August is a harsh mistress.
We met some of the most wonderful people ever in Japan, people I miss all the time. Mr and Mrs K are our Okinawan parents. That was once a joke, but I absolutely believe they were and are our adoptive parents. We adore them like we do our parents, anyhow.
The K family fed us, drove us around when we sold our car in our final days in Okinawa, taught us Japanese and translated things, taught us how to cook Japanese and Chinese dishes in their home, introduced us to people, sang karaoke with us, dressed me in the most beautiful kimono and hakama for my student’s graduation when I returned to Japan last March… they are amazing people.
The amazing generosity continued over Christmas when we received a large box in the mail from them. Although I wanted to tear into it right in the post office, I controlled myself and waited until I got home before opening the box together with Mr M.
I was crying as I unpacked all of the amazing items within. Favourite Okinawan candies, katsuobushi (かつおぶし,) miso soup mix, ready-to-make chirashizushi (ちらし寿司) kits, a beautiful scarf for me from Mr K’s travels to India and … most amazing of all, 3kg of Japanese rice and the most amazing obi.
Dumbstruck, I am still unsure how to ever give appropriate thanks for such a gift. The shipping alone was shocking, but the bounty of treasures inside that box, and the feast we had on them made us long to eat with Mr and Mrs K so much. It was as close to sending themselves in a care package as we could ever hope to get.
I made the rice into chirashi shortly after we received the gifts. I had to look up and confirm the instructions for the chirashizushi bowls online, to make sure the packets went in at the right times and in the right amounts. Here’s a really cool look at how they make these ready-to-go kits so well.
The silken obi was extended for photos ONLY, and Mr M prepared the miso soup in the set of bowls we received from the K family, which were a gift for the year of the rabbit.
Such a delicious meal. This post is actually rather timely as chirashizushi is often eaten during hinamatsuri, which is a festival earlier in March! Thank you, Mr and Mrs K for the box of love. It was like you were here with us. We miss you so much.
PS: I did not take a picture of the arrival, but thank you also to Tamara who sent us an amazing box of Japanese treats, also at Christmas. Inside: goma (black sesame) pudding, Kirin World Kitchen (世界のKitchenから) special edition Salty Lychee drink (one of Mr M’s favourite beverages, and so so hard to find!), a favourite kind of mints and of course: Coco Curry House pickles (福神漬), the best! Maybe I’ll do a post on Japanese curry sometime.
It’s been oh-so-long since I posted about food matters on here, so I made sure this one was worth your while. Two of my best friends, D+J, are magical friends who happen to share a birthday. Well, almost. They are a day apart, but it works out so well because we have an excuse to celebrate their birthday in big style every year. For us, this means feasting. A lot of feasting.
I don’t really consider cakes within my repertoire of baked goods. Cookies? Absolutely. Pies – for sure, and getting better all the time. Cupcakes, yup. But cakes – nope. Probably because baking a cake for two people is just an invitation to early onset diabetes. And I don’t love cake THAT much, probably because I’ve had one too many slices of Costco slab cake at work parties. Hell, even at my wedding, we did a dessert table of small Whole Foods cakes because fondant gives me the shivers and even thick buttercream kind of disgusts me.
But, I’m always interested in learning something new, and last year I made a cake for D+J’s birthday that, to be honest, left a little to be desired. It was a riff on the 11 layer Smith Island torte, and I ended up doing 8 layers because it just got too crazy after 6 and 8 was pushing it.
I did not think to level it, and my ganache frosting was thick in some areas, thin in others. In transport from Canmore to Calgary (in a milk crate because I’m an adult, god dammit) it kind of began to tilt. Oops. Still delicious though. And obviously, lots of room for improvement, which is great.
Last year’s cake carrier set-up
I have always been obsessed with all things ombré and love the look of heavy applications of sprinkles, so this year I decided to make a basic vanilla cake with buttercream. I did this all without a KitchenAid or even a hand mixer (stupid, stupid) and without a cake leveller, but everything worked out well.
I think the cake was a bit too buttery and sticky as I prefer crumbier cakes, so I might change up the cake base recipe. Also futzing with the red food dye was the worst and I am going to be investing in gel if I ever do this again as I looked like I had an election red-inked finger.
