Tuesday, December 31, 2019

A decade ends and so does this

My son has been reading this blog of late. (I don't even remember everything I've written about, but I don't think I ever expected my kids to read it!). He asked me to close out the blog with the decade. It got me thinking about the past decade, the decade of moving from Japan to Ohio, from working at home to working at the college.

My son asked me why I don't write much anymore.

Writing is wonderful and hard. It's hard to get it right, to say something meaningful. It's hard to know how to make it better. Since a million people weren't salivating over the blog, it was easy to let go of it. Now, I write and rewrite a lot for my job; I am focused on teaching and telling stories in that venue.

Still, I've thought for a long time about writing a novel or script. I haven't let the idea that I've had take root, so it may float away to someone who will nurture it. Nonetheless, for now, a vague sense of it comes floating my way and then recedes from my thoughts. If I return to writing, I'd like to let this story find the space to stretch, to grow, to see where it takes me. However, I need to do research and think a lot more which takes a lot of time.

The thick of life with family, work, a few friends, means that I have to have both hope and a burning desire to write again to relentlessly pursue that story. It's scary to commit to a story idea, a world that may or may not bear fruit; it's also appalling to think that what if I don't shepherd that story? There's a part of me that thinks, it will find another author. There's a part of me that thinks, why me? There's a part of me that thinks, never say no to yourself, let the world do that, not you.

As this decade ends, my wish for you? That you never say no to you, and that the world takes whatever you give it and loves it all up!

Peace out...

Thursday, June 28, 2018

Tuscan Wild Boar Sauce

In Italy all recipes are local and very specific. Traipsing about Ravenna, Italy, two years ago, we happened upon a great restaurant with an enthusiastic owner who used fresh wine in everything (it turns to vinegar quickly). We were promptly fed wild boar sauce (use your best Italian accent to say that aloud as it is part of the pleasure) and chocolate cake. Wild boar sauce could be made with venison, other game, or even fresh pork in other parts of the world. 

This version of wild boar sauce is Tuscan. Lest you think that wild boar are running about, they are not. We're in Castiglioncello, a lovely seaside town, where we had a cooking class with Simon, and Simon knows a guy (that's how you get fresh wild boar in summer). If you understand Italian or just want to see some of the fun, take a look at Simon's cooking show

Tuscan Wild Boar Sauce
from Simon Devone http://www.ilboccatv.com

Wild boar butt with shank
Celery, remove tough outer green fiber
Red onion
Garlic clove, remove the “anima” or green stem part
Sage sprigs
Rosemary springs
Bay leaf
Juniper berries
Young red wine
Olive oil
Vegetable stock
Double concentrate tomato paste
Tuscan Cocoa Pappardelle

Helpful Tools
Container with lid for marinade
Cuisineart or dice
Large saute pan
Large pot
Small pot

Marinade. In a container with a lid, place meat and bones. Cut vegetables into large chunks and add to meat. Add springs of fresh sage, rosemary, and a bay leaf. Add ten juniper berries. Cover all with wine. Soak for six to twenty hours. Drain and discard everything except the meat and bones. 

Soffritto. Start with fresh vegetables and use only one of each item- celery, carrot, red onion, garlic clove. Place all vegetables and fresh spring of sage into cuisinart. Pulse about six times until forms a medium dice. In a large saute pan, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add vegetables (they should hiss when they hit the oil) and immediately turn heat to low. Add ten juniper berries and a fresh bay leaf. Pull needles from two rosemary sprigs and add. Gently saute until onions are clear, about 10 minutes. May add a spoonful of water as need to prevent scorching. Place cooked vegetables into large pot.

Sauce. Slice meat into bite sized pieces and brown it in heated olive oil in saute pan over medium heat. Add browned meat to large pot with vegetables. Add salt, pepper, and a cup of red wine to pot over high heat to cook off wine, about 3 minutes. Turn heat to medium low and allow to simmer. In small pot with a lid, simmer a quart of vegetable stock over low heat. In a heat proof container or measuring cup, add 4 heaping tablespoonfuls of tomato paste, 2 ladles of hot stock, and stir together until dissolved. Add slurry to large pot. Simmer without a lid. If dry, add more stock very slowly until reduced and cooked down, one to two hours. Discard bones and bay leaves. Add cooked Tuscan Cocoa Pappardelle and serve warm (do not serve with parmesan cheese).

