February has been a mix of bitter cold with hard frosts and more snow with mild weather. Hints of spring are appearing with trees budding and the first pink plum blossom.
Valentines Day is big in Japan, and like most imported customs it has a unique Japanese twist. On February 14th, females give chocolate to males, which is reciprocated one month later on March 14th, or White Day, when supposedly it’s the girls turn (never seems as big as Valentines though…).
There is giri-choco, or ‘duty-chocolate’, that you are obliged to give your male boss and colleagues. For your romantic partner, however, you give honmei-choco, ‘true feeling chocolate’, which increasingly tend to be handmade. The shops are full of chocolate making equipment and packaging.
Recently it has become common for relatives or friends to give each other chocolates so last year my children got several little boxes of chocolates from their cousins.
For Anna’s Kitchen I decided to teach my easy healthy and sugar free ‘truffle’ recipe. We had 8 children as well as several adults so it was a lively and fun session except that my blender ended up smoking so bad it stopped working….. For a recipe that depends on this bit of equipment it was pretty disastrous. We ended up chopping the ingredients by hand, the texture was a bit courser than usual but they held together and still tasted great. And I don’t think many of the truffles made it home to be given to friends or relatives.
The basic recipe uses equal parts of dried fruit and nuts and seeds, which are processed to form a mass that can be rolled into balls (great for kids snacks). Adding cocoa powder and coconut oil gives them a richer texture and flavour.
Varying the nuts and fruit can give different tastes and textures. Cashews and macadamia nuts are creamy, cranberries add tartness, dates are dense and sweet while prunes are dark and moist, then spices can add a different flavour element.
To make the balls:
- 1 cup nuts and seeds
- 1 cup dried fruit
- ¼ tsp vanilla or spice (ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg)
- pinch salt (Himalayan pink salt)
- 1 tbs coconut oil (or tahini/nut butter)
- 1-2 tbs unsweetened cocoa powder
To coat the balls:
- Cocoa powder
- Shredded coconut
- Sesame seeds
- Ground almonds
- If the coconut oil is solid, gently melt in a pan or place the jar in warm water
- Put all the ingredients in a food processor and pulse until the mixture comes together in a ball. Add a splash of water or extra oil if too dry
- You may need to roughly chop any large pieces of dried fruit or nuts first if you have a mini food processor like I do (I skipped this and shouldn’t have)
- Take a spoonful of mixture and roll into a ball in your hands
- Roll in the coating of your choice
- You may need to put in the fridge to harden in summer
- You can also coat in chocolate if you like
In response to the daily prompt on WordPress…
Do you live to eat or eat to live? A bit of a cliché but I do find people are one or the other. I live for food. I am one of those people that dreams of what to cook for dinner on the way home from work. When travelling abroad, and away from a kitchen, I get itchy fingers and yearn to be back at a chopping board after a few days. And the acid test, I feel, is when cooking for one. I always go to the same lengths for just me as I would when cooking for others. And I even chose a profession connected to food so I could talk about it all day…
Right now a lot of my energy goes into my bento or daily packed lunch. The school meals look pretty good but teachers have to show an example by eating everything. As a non-meat eater I would not be that proper example, so bring lunch in each day.
I have got into a rhythm with preparing my bento and while it consists mainly of leftovers and can’t possibly compare to the artfully presented Japanese lunch boxes, opening my bento each lunch time is one of the, if not the highlight of my working day.
My husband can’t understand why I spend so long preparing bentos for my son and I each evening – he loves to eat but I’m not sure if he fully falls in the ‘lives to eat’ camp. I’ve come to see my bento as a form a self-care, an anchor point, because I live to eat.
How I have ended up doing my bento
I have three stainless steel boxes from a 100 yen shop. Each day I put roughly the same kind of thing in each one, having designated boxes makes it easier to organise my lunch. (Of course I break my own ‘rules’ all the time and use different boxes some days)
- The large circular one is for raw: salad or coleslaw, plus seeds or nuts
- The small circular one is for grains, usually rice but sometimes pasta or quinoa (when I can find it). I also add protein to this box sometimes.
- The rectangular one is for cooked vegetables and / or pickles and protein: fish, beans, tofu or egg.
I try to go for roughly 50% vegetables, 25% protein, 25% grain – I know this doesn’t suit everyone but it works for me.
Setsubun is the day before the start of spring and New Year according to the old Japanese lunar calendar. The name means the divide between the seasons.
Mame-maki began as a New Year ritual to drive out evil spirits and pray for health and well being for the family. Fukumame, literally ‘fortune beans’ (roasted soy beans) are thrown out of the door or window while shouting ‘demons out, good luck in’ (oni wa soto, fuku wa ichi). Apparently oni don’t like beans so these send them away. My husband donned an oni mask and entered through a side door to screams of delight from our children, we then threw lots of beans at him chanting ‘demons out / oni wa soto’ until he escaped through the back door. (Yes, there were soy beans everywhere…..last year we kept finding them for days after). Then everyone in the family eats one soybean for each year of their age, plus one more to avoid sickness for the year.
Or ‘lucky direction sushi rolls’. In Kansai area, where we live, people eat long, uncut makizushi, a large rolled sushi. These are placed in a lucky direction (depending on the Chinese horoscope year) and eaten in silence. We were too hungry to wait for makizushi so we started with hand rolled sushi, temakizushi (meaning we could still talk..) and then had one eho-maki each, duly facing south, south east and eating in silence. There was no hanging around for me to take photos so it was just a quick one on the iPhone.
Setsubun is celebrated in schools and kindergartens. My elementary students had mini-makizushi and roasted soy beans for school lunch. At my daughters’ kindergarten the two bus drivers dress up as oni and visit each class. All the children end up crying, although I am sure the older ones, who know full well who the oni really are, just cry because everyone else does. I am not sure I like this particular custom so was actually relieved when my daughters were off today with a cold.