Tag Archives: japanese

Japanese Style Sesame and Furikake Pumpkin Seeds

28 Oct

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It’s Halloween time, which means the obligatory roasting of the pumpkin seeds after making jack-o-lanterns! I was trying to find some fun ideas for seasoning my pumpkin seeds, and I realized that seasoning these seeds is kind of like seasoning rice. You can dress it up to be sweet, salty, spicy, savory, anything. The rice (or the pumpkin seeds) are a blank slate ready to be whatever funky flavor you want.

My rice / pumpkin seed comparison made the lightbulb go off. Why not season the seeds with furikake?! (This is my favorite seasoning to put on onigiri – Japanese rice balls – you can see my recipe for those here.)

Furikake is the Japanese all purpose topping for foods. It consists mainly of seaweed flakes and sesame seeds, but different mixtures feature different flavors. In a Japanese household this is as common as salt and pepper. It’s used on eggs, pasta, salad, soups, and sushis / rice… anything really. So why not try it on one of my favorite Halloween time treats?

And OMGee did I hit this one out of the park. I don’t think I will ever roast my pumpkin seeds any other way. These have a very classic and traditional Japanese flavor. If you are a fan of miso soup or soba noodles, you’ll love this recipe, since it uses the basic ingredients to make the broth base for those two dishes.

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You Will Need:

Pumpkin Seeds

Sesame Oil

Mirin

Powdered Dashi

Furikake Seasoning

There are no precise measurements here, because each pumpkin will yield different amounts of seeds. So you gotta just eyeball it. SO! Preheat your oven to 325 degrees. Next, wash your seeds under cold water, picking out all the pulp and goop and pumpkin entrails.

Put the seeds in a bowl, and lightly drizzle with sesame oil, gently tossing the seeds till they are coated. This will add flavor and ensure your seeds don’t burn.

Repeat the drizzle and toss process with the mirin. Mirin is a Japanese rice wine that is similar to sake, except it has a much lower alcohol content and a much higher sugar content. This will make your seeds kind of gooey and sticky as they heat up, and makes the furikake seasoning stick to the seeds and get lightly crusted on. The more seasoning you intend to crust your seeds with, the more mirin you’ll want to add. I added about equal part sesame oil and mirin to mine.

Next, take a single serving packet of powdered dashi stock (about 1 tablespoon) and sprinkle / toss it on the seeds. Dashi is considered one of the “five basic tastes” of Japanese cuisine and is made up of katsuobushi and kombu – basically powdered bonito fish stock and seaweed.

Next, sprinkle your furikake – as much as you’d like! – on the seeds. I used Urishima brand Traditional Blend Furikake, which is made up of white and black sesame seeds, salt, seaweed, sugar, soy sauce and green tea powder.

Once your seeds are all seasoned and evenly coated, pour them onto a greased baking sheet, and pop them in the oven for about 25-30 minutes, stirring the seeds up every 10 minutes.

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And voila! You have some Japanese-tastic roasted pumpkin seeds! Enjoy! (I’m munching on them now as I post this!) ^_^ Happy Halloween!

AKB0048 Anime Review

23 Jul

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AKB0048 is a two season long 2012 Japanese anime based on the popular JPop music group, AKB48. All of the characters in the anime are named after and voiced by the actual members of the pop group. I watched it because I heard someone say they were cosplaying as a girl from the series. Being home alone for weeks on end without my husband I intended to watch as much anime as I could, and always being woefully behind on the anime scene, I thought, “Hmm. It’s newish. It’s cute looking. It’s apparently cosplay worthy. Let’s give it a go.”

The basic story starts like every futuristic multi-world story begins: At the start of the 21st century, an interplanetary war broke out. Earth’s ecosystem was severely damaged, and humanity was forced to flee the planet. (So far I’ve just described Firefly, Trigun, Treasure Planet, and a bazillion other futuristic sci-fi flicks.)

The gimmick with this series is that in several planets of this new society, things that “disturb the heart” like music and art are forbidden. Think Footloose, but with anorexic Japanese pre-teens and robotic mecha warriors. Anyway, to combat the “no entertainment” ban, the legendary pop singer group AKB48 is resurrected as the all new interplanetary troupe AKB0048, made up of girls who carry on the title and spirit of the original members. Held as heroines by some and labeled as terrorists by others, they must take up arms to bring their music to their fans.

