Wagashi of the Month: November

As autumn deepens and it gets cooler, leaves change colour into bright red and yellow.

Wagashi of the Month in November is fallen Momiji, or Japanese maple leaves on the bottom of river.

 

Autumn colour from my album:

Day Trip to Hakone – Nov. 2011
Lake Ashinoko, Hakone – Nov. 2011
Tokyo in late autumn, 2014

I’ll add some more photos from a local autumn festival last month.

There are countless local festivals (Matsuri) in Japan because almost every shrine celebrates one of its own. Most festivals are held annually and celebrate the shrine’s deity or a seasonal or historical event. Some festival are held over several days.

An important element of Japanese festivals are processions, in which the local shrine’s Kami (Shinto deity) is carried through the town in Mikoshi (palanquins). It is the only time of the year when the Kami leaves the shrine to be carried around town.

(source: japan-guide.com)

 

Mikoshi

 

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Wagashi of the Month: September

‘Moon Rabbit’ and ‘Chrysanthemum’ for September

Of all the year’s 12 full moons, the harvest moon in autumn is considered to be the most beautiful here in Japan. There is a moon viewing custom to admire the beauty at the night on 15th August in the lunar calendar, which falls on 15th of September this year. The night is called Jugoya, the night of 15th, and it is said that the moon at Jugoya is the brightest, most beautiful and most sublime of the year although the moon is not always full.

Tsuki Usagi, Moon Rabbit

Why rabbit?

The moon rabbit in folklore is a rabbit that lives on the moon. … The story exists in many cultures, prominently in East Asian folklore and Aztec mythology. In East Asia, it is seen pounding in a mortar and pestle, but the contents of the mortar differ among Chinese, Japanese, and Korean folklore. In Chinese folklore, it is often portrayed as a companion of the Moon goddess Chang’e, constantly pounding the elixir of life for her; but in Japanese and Korean versions, it is pounding the ingredients for rice cake. (source: wikipedia)

On the surface of the moon, Japanese people see not ‘a man in the moon’ but a rabbit pounding Mochi, rice cake.

Mochitsuki – pounding rice cake

Click for more about Tsukimi, moon viewing.

sugar candies: full moon, mountains, Chinese bellflowers, rabbits
full moon and rabbits

 

Another one is Kiku, or chrysanthemum, which symbolises autumn.

Kiku, chrysanthemum

 

Kiku is a symbol of Japan itself as well as Sakura, cherry blossom. I should have put a sword next to the chrysanthemum?

 

German Wine Festivals in 2015

A year has passed since my summer holiday in Germany last year – beautiful and peaceful days in vineyards.

<Itinerary>
Dusseldorf Airport – Cologne (Cologne Cathedral) – Ahrweiler (8 days; one day trip to Rühdesheim am Rhein) – Frankfurt Airport

I stayed in one of Germany’s least-known and northernmost wine regions, Ahr where, unlike other regions, red wines are primarily produced (about 85% of the total wine production), and enjoyed three wine festivals during the stay. If you wonder why not beer festivals or why red wine rather than white wine, you might want to read my post, Holiday in Vineyards.

 

Cologne – Cologne Cathedral (14th August 2015)

On the way to Ahrweiler, stopped over at Cologne to see the cathedral. It was almost suicide for exhausted, jet-lagged, sleepy and hungry Rotwein to climb up the tower – 100 m high and with 533 steps – after 17 hour journey and just before lunch!

 

Heimersheim Weinfest (14th – 16th August 2015)

After checked in a holiday apartment and had a shower, headed to Heimersheim, adjacent to Bad Neuenahr-Ahrweiler, the capital of Ahrweiler district, for the opening of the festival and the proclamation of the new wine queen.

The admission was 6 euros (valid for 3 days; 5 euros for Sunday only), and 3 euros for a wine cup (See the pic above – the admission wristband and the cup).

I had (only 😀 ) two cups at the wine stands that night, but many were enjoying a bottle (presumably, bottles) with their family or friends. There were also food stands available.

On the following day, went back there (of course with the cup 😀 ) for the historical vintners’ procession followed by the wine queen.

She’s not the queen though. Pretty, isn’t she?

The most famous winery in Heimersheim is Weingut Nelles (VDP). Although I had no chance to visit their office/winery for wine tasting, tried two wines from the winery at the festival – Spätburgunder (Pinot Noir) RUBER and Blanc de Noir – Trocken (dry), and loved the latter so much that I brought the bottle back home.

