Saturday, December 31, 2011


365-183 Breakfast Salad
Day 183/365

Salads aren't exactly winter food. Raised in warm weather climate and fortunate to have a mother who prepared meals every day with flavor, texture, color, along with nutrition, I can't go long into the winter without cool, crunchy, and colorful foods - a contrast to winter's warm stews and baked casseroles.

As soon as my eyelids fluttered open this morning, a craving for salad stirred, so salad it was for breakfast. While the eggs were being boiled, I assembled the salad and toppings -- sliced cucumbers, baby carrots slivers, a handful of spring mixed greens, and fried strings of summer sausage, followed by toasting pecans, and a dusting of shichimi togarashi and crushed black pepper.

The dressing was a mixture of tahini, miso, rice wine, grated cucumber and baby carrots, black pepper, onion powder, and a dash of shoyu. I admit that I was pleased with the slightly sweet, salty, sour, and nutty flavor. The texture of the grated vegetables mixed with the onion powder gave the illusion of grated onions. In hindsight, I should have used some orange zest to add a citrus spark.

My crunchy cool craving was satisfactorily sated.

- Cassaendra

Friday, December 30, 2011

Malasada Time

365-182 Malasada
Day 182/365

Not particularly a big fan of deep fried foods or bread, but you wouldn't think that with the way I can scarf down malasadas!

I don't think I could ever tire of the fresh, puffballs hot from the deep frying rack and rolled in crunchy sugar. You can take a girl out of Hawaii, but you can't take Hawaii out of a girl. This lovely malasada made its 3 day voyage across the Pacific and into my mouth. Yum! (Thank you!)

- Cassaendra

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Winter Attire

365-181 Rubber Attire
Day 181/365

I'd love to drive around everywhere with these tires, especially in the winter. They are approximately 4 feet in diameter, so no more headlights shining in my eyes. In the unlikely scenario where I slip on ice, I won't have to worry about damage to my car. This would drive over everything.

As long as I don't have to pay for the gasoline and the tires when they blow out from running over cars.

- Cassaendra

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Behind the Mask

It is always fun to wander around Asian Town Center, located in the Midtown corridor on Superior Ave, because it is a converted warehouse with very high ceilings and wide corridors. Since the place isn't fully occupied, each time we visit there is a new store open.

365-180 Miega Storefront
Day 180/365 - Miega Korean Barbecue storefront

Today, we stopped by the market on the first floor to purchase some tofu and beni shoga -- a pickled ginger that is very different from the sweet, mild pink or off-white ginger slices served alongside sushi. Beni shoga is vibrant red in color and sour, and is always served cut into thin slivers (julienne).

Several months ago, we ate at Miega on an impulse so I didn't have my camera with me. The meal and service were wonderful -- we were one of two parties at the time. Booths are high-backed wooden benches with lacy individual seat cushions, so it was like sitting at a very Asian aunt's house.  Also, each table has a call button for service which we did not need to use since they were attentive.

The next time we plan on eating here, I will bring my camera. Their grilled salted mackerel is superb.

Behind the Mask by YMO

- Cassaendra

Miega Korean Barbecue
Asian Town Center
3820 Superior Ave
Cleveland, OH 44114
Tel: (216) 432-9200

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Doing a Jjigae

365-179 Jjiggae
Day 179/365

Gigantic snow puffs floated past my window for the better part of the day today.  A perfect night for a bubbling cauldron of spicy soup to warm the body and everyone within a 5' radius. Mmm-mmm, kimchi jjigae!

Kimchi jjigae is a Korean soup that arrives bubbling wildly in a cauldron. Kimchi, zucchini, bits of meat (bulgogi leftovers?), squid, octopus, shrimp, silken tofu, onions, garlic, gochujang (Korean chile paste), more chile peppers, and broth make up this healthful soup. I order mine with a raw egg to add to the soup at the table.

- Cassaendra

Monday, December 26, 2011

Pink Flowers

We bought pink flowers for Akemi this morning. 

365-178 Pink Flowers
Day 178/365

The suspense was building for Akemi while the bag rustled as I untied the handles, even though she was with us when we bought her harness. The excited anticipation on her face was priceless.

As soon as she discovered her gift wasn't a snack, she snorted and walked away from me. She was not amused. As usual, she searched for the cat to blame. It's always the cat's fault.

- Cassaendra

Kan Zaman

Since I am off work today (Monday), I groggily flipped through my list of things I would like to do should I have a weekday off.

All I could think of were places to eat with lunch specials. Sittoo's business special is a fantastic deal, $3 off the normal price. In the mood for some Middle Eastern food, I remembered reading about Kan Zaman's weekday buffet several months ago.

