Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Bento Challenge is a hit!

88!!!! One week left to order and we have already reached 88 bento sold! Our ambitous goal was 100. Our realistic goal was 50. (We are a small school.) We also have a second school on board with us! We are still fixing the details but I am very optimistic!

On a side note, here are the pictures from the 2 bentos I made this weekend. They are not fancy looking but they were delicious. Rice balls (salmon furikake, umemoboshi), tamago, sweet and sour daikon, dinosaure shaped eggs sandwich. In all it was a really easy-tasty bento.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Byakkotai part 3 Nisshinkan


1. Never disobey a superior.
2. Always bow in presence of a superior.
3. Never act as a coward.
4.  Never eat outside.
5.Never engage in a conversation with a women.
(Some of the rules students had to respect)


After visiting the memorial site on Iimori hill we headed for the castle. We quickly walked around the ground and took pictures of the cherry blossom. The rain was still pouring. We then made our way to Nisshinkan Samurai School. The school attended by the Byakkotai (white tiger brigades).

Just as we pulled in, the rain stopped. What a relief! We made our way inside the school. First off was a movie explaining the historical background:

The Nisshinkan school was founded by Genko Tanaka in 1803. During his lifetime he introduced wide scale political changes to the clan. His personal motto was "The Aizu clan's prosperity depends on educating its people." So he started the Nisshinkan school on the west side of Tsurugajo Castle. It was a school set up to educate the boys of the samurai rank retainers from the age of 10. The boys studied confucianism, mathematics, astronomy, and medical science using Japanese sources and information gathered from the Dutch. They also had to train in the martial arts, archery, spear-throwing, shooting, horse-riding and swimming. The school had its own swimming pool and observatory and it is said to have been in the top 3 out of 300 such clan schools in Japan at that time. (Visit this web site for more information)

The school was used to film the most recent movie about Byakkotai. You can watch here a preview. Unfortunately I must say that other than the historical aspect, this 4 hours long movie has very little to go for. The acting and the special effect are especially horrible.

Then we walked the grounds and explored all the building.  We didn't have much time before closing. We had to hurry. But before leaving, we painted our very own Akabeko!

Akabeko (赤べこ Akabeko, red cow) is a traditional toy from the Aizu region of Japan. The toy is made from two pieces of papier-mâché-covered wood, shaped and painted to look like a red cow or ox. When the toy is moved, the head thus bobs up and down and side to side. Aizu legend claims that the toys are based on a real cow that lived in the 9th century and showed its devotion to Buddha by willing its soul away or by refusing to leave the site of a temple it had helped to construct. Akabeko has become one of Fukushima Prefecture's most famous crafts and a symbol of the Aizu region.

 Before departing the wonderful city of Aizu, we stopped for lunch. Konnyaku, fish and meat grilled over fire, covered by a yuzu-miso sauce.

Byakkotai part 2

Down the rabbit hole!

As they fought to defeat the enemy, the Byakkotai had to retreat. They were fighting in familiar territory. What was once their playground was now a battlefield. They headed for a secret passage way through the mountain. And that is how they reach ed Iiemori hills. Still to this day, the secret passage way remains. It is but a hole on a cliff. But it stands as a testimony of the story that unfolded.

There are many sights to see between the secret passage way and the memorial monument. The most striking one is perhaps the round temple. In which you go up and down without ever changing direction. It is but one straight path!   

Monday, January 10, 2011

Not so challenging bento

Here we are, back from our grocery trip. We managed to price our bento below 2.50$ a unit. Which means we can expect a profit of 2-3$. Since this is a fundraiser for the school, we might bump up the price a bit. We haven't decided yet. But here is a sample picture of what we are going to offer.

  • Cheese, turkey, salad, sandwich
  • Veggy and dip
  • Pretzel
  • Fruit
  • Brownie trio
  • Tomato-cheese trio
The quantity will be adjusted to fit the size of the box as to not leave any holes. The meal also comes with a juice box.

We are really excited about this and hope the kids will be too!!!

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Challenging Bento Challenge

I am so excited about this, I can't wait any longer! My coworker and I had the ok, from the school we work at, to organize a fundraiser. We will be selling bento lunches on St-Valentine's day! For the last 2 weeks, we have been discussing different options and tomorrow we are finally ready to present the project to the rest of the school staff! 

We decided on heart shape sandwiches, with pink dip and veggy. Heart shape rice crispies square and pretzel. Tomorrow morning, before work, we are going to price all the material and food. Then we will sketch the bento. We might make one or two to showcase to the staff.

All this is part of a much bigger project we have been discussing in the last month. We would love to perhaps turn this into a side business. Although we believe in the product, there are still many great hurdle to overcome. 

