Helping and Grieving for Haiti

-Photo from Reuters-

It’s hard to know how to start this post. There are many things going through my mind that I cannot effectively put into words, even though I desperately want to. As you all know, the Haiti earthquake last week caused devastation greater than many of us can comprehend. The damage is so great that it is difficult to know how the areas impacted will even begin to rebuild and heal. This tragedy has pulled on the heart-strings of many, including many of my friends from Luther College in Decorah, Iowa.

How is Haiti at all connected to Decorah, Iowa? Ben Larson. Ben was a beautiful human being that managed to make a huge impact on literally thousands of individuals (including myself), and he was killed in the earthquake last week. Ben was studying at Wartburg Seminary to become a Pastor and was in Haiti helping to teach Lutheran theology.

My husband and I have been grieving the loss and trying to stomach all the information, along with countless others. Ben was trapped in a building along with his wife and cousin. Of the three, Ben was the only one who was not able to make it out. Recent news reports quoting his wife, Renee, have revealed that in his last moments, Ben was singing. Beneath the rubble that covered him, he was singing hymns. His wife, who came back for him but was unable to save Ben, was there listening until the songs ended, knowing there was nothing that could be done. And there are thousands of other individuals in Haiti who have endured similar heart-breaking scenarios. People who need help to get through this in more ways than we know. Ben’s love of God and music remained strong until the very end. Watch this video of Ben opening for Minnesota musician Peter Mayer to see the beauty of Ben as a person and musician.

Left to Right: Ben, wife Renee, cousin Jonathan

This photo was taken from an article released by the ELCA. Click here for the full article from the ELCA.

I have cried many times over the past few days, but each time I cry, I know that it is a mere fraction of the emotional destruction that has been done to Ben’s family and to families in Haiti.

Each time that I sit down to write a blog post about food, I can’t. I can think of nothing else but the beautiful life of Ben Larson, his beautiful family and wife, and the strength that I pray they have in the midst of such tragedy.

As I said, there is no way for me to accurately put into words the feelings that have been surging through me in recent days. But what I can tell you is that these people need all the help we can give. People are left without homes and families, which has left them with a deeper amount of nothingness than before the quake; a seemingly impossible position for anyone to endure. So, skip your Starbucks, or your dinner out and help. Please.

There are several ways you can help. Blog Away Hunger, lead by Marc from No Recipes, has posted a list of bloggers donating their ad revenue this month to relief funds in Haiti. Please visit this link to find out which bloggers are participating and just start clicking through their past posts. I don’t get any ad revenue at the moment, so please go to the participating sites and do what you can to help. You can also go to the sites listed below to donate money directly.

Red Cross

Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (Ben’s  family’s suggestion)

Novica: This site specializes in selling goods made by people in need throughout the world, including artists living in Haiti. 10 % of the proceeds from goods made in Mexico, the Andes, and Brazil are designated to help the relief efforts in Haiti.

Unicef: The Unicef homepage states that “The emergency aid is urgently needed, as basic services and infrastructure in the western hemisphere’s poorest nation were already close to collapse even before the 7.0-magnitude quake struck.” You can donate here to help the emergency aid efforts.

Whimsey & Spice is donating 10% of their sales to relief efforts in Haiti. If you are in New York, please check them out!

For more information about Ben, go to The Whites in Tokyo, A Dahl Blog and

Cocktail Friday: The Kozy Kumquat

Have you ever eaten a kumquat? Have you ever seen one? Well, I remember the first time I tried one and it just happened to be in my in-law’s kitchen in Colorado. My father-in-law, Bob, is the resident grocery-shopper and seems to come home with various foods that cause him to brim with enthusiasm. And really, I totally identify with this side of him as I get overly enthusiastic about food all the time.

On this particular day, I distinctly remember my dear father-in-law saying, “Have you ever seen one of these?”

He held in his hand what looked like a miniature orange of some sort.

I timidly said, “No, I don’t think I have seen one of those. What is it?”

“It’s a kumquat! Just pop one in your mouth, go ahead…” he said anxiously.

“The whole thing? Just put it in my mouth and eat it?” I was definitely nervous. And unsure.

“Yes! Trust me!”

“Ok, ok!” I replied as I *popped* the curious orange sphere into my mouth.

I remember being surprised at how tender the skin was. Rather than being tough and bitter like the skin of an orange, I could easily bite right through it. A sweet flavor was released into my mouth and I was stunned. I loved it.

