Category Archives: Uncategorized

Mom, This One’s For You

MothersDay5

The most amazing part of a 10-kid family is without question the woman who birthed, raised, taught, watched over, cried with, comforted, and tenderly loved all ten of her wildly rambunctious spawn.

Mom is crazy petite – 5ft flat, somewhere shy of 90lbs. She cries easily, laughs even more quickly, and when she’s mad enough she’ll call you out by your full name. Luckily, in her flustered state, it can take her a bit of time to land on the right name from among the other 10 options – I’d say there’s a 50/50 chance you make it out of the room before she hits upon it. Simple math would show that mom was pregnant for much of my childhood and I clearly remember that right around the last couple weeks of pregnancy she would get these incredible urges to deep clean the house, and that’s when I’d walk into the kitchen to find her standing on a chair organizing the kitchen cabinets or wiping down the top of the refrigerator. Heightened pregnancy senses also meant that there was no sneaking back into the house late at night pretending that you had just gotten up for a glass of water. Nope, mom could smell the remnants of that night’s vices. My brothers kept an air freshener canister in the bushes at the entrance of our apartment but I knew mom could still smell the cigarette smoke through the chemical concoction masquerading as “meadow rain”.

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Glazed Carrots With Mystery Moroccan Spices

Glazed carrots

I’m blessed that I get to travel to some pretty fantastic locations with my company. But as anyone who travels a lot for work knows, you often spend more time in the hotel, meeting rooms, and conference space than you do actually exploring the city. Overseas trips often mean 18-hour workdays with little to no time to experience the city. But if you’re really lucky – and so far I have been – you’ll find a wonderful friend with a fast car, who knows the city, and doesn’t mind the company of a zombie.

And that is how I found myself in an old Mercedes convertible, top down, with the Moroccan afternoon sun casting a deep golden glow on the dusty Rabat roads. Adib is the young man at the wheel who has graciously volunteered to take me into the medina to buy spices. I suppose I should have been slightly nervous by the throngs of people and the fact that I don’t see any Westerners in this particular part of the medina. But truth be told, seconds before climbing into the car I had polished off a glass of vodka on the rocks – the celebratory drink signaling the end of yet another successful conference. Thus, blessed with an ambiguous ethnicity and a solid vodka buzz, I’m feeling pretty comfortable in the crowded market. Read more…

Strawberry Ice and Parsley Maki: Tips for Minimizing Produce Waste

Like everyone these days I’m making an effort to be “green”. I take shorter showers, drive a fuel-efficient car, hold my thermostat at 76° instead of 72° and eat less red meat. My latest focus is kitchen waste, particularly food that gets thrown away before ever seeing a cutting board or pot.

Unfortunately, my refrigerator often reflects my total lack of self-control when it comes to the mesmerizing grocery store produce aisles and farmers market displays. The lower shelf houses clamshell containers full of wilted salad greens with browning edges. My vegetable drawer often looks like a science project where I aim to depict the various stages of decay. Below thin plastic bags of yellowing greens lay various dehydrating fruit; the flesh deflating under the skin resembles a breast implant due for a fresh saline injection.

Menu planning definitely helps, but it’s tricky if—like me—you fluctuate between extreme cravings and complete indecision. To deal with this I buy ingredients for just three or four meals. This way if I get a crazy craving that I can’t shake, it becomes one of our dinners out and I push the planned meal to the next night.

However, this doesn’t always get at the main problem, which is the ridiculously short shelf life of my produce. Below are some tips I’ve been employing to combat this issue.

Wash and place fruit like strawberries, cherries and grapes in bowls in the center shelves of your fridge. This way when you pop open that door looking for a nibble you’ve got easy access to several healthy options. They won’t be forgotten in a back corner of the nether drawer.

Chances are you never walk into your kitchen eager to break down a melon or softening mangoes. So, take a few minutes to cut them up as soon as you bring them home, and keep them in containers for a snack or light breakfast.

You can extend the life of parsley and cilantro by employing a little sushi technique. Remove the elastic or wire twist securing the stems as well as any bad or yellowing leaves. Wash, and shake well to dry. (Remember if your herbs are wet it will be impossible to get a feathery chiffonade or fine mince, so wash them before storing). Lay the sprigs out on a couple of paper towels. Roll them up carefully like you would if you were making a maki roll. Store the roll in the plastic bag you purchased the herbs in.

But being socially responsible need not only be about extra kitchen prep, scratchy toilet paper and choking back blocks of flavorless beige soy products. Saving produce from a landfill can offer tangible satisfaction by using this trick I picked up in Beijing last year.

Since tracking down ice cubes in China yields basically the same success rate as Googling Tiananmen Square Incident, an enterprising friend began turning surplus strawberries into ice. Simply remove the tops and store them in ziplock bags in the freezer. When you’re ready for a cocktail, pop a few in a glass, top with gin and tonic (or your liquid of choice). Suddenly you have a visually stunning and delightfully refreshing reward for your efforts.



