Unsavory Sushi

If there was ever one single food trend that 99.9% of the population could identify with, foodie or not, it would absolutely be the ingenious Japanese creation known as sushi. Climbing up the ranks of culinary fads so rapidly that it has barely established it’s roots in the US before hitting cult-status. Fanatics sprung from the woodworks and soon, it seemed as if the country was engulfed in a collective obsession over those rolls of vinegared rice. One could practically trip over all of the dime-a-dozen sushi joints sprouting up in metropolitan areas, and I personally have yet to see a single one of them go under. It would seem as if every last person on earth were enamored with them, and their appetites as bottomless as the wallets that strain under their often exorbitant prices… And I am certainly not excluded from this majority. As shocking as it is to still find the stray uninformed eater who has yet to try sushi for themselves, it is even more startling to still encounter confusion when I profess my love for this simple fare. “But… I thought it had fish in it? Are you sure you’re VEGAN?” they might ask incredulously. While hundreds of different vegetable combinations and recipes struggle to emerge from my slightly gaping mouth, the overwhelmingly abundant options prevent more than a feeble response of “Of course, there are vegetable sushi…!”

Coming from someone who partakes in some sort of rice rolls about once a week, you would expect a slightly more in-depth explanation, but if you ask me, sushi speaks for itself. So simple in its basic construction but with so many complex adaptation and options along the way, it’s no wonder that the preparation of this ubiquitous Japanese specialty is considered an art in its homeland. When it comes right down to it however, I take the purist’s approach and pursue the easiest choices, guaranteed to be found on any menu. The sheer number of kappa maki that have rolled down into my gullet over the years would be terrifying to account for, to say the least. They’re my idea of comfort food, and so every time I returned home for a weekend between classes, there would always be sushi in the dinner plans.

Unfortunately, the difficulties of ordering in most rinky-dink restaurant become abundantly clear from the moment that we’re seated, and the waiter can’t even tell you what certain dishes are composed of. The rank smell of stewing chicken wafts out of sticky kitchen doors and stamps out the scent of what’s actually being served. Requests for separate plates go unheeded, and fish comes piled on top of my sad, squished rolls, rendering them uneatable. These occurrences are nothing new, but worst of all is when orders get mixed up, an suddenly an unseen hand above my head drops a bomb: A plate with only fishy flesh.

Vegetable sushi. What is so hard to understand about vegetable sushi? I’m sure that one combo platter is just as easy to make as another, but that doesn’t mean that they can be prepared interchangeably! A lovely work of art in it’s own right, it’s almost an insult to return such a meticulously constructed platter back to the kitchen, as I’m sure most other patrons would be delighted with the brightly colored fish perched delicately on their starchy thrones. My confidence abandons me, and the most I can do is stare sadly at those unsavory sushi. With nothing else to eat while the rest of the family digs in, ordering sushi starts to become more of a trial than a treat. Struggling to replace this offensive dish with the correct one for several more minutes, followed by another long wait while a new plate is prepared… It’s a surprise even to me that my love for the stuff still remains untouched by the end of such arduous meals.

I can’t be the only one to have experienced this, and yet there is still such an enthusiastic reception for sushi that it clearly has a firm hold on a multitude of palates near and far. Perhaps it’s the promise of exotic new flavors, the sheer possibilities that keep sushi fans coming back for more… Or just the possibility of making it in the comfort of one’s home that makes it all the more appealing- Something that I can certainly agree with!

Deck the Halls with… Cupcakes?

“A CHRISTMAS tree, in our house?! Never!”, my mother would reprimand me when I suggested a new holiday decoration in the form of pine needles and twigs. Coming from a long line of observant Jews and nothing else, it should have come as no surprise that my parents wouldn’t budge on the subject, but the holiday symbols have come to mean something completely different from their religious origins. Anything that has that certain holiday cheer to it, that indescribable seasonal joy, be it a menorah, stocking, or snowman simply turns my heart into marshmallow fluff. All that matters is the celebration, not the ritual. And so I persisted like the annoying gnat I imitate so well now, and for the first time last year, I was finally given permission to bring that other holiday’s symbol into our home. Of course, there were conditions- It was to be small, very small, so small it might get lost in the jungle of dishes that is our kitchen. December 31, it was to be gone, no questions asked. And of course, it was my own rule that prevented me from ripping a healthy little sapling out of the ground, and so artificial tinsel on a wire frame it was!