I looked through online reviews, which I expected to be weighted on the negative side, online human behavior being what they are. Skimming through a few, there were complaints about service, food quality toward the end of the buffet period (11:00-15:00), and gratuity automatically calculated into the check.

My hopes weren't very high mostly due to the cost. How much could I expect for only $5.99?

Just a couple of blocks away from the buzzing and revitalized West Side Market end of Ohio City, this end next to Lutheran Hospital is a bit run down. The structure looks bleak, like a convenience store or take-out pizza place. After stepping through the take-out area, the cavernous interior has a lush appearance from the mahogany toned furniture, small tapestries of Middle East flags, and drapes.

Raised open booths furnish the perimeter of the dining room with velour pillows and long seat cushions, almost welcoming someone to lounge. The ceiling was decorated throughout in dark ornate tiles with circular faux fur secured to the ceiling every few feet. Soccer announced in Arabic played on several television screens. The two men glued to one of the screens were quiet, so I presume their team lost.

The buffet is housed along the entire ~12' length of the semicircular bar. The service trays were sunken into the bar so the food was flush to the surface. Pita in plastic bags were stacked in a basket. Cold items included a regular green leaf salad; Mediterranean salad with chopped cucumbers, red onions, and parsley; tabbouleh; pickles - olives, cucumbers, and cauliflower; baba ghanoush; hummus; and crispy pita chips.

Hot items offered were long grain fluffy rice with saffron and peppercorns; chicken stew with tomatoes and onions; baked chicken; stuffed eggplant with beef, similar to moussaka; Mediterranean style green beans similar to Greek style, spiced with tomatoes and onions; and peas and carrots, spiced with tomatoes.  Lentil soup and chicken soup with mushrooms were also available.

The smokiness of the baba ghanoush, fresh tabbouleh, and the crispy pita chips were an addictive combination. The hummus was a very nice creamy consistency, but the baba ghanoush spoke to me so I returned for a second serving along with a generous portion of tabbouleh and pita chips.

Another dish that I returned for seconds was their lentil soup, a tan colored blended soup with a depth and sweetness only a profuse amount of onions can create.

There were three desserts -- haystack, similar to baklava, with a cream filling; honey cake; and chocolate cake with coconut. I enjoyed the honey cake, moist and sweet, with an orange blossom honey flavor.

Another attraction to this place from what I've read is the availability of hookahs, $10 and a choice of flavors. In the take-out area, different colored hookah are displayed wrapped in plastic. While we were there, there were customers at 4 other tables, none of whom ordered one.

The fare served for the buffet was pretty decent and the service was fine. Factor in the price, the buffet is a good deal. Bug and I will return. On our next trip, I would like to try their kibbeh and chicken shawarma.

 - Cassaendra

Kan Zaman
1616 W 25th St
Cleveland, OH 44113
Tel: (216) 621-2222

Home - Part II

Continuing with my Thanksgiving and homecoming luncheon...

My first time eating green bean casserole was after I moved to the mainland in my mid-20s. In fact, I had never heard of green bean casserole until I ate it for the first time. To help further disassociate green bean casserole from Thanksgiving, Bug makes this dish all year, especially when green beans are in season.

Instead of green bean casserole, my aunt made green beans with katsuobushi and sesame.

TDay Green Beans Katsuo
Katsuobushi green beans

My father made green beans with shallots, oyster sauce, and sesame.

TDay Green Beans
Green beans with oyster sauce, shallots, and sesame seeds

Both were quite addictive, so I am guilty of eating sizable servings of both.

"Western" by Alex de Grassi

Another great song from the Windham Hill 1984 sampler

My uncle and aunt brought a beautiful whole smoked turkey and gravy from the drippings. While we were kept busy with the delicious lemonade and tofu appetizer, my aunt trimmed the turkey. The turkey was moist and delicious throughout. They did a fine job!

TDay Smoked Turkey
Smoked turkey

Accompanying the turkey was a chicken dressing stuffed in a kabocha bowl made by my aunt.

I was afraid to ruin the bowl so I was very careful in scooping the dressing. Several minutes later, the bowl appeared cleaved open and its contents were crumbling out. I love kabocha and missed out by being so timid.

TDay Kabocha Chicken Dressing
Chicken dressing in kabocha bowl

In writing this post, I have read about a foreign sounding dish called succotash and its frequent appearance at the Thanksgiving table.Thanksgiving is celebrated differently in Hawaii, or at least by my family.

I have eaten vegetable medleys at school and diners - lima beans or green beans, corn, and carrots. Is that be considered succotash also?  If so, why isn't it called succotash instead of mixed vegetables or vegetable medley? 

