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Japanese food that will keep you warm during winter

27 Feb

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Winter in Tokyo can offer some sunny days with beautiful blue skies, but it comes at a cost, with the average temperature hanging somewhere between 2 and 10 degrees Celsius. Well, you’ve been out exploring or maybe you were taking refuge in a museum for the morning, but it’s lunchtime in Tokyo and you’re hungry. Don’t stand out in the cold and wonder what to eat, read on for 8 Japanese foods that will warm you up during winter in Tokyo.

1) Ramen
Be careful not to burn your mouth, a hot bowl of ramen will certainly fill you up and warm you up at the same time. Chinese-style wheat noodles, meat, vegetables and a sheet of nori (seaweed) come together in a hearty broth. It’s the perfect meal for colder weather. Basic broths, such as miso or tonkotsu pork are always a safe bet, and usually, you can add in some condiments like garlic and pepper to bring it to the next level. Warm udon or soba, of course, might do a similar job (ask for “atatakai,” meaning “warm”), but a thick ramen broth, soft-boiled egg, and a fat slice of chashu (pork) really feels like a cozy hug. With a side of gyoza dumplings hot off the pan, you’ll be toasty in no time. Try a bowl of tantanmen, ramen with a spicy kick, if it’s especially cold out.

2) Nabe
The term “nabemono” or “nabe” covers all kinds of hot pot style foods, referring to soup-based meals made in a communal pot. When winter rolls around in Japan, it becomes time to whip out the nabe pot and eat together around the kotatsu (heated table). Warming for the belly and the heart, meat with vegetables and noodles cooked together in a hot broth is best shared with family or friends. Typically in restaurants, a large communal pot sits on a portable stove or one built into the table, and the nabe cooks in front of you and your dining companions while you chat. The longer your nabe cooks, the more intensely the flavors of the soup develop. Nabe has a really cozy image that goes hand in hand with cold weather in Japan.

3) Shabu Shabu
“Shabu shabu” is an onomatopoeic word in Japanese for the “swish swish” sound of dipping and flipping slices of meat in the boiling nabe broth. In this variation of hot pot, the meat comes in thin slices so they can be cooked quickly and then dipped into your choice of sauces. Some restaurants offer a pot with two or more sections so that you can have different types of soup. Bases range from miso and soy sauce to yuzu citrus, as well as other variants like spicy kimchi or creamy tofu milk. Adding in vegetables like green onions, kinoko (mushrooms), noodles, and tofu cubes makes for a healthy, tasty and toasty group dinner.

4) Sukiyaki
Another nabe variant, sukiyaki is a sweet-flavored nabemono that is cooked in a cast iron pot right at the table. Sukiyaki consists of meats, green vegetables, and different styles of tofu, simmered in a base soup made of soy sauce, mirin, and sugar. Udon or mochi rice cakes are often in the mix too, as well as clear glass noodles made from konnyaku root, called ito (“string”) konnyaku. Daikon radish, to soak in the sauce, and a variety of kinoko mushrooms are also typically used in sukiyaki. Once it is ready, you are meant to eat the meat by dipping it in raw egg first!

5) Japanese Curry
Japan is more commonly known for its delicate flavors and subtle textures, but an unusual food that has developed into its own realm is Japanese curry. Often including hearty chunks of meat, carrots, and potatoes, it is really a perfect comfort food during the winter months. Homey and filling, curry rice often comes with your choice of katsu (a panko-coated cutlet) or agemono (deep-fried foods). Curry udon, a noodle alternative, also hits the spot on a cold day. To ramp up the heat, sprinkle some shichimi-togarashi on top (a chili pepper spice mix with seven ingredients). For the hardcore curry addicts, the chain restaurant Coco-Curry has stores spread across the city and allows you to choose the spiciness level. Not just by Japan standards, even the low levels from one to three pack a punch. Level 10 is truly not for the faint of heart, but apparently, if you can conquer it, you can keep the spoon.