‘Blanc de Noir’, or Pinot Noir Blanc/White Pinot Noir, is made from Pinot Noir grapes in a white wine style, produced quickly removing the skins from the juice after the grapes have been pressed. ‘Blanc de Noir’ is often used for Champagne or sparkling wine. In Ahr, however, it refers to white still wine made from Spätburgunder grapes.

‘Blanc de Noir’ tastes richer than white, and the colour, as you can imagine, is pinkish but lighter than rosé. Nelles’s is slightly orangish or light salmon (See the pic with the cup above). They describe it ‘on the nose, vineyard peach, passion fruit and pineapple, in the mouth these aromas are supported by the elegant fruit acidity.’ It was perfect for summer drinking.

Nelles’s top product is B-52 Nelles Spätburgunder GG Heimersheimer Burggarten – I have to try this one day! Here is the review on WordPress:
B-52, Spätburgunder, Nelles, 2006

Info: Heimersheim Weinfest 2016 (19th – 21st August)

 

Rüdesheimer Weinfest (13th – 17th August 2015)

The day after the procession, I took a train down to Rüdesheim am Rhein for another weinfest. Rüdesheime is located in Rheingau, one of the most famous German wine regions for its high quality Riesling.  In Rheingau, white grapes cover about 85 % of the vineyards, and as for the vine varieties, Riesling approx. 78% of the total wine production (2014 statistics).

Rüdesheimer Weinfest flyer with Friedrich Fendel Riesling Trocken

Drosselgasse is a major draw for visitors. There are wide range of wine bars, garden taverns and traditional restaurants – a good place to sample local wines! Also a place to try famous ‘Rüdesheim Kaffee’, Asbach brandy and coffee with a topping of whipped cream. I wanted to try the coffee, but I couldn’t…. Well, the thing was I couldn’t take anymore alcohol after Rüdesheimer Weinfest!!

Rüdesheim Coffee

It was a rainy and chilly day (about 13°C)and not an ideal day for Riesling….

And yet, had 3 or 4 wines (I can’t recall!) shivering in the rain: Sekt, German sparkling wine from Solter and Riesling Spätlese from Leitz (VDP), which I liked most at the festival.

Rüdesheim am Rhein is not only the place for drinking! The cable car ride up to the Niederwald Monument offers you panoramic views over vineyards and the scenic views of the Rhine. I was going to take a Rhein River Cruise from Rüdesheim on the way back to Ahrweiler, but rain and fog discouraged me 😦

lunch @ Ratsstube

Well, that was fine as Hausgemachter Sauerbraten vom Rind ,,RHEINISCHE ART”, Kartoffelklößen und Apfelmus – Braised beef (marinated in vinegar), dumplings and applesauce at Ratsstube compensated it 🙂

Later at home, I learnt that one of the most popular travel bloggers was also in Rüdesheime for the festival. Her posts will give you more details about Rüdesheimer Weinfest and Riesling in Rheingau:

Rüdesheim Wine Festival: Sneak a Peek Into Germany’s Wine Culture.

Incredible Ways to Experience the World of German Wines!

Info: Rüdesheimer  Weinfest 2016 (18th – 22nd August)

 

Ländliches Weinfest Walporzheim (21st – 23rd August 2015)

The weinfest flyer with Peter Kriechel Frühburgunder Trocken

Rural Walporzheim Wine Festival is held on the 4th Weekend in August with winegrowers’ parade on Sunday and fireworks on Monday. I was supposed to go home on Saturday, so I just saw the opening and the announcement of the new wine queen on Friday evening.

It was a bit smaller than Heimersheim one, but I liked the cozy and intimate atmosphere – perfect for the last night in Ahr. I had had enough red wines, especially Spätburgunder, for 8 days, so topped off the last night with white wine and rosé sparkling.

Lyra Weißburgunder (Pinot Blanc)
The last glass with  Peter Kriechel Rosésekt at the last night in Ahr.

Info: Ländliches Weinfest Walporzheim 2016 (26th – 29th August)

Wine festivals and events in Ahr:
http://www.ahrwein.de/de/events/weinfeste-events/

If you have no time to visit wineries in Ahr or no idea what to buy, visit Ahrweindept at Ahrweiler Markt. You can try some samples, and the shop owner will happily help you.

