Monthly Archives: August 2012

I love this post – I’m always irritated by misspelling, incorrect usage, and malapropisms. These keep cropping up in published works, by reputable publishing houses, too. I assume the editors are well-paid, why are they using spellcheck instead of actually editing? “Peddling” instead of “pedaling” when we’re discussing cycling, not sales! Oh, those homonyms. They are spellcheck’s kryptonite.

The Asian calligraphy tattoos – these are pretty, but are the equivalent of the unintentionally hilarious Japanese t-shirt that has sayings in English like, “The secret to happiness is having your own nut sack,” but without the advantage of being removable. You would think a good rule of thumb would be to actually know what it is you are writing on your body. One of my sister’s boyfriends had Japanese kanji up and down one arm. He thought he knew what they meant but he wasn’t sure which character meant what. Permanent body art that he doesn’t even understand? My husband reads kanji and had to tell him what each character meant. He should have told him that it read, “Learn to read Japanese!”

One of my favourite websites: Engrish.com

Blurt

A recent news story of a misspelled tattoo got me to thinking about an old money-making idea. I went back, did some editing and brought it back.

I have a franchise business plan that will make me obscenely wealthy. Even if it only makes me fabulously well off, it will pay off in enough laughs to make it worth while.

My new business will be a proofreading service for dumb people. Why? Because dumb people insist on using words.

Every day, dumb people get tattoos, make signs and deliver messages with words that they are not qualified to use. By putting a proofreader in places where dumb people might use words, I will be ready to help protect them from themselves (and rake in the bucks).

IPY

Here is how the business, called I Proof You (IPY) will work. Let’s imagine that there is an I Proof You franchise in…

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Had to change my theme again!

I realized that my chosen them, Twenty Ten, was inserting my “About” blurb at the end of every post. This seems gratuitous, unnecessary, and as it’s hard-coded in I can’t do a thing about it.

So yet another theme.

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Milestone Books in My Life

A shot of the fiction bookcase

My mother taught me to read when I was very young, about 2 1/2. I remember her reading to me books like The Wind in the Willows and she filled the house with books of all kinds and just let me loose. She gave me the gift of reading for which I thank her still. I can still recall important discoveries in my reading life:

Age 7: Discovered The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe in my parents’ bookshelf and after that it was open season on their books.

Age 8: Read Anne of Green Gables whilst on vacation in Hawaii. Did not understand most of the biblical and classical quotes, but added new words like “perquisites”to my vocabulary.

Age 8: Started reading my mother’s cookbooks, most notably the Time/Life series that focused on food of different regions, like Italy, China, France, etc. and also Creative Cooking, published by Reader’s Digest, that had recipes, organized by month, but also contained, enthrallingly, pages and pages of ingredients with illustrations.

This was my bible from when I was about 8 years old until I was in my teens.

Two pages on cheese, with pictures and a legend so you could get a description of each cheese. A page on fruit, with a drawing of forced rhubarb next to regular rhubarb. My mother was a foodie before the term “foodie” existed; she’s also a dietician. She started teaching me how to cook when I was 8 and I’ve been a full-on cook ever since.

Age 10: Read The Hobbit and then The Lord of the Rings and to this day I re-read TLOTR about once every two years. When the movie came out I was one of those critical people pointing out the differences between book and movie. In my head, only, of course.

Age 12: Read a friend’s older sibling’s copy of The Exorcist in one afternoon. Was frightened for more than a year.

Age 12: Found Emil and the Piggy Beast by Astrid Lindgren in the school library, brought it home, read it to my little sister and we howled. I still read her stuff I find funny so that we can laugh together. She wants me to read Fifty Shades of Grey so we can mock it, shrieking with laughter, but I just don’t have that kind of time any more. Well, maybe I will. I’m just so morally opposed to this kind of thing: badly-written books getting so much attention? Sequels? Feh. (Plus, I went through all the porn stuff with Anne Rice about 20 years ago. Been there, read that.) (tangent alert) It’s like all the reality shows where people willingly expose their shallowness and vulgarity. These people are damaging our culture and should not be encouraged. I refuse to watch, even though a friend of mine knows someone on Real Housewives of Vancouver and wants me to watch it. Nope. Can’t.

