offbeat

A scandalous incident on a TV food show. No, not that one.

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By now you have probably at least heard about the brouhaha over the owners of a restaurant/bakery that appeared on Gordon Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares show (U.S. version). If not, you can read about it here and many, many other places.

There was a big to-do surrounding a TV food show here in France too. The show in question: Top Chef. (Yes there’s one of those in France.) continue reading...

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Fishy interlude: An amazingly detailed model of a Tsukiji market maguro (tuna) by Hobbystock

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What a beautiful fish! It’s not real though… continue reading...

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Japanese cuisine the most popular foreign cuisine..? What's your favorite?

This bit of news crossed my path today via Twitter, and it has me scratching my head a bit. In December 2012, the Japan External Trade Organization (JETRO) conducted a web based survey in 7 countries - China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, South Korea, France, the United States and Italy. continue reading...

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Monday photos: This little pig is not a guinea pig

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Why do we have a problem with eating things with faces? continue reading...

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Many-flavored Japanese Kit Kats: not really

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The famous flavored Kit Kats sold in Japan are not quite what you'd call delicious treats. continue reading...

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Personal update

Hi everyone. I put up a post about my health situation over on my personal site. Please take a look if you’re interested.

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One of these doesn't belong...? (Weekend contest!)

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It’s been another rather hectic week around here. So I’d like to loosen up a bit by closing the week out with a fun giveaway, just for the heck of it. I’m giving away a $25 gift certificate from our friends over at J-list/JBox, where you can find all kinds of cool, cute, and wacky stuff from Japan. continue reading...

A visit to the Shin Yokohama Raumen (Ramen) Museum

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

A museum that pays homage to a single type of dish? Why not - this is Japan after all. continue reading...

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Tororo Soba (Slimy soba noodles with grated nagaimo)

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Here’s a rather unusual (to Western tastes anyway) way to enjoy cold soba noodles - with slimy grated nagaimo root. continue reading...

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Holy Matsutake!

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It’s matsutake season! Let’s see just how much you pay for one of the most expensive foodstuffs on earth. continue reading...

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Wacky diets everywhere

About some weird ‘diet’ pills labeled Japanese, even though they aren’t from Japan at all, plus some REAL Japanese diets that are popular now. continue reading...

Stuck in a French hospital

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About how I ended up in a French hospital, and how it’s been. Some angst and pretty dodgy looking food pics follow. continue reading...

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Cool stuff from Japan: Plastic food models used for nutrition education

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Those famous realistic plastic food models aren’t just used for restaurant displays in Japan. They are used for dietary and nutritional education in hospitals as well. continue reading...

Cool stuff from Japan: Mammoth Meat?! Snack

If there’s one thing I don’t like about Japan, it’s that everywhere you go, there are constant reminders to do this, don’t do this, go here, go there, and so on. When you’re going up or down an escalator, a high pitched polite (usually female) voice tells you to watch your step, hold your kid’s hand, stay within the lines, don’t put pointy things like umbrellas between the steps, and whatever you do, don’t get your long hair caught somewhere (!). On a bus, not only does that high-pitched female voice (probably not the same voice, but they sound alike) tell you what the next stop and the next next stop are, but the bus driver usually repeats that information right after it’s been announced. The female voice also tells you to not stand up until the bus comes to a full halt, don’t smoke at the bus stop, give up your seat to the elderly…blah, blah blah, every 3 minutes. And as for the trains… it’s enough to drive one batty. You just have to tune it out, if you can. I’m sort of trained to listen to and obey public transportation announcements (since they actually mean something in Switzerland) so I’m having a hard time.

Which somehow brings us to today’s Cool (or in this case, wacky) item: Mammoth meat snack!

Mammoth meat snack! continue reading...

Fugu (puffer fish): Would you or wouldn't you?

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(Note: Your responses to the question posed below may be translated for a Japanese blog! Read on…)

Even though I’m Japanese, I do think that we eat an awful lot of food that could be considered to be odd. One of them is the infamous fugu, or puffer fish. Fugu’s main claim to fame, besides its extraordinary appearance (it puffs itself up to make itself look a lot bigger to predators), is that its skin and organs are highly poisonous. Nevertheless, it’s considered to be a great delicacy in Japan. It’s now fugu season in fact, so many people are tucking in to fugu sashi (fugu sashimi), fugu nabe (fugu hotpot), and so on. continue reading...

