Tells a story


Gluten Free Soba Workshop

Posted on May 26, 2014 at 10:55 AM Comments comments (0)

I have a dedicated soba room in our house - our second bedroom.  But for this gluten free soba workshop, I wanted to do it in a larger space, so I moved the workshop to the living room and dining room.   I asked Sakai to make me a second large table to accomodate the number students that signed up for this class.  The arrangement worked really well.  We had good light, plenty of space, and we got to stay together as a group.  This was a gluten free class but it turns out that everyone was gluten tolerant and most of them just wanted to make 100% buckwheat noodles.  I used fava beans soy sauce to make the dipping sauce.  It tasted fine.  We tasted two sobas:  the classic zaru soba and a leek and mushroom soba in a hot broth. I made koji pickles with market carrots, radishes and cucumbers, an egg omelete and for dessert, an plum and apricot agar jelly with tanba black beans.  Everyone enjoyed the workshop.
By 7pm, I was out of the house, driving to Tehachapi.  

12 years a Slave - Congratulations Chiwetel

Posted on March 3, 2014 at 1:30 AM Comments comments (0)

I didn't realize that the lead actor of 12 Years a Slave was Chiwetel who came to my soba workshop.  This was particularly a fun one.  Congratulations to the beautiful film.  Good job.  Eat more soba.

Breakfast Miso Soup

Posted on December 7, 2013 at 11:00 AM Comments comments (3)

In our family, breakfast is not complete without .  My son likes to dip his toast in , which is something I have never seen Japanese people do, but he says it's good.

My own mother never made miso soup for breakfast, even though it is part of a traditional breakfast in Japan. But when we moved to the US in the 70s, she yearned for good miso.  One day, she cooked a pot full of soybeans and blended them to make a mushy white paste, to which she added salt and koji, a miso starter made from fermented rice, and created a huge mess in the kitchen.

The resulting miso was kept it in a lidded clay jar in the cool and dark corner of the garage to ferment for years. I used to sneak in there and stick in my finger  to lick the thick, grainy paste that looked like mud. Later, when I was much older, I realized I was snacking on a healthy protein, minerals and vitamin-rich live food. 

Miso comes in various shades of white and red varieties. Red (aka) miso like sendai and haccho are dark brown in color, and robust in flavor. Miso can be made by mixing fermented rice, koji, salt and grains, including barley, wheat, and legumes like fava beans and azuki beans.  White (shiro) miso pastes like saikyo are yellow in color, lighter and sweeter than red miso paste, and made primarily of koji. My miso soup is hearty.  I like to have a variety of vegetables from the land and sea. You can experiment with different types of miso. Some are saltier than the others, so when making miso soup, always taste the soup and make adjustments.  I always keep a variety in the fridge and some fermenting in the garage. I let my whim dictate which miso to use for my breakfast miso soup.


Miso Soup With Fava Beans, Zucchini and Tofu


3 1/2 cups Dashi 

3 1/2 to 4 tablespoons Mugi, Koji, white or red miso

1/4 cup, cooked and shelled fava beans

1/4 block -tofu, diced in to 1/4 -1/2 squares

1/2 zucchini, sliced thinly, 1/8 inch thick

1 scallion, sliced thinly, 1/8 inch thick

Bring the Dashi and the turnip o a boil in a medium saucepan, then reduce the heat to maintain a simmer and add the zucchini for a couple of minutes.

In a small bowl, dissolve 3 1/2 tablespoons of the miso paste in a few tablespoons of the warm Dashi. Add the mixture to the saucepan. Taste and add more miso paste, Dashi or water, depending on how strong the soup tastes.

Add the tofu and fava beans and simmer for 1 minute. Turn off heat.

Pour the soup into individual bowls. Garnish with sliced scallions.

Serve immediately.