Tuscan Wild Boar Sauce

Tuscan Wild Boar Sauce with Tuscan Cocoa Pappardelle

Tuscan Cocoa Pappardelle

from Simon Devone http://www.ilboccatv.com

Ingredients for Two
Flour (00 type), 200 gm
Eggs, 2
Salt, pinch or two as needed
Cocoa powder, 20 gm (10% by volume)
Semolina flour as needed

Helpful Tools
Rolling pin
Standing mixer fitted with dough hook can be used to form dough if available
Sharp knife
Large pot


On a clean surface place flour and form a well in the center. Crack eggs and dump contents into flour well. Add salt and cocoa powder. With fingers start mixing ingredient together from the center, incorporating more and more flour until it comes together to form a loose ball. Kneed the dough with heel of hand, adding bit of flour as needed until smooth and shiny, about 15 minutes by hand. Keep in mind that larger batches work better. Form smooth, shiny dough into a disc, wrap with plastic, and allow to rest for one hour. 

Roll out ball of dough on a clean surface with a bit of semolina flour to prevent sticking. Roll dough only in one direction, turn a quarter, roll, and repeat until even and about 1 mm in thickness. Gently roll/fold sheet into a ribbon about 10 cm long. Cut rolled dough into thick strips approximately two fingers wide. Pick up each strip and run through fingers. Place ribbons in small bundles, onto a sheet dusted with semolina. 

Bring pot of water to boil and add generous pinch or two of salt. Add pasta and cook until al dente, about 6 to 8 minutes. Drain and add to sauce. Serve hot.
Simon demos pappardelle strips
Tuscan Cocoa Pappardelle

Rustic Tart Shell

500 gm flour
250 gm butter
4-6 Tbsp of iced water as needed
Fruit mixture

Helpful Tools
Large bowl
Pastry blender/cutter or Standing mixer fitted with paddle blade can be used to form dough if available
Rolling pin
Baking sheet

Place flour into large mixing bowl. Cut butter into pieces and add to flour. Continue to blend butter into the flour until resembles fine pebbles of uniform size. Add iced water one tablespoon at a time to flour mixture and gently combine with spatula after each addition. After four to six tablespoons of water, the dough should start to just stick together; it should be a tad drier versus wetter. Press dough to form a disc. Allow dough to rest covered for 15 minutes. On a flat surface with a sprinkle of flour as needed, roll out the dough disc into two to three centimeter evenly thick sheet. Place sheet onto large baking sheet, ideally with a lip to insure that it contains any cook-over. Fill with fruit mixture. Turn edges of dough onto fruit. Bake 375ºF (190ºC) until golden brown, about 30 minutes.

Rustic tart shell with apricot fruit mixture

Apricot Fruit Mixture

Sugar - need .5 gm of sugar for every 1 gm of apricots
Fresh squeezed lemon juice, 1 lemon

Helpful Tools
Large pot with heavy bottom

Rinse fruit, drain, cut apricots in half, and discard pits. Weigh apricots and place into large pot. Calculate how much sugar is needed - .5 gm of sugar for every 1 gm of apricots.  Pour sugar over apricots. Add juice of one squeezed lemon. Turn heat to medium high and stir to prevent sticking. Cook until thickened and apricots just start to breakdown, about 15 to 20 minutes. Pour into prepared rustic tart shell and fold edges up and onto fruit. Bake 375ºF (190ºC) until golden brown, about 30 minutes.

