Saturday, October 31, 2009

Back from the ONSEN!! If you get it, you get it, if you don't --- go put your clothes back on & take a shower!!

The simplicity of the rituals of water......visibly drawing out the roughness from the edges of my taunt nerves & replacing it with a hidden smile just waiting to explode if given the slightest provocation.

Who would think loosing myself could be so hard. From the moment I came here my mind keeps dragging me back to thoughts, speculation, the steady plodding hammer of chiding necessities.

But it all seems inconsequential when I'm breathing in white cypress & submerging myself in a tinder-dry wave of heat. My body is a canvas of shining droplets, the intensity of the heat drives me into the floor -- for when you're lying flat you can't fall any further but sink into a world of dizzying pulses pushing you deeper & deeper into yourself.

And when your lungs are bursting with dry burning air and drops of sweat trace paths down your arms & legs creating pools and trickles, you stumble out & drop into water so cold your breath catches in a way that grabs you around the throat.

Breathing deeper & deeper till you think it's not possible for your lungs to expand any further -- but they do and do and do. Then it's there...the impossible instant where exhaling ends & the instinct of taking another breath escapes you altogether.

My only connection to reality is the beating of my heart that strangely I can only feel in the tips of my fingers & toes. And in that moment I can't help but be terribly impressed with my ability to have mentally flatlined 100%. There evolves nothing in the way of traceable thoughts and words but I am instead full of ridiculous notions and senses.

I desperately want to be a tiny bubble of air trapped along my submerged skin. Growing, expanding & waiting for inevitable journey from the cold surface & contact the blasting heat of the world. I'm overloaded with a deranged & overcoming sense of beauty that I can only imagine is infantile -- finding amusement & a curious acceptance of beauty in every sphere of movement, sound & color.

Outside naked people milling should, by all means, remain naked, calm & undisturbed by the heaviness that comes with an existance in eternal textile bondage. Gangly naked legs & plump jello hips all at peace, beautifully released for their daily constraints. Tiny toddlers grasping rocks & drunkenly smiling as their wobbly legs step into the, not too distant memory & familiarity of water. White haired matriarchs sighing, whispering & easing their burdens into an enveloping steamy weightlessness.

I'm suspecting I'm not the only one who feels like we have all just come home?

Out here I'm embarrassingly giddy with the simplicity & extent of my composure. No reason to move, no appointment or attendance. No beginning & no end. Past present & future just floated off in the section of sky allotted me right here. MY section of autumn sky.

But before I can abandon all inhibitions & float downstream thinking mermaid thoughts, composing my epitaph & vowing an aquatic existence, I drag myself out -- Back to time, space & matter.

......Until I'm at the onsen again

Monday, October 26, 2009

Speaking of Caramel.......Try this! -- Caramel Peanut Topped Brownie Cake

Caramel Peanut Topped Brownie Cake (by Dorie Greenspan)

I know this is going a bit far, but if you have a special occasion for a yummy little treat you've gotta try THIS one. It's chewy, it's goey & it's PERFECT for a caramel/chocolate lover. The recipe is long but result is well worth it. Lemmie know how it goes for you.

PS. I did cut out the white sugar in the cake but don't try cutting any sugar in the caramel sauce or you'll have a mess. Good Luck!

Pic & write up of recipe borrowed from wee treats by tammy's blog because mine looks like this....

Yeah, looks like someone overindulged in whip cream.

For the cake:

1 cup all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
¼ tsp salt
1 stick(8 TBSP) unsalted butter, cut into 8 pieces
3 ounces bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
3 large eggs
½ cup light brown sugar
¼ cup sugar
3 TBSP light corn syrup
½ tsp vanilla extract

For the topping:

2 cups sugar
½ cup water
1 ½ TBSP light corn syrup
2/3 cup heavy cream
2 TBSP unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup salted peanuts

Butter and flour a 8 inch springform pan. Line bottom of pan with parchment paper. Put the pan on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.

To make the cake: Whisk the flour, baking soda and salt together. Melt chocolate and butter together using a double boiler.

In a large bowl whisk the eggs and sugars together until well blended. Whisk in the corn syrup, followed by the vanilla. Whisk in the melted butter and chocolate. Still working with a whisk, gently stir in the dry ingredients, mixing only until they are incorporated. You will have a thick, smooth, shiny batter. Pour the batter into the pan and jiggle the pan a bit to even out the batter.

