Thursday, December 23, 2010
Did you know that niku-jaga (lit. meat & potatoes) is the Japanese take on beef stew?? A long long time ago, when foreign traders first came to Japan, Japanese people saw that they were eating beef stew, and they tried to imitate it using what was immediately available. It soon morphed into what we all know and love today as niku-jaga. I think everyone makes their niku-jaga a bit differently, much like how everyone makes their own particular style of curry, but here’s how I learned to make this classic pseudo-Japanese item.
You will need:
- 1 onion
- 2 carrots
- 4 or 5 new potatoes
- pork, finely chopped (the kind you might use for shabu-shabu would be OK for this)
- 7 ladles full of dashi (broth made from konbu and katsuo-bushi)
- 1 ladleful of soy sauce (I’ll explain this measurement in the directions)
- 1 ladleful of mirin
- 1 tablespoon of sugar
- Optional: konnyaku noodles, green peas, or 1 tablespoon sake
*NOTE* I am going to reiterate that I am pretty bad at gauging the measurements for what I cook. I usually just add things to a pan or pot and it just magically turns out to be something worth eating 80-90% of the time! So, when my friend Ko-chan taught me how to make niku-jaga he explained that it was all about this 7-1-1 ratio. The 7-1-1 could be basically anything, cups, half-cups, ladles, etc. Since I have a miniscule kitchen and even tinier cookware, we decided to go with using the ladle to make the measurements. Please adjust the amount of onion, carrot, potato, and pork as necessary in accordance with however large you choose to make the measurements in your 7-1-1 ratio.
First! Halve or dice your potatoes, depending on how big or small they are. Cut your carrots into large chunks. Dice your onion as well.
Then! measure 7 whatever-fulls of dashi into your cooking receptacle! I used a pot! After this, add your 1 whatever-full of soy sauce, then 1 whatever-full of mirin! Simmer this liquid. Add the 1 tablespoon of sugar and dissolve. Then, put all of your vegetables into the liquid and bring to a boil. If you want to add sake to your liquid to give it a bit of a drier sweetness, this is the time to add it. Once the liquid has begun to simmer, make sure to taste it to see if any one flavor is overpowering another! You may find that your mixture is too soy sauce-ey or could use a little more mirin or sugar. Perhaps the entire flavor is too strong, and you need to add more dashi. Who knows. Adjust as necessary!
In a separate pan, brown your pork with a little bit of oil. It doesn’t have to be totally cooked to death, since it is eventually going into the boiling pot of veggies.
Once your vegetables have come to a boil, reduce to a simmer and add the pork. At this stage, you are going to want to cover the pot with either a lid or tinfoil. I don’t know why, but for some reason, the tinfoil skims all of the pork grime off of the top of the liquid, whereas a regular lid will not. Either way, you will end up with delicious niku-jaga. Simmer this until the potatoes and the carrots are soft enough to be pierced with a fork. If you’d like to add konnyaku noodles (as pictured) or peas (mostly for a color contrast) this is when to add them.
★ ★ ★
I know of some people who cook this stuff to death so that the liquid becomes entirely evaporated, but that isn’t really my style.. I like to have a little bit of the liquid remaining to keep everything in the bowl nice and happy and warm. I don’t usually drink it though, since there is a lot of salt in the soy sauce and (if I use the instant kind) dashi.
Let me know if you have your own take on niku-jaga. I’d be interested in knowing how you make it.
If you try this recipe, don’t' forget the 7-1-1 ratio!!!
serve steaming hot and enjoy!!!
★ ★ ★
P.S.: Leftover niku-jaga makes for a very nice bento! I put some spinach dressed with sesame along with it, and some rice, of course.
Saturday, December 18, 2010
The Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT) is something that I, a student of Japan and its language, have been battling with for some time now. Many of you may remember an old post of mine containing a quote from Miyazaki Toten that reeked of despair and frustration. Not long after that, many of you e-mailed me and tweeted at me and left supportive comments and talked to me and just really gave me a lot of hope. I hope you all remember the follow-up post, where I decided to pick myself up and dust myself off. I will say now that yes, even now, I get frustrated, but I am now miles (kilometers?) from where I was when I wrote about giving up.