Regarding my pantry

Posted on December 7, 2013 at 12:50 AM Comments comments (0)

As a child, I used to love looking inside my grandmother's pale green kitchen cabinet of seasonings and utencils.  It was an old cabinet that my mother tried to get rid of, but my grandmother rescued it,  and put it in her kitchen to store food.  My brother stuck war plane stickers on the glass.  Grandmother had everything she needed in that cabinet.  It was like a treasure box.  My pantry is not in one place like hers. I keep my salt, pepper, sugar and soysauce on my kitchen counter.  The bottled staples like soy sauce, sake, mirin (sweet rice), and rice vinegar, and the oils, are on the shelf next to the range. The dried staples - bonito flakes, seaweeds, noodles, and beans fit snugly in one of my kitchen drawers. At least everything is within reach, except my aromatic fermented nuka pickles and miso, which I keep in the garage.  All my grains and flour are kept in the fridge or freezer, year round to ensure freshness.


Some useful kitchen tools

Posted on November 23, 2013 at 12:45 AM Comments comments (0)

My guess is you probably already have in your kitchen most of the utensils and tools needed to prepare Japanese food - a sharp knife is essential. My thirty year old carbon steel knife from Aritsugu in Kyoto is my best friend in the kitchen. My grandmother used to wrap her good knives in old newspaper to keep them from rusting. When she took out the sashimi knife from the drawer, my spine would straighten up because I knew she would be making some sashimi and we would be in for a treat. For stirring and picking up food, I use chopsticks like extensions of my hand. I have several long ones. They are gentler for handling food than using a pair of metal tongs.  I have a vegetable slicer called Benrina, which has several interchangable blades for shredding and slicing. It's great because it doesn't take up so much space and electricity as a food processor does. Graters are useful for grating daikon radish, ginger and wasabi. I have a mortar and pestle (suri-bachi and suri-goki). The ridged interior of a Japanese mortar and pestle works efficiently to grind sesame seeds to make sesame paste. Also used to mix miso paste, and nuts, and make tofu dressing and sauces.  Always present in every Japanese kitchen is the bamboo mat (sudare) for rolling sushi, shaping egg omelettes and vegetables like spinach.  

Pottery and Utencils

Posted on November 22, 2013 at 1:05 PM Comments comments (0)

I have been collecting pottery and utencils since I was a child.  It's sort of an obsession.  Whenever I go back to Japan, there is often a pot or a bowl in my carry-on between my clothes and bags of buckwheat flour.  I got my pottery collecting obsession from my mother who used to comb through the flea markets and thrift shops looking for things.  Once, I found some plates in a thrift shop that were Made in Japan, probably from the fifties.  Paid less then $10 for the set of five.  They are not fine china but they have a story. I also collect beautiful objects in nature like a pretty rocks or twigs to rest  chopsticks or a leaf to decorate the serving plate.  Then, there are those special occasion utencils like my inlaid daffodail blossom lacquerware bowl, which comes out only during springtime. I look forward to eating out of the bowl and thinking about my childhood days in Kamakura.  

Grains at the heart of a meal

Posted on November 22, 2013 at 8:45 AM Comments comments (0)

Grains at the heart of a meal

It always gives me great comfort to know that when I cannot think of what to make for supper, I can always rely on rice or noodles and everything else will eventually fall into place. I plan my meals this way  -- around grains. Of course, if I see fresh fish at the market, fish becomes the centerpiece of the meal along with vegetables, but they serve to enchance the flavor of grains and balance out the meal.  

Dashi ritual

Posted on November 22, 2013 at 8:30 AM Comments comments (0)

Konbu seaweed

When I cook at home, I don't use too much salt, cream, cheese, or oily sauces and dressings. I use dashi. It's the fragrant stock that forms the base of miso soup and seasoning for many Japanese dishes. The most popular ingredients for making dashi are dried bonito flakes and konbu seaweed. When you combine konbu and bonito flakes, the natural occuring amino acids in the konbu and bonito flakes have a synergistic effect on the umami scale.

