Category Archives: food

chocolate bread is my new will to live

I’m still in my weird, just-finished-a-book mood/funk/blues/feelings-thingy, so I’m taking the standard Rx in the form of small but doable projects that provide an experience of Easy Success…plus chocolate.  This is my tried and true medicine for What Ails Me and it always works (or at least distracts me until I Get On With It).  So, as Exhibit A, I offer last night’s adventure for your amusement:

I was sitting on the couch, feeling discontented, (“What are you doing?” “I’m experience malaise.” “Ah.”), when my eye fell on the white box on the top of the hutch.  “That’s it,” I announced. “I’m getting down the bread machine.”

“We have a bread machine?” said Luc.

“Yes, it’s that white box on top of the hutch.”

“What white box?”

The kids have been seeing “that white box” sitting up on the hutch their entire lives, so, of course, they couldn’t see it at all.  “Oh that thing,” Luc said when I finally got up and pointed at it. “I thought it was part of the house.”

I had to stand on a chair to get it down.  It had literally a decade’s worth of dust on the top:

choclate bread 4

(Angry “wash me” face courtesy of Sophie.)

I purchased this bread machine at a yard sale maybe fifteen (twenty?) years ago.  I did make bread with it back then, in our old house—I had even left my favorite recipe on a piece of paper curled inside, like a message in a bottle (see below for recipe)—but I haven’t touched it, not once, not since the babies were born.   In fact, it’s been so long since I used the thing that when I was trying to figure out how it worked way back when I first got it (sans instructions), I didn’t look it up on the internet because back then you didn’t do that.  The internet just…wasn’t the internet yet.  We’re talking that long ago.  Like, the Pleistocene.

But dang if it didn’t work perfectly on the first go.  (After a thorough cleaning.  Cough.)

chocolate bread 1

You might think that pretty loaf of bread is whole wheat bread.  But you would be mistaken.

chocolate bread 2

It’s chocolate bread!  Because remember the Rx is one part <short term, easily met goals> mixed with one part <CHOCOLATE>.

And how do we yurt people eat chocolate bread?

choclate bread 3

We put Nutella on top. OF COURSE.  And rainbow sprinkles.  And we drink chocolate milk with it.  Natch.

Because if you can live in paradise, why live anywhere else?

Chocolate Bread Recipe:

1 1/4 cup milk

1 egg

3 cups bread flour (NOT all purpose or it won’t rise as well)

1/4-1/2 cup brown sugar

1 t salt

1 1/2 fast rising yeast

2 tablespoons butter

3/4 cup miniature semi-sweet chocolate chips

Heat the milk to around 80 degrees and put it in.  Next the sugar and the salt, then the flour.  Make a well in the top of the flour for the yeast.  Cut the butter into chunks and put them in the corners.  Don’t add the chips yet.  1.5 lb loaf, light crust, basic white bread setting.

Fire it up. Scrape the sides a bit with a rubber spatula at first to get everything incorporated.  Check the dough ball at the 2:30 mark to either add a bit of water or flour, depending on what it needs to get the right consistency.

Add the chips in when it gives the Mix-in signal.  The dough will be warm enough to melt the chips.  If you’d rather have chocolate chip bread, wait until the very end of the 2nd knead to put them in or they will melt.  You can help them last if you freeze the chips first.

I recommend going for a run while the machine does its thing because it mitigates the guilt of eating the bread all up while it is still warm.

Don’t forget the nutella.  Or straight up butter is pretty marvelous, too.

In other news, I have started the next book.  Thank goodness.

five random things we did this week

1- Visiting a real live Tibetan Sand Mandala

Every couple of years a group of Tibetan Monks from the Drepung Monastery come through the area and throw down some gorgeous sand art in the form of one of their amazing mandalas.  You can go watch them making it, and then when they’re done, they sweep it all up and, with appropriate ritual and care, toss it into the river.  Here is this year’s mandala completed.

sand mandala

It’s the Amitayus Mandala, the Buddha of Boundless Life.  I’m not sure what boundless life is, but it sounds good.  Here is a cool page about the construction process.  Candy colored and intricate!

The monks we met were shy and friendly (and wearing running shoes the color of the their magenta robes, I loved that).  People were meditating all around it, which gave a certain vibe to the proceedings—lots of bowing and nodding and smiling.

I always get the feeling that if one could look at the energetic planes of super-spiritual-something-or-other where these mandalas exist, surely they are 3-d, rising up off the floor and towering over our heads, a huge castle with fancy turrets and gingerbread decorations.  You know what I mean?  Or, alternately, I’m a 3-d person looking at the 2-d universe, fully alive just…flat.  Only I think the mandala must be several ‘ds’ above us and they are looking down into our world like we are the flat ones….

2- Kitten therapy!

