The Letter from 1945


Enjoy your Veteran’s Day Holiday, folks, coutesy of our vets!

Masako and Spam Musubi

The Letter from 1945

February 19, 1945 – Men with names like Kuwahara and Koyanagi were with the US Marines on the sands of Iwo Jima.

No, not the Japanese soldiers within the concrete fortifications led by General Tadamichi Kuribayashi of the Japanese Imperial Army. These were Americans of Japanese descent, or Japanese-Americans. Nisei. And to make matters worse, they were in the uniforms of the US Army. GI Joes. The Japanese were trying to kill them, too.

Sorry, Marines. It wasn’t all your show – lightheatedly, of course.  (One of the greatest US Marines, John Basilone, CMH, Navy Cross gave his life on those black talcum powder-like sands.)

Having said that, ever watch the iconic B&W World War II classic, “The Sands of Iwo Jima”? John Wayne might just be turning over in his grave.  But to his credit, the movie is one of my faves.  It’s…

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Repost: Friendship After Bombing Davao


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This story is one of our favorites and we thought it was time to reblog it. Without further ado, here is the tale of an unlikely friendship between two veteran World War II pilots.

Two 63rd Squadron B-24 Snoopers took off from Owi Island on the night of September 4, 1944 to bomb Matina Airdome at Davao, Mindinao. One of the B-24s soon turned back due to radar failure. Captain Roland T. Fisher, pilot of the other B-24, “MISS LIBERTY,” continued on alone. Fisher had flown night missions with the Royal Air Force in 1941 and would soon be needing every ounce of skill he had acquired over the last few years.

Twenty-one years after this mission, Fisher recounted his experience: “I could see again the bright moon in the clear night sky and the green shadow of Cape San Agustin below. I had entered Davao Gulf by crossing from…

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My Brazen Attempt at a Chocolate-Raspberry Torte From Scratch


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The end result – my Chocolate-Raspberry Torte

Brazen.  That’s the perfect word to describe my attempt at making a bittersweet Chocolate Raspberry Torte… from scratch.  Well, almost.  I don’t have a chicken coop to retrieve fresh eggs from so a slight exaggeration it is.

Well, it came out LOOKING okay per above… but……..

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The kids didn’t put me up to this although my Little-Cake-Boss-Now-Dreadful-Teenager would have likely devoured it.  Alas, she is gone for a week and a half on a bus vacation with my ex.  No, I don’t know where they are – not even in which state – which is part of the secret life they lead with their mother.  So, I needed a distraction.  Besides, I owed my good neighbors an experiment a treat.  Their two youngest kids were a wonderful influence on my two little rug rats as they were growing up.

I just happened to receive two wonderful Cook’s Illustrated recipe books on a super deal and while exploring it, I came across this challenge – the Chocolate Raspberry Torte.  There you have it.  (ps The two books together weighed at least 15 pounds!)

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Putting it together can be summarized in several steps:

  1. Make the two pieces of bittersweet, flourless chocolate cake;
  2. Make the filling;
  3. Make the ganache for the chocolate glaze; and,
  4. Make the mess putting it all together.

It really wasn’t all that difficult.🙂

While I would encourage single men trying to impress a lady to subscribe to Cook’s Illustrated (besides, there’s even a short and informative video on how to put this concoction together on their website), the ingredients were as follows:

Bittersweet, flourless chocolate cake:

  • 8 ounces bittersweet chocolate, bar or chips (I cheat – I use the chip form.  I used Ghiradelli’s. If you buy a bar, you’ll have to chop it up which is a mess no big deal.)
  • 12 tbsp unsalted butter, cut into 1/2″ pieces, room temperature
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/4 tsp instant expresso powder
  • 1-3/4 cups sliced almonds, lightly toasted (I forgot to do that)
  • 1/4 cup unbleached all-purpose flour (I use MacArthur’s)
  • 1/2 tsp table salt
  • 5 large eggs, room temperature (I forgot to take them out, too)

For the raspberry filling:

  • 1/2 cup fresh raspberries plus 16 individual raspberries for garnishing; pick the best ones for the garnishing
  • 1/4 cup seedless raspberry jam (Since my good neighbors are health conscious, I bought an organic product.  In hindsight, it wasn’t as sweet as no sugar was added.)

