Sunday, March 27, 2011

Foodbuzz 24x24: Hanami Bento and Giveaway

Foodbuzz 24x24: Hanami Bento

I’m thrilled that my Foodbuzz 24x24 proposal was chosen for this month.  I am featuring the Hanami Bento. Hanami is a traditional flower-viewing festival in Japan also known as cherryblossom festival. It is said that the Japanese elite celebrated the first Hanami in the 700s but Hanami is so popular now that almost everyone in Japan celebrates it. The tradition has changed little over time. Friends, families and colleagues gather to enjoy food and drink under plum (ume) blossoms or cherry blossoms. Since Japan's fiscal year and school year starts in April coinciding with the end of winter, Hanami symbolizes new beginnings so many welcome parties start with Hanami, a chance to get bond with each other and to renew their spirits.

When news filtered in about the 9.0 (on the Richter scale) earthquake and tsunami that hit the northeastern coast of Japan I was shocked and stunned by the utter havoc caused by the tsunami.  Live videos showed ships, houses, cars and people being swept away by the tsunami. On top of this there was the problem of partial meltdown at Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station.

A friend’s daughter lives in Sendai and she had to run down six flights of steps carrying her two daughters when the earthquake struck. Her immediate family was spared but all around them nearly everyone lost someone.  I emailed my former professor inquiring about their safety and he replied that due to power outages half of the trains in Tokyo were not in service and he had to ride his bike to get work.  He lives at least 5 train stations away from the campus.  He said bottled water was being rationed and everything was in short supply. How could I feature a happy event such as Hanami when so many Japanese were grieving for lost loved ones and the uncertainty of the future in the face a nuclear crisis? 

For days I contemplated about pulling out of the event.  But then I came to the conclusion that it was alright to have a Hanami picnic.  Just as Hanami is a time for new beginnings and renewal it is also a time to mediate on our own mortality and the fragility of life.  If we dwell upon this during Hanami then it is worth doing it. 

The day chosen for Foodbuzz 24x24 was unfortunately very cold and grey in Oklahoma.  Temperatures have been erratic in the previous weeks and today it dipped to 30 C.  I planned to share the Japanese picnic meal at the Boomer Lake with a few friends to introduce them to this Japanese tradition and Hanami food. Unfortunately, James and Curtis could not make it because they were sick and Preet had to go to Dallas so it was just me, my sister, Mark and Jshinobi  (Hubby was on call this weekend) who shared the Hanami bento and reflected on the symbolism of Hanami.  We enjoyed our brief but meaningful Hanami picnic under the blossom-laden branches.
This is what I made for our Hanami bento: Inarizushi (seasoned rice in seasoned soybean curd), karaage (japanese fried chicken), simmered spinach with sesame seeds, kabocha simmered in soy sauce, Harumaki (spring rolls), and for dessert we had dango (pink, white and green dumplings skewered on bamboo sticks) and mochi (rice dumplings filled with bean paste).  The recipes are at the bottom of this post. 

I bought pink and white fish cakes (kamaboko), quail eggs, and seasoned tuna cakes and some mochi (rice dumplings with red bean filling and matcha/ green tea mochi).  Since JShinobi was under 18 we had Ramune (Japanese lemonade), Calipco and soy milk for our drinks.
Clockwise: Blanched spinach with sesame sauce, Simmered kabocha squash, Hardboiled quail eggs, Kamaboko, Cucumbers, Chicken karaage, Inarizushi
Top to bottom: Harumaki (spring rolls), Dango, Tuna cakes

The delicate sakura blossom is the symbol of the samurai.  It embodies the spirit of “bushido” or the way of the samurai that combines bravery, valor and stoicism. Hanami is a reminder of the fleeting nature of life and this brings out a peculiar Japanese strength, stoicism and willingness to rebuild and rise above tragedy.  

Most of the recipes I used are from The Just Bento Cookbook so I am also doing a giveaway of this must have cookbook by Makiko Itoh.
Please comment to enter the giveaway.  Random.org will be used to choose a winner and this will be announced on April 22, 2011.

For those who wish to donate to the Japan Disaster Relief efforts please visit Japan Earthquake and Pacific Tsunami link of the American Red Cross https://american.redcross.org/site/SPageServer?pagename=ntld_main

Inarizushi (from can of Shirakiku can of Inarizushi no moto)
1 10 oz. can inarisushi no moto (fried soybean curd seasoned with soy sauce)
2 1/2 cups rice
1/4 cup su (rice vinegar)
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 tsp salt
Cook rice in usual manner. Add sugar and salt to rice vinegar and stir till all crystals dissolve. Seaon cooked rice with seasoned vinegar. Stir rice well so that it will be evenly seasoned. Cool rice with a paper fan while you stir. Pack seasoned rice in Iarishushi no moto. Do not pack too solidly. Fold end of abura-age to cover rice. If you prefer vegetables in the rice use Gomoku no moto.

Chicken kara-gae (from The Just BentoCookbook)
420 g boneless chicken thigh, without skin, cut into 3-4 pieces
2 tsp soy sauce (if you are not making green onion sauce, increase to 4 tsp
2 Tbsp sake or rice wine
2 tsp peeled an grated fresh ginger
Marinade chicken at least 10 min or overnight. If overnight, omit soy sauce and add 10 min before coking so the salt will not draw too much moisture from the chichen and make it dry. Coat pieces in cornstarch and fry chicken till deep golden brown.

Green onion sauce for karaage
1 T rice vinegar
1 T soy sauce
1 T chopped green onions
pinch sugar
a few drops of sesame oil
1 tsp peeled and grated fresh ginger
Combine all ingredients in a frying pan till sugar dissolves.