Playing with a kitten, or, say, watching a kitten battle a piece of toilet paper, or a piece of string, or its own tail—anything, really—has undeniable positive impact on one’s brain chemistry, cortisol levels, and general well-being.  Call it Kitten Therapy (TM). Basically, if you have a chance to be around happy kittens, you should totally do it.  It will add years to your life.

kitten therapy

Here is our kitten, brought home from my Granddaddy’s old boat barn, once merely feral, now a CRAZY BEAST OF PURRING CLAW AND FUZZ DOMINATION.  He plays non-stop, full-on, attacking anything the moves with great pleasure and gusto.  Falling over is no deterrent.  (Our older cat Momo hates him.)  We’ve been calling him Jupiter, Ju-Ju-Bee, June Bug, and Juice Box.  He doesn’t care.  He only pays any attention when we say, “kitty kitty…”  Or, as I like to do, stomp into the Noah House where he is living and roar, in a low, growly, aggressive voice, “KITTEN!!!”  He always comes out running and purring and ready for Mad Max Fury Road paws-to-the-wall action for that.

Kittens don’t come along very often and they only last for a month or two.  Must soak up all the kitten-ness I…possibly…can!

3- Kids VS The Dads: Soccer SMACK DOWN

Park day brought out an unusual number of Dads the other day and somehow it turned into an epic battle for soccer supremacy.  Competition was fierce.  Rules were hotly debated, such as the controversial scoring against your own team by accidentally backing through the goal-line while carrying the ball foul.  (Oops.)  Who’s turn was really it to throw the ball back in?  Who’s shoes would be used as goal posts?  Could (the now) barefoot players really hold their own against those wearing combat boots?

soccer

Shorties vs the Talls, WHO WOULD WIN?

4- Ice skating on the hottest day of the year (so far).

90 degrees!  I know, I know, it’s only going to get hotter.  August around here often hits 100.  But sheesh, it seemed plenty hot to me.  Time to hit the indoor ice skating rink!

ice skating 1

It was Sophie and Luc’s first time.  Darn good thing kids are made of rubber because they fell down.  A lot.  Still, they kept laughing and popping back up, so I guess it was okay.  Bonus round: open mouthed staring after they cleared the rink for the figure-skating crew.  Oh la la, so fancy with their flippie moves and twirls.

5- Pizza from scratch!

I turned Ghost Fugue over to my intrepid copy editor at the end of last week and, possibly as a result, I had several days of feeling lost and adrift.

“I’ve lost the will to live,” I told the kids.  “I need an easy, short-term goal to keep me going.”

They suggested cooking.  Good idea!  Somehow we narrowed the options down to homemade pizza.

We used this recipe, which was awesome.

But making dough from scratch seemed to warrant a new pizza pan, rather than trying to make due with our warped, dented, encrusted cookie sheets.  I looked for a silicone pastry mat, too, for rolling it out but couldn’t find one.  “What about a pizza stone?  Do we need one of those?”  I said.

“Naw,” said SuperHubby.  “What we need is to build a cob pizza oven.”

Sophie groaned.  “I just want some lunch!  The cookie sheets are fine!”  She’s so practical.

I did buy the pizza pan.  $8 bucks!  What a pretty, round pizza it made!  Here it is before cooking:

pizza 1

Luc only likes cheese pizza, so you can see his little section over there.  The rest is triple cheese, mushrooms, olives, and fresh oregano.  Here it is after it cooked:

pizza 2

O. M. G.  It was good.  REALLY REALLY good.  Maybe the best pizza I’ve ever had.  It totally restore my will to live for, like, hours.

And that’s it, five random things we did this week.  Nothing too fancy, but it suited us just fine.

pollen, henna, sushi, and the new book

It’s raining on the yurt roof (loud!) and thank goodness because we have been drowning in pollen.  Seriously, look at this:

pollen car 1

That’s from ONE NIGHT.  Take a closer look:

pollen car 2

That thick layer of yellow has been on everything.  I come in from walking Henry and the cuffs of my yoga pants are covered in it.  Hubby came in from working outside and when I patted him on the back, poofs of pollen came off him.  Driving down the road, you look into a yellow haze, seriously!  We leave footprints in it, it is so deep.

pollen footprint

But now this rain will wash it away, or at least some of it.  Our breathing systems can go back to the normally high levels of pollen of  NC spring and not this crazy onslaught.  Spring is on fast forward this year.

You know what, I was just flipping through my camera to get those pollen pics and look, Sophie’s gorgeous hair after our semi-annual Henna Party.  My cousin and I, and sometimes my sister, and now my daughter, we all have this crazy red hair now.  It’s a Thing.

sophie henna

So pretty! She likes to torment me by talking about cutting it all off.  Sob.

Ooo, and look at this, an amazing sushi feast we had a couple of weeks ago:

sushi feast

DELICIOUS. I had to take a picture.

Isn’t going through the camera fun?  I don’t miss the days of film.