Chocolate Ganache Glaze:

  • 5 ounces bittersweet chocolate, bar or chips
  • 1/2 cup plus one tbsp heavy cream

You will also need a food processor, two good quality 9″ cake pans, a wire rack, cardboard rounds for the cakes and parchment paper.

Instructions

The cake:

  • Adjust oven rack to middle position and preheat oven to 325 degrees.
  • Grease then line bottoms of the two 9″ baking pans with parchment paper.  Grease the parchment paper then dust with flour.
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Since I don’t have a suitable bowl for this, I always use my trusty Japanese bowl.
  • While the recipe says to melt the chocolate and butter in a bowl over some barely simmering water, I cheat (via Cook’s Illustrated).  I zap the chocolate chips and butter for about 1-1/2 minutes at 50% power.  Stop when the chips pretty much lose their shape but don’t overheat.  Whisk gently and let cool 30 minutes, then add vanilla extract and espresso powder.  Whisk gently again.
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Whisking the melted chocolate and butter.  Cool for 30 minutes before adding extract and espresso powder.
  • Process 3/4 cup almonds in food processor until coarsely chopped, six to eight 1-second pulses; set aside to garnish cake.
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Coarsely chopped sliced almonds. Remember to toast!
  • Process remaining cup almonds until very finely ground, about 45 seconds. Add flour and salt and continue to process until combined, about 15 seconds. Transfer almond-flour mixture to medium bowl.
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Ground almond slivers after flour and salt added.
  • Process eggs in now-empty food processor until lightened in color and almost doubled in volume, about 3 minutes. With processor running, slowly add sugar until thoroughly combined, about 15 seconds.
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Before.
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The five eggs after three minutes. Remember to use room temperature eggs!
  • Using whisk, gently fold egg mixture into chocolate mixture until some streaks of egg remain. Sprinkle half almond-flour mixture over chocolate-egg mixture and gently whisk until just combined. Sprinkle in remaining almond-flour mixture and gently whisk until just combined.
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After some folding of the eggs into the chocolate mixture. Note the streaks.
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Addition of first portion of the ground almonds and before whisking.
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After addition of remaining ground almonds. Frankly, I may have over-whisked it. Doing so breaks down the aerated eggs.
  • Divide batter evenly between cake pans and smooth with rubber spatula. Bake until center is firm and toothpick inserted into center comes out with few moist crumbs attached, 14 to 16 minutes.  (ps I over-baked mine as the cake pulled away from the sides.  I’m thinking my oven was too hot so I need to lower the temp next time.)
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One cake before inversion. You do not have to invert the second cake.
  • Transfer cakes to wire rack and cool completely in pan, about 30 minutes. Run paring knife around sides of cakes to loosen. Invert cakes onto cardboard rounds cut same size as diameter of cake and remove parchment paper. Using wire rack, re-invert 1 cake so top side (the shiny side) faces up; slide back onto cardboard round.

The filling:

  • Place ½ cup raspberries in medium bowl and coarsely mash with fork. Stir in raspberry jam until just combined. Spread raspberry mixture onto cake layer that is top side up. Top with second cake layer, leaving it bottom side up. (Tricky!) Transfer assembled cake, still on cardboard round, to wire rack set in rimmed baking sheet.
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A horrible cell phone pic; it looked much better than this.🙂 Smooth filling to almost the edge. Placing the second cake on top of this slightly squeezes the filling out.

