Archive for August, 2011

World’s Largest

16 August 2011

Miyajima Island, in addition to being the home of the iconic “floating” O-torii gate and the source of momiji manju, is home to the world’s largest rice paddle. I would never have known this if our tour hadn’t included a stop there, but I am really glad it did! We spent two nights on Miyajima island, climbed to the top of Mt. Misen, and avoided the ubiquitous deer who love to beg for food. While we were there, there was a typhoon hitting parts of Japan and the island experienced  some strong winds and a little light rain.  The winds prompted the operators to close the ferry to Hiroshima and the ropeway up the mountain, and most of the restaurants and shops were closed as well.  This was nice, because there weren’t crowds of people and it was quiet and pleasant, but on the other hand there was not a lot of choice for what to have for lunch.  The two places open for lunch both served Hiroshima-style okonomiyaki, so that was it.

Map of the side of the island that faces the mainland.

Keiko walked out at low tide to get a close-up view. Can you spot her?

At high tide, it does look sortof like it is floating.

Momiji manju are cakes (manju) filled with yummy filling and shaped like maple leaves (momiji). But one shop sells them with Hello Kitty on them.

This rice paddle is over 7.7 meters long (over 25 feet) and is made from a tree over 200 years old. And no, I've never been to the largest ball of twine.

The view from Mt. Misen. You can just barely see the ferry dock at the lower right.

A deer begs one of our tourmates for some of his ice-cream sandwich. The deer are not above chewing clothing and snatching pocketbooks.

Hiroshima-style okonomiyaki include pancake, cabbage, noodles, and omelet (invisible on the bottom.) There may be meat inside, too.

The finished okonomiyaki has been flipped so the omelet is on top. I got mine with oysters, another specialty of Miyajima. It was so big though, I could not eat it all.



16 August 2011

With the Republican presidential candidates attending the Iowa state fair in preparation for the Iowa straw poll, NPR had to do its obligatory story on “fried food on a stick.”  This year’s gross-out item was deep-fried butter on a stick. Well, in Japan, one needn’t go to the state fair (or rather, whatever the local festival is) to have food on a stick. There are sit-down restaurants devoted to fried food on a stick.  We ate a couple of them, enjoying chicken, pork, mushrooms, quail eggs, tomatoes, bell peppers, small fish, pumpkin (the green Japanese kind), potato, and probably something else I can’t remember. Dip the item into a sauce, or salt, or green sancho pepper (like black pepper but with a tingle and a citrusy flavor), and enjoy!  Then reach for another.

I think this is pork. The dish has wells for different sauces.

As you will see included with almost all Japanese meals, you can see the small dish of pickled vegetable in this photo, and in this case also a dish of cabbage for “cleansing the palate” between fried items.

You don’t have to go to a restaurant for your fried food on a stick, however. When we were in Osaka, the takoyaki that Keiko and I had were served with skewers, not chopsticks.  So I guess you could hold your octopus doughball on the stick and eat it that way.  I think it would have been easier to use chopsticks.

I used a couple skewers to dissect a doughball so you can see the little chunk of octopus.

What if you like food on a stick but are not a fan of deep frying? You can get that too. In Kyoto I passed by a shop with this display out front:

I don't think I could make myself eat one of these.

I have no idea if you are supposed to eat these octopuses as they are, or if maybe you buy a few to take home and fry up fresh for dinner. Or maybe you could do the other deep-frying: tempura.  Greg and I took a cooking lesson with a very nice woman named Emi, in her home in Kyoto.  She taught us to make tempura by combining half an egg (150 ml) and a combined 150 ml of flour and water, mixing it until combined but lumpy, and smearing the mixture by hand over whatever food you want to eat. While in Japan we tried tempura-style food of many different kinds (including nori and flowers and lotus root and pumpkin), but Emi introduced us to Japanese-style wheat gluten.  We were familiar with the seitan-style wheat gluten, but the Japanese style is more like a thick gel.  First, put the wheat gluten on a small stick.  Then coat in tempura batter and deep fry.

Wheat gluten before tempura. I don't know why it is green.

After tempura. Note the presentation has changed now that it is ready to eat.