Simmered kabocha squash (from The Just BentoCookbook)
3 c kabocha squash, cut up
1 c dashi stock
2 T sake
2 T mirin
1 ½ T sugar
1 ½ T soy sauce
Mix dashi stock, sake, mirin, sugar and soy sauce. Place in a saucepan with peeled kabocha squash and simmer till tender.  Leave kabocha to cool down in the liquid to absorb flavor.  Drain well before packing.

Blanched spinach with sesame sauce (from The Just BentoCookbook)
1/2 tsp white sesame seeds, toasted
1 tsp sugar
1/s T soy sauce
t tsp white sesame seeds for sprinkling
Boil spinach for 1 min Drain, and balnch spinach in cold water. Form into a log and cut into even pieces.
Put sesame seeds and sugar into a motar. Grind seeds well until seeds are crushed and smells nutty. Add soy sauce and mix well. Add cooked spinach and mix well. Sprinkle sesame seeds.

Hanami Dango (from http://www.saucemagazine.com/recipe/9)
½ cup nonglutinous rice flour
½ cup mochiko*
½ cup cornstarch
1 cup sugar
1 cup water
½ Tbsp. yomogi or matcha*
Dash red food coloring
1 tsp. vanilla extract (optional)

In a bowl, whisk rice flour, mochiko, cornstarch and sugar together with a fork. Add 1 cup of water and blend until smooth. Divide batter into 3 ¾-cup portions.

In a medium saucepan, heat 1 portion of batter on low, stirring constantly until the batter pulls away from the sides of the pan to form a solid mass. Set aside. This will be used for the white dango.

To make the green dango, add the matcha to the next batter portion. Heat it on low, stirring constantly until the batter pulls away to form a solid mass. Set aside.

To make the pink dango, add the food coloring and vanilla extract (if using) to the remaining batter portion, blending well. Repeat the steps to cook.
After the dough cools, knead each portion separately in clean hands. Roll each portion into 10 1-inch balls. Thread the balls onto skewers in order of green, white and pink. Bring water to a boil in a steamer basket. Place the skewers on a lightly greased plate, ½ inch apart. Steam on high for 10 to 12 minutes. Cool.

*Mochiko, yomogi and matcha are available at Asian markets. Yomogi, also known as mugwort, is a bitter herb associated with spring in Japan. Matcha, or powdered green tea, may be substituted instead.

Harumaki spring rolls (link is here)


Mimi said...

What a great post. Your Hanami Bento looks fabulous.

tasteofbeirut said...

I understand your dilemma but life must go on; tragedies do occur and a lot of people get affected by them, at one point or another, we have had no earthquakes in Lebanon but our share of wars on our soil. Love the effort you put out in creating this menu.

Anonymous said...

These recipes look amazing....can't wait to try some.

Shirley said...

Great post!

Lorraine @ Not Quite Nigella said...

This is a wonderful idea. The bento is just stunning! :D

BuyWoWAccounts said...

I so adore how Japanese food are served, with tiny servings and everything. You guys certainly enjoyed your picnic.

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Karen said...

Thanks for sharing this wonderful post and picnic with us. After Hurricane Katrina, everyone frowned on New Orleans when we celebrated Mardi Gras. But when faced with unspeakable devastation and tragedy, it is exactly those traditions and celebrations that bring a community together and forge stronger bonds, helping them to work through difficult times. The people of Japan deserve a much needed break to lift their spirits.

Ivy said...

First of all congratulations for being selected for the 24, 24, 24 event. We were and still are shocked with what the Japanese people have gone through and are suffereing. Hope that nothing worse will happen with the nuclear station and that soon they will put this ordeal behind them and move on. Thank you for posting this and learning something more about the Japanese culture.

Anonymous said...

Wonderful tribute to Japan. All the components of your Hanami bento look amazing.

Stephanie R. said...

oh WOW! what an amazing post. your Hanami Bento looks incredible- my mouth is watering just looking at the photos. i'm so glad you decided to go through with the event, and share your thoughts and process with us.

Koko said...

This is a beautiful post. I'm glad you didn't pull out- I think this is a great way to keep Japan in our hearts, and to keep donating money and positive thought to a beautiful country. The recipes look amazing- so much effort went into this!

Elra's cooking and baking said...

What a wonderful giveaway! Your bento sounds really delicious and tempting.

theUngourmet said...

Everything is so beautifully packaged and looks delicious! I would love to try the simmered kabocha! Congratulations on having your proposal chosen by Foodbuzz!

Kristen said...

Beautiful post and tribute to those living through the hardships of the aftermath in Japan. I can't wait to make my own picnic following your lead!

Tiffany said...

This is the most beautiful Bento box I've ever seen! Congrats on your 24x24!!!

Juliana said...

Nice post...and the bentos look delicious, love the variety of the little yummie treats :-) Have a great week!

Marianne @ MealMixer said...

Inari is my youngest son's favorite and now I can make it for him - Thank you! : )

Joanne said...

Wow this is super cool! I feel like I learned so much by reading this post. And now I've got a serious craving for Japanese food!

Junk Loving Girl said...

What a wonderful feast you had! The Japanese have the most amazing celebrations.

Mina Joshi said...

Congratulations on making the FoodBuzz 24X24 event. I really enjoyed reading your article. Also love your recipes. I would like to try out some of the vegetarian dishes as they sound so exciting. I will be following your blog with pleasure. I pray that things start to improve in Japan.


Kitchen Butterfly said...

What a fantastic giveaway. I love the recipes.

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