essays

Maybe you can't have it all...

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Salt, Part 1

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A bit about salt. continue reading...

A matter of (chicken) perspective, plus my method for roasting a chicken

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A whole chicken in Japan is luxurious feast food. In France, it’s everyday dinner on a budget. continue reading...

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Katsuyo Kobayashi, 1937-2014

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Yesterday, it was revealed that cookbook author and TV chef, presenter and teacher Katsuyo Kobayashi (小林カツ代) had died on January 23, 2014. She was 76 years old. She was one of the biggest culinary influences in my life. continue reading...

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What it was like to run a popular sushi restaurant in New York City, with memories

sushisay-counter-natsukashi.jpg Two itamae (chefs) prepping before the store opens, circa 2001.

[If you have been following this blog or my Facebook page, you may know that I haven’t been doing too well. I was going to write yet another moan-y thing about my radiation therapy and stuff, but instead, I thought I’d end the year by posting this, an edited and expanded version of something I wrote a little while ago. I hope you have fun reading it, especially if you have ever run a restaurant, or lived in New York. Ah New York, I still miss you. Anyway - here’s to a much better 2014!]

I never ran a restaurant myself, so most of my knowledge on this matter is second hand. My mother ran a very successful restaurant in midtown Manhattan called Tsukiji Sushisay. In addition my stepfather was the accountant for several Japanese restaurants in NYC. I did however work the front desk for a few months, and helped out over the years with things like translating legal documents, making brochures, or creating their website. I translated the menu to English, and even taught basic ‘sushi-counter customer-service English’ to many of the chefs. “I’m sorry, we don’t have spicy tuna.” is one phrase I remember teaching them.

I also want to note, that I feel OK writing this because the restaurant closed its doors in 2002, and various statutes of limitations or whatever have run out. ^^; continue reading...

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The guilt trip on the way to Japanese shokupan (it's just sliced bread...)

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The moral of the story is probably - don’t go shopping on Amazon at 2 in the morning. continue reading...

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What's so healthy about Japanese food?

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A lot of people who come to this site or JustBento are here because they think Japanese cooking is very healthy. By and large it is, but, like any cuisine it’s not 100% healthy by any means. I’ve been thinking about what parts of Japanese cuisine are indeed healthy, and what aren’t, following up on my previous posts about sushi here and here. Here’s what I have come up with. continue reading...

How do you manage your social media?

Pondering on the use of social media (a bit off-topic). continue reading...

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How to treat your favorite diabetic, on Valentine's Day and beyond

A single perfect chocolate truffle

This is my second year of being a type 2 diabetic - my surgeries and other cancer treatments having somehow pushed me over the edge from the prediabetic range. Although diabetes is a very widespread disease (more than 100 million Americans are diagnosed with type 2 or pre-diabetes, a staggering number), many people have no idea what it’s like to live with it, and how diabetics keep it under control. Yes, us diabetics do have to be careful about our sugar intake, or anything that makes our blood glucose levels spike. But for most of us, unless we are at a very serious level, manage to live with it pretty well. continue reading...

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Nora Ephron

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Essayist, journalist, screenwriter and movie director Nora Ephron passed away yesterday at the age of 71. She wrote about the joy of food as well as anyone. continue reading...

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What's in your kitchen? What is your kitchen?

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How would you describe your kitchen, and what’s stocked there? continue reading...

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My father's favorite Tampopo scene

How my late father related to a particular scene in the movie Tampopo. continue reading...

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Monday photos: Last chance sushi at Narita Airport Terminal 1

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The last meal before departure. continue reading...

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Accidental butter

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From the age of 3 on, or so my mother says, I would always hang around the kitchen asking questions, tilting conatainers to my level, getting underfoot and in everyone’s way. After about age 5, I was reluctantly given some small, low-risk things to do, like making panko from day-old bread, or filling the salt and pepper shakers. continue reading...

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Reader beware.

Something that has been bothering me for a while. continue reading...

What's your national dish - or, is there any such thing?

Scenes from the Shin Yokohama Ramen Museum (新横浜ラーメン博物館)

Did you know that ramen is considered to be one of the two main National Dishes of Japan? continue reading...