When I was growing up in Japan, my grandmother would patiently shave the block of dried bonito to make dashi. The shaven curls of bonito smelt of the sea. The flavor of freshly shaved bonito flakes is tantalizingly good, but most cooks these days use pre-shaven bonito flakes sold in packages. While pre-shaven flakes don't compare in flavor to the freshly shaven ones, they are pretty darn good. I store bonito flakes in the fridge and try to use it within a week. 

Basic Dashi Recipe

Makes 3/1/2 cups, or 4 servings of stock to make miso soup.  Dashi will keep fresh for a week 3-5 days in the refrigerator, so you can make it in advance and just add miso paste and vegetables for quick breakfast of miso soup. 

4 cups water, 4 cups of loosely packed bonito flakes, One 3-inch piece of konbu seaweed. Using scissors, make several crosswise cuts in the konbu. This helps to extract the flavor during cooking.Place konbu and water in medium saucepan and bring to a boil.  Cook on medium heat until water almost boils. Remove kombu just before water boils to avoid fishy odor. When the water boils, turn off the heat. Then add bonito flakes. Do not sitr. Let stand for 3-5 minutes to let the flakes steep. Then strain the dashi them through a very fine-mesh sieve or a sieve lined with cheesecloth or paper towel. Don't stir or press the bonito flakes because it will cloud the dashi.  Discard the bonito flakes and konbu seaweed or cook them in 4 cups of water to make a secondary dashi. I slice the left over konbu and use it in my salads and pickles to add umami.

Something Pickled

Posted on November 14, 2013 at 11:25 AM Comments comments (0)

Pickles are like the period of a sentence.  It  has a way of finishing a meal to clear the palate. Some Japanese pickles are lightly salted and quick to make and others go through fermentation and can take months.  Pickles are enjoyed for their flavors and aid in digestion.  Eating them in moderation is a good thing.

By hand

Posted on November 12, 2013 at 10:30 PM Comments comments (1)

I like to make things by hand, especially noodles. There is a bit of work involved but I take joy in the work.  A sharp knife is needed to cut the noodles but my hands do most of the work.  Once in a while, I get a student who asks me if there is a way to use a pasta machine to make noodles instead of doing it by hand.  I am sure there is.   But that is not the point of the exercise. It's the feel that matters.  

About the book

Posted on November 12, 2013 at 5:15 PM Comments comments (0)

If I ever get this cookbook project off the ground,  I will probably divide it into three sections. The first section will be called Simple meals and Quiet moments.  It will consist of small routines I do in the kitchen.  Grinding sesame seeds would be one.  I use the fragrant sesame paste in salad dressings and toss it with vegetables. Grating daikon radish is another simple routine.  Grated daikon radish is anessential condiment to brighten my tempura,  grilled fish or noodles dishes.  Then, I have a repetoire of easy, soul pleasing meals I make like onigiri, rice ball. There is also miso soup, my favorite morning ritual.  These simple rouitnes gives me a chance to be quiet and cook.

In the second section, Seasons, I will share simple, Japanese family style meals. In my menus, you won't find nigiri zushi or multi-course Kaiseki or Kappo style cuisine. I am a home cook, not a restaurant chef. Japanese home cooking and restaurant food are two different things.  Chefs may try to include something homy on their menu and call it, "Ofukuro no aji," which means Mom's cooking to add that comfort factor.  I am often inspired by chefs  but  I cook for my family and friends, with seasonaiity, beauty, simplicity and economy in mind. Don't expect to see knife acrobatics in this book.

In the special section, Grain Workshop, will show you how I make noodles and dumplings by hand, and use grains to make miso and fermented pickles, and beans to make Japanese dessert . These kitchen projects will be inserted throughout the book.  These cooking projects are more time consuming but the reward is big and helps deepen your appreciating for traditional Japanese food, which is centered around grains and vegetables. 