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iSnack 2.0 (Vegemite 2.0) and other bad product names

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iSnack 2.0? Really? Were they serious? 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 earlobe in Japanese cooking

earlobe.jpgDuring a bout of procrastination, I came across this post on Serious Eats about making udon from an translated-to-English Japanese cookbook classic, Japanese Cooking: A Simple Art by Shizuo Tsuji. You know this is a classic, since the original forward for it was written by M.F.K. Fisher! Anyway, the author of the Serious Eats post gets quite excited about the instructions in the recipe (which apparently calls for egg yolks…more about this later) saying to knead the dough until it’s the texture of an earlobe.

Actually, the earlobe (mimitabu 耳たぶ) is used quite commonly in Japanese cooking. What? you say? Well…here’s how. continue reading...

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Cherry tomatoes

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Scene from a market. 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...

Kitchens out of the past

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House-hunting, and encountering old, vintage kitchens. Fun! continue reading...

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Moffles

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How to make moffles or mochi waffles, a relatively new but very popular snack in Japan, in a regular waffle maker. continue reading...

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I'm moving! I'm moving! But where to go?

Let’s pretend that there are no tiresome restrictions like visas and such. If eating well were the only criteria, where in the world would you move to? continue reading...

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Left-handed eating taboos

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Now that I know for sure that President Obama is a lefty, I wonder which hand he uses for chopsticks. continue reading...

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Your guide to better chopstick etiquette (mostly Japanese)

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The other day I was having lunch at one of the Asian-fusion restaurants in Zürich with a (non-Asian) friend. At one point, he speared a piece of chicken with one chopstick, brought it to his mouth and pried it off with his teeth. I must have a strange expression on my face, because he looked at me and asked me what was wrong.

Of course he did not know that in Japan, what he just did would be considered to be terribly rude, in the same way that someone who didn’t grow up in Europe might not know about not putting your elbows on the table. I explained this to him, and he sort of snorted and said “well why don’t you write a guide to chopstick manners on your site then!”

So, here it is: A guide to chopstick etiquette, Japanese style. 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...

Slimy slimy goodness all together in a bowl

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You want slime? I’ll give you slime multiplied! continue reading...

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The Japanese 100 list finally complete, and other things

The 100 Japanese foods list is done. Plus, you know, Swiss breast milk. continue reading...

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From the $1500 dinner to Russell Baker's Francs and Beans

Being pleasantly reminded of a classic piece of food writing. continue reading...

100 Japanese foods to try

Ever since I completed The Omnivore’s Hundred, I’ve been thinking about this: What 100 Japanese foods would I recommend people try at least once? I’ve been mulling over the list for days now, and I’m more or less satisfied with what I’ve come up with below.

I tried to keep away from foods that are only available in certain regions, or even certain restaurants or homes (e.g. my aunt’s homemade udon) and stuck to foods that are widely available in Japan. I’ve also tried to include foods from all categories and all price ranges, from wildly expensive matsutake mushrooms to el-cheapo snacks. I also did not limit the list to ‘genuine Japanese’ foods (純和風), but include Western-style yohshoku dishes and a sprinkling of chuuka (imported Chinese) foods that are so ingrained in Japanese food culture that most people barely think of them as Chinese any more. And of course, I have eaten all of the foods listed at least once - in most cases many, many times. I like them all!

The list is not numbered in order of preference. It’s just how I happened to list them.

[Update:]

I’ve now added descriptions and links to recipes if they are on the site, as well as the food names in Japanese - now with all 100 descriptions completed! I’ve made it so the descriptions are hidden initially, so you can have fun guessing what they are or trying to remember. Just click on the ? mark after each item! And I will keep adding descriptions gradually.

And no, nigiri-zushi and the most common types of sushi are not on the list, because I am assuming that if you are reading this, you’ve already had sushi. (Though… are you sure you’ve had great sushi at a top notch sushi-ya? See Judging a good sushi restaurant.)

I did not intention this to be a meme, but rather as a list of quintessentially Japanese foods that you might want to try. If you would like to post the list to your blog and play along though, please do so! Actually it would be even more fun if you make your own 10, 50, or whatever list of favorite foods if you dare. (It takes a whole lot more time and thought that you might think.) continue reading...

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Bite-sized Japanese lessons on Twitter @mainichinihongo

I know that a lot of readers come to Just Hungry because they are interested in Japanese culture. You may have even taken a look at my language blog. At the moment I don’t have the time to maintain the language blog, so I’ve just started a Japanese language Twitter account, @mainichinihongo (which means ‘Japanese every day’. My plan is to introduce one or more words per day-ish, around a theme. If you are on Twitter, and interested in Japanese, give it a try! (I still have my other Twitter account, @bentotips, where I tend to blather on about everything and anything.)

