Belated Posts – A Round-Up

Apologies one and all. I’m deeply sorry to have neglected this blog. I’ve been busy with work, living in Japan and writing on other sites. More to the point, I’ve been eating out a lot and have made very few “blog worthy” dishes that can be replicated at home – Japanese supermarkets have an abundance of things you just can’t get back home.

2012-12-29 11.58.51

This tsukemen, whilst tasty, required 2 train rides, 3 obaasan and a flamethrower before it reached my belly.

I’ve also been totally transfixed by my latest cookbook. A Christmas present from my wonderful girlfriend, A Hip Hop Cookbook: Four Elements Cooking with Cutmaster GB is as far removed from How to Cook or Larousse Gastronomie as it is physically possible to be. Featuring recipes from Zulu Gremlin, Loomit, Zeb.Roc.Ski and countless other Dutch and German b-boys and turntablists who you’ve never heard of but who all claim to know Afrika Bambaataa, it is a glorious train-wreck of a book.

None the wiser as to how B-boying and graffiti will help in the kitchen.

None the wiser as to how B-boying and graffiti will help in the kitchen.

So, here’s a roundup of what I’ve been doing:

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LSMedia Roundup: Cats, Christmas and Carboniferous-Copy

I’ve been writing a lot of stuff for LSMedia (and shockingly little for HML) so, instead of a load of individual posts, here’s a roundup of what I’ve been up to.

The next instalment of my Baka-gaijin column compares cat cafes to brothels and explores the underlying hollow yearning for an emotional connection that both of these establishments rely on. There’s a serious message here, somewhat undermined by my constant squeeing over cute kittehs. You can catch up with the entire series here.

猫に小判

猫に小判

As Christmas is coming, I’ve been busy watching festive films. Whilst most people would enjoy the warmth and joy said films bring, I spent the time dissecting their moral compasses looking for any deviation from true and/or magnetic north. For example- have you ever realised how Miracle on 34th Street establishes legal precedent that if you open a letter delivered to your door that is not addressed to you legally assume another’s identity? That’s not as bad as Christmas with the Kranks: if Tim Allen doesn’t celebrate christmas, your loved ones’ cancer will return? WHAT THE FUCK, TIM? CAN’T YOU JUST TAKE ONE FOR THE GODDAMN TEAM?

You can read my musing on Christmas films that secretly harbour terrible messages here.

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And for those of you in Liverpool, I’ve written a few festive articles in The Sphinx – LSMedia’s sister dead-tree edition- on male grooming and christmas in Japan. Keep your eyes peeled around the Guild for a copy!

it's chriiiiiiiistmassss!

*Sneak Peak!* Harsh the herald razors sting…

That’s about it. Brace yourself for an onslaught of back-logged HMT posts in the next few months- it took a while but I’ve finally cracked a few recipes that I will share with y’all. Make sure to subscribe for updates, lest you miss them. Until then, keep safe.

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LSMedia- It’s Only a Joke (Plus- Laughing at the Japanese)

LSMedia published another instalment of my column- this week, Japanese comedy: is it funny? It’s kinda hard understanding why things are meant to be funny when there’s a language barrier, but with many Japanese TV shows I can make a pretty good guess. I really wish I could remember the name of the Japanese version of “Whose Line is it Anyway?” where they sit in kimono and make terrible puns.

Annoyingly, Tofugu beat me to the punch r.e. the rahmens. My article was stuck in editing hell- I came first, you gotta believe me. Clearly problematic jokes about prominent sex offender Jimmy Saville can delay publication. You can bet there was no such nonsense in the Travel section when the Chicago Tribune printed “Dewey Beats Truman”.

So, as the blog bonus, I was going to share even more jokes and sketches by the Rahmens, but as Hashi beat me to it, I7ll just redirect you to him.

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LSMedia: Five Japanese Films (Plus- Recipe For Awesome Popcorn)

On LSMedia, I’ve been writing about Japan a lot. Today, a feature on my favorite Japanese films went live. Hopefully it’s a good spread of Japanese movies (although my editor rejected my original list of Gozilla, Godzilla vs MechaGodzilla, Mothra vs Godvilla, Godzilla vs SpaceGodzilla and Godzilla, Mothra and King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All-Out Attack). How did I do? Did I nail it? Did I omit something unforgiveable? (I know, no Totoro!) Let me know in the comments here or on LSMedia.

