September 24, 2014

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Dear friends,

Forgive me for bragging, but I’ve got enough Delicata squash to throw my own festival. I’m considering it, because I don’t know how else to use up the onslaught that came my way this month.

Delicata, an antique hybrid that may be the best-tasting winter squash in the world, is available in stores for a short time each fall. It doesn’t store well because the yellow and green-striped skin is fairly thin. Most winter squash must be peeled before eating, but not Delicata.

I planted Delicata this spring for the first time in about 5 years, after disease (powdery mildew) wiped out successive crops. Delicate Delicata seemed especially susceptible, so I gave up. This year I had a brilliant idea: a giant, slanted 12-foot-tall metal grid that the vines would climb, foiling the mildew with lots of sunlight and air. It worked, and I’m still harvesting Delicata as well as a slew of freaky-big butternut squash.

I was semi-frantically hunting down all the squash recipes I’ve created in the last decade when Tony showed up with an armload of squash. They were a gift from Brenda and Paul O’Neill, my Asian pear connections. “Didn’t you tell them we already have some?” I asked in alarm as Tony dumped the produce on the kitchen floor.

“I’ll be back with the rest of them,” he flung over his shoulder on the way out the door. I peeked out the window and saw him loading up a wheelbarrow from the bed of his pickup. Oh. My. God.

So we have a lot of winter squash and pumpkin, including one whose seeds are “good for the prostate,” Tony relayed. I will not whine, because I know we’ve barely scratched the surface of the variety and quantity of Brenda’s squash. She grows squash I’ve never seen before, and is my source for Musque de Provence, the flower-scented French heirloom pumpkin that I love. She sells the squash at their farm, displayed in appliance-sized crates that spill out of the barn and into the back yard. Now, THERE’S a woman with a squash problem.

I like the tip Brenda sent home with Tony. She said to let freshly picked squash sit at cool room temperature for a couple of weeks before cooking and eating, to allow the sweetness to further develop.

Even fresh from the vine, Delicata are so sweet that they don’t need butter or other seasonings. I have been roasting the squash in batches in the oven, brushed with kekap manis (sweet soy sauce) for the burnished look and hint of flavor it provides. Then I refrigerate the squash for use in stir fries and other meals throughout the week.

To roast any winter squash, cut it in half with a very sharp knife and scrape out the seeds and strings with a spoon or melon baller. Sometimes I remove the skin first with a vegetable peeler and cut it into chunks, but usually I’m too lazy. The skin comes off more easily after the squash is cooked. Place the squash on a foil-lined baking sheet with sides. Rub the cut surfaces with olive oil or sweet soy sauce if desired, or leave it bare. Roast uncovered at 400 degrees until a fork goes easily into the flesh. A Delicata will take about 30 minutes; others, longer.

On Sunday I roasted a Delicata and a kabocha squash, and on Monday I used half of the kabocha in Tony’s favorite comfort food, Japanese curry. Kabocha is a squat, dark-green Japanese squash with orange flesh that’s comparable to butternut in sweetness, but with a soft, creamy texture.

Japanese curry is beloved in Japan, where it is sold in almost every restaurant from fast-food to upscale. Tony ordered it about every other day during our recent trip to Japan. Curry is also a popular meal to cook at home, thanks to the easy-cook curry sauce base that is sold in bars. It is available here in most Asian food stores.

I’m not a fan of Japanese curry, which tastes to me like a cross between Indian curry and Jamaican jerk seasonings. Tony adores it, though, so I compromised. I used the coconut milk and red curry paste of Thai cuisine and finished it with a few squares of Japanese curry base – and of course, lots of kabocha squash. Even I liked it.

Two pounds of squash down, about 50 pounds to go.

This recipe is extremely easy to make – no sautéing, just dump everything into a pan.