Next month, we intend on having a few kids at school (with the parents permission off course) to help us out in a food tasting survey. We are curious to find out if kids from this very Caucasian rural community would be willing to eat rice balls and furikake!!! With the fundraiser we are staying within known territory and we have a goal of selling 100 bento!

Stay tune to find out more about this project!!!   

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Recette de Gyoza en français!

Voici la traduction de la recette de gyoza dont j’ai parlé pendant les vacances de noël!
Je dois spécifier qu’en général, je modifie la recette selon ce que mon réfrigérateur contient! Alors n’hésitez pas non plus à expérimenter! Il est aussi possible de les faire végétariens.
Néanmoins, peu importe les modifications que vous apporter, il y a une certaine recette de base à respecter.

·         I chou finement coupé
·         3livres de porc haché (peut être remplacé par de la dinde, du bœuf, des crevettes…)
·         ½ tasse de ciboulette finement haché
·         ½ tasse de sake
·         1/8 tasse de sauce soya
·         1/8 tasse de mirin
·         De temps en temps, j’aime ajouter de la coriandre et du gingembre.
Je prends tout les ingrédients et je les passe au robot culinaire. Si vous n’y avez pas accès, vous assurer que tout soit très finement coupé et bien mélangé.
Je n’ai jamais encore essayé de confectionner mes propres pâtes à Gyozo. Je trouve plus simple acheter les pâtes rondes à dumplings chinois (généralement disponible dans les épiceries chinoises mais aussi nord américaine.) Faîtes attention de ne pas acheter les pâtes à won-ton. Elles sont de constitution différente. Avec cette recette, j’ai généralement besoin de 150 à 200 pâtes.
Lorsque vous façonner chaque gyoza, utiliser de l’eau et non pas un œuf pour sceller les côtés. Le plus simple est de prendre une petite cuillérée de mélange, la déposer au milieu. Humecter le contour de la pâte avec de l’eau et de la refermer en demi-cercle. Selon la tradition japonaise, il ne faut plisser qu’un seul côté. Il est par contre standard pour les dumplings chinois, de plisser les deux côtés. Rien ne vous empêche de le faire de l’une ou de l’autre façon. Si vous avez utilisé toutes les pâtes et qu’il vous reste du mélange, vous pouvez l’utiliser pour faire un stir-fry.
Lorsque vous avez tout terminé vous pouvez les faire cuire ou les mettre à congeler. Pour la cuisson, il y a plusieurs façons possibles. Vous pouvez tout simplement les faire cuire à la vapeur. Vous pouvez les faire bouillir dans une soupe. Vous pouvez les faire frire dans l’huile. Toutefois, noter que la façon traditionnelle japonaise (et la meilleur selon moi) est de les faire cuire lentement dans une poêle qui a été remplie d’une fine couche d’huile. De cette façon, ils seront croustillants mais tendre. Il n’est pas nécessaire de les retourner pendant la cuisson. Néanmoins assurez vous qu’ils demeurent couvert afin qu’ils ne s’assèchent pas.
Pour la sauce, vous pouvez acheter de la sauce à gyoza ou faire votre propre mélange de sauce soya, sauce à tamari et  vinaigre rouge.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Aizu-Wakamatsu The Byakkotai Story

The truth is that I had never heard about Byakkotai. As a matter of fact, the chances are : neither have you! 

Unless you are a hard core Tomohisa Yamashita fan and happened to have watched the 4 hours made for TV Japanese movie. (Which I had never heard of either before traveling to my friend family house in Chiba).

My friend lives in the prefecture of Chiba near Narita city but her father is from Fukushima. He's an Aizu boy ;-) Knowing that I love history, he had planed on taking us to his hometown and show me all the sight the great city of Aizu-Wakamatsu had to offer. Long before going, my friend had been telling me all about it. She would always mentioned the Byakkotai. I had no idea what she was talking about. All I had in my mind was Yoshitsune!

We got up really early one April morning and took of in the family minivan for Aizu. outside : pouring rain. We drove for about 4 hours and reached Aizu. We first made our way to the famous hill where the memorial for the Byakotai lays. There stands a little museum. And that is when I understood what Byakkotai was...

In short : such as Hiroshima and the children peace memorial. Byakkotai is the synonym of the infamy of war. Children and war. Kids that shouldn't have been sent to war and for lack of better knowledge, committed ceremonial suicide thinking they had been defeated.  Teenagers who had been train by the best. And who did the best thing they could do when they saw the castle, they were meant to defend, burning. What they did not know was that the castle was not engulf in flame and that they had not been defeated yet.
So there I stood. At the top of the hill. Looking over 19 graves. With the castle standing strong in the valley. (It has since been rebuilt). The cherry blossoms. The pouring rain. It hit me harder than the Atomic bomb site in Hiroshima. 