A while back, I had a conversation with Lindsey (!!!) about studying for the JLPT. She had made this awesome study plan and said something to the effect of, “we’re both teachers, we plan lessons for our students, why not do it for ourselves?” I mean, I had all of the materials sitting right in front of me, I hadn’t really been utilizing them to the full extent I could have been.
So I threw myself into studying. I picked up those books and dug into them. I bought a notebook to write down all of the grammar points I was learning and the practice exercises that went along with them. I mean, I actually needed to physically write everything down into this notebook, instead of just circling the answers in the practice text. I found that if I actually did the writing myself, I was more apt to remember what was written down. Following this mindset, I also bought a graph paper notebook and used it to practice new kanji as well as some kanji I knew, but wasn’t entirely sure of how they were written. Luckily, I sit next to one of our school’s Japanese teachers in the office, and he gladly helped me when I wasn’t entirely sure of stroke order, usage, etcetera.
Wow was he helpful, and never ever once condescending or confusing. Sometimes when I ask people questions about word usage or idiomatic phrases, they tend to go off on a nihonjinron tirade that never really ever answers my original question and always succeeds in me saying “yes, I agree, you speak a difficult language…” but never following with, “… can you freaking help me now?!”
I think that perhaps the difference between him and all of my other Japanese teachers was that my teachers were teaching Japanese to me as a foreign language. Whereas, he teaches Japanese to high school students as like.. their first language. I mean, he’s the equivalent of what my English teachers were like in high school, making us read great novels and write essays and papers about them. Not so concerned with the correct-ness of the language, but more about how one communicates with it and its usage and written form. I wish I could have taken all of my Japanese in college from a teacher like him, but I suppose it was best that I learned my basics the way I did!!
I finally invested in an electronic dictionary, as time was of the essence!! It was, hands down, the best purchase I’ve ever made it my life!! I know how to use a regular-old paper Kanji dictionary, but let’s face it, those things are a pain in the butt to lug around and looking up kanji using the STEP method takes a fair amount of time. The electronic dictionary is a huge time-saver and convenience. I can even save all of the entries I’ve looked up with a flashcard feature, and review them later on. It has a pronunciation guide, thesaurus, encyclopedia, business dictionary, cookbooks, medical dictionary… etc. Totally a great purchase, even if it did set me back a couple hundred bucks.
Lastly, I’ll talk about the texts I used. I will provide links to them on Amazon.co.jp, along with their reviews.
日本語総まとめ問題集 [2級文法編] and日本語総まとめ問題集 [2級漢字編]
these two texts are published by Ask publishing. When I looked at them in the bookstore, I appreciated the fact that they contained English explanations and (in the Kanji book) lots of useful vocabulary. Unfortunately, the English translations are poor and are in need of serious revision. When I was making my own notes in my notebook, I translated the example sentences myself so they would be easier to relate to and understand. The other axe I have to grind with these books is the fact that they have lots of really negative sentences in them, that just… kind of make you want to give up studying! They don’t really create any kind of positive attitude toward language learning!
The Japanese in this letter is filled with mistakes.
I can’t even write hiragana, so of course I can’t write kanji.
It is impossible to pass the test with my current abilities.
The Japanese in this essay is so bad that it’s impossible to fix.
I mainly bought this book to take and read on the train to and from work. It’s a nice size for commuting, and it comes with a red plastic plate so the words and furigana printed in red disappear and force you to memorize the vocabulary. It’s nice for short-term memory recall practice, but as a regular study method, I would personally steer clear of this kind of book.
