July 31, 2011 § Leave a comment
Grey, grey Hokkaido mornings. 70 degrees and almost August. These typical grey days are full with storm bursts, sudden downpours. I’m sitting at my chabudai nursing a headache (wine-induced) listening to Bon Iver’s For Emma, Forever Ago, which is for me somehow and in all ways perfect. Back to the headache, but let’s start earlier.
For dinner last night I made katsu kare, which I love but have never made before because, once upon a time, hot oil scared me (tonkatsu isn’t actually deep-fried). I used a recipe from No Recipes, which I think is a really lovely website. I don’t have a thermometer so I was kind of winging the cooking time and temperature. I tested the heat of the oil by throwing some panko in and waiting until it sizzled, then kept the flame around medium high to keep the temperature level. I ended up cooking the pork for a couple of minutes on each side until nice and golden. Just keep an eye on it.
The meat was really juicy and flavorful and the panko was nice and crisp. I laid it out on some rice with a quick curry sauce (made from curry roux cubes). The curry sauce would obviously be better if you made it yourself, but in a pinch the roux cubes work. I personally like them because they remind me of the curry my host grandmother made when I lived in Toyohashi. Continuing with my menu of nostalgic tastes, I made somen for lunch.
Somen, somen dipping sauce, sesame seeds.
Over the course of yesterday I watched Half Nelson, Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist, and the Notebook. Over the course of the week I also watched Taxi Driver and Saturday Night Fever. Can you tell I miss New York? It was hard to see Veselka and the other places in my city and not be there. I miss New York nights, the possibilities, the mornings. It’s Sunday morning, I should be at Veselka with a bowl of borscht, a mug of hot black coffee, and the newspaper. This called for wine.
Cute, right? A birthday gift (along with whole potatoes in shrink wrap…). It’s called Higuma no Banshaku (brown bear’s nightcap), 2007 vintage, from the Furano Winery. To be honest, I am a little skeptical of most Japanese wine. I generally stick to nihonshu. It was hard for me to decipher what varietals this was made from, definitely a mix (I looked it up on their website, from what I can understand it’s a mix of mountain grapes and Seibel grapes). It’s very fruity with a sour punch. It tasted young, I think the acidity needed to be better balanced, but it was definitely drinkable and I drank the entire bottle. I needed it to get through The Notebook (an otherwise insurmountable task).
July 26, 2011 § Leave a comment
Sunday I went to Obihiro with Inoue and Keiko. We stopped by the hospital to visit a coworker who had just given birth. I held the baby, three days old, and posed for a picture while he cried. I can only assume this is a Japanese tradition. This was my first baby-holding experience and I had always thought babies were supposed to be sort of soft dumpling things, but he felt wiry, like a wound-up spring. I was amazed and a little disappointed.
For dinner we went to Birra Restaurant Gaja, a yakiniku place.
I was, of course, mainly just happy to be shoveling meat into my face. Life affords me few greater joys. We had beef, cow tongue, chicken, various cuts of pork, and ジンギスカーン (jingisukan). Jingisukan, which is a Japanization of ‘Genghis Khan’, is a lamb dish that’s really popular in Hokkaido. This was my first time trying it and it was easily the best thing there. In general the meat could have been better seasoned (the tongue didn’t really taste like anything) and the beef was a little tough, but that lamb I’d be happy to eat by the bowl.
We also had daikon salad, which was unremarkable, and bibimbap, which I love. It wasn’t spectacular here, but it was warm and filling and I was happy and full.
Inoue and Keiko told the waiter that it was my birthday so they brought this thing out, which was nice of them. The ice cream was unexceptional and the cake, which I think was supposed to be a molten chocolate cake, was overly sweet with a heavy, unpleasant slickness. There were also, weirdly, saltine crackers stuck on top. Generally I like the idea behind this combination but, well, this was just badly composed and badly executed.
Continuing with my days of excess, the next day, yesterday, we had a welcome party for the new woman in our office, a going away party for the person she’s replacing, and also there was a birthday cake for me. Everyone, for the most part, got hilariously drunk and the 18 year old who works in my office asked me to date him. We had yakiniku and there were whole prawns in their shells. I noticed afterwards that everyone else was picking the meat out but I just crunched them up, shells and all. I got a prawn eye stuck in my teeth, which is more painful than might be expected.
