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!
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.)
Born in Seattle in 1919 of (legal) immigrants who came across the Pacific from Hiroshima, he is the last of his family. He was the fifth of seven kids. All his siblings left in Japan at the outbreak of WWII died early in their lives while his siblings who were fortunate to have returned to the States before Pearl Harbor survived into their 90’s.
Well, wouldn’t you know it? My son Takeshi took THREE 1st Place awards, including an “Overall” trophy at L.A.’s “Ironman Naturally” competition today. I’m really proud of him. He really put his heart and soul into it. I’m sure he had the jitters as this was his first competition.
Just a pictorial of his accomplishments today. His “first” 1st Place in Physique Class A:
His “second” 1st Place in Physique Class B:
And his Overall 1st Place for Physique Class A/B:
Some shots from on stage; the guy in the center took the trophy for this mixed class:
And after the competition – a chance for a photo-op with the champ!
And yes, for those who are wondering, my physique surpasses that of my son. I’m just being modest and hiding my ripped body with my Green Bay Packers sweatshirt – which is too big now with all the weight I had lost.
And some of his friends and supporters were there, of course.
My oldest daughter, son-in-law and granddaughter Emi were also there for the morning half of the competition. You should have seen the winding line of thousands who were trying to get in when the doors opened!
The kid done good, yes?! Congratulations, Takeshi!
(Oh… A qualification. All of these photos had to be taken with my cellphone as they disallowed cameras. 😦 )
Those dreaded words once again echoed in my kitchen.
“Papa, can you make something different for dinner?” asked my soon-to-be-dreaded-teenager, the Little Cake Boss Diva.
Ugh… Which reminds me I am overdue for another “She’s Killing Me” story… Actually, I have tons but you will be spared.
Usually, there is no dinner menu for the kids when they are with me… primarily due to my Little Cake Boss Diva. Her forte is executing her plans – a minute after she changes it.
Even then, she is late. Always. You can set your clock to it. Kinda.
As my old-time buddy had come over as we planned from days ahead, I fretted over what to make that was new. Then I recalled Stater Bros. had a sale on fresh salmon fillets so that was my first step. I went to my cooking bible, Cook’s Illustrated, and found this recipe for “Glazed Salmon”. After scanning the ingredients, I decided this would be it as it had soy sauce. My son Jack will eat (almost) anything if it had soy sauce and Brooke (usually) eats what I make.
So after talking about old times with my buddy, I dashed off to the supermarket; I only needed a couple of items – like the salmon! Unfortunately, the fillets were a tad thin; also, they weren’t of the same thickness but they had to make do (Having them the same thickness ensures the fillets cook at the same rate.).
1 – teaspoon light brown sugar
½ – teaspoon kosher salt
¼ – teaspoon cornstarch
* * * * * *
4 – center-cut skin-on salmon fillets, 6 to 8 ounces each
Ground black pepper
1 – teaspoon vegetable oil
3 – tablespoons light brown sugar
2 – tablespoons soy sauce
2 – tablespoons mirin (see note)
1 – tablespoon sherry vinegar
1 – tablespoon whole grain mustard
1 – tablespoon water
1 – teaspoon cornstarch
⅛ – teaspoon red pepper flakes
Preheat oven to 300F.
After I rinsed off the salmon and cut off the real thin parts, I placed them skin side down on paper towels and patted them dry. I sprinkled them flesh side up with ground black pepper then applied the rub. (Sorry, these are all cellphone pics.)
The glaze was next. After mixing the ingredients together in a small sauce pot, I quickly brought it to a boil. It quickly thickens; remove from heat and cover. Set aside.
Heat a non-stick skillet and oil until very hot. Place salmon flesh side down first and brown for one minute. Flip and brown the skin side also for one minute, then transfer carefully to a baking sheet, skin side down. (I have the wonderful Breville Smart Convection Oven, perfect for the small meals – and desserts – I make.)
Spoon the still warm glaze mixture liberally over the salmon, then bake in oven for 7-10 minutes. Cook’s Illustrated says bake until an instant read thermometer reads 125F for you scientific cooks. I did turn on the convection fan for the last three minutes. The salmon came out wonderfully glazed and moist.
Plate and serve!