Pray to the Kami for exhaustive, list-based film reviews

Also, as HML reader, you are my favourites. It’s only fair that I share something extra with you, to reward you for reading and apologise for my slide away from food bloggery. I hope you are prepared for this- my patented popcorn recipe.

I love popcorn, as alluded to in the article linked above. It is easily one of the five best foodstuffs (alongside peanuts, aubergines, garlic and onions), although I fill with dread when asked “sweet or salt?”. Cinema popcorn is soggy, overpriced and bland. Homemade popcorn is tasty, hot and always in superabundance. This is my fall-back recipe- Mexican Mole Popcorn.

Take a scant cup of popcorn kernels. Heat a heavy pan and add a slug of vegetable oil. Chuck in the popcorn and cover. Reduce the heat and wait until the popping rate slows down to less than one per second. Uncover and add 1tbsp butter, 2tsp smoked sweet paprika, 1tsp cayenne pepper, 2tsp cocoa powder and 1/2-1tsp salt (to taste). Remove from the heat, cover and toss to combine. Eat whilst watching a movie, ideally with a few cold beers, and reflect on how hard the local Cineworld sucks.

Read the article on LS Media- Five Films to See This Week: Japanese Special

Like that? Want to read more from me about movies I enjoy? See you after the jump.

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LSMedia: Tabemonicon (Plus- Some Foods Are More Horrible Than They Look)

Issue 4 of Baka-Gaijin is up at LSMedia. The team there are great at letting me rant and rave about Japan. Who knows, maybe next time I’ll break one of the “big” subjects. In the UK race, remembrance and child abuse are in the news. Japan’s history with these issues is… well… “difficult”.

Speaking of “difficult”…

Image

I can’t possibly see what could go wrong *hangs lampshade*

There are some things that are bad ideas that seem good at the time. There are some bad ideas that seem bad at the time, and are duly avoided. However, as I discovered, there is a third category- an idea so stonkingly bad that you actually embrace it, purely so you can while away dinner parties recounting old war stories.

Tomato chocolate was one of those things.

Really take it in. The kind of crappy tomato flavour that barely comes close to discount ketchup. The kind of dusty chocolate that exists in climates that frequently reach over 33 degrees C. Bundled together. For little over a quid.

Needless to say it was disgusting. The glory of retelling the story turned to ashes in my mouth as the buttery, crappy chocolate melted with a taste not unlike literal ashes. Ashes with a liberal application of watery, burger-van ketchup.

I am not surprised that this is “new”. I am, however, disappointed that it is now, in 2012, that we say “Tomato chocolate? What the hell, it’s twenty duz! YOLO!”

When Quetzacotyl rises from his volcano lair on December 21st to devour the souls of the living like so much human tapas, I think it’s safe to say that we deserved it.

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Don’t forget to check out Baka Gaijin IV: Tabemonicon at LSMedia

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LSmedia: King of the Mountains (Plus- Ramen is Getting Kinda Samey)

The third instalment of my Baka-Gaijin column has gone live over at LSmedia; in which I conquer my proverbial Everest and climb a Snowdon-sized mountain before breakfast.

(If you missed any of the other parts, you can catch up with the rest of the column by clicking here)

I know right? What kind of food blog is this? Don’t worry, readers. I also ate a bunch of noodles.

Ramen is like sex: even when it’s not that good, it’s still pretty good. Also it’s hot, salty and can be bought under the railway arches at any station.

The only problem is, I’ve not found any stand-out ramen joints. They’ve all been much of a muchness- pretty good, but nowhere that I’d recommend passing up your local ramen shop and traveling out of your way for. I have found an unbelievable soba-ya, but I didn’t have a camera. On my inevitable return, I’m going to take a photo of (and , I guess, eat ) everything on the menu. Life is hard sometimes.

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LSmedia: Five Terrible Films To See This Hallowe’en (Plus Blog Bonus- 2 More Golden Greats)

So I wrote an article for LSmedia about my top-five bad movie picks for Hallowe’en. Consisting entirely of public-domain films that can legally be watched in their entirety on Youtube, I hope you enjoy it

Nothing on this list is as creepy as a grown man dressed as Doraemon

I really like bad movies. As in, I have easily seen more public domain b-movies than Oscar winners. It’s not about the film being unenjoyable and completely without merit, otherwise this list would start and end with Pearl Harbour.  You also can’t go out and intentionally make a bad movie. It has to be unknowingly bad. Ideally it should be completely oblivious to the most basic realities of film making (see Manos: The Hands of Fate). Whether the base ingredient is naive idealism or cynical demographic targeting, the film has to be totally sincere in spite of it’s terribleness.