Age 13: Read Stephen King’s Christine in one sitting, have been a fan ever since. My tastes have changed a bit since then but I still like his writing, particularly the Dark Tower series, some of his Richard Bachman stories like The Shawshank Redemption, It, The Tommyknockers, Rose Madder, Duma Key…The Stand and the Talisman also.

Age 14: Discovered in my parents’ bookshelf: Gerald Durrell’s My Family and Other Animals, James Herriott’s Vet books, and Margaret Atwood’s The Edible Woman. That was a happy reading summer even if I was a bit mystified by Margaret Atwood. Edible Woman was ok but then I read Surfacing and was like, What? But I adore The Robber Bride and Lady Oracle.

Age 16: Gone with the Wind – read it in one afternoon, had stunning headache afterwards. Rented the movie (Betamax!); my mom taught me the word “schmaltz.”

Age 16: Read my mother’s copy of Riding the Iron Rooster by Paul Theroux. Have been a fan of his writing, travel writing in general, and also books about China, ever since. I discovered Jonathan Raban and Dervla Murphy at about this time too.

Age 17: Read Robertson Davies for the first time. Magic.

Age 17: Discovered Anaïs Nin in mother’s bookshelf. Yikes.

Age 17: An ex-boyfriend gave me a copy of Helene Hanff’s 84 Charing Cross Road because he knew I’d love it and he was right. I still love him a bit just for that. He’s also the one who introduced me to movies like This is Spinal Tap. I still adore Helene Hanff. And the Spinal Tap guys.

Age 18: Read Jung Chang’s Wild Swans, swiftly moved on to Nien Cheng’s Life and Death in Shanghai. I was setting the stage for my discovery of Han Suyin later in my twenties.

Age 18: Picked up Pride and Prejudice in the library and found out that Jane Austen is hilarious! Who knew. She’s still one of my favourite writers. She opened the door to classics for me.

Age 18: John Irving’s A Prayer for Owen Meany was the first book that made me cry. And I love his turn of phrase: “Grandmother possessed those essential qualities that made the inappropriate gesture work: those being facetiousness and sarcasm.” (that’s off the top of my head, I don’t have it in front of me so mistakes are because it’s from memory)

Age 19: Mom gave me a copy of Michael Ondaatje’s The English Patient and I realized I’d have to wait for the movie to find out what the hell happened. I’m a very fast reader so when prose gets, say, lyrical, I don’t usually pause to parse it. I enjoy poetic prose when it enhances my understanding of the novel as a whole – Margaret Atwood excels at this – but I’m not good when the whole thing is all poetic. This is my failing and maybe one day I’ll self-improve and get into Salman Rushdie, Gabriel Garcia Marques and other authors my mother’s always going on about. Our tastes in literature overlap but do not completely jive.

Age 20: Ken Follett’s Pillars of the Earth – consumed on a red-eye flight from Toronto where I was visiting my boyfriend. Red-eyed, indeed. This book sparked an interest in English history that I indulge to this day. I went on to more historical fiction, with Sharon Kay Penman, Philippa Gregory, and then into non-fiction writers like Alison Weir and Antonia Fraser. I still love all these authors. And I am a total know-it-all when it comes to English history, which is something worse than totally useless in the restaurant business and the side effect is that historical TV shows like The Tudors drive me insane. Justin’s banned it because of all the ranting afterwards.

Age 22: Discovered M.F.K. Fisher’s food writing. I still love How to Cook a Wolf. I adore this type of cookbook; lots of writing with some recipes in there too. Laurie Colwin, Colman Andrews, Mark Kurlansky, Ruth Reichl, A.A. Gill, and Robert L. Wolke. My heroes.