  • 1 can (14 oz.) coconut milk
  • 1 tbsp. Thai red curry paste
  • 11/2 cups chicken broth
  • 1 tbsp. fish sauce (nam pla)
  • 1 tsp. soy sauce
  • 1 tbsp. brown sugar
  • 1 medium onion, cut in 8 wedges
  • 1 lb. boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut in bite-size pieces
  • ½ of a 7.10-oz. box Japanese curry sauce mix (I used Kokumaro brand, available at many Asian stores)
  • 2 cups roasted kabocha squash in 1-inch cubes (see roasting directions above)

Shake can of milk to blend. Open and pour half into a medium-sized saucepan. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and boil gently for 3 minutes, or until it begins to thicken. Add red curry paste and whisk until dissolved. Add remaining coconut milk, chicken broth, fish sauce, soy sauce and sugar. Add onion and chicken, stirring briefly to separate chicken. Simmer uncovered for 5 minutes. Break curry mix into squares and stir into mixture in pan until dissolved. Fold in squash and simmer until heated through. Ladle over rice. Makes 4 servings.


It’s Asian pear season – specifically, Weymouth Farms Asian pear season. On their Hinckley Township spread, Brenda and Paul O’Neill grow the juiciest, most fragrant Asian pears you’ll probably ever taste. Supermarket Asian pears pale in comparison. I’m not writing this because the O’Neills gave me all that squash, but because I consider Weymouth Farms’ luscious Asian pears one of the food marvels of Northeast Ohio.

The O’Neills planted a number of varieties that ripen consecutively throughout the season, which can run through early November depending on the weather. So git out there and buy yourself some of these beauties. Pick up a few squash while you’re at it.

Weymouth Farms is at 2398 Weymouth Road between Granger Township and Hinckley. It is open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, 1 to 5 p.m. Sunday, and with advance notice during the week. Call 330-571-9699. The website is


Before Tony and I left for Japan, I asked readers to send descriptions of the favorite food items they ate on their vacations. Here’s the final installment. The winning e-mail, from Leah Francis, was about a bloody Mary food bar in Cocoa Beach, Fla. I’ll send her a copy of my cookbook if she will send me her address. Thanks to everyone who participated.

From Theresa Keller:

I was not on vacation but out with friends at The Wine Shop in Charlotte, N.C. where they serve a good selection of small plates and appetizers to go with your wine. We had grilled okra which was left whole, had a smoky flavor to it, was sprinkled with olive oil, sea salt and a little old bay (I think) and served with a remoulade sauce for dipping. It was out of this world. I was able to replicate at home in my convection oven, roasted at 375 degrees for about 20 minutes. Great finger food!! A new twist on okra for me and we all loved it, even the non okra people.


From Marty:

On the subject of wild edibles in Ohio, I wanted to mention the pawpaw. When I was a kid growing up in the country, we had a pawpaw tree that grew wild back in the field. Whenever we were back there climbing trees or swinging on the grape vines, we would check to see if there were any ripe pawpaws. They taste rather tropical, like a ripe banana. I understand
that there is an annual pawpaw festival in southern Ohio.

Dear Marty:

When I was a kid a pawpaw tree grew by the back-porch steps of my grandparents’ neighbor. I’ve been itching to taste a pawpaw all these years. Ohio’s pawpaw festival ( is over, darn it, but maybe next year. It was held earlier this month in Albany, in southern Ohio near Athens. The annual hoedown features a pawpaw cooking contest and plenty of pawpaw comestibles, from pawpaw wheat beer to pawpaw curry puffs.

From Cheryl:

Just wanted to tell you about the delicious meal we had at the Bistro on Main in Kent.  We had taken our daughters there for their birthdays (they share a birthday, Sept. 18).  My husband got beef short ribs, one daughter got pizza, the other got scallops, I got the garlic chicken.  Everything was seasoned and cooked beautifully, everyone loved their dish (rare in our household).  We were told they have an outdoor fireplace to eat outside, but we ate indoors, cozy, intimate atmosphere.  It was nice to get a meal better than most we could cook at home.  It was a bit pricey, though there were more inexpensive options as well.  Great for a special occasion, wanted to recommend.  Hope you had a happy birthday as well!

