Posted on September 25, 2015 at 2:00 AM Comments comments (0)


I will be at SHED in Healdsburg leading Japanese culinary workshops during the month of October. Please join us.

For details, please visit Shed's website. . 

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.  

Grilled Onigiri with Miso

Posted on August 22, 2011 at 9:20 PM Comments comments (0)

I have been cooking a lot of rice this week. I am testing the new donabe rice cooker and some onigiri recipes. On this occasion,  I also tested the pros and cons of using a rice ball mold. I usually make my rice balls by hand, but I sometimes use rice ball molds. It's when I don't have enough hands to make onigiri by hand.  The rice ball maker I found at is plastic - double onigiri mold.  Each mold takes about 3/4 cup of cooked rice.  They make a perfect triagular onigiri.  But if you just use it to mold the rice, your onigiri will not hold together, especially if you are grilling it. To use the molds, rinse them in water so they are slightly wet, and then stuff them with rice. Don't pack too much or you will squash the grains.  

Plastic onigiri molds  and onigiri right out of the mold.

 To keep hold the shape of onigiri, use your hands to gently  press the molded rice triangle from all sides.

Onigiri that has been pressed by hand, ready to be broiled.

I used a Cuisinart toaster oven to broil these balls.  It can fit 9 onigiri on the tray so it is pretty accomodating.  When the onigiris are toasted, you baste them with some miso-soy-mirin sauce and toast them again until they are nice and crispy.  Serve immediately.

Grilled Onigiri with Miso Recipe:
Onigiri (See recipe below)
Grilled onigiri served two ways
Total time: 30 minutes
Servings: Each sauce recipe makes enough for 4 onigiri

Miso sauce with chives
1/4 cup miso (white, Saikyo or red miso paste)
2 tablespoons mirin
2 teaspoons soy sauce
1/4 cup finely chopped chives

In a medium bowl, whisk together the miso, mirin and soy sauce. The chives can be whisked into the sauce, or sprinkled over as a garnish just before serving.

Soy mirin sauce
1/4 cup soy sauce (koikuchi style)
2 teaspoons mirin

In a small bowl, whisk together the soy sauce and mirin.

Grilled onigiri assembly 4 onigiri, Olive, sesame or chili oil Prepared sauce 1. Brush the onigiri with a little oil to prevent it from sticking to the grill. If you use a spicy oil like chili oil, it will give the onigiri heat. 2. Heat a grill pan or grill over medium-high heat until hot, or heat the broiler. Line the grill pan, grill or a baking sheet (if using the broiler) with foil. Grill the onigiri on both sides until crisp and slightly toasted; this can take from 5 to 10 minutes on each side depending on the heat and cooking method. While grilling, baste the onigiri with a little of the sauce on each side a few times until it is absorbed and becomes crisp; the onigiri should not be moist from basting when done. Watch carefully, as the onigiri can burn. 3. Serve immediately while the onigiri are piping hot.

Onigiri recipe (g).

Donabe Clay Pot - Tender, Love and Care

Posted on August 20, 2011 at 2:15 PM Comments comments (0)

Just out of the box. Ready to be seasoned.

Donabe is one of my favorite pots in the kitchen.  I own four.  The oldest one I have is small donabe inherited from my grandmother, which I use to make Yutofu (Tofu nabe).  One block of tofu is about all that I can fit in that one. But with the others, I have made all sorts of donabe dishes, including the popular Chanko Nabe.

If you treat donabe properly, it can last a lifetime, and I don't mind that they take up a lot of space in my small kitchen because they are so beautiful to look at. Just yesterday, I bought a new donabe to cook rice.  It's huge for a small family like mine but  I can use it when I have company and for teaching my upcoming Onigiri class, at in Venice, where they also sell these pots.

I also own an electric rice cooker but the Iga-yaki style double lidded donabe makes really beautiful rice.  (See my  in the LA Times. 

One thing you have to remember though is to treat the donabe pot with tender, love and care.  It is a clay pot after all. it looks and feels solid but it is more delicate than a metal pot.  Before use,  wash it,  turn it over and let it completely dry. If you don't dry the bottom of the pot completely before each use, the pot can crack.