Note: Ever notice the white stuff that oozes out from your salmon at times? It’s from using too high a heat. It also indicates moisture has been squeezed out of the fish.
I also transferred the browned salmon to a baking sheet as my non-sticks are not oven safe. If you have one that is oven safe, you can just throw the skillet right into the oven.
But now, I’ve come to the realization that diet is a four letter word.
In fact, I found the first three letters in diet is die. 🙂
In 2012, my oldest son Takeshi (who is now pursuing a doctorate in physical therapy) and I ventured to Japan, mostly to vacation but also to take the ashes of our Aunt Shiz back home to Hiroshima. During our stay with our cousins, Masako always patted my stomach in fondness – implying I was Santa Claus. Yes, for only being 5’6″ tall, I was the jolliest in all of skinny Japan. I tipped the scales at 187 pounds. Japanese people were taking bets if I could squeeze through the train doors.
My son, however, could probably lift the whole bullet train – with one arm. You should have seen the girls stare at him… Well, they were really staring at my belly.
…But to be fair to myself, this is me below when I was about 20…
Two years ago, my great doctor – with whom I’ve been under his wonderful care since 1990 – asked me, “Do you exercise, Koji?”
“Um, no. Whyyyy..?”
“When you first came to me, you weighed 130 pounds… You weighed 183 today. You need to lose 50 pounds…”
I don’t think I heard him… Men suffer from bad hearing, you know.
Long story short, about four weeks ago, my buddy invited me over to his beautiful home in Newport Beach for what I thought would be a cigar gig… Instead, there were nothing but lovely ladies there… There to learn about a dieting system. They described it as a way of life.
Egads… Never did have that cigar.
Well, two days later, I signed up for a 30-day plan with a goal of losing ten pounds. I was already down to 161 pounds – solely from cutting out breakfast burritos and enchiladas at lunch. I also lost some pounds from being on Leyte for six days in July.
I started the 30-day plan on October 21st. It was a strict plan. Basically, only chicken, fish, turkey, green veggies, tofu, protein shakes and a potion that reminded me of Robitussin syrup of years ago.
Yes, it disallowed everything I loved: salami, mayo, beef, pork, Parmesan Reggiano, chili tamales, fettuccine Alfredo… 😢 I realized determination was key… like resisting the two Pringles leftover in your kid’s lunchbox.
My oldest daughter Robyn invited me over for Halloween, coinciding with her birthday. There were cheeseburgers, homemade tamales… and a chocolate mousse birthday cake. OMFG. But I resisted. I distanced myself from the deliciously smelling food by sitting against the walls. I even resisted the bite-size Milky Way bar my little granddaughter Emi was waving in my face as I took her trick or treating. Luckily, she dropped it somewhere along the way.
I took my Little Cake Boss with her friend to In-n-Out on the fourth or fifth day of my diet. They both had Double-Doubles and those famous, wonderfully smelling, fresh French fries… but I didn’t even lick the wrappers. I wanted to but she told me I’d be embarrassing her in front of her friend if I did.
And the toughest times were when the kids were with me; I had to cook breakfast, lunch and dinner for them. I didn’t even TASTE TEST the food before I plated it up because of my diet. It must have been OK since they ate my beef stroganoff, spaghetti al Limone, breakfast sandwiches before school, my famous pancakes from scratch smothered in real Grade A dark amber maple syrup with perfectly crisp BACON… I even baked a classic pound cake from scratch for Brooke to take to school.
The results after three weeks?
It is November 11 as I write. Here’s my weight record from my doctor’s records although I haven’t seen him since April; started at 161 pounds on October 21st:
And here’s a pic of my fancy-schmancy scale today (notice my Green Bay Packers socks) – it’s 147-ish, about a 9% drop:
I guess it’s an OK result.
BTW, can you see that belt in the picture with my schoolmates in Japan?
I still wear that belt and it is on the first notch once again! Don’t worry. I won’t gross you out by posting a picture of my belt with my belly as a backdrop.
Moral to story: Son, you have competition… but first, I’m hitting Tommy’s Burgers.
If I can do it, so can you.
It’s a mindset and with a little encouragement, you can attain your goals.
“Such short little lives our pets have to spend with us, and they spend most of it waiting for us to come home each day.”