Probably because the site was so modest. Probably because although they are respected, they are in no way heroes. 


That's what they were. Yet you can't help but understand the reason behind their act. The ultimate testimony of pride. Everyday I see kids. Teenagers. With no sense of pride. With no integrity. Teens that have no directions or nothing they hold near and dear to their heart and would give their life to protect. 

Granted, Byakkotai represent youth foolishness just the same  way Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet does. But Byakkotai also represent the ultimate act of loyalty. Would you do the same for the country you love?


Takasaki x3


As I write this post, Japan is far behind me. But I cannot ignore the wonderful last 2 weeks I spent there last April. Here is an account of how I spent two amazing weeks in the care of my Japanese friend Ayumi and her family.

First off, we met in Tokyo and took off, early morning for Takasaki. My Japanese friend had never been there but she had heard all about our previous adventure in the town of Daruma!

We easily reached the town, and grabbed some Daruma bentos at the train station. We had planned on having an outdoor lunch  at the Daruma temple. We were a little bit behind schedule and miss the before noon bus. We ended up having to wait a good hour before the next mean of transportation to the temple, which was on a local train. By the time we reached the temple, we had very little time left so we zoomed up the hundreds of stairs and made our way to the main building. We snapped tons of pictures and bought Daruma-shape omikuji (300yen). My fortune was not exactly stellar so I decided to fold it up and tie it at the temple.

We then walked across the bridge to the Daruma factory. I was glad for once to have a Japanese translator to talk to the old man who had been so nice for us!! In fact he was so happy to see that we had brought our Japanese friend! As always Ayuchan did an amazing job at translating everything I wanted to say!!! 

The old man invited us to the second floor of the workshop and served us lunch! We had delicious Soba and tempura. We were not expecting such generosity. But we were really happy, since it hadn't had lunch yet! We still had our bentos with us but decided to keep them for dinner.

After the lunch, we headed back to the station and started the long journey back to Tokyo, then Narita then Sosa. I was finally going to meet her family!   

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Daruma Project

Since today is the Sixth of January, I decided to post about one of my favorite Japanese talisman of good luck : Daruma Dolls.

Why today, you might ask? Well today marks the beginning of the 2 days fair in Takasaki where people go to buy their Daruma Doll.

But what is a Daruma doll?

Essentially, Daruma dolls are paper maché dolls. A big round head that represent Dharma (Bodhidharma). It is usually painted in red with a white face where you can find the design of a crane (the eyebrow like feature) and a turtle (the moustache like feature) two animal considered as being lucky for Japanese people.

The legend (as reproduce from this web site:

The best-known legends say he attained enlightenment after meditating in a cave for seven years (some say nine years) without blinking or moving his eyes. In most legends, this occurred while Bodhidharma was facing a cave wall at the Shorinji Temple on Mt Song in China. During those years of meditation, his arms and legs atrophied, shriveled up, and fell off. Legend also credits Bodhidharma with cutting off his eyelids. Apparently he dozed off during meditation, and in anger, he cut off his eyelids, which fell to the ground and sprouted into China's first green tea plants.

To know more about Daruma dolls I strongly suggest you visit Wikipedia  and this web site.

But Where can I find a Daruma doll?

Although Takasaki produces 80% of the dolls, you can find them for sell all over Japan. The price varies greatly and so does the size. You can buy small ones the size of a golf ball or as big as a Child. There is a Daruma-ji temple at the Mt.Shorinzan in Takasaki City. At that temple, you can buy the talisman as a doll or as an omikuji.
The Takasaki JR station also carries Darumas in every shape and form.... You can even buy an Hello Kitty daruma bento box!

But what do I do with a Daruma doll?

Here comes the fun part! Once you buy your Daruma, you should make a wish and paint the right eye in black (from the painter's perspective). When the wish comes true, paint the other eye. You can display the doll at home, at work or in your business.

But how is a Daruma doll made?

Years ago, I was watching the japanese variety program Muchaburi. On that program, they traveled to Takasaki to visit a Daruma manufacture. That is when I first learn about the doll. I was really impress and wanted to see it for myself. A few months later, I was on my way to Japan and made sure to stop by Takasaki. There I had the chance to have a local artist teach me the painting process. I gave it a try and had horrible results!!!

Here is a little video that shows the fabrication process:

The Daruma Project 2009

 In 2009, I decided with my grade 7-8 class to Make Darumas as a year end project. The idea behind it was that my class did not want to participate in the year end concert (which they found to kiddish). Since the following year, the grade 7 and 8 were moving to a new school, they had decided to make a gift they would leave behind and one they would offer to the principal of the new school.

