What an adorable little Fox Face!

What is the name of that awesome looking plant, you ask?

But, the Fox Face of course!

Forgive me, but the Photoshop magic just had to happen.  フオックスフエイス in Japanese, Solanum mammosum is also known as the Nipplefruit, Titty Fruit, Cow’s Udder, Apple of Sodom, and the Five Fingered Eggplant.  I just want to call it my friend.

Congrats to Umo and HBomb — they guessed the Japanese name correctly and will soon be proud owners of a 100 yen shop surprise… nice work smartypantses.

Name That Plant

Strolling through the neighborhood recently, I came across this beauty:

I was able to ask the store clerk for the plant’s name, and let me tell you, it’s awesome.   Anyone else know it?

Let’s make it interesting — if you think you know the name of this plant, leave your guess in the comments.  If anyone comes up with the right answer, I’ll send you a little something crazy from Tokyo.  Sorry, it won’t be this plant, because it was expensive.  Consider that your first hint.

If a whole few of you get it right, I’ll come up with some sort of random drawing to select a winner.  Let’s say you have until Thursday morning-ish, USA time (that’s Thursday evening-ish Japan time).  Good luck!

A Beautiful Stab in the Neighborhood

Yesterday I attended my second sashiko class at Blue & White (you can read about my first class here and more about sashiko here).  I was a little hesitant to go — though I had a lovely time last month, the class is a bit expensive and the question-and-answer format is not ideal, considering I can’t ask a question in Japanese, let alone understand the response.  But I went, figuring it would be my last for a while.

When I arrived three other women were already at the table, and another followed me into the shop.  All of them seemed to know each other, and were quite lively with their greetings.  I was able to contribute a little はじめまして (nice to meet you), and we all sat down.

The class quickly devolved into a series of show-and-tells, each woman showing off her sashiko to the others.  It was fun to see all their different projects — two were working on table coverings, one was free-hand stitching a Christmas tree, and another pulled about 10 (yes, 10!) projects out of her bag.  Fortunately, complete awe is a universal language, and we all nodded in admiration as each project came to the table.  Later, the shop’s owner joined us.  She translated for me a bit, and explained the ladies were joking about some of their uneven sashiko lines — some done before nap time and others after.

As I went to leave, I gave each woman a bow and a thank you.  I’d had a lovely time yet again, and decided perhaps the class was worth the price of admission, if only to spend a few hours giggling with other 主婦 (housewives).  Then they sent me on my way — with lunch!  That’s right, one of ladies actually gave me her homemade rice and sweet potato lunch.  Perhaps she was trying to entice me back, or more likely she felt sorry for me and thought I needed a home-cooked meal.  There may have been something lost in translation, but I’m pretty sure I didn’t steal her lunch.  She gave it to me!  Whatever the case, I was completely touched, and went home feeling a little choked up.  Maybe I’ll have to check out the November class after all.

A Tokyo local and interested in the sashiko class?  They’re held monthly at Blue & White, 2-9-2 Azabu juban, Minato-ku, tel. 03 3451 0537

Kare Raisu to the Curry Rescue

Kare raisu カレーライス is Japanese style curry rice, and my new favorite make-at-home meal.

Though somewhat unknown outside of Japan, curry rice is a common dish in these parts.  Introduced by the British during the Meiji era (1869–1913), Japanese style curry rice is like Indian curry, though a few steps (colonizations?) removed.  It has a rich curry flavor, though is not spicy and usually includes a hint of sweetness.  Curry rice can be made with any sort of meat and vegetable combo, though beef or pork with a hearty stock of potatoes and carrots is most common.

I love kare raisu, and eat it more than I’d like to admit.  It’s a sort of comfort food, like mac and cheese in the United States:  it’s warm, filling, and something you can count on to taste good (enough).  It has become my go-to when I encounter a menu I can’t fully read, never mind the fact that I usually end up with a giant plate of fried pork in brown sauce, and look around to discover it is the man’s meal of choice.  All the other women (and Dan) have beautiful plates of fish, while me and the boys go for the put-some-meat-on-those-bones meat… but I digress.

Curry rice is actually quite simple to make, so I decided it was time to try it out for myself — cook up some meat and vegetables and add my choice of curry roux, which come in blocks and can be picked up at the local grocery store.  Easy, right?

Uh, right.  That’s an entire aisle at the supermarket dedicated to curry roux (a comparison of some of them here).  After a little more research, I discovered that most of those packages contain a lot of stuff I’m not so interested in ingesting, such as sodium and MSG.  It was time to learn how to make my own curry roux, from scratch.

Because the Internet is amazing, I found this video which made the entire process a breeze.  (Thanks, Matsumoto-san!)

First step, gather the ingredients. Don’t you love it when vegetables play together so nicely?

