Wednesday, April 30, 2014

That Time I Had to Eat Pureed Monkfish Liver and Two More Appetizing Recipes

Dear Internet Diary, 

I want to tell you a story, but it is a true story.........

Once upon a time, a long, long time ago, I became Japanese. 
I loved being a Japanese girl, I really did. In college I had a Japanese boyfriend, and a Japanese family that I adored. (They were the best.) And I lived with Japanese roommates and gave away our dining room table and chairs for a low to the the ground Japanese table and cushions. I spoke Japanese, especially well when drunk, and used Japanese make up and read Japanese teen magazines and sang crude, sweary songs by male Japanese comedians. I even wore the too small Japanese clothing that my friend Mari so generous gave me after a trip home. (See picture below.) And most of all, or maybe just also, I ate a lot of Japanese food. 

My boyfriend and I dated for over two years, so naturally we ate together and cooked together all of the time. He loved to eat, and I shared the Of course there were the 2:00am pizza calzones that every college student enjoys. And the Chinese carry-out, the Indian, the Thai, the Middle Eastern and the burrito. We were such "foodies" that it was not uncommon for Naoki and I to drive 45 minutes for brisket. Which is weird. 

I had my fair share of Japanese food too though. I remember with such clarity, finding myself all alone in my new dorm room, the night before summer session began, reading through a carry-out menu for the Japanese restaurant, "Murasaki." Agedashi tofu  is what I ordered, my first official Japanese meal of college. Little did I know, that within weeks, I would start turning Japanese myself, and meet life-long friends who would then will me to eat a lot of stuff. Most of it delicious, some of it terrifying. 

For example, there was that time, when late at night, after the restaurant's closing, somehow I found myself at a long table of fellow Japanese friends, being cooked a multi-course meal by the head chef at Murasaki.  "Ankimo!" He cried, when slapping the plate down on the table. From the "oohs" and "ahhh" you'd think it was something grand like a flaming Baked Alaska. But noooooo, it was only THE LIVER OF THE BOTTOM DWELLING MONKFISH! And I swear to god, it was pureed. 

Not to be disrespectful or anything,  but I was the girl who pretty much avoided meat for most of her life. (I didn't eat the 45 minutes away brisket.) And when you're kind of like that, and somebody puts the pureed liver of the bottom dwelling monkfish in front of you and demands that you try it! Ya' get a liiiiit-tle squeamish. I gave a side-ways glance at my friend while turning green and he whispered under his breath that I HAD to try it, lest risk totally offending the chef. GULP!

There were other "Adventures in Japanese eating", like the time I drunk rode my bike around the block to a party at my good friend's  house. I'll call her "Yoko" here for anonymity's sake. (WAIT! I need to CLARIFY something. I know that I have mentioned being drunk about twice now, but I seriously drank 99% less than any other college student ever. I really did. Ask anyone. I was always gladly the D.D. I swear.) Anyway, I remember the following snack experience to be totally and utterly implausible unless I was drinking. So that's how I know. Yoko feeds me party snacks, which were all GREAT until she made me try these teeny tiny, little MICROSCOPIC, FREEZE-DRIED FISH BODIES, and what I mean by "bodies" is their ENTIRE bodies! The "snack" looked like this:

And in that first, terrifying mouthful, I proceeded to GET THEM STUCK IN MY PERMANENT RETAINER!!! I had FISH BODIES STUCK IN MY RETAINER! It. was. bad.

I just remember thinking: "Oh my god. I have a fish stuck in my retainer. What am I going to do!?" 
Drink more beer.

BUT! With the very few....."memorable" Japanese food experiences, there were one hundred more FABULOUS, DELICIOUS, WONDERFUL Japanese food experiences! My favorite probably being the time that Yoko came over to my house (not drunk) and made us all Okonomiyaki, Japanese savory pancakes in a special pan. It was so great! I can still taste them and remember studying Yoko's every skillful move as she used shredded cabbage and batter and tons of toppings and then a squirt of Kewpie, Japanese style mayo.  A crazy type of pancake, but SO GOOD.

I had my first, sweet bite Kasutera, Japanese sponge cake, always wrapped in a nice, rectangular box, a memory shared of home. And after new years or some other holiday or festival when one's family was nice enough to send gifts, gooey mochi rice cakes with red bean azuki paste inside. 

My sweet friend Masa taught me how to make warm ochazuke in the morning with leftover rice from the night before, still to this day, one of my favorite things to eat. You fill a bowl with white rice, top it with whatever - I use wakame dried seaweed, ume-boshi furikake, and a little, red ume boshi - pickled plum. Then you pour the green tea on top and you're done! It's a gorgeous and filling dish.