Dear Cheryl:

Thanks. Since I stopped reviewing restaurants I rely on friends and readers to keep me up to date on new restaurants and whether old favorites, such as the Bistro, are maintaining their quality. It’s good to hear that the Ruggles brothers continue to strive for excellence.

From Mickey:

I remember going to Young’s in the Portage Lakes and getting an absolutely wonderful crab salad.  I would love to find out if anyone has the recipe.

Dear Mickey:

Stranger things have happened. We’ll put it out there and see if anyone responds.

By the way, the more people who know about this newsletter, the more success we’ll have with recipe questions such as yours. I don’t advertise, so every post to Pinterest, mention on Facebook and email to your friends helps. My circulation is a healthy 3,000-plus — great for a blog — but I’m sure we could boost that by a few thousand if more of my former readers knew about it. Could all of you pass or post my newsletter this week? We’ll see what happens. Thanks!

September 18, 2014

Dear friends:

I’ve gotten several recipe ideas at Sweet Pea Cafe – some from the inventive food and some from the reading material chef/owner Josh Thornton keeps on hand. The reading material at the Fairlawn restaurant is cookbooks and old Cook’s magazines, thoughtfully arranged on a rack for solo diners and cookbook lovers who like to read while they eat.

My latest find was a clever and delicious recipe for cherry tomatoes based on a homespun French dessert. Claflouti, a cross between a crustless quiche and a soufflé that leans more toward the latter, is typically made with cherries. The recipe I found in an odd little book, “The French Kitchen Cookbook” from Love Food books, omits the sugar, adds creamy goat cheese and fresh herbs, and substitutes cherry tomatoes for the cherries.

Wow. My friend Dorena and I polished off big hunks of the clafouti and kept sneaking out to the kitchen for “one more bite.” We loved the texture, which is more substantial than a soufflé but still quite airy. The next week we made another one, adding chopped green chilies and char-grilled corn kernels for a Southwestern flavor. After you make one, you’ll realize the possibilities are endless.

This savory clafouti would be a great brunch dish. It is baked in a gratin pan and could easily be doubled and baked in a roasting pan for a larger group. The size we made serves six if accompanied by a salad and maybe a roll.

By the way, if you haven’t been to Sweet Pea lately, stop by to see the updates Josh has made to the décor and the menu. No clafouti yet, but with Josh, you never know. The café is at 117 Mertz Blvd. in Fairlawn. The website is

3 cups cherry tomatoes
3 oz. French-style goat cheese
2 tbsp. chopped fresh thyme
1/2 cup flour
4 eggs
1 1/4 cups milk
1/2 tsp. salt

Place whole tomatoes in a buttered, 1 1/2-quart gratin dish. Scatter grape-sized gobs of the cheese evenly over the tomatoes. Sprinkle with thyme. Whisk together the flour, eggs, milk and salt. Pour into dish. Bake at 350 degrees for 50 to 55 minutes, or until puffy and golden. Makes about 6 servings.
From “The French Kitchen Cookbook” by the editors of Love Food Books.


After years of making do on my birthdays with sad little sugar-free supermarket cakes and wretched sugar-free apple pies from Bob Evans, I was deliriously happy last week with the gorgeous cake Tony ordered from Cupcake Castle on Mertz Boulevard in Fairlawn (

The fancy single-layer chocolate cake was moist and sweet without a trace of the bitterness  fake sweeteners often impart. It was decorated with swirls of rich cream-cheese chocolate frosting. Yeow.
Although owner Jean Covel stocks the cases at the bakery with traditional cupcakes, she also caters to those on restricted diets. In addition to sugar-free, she has made gluten-free, dairy-free, egg-free and vegan cupcakes and cakes, she says.

“We have a lot of allergic kids nowadays so we cater to them,” she says, noting that advance warning of 24 to 48 hours is appreciated.

Jean creates her own recipes for these specialties, tinkering with ingredients until they taste as much as possible like the real thing. My cake tasted exactly like a high-quality cake made with sugar.