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Crafts vs. cooking: different markets (or, would you pay for a downloadable recipe?)

We pay for single craft patterns. Why don’t we do the same for single recipes? continue reading...

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News about The Just Bento Cookbook, and no I'm not abandoning Japanese food!

As if the excitement, or stress, depending on how you look at it, of the move to France and the new/old house wasn’t enough, on Monday I got word from my publisher that my bento cookbook was sent off to the printers finally! I have lots more news about it over on Just Bento, in case you don’t follow things over there. continue reading...

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Postcards from Kyoto - Surfaces, Keibunsha and conclusion

Tsubaki (camellia) 'fountain' at Honen-in, Kyoto

The final post in my Postcards from Kyoto series, with some reflections on what Kyoto stands for, plus more shopping and food. continue reading...

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It really has been quite a year....with more to come

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How has the year been for you? 2009 has been a year of change and turmoil for me. It looks like 2010 is going to be just as exciting and turbulent as 2009 was. There’s a lot to look forward to though!

For New Year’s Eve, we are just going to have a quiet evening in, with some sparkling cider from our old home town. Tomorrow we’ll be having ozouni. We still don’t know where we are settling yet — it may be France, it may be Switzerland, or…somewhere else. I still have a lot of work to do, on the bento book and other things, and I am leaving for 3 month stay in Japan in 2 weeks. That will be the longest time I’ve spent there in ages, and I’ll have lots to report on from there.

In any case, thank you so much for your continued support of Just Hungry and Just Bento this year. :) Happy New Year!

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I am only what I am. I hope it's enough.

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My niece Rena tucks into teuchi udon (handmade udon).

I am occasionally asked via email or Twitter or even in person, to post a recipe that is Asian but not Japanese. In most cases, I have to say that I have no idea how to make it. Well that wouldn’t be exactly true: I could look it up online or in cookbooks and replicate a recipe here. But then, so could you. So could anyone. continue reading...

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Real beef

Some real meat this time. continue reading...

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Poverty, rice, and Air Yakiniku

A bit about Air Yakiniku, an odd slice of Japan. continue reading...

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The sweet, cultured taste of Calpis

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As your sometime guide to Japanese culinary culture, I would be remiss if I let another summer pass by without talking about Calpis.

Calpis is a sweetened fermented milk beverage. The label says:

“CALPIS” is a cultured milk drink, a refreshing gift from nature.

People tend to either love or hate Calpis. continue reading...

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American kitchens: Why cups, and not weight? Where's the kitchen scale?

Where I ponder the question: Why do American cooks do things with cups, not weight? continue reading...

Savings Techniques for Women Who Can't Save

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This article about my favorite Japanese personal finance book is part of Frugal Food Month. While it’s not directly about food, I hope it’s of interest to Just Hungry readers anyway! continue reading...

The Kakeibo and Japanese household budgeting tools

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A few kakeibos, and Japanese womens’ magazines with budgeting-oriented articles. Look for these words: 家計 (household finances), 貯める (save money), 家計簿 (household finance ledger).

To kick off Frugal Food month, here is an article from the archives about Japanese household budgeting tools, which was supposed to be the start of a series - but then All Hell Broke Loose around Chez Maki, and the series sort of got forgotten. Well, the series will be revived this month, so in case you missed this one, here it is!

(Original intro: So why is there a money management article on a food site? Well, I think that the subject of our money is on a lot of people’s minds these days, and food spending is a major part of that. An it’s about Japan, and I know a lot of you read this site because it brings you bits of interest about my homeland. So, I hope you’ll enjoy this little derail.)

Many people worldwide are concerned these days about the economy. While it’s difficult for us as individuals to influence factors like what our financial institutions do, we can control where our money goes. While this topic is not directly about food, I thought it might be interesting to see how Japanese people handle household budgeting.

Why look at what Japanese people do? For one thing, Japan went through a severe economic correction (aka the “bubble economy”) in the late ’80s, largely in part due to overvalued real estate and resulting defaults on loans, which lasted well into the ’90s and even fundamentally changed the way Japanese society works. While the current Japanese stock market, yen, and banks are on a wild and bumpy ride just like the rest of the world, individuals (except for those who invested in stocks, currencies and such) on a whole seem to be a tiny bit less worried than people in North America or Europe. This may be because saving rates in Japan are amongst the highest in the developed world, estimated to be around 25% of income (though that has fallen from previous savings rates of 30 to 35%; in contrast, the saving rates in the U.S. average around negative 0.5%), or simply because household budgeting skills have been talked about for quite a long time. continue reading...