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The Omnivore's Hundred - Just Hungry version

If you follow me on Twitter you may know that today was not a good day (nor was it a particularly good week). So, this little distraction via @nandita comes at a great time. It is a meme, but is a good one! It is called…

The Omnivore’s Hundred

1) Copy this list into your blog or journal, including these instructions. 2) Bold all the items you’ve eaten. 3) Cross out any items that you would never consider eating. 4) Optional extra: Post a comment at Very Good Taste linking to your results.

So, here I present… continue reading...

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Some links and random thoughts

Here are a bunch of unrelated-to-each-other links and thoughts that have accumulated recently.

Product linkage, edible

For UK and Europe readers: Japan Centre has a sale on this week for Yamamotoyama Soy Rappu, colorful soy based wrappers that are an interesting substitute for nori seaweed when making sushi rolls. I haven’t really tried them myself yet, so I placed and order and will see how they work. continue reading...

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Full Japanese Breakfast, slightly scaled down

Recently, a reader asked in the comments about what I have for breakfast. It is definitely not as elaborate as this one.

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Going Out For An English, the greatest restaurant sketch ever

Oh no, two YouTube posts in a row! Well on Saturday we went to an Indian restaurant in town, and invariably our favorite restaurant related video was brought up. Goodness Gracious Me (Wikipedia entry) was a half hour comedy sketch show that ran on BBC One and Two from 1998 to 2001. In case you have never heard of it and you’re in the U.S., it was a little bit like the ’90s comedy show In Living Color, except that the cast in GGM was almost all Asian (as in South Asian, or Indian), who also wrote all the sketches. It poked fun at many British and British-Asian things. One of the best routines was one that made fun of a typical outing to an Indian restaurant. This sketch is called Going Out for an English. I don’t think you have to be Asian (as in South Asian) or British to find it funny…it’s how a lot of people still behave, at any ‘ethnic’ restaurant!

“What is the Blandest Thing you have on the menu?”

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Mayo, shiso and tiny little fish sandwich

Browsing around YouTube instead of working, as you do, today I found this little gem. It’s a commercial for Ajinomoto Mayonnaise, by Juzo Itami, the late, great director of the best food movie ever, Tampopo:

The actor (not sure if it’s Itami himself) is talking on the phone to a friend, when he gets hungry. Still remaining on the phone (and inexplicably on his back), he scoots over to the kitchen to get white bread, mayo and chirimenjako, little semi-dried fish. He tops it off with a fresh shiso leaf, and is in heaven. The dialogue is just like the dense, obsessive dialogue in Tampopo. I’ll have to give that sandwich a try one day…it is odd enough that it has to appeal only to a really curious food person.

(The second commercial is cute yet odd, like many of the best Japanese commercials.) continue reading...

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Whatever lame April Fools' jokes you may encounter today, there is none better than the Swiss Spaghetti Harvest

Today, you will be encountering many lame (and perhaps a handful of not-lame) April Fools’ Day jokes. But there really is none better, than the Swiss Spaghetti Harvest.

I know I keep bringing it up every year on this day, but it really is that good.

Here’s a fairly acceptable YouTube version:

continue reading...

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Silly product warning labels

I was just opening a new pack of umeboshi (pickled plums) today, when I noticed this warning on the lid in Japanese:

WARNING: Umeboshi have seeds, and sometimes the seeds can be pointed.
So please be careful.

Here’s the label, with two pointy seeds.

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(Edit: I could understand the umeboshi warning if it was in English (or language of the country in which the pack was being sold), since people may be unfamiliar with umeboshi. But this was a pack imported from Japan, with Japanese writing, so they are warning Japanese people, who are, or should be, familiar with umeboshi and their pointy seeds. Ume are related to apricots, so maybe apricots should have pointy-seed labels too.)

WTF? So…has it come to this now? We have to have warning labels on natural foods?

I can understand warning labels on manufactured products, say a pesto sauce, to warn about the existence of finely ground nuts. A small percentage of the population is very allergic to nuts.

But, surely the nut-allergic shopper knows to stay away from whole peanuts for example. Or will we have to have labels on those too? “Warning: This bag contains peanuts.” ….