The shop is adorable, with overstuffed furniture and coffee tables arranged ala an espresso bar so adults and kids alike can relax while enjoying a cupcake. Jean has dreamed up lots of activities for children.

While I was chatting with her, a tot skipped around the counter from the rear of the shop, where she had been frosting her own cupcake.

Hours are 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday and 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sunday.


While our cupcake mania apparently has not migrated to Japan yet, the country is way ahead of us in movie-theater eats. Japan is ahead of us in movie-theater EVERYTHING.

Tony and I saw two films during our recent trip – the first just to check out the amenities of Japanese theaters and the second time to be cosseted. The hallways of the theater had walls of colorful cubby holes filled with sanitized pillows and blankets patrons may use for free. The pillows probably weren’t necessary because the theater seats were full-sized La-Z-Boys separated by end tables with built-in drink holders.

I was astounded when one of the concession workers dropped by our seats with a sampler of three flavors of popcorn because I had expressed an interest. She slid the tray onto my end table, bowed politely and left.

The shrimp-flavored popcorn wasn’t bad, but I didn’t care for the scallop or seaweed varieties. Gaak! In retrospect, cold, fishy popcorn is a small price to pay for all that service.


From Stephanie Foley:
I am looking for the recipe for a shrimp appetizer that we used to get at the Nick Anthe’s on North Main Street in Akron. It was a grilled shrimp in a cocktail glass like a shrimp cocktail but had a warm, spicy cheese sauce to dip the shrimp into.

We loved that appetizer and were hoping the new restaurant in that building (Wise Guys) would have it. We went there recently and sadly, they do not. Do you have that recipe or can you find it? We have tried to re-create it and have come close but can’t seem to nail it.

Dear Stephanie:

Dear Stephanie: Boy, does that sound good. I’m miffed that I missed it. I don’t have the recipe but I hope someone out there does and is willing to share.

From Geoff:
In a recent newsletter, Karen M. was disappointed about the French Coffee Shoppe closing, as am I, although I will miss their delicious chicken sandwiches more than the crepes.  I’ve tried to duplicate them at home and I’m on the right track with everything except their homemade mayonnaise.  Does anyone have their recipe for it?  I think they kept it a secret.

Dear Geoff:
I missed that gem, too. Never tasted it and now it’s too late. If anyone is sitting on the recipe, please share.

From Martha:
Try this tip from Mark Bittman for getting air out of zipper-lock bags. Fill a large bowl or sink with water. Close all but 1/2 inch of the zipper. Submerge the bag in the water to force out the air. Zip the last bit closed when the air is expelled without letting water in. I tilt the bag at an angle with the last open bit just exposed. I think you get the picture.

Dear Martha: Brilliant, although I like the straw method, too.

From Bee:
Backyard foraging this summer yielded wild strawberry leaf tea spiced with sorrel and sweetened with clover and maple syrup. I am looking for wild greens ideas.

Dear Bee: I found some excellent information on Ohio’s wild edible greens, from stinging nettles to cattails, at This is a subject I’ve been wanting to explore, too. Let me know if you find anything tasty.

From Rachel:
Loved the recommendation for sweet corn ice cream… it’s my favorite of the summer flavors at Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams.  The business is based in Columbus, but there’s a scoop shop in Chagrin Falls, too. My boyfriend and I are Akronites who have been transplanted to Powell, Ohio, and we’re lucky enough to live within walking distance of one of Jeni Britton Bauer’s legendary homages to dessert. (And thank goodness, because the walk lets me justify the indulgence!)

The Jeni’s website has a mouthwatering description of the flavor:

It’s a seasonal flavor… which means I’d better get moving, to get my hands on some.  See you all at the ice cream shop!

Dear Rachel: Yeah, rub it in. You are one lucky ice-cream lover to live that close to a Jeni’s.

September 11, 2014

Dear friends:

If not for the majestic mountains in the distance and the occasional volcano emitting wisps of steam, you’d think you were in the American Midwest rather than Japan’s northern island of Hokkaido. In the summer, hand-lettered signs at the ends of driveways advertise sweet corn, cantaloupes and watermelons. Roadside markets sell asparagus and potatoes, two of the local specialties. Creameries proudly market their butter, ice creams, yogurt and baked goods made with the “special milk” of Hokkaido.

