The Start of Something Amazing

umeshuRabbits of the internet, hear me! I’m taking this day outside of my usual Tuesday salad schedule to inform you of the start of something amazing, something magical, something wondrous. For now is the time of the ume, the small, sour, nasty little green plum that is good for two things: umeboshi and umeshu, and only the latter of the two tastes any good.

Umeshu is a Japanese liqueur made from the ume plum native to China. The fruit itself tastes like sour ass, but umeshu is pure fucking ambrosia. With an alcohol content of between 15-25% it’s sweet, slightly sour, sweet again and oh, so deliciously smooth. It can be drunk on the rocks, with soda, with tonic, or just mixed in with other, nastier liquors. It doesn’t matter, umeshu is awesome, and it’ll take one for the team to make sure your drinking experience tastes like a unicorn shat fruity, alcoholic rainbows in your mouth.

And The Partner and I are making it this year.

Umeshu is ridiculously easy to make. All you need is unripened green plums, rock sugar, shuchu and time. Lots of time. But if you’ve got all that, then by god, you can have yourself your own jug of umeshu to call your own.

Now, The Partner doesn’t drink, but she agreed to go along for the ride with me as we document our incredibly long, six month journey from this:

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to this:

Jisaku_Umeshu_with_ume

To start with, we needed our three tangible ingredients and a large jug to hold it all in. Fortunately, making umeshu is something of a house wives’ annual hobby. Or so I’m told. The tradition of the matron of the household making umeshu is slowly dying with the easy availability of factory made umeshu on the shelves of every supermarket and convenience store, but some women still stick to making it from scratch. As such, around this time of year, supermarkets stock their shelves with everything you need to make it, for a more or less affordable price.

The first step is to wash the jug. To prevent the umeshu from spoiling the jug needs to be completely sanitized before anything goes into it. This involves pouring boiling water into the jug, draining it and then letting it air dry. Once dry, the inside of the jug then needs to be wiped down with some of the shochu for good measure.

While waiting for the jug to dry, the ume plums need to be washed. Because they’re unripe, they are quite firm, making washing them rather easy. The Partner and I were following these directions, and while we were washing the plums, we got into an argument over what ‘hulling’ means. The directions say to “remove the hulls with a toothpick” so initially we thought this mean to pull out the little pieces of stem that still remained in the plums. Then we noticed that the directions that came in the bottle show a picture of a woman pricking the side of the plum with a toothpick.

After several minutes of debate we finally decided that it couldn’t hurt anything to do both. I handed The Partner a fun novelty toothpick and said, “here, stab it with pudding.” …You had to have been there.

After the plums were all washed and dried, it was time to put them in the jar. Because fresh fruit floats and sugar sinks in alcohol, the plums need to be layered in the rock sugar. So, we layered it all up and then poured in our shochu.

At first it seemed like it might not be enough to cover all the ingredients. I told The Partner that she might need to take a run to Liquor Mountain, which is a real, honest to god liquor store chain in Japan. Fortunately the 1.8 liter carton was more than enough, and we sealed up our jug and put it in the closet.

Now here we reach another point of contention. The website says to gently move the container every couple of days (presumably because the sugar and the plums immediately separated after 20 minutes of being immersed in the shochu. So much for layering.) However the directions on the bottle quite clearly state not to move it all. Yet another piece of advice given to us by a friend says that the mixture should be stirred every couple of days. So honestly, I’m not sure how to proceed at the moment. I sort of nudge it a little every morning. Hopefully that’s enough to satisfy all the recommendations.

Another bit of contrary advice is the length of time this mixture needs to sit. Some places say that it can be sampled in as little time as 3 months. Others suggest it is best to wait for a full year. Six months seems to be the only commonality these recommendations share, either as a maximum or a minimum, so I think that’s what we’ll go with.

Check back here for weekly or monthly updates as to the state of our liquor-making endeavor. Hopefully the thing doesn’t explode in our closet over the course of the next six months.

The Stolen Chicken Sandwich

IMG_2206The Stolen Chicken Sandwich

Prep-time: 5 minutes, after making sure there’s no one looking
Calories: Probably close to 500, on account of the fried chicken.
Healthy (+): It tastes good!
Healthy (-): It tastes good. 😦
Cost: Free! Mwuahaha!
Feeds: One. Don’t tell anybody.