Bake the cake at 350F for 40-45 minutes, or until a knife inserted into the center comes out almost clean. Transfer the pan to a rack and cool he cake for 15 minutes, then run a knife between the cake and the pan and remove the sides of the pan. During baking the cake probably will have puffed to the top of the pan don’t be concerned if tit sinks a little or it if develops a crater in the center. Cool the cake to room temperature.

When the cake is completely cool, invert it, remove the base of the pan and peel off the paper. Wash and dry the springform pan, and return the cake to it right side up. Refasten the sides around the cake.

To make the topping:

Put the sugar, water and corn syrup in a medium heavy bottomed saucepan, stir just to combine the ingredients and then put the pan over medium-high heat. Heat, without stirring , until the caramel turns deep amber., 5-10 minutes. Lower the heat a bit and, standing back from the saucepan add the cream and butter. When the spatters are less vehement, stir to calm down the caramel and dissolve any lumps. Stir in the peanuts, and pour the caramel and peanuts into a 1-quart Pyrex measuring cup or heat proof bowl.

Spoon the peanuts on top of the cake. Then spoon the caramel on top of those. You’ll have a layer about ¼ inch high. Allow the topping to set to room temperature-about 20 minutes before serving.

To serve, run a blunt knife between the caramel and the pan and simply remove the sides of the springform. If this isn’t the case, hit the sides with some hot air from a hairdryer or wrap the sides in a towel moistened with hot water.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Take the Apple......bite the Apple......

A SIMPLE STORY ABOUT AN APPLE Hunter: Mommy...Noook, NOOK! MOOOOMMY! Appos, nots & NOTS of APPOS! Daddy (mumble mumble) APPOS!

Mommy: (delinquently trying to get some me time on the computer, at the end of the day) Really Hunter, cool!

Hunter: NOTS & NOTS!!!

Mommy: Yes, maybe we can have some later....(continued delinquency on the computer)

Hunter: (long suspicious pause of silence)


Hunter: (running over & talking with a stuffed mouthful) num num nummy...

Mommy: (Dashing over to the apples & observing) BAAAAANTANMommy: (grabbing camera & trying to look disapproving) Baaan, what do you have to say for yourself???

Hunter: (obviously not sorry in the slightest bit) Sooorryyyyyyy! (Snicker Snicker)


Friday, October 23, 2009

..........the name the Caramel Jar is calling!

With the use of my ultra-scientific method of throw the names into the mortor.....
The winner has been chosen

And the winner is.....

So there you have it. Congrat's Aich. And I wholeheartedly agree with your "Ojichan/Obachan" memories. New Years Rocks!

Thanks everyone for your super interesting smells. One part of me wishes I had a few lbs of butter sugar & cream to make a vat for everyone who participated. And if it wasn't for the fact that the caramel hardened in the fridge and would surely betray any stealthy snitches I'd be in there right now.

Note: I've been listening to a great podcast called the "free culinary school" and am learning heaps on the basics that I didn't ever know. Beware of possibly banal cooking details type posts coming your way.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Making of the Caramel Sauce

Heya heya! I'm having a blasty-blast looking at everyone's "childhood nasal memories" and I gotta tell you, I think I can answer that question "What's wrong with Japan?"

It's the mothballs & kero, for sure!

Well, here's the part where I show you what I put into the "giveaway" winner's Jar of goodness.

It's all so straightforward but being the lunatic that I am my DH came to see me taking pictures of a saucepan like a mad scientist:

"Caramel great, what's it for?"
"I'm giving it away
"Remind me why you do this again??"

" makes me happy!

......yeah.....I'm a deeeeep thinker, I know, but it's the truth. And since we're speaking of the truth, lets just be clear that this whole thing starts out with a whole cup of white sugar completely dissolved over a low flame with 1/4 a c of water. I know.....we all try to be in denial about what this sauce is all about but let's just gaze upon it for a moment,
Ok....good. Is everyone in touch with reality now? Great! Let's just shake it off & forget we ever saw that.