On a recent trip, I discovered that the island where my husband grew up is famous throughout Japan for producing vegetables, fruits and dairy products that seem distinctively American. And they are American, I learned. The government imported seeds, farm tools and agriculture experts from the United States in the mid-1800s to turn the populace into farmers. The experiment succeeded to the point that Hokkaido now is the main growing region of Japan.

Hokkaido remains one of the premier fishing ports in the world, and Tony and I enjoyed plenty of seafood on a trip to visit his parents. But I was entranced with the ways the citizens have made American produce and dairy products their own. For example: Gawkers clustered around a normal-sized oval watermelon labeled “Godzilla” in one shop. Almost all Japanese watermelons are small (no bigger than your head) and round. While we let watermelons run amok, the Japanese treat each melon like a precious baby, turning them incrementally each day to prevent that awful white spot where the melon rests on the ground. No wonder they cost $20 and up per melon.

Cantaloupes are even worse. A mid-quality melon costs about $40. They are harvested with a T-shaped portion of the vine attached for convenient toting. They are picked at the absolute peak moment of ripeness. The one I tasted was the best cantaloupe I’ve had in my life.

Asparagus also is grown for quality, not quantity. The spears are either creamy white or deep green, about a foot long and a half-inch in diameter. They’re so perfect they look like wood carvings. A popular summer appetizer is one spear cut into shorter lengths and artfully stacked on a plate.

Corn gets the glamor treatment, too. Although I visited Hokkaido at the height of corn season, I never saw an ear in a husk. They are stripped, cleaned (and probably waxed) and individually shrink-wrapped in plastic. They are sold by the ear, not the dozen. At fairs and roadside attractions, ears of corn on a stick are brushed with teriyaki sauce and grilled over charcoal until the kernels just begin to char.

This abundance of  American food without the American cultural context has led to such oddities as Idaho potatoes candied in sugar syrup and sweet corn ice cream.

The corn ice cream in truth was pretty good. It was so good I made a batch after returning home. I served small scoops garnished with blackberries. Tony and I both loved it I’m holding off for now on the green soybean ice cream.

The bare bones of the following recipe is from Jeni Britton Bauer of the Columbus-based chain, Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams. She uses cream cheese and corn syrup as emulsifiers to produce a creamy texture that resists forming ice crystals in the freezer.

The ice cream may be churned in a frozen-canister-style machine. I made it in a countertop compressor-style machine.



  • 4 to 6 ears fresh corn, husked
  • 1 tbsp. plus 1 tsp. cornstarch
  • 1 1/2 oz. (3 tbsp.) cream cheese, softened
  • 1 1/4 cups half and half
  • 6 tbsp. sugar or to taste
  • 2 tbsp. light corn syrup
  • 1/4 tsp. vanilla extract

Hold one ear of corn over a medium-sized bowl and with a sharp paring knife, cut vertically down each row through the centers of the kernels. Place ear on end in the bowl and with the back of the knife (the dull edge), scrap downward along the rows to remove the milk and insides of the kernels while leaving the skins on the cob. Repeat with remaining ears of corn. Measure out 2 cups and puree in a blender.
Use 2 tablespoons of the half and half to blend with the cornstarch and make a slurry. Set aside. 
In a medium bowl (2 qt.), whisk the very soft cream cheese until smooth. In a 4-quart saucepan, combine remaining corn liquid, remaining half and half, 4 tablespoons of the sugar and corn syrup. Whisk well and taste for sweetness. If necessary, add remaining 2 tablespoons sugar. Bring to a boil and boil for exactly 4 minutes.

Remove from heat and slowly add cornstarch slurry in a steady stream, whisking rapidly to prevent slurry from sinking to bottom of pan. Return to medium heat and bring to a rolling boil. Remove from heat.