Age 24: A friend recommended Bill Bryson’s Neither Here Nor There and I discovered that you can’t read anything really funny before you go to sleep because it’s too stimulating. I was up all night, giggling. I lent it to my dad for a flight to Hong Kong, but had to confiscate it because he put in earplugs, then started reading and was laughing so loud he was disturbing everybody else in business class. I absolutely love all of Bryson’s writing and his memoir of growing up in the ’50s, The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid, is one of my all-time favourites.

Age 25: Michael Crichton’s Travels has been an important book for me. Here was a Harvard-medical-school-educated, science-oriented, extremely critical and analytical thinker – and the last third of this book details his explorations of the paranormal world. I know! Right? He learns to read auras, dispel entities….it’s incredible and really opened my mind. A bit, anyway. One day I’ll post about the ghost in the Washington Athletic Club.

Age 26: Han Suyin’s memoirs about her life and her relationship with China as a half-Asian, half-Belgian intellectual who fled her marriage to a Kuomintang general to become a doctor in the UK. And then had the sense not to return to live in Communist China. A Mortal Flower, Birdless Summer and My House Has Two Doors. Amazing. She is a genius and totally my guru and also half-Asian like me so we’re practically sisters. See, I’m gushing. I have to admit, nowadays her writing seems a bit turgid and pedantic, but she’s still my hero.

Age 30: Stuart MacLean’s Vinyl Cafe stories – amazing, wonderful, hilarious.

Age 30: Jared Diamond. I read Guns, Germs and Steel on vacation on the east coast of Oahu. Wow. Need I say more? Collapse is even better.

Age 31: Christopher Moore. When I run out of reading material I go get Bloodsucking Fiends or Fluke and have a giggle for myself.

Age 31: Augusten Burroughs, David Rakoff, David Sedaris, Sarah Vowell….worship the wit, the honesty, the courage, the funniness.

Age 36: Charles Clover, The End of the Line, Taras Grescoe, Bottomfeeder. And similar books on sustainability. After this series of reading, sustainability became a big goal at Hapa; we joined the Vancouver Aquarium’s Oceanwise program in 2010, which, as a Japanese restaurant, was tough to do and we’re definitely alone in our genre.

Age 37+: Discovered more fabulous fun authors: Laurie Notaro, Jen Lancaster, Diablo Cody….the memoirists, they rock my world. I like people who have a small streak of nastiness as opposed to those who are perfectly happy and positive all the time. Where do those people come from? I think they’re hiding something.

I’m stopping there….that’s the short list because I’m worried about this post getting too long. Also we’re getting close to my present age. One more! Last year I discovered Malcolm Gladwell. OK, I’m stopping there.

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I feel the need…the need to read! and also a blog I’m enthralled by

A shot of the nonfiction bookcase

Check out Todd Pack’s blog especially this post

I was so comforted when I found this blog. Because Mr. Pack is a reader, and passionate about books. Also a really good writer. Sometimes I feel like a freak because I read so much – if I can’t read something during the course of the day I go all of a doodah; something’s wrong and I don’t know what but my brain feels disorganized. Justin actually compared my need to read to alcoholism! He’s still living that one down. I suppose he regards the large bags of library books by the front door as “empties.” It’s funny because he’s a bit of a news addict – he has to read the paper every day and he reads newsmagazines whenever he can. But apart from the odd Clancy novel on vacation he doesn’t really understand my love of fiction. I can share nonfiction with him because he loves to be a know-it-all (so do I; we must be unbearable) but fiction, not so much.

I’ve only just entered the “blogosphere” this past July so I’m still new to this world but am I glad I found it! I’ve been reading blogs for a few years, usually via RSS so I didn’t have to go searching for them, but now that I’m with WordPress I’m finding more and more great blogs. I like this one too. There are countless amazing photography blogs and endless recipe blogs. And everybody reads! I always wondered where my people were. Now I know.