Until last week, I hadn’t eaten another kumquat. I hadn’t even seen another one of those bright orange treasures. Fortunately, they are in season right now and very present in many grocery stores around our Tokyo home. I didn’t think twice about grabbing a bag of these jewels the moment I spied them in the produce department.

Staring at a bowl full of kumquats sitting in my kitchen, I tried to decide what on earth to do with them. Yes, I could eat them all just the way they were and it would be a perfectly lovely way to savor these small citrus fruits. But I wanted to showcase them in some way. Then *bang* *boom* *thwap*! In true superhero style I was hit with the idea to make a cocktail. Yes. That was the answer.

I tried to stay true to the flavor of the kumquats in this drink. By muddling them with some rosemary-kumquat simple syrup, the sweetness found in the skin (which is more desirable than the almost non-existent flesh) is released. The simple syrup lends a gentle rosemary flavor that helps to bring a warmth to the citrus flavor in the kumquats. By using light brown sugar for the simple syrup and adding two kumquat halves, the flavor is slightly toasty, herby and citrusy (that’s a lot of -y words….sorry!) An added bonus is that adding the kumquat halves to the simple syrup candies them slightly. Once the seeds are removed, a slit is cut into the kumquat half and then the whole thing is rolled in sugar, a perfect garnish is born.

The toasty flavor of the brown sugar combined with the comforting rosemary lend a cozy softness to the kumquat cocktail. Hence the name “The Kozy Kumquat”!

Thanks to Bob for showing me the joy of the kumquat. Your crazy discovery was very useful! Kanpai!

The Kozy Kumquat
Makes 1 drink

4 kumquats, halved
3 teaspoons rosemary-kumquat simple syrup (recipe follows)
1 sprig of rosemary
1/2 kumquat, candied (see simple syrup recipe)
2.5 oz. gin
1.5 oz. dry vermouth

In the bottom of a cocktail shaker, muddle the kumquat halves with the simple syrup and vermouth. Add the gin and ice. Shake until the shaker is so cold you can hardly stand it. Pour into a chilled cocktail glass. Add ice if desired or serve martini style. Garnish with a sprig of rosemary and a candied kumquat half.

Rosemary-Kumquat Simple Syrup
Makes 1/4 cup (about enough for 2 drinks)

2 T light brown sugar
1/4 cup water
1 rosemary sprig, roughly chopped
2 kumquat halves

In a small, heavy saucepan, combine the brown sugar and the water. Stir until the sugar has just dissolved. Add the rosemary and kumquat halves. Simmer over medium-low heat for about 10 minutes. Keep a close eye on the syrup so it does not over-cook. Stir occasionally to keep the syrup from burning. Remove from heat. (If you would like to strain the syrup, do so after the kumquats have been removed from the pan and do not wait until the syrup is cool.)

Remove the kumquat halves and immediately remove the seeds. Using a sharp paring knife, cut a small slit across the cut edge of the kumquat halves (this is so you can place it on the edge of your cocktail glass). Mound the extra brown sugar on top of the kumquat halves and allow to sit for at least 10 minutes.

Guest Post: Prosciutto Wrapped Omelette a la Julia/Brad

Wow- two guest posts in one week? I know, pretty awesome. It’s been really fun handing over the reigns of Tokyo Terrace to Rebecca for the last Cocktail Friday and now Brad (aka ‘hubs’) today. It’s given me a chance to take a step back and look at this blog from another angle and it’s been deliciously satisfying. This post was put together unexpectedly after Brad made breakfast for us the other day. I won’t tell you too much more about it except that it was a great breakfast and I hope he makes it again soon (wink wink!)

Living with an inspired foodie like Rachael has made the last five and a half years of my life, well…delicious.

Unfortunately, I learned the hard way that feeding yourself after a year’s hiatus from cooking is not pleasant. When Rachael visited home for a few weeks, I survived on some pretty bizarre meals. To redeem myself after this episode of Survivor: Tokyo, I bring you this simple recipe still in a bachelor style: created using only ingredients from our local international superstore, 7/11.

I had not planned on making anything again for Rachael’s blog, but this turned out great and I snapped a few photos before it got cold. Plus, if I can do it, anybody else can too. Returning from our morning run Sunday, I stepped into the local 7/11 to pick up Rachael’s orders: “eggs, milk, and ham.” The ham slices didn’t look very appetizing, and this little package looked at least related to prosciutto, so I tossed it in the bag and we finished our run.

