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Archive for the ‘Cooking’ Category

My mother usually makes three kinds of Christmas cookies: gingerbread cut-outs, white-velvet cutouts (sugar cookies with cream cheese in the batter), and press cookies. The press cookies are my favorite. We originally had a Mirro cookie press, which functioned like a cross between a coffee press and an icing bag with a tip. Dough was put into a metal tube and pushed out with a plunger through a disk with a shape so the cookie would have a shape without having to be cut out.*

Mirro cookie press. Image from food.com.

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I’ve decided to make a separate blog for my recipes and food culture/tourism posts; while there will be no future Expat Chef posts on this particular blog, please bookmark/add I’ll Make It Myself!.

よろしくお願いします!

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I spent my first New Year’s holidays in Japan this year in my tiny town entertaining my traveling companion who came to visit me from America. I really wanted to serve something Japanese, but since most osechi meals are meant for a family of four or more and it was just the two of us, I decided to make two simple traditional dishes for us to enjoy.  Because we would be traveling before New Year’s and fresh seafood would not keep that long, I settled on dishes with shelf-safe ingredients: zenzai (ぜんざい), a sweet New Year’s soup made of azuki beans (小豆) and toasted mochi (もち、餅),  and sekihan (お赤飯), a celebratory dish of azuki beans and mochi rice (mochigome, もち米) (a glutinous rice used to make mochi, not the regular white rice served in most Japanese meals). *

Zenzai does not photograph well.

Every meal has a story, and while the making of these dishes wasn’t particularly riveting, the purchase of the mochi rice really stuck (haha) with me.

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My impulse buys at Japanese grocery stores are often the source of these “battles,” but the import stores are equally to blame. I dropped by one on the way back from the city last week, and I noticed a bag of “guruhamu flour” next to the corn meal I was about to set in my basket. Graham flour? Surely I can make something delicious with this!

Didn't quite get the romanization down, but it's the thought that counts, I guess.

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I had actually been considering changing the name of this “column” to something without the word gaijin in it. The word 外人 (outsider) might be considered a contraction of the term 外国人, foreigner; literally outside-country-person. Among the foreign population of Japan, there are some of us who embrace the term gaijin and some of us who hate it. Today, most Japanese are taught to refer to us as gaikokujin (外国人), or, better yet, the polite term: 外国人の方, literally, a foreigner-person, with the final part being the polite term for a person. This, of course, never stops the drunk middle-aged men outside the Korean yakiniku place from calling me a gaijin, but times are changing. And so, I thought, perhaps I should use a more politically correct term.

From Wikimedia Commons via the USDA.

My line of thinking changed the day I tried to make Mexican food. Although I enjoy the spectrum of Mexican-esque food in the US, from heavily Americanized Mexican fast food (Chipotle, Moe’s) to what might be more authentic Mexican food (a restaurant called Carmen’s deep in southern Colorado), I’ve never actually made it myself.* My chance came when my sempai in the city sent me a recipe for tostadas that a colleague had used for a Mexican cooking class. Naturally, as we live in Japan, this recipe had been translated into Japanese.

All of you regular readers know that I read and speak Japanese at a high level, but reading or translating recipes is one of my specialties. I pride myself on being able to read cookbooks and recipes (and all printed material for which I’m not actually trying to produce a translation) without having to translate them first. (Second-language learners know that the jump from “translate everything” to “just read and occasionally use a dictionary” is the critical jump in that nebulous thing we call fluency).

However, as the Japanese say, 猿も木から落ちる: Even monkeys fall from trees.

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