6) Chukaman (Steamed Buns)
Bonus Tip: If you are on the run and need a hot snack, the chukaman, or warm steamed buns, sold at convenience stores are perfect for a little pick-me-up between meals. Nikuman (meat-filled steam buns) or kareman (curry-filled steam buns) are always tasty, but you can even get pizza flavored buns or sweet buns with anko (red bean paste) filling.

Level-Up Bonus Tip: Try the oden at the konbini and you’ll really feel like a Tokyo local.

7) Oden
Hang on, let’s just backtrack a moment. Convenience store oden? Are you sure?
Yes! If you’d like a hot snack on the go, try picking up some oden to-go. Usually, oden items are displayed in self-service stainless steel warmers near the registers. It’s warm and delicious, easy access, quite cheap and you just pay per piece.

So, let’s track forwards, what is oden?
Strongly associated with wintertime, oden is a soup-based traditional Japanese food. Inside a light dashi soup stock flavored with soy sauce, a variety of tofu, boiled eggs, and vegetables float are submerged and infused by the umami broth flavors. You can find fish cakes of all shapes and sizes too, and you can choose which individual pieces you’d like to try. Get warmed up by the soup, while enjoying the different intriguing textures of the separate ingredients. Of course, home-cooked oden is the best way to have it, but you can find it at izakayas and specialty stores too.

8) Mochi
Finally, if you feel like a little snack, grab some mochi. Mochi can be enjoyed any time of the year, but particularly during in the winter months, yakimochi is wonderful on a cold day at a temple or shrine. These pounded rice cakes are grilled usually over a charcoal fire, puffing as they warm. Starchy and filling, there is something about its gooey texture and winter that go hand in hand.

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A Model for Food Recovery and More

27 Dec

Food Shift, an Alameda nonprofit, recently celebrated its seven-year anniversary. Food Shift receives thousands of pounds of donated produce each week, from several places, including Imperfect Produce and the San Francisco Produce Market. It’s become a hub for recovered produce and food, and it redistributes the produce. Half of it goes to the Alameda Food Bank, just across the street from Food Shift (677 Ranger Ave.).

“The cosmetic standards in grocery stores and markets are so high that if an apple or lemon has any blemish, it would be taken off the shelf,” explained Dana Frasz, founder and executive director, referring to the donated produce that they receive.
food_shift_team
Food Shift staffers also send food to City Ministries in downtown Oakland. Each week, hundreds of pounds also go to Earth Freedom Collective’s free food stand, which takes place on Wednesdays in front of Resilient Wellness in West Oakland (2461 San Pablo Ave.).
They give away produce and some prepared foods for free (they encourage people to bring their own bags, containers, and utensils) in a neighborhood known for having few options available for fruits and vegetables.

About 40 percent of food in the United States is wasted. Frasz has been working on food recovery issues since she was 18 and has been thinking of solutions for years. She realized that recovering food alone was not enough.

What started as a waste reduction and food recovery program has now grown into a larger mission of feeding people and creating jobs. For the past two years, Food Shift has been working with Alameda Point Collaborative, hiring its tenants, who are formerly homeless or have disabilities or disabled family members, as apprentices in the Food Shift kitchen.

Frasz said 75 percent of those who graduated from their job training program are either now working or back in school. Over several months, the trainees are paid minimum wage and learn cooking and job skills.

“Saving food and feeding people with the food that would otherwise be thrown out was rewarding,” said Regina Oliver, who graduated from the program in January and now works at UPS.

Nonprofits and corporations have been hiring the graduates for catering. Food Shift’s catering menu is entirely vegetarian, and almost nothing is bought from the grocery store.

On a recent fall weekday, staff, apprentices, and a group of volunteers were cooking a red enchilada casserole made from cauliflower, zucchini, mushrooms, corn tortillas, and potatoes, along with some nutritious side dishes: sautéed bok choy and kale spiced with cumin and garlic, and pinto beans. They were cooking food for a three-day Green Peace conference.