A little background: My brothers and I love eggs. More often than not, we’d make ourselves egg sandwiches and omelettes for dinner when we had to fend for ourselves. I’ve probably made hundreds of “omelettes,” as in flat egg things stuffed with anything reasonable from the fridge. But watching and imitating this video from the endlessly endearing Julia Child taught me a much simpler way to do so. I gave it a shot and this is what came out of the process. Not bad eh?

Basically, Julia says to get the pan nice and hot with plenty of butter. Add the whisked eggs and immediately start swirling the pan. This is doubly difficult in our kitchen because our burners turn off if you remove the pan (safety can be annoying sometimes). To my amazement, the eggs don’t stick at all and the omelette is ready for a skilled flip in a very short time. I did try it with olive oil and found it much more difficult, even in a non-stick skillet.

Julia suggests plumping up the sides of the omelette, so I did the same while placing the prosciutto slices around the fluffy, warm eggs. To garnish, I tossed on a little parsley from Rachael’s planter and even experimented with making a little prosciutto “flower” with the last piece since she was drying her hair and I had an extra minute.

Rachael seemed to enjoy being able to sit down and have something beautiful and delicious to eat, so I imagine many more of these beauties will grace our Sunday morning tables. Enjoy, and of course, bon apetit!

Hummus with Preserved Lemon & Sun-dried Tomatoes (Recipes for Tahini Paste and Preserved Lemons included)

Ah, January. The time when countless individuals begin the New Year’s resolution to drop a few pounds. Well, I can’t say that I am completely uninvolved in this cult, because I am pretty sure if you look in my “New Year’s Resolution Diary” you could find this as my number 1 resolution each and every year. There’s always 5 lbs. to lose, right?

Here’s the problem: I ADORE food. That’s actually an understatement. There isn’t really a word that adequately describes how much I love food. And I’m not ashamed to admit that. As a result of this adoration, my healthy recipes are created with a sense of serious determination. I want to eat foods that are nutritious but also full of flavor. This hummus is one of those great snack foods that is unique, bursting with taste and very easy to make.

There are several components of this hummus that bring it to the top of my list when I really want to watch my weight: #1- Garbanzo beans have an insane amount of protein, which helps to curb my gargantuan appetite, #2- Preserved lemon and sun-dried tomatoes bring a flavor boost that is unexpected, leaving my cravings for other foods sufficiently curbed, #3- In less than 10 minutes, I can have a week’s worth of hummus to have on hand in the refrigerator for emergency purposes.

I actually made my own tahini paste (first time ever!) for this recipe, but store bought works just as well and is much more convenient. Tahini paste (made from sesame seeds) can be kind of expensive in grocery stores in the U.S., but it is sold in relatively large quantities so you can justify spending the money if you will use it. Here in Japan, it is difficult to find Tahini paste but easy to find sesame seeds, which is why I went with the homemade route (and included the recipe below).

Preserved lemons, an ingredient typically found in Moroccan cuisine, are actually very easy to make yourself, so if you can’t find them at the store, follow my recipe below for those as well. Wow! Three recipes in one post! What WILL you do with yourselves? I should have made three separate blog posts…

The preserved lemon and sun-dried tomato provide flavor and texture contrasts without taking away from the classic flavors in the hummus. I especially enjoyed the chewy, sweet, full-flavored sun dried tomato in addition to the beautiful presentation they helped to create. Well, here come all three recipes! Enjoy!

Hummus with Preserved Lemon and Sun-Dried Tomato

Makes about 1 1/2 cups

1 can of garbanzo beans, drained and rinsed

2 preserved lemons, rinds only, chopped, plus 2 teaspoons juice from the jar (recipe below)

1/4 cup sun-dried tomatoes, chopped

3 cloves garlic, chopped

1/3 cup Tahini paste (recipe below)

1/4 cup olive oil

Salt and pepper to taste

In the bowl of a food processor, add the garbanzo beans, tahini paste, preserved lemon rinds and juice, and garlic. Pulse to combine. With the food processor running, stream in the olive oil until the hummus is creamy. Transfer to a bowl and stir in the sun-dried tomatoes and season with salt and pepper. Drizzle extra olive oil over the top of the hummus if desired. Eat with sliced vegetables, pita chips, or whole-wheat crackers.