The glaze:

  1. Melt chocolate and cream in medium heatproof bowl set over saucepan filled with 1 inch simmering water, stirring occasionally until smooth. (Again, I zapped it, this time for about a minute at 50%.  Don’t overzap.)  Remove from heat and gently whisk until very smooth. Pour glaze onto center of assembled cake. Use offset spatula to spread glaze evenly over top of cake, letting it flow down sides. Spread glaze along sides of cake to coat evenly. (Having one of those portable lazy Susan gizmos for cakes helps.  Besides, all men like gizmos.)
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Use an angled or offset spatula to smooth the glaze to the edges and allow to drip down. Use offset spatula to then smooth it around the sides. (Note: I inverted this top cake needlessly.)
  • Using fine-mesh strainer, sift reserved almonds to remove any fine bits. Holding bottom of cake on cardboard round with one hand, gently press sifted almonds onto cake sides with other hand. Arrange raspberries around circumference., placing one raspberry at the 12, 3, 6 and 9 o’clock positions; evenly place the rest of the raspberries using the first four raspberries as a guide.  Refrigerate cake, still on rack, until glaze is set, at least 1 hour and up to 24 hours.
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Finished!
  • Transfer cake to serving platter, slice, and serve.

It really wasn’t that difficult… although I forgot to toast the almonds and overbaked the cakes; sorry, Brad!  But now, your lovely wife can show off her own baking skills in your kitchen since since she can now follow the recipe! (Am I in trouble now?)

By the way, this was MY dessert treat calories after this brazen effort:

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Did you know Hostess is now owned by a Mexican company?  What’s made in the US of A anymore?

 

How I Photograph Hummingbirds


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“YOU took these?!”

Believe me, it was more a case of my friends being admitted into trauma care.  You know, in total shock as if their bodies had shut down after a major trauma when they realized these hummingbird pictures were taken by little ole old “shaky hand” me.

Well, after being discharged from trauma care, several of my friends asked, “Hey, did you really take these?”, still not believing I took them. “Okaay, Koj, then how did you take these hummingbird pictures?”

Well, I really didn’t have specific answers for them but I fumbled a couple up.

I guess it’s time to cough it up… literally.

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For me, I had never thought about photographing hummingbirds before this last February.  Yes, I had never taken photos of hummingbirds in my short long life.  Besides, there just weren’t many hummingbirds buzzing around my yard for me to get interested.

Well, my good next door neighbors had aloe plants growing very healthily alongside the sidewalk and driveway.  Starting in February, I noticed a couple of the hummingbirds feasting on the nectar on my neighbor’s aloe cactus’ flowers.  I was bored so I thought, “Why not?!”

As I begun this escapade, there was a lot of patient waiting, sitting in the sun in a beat up brown resin lawn chair with camera in hand waiting for those little friends to buzz by.  Cigar was going, too.  Indeed, some of my neighbors down the block must’ve been wondering, “What is that crackpot, stogie-smoking old Japanese man doing sitting out there in the sun on his driveway?!”

I only had my Canon 100mm macro lens to shoot with.  While I did snap a couple of shots with the 100mm, the first attempts photographically were dismal.  I wasn’t close enough to those little suckers most of all with the 100mm lens.  The hummers were like Tinkerbell against a Sequoia forest… sans the cute little green tights.

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My first attempts with a 100mm macro lens. Too far away and couldn’t get close enough.

Well, my other good neighbor across the street saw me shooting and I said I could use a longer lens.  Bingo.  He was a Canon user and had a lot more equipment than me!  He had an earlier model 200mm f/2.8 which he would lend me in exchange for a few stogies.  He was a cigar lover, too!  What a deal!

The results began to improve over the next few days.  Each opportunity helped fine tune the procedures.  There were a lot of bumps along the way.