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Looking Forward to 2009 with a Wish List Notebook

A bit of a look back at 2008, plus making a Wish List for 2009 and beyond. continue reading...

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5th Anniversary Giveway Day 3: The Meandering Path of Just Hungry

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The header graphic of the 2nd design of Just Hungry displayed one of these 4 illustrations at random.

As I wrote yesterday, when I started Just Hungry I had no plans at all about the theme of the site, other than it would be about food. I think that you could get away with that back then, when the number of actual food blogs was probably still in the low hundreds.

__( This giveaway is now closed. Thank you for participating! continue reading...

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OMG, Turducken

From the archives. I did this 3 years ago, and will likely never do it again. This is offered as a cautionary tale should you be contemplating creating a Turducken for your Thanksgiving or other holiday feast. Originally published on December 28, 2005, and edited slightly.

I am not sure what came over us. We were planning a quiet, simple Christmas dinner - maybe roast a goose, or a nice chicken or two, or something. But then someone blurted out the infamous words.

"Hey, why don't we try a Turducken?"

In case you are not familiar with turducken, it is basically a Tur(key) stuffed with a duck(en) stuffed with a (chick)en. It supposedly originated in Louisiana, and has been popularized by famed New Orleans chef Paul Prudhomme. continue reading...

Sustainable sushi guides and the National Sushi Party

Today, three ocean conservation groups in the United States - the Blue Ocean Institute, the Environmental Defense Fund, and the Monterey Bay Aquarium - will each be releasing sushi fish selection guides. They all seem to be printed guides that you have to order (small quibbles: Why not a downloadable PDF so people can start using it immediately? Also, why 3 separate guides?) but if you are a sushi afficionado and are concerned about the sustainability of safety of the fish used as sushi neta, you may want to give one of them a look. See the press release here. continue reading...

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Update on the book situation and ruminating on cookbooks

A month ago, I asked how I should get rid of cookbooks and craft books. There were lots of great suggestions in the comments - thank you! Here’s an update…plus some ruminations on cookbooks.

I posed that question a month ago, when I was just starting the packing-and-purging process. At that time I thought I’d just have say, one box of books to get rid of. But as we went through the zillion books that have accumulated, we realized that there were far, far more. continue reading...

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Rice defines me as a Japanese person

2 or 3 times a year, my mother sends me a big care package from Japan. She sends it by seamail, which takes forever, but that’s because she always includes a bag of rice. continue reading...

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Of cherry blossoms, ohanami and Japanese culture

It may surprise you to read this, but I do not actually miss living in Japan that much generally, except for my family and the food. My home territory there is the greater Tokyo area, and while Tokyo is a great metropolis, it’s also unbearably congested and you are living on top of other people all the time. To borrow a term used for another place in the world, generally speaking it’s a nice place to visit, but I’m not sure (given a choice) that I’d want to live there. But there are certain times of the year when I do wish I were there, and right now is one of them. It’s cherry blossom time. continue reading...

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Taking a little inventory

Just like it’s a good idea to take inventory of your pantry sometimes, I find it useful to take a look back at my sites occasionally and take stock of what I’m doing. continue reading...

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The Japanese restaurant authentifiers start moving

Early last year, a movement to set up an authentification program for Japanese restaurant was proposed, to mixed reactions. Now it seems the people behind it are getting going: the inspectors are already in Bangkok, Shanghai and Taipei, and this year they’ll be invading, er researching London, Amsterdam, Los Angeles and Paris. continue reading...

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Did you learn to cook in school?

The UK government is instituting an interesting school policy. Starting in September, cooking courses will be compulsory at schools in England. (I guess it’s not for Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland yet?) It’s part of their campaign against childhood obesity. (Read more about it on the Guardian Word Of Mouth blog.) It’s a very appealing idea, though I’m not sure if it will accomplish their goals, if they aren’t eating right elsewhere. But we shall see.