The first season follows a group of young hopefuls as they train to become the next generation of AKB0048, right as the Deep Galactic Trade Organization [DGTO] have stepped up their attacks on entertainment. The girls have to learn to fight while learning to sing and dance and be perfect little pop stars. It’s cheesy, feel good fun where thousands of bullets are fired and no one actually dies.

The second season gets a little… weird. As all Japanese animes eventually do. The story culminates in the pop stars transcending time and space with their power of music, and converting the hearts of the most cold-blooded anti-entertainment warriors through song and dance. In a classic Captain EO rainbows and sparkles finale, the girls sing to angry soldiers pointing guns at their heads, and the guys collapse into shudders of overwhelming love because the music is just too irresistible. Or something like that. Anyway.

Overall, I enjoyed watching this anime. Mostly because I really enjoyed the music and the animated choreography. I ended up downloading most of the soundtrack onto my iPod, especially the song “Beginner” (YouTube video of the song is posted above.) I got that stuck in my head for longer than I’d like to admit. And the marketing behind this anime? Genius. By modeling the anime pop singer group after a real, current JPop group, it’s a perfect blend of nerdtastic synergy. And it was all advertised prior to the anime’s release through four manga publications leading up to the pilot of AKB0048. So they’re selling the manga, the anime, the singers, the music, and the performance group, all at once.

Not gonna lie, I wouldn’t even call myself a fan of this anime, but if I hear that AKB48 is going to be playing at a stateside anime convention, I’ll most likely show up with glow sticks and pretend to be a member of OTA (a group of fans that fight alongside AKB members, using glow stick swords).

Will I cosplay from this series? Probably not, though the outfits are redunkulously cute. Would I rewatch it? Maybe. But not likely. There has to be a bit more romance or twincest to trigger my re-watch impulse. Will I be listening to the soundtrack? Absolutely. I already have the soundtrack on my iPod and have infected others with the songs that are stuck in my head.

So between the music and this anime not sucking as bad as the last few lemons I’ve been unfortunate enough to watch, I’m pleasantly surprised with this series. I’d recommend it if you’re into the girly animes.

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A Day at the Clark Center for Japanese Art and Culture in Hanford, California

21 Jun

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Being in the Central Valley, fine art is hard to come by and “cultural experiences” consist of eating at taco trucks and buying rotten produce at the Mexican flea markets. But in the middle of crops and cow country, there’s a hidden jem in the Clark Center for Japanese Art and Culture, where world class art exhibits are displayed in small town style. So I usually make a point of visiting whenever they have a new exhibit.

I’m almost always treated as the “college student who is most likely there because it’s a school requirement and not because she has a genuine interest in the exhibits” by the office staff. And no matter how many times I interact with staff (I have arranged cosplay photoshoots on the grounds in the past) or how often I frequent the exhibits as a patron, they never remember me and talk to me as though it’s my first time stepping foot on the property. But regardless, the museum with its main exhibit hall, Japanese garden and sprawling bonsai garden is a Central Valley treasure, and one that I highly recommend.

I was especially interested in the current exhibit: Genji’s World in Japanese Woodblock Prints, because I just finished reading a biography on Hokusai, the famous woodblock artist of the Tenpo Era. While there weren’t any Hokusai prints at the Hanford exhibit, there were a few by print designer and book illustrator Utagawa Kunisada, who worked closely with Hokusai on a number of his famous Manga sketches.

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While I was excited to see the prints, (and even dragged my mum out to see them with me!), I will say it was a bit underwhelming. Having pored over high quality reproductions of woodblock art over the past few weeks, the originals behind glass frames looked… well, exactly the same. There was no discernible difference aside from the coarse, obviously aged papers the art was printed on. I would have been far more impressed if they had on display some of the original woodblocks themselves. And when it comes to studying ink prints, I’d much rather do so on a computer monitor or with a book in the privacy of my own home, instead of having a docent shadow me and trying to engage in conversation in broken English. Don’t get me wrong, the gals there are sugary sweet, it’s just that being such a small museum you will usually be the only guest there and that just gets awkward when you want to have a quiet escape into the realm of fine art and take time just looking or reading plaques.

