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Happy new year!  In Hawaiian we say, Hau’oli makahiki hou and in Japanese, akemashite omedetoo. Growing up, Christmas was not the most important holiday for us but new year’s day was.  Like the Scots, the Japanese have a big clean of the house to welcome the new year and thus, it metaphorically starts the year off with a clean slate.  Traditionally, a large feast was prepared and put into containers that would last three days (because you are not supposed to work the first three days in January).  Most items were salted, sweet or preserved somehow and meant to be served cool/room temperature.  This feast is called osechi ryori and today in modern Japan, most people purchase their feast pre-made from restaurants, department store food halls and even 7-eleven!  I have read of some osechi ryori costing as much as $10,000USD per person (CRAZY – I hope it comes with a diamond!)

Growing up, my grandmother used to make it and we would help out.  I can’t recall what she made each year (as it would change) but what I loved most was the kazunoko (herring roe) that was served.  They are expensive and hard to get so it was a special treat.  Very crunchy and salty, I loved the texture more than anything, dipped in some soy sauce.  The next best thing was kobu kazunoko (herring roe on kelp) – roe that somehow clung onto pieces of thick kelp.  Black sweet soy beans (kuromame) were another thing that I remember well and various types of fish cakes and sweet egg.

The other mandatory thing to eat on new year’s day is ozoni – a brothy soup with ingredients that change depending on what part of Japan you are from and what your family likes to put in.  In the Kanto area (Tokyo) the broth is clear while in the Kansai area (Osaka), they add miso paste.  My maternal side of the family came from Shimabara in the south and their specialty is guzoni, ozoni that is filled chock-full of ingredients and eaten not just on new year’s day.  The one similarity and obligatory ingredient is mochi or rice cake, for good luck/strength for the new year.  A piece of grilled mochi is placed into the soup and it becomes sticky and gooey and oh so lovely!  People who didn’t grow up with this texture may find it challenging (like my husband) but it is very filling and comforting for me.

This year, I spent new year’s day in Noosa, Queensland in tropical Australia.  My friend’s parents have a beautiful holiday home on the river and invited us to spend a few days there.  As a way to thank them, I wanted to cook a Japanese new year’s day breakfast (as best as I could) but it was quite a journey to figure out where to source the ingredients in a different state.  Prior to going to Noosa, we spent a few days in the Gold Coast and stumbled upon a small Japanese grocery store in Robina but it was still quite a few days before the new year so I waited to go to another store closer to Noosa.  This second store had more frozen goods and I was able to buy roughly what I needed to make this feast.  My biggest mistake is that I forgot to buy dashi – essential in Japanese cooking – fish stock!!  Needless to say, it was interesting making this in someone else’s kitchen in the tropical heat and without all the right ingredients.  My grandmother was proud of me for being able to make this as many young Japanese have lost the skills of traditional cooking since it can so easily be bought.  She doesn’t believe me when I say that it was her that made me a good cook.

Although the meal was not totally traditional, it turned out pretty well despite a few hicks – forgot dashi, sushi rolls were a bit small, rice for sushi was very sloppy (had to make it twice – over the stove with gas), and rolled egg was a bit overcooked.  For the ozoni, I grilled the mochi on a grill rack instead of the traditional grill used in Japan and it did a great job.  The kuromame (black soy beans) were made mostly out of my instinct and memory of what it should taste like but I had no idea they’d take nearly five hours to cook!  I also think that they were the most challenging item as most people couldn’t work out whether the beans were for dessert or to be eaten with the meal.  I guess it’s sort of like eating candied yams at Thanksgiving – many people who encounter it the first time think that it is a dessert and find it strange to be eaten alongside all the other savoury stuff.

I served two different sakes with the dish – one Australia-made and one Japanese-made and what was awesome was that the meal was eaten by a Scotsman, three Kiwis, one South African, one Australian, one Englishman and an American…now that’s what I call international!

Setting up the ozoni before I add the broth in.

The spread.

L to R: datemaki (egg), namasu (pickled veg - didn't have daikon available), kamaboko (pink fish cakes), kuromame (black sweet beans), california roll.

Nimono (stewed root veg - lotus, burdock, bamboo, taro, carrots & shiitake).

The Cameron family and the gorgeous view we had.