I worked with two different batches of batter, the first one doing the yellow and lightest pink, adding the food colouring a drop at a time. Three for the lightest pink, and 12 for the darkest. It was easy to get the color gradient, although I likely would go darker with the red base layer next time, even if I need to add cocoa to get it to go dark dark red. The two bottom pinks kind of shade together, I think.
Levelling the cake layers was serious business, obviously.
Even without a mixer for the buttercream, it really was a dream to work with. The butter added richness and the shortening kept it light and also very white in color. 2 entire pounds of icing sugar, but never you mind that. Birthdays are meant to be icing sugar heavy, right?
7 minutes plus another 7 whipping it by hand at each stage. Those calories burnt during manual whipping and creaming just allow you to sample as much icing as you like though. Right?
And also thanks to YouTube I now know how to level a cake, dam, fill and crumbcoat it before icing, then douse it in sprinkles. Although it turns out rolling probably is the better way than the press and pack method I did.
I upgraded this year! No more milk crate, instead, a bankers box to transport the cake to Calgary!
The moment of truth! I was way too excited to see the inside, as there was no way to judge how it looked until that moment. As you can see, the two bottom layers kind of look the same.
It is no doubt I will be finding sprinkles all over my kitchen until 2015, but it was worth it and the cake both looked pretty and tasted okay, too. Happy birthday, D+J!
I feel like this blog is in a bit of limbo – I lack the follow through to post about restaurants in D.C., let alone ones left untouched from our final weeks in Okinawa in December 2011. I have been cooking a lot, but nothing is really that imaginative or incredible enough to blog about.
I spend most of my day researching, absorbing, inhaling material and knowledge required for my other blogs, mixed with watching Star Trek on Netflix, leaving little time to think about my own personal stories and life. And are blogs even about personal stories anymore? Didn’t that kind of stop with monetization of said blogs? (Okay, rhetorical questions here. Stay with me.)
So where am I? Where is this blog going?
Crazy White Girl with a Kitchen (née Keyboard) has been around in various forms for over a decade. Where will it be a year from now?
But before I address the future, what about the past? What have I done in the last year? In 2012 I arrived home from Asia, and lived in my parents basement for some time. I still feel the rage at our current landlord scoffing at my rental application: “But your current address is at your parents house…”
Well, yes – would you rather I live in a cardboard box between moving home from overseas and trying to move into a new town? THE RAGE.
But, I digress.
We spent some time reconnecting with Edmonton, marvelling at the new restaurants and burgeoning new food scene, loving the nostalgia. Then things got hectic – we moved to the mountains in May, had several visitors, I went on a serious road trip with my parents, applied for and got a UN internship, moved to DC in August, made new friends and celebrated old ones in Vegas in December and then suddenly it was January and I wasn’t sure what to do with myself.
I got a part-time temporary job that filled a hole in an awkward way, but then I packed up and went back to Okinawa and Las Vegas for a few weeks. In many ways it cauterized the wound left by leaving there so suddenly. I shook 261 hands of the wonderful former students now moving onto high school, spent some amazing time with old friends, ate some food I’ve been longing for over the past year and spent a lot of time thinking. Where will I be next year? Next month? Who will I be?
This past year has not gone how I thought it would at all. But then I realized I did not really have a plan for this year – it was mostly to be spent thinking about what I wanted to do. Instead I just started to DO those things. Turns out sleeping in everyday and playing video games in your PJs gets more boring more quickly than you thought and you’ll do pretty much anything to escape it.
I have found some things that drive my day though, and one of those things is work. And in Canmore, there is work, but it’s not really the kind of work I want to be engaging in, I’ve discovered. (Not that there is anything wrong with folding towels or slinging coffee or working a till, I’m just – past that stage. I think.)
So what’s a girl to do? I love the outdoor lifestyle here, even if I think I could take advantage of it more. Although taking the trash out and seeing a herd of elk ten steps from your door is kind of amazing.
I love being close to my friend Kenny, but also miss friends in Edmonton and Calgary perhaps more than when I was further way. The guilt at being so close but not seeing them weekly is harder than surviving off of monthly Skype dates. I hope one day to see my friends further afield – there are so many. So many stops, so many dinners and drinks to be had, so many stories to recall and create. My parents are leaving Edmonton and heading for Thailand and Arizona. My home base, as temporary as it felt (and yet not – 17 years in one spot is no joke) is now closing up shop.