TDay Edamame Succotash
Edamame succotash

My first time eating succotash was at this meal. Edamame was used in place of kidney or lima beans, a brilliant substitution. I could eat edamame every day, and have when we purchase a bag from Costco. They are my favorite between meal snacks to take to work. Edamame with corn? A very cool combination.

My aunt made mochi rice with lup cheong, a Chinese sausage that is slightly sweet. Even though I have read and heard about lup cheong frequently while growing up, I rarely ate it since it was never served at home. This was another new dish for me that was very good.

TDay Mochi Rice Lup Cheong
Mochi rice with lup cheong

Thanksgiving isn't complete without sweet potatoes. My aunt made a platter of sweet potatoes with satsuma potato slices. I'm not a carb queen. Really!  However, I won't turn away an opportunity to eat sweet potatoes. Warm, sweet, but not cloying, starchy - just right.

TDay Satsuma Sweet Potatoes
Satsuma and sweet potatoes

Next were the awesome musubi that my father and I made earlier in the morning. We made sure to monitor the quality of our musubi...numerous times. Quality control.

TDay Musubi Parade
Musubi and friends

When I first walked into my cousin's house for this get-together and entered the kitchen, he pointed to a pot sitting on the back-burner and asked me if I recognized the aroma. Sheepishly, I replied that I could not really pinpoint it. He appeared disappointed. Eep.

Just as the mystery dish was being served in each bowl, he announced that he wanted to make 1 recipe from my blog for the party. Of course I blushed, then became worried that this dish may not go over well. He chose scallops with lime served over linguine, and made them far better than I did - just look at the perfect color of the scallops - with much larger scallops. The pasta was perfectly al dente. It was fantastic!

TDay Scallops Lime Linguine
Lime scallops over linguine

My aunt made a mega-pie that combines a couple of my favorite desserts - haupia and sweetened Okinawa sweet potatoes - atop a macadamia nut crust. How did she make it so nicely?

TDay Haupia Okinawan Potato Pie
Haupia + Okinawa sweet potato with  macadamia nut crust pie

Spending face-to-face time listening to everyone's stories was a rich experience for me. I greatly appreciate the hospitality, thought, energy, and time spent to make this the best Thanksgiving and homecoming meal I've ever had...even going to the extent of omitting onions and cilantro that everyone loves. Hah! Okay, I know I shouldn't laugh. Instead, I ought to be embarrassed!

TDay Musubi Succotash Dressing
Cornucopia of love, patience, and kindness

I am embarrassed. Thank you for accepting me for all of my flaws. It has been an ongoing project, but I will continue working towards overcoming my childish quirks and becoming a better person.

- Cassaendra

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Freeze Frame

The city on December 25th always feels as if someone pushed pause between manic episodes of shopping.

365-177 Bottle of Bobbins
Day 177/365 - Bottle of bobbins at Cosmic Bobbins

Yesterday, after dragging Bug to see David Fincher's "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo," one of the best movies I've seen this year, we walked around the mall to observe the chaos. It wasn't packed like a can of sardines, more like a can of Hamanako unagi.

While I was in Hawaii, I was shocked to hear from my father that Hamanako unagi, Japanese broiled eel in kabayaki sauce from Hamamatsu packed in a can, is kept behind the counter since it now goes for $16/can on sale. I thought that was absurd, since I recall buying it for $4/can a mere 20 years ago. When we went to Marukai, a Japanese wholesale membership club, it really sunk in when I saw a sign confirming what my father said -- not that I doubted my father. While I absolutely love Hamanako unagi, I asked my father not to send me anymore. I'm sure he's relieved.

There was still a line to get a picture with Santa Claus.

365-177 Ladybugs
Day 177/365 - Ladybugs at Cosmic Bobbins

Following the day's first showing of "The Adventures of Tintin" this morning, an enjoyable animated movie, we drove to our favorite Indian restaurant, India's Cafe, for lunch.

Since the only store open was Walgreen's, their parking lot was jammed. We should have gone in. I am curious what people were shopping for. Were they there to ease their acquisition-itch since all the other stores are closed? Or were some curious as I was to see what all the fuss is about?

Just a few more hours until store employees will be thrust into overdrive dealing with returns, shopbacks, and clearance sales. 

My belly is still happy from the goat curry, butter chicken, lentil curry (coconut milk and fresh ginger), and ras malai. I'll have sweet dreams.

- Cassaendra

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Home - Part I

A month ago, I visited home and was welcomed warmly by my family with a beautiful Thanksgiving + homecoming meal as it had been nearly 5 years since my last trip.