Honestly, I have no idea how many places in Hawaii serve up onion rings but every time I go home, I crave the ONION RING TOWER at the Yard House (chain restaurant found in nine states) on Lewers St. in Waikiki and I think that it’s the best I’ve ever had.  It comes with both regular Ranch and Chipotle Ranch dipping sauces and is piled high on this pole. The batter is very light, crisp and slightly sweet and I could probably eat the whole thing by myself but I have always shared it with someone.

If you order it, make sure you enjoy it with some of their over 100 draft beers!  Apparently they have the world’s largest selection of beers on tap!  The downside of the place is that it is very noisy and you can’t really book reservations. The weekends are very busy and the wait can be around an hour for a table.  Luckily, the restaurant is right where there are new shops to whittle the time away.

To finish, their Kona coffee ice cream sundae was as HUGE (as big as my face) and it was very, very tasty.  Hubby got the Lemon Souffle Cake and it was really disappointing so don’t waste your time on that (didn’t even taste like lemons).

Aloha!

Ass Rolls Anyone?

Ass rolls

 

If you know me, you’d know that I can’t stand when there are blatant errors in spelling, particularly on a restaurant menu or sign.  I forgive it a bit more when it’s an ethnic restaurant and English is not their first language but it blows me away that anyone would print a menu or sign without consulting with a native speaker to make sure that everything is accurate.

I am not going to name the place but me and hubby had a very good giggle while sitting down to have a drink in a local, city shopping centre this weekend.  I KNOW that the sign is meant to read “ASSORTED ROLLS” but by abbreviating it as “Ass. rolls” (even with the period) is pretty hilarious!  Needless to say, they were the least busy counter in the food court. 

 

This weekend, the 2009 Oxford Symposium on Food & Cookery will be held at St. Catherine’s College in Oxford and I cannot be there.  Instead, many of my friends will be there and I will hear all about it when they return.  This year’s topic is on “Food & Language” and although I had an idea for an abstract, I was much too busy to do the research.  Besides, after reading this year’s paper topics, I don’t think I would’ve had anything near as intellectual to add.  I cannot believe that a whole year has gone by without me even reporting on what happened last year so although late, it’s better than nothing.

Because it was my second time at the symposium last year, I felt “at home” and less nervous about mingling with people and reading my paper (although I was put in the big lecture theatre which is always very intimidating).  The faces were familiar and surprisingly, people remembered me as well.  I was thrilled to hear that I’d be reading my paper with Elizabeth Andoh, the author of “Washoku: Recipes from the Japanese Home Kitchen” – winner of the 2006 James Beard Cookbook award and that our moderator this time was Fuschia Dunlop, Chinese Scholar and author of “Shark’s Fin and Sichuan Pepper” and “Revolutionary Chinese Cookbook” to name a few.  In 2006, I read my paper with Fuschia on the same panel so I was happy to be with someone I was familiar with so it kept my nerves down.

When the symposium schedule is put together every year, similar subjects are often lumped into one session and it was natural that both me and Elizabeth were paired together since we were talking about Japanese subjects.  Elizabeth read a paper on Modoki, vegetarian temple food that is artistically formed to resemble something completely different from what it is made of.  A very fascinating topic that was made better by Elizabeth showing great photos of such beautiful cuisine.  I thought that we worked well as a team and we bounced ideas off each other and presented the tasting of various forms of daikon together.  It was a great pleasure to be on the same panel as Elizabeth…I hope to visit her in Japan one day.

My paper was about daikon – the humble yet very important radish…but not about ordinary daikon but focused in particular about a radish that grew through asphalt in a small town in Japan and was made into a national celebrity and anthropomorphised into a symbol of hope.  The extraordinary twist to the story is that the radish was vandalized one night and caused a great uproar among the townspeople – so much so that the vandals returned the radish to its original growing place due to guilt.  This radish, although in a poorly state, was revived and has since gone on to produce four generations and will be sold as seeds.  I also went on to discuss the importance of daikon in Japanese cuisine.  It was by far no way near as intellectual as many others but my aim was to bring some lighthearted quirkiness with relevance to the topic.