Winters were harsh in East Lansing, so Naoki and I ate hot bowls of salty Hayashi Rice  with it's thick, brown gravy, and Vermont Curry Rice full of big chunks of vegetables. I even....EVEN secretly didn't mind NATTO! Natto, that fermented soybean Kansai treat! Even with it's famous pungent odor and delectable slimy texture, I was still down with the natto!

Now, for the record, it can go both ways. Once, I feed Masa a Peppermint Patty and he almost DIED. The kid almost DIED! I've never seen such an expression and somebody gag like that. After composing himself, post-bite, Masa turned to me with a horrified expression and asked: "WHY do Americans eat this!? It's the same thing as eating TOOTHPASTE!"  And you know, he's right! 

ANYWAY, the point is, all joking and silly stories aside, I have a very big love in my heart for Japan and my Japanese friends and all of those wonderful experiences, which includes the food. I wish that I cooked more Japanese food these days, but most of the time, we just watch episodes of Cooking With Dog. (By the way, GREATEST channel on YouTube in the world ever.)

The other day though, I came across two recipes, from (don't laugh) "Food Babe", and felt inspired. One was a Carrot Ginger Salad Dressing, and the other was a homemade Miso Soup Recipe.  Food Babe was all: "Eat these healthy foods with fermented soy!" So I was like: "Ok!"
My poor family at dinner tonight, I fed them salad with carrot ginger dressing, miso soup with tofu and mushroom and white rice. Then, directly after dinner, they proceeded to smile and slink away sideways to go make chicken potstickers. 

I'm just going to get straight to the point - the salad dressing, it was INCREDIBLE. It was seriously one of the most delicious things I've ever made, and that doesn't say a lot! Wait. Well, it was really really good, and it was the easiest thing in the world to make. You just throw everything in the food processor. I used a bit more miso paste than the recipe called for, it's the white Miso paste from Miso Master that Food Babe mentions, and is incredible! I found everything at Whole Foods. Also, the only bummer is that for the life of me, I couldn't find fresh ginger! That was odd actually, they usually have it. I did find refrigerated, freshly grated ginger and used that. It saved a lot of time too. This recipe made a ton of dressing. Enough for two family dinners, or at least four individual meals or more. I poured the extra dressing into a glass jar, and I'm hoping that it'll stay good in the fridge for a few days. I'm not sure though, so don't take my word for it!

The miso soup was good! It was a little more macrobiotic-esque then regular, run of the mill miso soup, but that probably had to do with the fact that my seaweed totally disintegrated for some reason. Also I "beefed" it up with extra tofu and mushrooms. Oh hahaha. So beefy of a soup!
I think though, that if you're looking for a light, healthy soup,  this would be a great choice.  Maybe best as a lunch or a side dish, but still really good.  It also took just ten minutes to make. That's fast!

I'm tired, so now I have to go, but try these two recipes, I highly recommend them!


Lauren :)


Unknown said...

Oh my goodness Lauren, I think we are twins! I grew up in Sterling Heights, started studying Japanese in 9th grade, went to U of M (ahem!) and spent my senior year in Japan at the Japan Center for Michigan Universities (JCMU). Had a ton of MSU buddies in that program, went in 92-93. I think you are 4 years younger than me, right? 38? Wow!! Such a small (internet) world! It's true, the coolest people are from Michigan!! ;-) BTW - my biggest culinary "challenges" in Japan? Squid ink spaghetti...and NATTO! LOL

Anonymous said...


I must say that you look beautiful in your gray hair!
I am 34 and got my first "grays" when I was 17. I am so sick of coloring my hair!


Lauren said...

Denise, oh my gosh, WOW! No way, we ARE TWINS!!!!!! :)
Everything you wrote is too funny. Do you think Michigan + loving all things Japanese = gray hair!? We might be on to something. ;)
I think I must have just missed your friends. I was at State from 96'-2000', but...I know there are many who stay for grad school, so you never know! And I totally agree, such a small world! I so respect you Denise, squid ink AND Natto!? HIGH FIVE!!! :)

Lauren said...

Dear L from Sweden,

HELLO!!!! WELCOME!!!! <3

Thank you for your compliment, it's so nice to meet you. Wow, it must have been difficult to find your first gray hairs at such a young age as 17. Please don't feel alone. :( I'm sending you a hug! (>'-')>
There are sooooo many of us "younger" gray haired people out there, really! You are definitely not alone. There are some wonderful groups on Facebook for people with gray hair. One is called "Gray & Proud." There I met many other young people with gray hair. It was helpful!

