Umeshu Matsuri 2018 – Plum Wine Festival in Kyoto & Tokyo

Periodically, some people visit my blog post on Umeshu Matsuri 2017, so I am reposting it with the links, dates and venues for 2018. It may be better to try Friday to avoid crowds and disappointment – last year, too many weekend visitors prevented my friends from stepping in!

in Kyoto:
14-17 September 2018
venue – Kitano Tenmangu Shrine

in Tokyo:
5-8 October 2018
venue – Bentenmon, Ueno Zoo in Ueno Park


Umeshu Matsuri – Plum Wine Festival in Tokyo (posted on 7 October 2017)

If you live or happen to be around in Tokyo this long weekend, why don’t you pop in Yushima Tenmangu, or Yushima Tenjin to sip umeshu, Japanse plum wine?

Umeshu (梅酒 : 梅 ume = plum, 酒 shu = sake) is made by steeping unripened Japanese plums in alcohol and sugar to allow the flavours to infuse. It is called plum ‘wine’ in English, but it is liqueur type of alcohol.

venue: Yushima Tenmangu, near Ueno

Over the weekend, the Umeshu Matsuri, Plum Wine Festival is held at the Shito shrine, which is famous for its beautiful plum blossoms in spring. Beer is nice – Oktober Fests are thrown here and there around this time of the year even in Japan, but it may be a good idea to try this aromatic, sweet and plesantly sour liqueur.

the leaflet and token coins

At the entrance, purchase 18 token coins for 1,600 yen (advanced ticket was 1,400 yen). 1 or 2 coins are required for a small cup of umeshu (about 30 ml/cup), but 3 for some or award winning ones. Okay, now you are ready to sip. Enjoy and find your favourit(s) out of 156 umeshus from sake breweries all over Japan.

made with distilled alcohol – from Hiroshima
made with sake – from Hyogo
made with sesame shochu – from Fukuoka
Kosher umeshu – made with sake – from a brewery in Kyoto (established in 1673!)
made with brandy – from Akita
blended with yuzu juice – from Wakayama
blended with gyokuro green tea – from Kyoto
nigori umeshu from my favourite sake brewery in Hyogo producing Kotsuzumi which I mentioned on Kinosaki Onsen post (left: more fruity and tastes like peach juice right: with plum pulp and full flavour)
umeshu hopping

If you find your favourit(s), you can buy it/them!!

I bought a bottle of 梅申春秋, Baishin Shunju from my fav brewery!

left: Baishin Shunju / right: Daku Daku


Umeshu Matsuri

Facebook page
Period: 6th – 9th October 2017
Venue: Yushima Tenmangu
Access: Nearest staion is Yushima on the Chiyoda Line. Take Exit 3 and the left, turn left at the first intersection and walk down about 30 metres. It’s on the left hand side.


Now that you’ve come all the way, why don’t you look around the site?

Tribute to the Shito deity: the first rice sheaves of the harvest are presented as offerings, called shinsen, to the kami, deity or sacred power of Shintoism during agricultural and other festivals.

Yushima Tenmangu(湯島天満宮)a.k.a. Yushima Tenjin(湯島天神)was originally founded for Ameno Tajikaraono Mikoto in 458, and became one of Tenjin shrines in 1355 – Kitano Tenmangu in Kyoto is the most famous one.

‘Tenjin’ is the name of Michizane Sugawara (845-903), a scholar and a high government official. Like other Tenjin shrines, Yushima Tenjin is visited by students to pray for passing exams and inscribe ema – small wooden plaques – with petitions for success in exams, esp. entrance exams.

Among lots of ema, you will find Michizane on a cow. A cow, a typical feature of a Tenjin shrine, is believed to be the servant of the deity.

In the precincts of the shrine, there is a bronze cow, which is known as nade ushi (a cow to stroke). People believe that touching or stroking the cow will cure physical illness, and that is the reason why its head  and forehead are so shiny.

You will also see plum trees in the garden and bonsai as well.

Tenjin is strongly related to plum because Michizane had always favoured the trees and blossoms (There is a legend about him and his tree, called ‘Flying Plum Tree‘),  so ‘plum’ became a crest of the shrines.

 

plum blossom crest in the blue circle

Strolling in the precincts, you might come across a wedding ceremony.

Would you like to try omikuji, sacred lot?

If the fortune telling is not a good one, tie it around branches of a pine tree or some such. If good, keep it in your purse or wallet!

Hope you enjoy umeshu and the visit.

See you!  S/he is cute, isn’t s/he?

 

More about Umeshu:
Umeshu seminar in London last year
Umeshu made with whiskey by Suntory produsing Hakushu, Yamazaki, Hibiki whisky

More about Tenjin, read the post of one of my blogger friends.

 

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Shimanami – Onomichi

Last month, I made a quick visit to so-called ‘the Aegean Sea of Orient’. The area has been famous for its scenic beauty, but what made it more popular as a tourist destination is the Nishiseto Expressway opened in 1999, known as the Setouchi Shimanami Kaido or just Shimanami Kaido (‘shima-nami’ refers sequence of islands and ‘kai-do’ (海道), sea route. The route connects Honshu, Japan’s main island, to the island of Shikokuwith a 60 kilometer-long toll road passing over smaller islands in the Seto Inland Sea (Setonaikai).

Source: SHIMAP

There are two other land connections between Shikoku and Honshu, the Seto Ohashi/Seto-Chuo Expressway and the KobeAwajiNaruto Expressway. However, only the Shimanami Kaido is traversable by foot or bicycle. That is the reason why so many cycle lovers and tourists head to the area in order to push pedals enjoying one of the most stunning sceneries in Japan.

Source: japan-guide.com

The Shimanami Kaido runs from Onomichi on the Honsu side leading across the six islands, Mukaishima, Innoshima, Ikuchijima, Omishima, Hakatajima and Oshima, to Imabari on Shikoku.

