Tuesday, July 22, 2008

"In other words, we're just halfway through that day / And there is no way we can go back."

I bought a curious substance called "konnyaku" (こんにゃく)to experiment with in the kitchen. Also known as "devil's tongue, it's a plant that is made into mottled grey blocks with a jelly-ish texture. It doesn't have much of a flavor on its own, and when I've eaten it in larger chunks I didn't care for the wobbly texture, but a lot of our school lunch recipes have it sliced into thin noodles and it's really good in combination with other ingredients. I have book-sized block which is a lot in terms of grey jelly so I need to do several different things to use it up. Plus it doesn't have very many calories so it's better for me than my beloved soba noodles, or rice.

The last day of school there was something quite odd-looking on my tray - a very thin creature with a thin crispy batter - but when I looked up the kanji on the menu provided it said "pacific saury." "That's just a kind of fish, yes?" I thought. "It should be harmless." Well, I don't usually care for fish other than salmon, but I don't find the texture as offensive as cephalopods. So I peeled off a bit and nibbled at it. It was really tasty! This is the sort of thing I think of when people tell me I'm brave for eating all the weird stuff set before me - sometimes the risk is worth finding out that something terrifying-looking is delicious. I need to be brave, and give new things a chance. Well, within reason - I'm still not eating squid anytime soon.

Have I mentioned my trial and errors with breakfast foods? Traditional Japanese breakfast is plain rice and miso soup, but though I love both I can't break a lifetime's habit of wanting something sweet in the morning. Cereal is quite expensive here and only comes in tiny boxes, besides I've never been a fan of its soggy suspension. I eat quite a bit of canned fruit, but the fresh as I've complained over and over is too expensive for more than a treat. The granola and muesli adventure I've described. And then sometimes I'll make and freeze a bunch of pancakes to last a couple of weeks. I was rather upset that cream of wheat - which I ate obsessively before I left - isn't available over here. Nor have I seen oatmeal which is the ultimate comfort food for me. Breakfast is important, since I'm usually starving by fourth period. I'm always looking for new things that are quick to make in the morning but filling. So it occurred to me to try a version of a Japanese dish called chazuke (ちゃづけ) which is rice with tea or broth poured over it. According to Wikipedia, when it's offered to a guest it's a signal that the host is ready for them to leave. Usually it has savoury ingredients added - fish, pickles, seaweed - but I thought, with sweetened green tea it'd be very much like my preferred morning foods. I still have a bit of a mental block towards rice in sweet things, but it's a neutral base so there's no reason it shouldn't be, and sure enough the Emily Breakfast ochazuke works very well. With cold leftover rice to balance the hot tea it's very good, it's even better with the milk tea that comes in huge bottles here that I've developed an addiction to. My favorite is mixing it with chai tea. Ah, if you know me at all you know how much I worship chai tea - I could drink it every day and there's a little chai lounge in the university district of Seattle that I practically own stock in. The chai tea here, interestingly, is obviously made for a market used to the bitterness of green and barley teas - it's much less sweet than American kinds.

Oh, it's hot here - hot hot hot. 93 degrees according to my thermostat - inside my room. What on earth. I've been making salads lately to avoid using the stove. Cabbage sliced thin is a big thing - notice how every time you buy takeout teriyaki in Seattle that's the side, with a thin white bland dressing? I didn't care for it much then - I prefer cabbage cooked, and lettuce for my salads - but lettuce isn't really sold here. So I shredded the cabbage, made a dressing of mirin and soy sauce, put some tuna on it, and sprinkled it with sesame seeds. Very good for this weather.

Ha, that was a lot of food things. You either think I'm a gourmet or a glutton - or both...

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