Monthly Archives: April 2013

POCKY!

pocky

Press This -> “Anatamo Watashimo Pocky!” (“you and I are Pocky!”)

If it is Japanese and my son happens to spot it (and believe me he is always on the lookout!) it will most definitely make it’s way into our shopping basket at least once. Then, if it gets rave reviews, it usually earns a permanent place in the pantry. This is how Pocky found it’s way into our lives and into our greedy hearts!

pocky

Pocky: a chocolate covered plain biscuit – pure and addictive.

It is a very simple thing, but when you combine two tried-and-true staples it is hard to go wrong – at least when it comes to chocolate (in my opinion anyway!). I will admit to being the kind of food shopper who is completely won over by a really great display of fresh herbs and I can spend a lengthy amount of time staring at a glass case full of confections of any kind, giving in according to my mood and how much money I have to spend on trivialities. Combing the shop for Japanese sweets was never part of my routine until my son discovered his love for all things Japanese at about the age of four and it hasn’t relented or waned into Teenagedom  (can you say that? I’m sure not  – ha).

jhy

Very sweet pink box with delicate strawberry cream that is irresistible.

This is another thing I love about being in the company of my two children. They get ecstatic about things I either never knew existed or about things I thought I had no interest in whatsoever, that is until I become infected by their pure and utter enthusiasm for whatever the “thing” happens to be. Some of the stuff is short-lived and not worth investing any of my precious time but over the years I have learned when to sit up and pay attention. Even little things like the skinny-sticked Pocky are worth it when it plays a part in the kind of relationship I have with my kids – yes, corny and sappy is the road I happily take when it comes to my kids!

jyg

The Japanese love their Pocky with an ice-cold glass of water!

What is this Pocky anyway (pronounced po-ki): well if I grew up in Japan it seems it would have been as iconic a thing to me as what?: Cadbury’s chocolate to me and possibly Hershey Kisses to American kids. It is a slim plain snappy biscuit covered in a thin assortment of chocolate or creamy flavors. The first one came out in 1966 and was chocolate which is my absolute favorite. The box is bright and fun and is probably the reason my son was drawn to it in the first place.

pocky

Pocky that are in my pantry right now!

Over the past five decades the Japanese have made countless different flavors and even themed versions like “Decorer Pocky” which sports stripes, and one that amuses me called “Men’s pocky” which has a richer bittersweet chocolate! The ones that are available to me here in the United States are nothing to what is readily available in Japan. I can find dark chocolate (alas no “Men’s Pocky” to be found!), milk chocolate, strawberry cream, almonds and chocolate, salted chocolate and a mint. I will need to go to Japan (and I fully intend to!) to get my hands on things like mango, green tea, azuki bean, soy bean, black sesame, goka, and coconut to name just a handful!

jg

I love a half-dozen of these little sticks with a cup of coffee: dip then into the hot liquid and they literally melt in your mouth!

They are also fun to eat. You can take two bites and it’s gone or you can eat it like my daughter, in one long succession of tiny chipmunk-like bites! 

Dear Little Pocky

Dear Little Pocky

So the mission is to scour your supermarket or Asian Shop for a box of these addictive delights.

I will leave you on this NOTE ! (press to play)

“SALT LOVE”

I thought I would celebrate my 600th post (I know, right!) with a confession. What I want to talk about is an ingredient that people are told to shun left and right – not me however: I love salt!

Sea-salt flakes (Maldon & freshly ground black pepper

Salt (Maldon flakes)

Most people are horrified when I take a pinch of salt and promptly put it into my mouth.  My reason for ignoring their admonishment is simple: I feel that if I crave salt then my body must literally be crying out for it – I can’t ignore a cry for help!

Fine grain Celtic Sea salt

Fine grain Celtic Sea salt

If I were to play the word-association game and I was given the world “salt!”, what would be the first image that came blasting to the forefront of my mind? Let’s try it shall we: “Tess” (you would say), “What?” (I would reply), “SALT” (you would shout) to which I would shout back, “my Grandmother ” and “Saxa Salt” All very explainable (read on!) and I must admit that this “Jung psychology” may have worked on me in that I thought I would have come up with something a little more evolved considering I think so highly of this glorious and restorative seasoning and medicine.

