A chilled reprieve: Zaru Soba

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It’s been a hot week. Sticky hot. The kind of hot where a walk down the block leaves your skin glistening, heart working a little overtime, and feet feeling a couple beats heavier. But it’s also been the last week of August and where we are, that may signal (possibly) the last of our summer. I really hope not. Some may call it denial, I like thinking of it as a hopeful optimism. So in anticipation of a little more summer spilling over into the September we kick off today, I’m posting on Zaru Soba: chilled buckwheat noodles. The perfect meal to satiate the lesser appetite that often comes with a stifling heat that also offers a little reprieve. Best part, it’s very fast and easy to make.

Ingredients: (serves 4)

  • 200 to 250g of dried soba noodles (1/2 of a larger 500g package)
  • 1/2 cup of mentsuyu (you can purchase this in a ready-made bottle, or make your own homemade version – I’ll be posting the recipe up tomorrow.)
  • 1/3 cup of seaweed, shredded (about one sheet of nori sliced up)
  • 1-2 green onions, finely chopped (also called scallions)
  • wasabi
  • 2 teaspoons of white or black sesame seeds (optional)

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As local as possible: Fresh City Farms

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Earlier this season, a good friend of ours stumbled across a new food box program in our city: Fresh City Farms. After our time with Culinarium, which sadly closed its doors earlier this year, we were open to participating in another food share program.

What is attractive about Fresh City Farms that sets it apart from other programs was its door-to-door delivery, organic promise, and finally, the hyper-local focus of their food philosophy – as local as possible, in fact.

Perhaps organic and door-to-door is obvious, but why local?

1. It’s healthier. The produce we eat is in essence converted energy from the sun. I know this is an oversimplification of a far more complex series of systems; however, at the heart of it, food is energy. The sooner we eat that produce once it’s harvested, the greater the amount of energy we retain from it. The longer our food is in transit, storage, and processing after its harvested, the more energy is lost. It’s no wonder fresh fruit and vegetables from a farmer’s market always looks, smells, and tastes so much more flavourful than the same tired looking fruit and vegetables near the end of a week at a grocery store (or perhaps in a fridge at home for too long). You know the kind I’m talking about.

That said, there is nothing wrong with eating food that has been shipped in, it’s just that we’re not getting as much nutritional value from it. In some cases, it can’t be helped… there are certain things we simply can’t get where we are. At the same time, there is also so much variety locally to be explored and experimented with that it brings to question. Why not?

2. It’s more environmental. The transportation of import foods over long distances means high costs in energy and fuel for their transportation and storage. Eating more locally means a reduction in the need for those logistics and energy burn.

3. It supports local sustainability. By buying straight from local farms and gardens, more of our dollar goes to the families who grow the food. It doesn’t get split up along the way by a series of middle men. (In case it’s of interest, the Story of Stuff is worth checking out if you haven’t already in the past.)

So back to Fresh City Farms. Most of their produce is farmed in gardens right in the city and when necessary, in nearby farms. Only when the produce cannot be farmed here in Ontario does Fresh City Farms bring it in from the outside, and when they do, it’s clearly labeled. You can opt-out of certain produce, or add additional products to supplement your weekly food box. Food boxes come in small and large sizes that contain fruit or vegetable, or both, and can be delivered weekly or biweekly.

When you order, you can also send the foodbox to a pick-up point, or if you have three or more deliveries to the same address, you can create your own pick-up location. Pick-up locations get a few dollars off each food box. It may take a little communication and follow-up to get your box set-up, as they’re still quite new, small, and ironing out wrinkles. But once it’s set up, it’s worth it.

Our friends and we have been getting our food boxes like clockwork this season and it’s been great. If you haven’t yet, give them a try.

Sushi rice in under 5 minutes?

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To follow-up on my post yesterday about home-made sushi rice, this one is about an interesting product I was recently introduced to by the kind folks at Bento & Co. Although many of our posts are generally focused on dishes that are made from scratch with ingredients that are as fresh as possible, I felt compelled to share this: Wooke’s instant microwave sushi rice. (Note, this is not a product endorsement on behalf of Bento & Co or Wooke, I just really liked this product.)