Those of you with a keen eye will notice that yes, I bought discounted meat.  What can I say?  It had カレー (curry) written right on the package, and I was pretty sure it was pork, so the deal was done.  I picked up S&B brand curry powder and tonkatsu とんかつ sauce (a brown sauce sort of like Worcestershire, you may remember it from here) because I have no brand loyalty and I like their logo (I guess now I have brand loyalty), and eventually the flour was identified by the flowers on the package — not to be confused with the flowers on the sunflower oil, please!

Next, I’d like you to observe how this simple little dish completely maxed out my kitchen space.  One burner for meat, one burner for roux, one hand for mixing, one hand for photo-ing…

After achieving a golden roux, I added the curry powder, tonkatsu sauce and cayenne (I like a little spicy) to the mix and set it aside.  I have to say, at this point I was questioning the deliciousness of my made-from-scratch meal:

In the one other pot I own, I simultaneously sauteed onions, browned the meat, added carrots and water, and brought it all to a boil.  After a while, in went the potatoes, an apple, and more curry powder.  The apartment finally started to smell like the kare raisu I know and love:

After about 30 minutes, in went the roux and some frozen peas, and voila! My homemade curry:

My curry rice was thicker than some, but I didn’t mind.  And though it didn’t photograph well, I thought the comforting effect was spot-on.

Again, a big thanks to Matsumoto-san at No Recipes for his handiwork.  Check out the link if you are interested in making your own curry rice.  いただきます!

Crafty Pie

In the wake of my tirade pie-rade the other day, I couldn’t resist a little of this:

While wandering through my friendly neighborhood craft store Yuzawaya, I came across the make-cute-things-out-of-felt aisle.  Usually able to resist its powerful magnetic pull, this time I fell victim and I came home with a sweet little kit of my very own.  I blame the pie.

I haven’t yet delved into too many Japanese craft kits (and there are many! glass, wood, felt, wool, paper, plastic… hobbies are serious business) but figured I could handle this one — just cut the felt into shapes and stitch it together like in the photograph.  Right, piece of cake, er, I mean easy as pie.

I should know better than to trust my own clichés!  As anyone who has made a pie knows, pate brisee is not easy (damn you, ice cold butter chunks that make it impossible to roll you into a flat pie crust shaped circle!).  I opened the kit this morning, and the pieces are teeeny.  I don’t think I can cut them that small, let alone stitch them into something smaller.  Apparently my big Norwegian hands are not well-suited for cute felt things.

Also, I forgot that there might be directions to follow, and that they would be in Japanese.  What can I say, pie + crafts make me crazy.

Samurai And Dolls

Dolls are creepy. That is fact. It took the genius of the Pixar crew – and millions of dollars – to create a movie featuring a doll that didn’t leave me with daymares.

It’s because they look real, but not. Like Joan Rivers. It’s a phenomenon known as 不気味の谷現象 (bukimi no tani gensho), or uncanny valley (Wikipedia is a much bigger time-suck than Facebook ever can be).

So this weekend, we did the only sensible thing and visited a temple for Doll Thanksgiving Day, an event billed as “Saying Farewell to Dolls with Gratitude.” Yep.

Parents bring their unwanted dolls to Meiji Shrine once a year, where Shinto priests will give them a proper farewell, and then incinerate them.

Here’s the general idea. The doll you own, through the years, is infused with a soul. You can’t just throw it away. You need to treat it with respect because, you know, it’s possessed.

Parents – emptying out their closets – gingerly handed over the dolls of their grown children. The priests were somber and respectful, cradling the dolls until they placed them along with the others, piled high at the foot of shrine, waiting to “return to the state of mere physical entities.” There was a haunting beauty to the whole thing.

Intense, right?

Except then you see something like this.

Gah! It’s clear now why they are incinerating these things. It’s not to give them a proper farewell. It’s so you can be assured that porcelain baby Satan won’t be clawing at your window on a howling windy night. Burn in hell, Raggedy Ann!

I’d Pie for You.

Oh man, do I love pie.

I’ve got nothing against cake and will hardly ever turn down a piece of fluffy goodness if offered.  But pie!  Mmm.  The buttery flakey goodness of pie crust, combined with the slightly-sweet-but-mostly-tart fruit filling.  Mmm-mmm.  Don’t get me started on custard-filled pies.

I wasn’t always a pie person. I have to admit that in my early years I was a gooey chocolate brownie sundae kind of gal.  But then I met Dan, who one year requested a pie for his birthday instead of a cake (gasp!), and it was a done deal from there on out.  Once you get to know a pie, and learn to appreciate its simple rules and total free form willy-nilly insides, there is no turning back.  Someday, perhaps I’ll have my own pie shop.  I’ll call it the Pie Hole.

Pie is good any time of year, but fall is a pie-maker’s season.  Apple pie is a humble standard, but Thanksgiving brings out the bourbon-infused, pecan pumpkin crazy lady in me.  The late summer blueberry season gets me excited, and then fall hits and BAM! It’s really pie season.

And so, fall approaches in the fair metropolis of Tokyo, and I find myself without an oven, without a pick-your-own orchard, and without pie.  Can someone please make this and just tell me how good it is?  Or, maybe not tell me.  I don’t want to know.