summer breeze, summer foods

my recollections of foreign cuisine experiences i had overseas are brought back whenever a summer breeze blows through my window. it doesn’t have to be so exotic, though. even if it can be a little exotic for my fellow japanese, it’s become the norm in my kitchen. for example, when i find my mints overgrowing the pot, i cook something, some moroccan dish with mint leaves. basil? likewise, but some italian dish. i mastered most of my multi-culturalist home cooking repertoire during my london years. london itself is a city of multi-ethnicity. besides, it’s a hub for jet-travellers. even morocco i was smitten with is not far away from london.


when i was a northwest-londoner, i enjoyed a walk around portbello road especially in summer. i loved the street markets regardless of overcrowding i'd usually avoid. strolling up and down the rows of food stalls at the open-air markets was such fun. there were also several haunts of mine on and off the street: the test kitchen of books for cooks, which was among my most favourite london eateries; the spice shop and a “non-boho” moroccan tea room where local people of north african origin would gather and sip mint tea. italian, spanish, portuguese, to name but a few, global food shops were there. no doubt, portbello road was my source of foodie inspirations.

it is funny that i stick to foreign cuisine even back in japan, while japanese food is becoming more and more global than ever. of course i like japanese food. yesterday, i had a family gathering having sushi prior to my brother’s hospitalization. we japanese are the first people who discovered “うまみ umami” as a taste that has been unfamiliar to non-japanese. what’s more, we have the ultimate term “食い倒れ kuidaore” for foodies in gastronomic osaka and i am proud of it. but my palate still tends to go beyond the oceans. in fact, i was in heaven the evening before last, eating lemon garlic pasta and sweet couscous with some home-grown herbs. so, i beg you, tiny little caterpillars, get your hand off my baby herbies!
(by the way, i have no exact recipes. because i always improvise things depending on what i have. rather, i enjoy finding new combinations of ingredients and, to me, this is what cooking is all about.)

pic 1
moroccan salad: i love the combination of orange, red onion and mint. adding olive oil, lemon juice and cinnamon powder to dress with them. it must be served really chilled!
pic 2
pan con tomate y tomillo: chopped fresh tomatoes on garlic toast with olive oil. i saw andalusians having this for breakfast, while i like having this for lunch. and with fresh thyme.
pic 3
penne pomadoro e basilica (all’arrabiata): if i had fresh and ripe tomatoes and garlic cloves, i’d cook this without question. usually i’d sprinkle chili flakes on it to spice up.
pic 4, 5
tortilla de potatas con orégano: i ate a lot of this when i lived in buenos aires. i also quite liked a spinach version that was sold at a bakery there. i made tortilla adding dried and fresh oregano this time. as a result, it enhanced the flavour. the eggy colour turned less brilliant, though.
pic 6
soupe à la citrouille à la crème et aux herbes: this is my all-time favourite soup, which i cooked a lot when my kids were little. i prefer not to use a strainer because i like chunky bits of pumpkin. ingredients are pumpkin, chopped onion, flour, butter, chicken soup stock, cream (for the calorie-conscious, milk can be a substitute for cream) and a couple of dried bay leaves. plus, some fresh oregano leaves to garnish.
pic 7
fuss-free minestrone: whenever i need to clean out my fridge, i go for minestrone. i can make the most of vegetables in the fridge, even a broccoli stalk and a leftover cucumber, namely anything. actually, i make soup quite often in summer. i serve it hot, and chilled the next day. it’s always hearty, anyway.
pic 8
sweet couscous: whole grain couscous, amanatsu, lemon juice, rum soaked raisins, honey, cinnamon powder and mint leaves. i made this oil-free to lower its calorie. as a main ingredient for sweet couscous. this time, i used 甘夏 amanatsu, a typical summer citrus in japan. amanatsu used to be popular and cheap, but not anymore these days. it’s easy to peel and get segments; tangier, more refreshing and less juicy than orange. lemon supplements juice.