The ingredients themselves are the same things that you would normally cook sushi rice with, only it’s pre-cooked, pre-mixed, then dehydrated:

  • Koshihikari rice, dehydrated
  • Vinegar, dehydrated
  • Dextrin (in the vinegar) – which is a simple carbohydrate and a gluten
  • Sugar
  • Salt

Preparation of the rice is a simple two step process:

1. Take the rice packet from the package, peel open the marked corner to the line (they have it marked), and place it in the microwave for about two minutes.

2. Once your rice is ready, open the sweetened dehydrated vinegar package and sprinkle the powder evenly over the rice. Mix the powder in similar to how you would mix in the vinegar for your homemade sushi rice with a rice paddle or spatula.

And that’s it. All done.

What’s more is the rice is surprisingly good. All in under five minutes. Maybe this is not something to eat everyday, as ultimately, I do believe that whole, homemade foods are always better for us, but this instant rice is a good option once in a while if you’re on the run.

My father’s daughter: A heart for sushi rice

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I acquired an early love and appreciation for sushi from my father when I was growing up. At the heart of sushi making, the most important aspect of it is the rice. Luckily, if you know how to make steamed rice, sushi rice is very simple and easy to make. The trick is to use a little less water, so it’s less moist, and to mix the sweetened vinegar mixture into the rice as soon as the rice is cooked and is still hot. (More on this below.) The recipe I use is the same one that my father used whenever he would make sushi for us. Do note that the yield is quite a lot, so if you’re preparing sushi for fewer people, you can use the second ingredients list.

Ingredients: (makes 6 cups of rice, good for 4-6 people)

  • 3 cups Japanese sushi rice
  • 3-1/4 cups of water (note, you may need to adjust the water levels depending on your rice cooker)
  • 1/3 cup of rice wine vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons of sugar
  • 1 teaspoon of salt
  • Optional: 3 tablespoons of sake

Smaller serving to make 2 cups of cooked sushi rice (good for 1-2 people): 

  • 1 cup of Japanese sushi rice
  • 1-1/4 cups of water (note, you may need to adjust the water levels depending on your rice cooker)
  • 2-1/2 tablespoons of rice wine vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon of sugar
  • 1/3 teaspoon of salt
  • Optional: 2 tablespoons of sake

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Love candles, hate the mess: Getting the wax out of your mason jars

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Today’s post is a bit of a departure from our usual posts around food and all things related to food, but I thought that this tip could be useful to those of you who have run into this problem. I’ll explain.

In our household, we love candles, and we love our mason jars. So much so that we had a couple hundred at our wedding that served mainly as candles. But once the night was over, what we had left over were well over a hundred perfectly good mason jars with wax melted firmly into the bottom.

I searched high and low for the best solutions on getting the wax out. Some tips suggested softening the wax by putting the jars in the microwave. Others gave instructions around either putting boiling water into the jars or boiling the jars in water to boil out the wax – as melted wax floats on water. Another recommended placing the jars in an oven and heating no more than 200F and pouring the melted wax out onto a piece of wax paper. All great solutions, but none very practical for the girl that needed to attack the waxed jars en masse.

Finally, the best one surfaced and it was beautifully simple. Freeze the jars. Wax shrinks slightly when frozen, so it pulls away from the jar and is very easy to snap from the bottom with a good old fashioned butter knife. It also works beautifully in getting that tricky waxy residue off the glass. So no scrubbing required. The only downfall with freezing the jars is how to get the wax out if the lip of your jar is smaller than the base (where the wax has melted into), like is the situation with mason jars. You can chip away and try to break the wax (as we did initially), but then you’d run the risk of using too much force and either chipping or even breaking the jar, or worse, getting hurt (as we also did initially).

So in light of that, I’ve made some adjustments to my mason method madness.

Here it is. My simple four step process of getting wax out of your mason jar:

1. Freeze the jars. You only need to keep them in for about 45 minutes to an hour, depending on how much wax you have in your candle. Depending on how big your freezer is, you can put a lot of jars in and freeze them all at once.