I anticipate some flak after including The Driller Killer on that list; probably from the same kind of people who write comments “explaining” problems with your joke in a way that demonstrates that they completely misunderstand humour. So, to make it clear- I (*really*) like Driller Killer. Although any film about a guy who for some reason starts murdering homeless dudes that claims to grapple with human nature and catholic ideology is a bit of a hack job, especially when mixed up with sapphism that does little but titilate. It’s good,  and brutally explicit, and I *really* wanted to make that terrible joke about it and Tim Allen. So it stays.

For those of you who’d rather replace it with something more terrible, I offer a choice of two movies so bad they didn’t quite make the cut:

6. Fatal Deviation (1998) Watch it on Youtube.

Some people say that a poster can speak a thousand words. This one has 16 but they say a hell of a lot: “A classic good versus evil action flick, mixed with kicks, guns, motorcycles and a hot babe!”. The infamously terrible Fatal Deviation is Ireland’s only kung-fu movie, made for under IR£9000, is actually a tale of a delusional martial arts enthusiast, a drug gang, some monks (apparently? I kinda stopped paying attention) and a truly stilted ending make this unmissably bad.

7. Frankenfish (2004) Watch it on Youtube  Wait, you have to buy this shit?!?

This film came to my attention when a friend bought it from  a charity shop. Inside was a note warning that it was “the worst film ever made” and, like in Ring, the only way to break the curse was to make someone else watch it. It really kick-started my love of bad films.

The premise is that giant half-shark, half-crocodile fish things have been let into the Maryland swamps. The Chinese put them there because they are notoriously untrustworthy (thanks China! First paper currency, now this?)  and that’s all that’s said on the matter. The rest of the film follows the entwined fates of those unfortunate souls stranded in the swamps who chug corona until they realise that the fish isn’t that scary if it can’t walk on land (**Spoilers** OH SHIT IT TOTALLY CAN!). This film isn’t free, isn’t as half-baked as the others and is basically nothing more than Attack of the Giant Leeches in the 21st century with shitty CGI instead of interns in foam rubber costumes. It’s all the worse for it.

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Sanma Takikomi Gohan (Pacific Saury with Autumn Vegetable Rice)

So, I finally kitted out my kitchen here in Japan. After finding a store with off-brand utensils, I equipped my kitchen with the basics and stocked my cupboards for less than £50. Immediately, I wanted to begin cooking. What would my first home-cooked meal in Japan be? Japanese home cooking is seasonal, simple and healthy. With that in mind, there was only one ingredient I wanted to cook.

Sanma (秋刀魚, lit. Autumn Knife Fish) is a quintessential Autumn fish in Japan. An oily fish, not unlike mackerel, it puts on fat before the cold winters, becoming especially tasty at it’s peak in October. It is a homely, everyday food (and, at less than 100 yen each, rather cheap), usually rubbed in salt and grilled whole before gutting.  This gives a distinct bitter taste, apparently (although you can’t taste it when gutted in this dish), which is the source of the name of Yasujiro Ozu’s famous 1960s slice-of-life movie The Taste of Sanma. If you can’t find it, mackerel or garfish will make a reasonable substitute so long as it is fatty and really fresh. The high omega-3 oils in the sanma enrich the rice like butter in risotto.

This dish is very simple to make. Seared sanma is placed with vegetables (carrots and seasonal mushrooms) on top of rice, covered in dashi stock and steamed until the rice is cooked. I served it alongside some miso soup with wakame and a umeboshi (pickled plum) on the side. My only error was not properly boning the sanma- I’ve rarely cooked fish, and foolishly decided to try and impress the lady in the supermarket by buying the fish ungutted and unboned. If you don’t like bones, make sure to pick through the fish thoroughly before mixing with the rice.

Sanma Takikomi Gohan (Serves 2)

1 Sanma (or small mackerel).
1/2 Carrot.
Shimeji & Maitake mushrooms, large handful each.
1″ piece of Ginger.
Spring onions, 1 bunch.
Short-grain (Japanese) rice,  2 “cups” (through trial and error, I’ve found that a Japanese teacup is the right amount of uncooked rice for one person. I believe this is equal to 2/3rds of a US cup, but use your judgement- we want 2 person’s worth of rice)
Water,  2 “cups”.
1tsp Granulated Dashi.
2 tbsp Soy Sauce.
2 tbsp Sake.
Juice 1/2 lemon and 1/2 lime.
2 tsp salt.

