Thursday, September 25, 2008

We love Akita Komachi rice

In the middle of May, during my usual evening walk I had seen that the farmers had planted rice saplings in the farm fields near our home. In the beginning of July, my hubby accompanied me for the evening walk in the unpaved gravel road in between the farm fields full of rows and rows of rice saplings. The fresh green color was very pleasing to the eyes. Recently on September 22, my hubby again accompanied me for the evening walk. We noticed that the rice fields have turned golden and are ready to be harvested. I was mesmerized by the beauty of each rice plant containing many heads full of tiny grains that are golden in color. It was the first time in my life that I saw the rice plants with grains, which was really an amazing experience for me. Today during the walk I saw that the farmers have already started harvesting the rice. The rice produced in Akita prefecture goes by the famous brand name 'Akita Komachi'.

Me standing in front of rice field on July 06

Hubby standing in front of the same rice field on September 22

Close up view of rice plants

Rice plants containing many heads of tiny golden grains

Rice goes through a variety of processes before it is ready for cooking. Rice from the field is harvested and threshed to produce paddy rice (rough rice). Rice kernels are still encased in their inedible protective hull (husk). It is then hulled using sheller machines to remove the husk, and this process yields brown rice with the bran layers still intact around the kernel. In Japan, the rice is husked and made into brown rice near the field itself soon after the harvest. Finally, the milling (whitening) stage removes the bran layer from the brown rice to produce white rice.

Schematic diagram of rice

Brown rice is the least processed form of rice. It is known as genmai in Japanese. Genmai is unmilled or partly milled whole grain rice with the embryo and bran intact. The bran layers of the brown rice give it a characteristic tan color and nut-like flavor. Recently Genmai has gained popularity among Japanese people for health reasons because embryo and bran contain large amounts of nutritions. In addition to the fiberful bran coating, the brown rice is a good source of many vitamins and minerals, like Vitamin E, Thiamin, Riboflavin, Niacin, Vitamin B6, Folacin, Potassium, Magnesium, Iron, as well as fermentable carbohydrates, lignans, phytoestrogens and phenolic compounds. Japanese people had used genmai for centuries for its nutritional, health, and beautifying qualities and these days they are catching on its benefits again.
After moving to Akita prefecture, we usually buy ready-brown Akita Komachi rice from supermarkets where it is available in 30 kgs bags. Supermarkets also keep 10 kgs, 5 kgs, and smaller bags of white rice. Nowadays we prefer to buy brown rice. In India, brown rice is usually associated with poverty. Recently, during a telephone conversation with my parents living in India, somehow I started talking about the benefits of eating brown rice. When my parents heard that we buy brown rice they were shocked and reluctantly asked me whether we are in need of any financial assistance! It was really funny.
We have a compact rice-milling machine at home for milling/polishing the brown rice. Yes, we mill the brown rice ourselves! We cook brown, slightly (milled) whitened, or white rice depending on what we feel like eating. It is still difficult for hubby and me to eat the brown rice without any sort of milling. So usually I mill the brown rice for 3 min and remove only a bit of the outer bran thereby retaining most of the nutritional values. The brown rice milled for only 3 min goes very well with almost all the Japanese food menus. Sometimes when we have meat patties or Japanese curry-rice for lunch or dinner, we prefer slightly more whitened 5 min milled rice. On the other hand, when I cook Indian food, I use completely milled (9 min milling) white rice. Cooking time of brown rice is longer than milled white rice. However, as I use a rice cooker, I do not mind the longer time required for cooking the brown rice. Recently I realized that I have really developed a taste for brown rice. I can even eat the brown rice without any sort of seasoning or for that matter any thing else! It has a mild nutty flavor and is chewier than white rice.

Video of rice milling at our home.

Photos showing brown rice, slightly milled, and fully milled white rice

The by-product of the milling process, rice bran (komenuka in Japanese) can be used for making a kind of pickle called nukazuke. Although it is a time consuming process, I have tried making nukazuke of cucumber, eggplant, and carrot.