And in my final news of the day, the new book has a title!  Ghost Fugue.  It is out with the second round of beta readers at the moment.  The cover is in the works, and I have booked my copyeditor to do the final typo, cleaning and formatting, hopefully in May.  Aiming for a June release.  I’ll do a fancy shmancy cover reveal as soon as it is done. I’m super excited about this book!

sweat-free christmas and world’s best shortbread cookies

The question on everyone-I-run-into’s lips for the last week has been, “are you ready?” By which they mean,”Are you ready for Christmas?”  It has started sounding like “are you ready? Get set…GO!”  I’ve started feeling paranoid because folk seem so freaking busy and stressed out and I…don’t.  It’s like they’re whittling their Christmas out of hand hewn logs, grown from Christmas seeds passed down through the generations, and I’m hanging out, eating a carrot (visions of Bugs Bunny, don’t ask me why, I don’t know) and watching all the industry with a puzzled expression. Why don’t I have a to-do list longer than a garden hose?  Am I forgetting something?  Am I shirking my Chirstmas duty?

Cooking, wrapping, mailing, baking, decorating, attending parties, hosting parties…these are the basics of Christmas as celebrated by early 21st century middle class Americans, right?  I keep checking them off on my fingers to make sure we’re doing all the Christmas Stuff.  We seem to be (haven’t hosted a party, but everything else, yep, yep…yep) and yet…I just don’t seem to be stressing out.  I’m clearing doing something wrong.

But wait, no, I’ve decided maybe it’s a question of scale.  For example, yes, we have a tree, we decorated the house, but, you know, when you live in a yurt, it only takes about twenty minutes to put sparkly lights on everything, and our tree is only four feet tall because anything wider would take over all the available floor space.  Maybe we’re doing all the things just…in a smaller dose.

THEREFORE.  My present hypothesis is this: the answer to a sweat-free holiday is to cut your portion of Christmas down to bite size.  Then you’ll be fine.  See?  Problem solved.  People are just trying to have TOO MUCH CHRISTMAS.

Christmas is strong stuff.  Sometimes, a little dab will do.

After having this discussion with the kids, however, we realized that we were, in fact, shirking: because we were experiencing a sudden and profound shortage of Christmas cookies! Emergency action must be taken to remedy the situation immediately!

I’ve been craving shortbread—those incredibly buttery cookies that aren’t all that sweet but melt in your mouth, you know the ones, fabulous with a cup of strong black tea?  One cookie has, like, 700 calories?  Yeah.  Those.  Where do these cravings come from anyway?

Ah, who cares.  We made some.  Turns out they are super easy.

shortbread 1

Cream 1/2 cup salted butter (that’s a stick) in the food processor with 1/4-1/2 cup confectioners sugar (depending on how sweet you like them.  Add 3/4 cup white flower and 1/4 cup corn starch and pulse a few times until you get a ball of buttery yellow dough.  That’s right, there are just 4 ingredients.  Seriously, you can’t mess these up.  Maybe if you burn them.  Don’t do that.

Roll it out to 1/4 inch thick, cut with a cutter in the shape or shapes of your choosing.  Bake for about 15 min at 300.  If you want them to be a bit golden, you might need to brush them with some egg or something, because mine turned out quite pale, but that was fine with me.

YUM.

shortbread 2And listen, there is nothing good for you in these, okay?  Except love.

Luc: “These are made of God.”

Sophie: “No, they’re made of butter.”

Luc: “Then God is made of butter.”

Sophie, holding up a stick of butter and making Gregorian Chants sounds, “Let there be butter!”

[cheering]

Or as Jake says in “Dungeon Train,”  ““Fiiiinn, I made those biscuits with so much butter. You were just responding to the butter! This whole place is butter!”

Note: this recipe is a very small batch, maybe dozen cookies, depending on the size of your cutter.  You can easily double or triple the recipe, but seriously, you won’t want to eat more that one or two of these things.  They are super rich.

SuperCoolHusband rolled colored sprinkles into the little fork holes I made, haha.  We ate them while watching Guardians of the Galaxy (which I ADORE).

Baked Christmas cookies: CHECK.

So there you have it.  My Christmas wish for you: don’t sweat it and eat plenty of butter!  Merry Christmas!!

welcome to another exciting episode of “Real Kitchen!” Not your mother’s cooking show.

You’ve seen them, those classy cooking shows where the studio kitchen is gorgeous, the ingredients are pre-prepped in little bowls, ready for dumping into the pot, and there is not a dirty dish in sight.  They’re nice aren’t they?  But honestly now, who the hell has a cooking experience like that?  Maybe single, rich people or something?  Certainly not people with families who live in tiny houses *cough* and who struggle to find time to eat, much less cook.

Enter “Real Kitchen!” the cooking show for the rest of us!