Wow! I really loved this text the most out of all of them. Reading comprehension is probably my weakest section of the test, but this book is great as far as explaining the types of questions, giving you wonderful explanations of how to break down sentences and truly get a grasp of what you’re reading. However, this book is written entirely in Japanese, which makes it a little tiresome at first. I figured that since I’m taking a N2 test I should at least be able to read 80% of this book, so I shouldn’t complain that it’s written all in Japanese – that is what I’m aiming for. I WANT to be able to read and understand 100% of the book! So. I did my best and made my way through the N2 practice problems, and I did very well with this text, and I highly recommend it.
I’d also like to mention that I used all of these texts in conjunction with the mass amounts of Japanese I already know. I do have a degree in this stuff, and without my background, I think it might be hard for an independent learner to work with these texts. On the other hand, everyone is different, and who am I to say what works for me may not work for anyone else!! I encourage everyone to find their own style and way to study whatever it is you’re passionate about! For me it happens to be Japanese. I loove Japanese. I love how it rolls off of my tongue and I love writing it mostly! I like all of the little idiomatic expressions and I even like the things that challenge me like humble speech and transitive/intransitive verb pairs. I think it’s really cool. Anyway. I’ll stop gushing over how much I enjoy this language and keep my fingers crossed that I did well on my test this year!!
Sunday, November 28, 2010
Oh my goodness. Cream stew is probably one of the most delicious things ever. It’s not really Japanese fare, but I really never ate it until I came to Japan. I know that you can buy little cubes of roux for the stew in the grocery stores here, but they have a ton of salt and lord knows what else in them, so I prefer to make my own roux. It’s easy peasy and I know exactly what goes into my lovely stew. I am pretty terrible at guessing the quantities of the ingredients, since I basically go by how much will fit into the tiny pots I have, so I haven’t included any real measurements… ahem.
You will need:
- 1 onion
- 2 carrots
- 1 small head of broccoli
- 5 or so new potatoes, well washed (I never peel the skin off of potatoes, but if you’d like to, go for it!)
- *optional* napa cabbage
- 2 or 3 boneless chicken thighs, cut into nice bite-sized chunks.
- milk (I use low-fat milk, but whatever you like or have around is fine)
- 1 tablespoon-ish of butter
- 2 teaspoon-ishes of flour
- cooking oil (I use grapeseed oil)
First, add a tiny bit of oil to a nonstick pan and add your chicken and make sure it is cooked through all the way!! Then, remove the chicken and set it aside for later. In your pot, start sweating your chopped up onion with a tiny bit of oil (I like a large diced onion, not teeny tiny pieces) until translucent. Then, add your carrots, roughly chopped, and the new potatoes, diced. Add enough water to cover the whole shebang and let it come to a simmer. In the meantime, steam your broccoli in the microwave. I put mine in a little dish with a tiny bit of water. This way it gets cooked, but doesn’t turn soggy. Set this aside, maybe by the chicken.
Once your potatoes, carrots and onions have come to a simmer, cook them until you can easily put a fork through the carrots. The new potatoes shouldn’t take too too long to get cooked through all the way.
In a separate pot, start melting your butter and add the flour. Whisk it in until there are no lumps, but the mixture is thick. This is your roux. Then, add a ladleful of the water from the pot with the potatoes and dissolve your roux in this. Then, using a slotted spoon, start adding the carrots, potatoes and onions to the pot with the roux. Then add your chicken and broccoli. Once everything is in, add a little more of the potato/carrot water and pour in the milk until everything is covered. Add salt and pepper to taste. Stir gently. You don’t want to break up the broccoli, but you want to make sure the roux is evenly distributed so that everything becomes thickened – so it becomes kind of… stew-ey.
Let this simmer and thicken. If you find that your stew isn’t thickening, you can always add a little more flour. Don’t forget to add salt and pepper to taste. The butter has a little salt in it, but without a little salt + pepper the stew can be a little bland.
Finally, in the words of the greatest of the greats, miss J. Child: Bon Appétit!!
