Saturday, August 27, 2011

Currying Favor

Last night I made pork curry rice at the wife's request. We've been putting it off all summer long because it's so blasted hot in central Texas this year, but finally our cravings outweighed our dislike of being warmed up.

In Japan, the most common way of making curry sauce (and thus curry rice) is to chop up your ingredients (often carrots, onion, and some form of potato or tuber, perhaps a little meat), saute them in some fat, then add water and some roux blocks (think of House or S&B) and cook until the sauce forms. Lots of folks still make their own from the way things appear, or else S&B probably wouldn't bother to continue producing a tinned curry powder.

Because of the Wife's foresight in purchasing large quantities of Tamanishiki Gold brand rice, we've got lots of high quality short-grain rice on hand. It's truly convenient to have our main starch just sitting in the pantry, not having to worry for two months at a stretch about running out (like we used to with bread). The one thing we were sadly missing was tsukemono to serve the curry rice with. Traditionally and taste-wise curry rice gets served with fukujinzuke or pickled rakkyo. I haven't tried it yet, but I suspect that it would go well with curry udon as well.

The recipe I use is adapted and tweaked from a translated article about the Imperial Japanese Navy's traditional form of curry served since before World War II. It was an expedient way to rid the galley of excess carrots, potatoes, onions and beef, and became a hallmark of their food services. Originally, the cooks made it more oily and thin than modern curry sauce (and I'd bet they did it to stretch the ingredients out).

The first time the wife and I tried going directly from the recipe, there was a large amount of excess fat to skim off of the surface. Since them, I've cut my recipe down in a lot of ways, and made it an ideal way to make dinner for four to six people. It keeps at least a week in the fridge if you seal it up nice and tightly.

Fortunately, you can profit from our mistakes and trials. If you need to make something gluten-free, I usually use rice flour (mochiko) and potato starch in a 4:1 ratio to replace wheat flour in gravies like this. Give it a shot - this is one of those times where gluten-free cooking doesn't leave some texture or flavor to be desired!

Curry Recipe:

Sauce -
4 Tbsp Curry powder
2 Tbsp Rice flour
1/2 Tbsp Corn or Potato starch
4 Tbsp Lard
32 oz. Beef Stock

Ingredients -
2 Lg Carrots, peeled and sliced
1 Med Potato, peeled and cubed
1 Sm Onion, peeled and diced
1 Tbsp Butter
OPTIONAL -1/2 Lb Meat (I prefer pork, any land animal will do!)

In a 1 quart sauce pan, melt the lard on medium high heat. Combine all the dry ingredients of the curry sauce and add to the melted lard. Stir and cook until it forms a thick paste, adding additional flour if needed. Set aside.

In a medium stock pot, melt the butter over high heat. Saute onions and carrots briefly, then add the potatoes and any meat. Continue to saute until ingredients are mostly cooked. When the onions are translucent, add all beef stock and bring to a boil. Add the curry roux and stir to combine. Bring close to a boil to thicken, then lower heat to medium-low and stir occasionally.

Serve over rice (count on needing 1/2 cup uncooked rice per person at a minimum) or udon (1 bundle per person).

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Snack Time

Tonight the wife and I caved to our snack desires and bought a bag of Cheetos and some diet cola. Normally for us, snack time has meant things like arare, sembei, potato chips, fruit and cheese, and so forth. Any one of those things and I'd be reasonably full, especially given how little I eat many days. This night I find myself instead being generally unsatisfied with the continued desire to eat more of these corn doodles.

I'm certain some of it has to do with the salt content, as well as how much volume the individual pieces lose when chewed. I get that. What I don't get is the lack of satisfaction involved. I have been craving for some good ol' American snack food, something I could take some pride in as a consumer. When Wifey suggested Cheetos I took it to heard with gusto.

Now I'm trying to solve the 'mystery' of why these things don't even taste as awesome as I thought they did a year ago. They're still great in a bag of Munchies, and they smelled greatly cheesy when we opened them about an hour ago... but I'm left unimpressed. I wonder if this is why someone felt they were an okay delivery medium for strawberry flavoring?

