April 2007

A number of people have created accounts here to avoid the necessary evil to reduce spammers that is the CAPTCHA thingy. But you may have noticed that there was no way to actually log in. Oops. Now there is - on every page you should now see a login / register link. I'm still trying to figure out what additional benefits I can bring to registered and logged in users...but for now, if you are logged in, you'll no longer have to solve the math question.

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Cold noodles

Yesterday, I found out that one of the most talented sushi chefs I've ever known had died. He was still relatively young (in his 50s). He was at one time one of the itamae at the late, lamented Sushisay in New York.

The authorities are investigating the cause of his death. They have to do this, because his body was found in his bath, at least a month after he had died.

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Normally, all the junk mail we get goes straight to the trash. Not these things we got in our mailbox yesterday though.

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These are two full-size bars of Cailler (Nestlé) milk chocolate. No messing about with tiny sample sizes here.

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On rhubarb, stewed fruit and England

I first saw this curious plant called rhubarb during the time we lived for 5 years in Berkshire, England. I was 5 when we moved there. The rhubarb grew like a small jungle in a corner of the vegetable patch of the house we were renting, alongside some equally puzzling gooseberry bushes. Neither existed at all in Japan at the time, and my mother was at a loss as to what to do with them, until our next door neighbor lady told her how to stew them. The neighbor lady believed in stewing most fruit - she told my mother to stew or jam all of the raspberries too, since eating them raw may lead to upset small tummies. Thankfully my mother didn't take her advice for all of the raspberries, and I still have memories of stickily enjoying bowls and bowls of red, ripe raspberries with clouds of whipped cream. One of the first things I did when I got my own garden was to plant several raspberry canes.

Stewed and cooked fruit figures quite prominently in my memories of English food at the time. This was in the '70s. Whenever I was invited to tea at a friend's house, there was usually always some sort of cooked fruit dish, be it a compote of peaches in the summer or apple and blackberry pie later on in the year. I think we only ate fresh, raw fruit at home, except for bananas and strawberries. I didn't even know that gooseberries could be anything other than sour, green and only edible stewed with sugar, until I came to Switzerland and saw them left to ripen on a bush, turning a bright reddish-purple.

That penchant for cooking fruit does mean that there are many terrific fruity desserts (aka puddings) in British cookbooks. One of them is trifle. I'm in the midst of my annual rhubarb orgy period, and it's one 'fruit' (though it's botanically a vegetable) that needs to be cooked. Hence, the rhubarb trifle.

The slightly modernized trifle

A trifle is small pieces of sponge cake soaked in a sweet, fruity liquid, and topped with custard or cream. Some versions of trifle are quite alcoholic, but this one has no alcohol in it since I imagine my 8 year old self tucking into it. The components are simple: the fruit-liquidy mix, the cake, and the creamy topping. The key part that makes this trifle different is the rhubarb soaking liquid part, which is quite sour and not too sweet. I've added a few frozen berries (raspberries from last summer's crop in fact) to make the red color more intense - if you have fresh strawberries by all means use those instead.

Trifle is traditionally topped with custard, cream or both. Here I have combined the two so to speak and topped it with vanilla ice cream instead - this is the slightly modernized part. It's homemade but you can use a good store bought ice cream if you don't want to bother, or don't have an ice cream maker.

I think that the key to a good trifle is to not overload it with sponge cake, which makes it go rather stodgy. Add just a few pieces for the interesting texture. Note that I've used pieces of store bought roll cake here (called Swiss roll in England, but not really Swiss as far as I know) which adds some extra flavor. You can assemble it all in a big bowl, or in individual glasses as I've done here.

This is my pre-planned entry for Sam's Fish and Quips event celebrating British food. See also my other two British-theme posts this week, Tasting Guinness Marmite and The Edwardians and their food.

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uk

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BBC Four is running a series of program(me)s about the Edwardians, and two of those are about the food of the era. They have already aired but will be repeated several times as most BBC Four shows are. Both are well worth watching for anyone interested in food and history.

Edwardian Supersize Me is the showier of the two. Giles Coren, food critic for The Times, and TV presenter Sue Perkins lived the life of well-off Edwardians for a week, and ate like the Edwardians of the upper-middle class did - in Sue's case while wearing a corset. Their in-house meals were cooked by famed food writer Sophie Grigson, from an Edwardian housekeeping book, and they also ate out frequently since this was the era when restaurant dining became popular in England.

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tv
bbc
uk

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Back in February I reported on the new limited edition Guinness Marmite. Since then, the salty yeast spread connoisseur in me yearned to taste this mysterious combination. Parts of me panicked at the thought of it selling out before I had a chance at it.

Enter my friend Mimi to the rescue. She kindly procured not one, but four, yes 4, 250 gram jars of Guinness Marmite for me, which arrived in the mail today. My first reaction: "ZOMG, a kilo of Marmite!" (That's about 2.2 lb for the metrically challenged.)

Calming down, I proceeded to inspect it in detail.

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uk

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I have a raging cold at the moment. Stuffed head, fever, ringing ears, streaming eyes, the lot. What makes it worse is that the weather is glorious outside, and here I am stuck inside, groaning a lot and feeling sorry for myself.

In times like this the only things I can even think about eating and drinking are fruity yogurt, juices, and tea. This smoothie, which is an adaptation from a recipe in the adorable Innocent Smoothie Recipe Book, combines two of those elements and is tart yet spicy in a nice chest-clearing sort of way. It also tastes wonderful. Although, I'm pretty sure it would taste even better if my mouth didn't feel like cotton wool.

It's a good thing I took this picture against the clear blue spring skies before the cold took over at full steam.

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Some recipes come about from long experimentation and several tries to try to perfect them (like those darned bunnies, or my ongoing attempts to make natto at home). Others just seem to happen. We had a bunch of bananas that were rapidly turning very brown and spotty on the kitchen table. I froze some (nothing like frozen bananas as treats), and turned some into a cake.

It's nothing fancy at all - it's basically a pound-cake like base (but with a bit less sugar), with added cut-up bananas. The coconut part was added on a whim also. The cake doesn't rise much, probably because of the bananas, but it's moist, not too sweet, and very comforting. It's perfect with a cup of tea.

So far in my life I've not had the opportunity to go to Hawaii (unless you count a short layover en route from LA to Tokyo) but I sort of imagine that this cake would not be too out of place there.

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Reader Nanette has posted a great question here, about hosting a fund-raising green tea tasting party for a large group (50 people). I had to think about this for a bit, and here are some of the ideas I have come up with.

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tea

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