Saturday, April 27, 2013

Maple Leaves and A-Bombs


A couple weeks ago I posted the recipe for okonomiyaki, the Japanese pizza/pancake for which Hiroshima is well-known. I think I possibly made my visit to that city sound light-hearted and enjoyable (which it most certainly was) but as you would probably be aware, everything has not always been rosy for the capital of Hiroshima prefecture.

8:15am on August 6, 1945: the US Air Force became the first country to employ nuclear weapons as an item of war. Looking at the city today, it’s hard to believe that 70 years ago there existed nothing but rubble. The only reminder of the atrocities of that day is the Hiroshima Peach Memorial Park that lies at the centre of the city, a location which was once the city’s busiest commercial and residential district. The buildings that were once there were levelled in the bomb blast and today there are a number of museums, memorials and monuments in their place. These include the famous A-Bomb Dome, the skeleton of the former Industrial Promotion Hall and a concrete protest against the use of nuclear weapons. Another famous monument is the Children's Peace Monument that is dedicated to the children directly and indirectly killed or affected by the bombing. It's construction was inspired by the true story of Sadako Sasaki, a 12 year old girl who believed she would be cured of her leukaemia (caused by radiation from the bomb) if she folded a thousand paper cranes. Her story, and the story of many others, are detailed in the museums that are scattered around the park.

The A-Bomb Dome: a concrete protest against the use of nuclear weapons.

School children pay their respects at the Children's Peace Monument 

A view of the Memorial Cenotaph and A-Bomb Dome from the museum.


Frozen in time: a pocket watch recovered from the rubble, the hands stuck at precisely at 8:15 am. 
It was very surreal for me to visit this place after many years of reading about WWII and the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Standing in from of the Dome, it was like I had been transported into the pages of my textbook. It was surreal. 

The various exhibitions at the main museum also left me lost for words. Possibly the most powerful item was the pocket watch (see above) and another larger wall clock, frozen at the exact time the bomb hit  the city. Others included the photo of a man's shadow which the heat had burnt into the wall behind him and a lunch box still containing charred rice, a meal a child worker never got to eat. Perhaps I was lucky in the sense that I had just come from Nagasaki, the other Japanese city to have an atomic bomb dropped on it, where I had been to the other atomic bomb museum and therefore had been able to mentally prepare myself for what was to come in Hiroshima. 

One thing that struck me, both in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, was the resilience of the survivors. Surely you would want to give up after so much destruction and death? Apparently not. The reconstruction of both cities was a truly remarkable process and really does go to demonstrate the power of the human spirit. It makes me wonder why we bother with it all though. I was so close to being born in a nuclear age myself now I go back and look at history and it just makes me think: why. Why does the human race do such terrible things to each other? And how do people find the willpower and strength to carry on after such terrible times? On days such as ANZAC Day on the Thursday just gone, we commemorate the Australian and New Zealand soldiers who fought in war.  I feel as though the civilian populations of affected regions deserve the same respect and admiration often reserved for those who "fight for their country". 

But my visit to Hiroshima wasn't all about okonomiyaki and being confronted with the horrors of war. I also had the opportunity to get out of town and head to Miyajima, a wee island in the Inland Sea of Japan, just northwest of Hiroshima Bay. The island is famous for being the site of the Itsukushima Shrine, UNESCO World Heritage Site. During high tide, the ocean washes under the shrine and the gates look as though they have been built in the sea. Why go to Venice when you can go to Miyajima? 

While I was traveling in Japan, I aimed to try at least one  dish for which the region was famous.  Even though it is part of Hiroshima prefecture, Miyajima has its own menu: yakigaki (grilled oysters), anago meshi (conger eel on rice) and momiji manju (baked maple leaf-shaped pastries with various fillings). The momiji manju traditionally only come filled with sweet red bean paste but with tourism and the general westernisation of the Eastern world has resulted in a whole variety of different fillings - apple, cream, custard, almond, strawberry and chocolate, to name a few. I also ate the most amazing sweet potato ice cream while I was on the island, although I'm not sure how traditional that one is. Needless to say, I didn't need much dinner upon my return to the youth hostel. I was pretty much food-ed out by the time I had tried everything I possibly could. Traveling alone means you don't have anyone to share the meals with either! Such a shame ;-) 

Apart from the food that is unique to Miyajima, I found a few other quirky/amazing-for-the-bogan-Aussie things as well: the beautiful red maple leaves, deer and monkeys hanging out in the parks, a shamoji fetish  (a shamoji is a wooden spoon used to serve rice and it wasn't really a fetish, it's just that the monk who invented it supposedly lived on Miyajima) and a troupe of super fit grandmas and grandpas who like to hike up mountains in their spare time. Unfortunately it was an overcast day so I wasn't justly rewarded after I made it to the 535m peak of Mt Misen, but I imagine the view would be quite stunning when the sun makes an appearance. 