I am so encouraged by the presence of so many readers, and cooks, and photographers. Blogs have also restored my faith in the ability of non-professional writers (unless everyone I’m following is a professional) to write! I get e-mail from my staff and it’s often full of “wanna” and “gonna” and “u” instead of “you” and I despair. And these are not the Japanese, these are Canadians! The texts are even worse! I suppose everyone can’t be everything; I can’t wait tables without spilling on guests; they can’t write in English. C’est la vie. My daughter is learning Japanese and French simultaneously so her written English gives me chills. I expect it will improve but it’s frightening right now. She named her male beta fish “Sapfire” which I thought was the name of some character in manga or similar. But it turns out that she meant “Sapphire!” I just found this out today and I’m still recovering from the swoon.

I took the kids to the library today – they grabbed as many fairy tales as they could get their hands on and I picked up my holds. When I have a tall pile of library books on my bedside table I want to rub my hands together and gloat like Midas. I feel rich when I have lots to read, and slightly panicked when I’m running low.

I want to introduce the girls to so much great children’s literature – I’ve done Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House on the Prairie series, (albeit only up to their move to Silver Lake as it gets quite grim in the next book, we’ll do it later), I’ve bought all of L.M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables books (I just like to reread them myself), we’ve already read Astrid Lindgren’s Emil books (I have to get these from alibis.com as most of them are out of print)….I read them A Little Princess and am planning to move on to The Secret Garden soon. John F. Fitzgerald’s The Great Brain series (as many as I could find) are on the shelves waiting for the right moment, so are the Narnia books and of course J.R.R. Tolkein as I am a bit of a Tolkein nerd and feel the need to pass this on. The thing about all of these is that they are quite old – they are books I loved when I was young, and still love. When I take the girls to the bookstore we examine the more contemporary books and I’m usually disappointed by the quality of the writing. It’s just not the same. I would love recommendations of well-written children’s books, the kind that will expand their imaginations and vocabularies and that I will enjoy reading to them. No more flower fairies, please God. But when it comes to their reading on their own, I’m just grateful if they read and at this age I don’t care much about the quality of the material; I just want them to gain familiarity with the English language, and to enjoy themselves. Discernment can come later, or, if they’re prolific readers, it doesn’t even matter as long as it’s not all dreck. I’m a prolific reader; I’ve read a lot of dreck, but a lot of good stuff too. I want them to find the happy place that is total absorption in a book.

When I was about 18, I picked up Pride and Prejudice in the library, and took it to my summer job to read during my lunch hour. I was outside in the sun and people were walking by. I noticed one woman walking by because she was staring and smiling at me. I wondered for a minute whether I had food on my face but realized she was looking at the book. I feel the same way when I see young people reading the classics, or just reading good books. It’s the way I feel when I see people with babies. I’m reassured that the good things will continue.

And I’m very happy to find so many people who love to read.

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Theme change!

I changed my theme to reflect the fact that I’m no longer on vacation….I thought this looked a bit less relaxed and groovy. September looms.

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Behind the scenes at Hapa: the big kitchen meeting

Now that we have four locations of Hapa Izakaya, and a fifth opening in Toronto, we are moving towards further standardizing our menu. We started with a few pages that were consistent at all locations and then each location would have its own “fresh” section of specials that they developed independently. Some specials became so popular that we moved them to the “ground” menu so that we could offer them at all locations. But as our audience grows wider we are moving towards more standardization. Which also means reviewing each location’s rendering of ground menu items and deciding which is the best and should become standard for each location. This was not an easy meeting. I was prepared to come, take pictures with my groovy new camera and external flash, and maybe taste a few things, but I was not prepared to preside over something like a Japanese version of a Pillsbury Bake-Off. I adore our staff and the last thing I would want is to cause hurt feelings! Creative people, they are so sensitive! But fortunately our kitchen guys are pretty practical too.