Oh.....but wait, more goodness you say? 1/2 a cup of butter? How could that be wrong
My, that looks so healthy & fine in a nice little square. But let's just take a look at it in it's pure unadulterated melted FAT CONTENT........
Gee......that's a lotta fat. What can you say, it takes pain to be beautiful.....& it takes butter to have caramel, so loadm' up!

Now the trick here is to melt the butter & give it a couple of good stirs with the spoon to incorporate it & then NOT MIXING IT keep your flame of medium/low leave it to bubble, splat & sputter till it slowly changes from this
to this
to this and so forth
If you stir it you'll find that the sugar will crystallize & gunk up your spoon & you'll possibly have some bits of gunky stuff at the end

Now when you're almost at your desired caramel color you'll have to lightly stir it to keep an eye on the color & of course burn your tongue FOR LIFE tasting it to see that it be good indeed.

There are still grown ups who wander the world with brown sugar caramel stuck to their roof of their mouths from pre-adolecent greed driven evenings of impatient caramel popcorn making fiascos. Not to mention the catastrophe that ensued when Almonzo tried to feed it to his poor pet pig. (Note: Farmer Boy= Best foodie lover book evaaaah!)
Now I personally like a more dark & burnt caramel flavor but I wasn't sure about you so I went ahead & kept it at a pretty reasonable golden brown medium.

Last but not least we do the fun part of adding........WHY LOOKIE THERE............yet more fat in the form of 1/4 a c real cream. Now don't go sticking your nose in there when you do this as it'll bubble up quite a bit
Give it a good mix-a-roo & there you go.

Glistening & calling the name of YOU!
Now a word on storage & usage. You wanna keep it in the fridge (good luck w/ keeping snitchers at bay) & you'll have to heat it up a little to loosen it. You can either put the whole jar in a saucepan of cool water & bring it to a simmer shut off the heat & leave it to heat up, or you could scoop out a bit & microwave it for a few secs.

PS. I hate to admit it but Kero is also on my list of childhood smells. Along with Obachan's oden, kotastu, sunscrean & the smell of the beach, stank & all, esp the "sex wax" the surfers would leave all over the place. And my dad's musk cologne that every man in the 80's must've also been wearing.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Autumn Giveaway of love & tenderness......

Is it ever too soon to have another giveaway? I DON'T THINK SOooooo! Not when it involves!

I made this caramel sauce for this splendid birthday lady's birthday cake and wasn't at all surprised that I had to guard it with my very life to keep it from getting stolen entirely by the shameless guests. So as I sat there the next morning shamelessly sipping on my very own super indulgent CARAMEL topped cappuccino, I realized that this would be the best autumn giveaway EVAH!

Something about autumn to me means smoke! Roasting, barbecuing, baking & especially creating a crispy, caramelized top to desserts. Consider for a moment the autumn harvest fruits: apples, pears, sweet potatoes, pumpkin, chestnuts etc... they all are great baked with crusts of some kind or at least with crunch, crumble, & that ever so slightly burnt taste we all love.

And so I present to you an uper-simple to make but oh-so-worth-it to eat, caramel sauce. Believe me you WANT to score this one.

After my last giveaway I'm not going to ask you WHAT you'd do with the caramel sauce but a few wholesome ideas are: top your coffee or cappuccino with it, drizzle it over your ice-cream or apple pie or just do like me & grab spoonfuls from the fridge when you're feeling needy.

Now the part you've all been waiting for: THE RULES OF THE GAME
  1. to be eligible to win answer this question in the comment box: What pleasant smell or smells takes you back to my childhood.
  2. Please only comment once unless it's your S.O. commenting, more power to you! (if you can get him/her is willing to share the prize with you, good luck w/ that!!)
  3. I can only send these items to people within this country. (We still want to hear from you all though)
  4. The comments will be closed & winner will be announced on Oct 23rd (Fri) A.M.!!

I'm gonna try to do a write up of the recipe soon, I hope. That's the deeeelio! Take care of yourselves. Steer clear of people with the sneezies & think caramelized thoughts.

PS. To my friendly friend of Taiwan who considers herself to be "unlucky" & therefore did not enter last giveaway I say: COMMENT NOW, you can't be unlucky unless you actually try it! ILY!

Tuesday, October 13, 2009


It's true....I'm big on soups. There's no denying. Though I only have roughly 5 soup recipes, I sure do love each one of them. I've come to realize that one major aspect of soup making that I've come to respect greatly and consider to be ESSENTIAL to a good soup is SOUP STOCK!!

