Yes, it's almost that time of the year when the Japanese go crazy over sakura, the cherry blossom. If you walk into a supermarket or convenience store, you'll notice sakura latte, sakura labelled beer, sakura cookie, sakura wine, sakura dessert, sakura ice cream and so on.
I'm no exception and I can't resist making sakura sweets this time of the year. I just love the sakura scent which actually comes from the leaves and not the blossom. You can make sakura sweets using the sakura blossoms that are preserved in salt, or use the freeze dried flakes.
Those of you who have experience in cooking Japanese cuisine may be familiar with a popular condiment, mirin. Mirin is a sweet rice wine made with glutinous rice. It has been around from the 15th century and consumed as a luxury sweet wine among women in the Edo period. Nowadays, mirin is mainly used for cooking but a good quality mirin is also nice to drink on its own.
Along with soy sauce, sake, and miso, mirin is one of the standard condiment that most homes would have in the cupboard. The role that mirin plays in Japanese cooking is very diverse.
If you would like to use mirin as a sweetener, just boil the mirin down to half the quantity until you get a syrupy consistency and keep it in a clean jar. This is called Nikiri Mirin (Boiled down Mirin) The alcohol has burned off, so you can use it for children too. It is advisable to use a good quality mirin (usually darker in color) for this.
For more info on mirin, please visit, Mikawa Mirin's website.
Last week I took a course to study the various gelling agents that are used for wagashi. Each one is different in many ways so we have to choose the one that is just right for the wagashi we are making.
The main gelling agent in wagashi is Kanten (a type of agar made from Tengusa, a type of red algae). In class we learned differences in the various forms of Kanten. The main difference between Kanten and Gelatin besides the fact that one is plant derived and the other is from animals is that Kanten solidifies at room temperature and only melts at around 70C . So when you eat it, it doesn't melt in your mouth like gelatin, so you may feel the texture is much firmer.
One of the most popular sweets made from Kanten is anmitsu, a dessert made with cubes of Kanten served with red beans or fruit. We made the anmitsu using Kanten powder, Ito-Kanten (string-type agar) and Agar, which is much softer and impossible to make a cube.
Another sweet we made was Kingyokukan which is a popular summer wagashi made with Kanten and sugar. I hope to introduce some summer wagashi using kanten this year.
This week started with a visit from the writer and photographer from the Time Out magazine. They are featuring the Kawaii (Cute) culture in Tokyo. My wagashi class will appear in their article along with the other Kawaii things that you can do in Tokyo. The article will be featured in the April issue, available to download online as well.
Time Out Tokyo website
My new course, "Mochi & Wagashi Class" has proved to be quite popular this month. This course will teach you how to make strawberry daifuku mochi and Tofu warabi mochi in addition to the two types of nerikiri wagashi.
I will have another Mochi & Wagashi Class this Friday (Dec. 15th) at 10 am, so those of you interested, please contact me.
Last week I was busy decluttering my boys' bedroom as I got rid of their bunkbeds and put in 2 loft beds so they can have a space of their own. The amount of toys and books and clothes that have accumulated since we moved here 9 years ago is overwhelming and I've been giving things away online. (We have a great website where you can sell or giveaway unused items).
But there is just too many! So, I've put out a Mottainai Box on my front porch. Mottainai is a Japanese term which expresses regret in wasting things. Those of you attending my class are very welcome to rummage through the box and take home whatever you can reuse. It will release me from the guiltiness of throwing away things that can still be used.
I've always wanted a momiji (Japanese maple) on my balcony. It's very useful tree as you can enjoy the changing colors of the leaves year round and also use it as a decoration on a traditional Japanese plate, no matter what the color of the leaves are. The leaves on the place is called Ashirai （あしらい）in Japanese. I've been told that Japanese are the only people who put something that is not edible on the plate. But this ashirai is essential to completing a small universe before your eyes.
I've found a small bonsai size momiji online yesterday and decided to give it a try. Bonsai is a Japanese art form of growing trees in a pot. I hope the leaves will stay on until it turns red, and hopefully I will keep it alive till next year when it turns green.
The autumn wagashi has been very well received and we had a lot of fun making wagashi. My class on Tuesday was joined by a group from Singapore who insisted in coloring the autumn leaves green as the leaves do not turn brown in Singapore. They also used unconventional bright colors to make the last piece, which was very interesting.
I always say that we use things in nature as the motif for wagashi, and since nature is never perfect, you don't have to be perfect. We can use our imagination to make our own shapes and that is the beauty of making nerikiri wagashi.
We also received a visit from the writers from Via Magazine. This magazine can be found in the pockets of the airport limousines. My class will be featured in the Winter Issue to be released in January.
Following my 2 weeks of Wagashi teaching, I will be holding another one next week (Nov. 9th) Please sign up if you are interested.
Almost 2 years ago, I tried to get listed on TripAdvisor, but they told me that I needed to display the full address to get listed. I wasn't too comfortable on disclosing my home address at the time, so I just left it there.
Yesterday, I happen to stumble across my Cooking Class listed on TripAdvisor which they automatically collected from the internet. I don't know how long it has been there, but I immediately claimed the business. Since the information was not sufficient with only one photo that TripAdvisor chose (for some reason), the listing was buried deep in the neighboring attractions with no customer reviews.
So, I would like to ask those who have been to my cooking class and liked it to write a review so that at least my ranking will be better than the current one way at the bottom.
Thanks in advance for your support, and a big thank you for those of you who have already wrote a review.
Trip Advisor Website
Couple weeks ago, I found an interesting course conducted by the Japan Foodstyling Culture Association run by Junko Sensei, who has vast knowledge and experience about the Japanese food culture and tradition. She feels responsible to pass on her knowledge to the future so it will not be forgotten. It is true that nowadays, most of the Japanese people are not aware of some of the tradition and history behind our food culture. So I decided to join one of her Entry Classes.
The seminar focused on the history of the tableware and its origins dating back to the Nara Period (8th Century) and how it evolved to the present form. It was interesting to experience the Ozen (individual tables) which were used instead of the conventional tables until recently (20th century).
She holds classes for foreigners to teach Food Styling and Food culture if anyone is eager to learn (website in Japanese only at the moment)
I'm Miyuki and I teach Japanese Home cooking at my home in Tokyo.