pure white

our local cicada choir woke me up. a full-fledged summer’s day began. i got out of my bed, walked into my dinning room, and found something purifying my soul on the table. i knew it was there, but i was awakened once again by the beauty of pure white clover flowers. i had taken them home from a narrow park path a few days ago. they caught my eye during my routine walk. until then i’d never seen such big white clover flowers: as white as snow and as perfect globe-shaped as a snow ball. mostly, white clover flowers we see in meadows are murky and imperfect-shaped.

when it comes to pleasing the eye, i have no boundary between cultivated flowers and wild flowers, say, weeds? as for picking flowers, i enjoy the latter since i’m not allowed to pick flowers in public gardens. besides, adorning a table with wild flowers sounds like a pretty elegant manner of living to me. so, i delight in spending a few days with these white clovers at home. i always find myself preferring white flowers to other colours, by the way. i even play with an idea of creating a little “white garden” of potted white flowers on my balcony one day. but, i only learn that i have no ability of being a constant gardener.
gary, my best friend who’s lost touch with me sadly since last christmas (i was wrong in expressing my worries about his taking the financial risk for a new relationship apparently, rather than congratulating him. i’m still hoping that my dear american friend will prove me wrong at the end of the day) took me on an english garden tour while he was visiting london. among many gorgeous gardens we visited, hidcote manor’s white border as well as sissinghurst castle’s white garden were muted but awfully alluring. i got charmed by the white magic. my taste in colour for garden flowers was characterised at the time, i guess.
usually, i’d love white flowers to be in my congenial surroundings, even though i am also very fond of flowers in different soft hues. old (and old-fashioned in particular) japanese people, however, would associate white flowers with funeral. in fact, a friend of my mother’s refused a delivered gift of some white flowers from her son last year. my mother laughingly told me about her girlfriend’s remark on her son’s chic mother’s day gift. she actually called her son to say this: “perish the thought, are you expecting my funeral so soon?” -- oh, what a thought!

summer-white delights:
pic 1, 2, 8
pure white clovers and tiny flowers i don’t know the name (from my local park)
pic 3
千日紅 sen-nichi-koh, globe amaranth (in the park garden)
it resembles clover in flower, but the two belong to different families.
pic 4
百日紅 hyaku-jitsu-koh, which is read as sarusuberi, cape-myrtle
(on the premises of the block of my flat)
the japanese names of globe amaranth and care-myrtle are only one chinese character (千: thousand or 百: hundred) away from each other. in fact, they do not bear the slightest resemblance to each other. interesting.
pic 5
初雪草 hatsuyuki-soh, snow-on-the-mountain (in the park garden)
i love the soft green and white foliages like this one.
pic 6
梔子 kuchinashi, gardenia (in the park)
this luscious flower always takes me back to my buenos aires days. gardenia is called “jasmine” over there, though.
pic 7
sweet rambling roses (in london several years back)
i could see fragrant roses of organdie-like petals with glossy foliage anyplace in uk. i simply miss london parks and gardens.


summer gems

this is my season -- foodwise. i can’t love stifling summer days like today, but i am a sucker for fruits. there have been more and more fruits to show up to attract me as the summer sunshine ripens them since late may. i love fruits to behold, too. so i call fruits gems. they are glorious and absolutely gorgeous.

when i have a routine walk in the park my eyes are darting around to find some fruits, whether or not they are edible, to pick up. in my park, although there are many trees bearing juicy fruits such as mulberries, plums and japanese apricots, signs warn people, saying: do not pick fruits. they are for children’s nature observation, besides, picking fruits can hurt the trees. fair enough. they are also for birds and insects, then go back to the earth when rotten, righ? i, as a good citizen, pick no fruits from the branches. instead, i pick up some before going bad just for looking at them at home.

