Tag Archives: japanese

Kindergarten bento -My first attempt (Friday 28/Sep/18)

For the first time, I packed mashed potato in lieu of rice for our daughter’s bento today. All the dishes in the bento are the leftover from the previous evening’s dinner, except for the boiled egg.

As Japanese, it required a bit of contemplation to do so – we simply don’t eat potato as much and are not accustomed to it. For me, potatoes are vegetables, and not staple food. But my half Dutch daughter didn’t seem to care at all, and the bento box came back empty without any complaints.

Kindergarten bento – Behind the scenes (18/Sep/18)

Today’s bento: Hamburger steak, Tomato omelet, Simmered carrot, Boiled broccoli, Shirasu (baby sardine) rice, Apple for dessert.  

I love my daughter’s kindergarten. It is a great school inside out, with kind and highly competent teachers, thoughtful educational philosophy focusing on Japanese culture and seasonality, and it even comes with the beautiful garden with a lot of green and soil on the ground instead of concrete (very rare for Central Tokyo). Apparently the bento is also part of their education, so that the kids would spend their important first few years of their lives, always eating healthy home-cooked meals prepared with love.

But there is no such thing as a perfect school, is there? Out of all the positive aspects of my daughter’s school, there is one characteristic that I just cannot overlook: they do not encourage women to go back to the workforce. They wouldn’t stop you from working (they can’t), but the head teacher publicly made the statement that they provide childcare, not for mothers to go back to work, but for the well-being of our children. They believe the physical participation of the parents (and in this context usually targeting mothers) is crucial during school hours, involving various events and activities organised by the Parents Association. Want to work full-time? Oh, it would be difficult if you want to send your kids to this kindergarten… etc., etc. How backward, my super liberal Dutch husband would lament. We knew this before enrolling our daughter, but both of us had this wishful thinking that this might change, or perhaps we could make a change…

What makes it difficult to do so, I came to realise, is that some fellow mothers are totally against working mothers as if to say working is a vice. Some mums voiced that “work” cannot be an excuse to miss school commitment, that there would be no special treatment, because kindergarten in general is not for people who wish to work.

In good old Japan we had a common understanding that women should protect the household and spend time with their children. Poor kids if mothers have to work. This is slowly changing but is still followed by the great part of the society. With my semi-international background I always have a slight sense of guilt for not working full-time, but now I have another layer in my guilt for working at all. Work, or not work, it surely isn’t an easy place for a person like me, and this, reflects the modern but undeveloped Japanese cultural state in my opinion.

Yet, I still love my daughter’s kindergarten. I can’t think of a better place for her to be despite the struggle. A part of me wants to make a difference and fight it, while the Japanese part in me just wants to conform or escape. I go back to my daily bento making, daydreaming that one day, some miracle happens to change people’s mindset for the better.

French New Year holiday 2017-2018

In between our stay at my husband’s mother’s place in the south of the Netherlands, the three of us took a short trip to Paris for our New Year’s holiday to visit our friends & relatives. We took Thalys, the express train service that runs through Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium and France. Two and a half hours after we left Aachen, a small German city bordering the Dutch city where my mother-in-law lives, we safely arrived at busy Gare de Nord.

This time we took a nice Airbnb in an area called Wagram, not too far from Champs-Élysées. It was our first time staying at an Airbnb, and in spite of some reservations we had about the apartment, it was a good choice with great location and ample space for the three of us.

On the New Year’s eve, my best friend and her partner invited us to their lovely home for a special dinner. As is always the case in Paris, we started a pre-celebration at 7:00PM and opened a champagne, munching on foie gras and smoked salmon, which seems to be THE things to eat on the New Year’s eve in France.

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Foie gras and smoked salmon, the must haves on the New Year’s eve

For dinner, Chef F made this delicious chicken filet with foie gras sauce. And the mashed potato… mmm I can still taste this creamy, sweet mash only a French person can make…  I’m pretty sure he used generous amount of butter, but maybe it’s better not to find out exactly how much… The sautéed mushroom was nutty and hearty, which was a perfect combination with the chicken and mash. Chef F served the same dish sans the foie gras sauce for their son and our daughter, on a small red kids table. Our daughter absolutely loved it, especially the mash. At the age of five she already knows the divinity of the French cooking.