I'm sorry that it's difficult to talk with your friends. I can't even imagine what it would be like to find my first grays at 35! Now though, it's so nice not to have to worry about hair dye, when everybody else does. We have some freedom!

Thank you for your comment. I'm glad you're here!

Unknown said...

Love you, girl! We are two peas in this blogging pod! ;-)

Valerie said...

This made me smile. =) You tell such fun stories. I love Japanese food, but Monkfish...uh, probably not. LOL
Blessings and Sunshine,

Lauren said...

Hi Valerie!

Thank you! I can't remember if the Monkfish was tasty or not, but I would have to guess, if I put my anxiety aside, and being that most Japanese food is very good, it probably was quite the delicacy. :)

I hope you're having a lovely weekend Valerie!
Thank you again.
Lauren :)

Unknown said...

Hello Lauren,
This was a fun post to for me to read...because I am Japanese (but lived in US half of my life). It made me wonder what you wrote is what my husband (American) experiences and feels whenever I make him eat something uniquely Japanese, like Ankimo! I don't know how easy to get ingredients at where you live but if you ever want a specific Japanese recipe, I can find it and translate it for you! Your blog has given me much courage to accept my gray hair and love myself as a whole (if you remember, you never see Japanese girls in their 30's with grays but I've got a white streak!). The least I could do is help get you the Japanese recipe you'd like so you remember "home."

Lauren said...

Hi Y SS !!!!!!!!!

Ooooooh. You are so sweet and kind and wonderful! Thank you so very much for your comment and your thoughtful offer to help me with recipes. That made me smile so much. I want to hug you! (>'-')>>>>>

I hope I was not rude in my post. I was joking a little. I feel super thankful for my Japanese friends and all of the experiences in trying new foods, ankimo included! :)
Some of my most precious memories are from my times with my Japanese friends. One of my friends still lives near me, but most of my friends now live back home in Japan.

Thank you so much for your offer to help with recipes! I promise to ask you if I need some help! So kind! I live outside of Detroit, we have, I think...the 5th largest Japanese population in the US, near another city called "Novi". There are several Japanese grocery stores that I sometimes visit! So, it seems to not be too hard to find ingredients. I'm not a good cook though. I need to keep practicing! ;)

Ah! I'm so impressed that you have the courage to show your (I think BEAUTIFUL) silver stripe! Yes, I can imagine that gray in young people is not too common, especially in Japan.

One good thing from all of this, is that we aren't using hair dye. Although I miss having brown hair, it's good to not use all the chemicals, right? Natural is ok too!

Thank you so much again Y SS. You made me smile. Please take good care and thank you for writing and for your kind-hearted words!

Unknown said...

Hi Lauren,

Your post was fun to read. You are not rude at all. I could tell that you loved your time in Japan and your Japanese friends are important to you. That's sweet.

I did not know Detroit has that large of Japanese population. So you may be able to get Japanese ingredients, like curry roux blocks. Practice makes it perfect. So, if you ever want a Japanese recipe, I can be of your support!

Indeed it took me some courage to show my gray but some people complemented me. I'd like to think I look like less hot version of Rogue from X'men (ha ha).

Natural is great. Not only it's good for our hair not to use all chemicals but also it saves money. I once calculated. If I were to dye my gray every 3 weeks for the next 30 years using a box of dye that cost me $8, it'll cost me over $4000 altogether. I'd prefer to use that money for something else.

Yu aka Y SS

Lauren said...

Hi Yu !!!!

Wow, that awesome! I think you must TOTALLY look like Rouge from X'men, AND equally as gorgeous! :) I love that. She is definitely a great gray role model.

Thank you Yu, absolutely I will use you as cooking support. Thanks for the kindness. Yes! I have bought the curry roux blocks. They're such a cool thing. My husband LOVES curry, so I should try to make it more often. We have what seems to be a very nice curry restaurant nearby. It's called "Ajishin", but is often super crowded, so I haven't gone in a while. We have quite a few offices for Japanese car companies here in Detroit, and automotive supplies, so that is the reason for our comparatively large Japanese population. I go crazy to eat ramen and udon too. But, we used to live in San Francisco and there, my favorite was fresh sushi. Yum. Maybe I think of food too much. LOL. ;)

YU! Oh my gosh, $4,000 !? That is a ton! I liked your math a lot. That is so true. What a sum of money. Ok, I am using my extra $4,000 on ramen. ;)

Thanks again Yu. Have a GREAT week!
Lauren :)