Rice bran obtained after milling the brown rice

Akita Komachi rice, whether it be brown or white rice, is really tasty. We even use the bran that is obtained after milling the brown rice for making nukazuke pickles.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Genbikei gorge

On 14th of July, hubby and me visited Genbikei gorge, a major and famous sightseeing spot in Ichinoseki city of Iwate prefecture in the Tohoku region of Japan. We started from our home in the afternoon and it took us about 2 hours and 30 min to reach there by our car. As soon as we got out of the car, we were mesmerized by the beauty of the place. Along the mountain stream of the Iwai river there is a two kilometer stretch of undulating rock layers, waterfalls, and river rapids. It offers beautiful scenery all year round. The flow of the Iwai river, which flows out of Mt. Kurikoma, has created a lot of abysses and pit holes. The cliffs are composed of dasite tuff from the eruption of Mt. Sugawa, and are constantly eroded by the torrent of water. We walked along a few trails and followed Genbikei and the Iwai river flowing through it. It was really nice and pleasant to walk in a natural scenic place. Here are a few photographs of Genbikei.

Hubby in front of a map of Genbikei area

Beautiful scenic Genbikei

Genbikei is also famous for its 'Flying Dango'. Dango is a Japanese sweet dumpling that comes in various flavors such as sesame (goma), red bean paste (azuki), and soy sauce (mitarashi). They are known as 'Flying Dango' because a restaurant on one side of the gorge sends it to the customers on the other side of the gorge in a basket via an overhead cable. We had the Dangos along with green tea. The Dangos were delicious.

Video of 'Flying Dango'

Our Dangos arrived with green tea

Delicious Dango

On our way back home, we had dinner in Maezawa restaurant in the service area of the Tohoku highway in Hiraizumi town of Iwate prefecture. The restaurant is famous for a variety of Maezawa-beef menus. Hubby chose beef yakiniku dinner set for both of us and it was really tasty.

Hubby in the service area of Tohoku highway in Hiraizumi town

Mouth watering yakiniku dinner set

We were tired by the end of the day but it was a nice day out for us.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Hubby's flat foot

Way back in September 1998, I went for a trip with some of my colleagues of the University in Tokyo suburbs to attend Japanese Physics Society Conference in Okinawa. We did a lot of sightseeing and attended only a few conference sessions! While we were lazing along one of the beaches in Okinawa, I saw the feet of my hubby (then a colleague) and was really surprised and shocked to see his flat foot. Until then I had never come across anyone having flat feet. As a matter of fact, my parents also never came across any person having flat feet until they met hubby. In January 2008, hubby and me had been to India to visit my parents. On seeing my hubby's feet they became worried and asked him whether he had developed the swollen feet due to inactivity during the thirteen hours air flight from Tokyo to Mumbai.
The right foot of my hubby is flat and almost has no arch. Well, it looks so cute, innocent, and childlike! Besides my hubby's personality and intelligence, his flat foot was probably what attracted me to him! Infact, I made an image of hubby's footprints in black Indian ink (bokujyu: in Japanese) on a white background, got the image framed, and the picture frame hangs on the wall of our living room. My mobile phone main screen display also has the photo image of his footprints.

Photo of hubby's footprints showing the flat foot condition in his right foot

Flat feet (pes planus or fallen arches) is a condition in which the arch of the foot collapses, with the entire sole of the foot coming into complete or near-complete contact with the ground. The appearance of flat feet is normal and common in infants, partly due to baby fat which masks the developing arch and partly because the arch has not yet fully developed. Flat arches in children usually become proper arches while the child progresses through adolescence and into adulthood. However, in some individuals the arch never develops in one foot or both feet. In my hubby's case, the arch never developed in his right foot, and he and his friends first noticed it when he was around eight years of age.
Hubby has the flexible type of flat foot that began in his childhood and is continuing in adulthood. Flexible flat foot means that while the foot is flat when standing in a full weight bearing position, a bit of an arch is noticable when not standing. However, if hubby is too tired due to standing the whole day at work in his office laboratory, then the arch is totally absent even when he is not standing.