Believe it or not my modern friendly followers, stock making consists of more than simply dropping a cube of bullion into a pot of boiling water. For shame! Of course I'm dreadfully guilty of doing this! But the difference between using bullion or even canned broth is equivalent of using margarine instead of butter, powdered milk instead of fresh or, God Forbid, freeze-dried mashed potato flakes instead of doing it yourself. EWWWWWWW!!!

If you're a long-time reader you might remember my midevial chicken salad in which I made a fantastic stock to to boil down 2 whole chickens & then soak them in a citrus & spiced vinaigrette for a day to make an unbelievable chicken salad. I agree those were rather elaborate preparations for a chicken salad that I only got to nibble on, but I felt like a winner taking home roughly a gallon of superb chicken stock. So, lets talk about the basics of soup stocks.

Basically what you're looking for is a base to build the rest of your soup flavors on. And for the most part using chicken in your stock is a pretty safe flavor for any soup including heavier stews if you're inclined. Or if you're a vegan then you can even make yourself a veggie broth easily too.

Now I'm not even sure why I'm making a whole post out of this because it's so straightforward. Basically you want a chicken carcass or bones (easy way to make use of whole turkey/chicken left overs). Here in Japan they sell for fairly cheaply a carved out chicken for roughly 100Y more or less. You might also be able to find chicken wing tips cheaply which are really good to use too. Basically you want BONE if you want to make a good chicken stock.

Next you're gonna add veggies. Some of the basics you want to add are onion, carrot, celery. Garlic, of course; but go easy on garlic cuz' you don't want to overpower it. Chop everything roughly.
So for a 6 qt pot full I'd add about:
- 2 onions
- 3-4 carrots
- 2 cloves of garlic
- 3-4 sticks of celery (leaves & all)

Now if you're making a vegetable broth you can really rock out with the vegetables & you'll want to use a LOT because the flavors are much more soft & subtle in flavor than chicken. Carrots give your stock a sweet flavor so be sure to add them. Soup stock is a great way to use older veggies that you wouldn't want to put upfront but they still have some "life" left. Don't be afraid to use negi too, the "Japanese" taste blends away into the stock nicely.

Of course you need to add spices too:

- about 10-20 whole black peppercorns
- 3-4 bay leaves
- if you have fresh herbs you can get real groovy & make a little bouquet de garni & tie it all up with some string to keep the bits & peices from falling off. I use about 6 or 7 sprigs of each herb. Herbs like: thyme, rosemary, Italian parsley, & oregano are standard. Fresh basil will go better if you add it at the very end of your simmering as if you put it in at the beginning you'll loose a lot of the flavor.
- If you're using dried herbs go easy as they can be overpowering. A tsp. here & there.

And then we'll just bring it to a boil & let it simmer covered for about 2-3 hours.

A few little extra tricks I like to do are:

- adding white wine (about 1 c or so)
- if you have any Parmesan rind (you know, the hard part that only guests who've drunk too much will attempt to eat from your fridge). Drop a slice in. I think that adds and incredibly romantic aroma to the stock & the times I've gotten rave reviews for a soup (yes, it has happened) have been when I added a Parmesan rind.
- I like to add salt at the end and not too much roughly (and I'm just estimating here) 1 1/2 tsp. I'd flavor it later when I'm making the actual soup.

So of course to finish up, after it's cooled off you'll need to strain it & store it. I save old ice-cream containers or sturdy zip-lock bags. (beware of curious kids who walk around your house with a tack to see "what will happen" when you stab holes in chairs, floaties & zip-lock bags full of your precious soup stock)

What you do with it after that is up to you of course. I've taken to making totally random soups with no rhyme or reason. But the good thing about stock is as long as you have a good BASE you can build your flavors on top of it as simply or complex as you like & you'll have good results.

Case in point. The soup on at the top of the post is one I made for lunch the other day (apparently a lunch a long time ago in my old kitchen, sniff). Chicken Broth, left over roasted red paprika from last night's dinner, left over broken lasagna noodles that I couldn't use for anything else, sugar peas, sliced cabbage, chives, whipped eggs, fresh Italian parsley & olive oil.