Affectionately named “Filbert,” the mere sight of the one foot-tall, glittery shrub brings a smile to my face.

Since this is the second year that Filbert has come out of hibernation, you would think that I’ve already fashioned eight dozen miniature ornaments to outfit him in, but alas, the holidays always pass so quickly- The poor bush still has little more than the blue orbs he was purchased with. Although this year is no exception in terms of its hectic pace, I’ve at least taken the time to give him a more personal affect, and one that says a lot about where my mind has been lately: A tiny felt cupcake.

At this rate, I might be able to fill all of Filbert’s stubby branches by the year 2025, but hey, it’s a start.

And in the spirit of the holidays, I thought I might just share this simple design with you, and perhaps you might find the inspiration to start replacing your own store-bought ornaments with handmade gems, too. Since Filbert is so tiny, I might suggest enlarging this pattern 2 or 3 times for a regular-sized tree, lest it get lost in all of the greenery. It’s another dead-easy project that could be enjoyed by crafters of any skill level, so get out the kids and let them make their own cupcake ornaments, too!

First of all, click here, [enlarge if desired], print and cut.

To assemble, all you need to do is cut 2 frosting shapes out of your desired frosting-colored felt, and 2 cake shapes out of your desired cake colored felt. Sew one frosting to one cake along the dotted line, and repeat for the other pair. Attach bugle beads to the frosting to imitate sprinkles. Hold the two sides together with the right sides facing out, and starting from the left bottom corner, whip stitch the pieces together. Pause when you get down to the bottom right side (leaving the bottom open) to attach a length of embroidery floss for the hanger/loop, lightly stuff, and then sew closed. Have a happy tree!

Flying South

Bursting in through the open windows without warning, a blustery wind filled with sharp fragments of freezing rain seems to signify that like it or not, winter is upon us once again. Never mind the red leaves still hanging precariously by a thread up in the tallest trees, or the calender that still firmly insists that this season is still known as “autumn”- Mother nature appears to have other thoughts on the matter. All of a sudden, there is nary a pest indoors or out (not that I’m complaining) and nearly every single wild creature out there has already turned in for a long hibernation, or has taken off for a trip to the tropics. That is, except for one little fellow who showed up on my doorstep not too long ago…

Looking quite distraught, this tiny bird was but a newborn, not yet a goose but still a wee goose-ling. Sporting wings so small and underdeveloped that they could have only carried perhaps a single feather, he quickly explained that the rest of his family had left him behind in search of greener pastures, not to mention warmer weather. Unable to wait for the youngster to gain the strength required to make such a long journey, the plummeting temperatures scared them off without the poor baby in tow. Searching for some kind family to put him up for the winter, he had been ringing doorbells all throughout the neighborhood, but to no avail. Apparently no one wanted to deal with a wild goose, probably knowing all too well that they aren’t exactly the easiest creatures to toilet train

But those sad eye, that heart-breaking story- How could I turn him away so cruelly? If you know me, then by now you would know that I couldn’t… But unfortunately, I couldn’t keep him here, either. Thinking fast, I realized that I knew a very generous, sweet blogger who does actually live in Brazil who would certainly take good care of him. Arranging for a first class plane ride, he would be able to fly south for the winter after all!

(Photo courtesy of Patricia!)

And even if he hasn’t been reunited with his original family, it seems that he has happily found a new one, and I would say that this lucky duck hasn’t been having such a terrible time since he arrived, either!

Tea Time

At long last, the mercury has finally begun its reluctant recession back down the thermometer, and more bearable temperatures have come again. I, for one, could not be more thrilled. There’s just something about the crispness of the air, that chilly bite of the wind first thing in the morning, that really makes me want to jump out of bed and start the day early. After enduring such a brutal summer, even 65 degrees feels like winter is just around the corner, and it seems that everyone is taking notice in their own ways. Fewer pairs of shorts sandals can be seen around campus these days, replaced by long pants, thick socks, and perhaps even sturdy boots, in anticipation of what’s to sure to come. As always, it’s not just clothing that’s changing; Tastes are slowly evolving and leaning more towards hot, filling, hearty options, no longer satisfied by the cool and refreshing offerings of summer. For me, the first change isn’t what I’m eating, but instead what I’m drinking.

