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    My Blank Sheet — MyBlankSheet

    Enjoy authentic Japanese food at home

    Enjoy authentic Japanese food at home

    If I was forced to pick one cuisine to eat for the rest of my life, I would go with Japanese without any hesitation. “What? Not Chinese?” you may ask. But if I had to pick only one, Japanese it is!
     
    Japan has the highest life expectancy in the world. Their diet explains quite a lot. Japanese cooking uses beans (miso), seaweed and fish in many dishes. I happen to love all these ingredients.
     
    Since I lived in Japan for a while, I have certain expectations in terms of authenticity when it comes to Japanese food. In Hong Kong, to eat real authentic Japanese food, it will most often cost an arm and a leg. Sometimes when I’m desperate, I will go for “fake” Japanese restaurants. The “fake” Japanese place on A street or the “fake” Japanese restaurant on B street – that’s how I refer these restaurants when I talk to my friends about where to meet. I don’t even bother remembering their actual names!
     
    Very fortunately, now when I crave for a bowl of authentic miso soup or some tofu salad with Japanese-style vinegar dressing, I can make my own! The person who saved me from spending $$$ on eating at “real” Japanese restaurants is a lovely Japanese lady called Yuki. Yuki is a fellow mom at my kids’ school. She is passionate about cooking. Her son Lucian is a classmate of my son, and mine often comes home telling me how amazing Lucian’s lunch box was! I literally signed up right away when Yuki announced she was offering Japanese home-cooking classes.
     
    The first class I attended was called Ichiju-sansai, which means “one soup, three dishes.” Yuki unveiled the secret of making real Japanese miso soup. For a long time, I thought miso soup just involved cooking miso paste in water. But the fact is, you need dashi stock (fish stock) instead of just water to make real miso soup. And the most interesting thing was, Yuki taught me how to make dashi stock from scratch. Dashi stock is the essence of Japanese cooking. When I walk around Japanese supermarkets, I see they stock instant dashi stock in the form of granules. But in Yuki’s cooking class, you learn how to make everything from the most original, fresh and healthy ingredients. From Yuki, I learn not just how to cook Japanese food, but also how to cook in the most healthy and organic way.

     Ichiju-sansai (One soup, three dishes)
    Ichiju-sansai (One soup, three dishes)

     

     Assorted tempura
    Assorted tempura

     

    Makizushi (rolled sushi) Wagashi (traditional Japanese confections)
    Makizushi (rolled sushi)
    Wagashi (traditional Japanese confections)

     

    Another element Yuki has inspired in me is food presentation. Like Yuki always jokes, “Japanese eat with the eyes.” After we finish cooking, Yuki always prepares sets of beautiful tableware to serve the food. She told us that whenever she goes to Japan, she always brings back some nice tableware. I remembered the first time I made miso soup after the class, I put it in a Chinese ceramic bowl. It tasted great – but somehow, it didn’t feel right. So I went to a Japanese department store to stock up on some lacquer bowls especially for miso soup.

     
    Japanese food is an art form, as well as delicious. It’s not just the food, it is also the presentation and tableware that completes the whole experience. 

     

    Find out more about Yuki's cooking classes

     

    Mahjong - an awesome family game!

    Mahjong - an awesome family game!

    Due to the wet weather, we were stuck at home.

    We played all the board games we had at home. We then moved to playing cards. But we were running out of card games to play.

    As I was staring at the corner of the living room struggling to come up with new game ideas, I saw an old Mahjong table that was acquired in pre-married days. Yes! I used to play Mahjong with my girlfriends on weekends. It was a great social event and we enjoyed chit-chatting during the game. All the fond memories flashed back…

    Okay so we were set for the game of Mahjong!

    There are many different versions of Mahjong in the world – Chinese, Taiwanese, Japanese and Western. I am not familiar with any version other than Chinese. Since I hadn’t played the game for a long time, I had to refer to the rule book to be reminded some basic preparation – seating, building the wall, breaking the wall and the deal. 

    Two suits of tiles are all in Chinese characters. So I had to spend sometime explaining to my kids what each one was. Coincidentally, my daughter just learnt the Chinese writing for directions (the Wind tiles) so she was quite proud she could already read those tiles while my son had to learn some new words! The Character suit was fairly easy for them as they were numbers in Chinese, from 1 to 9. (Although you may also buy Mahjong tiles with actual numbers on the side to remind you what the respective Chinese numbers are.)

    Mahjong is a great workout for your brain. It’s pretty much about collecting the same tiles and tiles in order in the same suit. Since you can pung, gong and chow from other players’ discarded tiles apart from drawing them yourself, you have to pay careful attention in the game. For young children, it is a great training for their patience and observation. At the same time, you also need to keep track of your opponents’ games to avoid discarding tiles to their benefit. It is not surprising to read that mahjong has been found to preserve function and delay decline in elderly individuals with dementia, even in those with significant cognitive impairment. If you extrapolate this further – if it is good for the prevention of age-related decline, then it ought to be good brain training for younger people as well. 

    Regardless of frequency of playing, mahjong produced consistent gains across all cognitive performance measures – digit forward memory, verbal memory, and MMSE. The effects lasted after mahjong had been withdrawn for a month, suggesting that constant practice is not necessary to achieve therapeutic effect once an initial threshold is attained.” – International Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry 

    We played a trial game with me explaining the rules along the way. My daughter, being a fast learner, started getting a grasp of it very soon. My son on the other hand got a bit lost and started playing with the tiles as if they were building blocks (Yay I can stop buying Legos haha)! We played a few games and I pretty much won all those games (you may also tie with no actual winner). I showed them my hand each time and explained how I won. At least that was how I learnt the game – from watching the grownups played at Chinese wedding banquets and dinner gatherings.

    My kids (especially my daughter) really enjoyed learning how to play Mahjong and were looking forward to the next rainy weekend so we could all play the game again!

     

    Here are some useful links for beginners of Mahjong:

    Where to buy Mahjong tiles and tables in Hong Kong

    Mahjong rules of different versions

    Mahjong rules (Hong Kong version)