Fundraiser for Second Harvest Japan

Sunday’s fundraiser was a knockout success. When I decided to put this event together, I calculated that we would likely have about 100 attendees. If each gave the requested minimum of $50 we would raise $5000. You all blew that figure out of the water. As of this morning (April 14th) the donations collected for Second Harvest Japan through our efforts stand at $15,442.

Since Persimmons and Chestnuts is primarily a food blog I wanted to give you a little “behind the scenes” peak and talk about the wonderful volunteers that made it all possible. The chefs and cooks who helped with the food for the event were absolute ROCK STARS!! Makoto, sous chef at CityZen, came up with a delicious menu and corralled a talented group to pull it off.

Yama, line cook from CityZen, was appointed head-chef of the basement kitchen for the day and worked with Jenne, Maurie & Noritaka to keep the chorizo en croutes, gougeres, pork sandwiches and beet and goat cheese crostinis coming. Katy, pastry cook from CityZen, created a gorgeous one of a kind three-tiered cake, complete with a crane and cascading blossoms. Always the super star, Katy also made Parker House rolls for the pork sandwiches and whipped up biscuits when we realized we wouldn’t have enough rolls to feed the crowd.

My former NHK co-worker and friend Mio sweetly, but naively, offered to help with the prep. She was given the arduous task of pushing three pounds of goat cheese through a sieve normally reserved for straining tea. I only wish I had a picture of her hunched over in the kitchen counter. Her cramped right hand clasping the metal handle while her left hand used a teaspoon to force the cheese through the tiny openings.  Her pain was worth it though, as anyone who tasted the smooth mousse on the crostinis could attest.

Makoto and Kenta, sushi chef at Café Japone, entertained and delighted the guests with platter after platter of fresh sushi: spicy tuna rolls, yellowtail and tuna sushi, hand rolls filled with Japanese omelets, tuna and avocado and many other surprises.

One delectable treat was reserved just for the cooks…  A regular mortal tasked with cooking for a 110 guests would never have time to make nine people a meal before the festivities but Makoto is a skilled professional. He brought with him a batch of his homemade tonkotsu broth and delighted all of us by making ramen loaded with sliced abalone, scallions, seaweed and what might have been the most perfectly cooked egg to ever float in a bowl of noodles

Sunday’s fundraiser is perhaps the first event ever where many guests ignored the rule of arriving “fashionably late”, causing basement-chef Yama to utter that kitchen term I had actually begun to miss, “PUSH!”

The cooks downstairs kept the food coming and only managed to set off the fire alarm once. But honestly, it really isn’t a party until the hunky fire marshals show up.

At the end of the day, Sunday’s fundraiser was a huge success thanks to all the wonderful friends who gave so generously—including the many gracious donors who couldn’t be there in person but still contributed. I was so touched by everyone’s compassion for those suffering in Japan. This is an issue that means so much to me and I was grateful for the outpouring of support.

Let me repeat what the Japanese Ambassador, Ichiro Fujisaki said in his letter to the attendees on Sunday, “The assistance we are receiving from the United States is especially impressive—your rescue teams, your forces, your experts, your government officials have been working day and night with us. Such a massive extending of support, goodwill and solidarity is so encouraging. Your gathering is an excellent example of such efforts on our behalf. I am truly moved. Thank you very much for doing this. People in Japan will never forget your kindness.”

Yesterday I received an email from Charles McJilton, the CEO of Second Harvest Japan expressing his gratitude to all of you. He noted that due to the outpouring of support that they have received, Second Harvest is, “now in the process of developing a comprehensive 1-2 year plan that will increase the level of food security in the [Tohoku] region”. As I mentioned in my speech at the fundraiser, this issue is not one that will go away in a couple of weeks. The thousands of people who have lost their homes and loved ones will need our sustained support during the hard months ahead. Your donations are helping to make that possible. So from the bottom of my heart—THANK YOU!

Guests listening to the reading of Ambassador Fujisaki’s letter

Thank you Media Marksmen for the stunning posters depicting the catastrophe in Japan

A short pause to listen to a few words about the event

A round of applause for the talented Makoto-san

Kenta and Yama making sushi in the main kitchen

Tuna sushi and rolls

Hamachi Sushi

Spicy tuna and avocado hand rolls

Gougeres

Asian pork sandwiches with red onion and cucumber pickles

Beet and goat cheese mousse crostinis

Soused shrimp with pineapple and red pepper relish (not shown)

Three tiered cake with a sugar origami crane and cascading cherry blossoms

What you missed… yes, it really was as good as it looks

Stop and Ask Yourself, Can I Do More To Aid Those Suffering In Japan?

