Monday, July 27, 2015

2015 illustrated recipes: set 3 (pickled plums)

I'm happy to report that the third in my series of illustrated recipes for The Japan Times ST was published in the July 24th issue. The ingredient I chose to focus on for the summer set (four recipes from appetizer to dessert) was umeboshi (Japanese pickled plums).

Umeboshi comes in more forms than you might think.  First, and most typical, is the red, wrinkly, soft umeboshi that is so sour and salty it sets your teeth on edge. It is a great accompaniment to fish with strong flavors, such as the sanma (pacific saury) in my recipe for Pacific Saury with Shiso and Umeboshi.

Lately, though, some of these umeboshi are marketed as "marinated in honey," a treatment that takes the edge off the extreme tartness and makes them suited to dessert recipes like my Umeboshi Cheesecake.

Then there is the small, crunchy umeboshi (kari-kari ume) that comes in both green and red varieties. Green is the natural color of the unripe ume fruit, and red is the outcome of pickling the ume with purple shiso (perilla) leaves. The small crunchy umeboshi are great as a snack, or when you want that crunchy texture in a refreshing summer salad like my Naga-imo and Umeboshi Salad.

There is also the pureed umeboshi that comes in small squeezable tubes, and the crumbled, freeze-dried (from puree) version that comes in small plastic bags. Umeboshi is considered to have health benefits, but it is also high in salt content, so beware of eating too many at one time. FYI, ume are not really plums at all, but a type of apricot. You can learn more about umeboshi from this Wikipedia entry.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

where the stars live

I've been spending a lot of time in Atsuta Village, on the Japan Sea coast side of Hokkaido. It's only a little more than an hour's drive from my home in Sapporo, but it's a different world. Atsuta is where the stars live. They press against my window after dark to kiss me goodnight.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

flower salad

My father-in-law is an avid hiker, bird watcher, and admirer of wildflowers. He often sends me photographs of colorful flowers to inspire my etegami.

His birthday is coming up, so I asked him if he had any special requests, or did he want to take a gamble and let me surprise him. He sent me more flower photos and then added that he wouldn't mind taking a gamble.

I did make an attempt at the straight-forward approach-- using his photos as a model for painting wildflowers in their natural setting. But mischief, that constant companion of my heart, raised its tousled head, and the next thing I knew, I was painting flowers as food. As in food for the stomach, not food for the soul.

The words in the etegami shown above say o-hanami yori hanami (preferring flower-tasting to flower-viewing), a play on the same-sounding words hanami (flower-viewing) and hanami (flower-tasting). Actually, I made up the second expression by forcing together the word for flower and the word for flavor. I just can't resist wordplay, and Japanese is the perfect language for it.

The words on the etegami shown below quote a poem by haiku master Matsuo Basho. He was reflecting on fate and the fragility of life. Only, it wasn't a horse that ate the flowers. It was yours truly.  I wonder if my father-in-law will think that his gamble paid off.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

rainy season haiku

While Hokkaido looks forward eagerly to a typically mild, sunny, fragrant, bright green, sweet-breezy June, the rest of Japan has entered-- or is about to enter-- the pre-summer rainy season called tsuyu, often translated literally as "plum rains."

The mugginess of tsuyu can be quite miserable-- one of those times of the year when I wonder out loud how anyone would choose to live anywhere other than tsuyu-less Hokkaido. (In just a few months, the Hokkaido winter will arrive with a powerful reply to that question.)

Well, anyway, I've been working on tsuyu-related etegami to encourage my friends who have to endure the rainy season. I started with a couple of etegami collages that recombine parts of previous etegami that may seem familiar to you.

Both the Japanese version and the English version quote a gently humorous haiku by Matsuo Basho: The crane's legs/have gotten shorter/in the spring rain (translated by Robert Hass). It's easy to imagine the cranes standing in the water, their long, skinny legs appearing shorter and shorter, as the level of the river, stream or lake rises higher and higher. The folded paper cranes, being legless, are kind of perfect for this haiku, don't you think?

Sunday, May 24, 2015

turnips are in season

I learned to appreciate turnips late in life. Like a lot of other things. Like puns.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

the gap in the wall

Look what arrived in the mail today! It's a work of textile art (matted but not yet framed) by Polish textile artist Bozena Wojtaszek. I've had my eye on it for a very, very long time. I first saw it on her blog The Textile Cuisine, where she showed it to her readers as a work-in-progress. Then, a week or so ago, I saw it listed on her Etsy shop and I knew that I had to have it.  

Her name for it is Old Wall, but I privately call it The Gap in the Wall, because for me it illustrates the Bible passage Ezekiel 22:30:  I looked for someone among them who would build up the wall and stand before me in the gap on behalf of the land so I would not have to destroy it, but I found no one.

And. Guess.What. Bozena enclosed a bonus in the package with the Wall. A precious flowery fiber art card for framing or sending in the mail as a postcard! I am a very happy girl.

Monday, May 11, 2015

more candy box mail art

Last month I received a small box of leaf-shaped cakes from Yun, my etegami friend in France. The cakes themselves didn't last long enough to appear in the photo I posted on my received mailart blog, but if you click the link, you can see the empty box and Yun's corrugated cardboard etegami that shows what the cakes looked like.

Even empty, the little box charmed and intrigued me. I had opened it in such a way as to leave the cellophane wrapping mostly undisturbed. So not only did the box look unopened, the diamond-shaped hole appeared to have window glass in it.

I cut out a flat "tray" from corrugated cardboard that slid smoothly in and out of the box, and glued flowery chiyogami (washi craft paper) and my favorite etegami bee images onto the tray. The bees were glued to bits of thick corrugated cardboard to give them a pop-out look.  Finally I added words appropriate to the scene, and tucked the finished tray into the box. The part of the tray that you can see through the "window" has enough depth to make it seem like you're peeking into another world. I was planning to send the finished box to Yun, but I'm enjoying it so much that I think I'll keep it for a while. :)