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Chicken filet with foie gras sauce, with amazingly creamy tasty mashed potato & fried (morel?) mushrooms

By the time we finished the dinner, the four of us finished two bottles of champagne and a magnum red bottle. Embarrassingly enough, I fell asleep before the countdown began. I managed to wake up when they started counting 10, but could hardly open my eyes and collapsed on their cozy sofa hugging their cute little doggy (she was so soft and warm). At 1:00AM we decided to call the night, and we took an Uber home.

On the New Year’s Day, without fail, our daughter jumped on to our bed at 8 o’clock. Dragging ourselves out of bed, we took a hot shower, got dressed and went out. We found out that Centre Pompidou would be open so headed that way. As soon as we got out of the nearest Metro station to the museum, it started pouring, and of course our daughter jumped in to a large puddle. Lucky us… As such we went to a crêperie close by, most likely one of the worst tourist traps you could find in the centre of Paris… We had the crêpe as our early lunch, as we were still quite full from the evening before. Later that evening, Chef F cleverly cooked us some simple pasta to give our stomach some rest.

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Crêpe avec Nutella

On our last evening in Paris, to return the favour to our host, I cooked some Japanese meal with local ingredients. I loved shopping in a local supermarket and get inspired by all the unfamiliar ingredients. I could easily live in Paris and create locally adopted Japanese dishes… well, in my dreams. For the meal this time though, I stuck with the basics and made ginger pork and hamburg steak with Tokyo rice (that’s how my daughter calls the Japanese sticky rice). I realised, if I have soy sauce at hand, I can improvise many Japanese dishes even without (the very important) dashi broth. Of course it wouldn’t be perfect, but close enough. I used white wine where I needed to use Japanese sake, and honey and/or sugar for mirin. The result? Empty plates at the end of the meal.

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Grocery shopping at a local supermarket. Nice trolly for little kids.

Ginger pork, Hamburg steak with my mum's special sauce, Boiled green Moroccan beans, Fried Aubergine, Iceberg Salad, Tokyo Rice

Ginger pork, Hamburg steak with my mum’s special sauce, Boiled green Moroccan beans, Fried Aubergine, Iceberg Salad, Tokyo Rice

Cooking at their kitchen made me feel at ease. All of a sudden Paris became less overpowering, as if something has planted a seed somewhere deep in my mind that one day we could possibly start our life here.

Well, that would certainly be added to my bucket list.

Kindergarten bento – Toshi-No-Se (15, 18, 19, 20, 22/Dec/17)

In Japan, it is said that “toshi-no-se,” the year-end, is bound to be busy, as everyone starts acting somehow anxious to finish off things prior to the fresh start of the new year. As mentioned before, the new year is a big deal in this country, and we do everything to make sure the new year to be quiet and special. 

This year was no exception for me also, and I was running around like a headless chicken without any time to stop and take a big breath… until we left for our Christmas holidays in the Netherlands to visit my husband’s family. Hesitantly we dropped unfinished errands, hurriedly packed our suitcases, left beautiful & sunny Tokyo, and arrived in the equally beautiful, but quite dark Netherlands yesterday. It is Christmas Eve here in the Netherlands, and things already seemed to have slowed down, and people are starting to relax for the festivity to begin. The sense of rush I was feeling in Japan is nowhere to be seen here. It’s an interesting realisation what a huge difference there is depending on which culture you’re in.

Looking back at the bento photos I didn’t have a chance to upload before our departure, I can vaguely remember how I managed all these bento making during my busy schedule. It’ll resume in the new year, but for now I’m relieved that I won’t have to do it for the next two weeks.

Happy Holidays!