Fresh ingredients

Posted on November 12, 2013 at 5:05 PM Comments comments (0)

Freshness is delicious. Japanese cooking is about sourcing fresh ingredients and not fussing with them too much. Because Japanese foods are largely saucless, spiceless, and oil-less, the ingredients themselves must be beaituful, flavorful, and fresh.  This usually means foods in season.  Kabocha squash and pumpkins must feel heavy.  Eggplants mush be shinny and unbruised. Fish fresh from the market don't need the disguise of a heavy sauce.  Visit the farmers markets and the Asian markets frequently.  Talk to farmers.  Do grow your own vegetables.  Don't hesistate to improvise with non-Japanase foods like chard, artichokes, and zuchinni.  

A Bowl of Soba - and other journeys in a Japanese Kitchen

Posted on November 12, 2013 at 4:25 AM Comments comments (0)

Twenty nine years ago today,  I gave birth to my son, Sakae.  It was the happiest day of my life.  It was also the year that I was writing my cookbook,    

I was twenty nine years old, a young and fearless woman eager to find my voice in English. Food and family were the subjects I loved to write about, so I decided to enter through my grandmother' and mother's kitchens, and write what I learned from these two wonderful cooks.

Back then, My artist husband and I were a struggling young couple living in a downtown loft in Los Angeles - the loft was a brick building that turned into a furnace in the summer time.  We often drove down to the beach to get fresh air. The picture of me holding my new born Sakae was from one of those excursions.

I wrote the cookbook, using a manual Olivetti typewriter, which had a few broken keys.  I had to fill in the missing letters with a pencil.  It was a project I did entirely on spec,  with the help of my late friend, Lou Stoumen.  He also helped me find a publisher.  Pam Krauss was assigned to me as my editor at Clarkson N. Potter.  She would call me from New York to go over the stories and recipes.  I remember holding Sakae in my arm while talking to Pam on the phone, jotting down notes or testing a recipe.  By the time the book was published, Sakae was walking, but he was still too little to use chopsticks.  I went back to my day job as an assistant for a film producer when Sakae was only four months old. I did a lot of juggling back then but I had endless amount of energy. One of the perks I got from publishing the book was the book tour. I took a week off from work to promote it in New York, Baltimore, Cleveland, Tacoma, San Francisco, etc.  I can still remember the face of the a television interviewer in Cleveland who didn't care much for miso soup. 

My cookbook is now out-of-print but you can find it on Amazon.  For a first book, it is pretty solid. I still practice the ten commandments that I listed in the old book.  Perhaps the title  was too esoteric but at the time, it felt like a good thing to pursue, and I am still pursuing it.  What I was essentailly trying to get across to my readers was to eat fresh foods in season.  My alternate title was The Taste of Seasons. 

Three decades later, I continue to write about food and I  teach Japanese cooking classes. I travel around the country promoting Japanese food and culture. I have a new passion - noodle making and reviving heirloom grains in Southern California. Here is the link to my project

I ponder the question of why I care so much about sharing Japanese culture and foodways with people around the world.  If  there is one dish that might contain some of the answer to a rather big question,  it would be A Bowl of Soba.

Soba is the Japanese name for buckwheat and buckwheat noodles.  Buckwheat is a cereal like grain that has sustained humanity since ancient times.  Slurping a bowl of fresh soba is as refreshing as biting into a ripe peach. When I am working with flour, I feel a deeper appreciation and connection to food.  All it takes to make soba is water and buckwheat flour, but it requires a bit of practice to bind it together, because soba has no gluten. Some people compare the challenges of making soba to those of binding people together. Then there is the healthful aspects of grains to consider. The Japanese tradition of putting grains and vegetables at the heart of a meal is nourishing and sustainable.  When you think about it, all the goodness of eating grains and vegetables is contained in a bowl of soba.  A Bowl of Soba, and other Journeys in the Japanese Kitchen could be a good title for another cookbook.