Ikuchijima and Tatara Ohashi Bridge – view from Omishima

 

Hakata-Oshima Ohashi Bridge – view from Mt Karei, Oshima

 

Hakata-Oshima Ohashi Bridge – view from Omishima

This time of the year, a triathlon race(s) is/are held on the island(s): on Ikuchijima and Hakatajima in 2017 and on Hakatajima in 2018 (tomorrow, the 2nd of September! – I saw some triathletes checking out the bike course whilst I was there).

 

Before flying back to Tokyo, stopped by in Onomichi where Yasujiro Ono’s Tokyo Story was set. The film has attracted many since 1953 and a German film director, Wim Wenders is one of them.

I have always wondered where my favorite film (yes, of all times) Tokyo Story (or Tokyo monogatari in Japanese) actually takes place, except in Tokyo, of course. Yasujiro Ozu’s masterpiece from 1953 depicts a small seaside fishing town in which the story begins and ends. An old couple departs from there, in order to visit their kids in the big city one last time. After their return, the old woman dies, and her husband is left alone. Eventually someone told me that this coastal town was called Onomichi, in the South of Japan. So one day my wife and I made the reverse journey and traveled from Tokyo to Onomichi where we stayed for a week.

— Wim Wenders, Journey to Onomichi (source: Wim Wenders)

Got off Shimanami Liner, bus services between Fukuyama and Imabari, at Innoshima Ohashi for a local bus to Onomichi Staion.  Instead of the terminal, alighted at Onomichi Gakuen on Mukaishima, and walked down to a small port to take a ferryboat for Onomichi.

100 yen (single journey) for a passenger

Left my luggage at the station and explored the town with many temples, steep slops and stone steps for the first time in ages – actually Onomichi is quite familiar to me.

 

 

 

 

 

Unfortunately I had to take a 11:11 train to Mihara, then a bus for Hiroshima Airport, so I had no time for Onomichi Ramen 😦
It was not the best, but luckily I had a bowl at the airport.

Onomich ramen @ Hiroshima Airport

 

———-

A bit about the local food.

I love takikomi gohan, Japanese seasoned steamed rice with meat, fish, vegetables etc. Above all, the rice cooked with tako (octopus), tai (sea bream) and anago (saltwater eel) from the Seto Inland Sea are my favourites – not  mixed up all together but each.

tako meshi (octopus rice)

Citrus fruit, especially lemons and mikan mandarin oranges, is grown in those islands and they are good quality.

lemonade and lemon cake

Amochinmi‘s Onomichi Ramen(阿藻珍味 尾道ラーメン)is a packaged ramen with fresh uncooked ramen noodles, but this is really tasty! I get some whenever I come across in Hiroshima.

 

Click here for more about Shimanami and Onomici.

 

Octopus Salad and Croatia

I was going to post this recipe earlier – before the summer holiday season started – and to write about my trip to Croatia in 2017, esp. about Croatian wine…. Oh well, the summer is still going on and the salad is perfect for hot days. As for the wine, which shall follow later on, the information would be of help to the future visitors, anyway.

Dubrovnik, July 2017

Last year on Hvar Island, I had scrumptious salad as I mentioned on Sardine Escabeche and Croatia.

Hvar, July 2017

This is the Salata od Hobotnice, or Dalmatian octopus salad.

Salata od Hobotnice @ Konoba Menego

The restaurant staff wouldn’t tell me the recipe (of course!), so I imitated it adding my own taste.

 

Ingredients

(for 3-4 servings as appetiser)

200 g boiled octopus*, cut into pieces
200 g tinned chickpea, drained and rinsed
160 g cherry tomato, halved or quartered
100 g cucumber, diced
100 g red onion, thinly sliced
1-1½ tbsp caper (preserved in vinegar), drained well and patted dry
1 tsp garlic clove, minced
3 tbsp white wine vinegar (I used acidity 6%)
2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1-1½ tbsp flat-leaf parsley, roughly chopped
1 dried bay leaf, crushed into small pieces
¼ tsp dried mint flakes
salt and pepper, to taste

½-1 lemon, cut into wedges
(optional: extra-virgin oil and flat-leaf parsley, to garnish)

Note: * See the bottom of this blog post.

 

Method

  1. In a bowl, combine all the ingredients (First, add 1 tbsp of the capers and the parsley, and add more if necessary.) except the lemon, and mix well.
  2. Chill in fridge for 30-60 minutes.
  3. Drain well and put in plates with the lemon wedges, and garnish with the parsley. At table, squeeze lemon juice over the salad, and drizzle olive oil over if desired. Bon appétit!

 

my cooking whilst in Dubrovnik: mussels from Gruž Market cooked in Pošip (Croatian white grape variety) wine

I should have paired Pošip wine with the Salata od Hobotnice!

 


How to prepare and cook octopus

How to prepare and make boiled octopus

How to cook a tender octopus

If you preder to make it tender like tako for sushi, massage fresh raw octopus with handfuls of natural sea salt as Jiro mentions in Jiro Dreams of Sushi (c. 1:10-2:00).

 

How to prepare and cook tako sashimi on You Tube

Maybe massaging for 15-30 minutes should be fine, and then rinse well under running water. Boil water in a medium pan, add the octopus with some salt and simmer for 3-5 minutes. Stick skewer through thickest part of a tentacle. When the point goes through without finding rubbery resistance, it’s done. Put the octopus into a bowl of ice-cold water and drain once cool.

 


Cherry and Coconut Cake

On 29th of June 2018, Tokyo saw the earliest end to the rainy season on record. The official announced that it had come 22 days earlier than the average and lasted only 23 days although it normally does 40 – 45 days…. How could we survive in the heat for the next three months and avoid shortage of water?

The cherry season here is almost ending, sadly. I guess the shorter rainy season has hastened it! Fortunately, I could manage to complete the recipe in time. On the other hand, apricot one is unlikely to be successful…. Oh well, probably in the next year! Anyway, here is the cherry one. Hope you will like it.