15/Dec/17 – Grilled cod in saikyo-miso

18/Dec/17 – Simmered sword fish

19/Dec/17 – Nikudon-don

20/Dec/17 – Macaroni genovese 

22/Dec/17 – Chicken soboro 

bento for the little one (udon noodles – 28 jan 16)

menu:

udon noodles with chicken & tofu, spinach egg omelet, tomato & cucumber salad

organic grape jelly (bought at a shop) & fresh strawberries for dessert




today, LO is back at daycare after staying home for a week because of a flu. we say that udon (japanese noodles made of wheat flour) soup noodles are good for digestion and often eat them while being ill. i remember my mum’s udon – simple but tasty and gentle for your stomach… my comfort food. i just cannot bring myself to feeding my little one a cracker with a slice of cheese when she is ill, while it is what my husband (he’s dutch) craves when he doesn’t feel well. cheese is one of the last things to come to my mind… but i know this goes way back to your childhood and is deeply rooted to your senses… it’s funny how cultural differences can be discovered so randomly in situations like this. i wonder how our LO’s tasting pallet develops as exposed as she is to such versatile choices of food.

udon soup noodles (serving for 4)

ingredients:

– 400g udon noodles (store bought)

– 800cc – 1,000cc japanese fish broth

– 1 small (or 100g) carrot (thinly sliced, roughly into 1cm x 3cm rectangular slices)

– 100g daikon, japanese radish (thinly sliced, roughly into 1cm x 3cm rectangular slices)

– 15cm japanese negi/ spring onion, roughly sliced

– 100g chicken thigh (cut into small bite pieces)

– 1/4 of fresh tofu, diced

– 2 table spoons of japanese sake (can be omitted)

– 1 tea spoon of salt

– 2 – 3 table spoons of say sauce (start with 1, and add to your liking)

– 1 – 2 table spoons of japanese mirin (alternatively, just a pinch of sugar)

– for garnish & extra colour, chopped japanese mitsuba leaves or cooked spinach or thinly sliced leek

directions:

1. in a medium sized pan, pour the broth and put carrots, daikon & leek slices and bring them to boil.

2. lower the heat but keep it boiling, and gently remove any residue coming up to the surface

2. add chicken and boil for another 5 minutes or so. make sure to remove residue

3. once carrots & daikon are soft, add sake, salt, say sauce and mirin to taste. make sure that soup tastes to your liking here

4. add udon, brings the soup to gentle boil, lower the heat and cook for another 3 – 5 minutes or so (depending on the thickness of the udon)

5. add tofu at the very end, stir gently so that tofu gets warm

6. place the soup and noodles in a deep bowl, place the garnish at the center

bento for the little one (salmon rice – 20 jan 16)

main dish of the day: one of the little one’s favorite dishes, grilled salmon mixed in rice

menu: grilled salmon flakes mixed in rice with sesame & nori seaweed seasoning, cooked pumpkin in dashi broth, cherry tomato, omelet with spinach

mikan (similar to mandarine orange) for dessert



in Japan we eat a lot of grilled fish. some everyday even for breakfast, others maybe every other day. we have a fish grill embedded in our kitchen stove, which is common here and very handy.

this morning i grilled salmon filet (marinated with salt beforehand) while preparing for breakfast, and once done, mixed its flakes into a bowl of rice and a pinch of salt to taste. it’s always nice to sprinkle some seasoning on top for presentation.
fish grill in our kitchen. look at the cute little fish sign above the dial at far right

bento for the little one (hijiki – 18 jan 16)

new year’s resolution: post bento images as much as possible.

today’s menu: hijiki (cooked hijiki sea weed with chicken & carrots), tamago (omelet), cherry tomatoes, broccoli & rice with sesame seasoning

homemade apple mousse and diced banana for dessert



hijiki is full in mineral and iron. Very good for kids.

hijiki

ingredients:

dried hijiki – fistful (lightly rinse, soak in water for 15 min, drained)

1 small carrot (sliced in julienne)

100g chicen thigh (cut into small pieces)

1 tbsp oil

2 tbsp sake

2 – 5 tbsp water

1 tbsp soy sauce

1 1/2 tbsp sugar

directions:

1.in a medium sized frying pan, put oil and stir fry chicken and carrots in medium heat for 3 minutes or so

2. add sake and fry further until carrots are soft

3. add hijiki, stir fry further. add water as required so the hijiki keeps moist

4. once hijiki is tender, add soy sauce and sugar, stir a bit and turn off the heat.