Back again, maybe?

26 Jul

Wow, I can’t believe how long it’s been since I’ve posted anything new here…

One of the reasons is because I update almost everyday now on Facebook which is much faster and viewable only to people I know in real life…

The other reason is that well, we’re expecting another baby and he’s due to arrive in a little over 5 week @_@

But I miss blogging…and my updates on FB or Instagram don’t allow much space for deeper reflection or sharing.

So I’ll see if I can get back to this space more often.

But in the meanwhile your prayers and kind thoughts would be much appreciated. Going from a two-kid household to being outnumbered is certainly going to be a challenge!

Life is too short

15 Jun

Last Saturday a friend hosted a nice lady’s tea for a group of us to celebrate the end of our MOPS (Mother of Preschoolers) year. She has a collection of fine china which she laid out nicely for our tea and it reminded me of my own (few) items that I should enjoy more. 

So today, I had breakfast tea using one of my bone china cup sets – somehow the meal was tastier and felt more leisurely…

It was so nice that I’m now thinking of making every Friday (or more often!) a fine china day~

Lupicia Earl Grey (in Royal Albert)

 

 

Happy Chinese New Year! Try this Hakata Mizutaki (chicken hotpot) recipe today!

22 Jan

First of all, happy 2012 everyone!

I hope your new year has gone off on a great start.

As for me, so far it’s feeling more like the 13th month of 2011…both boys got sick earlier this month (though not at the same time, thankfully) so for the past few weeks I’ve been mostly home with the crabby brothers…and now that they’re finally healthy again, it’s suppose to rain for the whole next week which means we’re kind of stuck in-doors again…Oh well.

Anyway, before the end of the year WordPress sent me a nice summary email of my blog stats for 2011…and supposedly, in the entire last year, I only posted 4 times. Really? I feel like I wrote more than that…hrm…

I know it’s hard to believe but I actually update my status on Facebook/Twitter at least once a day, sometimes as many as 3 – 4 times…

So in 2012 I’m going to channel some of that “energy” here, especially since the 2 – 3 of you who actually read this blog have told me that you’d like to see new updates.

Generally, I think I’ll post on the weekends. And if I get around to it, I’ll try to rotate between 3 – 4 topics, one of them being food/recipes.

And since tomorrow night is Chinese New Year’s Eve (I’m Taiwanese so that’s what I’m going to call it even though I know many other cultures celebrate it too), I’m going to share a hotpot recipe although it’s actually Japanese. I chose this recipe because 1) it’s very simple 2) I hardly hear anyone else who is not Japanese mention this style of hotpot 3) it’s from the Fukuoka region, one of my favorite places in the world.

Many years ago the term “hotpot” probably didn’t mean a whole lot to people outside Asia. But nowadays I think many people who live in large metropolitan cities have heard of this concept. In the past I’ve heard of it described as Asian fondue – which basically means that you cook and eat meats and vegetables cooked in a broth.

And for most Asians, this means sliced meat…and maybe seafood.

But Hakata Mizutaki features chicken and it’s probably one of the simplest yet great tasting hotpot dishes you can have, especially if you have access to high quality chicken.

As I mentioned earlier it originates from Fukuoka, Japan (though culturally people refers to things from that area as from “Hakata”) and here’s a link to the story behind its creation.

These days this dish can be enjoyed with two different broths – chicken (milky) or kombu dashi (seaweed stock).  At home we mostly enjoy the kombu dashi style – it’s fast and the taste is more “pure.”

If you google “Hakata Mizutaki” you’ll see a variety of recipes for this dish. Here I’m just going to mention how we do it at home and why you’ll love it.

INGREDIENTS

First, you want to get the highest quality dark chicken meat you can find. In my area the Japanese supermarkets usually stock some kind of chicken “nabe” (Japanese for hotpot) meat – cut up (small) pieces of chicken legs and wings. If you can find it pre-cut, that will be the easiest as the supermarkets cut them to the correct (bite) size for the hotpot.

Next you choose a selection of other things you want in the nabe. The main other ingredients (that go well with the chicken) are leek, napa cabbage, shungiku (tonghao in Chinese), mushrooms (fresh shiitake is the default), carrots and harusame (Japanese glass noodles).

For the basic broth, you just need a large piece of kombu (seaweed) – the kind that is meant for making stock.

Then lastly, for the dipping sauce you need Ponzu, or a citron flavored soy sauce.