 

 

Ingredients

(for 21 cm round cake tin )

 

100 g unsalted butter, softened at room temperature
80 g caster sugar
20 g coconut sugar
1 egg, whisked
50 g coconut cream  (I used 25.6% fat cream)
50 g Greek yoghurt
120 g plain flour
1½ tsp baking powder
50 g fine desiccated coconut
200 g cherries

 

 

Shortbread Sandwich Cake

 

 

The strawberry season here is almost over, which is a shame! As I did last year, I have been making the strawberry confiture hanging on until the last minute!

 

Scones with my strawberry confiture (posted in May 2017)

 

This year, I made shortbread which goes beautifully well with the confiture. I was not sure if it should be called ‘strawberry shortcake’ or ‘Victoria sandwich shortbread’ – it’s not raspberry jam though, so mixed them up: Shortbread Sandwich Cake.

 

 

Ingredients

(makes about 8 )

for the shortbread
180 g white rice flour, plus for dusting *
20 g ground almond
½ tbsp baking powder
60 g caster sugar (I used extra fine caster sugar)
⅛ tsp salt (I used finely powdered salt)
110 g unsalted butter, chilled and diced
2 – 3 tbsp whole fat milk, to adjust
½ tsp vanilla extract

for the filling
strawberry confiture ** or jam

for the topping
fresh strawberries, hulled
double cream, whipped with sugar

*If you try Japanese rice flour, buy komeko or rice flour for baking, not joshinko, mochiko or shirotamako for sticky rice cake.

** Japanese strawberries are sweeter, which is the reason I made the fruit/sugar ratio 5:1. Add more sugar according to taste.

 

 

Method

  1. Preheat oven to 180°C. Line a baking tray with baking sheet.
  2. Sift the flour, ground almond, baking powder, sugar and salt together into a bowl. Put in the butter and rub in until smooth. Combine the 2 tbsp milk and vanilla extract, stir in the flour mixture, then together to form a dough.  Add more milk little by little as needed, but not sticky.
  3. Roll out to the thickness of 6 mm on a lightly floured surface, then stamp out using a 5 cm diameter round cutter. Carefully transfer using a serving knife or something to the baking tray and bake for about 8 minutes until lightly browned around the edges. When done, leave on the tray to cool completely.
  4. Sandwich the shortbread together with the confiture, and top with a strawberry and whipped cream.

 

 

Enjoy!

 

 

 

Sake Fair 2018

FYI
If you happen to be around in Tokyo this coming Saturday, why don’t you try Sake Fair 2018 in Ikebukuro?

Click here for the detailed information.

 

There is another option: the 1st Sake Tasting Fair organised by Tokyo University of Agriculture.

 

Not sure yet, but I might pop in the university…. 🙂

For the further info, click here and/or here (in English).

 

 

Gluten-Free Carrot Cupcakes

I’m in good health; however, I’m afraid I have taken too much gluten and sugar because of my baking experiments…. You know, I don’t want to throw them away…, so now I am trying to cut down on some.

 

 

Ingredients

(for about 10 servings/5 cm diameter cups)

[for the cake]
80 g white rice flour
30 g chickpea flour
20 g buckwheat flour
20 g ground almond
1½ tsp gluten free baking powder
⅛ tsp gluten free bicarbonate of soda
a smidgen of salt (I used finely powdered salt)
1 tsp ground cinnamon
½ tsp ground mace
½ tsp ground allspice
¼ ground ginger powder
¼ tsp ground coriander powder
a pinch of clove

2 eggs
4 tbsp rice bran oil (or sunflower oil)
4 tbsp date syrup
4 tbsp maple syrup (I used Grade A: amber/rich flavour)
1 tbsp Cointreau
½ tsp vanilla extract

200 g coarsely grated carrot
40 g raisin, finely chopped
30 g walnut, chopped

[for the frosting]
140 g cream cheese
30 g sour cream
2 tbsp maple syrup
⅛ tsp vanilla extract
a little cinnamon
a little salt (possibly finely powdered salt)

[for the topping, optional]
chervil or chopped pistachio
candied orange peel or marmalade

 

 

Method

  1. Preheat the oven to 180°C. Mix the dry ingredients and set aside.
  2. In a bowl, whisk the eggs. Add in the oil, syrups, Cointreau and vanilla, and beat well. Spoon in the flour mixture, then stir in the carrot, raisins and walnuts. Mix until well combined.
  3. Spoon the mixture into the cupcake cases. Bake for 25 minutes or until skewer comes out clean. Sit at least 24 hours at room temperature but don’t let them dry.
  4. For the frosting,  beat the cheese, soured cream, syrup, vanilla, cinnamon and salt until smooth, then chill until required. Spread the cream on top of the cakes with a cutlery knife or pipe swirls. Decorate with the orange and chervil or pistachio.

 

Sekitei Ryokan Inn – Miyahama Onsen, Hiroshima

Last February, I made a quick visit to Hiroshima for a family gathering. It was an auspicious occasion, so I booked a room for lunch at Sekitei which is famous for its rooms, garden and cuisine.

Click here for the tripadvisor reviews (photo from Sekitei website)

Sekitei, a traditional Japanese ryokan inn with a good reputation near Miyajima, is very popular among both the locals and tourists, so advanced booking is a must. Luckily, I could get my hands on the very last room/slot.

View from our room, 大観 (annex Taikan )

Before the lunch, we stepped out to the manicured Japanese garden for a stroll.

library
facing Miyajima
Nishikigoi, Amur carp

It was a chilly winter day with some snow and the garden was colourless, yet still pleasant to stroll around. Once winter is gone, it becomes bright with flowers and green leaves.

in cherry blossom season

This time of the year, satsuki and fuji are in bloom.

