Monday, July 25, 2016

Gluten-Free, Vegetarian Recipe: Bannocks and Scones

As I posted on Instagram the other day, I learned an interesting piece of trivia after Googling the most common unit of food in the 18th century Scottish setting of Outlander, the bannock: it's any number of varieties of dense, flat oatcake, and a slice of it is called a "scone".

Whaaaat. No wonder scones are so dense, I thought. How did we keep those but completely forget about the complete confection? Huh. ~The More You Know~..

Anyway, I made a really quick, easy, gluten-free and vegan version! Suitable for people with allergies, those who refuse to touch animal products, other degenerates, and normal people alike.

So, here's what you'll need (makes about 4 servings):

- About  1 1/2 cups of Pamela's Gluten Free Pancake and Baking Mix
- About 1 cup of oats
- About 1/2 cup of raisins
- The equivalent of about 1 1/2 eggs worth of egg replacer
- About 1 cup of almond milk
- About 2 tablespoons of olive oil, vegetable oil, or melted shortening, plus a little more for the pan
- About 1 tablespoon of chia seeds and/or flaxseed meal
- About 1 tablespoon of raw sugar (crystals) 

If you know me you know I never actually measure anything, so just keep in mind that the key to this is to create a mixture that isn't too oaty and therefore too susceptible to crumbling and breaking. It should be thick and chunky but moist and sticky enough to stay together; don't hesitate to sprinkle in more baking mix or almond milk.

First, sprinkle the egg replacer in a mixing bowl and add a little warm water, whisking it together according to the instructions. Add the dry ingredients, and then the almond milk and whichever oil you choose to use. I've been using olive oil but would probably pick shortening if I had a choice, as this type of cake would traditionally contain lard.

Whisk together roughly, switching to a spoon to get the bits at the edges. Plop the mix unceremoniously into a large pan or skillet that has been oiled and on low heat for a couple of minutes.

Use the spoon to smush and spread the mixture into a circle about an inch thick. Use a spatula to press in the uneven edges, treating it like a big pancake. Sprinkle the sugar crystals on top and use the spatula to keep the cake from sticking to the pan. Once the underside has hardened and browned a bit, very carefully flip the cake and cook until it seems done, or until a knife inserted comes out clean.

Cut into slices and serve sugared side-up, preferably with coffee or tea - you've just made fresh hot scones!

Monday, July 11, 2016

Golden Week Part II (5.4 - 5.8): Japanland: Hitachi Seaside Park and The Quaintness of Mejiro

Okay, Golden Week 2016, Part II - and I've only let two months go by before posting it!

I should first mention that I made delicious Mexican food for Cinco de Mayo. 
Really, it's important.
I'd never actually made my own chips before, but one of the packages of corn tortillas my mom had sent in our huge Easter box was a bit stale, so their fate was obviously sealed. But like, not completely sealed. Not airtight or anything, because then they wouldn't have gone stale.
Anyway, they turned out super delicious, and all I had to do was flash fry them in shallow olive oil for a few seconds each! I also made garlicky black beans with salsa verde and Mexican rice, so everything was also gluten-free and vegan, which I'm sure few actual Mexicans would appreciate.

Nom. El nom. Los nomes. Wow.

Sometimes I have a can of picked jalapeno slices on hand, too; we rotate between 6 or 7 different grocery stores within a few-mile radius to find such exotic but affordable foodstuffs.

Also important to mention and completely unrelated to Cinco de Mayo: Hannes' friend and coworker Akim visited North Korea and brought us these great 1960's-style pins and a couple of other things!

Okay, so onto the trip at hand: I had decided that during Golden Week we had to go up to Ibaraki to see the fields of nemophila or "baby blue eyes" at Hitachi Seaside Park, because they're famous and impressive and I don't get out much.
The nicer, faster train that goes up to Mito is like 35 bucks per person each way, which is pretty outrageous if you think about how short the trip is and how similar routes on similar trains in Europe cost much less. But hey, that's living in Japan in a nutshell: paying too much for everything not only for no reason but almost always for inferior quality. If you don't mind the markup, though, it's undoubtedly a pleasant, easy ride.

The bright light makes it look like he has a weird stick arm lol

When you arrive at the station outside Mito from which you can take a bus to the park, 
there's no doubt about whether or not you're in the right place.

Let me tell you though, I'm not sure I've ever felt wind as strong as what was delaying the Tohoku shinkansen and numerous other trains that day. Holy shit. I'd assumed it'd be blustery, you know, being on the coast, but I didn't imagine that my shirt would try to blow over my head while I was already using both hands to try to hold down my skirt and hat at the same time. It was ridiculous. And this was just outside the station, walking to the stupid bus! A few times it was so strong I couldn't move against it and had to stand there waiting for a few seconds. It was very weird, and we spent a lot of the rest of the afternoon taking turns holding my hat onto my head, though the hurricane-force gales just outside the station thankfully did not continue into the park.

Aren't they lovely?