Afterwards I went to a yakiniku party in someone’s garage that was being held for my predecessor, who was visiting with his wife and kids. I managed to continue drinking somehow and eventually stumbled home, only to collapse on the floor with the kakuni (stewed pork belly) that Inoue had given me earlier that day. Inoue’s kakuni was beautiful, fatty, I ate all of it while sitting drunkenly on my floor.
This morning, futsuka yoi ne.
July 23, 2011 § Leave a comment
People are always really sympathetic about me making my own birthday cakes. I find this bizarre. To those concerned sirs and ladies, have a fur bath, calm your eyeballs. I love baking, especially when it takes all day. But cakes, being the cream-filled, artisanal chocolate-slathered delights that I expect them to be, damage the shit out of my bank account. They require occasion and multiple cake-thirsty mouths. This is where birthdays come in, my ultimate cake scapegoat.
For my birthday this year, I decided to challenge rural Hokkaido grocery stores to a death match and embark on my first baking venture in my new kitchen. I decided on David Lebovitz’s German Chocolate Cake, which I made for a friend’s birthday last November. I think it’s a pretty perfect little cake.
Last weekend I finally got a chance to go to the grocery store (hey I live in the boonies), where I bought the one and only baking chocolate available. This morning when I was preparing my ingredients I cut off a sliver to taste and almost instantly aborted my cake plans. It was unpleasantly sweet and waxy, violating one of my most important baking rules (baking rule #1: Use the best-tasting, highest-quality ingredients or your product is going to taste like shit. Also, stop sucking). But I had already spent ¥1,500 on this chocolate. Also Hokkaido was watching me and I was not about to lose to Hokkaido.
The offending chocolate. I ended up adding some natural cocoa powder to the batter and omitting about 1/4 cup of sugar in hopes of remedying the miscreant ‘HOME MADE CAKE CHOCOLATE’ situation.
Next issue, threat level orange, no coconut. Why didn’t I just make a damn lemon cake and be done with it? I think sliced almond might have been a reasonable substitution in terms of texture, but I couldn’t find any of those either. I decided to use crushed cookies to bulk up the rest of the filling. I actually managed to find these ‘coconut sables’ which were hilariously the only thing in the store that had coconut in them. When I got them home and stuck one in my mouth I realized how foolish I had been for entertaining the idea that they might possibly taste something like coconut. I have to admit, they’re nice with tea.
Improvised flour sifter (tea ball). Also, improvised flour. There are two main kinds of flour you can get in Japan (at least rural Japan), high gluten flour (bread flour) and low gluten flour (cake flour). I thought about trying a combination of the two, but ended up just substituting straight cake flour for AP.
My other need-based substitutions: sour cream and yogurt for buttermilk (which doesn’t exist here), maple syrup for corn syrup (added a kind of nice flavor to the frosting, slightly overpowering), and walnuts instead of pecans. Converting things from oz to grams was also pretty haphazard and I wasn’t as exact as I would like to have been.
I only had one cake pan so before adding the egg whites I split the batter in two, stuck half of it in the refrigerator and beat half of the egg whites. After the first layer was cooked, I beat the second half of the whites, and added them to the reserved cake mix. The second layer rose as well as the first, which is to say not very well at all.
Finally, I had no serrated knife (ok, this one’s not Japan’s fault).
Oh dental floss you dirty two-timer. I took the point of a sharp knife and scored around the cake at the halfway point, then wrapped the floss around, fitting it into the grooves, and finally pulled it tight. Works perfectly. I googled this and apparently you’re supposed to use unflavored floss but I only had mint. If you’re in a similar situation, no worries babies, I detected no mint-taste in this cake.
So hey, even with my substitutions this is a tasty cake. The crumb was a little too delicate (use AP if you can), but it’s moist, the frosting is smooth and chocolatey, and the filling is gooey nutty-buttery. I missed the coconut and high quality chocolate (which I think help cut the cake’s richness), but all in all, a cake worth eating on my birthday (and, considering this cake is going down no mouth-hole but my own, I’ll probably still be eating it by then).