Archive for ‘snack’

November 30th, 2011

Game day food

I remember seeing my father watch the Tokyo Giants baseball game every night during the season, but thinking back, I can’t remember whether or not there was a special game-time snack he’d typically enjoy.  Why am I thinking about this all of a sudden?  Let’s just say I’ve noticed that things are a little different here in the U.S. when it comes to sports.  Here, people treat ‘the big game’ like the Fourth of July.  No game-day celebration seems complete without multiple varieties of chips, dips, wings, and burgers.  Seeing a real American tailgate party looked like a lot of fun.  (the food that is, not the sports-watching).

My husband is not a crazy enough sports fan to paint his face (thank goodness!), but there are a few games that he’d hate to miss.   I’ve sadly learned that in the fall, Saturdays have to be planned around college football.  On the most sacred Saturday of them all, Los Angeles is split in two, as sides are taken for the big UCLA vs USC game.  Last weekend was that very Saturday, and like all true sports fans, my husband wanted a snack.  My solution–an open faced mushroom ragu sandwich.  He liked it, but confided in me that he was craving a continuous series of little snacks.

Continuous?  Although I immediately thought of buffalo wings, I remembered that our Thanksgiving dinner was not that long ago, so maybe those wouldn’t be the best choice.  Hot dogs?  Continuous hot dogs would probably kill you, so maybe that’s not an option either.   Finally, I came up with the perfect plan:  mini corn dogs.  I grew up loving corn dogs, except back home in Japan, we called them “American dogs (American doggu)”.

To prepare the small snacks, I used a Japanese takoyaki pan (similar to this half sphered pan from William Sonoma), which was nice, because it let me avoid frying.  The ingredients were simple: wholewheat pancake mix and chopped organic hot dog meat.  I can’t claim that it was entirely healthful, but as far as continuous snacks go, I think I did o.k.

Did he like them?  Well, this year as a UCLA fan, his only smile came from the snacks!  A 50-0 loss! Ouch!  There’s one more game this Friday.  Will he root for the UCLA Bruins or the American Doggus?  We’ll have to wait and see.

August 10th, 2011

Pretzel

I’ve always thought pretzels were a sad replacement for potato chips, when it comes to the world of snacking. To be fair, pretzels do beat out ‘baked’ chips, but just barely.  Did we have Pretzels in Japan?  I don’t remember seeing them when I was growing up, but there was the similarly named snack, ‘Pretz’. Other than the similarity in the name, the two snacks will never be confused for one another. 

The Japanese ‘Pretz’ is longer and skinnier than its twisted American cousin.  It has a tan color, and comes in flavors that Americans would never want nor expect in their snack food.  The best example?  Have you ever eaten a salad flavor snack?  For the uninitiated, it’s crisp and mildly salty, with a nice buttery taste that has a bit of a consomme taste… not quite ‘salad’, I know, but still tasty.  With only ‘Pretz’ in Japan, you can imagine how hard it was for me to explain what American pretzels were like to a Japanese audience.  You’re probably thinking, ‘How often do you need to explain pretzels to Japanese people?’  The answer: every time a US President almost chokes on one.  (which is once…so far)

While hard pretzels aren’t my snack of choice, I do love soft pretzels. I had my first one in Pennsylvania Amish country, which is about 2 hour drive from Manhattan.  It was warm, soft and drenched in butter. I still remember how delicious it was and the instant I wiped my buttery fingers clean, I began planning my return trip to Amish county for another one.  I would’ve saved me a lot of time and travel had I known back then that every American mall has an Auntie Anne’s ready and waiting.  And yes, in Manhattan, there are street vendors everywhere, selling these savory delights, I’d eat them, but it’s rather dry (read: no butter).  By the way, Auntie Anne’s is now available in Japan as well.

The small, dry, pretzel has evolved into something wonderful: pretzel bread.  They’ve made the rounds from farmer’s markets to Whole Foods, and are even turning up in restaurants.  When we went to a nearby gastro pub, the Local Peasant, we decided to order their pretzel with truffle butter.  My husband, who is a self claimed bread snob, always complains that he loves pretzel bread but laments that it can be too salty, even if you scrape off the excess.  How did the Local Peasant’s pretzel fare?  It was pretty good; the doughy texture soaked up the truffle butter nicely.  So the bottom line, hot and doughy–fantastic; small and crunchy–well, to quote our greatest philosopher, Seinfeld,”These pretzels are making me thirsty.”

August 3rd, 2011

Nuts!

It seems like every day, we read something different about nuts.  On Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, we read stories that they’re a healthy snack alternative to chips or pretzels, while on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays, we find articles telling us to avoid this fat laden food.  Like anything, much has to do with the way nuts are prepared and presented. This is why, at home, I usually make sure our pantry is stocked with the boring kind– raw and unsalted. While my husband and I would love to pop open a can of Mr. Peanut while we watch a baseball game on t.v., we don’t.  I think a part of getting older and wiser is realizing that the five minutes of pleasure is not worth the bloating feeling we suffer with, the next day.  On the other hand, every time I’m at a bar, I get excited to see what version or variety they serve, as more often than not, it’s more than just the standard salted nut.While on vacation  on the Big Island of Hawaii, we were fortunate to find Beach Tree.  When you’re watching the sun sink slowly into the ocean while listening to live Hawaiian music, food and drink don’t matter much.  It would literally take something out of the ordinary to make you take your eyes of the view and take notice of the taste.  That out of the ordinary, or should I say, extraordinary thing happened when our server brought us a small plate of the most delicious nuts I’ve ever eaten.  Not from a can or a cartoon wearing a monocle, these nuts were thoughtfully prepared and somehow managed to balance the salty, the sweet and the heat, perfectly.  The best part?  No guilt-ridden bloating the next day.