Preserved Lemons

Makes 1 jar

10 lemons (Meyer if you have access, but if not regular lemons are fine)

1/2 cup sea salt

Scrub the lemons clean and dry them with a paper or kitchen towel. Cut the lemons into quarters, then into eights. Begin fitting the lemon wedges tightly into the jar, pressing down to release a bit of the juice. When the jar is packed full, pour the salt over the top of the lemons and seal. Keep the jar sealed for 10 days, turning the jar each day to evenly distribute the salt and the lemon juice. Store the preserved lemons in your refrigerator for up to 1 year.

Tahini Paste

Makes about 1 cup

1 cup white sesame seeds

1/3 cup vegetable oil

Toast the sesame seeds in a dry, non-stick pan over medium-low heat. Stir the seeds constantly to prevent burning. When the seeds become fragrant (which should take 3-4 minutes) remove them from the heat and transfer to a bowl to cool.

When the seeds are cool, move them to a food processor. With the processor running, stream in the vegetable oil and allow the processor to run until a smooth paste forms. It should be thinner than peanut butter. Transfer the finished paste to a jar or bowl and store in the refrigerator.

Cocktail Friday: Hot Buttered Rum (Guest Post)

I am so excited about this post. Our guest today is Rebecca, my brilliant, talented and ridiculously creative sister. She is enduring the bitter cold in Minnesota right now and I can speak from personal experience to the effectiveness of this cocktail in warming body and soul. Her “letter” to me, made up of charming drawings done by Rebecca herself, includes her recipe for Hot Buttered Rum. I only wish they sold it in a can in the vending machines around Tokyo…

Thank you, Rebecca, for guest posting and I hope you will do it again soon! Cheers!

Hot Buttered Rum
Makes 4 servings

1/2 cup water
1 1/2 cups apple cider
2 cups dark rum
2 Tablespoons butter, softened
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 Tablespoon honey

Pour the water, cider and rum into a kettle or saucepan and bring to a boil.

While your brew is brewing, combine the butter, vanilla extract and honey in a small bowl.

Divide brew and butter into 4 pretty cups or mugs. Add a cinnamon stick and serve.

Japanese Chestnut and Sweet Potato Soup

Instead of making a traditional Osechi this year, I decided to take the same foods that are frequently eaten at the New Year in Japan and make alternative dishes instead, like Lotus Root Chips and this Chestnut and Sweet Potato Soup.

Chestnuts, despite the name, are less like a nut and more like a starch. The texture is similar to that of a cooked potato, but a bit less grainy. The flavor is gentle and when roasted has a slightly smoky-sweet flavor. While seasonal fresh chestnuts are my favorite, the vacuum-packed variety are just fine for the purposes of making this soup. (I have tried roasting and peeling my own chestnuts but have yet to master the process. I will try again next year when chestnuts are back in season to get more practice!)

For this soup, I’ve combined chestnuts with Japanese sweet potatoes (satsumaimo) to create a creamy, comforting soup that is perfect for post-holiday light meals. With just a small amount of cream to tie the soup together, this soup is hearty without being overly rich. And the best part? It only takes 30 minutes to make! I know. That’s pretty sweet.

Japanese Chestnut and Sweet Potato Soup
Makes 4 servings

2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 lb. Japanese sweet potatoes, washed, peeled and cut into 1 inch cubes (or other variety of sweet potato)
1 cup vacuum packed chestnuts, roughly chopped
1/2 large yellow onion (or 1 medium/small) chopped
6 cups chicken salt
2 tablespoons Japanese Whiskey (you can use other types of whiskey, but I’ve only used Japanese. Sherry is also an option)
1 tablespoon honey
salt and white pepper to taste
2 tablespoons heavy cream
1/4 cup chopped flat leave parsley, for garnish

In a large soup pot, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the onions and celery and cook until soft. Add the potatoes and increase heat to medium high. Cook the potatoes for about 2-3 minutes, stirring constantly to make sure nothing burns. Add the chestnuts and stir into the potato/onion mixture. Pour the chicken stock into the pot and bring to a simmer. Cover and cook for 20 minutes until the potatoes and chestnuts are fork tender. Use an immersion blender to combine the ingredients (or work carefully in batches with a regular blender) until creamy. Stir in the whiskey and honey and cook for 2 minutes. Stir in the cream, salt and pepper. Ladle into 4 serving bowls and garnish with the parsley. Serve immediately.