五月 or Satsuki azalea bloom from May to June; the name “Satsuki” in Japanese is reference to their blooming period, the fifth month of the Asian lunar calendar. (Wikipedia)
fuji or Japanese wisteria

 

I had ordered a kaiseki course menu for the special occasion.

menu
先付 sakizuke, appetizer: anago sushi wrapped in bamboo leave and Chinese cabbage mousse
椀物 wanmono, soup course: oyster with vegetables and maitake mushroom
造里/向付 tsukuri/mukozuke, sashimi dish: sea bream, cuttlefish, shrimp etc.
八寸 hassun, seasonal platter
煮物 nimono, simmered dish: bamboo root, satoimo eddoe etc.
awabi, abalone
焼物 yakimono, grilled course: anago
酢物 sunomono, vinegar marinade: monkfish liver, spring onion etc.
食事/飯物  shokuji/hanmono, rice dish: anago meshi (grilled saltwater eel with rice)
水菓子 mizugashi, dessert: custard pudding with matcha ice cream

 

After pleasing and satisfying meal, some of us enjoyed dipping in the onsen at 500 yen pp – it was a bit rush though as we were supposed to vacate the room by 14.45 (the lunch plan, 11.00 – 14.45).

 

We were all full but couldn’t resist Anago Meshi Bento from Ueno restaurant, their sister restaurant, to take away.  Anago meshi is one of my favourites – somehow I am not into unagi, freshwater eel  although both look alike! Anago from Setonaikai Inlandsea  is superb!

It may be a good idea to order the bento at Sekitei if you don’t want to queue up for anago meshi at Ueno near Miyajimaguchi. If you are going to Miyajima and don’t mind standing still in a queue, try Fujitaya  – oh, I didn’t know the restaurant had been awarded one Michelin star!! It was ages ago that I tried their anago meshi but clearly remember how scrumptious it was!

We were all happy with the place, meal, staff and service and left Sekitei hoping to come back and stay overnight someday.

 

En route to Hiroshima Airport, I popped in Miyajima (no time for Fujitaya and of course, no room in my stomach!!)

 

One more thing – about tipping. There is no tipping custom in Japan, however, there exists old one called kokorozuke(心付け). It is usually practiced at pricey ryokans, and to be given to nakai or a room attendant on arrival at your room. Kokorozuke should be a small amount in an envelop (1,000 – 3,000 yen, depends on number of guests and duration of stay) or a small gift, like a box of confectionery. Don’t worry, nowadays there are many who don’t know this custom, even Japanese, so they wouldn’t expect people from outside Japan.

 

 

石亭 Sekitei

For more photos or booking through booking.com, click here.

“Located in the Miyahama hot-spring area, Sekitei features spacious Japanese-style accommodations with traditional interiors…. Guests can relax in the hot-spring baths and enjoy the seasons at the Japanese garden. A free shuttle is available from JR Oonoura Train Station, which is a 5-minute drive away.

Some spacious rooms are located in the main tower, while many are individual cottages with 2 floors and a private wooden bath. Most rooms come with tatami (woven-straw) floors and Japanese futon bedding. Each room has garden or ocean views.

A traditional multi-course meal is served for dinner in the guests’ room. A Japanese set-menu is offered for breakfast, which guests can choose to dine in their rooms or in the dining room.

Sekitei Inn is a 15-minute drive from Miyajimaguchi Ferry Terminal. JR Hiroshima Train Station is a 50-minute drive away. ”  — Booking.com

(other than mine, the photos from Sekitei website/Instagram)

Lemon Scones

Still playing around with lemons….

 

Ingredients

80 g whole fat milk, luke warmed
60 g Greek yoghurt
2 tbsp lemon juice, freshly squeezed

40 g caster sugar
grated zest 1 lemon

250 g plain flour
20 g wholemeal flour
strong white flour, a little for rolling out
3 tsp baking powder
1/8 tsp baking soda

50 g salted butter, chilled and diced
20 g lard, chilled and diced

2 tbsp lemon jam (sugarless is preferable)
30 g candied lemon peel, finely chopped

50 g icing sugar
little lemon juice, freshly squeezed

 

 

Method

  1. Preheat the oven to 200°C. Line a baking tray with baking sheet.
  2. Put the caster sugar in a small bowl  and work the lemon zest into the sugar with the back of a spoon until the sugar is moist and fragrant.
  3. Put the warmed milk, yoghurt and lemon juice into a jug and mix well. Set aside for a moment.
  4. Sift the flours, baking powder and baking soda into a bowl. Using fingertips, rub the butter and lard into the dry mix until it resembles fine breadcrumbs. Stir in the sugar.
  5. Make a well in the centre of the mixture and spoon in the jam, peel and the two-thirds of the liquid. Combine quickly until a sticky dough forms with a flat-bladed knife, adding more liquid little by little as necessary. Don’t overwork or you will toughen the dough.
  6. Flour onto the work surface and tip the ball of dough out. Fold the dough 3-4 times until it’s a little smoother, then pat out to a 2.5 cm thickness and stamp out the scones using a cutter.
  7. Place the scones on the baking tray and bake for 10 – 12 minutes until well risen and golden. Transfer to a wire rack and leave to cool.
  8. Mix the icing sugar with enough lemon juice to make a thick but runny icing. Drizzle over the scones.

 

Lemon & Coconut Posset

It’s been a while since I last posted the recipe…. It’s been so hectic that no time to post here. Besides, I have been in a kind of the winter blues – probably because Tokyo experienced the coldest winter in 40 years – and weary to complete my cooking/baking experiments. However, Sakura, or cherry blossoms here came out earlier than usual  and it’s high to wake up from hibernation. Sorry guys, I will catch up with your blog posts soon!

Sakura in bloom – nearby cherry blossom viewing spot
different variety of Sakura

The UK switched to the summer time earlier today,  and what I am posting here is a chilled dessert recipe developed from English lemon posset which is perfect for spring and summer days.

Ingredients

(for 4  servings)

400 ml coconut cream (I used 25.6% fat cream)
200 ml water
80 g caster sugar
agar-agar powder*
2 grated lemon zest
80 ml lemon juice (about 2 lemons), freshly squeezed
2 cardamom pods, crushed
fresh mint leaves (optional)

*Adjust according to the package instructions. I made it softer like thick yoghurt.