I love my home, my view, my kitchen, my husband. I love blogging about Las Vegas weddings. I love writing and communicating and most of all, I love hatching and nurturing ideas. My beautiful leather bound notebook is full of thoughts, brain farts, drawings, lists and ideas, glorious ideas, and I feel like there are a million bees in my head buzzing to get me to do things most days. This is a great feeling, if a bit overwhelming. As you can see, personal blogging is not really on the forefront of my mind these days.
So, where does this leave me? I’ve applied for jobs (my spreadsheet says 34) from Nairobi to Bangkok, Edmonton to New York. A few bites, two interviews, but nothing serious. Am I even ready to move again? Should I go back to school? 35 is approaching, and much faster than I care to admit.
The last two years have passed in the blink of an eye. I can’t bear to think of how quickly the next two will go. Does life ever slow down?
Although the Bow Valley has a large population of Japanese working and traveling through the area, the one place you can get a bowl of ramen at in Banff (Chaya) is just kind of ho-hum. It’ll do in a pinch, but it’s also a good 20 minute drive from Canmore.
Since coming home from my whirlwind trip to Japan in March (oh, I haven’t blogged about that, have I? Well, soon) I’ve been kind of obsessed with home cooking Japanese food. (And juicing, but more on that later.) I had to explain to a US customs officer on my trip home why I had 5 pounds of Japanese rice on me. “Can’t you just use Minute Rice?” he asked.
I’ve been making taco rice, Japanese curry, yakiudon and okonomiyaki and all sorts of stuff, trying to fill the void. Experimenting with different condiments, flavours, techniques.
However, the thing I am most proud of is my from scratch ramen which I made this week. Everything except the noodles and kamaboko or fish cake was made by hand. 5 pounds of chicken, turkey and pig parts were boiled for 18 hours to reduce into a creamy tonkotsu soup base.
I broiled then braised pork belly for three hours to replicate Okinawan rafute, a super tender, kind of sweet pork. It’s marinaded and slow cooked in mirin, awamori and soy, along with kokuto or Okinawan sugar cane brown sugar. I soft boiled then bathed eggs in a marinade to get ajitsuke tamago, the runny delicious eggs that accompany steaming bowls of ramen – that is, if you are eating it at any respectable place.
If I’m being honest, I’ll say that the broth had an excellent jellylike thick texture, but I really underseasoned it. But I think the thing that turned out the best was the rafute. It’s something that’s hard to find outside of Okinawa – not just in other parts of the world, also in Japan. I guess it’s similar to char siu pork that often tops bowls of ramen, but yet it’s not.
You should come by and try it sometime. I promise you’ll like it.
The broth at the start, in our biggest of big pots.
Bowl of bones, fat and other assorted parts after I was done boiling.
The delicious finished product.
From a young age, traveling around all the time, I’ve grown used to not saying good bye, just saying ‘so long.’ I live with the hope that I will see most people again in some way, and it’s paid off in unusual ways.
I first met Ron via his blog before I moved to Japan. It’s hard to find a unique voice that writes well in the sea of expats blogging on Japanese matters, but he definitely was one. He was real, he blogged about interesting stuff (living conditions, food, fashion) and he was prolific. And to add to the greatness, he was blogging from Okinawa, not far from where I would be living. I stalked his blog for some time and finally emailed him (or maybe Twitter DMd?)
When I arrived in Tokyo, I met some of the other JET teachers at the airport who were helping with the new teachers orientation, and met his girlfriend at the time. I’m pretty sure I creeped her out by running up to her (a familiar face through the blog, but we had never communicated at the time) and saying “HI I READ RON’S BLOG AND YOU ARE AWESOME, NICE TO MEET YOU” while shaking her hand really hard on the sky bridge from the Narita airport to our bus.
Over the next year and more, I had a few great times out with Ron. He took Mike and I to a great gyoza place, and we shared many a beer with him, and had a great pancake party that first fall after I arrived. I was worried for him as he changed jobs and looked for a new one, constantly on the verge of having to return home. But, he stayed, he 我慢’d (endured). Very Japanese of him.
