What you'll find on Storybook Days

The Home page displays all my musings on life in Japan and a few other things (baseball and children's books are distinct possibilities). For highlights only: "A Day in the Life (edited)." "Tabemono (Food)" is exactly that. "Big in Japan" is my completely biased and oversimplified list of what is popular in Japan, and "Kimono Count" is a day-by-day record of the people I see in traditional dress. "Editor's Delight" catalogs the unintentionally amusing and apparently quite complicated world of Japanese-English translation. "Uncle Tucker" tracks our sightings of a certain cat following us around Japan.

Tabemono (Food)

What do you choose when you're offered a treat?

June 29, 2012

I'm longing for a little a little smackerel of something, and a smackerel of something and a good book go together, don't they? Especially when the book is my edition of The Bumper Book,

 which contains one of my favorite poems for kids (about smackerels):

"Animal Crackers" by Christopher Morley

Animal crackers and cocoa to drink,
That is the finest of suppers I think;
When I'm grown up and can have what I please
I think I shall always insist upon these.
What do YOU choose when you're offered a treat?
When Mother says, "What would you like best to eat?"
Is it waffles and syrup, or cinnamon toast?
It's cocoa and animals that I love most!

The kitchen's the cosiest place that I know;
The kettle is singing, the stove is aglow,
And there in the twilight, how jolly to see
The cocoa and animals waiting for me.

Daddy and Mother dine later in state,
With Mary to cook for them, Susan to wait;
But they don't have nearly as much fun as I
Who eat in the kitchen with Nurse standing by;
And Daddy once said, he would like to be me
Having cocoa and animals once more for tea.

Animal crackers and cocoa are a nice smackerel, but it's not always easy to find that oh-so-perfect treat when living in a foreign country.  (I usually prefer a smackerel of chocolate covered coconut.)  What to do.  What to do.  Luckily, we've got a market close by, and it just so happens that they sell little round smackerels of heaven, which look like this:
It's called goma dango.   In Japan, dango is the name for any number of round balls made of rice flour.  They come in an array of flavors.  This one has sweet bean paste on the inside, which looks like this:

I know it looks like chocolate, and I also know that the rule is that things that look like chocolate but are not  chocolate are a complete and total disappointment.  (We've all bitten into an oatmeal cookie that we thought had chocolate chips only to find it had raisins, not chocolate.)  Goma dango is the exception.  I promise.  The entire thing is warm, a little lightly fried sesame-seed crunch on the outside and a little gooey sweet bean paste on the inside.  The sweet bean paste is like a hint of wonderfulness.  Every time I eat one I think, "Wow.  That was really good. But, I think I need another one just to make sure that I really like it that much."  My father-in-law has a phrase he likes to use for this:  "More-ish."  It is something that makes you want more.  Goma dango is definitely more-ish.

It turns out that goma dango actually originated in China.  But the bottom line is that it's truly a pan-Asian delight.  You'll find it in all Asian countries under different names (see the link above to goma dango).  No matter where you are, no matter what you call it, the result is the same:  heaven!  (If you have a Chinatown near where you live, trek down to a bakery there and ask for Jian dui.)

[A little bonus for those of you who read to the end--bless your heart:  If you are as fascinated and delighted by children's books as I am, you will take a moment to click here, then click on the Bumper Book image you see.  There are three photos available if you click on the Bumper Book image, and the last one is of Eulalie's illustration of "Animal Crackers."  It's truly fabulous.  I could not download and insert the photo into the blog, so you'll have to follow the link if you want to see it.  It's worth it, I promise!]

You really do need another cookbook.  

June 27, 2012

As I sit here eating my peanut butter and banana, I am thinking about food.  It's complicated, folks.  Way too complicated.  Living in Tokyo has made me hyper-interested in the world of food:

•  how I take it for granted (when in the U.S.);
•  where it comes from (local fish, imported cheese);
•  what the heck it is (this often being the case in Japanese restaurants and markets);
•  how I am going to afford it (I spend just as much per week in Tokyo as in the U.S., but get less than half the amount of food);
•  where I will buy it (grocery market, department store, outdoor market, fish market, vegetable stand, street vendor);
•  how often I will have to go to the market a week to be able to lug enough food home to keep everyone fed (3-4 times a week);
•  how do I prepare much of anything in a kitchen with only the following:  (The corkscrew quite possibly being the MVP of the kitchen.)

And then sometimes, late at night, I find myself thinking about specific conundrums:  how common are peanut allergies in Thailand?  Because we all know that just about anything you eat in Thailand has peanut oil in it.  Or what if (like one of my sisters) you are allergic to soy but you live in Japan?

So far, my family has been blessed with good eaters and no food allergies, which would add a much more complicated layer to my Tokyo cooking conundrums.  But, so many people I know have food allergies themselves or children with serious food allergies.  (The nefarious peanut allergy being the one I fear most.)  With all this food on the brain, I've found myself thinking often of Tammi Penkin Forman, my cousin.  (Okay, so she is the wife of my husband's second cousin, Larry.)  Tammi is a fantastic chef who lives in Cape Town, South Africa, and we were lucky enough to share a meal with Tammi and her family last year while visiting Cape Town.  She has three children, and she deals with multiple food allergies (dairy, gluten, peanut).  Not only does she thrive as a chef, she also keeps kosher!  Lucky for the rest of us, Tammi has decided to share the secrets to her success (and sanity) in Cooking for an Allergy-Friendly Lifestyle.

Whether you are looking for allergy-appropriate recipes or simply delicious food, Tammi's love and dedication to her family and cooking shine through.  Am I biased?  Absolutely.  (But that doesn't mean I'm not right!)  Have no fear the next time you start your grocery list; Tammi will show you the way.

Just one more reason to love NPR (and yes, Ira Glass, I'm a member)...

June 26, 2012   

    A couple of months before leaving for Japan, I was listening to "All Things Considered" on NPR, and I heard an interesting snippet on Elizabeth Andoh, who has been living in Japan for over 40 years and is a Westerner specializing on Japanese food and culture.  The interview discussed Ms. Andoh's coverage of Japan's traditional foods in "More than Miso."  In particular, she is interested in what happens to traditional Japanese foods and culture during times of upheaval, and last year's earthquake and tsunami presented a perfect example of such a time.

    The interview mentioned that Ms. Andoh conducts cooking classes in Tokyo from time to time.  In English.  I was driving at the time, so I had to attempt a mental note:  "SIGN UP FOR COOKING CLASSES."  Miracle of miracles, the mental note worked.

    Fast forward to June.  I am now signed up for a class on Japanese pickles (tsukémono) (just me) and a class on udon noodle stomping (with the kids), both in July.  In case you didn't know (and why would you?), udon noodles are my all-time favorite Japanese food.  So simple.  So satisfying.  So perfectly chewy.

    Sad you can't join me on my cooking adventure?  But you can!  Ms. Andoh offers open cooking classes online for those interested in Japanese cooking.  Check it out and come along (virtually)!

Washokucooking.com  (all about Japan's native food culture)

Kanshacooking.com (all about Japan's vegan and vegetarian food culture)

If you are an NPR junkie like me, you can check out another interview that WNYC-favorite Leonard Lopate did with Elizabeth Andoh in 2005 called "Food Culture of the Meji."  Kanpai! (Cheers!)

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