Suzy Medios, culinary instructor and head chef of catering at Food Shift, works with whatever vegetables they get and does not seem fazed — and is, in fact, excited — by the challenge. “All the vegetables we are getting are in season and at their prime,” Medios said. They also keep dry staples like beans and rice, and many of the spices and oils are also donated.

One of the main challenges in food recovery and food security, Frasz added, is finding funding. The services they provide, from buying a van and hiring a driver to picking up produce every day, costs money. Recently, Imperfect Produce started to foot a portion of the bill for transportation, and Frasz believes more food companies that are wasting food should contribute financially to food recovery efforts.

Food Shift currently is in its final stretch of a year-end fundraising campaign so it can keep programs like the food apprenticeship program going. The nonprofit has had success with catering, including clients such as Kaiser, Clif Bar, and LinkedIn, and is looking for more ongoing catering gigs such as at a senior center, school, or corporate meal service. Food Shift also offers other services that generate funding, including consulting for companies and nonprofits for waste-free events.

Tips for eating street food in Thailand

24 Oct

It doesn’t take long for visitors to Thailand to realise that street food is practically a way of life there.

Considering that many houses aren’t equipped with full kitchens, and raw ingredients can cost more than prepared meals, it’s no surprise that eating out is more common than eating in.

If your priority when travelling is to experience the culture or enjoy the food (or to save money), the Thai street food scene will be a dream come true. Bangkok is indeed the country’s mecca of street food, but there are plenty of stalls, carts, and markets all across Thailand.

From noodles to curries, soups to salads, dumplings to spring rolls, and roti to sticky rice, you could spend weeks sampling Thai cuisine. Some of the top street food to eat in Bangkok or elsewhere in Thailand includes pad thai, pad see ew, massaman curry, papaya salad, banana roti, and mango sticky rice.

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Of course, a street food cart on the side of the road in Thailand isn’t going to follow the same hygiene regulations as your favourite restaurant back home. Some travellers wonder whether they should eat street food at all, or if it’s a guaranteed way to get sick.

Contrary to popular belief, though, street food in Thailand (and many other countries) is no riskier than restaurants. When you eat on the street, you’re more likely to be served fresh food and to get to see it being prepared, both of which go a long way toward keeping you healthy.

In fact, I consider myself lucky to have gotten sick abroad only three times in years of travel, and the culprit every time was a “nice” restaurant that catered to foreigners – never a food cart.

While travelling in a developing country carries some inevitable risk, these tips have helped me enjoy the street food of Thailand without getting sick.

Watch your food being cooked

One big benefit of street food is that you can often see the food being cooked, so take advantage of it! Are there bugs near the ingredients or the pans? Did the vendor wipe their nose while they were preparing food? Does the cooking area seem generally dirty?

If so, look for another option. Some larger stalls in Thailand prepare food in the back and then bring it out to customers, so avoid those in favour of places where you can see what’s going on.

Watch the vendor serve other customers

In addition to seeing the food being cooked, watch the people in front of you being served. Is the same person handling both cash and food? Did they touch their face and then the food? Is the food being served in dirty containers?

Again, if the answer is yes, head elsewhere. There are so many street food options in Thailand; you won’t have any problem finding something else.

Look for food stalls with long lines – especially of locals

A cart or stall that’s unhygienic and regularly makes people sick probably won’t be teeming with customers, especially locals, who will know if certain places are unsafe to eat. If you notice an empty food stall, there may well be a reason it’s empty – and that’s a good reason for you to avoid it.

Beyond that, one of the biggest risks of street food comes from food that isn’t fresh. If a dish has been sitting out in the sun for hours, it’s much more likely to make you sick. But long lines usually mean quick turnover; unless you can see an enormous stockpile of food sitting there; the vendor has to keep preparing new food to serve up to all the customers.

If you get in the back of a line, you’ll probably get food that’s fresh, and that means it’s safer.

Eat at regular local meal times

Of course, there might not be lines anywhere if you’re there at the wrong time. Going out for street food in the mid-afternoon may mean getting a dish that’s been sitting out since the end of the lunch rush, which is plenty of time for bacteria to form. Instead, eat at local meal times, since that’s when food will be the freshest.