As an avid tea-lover, I’m so happy to return to a cup of the stuff piping hot whenever the time feels right. Sure, tea can be iced and often is in my household, but with the time involved in waiting for it to steep, cool, and be ready for drinking… It’s just not the same, not nearly as easy and instantly comforting as hot tea. Now I’m stocking up again, and the choices, oh, the choices! Green tea will always win my heart, although even then there are so many choices. Green tea with lemon, chai, mint… The list goes on, and I want to sip, slurp, and guzzle every variant out there. All I need now is my seasonal favorite of gingersnap tea to come back around Christmas time, and since I plan to buy them out the first chance I get, I’ll make sure there will be enough to last for another year.

So what’s your favorite tea, and are you more partial to it cold, or hot like me?

[Mrs. Green Tea Bag pattern from Softies]

Weapons of Mass Cakery

If there’s one thing that can instill loyalty in old acquaintances, instantly make new friends, and strengthen relationships in general, it’s my personal opinion that the magic bullet just might be baked goods. Sure, there are many different vices that could have similarly potent effects, but I just can’t help but think how much better the world would be if we all tried baking before starting fights and turning to more lethal methods (Unless, of course, you’re not a very good baker and your cakes are more like bombs in the first place.) So in light of all the gloominess that has been forcing its way into my daily life, struggling to make sense of some horrible textbooks speaking of a gory, unpleasant past, I thought that I might do my part in ending the hate by whipping up plenty of cake. Of course, such a stunt wouldn’t be easy in our tiny oven in the dorm, and I have yet to cart in some actual cake pans, so I resorted to a much more forgiving but less edible material instead.

This is what I would like to call a sampler plate- A flavor for everyone, to be sure! With eight different slices in all, it’s hard to go wrong even for the pickiest palate to choose something delicious, such as…

Lemon Meringue,

Blueberry Mousse,

Vanilla with Coffee Buttercream,

Chocolate Banana,

Strawberry Mousse,

Carrot Cake,

Green Tea Layer Cake,

And a Berry Charlotte.

I guess it’s pretty obvious what’s been on my mind lately, huh? The kitchen calls, but still insufficient supplies and time prevent me from baking like the “good old days” a mere month or so ago. Nonetheless, these felt cakes were a ton of fun to create, even if they might not spread exactly the same sort of joy and warm feelings that real baked goods are famous for. But trust me, if these babies were real… I just might be considered a cake-terrorist, judging by that amount of fire power!

Pest Control

“Organic” may be the buzz word of the decade, but it’s a concept that’s more than just a trendy fad, doomed to fizzle out just like slinkies, space food sticks, and afros. Actually, the whole conflict of organic vs. conventional foods only began a few short decades ago, as chemicals weren’t always the standard when growing healthy crops. Strange to think about, now that pesticides are practically synonymous with farming and the pros in the business are often dependent on mutant franken-foods, impregnated with fancy growth hormones and antibiotics. In this age of technological advancement, it’s difficult to imagine how life must have been without such convenient short cuts, despite how simple it must have once seemed. I know first hand that critters won’t just turn tail at the sight of a mesh fence, and nothing will faze those virulent weeds and pests that manage to invade no matter what natural preventative measures are taken. Health and environment aside, it’s those days when I’m up to my ankles in invasive sprouts, picking through leaves full of holes and sickly brown splotches, that I can almost understand the argument towards more aggressive measures. Truly, how can one grow food in a conscientious way without surrendering it to the vermin scrounging about for a free meal?

Maybe, just maybe, the farmers of old employed helpful creatures to stand guard while they tended the fields! Absurd to think about, but while I was admiring the little jalapeƱos beginning to form in the garden, I noticed a cheerful little frog watching my every move, dutifully protecting the young veggies from pesky thieves. Snatching up flies, bugs, and errant sprouts alike, I could have sworn that his sole purpose there was to watch my thriving plants, ensuring their safety. Since this is perhaps the most I’ve ever seen produced by my own soil, I owe this little fellow quite a bit, but I’m betting he already feels as though he’s gotten his reward- With all of the pests that he’s managed to “contain,” he’s had quite a feast, his belly practically bursting with all sorts of buggy goodness. Judging by that wide smile on his face, I would have to say that this is definitely the best solution to organic farming!