Say Hello to My Little Friend…the Eggplant

Ah, this poor little vegetable (technically a berry). So often it finds itself misunderstood and on peoples’ list of least desirable edibles. Maybe it’s a general lack of knowledge, bad past experiences, or simply its shape that frightens people away.

However, with rising food costs, it’s nice to have alternatives. I often consider eggplant as a great meat substitute taste wise, along with mushrooms. I’m not a vegetarian, I simply eat what tastes great. And I can say without a doubt this dish will leave meat-lovers satisfied.


I’m Leaving on a JET Plane (Maybe)

One of my friends once asked me, “Why don’t you go teach English in Japan?” My first thought was, I’m not a teacher. She knew I had been trying to learn Japanese, and no doubt some cultural immersion would be a good thing.

After doing some research, I learned that being a teacher is not necessarily a prerequisite to participate. It turns out that Japan often accepts a limited number of native English speakers each year to assist in their education program. The best part, participants are expected to study Japanese as well.

I know for sure I would enjoy doing this, but it’s a fairly large commitment. Hopefully by the time applications for the 2014 year are accepted I will have decided if I want to proceed. I’ll have to consider leaving my employment and living arrangements, all the natural disasters, and even the political environment. I’d hate to arrive just before N. Korea decides to test a nuclear device on the island or miss the opportunity to go for the same reason.

If you are a U.S. citizen and the Japan Exchange and Teaching (JET) Program interests you, go to the embassy website here for more information.

An Addiction to Green Tea

I have become addicted to green tea! However, it’s not because of the caffeine. It’s like having a cup of pure joy. It warms me up during these cold months with a light grassy aroma and fresh flavor.

Of course I’m not talking about Lipton’s or any other brand you would buy at the local supermarket either. The tea in those little innocent-looking tea bags is nothing short of undrinkable. That may sound quite snobbish, but it is true. If you buy green tea and the leaves are not green, then it has oxidized. The only tea that should be oxidized is black tea. Oxidation gives tea a slightly bitter or astringent taste, which is fine as long as it is intentional.

Loose Leaf Green Tea

Organic Kabusecha Green Tea

I have been ordering my tea straight from the source, Japan. I usually find a better bargain with loose leaf teas instead of those in filter bags. The price, while higher than store-bought, is definitely worth it. I have previously ordered higher priced tea, in the $30 per 100 gram range and found almost no noticeable difference in taste to some of the cheaper $12 varieties. My point: go with the cheaper tea. The cheapest tea will still beat out anything you can get in a grocery store or Asian market.

The tea in the picture is an organic kabusecha from O-Cha. Note: cha is Japanese for tea. The site is a little amateurish, but I have never been disappointed by their service or quality of goods. But don’t feel the need to limit yourself to one site, shop around.

Japanese language resources – Part 2

I mentioned in an earlier post the need for a good dictionary when learning a language. The peculiar thing about Japanese is that there are three different ways of writing the same word. Hiragana and katakana, which provide pronunciation cues, don’t offer much in terms of word meaning. Kanji characters, based on ideographs from Chinese, provide cues to word meanings but can leave a person dumbfounded when trying to pronounce them. There are well over 2000 different kanji characters used in Japan today; so start learning early!

P.G. O’Neill’s “Essential Kanji” is another nicely priced book that provides a good starting point for beginners. It shows pronunciation, stroke order, and word meaning for 2000 kanji characters. The book is arranged so that simpler characters are found earlier, while the more complicated characters are later. I wish the book grouped characters together by JLPT (Japanese Language Proficiency Test) levels, but the character ordering is fairly similar.

P.G. O'Neill's Essential Kanji

If this book interests you, check it out at:
Essential Kanji: 2,000 Basic Japanese Characters Systematically Arranged For Learning And Reference

A Nod to the Superbowl

Last weekend was a time of both rivalry and camaraderie for football lovers nationwide. People gathered together to drink beer and eat their favorite party foods; and nothing quite symbolizes a Superbowl party like chicken wings do. Although the Superbowl has come and gone, this dip is always a crowd-pleaser. Share it with friends or keep it all to yourself. Either way, you may not have enough!