★ ★ ★
This is a really nice fall/winter dish, and can be modified with vegetables you like. Sometimes it’s good with mushrooms, which would be added at the end, with the broccoli and chicken. It is good even with cabbage (I like Napa cabbage myself) boiled along with the potatoes and carrots. You could even possibly add small pastas to this, but since the stew is pretty thick, I don’t find it necessary.
Sunday, November 21, 2010
Last weekend, Kevin, Eric, and I went on the Watarase River Valley railway to a tiny little station called Godo up in the mountains. We went for a nice walk/hike to Kusaki Dam and got to enjoy lots of local scenery. Despite the fact that Japan has been heavily forested and its rivers diverted and dammed and developed, it still continues to be a beautiful place.
I randomly picked Godo station to get off at, because It has the same characters as Kobe (神戸). Weird, huh?
Kusaki dam. It was surprisingly big!!
On our way back to Godo, we walked past a house that had chicken coops and pheasants right out front.
Maybe you can see Kevin off to the right there… right before he decided to take a swim in the river.
Monday, November 15, 2010
The colors aren’t as nice as I’d hoped, I have such crappy lighting in my apartment >.<; but here’s pretty obento #3! I took this bento for school this past Friday. I really like my star cupcake wrappers. They are made out of silicone, so you can use them over and over and over, AND they totally make my bento 500 times more adorable than usual.
Now for the contents!
mini hamburgers w/ siracha sauce
green beans simmered in soy sauce/broth
Friday, November 12, 2010
L.L. stands for Language Lab, which is what this classroom used to be, probably 20 years ago. There are tape recorders built into each desk, along with individual microphone headsets. At the front of the room is a large control console, complete with a monitor system and master recording panel. I turned on the control console and found a display not unlike that of one of those old apple computers my elementary schools had in their computer labs when I was in like.. 2nd grade… that had 18 amazing colors on the screen. I guess the sad thing is that nobody knows how to operate this thing anymore, and even if they could, the students have absolutely destroyed the tape recorders in the desks and more than half of the headsets are missing or broken. Teenage ennui will always ultimately lead to destruction.
The LL is on the 4th (and top floor) of a separate building that was added to the campus of our school about…20 years ago. There’s a windowed connecting hallway that spans the distance between the main building and the building where the LL is. It’s wickedly cold because it’s all glass and old windows, but it offers a nice view, which is especially nice in the morning and mid-afternoon. Especially around 3:25, when I go for cleaning. The light hits the mountains in an especially nice way that calms me down after a long day.
I tried to decorate the LL a little bit. My predecessor had left up a lot of the posters and flags and things from the ALTs before him, and a lot of them had to do with New Zealand and the now totally defunct exchange program from about 10 years ago. My first week consisted of cleaning out all the garbage and tearing down all of the old posters. I made this poster for the window between the prep room (which is also our club room) and the actual classroom. Unfortunately 90% of my kids don’t know what it means… but I like it and it’s going to stay up as long as I’m here. There are also some maps and things like speech schedules that I have hanging on the walls, but I like looking at this during my classes when I get frustrated to remember why we need to learn how to speak each others’ languages.
Of course, the LL isn’t the pristine learning environment that I make it out to be. It’s pretty dirty, like… 20 million years of dust, on the shelves and things… it has a musty kind of smell, sometimes there are dead birds that I find out on the veranda, and then there are nice little things that my students write on the desks. I really like the one that says OCだるいよー。
Here’s a nice view from the front of the room. This is what I get to see every day at work.
The light coming through the pine trees next to the building along the riverside at 3:45 is surreal. I can never see the river because of the trees, but I can always hear it. Nobody comes in the entire building for any reason other than my class, and the band uses the big tatami rooms on the ground floor for practice, but other than that… there’s not much happening here, and it feels so lonely and neglected compared to the rest of the school. Anyway. It’s my classroom.
Tuesday, November 9, 2010
The home economics club at my school invited me to make cupcakes with them last week. We made the cake part on Thursday, and then, since the cupcakes had to cool, we did the buttercream icing and sprinkles on Friday. The cake (which was devil’s food) was slightly dense, and the buttercream wasn’t as smooth as I’d hoped. Despite these couple of flaws, making the cupcakes was all good fun, until it came time to actually eating them.