Be careful with drinks made with water or ice

Juices and smoothies are common street foods, but they’re made with tap water (or ice made from tap water) in most places, meaning they should be avoided. There’s an exception in Thailand, though: factory-produced ice made from purified water is quite common, even at street food stalls.

But it’s not everywhere, so check what’s being used before you order a drink with ice. The purified ice is usually cylindrical and has a hole in it, so look for that; if you see ice chips or shaved ice instead, steer clear of it.

Skip raw fruit and vegetables unless they can be peeled

The bad news is that fruits and vegetables can easily carry bacteria, making them unsafe to eat raw. Two top foods to avoid in Thailand are fresh leafy greens and berries, which are especially likely to be contaminated.

But the good news is that fruit with a peel is safe, because the skin protects the edible inside, even in unclean environments. And with all the Thai fruits that have a peel – dragonfruit, mangosteen, rambutan, not to mention bananas, mangos, and pineapple – you won’t be missing too much.

Can Eating Organic Food Lower Your Cancer Risk?

20 Sep

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People who buy organic food are usually convinced it’s better for their health, and they’re willing to pay dearly for it. But until now, evidence of the benefits of eating organic has been lacking.

Now a new French study that followed 70,000 adults, most of them women, for five years has reported that the most frequent consumers of organic food had 25 percent fewer cancers over all than those who never ate organic. Those who ate the most organic fruits, vegetables, dairy products, meat and other foods had a particularly steep drop in the incidence of lymphomas, and a significant reduction in postmenopausal breast cancers.

The magnitude of protection surprised the study authors. “We did expect to find a reduction, but the extent of the reduction is quite important,” said Julia Baudry, the study’s lead author and a researcher with the Center of Research in Epidemiology and Statistics Sorbonne Paris Cité of the French National Institute of Health and Medical Research. She noted the study does not prove an organic diet causes a reduction in cancers, but strongly suggests “that an organic-based diet could contribute to reducing cancer risk.”

Nutrition experts from Harvard who wrote a commentary accompanying the study expressed caution, however, criticizing the researchers’ failure to test pesticide residue levels in participants in order to validate exposure levels. They called for more long-term government-funded studies to confirm the results.

“From a practical point of view, the results are still preliminary, and not sufficient to change dietary recommendations about cancer prevention,” said Dr. Frank B. Hu, one of the authors of the commentary and the chairman of the department of nutrition at Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

He said it was more important for Americans to simply eat more fruits and vegetables, whether the produce is organic or not, if they want to prevent cancer. The American Cancer Society recommends consuming a healthy diet with lots of fruits and vegetables, whole grains instead of refined grains and limited amounts of red meat, processed meat and added sugars.

Dr. Hu called for government bodies like the National Institutes of Health and the Department of Agriculture to fund research to evaluate the effects of an organic diet, saying there is “strong enough scientific rationale, and a high need from the public health point of view.”

The only other large study that has asked participants about organic food consumption with reference to cancer was a large British study from 2014. While it found a significantly lower risk of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma among women who said they usually or always ate organic food, it also found a higher rate of breast cancers in the organic consumers — and no overall reduction in cancer risk.

The authors of that study, known as the Million Women study, said at the time that wealthier, more educated women in the study, who were more likely to purchase organic food, also had risk factors that increase the likelihood of having breast cancer, such as having fewer children and higher alcohol consumption.

The organic food market has been growing in recent years, both in Europe and the United States. Sales of organic food increased to $45.2 billion last year in the United States, according to the Organic Trade Association’s 2018 survey.

Festival promises a day filled with fun, food and music

29 Aug

MIKE-DUPUY
The Penns Valley Conservation Association (PVCA) is hosting their annual outdoor event “Crickfest” this Sunday, Sept. 2, at the community park in Coburn.

The small village of Coburn is not much different than it was 50, or perhaps, 100 years ago.