Well......that ended up being a long one. Of course the soup stock is just what I do! I'm sure some of you genius' probably have great tips & tricks of which I'd love to hear. Leave any good ideas in the comments, OK??

Ever learning but never coming to a knowledge of the truth! Catch you soon.

Monday, October 12, 2009


.........but then I miss you most of all my darling, 
when autumn leaves begin to fall

Mr. Nat King Cole

Friday, October 09, 2009

Birthday Bang!!

Hey my genuinely fierce followers!  Sorry it's been so long, honestly I've been recovering from a cross between the flu & a double dosage of birthday mania.  So bear with me now & I will give you a little recap of my ultra-cool birthday.  

I'm sure I'm not the only mom who practically bypasses her birthday.  There just doesn't seem to be enough time to do anything celebratory esp when your daughter has her birthday the day after.  I'm usually busy making a cake for her anyway.  

So on my birthday of birthdays, my friendly family from the far regions of Chiba came for a visit (a rarity as it is) I threw together a mean chilli and enjoyed the company of my fairly normal family.  I must admit that I am of a suspicous nature & can sniff out a scheme like a stanky diaper.  But I totally didn't see this one coming. 

I didn't even get it when I asked DH to run to the store for lemons so I could start on Miss#1's birthday cake.  He basically turned me down by weirdly saying, "The don't have lemons at that store, I'll get them tomorrow".  Next thing I know a crowd of happy looking friends are tearing through my geinkan bringing cakes with, ACTUAL CAKES!!  For MY birthday!  Seriously I know this is juvinille but I haven't had a cake since I don't know when. 
It was frankly one of the cutest things that ever happened to me.  I was ordered large doses of beer & shoved unceremoniously out of my kitchen where they took over decorating the cakes
This was really the funniest thing ever even DH got in on the action.

Really now, is thta not just the sweetest!  It was a darling cake, thank you Aich.  I really can't remember the last time anyone's made a cake for me.  But that's not the best of it.  The best of it is that the whirlwind that came in so suddenly, also suddenly left -- dragging my 4 oldest kids out the door with them.  They had schemed with my DH to have a sleep over with all their friends & I got to have 75% of my kids taken off my hands!  FANTASTIC PREZZIE that only a parent would think of.  Thanks Oli, Lilly, Aich & Mike!
 So the next morning I get to treat myself to indulgent breakfast & hang out time with my sistahs!  Yeah, this is the "motherload" breakfast, a grilled cheddar & camembert egg muffin with pesto mayo and french mustard!  
 DUUUUDE!  That looks good!  I am seriouly going to need to do that again.  And I actually made it just for myself!

 Cousins played in PJ's while I churned out coffees & capachinnos for the big peoples.  You have no idea how brilliant it was to have only the 2 youngest kids.  BRILLIANT! 

 Cousin Shelly occupied Mr. Ban while my dear techno-savy Daddio set up my new birthday IPod touch.   THANK YOU DADDY!! All the while grumbling all the way about how my poor ancient computer should be flushed down the nearest toilet.  

Let me just say that, after that things started getting pretty loud pretty fast.  Kids came home along with my birthday girl whose 12 now!!  (Good God!!  I'm a mother of  a preteen!)  Along with yet more friends who dropped by so, heck why not have them all over for dinner & of course throw together a cake of love!  
Vanilla Angel food cake with whipped cream & decadent caramel sauce.  And when I say VANILLA....I mean VANILLA!!  I ground 1 empty vanilla bean pod with 3/4 a c of sugar in my blender to make a vanilla sugar!  Good stuff.  As for the caramel guests were seen attempting to BE the spoon & "physically" dive right into the bowl of left overs.

 If you're thinking the cake was're right.  It actually fed 12 adults & 13 kids.  I KID YOU NOT!!  

After this fun filled day I promptly collapsed into a happiness induced coma.  Could also be the fact that I was (literally) in the kitchen ALL day!  

But, it was great.  Kids, Chaos & Cake, just the way it should be!  
And, I'm I am told, also a happy birthday for Laner-bananer-fi-fi-fi-laner-baner!
So thanks everyone for a great birthday.  I've got lots of food I want to blog about & I'm gonna be having a great FOODIE give away soon.  Already told some of you what it is so stay tuned!  

Lova lova you!