Photos showing the flat foot condition in hubby's right foot

More photos showing the flat foot condition in right foot

Hubby is not really bothered about having a flat foot condition except for the pain associated with it. He says that Ichiro Suzuki, the famous Japanese outfielder for the Seattle Mariners Major League Baseball team, also has the flat foot condition, though he is not sure about it. Being flat-footed does not decrease foot speed. Infact, my hubby excels in outdoor sports activities like baseball, golf, and futsal.
If hubby is very tired then the flat foot often causes him pain in the heel, arch, ankle, and general weakness & fatigue in the foot. He usually uses orthotics (foot inserts) in his shoes for extra support to the flat foot. We also have a foot massager at home. Hubby uses the massager regularly and it really helps in relieving the pain.

Video of hubby using foot massager

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Hickory dickory dock versus bikkuri donkey!!

Two days back my brother send by electronic mail a few audio clips of his daughter reciting English nursery rhymes. My niece is a sweet 2.5 years old American kid and recited them beautifully. Here is a video we made of one of the audio clips.

Niece reciting Hickory dickory dock

Since I am living in Japan for the past eleven years and my hubby is Japanese, we usually converse in 'Janglish' (Japanese+English) and as a result we often have difficulty in grasping the English pronunciation of words with an American accent. Initially we did not notice the title of the above rhyme in the audio file. So however hard we tried, we were unable to get the lyrics of the rhyme! Finally my hubby remembered a funny and famous Japanese Television program Tamori Club having a segment 'Soramimi hour', and jokingly concluded that she is reciting something about 'Bikkuri Donkey!' 'Soramimi kashi' (misheard lyrics) is a word used in Japanese to describe lyrics of a song that sound like the original, but are actually made up. Later we saw the title of the rhyme in the e-mail and realized that the words 'Bikkuri Donkey' indeed sounded a bit like some of the words in the rhyme, and we both had a nice laugh about it and also at ourselves!
Today hubby and me had our lunch at the family restaurant 'Bikkuri Donkey', thanks to my niece reminding us about it. Bikkuri (meaning surprise) Donkey is a restaurant franchise with an extensive menu of minced meat steaks and other dishes. The exclamation marks in the name of the restaurant, the imitated wooden dark brown walls, and out of place wild west look easily catches our attention. We had not been to this restaurant for a long time and therefore relished the lunch.

Banner of 'Bikkuri Donkey' restaurant

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Hubby made morning tea and brunch!

On last Sunday, hubby and me started watching '24 hour television' from early morning. It is a once-in-a-year summer event organized by Nippon Television Network Corporation of Japan. This TV program features a lot of artists, a lot of events, and the aim of this telethon is to raise funds for charities working with handicapped people.
Usually I need two cups of Indian tea in the morning to get me going. As I was watching television on Sunday morning, I felt lazy and somehow kept delaying and did not get to the point of making tea even up to 10 a.m. My hubby kindly volunteered to make a cup of tea for me and it was perfect, exactly the way I like it. I was surprised at the perfectness of the tea. This is because hubby usually does not drink Indian tea, except once in a while tasting it from my cup. He prefers green tea and that too after meals. So I asked him as to how he could make such a perfect cup of tea. He told me that he followed a very simple recipe. Mix half a cup of hot water and half a cup of milk, add two tea bags of lipton into it, and microwave it. Then add sugar a little at a time, tasting carefully. When he started feeling nauseated (kimochi warui: in Japanese) due to too much sugar, the tea is done! Well, the description about the amount of sugar was not exactly flattering but the tea tasted perfect. I like Indian tea with lots of milk and sugar. I know that it is not good for my health, but I love the taste of my morning tea. Thanks hubby for a wonderful cup of tea. Here is the photo of the cup of tea that he made.

Indian tea with sugar and milk

It was too late to have breakfast. My hubby again volunteered to make brunch for both of us, while I watched the television dramas. He made a simple and tasty brunch of bacon, meat patties, fried french beans, sausages, potato fries, miso soup, and rice. We both enjoyed having the brunch sitting in front of the television. Thanks hubby for a delicious brunch. Here is the photo of our brunch on a tray.

Brunch on tray

Well, I am fortunate that I have a domesticated hubby who shares the housework with me once in a while! However, after so much of help in the kitchen my hubby was very tired and slept for five hours at a stretch after brunch! Here is the photo of hubby sleeping after brunch.

Hubby tired and sleeping

I continued watching the television dramas up to 9 in the night and later made our dinner. It was a lazy day and we relaxed at home the whole day.