  • First of all, the tiny buggers moved faster than my eyeballs.
  • Second, even if I were lucky enough to frame one in my viewfinder, they would stay in that certain spot for only a split second; a lot of times, I pressed the shutter when the bird was no longer there. That was because it took light years for my brain’s commands to jump through my well frayed synapses.
  • Third, my hands do shake and the lens didn’t have image stabilization, leading to fuzzy shots
  • Fourth, you had to be precise in targeting the focusing point for the auto-focus.  If the focus point was a wing, the entire bird would be out of focus.  That is because the wing is closer to the camera’s focal plane and there wasn’t enough depth of field to keep the hummer’s body beyond the wing in focus.
  • Fifth, bright sunlight made for desirable higher shutter speeds but it also resulted in harsh lighting.
  • Sixth and most importantly, my stogie kept going out.

Some of the results during and after the trial period were as follows:

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This was shot when the sun was overhead – not the best lighting condition. See procedural notes below.

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The Procedure

But in all seriousness, this is what I do when trying to shoot hummers:

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Essential equipment. A 54 ring maduro cigar.
  1. Select at least a 54 ring maduro cigar and light.  The hummers appear to like Dominican long fillers with a spicy ligero wrapper the most.  The wonderful smelling smoke was better than the sweetest nectar for the hummers… Trust me.  They love it.
  2. Set yourself within a half-foot of the minimum focusing distance for your lens from a choice bunch of flowers at that distance.  Seat yourself in a comfortable chair, ensuring the flowers you selected are at eye level.  (Note: I do not use a monopod or tripod.)  In my case, I was just about five feet away.  Its purpose is to fill the frame as much as possible with the hummingbird.
  3. Set your metering mode to aperture priority then your f-stop to wide open.  In the case of my lenses, it was f/2.8.  While the depth of field is incredibly tight, it allows for very good bokeh (i.e., the background will be thrown out of focus).
  4. Slightly depress your shutter button to check your shutter speed at f/2.8.  Adjust your ISO to a higher number until you see at least 1/2000th of a second.   Higher is better but no more than 1/5000th unless you want total stop action.  I like a little bit of wing blur to give the impression of action.  Besides, it looks more natural.  (You will of course get noise at the higher ISO but that can be edited down during processing.)
  5. Set your shutter mode to multi-exposure.  Ensure mirror lock is off.  (Note: if your camera has an adjustment for knocking down highlights – comes from glare off shiny parts of the flowers – select it.  It is “D+” on my Canon.)
  6. For the auto focus, I use a single point focus and do my best to put that focus point on the BODY (not the wings) of the hummer.  The eyes/throat are the best targets but with my aging reflexes, it was more miss than hit but the results were much, much better.  Using a broader focusing zone or AI option will make the camera attempt to focus on the moving wings or a more prominent flower petal.  With a narrow depth of field, the bird itself then will likely not be in focus.
  7. Sit.  Puff on the cigar to attract the little buggers.  Patience is the key.  As there are only a few hummers in my area, I sometimes sat for 90 minutes before one would come by.  Even then, it may not have been in my pre-selected focus area.

As for WHEN to shoot…  A bright overcast day was the best for me but now that it is summer, this is unlikely.  While you CAN, I would not recommend shooting when the sun is above you.  I would suggest early morning or late evening with the sun is lower in the sky.  This will cut down on harsh shadows and lighting.

Good luck!

ps For stunning collections of hummingbird photos, please see Cindy Knoke’s blog here!

(NOTE: True pros use an intricate flash setup with remote release and an artificial background.  Not only do I not have multiple flash units, I feel shooting with a naturally occurring background more pleasing.)

The Three Second Rule, Food and Cigars


I firmly do NOT believe in the three second rule… especially when it comes to the kids.

In fact, it’s more like the micro-sub-second rule.

I don’t care if it’s one of my homemade chocolate truffles or a hard candy.

You see, once the food hits the kitchen floor, it legally belongs to the dog. It’s a transfer of ownership. It does not belong to my kids anymore nor especially my granddaughter if she comes.

If the dog is not present, the food gets wasted. It goes into the trash can. Tough luck, dog.

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You see, I think the floor is smothered with yukkies – like dust, microbes, viruses, insect do-do and of course, dog saliva from previous ownership transfers. I can’t imagine allowing those yukkies getting into young mouths. I, too, don’t eat things that fall on the kitchen floor for exactly the same reasons.