Dreaming of Spring

As I sit here writing this, I’m looking out the window at an overcast sky and wishing winter would end. With spring about a month and a half away, I can’t help but think about all the flowers and the vibrant colors they will bring. This brings me to the point, a colorful sweet dessert that I look forward to as the seasons change. What is this wonderful dessert you may ask? A fruit pizza of course!

This pizza has a light shortbread crust covered with a sweet cream cheese spread and an assortment of fresh and canned fruits. I have eaten several variations of this dessert, most of these involving sugar cookie dough as a crust. Not that this is a terrible idea, it can be a convenience to just buy a pre-made dough. However, the crust usually ends up chewy, and honestly I prefer to have more control over the ingredients. A shortbread crust is lighter in texture and adds less sugar to an already tremendously sweet dessert.

Another good thing about this dessert you can use whatever fresh fruit is available. The usual standbys are strawberries, bananas, kiwis, pineapple, and mandarin orange slices. Of course you can substitute anything you want but there are also fruits I would avoid such as apples. Grapes in my opinion don’t add much in terms of flavor.

Here is the link for the recipe and instructions on how to make this dessert.

A Cure for the Conventional

151a by Kishi Bashi

151a by Kishi Bashi (2012)

I went home over Thanksgiving weekend (this post is a little overdue) and my cousin asked if I had ever heard of Kishi Bashi. Knowing my taste in music, she thought this would be a fit. She played a sample song for me. At first, I was a little put off…it was a pretty strange song. However, she played track 3 for me and immediately the light bulb went on. It was a familiar song I had heard countless times. Where? It had been played relentlessly as a background song in a Windows 8 commercial.  I never knew the artist or name of the song until then. That song was called “Bright Whites.” It was pretty catchy so I gave the album the benefit of the doubt and listened to every song.

Some of the standouts are “Manchester”, “Bright Whites”, “Atticus, In the Desert”, and “Beat the Bright Out of Me”. “Bright Whites” is definitely a feel-good song. “Atticus, In the Desert” has the ability to transport you to another place. “Beat the Bright Out of Me” is a cross of “Tomorrow Never Knows” by the Beatles with “Carry On” by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young and a hint of “(Get Off Your) High Horse Lady” by Oasis. Most of the songs have beautiful strings and a quirkiness to them. If you like Indie music and clever lyrics then this might be an album you’ll like. I’m going to be watching this artist closely in the future.

View 151a on Amazon.

Japanese language resources – Part 1

Over the years I have developed quite the fascination for the Japanese. I’ve come to love the food, culture, and the language. Somewhere along the line I decided I was going to try and learn Japanese. Not only did I decide to learn it, but I was going to make the attempt without using a formal learning environment, a.k.a. classroom. This meant I had to find some decent resources.

I’ve been a foreign language student in the past; I studied both Spanish and Latin, so I knew I needed to find a good dictionary. Kodansha’s furigana dictionary was one of the better ones I found for a reasonable price. It is a hardbound book and fairly large. So it’s not going to be something you can carry around on vacation. It gives sample sentences for many of the words, so any nuances in word meaning are quite clear. One drawback for beginning Japanese learners is that you will need to be able read kana (hiragana and katakana). However, a good understanding of these can be learned fairly quickly from any number of online sources. Many websites offer lessons in grammar too, which is necessary to build natural-sounding sentences.

I’m still in the process of learning a lot of the grammatical rules and am by no means an expert on the matter. Learning any language takes years of practice, especially when it is fundamentally different than your native tongue. But I hope this will give a push in the right direction.

Kodansha's Furigana Japanese Dictionary

If you think this dictionary would be good for you, check it out at:
Kodansha’s Furigana Japanese Dictionary (Kodansha Dictionaries)