Roomy Victorian style houses line the main street, and Penns Creek sits to the south side of the town, winding its way through this very rural part of Centre County.

Finding Coburn is fairly easy if you have a GPS, or even just a basic knowledge of the area, and most who make it there will agree that the journey to the little, old fashioned, looking community is a large part of the joy of visiting there.

The picturesque drive takes travelers through the lush, green, Penns Valley farmland, complete with ganders of not only the aforementioned Penns Creek, but also a spectacular view of its sister waterway, Elk Creek.

Coburn is typically a quiet haven, with the most activity on any given day coming from a group of locals making use of the park with a game of Ultimate Frisbee, but each year, on the first Sunday in September, that changes. Hundreds, and quite possibly upwards of one thousand, people flock to an extraordinary festival in Coburn where art, community and nature all come together on a small plot of ground on the backside of this one horse town.

The festival is simply called “Crickfest,” and it will blow your mind and refresh your soul in one swift, sun-covered, swoop.

This coming Sunday marks the 16th year for Crickfest, and as in years past, it promises to be a day filled with fun, food, and music, and will take place rain or shine from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.

All of the proceeds from Crickfest will go directly to fund the Penns Valley Conservation Association’s Environmental Education Classes that are taught in the Penns Valley School District. Each year since 2003 the PVCA covers the salary for a part time teacher to educate students about the benefits of preserving the area’s natural resources.

Crickfest 16 will be as terrific as the past 15, with live entertainment and delicious food.

Guests are encouraged to kick back and have a relaxing time and bring along their fishing gear, or just simply play in the beautiful, trout filled waters of Penns Creek. There will be kayaks near the creek’s edge to use at your leisure and an instructor to assist first timers.

As in previous years the menu features a broad selection of cuisines to suit any taste, with everything from barbecue to stew.

EcoVents Catering and UpTexas BBQ in Millheim will be serving up BBQ Brisket and pulled pork from their handmade, steampunk-esque portable roaster named “LeRoy.” EcoVents and UpTexas BBQ uses locally sourced beef and pork as well as local, in season produce and other foods.

For those who want something a bit spicier, Brazilian Munchies from Bellefonte, is cooking up some Brazilian Beef Stew and Pao de Queijo (cheese bread).

And if you are really adventurous, travel to North Africa as Nittany Catering, also from Centre County, offers up the classic dish, Morocco Tagine. This lovely, flavor-filled stew will be served in a waste-free, acorn squash bowl.

For those of you with a sweet tooth, the Sweet Creek Cafe will be on hand with an array of unique and delicious baked goods donated by members of the Penns Valley community.

Kids will find fun, educational crafts and activities in the Children’s Creativity Tent. Helpers will show children how to make hands-on art work using items from the environment.

Other stations for kids can be found around Crickfest with past year’s all around favorite being the “water bottle rockets.” And all youngsters will agree that it’s not Crickfest with out the duck and zucchini boat races.

Volunteers from the Pennsylvania Amphibian and Reptile Survey will be presenting a wildlife demonstration, and Millheim resident, Max Engle will be educating everyone on how to build a bat house.

Master Falconer, Mike Dupuy, of Middleburg, will give a falconry and birds of prey demonstration where he will captivate the audience through his knowledge of the age old sport.

Dupuy has decades of experience and is one of the nation’s top falconry/birds of prey experts. He is a very sought after public speaker who consistently draws his audience into his world by teaching them about the benefits of getting involved in falconry. Through the sharing of his personal experiences, he inspires and motivates others to follow their own dreams.

A musical variety show will begin at 11a.m. and will feature local bands and artists that include the Poe Valley Troubadours, Richard Sleigh, and the Unbanned. The final act of the day will be a Ukulele Jam with Mary Anne Cleary. Cleary invites those with ukes to bring their instrument and a music stand along to join in on a jam session.

As per Crickfest tradition, there will be a silent auction where bidders can try their hand at taking home a hand crafted piece of art or a gift certificate for local businesses along with many other wonderfully donated items.