That they're about the same colour as the sky is what makes the hills so compelling, and a clear, sunny day like this was perfect for appreciating them, even if it was uncomfortably windy.

To be fair, pretty much all the food being sold was meat and I hadn't had cheese fries in years, and I'm pretty confident there was no actual dairy in this cheese product anyway..

Teddy bear manju atop ramune-flavoured shaved ice! 
It had a really soft, powdery texture.

As you can see, the park is quite expansive, and we definitely 
didn't have the energy to explore it all.

I took a short video because the countless flowers being whipped around by the wind were kind of entrancing to watch, though I guess it's one of those things you kind of had to be there for.

Once we'd had enough of the surprisingly strong wind and sun and throngs of people up on the hills, we walked down through a wooded area planted with lots of different varieties of tulips before heading out.

Complete with tiny windmill for the full Dutch experience

These ones were particularly odd and impressive; they looked like the corpses of other tulips.

We were pretty beat from walking around and having hiked Takaosan the day before; actually, it totally kicked our asses, and by the time we'd walked all around the park I couldn't even stairs. 
But, as long as we were there and had paid for the pricey train tickets, I kind of wanted to go to Mito and check out a couple of things.

From the people who brought you "Deep Sea Oats", now there's "Space Barley"!

Outside the station there's an abandoned lot that vaguely resembles the tagged ruins 
of a Roman aqueduct.

Unfortunately, we were too tired to walk around the center of town and see one of the museums and nearby sculpture tower like I'd wanted. The manhole cover with Mito's colourful little mascot wasn't anywhere to be found, either, so I just got this one. Booo.

(these carp windsocks or 鯉のぼり were out for Childrens' Day, which is May 5th)

Knowing when we were beaten, we called it a successful day and headed home.

You might remember that I mentioned this Golden Week being weird, as it had two sandwich days within the same week, undoubtedly annihilating scores of vacation plans. Mt. Takao was the Tuesday, Hitachi Seaside Park the Wednesday, a quiet Cinco de Mayo comprised largely and appropriately of cooking beans the Thursday, and most people had to go back to work that Friday, including us.

Saturday we didn't really do anything, but I had asked NiQui and Rejon if they'd wanted to have a girls' day out at the end of the holiday, so that's what we ended up doing on Sunday.
After thoroughly and mechanically browsing Tokyo Art Beat and Time Out Tokyo articles over a number of nights when we'd both apparently had trouble getting to sleep, Rejon and I found a few visit-worthy nooks and crannies around Ikebukuro, our usual meeting place, and devised a general course to meander along.

Of course, no one could have guessed that after a trip to the bookstore and the first slightly disappointing and overpriced cafe, that we would be thwarted by a muscular dude walking a very friendly chihuahua...

... and thus be unable, for a time, to continue our quest.
NiQui has a long and colourful history of this. There's photo evidence.

#thatsnotyours #giveitback #putitdown

Suddenly... Kamakura? Cute little seaside resort town? Wtf?
On our way to Popotame and B Gallery we discovered that Mejiro, a neighbourhood between Ikebukuro and Takadanobaba, is quaint as fuck.

We had a nice chat and complimentary cup of cold green tea while asking a woman named Nao Uchimura about the glass art you can see a little bit of behind my derpy face there.

Next up was Popotame, a little gallery and shop full of little handmade books, notepads, postcards, and other stationery and decor-related odds and ends. It's tucked away in a quiet residential area not far from Gallery B.

This came out blurry because I snapped it quickly, but isn't it great?! 
For how small it is it's also very pricey..

A very simplistic, whimsical collection called "little story" was on display, and Inori Kito, 
the artist, was also there.

Nearby, we also found this fairytale-esque lighting shop, which was once again pretty pricey, but had lots of lovely handmade glass lamps, votive holders, and other decor.

Once again, I ended up with a stack of interesting postcards from this minor excursion, including one for an interestingly-themed love hotel (bottom left), because god knows I need more paper ephemera (about as much as I need a hole in the head).

Mocha, NiQui informed us, was the first cat cafe she ever visited, and since it was near the bottom of our list and it was that kind of leisurely day, once we had circled back to Ikebukuro Station we were like, fuck it, sure.

Mhmm, yes. Sleeping, it would seem.

Also sleeping, check. Interesting.

This particular cat had a penchant for making the most ridiculous faces; as you can see here, it couldn't really keep its tongue in its mouth, and also tended to look shell-shocked.

There. You can see it.
Right there.
Vietnam flashback.
(-whispers- Holy shit.)

Feeding time was a bit of a circus. 
It was a pretty warm day and the place was crowded with mostly women in their 20's like us.

And finally, this one seems.. to be.. yep, yeah. Got it. Sleeping.
Fascinating creatures.

Before heading home we grabbed bubble teas from this fairly new place just outside the Seibu East Exit. If you're wondering, there are actually quite a few types of sweet fruity teas that don't have any milk as well as frozen varieties. And you can get rainbow tapioca balls, too!

Until next year, Golden Week.