I had to take what were called kateika (domestic science) courses in Japan, in the 5th and 6th grades in elementary school and the first 2 years of junior high school. (In junior high it was for girls only; the boys got to do gijutsuka, which meant mostly building fun things. I wanted to do that more than the cooking and sewing!) I don’t think we did a whole lot of cooking (I remember doing more sewing for some reason) but I do remember some of the things we made.

  • A basic vegetable soup - though bacon was used for the “dashi”.
  • Rice with green peas (mame gohan)
  • Sweet potato paste with chestnuts (kuri kinton), a standard osechi (New Year’s feast) item…except that the teacher couldn’t get a hold of chestnuts so we had to use apples instead…so that was actually ringo kinton
  • Some sort of freeform rock cakes or such
  • Pork and ginger buta no sho-ga yaki
  • For some reason, a fancy sole meunière
  • Sandwiches, the Japanese way - with soft white bread, mustard butter, the crusts cut off neatly, and the whole thing kept nice and moist (shittori) with moist kitchen towels!

I’m not sure if any of that was very useful - we never learned fundamental skills like how to wash rice, how to make a dashi, and so on. The only one that was useful was the sandwich class, so if I want to hold a tea party I’m all set! There were time constraints of course, which prevented the teacher from doing anything too complicated. I do remember that the classes were always chaotic - and we’re talking about fairly well-behaved Japanese schoolkids! I wonder how the British teachers will fare.

Did you take cooking classes in school? If so, what did you learn? Do you think cooking classes are a good idea?

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My take on why Japanese people in Japan don't get that fat

Here are some rambling thoughts on why, to paraphrase the title of a book, Japanese People Aren’t That Fat. continue reading...

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Martha

 Martha's rose window

A little about Martha Wyss-Gerber, who passed away in the early dawn of December 26th. continue reading...

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Thank you for sharing your wonderful food memories!

First of all, thank you so much to all of you who shared your food memories for our 4th Anniversary event. You made us laugh out loud, you made us chuckle, and you brought tears to our eyes. If we could we would have given the prize to everyone! But we only have one book in our budget…so, after a weekend of arguing back and forth, we finally selected one jewel out of a whole boxful of treasures: Mitch’s entry, I Ate Love. continue reading...

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A special welcome to CalorieLab visitors, about having my pork belly and eating it too

My post about losing 30 pounds using bento lunches as a tool is featured as a guest article on CalorieLab, a great weight loss related news site.

For people who’ve clicked through here from there, welcome! If you take the time to look around, you might wonder why this woman is saying she’s on a weight loss plan (notice the avoidance of the word ‘diet’) while writing about things like braised pork belly and spaghetti Bolognese. Earlier this year, I wrote a series of articles about my plans and thoughts for losing weight, but the one that stuck to me the most these many months later is the one about reconciling my food obsession with trying to lose weight. continue reading...

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Saturday thoughts: Donna Hay, Just Bento, food blogging events

The sister site to Just Hungry got discovered by several sites overnight (while I was not at the computer, as always happens in such cases) and the traffic went up about 100 x, mainly thanks to it being on the del.icio.us popular page for a while. I haven’t even ‘officially’ launched it in my mind, since I am occasionally breaking it by fiddling with the engine (Drupal, for the technically inclined) in the background, but it’s very gratifying to know that people are interested in the subject. I think it must be timely. continue reading...

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Eating local in winter - followup

Forgive me for neglecting Just Hungry a bit this week - I’ve been spending all of my free waking time in Knightsbridge. I did want to follow up on the thoughtful comments left on my post about eating local in winter, in areas without 4-season growing conditions. Perhaps because I’ve been immersed in the 14th century has helped, but I’m increasingly intrigued by the idea of trying to experience how it would have been like to survive the winter in an age when fresh foods were not shipped in from far parts.

So I am going to try it out for at least a week in a few weeks - I think the end of January/beginning of February would be a good time. I don’t think I will go back as far as the Middle Ages, but something prior to the 19th century anyway - prior to fast trading ships as well as the advent of refrigeration. (I’m not sure if I will aim for pre-canning days as well). I’m also a bit undecided as to if I’ll try to emulate how it would have been in Switzerland, or something more generic, as well as what class in society I’d put myself (since rich people would have eaten a lot better then poor people, of course). When I’ve done more research into this I’ll post what I’m going to do.