Delicious scale: 4 stars (loses a point for the bitter taste of guilt)

Living with another human being necessitates the sharing of some household items: the TV remote, the hot water in the bathroom, the blankets on the bed, and the refrigerator. If you’re like me, a voracious consumer of all things edible, then the latter can be a particularly difficult problem when food items which are not your own appear in the icebox.

Now, The Partner has the self control of a Roman statue (and consequently the body to match) and often leaves portions of her meal in the fridge… which she then forgets about. Myself, having the self control of a bear in autumn, then find these extra morsels waiting patiently on the shelf for a hungry mouth. Often, I confess, the temptation is too much and I succumb to my dark desires.

The cheesecake will be mine.

Or in this case, the fried chicken. Oh, reader, it was good, I can say that much. Laid out on a bed of lettuce, surrounded by crunchy croutons, who could ever resist? Naturally, consumed by guilt I confessed my sin to The Partner when she got home. Of course she’d forgotten all about the chicken, and showing great mercy, forgave me for my transgression. Ah, the love of my life.

Ingredients

– 3 pc leftover fried chicken
– 1 bag of green things
– 1 avocado
– 1/2 red pepper
– croutons to taste
– Buttermilk ranch dressing

How to Prepare

1) Open fridge for the usual salad suspects
2) Spot container of chicken.
3) Bite lip and close fridge. That’s The Partner’s chicken.
4) Chop red pepper and cube avocado. Add to green things.
5) That chicken sure looked good, huh?
6) Add croutons to distract from tempting food items.
7) Three pieces of chicken though. I mean, what is she saving it for?
8) Liberally pump out the ranch dressing. Must not steal The Partner’s food.
9) Consider salad. It is definitely missing something.
10) Steal chicken. It’s ok.
11) It’s totally not ok, but damnit, it’s delicious!
12) Feel immediate guilt upon finishing salad.
13) Cry.

How You’re Supposed to Make It

Fried Chicken Salad

Full Fungus Salad

IMG_2207Full Fungus Salad

Prep-time: 3 minutes (or however long it takes you to chop)
Calories: Few. Mushrooms are surprisingly low cal.
Healthy (+): Lots and lots of green.
Healthy (-): Cheeeeese
Cost: about $8
Feeds: One lonely diner

Delicious scale: 4 stars

Ingredients

– 6 white cap mushrooms
– 1/4 a head of romaine lettuce
– 5 cherry tomatoes
– finely grated mozzarella cheese
– basil cheese dressing

Preparation

1) Chop chop
2) Choppity-chop-chop
3) ???
4) Profit
(seriously, it’s all chopping)

Sometimes when I’m caught up in life (read: napping, studying, napping, writing, napping, reviewing etc) I forget to take the time out of my busy napping day to go out to the grocery store and buy nice, whole foods that aren’t going to kill me in a race between diabetes and cancer. That leaves me at the mercy of whatever I have in my fridge to make something healthy to eat when I have that “Oh, Shit, I actually have to eat.” moment. Fortunately, The Partner usually picks up green things when she comes home from work. She claims she has a vested interest in my health. I think she likes to see me suffer.

Today I happened to have romaine at my disposal, as well as my salad staples, cherry tomatoes and cheese, and some mushrooms. I’m going to be honest, as much as I love mushrooms, white caps are the only ones I’ll eat raw. I don’t know why. Conditioning, I suppose. White caps were all we ever had when I was growing up. Japan has so many varieties of mushrooms that I feel a little overwhelmed when shopping for them, so I tend to stick to my old favorite.

Admittedly, I’m not a huge fan of romaine. I think it comes from once having found a dead moth in my caesar salad. Something like that tends to put you off of a food. I don’t care much for its fibrous texture and oddly enough, I don’t find it as flavorful as iceberg, which has been proven to be nothing but a bunch of water molecules trapped in the tightest bear hug ever. Anyway, romaine makes a good salad filler. At least as good as cabbage on the best of days. I’ll always prefer it paired with barbeque, but it makes a good bed for mushrooms and cheese in a pinch.