Long story short, he’s actually from the D.C. area, and after a problem with a trip this summer, he finally made the voyage home this fall, so we hung out. It was great to see him, share a few (ok, many) brews and eat a few Costco hot dogs while he stocked up for his trip back to Okinawa. Lord knows I know what that is like.
God speed, Ron-sensei. I’ll miss you – but it was great seeing you again. Albeit in a place I never expected I would. Who knows the next crazy ass place we’ll see eachother?
Twice a year, the White House opens their gardens to the public for tours, once in the spring and once in the fall. Tickets are free, you just have to wait in line to get a ticket, then come back at the predetermined time on it to gain access. As the Canadian Embassy no longer helps you get access to the White House interior, this was as close as I was going to get, so I was up early on a Saturday to get a ticket. The early hour was worth it!
There are a number of tickets, as they let about 150 people or more through every half hour, starting at 9am and ending at 4pm.
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I took a number of photos of things like the West Wing, Rose Garden and the presidential putting green, but I was most interested in the First Lady’s vegetable garden. Only three first ladies have maintained veggie gardens at the White House throughout its history – Eleanor Roosevelt, Hillary Clinton and Michelle Obama have all had gardens on the property, but Michelle’s is the biggest.
There is a bee hive that produces honey for the White House…
There are 50 varieties or so of produce, and the harvest this year totaled more than 1,000 pounds, all of which is used in the White House. There is a wide range of items, from bok choy to salad greens, artichokes, tomatoes and more.
These were a special heirloom variety of bean, cultivated from Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello property. Hence the quote.
(Can you see the masses of people behind me? It’s a popular tour!)
This past weekend I visited Arlington Cemetery, too. I’ve been twice now, and I went specifically to catch some fall color before hurricane Sandy blows all the leaves away. It wasn’t as colorful as I had hoped, but there were still some shots to be made.
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I really like Arlington. It’s a powerful place, and huge. Over 400,000 people are buried there, over 12 acres I believe. I spent a lot of time at Section 60, which is the area where those who died serving in Iraq and Afghanistan are buried. It’s incredibly active, as families and loved ones visit those they have lost. I hope to return atleast one more time before I leave D.C.
Come with me on a tour of the World Bank’s cafeteria! If you aren’t familiar with the World Bank, it’s an international institution that loans money to developing countries to assist them with projects to fight poverty, improve health and wealth and stability.
If you mention The World Bank to most people in Washington, it’s likely that they will immediately mention the cafeteria. It’s legendary in D.C. circles. The main problem is that the World Bank, like many major buildings here, has heavy security. Because of this, you have to know someone who can “get you in.” As interns with the United Nations, we occasionally have to attend meetings in the building, so we were granted building passes a few weeks ago, which puts us in a special group of people who can access the fabulous cafeteria. What’s even better, our office is just a short jaunt from the place.
The day after finding that out, I was literally running down H Street towards the World Bank, so excited to see what waited. I had heard rumors of international food, fresh salads and wine. Could it be true?
After going through a screening and getting our photos taken for our security passes, we were finally inside!
I am in love with the typeface the World Bank uses.
The building houses some 6,000 employees at any time, plus those visiting on business…or just for lunch. From the outset it seems like a hospital cafeteria, but a little more futuristic. Also, the guy serving up lobster rolls at the entrance indicates there is something special inside.
You pick up a tray and real cutlery and head in. There are little booths selling all sorts of items, from a meatball bar (only on Fridays) to fresh salads, vegetarian African stews, an Asian noodle bar, a sushi bar, soups, wood fired pizza – and more. A protein grill has fresh cuts of salmon, chicken and steak ready to go when you decide what seasoning you want.
Fresh fruit, cheese and a variety of salads wait. (There was indeed wine at the tills if you wanted something to accompany your cheese platter.)
Another intern and I made a rookie mistake and beelined for the sushi. I mean, I was craving it, but it’s not the most value conscious item there. Especially when you can get a full three item Indian curry plate for $7, or a steaming bowl of pho for $6. But these sushi chefs were Japanese and the rolls were made to order. They also did chirashi bowls, nigiri sushi and sashimi.