Method

  1. Put 10 g sugar in a small bowl  and work the lemon zest into the sugar with the back of a spoon until the sugar is moist and fragrant. In another bowl, mix the agar-agar and the rest of sugar. Set aside.
  2.  Pour the coconut cream with the water in a pan, add cardamom and gently heat. Scatter in the agar-agar mixture a little at a time stirring continuously and bring slowly to the boil. Add the lemon infused sugar and simmer for 1-2 minutes mixing well. Just before taking off the heat, add the lemon juice and whisk well.
  3. Remove the cardamom and pour into ramekins of the sort and refrigerate for 3-4 hours.
  4. Garnish with mint leaves when serve.
Ghraiba baked with a recipe I found on the web (click here for the recipe)

Posset is usually served with shortbread or biscuits, so I baked Ghraiba, Tunisian chickpea biscuits to accompany.

Cinema Paradiso and Cefalù, Sicily

 

I was invited to a small film screening party at a Sicilian restaurant the other day. The film that the owner/chef had chosen for the first screening was one of the most beloved films among many: Nuovo Cinema Paradiso, or Cinema Paradiso (1988).

No mater how many times I see the film, it touches my heart and makes me sob every time.  (I prefer the shorter version. What about you?)

Nuovo Cinema Paradiso was mainly filmed in Palazzo Adriano, where the town and street-scapes  remain the same and you can easily recognise where the scenes were shot. You might already know; however, Cefalù is also one of the filming locations.

Cefalù is located on the northern coast of Sicily, about 70 km east of the provincial capital, Palemo and 185 km west of Messina. Cefalù is known as a popular seaside destination, but its beautiful sandy beach stretching alongside the town is not the only reason to attract people.

Duomo di Cefalù, a Norman style cathedralerected in 1131, is another tourist attraction. Seen from a distance, the building with two spires dominates the skyline of the surrounding medieval town (See the photo above ).

Whilst the exterior of the Duomo is simple, the interior, especially the apse and choir are richly coloured and decorated with elaborate Byzantine mosaics and eighteenth century stucco. The large Christ Pantocrator on the gold background dominating the apse, above the Madonna, archangels and Apostles is particularly outstanding like the ones of Cattedrale di Monreale and  Cappella Palatina.

 LavatoioSaracen washhouse fed by a natural spring, down on Via Vittorio Emanuele is another sight worth a visit.

Towering above the Duomo and the town centre is the massive crag called the Rocca.

The ascent leading to the top of the hill is quite steep, but it’s worthwhile climbing!

I have visited Cefalù twice – stopped by on the way travelling from Lipari to Palermo in 2014, and made a day trip from Palermo in 2016. During the first visit, I explored the lovely medieval town and around to figure out the filming locations.

Outdoor Cinema Scene

Elena’s apartment

Giancaldo Station Scene

Some believe the scene was shot at Cefalù Station, but actually it was at Lascari, one station away from Cefalù.

When leave the island, I usually take Alitalia at Palermo, which always play Love Theme from Nuevo Cinema Paradiso before taking off.  It makes me about to cry and I always cry out inside: ‘Stop playing that! I don’t wanna leave!!’


For the second screening, the chef is going to play Il Postino, or The Postman (1996), set in Salina, Sicily. Unfortunately, however, I cannot make it that day…. What a shame!!!!

Every moment has its meaning.
Every word has its place.

Salina Island – view from Lipari

Caltagirone, Sicily

Caltagirone is located in approximately 70 km southwest of Catania, and it is just a 1.5-2 hour journey from the airport by pullman. I made a quick visit after Agrigento and before heading to Lipari in 2014.

Caltagirone is one of the Sicily’s ceramics centres producing particularly maiolica and terra-cotta wares, and its most famous landmark is the Scalinata di Santa Maria del Monte, a stairway of 142 steps running up a hill to the church of Santa Maria del Monte.

From my window:

What makes the staircase most significant and beautiful is that each of the steps has unique hand-painted ceramic tiles with two or three different designs.

I have to go back to see Infiorita held during the last two weeks of May when the steps are covered by an enormous floral display, or/and Illuminata on the 15th of August in which thousands of candles are lighted up and decorate the Scalinata at night.

 

MUST STAY in Caltagirone

 Tre Metri Sopra il Cielo

View from B&B (source: Tre Metri Sopra il Cielo website)
Bedroom (source: Tre Metri Sopra il Cielo website)
Stunning view over the old town from the terrace

I usually have just some fruit for breakfast, but how could I have resisted????

I’m sorry to tell you this, but the B&B is located at the halfway up the Scalinata – just right off the stairs….. Your arm muscles might ache – like mine did – after carrying your luggage up steps, but it is worth staying at Tre Metri Sopra il Cielo!

 

MUST EAT in Caltagirone

La Scala

The owner of the B&B recommended La Scala at the bottom of the stairway.

Avoiding seafood as the town is far away from the sea, I ordered typical local dishes.

Antipasto 1
Antipasto 2

Loved their fresh pasta with wild fennel, salsiccia and tomato!!

Penne alla Scala (Primo piatto con pasta fresca con finocchietto, selvatico, salsiccia, pomodoro e mollica abbrustolita e ricotta fresca)

 

 

Bettys’ Parkin

Remember, remember, the Fifth of November!

I have wanted to bake Parkin for a long time… and eventually did it today, on the 5th of November: Guy Fawkes Day or Bonfire Night. The problem was I have never eaten the cake and I don’t know what it tastes like…, so googled and found a nice one at last!!

 

 

The recipe I tried is from Bettys and Taylors of Harrogatea tea and coffee merchant in Yorkshire, where parkin is part of Bonfire Night tradition.

 

parkin loaf (source: Bettys website)

 

The company also runs some tea rooms called Bettys in Yorkshire, at which, esp. at Harrogate, I have been wanting to try their afternoon tea!!