 

Pasta con Fritella – Braised Green Pea Pasta – and Caccamo

Fritella (or Fritedda) is a Sicilian springtime braised vegetable dish or vegetable stew cooked with fresh green fava beans, peas, and artichoke hearts, and can be used as pasta sauce. I encountered this dish for the first time while in Caccamo to see U Signuruzzu a Cavaddu.

fritedda
Fritella – from ‘Best of Sicily Magazine’

Caccamo is at the foot of Mount Eurako or San Calogero, and rises on a hill 520 meters above sea level. It was late March but still chilly and very windy up in the mountains. Hearing wind roaring in an empty flat, which I rented over the weekend, I felt myself pretty isolated in the small town with about 9,000 inhabitants.

 

rush hour traffic jam – on the way up to Caccamo

caccamo
Caccamo Castel (right) and Chiesa Madre (left)
Chiesa Madre di San Giorgio

 

However, the pasta con fritella I had at a restaurant in town made me somewhat relax, and I felt as if Caccamo had welcomed me warmly. This rather simple dish was a kind of  mum’s or good old home cooking, and I liked very much.

 

Ditalini con Frittella – ‘Antica ricetta siciliana con piselli, carciofi, finocchietto selvatico e cipolla’- @ A Castellana

 

I experimented with the pasta several times at home and settled on the recipe below. Just used fennel bulb without any fronds as I wanted to enjoy green peas in season. Tried fresh artichoke hearts but it didn’t work well unfortunately – maybe because they were imported and not so fresh although kept refrigerated. More likely, I didn’t clean and prepare them properly?? Cos I had never cooked before!! Well anyway, smoked hearts in olive oil from a deli worked perfectly, so I used them for my recipe. Much easier than preparing fresh ones, isn’t it? 😀

 

carciofi
carciofi (artichoke) @ Ballarò Market in Palermo, 2014

 

Another good thing is that this is one-pot cooking!

 

 

Ingredients

(for 2 – 3 servings)

2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
100 g onion, finely chopped
100 g fennel bulb, finely chopped
100 g smoked artichoke hearts in olive oil,  drained and chopped
250 g shelled fresh green peas
600 – 700 cc/ml water (to adjust)
1 tsp salt
100 g ditalini or any short pasta you like
1/2 tsp brown sugar
1 tsp white wine vinegar (acidity 6%)
pecorino cheese

 

 

 Method

  1. In a pan, heat the olive oil and sauté the onion and fennel bulb over medium heat until translucent.  Add the peas to fry for a few minutes and artichoke hearts for a minute.
  2. Pour in the water with salt and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat and cover the pan, then simmer for 5 minutes.
  3. Put in the pasta and cook for 5 minutes or a few minutes less than the cooking time given on the package. Add just enough water to cover if necessary.
  4. Add the sugar and vinegar to the pan and simmer for further 2-3 minutes.
  5. Ladle into bowls and sprinkle with grated pecorino cheese.

 

 

On Palm Sunday, Caccamo hosts U Signuruzzu a Cavaddu: a ceremony of eastern origin that recalls Jesus’ entry to Jerusalem; a parade through the main churches with an altar boy, a donkey, elegantly decked and embellished, blesses the bystanders. The altar is the smallest of the aspirated ‘russuliddi’, in clerical garb and accessories completely red. Both Jesus and the 12 apostles are played by boys holding long branches of palm trees, along the way, are intertwined, forming the arches under which passes the birthday boy. (http://www.fhshh.com)

 

 

Castello di Caccamo (Caccamo Castle) built in the 12th Century is among the largest and best preserved Norman castles in Sicily, and one of the largest in Italy. The castle is located on a steep cliff and overlooks the surrounding countryside, including the San Leonardo River Valley and the Rosmarina artificial lake.

If you are lucky (?), you might bump into ghosts in the castle!!

 

Caccamo Castle (pic from TripAdvisor)

view from castle

 

I saw another procession later that day. That was neither religious nor traditional one. The Comune di Caccamo just opened a museum of the castle, which is the first monument in Caccamo, so the town hold a ribbon cutting opening ceremony and a ‘Medieval’ procession. How lucky I was to witness two processions in a day!

 

Maltese Cross? the Knight of Malta??

 

Must Eat in Caccamo

If you visit Caccamo, you cannot miss A Castellana, where I enjoyed fritella. Their pizzas looked good as well, but I highly recommend Fiocchetti ripieni di Speck e Provola con Stracciatella di Burrata, which is  a kind of ravioli pasta, stuffed with speck and Provola cheese, with Stracciatella di Burrata cheese sauce. The photo below isn’t nice, but it was fantastic!!

 

Fiocchetti ripieni di Speck e Provola con Stracciatella di Burrata

 

How to get to Caccamo

Direct bus services are available from Palermo or Termini Imerese.
For the timetable, check with Autolinee Randazzo.