Let’s see what we’ve got, shall we?  For starters, in those other cooking shows, when you need to mix something, a beautiful bowl is right there waiting for you.  In Real Kitchen, you can’t find one.  And when you do, it’s a little too small, but you think you can make it work if you can just stir slowly enough to keep the mound from overflowing.  But hey, so what if you do!  That’s what dogs are for.

How about ingredients?  In Real Kitchen, you know how it goes.  You have to forage through the crisper full of bags of rotten slimed stuff you can no longer identify.  Cleaning out the fridge, at least partially, is always the First Step to cooking in Real Kitchen.  But it isn’t just the fridge, the shelves are way too full, you have to search endlessly for stuff you know you bought, but now can’t locate.  There are piles on the piles.  You knock a few over.  There may be some swearing.  Real Kitchen may or may not be suitable for all ages.

In those other cooking shows, you make what you want, how you want it.  It’s amazing!  In Real Kitchen, not a chance.  You have to negotiate with your family members for every ingredient.  “Please can I put garlic in?”  “No.”  “What if I chop it very tiny?” “NO.”  Also, probably someone already ate a crucial ingredient so you’ll have to improvise, making sometimes bizarre substitutions.  That’s the creativity of Real Kitchen!  No complaining, there’s no point!

In those other cooking shows, you magically know the recipe by heart.  In Real Kitchen, you are reading the recipe off your ipad, causing you to try to keep the screen lit, and scroll, with your elbow, because your hands are a mess.  Bet you didn’t know cooking doubles as a yoga pose!

I also bet you never saw the smoke alarm go off in one of those other cooking shows.  And how about how the dog feels it’s necessary to bark continuously at the smoke alarm until it shuts up, thereby tripling the noise and your corresponding sense of urgency to turn the damn thing off?  Oh, it was just something in the bottom of the toaster oven again.  What was I doing?  Did I already put the salt in?  Or not?

Let’s face it: in Real Kitchen, there is always a sense of danger.  For example, chopping onions—a simple thing already done for you by house elves in those other cooking shows—chopping onions in Real Kitchen becomes a source of pain and possible disfigurement.  Have you ever seen one of those other chefs sobbing over their cutting board?  Trying to chop with their eyes closed without losing a finger?  No.  Not to mention when your eyes water enough that your mascara runs, making you look like the Winter Soldier.  No make up artists waiting off-stage in Real Kitchen!  The burning pain of chopping onions is hugely underrepresented by most cooking shows, in my opinion.

In Real Kitchen, locating a pan that will work well enough for your purposes can involve spelunking and the threat of an avalanche.  And once you find it, it has to be cleaned, an awkward job since the sink in Real Kitchen is usually already full of dirty dishes.  Plus when you ask your ten year old assistant if it needs to be washed first, she is liable to say, “If I have to clean it, then it’s perfectly clean.”  Thanks, helpful assistant!  I couldn’t have done it without you.

Have you ever noticed how in Real Kitchen, things seem to get thrown at the chef, seemingly at random?  I do not know why.  You also have to deal with Strange Illogical Fears, like touching the aluminum foil box (“it will cut me!”), or refusals to eat out of certain bowls or with certain untensils (“I don’t like the noise it makes against the edge,” or “silver spoons taste funny.”)  It’s maddening, really.  That feeling is all part of the Real Kitchen experience!

The compost is too full, the trash needs to bagged and dumped to make room for the new trash you are making, the complaints are huge (“I told you not to put garlic in!”) and the fridge is already stuffed, so where to put the leftovers?

Yes, cooking in Real Kitchen isn’t just a sport, it’s an Extreme Sport!  It’s not just Real, it’s Dangerous!  To mind and body, believe me.  So, let’s have no more of those wimpy-ass, goody-goody, lets make it look all pretty, cooking shows.  Let’s get down to the battle that is REAL COOKING.

–brought to you by Dinner!  With special guest star, Thanksgiving!  Otherwise known as, “Thank god that’s over.”

And now, for your listening pleasure, Frank Zappa sings of when Real Kitchen has crossed over the line into Dangerous Kitchen.  You just don’t want to go there.

the evil plot of the durian wafer

We regularly make the trip to a nearby city for their massive Asian market and stock up on weird (to us) candy, unusual veggies, mysterious sauces, Kewpie Mayo, etc.  We make a point of getting something totally unknown to us each time, just for kicks.  This time, Sophie picked out these:

durianwafer

Durian Flavored Cream Wafers. Seems innocuous enough.  It’s just little square cookies, right?

When we opened the package, we were assaulted with the most disgusting smell I have ever smelled, something between fetid old gym socks and pus.  I’m not kidding.  Apparently this is just how the durian fruit smells.  I don’t know, I haven’t had one, although I hear they are quite the delicacy in some circles, an acquired taste that some people actually…like.  They make durian ice cream, for example.  Which is shocking because listen, I am serious as a heart attack about the smell.  Really, really bad.

Sophie actually tried one, a small nibble.  She is so brave.