 

Bettys afternoon tea (source: Bettys website)

 

Ingredients

(for 8 mini loaf tins or a 1 lb loaf tin)

100 g butter
40 g black treacle (I used molasses syrup)
180 g golden syrup
110 g soft brown sugar
100 g self raising flour (I used 100 g plain flour with 1 tsp baking powder)
3 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp ground nutmeg  (I used ground mace)
40 g oats  (I used oatmeal)
40 g ground almonds
2 tsp whole milk
2 medium eggs

 

 

Method

  1. Preheat the oven to 160°C (fan assisted). Line the base of the mini loaf tins with a piece of baking parchment paper.
  2. Place the butter, black treacle, golden syrup and soft brown sugar in a heavy based pan over a medium heat. Gently warm through to melt the butter and stir until the sugar has completely dissolved. When the mixture comes up to the boil, turn off the heat and set aside whilst you prepare the other ingredients.
  3. In a large mixing bowl, mix together the self raising flour, spices, oats and ground almonds until they are well combined.
  4. Pour the warm mixture over the dry ingredients and mix in well. Set the mixture aside to cool a little.
  5. Beat the milk and egg together thoroughly and then gradually stir into the warm mixture.
  6. Pour the mix into the prepared loaf tins and bake in the preheated oven for 20-25 minutes (I baked for 40-45 min.) until well risen and a skewer inserted in the centre comes out clean.
  7. Leave the loaves to cool down slightly before turning out onto a wire cooling rack.

 


The cake was just like they describe on the website: ‘It’s a real warm, cosy scarf of a cake, deliciously sticky and with a fiery ginger kick’, and I liked it very much! Parkin should be made in advance for richer and deeper flavours, moistness and stickiness to develop, but I couldn’t resist! 😃  Well,  that’s fine cos I’ve got one more loaf to store for one week!

 

7 day old matured Bettys’ parkin

 

update (14/11/2018):
Tried the 3, 5 and 7 day old matured parkin slice each, and I liked the third day’s one. Also tried Guardian’s, which seems better to keep more than one week since the cake is more filling and less moist. I wonder this may be more authentic parkin?

 

Here is a bit about the cake and its history, and another recipe you might try.

 

from the film, V for Vendetta (2005)

 

Kabocha & Caramel Biscuit Cheesecake

 

Just yum… 💛

 

 

Ingredients

(for 18 cm cake tin)

150 g Belgian caramel biscuits, bashed to crumbs*
40 g salted butter, melted

200 g cream cheese, at room temperature
50 g maple sugar
10 g coconut sugar
100 g soured cream
100 g Greek yoghurt
1 tbsp cornstarch
½ tsp vanilla extract
½ tsp ground cinnamon
a pinch of ground clove
1 egg, lightly whisked **
1 egg yolk
150 g mashed kabocha ***

(optional for garnish)
whipped cream
caramel syrup or sauce

 

 

Method

  1. Preheat oven to 240°C.  Grease a loose-bottomed or springform round tin or line with a baking parchment. For the crust, mix the biscuit crumbs and melted butter until evenly moist, then press into the bottom of the tin. Set aside.
  2. To make the filling, cream the cheese in a bowl, put in the sugar and beat until smooth. Add the soured cream, yoghurt, cornstarch, vanilla, cinnamon and clove mixing well between each addition. Beat in the eggs one at a time rather than whisk not to incorporate too much air as this will affect the smooth surface of the cake. Finally, add the mashed kabocha, blend well and strain the mixture through a fine mesh sieve. Pour the batter over the crust in the tin.
  3. Bake for 5 mins (Do not open during this period!), then turn down the oven to 100°C, bake further for 40-50 mins****.  Turn off and leave the cake inside to cool down slowly. When cool, chill in refrigerator overnight.

Notes
*       Belgian caramel biscuits such as Lotus Biscoff
**     Just stir white and yolk not to aerate.
***   Ideally Kuri Kabocha.  Steam or microwave, remove green skins and mash well.
**** If not sure, measure the temperature of the cake an inch from the edge, turn off when it reaches 75°C.

 

Ichijiku no Kanroni – Japanese Fig Compote

 

Figs are fully in season, so I made Ichijiku no Kanroni.

 

 

Ichijiku means ‘fig’ and its kanji spelling is 無花果, which denotes a plant that bears fruit without flowering: 無=naught,  花=flower, 果=fruit.

Kanroni is a cooking method or type of dish, and it spells as 甘露煮: 甘=sweet, 露=dew, 煮=simmering /simmered. The ingredients stewed in sweet sauce or syrup are not necessary to be fruit, and fish like sardine, smelt etc. are also common for kanroni served as an appetiser or a side dish.

For kanroni, green, firm and less sweet ones like White Genoa or Kadota varieties are preferable, and they need to be just before fully ripe and not splitting open.

 

left: White Genoa for kanroni / right: Horaishi to eat raw or for jam

 

Being seasoned with some say sauce, it may taste a bit like mitarashi or daigaku imo.

 

my daigak imo, Japanese caramelised sweet potato (click here for the recipe)

 

Ingredients

1 kg fig,  green, firm and less sweet such as White Genoa or Kadota (just before fully ripe and not splitting open)
200 g caster sugar
2 tbsp sake (Japanese rice wine)
1 tbsp honey
1 tsp koikuchi shoyu (dark Japanese soy sauce, not tamari)

 

 

Method

  1. Wash the figs and remove the stems. Put the figs in a large pot with plenty of water to cover, and bring to the boil over medium heat. When boiled, take out the figs and drain off the water.
  2. Pour the sake in the pot, place the figs and sprinkle over ¹⁄3 of the sugar. Cover with an aluminum foil or baking parchment lid (on top of the figs so as to circulate heat and the liquid), then bring to simmer over low heat for about 60 minutes. While simmering, do not stir but shake the pan occasionally, so it will not burn to the bottom.
  3. Add another ¹⁄3 of the sugar, and the rest after 60 minutes. Continue simmering for 30 minutes, stir in the soy sauce and honey, and simmer for further 15 minutes. Remove from the heat and let stand for overnight.
  4. Bring back to simmer for 15 minutes on low heat, stirring occasionally. Cool completely and store in an airtight container. It can be store at room temperature for a week or so unless in hot weather, but keep in refrigerator for longer storage up to 3 weeks.

 

Ichijiku no Kanroni with Yukimi Daifuku, mochi icecream

 

The juicy, chewy and nicely sweet fig is scrumptious as it is, but really goes well with ice cream!