 

 

 

Macco – Sicilian Fava Bean and Fennel Soup

I ran into finocchio, or Florence fennel at a  nearby supermarket the other day. ‘Wow, this is really something quite unexpected…. How on earth can I miss this???’ I had never seen the fresh ‘vegetable’ in this country, but I had been hoping to cook with finocchio or finocchietto since I had Macco for the first time in Sicily this March.

Macco (also known as macco di fave), or Maccu, is a traditional Sicilian thick soup or a soup dish cooked with dried fava beans and wild fennel as primary ingredients. The name of this dish derives from the Latin word, macero which meansto soften or tenderise’. Macco is strongly linked with St Joseph’s Day and eaten well around the saint feast day.

Macco di fave e finocchietto

In Sicily, where St. Joseph is regarded by many as their Patron saint, thanks are given to St. Joseph for preventing a famine in Sicily during the Middle Ages. According to legend, there was a severe drought at the time, and the people prayed for their patron saint to bring them rain. They promised that if he answered their prayers, they would prepare a large feast to honour him. The rain did come, and the people of Sicily prepared a large banquet for their patron saint. The fava bean was the crop which saved the population from starvation and is a traditional part of St. Joseph’s Day altars and traditions. Giving food to the needy is a St. Joseph’s Day custom. Maccu di San Giuseppe is a traditional Sicilian dish that consists of various ingredients and maccu is prepared on this day.    — Wikipedia

fave
dried fava beans @ Ballarò Market in Palermo, 2013

Many activities are scheduled for the feast, including the one called la tavola di San Giuseppe, the St Joseph’s Table. The Table manifestation takes many forms, depending on towns or villages. Upon St. Joseph’s Day altar, people place flowers, limes, candles, wine, fava beans, specially prepared cakes, breads, and cookies as well as other meatless dishes.

Tavola di San Giuseppe

The central element on the feast of San Giuseppe is bread.  Speaking of bread, I missed the Easter Arches or Bread Arches in San Biagio Platani near Agrigento.

bread arches
Archi di Pasqua – all made of bread

Unfortunately, I couldn’t reach Borgetto to see la Tavola di San Giuseppe due to limited public transportation on Saturday. Instead, I witnessed another interesting custom in Caccamo, a small town up in the mountains where I visited for U Signuruzzu a Cavaddu on Palm Sunday.

dried fava beans
dried fava beans on a front porch on the day after St Joseph’s Day
dried fava beans, empty pot, oranges at a front door
oranges, bread, ash (representing burned sawdust?), flowers, dried fava beans on an alley
baskets on a front porch
empty baskets for petition for the needy? or representing carpenter’s implement (Joseph was a carpenter)?

Not sure what those are for as I didn’t have a chance to ask the locals about the custom. It’s not on the altar but a kind of la Tavola di San Giuseppe, I guess.

Macco ingredients

Sorry for the long introduction. Anyway, I was so fascinated by the soup, very simple dish though, that I was thinking about making this soup. Dried fava beans are used for this dish, but I cooked with fresh ones now in season here. And used finocchio bulb, the fronds and fennel seeds because finocchietto/finocchietto selvatico, i.e. wild fennel is unobtainable.

Macco

Ingredients

(for 2-3 servings)

500 g shelled fresh fava beans
800 ml/cc water
1/2 tbsp salt
100 g onion, finely chopped
100 g fennel bulb, finely chopped
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 tbsp finely chopped fennel fronds (strip leaves from stems)
1/2 tsp fennel seeds
salt and freshly ground black pepper (to season)
(optional: extra virgin olive oil and fennel fronds to garnish)

 

Macco

Method

  1. Pour the water in a pot and bring to the boil. Add the salt and beans, then cook on medium heat for 5 min.
  2. Remove the beans from the water (retain the cooking liquid ) and rinse under cold water. Let cool completely.
  3. Meanwhile, sauté the onion and fennel bulb with the olive oil for about 5 min or until tender and translucent but not brown.
  4. Pinch each bean to squeeze out of the skin. Mash the beans or purée the beans through a sieve.
  5. Put the bean paste into a pot and mix well with 500 cc/ml fava bean liquid. Add the onion, fennel bulb, fennel fronds and fennel seeds. Bring to the boil and simmer on low heat  stirring occasionally for 15 – 20 min or until thick.
  6. Add the salt and black pepper to taste.
  7. Ladle the soup into bowls. Drizzle olive oil and garnish with fennel fronds on top.