Additionally, while I was eager to see the prints, I’m not really into the subject matter. After reading all about Hokusai’s work, which deals with the intricacies of the peasant class of feudal Japan (which I find fascinating – he was like the Japanese Pieter Bruegel), this exhibit dealt solely with “The Tale of Genji”, the famous book written over 1,000 years ago by the court lady Murasaki Shikibu – which, while fascinating, is not something I’m overly giddy about. Even though it does seem to dominate the 1830’s woodblock art era.

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Here is the exhibit description from the Clark Center website:

“In the late 1820s, when the writer Ryūtei Tanehiko (1783–1842), the print designer and book illustrator Utagawa Kunisada (1786–1865) and the publisher Tsuruya Kiemon sat down together in Edo to plot the inaugural chapter of the serial novel A Rustic Genji by a Fraudulent Murasaki (Nise Murasaki inaka Genji), it is doubtful that any one of them envisioned that their actions would generate a new genre in Japanese woodblock prints that would flourish until the turn of the century, Genjie (“Genji pictures”). During these sixty years, almost 1,300 original designs were created, of which many were very popular at their time of release.

The story of A Rustic Genji, set in fifteenth-century Japan, is in many respects drawn from the classic novel. It retells the amorous adventures of Mitsuuji—the counterpart to Genji’s Prince Genji—and is delivered in contemporary dialogue combined with kabuki theatrics. By 1838, and concurrent with the release of new Rustic Genji chapters, woodblock-print publishers and artists set out to exploit its success through the creation of individual-sheet prints that depicted the principal characters and the most exciting scenes. Under Kunisada’s lead the theme enjoyed enormous popularity and the craze that gave birth to these publications peaked in the 1850s and continued into the 1860s. Over eighty publishers had Genji designs on offer, and they engaged an increasing number of artists. Featured in this exhibition is a rich array of woodblock prints by many of Japan’s leading print artists.”

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As I said, I found this exhibit to be more of a “quick peek” experience and bit underwhelming, but overall, it was a pleasant visit, as always. They’ve expanded their bonsai garden since I last visited, and it’s truly worth the trip to check out.

Otakus Rejoice – You CAN Eat Sushi While Pregnant

11 May

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Jonathan and I are currently in Washington State, visiting his parents for the week. The first thing we did after our 13 hour road trip to Washougal, Washington was to stop by Sushi Hana for conveyor belt sushi. Now, this is my second time getting sushi this pregnancy, and I’ve been meaning to write this blog post for some time. It’s an issue that has really, really, REALLY been bugging me. So! Ahem:

Pregnant otakus – rejoice! Yes, you can eat sushi while pregnant. And not just the cooked varieties, but the raw and the mercury bearing tuna as well. There is no scientific evidence that eating sushi in pregnancy increases pregnancy complications or harms your baby in any way.

But despite this lack of evidence that sushi is a horrid baby-killer, once you get knocked up, prepare to be assaulted with an onslaught of advice on how a California roll will kill or harm your child. Personally, I was not prepared for the amount of ignorant, self-righteous (though often well-meaning) advice / bullying that I would receive when I’d mention the dreaded yet oh-so-tasty S-word during this pregnancy.

The misconception behind the whole “forbidden sushi” shtick and the ferocious demands to keep sushi away from your pregnant mouth hole, is a common Western misunderstanding of what sushi is and how it is prepared. The “sushi=bad” myth stems from the simple fact that raw fish can contain bacteria and can cause a foodborne illness.

However, these organisms – along with a host of others – are not a concern when eating raw sushi, because sushi is not just raw fish. It is a prepared fish.

United States food laws require that fish used in sushi restaurants must be flash frozen to kill any parasites that may or may not be in the fish. Flash freezing kills parasites as sure as cooking would.  Additionally, if you have ever been to a Japanese restaurant or sushi bar, you know that the art behind sushi making is nigh ritualistic. The chefs carefully handle and store the fish to make sure it is safe to eat, and the fish comes from reputable dealers who make sure it was raised in a healthy environment.