1. Behead the sanma and remove the tail and fins. Using the back of a knife, scrape tail-to-head to remove the scales. Slit the belly and remove the guts. The sanma has no stomach to speak of, so this is surprisingly easy. Wash out the cavity and cut into 2″ (ish) chunks.

2. Rub the fish skin in salt and sear over a high heat for 1-2mins on each side. This will caramelise the flesh, adding flavour and bringing out the sweetness of the fish. Remove and put to one side.

3. Wash the rice in 2-3 changes of water until there is no more cloudy gunk in the pan. Drain and leave to stand.

4. Cut the carrot into two round halves, then slice into batons approximately 1″ long. Separate the mushrooms into individual pieces. Cut the onions into thin rings. Set aside.

4. Combine the soy, dashi, citrus and sake with the water and rice in a large pan with a tight-fitting lid. Cover the dome of rice with the carrots, mushrooms and fish. Sprinkle over 2/3rds of the onions.

5. Bring to the boil over a high heat. When there are bubbles rising from the rice, poke it a few times with a chopstick and cover. Immediately reduce the heat to low (if you are using an electric hob, remove from the heat whilst the hotplate cools down) and start your 15 minute stopwatch.

6. After 15 minutes, there should be holes poking out from the rice. Increase the heat and give the rice another minute of high before immediately removing the pan from the stove.

7. Take the sanma out of the rice and let cool slightly before removing the spine and small bones. Flake the fish (if you feel hard lumps, check again for bones) and add to the rice. Stir through to combine before garnishing with the remaining onions. Serves 2.

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LSMedia Post, Plus: Equipping a Kitchen for Under 1,000,000円

So, I wrote another thing; this time as part of  (what will hopefully be) a new column for LSMedia about the life and times of a Student Studying Abroad without any of the prerequisite skills for Studying Abroad. Also, is it concerning that, at the tender age of 22, I’m starting to feel a little bit Danny Glover about “finding myself” and “experiencing” things that don’t translate into cold, hard calories? I just want to sit in my comfy chair, watch Countdown and go to all-night parties in sketchy industrial estates. Is that too much to ask?

Join me over at LSMedia after the jump (then come straight back and finish this [please!]).

Fun Fact: other titles I considered for the column included “Natto-ral Sciences” and “Yokohama? But I Only Just Met Her!”. If I was more street it would’ve beenMr Ando of da Hoodz

Other than writing, working and drinking lawnmower beer happushu whilst trying (and failing) to follow Cowboy Bebop without the subtitles, one activity has filled a lot of my time. How does one equip a kitchen without going bankrupt?
Let me elaborate. Japan isn’t some rinky-dink banana republic with toilet paper that’s harder than currency (they have robot toilets that clean your buns for you AND holes in the ground you squat over. Talk about Sci-Fi!). The yen is a harsh mistress. A kettle? Better have £80 to spare cause you won’t get much change from a 10,000 yen note. When I’d heard people going on about how amazing “those $200 rice cookers” are I didn’t realise they meant “rice cookers”. Whilst I dreamed of going to Kappabashi for a houcho shaped treat, I might have to hold fire from this kitchenware mecca until I have a few pans. And a plate. And a bowl.

I couldn’t face life without tea though, so bought one of those whistling stove-top kettles for a tenner. I constantly feel like I am back on a Eurocamp holiday, but what the hell. It sits in my apartment, awkwardly howling at no-one in particular and never quite fitting in. A fitting metaphor desu ne?

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ハイ メンテライフ! aka Moving II: Still Movin’

I apologise for the hiatus. I think you’ll agree that it has been justified.

This morning, I awoke on (or rather 12 stories above) Japanese soil. Whilst this is, admittedly, an unusual state of affairs it is not an unfamiliar one. However, what is different this time is that I shall not be returning any time soon.
Yes folks, I’ve to moved to Japan!

This will have numerous effects on me and my well being- swapping marmite for miso isn’t as easy as I thought- but will also mean several changes to this blog. Whilst I never had the time or money for creating luxurious dinners, I now have the added problem of being deprived many kitchen essentials. An oven. A second hob. Whilst I will endeavour to continue cooking and (of course) eating, I may struggle with regularly creating dishes that meet the high standards expected by you, my readership. I imagine that there will be more restaurant reviews as eating out is less of an occasion in Japan. I’ll try and keep the self-indulgent “living in Japan rocks/sucks” posts down to a minimum.

I hope that you will bear with me during these difficult times, and join me in saying Irasshai to the future of High Maintenance Life!

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