COOKING PROCEDURE

If you are using the kombu broth suggested here, there’s not a lot of prep time. Just put your large piece (about 2 – 3 inches long) of kombu in cold water into your nabe pot. At home we use either a cast iron or clay pot. The key here is to put the kombu in the water when it’s cold. And many recipes I’ve seen calls for you to remove the kombu right before the water boils. I think this is suppose to provide the best “taste” of the dashi…but I’ve always just left it in there so maximize the extraction of the flavors.

Next, after the water starts boiling you can add the chicken and the leek (or green onion). If you don’t like sitting around waiting for things to cook slowly, you can always add all of the things together (although I highly recommend putting them into the pot in “zones” for the prettiest presentation) but I’d cook the meat for 4 – 5 minutes first since the vegetables cook more quickly and doing so also allows you to remove any scum/foam that come out of the meat first.

If your meat has been cut for nabe use, it shouldn’t take more than 7 – 10 minutes before you can enjoy your first bite. But if you’re unsure then you can give it a few additional minutes – poking through the parts around the bones to check for blood before taking it out. (Note: It just crossed my mind that some people might think it’s easiest to just use deboned meat – I’ve never tried this so I can’t tell you how that will change things but in Japan, Mizutaki is always made with bone-in meat that have the skin intact. So I assume that’s the best way to enjoy this nabe.)

If you serve the pot with everything cooked together then you can enjoy the items in whichever order you prefer, dipping everything in the Ponzu sauce.

If like us, you prefer to eat each item at its optimal doneness, then you put them into the pot to cook right before you want to eat them. For us, the preferred order is meat (with some leek or green onion), vegetables, then harusame.*

*A word about the harusame – although it’s texture/taste is similar to other types of glass noodles, the Japanese harusame is made in a slightly flat, broad shape like linguine so the resulting texture is the most ideal for mizutaki. However, it is much more expensive than the other glass noodles. So I usually substitute with Chinese glass noodles that also have the same flat, broad shape.

WHY IT’S TASTY

Before living in Japan, there were some foods that I didn’t appreciate much and one of them is chicken. Having lived most of my life in the US, before the recent “eat local,” “eat fresh” movements, chicken meat always seemed like of “stinky” or bland. But in Japan, where many farms still raise chicken the old fashion way, I learned how delicious chicken can be – a fragrant, succulent meat that taste great even with the simplest seasoning.

So if you have access to great quality chicken meat, I highly recommend that you try this nabe dish at least once.

At our home it’s kind of the go-to nabe on a cold day because we almost always have all of the ingredients we need.

And at the end, to finish your meal, put a bowl of cooked white rice into the leftover broth…let it stew for a few minutes before adding a scrambled (uncooked) egg. Add a splash of Ponzu and some chopped green onions and you have yourself a nice bowl of delicious chicken porridge (zosui).

Yumm…my mouth is salivating just thinking about it.

Anyway, again, happy new year. Here’s to another year of joyous times with family, friends, and FOOD!

(Photo credit: グルメ Walker)

P.s. Hakata Mizutaki = 博多 水炊き

友だち Friends

6 Jun

It’s not hard to see that this past year hasn’t been easy for me emotionally or spiritually. Though my recent posts might give the impression that I’m down in the valley all the time, as I mentioned in the previous post, I’m actually quite cheery in person because of  the wonderful group of friends God has provided to support and pray for us.

Just this week one of these dear friends emailed to see how I’m doing. Our conversation was brief but her encouragement uplifted my spirit all week and I’m eternally grateful to her and many of our other friends for their extra love and care.

So today, in honor of these dear friends I’d like to share a song from Imai Miki, one of my favorite singers. It’s a song about friendship and since it’s only in Japanese, I’m posting a rough English translation.

The video doesn’t tell much of a story but Imai Miki (who appears in the video) is beautiful…I hope that you will enjoy this simple but heartfelt song.

My dear friends,

I know that all of you face your own struggles yet you take the time to share in my burdens. Thank you for crying and laughing with me through all of the ups and downs.

I love you and hope that someday I will be able to lend you the same kind of strength and comfort as well.