The gift had to be meaningful, and bring luck to the new establsihement. The end of year concert (which was to take place in the new school) would be the occasion to offer both gift to the 2 principals. The kids had all heard about my trips to Japan and showed a lot of curiosity towards Darumas! We quickly agreed as a class : Daruma would be the special gift!

So 2 months before the end of the school year we started. We could not follow the traditional way of making them (lack of equipment and material) so we decided on using a balloon that we would cover with papier maché. After many layers to give it the proper shape and feature (nose, flat face, heavier base) we coated it with primer. Then we painted the doll with a red paint mix with gloss.

For the face, I told my student they could follow the traditional pattern or they could be creative. Most of them decided to use their creativity. Some kids decided to try the traditional way.

In the end, we were really please with the results! The student decided on 2 dolls and offered them on stage to the principals. The principals were really surprise by this. The students had prepare a powerpoint explaining the concept and asked the principals to make a wish for their respective school. 2 years later, those dolls are still being displayed in the entrance hall of both schools!

The following summer, as I traveled back to Takasaki, I met with the local artist and showed him the picture of my students, hard at work! He was clearly surprise and couldn't stop laughing. He said, we definitively has no skills in Daruma making, but we had motivation and talents!

Here are the direction to reach the temple and the manufacture.

View Larger Map

群馬県高崎市藤塚町124−2, Japan +81 27-323-5223

Takasaki is on the Nagano Shinkansen train line. When you get to the JR station you can either transfer on a local train line to Gunmayawata station or you can take the bus. Your best bet is to ask when you get to the station since both the bus and the train run on very different schedule and at any given time, you must take one or the other.

From the temple, you can easily walk to the Daruma factory. If you want more detailed information, feel free to contact me!

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Akemashite Omedetou (Happy New year)

Oyster Okonomiyaki in Miyajima

Happy New Year everyone! What better way to start a new year than to have Okonomiyaki! One of my favorite food when traveling in Japan. Unfortunately, I find it really hard to duplicate when in Canada. No matter how much a try it just never taste as good as when in Osaka (or even Hiroshima). I just found a very well explained recipe on a fellow blog's. I will give it a try today! Here is the link.

But first I should give a little intro about Okonomiyaki. Here a lot of westerners call it Japanese Pizza! I have to say, personally I find it resemble more a stuff crêpe or a cabbage omelet. Here is what Wikipedia has to say : Okonomiyaki (お好み焼き?) is a Japanese savoury pancake containing a variety of ingredients. The name is derived from the word okonomi, meaning "what you like" or "what you want", and yaki meaning "grilled" or "cooked" (cf. yakitori and yakisoba). Okonomiyaki is mainly associated with Kansai or Hiroshima areas of Japan, but is widely available throughout the country. Toppings and batters tend to vary according to region. 

What make this dish interesting is the distinction one has to make between Osaka-fu (Osaka-style) or Hiroshima-fu (Hiroshima style) okonomiyaki for they are quite different! In the Osaka-fu okonomiyaki, all the layers are mix together. In the Hiroshima-fu, the ingredient remain layered (like a Shepperd pie) and include noodles. Personally I much prefer the Osaka-fu but if you are traveling through Japan make sure you try both version.

I will also mention a close cousin to the Okonomiyaki from the Kanto region (Tokyo). Monjayaki, closely ressemble okonomiyaki. The main difference is the fact that it is a lot more watery. I only eat monja when I meet up with my Japanese friends since I find it a bit challenging to cook myself. 

The Okonomiyaki I will be making today will be Osaka-fu. I will modify the recipe a little since I do not have access to taro roots at this time. I will use:

  • 1/2 cup  flour
  • 2 cups cabbage
  • 3 tbsp tenkasu (tempura bits) Don't worry if you don't have any
  • 1 tbsp dashi stock in 4 tbsp of water Don't worry if you don't have any
  • 1tbsp of corn starch
  • 3 eggs
  • shrimps or Canadian bacon
  • 2 green onions chopped
  • 2 tsp. chopped red marinated ginger 
  • oil

Chop cabbage, ginger and green onion. Mix together. In a separate bowl, mix dashi, water, corn starch and eggs. Add to the flour. Mix until smooth. Mix the batter with the cabbage. Add the tenkasu.

In a greased pan, cook bacon or shrimp. When golden, pour the batter on top of it. Press it down into a nice round shape. Cover and cook at low heat. Flip over once. It should cook about 10 minutes, or until both side are golden. (You can make 2 small okonomiyaki or 1 large okonomiyaki.)

For the topping, I use tonkatsu sauce, shredded nori, bonito flakes and japanese mayo.