Maldon salt

Maldon salt – If I could only have one salt; this would be it!

Going to my grandmother’s house was a frequent outing when I was growing up. All eight of us would pile (literally) into our mini (Mini Cooper in the United States – plain old “Mini” were I come from!) and travel the six miles to her farmhouse which was located about a 1/2 mile off the main road . It is funny to think now how short the distance was as my memory is of it being a miserably long journey. Now I realize this was probably due to the fact that I was squashed in the backseat and every second felt like an hour!

Mini Minor

MINI-MINOR! (used to fit 8, but now that’s illegal!)

Okay, I could digress as I have a great urge to talk about my grandmother and her house, but let’s leave that for the book shall we and stick to the salt association game. Her kitchen table always has two things on it, whether there was a meal going on or not: a cut glass sugar bowl (“with three stubby glass legs”, which my sister June pointed out to me when I talked to her about her memories of salt last night on the phone!), full of white sugar which always has a few lumps in it due to using the same spoon to scoop the sugar as to stir the tea, and, a little-cut glass salt dish also full to the brim, which also invariably harbored  little lumps of hardened salt crystals. I distinctly remember  my father and my uncles sitting down to dinner on Sundays and use their knives to scoop out an ungodly mound of salt onto the tip and store it on the edge of their plate where it was used to conveniently dip each fork-full of food before eating it.
A little something to stop peoepel from gnawing on the table leg while I was having fun in the kitchen..

There is nothing like several pinches of salt with a hot boiled potato

The other word that sprang to mind was “Saxa” (pictured below as I remember it in the 1970’s). Saxa salt was first sold in 1907 and is still on grocery shelves today. It always sat in the middle of our table at dinner time (breakfast and tea time too no doubt) and by the time this large plastic container of salt was used up, the yellow and white label would become faded due to frequent handling! The salt spout was large and every one of us was an expert at tipping it over quickly towards our plate and not pouring until we each had  a tiny white pyramid and we did this before ever tasting our food. I had no idea that this was insulting to our mother by presuming she had not seasoned the dish correctly. She was never offended as she knew only too well that there was always a penchant for a little more salt no matter how much of it she saw fit to use!

SAXA SALT (the way it looked in the 1970’s)

There was no knowledge of salt being bad for certain people pron to certain health conditions so it was used freely and often. It rescued many a bland dinner and the majority of the time was the only seasoning on hand. At that time and for a long time later I had no idea how many different kinds of salts there were in the world. I grew up loving a common fine-grained table salt, so you can imagine how excited I was to discover how huge the world of salt really was.

Salt on my counter top at the moment (it changes frequently as i run out and as I discover more!)

Salt on my counter top at the moment (it changes frequently as i run out and as I discover more!)

My love for salt has not diminished even with the new-found knowledge of how it can be a downright killer if overused. I am more taken with the fact that you can also die if you don’t get enough of it. I love the whole history of salt and the hundreds of ways it is harvested, stored and used, (I had better not go down that road or this post will never end!). I just cannot imagine the culinary world without it! Have you ever tasted something that was near perfect but no matter how you seasoned it, the taste was still not right…that is not until you added a few grains of the perfect salt and then WOW – something amazing happened and all was right with the world again!

Some of the salt selcection in Kalustyan's in New York city

Some of the salt selection in Kalustyan’s in New York city

The Crappy Kitchen may have only one counter-top from which to cook from, but that hasn’t stopped me from filling it up with dishes of salt for liberal abuse. Right now I have the following varieties: Maldon Sea Salt flakes (always), fine ground Celtic Sea Salt ( I used this for mixing into my mashed potatoes, my scones and sprinkling on homemade popcorn), Sicilian Rock Salt (you might know that I’m in love with most things Italian), Gueronde’s Grey Course Salt (having anything French in the kitchen is imperative), and Dulse Seaweed Salt from Maine (procured from my favorite place to buy condiments in NYC, Kalustyan’s). Because they are within easy reach, I tend to use them all and doing this has helped me to discover how to take best advantage of each of their unique qualities.

two salt that i picked up that day in NYC!

Two salt that I picked up that day in NYC!