She had to spit it out.  Then the cookies themselves, once the package was open, stank up the yurt.  I put them in a plastic bag and knotted it, but when we came back from a walk all we could say upon opening the door, was “Holy Mother of Chocolate, what the heck is that SMELL?”  Answer: still the durian wafers.  I put them outside, still in the bag.  But we could smell them when we opened the door. I actually don’t know where they are now.  Sophie and Luc took on the quest of disposing of them.  I fear for the local wildlife.

Somewhere, in a board room maybe, someone at “Garden Co.” decided flavoring a low-end, rock-gut, cream wafer with durian was a good idea.  They thought, “Yes, we will sell these internationally.  We will make a profit.  This will work.”  Heck, maybe it IS working: a couple of people defend them in the customer reviews on amazon, so maybe these have a secret, cult following.  And, hey, I mean, we bought them.  They got our $1.09.  (Actually, how much of that buck is actually going to Garden, I wonder?  It can’t be much, given shipping costs, and middle-men costs.)

Bottom line: the mystery of the durian wafer is unfathomable.  Plus: people will eat anything.  I hope this doesn’t put Sophie off trying weird shit.  I think that’s a cool characteristic of hers.  I’ve gotten so staid in my old age.  It’s embarrassing, really.

matcha taste test smackdown, round two!

I have been blessed with matcha bounty.  Seriously, it’s coming out of the woodwork, I’ve got to drink tea faster.  And since Sophie and I had so much fun with our first Matcha Smackdown, clearly it is time for a second.  Let the drinking (of tea) begin!  WOOT.

Here are today’s contenders:

matcha taste test

Such pretty little tins.  Here’s the list from left to right:

From O-cha, Kiku Mukashi ($20 + shipping for 30 grams).  From Maiko teas, Matsu no Midori ($20 + shipping for 40 grams).  From Itoen teas, Koto no Tsuki, ($20 + locally bought so no shipping for 20 grams).  And from ZenMatcha, their “Premium” tea ($19 + shipping for 20 grams).

Actually there was one more that we added half-way through (so it missed the initial photoshoot), the O-cha Kiri no Mori ($14 + shipping for 30 grams).

matcha taste test 4

The Kiku Mukashi was my first purchase (as I reviewed first here) with just enough left in the tin to participate in today’s face off, the other O-cha my second purchase.  The Maiko I got to be my “next tea” when that was gone.  But then I stumbled upon a local tea shop where they had the Itoen tea, three days past it’s freshness date so they sold it to me for half off, $10, couldn’t say no to that!  And then Eric Newman over at ZenMatcha sent me a tin of his best matcha for review, very cool Eric!  Thank you!

Time to make tea.

matcha taste test 6

In the name of Science, I made each bowl of tea with 1/2 teaspoon of sifted matcha (using a measuring spoon instead of the little bamboo hook thingy that came with my whisk) and heated the water to 170 degrees.

matcha taste test 3

Aren’t Sophie’s wheelthrown bowls lovely?  She’s 10, by the way.  She rocks.

Anyway, Sophie and I took turns keeping our eyes closed and tasting the teas while the other one took notes.  As with our first test, she and I seemed to have the same preferences/experiences.  Except that in our first test, the two teas seemed noticeably different from each other, whereas with this group of teas, there was much more similarity.  Towards the end, we also roped SuperCoolHusband into the test. He is a total matcha virgin, so this was his first hit.

Blind, we described the Itoen as very sweet, mild, mellow, “I can drink this all day.”  No bitterness at all.  Round.  Smooth.  Lots of what I think is what they’re talking about when they talk about the umami, this interesting yum-factor that makes me smack my lips and make a spontaneous “mmm!”  A hint of sugar snap peas.

We described the Maiko as sweet, slightly grassy.  It reminded Sophie a little bit of that green, hay-like scent that henna has.  Maybe what I’m going for is a bit of seaweed flavor, not unpleasant, just a little stronger.  No bitterness, mild, with that hint of greenness in the center of the flavor.  Lots of umami.

The O-cha Kiku was very similar to the Itoen only perhaps more mild.  Mellow, sweet, a fresh green flavor.  Lovely umami.  Less grassy than the Maiko, a touch yummier, maybe.  Hubby said this one was richer than the others.

The ZenMatcha, had a stronger flavor.  Some bitterness, a bit harsh.  Definitely good, but next to some of these others, not as sweet, not as…luscious, whatever that thing is that matcha can have, that complex yumminess inside the flavor.  It was easy to tell this one apart from the others whereas with the other three, I really wasn’t sure which one she had given me.

The O-cha Kiri no Mori was the mildest, easy to drink, even for the virgin.  A bit less complex.  Very nice.  A simpler flavor but not overly so.