I guess American-style sweets just aren’t popular in Japan. I was really surprised that the students in particular didn’t want to eat them… or take them home. One of the teachers even said that she hated American food, but for American food, these were OK. I was a little bummed out by this turn of events. In any case, I got to take home a couple of cupcakes. Since the home ec. club money pays for the ingredients, I felt kind of bad taking a lot, so I said I’d take two and give two to the music teacher, to say thanks for letting me use the piano all the time.
So. there goes my idea of opening up a cupcake shop in Tokyo. I guess cupcakes just aren’t a crowd pleaser here. Oh well. More for me!
Sunday, November 7, 2010
Friday, November 5, 2010
Ok. well. Maybe it wasn’t especially pretty, but it was especially tasty.
carrots & broccoli steamed with butter & honey (yes!)
tuna that was pan.. fried? maybe? I dunno... with a little bit of soy sauce
white rice made with dashi and a little sprinkle of dried parsley
I also took a mandarin orange, but it didn’t make it for the photo shoot.
Thursday, November 4, 2010
The best part about going to Tokyo Disneyland in a typhoon is that you don’t have to wait in line for very long for rides!!
Shin-chan and I planned on going there Halloween weekend, and when we heard there was going to be a typhoon, we decided to go anyway. I had never been to Tokyo Disneyland (and it’s been a veritable lifetime since I’ve been to Disney World) and I had been itching to go, ever since I found myself in Kanto and within very close reach of the happiest place in Japan.
I got this sweet leopard-print Minnie hat, and had a FANTASTIC time!!!
I want to go to Disney Sea for the next typhoon!!
Monday, October 25, 2010
Sometimes I like to make a bento to take to school. I made this kind of bento a while ago, but I forgot to take a photo of it. I think it looks really pretty! Well, not just the food, but I like my bento box, the matching chopsticks and the cloth bag I use to carry it around in. Anyway, I tried my best to replicate the contents once again, and I remembered to take a photo this time!!
Japanese pear slices
rice with mushrooms and sesame seeds
Sunday, October 24, 2010
Fall is in full swing here in Japan. I know I KNOW that pumpkins and Halloween aren’t a part of Japanese culture, but they are something that I do so enjoy. Last weekend, I joined a pumpkin carving event with the Kiryu International Association. They had these beautiful little pie pumpkins shipped in from Hokkaido, where the weather is somewhat similar to the Northeastern U.S., and sold them for about 600 yen a pop, and kids (and some adults) came to carve them! There was a big group of us ALTs there to help out, since there needed to be some explanation for first-timers as to how to carve a pumpkin! It was nice sharing culture :D
Here is, of course, my pumpkin. I had him sitting on my desk at school this past week, but he unfortunately started to mold and I had to.. ahem… dispose of him… sooner than hoped.
I also visited my Nametwin up in Tochigi City last weekend. We took a nice walk along the river, had a bento and had some serious girl talk. I’m sad that she lives further away from me now, but it’s very cool to have a new place to explore with her and it seems like she’s much more comfortable living in Tochigi than back in… that other place… sheesh!
Lastly, I finally played that gig with the band I joined last night! It was really cool! It was my very first time working with a band (well… other than my high school band… does that even count?) I unfortunately don’t have any photos, but I will ask around and see if anyone has any kind of data from the show. It was a good experience doing something new and different. I realized that I really enjoy singing, but I have a ways to go as far as musicianship is concerned. I’m certainly no professional when it comes to this kind of stuff. I feel like I’m always fudging it.
Until next time!
Monday, October 11, 2010
I kind of joined a Jazz band, and I’m kind of singing with them at their next gig.
(I’ll give those in the know the needed details concerning this)
Anyhow. They have a song called Orihime, and we went up on top of Orihime mountain to record it this evening. It was an amazing sunset.