TDay Tofu Undressed
Tofu undressed in a line

Time to catch up on the goings on of the family. Even with email, some stories don't trickle over to me while others are best heard in person.

My favorite Thanksgiving song 
 (only one I know)
"Thanksgiving" by George Winston

As long as I can remember, my family has never been satisfied with being average nor going with the flow. With that in mind, Thanksgiving lunch was indeed a treat for the heart with the wonderful group gathered, but also for the eyes and taste buds.

As an appetizer, my cousin made individual chawan (bowls) with cubes of tofu atop shiso (perilla) leaf with a fried iriko (anchovy) and hijiki (seaweed) mixture that was a amazing blend of crunchy salty-sweetness. I savored the shiso leaf as a wrap with the last few pieces of tofu and remnants of the topping.

TDay Tofu Dressed
Tofu dressed

As we were enjoying the tofu appetizer, my cousin's daughter prepared the best lemonade to pass these lips. Recently picked local lemons were squeezed and enhanced with the li hing mui, a salty, tart, and sweet dried plum.

TDay Lemonade Seed
Prize winning lemonade

Along with bragging rights for winning her school's contest with this lemonade was a $10,000 prize. The entries were not just judged on taste alone. A solid business plan that included a logo and marketing plan was also required.

My aunt created the centerpieces using pineapples, persimmon, pirouettes, sun dried tomatoes, and raisins. A wonderful tongue in cheek display on this food holiday, and deliciously "recycled" later.

TDay Centerpiece
Sweet centerpiece

Another beautiful presentation was the forest of salmon, tuna, fishcakes, and tomatoes propped by a turtle surrounded by waves of shrimp chips.  With everyone staring at me to begin, I quickly picked the one with the fishcake on the left.

TDay Turtle Sticks
Under the sea

I am sorry that I couldn't present the somen (Japanese wheat noodle threads) salad better. This was quite the crafty display of multicolored strands in lettuce bowls. The toppings for the somen were in cups - chopped green onions, and slivers of egg crepe, cucumbers, and naruto (red and white spiral design fishcake). The somen tsuyu (sauce), a thin, cool broth of shoyu and dashi, was served in a teapot to the side (not shown).

TDay Bamboo Somen

The brown cluster in the foreground is freshly harvested seaweed. I don't recall having ever eaten this variety of seaweed before. It had a more pronounced ocean flavor and was quite fun with its higher decibel crunch-crunch-crunch.

Instead of the more commonly served ingredients of chicken and almonds or peanuts in the Chinese chicken salad, my aunt used macadamia nuts and added char siu.

TDay Chinese Chicken Salad
Chinese chicken salad with macadamia nuts and char siu

The macadamia nuts added a subtle nutty and more pronounced buttery flavor to the salad, while the spiced char siu blended well with the sesame dressing and definitely made the salad more photogenic.

I was also able to meet a new member of the family, Terry, the childrens' Boston terrier.  What a spunky puppy!

This isn't everything. There's more to come...

- Cassaendra

Sand Witches

365-175 Neon Steamy Sandwich
Day 176/365

The weather here has been quite damp lately -- perfect weather for soup!  Where there is soup, sandwiches are not far behind. Tonight, we chickened out and made chicken soup with chicken salad sandwiches.

My chicken salad consisted of chopped cucumbers and boiled eggs, thinly slivered carrots, Kewpie and Hellman's mayonnaise, black pepper, cayenne pepper, onion powder, smoked salt, smoked paprika, bit of ballpark mustard, and a few drops of shoyu.

Bug's batch of chicken soup was delicious with chicken, celery, onions, peas, and potatoes. He cooked up a small batch of kluski (noodles) on the side for additional texture.

Soup 'n sandwich, my favorite meal!

- Cassaendra

Thursday, December 22, 2011

One Lifetime

365-175 KamLung Suit Case 
Day 175/365

When I buy suits, they are frequently hung from a hanger with a thin plastic slipcover placed over my suit with a knot tied at the bottom. If they are on sale, the suit may be folded or thrown into a plastic or paper bag. My husband's (two) suits receive better treatment with a thicker black bag that zips up along its length like a body bag.

I've never purchased a suit that has been tailored for me from its first stitch. It was to my amazement when my father showed me how tailored suits from decades ago were packaged; a large, solid wood case with metal trim, lined with paper, inside and out.

In our disposable way of life, this would be unfathomable least for most people. The suitcase was crafted so sturdily that it is still functional and would require just a little work to rejuvenate it to a timeless chic piece.