Disgusting.

However, an entirely different rule applies to me when I’m outside.

If I drop my cigar – onto the sidewalk where crows do their dastardly deeds or onto a parking lot spotted in days-old engine oil or on the grass where dogs freely mark their territory – the three second rule DOES apply.

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I dropped my cigar. It does not belong to the dog.

In fact, it might as well be a three MINUTE rule.  The cigar can rest on the dirt for a few minutes, even like when I’m doing macro photography.

But…unlike the mundane food, the cigar will not get thrown away. I will not waste it. The dog will definitely not get it.

It will go back into my mouth. I will not give the bacteria from the crow do-do or the grit from used engine oil or fermented dog pee on the lawn a second thought.

You see, it isn’t food. That’s why I can pick up the cigar and put it back in my mouth.

Do you see the logic?

Florentine Bars from Scratch


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My bud, Chef Cathy Thomas of Orange County, CA (link here), had posted on her website a marvelous, yummy looking dessert called “Florentine Bars”.  They are a creation of one of her culinary associates, Chef Wonyee Tom, who serves them up by the dozens at her establishment in Huntington Beach, CA called “Tomgirl Baking Co.”

The topping of dried cranberries and apricots plus sliced almonds in a cream and honey based homemade caramel mixture rests upon a wonderful buttery crust… and like all of Chef Cathy’s recipes, the recipe was detailed and easy to follow.

Even I could follow them!

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To make these, the ingredients are listed below but if you home chefs want to throw together this easy recipe, I’d encourage you to visit her webpage; there’s even a video!  (You know how men are visually minded.)

Video link: http://cathythomascooks.com/2016/02/01/tomgirl-baking-companys-florentine-bar-cookies-are-unsurpassed/

The ingredients are:

Sweet dough crust:
1 stick (4 ounces) butter, room temperature
1/2 cup (3 ounces) granulated sugar
1 large egg
1-1/3 cups plus 2 tablespoons (7 1/2 ounces) all-purpose flour
All-purpose flour for dusting parchment paper

Topping:
1-1/2 cups (5 ounces) sliced almonds (not toasted)
1/3 cup (1 ounce) diced dried apricots
1 cup (2 ounces) coarsely chopped dried cranberries
1/4 cup (1 ounce) all-purpose flour
3-1/2 ounces (7 tablespoons) butter, room temperature
3/4 cup (5 ounces) granulated sugar
3 tablespoons (1 1/2 ounces) honey
1/4 cup (2 ounces) heavy whipping cream
Nonstick spray

Here are some steps I managed to take cellphone pics of:

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Dried cranberries and apricots with sliced almonds.

 

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Softened unsalted butter and sugar ready for the mixer and before egg and flour.  When I add the flour, I set the mixer on the lowest speed briefly until most of the flour is under control.  Otherwise, you will have a plume of flour dust.

 

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Dough in general shape of pan and before rolling out. I crease my parchment paper to mark the pan dimensions; it helps me roll it out.

 

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Ready for the 350F oven.

 

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Making the caramel mixture. You should smell the aroma!  By the way, Chef Tom recommends using a stainless steel utensil to stir but I don’t have one that’ll work.  I’m assuming the wooden spoon may give off infused flavors from dishes past?

 

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Mix in the dried fruits and nuts off heat. It does set up very quickly so move fast!

 

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I slice mine up into triangles when there’s still a smidge of warmth left. (ps I also cut off maybe 1/4″ off the sides for presentation… It may be the best part!)

 

Voila!  Great with coffee…or anytime!

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And as testament to the deliciousness, I had made it for the teachers and staff appreciation luncheon last Friday – and they asked my daughter for the recipe!

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Of course, I texted her the proper link to Cathy Thomas’ website.  You should check it out, too, and get on her email distribution!

http://cathythomascooks.com/

Happy baking!

Short Stories about World War II. One war. Two Countries. One Family