Flip it over to dry.

The pot needs to be seasoned before you starting cooking with it.  Take some cooked rice and water, and make a porridge to seal the clay pot.  For the 5 cup donabe rice cooker, I used 2 cups of cooked rice and enough water to fill it 3/4 of the way up.  I cooked the rice over low heat for about an hour.  Then I let it sit overnight. This morning, I discarded the porridge. Now I am ready to start using it. 

Donabe pot being seasoned with leftover cooked rice and
buckwheat groats  porridge.  I like mixing rice with other grains.

After you throw out the porridge, wash the pot, and remember to dry it completely before you use it again.
Then you can put it back on the shelf and admire it like I do.


Taking flight with Ginger - Sunomono

Posted on October 5, 2009 at 6:53 PM Comments comments (0)

When one of my films premiered in Tokyo a few years ago, my friend Yumiko whom I have known since I was 13 years old gave me this as a present.  In Japan, the crane, along with the turtle, is the symbol of longevity and good luck. At first I regarded this grater as something to admire and not as a tool for my kitchen. I kept it in the original box and it sat in my closet next to the jewelry box, as if waiting for its turn to be worn one day.  But no, that's not what this metal crane was born to do. I finally let the bird out of the box the other day and put it to use in my kitchen. This tin plated copper crane works very well as a grater, especially with ginger. If you look at the surface of the grater, you can see its rows of sharp teeth.  They are individually cut by hand.  Unlike the plastic and stainless steel graters that I have, this artisinal grater makes a smoother and creamier grated ginger.  The grater is also lovely to look at so you can bring it right to the table. Today, I made a wakame and cucumber sunomo with grated ginger.   

Cucumbers soaking in salt water

Wakame and Cucumber Sunomono 


Serves 4

1 medium European cucumber or 2 persian cucumbers, peeled and sliced thinly, 1/8 inch thick pieces

2 tbls dried and cut wakame seaweed, reconstituted in water

1 tsp peeled and grated ginger

1 tsp salt

Rice Vinegar Dressing

3 tbls rice vinegar

1 tbls Yuzu or any citrus juice (lime, orange, lemon)

2 tsp sugar

1/2 tbls soy sauce

3 tbls dashi (here is the link) or Dried Maitake Mushroom dashi (here is the link to the vegan recipe)

Dried wakame can be found in cut size pieces or larger

pieces which you will have to cut up. 

In water, Wakame is back to its happy self.

Make the vinegar dressing by combing the vinegar, soysauce, sugar, citrus juice and dashi. You can make the dashi 2-3 days in advance and use the dashi for making Miso Soup if you like.

Reconstitute the dried wakame in a bowl of water.  It will expand to about triple in size.This will take about 2 - 5 minutes, depending on the size of the seaweed.  If you have uncut wakame seaweed, cut them in 1/2 inch pieces before you dehydrate them.  Squeeze out excess water and set aside. (Note: You don't want to let the wakame dry out so if you are not planning to make the sunomo right away, leave the wakame in the bowl of water and keep it in the fridge for up to a couple hours.)

Peel and slice the cucumbers into 1/8 inch thick pieces.  Rub 1 teaspoon of salt and transfer the salted cucumbers to a bowl. Fill with enough water to cover.  Let stand in the brine for 5-10 minutes in the fridge.  Drain water and squeeze out excess water.

When you are ready to serve the sunomono, take the wakame out of the water and squeeze out excess water.  Combine wakame and cucumbers in a serving bowl.  Toss together.  Make a nice mound.  Season with the vinegar dressing and garnish with grated ginger. Serve immediately.

Additonal garnish: You can sprinkle roasted sesame seeds if you like.

Buttering rituals

Posted on September 29, 2009 at 11:21 AM Comments comments (0)

Morning toast.

Sakai's been working in his studio from dawn to dusk. There is not enough time in the day when you need it. His is almost together.  We loaded the big wooden sculpture on the truck. The wooden pieces are delicate.  We cover them with blankets.