I used to think that salt just tasted like “salt” but now I see that what part of the world it comes from, and how it is harvested and stored really plays a big part in how it tastes and how it compliments our food.  Growing up only knowing Saxa Salt closed so many flavor doors I never knew existed. That of course is not to say that Saxa Salt does not have a place in my kitchen or in my heart but nowadays it is loved in the company of other great salts.

the piece de resistance

The piece de resistance is salt clinging to the egg topper! (just for June x)

Maldon is a great finishing salt and brings out the brightness and flavors of a cooked dish while something like the Dulse Seaweed Salt is great for seasoning meat for strong dishes like stews and long-cooked braises. This might all seem way too complicated but I assure you, if you knew me you would know that it doesn’t take an expert to figure all of this stuff out. The only requirement is that you have to like spending a little part of your day hanging out in the kitchen making something pleasing for you to eat everyday.

There is nothing better on Fish and Chips that a heavy-handed doucing of salt!

There is nothing better on Fish and Chips that a heavy-handed dousing of salt! (lunch at the Saltee Chipper in Wexford, Ireland)

If you only have the ubiquitous variety of ground salt from your childhood or from the generic section of your supermarket I suggest you break free and try at least two others, and I guarantee your food will become happier for it. If I had to suggest two, it would be Maldon Sea-salt flakes or Fleur de Sel and Fine Ground Celtic or Italian Sea Salt.

Crispy Lemon Fried Smelts

The only dressing this little fried fish cried out for was some flaky finishing salt

Find your salt love!

Blood Type A “Diet Experiment” Update AND A STRONG Word About “Diets” !!

Firstly I have to admit that just before starting this (and right now!) I am breaking my diet and eating a warm chocolate chip toffee cookie that just came out of the oven. I swore when I put them in I wouldn’t break down, but then I thought about that “woman” trying on earrings in Tiffany’s, that expensive pair of Dolce Gabbana shoes in Henri Bendel, or eyeing the pastries at the window of Laduree, and I found myself saying what she said, “what the hell, you only live once” and I grabbed a gooey cookie and didn’t utter another word until it was gone, crumbs and all!

Nothing like having a plate of warm cookies to nibble on after dinner.

The Cookies I break down for every now and again and don’t feel a modicum of guilt about!

No, I am not on that kind of diet, the one where the word “diet” means to most people a thing you do for a block of time to loose weight. It is used more specifically to mean the food I eat on a daily basic: my actual diet! I suppose you could say my Life Diet.

I am not a big believer in changing your diet to loose weight and then when you are happy with what the scale says, you invariably revert back to your old eating habits. I mean, what’s the point? Doing that would drive me crazy.

Tofu & Spinach Curry with Avocado Fan

Tofu & Spinach Curry with Avocado Fan (a vegetarian dish i got everyone to love!)

We are vulnerable creatures with weak resolve  (not knocking this, just a fact) which is why there are so many people on “diets” of one kind or another. I am a practicable woman who is aware of her weaknesses and therefore have decided to build them into my life as part of me – like not worrying or fretting over that chocolate chip toffee cookie I just ate!

The Blood Type Diet I am on  (read diet experiment to find out more) is a complete overhaul of everything I eat and hones in on what is recommended for my blood type, which is A+. There are four main blood types, O, A, AB and  B and each blood type, according to the theory of eating what the generations and generations of people with these blood types have been eating for thousands of years, I am sticking to what the “A’s” began eating. The A’s came from the time when meat was getting scarce and people started to sustain themselves on more of a vegetarian diet. This led to the theory that this food is probably still the best choice for this blood type, and somehow that logic makes sense to me. And, after 1 1/2 years on this diet I am more than convinced that this theory is correct.

This might seem far-fetched to some people but I would rather be guided by something that appears for all intents and purposes an intelligent idea than what I read on a big billboard on my way home yesterday that said, “FREEZE ME SKINNY” Really – come on, how do people fall for such crap? Diet inventing companies sit around all day long coming up with how to give people the instant cure where there is absolutely no onus on the dieter to do a lick of work to achieve their goal of losing weight. Companies are making millions on desperate people who want a magic solution to something that is so easily remedied for Zero $$$.