Of course, out of curiosity I plopped the address, 1-1A Hanoi Rd, Kowloon, on Google to see whether Kamlung still stands. It's a 7-11 store.

- Cassaendra

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Four Minute Warning

Only 4 weeks ago, Tremont West Development's meeting room was transformed into a storefront for Cosmic Bobbins. It will feel weird when this holiday chariot reverts to a pumpkin meeting room (it isn't quite that bad) in 4 days.

365-174 Cosmic Bobbins Work
Day 174/365

When Yellow Cake occupied this space for a weekend last winter, I was swept up with the quaintness of the shop-up store that I bought a cute grey ninja doll. I think it was supposed to be a pin cushion. I adored some of the pretty unique outfits that were being sold -- if I were only thinner, taller, and had a few more bucks to spare.

365-174 Cosmic Bobbins Flowers
Day 174/365

I wonder who will inhabit this spot next?

- Cassaendra

Monday, December 19, 2011

Lucky Star

365-173 Civ Tree of Lights
Day 173/365

The lit tree was cute when I walked by, but as I stare at this picture, it looks increasingly like a little girl's magic wand twirling in an odd manner.

And what is this? It is December and the tree isn't a lump of ice and snow with only the star peeking above its snowy cover?  We've been fortunate with our weather thus far with only 1 day of snow (2 days ago). When New York was slammed twice with snow recently, we were fortunate the same system gave us rain.

- Cassaendra

Life Goes On

We were running errands in Woodmere and decided to stop by Corky and Lenny's for a bite to eat. It had been a few years since our last visit. Our nostalgia or our empty bellies painted a prettier picture than reality.

Service here has often been a crapshoot. Tonight, service was pretty good. We ordered sauerkraut balls ($4.50), a reuben ($10.10), and mish mash ($7.50). Bug requested pickles, which are free upon request along with pickled green tomatoes.

Corky and Lenny's pickles were the first fresh kosher pickles I had ever eaten. They weren't the sour type like the commercially made ones, but large, fat pickles that tasted of brine, garlic, and cucumbers. I immediately fell in love with their pickles and would eat so many that I was parched for hours.

When our plate of pickles arrived, a sickening feeling coursed through me. I stared at the slender, quartered spears. I quickly took a bite and was saddened when the crunch was wrong and the first flavor that I detected was vinegar. Bug looked at me quizzically as I placed the remainder of my pickle back on the plate and pushed the plate toward him by a foot. He took a bite and understood.

Sauerkraut balls are deep fried balls of sauerkraut and meat mixture. As it had been a while since I last ordered this, I eagerly awaited its arrival but was met with disappointment upon my first bite to discover that horseradish, likely in the form of dijon mustard, was used.

365-172 Sauerkraut Balls
Day 172/365

At first, I thought it was the dip, so I took another bite. More horseradish. I picked up a different ball and ate it slowly, hoping I was mistaken. Nope. I sighed, then nudged the plate away from me.

Mish mash is just that, a hodgepodge -- chicken soup with a large matzoh ball, rice, noodles, carrots, and kreplach, a meat dumpling that tasted very much like wonton.

My first bite of the kreplach immediately transported me to a diner in Hawaii enjoying a large bowl of wonton soup served with a bowl of rice and a small dipping bowl where Chinese mustard and shoyu are typically mixed (I prefer to use just shoyu) to dip the wonton.

365-172 Mish Mash
Day 172/365

The past few times I have been to Corky and Lenny's, this has been the only dish I've ordered since it is consistently good. Over the 15 years I've eaten here, consistency has been an issue the last 4-5 times and the reason our frequent trips dropped off drastically.

Bug was disappointed when our server arrived with his reuben to find that both halves of his sandwich could fit side-by-side in one hand. During previous trips, when he ordered their reuben it would arrive nearly "overstuffed," stacked 3-4" high. This time, he was charged the same price, but received 1 slice of fatty, thick-cut meat.

365-172 Reuben
Day 172/365

When I took a bite of his sandwich, I snagged a piece of fat that would not disconnect so the entire slice of corned beef dangled from my teeth as I held the meatless toasted rye in my hand. Bug wasn't any happier to deal with the really fatty slice of meat either.

We will not return.

- Cassaendra

Corky and Lenny's
27091 Chagrin Blvd
Woodmere Village, OH 44122
Tel: (216) 464-3838

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Hoth Chocolate

It's not quite the snow globe that is Hoth, but there's no denying that tonight would be a nice night for some Hoth Chocolate, watching the fluffy snow float down reaching its final destination - 5" of snow covered ground.