I make Sakai a big breakfast: two eggs sunny side up with sliced tomatoes, toast and sliced melon.  I could also make miso soup but he's gone off to walk Ana so I will wait until he comes back. Miso soup only takes a couple minutes since I already have the dashi made. It's a traditional Japanese breakfast soup.

My breakfast compared to the sculptor's is simple. I don't need such a big breakfast, though health experts say everybody should eat a hearty breakfast.  I usually have toast with Jam or honey, some fruit and coffee.  I still have a little left of my homemade apricot butter.

I also have the artisinal butter I brought back from Montreal. I spread them on the toast, using my grandmother's butter knife.

I used to dislike butter as a child.  I would gawk at the sandwiches my mother made because she put too much butter on the bread.  It was as thick as a piece of American cheese. Eating butter was a luxury for my mother.  She grew up during the war feeling hungry for many years that when she was finally able to afford some luxury, she went overboard on butter, cream and milk.  She was that way with jam too.  My father used to stare in disapproval at the amount of jam she would spread on her toast. 

My grandmother used butter regularly for baking cakes. This was unusual for a Japanese lady born in 1902 but her parents were innovative.  In fact, she was one of the first Japanese ladies in Kamakura to own a western oven.  The women in the neighborhood would wander over to our house, wondering where the lovely aroma was coming from. So much so that Grandmother started giving lessons in baking. She handled the butter with great care and didn't allow any of it to go to waste. She even recycled the waxed paper in which the butter was wrapped to line her cakes. Grandmother was also rather English when it came to breakfast.  She had Black tea with milk, yogurt, toast with butter and jam. She would take her time to brew the tea and spread the butter on her toast.  She always used her favorite butter knife which she inherited from her father. My grandmother ate butter every day and lived to 102 years old.  Butter must have done her some good.

Finally, there is my 86 year old father who doesn't eat any butter except when I bake him butter cookies. Whenever I am back in Tokyo. He buys butter just for me so I can have it on my toast.  He brews the coffee and puts a little square of butter in the microwave to soften it so that when I come down to join him for breakfast, the butter is spreadable on the toast. He says he is my butler.

My mind is already full with  to-do-lists this morning.  When I sit down to have breakfast, however, I bring out my grandmother's knife.  I spread butter on my toast with quiet pace.  

It helps me start the day right. 

The artist, the wife, the butcher block and her knife

Posted on September 24, 2009 at 4:28 PM Comments comments (0)


There was a film that was made back in the late 80s called The Cook, the Thief, His Wife and Her lover with Helen Mirren in it.  I don't remember the film that well except for the part at the end that a man gets cooked. Yikes!  What I like most was the title - how it basically tells you the story in one line.  As I chop vegetables, I am stringing thoughts together.  I pull the handle on the butcher block and I see three stories with an Artist in it.  From the title of the blog, you might think it is a low budget horror film.   

The butcher block's story starts in New York. Sakai found it at Dean and Deluca in Soho. Whenever we managed to visit the big city, we'd take the subway to downtown and go to this high-end grocery store.  We would have a cup of coffee and a muffin, walk around and admire the exotic fruit and vegetables, imported cheeses and salamis, and the fancy kitchenware and gadgets we couldn't afford. We were happy just doing that. One day, when Sakai sold a piece of art work in New York, he went into Dean and Deluca and did something different than what we would normally do when we were there together. He bought a butcher block. He wrapped it with paper, held it with masking tape as he would his artwork, and carried the heavy thing back to LA. I thought for a minute that he brought back an unsold sculpture but it turned out to be something else. A butcher block for goodness sake! He didn't know you can buy similar butcher blocks in LA but that made the gift all the more special. A sculptor never hesitates to sweat things out.

