Holidays bring families together, gifts around the Christmas tree and sweet carols. Or candle lighting of the Menorah with loved ones. In Japan, Christmas is typically a commercial holiday; so, Christmas cake appears. (Bestsellers tend to have tons of strawberries, whipped cream and cute chocolates.)
Keeping with the good cheer of the season, I want to share some sweet news.
“If you do not waste, you will never have lack.” (無駄なければ、不足がなし) The Japanese version of “waste not, want not.”
Canned pumpkin and chocolate candies are always purchased in abundance. (What’s the point of a stocking if Santa doesn’t deliver chocolates?) So, start the violins…luscious chocolates are the typical “leftovers” from the holidays. Half cans of pumpkin puree used for pie are also left alone…until today. A challenge was issued from the Sunday Supper Movement: Transform holiday leftovers into divine dishes and desserts. Perhaps I could have made a Japanese okonomiyaki pancake with the pumpkin. But I prefer dessert. A chocolate one. So I skipped with my fingers over the computer keyboard to Cookies & Cups. (A magical cookie, chocolate and other kid-friendly food kingdom ruled by Shelly Jaronsky.) Sure enough, a pumpkin brownie recipe quickly appeared. I was encouraged to read that although the taste was slightly different, her children loved the brownies. Her recipe required only 2 ingredients. Wonderful, right?
A mother’s love for her daughters miraculously saved her own life. Exhausted and without energy, Janice Lavine continued to care for her children. Including trips to the doctor. When one daughter was given a list of allergies and foods to avoid, Janice kept her company. She joined in on the restricted regime. Janice suddenly found the prescribed gluten-free, dairy free, soy free, nut free diet working for her. However, another child missed mother-daughter sweets time. Janice headed to the kitchen. With her daughters in mind, she tailored traditional treats for the allergy sensitive crowd.
Clap your hands if you believe in fairies! Sugar Plum fairies from The Nutcracker! Ballet in Japan is a big after-school activity. Many Japanese moms chauffeur or take trains with their ballerina princesses to class. So, The Nutcracker is a familiar figure on stage and in stores at Christmas time in Japan.
Need a Nutcracker ballet refresher? In a nutshell (tee hee): Toys around the Christmas tree come alive at midnight. Including young Clara’s beloved Nutcracker. He leads his soldiers against the Mouse King and his thugs. The Nutcracker fights valiantly but is captured. All is lost…until Clara zonks the Mouse King on the head with a slipper. The Nutcracker turns into a prince. He rewards Clara with a trip to the Land of Snow and Land of Sweets.
Once Upon a Time in the faraway land of Japan, families made their own miso. Soybeans and sea salts were tossed in with rice. Barley and wheat were used to make miso, too. (Rice was pretty pricey for a few centuries.) Japanese koji (fermented cooked rice and soybeans) was key to the storage of miso during snowy winters in the olden days. (Way before refrigeration and supermarkets.)
Each home had their unique take and flavor of miso. A family with blooming Japanese yuzu trees, tossed in the citrus fruit to their miso. The Imperial Palace served only hatcho miso during the Meiji Period. Why? Emperor Meiji insisted on hatcho miso from Okazaki, Japan. Ironically, Okazaki was the hometown of Ieyasu Tokugawa – the Shogun – whose family ruled Japan for 200 years. And just happened to precede the Meiji Period.
Fast forward to the New Millennium: More than just the local miso is available at the supermarket. For a soupcon taste of miso from all over Japan, visit Mankyu Misoten in Asakusa. The store has sold miso since 1804. (Tokyo’s oldest temple – Sensoji – is also found in Asakusa. And so are tons of tourists!)
Halloween is now a booming business in Japan. Like Christmas, the sweets shops concoct cute treats for the holiday. The holiday is strictly commercial. Halloween costume parties (and Christmas parties) are ever popular. Still, it’s just a reason to celebrate and have a good time.
There is no trick or treating on Halloween. Growing up in Tokyo, my friends and I would trick or treat in “gaijin” (foreign) compounds. The lucky kids were those who had connections on to the US military bases. They were the kids who got real American candy from the States.
Some Japanese children are aware of the American tradition. One of my Japanese friends teaches English to children in Southern Japan. Her students asked if they’d get Halloween candy on October 31st. Her answer was an emphatic no. “This is Japan.”
Under the Tuscan Sun, 20th Anniversary Edition, Lemony Honey Lavender Glazed Japanese Yuzu Cake
Anniversaries bring reflection and hopefully celebration. Reading Frances Mayes’20th birthday edition of Under the Tuscan Sun delivered both reflection and celebration to this reader. Long before Under the Tuscan Sun was a blockbuster movie; I picked up the first edition of the book. Journeying with Mayes the first time was wonderful. Her poetic sentences in a prose book inspired me. As did the Italian people, recipes and landscapes Mayes encountered. The second read brought a deeper sense of wonderment as I lingered on each page Under the Tuscan Sun.
The first edition of Under the Tuscan Sun came out during the pre-iPhone era. Still, the spirit of the book holds steady in any age. Two decades after the original publication, the symbology of finding home and restoration is significant for many of us. The young Frances Mayes describes her post-divorce, new life and home restoration in Italy. She delves into dreams of angels and longings. Scorpions are (literally) cleared from her home. Mayes contemplates the influences of her Southern upbringing. Then, eloquently elaborates on the similarities between her Tuscany villa and her Southern home...
Yuzu is the elixir sought after by Japanese cuisine maestros. Like lemon, the Japanese citrus, brightens any savory or sweet. Just in case you’ve not been introduced, yuzu is the citrus cousin of lemon and lime. Yuzu produces a bigger pucker. Containers of yuzu juice line the pantries of home cooks to gourmet chefs in Japan. Yuzu liqueur is pretty spectacular, too. Think Limoncello. Just better. To quote the husband: “It’s just like spiked lemonade!”
Yuzu liqueur combined with cream cheese, tofu, custard powder and Cool Whip, a smooth dance of sweet and tart ensues. When poured on top of a Japanese Pocky crust, a cheesecake dessert diva is born.
Like a phantom leaving quiet clues and chills, autumn is once again a reality. Halloween, the celebration of ghosts and goblins is near. After departing platform 9¾ the magical train of time is heading for Harry Potter’s Hogwarts-esque world of Halloween tricks and treats.
Do you believe in magic? I do. Numerous complaints have been filed by friends stating “gluten-free products are not tasty!” Usually a logical list of complaints follow…..Until they bite into a Glutino gluten-free English muffin, pretzel, toaster pastry, cake or cookie. Upside down frowns suddenly turn into genuine grins. Usually a logical list of praises follow…
If you are a parent, you are the best authority on the subject of children and vegetables. But if you do need back pocket recipes for “one of those days”…You can make your children eat their vegetables in a cupcake!
You are probably aware that chocolate is a fantastic trickster. And chocolate cupcakes are the perfect hiding place for pumpkin. (Zucchini and spinach in brownies work well too.) The Great Pumpkin season is upon us in the US, so supermarkets sell pumpkin puree at reduced prices. Double win! Your child gets the nutritious value of vegetables and you save money!
If you can get your hands on Japanese miso, the protein-packed salty soybeans compliment the sweet chocolate. P.s. Skip the salt in a chocolate cupcake recipe if using Japanese miso. (For baking I’ve discovered white miso works the best.)
More good news: Pumpkin also works for yellow cake.