The one thing that most people lack is motivation, and, should I say this out loud?…. some people are bone lazy. Yes, it requires a little thought and planning, but who told everyone who wanted to loose weight that they had to eat salad all day long! I grew up in Ireland in a time when there were no fast food restaurants, no convenient fuel stations with instant food that you could eat in the car to and from work, and where half (or more) of the supermarket aisles were filled to the brim with prepared food (mind you, Ireland is as bad as everyone else at this point were instant food is concerned).

Serve in bowls and eat with chopsticks or a big spoon!

Five spice Pork Stir-fryanother great dinner

All of this of course made it easier to stick to eating home-cooked meals which were, by and large, made with fresh ingredients (although my mother was fond of using packaged soups as an easy way to boost the flavor of anything that appeared bland!). I grew up in an Ireland where I rarely saw an overweight parson, and when I did it was usually from drinking too many pints (of beer that is) and not from eating too many potatoes! Things have changed in that regard and I’m afraid with “prosperity” came fast and easy foods for people who were too busy with work to bother watching what they fed themselves. What a shame as now the country has a pretty big problem with obesity numbers rising every year. In fact the number of overweight people in Europe has tripled since the 1980’s and a great number of these people are children!

serve

A dinner any kid would love – Gigot Lamb stew

Our poor children are the victims. They trust the adults in their lives are doing the right thing: they trust their parents, their school who provides lunches and the companies whose target market are kids – they trust that these people and institutions have their best interests at heart – but do they, do we care enough? According to the numbers: apparently not!

In England the chef Jamie Oliver turned the school lunch program around and it has made a significant difference. We all know what to do, so why don’t we do it. The logic is so simple, it is embarrassing. If we tell our children what is good, they will believe us! I have kids, I know. I told them that places like McDonald’s (and so many more like them) are serving the food that make people fat (yes, fat!) and they believe me. I told them sparkling drinks are full of sugar and do nothing to quench your thirst, and that most (yes, I know not all) fast food and convenience foods are full of things that are not doing your body any favors in the long-term, like hydrogenated oils, sweeteners, nitrates, trans fats, high fructose corn syrup, dyes, msg, should I go on? These kids will do the same to their kids because they won’t know any better and the cycle will continue.

This lowly sandwich takes on a whole new meaning whne made iwth locaaaly grown in-season food.

This lowly BLT sandwich takes on a whole new meaning when made with locally grown in-season food.

I firmly believe that with a little guidance and a concerted effort things could change. This of course would not make the “pushers” of revolutionary diets and diet pills happy – it is a gazillion dollar industry and unfortunately we seem to love money more than we love ourselves or our children. We have let everyone but ourselves dictate what we put into our bodies because we don’t have the time, don’t really care, or trust that the people making our food have our best interest at heart. The person responsible should be you and you alone. Educate yourself about what is good and what is bad. It really doesn’t take that long to figure out that cooking something as simple as a roast chicken at home is better for you than ordering a pizza loaded with toppings or sticking a pasta microwaveable dinner in the oven. It also doesn’t take a rocket scientist (or diet and nutrition expert) to figure out that drinking a glass of water over a can of coke actually alleviates your thirst.

HOT salad!

Salads don’t have to be boring! (Mexican Salad)

The big part is saying “no” to those things, and I know this is the toughest thing of all. We don’t want to deprive ourselves, but think about what you will be saying no to? You will be saying no to feeding you and your family unhealthy food that can most certainly lead to weigh problems triggering more serious health problems down the road, like diabetes, heart disease, depression, to name just three. According to The National Center for Health statistics 63% of Americans are overweight  – this is an insane number and don’t get me started on what this does to health care costs!

I know I am not a doctor or health specialist in the field of nutrition but most people who are responsible for feeding their family on a daily basis are not either so we most certainly can have an opinion on the matter. I have the daily task of feeding myself and my family and I think all of us who have this responsiblity (which is absolutely everybody) should try to at least cut out some of the bad and replace it what we know to be good and healthy. You don’t need to be a nutritional expert, you just have to care enough to do it.

Cook for 3 hours at 275*

There is no need to avoid beef if it makes you feel good!