Pour about two tablespoons of the hot mixture into the cream cheese. Whisk until completely smooth. Add a little more cream mixture and whisk. Add the rest of the cream mixture and whisk until incorporated. Stir in vanilla extract. Pour mixture into a heatproof plastic bag (Ziploc), remove air and seal. Submerge in an ice bath until completely chilled, about 30 minutes. Or Place in refrigerator to chill overnight.

Freeze in an ice cream machine according to manufacturer’s directions. Quickly transfer to a lidded container and place in freezer for at least 4 hours. If ice cream becomes too hard to scoop, let stand at room temperature before proceeding. Serve in small scoops with blackberries or blueberries. Makes about 1 quart.


Before Tony and I left for Japan, I asked readers to share the best, worst and most unusual things they ate on their summer vacations. Here’s the first batch of reports:

From Jodie Grasgreen:
On two separate trips I was in Virginia this summer. One for the highly popular bike extravaganza, Bike Virginia and then for the Veterans Soccer Tournament in Virginia Beach this year.

On our way home from the biking trip (we did 240 miles over 5 days), we accidentally found an amazing and very successful tapas bar, mas, in Charlottesville, Va. ( 
Prides itself on local produce, cheeses and meats — amazing! Large selection of Spanish wine along with goat cheese, breads, sausages.  We found them just as they were opening at 5:30 p.m. on a Wednesday. In 15 minutes, the place was packed! 

A couple weeks later we were in Virginia Beach for a senior soccer tournament and across from our hotel was the Hot Tuna Bar & Grill ( They also served tapas one night and it was so good we came back the next night. 
Decadent mac and cheese appetizer, fish tacos, and other fresh seafood… and grilled avocados, which I made at home to the delight of my guests.

Both restaurants were very much into very fresh, local suppliers and were very reasonably priced and both had great, personalized service.

From Leah Francis:
We just got back from Cocoa Beach, Fla. On Sunday morning we walked the beach and my brother-in-law suggested we stop for a bloody Mary at a hole-in-the-wall bar called Hunkerdowns. At the Sunday bloody Mary bar from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., the drinks are made to order and you get to choose four toppings for it. Toppings included skewers of shrimp, blue cheese-stuffed olives, warm meatballs, beef jerky celery,  skewered pepperoni and cheese, pickled egg and about 10 other items I can’t remember.
Each item is on a separate skewer. Two of these were great for breakfast

From Robin, Creston:
Our family has had a fun spring and summer, and our travels definitely have an influence on what we will try in our own kitchen. Here’s a recap of our adventures and the food associated with it.

We spent spring break in Puerto Rico. Our family loved the guava chicken and shrimp pinchos (shish kebabs) sold by the local vendors in the village of Las Croabas (where you board the kayaks for the bioluminescent bay near Fajardo). They were $3 each and absolutely delicious! They are stacked along with three slices of toasted French bread.  We’d love to replicate the guava chicken at home but I can’t find guava jelly. Any idea how to make these? The sweet, tasty coating was a real hit with our daughters.

The malanga mash (root vegetable that was similar to mashed potatoes) was another favorite served at our favorite restaurant, Kasavista Restaurant, also in Las Croabas. My meal also included panko-crusted, oven roasted grouper with cilantro garlic butter sauce and a bean puree. The malanga mash made me feel better thinking I was not eating starchy potatoes, but who knows. I also enjoyed a light puffed bread (I forget exactly what they called it) filled with a tasty homemade shrimp salad. They made me think of your arepas.  We enjoyed great food at our hotel, area restaurants and from the local food vendors.

In July we visited Chicago and ate traditional deep dish pizza at Pizano’s. This was a short walk from Millennium Park which fit together for a nice evening. For dessert we walked about a block or two away and enjoyed absolutely delicious coconut cake and red velvet cake at Magnolia Bakery. The moist coconut cake was stacked high with a thick, gooey coconut filling and meringue  frosting. We have enjoyed reading the Magnolia Bakery Cookbook and now my daughters have promised to replicate the coconut cake from the cookbook for my birthday. The vintage look of the Chicago branch of this bakery was fun and the delicious cake did not disappoint!