Lotus Root Chips with Toasted Nori-Sesame Salt

Whoa. Is my calendar correct? Is it really 2010 already? To be honest, I don’t think I ever really got used to it being 2009 and now I have to start with 2010. What’s a girl to do? Well, this girl decided that the best way to start the New Year is with a new recipe using new kitchen tools!

My wonderful hubs is a much better listener than I give him credit for. Granted, there are times when I could be jumping up and down screaming “FIRE” and he would look at me blankly and say “Are you talking to me?” But when he does listen, he listens well. Like when I look longingly at a mandoline and say, “But I neeeeeed one!” He listens to that.

How do I know that he listens? Because this year a mandoline appeared neatly wrapped in a package in my Christmas stocking from Santa Claus. Apparently, Brad called him up one day and said, “Listen big guy. I need you to do me a favor. You see, my wife thinks I don’t listen but I do!” You can imagine the rest of the conversation from there.

To break in my new toy, I decided to make lotus root chips. The slices have to be really thin, making this a perfect way to test out the mandoline. So, with the thinnest setting in place and my hand guard protecting my fingers, I began slicing the lotus root. Not only was this perfect for the mandoline’s first ride, it was also perfect because the lotus root is a food eaten around the New Year in Japan. According to what I’ve read, the lotus root’s holes represent seeing through to the new year or as a representation of the wheel of life. Either way, it is a delicious and healthy part of bringing in the New Year.

Throughout the past few days, I have found that much of the Japanese culture surrounding New Year’s Eve/Day involves cleansing. Whether it is scouring the home from floor to ceiling and everything in between, eating foods that are healthy and signify luck and prosperity, listening to 108 bells at the Buddhist temples, or sharing a paper cup filled with sake at the Shinto shrines, the Japanese view this as a time to start anew and wipe the slate clean. Check out the photo and video below of our celebration at a Shinto Shrine last night just after midnight. We enjoyed some sake, shiruko (sweet red bean porridge with mochi) and people watching.

Of all the cultural traditions I have experienced living in Japan, this is one that will surely come with me when I leave. New Year celebrations are a time to be together, appreciating the community and the possibility of new and better things to come from that community in the approaching year. It is a time to let go of the past and move on to an unknown future with a belly full of mochi and sake. Sounds like a plan to me!

I hope you all have reasons to celebrate the coming of 2010 and the end of 2009. Here’s to starting over!

Lotus Root Chips with Toasted Nori-Sesame Salt
Makes 6 servings

1 lotus root, about 4 or 5 inches long, cleaned and peeled
Vegetable Oil for frying (you will need quite a bit, so be sure you have enough on hand)
1/4 cup white sesame seeds, toasted and ground (it is possible to find already ground sesame seeds- these will work just fine)
1/4 cup shredded nori or 4 2-3 inch sheets
1/3 cup sea salt

Using a mandoline or sharp knife, carefully slice the lotus root as thinly as possible. For me, I set my mandoline to the thinnest setting. You can go one step up form the lowest setting if that’s what you prefer, but I like mine paper thin.

Set the lotus root slices on paper towels to remove the excess moisture. I layer mine starting with a paper towel on the bottom, then a layer of lotus root slices, layer of paper towel, etc. Press gently on the layers to ensure the moisture is removed.

In a wok, heat 2 inches of vegetable oil. Test the oil temperature by placing a slice of lotus root in the oil. If the lotus root begins to bubble gradually, the oil is ready. If the oil bubbles rapidly immediately, the oil is too hot and the lotus root will burn. When the oil is at the proper temperature, work in batches being careful not to crowd the lotus root. Use a slotted spoon to remove the slices as soon as they have turned brown and carefully place on a cooling rack or a plate lined with paper towels.

When the lotus root chips are finished, make the nori-sesame salt by placing the sesame seeds and nori in a dry pan over medium high heat moving the pan around to keep the seeds and nori from burning. After about 3 or 4 minutes, the nori and seeds should be fragrant and the seeds should appear slightly browned. Remove from the heat and transfer to a spice grinder or small food processor. Pulse until uniformly sized. Add the sea salt and pulse to combine the ingredients. Transfer the salt to a small airtight container.

Sprinkle the lotus root chips with the salt and serve. Light, crispy deliciousness!

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Tokyo Terrace by Rachael White is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.



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