Okay – my Blood type A diet is as I have said a logical diet for me to follow and I started it not to loose weight, but to feel better. Lots of times when I thought I was eating the right foods they made me feel bad, like every time I ate potatoes I got a stomach ache and red meat just made me downright ill. These foods are not any cause for weight gain when eaten in the right proportion and cooked correctly, so for someone else they are great foods. For me they are not, so I have used my Blood Type A guidelines (which recommend me not eating those foods) and eliminated them from my diet. Did doing this help my poor tummy? – it did in fact, so now I avoid these foods (and the others on my list) and I feel great.

I don’t think of it as a diet at all. I just steer clear of what I should avoid and eat everything else. I look at what I can eat in a positive way and cook whatever I want. When I want to break down and eat something that might have an ingredient that is on my avoid list (like butter in the cookies) I don’t worry about it and just don’t go overboard or spiral into a guilty depression afterwards. The worst thing about the word diet is that it makes you think you are depriving or punishing yourself. People go to extremes when they are on their “diet” of choice – like the time my friend wanted so badly to eat a french fry and went through agony watching this woman at another table eating a plate of them. I told her to order some and eat a few, but she just said she had to wait until she had reached her goal and then promised herself she would down a whole boatload as a reward! And this is the real problem with diets: torturing yourself and then going to the other extreme when the diet is over. Like I said, build the bad stuff you like into your diet and you will never have to be on a diet again.

My CSA Crop share this week!

There is nothing like fresh local veggies! Most little towns have Farmer’s Markets nowadays – you should get yourself to one!

I know that we are all different and each body responds to foods in their own unique way. So, learn how your body works, even if you have to write it down in a notebook, like:” I ate an orange and my stomach felt queasy”, or “I ate a slice of meatloaf and I got heartburn” If you then avoid those things it won’t take you long to build up an “avoid’ list. Anyway, that is sort of what I did and it works for me. If you read the blog you will see that I love all kinds of foods and I still cook meat dishes for my family (which I of course try a little of for taste and flavor) but I love feeling good more than the pleasure I get from eating a bowl of something that I shouldn’t so I just avoid it and feel happy all the way around. Just because I don’t eat meat or tomatoes (both on my avoid list) doesn’t mean they are not beneficial to someone else: in other words, these one size fits all diets will never work right across the board so try honing in on how you respond to food. Just because Jennifer Aniston mixes raw flax seeds into her cereal in the morning doesn’t mean it’s what you should do! I know deep down we know what our bodies don’t like so all we have to do is pay attention.

lots of peppers from my garden & from next door!

 I really only have a patch of a garden but I still mange to grow vegetables that I like when it’s the season – i swear I’m even a pretty dismal gardener but stuff just seems to grow anyway!

The other thing is exercise. I will be brief. I think exercise is a really great thing but it is another case of one size not fitting all. You need to do something you like or you will never keep it up and I firmly believe you can loose weight by changing what you eat and by NOT exercising. I know this is a crazy thing to say seeing as all we ever hear is Diet & Exercise, Diet & Exercise, but really the food bit is the most important. If you concentrate on eating right you will lose weight faster than if you eat that snickers bar and not worry because you are going to run it off afterwards. The whole “running it off” theory is a bit ridiculous as to get rid of that snickers bar you would have to run anywhere from 2 to 4 miles depending on your weight and how fast you ran. Eating crap and then running it off defeats the purpose. I say, start with the diet and I mean the diet for life diet and then find something active you like to do and do it in moderation. If you like to dance: dance, if you like to swim: swim, etc etc Remember that eating foods that are toxic to your system are just plain old bad for you and exercise is not a remedy for that – avoid eating bad stuff!!!

a nice drizzle of lemon sugar finishes this little cake to perfection.

I don’t believe in avoiding sweets altogether – things like this Baby-Bundt Cake can be enjoyed sensibly.

The bottom line is that obesity is killing people and this worries me, especially seeing children under the age of 12 with weight-related diseases. It makes me so upset to watch parents and other people in authority, like school cafeterias, feeding children food that will eventual be the cause of a lifetime of problems and bad eating habits. We need to start cooking again and it doesn’t take as much time as you think. It is time that should never be thought of as a burden or a torment. It is you life you are talking about and as I said at the beginning of this piece, “what the hell, you only live once”, so make it a healthy happy one.

My heavenly lunch (truely)

This is the kind of beach lunch that I enjoy – Bon Appetit Everyone!