We just returned from visiting Toronto last week. We especially enjoy this city as we walk everywhere on foot. While we always felt safe, the homeless problem seems to be increasing and is very sad. The St. Lawrence Market signage advertises it as the #1 Food Market in the World and is the home of the Peameal sandwich, which we didn’t taste.

The market is wonderful and is a feast for your eyes. We wish we had arrived at lunch and taken advantage of all of the many lunch offerings available. It’s probably best to visit on a full stomach. We brought home homemade pizza dough and frozen homemade cheese ravioli. The pizza dough turned out great homemade pizzas made on pizza stones in our kitchen. The ravioli did not stay fully frozen even though on ice. The resulting ravioli was OK, but not great. The meals did provide great memories of our visit.

We especially enjoyed the French macaroons from Eve’s Temptations in the basement of the Market. We tasted several varieties with our favorites being the salted caramel and pistachio. We now want to learn to make these light delicious desserts at home! Our visit to the St. Lawrence Market reminds me we need to schedule a visit to Cleveland’s West Side Market where it would be more convenient to bring food home.

We enjoyed shopping in Eaton Centre and a rainy day worked out fine in Toronto’s underground system.  The Urban Eatery is like an international food court. Toronto has a high Asian population which is reflected in the food offerings which we enjoyed sampling. Bubble tea was fun for my daughters and chopsticks were the norm for most people. We were definitely the minority.

We also loved browsing through Toronto’s Chinatown. While we didn’t eat a meal there on this visit, we enjoyed taking a break at Furama Cake & Desserts Garden on Spadina Avenue. Just like the locals, we took a tray and made selections from the many clear cases in the bakery. Three of us shared an egg bun filled with a miniature hotdog. Surprisingly, this was our favorite and on a return trip we plan to try some of the ham and cheese varieties for lunch.  We weren’t thinking the bakery would be an appropriate lunch destination — we were thinking snack.

The bakery was very interesting. We brought home some nice pre-packaged almond cookies, butter cookies, etc. along with “relaxation” tea from one of the herb vendors to share with my co-workers. This was a great experience for young girls to feel like they were in Asia so close to home. Next time we will stop at the bakery for lunch instead of dessert.

We look forward to hearing about everyone else’s food adventures.

September 3, 2014

Dear friends:

I’m back from Japan but I’m so jet lagged I haven’t tried to recreate any of my favorite vacation dishes yet. Some I fear I’ll never clone, chief among them the amazing miso ramen at Mogura restaurant in Sapporo. Tony and I got tired of hunting for the city’s famous ramen alley so we ducked into a miniature ramen alley (Ganso Sapporo Ramen Yokocho) of three or four ramen restaurants in the city’s Susukino entertainment district. Mogura looked the most promising so, despite the 90-degree day, we plopped onto two stools (no tables here) and ordered the steaming bowls of soup.

It was our lucky day. Our tired feet and the sweat trickling into our collars were forgotten with the first spoonsful of the ambrosial ramen. Tony’s face was beatific as he reverently pronounced it the best ramen he had ever eaten. “How could I ever recreate this?” I countered in despair.

Yes, I’ve made darn good ramen at home, with a broth that takes two days to prepare. But this ramen broth was so complex and downright delicious that other ramens will forever pale in comparison. This was the Marcel Proust of ramen noodles.

But I digress. My notebook is filled with notes of meals eaten, supermarkets visited and refrigerators raided. We spent a week in Tony’s hometown of Bibai with his parents, brother, an uncle and two aunts, and a week in nearby Sapporo with forays to the surrounding countryside. We had interesting food wherever we went.

I will write about all of it and also share your memories of vacation food that I solicited before I went. But not today. Since returning home Aug. 18 I’ve slept, tried to tame my overgrown vegetable garden, slept, caught up with friends and relatives and slept. I’ve also cooked a bit with the vegetables and herbs that grew ferociously in my absence. One session yielded a sunny-flavored lemon pesto pasta with Sun Gold tomatoes and slivers of ham. After eating a bowl of it with Tony, we fell back into bed.