Itsukushima Shrine

The famous 'floating' gates of Itsukushima Shrine

A view of the gates from inside the shrine

The process of making a shamoji from a block of wood (from right to left)

The Big Shamoji
Deer in the park next to the island's aquarium 

Deer in the park

Maple leaves littering the trail up Mt Misen

The view from the top of Mt Misen 

Anagomeshi lunch set 

Yakigaki from a street vendor 

Not-so-traditional-but-no-less-incredible sweet potato ice cream

Tools used to create the maple shape of momiji manjus back in the good ol' days
Tough decisions: a selection of the available momiji manju flavours

Since I've started, I think I may as well bore you with some other details of my Japan trip! They will probably come in dribs and drabs, related to the recipes I post... so watch out! Those of you who have been whinging at me for not putting my travel photos up on Facebook, these will be your opportunities to see what I got up to :-P

- Matilda 




























Monday, April 22, 2013

The Ultimate Chocolate Shake

I just HAVE to share this recipe from the Green Kitchen Stories cookbook! Dad was craving ice-cream and I wanted a smoothie. We compromised and I made this unbelievably creamy chocolate milkshake.   Although the wind had a bit of bite, it was a warm day for mid-autumn so it was a refreshing way to unwind after an early start at uni. 


Chocolate Milkshake (from the Green Kitchen Stories cookbook*)
Serves 2 

Ingredients

2 frozen bananas 
250ml coconut milk (I didn't have any so I used coconut cream - probably could have diluted it but where's the fun in that? Just enjoy the extra creaminess!)
120ml milk of choice (I used soy)
3 Tbsp cacao powder 
1 Tbsp nut butter (I used sesame seed butter) 
1 Tbsp cacao nibs (optional)

Directions: Blend until frothy, pour into serving glasses and try not to drink the other person's portion. 

* The original recipe puts some muddled blackberries at the bottom of the glass before pouring the chocolate part in, creating a two-layered treat. Unfortunately I didn't have berries of any kind on hand so I went for the straight chocolate. And it was bloody good. 


- Matilda 

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Lemon & Coconut Slice

Last weekend my best friends presented me with one of the most amazing and thoughtful gifts imaginable: The Green Kitchen, the debut cookbook by David and Luise at Green Kitchen Stories


The Green Kitchen: currently my nightly bedtime reading.








































The occasion was made even more special by the fact that it was our high school violin ensemble's third year reunion. Our violin  teacher had just finished renovations in his apartment so it was a housewarming of sorts. He cooked us a creamy salmon angel hair pasta, fig and duck pizza, and raspberry swirl cake. The cake is an old favourite he  used to bring to end of term orchestra parties - except this time it was dressed up with thick pink icing, raspberry coulis, white chocolate ganache and vanilla ice-cream. It was so good to see everyone together again and even have a bash through a couple of things on the fiddle, although only one of us has pursued a career in music so the playing was a little rusty to say the least. We enjoyed ourselves though, which I suppose is the main thing. However I'm not sure whether or not the neighbours shared that view... 

Table set up... don't mind the one odd chair. Photo by MBX. 

Fig & duck pizza. Photo by Pingu.

Raspberry swirl cake. Photo by MBX. 

After a relaxing weekend of terrifyingly little study, I felt like I should break in my cookbook with something I have always wanted to make: lemon bars. I absolutely adore lemon sweets but have had very little opportunity to eat them due to my dad's aversion to them. These lemon and coconut bars live up to their name, oozing lemon and coconut flavour. The lemon curd is also slightly on the tangy side (which is intentional + I love) but those of you who are a bit cautious of citrus-flavoured sweets might like to decrease the amount of lemon juice/up the amount of honey. 


Lemon & Coconut Bars (slightly adapted from Green Kitchen Stories)
Makes approximately 40 pieces

Ingredients

Crust
5 Tbsp (75 g) coconut oil
3 Tbsp honey
2 cups (200 g) unsweetened  shredded coconut
1 cup (100 g) almond flour
 1 pinch sea salt
2 egg whites (save the yolks for the lemon curd)

Filling
3 eggs + 2 egg yolks
6 Tbsp honey
1/3 cup lemon juice  (~2 lemons)
1/3 cup (35 g) almond flour
Dust with 3 Tbsp coconut flour or powdered sugar (I used oat flour because it was the closest thing on hand at the time and I was feeling particularly lazy)

Directions

Crust:

1. Set the oven to 175°C.
2. Melt coconut oil in a sauce pan on low/medium heat. Add maple syrup, shredded coconut, almond flour and salt. Stir around until everything is combined. Remove from the heat.
3. Crack two eggs, save the egg yolks for later and add the whites to the sauce pan while stirring. Keep stirring for about a minute. The mixture should be quite sticky.
4. Line a 12×8 inch (30×20 cm) baking dish with baking paper and pour the coconut mixture into it and use a spatula (or your hands, the back of a spoon, etc) to flatten it out evenly, pressing down firmly to form a compact base.
5. Bake for 10-12 minutes and then remove it from the oven.