Overall Itoen stood out slightly as the sweetest and…roundest.  What IS that flavor in the center of the flavor, that round, interesting, magic flavor in great green tea?  If I had to rank them by that flavor/experience/thing/umami then I would say the Itoen had the most, then the Kiku, then the Maiko, then the ZenMatcha, then the Kiri.

matcha taste test 2

So much delicious tea!  After we did several rounds with straight tea, we added a bit of stevia and some cream and finished the bowls off.  We were quite buzzed after we had downed it all.

Final verdict, the Itoen was Sophie’s favorite straight.  The ZenMatcha was quite nice with a few drops of stevia and a splash of cream—it’s stronger flavor wasn’t washed out by the additions, but it was a bit bitter for me on its own.  The Maiko, delicious on its own, stood up a bit better with the cream and stevia also, that smoky, grassy flavor cutting through the additions.  For me, the Itoen was amazing with cream and stevia, like the richest, mellowest, most complex green tea ice cream flavor.  But it was hard to tell the difference between the Itoen or the Kiku, and either could be my daily bowl of heaven.  I would probably choose the Maiko if I wanted more of the matcha flavor, a grassier flavor kick, and the Itoen if I wanted a smoother, sweeter brew.  The Kiku is somewhere in between.

How about by price?

The Itoen and the ZenMatcha are the most expensive at $1.00 / gram (not including any shipping since I didn’t pay any shipping for these, you should do your own math with your own shipping to get your per-bowl cost).  A gram is about how much is used in one bowl of tea (1 gram or about 1/2 a teaspoon), so a dollar a bowl.

The O-cha Kiku is in the middle, price-wise at $.83 /gram.  (price includes my shipping of $4)

The Maiko is quite affordable at $.63 a gram  (price includes $4 shipping).  Remember that the Maiko came in a 40g tin where the Itoen and ZenMatcha are in 20g tins, O-cha in a 30g tin.  I’d say the Maido is probably the best bang for the buck. [Edited: it looks like the price of the Maiko has gone up since I bought mine, from $20 + shipping to $23 + shipping.]

The least expensive is the O-cha Kiri, at $.48 a gram (price includes $4 shipping).  Although it wasn’t as rich and complex a flavor, the Kiri really held its own against tea that was twice as expensive.  You could tell the diff, but it was no slouch.

I feel like I’m splitting hairs a bit.  At least with the Itoen, Maiko, and Kiku, they were all luscious, delicious tea, sweet with no sweetener added, slight differences in flavor, sweetness, and mellowness, and grassiness, but on the whole, very close.  The ZenMatcha stood out from the bunch as a bit bitter, a bit harsher, still nice, but for me needing a little stevia and cream to tone the flavor down a bit.  The Kiri stood out as the most mild.

And that’s it!  I’ve got a lot of tea to drink with all these tins open.  It doesn’t stay fresh for long.  Oh, darn, better go have some right now.  After all of this is gone, I’d like to try some matcha from Ippodo, another shop that comes highly rated.

Traditionally a potent and beautiful sweet is served with matcha.  We didn’t have any of these gorgeous little treats, but we did have…

matcha pocky

Yum!

in which we blind-taste-test ceremonial matcha green tea and declare a hands down victor

In my search for the perfect warm, delicious beverage that doesn’t give me heart palpitations (coffee, how I love you, why have you forsaken me?) I have recently begun drinking matcha.  Matcha is Japanese powdered green tea, frothed up in a bowl with a bamboo whisk.  It is emerald green, “vegetal” in flavor, and chocked with virtuous feeling.  In fact, drinking matcha is the exact opposite of a vice, so full of health-giving properties (there have been studies!) that no one is out there saying you shouldn’t drink it.

(Oh, except for the whole radioactive cesium thing, courtesy of Fukashima, that, apparently, contaminated some of Japan’s tea growing regions.  This is so sad it makes me want to weep.  Some information here.)

prettygoodnumberoneMatcha recently came to my attention while reading the oh-so charming food/travel/memoir Pretty Good Number One: An American Family Eats Tokyo by Matthew Amster-Burton (who’s blog, Roots and Grubs is equally charming).

Pretty Good Number One is about Matthew and his daughter Iris’s adventures eating their way through as many Tokyo restaurants as they can during a one month stay.  I adored it.  A funny, self-deprecating voice, jaw-droppingly delicious-sounding descriptions of strange foods, and a hilariously self-aware kid—it’s a perfect storm of travel-food writing.  Highly recommended.

Matthew says, “Of all the snobby things I do–and it’s not a short list–carrying teabags is the worst,” in a description of green tea where he helpfully pointed me to o-cha.com, the online source for high-end green tea.  I went, I poked around, I bought some tea.  It came in the mail a few days later.  I was in.