Speaking of which, mushrooms and cheese has to be one of the best food pairings I’ve ever had. I’ll make stuffed mushroom caps entirely with cheddar cheese and be a happy woman.

How You’re Supposed To Make It

Asparagus & Mushroom Salad

Popeye’s Italian Odyssey

*POP* That’s the sound of me racing back to this blog, approaching the speed of light. I have kept the rabbits waiting. Terribly sorry for that. No more delays. Let’s get into it:

Popeye’s Italian OdysseyIMG_2564

Prep-time: 6 minutes
Calories: Probably not more than a couple hundred.
Healthy (+): So much spinach
Healthy (-): Go easy on the cheese
Cost: about $5
Feeds: 1 woman in desperate need of dark green, leafy vegetables.
Delicious scale:3-stars-out-of-5
Ingredients

– one bag of spinach leaves
– one whole tomato
– half a cucumber
– half a red pepper
– Whatever is left in the bottom of the thousand island salad dressing bottle
– Croutons
– Shredded cheese

First of all, this salad was born out of the hasty need to put green things in my body. With the World Kendo Championships just around the corner, people from all over the globe are coming to visit our humble club which means these past and coming weeks are an orgy of fried food and beer. What, you didn’t know that kendo is half intense, screaming stick fighting and half getting roaring drunk and hoping sensei pays? The more you know. Obviously a stiff salad is needed.

I know this salad is healthy because I dumped an entire bag of spinach into it. I chose spinach because it was what was in the fridge, and also because on the scale of dark, green leafy vegetables, spinach is like, the darkest, greenest and leafiest of them all, or else cartoons have lied to me. It also tastes like ass, so I had to defuse it with other, yummier things, like tomatoes, cucumber, red peppers and croutons. The result was… meh. Probably because I didn’t have enough salad dressing, but also because I forgot to account for the water content in whole tomatoes. No, I don’t cut the middles out of my tomatoes because shut up. The cucumber and croutons gave this salad some much needed crunch, but the whole thing ended up as a soggy, bland mess regardless. But it was healthy!

How I Made It

1) Dump an entire package of spinach into a spare Tupperware because your Perfect Salad Bowl (TM) has gone missing.
2) Cut a half a cucumber carefully in hand. Add to bowl.
3) Make a mental note to wash the cutting board along with the rest of the dishes after dinner.
4) Repeat step two with a tomato and red pepper.
5) Shake out the dregs of salad dressing from the bottle.
6) Realize that your salad looks pitifully unappetizing and add croutons and cheese.
7) Add more cheese, because cheese.
8) Enjoy.
9) Forget to wash the dishes.

How You’re Supposed to Make It

Spinach and mushroom salad (with bacon)

Bonus Salad: Yoshinoya’s ‘Green’ Salad

I like salad. You like salad, presumably, otherwise why the heck are you here?! This is for all the rabbits of the internet. Anyway, as much as I like salad and enjoy making them and eating them, this every day salad blogging thing is taxing, especially since I have three other blogs I have to tend to, plus reviewing, writing, working and sleeping, somewhere in there as well. That said, I think I’m going to make this blog a once a week thing, and since I tend to have a lot of free time on Tuesdays, why not set Tuesday as salad blogging day. This also means that I’ll never run out of salads to blog about, since I’m still making myself a salad a day. It’s a win-win for me. Not so much for you if you’re looking for daily salad recipes. I’m sorry, bunnies.

So, to kick off this new change, I’m going to continue with my current series, “Salads I ate when I was too sick to make my own salad.” Fortunately, Japan being a health conscious country (read: if it looks like our ankles can support our body weight, we’re eating too much) there is always some sort of side salad option to have at any restaurant you go to. This shouldn’t be mistaken for vegetarian or vegan options, though. These aren’t meals, really, and finding vegetarian or vegan foods in Japan is really difficult, as the Partner and I have discovered while trying to accommodate vegan friends. Meat might be expensive as hell over here, but it’s an integral part of every meal.

But I digress. The point is, even when we eat out, I can get me a salad, and on the days when I’m dripping like a faucet and too feverish to tell the difference between chopping a carrot and chopping my finger, going out is probably the better alternative. Plus I get to share my germs with the world. It’s all about sharing, folks.