So if you’ve ever wondered what a restaurant kitchen meeting is like….it’s actually pretty fun, the tasting ones anyway. The downside for me is that a lot of it takes place in Japanese which I don’t speak. Justin translates for Kevin (General Manager) and I and the guys use English when they can, and it’s always really cute when they express themselves in English. We needed to discuss a few practical things first, like pricing, and that’s never very interesting. We managed to spend 10 minutes discussing the cutting of tofu and the recipe and presentation of agedashi tofu, which is a deep-fried tofu dish with dashi, one of my daughter’s favourites and mine. But then the guys went to the kitchen and began the cook-off! I love watching professional cooks at work – their movements are so fast and sure and their timing is always absolutely spot-on. They let me take a few pics in the kitchen while they worked. I know I’m the owner but I don’t presume (not much anyway). I ask first before I intrude into my staff’s working space…and OMG, it’s hot in there.

We had a tough time deciding on one salad dressing. All four locations do a similar citrus-soy dressing and they’re all really good. (I copied down my favourite dressing recipe to use at home but will test it out before I post it because the guys make dressing in litre amounts so I need to cut it down considerably.) We ended up choosing the simplest dressing; it’s harder to screw it up when there are fewer ingredients and the difference wasn’t noticeable to anybody who isn’t a cook. But we had to eat a lot of salad to make this determination!

Trying out the salad dressing

Back to the kitchen….

Cutting scallops at the speed of light…

Scallop Tartare: chopped scallops, bacon, karashi mustard mayonnaise, wonton chips – but it’s ungarnished as it’s for tasting purposes only. Usually this would have some kind of fluff of alfalfa sprouts, some finely julienned radishes, that kind of thing.

Pork Belly

Pork Belly Lettuce Wrap, with crispy wonton bits, apple-yuzu jam and pickled red onions

Pork belly is extremely tasty, but I must confess: it’s not my favourite dish, because I am kind of fat-phobic. For some reason butter and cream are ok, but meat fat, no. It’s not elegant to chew at it like a rat, trying to avoid the fatty parts, so I leave this to Justin. The flavours are divine, though.

This is one of my favourite dishes:

(heavenly choir sings a chord) Polenta Fries!

Did I say I was fat-phobic? The hypocrisy! Well, it’s not meat fat. These are totally worth the calorie count. Crispy light tempura surrounding melting, hot, cheesy, creamy corn goodness? A little shmear of arugula gel for a touch of tartness? A drizzle of balsamic reduction adding its sweet acid to the mix? What’s not to like? Oh, right, the mile I’ll have to run to compensate for the calories. This is one reason I don’t drink: because I want those calories for things like pasta and cupcakes.

Beef Short Ribs, mmmm

We had to eat a lot of short ribs to determine which marinade was best. Tough call!

One of Justin’s favourite lunch items:

Halibut Taco: tempura halibut, housemade bacon, lettuce, tomato, shoestring potatoes, roasted jalapeño tartar sauce

Ishiyaki is a rice dish that is presented in a hot stone bowl: the ingredients are mixed at the table and allowed to cook a bit further to create yummy crispy edges. We have a few incarnations of this dish, some are vegetarian, involving mushrooms, some have pork in them, this one contains very tender braised beef:

Chipotle Beef Curry Ishiyaki

Mixing ishiyaki

Hapa Hot Wings, served with lemon wedge and fire extinguisher

Meeting over, only 2 hours later than anticipated. Beer time!

Who stayed until the end of this post? You get the recipe for the awesome Citrus Soy Salad Dressing which I’ve been figuring out as I work on this post:

Citrus Soy Salad Dressing

  • 3 T. olive oil
  • 2 T. Japanese soy sauce (not the dark Chinese kind); we are actually using gluten-free Tamari at the restaurants now but that’s up to you
  • 2 t. sugar or agave syrup
  • 1/4-1/2 tsp grated lemon rind
  • juice of 1 lemon (about 2 T.)
  • 3 capers
  • few sprigs parsley (this is a tough measurement; if you packed it together it would probably be less than a tablespoon)
  • 2 T. minced yellow onion

Give it a whiz in a food processor. If you don’t have a food processor just chop the solid ingredients very finely and shake in a jar. We serve this dressing with our Sashimi Salad and also our Midori Salad (simple green salad). You know I’m going to try it with quinoa to make a kind of Japanese quinoa salad. Stay tuned…

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I love my camera; thoughts on portraiture; oh, and Blueberry Scones

Looking like a dork but having great fun!