meanwhile, there are several fruits i cannot see around europe. so i would like to show you some you may not familiar with: the first one is やまもも yamamomo (japanese bayberry: myrica rubra) growing in the park. they are so cute to look at. some regions sell its jam and liquor as local specialities; the second one ぐみ gumi (silverberry: elaeagnus). this, in fact, was my very first fruit i recognised the fact that a tree bears fruits as a kid. and the memory of its tannic taste will never escape me. lastly, びわ biwa (loquat: eriobotrya japonica). it is widely available to buy, though biwa season is short. i quite like its soft but light crunchy texture of the flesh.
incidentally, i’ve noticed that fresh apricots are not always easy to get. so, my mother orders a packet with co-op every year for me. she, who is not really a fruit-lover, likes apricots out of her sentiment. we once had a big apricot tree in our family garden and she made apricot jam every year. apricot jam is still my most favourite jam, by the way. spreading a generous spoonful of bonne maman apricot preserve and nutella on a toasted slice of sonnenblumenbrot (german sunflower seed bread and i can’t get it in osaka, unfortunately) can bring me a happy morning. for fresh apricots, i love having them with yogurt the best.

pic 1 japanese bayberries (from my local park)
pic 2 mulberries (from my local park)
pic 3 silverberries (from a hedge nearby)
pic 4 plums and japanese apricots (from my local park)
pic 5, 6 loquats (from my local super market)
pic 7, 8, 9 apricots (from co-op)

... hope you don’t mind me heaving a sigh of grief here. you know what, after the exciting news i received last week, i got the worst news on wednesday. that’s life, isn’t it? but, why is this world so unfair to good people? i’ve been feeling as if i am coming to being drowned or suffocated deep in sadness since then. cancer has returned to my brother. this is not the end of the world for him, of course, yet he has to fight it forever and i know how devastating this blow can be. as for me, i am trying to shake off this feeling ... by looking for something really funny just like these two gentlemen: mr. obama and m. sarkozy.


a quiet week, exhilarating emails

the first half of 2009 went by and the new month began. it’s been a quiet week, but quite an extraordinary week at the same time. in fact, i received two exhilarating emails -- well, technically speaking, i was supposed to find one of them on 13th june, though; i just didn’t check it inadvertently. at any rate, the internet is incredible. i find a comment or two only once in a while if i am lucky. but, i never know who visit my blog all the way or what he or she makes of my post mostly, right? even if it is serendipitous or accidental, i have visitors without knowing. that's what i've now learned.
someone who visited my blog was kind enough to get in touch with me via the net. martin zweiback, the sender’s name, seemed surely not familiar to me, while its subject was “me, natalie”, a film i really love. then i found that the email was, actually, from the screenwriter of the film. i was lost for wards. he felt compelled to tell me he was appreciative of my favourite films list in which he found his “me, natalie”. unbelievable. i’m just a fan of the film. it is i who is very appreciative of receiving such an email from such a great screenwriter like him! nevertheless, what brought him to this blog and made him feel like checking my profile?
when i was fourteen, the film, which i hadn't seen yet, was a regular topic of chat among my girlfriends. so i asked my brother to take me to the cinema where “me, natalie” was on. i became a natalie, who should leave the nest and move to greenwich village, as i walked out of the cinema. i also bought myself a copy of screenplay of “me, natalie” a few years later. the impact those film and book had on me was huge and deep. almost miraculously, i still have the book. so i can tell how much natalie’s story meant to me. she was my hero throughout adolescence, while i was not able to live a life of natalie’s at the time.
centuries later i saw the film and read the book written by martin zwieback, i am living a life of Independence just like natalie, anyhow. even though this is not bohemian greenwich village, i can’t complain, i am comfortable about myself. oh, and, another email? sorry if i sound like a braggadocio again, but i couldn't keep this to myself. so...another email i received it on friday was from a publisher whom i sent my book proposal at the end of june. a quick reply is always good news in this kind of case. he got back to me right after he found my translated book potentially readable. no matter what kind of snag i would hit, i am thrilled with my new project.