Apricot fruit mixture

Called by a Tuscan Apricot

The lure of a tree draped in apricots was too much! Warm jam is one of the great pleasures in life.  Jam was made without a scale, without a recipe, and without my jam pot, but it was made. If you have yet to eat warm jam, get thee to a farm stand. Buy some sugar and a lemon. Find a heavy bottom pot and await the most delicious moment of your day...
Apricot tree in Tuscany

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Tips for Tokyo Summer Travelers

Summers in Tokyo are hot and steamy, and in 2020 a lot of travelers will be heading to Tokyo for the summer Olympic games. As hindsight is 20/20, I'm noting what I learned from my travels and sharing these summer travels tips for Toyko:

1. Travel light
Portable, light suitcases that can easily navigate the tight spaces of trains, smaller hotel rooms, and crowded public spaces are essential. Fewer belongings are better than wrestling with too many bags! A reasonably small roller suitcase and a backpack or bag work well- especially one that slips over the suitcase handle which also reduces back strain. I made my kids use carryon suitcases for their stuff and had them put their electronics, book, sweater, and snacks in a backpack for easy access. I had a larger suitcase with half of it stuffed with OU t-shirts (see #7 below).

2. Pack quick drying clothes
Laundry in Japan is generally dried on the clothesline or rack. Public laundries do have dryers, but if you only have access to a hotel or apartment amenities, laundering items in the sink will require you to hang them up to dry. Quick drying clothes (polyester fibers, nylon, etc.) ensure your clothes are dry and ready. This particularly is relevant to your underwear but also applies to most things of thick cotton which can take a long while to dry. Pack well by bringing less- follow the 5 4 3 2 1 rule, choose coordinating colors (pick one scheme), and roll your stuff up.

3. Carry a hand towel
Public restrooms rarely provide paper towels or air dryers in Japan. The Japanese carry small hand towels for drying their hands in the bathroom. Purchase a small (wash cloth sized) hand towel- easily found in a variety of stores- look for absorbing fibers and darker colors.

4. Skip the water bottle
Japan has vending machines on top of mountains. My point here is that vending machines are every where in Japan. It's hot in Tokyo, and you'll want that drink cold. Skip the reusable bottle, and plan to purchase beverages as needed. I recently observed a Tokyo business man in his suit pull out and chug a liter bottle of o-cha at a cross walk- convenience stores sell single servings as well as half and full liter bottles. Restaurants do not generally provide refills in Japan, and in Japan, a small beverage is smaller than in America. Hydration might cost you a bit more in Japan, but you will need your fluids, and you'll appreciate them cold.

5. Pack out your garbage
Garbage can be complicated in Japan. At it's simplest you can find containers for "burnable" and "recyclable." However, you often have to pack out your garbage which means it is something to be mindful of that when you create trash, you'll need to think about when and where you can dispose of it. Sometimes this means carrying it for a bit. For example, some vending machines have a recycling collection for the bottles, but not always. Don't expect to readily find trash cans for your food wastes or hand wipes.

6. Hygiene products
I struggle the most with choosing which hygiene products. I've got curly hair so in humid weather the kind of hair products I use changes the way my hair behaves. In Japan, I opt for only taking hair gel as I can generally rely on the hair products in the hotels and onsens to be reasonably good, at most I would add conditioner. I also bring sunblock for my face, face lotion, deodorant, and contact cleaner. Everything else I can skip or buy there. Most of my Japanese friends buy toothbrushes at the convenience stores. You can even buy underwear at a convenience store in Japan- but you need to be a fairly small American (I wear a small in America but a large in Japan).

7. Gifts
Japan is a gifting culture that is alien to me- people give gifts when they go to your house, when you come to theirs, and so many other occasions that I don't understand. I often find myself in the awkward position of receiving a gift without one to give. Luckily,  much of the gift giving is food based; it's easy to use it up (this is my minimalism coming out). Bring something from your hometown to share- whether a special spice, t-shirt, a jar of jam- then take it with you if someone invites you over.

8. Get a rail pass card
It's safe and easy to get around Japan whether on the train, subway, or bus. The subways, trains, and buses are easiest with a rail pass. My husband thoughtfully brought our Suica cards from five years before. These electronic cards make daily travels (and using those vending machines for cold drinks) infinitely easier and more efficient since you won't have to fish for coins or make your jet-lagged fogged brain count- add yen to your card and the fare is deducted electronically. Different rail (and bus) lines such as East Japan Railway Co. versus private, etc. may use other cards like the Pasmo. In an around Tokyo, either work for most of your transportation needs. The station agents can help you navigate platforms, train lines, and generally assist you with directions, but there's also an app.

Vending machines in Japan