The Penns Valley Conservation Association serves as a steward for the natural and cultural communities in the Upper Penns Creek watershed.

The event is free and open to everyone, from everywhere.

This Stranger Things Season 3 Teaser Features An 80s Mall Food Court

24 Jul

Netflix just gave fans a first glimpse at season three of Stranger Things with a clip showing the inside of a new neon-lit mall in the fictional town of Hawkins, Indiana. The promo is scarily on point to a real ’80s advertisement too for the Starcourt Mall, and fans are left to question WHAT DOES THIS MEAN??

The promo announces that Hawkin’s is “taking another step into the future” but no other details are revealed about the show’s main plot line. Familiar name brands that are a blast from the past: Waldenbrooks, Sam Goody, and the Gap, are all shown in the teaser, too.

stranger-things-season-3-teaser

Lastly we see Steve Harrington a.k.a. Joe Keery working in the Starcourt Food Court at an ice cream shop called Scoops Ahoy. He’s seen beside a new character named Robin played by Maya Hawke, both in a little sailor outfits.

There’s no doubt malls just like this one were actually big hubs for teens of suburbia to hang at in the 80s. Only time will tell what’s going to go down there in the third season of the sci-fi drama for Mike, Will, Dusty, Lucas and the rest of the gang. Is it next summer yet?

Baked, stuffed squash blossoms are a delicious revelation

16 Jun

squash-blossoms

They may seem complicated, but this simple recipe delivers a light and beautiful dish that is sure to delight.

I am completely smitten with eating flowers, both from the garden and the wild. Aside from the flower-fairy magic of it all, they add unique flavors and color to a dish. And if meat-eaters can minimize food waste by eating nose-to-tail, why can’t plant eaters eat root-to-petal?

Meanwhile, it’s squash season – and as is its wont, that means that summer squash of every size, shape, and color is invading gardens and green markets with beautiful reckless abandon. When over the weekend I saw a giant box of gorgeous squash blossoms for $5.00 – which seemed so cheap compared to their vibrant exuberance – I bought them with stuffing in mind. The thing is, stuffed and fried squash blossoms – or even just batter-dipped – the ways I have mostly seen them prepared, was not all that appealing to me because a) it feels heavy-handed for something so delicate and b) standing over a vat of spattering oil in a hot kitchen on a hot July day did not sound lovely.

So we baked them … and as it turns out, they were nonetheless tender, crispy, and golden, without being saturated in oil. The fleeting flavor of squash remained present, and they made for a perfect side dish redolent of summer and gardens … and a little but of fairy magic.

And they were nearly effortless to make. Mix the few ingredients, stuff, twist, dip and roll in bread crumbs, bake, eat. My family was happy with them as they were, but for anyone wanting less cheese, the ricotta could be beautifully diluted with finely chopped, cooked spinach that has been pressed to remove excess liquid. Also below, vegan alternatives.

Baked, stuffed squash blossoms
• 8 – 10 squash blossoms
• 1 cup ricotta*
• 2 eggs*
• 1/4 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano*
• Chopped fresh mint
• Salt to taste
• 3/4 cups panko bread crumbs

*VEGAN ALTERNATIVES: Use non-dairy ricotta, sprinkle in some nutritional yeast instead of Parmigiano-Reggiano to add umami, omit the one egg in the cheese mix, and use soy milk in place of the other egg for the egg wash.

1. Pre-heat oven to 400F. Mix the cheese and one egg together, add mint.
2. Open the blossom in one hand and stuff about two tablespoons into the heart of the flower. May be more or less, depending on their size.
3. Twist the blossom closed. Beat the other egg in a bowl, and place the bread crumbs in another. Dip twisted flower in the egg and then sprinkle with bread crumbs.
4. Place them all on a parchment-lined baking sheet and cook for 10 to 15 minutes, or until golden. (I used my convection fan which made them crispy in under 15 minutes.) No need to turn, just check to make sure they don’t burn.