According to the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the top three pathogen-commodity pairs (germs and foods) responsible for the most outbreak-related illnesses, hospitalizations, and deaths are: Raw eggs, sprouts and raw vine-stalk vegetables. Lettuce and salad accounted for 28 percent of reported food-poisoning outbreaks last year alone. (Which is why France has a “Don’t eat raw vegetables and salads while pregnant!” hysteria, not unlike our American “don’t eat sushi while pregnanct!”  hysteria. Only, in Frances conniption fit, they have statistics and facts behind their fears.)

Furthermore, according to the National Academy of Sciences Institute of Medicine, when it comes to fish, about 85% of seafood-related illnesses are caused by eating oysters and clams raw. If you take them out of the equation, out of a nation of 314 million people and all reported sushi-related bacterial caused illnesses, the real risk of contracting an illness from flash frozen seafood is 1 in 1.2 million servings!

When you get down to it, sushi from a reputable bar is one of the safest foods to eat – whether you are pregnant or not. (Common sense would point out that this is why people can eat sushi by the droves all over the United States and not get sick.)

And in the unlikely event that you DO get a foodborne illness while chowing down at a shady sushi bar that gets their seafood from fecal infested waters, it’s really not as big a threat as the hype implies. While a case of salmonella or e. coli certainly isn’t the way you’d want to spend your weekend, in most cases, it won’t actually endanger your pregnancy.

The other concern is mercury poisoning from tuna in sushi. First, not all sushi contains tuna. Second, you can have up to 12 ounces of fish containing mercury per week, every week of your pregnancy, without even coming close to harming yourself or your child. And that mercury rule applies to you when not pregnant as well. It’s all about moderation. And keep in mind, doctors are quick to recommend that you receive a flu shot while pregnant and that contains far more mercury than what you could consume at an all you can eat sushi buffet. And the mercury that is in tuna and sushi fish is not injected into your blood stream- it is ingested, most of this type of mercury is excreted and is not even absorbed in the body.

The fact is: SUSHI IS HEALTHY FOR YOU AND YOUR BABY!

Eating fish – including raw sushi fish – is part of a healthy diet during pregnancy as long as you eat fish with safe mercury levels.

The British Medical Journal stresses that fish is an extremely important substance to have during pregnancy. Children whose mothers ate fish during their pregnancy had a “higher intelligence quotient” than those who didn’t eat fish, due to omega-3 fatty acids.

In Japan, pregnant women do not stop eating sushi when they become pregnant, and are actually encouraged to continue doing so. Many Japanese pregnancy books suggest eating sushi as part of a healthy, low-fat diet during pregnancy, and are counseled to eat more sushi with B6 vitamins to help combat morning sickness. Japanese tradition also has it that post-partum women get certain kinds of sushi in the hospital during their recovery. Honestly, let’s put two and two together. If sushi makes babies mentally deficient, then all Japanese women are giving birth to a nation of retards. And our nationwide stereotype of computer-savvy camera wielding Japanese kids says otherwise.

Still, rational analysis doesn’t always hold sway with the pregnancy police.

“Why take any risk?” they ask. “Are you really so selfish that you can’t give up sushi for 9 months?” But this kind of thinking – making needless and pointless sacrifices over non-issues, isn’t healthy. It’s the very definition of paranoia. It is sick that the medical establishment and the culture at large have twisted logic around to the point where any risk, no matter how infinitesimal, is too much. So powerful is this Puritanical impulse that, once a health objection is raised, however irrational the recommended behavior, it’s considered irresponsible to behave any other way.

Let’s put things into perspective. Your daily odds of dying (and therefore killing your baby) while taking these risks are –

1 in 25,000 of dying in a car accident

1 in 48,000 of going to work and dying on the job

1 in 54,000 of walking to a destination in lieu of driving and dying by being hit by a car

1 in 158,000 of taking a flight of stairs, tripping, falling and dying

1 in 170,000 of dying in a plane crash

So if taking a 1 in 1.2 million chance of contracting a fetus-killing foodborne illness while munching on healthy omega-3 rich brain food for your baby is a selfish risk taking measure during pregnancy, then it naturally follows that driving, walking, taking stairs or a plane, or working outside of the home is unthinkable. And again, that’s not even touching on the greater risks of killing your baby by eating a SALAD .