365-171 Dendrites
Day 171/365

The first snow of the season means snapping away on my camera like a tourist from the tropics. It is always so invigorating, especially when it's the warm puffy variety and not the beady slap in the face frigid sort.

365-171 First Snow Wood
Day 171/365

This is also the start of 150 more days of snow-related pictures for my 365 Project. With nightfall arriving so early, it is difficult to take pictures daily this time of year. Lighting at home to showcase Bug's creations is terribly suboptimal, and we cannot afford to be restaurant hounds, nor would we want to eat out that often.

365-171 First Snow Fence
Day 171/365

Sifting through all my pictures and writing about the week in Hawaii has been more time consuming than I expected, with at least 8 more posts from the trip simmering. Waiting for what?

Oh, I can't take credit for Hoth chocolate, by the way. It is one of recipes in the Star Wars cookbook, Wookiee Cookies.

I probably need a "stream of consciousness" label (or warning) for my posts.

- Cassaendra

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Aloha Oe

This trip to Hawaii was the longest stay of all of my visits back home, yet it felt like my shortest.

Each morning, I woke to a similar view of the city lights and traffic below. Thanksgiving morning was an exception, as it had considerably less traffic.

365-170 Early Morning View 
Day 170/365

I couldn't ask for better weather, low humidity, low 70s during the day and upper 60s at night. When it rained, as always it was just a mist that passed as quickly as a thought to look up at the sky.

While my father and I spent a lot of time driving, shopping, visiting with relatives, and walking together, breakfasts were one on one time. The world was streaming by outside, but it felt like time paused while my father prepared breakfast, I fixed the table, and we ate.

365-170 Breakfast
Day 170/365

On Sunday, we shopped for papaya since I had not eaten good papaya in over 15 years.  I forgot how sweet, juicy, and tender they are. We also kindly received two freshly picked jabong.

Jabong is also known as pomelo and is the parent of the grapefruit, of which it is a hybrid with an orange. The fruit we received was over a foot in diameter and weighed several pounds. It looked like a gigantic citrus fruit from the time dinosaurs roamed.

Under the smooth yellow to pale green skin is a thick white pith. As is common with citrus, the fruit separates in discrete segments. The bitter membrane is translucent and removed since it is rather tough and bitter.

365-170 Jabong Papaya
Day 170/365

Unlike it's offspring, jabong has a sweet citrus flavor with a faint bitter aftertaste. Not being a bitter food fan, I enjoyed eating this and probably ate 2/3rds of the gigantic fruit.

For lunch, we visited Hank's Haute Dogs, where I enjoyed the spicy alligator andouille hot dog. My father was impressed with his Chicago hot dog down to the neon relish, and commented that it was actually better than his.

As dusk approached, we discussed what to eat for my last meal before I flew back. With no chance to eat Okinawan food in the Midwest, I emphatically requested Okinawa soba with his homemade rafute, broiled, marinated, then braised pork belly. As a result of the cooking method, the slices had a robust flavor, was tender, and pretty healthy. Sun Noodles makes a great powdered pork broth and their fresh noodles are packaged with a light coating of oil.

365-170 Okinawa Soba Banh Mi
Day 170/365

Over the weekend, we stopped by St. Germain Bakery, where we picked up a baguette for banh mi. Since my father makes do chua (Vietnamese pickled daikon and carrots), there is always a jar in the refrigerator. He makes it with a slightly spicy zing.  As the noodles were cooking, he toasted the bread. Kewpie mayonnaise was used to dress the sandwich.  

The meal was flawless - delicious and made from the heart. We talked, looked through old pictures, and watched television together until it was time to leave.

- Cassaendra

Saturday, December 10, 2011


Since 1959, Ala Moana Center is probably one of a few places everyone on Oahu of all ages and statuses flock to. I have fond memories of the hours spent walking the length of the outdoor mall with my parents, then friends when I became old enough to take the bus there by myself.

This may sound strange, but I enjoyed walking into each store because each had their own scent upon entering. A few that stand out -- Sears (clothes and rubber); Liberty House (clothes, carpet, leather, blend of fragrances); Iida (paper, wood, and incense), and Shirokiya (Japanese food being prepared and that same cleanser all restaurants in Japan seem to use).  The Sanrio entrance into Shirokiya smelled of vinyl and Japanese erasers.

It has been several years since my most recent visit to Shirokiya -- well, Hawaii. This has never been an empty store, but the place had a manic vibe. The familiar aroma of food being prepared was intoxicating. The vast displays of pottery, kitchen gadgets, furniture, purses, western clothes, kimono, and electronics were condensed. Instead, there was food everywhere -- refrigerated, hot, pickled, freshly prepared, baked, steamed, fried, ... Japanese food.