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I'm rather tired of the cult of the celebrity chef

Celebrity chefs have been around for some time now, but they seem to have exploded all over the place in the last decade, mainly through food related TV shows.

The restaurant food world is becoming similar to the world of fashion. There are the actual restaurants, most of which are too expensive for the majority of the population - people without generous expense accounts or oodles of money - other than for a rare treat. These are the couture studios (as in real couture, not ‘couture’ as it’s used to describe anything that’s not a plain t-shirt these days) of the food world. Then you have all the merchandising, from cookbooks to dodgy cookware to frozen dinners bearing a chef’s name. Those are the perfumes and bags and H & M special-designer label lines of the food world. continue reading...

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Surviving on sauerkraut and kimchee: Eating local in winter

Fall (or autumn) is really a wonderful time for local produce in temperate climates. The grapes in our garden are crying out to be picked every day, we still have a couple of late zucchini, and the markets are overflowing with winter squash, heirloom apples, pears, and more. In a couple of months though most of that will be gone, and we’ll be very limited in what we can eat that’s grown locally. Unless it comes from greenhouses of course, and, while there may be exceptions commercial greenhouses aren’t usually that energy efficient.

I am a moderate in most things, including eating, so am not a dedicated locavore. If I were though, and I did not live in a four-season growing area like most of California, my winter choices would be severely limited.

If we truly ate like our ancestors, who were limited to locally grown foodstuffs, we’d be eating a lot of preserved foods in the winter months. A lot of those foods have disappeared from modern pantries, but a few do survive: jams, pickles, preserves; dried or salted meats like sausages and hams and corned beef; salt cod. (In Japan there are lots of salt-cured and dried foodstuffs ranging from fish to seaweed to vegetables.) Two of the best examples are both cabbage based: sauerkraut, and kimchee. The lactic-acid fermented cabbage retains quite a lot of its nutrition, and probably kept legions of people from dying of malnutrition.

I’d really like to see those dedicated, evangelical locavores to try living on a diet based on these traditional preserved foods in the winter months, because that would show a true dedication to the cause. No cheating on tropical imported fruits. I’m thinking of trying it out on a short term basis (like a week) myself, just to see if it’s possible.

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Pondering macrobiotics

In the last few years, there seems to have been a resurgence in the interest in macrobiotics in Japan. At least it does seem so judging from the magazine articles and cookbooks devoted to the subject.

If you’re unfamiliar with macrobiotics, it’s a form of almost-veganism (macrobiotics does allow for some fish) with quite idiosyncratic theories. It originated in Japan, was exported to the West, and gained popularity in some circles, especially the ones devoted to alternative lifestyles (like hippies and such). There’s a tendency in Japan to get overly impressed by anything (or anyone) in Japanese culture that gets popular in other countries, which I think accounts for at least part of the renewed popularity of macrobiotics - or makurobi as it’s abbreviated to - there. The macrobiotic diet has a lot of similarities to the traditional, or pre-WWII, diet, but isn’t quite the same. It’s also not the same as sho-jin cooking - elegant vegan cuisine that was originated by Zen Buddhist monks.

I’ve been generally trying to increase my repertoire of vegetable and grain based dishes this year (though I’m not a vegetarian), so I’ve done quite a lot of research into makurobi these past few months. There are plenty of very appetizing looking cookbooks coming out regularly, and I’ve collected quite a stack of them.

Yet it’s quite unlikely that I’ll be turning into a full-fledged macrobiotic convert any time soon. The main reason is that I can’t fully buy into one of the central philosophies of the religion - I mean, theory - that of yin and yang foods. Basically the theory is that all foods have yin (dark or cold) and yang (light or warm) energies, and we are better off eating close to the center of the yin and yang scale. Foods that are at the center are generally things like whole grains, beans and other pulses, root vegetables (but not potatoes), and so on. Since macrobiotics did originate in Japan, brown rice is the king of grains. continue reading...

