Kinkan Kanro-Ni | Candied Kumquats

For as long as I can remember, my Mom used to keep a re-used glass jam jar filled with little orange candied kumquats or kinkan kanro-ni in the back of our refrigerator. It never looked appealing to me, and as a child, I recall trying several of these kinkan kanro-ni over the years, but I never found the sweet, sour, and slightly bitter flavor of the candied kumquats to my liking. (Photo Credit: Hideki Ueha)

As I got older, the little glass jar of kinkan kanro-ni continued to reside in the back of my parent’s refrigerator. My Mom would eat these when she had a sore throat and would encourage me to try one anytime I was sick or complained of a sore throat. Reluctantly, I would eat one or two a year, but I would always do so with a sour face.

As the years went on, I suddenly noticed that the back of my own fridge seemed rather empty without that little glass jar filled with candied kumquats.

Photo Credit: Hideki Ueha

The funny thing about that jar of kinkan kanro-ni in my Mom’s fridge, is that it was never something that she made herself. She and her friends are constantly trading foods that they’ve cooked, and as it turns out, every year she would be the recipient of kinkan kanro-ni that one of her friends made. She can tell you which of her friends have kumquat trees and which of them don’t, among other vegetation such a who grows sakura or cherry blossom trees, shiso (perilla) leaves, rakkyo, and myoga.

When I asked my Mom if she had a recipe for kinkan kanro-ni, she said she didn’t have one since she’s never made it, but in addition, she gave me her usual no-recipe response in Japanese, “just add a little sugar, water, then boil it for a while”. So that’s exactly what I did, but with the addition of a splash of sake. When I asked her about removing the seeds from the kumquats (which is what I’ve done in the past when making marmalade), she said I could cook them with the seeds in tact and that they were edible. She said the kinkan kanro-ni that she’d always received and enjoyed always had the seeds in tact.

Despite the lack of a specific recipe, on the bright side, I am fortunate to have an abundant supply of very fresh organic kumquats easily within my reach. My in-laws have an enormous kumquat tree in their backyard which grows bountiful kumquats year after year.

In the past, I’ve made kumquat and cara cara orange marmalade, and then used this marmalade to make shortbread thumbprint cookies. This year, I decided to make candied kumquats or kinkan kanro-ni, and put them in a little jar in the back of my fridge.

Kinkan Kanro-Ni | Candied Kumquats

  • 4 cups fresh kumquats, whole (optional: seeds removed)
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 1 1/2 cups water
  • 1 tablespoon sake

1. In a medium pot bring water to a boil, then add sugar and kumquats. Reduce heat to medium and simmer kumquats for about 20 minutes.

Notes:

a) The kumquats will puff-up while cooking.

b) If you don’t have 4 cups of fresh kumquats to work with, a good rule of thumb is using a 1:1 ratio for the water to sugar. I used less sugar than the recipe provides because I prefer my sweets less sugary.

2. Add sake and cook for another 5 to 10 minutes until the liquid becomes a thick, syrup consistency.

3. Remove from heat, cool, and store in fridge. Note: The kumquats which looked very puffy while cooking, will become shriveled after it cools.

These candied kumquats or kinkan kanro-ni are perfect for snacking, regardless of whether you’ve got a sore throat or not.

Photo Credit: Hideki Ueha

Although I didn’t care much for kinkan kanro-ni as a child, I’ve grown to appreciate these little sweet and sour beauties as an adult. Like many of the foods I am fond of, this one brings back good memories of my childhood, albeit with a sour face.

Thanks to my little Bebe E and Nene for helping to pick these lovely kumquats from Yin Yin and Papa’s tree. And once again, thanks to my talented brother-in-law, Hideki, for the beautiful pictures in today’s post!

Cheers,

Judy

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HOMEMADE Zenzai (Japanese Red Bean Soup with Rice Cake) | Oshogatsu 2011 (Japanese New Year)

Does anyone know how long the terrible-two’s last? Is it one year? Is it two years? Two and a half years?