The two simplest solutions are that a) my tastes are changing or b) there's something wrong with the bag. The little mylar package was in good shape, there were no holes, and the expiration date is still far in the future. They are clearly just corn doodles that have been well coated with cheap cheese-based flavor powders. I think we've ruled out there being something "off" about the cheese snacks. That leaves it down to me and my tastes.

So what's so different? I still love spicy and strong-flavored foods. Some good fajitas spritzed with lime or a big serving of pho are definitively top-notch to me. There was just something that wasn't met by my standards, and it surprised me. I'm not mad about it, just confused. But I think I'll probably not buy a bag of these things again.

Monday, August 15, 2011


This morning I just watched the news about the Indiana State Fair's stage collapse. While I'm extremely glad that only a handful of people were killed by the destruction of the stage, any loss of life and limb caused by this is regrettable. From first glance, it looks like a lot of things combined to make it an avoidable accident that no-one knew about. Hopefully no one was neglectful, because a death caused by negligence often incites rage or murderous intent (lynchings do still happen, after all - just not often in the US).

It strikes me as one of those examples of how life is completely transient. This gift we're given, the chance at life on this turn of the great cosmic wheel has no guarantees of anything other than an eventual death. When we see others suffer or die we're reminded of that. It can be quite the psychological burden to bear, knowing that you survive as others do not.

The solace I take from having seen this tragedy on the news is that others immediately rushed to help. People reportedly used the clothing from their own bodies to provide tourniquets and bandages to those who were injured, and still others comforted the dying. It was one of those moments which make me proud to be who I am, where I am. The combined effort of bystanders and professional rescuers alike must have saved or eased many who were caught in that accident. Certainly, people must have prayed both for life, for release and relief from pain and suffering. I too pray for the safety and continued life of those who were hurt, but I also pray for the safe release of the spirits of those who were hurt.

Shinto has the tradition of placating the ara-tama, the wild spirit of those who have passed on before us. Much like offering placation to the kami who are capable of wildness and anger (it is not their stated goal, mind you), one should see to it that those who passed unexpectedly in fear and pain are not disturbed. The confusion of a sudden, senseless death is a hindrance to those spirits; they continue to exist, but may have problems adjusting to their new existence. That is why I hope and pray for the safe passage of those who lost their lives, and for the relief of suffering for those who live.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Tex-Mex Barbecue Onigiri

About four months ago, the wife and I were scratching our heads as to how to take care of some thinly sliced beef and mounds of freshly cooked short-grain rice (our house's staple starch due as much to dietary issues as our being a Shinto household). We rummaged through the refrigerator for about ten minutes before settling on skillet cooking strips of this thin beef with barbecue sauce and onions and serving it to ourselves in our large bowls, similar to gyudon. We jokingly named it "baabaakyuu don" and made it at least one more time before moving to our current location.

Fast forward to this week, and I've been given an amazing chunk of beef roast by my mother-in-law. The expense of such an item (even here in Texas) is enough to make me give a renewed dedication to not waste any gift, especially a housewarming present made of food. After I thawed it sufficiently, it went into the crock pot with some beef stock and a thinly sliced onion.

The debate began: how would the wife and I use it? We didn't have the ability to acquire more veggies to serve with it, so spinach, rice, noodles and carrots were our only options for sides. We finally resolved to make shredded barbecue out of it, and so I used some Jesse Dalton Barbecue Sauce and some brisket rub on it. That left me with my next question: what do we do with about two pounds of leftover beef barbecue?

The solution came to my wife yet again: the next day, she requested that instead of making plain onigiri I stuff them with some of the leftovers so her lunch wouldn't be so messy. I gave it a shot, loaded the rice into the press and "bingo!" we had created a new combination of foods for ourselves. I jokingly refer to it as "Tex-Mexanese" fusion cuisine.

To make it clear, if you want to make something like this, you need a good, strong flavored sauce that isn't too sweet - it gets lost in the rice and salt. Your best bet is to add only about a half a tablespoon's worth of filling to a standard, fit-in-your-palm rice ball, and to consume them quickly - I've made similar stuff in the past, and if it's too saucy or you let it sit for a while, the liquids will slowly seep out and stain the rice, change the flavor profile, or something else that may or may not effect the experience of eating these.

