offbeat

re-ment-girichoco.jpgAs I wrote about last year, Valentine's Day in Japan is fraught with social stress. Somehow, the chocolate manufacturers have managed to convince the whole society that a girl or woman can't just give chocolates to the ones they love. (And it's only the women who give chocolates in Japan on the 14th, not men, unlike other countries.) She must also give giri choco, or 'obligation chocolates', to people she 'owes'; bosses, teachers, and fathers-in-law.

Now you can see this kind of social giving in miniature! Re-ment, the maker of amazingly detailed diecast miniatures which I've also written about before, has this set of two types of chocolates: _Honmei or giri?!_ (Your real target, or obligation?!) The caption says this:

Chocolate. It's such a lovely, malleable substance. It can be shaped into anything really. Anything.

But, one wonders what kind of twisted mind came up with this idea...chocolate truffles shaped like kabutomushi (rhinocerous beetle) larvae!

Avert your eyes if you are squeamish. You may not want to read this while you're eating.

(If you're getting here from the front page, pause and breathe in deeply before clicking that 'continue reading'.

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The UK government is instituting an interesting school policy. Starting in September, cooking courses will be compulsory at schools in England. (I guess it's not for Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland yet?) It's part of their campaign against childhood obesity. (Read more about it on the Guardian Word Of Mouth blog.) It's a very appealing idea, though I'm not sure if it will accomplish their goals, if they aren't eating right elsewhere. But we shall see.

I had to take what were called kateika (domestic science) courses in Japan, in the 5th and 6th grades in elementary school and the first 2 years of junior high school. (In junior high it was for girls only; the boys got to do gijutsuka, which meant mostly building fun things. I wanted to do that more than the cooking and sewing!) I don't think we did a whole lot of cooking (I remember doing more sewing for some reason) but I do remember some of the things we made.

  • A basic vegetable soup - though bacon was used for the "dashi".
  • Rice with green peas (mame gohan)
  • Sweet potato paste with chestnuts (kuri kinton), a standard osechi (New Year's feast) item...except that the teacher couldn't get a hold of chestnuts so we had to use apples instead...so that was actually ringo kinton...
  • Some sort of freeform rock cakes or such
  • Pork and ginger buta no sho-ga yaki
  • For some reason, a fancy sole meunière
  • Sandwiches, the Japanese way - with soft white bread, mustard butter, the crusts cut off neatly, and the whole thing kept nice and moist (shittori) with moist kitchen towels!

I'm not sure if any of that was very useful - we never learned fundamental skills like how to wash rice, how to make a dashi, and so on. The only one that was useful was the sandwich class, so if I want to hold a tea party I'm all set! There were time constraints of course, which prevented the teacher from doing anything too complicated. I do remember that the classes were always chaotic - and we're talking about fairly well-behaved Japanese schoolkids! I wonder how the British teachers will fare.

Did you take cooking classes in school? If so, what did you learn? Do you think cooking classes are a good idea?

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A look at preorder New Year's feasts in Japan.

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I've been following a certain story in the UK with interest. A rich old lady died recently there, and in her will, she left her £10 million estate to the owners of her favorite Chinese restaurant. The family (actually her nieces and nephews) contested the will, as you might expect. On Friday, the High Court upheld the will.

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This hasn't been a good couple of weeks for me health wise. First there was the 'acute tonsilitis' thing (that is much better, thanks for your nice notes!) Now I have a self-inflicted case of Whisk Elbow. That's where you 1) forget to charge your cordless electric whisk, 2) have an uncontrollable urge to make some little almond cakes which use the classic French method of whipping the eggs with sugar over a hot-water bath until they become a foamy, lemony-yellow mass of heaven, and 3) do it by hand with a wonky whisk. Now I have shooting pains from my elbow running down my forearm.

The moral of this story: When you have a cake urge, and your electric equipment is kaput, don't be a hero. Go to the store and buy one. Something to remember if you'll be doing a lot of holiday baking and your muscles are not trained up for heavy-duty whipping. (eh...)

(And by the way, no I do not own a KitchenAid. Whenever I look at one, I see the price - they cost more than 650CHF (about US $580) here - and think: For that I could go away for a nice weekend in, say, Aix-en-Provence, or Florence, or Strasbourg, or even Paris. I'd rather do that anytime! And so I do. Whenever I feel the urge for a quick getaway, I go look at a KitchenAid mixer, and make do with my cheap electric whisk.)

On a much happier note, there are already some great responses to the book giveaway mini-contest. Come and share your own food memories too, for a chance at a great book!

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Keep reading I have whisk elbow →

We had a major spillage accident in our refrigerator today, which required removal of all shelves and drawers. So I took the opportunity to give everything a wipe and wash and re-organize.

The end result was rather enlightening.

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The sister site to Just Hungry got discovered by several sites overnight (while I was not at the computer, as always happens in such cases) and the traffic went up about 100 x, mainly thanks to it being on the del.icio.us popular page for a while. I haven't even 'officially' launched it in my mind, since I am occasionally breaking it by fiddling with the engine (Drupal, for the technically inclined) in the background, but it's very gratifying to know that people are interested in the subject. I think it must be timely.

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tv

I am a usually a big fan of the Italian design firm Alessi, who make, besides other things, all kinds of cool, funky and expensive kitchen gadgets. However, this Mr. Chin line of kitchen timers and other gadgets made me wonder, what were they thinking.

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There's quite a lot of slightly matted plush fur flying in Britain this week over the new Marmite TV ad, which features the lovable Paddington Bear, devotee of marmelade sandwiches, tucking into a Marmite sandwich. It made so much of a furor that it even made the evening news on the BBC yesterday. Paddington Bear creator Michael Bond has been accused of selling out and for supplying the script for the commercial (he has denied both). There have been dozens of news stories and editorials devoted to it (my favorite headline is What Next, Rupert Bear in Burberry?).

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