My husband and I are both not big on drinks.  We didn’t go to bars when we were dating, but lately, as bars have slowly evolved into gastropubs, we’ve been more adventurous.  Since I like seafood and Asian food and he likes hearty American food, it’s hard for us to find a mutually agreeable restaurant.  But at a bar, you don’t have to commit to a big entree, and with a few small plates or sips, we can quickly figure out if the place is worth our while.  The Beach Tree definitely was worth the price of admission.  In addition to a phenomenal view of the Pacific, everything was close to perfection.  We both loved their fresh food, fabulous drinks, and excellent service. As the saying goes: “if it ain’t broke, why fix it?”  Heeding that advice, we went back four nights in a row, timing our visits perfectly, in order to catch the sunset and eat those nuts!

On our last day, our server thoughtfully asked if there was anything she could do for us.  I had my request ready from day one:  “What is that amazing seasoning on these nuts?”  The answer wasn’t a simple word like ‘salt’, but rather, she mentioned that there were quite a lot of spices involved.  When I hear that, my mind instantly translates the restaurant code to mean ‘secret recipe’ known only to the privileged few.  But I was wrong.  Instead, I got the exact opposite–the recipe. Do you want to guess what my first project was when our plane landed back on the mainland?  I immediately bought a bunch of raw nuts and began my attempt to recreate the Beach Tree’s magic. Having been successful was a mixed blessing.  What started as a snack, has slowly begun to replace my meals!  Thank goodness I showed some restraint as the recipe I was given was for ten gallons!  Think I’m exaggerating?  Try the recipe for yourself and enjoy a cocktail or two.  Mr. Peanut will understand.

 

July 18th, 2011

Redvines

I can admit it; I was scared of eating Red Vines.  I’ve seen so many Americans eating them before, and every time they’ve been offered to me, I’ve found a way to politely refuse, because frankly, they didn’t look appetizing.  It’s a bright, almost neon red, but isn’t made from strawberries or beets.  It looks too mysterious.  I can’t quite remember the circumstances surrounding the story of how my American husband tricked me into finally eating them, but for some reason, the fear has subsided, and I’m slightly leaning toward liking this ‘always fat free’ snack.
Are there Red Vines in Japan?  No.  Do Japanese people even know about Red Vines?  No, unless they received a bad souvenir or were the victims of a practical joke.  Would they like it if they tried it?  I can guarantee right now, that 99% of Japanese won’t like Red Vines and all other similar “licorice” products.  As a matter of fact, when my Japanese client came to America to do some studio work with American talents, he was given Red Vines and later asked me how can people enjoy eating them?  I had no answer.  Just like foreigners have a hard time with the idea of a Japanese breakfast consisting of fermented products, Japanese people just don’t have the culinary capacity to handle the flavor and texture of Red Vines.  If I had to describe the experience of eating one, I’d say there is almost no flavor, yet there is that corn syrup sweetness.  Then there’s the texture… It’s not quite chewy… it’s almost like eating a pre-chewed piece of chewing gum (I imagine).  And finally, its description is a bit misleading; I don’t understand why it’s called licorice snack when there’s no licorice in it.

It definitely wasn’t  love at first bite.  Within a year or so, my relationship with Red Vines progressed from the “ugh” stage to the “Oh, the last one already?  Can we split it?”  My Japanese friends find my palate becoming more peculiar each day. I call it developing a new appreciation.

June 23rd, 2011

Pizza

I don’t like pizza. Shocking, I know. I guess the universe balances out–when someone excitedly exclaims that they’ve ordered pizza, I react with the same indifference and disappointment as my husband does when he hears, “We’re all going out for sushi!” It’s as simple as that; he doesn’t want Asian food, I don’t want pizza. There are some exceptions.
I do like the New York tradition of pizza by the slice.  For 3 bucks, your hunger is greasily satisfied.We actually have many pizza places in Japan, from the world famous Domino’s to a Japanese delivery pizza place called “Pizza-la”.  My mother, who is 5’2″ and weighs 90lbs, actually loves pizza.  When my dad came home late, which was often enough, my family would have pizza night– but our pizzas barely resembled their American cousins.  Japanese pizzas have interesting toppings like tuna salad, mayonnaise, and seaweed, which might scare away the typical pepperoni loving American (no worries, we do have pepperoni).  More on this another time.
The first pizza that I really enjoyed was a 3am late dinner/early breakfast, on 11th Ave in NYC.  It was a cold January night and I was working on a movie set for 12 hours as a PA, starving and freezing. In those conditions, you can imagine how satisying a piping hot piece of plain cheese pizza from Famous and/or Original Ray’s tasted amazing.  That night, for the first time, I finally understood the English expression, “it hit the spot”.