Actually, I accidentally bought an expensive tin, Uji Matcha Kiku Mukashi, $20 (plus shipping $4.50, so about $25 bucks for this tin that is only two inches tall), the accident being that I thought the tin would be a LOT bigger.  Hey, I’m American, I have no idea how much 30 grams really is.  I thought, no problem, I’ll splash out for a tin of the good stuff (okay, actually it’s the mid-range stuff, the good stuff is more like $55 plus shipping for 30 grams, wow) and drink matcha for a couple of months.  Um, no.  Turns out 30 grams gets you about three weeks of a daily bowl of the stuff, so, maybe a buck a bowl if you stretch it.  That’s a buck a day if you can keep from having seconds.  Hmm.  I really, really don’t need an expensive (however virtuous) beverage habit, right now.

Crap!  Too late!  It’s freaking delicious!  And so incredibly green!  A GORGEOUS, amazing green.

matcha bowl 4

Confession: while I do like it straight, I admit I prefer it with a few drops of stevia and a small splash of cream, as seen above.  I know the matcha purists out there are probably shuddering right now, I’m sorry, I can’t help it, I just like it.  Super creamy, a bit sweet, round…it’s like green-tea ice cream, only much, much better.  Complex, I don’t know it’s just interesting, it’s impossible to describe.  There is a bit of a caffeine hit but it’s different from coffee or even chocolate, milder or softer.  Whatever, it’s working for me at the moment anyway.  No heart banging in my chest equals yay!

I held off getting one of the little bamboo brushes, thinking that was just going too far, but I was wrong, it’s super worth it.  I found one at the local Asian market for $5 bucks (I always feel bad buying super cheap stuff like that because sheesh, the dude that made the little brush probably got a penny for his/her efforts) and discovered that the bamboo whisk is ten times superior to my wire whisk at getting out the lumps, nay, a hundred times superior, resulting in a super silky smooth beverage with no strange sea-weed-ish blobs.  Definitely get the brush.

From coffee to matcha, my morning beverage routine switched overnight!  Until, da da DAAAA….all too soon, I started running out.

On my second order, I choose the cheaper stuff, Uji Matcha Kiri no Mori, $13 plus shipping.  When it came, looking at the two little tins, Sophie and I both had the same thought: BLIND TASTE TEST.

That’s right, green tea, time to rumble.

matcha bowl 1Sidebar: Please notice the very pretty bowls we’re drinking all this very pretty tea in.  Sophie made them!  She’s been learning to throw pots on the wheel for years, starting with tiny, one-inch high, lopsided “bowls” (so cute!) when she was six and up to these lovely cereal-bowl sized bowls now.  Turns out Sophie’s bowls are perfect for whisking up some matcha.  Plus they make me happy whenever I use them.  She’s so cool!  /end sidebar.

I made the matcha.  We took turns handing each other the bowls while keeping our eyes closed.  Honestly I was seriously hoping I wouldn’t be able to tell the difference, that my palate would be too stupid, blasted by chocolate perhaps, to perceive the improvement that surely only an experienced tea drinker would notice.  Because a dollar a day is too much for my wallet.

matcha bowl 3(In case you’re curious, the left is the less expensive, the right is more.  They are nearly identical in color, although in the picture, the left looks a bit more olive.  Just a trick on the light.  They both look much duller in the pic, too, than they did in reality.)

Alas!  Both Sophie and I easily, hand-down, tasting blind, preferred the expensive tea.  It’s more complex, sweeter, smoother.  There’s just more going on in the bowl.  We kept switching bowls on each other, trying to trick it up, tried it multiple times, but the difference was always obvious—eyes closed!—our choice always the same.

Don’t get me wrong, the less expensive tea is lovely.  On it’s own, it is quite nice.  And the difference is less noticeabe (still there though, no doubt) once I adulterate it with stevia and cream.

But side-by-side, there is no comparison.

Dang it.

Or, as Matthew of Pretty Good Number One says in this informative post:  “Do not order the $60 matcha. I’m sure it’s great. That’s the problem.”

matcha bowl 2

For my third order, which will I get???  I have three weeks to decide….

let us now sing the glories of tamagoyaki and kewpie mayo

Walking through the forest today with the kids and Henry, I remarked, “I love striding along through the woods.  I feel so powerful.”

To which Sophie, 10 said, “It would be better with a cloak.”

Luc, 8, added, “And coconuts.”  That’s a Monty Python reference there, in case you didn’t know.

I laughed.  “Oh yes.  And I want a minstrel to walk behind me, singing of my glorious deeds.”

Instantly, Sophie began singing, “She washed the dishes, it was mighty!

And Luc sang, “She made me tamagoyaki, it was yummy!

“Knock it off, I’m getting depressed.”

She dealt with depression!

She ate some chocolate!

Oh these kids.

I did get a fun little tamagoyaki pan.  Since Luc subsists on omelets, why not?  Here it is:

tamago 3

A rectangular pan for making rectangular, three or four egg…thingys.  They’re kind of egg logs.  That you slice.  Basically you pour in a thin layer of eggs stuff, roll it up to one side with chopsticks or a spatula, pour another thin layer (lifting the established roll and tilting the pan so the new layer runs under the roll), cook a bit, roll it onto the growing egg log, pour another thin layer…you keep rolling your egg log back and forth until you’re out of eggs.  Then you put it on a plate and slice.  You can add mirin (sweet rice wine) and soy sauce to your egg mix for Japanese flavor and a fine texture.  Or you can add milk and beat for extra fluffy rolls.