On this day we went to Yoshinoya, which I know exists outside of Japan, but for anyone who has never eaten at one, Yoshinoya is a donburi restaurant, which is basically meat on rice and it’s amazing. The meat is generally either beef or pork, but it can also be chicken with egg, salmon or barbequed eel. I’m sure there are more options than this as well, but this is what we find (read: are willing to eat) at Yoshinoya.

But onwards to the salad. This beautiful salad you see here is the reason why these sides can IMG_2172never be mistaken for an actual meal. Most of the salads you will find in Japan are just shredded cabbages with hints of something else in them. Sometimes carrots, mostly corn, and if you’re really lucky, a couple paper thing slices of cucumber. If the restaurant is feeling particularly classy, it will cover the cabbage in a few leaves of lettuce to give you the impression that you’re eating something more satisfying. You can see here that this salad in particular is just cabbage with some corn. Dousing it in goma dressing is actually what gives it any appeal at all, but for a salad, I suppose it’s filling. The real delight, though, was the giant bowl of barbequed pork on rice, swimming in green onions. Sometimes, there’s just no substitute for a helping of meat.

The Laziest Fruit Salad

The Laziest Fruit Salad, EverIMG_2175

Prep-time: 5 minutes (including the walk)
Calories: It’s fruit, so I’m pretty sure calories don’t matter.
Healthy (+): Loads of citrus means loads of cold fighting Vitamin C
Healthy (-): Pineapple makes my tongue burn.
Cost: about $4
Feeds: one person, though it comes with two forks, so I guess two people who don’t mind sharing.
Delicious scale:4 stars

I had a bit of a rough weekend battling with a cold virus, and as tends to happen when germs lay a person down, the work started to pile up. So, while I’ve been sticking to my salad a day diet, I haven’t really had the time to blog about it. UNTIL NOW. I have a bit of a salad back-log going though, so let’s start with something easy.

Ingredients

– pineapple
– pink grapefruit
– navel orange
– kiwi

Instructions

1) Walk to supermarket and buy a fruit salad.
2) Put salad in bowl.
3) Pretend you actually made the salad yourself.

Honestly, I didn’t even walk down to the store. The partner was good enough to brave the elements for me and pick me up a vitamin C injection. It seems to have worked. The cold is mostly just hanging on by a few sticky threads in my lungs, but other than that I’m feeling most of my energy returned to me and none of the aches and fever I had on Saturday. I chalk up the speedy recovery to the addition of a salad a day into my diet. It really works people!

Bonus Salad: ソーセージサラダ from Coco Ichi Curry House

I’m super sick today which is a thing that happens when you suddenly switch to a healthier lifestyle with a fraction of the calories you normally consume and a drastic increase in exercise. Stupid stressed immune system. Anyway, I barely have the fevered strength to be typing this post, let alone making myself a salad, so here’s a salad I ate in a moment of weakness this week at Coco Ichi, a chain curry restaurant here in Japan.

Coco Ichi’s Sausage Salad

IMG_2163

As you can see, the sausage salad has many key features of a Japanese green salad: the shredded cabbage, the corn and the hint of lettuce leaf to hide the fact that the salad is mostly just cabbage. When we can find a restaurant salad that isn’t 90% cabbage, we’re rather gleeful, however this usually isn’t the case. The sausages make it not the healthiest salad in the world, but it’s nonetheless tasty, and a nice reward for eating my greens for the rest of the week.

The sausages were a nice touch. Salty and chewy where the rest of the salad was crisp and sweet. I chose goma salad dressing, in part because I didn’t trust the vague wording of “classic dressing” and in part because goma is amazing. It’s a deep roasted sesame seed dressing that I’ve only ever seen in Japan. People over here get really excited when I say I like it. I guess because the concept of foreigners enjoying Japanese foods is still strange here.

Of course, salad wasn’t the only thing that I got for dinner. You can’t go to Coco Ichi’s and not get a curry. They have a spice scale from 0 to 10 which is ludicrous when you consider that Japanese people don’t have the highest spice tolerance. I consider myself decently able to handle spice, but level 3 spice at Coco’s is too much for me. I stick to mild now.

Beef katsu curry

Beef katsu curry