What about warning labels on bags of beans? “Warning: This bag contains beans, which may cause flatulence and socially awkward situations.” Meat? “Warning: This pack contains meat, which comes from an animal. Vegetarians are known to have an aversion to meat.” A bunch of bananas? “Warning: Bananas have slippery skins. If dropped on the ground, they may cause an accident, or a horde of circus clowns to show up.”

Is this labelling gone too far? (Japan is not as litigious as the U.S. for example, but it’s slowly getting there.) Are there any other nanny-state labels you’ve seen?

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A Marmite Valentine

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Look what came in the mail today! continue reading...

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Japanese Valentine's Day chocolate giving customs in miniature

re-ment-girichoco.jpgAs I wrote about last year, Valentine’s Day in Japan is fraught with social stress. Somehow, the chocolate manufacturers have managed to convince the whole society that a girl or woman can’t just give chocolates to the ones they love. (And it’s only the women who give chocolates in Japan on the 14th, not men, unlike other countries.) She must also give giri choco, or ‘obligation chocolates’, to people she ‘owes’; bosses, teachers, and fathers-in-law.

Now you can see this kind of social giving in miniature! Re-ment, the maker of amazingly detailed diecast miniatures which I’ve also written about before, has this set of two types of chocolates: Honmei or giri?! (Your real target, or obligation?!) The caption says this: continue reading...

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Uh..uh...beetle larvae shaped chocolates

Chocolate. It’s such a lovely, malleable substance. It can be shaped into anything really. Anything.

But, one wonders what kind of twisted mind came up with this idea…chocolate truffles shaped like kabutomushi (rhinocerous beetle) larvae!

Avert your eyes if you are squeamish. You may not want to read this while you’re eating.

(If you’re getting here from the front page, pause and breathe in deeply before clicking that ‘continue reading’. 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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Plastic fantastic New Years feasts

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A look at preorder New Year’s feasts in Japan. continue reading...

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The pickled leeks of human kindness

I’ve been following a certain story in the UK with interest. A rich old lady died recently there, and in her will, she left her £10 million estate to the owners of her favorite Chinese restaurant. The family (actually her nieces and nephews) contested the will, as you might expect. On Friday, the High Court upheld the will. continue reading...

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I have whisk elbow

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This hasn’t been a good couple of weeks for me health wise. First there was the ‘acute tonsilitis’ thing (that is much better, thanks for your nice notes!) Now I have a self-inflicted case of Whisk Elbow. That’s where you 1) forget to charge your cordless electric whisk, 2) have an uncontrollable urge to make some little almond cakes which use the classic French method of whipping the eggs with sugar over a hot-water bath until they become a foamy, lemony-yellow mass of heaven, and 3) do it by hand with a wonky whisk. Now I have shooting pains from my elbow running down my forearm.

The moral of this story: When you have a cake urge, and your electric equipment is kaput, don’t be a hero. Go to the store and buy one. Something to remember if you’ll be doing a lot of holiday baking and your muscles are not trained up for heavy-duty whipping. (eh…)

(And by the way, no I do not own a KitchenAid. Whenever I look at one, I see the price - they cost more than 650CHF (about US $580) here - and think: For that I could go away for a nice weekend in, say, Aix-en-Provence, or Florence, or Strasbourg, or even Paris. I’d rather do that anytime! And so I do. Whenever I feel the urge for a quick getaway, I go look at a KitchenAid mixer, and make do with my cheap electric whisk.)

On a much happier note, there are already some great responses to the book giveaway mini-contest. Come and share your own food memories too, for a chance at a great book!

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The refrigerator knows

We had a major spillage accident in our refrigerator today, which required removal of all shelves and drawers. So I took the opportunity to give everything a wipe and wash and re-organize.

The end result was rather enlightening. 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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Alessi Mr. Chin kitchen gadgets - or, what were they thinking?

I am a usually a big fan of the Italian design firm Alessi, who make, besides other things, all kinds of cool, funky and expensive kitchen gadgets. However, this Mr. Chin line of kitchen timers and other gadgets made me wonder, what were they thinking.

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Paddington Bear eats Marmite!

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There’s quite a lot of slightly matted plush fur flying in Britain this week over the new Marmite TV ad, which features the lovable Paddington Bear, devotee of marmelade sandwiches, tucking into a Marmite sandwich. It made so much of a furor that it even made the evening news on the BBC yesterday. Paddington Bear creator Michael Bond has been accused of selling out and for supplying the script for the commercial (he has denied both). There have been dozens of news stories and editorials devoted to it (my favorite headline is What Next, Rupert Bear in Burberry?). continue reading...

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