On Friday March 11th, I was woken early by the beep of my blackberry. My younger sister was texting me, asking if I had seen the news; Japan had been hit by a massive earthquake and several coastal towns had been destroyed by tsunami that followed. Japan had been our home as children, and we still had close friends living throughout the country. Congested phone lines made it impossible to call anyone so I began frantically reaching out via email and Facebook to friends in Japan, as well as Japanese friends here in the States. One of my first emails went out to the sous chef at the restaurant where I have just completed a nine-month externship. Like so many others he replied that he hadn’t been able talk to his family yet, but remained hopeful that they were safe.

Over the next few days, I became ravenous for any information related to Japan. The ping from TweetDeck rang out constantly as the magnitude of the situation began to unfold. I kept one window on my computer constantly open to Facebook, where status updates revealed the whereabouts of friends, and provided up-to-the-minute news of events occurring in Tokyo, Chiba, Fukushima, Sendai, and elsewhere.

News footage of the tsunami hitting the Tohoku region was heartbreaking. The landscape was all so familiar—a patchwork of rectangular rice paddies punctuated by farmhouses with sloped roofs. Rows of black plastic sheets housing new seedlings. Tiny vehicles driving down the narrow roads between farms. It’s impossible to find words to describe what I felt physically and emotionally as I watched that wall of water bulldoze over the land, dragging houses, boats and cars several miles inland.

When I was eight years old my family lived just a couple blocks away from the ocean in Oarai, Ibaraki prefecture. My brothers and I spent countless afternoons collecting sand dollars and rescuing starfish that had washed up with the tide. It had only been my home for a year, but seeing images of the tsunami waves swirling off the coast and then the destruction of the Oarai port was nonetheless gut wrenching to watch.

Other feelings began to set in after the initial shock wore off. Guilt for being comfortable and safe while so many others were suffering. Frustration for not being able to help.  And finally depression. Feeling that what I do doesn’t make much of a difference in the world. People always say, “Do what you love”. Well, I love food. So I cook, develop recipes and write about food. I don’t save lives or alter the world in any great way. Most of the time I love it, but when a disaster like this happens it’s hard not to question my life choices.

Judging my daily contribution to the world may have offered a harsh reality check, but it also lent clarity. Thankfully, I believe I have found a use for my particular skills.

On April 10th I’m putting on a fundraiser for Second Harvest Japan, an organization that is on the ground offering real, tangible assistance to those who have been hit hardest. I may not be able to hand out food and water in the stricken areas of Japan, but I can help those who are.

Upon deciding to hold this fundraiser, I reached out to the same sous chef, this time asking if he was interested in helping me cater the event. He responded quickly and enthusiastically, following up a couple days later to let me know that six other cooks from our kitchen and around the city had volunteered their services as well. Chef called later that day to offer his help and to tell me that he would be hosting a large fundraiser at the restaurant.

I’ve come to realize that chefs are some of the most generous responders to crises. Restaurants host fundraisers, donate gift certificates for charity auctions and set aside a percentage of diner’s tabs for relief efforts. When a disaster strikes cooks reach out to each other, looking for ways to contribute what they can.

Often, what they can contribute is simply their ability to give food to others. NHK World ran a story about a ramen shop owner who lost his home in the tsunami. At night he stays in a shelter, but during the day he opens his small ramen shop and serves bowls of noodles to whomever he can. For many staying in shelters, where a typical meal consists of two cold rice balls, this ramen is the only hot meal available to them.

Tens of thousands of people have lost everything in the earthquake and tsunami. There is an urgent need for medical care, especially for Japan’s many elderly who, along with children, have been particularly affected by this disaster. Just yesterday, Kyodo news reported that 320,000 people are staying at 2,100 makeshift shelters in 16 prefectures throughout Japan. It appears that some shelters are still without water, electricity and have very little food. But forget the figures and stats for a brief moment, close your eyes and picture those shelters… Terrified mothers trying to remain brave for their children, elderly who have just lost everything staunchly focused on the current day, because thinking about their future is beyond daunting. Almost everyone has lost a family member or close friend, with poor communication between the hardest hit areas all they can do is wait with fleeting hope that their loved ones are safe.

The news of the disaster in Japan affected everyone differently. For those of us who grew up there, it’s hard not to feel overwhelmed. To see a country that you love and call home so damaged is painful. There is no doubt that in time Japan will heal and emerge stronger and more beautiful than ever. But today they need our help. Take a moment to look at the skills and resources you possess and see if there isn’t more you can do to aid the relief efforts. Let’s do everything that we can to ensure that those suffering in Japan get medical treatment, blankets, fuel, water and hopefully many more hot meals.

Check out these links (one, two and three) to see how others are using their skills to aid in the relief effort.

For all the food and travel lovers out there…

Dear Friends and Family,

Your encouragement, pressure and pestering have finally paid off. Welcome to yet another food blog. My hope is that Persimmons and Chestnuts will serve a dual purpose: one, to be a place where anyone with an interest in all things Asian can get a little taste of home. Second, this is for anyone who has ever sat in an office staring at your computer screen and thought to yourself “I love food, maybe I should quit my job and become a chef” … let the fun begin!