 

 

Umeshu Matsuri – Plum Wine Festival in Tokyo

If you live or happen to be around in Tokyo this long weekend, why don’t you pop in Yushima Tenmangu, or Yushima Tenjin to sip umeshu, Japanse plum wine?

Umeshu (梅酒 : 梅 ume = plum, 酒 shu = sake) is made by steeping unripened Japanese plums in alcohol and sugar to allow the flavours to infuse. It is called plum ‘wine’ in English, but it is liqueur type of alcohol.

venue: Yushima Tenmangu, near Ueno

Over the weekend, the Umeshu Matsuri, Plum Wine Festival is held at the Shito shrine, which is famous for its beautiful plum blossoms in spring. Beer is nice – Oktober Fests are thrown here and there around this time of the year even in Japan, but it may be a good idea to try this aromatic, sweet and plesantly sour liqueur.

the leaflet and token coins

At the entrance, purchase 18 token coins for 1,600 yen (advanced ticket was 1,400 yen). 1 or 2 coins are required for a small cup of umeshu (about 30 ml/cup), but 3 for some or award winning ones. Okay, now you are ready to sip. Enjoy and find your favourit(s) out of 156 umeshus from sake breweries all over Japan.

made with distilled alcohol – from Hiroshima
made with sake – from Hyogo
made with sesame shochu – from Fukuoka
Kosher umeshu – made with sake – from a brewery in Kyoto (established in 1673!)
made with brandy – from Akita
blended with yuzu juice – from Wakayama
blended with gyokuro green tea – from Kyoto
nigori umeshu from my favourite sake brewery in Hyogo producing Kotsuzumi which I mentioned on Kinosaki Onsen post (left: more fruity and tastes like peach juice right: with plum pulp and full flavour)
umeshu hopping

If you find your favourit(s), you can buy it/them!!

I bought a bottle of 梅申春秋, Baishin Shunju from my fav brewery!

left: Baishin Shunju / right: Daku Daku


Umeshu Matsuri

Facebook page
Period: 6th – 9th October 2017
Venue: Yushima Tenmangu
Access: Nearest staion is Yushima on the Chiyoda Line. Take Exit 3 and the left, turn left at the first intersection and walk down about 30 metres. It’s on the left hand side.


Now that you’ve come all the way, why don’t you look around the site?

Tribute to the Shito deity: the first rice sheaves of the harvest are presented as offerings, called shinsen, to the kami, deity or sacred power of Shintoism during agricultural and other festivals.

Yushima Tenmangu(湯島天満宮)a.k.a. Yushima Tenjin(湯島天神)was originally founded for Ameno Tajikaraono Mikoto in 458, and became one of Tenjin shrines in 1355 – Kitano Tenmangu in Kyoto is the most famous one.

‘Tenjin’ is the name of Michizane Sugawara (845-903), a scholar and a high government official. Like other Tenjin shrines, Yushima Tenjin is visited by students to pray for passing exams and inscribe ema – small wooden plaques – with petitions for success in exams, esp. entrance exams.

Among lots of ema, you will find Michizane on a cow. A cow, a typical feature of a Tenjin shrine, is believed to be the servant of the deity.

In the precincts of the shrine, there is a bronze cow, which is known as nade ushi (a cow to stroke). People believe that touching or stroking the cow will cure physical illness, and that is the reason why its head  and forehead are so shiny.

You will also see plum trees in the garden and bonsai as well.

Tenjin is strongly related to plum because Michizane had always favoured the trees and blossoms (There is a legend about him and his tree, called ‘Flying Plum Tree‘),  so ‘plum’ became a crest of the shrines.

 

plum blossom crest in the blue circle

Strolling in the precincts, you might come across a wedding ceremony.

Would you like to try omikuji, sacred lot?

If the fortune telling is not a good one, tie it around branches of a pine tree or some such. If good, keep it in your purse or wallet!

Hope you enjoy umeshu and the visit.

See you!  S/he is cute, isn’t s/he?

 

More about Umeshu:
Umeshu seminar in London last year
Umeshu made with whiskey by Suntory produsing Hakushu, Yamazaki, Hibiki whisky

More about Tenjin, read the post of one of my blogger friends.

 

Sardine Escabeche and Croatia

The Nanbanzuke recipe I posted earlier this month intended to allude this Sardine Escabeche recipe.

I came across savur, a.k.a. ‘savor’ or ‘saor’, Croatian escabeche when I was making  my ‘To-Eat in Croatia’ list picking out the local dishes from Taste of Croatia. It describes savur that ‘Traditional way of preparing and preserving fish, usually sardines and anchovies, that is very popular in regions where ancient Venetian republic ruled but very similar recipe can be found even in distant Japan’, which attracted my interest on the propagation: the Portuguese  or Spanish dish was passed on eastward – e.g. to the Mediterranean regions, Philippines, Japan etc. as I mentioned on the Nanbanzuke  post (also spread westward to their colonies in the new continent as well, though).

Unfortunately, I had no opportunity to try escabeche in Croatia, so I made it myself referencing a recipe on the web and adding some changes.

Ingredients

(for 2 servings)

6 butterflied sardine fillet
salt and pepper
15 g plain flour
15 g  cornstarch
50 ml olive oil, to shallow fry

[Marinade]
100 ml water
75 ml white wine vinegar (acidity 6%)
60 ml white wine (I used medium bodied Riesling)
½ tsp caster sugar
60 g red onion, finely sliced
30 g carrot, julienned
30 g celery, julienned
3 small sun-dried tomatoes, rinsed and chopped
½ tbsp salted capers, rinsed
1 garlic clove, crushed
¼ tsp fennel seeds
1 dried bay leaf
fresh rosemary springs
fresh sage leaves
1 tbsp juice of fresh lemon

extra virgin olive oil, to garnish
sweet paprika, to garnish (optional)
celery leaf or flat leaf parsley, to garnish (optional)

Method

  1. Season the fish with salt and pepper, and lightly dust with a mix of the flour and starch. Heat the olive oil in a pan and fry over medium heat, skin-side down until lightly brown and drain excess oil. Set them aside in a wide non-reactive tray.
  2. Place the celery, carrot, onion, sun-dried tomatoes, capers, bay leaf, rosemary, sage, fennel seeds, sugar, vinegar, water and wine in a non-reactive saucepan, bring to the boil over medium heat, then reduce the heat and leave to simmer gently for a few minutes. Remove from the heat, allow to cool slightly, and pour over the fish. Set aside to cool completely, and scatter the lemon juice before place in a fridge. Leave for at least 2 hours or overnight to marinate.
  3. On a platter, top with sardines, garnish with the paprika and green leaves, then drizzle with extra virgin olive oil when serve.