I'm not complaining.

365-169 Shirokiya Yataimura Curry Challenge
Day 169/365 - Yataimura (street food stall village) - Curry challenge

A banner hung in one of the food stall areas on the 2nd floor that advertised a curry challenge: Japanese curry versus Indian curry. My id screamed, "Curry! Curry, curry, curry! Oh, no! Which do I choose?!" I wanted to try both in one platter, but that defeats the goal of the curry challenge.

The challenges consist of two restaurants pitted against one another for a 2 week period. Each week, the number of plates sold are posted. The winner is determined by total plate sales. Two new restaurants are brought in each period.

Entranced by the aroma, I glided to the curry corner only to be reeled back by my father's voice reminding me that we had a dinner to attend that evening so we shouldn't eat like it's our last meal on Earth.

We walked around the entire 2nd floor, to collect as much data on our choices to avoid making an uninformed decision and later regret it. As far back as I can recall, my father has always made decisions in this manner. On the other end of the spectrum, you'll find me.

365-169 Shirokiya Making Takoyaki
Day 169/365 - Takoyaki genesis

We decided on ramen and gyoza. As a part of the ramen challenge, the line split into two directions with a barker at the center shouting, "Irrashaimase!" (welcome!), ushering people to go to one of the ramen-ya.

Similar to the curry challenge, the ramen challenge winner is determined by bowl sales. Renowned ramen-ya from Japan are brought in to participate. A majority of the noodles are supplied by a local company, Sun Noodles, so it levels the playing field to what I feel is the next important component of ramen: the broth.

My father chose tonkotsu ramen, I chose akaton shibori ramen, and we picked up an order of gyoza because you can't have ramen without gyoza. He went off to pick up takoyaki as I scanned the area for an available table while waiting for our order.

Boards hung above one of the seating areas that read, "Yataimura beer hall" and advertised Budweiser draft for $1, Kirin for $2, and Asahi for $3 from 5:30 - 10:00 p.m. daily.

We plopped down and tore open the gyoza and takoyaki containers. The ramen was served in beautiful rustic ceramic bowls, not Styrofoam cups. Are my expectations of communal food establishments low because it is what I am accustomed to in the US? What are they like outside the US?

My hatred of takoyaki - actually, the sauce - from an incident over 20 years ago is officially behind me. I savored each bite. There was a huge piece of tako (octopus) in each ball, unlike my most recent venture with Cleveland takoyaki.  Generous yet appropriate portions of katsuobushi (bonito shavings), mayonnaise, takoyaki sauce, and aonori (laver) were sprinkled atop the takoyaki.

365-169 Shirokiya Takoyaki
Day 169/365 - Our takoyaki

While takoyaki is often described as a pancake ball, it is the easiest description to give. Unfortunately, the texture isn't quite the same and the flavor is dissimilar. I am probably not alone when someone mentions pancakes, images of sweet, flat pancakes with maple syrup and butter are conjured. Adding octopus to the equation, the first dish that comes to mind is grilled octopus served with olive oil. Yikes!

Takoyaki itself doesn't have a sweet flavor. The sauce, being a Worcestershire base, imparts a little sweetness, as well as saltiness. The texture is crisp on the outside and a little gooey in the center where the octopus is. Katsuobushi and aonori add...wait for it...umami. The mayonnaise? Mayonnaise, especially Japanese (Kewpie) mayonnaise, augments almost any dish. Beni shoga (red pickled ginger), when available, adds piquancy and crunch, taking takoyaki to the next level.

My akaton (literally, "red pork") ramen was excellent. The red in the name comes from the addition of chile peppers, spicing up the miso broth. Not a pork lover, I enjoyed the thin slices of tender and not-so-gamy, fatty, nor gristly pork slices. Of course, I scooped the green onions to the side. The noodles were done perfectly, with a slight bite and chew.

365-169 Shirokiya Akaton
Day 168/365 - Akaton shibori ramen served in ceramic bowls

My father ordered tonkotsu ramen. Tonkotsu broth is made from pork bones and has a rather complex flavor compared to shoyu and shio ramen broths.  It must have been delicious because my father did not say a peep until he finished his bowl.

From complaints I have read on other sites and pictures I have seen, either this restaurant has listened to complaints or the others had bad luck. The serving size I received was quite generous. I was in a sated and content trance after my last noodle was slurped.

365-169 Shirokiya Tonkotsu
Day 169/365 - Tonkotsu ramen

Gyoza fresh from the griddle can't be beat. The gyoza had a crunch from the expertly charred base, the skin had a respectable chew (not over or underdone), and the meat-ginger filling was appropriately portioned to dispense a balanced flavor and texture when chewing. I would come here just to eat an order or 10 of gyoza.