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I like real food

Periodically I like to step back a bit and take a look at why this site exists, and what it’s about. The current masthead says it’s about Japanese cooking (especially for people who do not live in Japan or a region with easy access to Japanese ingredients), expat food issues in general, and healthy cooking.

But what I’m really about when it comes to food is real food, and that’s what this site is about. I don’t claim to be a purist who never lets an artificial food pass my lips - I do live in the real world. But in general, fake food just does not taste right to me.

I like real fruits and vegetables. I like meat from animals or birds who lived a happy life when they were alive, and eggs that come from contented hens. I like cheese that has been produced in time tested, traditional ways rather than the kind that differs little from the plastic that’s wrapped around them. I prefer fish that swam around freely.

Not just because they are ‘good for me’ or ‘good for the environment’ or ‘better for trade’ or whatever, though these can be - and often are - side benefits. I like real food because it tastes better. I’m selfish that way.

Now I realize that ‘real food’ does not taste better to everyone. Our tastebuds are conditioned by habits and environment, and a lot of people eat tons of fake food all the time. I used to do that too, especially in my teens and 20s . As I’ve gotten older though, I’ve grown away from that. Given a choice between a fresh, ripe peach and peach flavored candy, I’ll take the real peach every time.

Real food takes a commitment in terms of priorities. Time is one thing you have to allocate in many cases. Money is too, unfortunately. To me and to my family, these commitments are worthwhile.

Welcome to Just Hungry, where we prefer real food. continue reading...

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Fear of Sushi

There were not one but two Op-Ed articles in the New York Times yesterday about sushi. Two! It always amazes me how fast sushi has become mainstream in the U.S. in particular and ‘the West’ in general, but I guess this is some sort of proof.

The two articles are Chicken of the Sea by Stephen Shaw (the author of a dining guide to restaurants in Asia) and Sushi for Two by Trevor Corson (author of a book about sushi). While I agree in the spirit of their arguments (Americans or eh, ‘Westerners’ should be more adventurous with their selection of fish at a sushi place, and that some people are overly scared of the raw fish used for sushi), I sort of wonder what planet they are living on. continue reading...

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Salty bread and salty tears

monsegur-lostsign.jpgThe sign that is no more.

As we approached the tiny hilltop village of Montsegur-sur-Lauzon in northern Provence, my mouth was already watering in anticipation of the bread at the one and only boulangerie (bakery) there. I’d been looking forward to this for months, ever since last November, when we’d made one last stopover to load up on bread to sustain us for the long drive back home and a couple of days beyond.

I’ve written about my love for this boulangerie before. The bread there was the best I’ve ever had - bursting with flavor and character. Even when the loaves turned a bit stale after a couple of days, they were still so good. I was convinced that if the baker, Monsieur Metaud, was in Paris, he’d be world famous.

It was a Sunday, and there was a small queue of people waiting for their bread in the tiny store. Neither of the two people behind the counter, a young man and a middle aged woman, were Madame or Monsieur Metaud, but that didn’t concern us - they had other people selling bread there before, especially on weekends. But as we shuffled closer to the front of the line, something seemed a bit off. The collection of exotic teas that used to line the wall shelves were gone. The pretty display of confections was quite pared down. continue reading...

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The vegetarian experiment

The comments on the post about whether vegetarian restaurants should only be reviewed by vegetarians have been really interesting - if you haven’t read them yet, please take a look here. This has made me decide to do a small experiment. I’m here in Provence for three weeks, and I’ll be cooking most of our meals (that’s why we like to rent a place with a kitchen whenever we come here, as I wrote about last year). So, I’m going to make all of our meals in-house vegetarian. Lacto-vegetarian to be precise, since not having any of the delicious cheeses here would be too much of a sacrifice and the self-proclaimed ‘bovo-vegetarian’ in house will rebel before we’ve even started. We will be giving up eggs though (a hardship in itself since I love eggs), and meat and fish. (We might have a bouillabaise once at a restaurant.) I’ll also try to stick as much as possible to locally produced food, though I’m not going to be as strict there. (E.g. I will use spices and things like lemons from elsewhere.)

Admittedly, here with all of the glorious locally produced fresh produce it should be a breeze. I doubt it will change my palette much but it will help me concentrate on coming up with different and tasty vegetarian dishes. The better results will be posted here of course!

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