Filling: begin  while crust is in the oven.

1. Beat the eggs and 2 egg yolks in a large mixing bowl with an electric mixer until frothy.
2. Add the rest of the ingredients to the bowl and beat for another  two minutes.
3. Pour the mixture over the baked crust in the baking dish and bake for approximately 20 minutes, or until the edges of the lemon curd are light brown and the centre is set.
4. Remove from the oven and let cool for at least 10-15 minutes before slicing up the bars into rectangles, squares, TARDIS shapes… it is possible to eat straight out of the oven but it is much easier to cut after it has cooled slightly.
5. Dust with coconut flour or powdered sugar.
6. Demolish.

- Matilda

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Jap pizza

I am going to blame the less-than-ideal photo quality on the dreary weather. I should be practising using my new camera, so I can take full advantage of having it, but I just can't seem to find time in between procrastination, study, and procrastination. 

This weather isn't all bad though. For starters, it makes theses "Japanese pizzas", or okonomiyaki, taste even better than they might otherwise do so on a hot summer's day. To bite into the freshly crisp pan-fried outer and to burn one's mouth on the soft centre is just that more enjoyable when it's a little bit cold and grey. Even more amazing is to come off the cold winter streets in Japan to a local okonomiyaki joint and watch as steam rises off your clothes as you adjust to the stifling warmth of the restaurant. 

Okonomiyaki literally means "cooked as you like it" and is popular in Japan as a street and restaurant food. We eat the Osaka-style at home (recipe below) but in Hiroshima, where they are famous for the okonomiyaki, they layer batter, cabbage, meats of choice and udon or soba noodles to make a multilayered taste explosion.   I have never tried to make the Hiroshima version but have been lucky enough to eat it when I went to Japan last December. Being Christmas time, the green belt of the famous Peace Boulevard was lined with hundreds of LED lights as part of the Dreamination festival held there each year. Walking the streets was beautiful but I started to freeze up after a wee while and it was wonderful comfort to come off the streets and into the little restaurant, the name of which I couldn't remember for the life of me.

I have never been to Benihana, the teppanyaki restaurant everyone here seems to rave about, but I'm guessing that this is as close as I've probably gotten to that experience. Except this time, with authentic  food and culture attached.

Dreamination
Hiroshima okonomiyaki chefs in action
The lovely lady sitting next to me digs in.



As you can see above, customers can even choose to eat off the teppan (hot plate) so the okonomiyaki doesn’t cool down as you work your way through it! I was so excited to try it this way, to the extent where I squealed when the chef placed my order in front of me… I’m sure the restaurant staff were secretly shaking their heads at me, saying things like “silly gaijin” (which literally means ‘outside person’ and is usually used to mean "alien").



Osaka-style Okonomiyaki
Makes 4-6

Ingredients

2 cup all purpose flour
1 ¼ cup dashi soup stock or water
4-6 eggs
500-600g cabbage
6 Tbsp chopped green onion
2/3 cup tenkasu (tempura flakes)
12 - 18 strips of thinly sliced pork or beef

Toppings of choice: ao-nori (green seaweed), okonomiyaki sauce (or tonkatsu sauce), Kewpie mayonnaise, tomato sauce

Directions

1. Pour dashi soup stock in a bowl. Mix the flour in the soup stock.
2. Rest the batter for an hour in the refrigerator.
3. Chop cabbage finely and mix chopped cabbage, chopped green onion and tempura flakes in the batter. Stir, add eggs, and stir again.
4. Heat some oil in a frypan and pour the batter over the pan and make a round. Cook for 5-7 minutes and place meat (toppings) on top of the okonomiyaki. Flip the okonomiyaki and cook for another 5-7 minutes.
5. Remove the okonomiyaki from the pan and place on a serving plate. Spread your sauce of choice (okonomiyaki sauce and mayonnaise, mayonnaise and tomato sauce, etc) over the okonomiyaki and sprinkle aonori, katsuobushi (bonito flakes) and beni-shoga (red ginger) over the sauce.








- Matilda