365-169 Shirokiya Gyoza
Day 169/365 - Gyoza

Ala Moana has expanded with nearly 300 stores and restaurants. Several of the familiar shops of my youth are lost in time or have evolved.

Despite having been acquired by K-Mart, Sears remains the same. Liberty House was sold to Macy's. Iida, after 105 years, permanently closed its doors in 2005. Woolworth and JcPenney have also gone. With rent at ~$1,200 per square foot, I wonder how some stores remain afloat...well, some don't, obviously.

Shirokiya opened in Edo, present day Tokyo, in the 1660's (can one even imagine a store that old?) and fell on hard times, twice - as Shirokiya and under Tokyu. The brand no longer exists in Japan and is presently a locally owned company since Tokyu sold Shirokiya lock, stock, and barrel for $1 to the top executives running the Hawaii store in 2001.

I find it sad that such a thing can happen to a store with such a long history, even though I realize that with any business, if you can't keep up with your consumers, the consumers will leave you in the dust. To think the store existed during the time of the fourth Tokugawa Shogun, Ietsuna (in office 1651-1680), and famed artist Ando Hiroshige captured Shirokiya in his 100 Famous Views of Edo series (no. 44) in 1858, just a few months before his passing, is incredible.

The atmosphere is different with stores like Bottega VenetaChanelDiorTiffany and Co, etc. Browsing the stores with my father brought me back to the days of my youth, watching a new generation creating fond memories.

- Cassaendra

Ala Moana Center
1450 Ala Moana Blvd
Honolulu, HI 96814
Tel: (808) 973-9111

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Breakfast at Home

On my visits home, weekday breakfasts are usually salad greens made by my mother or father. It is an excellent and positive start to the day!  I feel energized, not sleepy.

TDay Breakfast
Turkey Day Breakfast

Thanksgiving morning, the salad consisted of cabbage, spring mix, luscious Hamakua tomatoes, broccoli, celery, radishes, Maui onions (sad face), Kona oranges, Fuyu persimmons. I don't recall ever trying Kona oranges prior to this. They are very sweet, pale yellow, with a lighter citrus flavor. The persimmons were firm and delicious -- nothing like the ones I get in the Midwest that are either firm and bitter or extremely squishy, sweet, and flat in flavor.

I picked Pietro ume (pickled plum) dressing. While Pietro's sesame miso dressing is my favorite for lettuce salads and marinades, the ume dressing pairs perfectly with cabbage salads contributing nutty, tart, sour, salty and peppery flavors.

On Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, we ate leftover Chinese chicken salad from our Thanksgiving luncheon the day before, as well as locally grown tomatoes, celery, radishes, red peppers, and slices of juicy Japanese pears from Tottori. No, not those forest creatures [Totoro] nor the flushing toilets with bidets from Japan [Toto].

365-168 Fried Rice
Day 168/365

On Sunday, my father made fried rice with leftover multigrain rice, Spam, Portuguese sausage, peas, garlic, onions, Hamakua eggs, red bell peppers, furikake, beni shoga (red pickled ginger) with slices of Tottori pears. As much as I dislike onions, this was delicious. The beni shoga was the scene stealer, however. With just a pinch, it brightened the meaty and slightly salty dish with a pickled bite.

My father and I went to Marukai, a store that specializes in Japanese groceries and sundries, on Saturday. It had been years since I ate fresh chichidango and manju. As soon as my eyes caught sight of these treats sitting on a table, my grubby fingers clawed them into our basket post-haste.

365-168 Dango Sweet Potato Manju
Day 168/365

The flavor of chichidango is difficult to describe to anyone who hasn't had mochi. Describing them as "rice cakes," one conjures the puffed rice patty that tastes like Styrofoam. These "cakes" are sweetened, but not very sweet, with a smooth texture and discrete bite (not chewy or stringy). I noticed flavored varieties like coconut and fruit, but I prefer these as-is.

The purple color of the sweet potato manju likely comes from using Okinawan sweet potatoes that are naturally purple. The intense color may have been augmented. When eaten fresh, as these were, the flaky crust is heavenly.

It has only been a week since I returned from Hawaii. As I continue to process my pictures, reliving each moment, it feels like several months have already passed. It probably doesn't help that I traveled from temperatures in the low 70s with frequent trade winds, spending time with my warm and enthusiastic family, to mid to low 30s with bone chilling wind gusts dropping the temperatures to the 20s, everyone bundled up, rushing around with their nose to the ground.

- Cassaendra

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