This is the Indian bar, with fresh chutneys and naan. In addition to using real plates and cutlery as well as compostable take away containers, I read on another blog that they work their foods into leftovers, so these might have been made from yesterday’s salad bar.
Instead of packets of ketchup, there are dressing and seasoning bars featuring large communal bottles of Sriracha, soy, dressings and more. There are several recycle and compost bins near the tray drop off area. This IS the World Bank after all. Sustainability is one of their deals.
As you order, you will hear people order in other languages all around you – I heard French, Spanish, Mandarin and Japanese while I was there the other day. The servers switch back and forth as need be.
On top of it all, everything is fresh. These aqua frescas are made daily. Fresh grapefruit, orange and pomegranate are in coolers. The freshly squeezed juices go for $1.20-$1.85.
Dessert was varied, and although a little pricey, it was delicious. There’s even a serve-yourself frozen yogurt bar. The desserts and pastries change daily. There are theme days for the cafeteria as a whole – coming up on Halloween is Hawaiian days, and later in November a Mexican fiesta. The lobster rolls I mentioned at the top were just for that week because it’s the season here, apparently.
The dining area is huge – you can eat in the communal hall, near ancient doors from around the world mounted as art, standing at a bar, or on a bridge in the soaring atrium. Or back at your desk – every stand does food to go.
I got the eel roll (for some reason called the Vegas roll) with coconut agua fresca and carrot cake. It was really bang on.
A coworker got the African street food, and apple strudel. It was not as good as the carrot cake.
We took a stroll around after lunch, checking out the world flag wall and other interesting art and displays they have.
Lunching at the World Bank is going to be one of the many things I will miss about D.C. when I leave.
Multiple complaints of lack of blogging on this blog have been heard – and shall be rectified. (Especially following five days of delicious eats when Mike was visiting)
Until then, here’s a photo of me in front of the US Capitol. Tomorrow I’m off to the World Bank to pick up my security pass and have lunch at their amazing food court. Should be awesome!
It is completely amazing to me what a whirlwind this year has been. It began with packing up in Japan, spending time diving and meditating in Thailand, packing up in Edmonton while we picked a place to live in Canmore, a launch of a website I’ve been dreaming of starting for some time, a roadtrip across North America, a phone interview and then another move to Washington D.C. for an internship with the United Nations. I cannot describe to you the range of emotions the year has brought…so instead I will post some photos from D.C.
I’m living in a very vibrant area called Dupont Circle, just 15 minutes walk from work. There is a Whole Foods 7 minutes away, some amazing restaurants and food trucks steps from my door, excellent free museums and a zoo available due to the Smithsonian Institute’s wonderful system, and the weather has been great.
Hopefully there will be more to come soon!
A few weeks ago, Steve at Sobeys contacted me with probably the coolest offer I’ve ever gotten, and may ever get, at this small potatoes blog. He invited me to a look into the world of Sobeys taste testing at a “sensory workshop.” Despite the early 9am start time (requiring a 7:30 departure from Canmore) and the suggestion that coffee be avoided that morning for optimal taste bud operation I eagerly replied with a hearty “I’ll be there…and can my husband come too?”
The session was held at a hotel near the north side of Calgary, and a few of us had gathered to take part on that day, lead by the surprisingly chipper at that time of day John Hale. He’s an experienced Sensory Professional with many years put into taste testing and food science. He moved from England a few years ago to work with Sobeys to establish their testing facility and is currently their Directory of Consumer Care and Sensory. This role enables him to taste up to 3000 products a year using his panel of trained tasters. They work on tasting numerous products, from chili peppers to lemons and chocolate chip cookies. Sounds crazy, right?
John first walked us through the basics of tasting, and our abilities to taste things like sweet, sour, bitter and salt, in addition to the lesser thought of like fatty, umami and metallic. It was part science class, part comedy routine to be honest. John’s a great presenter, and is obviously very knowledgeable in the area.
Then we got down to business. After being asked not to drink coffee, wear strong scented products, lip balms or lipsticks that morning, we underwent our “supertaster screening.” It was basically a series of mini tests that ranked your ability to detect different flavours, recognize different scents, distinguish colours and describe products. You are scored out of a potential 175 points (“No one has ever scored that,” said John.) People who get 140 or higher could be asked to join the panel.