Over the weekend, Bebe E found a black ballpoint pen and drew a nice long dark squiggly line down the entire length of one cushion of our sofa. Nice, huh? And technically, she’s not even two yet. Scary.

Of course, we have “coloring time” where Bebe E opens her little box filled with washable crayons and magical markers with invisible ink where the color only appears when used on special coloring book paper. She even has a nice musical coloring pad that Big Onechan gave her for Christmas that plays music with the pressure of every stroke of a crayon, but clearly that’s not entertaining enough. The sofa, our home, is her canvas. :)

Bebe E’s abstract art of little lines. Mama helped with the big squiggles.

I’m really not sure how she got a hold of that pen, and what drove her to write on the sofa. She’s a baby after all, right? But this tiny act of vandalism, a.k.a. creativity, likely means that her Mama, Dada, or Big Onechan didn’t do a good job putting the pen away and ultimately means that her latest artwork was likely not entirely of her own creation. Yes, she’s cute, she’s quickly absolved of home vandalism, and she evades time-out… this time.

While time-out’s are quickly becoming a familiar word in her vocabulary, she’s only been in time-out twice in the past month. The first one lasted a whopping 3 seconds as she quickly ran away from her corner, not really understanding that staying in the corner was punishment for bad behavior. The second time-out lasted, maaaaybe, 10 seconds. That time I believe she realized that she did something “bad” but as I walked away from her corner, gently instructing her that she needed to sit there for 20 seconds and that we could count together, in her cute tiny baby voice she inquisitively said, “mama?” and followed after me. All I could do was to turn around and try to give her a big hug and kiss but she walked right past me to go do her own thing. Heh-heh. I think she was telling me that she was mad at me for giving her a time-out. I just had to laugh. Continue reading

INSTANT Shiratama Zenzai (Japanese Sweet Red Bean Soup with Mini Mochi Pillows)

I’m always willing to try shortcuts once.

My Mom makes shiratama zenzai from scratch (see Homemade Zenzai recipe here) and will use store-bought fresh made mochi as a short-cut, but she’ll never use canned ogura-an and Mochiko (for instant mochi, although I believe there is also shiratamako which I have not yet come across) to make shiratama zenzai. Although Mom always knows best, I had to see for myself whether I could get away with some major shortcuts and still end up with pleasing results.

Shiratama zenzai is a sweet red bean soup with mochi. There are variations of this traditional Japanese dessert where the mochi is grilled to perfection (crisp on the outside with grill marks and puffy and soft on the inside), boiled, or slightly cooked in the microwave or toaster oven. As a child, I never liked zenzai, but things change.

In my youth, traditional Japanese desserts were never a favorite of mine. By traditional desserts, I’m referring to wagashi: manju, dorayaki, taiyaki, yokan, mochi, and anything with anko. Continue reading

Pumpkin Mochi

I couldn’t resist! I had to make something gold, Lakers Gold that is, for the Lakers vs. Rockets season opening game. I’ve had nothing but pumpkins on my mind and to me, any shade of gold (yes, goldish-orangish-pumpkin-brown is close enough to Lakers gold in my book) is cause for celebrating opening night.

I’ve always had a love for pumpkin desserts. My first and most memorable experience with pumpkin is unsurprisingly pumpkin pie. It’s a dessert that I associate with Thanksgiving feasts and Marie Callendars. Growing up, we always had pumpkin pie at Thanksgiving and I remember as a child thinking that the texture and taste of the pie was different than other pies we were more familiar with such as apple, fresh strawberry, and lemon meringue. It was different, but oddly delicious.