————————

I made it really thick – thicker than the one I had in Palermo – so that it can be used in a pasta dish as well. Browsing on the web, I noticed ‘pasta con Macco’ exists.

pasta con Macco
Trecce di Giulietta (fusilli) con Macco

Still bunches of finocchio left. Okay, Bucatini con Sarde next!! :-9

Wagashi of the Month: May

In Japan, Children’s Day, or Kodomo-no-hi, falls on 5th of May. To be precise, however, it is actually celebrated as the Boys’ Festival. To drive away bad spirits and celebrate the future of their sons, families display Gogatsu-ningyo, samurai dolls and their armaments, indoors like Hina Matsuri Dolls, and hoist Koi-nobori, cloth carp streamers.

 

koinobori
Koi-nobori (pic from gaijinpot.com)

 

koinobori
Carp/Koi-nobori shaped Wagashi and iris leaves

 

Iris flowers called Hana Shobu, which bloom in early May, are placed in homes to ward off evil. It is customary to have a bath known as Syobu-yu, filled with floating iris leaves and roots not only to drive off evil but also to prevent disease.

 

hanashobu
Iris flower shaped Namagashi

 

Kashiwa-mochi, rice cake stuffed with sweetened bean paste and wrapped in an oak leaf, is eaten on the day. Since oak tree doesn’t shed old leaves until new leaves grow, it is considered a symbol of the prosperity of one’s descendants.

 

kashiwamochi
Kashiwa mochi 

Wagashi of the Month: March

On the 3rd of March, Japan celebrates Hina Matsuri, the Girls’/Doll Festival (not a national holiday), while some places in April according to the lunar calendar.

The festival has a long and curious history, but today, it is held in order to pray for a happy and healthy life for one’s daughter.

The first sekku (seasonal festival) after the birth of a baby girl — it is a day when charming dolls are set out for display to symbolize the family’s wish that their daughter will be healthy, free from calamity and able to obtain a happy life with a good husband. Also called the Peach Festival or Momo no Sekku, as March is the season when peach flowers are in bloom.

(reference: http://www.onmarkproductions.com/html/hina-matsuri-dolls.html )

Hina Matsuri Dolls

The “hina dolls” ( hina ningyo) are only displayed when a family has a daughter. Usually a set is handed down from generation to generation or the grandparents or parents will buy one for a girl’s first Hina Matsuri (hatsuzekku)! A complete set with traditional dolls can be extremely expensive! There is a superstition that the daughter of the house will have a hard time finding a marriage partner if the dolls aren’t put away in the evening of March 3rd!

Beautiful costumes of the HeianPeriod are worn by the hina dolls, representing the Emperor, Empress, attendants, and musicians. They are displayed on a stand (hinadan) that is often covered with a red carpet. The platform can have several levels (up to 7). The most common ones are one-, five- and seven-tiered stands.

Depending on the region, the order of the dolls from left to right is different, but the order per level is the same. One example where you’ll find this difference in placement is with the Kanto and Kansai regions.

Top Platform:

On the top-tier you’ll find the imperial dolls (dairi bina). They represent the Emperor who is holding a ritual baton and the Empress with a fan in her hands. The Empress is not wearing a mere kimono, but a costume called “juuni-hitoe” (twelve-layered ceremonial robe). The Royal family in Japan wears it during wedding ceremonies even nowadays. Traditionally the emperor was set up on the right from the viewer’s perspective, but in a modern display he’s sitting on the left.

The hina dolls are usually put in front of a folding screen (byoubu). These folding screens are very common in Japan for any type of decoration. They’re often also used to display the zodiac of the current year. Most of the time there are also lamp stands (bonbori) decorated with plum blossoms (ume) or cherry blossoms (sakura) representing the spring season.

Second Platform:

This is the spot for the three court ladies (sannin kanjo) who’re all holding sake equipment. Placed between them are stands with round table-tops with seasonal sweets on top.

Third Platform:

A total number of five male musicians (gonin bayashi) is displayed on the third tier.  Apart from the singer who has a fan in his hand, all of them hold a musical instrument.

(reference: http://www.onmarkproductions.com/html/hina-matsuri-dolls.html )

 

So I prepared Odairi-sama and Ohina-sama shaped wagashi, and (real) peach blossoms for today. The couple,  made of nerikiri, are wrapped with a slice of kimono-shaped yohkan, a thick, jellied Japanese confection made from bean paste and sugar.

 

wagashi
Odairi-sama & Ohina-sama (jo-namagashi)

 

 

uguisu
Mejiro, Japanese White-eyes (from my window)

 

 

the third platform is not for the five musicians though….