The first test was a sampling of six different liquids. They were one of the basic tastes – sour, sweet, salty or bitter … or just plain water. It’s a bit harder than you think, as they were solutions with quite a faint flavour. I mistook plain water for bitter – oops!
The next portion of the “exam” was smell. As the sense of smell plays such a strong role in taste, it’s important to have a good grasp of it. 10 bottles held 10 different scents, from the extremely easy and recognizable “vanilla” (or as another attendee at another workshop said: “my ex-girlfriend”) to the challenging…at least to some. I was completely stumped when it came to cinnamon, and only wrote down “BBQ smoke or meat” when it came to the distinctly meaty smelling instant beef noodle soup stock. One of the attendees got it right away. “I eat a lot of instant noodles,” he said sheepishly.
This scent test is quite important, as most of our ability to taste comes from smell – a whopping 85%!
And then the horrible triangulation test! We were given three glasses with some more clear solution in it, this time of lime. But the twist was that each glass had a slightly different concentration and formulation, so you had to taste them quickly, then pick the “odd one out.” John encouraged us to “go with our gut” and pick the one that jumped out the fastest. I felt pretty confident as I wrote down the number of the glass I felt was most unusual. Too bad I was wrong each time. This test in particular was to see if the potential taster has a powerful ability to pick up on citric acid, so the glass with the most acidic taste would jump out at them. It’s a sort of discrimination test, and it is one of the most important skills of a professional taster.
Finally we did a colour blindness test, and then wrote a short descriptive paragraph on our favourite food, so as to judge our ability to describe foods. That’s a pretty important part of being on a tasting panel. Your tongue is no good to market research if you can’t describe how those potato chips taste different than these ones.
After being marked (two of us would have been cut from panel, one would have made the regular panel and two others would have been on the super taster panel) we did a few other panel style exercises like describing an apple “Work from appearance through aroma, flavour and texture” was John’s suggestion and sampling soft vs. hard candy to taste flavour differences. We got some free swag in the form of some great new Italian sodas Sobeys has out (the grapefruit is really great with gin, just as they promised!). Considering the percentages are about 65% of Canadians being average tasters, 30% zero tasters and 5% supertasters, our group did pretty well.
Sobeys panels stretch from coast to coast…except for the prairies. The 80-some tasters range in age from their 20s to their 70s, and once they pass their initial screening, they attend a sort of tongue boot camp, where they learn to taste efficiently as well as describe products and tastes clearly. They attend a 12 person, three hour panel every few weeks run by John, mostly in Mississauga, where they may sample any kind of product on a given day, from a soda to yogurt or even something like limes.
While the gig is a paid one, it would not necessarily pay the bills, as you cannot work as a taster for a traditional 8 hour day. Still, the opinions of the panel are highly valued by Sobeys, and can shape a product dramatically. John gave an example where the Compliments house brand chocolate chip cookies were sampled and determined to be “too chocolatey.” So Sobeys cut the amount of chocolate in the cookies, the new product was shipped to stores…and customers agreed with the new product. Sales went up, and so did glowing reviews on the cookies.
John assured us that every product you take the time to complain about to the team at Sobeys is retested as some point, to find out how to make it perfect. Of the products the panels tastes, 80% will make it to store shelves. The other 20% will likely undergo more testing.
And Mr. Hale’s #1 tip for increasing your taste sensitivity? Avoid capsicum pepper! That means avoiding spicy foods as they can kill off tastebuds, and they take about two weeks to regenerate. You should also probably give up smoking, and avoid brushing your teeth and drinking caffeine within an hour of your meal.
Thanks for the super interesting morning, Sobeys. It was a pleasure!
If you are interested in learning if you are a super taster, you could always try this experiment at home. You’ll probably need a person to count and help you, though.
So, since I moved I’ve been keeping pretty busy. Mostly with cooking and getting another blog launched, but also with avoiding grizzlies and staring at mountains. And attending weird taste testings in Calgary.
BUT – that’s to come.
Until then, here are some of the nicer photos I’ve snapped in recent days of the mountains. These are all taken either from my house, or within five minutes walk of the front door. I feel so fortunate.
And here’s some pizza we made on our new BBQ.