My jet lag is almost licked so I’ll start cooking vacation dishes soon. Until then, here’s my recipe for a quick meal from the garden.



  • 1/2 lb. angel hair pasta
  • 7 tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 cup halved Sun Gold or other cherry tomatoes
  • 1 cup ham in matchstick pieces
  • 3 cloves peeled garlic
  • 2 cups loosely packed basil leaves
  • 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • Coarse-ground pepper
  • Fresh-grated Parmesan cheese

Cook pasta in salted, boiling water until al dente. Meanwhile, heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a medium skillet over medium-high heat. Cook tomatoes cut sides down about 5 minutes, until they start to slump and release their juices but still mostly retain their shapes. Transfer to a large, shallow pasta serving bowl.

Sizzle ham in same skillet until meat is warm and edges begin to brown. Add to pasta bowl.
Drop garlic through the feed tube of a food processor with the motor running. Remove lid and add basil, lemon juice and salt. Replace lid and process until smooth while adding remaining 6 tablespoons olive oil through the feed tube.

Drain pasta and toss with ham, tomatoes and pesto sauce in bowl. Divide among three or four plates. Top with plenty of coarse-ground pepper and Parmesan and serve. Makes 3 to 4 servings.


Visiting Northern Japan in the summer instead of the winter, as I did last time, was a revelation. Acres of light-green rice paddies and craggy, towering volcanos emitting wisps of steam were exotic counterpoints to the more familiar sweet corn and potato farms, two of the region’s main crops. I reveled in the farm markets, outdoor fish markets and well-stocked grocery stores, where I got a taste of both familiar and unfamiliar summer foods of Japan.

Here are five new things I tasted:

1. Hairy crab: A pinkish crab covered with very fine red hairs, about the size of a Dungeness. It’s sweet but not as sweet as Chesapeake  blue crab.

2. A nameless (to me), weird-looking green with moisture-plumped leaves, like a succulent. It is salty tasting and, according to my brother-in-law the chef, used mostly for tempura.

3. Mountain potato (yamaimo): These long tubers (up to 2 feet) grow wild in the mountains of Japan. The texture is crunchy-slippery. They are grated and mixed with tofu to make atsu age, an appetizer I’m fond of.

4. Baby green melon: No one could tell me the name of this unusual fruit but it was delicious. The petite oval melon is about the size of your hand. It looks like a miniature watermelon with its green-striped rind, but the pale green flesh is reminiscent of cantaloupe.

5. Miniature chocolate custard fish waffles: I wrote about the regular-sized fish waffles after my last trip to Japan, but these were adorable and stuffed with a rich chocolate pudding. They were just 3 inches long, making them the perfect two-bite snack. The only thing fishy about them is their shape. Two fish-shaped waffles are fused together around a filling of pudding or sweet red bean paste. Why the fish shape? Beats me.


From Karen M.:
I was so disappointed to read in the Beacon Journal that the French Coffee Shoppe in  Cuyahoga Falls, has closed.  Loved their chicken crepes!  Anyone know of any place nearby that does great chicken crepe casseroles?

Dear Karen: I don’t know of any place that serves even bad chicken crepes. I think that dish, popular in various permutations in the 1960s and ‘70s, was unique  in current times to the French Coffee Shoppe. Recreating it at home would not be difficult with cooked chicken, crepes and veloute sauce. Consult Julia Child for details, but add way more sauce if you want it to taste like the restaurant’s.

From Joyce of Tallmadge:
I’ve used a potato masher for years to make egg salad. Cannot believe you hadn’t thought of that earlier.

I also found using a salad spinner is a great way to get rid of excess water when making pasta salads.  The spinner is also a great way to rinse pasta or to cool down pasta quicker.  Just put ice water in the bowl, add the pasta to the strainer, cool, and then drain off water, spin, and wallah! — you have cool pasta for a quick salad.

Dear Joyce: Sometimes I’m a slow learner. Thanks for the pasta tip.