2. Pop out and flip the wax. This is easy. All it takes is either a shake of the jar or for the more stubborn ones, a butter knife and a little twist. The wax will pop free. Now flip the wax over upside down in the jars (or just turn the jar on its side with the wax resting on the side of the jar) and let it all thaw (only takes 30 minutes or less).  Letting the wax thaw will allow you to break it up without the risk of breaking the jar or hurting yourself. Flipping the wax over in the jars so it’s not resting back on the bottom of the jars makes sure the wax doesn’t thaw and get stuck to the bottom of your jar again. Obviously, you only need to flip and thaw the wax if it’s a lot of melted wax that’s too big to get out of the jar.

3. Break the wax. Use that same trusty butter knife and gently, but firmly press the knife into the angled wax to break it. Usually, the wax will run in currents – I usually break the wax in one of the creases and find that it comes apart really easily.

4. Quick rinse. You can give your jar(s) a quick rinse to get any stubborn crumbs of wax out. But at this point, you’re basically all done!

Now you have your full unwaxed jars back for their next candle or use. And the great thing is that they’re so versatile. We now use our abundance of masons for drinks, dried food, canning, lighting, flowers, and still as the occasional candle. Although if anyone wants to buy a dozen or two, we could probably afford to give some up – we have lots!

Breakfast fun with Yude Tama egg molds

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The next time you make hard-boiled eggs for your kids (or yourself), try these darling Yude Tama  egg molds.

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If you’re not able to find them in a local Japanese specialty store, you can order them from Kyoto-based Bento & Co, who happily ship anywhere in the world. (More about their fantastic online store here).

The molds come in two different packages: one that contains a fish and car, and the other that includes a bear and rabbit face.

As for making the eggs themselves, the process couldn’t be simpler. So simple that your little one can help you turn the eggs into their cute, whimsical creations.

Preparation:

1) Boil your egg as you normally like them.
As a tip, counter to what is a popular practice, avoid putting salt in the water. The salt can result in a rubbery texture. I like mine medium-boiled, so I normally place my eggs in cold water where the water just covers the eggs (about an inch of water above the eggs) and bring the water to a boil. I turn down the heat to low to keep the simmer, cover the pot, and let the eggs sit for 4 minutes.

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2) Once your hard-boiled eggs are ready, put them into cold water. Let them sit for a couple minutes or so to cool enough to hold and ready your molds!IMG_7732

3) Gently peel your eggs and place them into your mold.

4) Close the mold and place the eggs back into the cold water. Let them sit for about five minutes.

5) When you open the molds, they’ll be staring back up at you as the bunny, bear, fish, or car from the mold you used.

These molds offer a great little touch of playfulness to start your day.

Special Delivery from Bento & Co!

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Bento (bnt): A Japanese meal that is packed in a partitioned lacquered box, a single-portion takeout or home-packed meal common in Japanese cuisine.

Bento & Co.: A dream to the bento and all things Japanese food lover.

Living on the opposite side of the world from Japan, finding some of the specialty Japanese products can be difficult. Finding those products at a reasonable cost can pose an even greater challenge. After all, Japan is over an ocean or two away, and travel distance and import fees really can put a weighty price tag on products.

Enter Bento & Co. My recent shop obsession. They have been around since 2008 and open to the English market since 2010. Yet somehow, I only recently stumbled across it, but thank goodness I did!

For those living on this side of the world (ie: not in Asia), who love Japanese bentos and other adorable things from Japan and have a hard time finding these products… we are all in luck.

Featuring a vast array of unique and even some exclusive products, Bento & Co has since easily taken its place as one of my favourite online shops to date. Their curation of high quality Japanese bentos, bento-related items, specialty kitchenwares, and stationery is expert. Their prices, reasonable – even when factoring in duty (should you need to pay it). Their level of service is extraordinary. Every engagement with their customers, is personal, gracious, responsive, at times whimsical, but most of all consistently outstanding. And the best of all is that they will ship anywhere in the world. Yes, anywhere. Even if your country isn’t listed or does not come up in the shipping calculator tool, Bento & Co can and will ship your package to where you are.

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