**************

「友だち」今井美樹

Tres chere amie

Dearest friend

ありがとう

Thank you

返事がまた遅くなってごめんなさい

I’m sorry to reply late again

あの日からあなたのこと

とても心配してたの

Ever since that day I’ve been so [or very] worried about you

元気になってよかったわ

I’m glad that you’re now [feeling or doing] better

彼も気づいたでしょう

I’m sure he must have also realized (by now)

やっぱりあなたが誰よりいちばん

大切だってこと

that you are more important than anyone else after all

何げない私からの

言葉に救われたなんて
不思議よね そう言われて

I was amazed when you told me that something I had said offhand [or casually] actually helped you

私も励まされたわ

[And] I was in turn encouraged by what you said.

一年前のあの頃と
想像できないくらい
空気も時間も今は穏やかに
流れてる感じよ

Space and time seem to be passing by so calmly now in a way that is unimaginable (at that time) a year ago.

あの時 あなたやみんなが
支えてくれたことが
今でも私の宝物だって
いつでも思ってる

The support that you and everyone gave me at that time is my treasure [or is precious to me] even to this day.

A bientot また逢いましょう

Goodbye. Let’s meet again!

Je t’ embrasse 連絡ください
待っているわ

“Hugs and kisses” Please be in touch [or contact (me)]. I’ll be waiting.

******************

Note: the original Japanese flows beautifully but my literal English translation is choppy. I’m not completely happy with the translation so I will probably play around with it some more to see if the English can flow as smoothly as the original – please check back later if you’re interested.

My comfort foods [1] 豚汁 Tonjiru (Japanese pork stew)

22 May

My humble 豚汁 Tonjiru

I know my recent posts have been kind of heavy. Yes, I am dealing with some big issues but rest assured, on a day to day basis we’re actually doing pretty well, except for having to fight off and recover from minor colds just about once a month.

But I think that’s how life is – each of us face certain “bigger than life” challenges that require us to develop and stretch in order to move on to the next chapter of our lives. At the same time, life doesn’t stop so we can focus entirely on just those issues/crisis. And this is good. In the midst of handling life’s messy and endless to-do tasks, I cry and laugh a little each day. Some days there are more tears but other days are full of laughter. Hopefully with each passing day, there will be more joy and less sorrow…

Anyway, whenever I’m in need of something nourishing – both for the body and soul – there are a few dishes I turn to and 豚汁 (Tonjiru) is one of them. It’s relatively simple to make and uses common ingredients but the result is quit tasty and in my opinion, amazingly comforting on a cold or tiring day.

Even though 豚汁 is common and found everywhere in Japan, I don’t see it on menus here as often so I don’t know how popular or well-known it is in the US. Last time we ate at Hana Katsu in Torrance, the soup that came with the meal sets was 豚汁 except it was so “humble” (very basic, with few ingredients) that some people might have had it without knowing what it is, which is such a shame.

So even if you’re not normally a fan of miso-based soups, I hope that you will try this recipe just once. On a cold day served with a bowl of hot rice, it really is “chicken” soup for the soul.

The basic recipe I follow is from my trusty old “Better Home” cookbook for beginners (ベータホームの料理の2年生.) If you do a google seach, you will find many varieties of 豚汁 but if you want to start with the classic, try the recipe below:

Ingredients:

  • Sliced pork belly meat 100g – cut into 1 inch pieces
  • Gobo 50g or about 1/4 of a stalk
  • Carrots 30g(about 1/3 of a stick)
  • Daikon 70g
  • Satoimo (or small taro root) 2 medium
  • Shiitake (fresh, not dried ones) 2
  • Konjac 50g (about 1/4 of a piece)
  • Green onion 5 cm (chopped to top at the end)
  • Dashi (bonito fish stock) 2 cups
  • Miso a little less than 2 T (about 30g)
  • Optional – shichimi togarashi

As for cooking instructions, they are simple as well. Basically, you cut all of the ingredients into the size you like. If you plan to serve it as a main dish, cut everything in larger chunks, maybe a little less than 1 inch or 2 cm long. If you plan to serve it as a side dish or don’t like your soups chunky, then you can actually use less ingredients (overall, I wouldn’t reduce any one particular item so you can maintain the balance between the flavors) and cut them in smaller pieces maybe around 1 cm big.

The Better Home recipe suggest that you slice everything into oval discs, strips, or rectangles (for the konjac) but the more traditional recipes tend to have you break up the konjac by hand (into small chunks with uneven surfaces). Also, you want to keep the skin of the gobo (you can use the flat, unsharp end of your knife to scrape the skin a little) and pre-soak it before cooking.