Here is a plate of fluffy tamagoyaki, served Luc’s two favorite ways, with ketchup, on his Incredible Hulk place mat….

tamago 2

…or on rice, wrapped with nori.

tamago

I’m not very good at making the sushi-style version, kind of sloppy.  But Luc eats them and says “yum!” so that’s good enough for me.

But listen.  There is a secret ingredient.  It goes between the eggs and the rice.  Lean your ear close my friend, for I am about to tell you of a wonder sauce, my new favorite condiment:

kewpie

Kewpie Mayo!  IT IS SO DELICIOUS.  I have sung the joys of mayo before, even making making my own with our chicken’s eggs (see link for recipe and photos).  But this stuff, O. M. G.  Those Japanese, they take mayo and elevate it by a factor of 10.  They says it’s because of the MSG but I think it’s because they sacrifice babies to the God of Mayonnaise. Why else would it have a babydoll on the front?  (Seriously, why does it have a babydoll on the front?  So…weird.)

I know what you’re thinking, what’s the big deal?  It’s just mayo.  I don’t understand it myself.  Maybe it is the rich flavor, the golden color.  Maybe it’s the umami.  Whatever it is, Kewpie has ruined me for American mayonnaise.  And that’s saying something.  I can’t get enough of this stuff.  Which is…a problem.  Actually.

For extra deliciousness and a condiment sauce of epic tastiness, mix Kewpie with my other favorite eat-on-anything sauce, Sriracha, about which I have also sung many praises.  You might recognize this concoction as the “spicy orange sauce” you sometimes get on sushi.  YUM.  Hang on, I have to go make some right now.

I’m back.  Okay, anyway, it is WELL worth hunting down a bottle of this stuff in your local Asian market, where you might also find your very own tamago pan ($10 bucks, can’t beat that!).  Kewpie Mayo is the BOMB.  Unless you’re trying to lose weight.  Then AVOID AT ALL COSTS.

Oh yes, these are the deeds they will sing of!  Making tamago and scoring some Kewpie at the Asian market!  Doing the dishes and walking the dog!  Such are the trials of Maya the Great!

vegan, sweet potato, shitake mushroom, curry with homegrown shitakes–yeah, we’re growing shitakes now, what will we think of next

About two years ago, SuperHubby brought home a bunch of fungus inoculated wooden plugs that he proceeded to stick into holes he drilled into several logs.  He piled the logs in a Jenga-game shape under the eaves of the bathhouse (where they get thoroughly wet every time it rains) and we all proceeded to forget about them, in that way that you don’t even see the crap in your yard anymore.  This was about the time we were into mushroom hunting, an interest that waxes and wanes for me, about like mushroom season.  Until this week.  Look what Sophie noticed:

shitakes 1

Shitakes!

shitakes 2

We decided to eat them, to make curry, and realized we were out of potatoes all in about the next three minutes.  But we did have a bunch of sweet potatoes…could it work?  Sounded weird.  Ah, what the heck, let’s try it!

Sweet potato curry turns out to be FREAKING DELICIOUS.  I could NOT STOP eating it.  The sweetness of the potatoes with the spicy curry was amazing, plus the meaty, savoriness of the shitakes…man this has to be the best curry we’ve made.

shitakes 3

This is Japanese curry we’re talking about, the kind made with the pre-made roux.  Here’s how you do it:

Carmelize a giant onion in a ton of butter.  Add maybe ten chopped up cloves of garlic.  Put in a couple of chopped carrots, maybe some celery if you have some—curry is excellent Clean-Out-The-Fridge food.  Add the shitakes—the slices in the bowl here are the sort of furry, bug-like things, they look sort of like mustaches or caterpillars.  SO GOOD.  Throw in a couple of giant sweet potatoes peeled and cubed.  Saute for a few minutes, then add water, cover, and simmer until the potatoes are soft-ish.  Meanwhile, rice is cooking in the rice cooker…

Add four cubes of curry roux.  Here’s the kind we used:japanese curry 1

Add some frozen green peas (I like the color, but they can easily get over cooked, so I put them in last).  Let it simmer on low heat until the roux dissolved and done its magic, turning into this fabulous, rich, compulsively eatable sauce.  Yes, this stuff has MSG in it, plus a host of other chemicals, I know, I know.  But given how clean the rest of my diet is, I can do a little Japanese style Kare Risu.  Because OMG soooo oishii!

Shitakes are about $20 a pound at our local market.  And growing our own has been about as low-labor a crop can possibly be.  They’re just sitting out there, making food.  How cool is that?  Super easy.  Highly recommended.