The handle on the butcher block came from our old loft in downtown LA where we lived for nearly seven years. It was where my son Sakae grew up until he was two years old. How did we managed that lifestyle with a baby without even a washing machine in the beginning? We were young.  When my mother flew out from Tokyo and saw our living space, she went into mild shock and gave us $500 to buy a washer/dryer.  But then there was the hairy parking situation.  We lost three baby strollers and two car seats right out of our car in one year, not to forget the broken car windows. It was not exactly a family friendly environment.  We finally moved to a tiny one bed room rental in the suburb of Monterey Park where Sakae could have a sandbox under a shady pecan tree.  We moved a couple more times since then to Silverlake and to Santa Monica where we have settled for the last fifteen years.  As a memorabilia of downtown living, Sakai took the handle off the big sliding door of the loft.  The handle found its way to become part of the butcher block in this kitchen. I am glad it is still with us.

Then, there is the knife story.  It comes from Aritsugu, the old knife shop in Tsukiji, Tokyo. It is one of the first serious chef's knives I bought. 100% Carbon steel. Sakai does the sharpening. It's the one thing he does as far as kitchen duties are concerned but he does it better than anyone else I know. If I put the dull knives out, by late afternoon, they come back shiny as if they got dipped in silver.  Let just say for now that I always have sharp knives to work with and that's essential for a cook.  I am nearly finished with the chopping.  Sorry, this didn't turn into a murder mystery.   But if you stick around for another day, you will see how I am going to use these vegetables.  Imagine a football.  Lots of them. No, they don't fall from the sky but they are edible.  What can that be?

Burdock chips - The Potato Chips alternative

Posted on September 1, 2009 at 5:10 PM Comments comments (0)


I found some old dishes that were tucked away in the back of my china cabinet. I had not used them in awhile.  They are Made in Japan, probably from the Art Deco period or a little later. I got them in a thrift shop.  Paid less then $10 for the set of five.  They are not fine china by any means but I like the bold design and black and dark persimmon colors. I try to figure out what I can serve in them.  It's fun to give the plate a priority over the food for a change.  I look at the wavy lines on the plate and I think about possibilities. Then Burdock comes to mind. Taking burdock shavings and deep frying them in sesame oil makes beautiful crispy chips with soft curves.  You serve the chips while they are piping hot otherwise they will go limp.  I season them with salt and pepper and with red cracked chili pepper when I want them to be hot.  It's delicious and a perfect match for this beautiful dish.

Burdock Chips

Makes 4 servings

1 long  burdock, washed, and shaved into long thin shavings, about 2.5-3 inches long
2 cups sesame oil
Salt and pepper to taste
Red chili peppers to taste (optional)

In a small cast iron frying pan, put enough sesame oil to fill about 1.5 inches deep.
Bring frying pan over medium heat.  

Deep fry the burdock shavings until crispy and brown but not burnt. The temperature of the oil should be around 300F.
Dry them on paper towels.  
Sprinkle salt and pepper and serve immediately.  If you like them hot, you can sprinkle cracked red hot chili peppers.

Kitchen Knives

Posted on May 30, 2009 at 2:18 AM Comments comments (0)

I am learning how to use my camera so the objects I am taking are randomly chosen.  These knives were sharpened by Sakai with a stone today.  He is a sculptor so it's second nature to him to sharpen knives. Three out of the five knivest to the left are from Japan. I've  had them for more than 20 years. The one in the middle is from Aritsugu, the famous knife maker that has a shop in Tsukiji, Tokyo.

A knife sharpener - Tsukiji Fish Market, Tokyo

I use these knives interchangeably everyday. The carbon steel Aritsugu knife (Santoku style) is undoubtedly my favorite but I am partial to mystainless steel German knives (the two on the right) that I bought in Canada when I was shooting Blindness. The knife was my kitchen companion for 3 months and it is still my good buddy.  Knives are all about sharpness, weight and size.  The rule to having a sharp knife isto keep it clean and dry.  Don't let a used knife sit around thecounter for too long, especially if it is made of carbon steel.  Itwill rust.  My grandmother used to wrap her good knives in newspaper,especially her long sashimi knives.  So when she took this knife outfrom the drawer, my spine would straighten up from the anticipation that she would be slicing sashimi and we would be eating it too. Knives can last a lifetime or more if you take care of them properly.