 

I am loving having a good camera! It’s been a real revelation – I thought I was incapable of taking good pictures but it turns out that with a good camera and some lenses just about anybody’s in business! It is not that hard; the camera does a lot for you. I am following some photographer’s blogs and found some good articles on Pinterest although I have to admit that a lot of the instructions totally whiz over my head. But I’m learning and really enjoying the process. My favourite thing is taking portraits. It’s funny; I’ve had quite a few professional photographs taken but I like very few of them. It drives me crazy to have no direction and then see the proofs and I look like an idiot or like Karla Homolka and about 500 lbs in every one of the pictures. I’ve been taking pictures of friends and we’ve discovered that if you take quite a few, let the subject have a look, then keep taking more, then look, that you eventually find out the best expressions, the best poses, to make your subject look awesome. I discovered that one friend gets tension lines around her nose and mouth if she’s standing, but her face is totally smooth and goddess-like if she’s sitting. Go figure! Thank god for digital photography because we take so many pictures with this learning process, but it’s worth it. So I am driven to take good pictures of people to prove that we are all beautiful, it’s all about lighting and angles and sitting vs. standing and not blinking all the time. Easy-peasy. Plus, with online editing sites like PicMonkey you can make regular people look like movie stars and nice-looking people look like gods.

Food, as it happens, is super-easy to photograph. All you need is a 50mm lens. Check out the Blueberry Scones:

Scones don’t blink.

How easy is that?

Blueberry Scones

  • 2 c. flour
  • 2 t. baking powder
  • 1/2 t. baking soda
  • 1/4 c. sugar
  • 1/4 t. salt
  • finely grated rind of 1/2 lemon
  • 5 T. unsalted butter, very cold, in pieces
  • 3/4 c. buttermilk (or milk soured with 1 T. vinegar or lemon juice)
  • 1 c. fresh or frozen blueberries (it’s debatable which are easier to work with; fresh don’t bleed into your dough, frozen don’t get crushed when you knead, even ever so lightly)
  • 1 T. milk plus coarse sugar for sprinkling

Oven: 450F

1 half-sheet pan lined with parchment or a Silpat

Whisk together the flour, baking soda, baking powder, sugar, salt and lemon rind. Cut in the butter (I give it a quick whiz in the food processor then dump it out into a mixing bowl) until it’s crumbly. Pour in the buttermilk  and give a quick stir or two, then add the blueberries and carefully stir until it’s all combined. There will be quite a bit of dry mixture but don’t worry; it will come together. Tip it out onto a floured countertop and sort of squeeze it together, gathering up the dry bits and very gently kneading until it holds together. Shape into a round about 1 1/2 inches thick and cut into 8 wedges, or divide into two and make two rounds, cutting into 6 wedges each for mini-scones. Gently move to the parchment/Silpat-lined baking tray. Brush lightly with milk and sprinkle with some coarse sugar (regular sugar is also fine). Bake about 12-15 minutes depending on whether you made mini or regular scones. When they’re done they should have a nice browned look. Let cool just a few minutes before serving because they are awesome warm with a bit of butter or some jam, or honey, or agave syrup.

You can also skip the sprinkling of sugar and instead, let cool, then drizzle with a thin icing made of icing sugar and lemon juice for an even prettier look that doesn’t require any condiment whatsoever.

You can also put an egg or egg yolk (I had some left from the pavlova) into the bottom of the measuring cup before you add your buttermilk for extra richness and tenderness.

 

 

 

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