdays.

I mulled and pondered… What did I need to do? What am I expected to do?

One day, my older daughter turned to me and said, “Mama, it’s not fair. You NEVER come read a book on my birthday at school, and you NEVER do hot lunch.”

That statement sealed the deal for me.
I signed up on the hot lunch volunteer list, and started brainstorming.

“What do you want for lunch?” I asked her.

Men men! (noodles)!” They both piped up.

I asked the school what I needed to do to prepare the lunch. They gave me ideas… “We usually cook 12 pounds of pasta… Probably about 100 students will participate…”

I started panicking. What could I possibly make for a hundred kids?!

Udon or soba noodles in soup would be a challenge, since the noodles are not tasty if over cooked, and the soup may be the X-factor. I could almost see myself doling out a tub of soup, while trying to catch slippery noodles out of a pot to try to portion out… A hundred times.

I then thought about rice bowls… I could steam a hundred servings of rice. I then make various toppings that each student could customize their rice bowl with… Seasoned turkey soboro, egg, peas, vegetables… I then realized I only can possibly make eleven servings of rice in the rice cooker(s) I would have access to. I even asked the local Japanese restaurant to provide me a quote for the steamed rice… But the thought of making all the toppings was dizzying.

I then realized, yakisoba would probably be the best option. I could make it with ground turkey, vegetables, and make my own yakisoba sauce to ensure I kept control over the ingredients.

I went on a shopping binge at the local Japanese food stores, snapping up bags of the fresh yakisoba noodle packs – each one containing three servings. Thirty three packages of noodles later, (some were on sale too!) I purchased seven pounds of cabbage, ten pounds of carrots, six pounds of onions, eight pounds of ground turkey, a bottle of ketchup, two bottles of Bulldog brand Worcestshire sauce and a pilfered bottle of my husband’s HP sauce, we were ready.

The night before the lunch, I peeled the carrots, and hand-sliced them into 1/4 inch matchsticks (yes, each and every one…) until 3 am. The onions and cabbage were also sliced, thinly, about 1/4 inch thick.

The next day, my car perfumed with the strong smell of onions, I took my goodies to the school. A concerned friend, worried for my sanity!, helped me for an hour, and produced a food processor to cut up four pounds or celery.

Once set up in the school’s commercial kitchen, I started browning the turkey, seasoning with salt, white pepper and soy sauce. In a separate pan, I sautéed the onions slices, and added the carrots, the cabbage, and then the celery, seasoning with salt and pepper.

Once the turkey was done, I set it aside, and continued cooking the vegetables. When the onions were softened, and the cabbage edges were starting to become translucent, I set them aside.

A added ketchup, HP sauce and Worcestshire sauce in a 2:2:1 ratio, mixing everything together with a whisk. Some soy sauce, mirin and sesame oil were also added, just to add depth. These were about 1/2 cup each, but again this was for 100 kids!!

Into another pan, I lightly oiled, and added the noodles. The pan was large enough to fit three squares of the fresh noodles, so I started cooking them, following the instruction on the packets. I added a bit of water to soften.

Midway, the school staff reassured me, due to some student absences, we could probably make less than the original hundred count so we ended up cooking only twenty packets, or sixty servings.

I somehow managed to get most of the lunch ready, and squeezed into the classroom (for both!) to read “Guess How Much I love You” to each respective class.

Lunch was successful. I received many kind compliments, and the best part was that every bite was either eaten, or taken home!

Here are some pictures of that day.

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