Next, you heat up some oil in the pot (over medium heat) and lightly saute everything except for the meat and the green onion. After everything’s had a chance to get coated with some oil, you add the meat, which should help keep it from sticking to the pot.

After the meat changes color (in about 1 – 2 min), you add the dashi. (I don’t make my own bonito dashi and use Ajinomoto Hon Dashi, which even Amazon now sells). Of course you can just use plain water, but making it with dashi will taste so much better.

Then at this point, you just wait for everything to boil and simmer for a little. If you’ve sliced everything then this would only take about 10 min. If your cuts are chunkier, add another 5 – 10 min depending on how soft you like your vegetables. Keep in mind that some things like carrots and satoimo break apart more easily so you don’t want to cook it to the point where those ingredients crumble.

Once the vegetables reach the level of desired softness, you add the miso a little at a time, until the soup reaches the right balance of savory and umami that you like. Please note, no other seasoning is necessary. The vegetables should lend a natural umami to the stew while the miso provides the saltiness.

Then to serve you just sprinkle some chopped green onion on top (or if you don’t like your green onion raw, you can throw it in the soup after turning off the heat). The shichimi tograrashi adds some spice to the dish and works like fresh black pepper for Western stews.

And that’s it. Simple, right?

What’s great about this soup is that you can make it for just one person or a large group of people. If you are adventurous, I’m sure you can just dig into your fridge for leftover ingredients that you can throw in. Try one new ingredient at a time and see what combos you like best.

If my enthusiastic recommendation still doesn’t convince you to try the soup, take a look at the following video from the Japanese TV drama, 深夜食堂 and see if it doesn’t make you hungry for some 豚汁!

(Note: for some reason, I don’t have many photos of my 豚汁 so I posted one that is missing the green onion but definitely add the green onion to get the most traditional flavor!)

The woman and her garden

10 May

My first (and maybe only) short story…not sure why I’m writing it but felt that I needed to get it off my chest. It’s not really a happy story so please feel free to skip.

***************************

There once was a woman who had become ill with cancer. She knew that she was sick and needed surgery but kept putting it off because she feared that she would not survive the life-risking treatment that was necessary. So for a long time, she continued to live with pains from the disease rather than to have the cancer cells removed from her completely.

Now the one thing most important to this woman was a garden she tended. From bare soil she and her husband planted everything together, eventually making it a beautiful garden that flourished. The woman enjoyed her garden so much that she feared neglecting it should her recovery become slow and long.

Finally, her family convinced her to undergo surgery because she was no longer able to care for her beloved garden the way she wished. So she bravely went under the knife hoping that once free of cancer she would someday be able to take better care of the garden.

Fortunately, the surgery was successful but it left the woman very weak. She was alive but just barely. When she was released to recover at home, the woman was ecstatic. Even though it took twice as much time t and effort to tend to her garden, she was once again able to take care of it!

Her family was concerned about her taking care of this garden on her own; they try to help her whenever they could but tending the garden gave the woman so much joy that she didn’t mind. So slowly but steadily she made her way and walked to the garden every day.

Now, this woman originally had a husband. At first, he too, was quite concerned about her illness. Together they tried everything they could to help ward off the disease. But in the end the cancer cells spread to most of her body and the husband grew weary and felt too worn down to continue to care for her. So with the understanding of the family, he parted from his wife and entrusted her care to her family. The family was sad to see him go and wished that he would come alongside her recovery but they knew that he had his own life to live and that the uncertainty of her recovery was too much for him to handle. Since she was no longer that healthy woman he had married they could not expect him to carry her for the rest of his life even though on their wedding day the couple had vowed to stick together in “sickness and in health.”

While the woman and her husband had separated, they shared a genuine love for the garden they had built. So they agreed to share in the responsibility of tending to it. So at different times, they would each tend to it and the garden continued to flourish despite the dramatic changes that had happened in the couple’s life.

Although this garden was private, the roads that led to it were not. So it was somewhat dangerous for the woman to make her regular visits using the public road since she was slow and not very alert. But because it gave her great joy and hope to go to the garden, her family quietly supported her regular visits but at the same time they warned the neighbors about this woman’s condition hoping that they would take extra care when driving down the road.