My last food on a stick is not fried.  In Takayama, we went to a tofu restaurant.  Tofu served a lot of different ways, and listed on the menu as “tofu 3 ways”, “tofu 4 ways,” “tofu 5 ways,” and so on.  I think Greg had “tofu 7 ways” or maybe it was 8.  I went for fewer, thinking I wasn’t that hungry (having had a snack not much earlier).  I chose the option that included, you guessed it, tofu on sticks:

Tofu three ways. Plus soup with tofu skins, rice, and pickles (the pink things are pickles).

So much for not being very hungry.  I guess the fewer types of tofu in your order, the larger the portions.

Anyway, since being back in the USA I have stuck to only frozen treats on a stick. I am still finishing off last year’s watermelon-mint ice pops, and I recently made a large batch of fresh ones to take to the pool party on Labor Day.  Just watermelon, mint, lime juice, and sugar.


11 August 2011

Break from Japan posts (more are coming, I promise!) while I write a bit about my life at this very moment.

In less than three weeks’ time, I will be back in school with students. I have a tentative schedule and tentative class lists, though I am not printing any out since the class lists typically change up to and during the first week of classes. It looks like my planning period will be the last period of the day, which will be different, but my lunch period will still be 4th period, which is from 10:11 AM to 10:56 AM.  Since I eat breakfast at 5:30 AM, I will be hungry by then, but I will be hungry again at 4 PM as usual.

I have a lot of things to do and I keep putting them off. I need to use my watermelon for pickled watermelon rind and I need to do something with the inside part.  I have to (with my husband) move all the rest of the stuff that belongs in the kitchen out of the guest room, and put the guest room back to rights so we can have a houseguest.  I need to clean up my office so I can use it.  I need to write lesson plans, course standards, assignments, and blog posts, and I need to sort photos from Japan to put up on flickr.  I need to get the house neat enough to have a house cleaning person to come over and clean it.  I need to take the cat to the vet for his annual shots.

What have I been doing?  Well, in between traveling, I’ve been enjoying the opportunity of summer to READ. I really love reading!  Really!  I’ve read:

  • A Dance with Dragons by George R. R. Martin
  • The Waters Rising by Sheri S. Tepper

I finished reading

  • Genius: the life and science of Richard Feynman by James Gleick

I’ve RE-read:

  • Cryoburn by Lois McMaster Bujold
  • The Hallowed Hunt by Lois McMaster Bujold
  • Forge of Heaven by C. J. Cherryh

I’ve STARTED but not finished reading:

  • The Greatest Show on Earth by Richard Dawkins
  • The Book Thief by Markus Zusak (one of the summer reading books for my school)

I’ve continued reading (but also not finished) these books I started some time ago:

  • The Man who Mistook his Wife for a Hat by Oliver Sacks
  • Unfamiliar Fishes by Sarah Vowell

And I have on Kindle but have yet to start reading:

  • The Girl in the Garden by Kamala Nair
  • Uncommon Carriers by John McPhee
  • The Help by Kathryn Stockett
  • The Forgotten Genius by Stephen Inwood

So my mind has been in books lately, and today NPR posted a “top 100” list of fantasy and science fiction books and series, as voted by online poll.  Each person answering the poll could select ten choices to vote for.  The poll was available for about a week, and I did make my selections, along with 60,000+ others. Or at least that many other ballots – I don’t know if it was possible to vote more than once.

I was sincerely bothered that C.J. Cherryh did not make the list.  I was also annoyed that books that I had been unable to slog through as a teen (when I had even MORE time on my hands for reading) DID make the list.  Some of them had annoying protagonists.  Or dopey dialogue, or dry dialogue.  Or had no women characters, or had bad women characters – shallow, two-dimensional, dumb, whatever. My judgement of what makes a novel a GOOD novel specifically has to do with these things.

If I get lost in the world of the novel, if it seems real, if the dialogue is entertaining, if the protagonist is likeable, I will probably like it.  If the dialogue is dull or in a difficult dialect, if the characters do dumb things, if the world is unbelievable, or if the book is overtly sexist or worse, misogynistic, I probably won’t finish it.  I couldn’t finish the Salman Rushdie book I started – nothing ever happened in it.  I couldn’t force myself through Abbot’s Flatland because of the way women were portrayed.  And it was boring.  And forgive me my friends who love them, I cannot get into Jane Austen’s novels at all. I haven’t figured out if it is the language or the plots or the characters that I dislike, but I have never been able to read one all the way through.

Please don’t recommend any more books to me at the moment.  My slate is full enough.  But in a month or so you can start directing me towards next summer’s list!