Since my early childhood experiences with Marie Callendar’s pumpkin pie, I eventually moved on to other pumpkin treats such as Cheesecake Factory’s pumpkin cheesecake. This delectable dessert is my all time favorite Fall treat. Yet, despite this love for pumpkin cheesecake and pumpkin pie, I’ve never been motivated to make either by myself. Why mess with perfection, right? I would much rather sink my teeth into a slice (or two, or three) of Cheesecake Factory’s pumpkin cheesecake or Marie Callendar’s pumpkin pie. Continue reading

Okinawa Dango, an Obon Festival Favorite

As a Japanese-American child growing-up in Los Angeles, I was fortunate to be a part of a local Japanese community which provided the opportunity to experience a number of wonderful cultural traditions. My favorite summer-time tradition was, and still is, attending Obon.

Long ago when I asked my mom about the meaning of Obon, she told me that it was a time during which we remembered and honored our family members that have passed on. In our teens, my friends and I would occasionally talk about the absurdity of, in our exact (blunt) words, “celebrating the dead with a carnival”. However, it’s more than just a carnival. There’s Obon-odori (dancing) too!

The significance of Obon, or “Bon” as my Japanese relatives would say, originates from Buddhism. During our summer trips to Japan, I often overheard my aunts and uncles talking about this cousin or that cousin coming home to visit during Bon. I didn’t realize the significance of this Japanese Buddhist custom and always believed that Bon meant summer vacation.

According to my Google research, Bon is a Buddhist custom that dates back over 500 years and is celebrated in Japan and other parts of the world during July through mid-August. During Bon, families reunite at their ancestral homes to visit and clean the burial sites of their ancestors, as well as to welcome their ancestral spirits which are believed to visit their home altar during this time. Sounds a bit scary, doesn’t it? I’m not so sure that waiting for spirit ghosts to visit, especially in the dark, is a good idea; however, if they are friendly ancestors and loved ones, I suppose it is OK?!? Continue reading

Kurogoma Aisukurimu | Black Sesame Ice Cream

 

Did you know that in Japanese, ice cream is known as “ice cream” or more accurately, “aisukurimu”? It’s ice cream pronounced with a Japanese accent, “eye-sue-coo-reem-mu”. Does this mean that black sesame ice cream in Japanese could potentially be, “boo-lack-oo say-sah-me eye-sue-coo-reem-mu”? At this point, I’m fairly certain my bilingual English-Japanese friends who are reading this are saying to themselves, “Judy, You are such a dork!” Heh. :P Anyway, the proper Japanese translation of black sesame ice cream is kurogoma aisukurimu. Kuro means black and goma means sesame, hence kurogoma = black sesame.

Kurogoma is believed to have a host of health benefits which is why this ice cream was likely very popular in Japan for a while. (Yes, yet another Japanese fad.) It is loaded with minerals such as magnesium, phosphorus,copper, iron and calcium. Continue reading

Ohagi (Sweet Rice Mochi) | Kodomo No Hi 2010 (Japanese Children’s/Boy’s Day)

Happy Boy’s Day!  Er, excuse me… allow me to politically correct  myself – Happy Children’s Day!

Although May 5th is widely known as Cinco de Mayo for many across the world, the fifth day of the fifth month is also known as kodomonohi or Boy’s Day in our family.

May 5th, or Boy’s Day was originally known in Japan as “Tango no Sekku“, or Boy’s Festival, to celebrate the healthy growth and happiness of young boys, much in the same way Girl’s Day or “Hinamatsuri” is celebrated on March 3rd (the third day of the third month) for girls.

May 5th, however, is a national holiday in Japan, and in 1948 Boy’s Day was changed to kodomonohi or Children’s Day, to recognize both boys and girls nationally, since Girl’s Day was not a national holiday. Today, despite this change, kodomonohi is still widely celebrated as Boy’s Day.

One of the ornamental traditions associated with Boy’s Day is the Gogatsu-ningyo. The samurai warrior doll pictured above is my brother’s doll that was sent from Japan when he was born (a gift from my Aunt and Uncle N).  My brother is younger than I, so as long as I can remember, my parents displayed this doll annually in late April through May 5th.  This year, just as my parents did last year, they displayed my brother’s gogatsu-ningyo for their baby grandson Q. Continue reading