What was exciting was that a film crew from BBC4 were there the whole weekend filming various people reading their topics for a new documentary on food writer/historian Alan Davidson – the founder of the symposium.  Right before we started our session, the camera guy came up to me and said how thrilled he was to hear my paper and that he was looking forward to it…that made me nervous.  Anyway, all went well and I was sent an email saying that they’d like to use footage of me in the documentary and then I signed my life away…but I still haven’t heard when this documentary will be airing…more on that when I hear about it. 

St.Katherine's College Grounds

St. Catherine's College Grounds

Us posing with my daikon dolls and books

Me and Elizabeth posing with my daikon dolls and books

 

Elizabeth, me, Fuschia (l to rt)

Fuschia, me and Elizabeth (l to rt)

If you are really interested in food from an academic angle, you should try to make your way to Oxford one year.  The symposium is attended by the “who’s who” in the industry with many there who have written numerous books.  My favourite regular is Claudia Roden, who is so sweet and her book on Jewish cuisines is one of my all-time favourites.  In 2006, Jeffrey Steingarten attended and so many people were dying to talk to him…I wasn’t one of them but he was keen to talk to my friend who didn’t even know who he was!  The symposium is a great place to network with like-minded people and not feel bad about making any elite comments about food…lol.  The food was great last year and it looks like it will be fabulous this year as well.  Looks like Raymond Blanc’s (who’s there every year) restaurant Le Manoir aux Quatre Saisons will be providing the last dinner and it’ll be called, “The Language of French Gastronomy:  From the Raw to the Cooked.”  I’m jealous.

 

Raymond Blanc in the middle as moderator

Raymond Blanc in the middle as moderator

 

 

 

 

In the last six months, things have been a bit hectic – I had a very sad death in my family, I quit my job and had a baby. I am still trying to juggle having a child and blogging about food because my days of sitting in front of a computer have definitely reduced.  Although having a baby did not deter me from celebrating my wedding anniversary!

My due date was a week before my anniversary and was hoping that the birth and anniversary wouldn’t coincide but luckily I ended up giving birth a week and a half early. By the time the anniversary rolled around, my bub was nearly three weeks old.  Having just gotten over being shell-shocked from caring for a newborn, we were so pleased when a new restaurant called Sparrow opened up not too far away. When I called to make reservations, I had a choice of 6:30 pm or 8:30 pm. The old me would have chosen the later reservation but I knew that it would be too late and boy was I so glad that I chose the earlier time. The thing that I had to get used to was to tell them that we were two people and a pram (stroller). I desperately fed bub on the way to the restaurant and hoped bub would stay asleep.  The staff were nice and very accommodating to us and for a weeknight, it was absolutely packed (which is fortunate because the baby wasn’t able to be heard about the noise).

The menu is extensive and you can have a choice of tapas, pasta, pizza or meat.  Up until we ordered the food, it was going great – bub was asleep. Then just as the starters arrived, bub started to whinge and I was getting so stressed out. My husband lovingly spread their lovely French butter onto the homemade bread and tore me pieces of the Bresaola that we ordered and popped a Spanish olive into my mouth. Phew, just a short cuddle later, bub went back to sleep!  Sparrow’s pasta is very tasty.  If you love spaghetti bolognaise, you should try their take on it – an amazing ragu with a few different types of meats.  Next time though, I will try their degustation menu.  My friend Jacqui has eaten there many times now and has recommended a few tapas items.  They have quirky things like “duck donuts” which I am dying to try next time.  We were able to eat our meal with bub asleep almost the whole time and had a fabulous time. So many people are scared to take their babies out but I think that it can be done with some planning and of course – luck. Right now, my baby is a bit more difficult to take out but I have not altered my lifestyle too much yet. It should be interesting to see how things change especially when they are able to run around!

Tell me your stories of when you first took your bub out to dinner.  Any tips?  Funny stories?

Sparrow's Bolognaise

Sparrow's Bolognaise

Sparrow's Rabbit Pasta

Sparrow's Rabbit Pasta

Isn’t it amazing? Apparently approximately 3.7 million Australian viewers (that’s not even counting the regional country areas) tuned in Sunday night for the Masterchef Australia two-hour finale show – that’s nearly 20% of the country’s population and highest rated non-sports show ever!  It is so interesting to see that a food-related show was more popular than Australian Idol.  Communication of food has definitely come a long way, especially with the rise of celebrity chefs and reality shows.  Food is now viewed as entertainment and being “sold” to people of all walks of life. These are the types of topics that I have studied and written about while doing my Masters of Gastronomy course and it will be interesting to see whether this type of reality show will actually increase interest in cooking or whether it will just make everyone into a food critic.

