Thursday, April 15, 2010

Hanami Picnic

Revelers at the park
On the street the other day, a gust of wind blew the flowers around us like we were in a snow globe. The season is over, but we got in a solid weekend of hanami (flower viewing) picnic fun. We went to a very small park--just a few families with kids--but other places get a little crazy, what with the huge crowds and the pop-top sake.
This is the high-end version--single serving sake goes for a buck or two at convenience stores and train station kiosks. I can't decide if that's more or less classy than a pint in a paper bag.
Should booze be this cute? And that panda is wasted.
The company picnics are a whole thing, and newly hired freshmen are often sent out into parks with giant tarps to stake out space for after work parties. Some people complain about it, but I don't get it. Send me out of the office to go hang out under the trees! It beats Starbuck's runs and jury duty (both of which I totally made work for me). I didn't have time to whip up a homemade picnic spread (cue grandparents silently judging from beyond grave), so the Professor picked up some supermarket goodies.
Fried oysters from RF1, so plump and crispy. Try them with ponzu sauce!

Son of Z scored this ridiculously tiny bento lunch.
I love fried chicken from the supermarket. Only God will judge me.
Not a picnic without edamame!

 Daigaku-imo: when you are ready to get serious about sweet potatoes.
The literal translation of daigaku-imo is "college potato," which makes no sense until you take a bite and flash back to the heady days of packing on the "freshman fifteen." These are beyond candied yams. They are actually candied, as in coated in a crunchy layer of caramelized sugar that is thick enough to resemble molten glass. I have seen them made once, and the recipe involves peeled sweet potatoes (purple outside, chestnutty yellow inside), butter, sugar, a pact with Satan, and sometimes black sesame seeds. When they are hot, they are life-changing, but even cold they blow minds.

Friday, April 9, 2010

More Blossoms!

The fleeting beauty of the cherry blossom. Is it wrong that I want to eat it?
The cherry blossom juggernaut continues to roll on through Tokyo, and I am not helping matters, folks. Every minute a seasonal item sucker is born, and that would be me. Tell me bricks are only going to be around for two weeks, and I will eat one. Fried. So when every shop on the street starts hawking sakura goodies, I'm in.
The wabi-sabi, bittersweet beauty of doughnut form.
Wait, is that a... yes, it is. It's a sakura glazed doughnut with a little flower on it. Yes, I had to know. And yes, it rocked. It may not have been hot from the fryer, (which has been scientifically proven to turn even a modest doughnut into an EMOTIONAL EXPERIENCE) but it was fresh with that slightly crisp edge and springy, moist inside that is the hallmark of a good cake doughnut. And the glaze was not overpowering with blossom. Hands down, it was the most romantic doughnut I have ever eaten, which is saying something given my idea of romance. Granted, I paid about four US dollars for it at one of Doughnut Plant NYC's Tokyo outposts, and I could have put myself into a diabetic coma with four dollars in Queens back in the day, but I am at peace with that. Because I am ready to respect the doughnut as fine pastry. And because of that thing I mentioned before about being a sucker.

Jellies with flowers and butterflies suspended inside. Somewhere, a pineapple Jello mold weeps.
Under all that cream, sakura chocolate petals, and petal-shaped berries is the softest sponge cake ever, layered with berries and more sakura cream. Zen restraint is overrated.
The cakes and parfaits may not be traditional either, but don't hate. The jelly roll you remember from the shoddy supermarket bakery--the sticky yellow cake that looked like it was rolled by a carnie with one hand working the cotton candy spinner--has been reborn in Japan as something impossibly light and delicate. So, too, have puddings and jellies (made here with plant-based gelatin, not Seabiscuit) been restored to their former glory.

The array of things to whip up at home is endless, too. I made it home without the salt and the rice, but I think I will be back for the jam, which has petals in it and makes a lovely hot drink when you add water. So glamorous--the kind of thing I would put on my J. Lo-esque contract rider. You know, white sofa, Diptyque candles, and cherry blossom jam tea in my dressing room. And no one looks me directly in the eye.
Sakura salt
and rice!
Sakura jam/tea--very post-Cosmopolitan.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Happy Easter!

No relation.
Really, I don't know which one looks more smug. The Peep is contraband from a visitor's suitcase.  The tall one with the tan is a hiyoko, meaning chick, a souvenir sweet I remember well from childhood.  I love the minimalism, the blank expression that, like the Peep and Hello Kitty, conveys unearned superiority. The outside has that brown-crust-of-the-pound-cake flavor, and the inside is white bean.  I just read that there's some supplement made of white bean extract that keeps your glucose level from shooting up, science, science, science, and thus keeps you from getting fat.  So the Japanese are eating it in their goodies, and tossing their heads back, laughing over their low rates of obesity, heart disease, and cancer.  You win this time, Japan.
Homemade butter cookies

Easter is not much of a thing here in Tokyo, which makes it a little tougher to stock up on goodies, but also kind of sets you free.  You can reinvent the holiday free of commercial influence, secular symbolism, even sugar.  Ok, that last part was creepy and I take it back.