It was really quite a different combination - normally, I don't do much beyond plain rice, basic miso soup, and some sort of reasonably complex main or side dish. I would love to take pride in such a thing, but really that just feels a bit silly. I absolutely had to share it with the world, though. Hopefully someone finds the idea interesting enough to try.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011


Today the wife and I had an incoming student orientation to attend at the college we're going to be taking courses from. It sounded like it might produce some useful information, and supposedly our attendance was mandatory. We were soundly disappointed by its focus on the 17-18 year old crowd (which we expected, of course), but in general I felt ignored because I am in the Aviation department and not a single mention was made of the department. The people putting on the orientation were all students and graduates of the Mass Communications and Graphic Design elements of our institution, so a little bias is to be expected (who doesn't favor their preferred area, after all?), but it felt more like we were being preached to than given useful information.

A representative from Monster College (a subsidiary of was there to speak to us and give a demonstration. He was dressed in a decent suit of 1950-1960 cut, his hair was slicked back in a realistic pompadour, and he certainly was good at public speaking... just not to a smallish community college crowd. His information and presentation were geared towards large institutions (say Texas A&M), and his inability to impress any other information on us besides the fact that we should be active in our fields from day one and that our GPAs are now more important than ever before (thanks to a series of computational tools that prospective employers use).

When the Master of Ceremonies announced that it was time for everyone to don their free T-shirts and take a group photo before break time, the wife and I were most unimpressed. Many of the more serious students were of like mind to us, and we left as soon as it became apparent that no second roll call would be made. After some attempted errands ended in failure, we've returned home and I have a late lunch cooking in the kitchen.

What has colored my day as an okay day, however, was our early morning walk. Normally, the wife and I have been getting to the track shortly before the time we were due to the orientation. Today we opted to cut our sleep short and go for our customary walk before sunrise. The weather was cool and calm, and we observed a small family of near-feral cats on both our way to and from the track.

Those kittens and the amazingly cool (for this time of year) temperatures on the morning of this hot Texas day have me feeling better about my situation and my place in things than I feel I otherwise would. Even on a day when I felt lousy, didn't want to go anywhere or do anything, and certainly felt railroaded into going to something I surely felt was a waste of my time by the end of it (if not before), a small pack of kittens playing in the grass outside someone's home brightened my day.

I can only hope that I can be of similar service to someone in my life. Even just once, it would make me feel better about how much I believe I should serve society and those within it. Hopefully it would be more dignified than wrestling in the dewy grass, but still... the image is there.

Monday, August 8, 2011


For some time, I've been considering a revamp of my blog. Realizing that it had become a whiny cooking blog, I set about considering something better, something I could be more passionate about. What I came to was this.

From here on out, I'll be expounding on how I relate my practice of Shinto and some conservative thought processes to blending in as an everyday Texan. It may get boring, it may get exciting. Who knows?

As a start, I believe now is an excellent time for an update on my life. My wife and I are still happily married and living in central Texas. Having moved to a different town and disposed of some unwanted or unneeded posessions, we now reside in a well maintained post-WWII duplex on the grounds of what used to be an Air Force pilot training base. At the moment we are still unpacking, but things have gone well so far.

We have both made a commitment to change our employment venues and goals and have thus moved to a new location where we can pursue careers in aviation and related fields. Unfortunately for me, I've had to resign my position with a very good grocery chain which treated me well and was quite frankly the best place I've ever worked. For now, that means I'm on the prowl for a job in the greater Waco area, or at least until school starts.

Living in Waco is not too foreign a concept to me - thanks to the generosity of my mother-in-law back in 2008, my then fiancee and I were able to stay with her while we readied for the wife's going back to school. Since then, we've lived around Austin and the outlying towns of that area, but Waco isn't that much different from any mid-sized southern town. It's a bit more southern than I grew up with along the Ohio River, but it's not been hard to adjust to - after all, many of the people here still know the manners their mothers taught them.