At first, I wasn’t watching every episode of the show because I had no idea that it was on nearly every night (and it didn’t help that I just had a baby). Then when the show got down to its top 20 contestants, I started to pay more attention. As with any reality show, I started to vest some interest in certain individuals and found others bland or arrogant. But on Monday morning when I went to read the online articles about the Masterchef finale, I was amazed to see so much negativity out there.  The final two contestants were Poh and Julie who are vastly different types of cooks but equally passionate.  It astounds me that so many people who commented on various websites think that the competition was “rigged” towards favouring Julie.  Even the contestants felt that the judging was fair based on their performance that night.  No need to be so nasty people!  It is just a TV show!

Chris was my initial favourite because his dishes were unique and inventive but I can see why he didn’t win on the night that Donna Hay was the guest judge because she did say that “layers of brown” were the worst for food photography and all of Chris’ dishes were some shade of brown and not very photo-friendly.  That was the one night where looks were just as important as taste and I don’t think Chris had a chance with how his dish looked compared to two women.  On a side note, I was surprised to finally see Donna Hay’s face!  She is the queen of publishing here but never shows her face so I had always wondered if she was young or old or whatever.  She’s not what I expected and those high heels she was wearing that night were very stiletto!

When it came down to the two finalists, I didn’t care who won – I thought that they both deserved it and that they both brought their own unique style to the competition.  Poh Ling Yeow is definitely an artist and I love her meticulous ways in plating and desserts (but I wonder why she’s so messy when cooking).  Julie Goodwin is generous in her style and her food exudes comfort.  That Matt Moran signature chocolate plate was very tough (lots of skill needed) and I don’t think a lot of people at home really appreciated that unless they’ve done all of the desserts components before.  The thing that really got me on the night of the challenge was when Poh put her chocolate cigar in the fridge even though the recipe said no to!!  In culinary school when I learned my chocolate skills, it took me three months to learn how to temper chocolate properly and had to do it to the point where I used my bottom lip to test for temperature, not a thermometer…it is by no means easy.  I think perhaps no one explained the point of tempering to them and thus she thought that chilling the chocolate would make it set better (or firmer) but the whole point of tempering is so that the chocolate sets at room temperature (with a beautiful shine and good snap when broken).

Then there are the controversies of on set romances and the young ones belonging to a “Kiddie Mafia”.  The headline that makes me laugh the most is that Poh “shockingly” posed nude for Austrlaian artist David Bromley!  For god’s sake, she’s an artist – it’s no big deal!  It is not as if she posed for some porn magazine!  And really, who cares?

I saw Poh on Saturday at Adelaide’s Central Market.  She was talking to some friends outside of T-Bar and I wanted to tell her good luck but then I realised that if she is already in Adelaide, then the finale was obviously taped a while ago and that she already knew who had won and I didn’t want it to be awkward.  Besides, I’m sure she wants to be left alone.  Or perhaps I didn’t feel like being rejected, like the time when I was on the same Qantas flight as Kylie Kwong and when I asked her if I can have a photo with her while waiting for our baggage, she said no…but she wished me a happy Chinese New Year…

Oh and for those of you who don’t live in Australia, Julie was the winner.

I probably haven’t mentioned it much at all on this blog but spelling errors are a pet peeve of mine – particularly when it comes to food.  Restaurant signs and menus are often the main culprits when it comes to poor spelling.  My husband and I will often judge a restaurant by the number of spelling errors we find in their menu, especially if they are trying to be swish and upscale.  While I’m not perfect and probably have a few typos on this blog, I think that if you are going to print a sign for your business, it really should be proofread by multiple people – after all, the misspelled sign is a reflection upon the owner of the establishment.

Anyway, here is a sign I came across last week:

I don’t know what Belguin chocolates are but I’ve heard of Belgian chocolates…in fact I went to Brussels purely to do a chocolate tour.

Belguin

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