Category Archives: Cooking

A Blue Dress, Food and Post-war Japan


Cover Shot – Aunt Eiko

After a war’s end, the war for food continues for a losing country.  Japan was no exception.

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In “There Be Gold in My Family,” Taro was mentioned.  He was miraculously able to track down my mother and Aunt Eiko in what remained of Tokyo after Japan’s surrender in WWII.  He was part of the US 8th Army’s Military Intelligence Service and had brought them much needed food, clothing and cigarettes.

L to R: Aunt Eiko, mom, Grandfather, Grandmother and Uncle Shibayama. Aunt Eiko, mom and uncle are wearing clothing given to them by Taro who took the picture. It is dated January 2, 1947 on the back.

After being discharged from the Army in early 1947, he returned to his family’s farming roots in Livingston, CA.  With his meager income, he still managed to buy clothing and shipped them to my mother and Aunt Eiko.  He was a kind and generous man.  To this day, they are indebted to Taro.

One ensemble Aunt Eiko received was a blue dress, shoes, and handbag.  More later.

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When war ended and the Allies began their Occupation of Japan, the population was in rags.  Many had no homes.

Civiians with ration books waiting in line for beans. Note the containers for carrying clean water.

Everyday people suffered from poverty, filthy conditions, hunger, and food shortages.  In order to help distribute food, Japanese people were given assigned rations by the Allies.  This was put into motion quickly thanks to the Supreme Commander, Gen. MacArthur.  He ensured the most humane treatment possible under those wretched conditions.

In reality, living just on the rationed food often did not provide adequate nourishment, and a thriving black market developed amidst the constant food shortages.  Civilians lined up, waiting for their rations of beans as even rice was not available to them at that time.  (The last point is critical to this story.)  They also carried receptacles to carry clean water which was also rationed.  As many young Japanese men were killed, a majority of those lining up were the elderly, women and children.

Of course, Americans were issued food ration stamps as part of our war effort back home and textbooks show many photos of starving and tortured American prisoners.

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Back to Aunt Eiko’s blue dress ensemble.

She recalls how “Western” they looked.  Especially since the outfit was a BRIGHT blue.  Very American.  Very NOT Japanese.  Madonna-esque.  You can tell by looking at the clothing the women were wearing in the food line picture.

Aunt Eiko was so happy though.  She wanted to show off her dress but was fearful of the ridicule or demeaning comments she may receive from passerbys.  You see, even in 1947, only a small minority “had”…  The vast majority were “have nots”.  Neighbors would turn their backs on those that appeared to have received favors from the conquering Americans.

Nevertheless, she was too happy and wore the ensemble through the still decimated Ginza.  She caught a photographer’s eye.  She was asked to model.  So she did.

The photo series ended up in a magazine, a rarity as paper was still in short supply and very expensive.  Another case of have versus have nots.

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Although the magazine now is extremely fragile (the paper quality was very poor), it is one of Aunt Eiko’s prized possessions.  I was so worried the pages would fall apart if I opened up the magazine to scan the pages.  Its odor was typical of old newsprint.  But somehow, the pages stayed together.

This is the original B&W of the cover shot:

B&W original print. Aunt Eiko does not recall why the bottom left corner is cut off. Taken in 1947.

Inside the cover:

Orginal B&Ws of this page:

Original B&W. Note the handbag and shoes sent to her by Taro from Livingston, CA.
On a sofa.

Aunt Eiko cannot recall why the actual magazine took about a year to be issued.

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But what is the connection between a blue dress, food and post-war Japan?

The photographer paid her with “ohagi”.  Out of his food ration. Made out of precious rice and beans.

Ohagi. Rice covered with a sweetened bean paste.

Threatened With a Strike


I have been threatened with a strike…by the unemployed individual I hired a few weeks back.  Dastardly.

She called a press conference and made sure the media was there to video it (above)…  She demanded BETTER pay – like no more dirty dishes with dry dog food.  She complained dry dog food unnecessarily dried out her schloppy tongue, her best feature.  And that digesting dry dog food attracts those tiny little buggers that make her itch.

I said, “Tough.  Be glad you have a job.”

Small time gaffe – until the media caught it.  Holy Blown Out of Proportion, Batman.

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She filed a complaint with her union rep.

Her union rep then emailed me.  The rep showed me images of what would happen first before they would call for a full-fledged strike.  She would ensure her dish washing work would be only partially completed thereby negatively affecting quality.  Customers will complain.

Work slow down threat – Image A
Work Slow Down Threat – Image B
Work Slow Down Threat – Image C

Ungrateful.  Dastardly.

Tiramisu – Mechanic Style


My young years as a mechanic were some of the most fun in my life.

Working alongside veterans of the US Army’s most decorated unit, the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, made it so much better.  If you haven’t heard of that heroic combat team, you will be surprised.

Anyways, I didn’t do much cooking then.  Can’t figure out why I started either.  Old age.  Too many gasoline fumes, perhaps.

But one of my most requested deserts is my homemade Tiramisu.  Never mind gasoline fumes…  The rum fumes will disperse all the oxygen molecules and you will get high. Just kidding.  About getting high.

The only ingredient not shown here is VERY strong coffee.  Even Dean Martin would have diluted it.

Tiramisu ingredients. The bottle was empty, by the way.

And no mockery of my serving plates and dishes for I have none.  Remember, I am a former mechanic.

One batch finished for a party.

Another batch for a neighbor’s party…  Adult party.

Like my Pyrex?

I don’t recall any pecks on the cheek, though.  Hmmm.

Upside Down Apple Pie from Scratch


To help my friend’s mother celebrate her 90th birthday tomorrow, my little Brooke and I threw together a homemade Upside Down Apple Pie from scratch…  Darned if it doesn’t smell GOOOOD…  Not bad for an old mechanic and a young lady, eh?  Recipe courtesy of my good bud, Cathy Thomas (http://cathythomascooks.com/2012/06/28/july-4th-upside-down-treats-blueberries-plums-nectarines-and-apples/):

Now who knows how to keep little hands off the darn thing until tomorrow?

Chocolate Truffles by a Former Mechanic


My homemade chocolate truffles are popular with the gals.  Unfortunately, they’re pretty popular with some of my buds, too.  Oh well.

Following the well explained recipe in my cooking bible, Cook’s Illustrated, I made a batch to take to a couple of my friend’s 4th of July block parties.  Frank Sinatra would’ve been jealous with all the attention I got from the ladies.

The ganache is the secret.
Rolling the ganache into balls is the tough part.
My knife skills are non-existent. But being a former mechanic, I cheat. The “hammer when in doubt” approach always prevails.