In spite of this, one day, tragedy happened. While the woman was making her way to the garden, a neighbor drove down the road and hit her head-on. The driver wasn’t driving very fast, maybe even a few miles below the speed limit but the woman was too slow to get out of the way. The driver could see the woman on the road and thought that the woman could see her too so surely the woman could have gotten out of the way. But the woman didn’t see the driver and couldn’t move out of the way fast enough so she was hit by the neighbor’s car.

The neighbor was sorry to have hit the woman. The woman’s family knew that since the road was public, the neighbor had done no wrong in using the road that day. But there were other roads to get out of the neighborhood and only one path to the garden. So they had hoped that the neighbors would sympathize and show extra consideration to the woman, at least until she fully recovered.

After the accident, the neighbor offered to take care of the garden for the woman. But the woman refused. The neighbor couldn’t understand why she wouldn’t accept the help because she too thought the garden beautiful and wanted to help take care of it. But the only thing the woman kept thinking about was how much she wanted to tend to the garden herself; a task that she didn’t want to entrust to just anyone.

Later, the family of the woman found out that the neighbor who had hit the woman with her car had already been helping to care for the garden – except she was doing it with the woman’s ex-husband, and only when it was his turn to tend to the garden. “He needed extra help,” she said. “So I was being neighborly in giving him a hand.” When asked why she didn’t visit the garden while the woman was there tending to it, she replied, “Oh, but I am good friends with the husband. She has her family to help and he’s all alone.”

So the woman lay in the hospital, with only a photo of the garden to remind her of its beauty. She is working very hard to recover quickly so she can get back to tending to it again. Some days she’s very sad about how slow she is progressing. And she fears that even when she is finally discharged from the hospital, she won’t be able to tend to it in the same way she used to before the accident. But her family assured her that she will grow stronger each day and that her loving care is what makes the garden flourish.

As for that neighbor, the family didn’t hear from her again. She never did visit the woman in the hospital or expressed regret for having driven down the road that day. “It was a public road and I was driving the speed limit, so the woman should have been more careful,” she said. Since that accident the neighbor continues to drive down that road regularly, maybe even faster now because she knows the woman is no longer walking on the road.

The joy of Resurrection Sunday

24 Apr

After a busy morning of attending a child’s birthday party at a playhouse, lunch, and spring plant shopping, we finally returned home around 2:30 pm.

And by 3:30 pm all of us were feeling the tiredness of the morning so we decided to nap at the same time, which is very rare for our household.

When N is in bed with us I usually have a hard time settling because he likes to wiggle, talk, and generally move around a lot before falling asleep. But when he finally did, I too settled into a light sleep.

Around 5:30 pm C and N woke up and left the room but I was still half asleep so I decided to nap longer though it seems like my mind started to process some things in the background…

Then around 6 pm all of a sudden I felt a great sense of excitement. “Tomorrow is Easter, resurrection Sunday!”

Having been a Christian for as long as I can remember, I find it incredible that I should have this thought and feeling now, so many years after I committed my life to Christ.

But it’s true. Today, I felt the undeniable sense of joy and anticipation because “Tomorrow Jesus will be risen!” Of course, since Jesus rose a long time ago, tomorrow’s celebration is just symbolic. But there was this new excitement in me that’s unexplainable – as if I was celebrating Easter and the resurrection of Christ for the first time.

Then the words to the song “Because He Lives” ran through my head:

Because He lives, I can face tomorrow

Because He lives, all fear is gone

Because I know He holds the future,

And life is worth the living just because He lives!

For the first time I truly “buried” myself with Jesus on Good Friday. So today, hours before the new dawn, I can look forward to experiencing God’s promise that there will be victory over death and destruction. And realizing what will (and has) come felt as if the unbearable load has been lifted off my shoulder, leaving an amazing sense of lightness of being and freedom.

Of course in the morning my circumstances will all still be the same. The events and relationships that plagued me during the week and in the past year have not changed. Come Sunday morning the clock will not be turned back and what was lost will still be gone. I will not be any wiser to what the future holds and trials will still come my way.

Yet, I have a new “I want to sing at the top of the mountain” kind of joy. I know it sounds trite but truly, “Praise be to God!”

Last night before sleeping I handed over to God, all of my greatest desires and dreams. I know that the old feelings of doubt and anxiety will surface often so I asked for peace and joy that is beyond understanding and today I received His blessed assurance.

Because He lives, I can face tomorrow

Because He lives, all fear is gone

Because I know He holds the future,

And life is worth the living just because He lives!

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