I tried as many dishes as I listed whilst in Croatia this summer and learnt that Croatian cuisine has received influences from neibouring cultures and the countries ruled the territory of Croatia throughout history. It has similarities with Italian, Austrian, Hungarian, Turkish etc., but each region has its own distinct culinary traditions. I stayed mostly in Split and Dubrovnik, the coastal Croatia, and enjoyed lots of seafood cooked in traditional Dalmatian way.

Seafood Dishes

Brudet: fish soup served with polenta
Gulaš od Hobotnice: octopus stew
Škampi na Buzaru or ‘Skampi Buzara‘ @ Villa Spiza in Split – this place is getting very popular and takes no reservations. Go earlier to avoid the long queue, prob. by 7.00 pm at latest.
Crni Rižoto: black cuttlefish risotto @ Amfora near Gruž Port in Dubrovnik – loved the wild fennel adittion! Their Miso Fish Soup and Chilled Fennel Cream Soup looked nice.

Meat Dishes

Pašticada, so called ‘Queen of Dalmatian Cuisine’, served with potato gnocchi – meat dish but one of the most popular Dalmatian dishes.

I tried Ćevapčići in Bosnia Herzegovina where it is considered a national dish. Ćevapi or Ćevapčići is well known and eaten in all parts of the former Yugoslavia once under the Ottoman Empire. Next time Dubrovnik, I will try Taj Mahal (funny, it’s not an Indian restaurant!) near Lapad, not in the Old Town, to explore more about Bosnian food. Sofra in Zagreb was pretty good.

‘National Plate’ @ Sadrvan in Mostar – dolma, japrak, ćevapčići, lepinja, ajvar, đuveč, Bosanski Kolacic

Those I mentioned above were all nice, however, what I enjoyed more was the food cooked with bare minimum of seasoning and really brings out the full original flavour of ingredients.

grilled trout @ Plitvice Lakes

The octopus salad at Konoba Menego on Hvar Island is highly recommended. All the ingredients were fresh and tasty, especially the caper! They don’t sell their homemade capers, unfortunately…. Instead, they advised me to find ones preserved in vinegar at farmers’ market. Their cheese and dry-cured ham platter looked yum.

octopus salad @ Konoba Menego

In Dalmatia, fresh seafood grilled over open flame is superb. It is simple, but tastes different as it is cooked with fresh olive oil and Mediterranean herbs over olive tree or grapevine wood fire, which gives it deep flavour. So the grilled meat and vegetables are flavourful, too.

grilled sea bass @ Miličić Winery

Lady Pi-Pi, one of MUST places in Dubronik, offers delicious BBQ food at reasonable price considering to the location (within the Wall), a great view over the Old Town and good atmosphere under the grape trellis. They don’t accept reservations, so I avoided dinner time and dropped in just before lunch time (breakfast is served until 11:00). I had to wait a bit for a table to be ready, but there wasn’t a queue.

left: my lunch – grilled squid @ Lady Pi-Pi

You absolutely must try peka while in Dalmatia! Peka is a slowly baked dish with meat or seafood along with vegetables in a pot or tray, but it is actually a method of cooking, and also a dome or bell-shaped ceramic or metal lid. The dish is also called ispod čripnje, or ‘under the bell’ – food cooked under the bell-shaped lid in fireplace.

dome-shaped peka -(souce: Travels with Tricia)

The lid is covered with hot coals while the ingredients are being slowly cooked in their own juices under the ‘bell’. That is why they are moist and flavoursome. It is said that it probably is the oldest way of food preparation in the Adriatic, even Mediterranean area – according to some archaeological researches, the artifacts of peka was found in the layers of Bronze Age.

It may be a primitive way of cooking, but the result is more than satisfying!! Even the potatoes accompanied by were moreish!

fireplace for peka @ Miličić Winery

I wish I could have joined sunset tuk tuk tour followed by dinner at Konoba Dubrava, one of the most popular peka places in Dubrovnik! Unfortunately, it was not available for just one person…. Anyway, I had a chance to try some, which was divine!

peka @ Miličić Winery

Some locals I met while in Dubrovnik dreamily said octopus peka is scrumptious and much tastier than meat one. It was too late to notice some restaurants near Polače Port in Mljet serve octopus peka – little time was left until departure back to Dubrovnik…. Peka usually needs to be ordered in advance and takes some time to be prepared. Stop by and ask restaurant staff before you visit the Mljet National Park if you make a day trip to the island.

octopus peka (source: Croatia Travel Guide & Blog)

In Dubrovnik, I rented a holiday apartment halfway between the Old Town and Gruž Port – less expensive and much quieter than staying inside the Wall. There are very frequent bus services to/from the centre until late, however, it was just about 20 minute walk and very safe even at night. I sometimes walked down for a glass of wine or a scoop of ice cream enjoying cool evening air after dinner at the apartment.

There are fish and green markets near the port, where I popped in almost every day to get some fresh fruits for breakfast, and vegetables etc. for my cooking. I cannot recall well, but I think the mussels were about 15-20 kunas per 1kg.

my cooking: mussels cooked in Pošip (Croatian white grape variety) wine
Also made my lemony pasta with ricotta filled raviori instead of adding the cheese (click here for the recipe)

Dalmatian cheese and dry-cured ham also are a must, which I shall mention when I write about Croatian wines.

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