– John Grogan, Marley and Me: Life and Love With the World’s Worst Dog
Yogi, my oldest daughter Robyn’s lovable three-legged corgi, left us last week.
Yogi was such a happy dog. Her loving nicknames for Yogi included “Yogs” or “Yo-Yo”.
Yogs made me grin when he would run…if you can call it running. Indeed, it was like watching a huge log of Jimmy Dean sausage on steroids with four Vienna sausages¹ as legs chugging through the grass.
Man, he loved to play with a ball. You’d toss a tennis ball or a toy and he would just instantly turn his back on you and bound away with his tailless butt the only thing you could see… just like how the famous Willie Mays did after hearing the the crack of the bat. After he chased it down, he’d bring it back near your feet. He’d then stare at the now motionless ball… And if Yogi thought you were ignoring him, he’d use his long, skinny nose to nudge it closer to you if you didn’t pick it up. “Again! Again!” he was saying. The simple joy he must have had.
The only time he wasn’t happy was when fireworks went off. He would cower behind Robyn’s toilet, shaking in fear, with his two shivering rear legs protruding out from behind the toilet. He was such a lovable wuse.
And he always wanted to be alongside somebody. “Hey! Me! Me! Look at me!” he was saying in dog-speak.
Yogs loved everyone – at least everyone who loved dogs. He was always so happy to see you. And he also knew who loved him. He took in my dad and Old Man Jack very quickly on Father’s day in 2011.
When Robyn would bring Yogi to my house, I’m sure he sensed in her car with his doggy nose, “Ooo! Ooo! We’re near grandpa’s house… The house that I can jump onto comfy sofas all I want and leave my hair all over them…and mama can’t say no! Woof!”
And one of Yogi’s most favorite spots to sit was on my lap as I sat on my sofa; it was a silent doggy signal… His stubby little Vienna Sausage legs would propel him right onto my lap as soon as I sat down. No invite was necessary. Then, he would would lovingly lay his head on my nice round belly.
Once he made it to my lap, he didn’t have to say one bark; his face said, “Pet me, you dumb human, while I leave tons of my hair as souvenirs!”
Well, perhaps I was stretching it a bit. Yogs didn’t really care whose lap it was… It would become HIS spot. No matter what you were sitting on. No matter how little space there was… It was all his space.
But make no mistake about it. He knew who his mama was. When Robyn would bring him over to my home to look after him for part of the day and then grew tired of all the attention I was giving him (How rude!), he would patiently wait at the door for his mama to come home.
And of course, his “Feed me some of that human food!” face.
“Huh? I don’t care if it has preservatives! …What??? Mama said no??? Well, if you don’t tell her, I won’t!”²
It was right before Christmas last year; her usual happy boy Yogi was then not only limping, he would yelp after I patted him on the usual spot: his side near his shoulder. After a few persistent visits with different vets, Robyn tragically found out why her beloved son was limping.
Yogi had cancer. He was only eight.
She was devastated. We all were but I felt most badly for Robyn and I knew exactly how she felt. Yogi was a big part of her life and he provided much happiness. But just as if Yogs was her boy, she opted for surgery… but in order to remove the tumor, her beloved Corgi had to lose his leg.
He returned home the day after Christmas last year. Robyn was so happy Yo-Yo was back home.
We went to visit Robyn on August 23rd. Even with all my failings, Yogs would always greet me with great happiness at the door with his stocky Jimmy Dean Sausage body nearly bowling me over. But this time, he barely made it over to me as we walked in. I said, “Yogiiii… What’s wrong?” I secretly feared for the worst. I knew in my heart something was very wrong with Yogi.
She took Yogi to the vet on August 30th. Inoperable cancer had now spread to his spine; he was in great pain. She called me over that night to say goodbye as did many other family and friends. There was great sadness. But there was a happy moment. She said I could give Yogi some of my human food deli sandwich. I think we all gave Yogi some. He must’ve been so happy.
Yogi left us the next day, August 31st, while being lovingly held by my daughter and son-in-law, just like Masako held my grandma in her arms as she passed away, Yogi was blessed with having such an adoring mom and dad.
I know he is in doggy heaven. More precisely, the “Dogs That Brought the Most Happiness to Mom and Dad” wing of doggy heaven. While very, very sad, I know Robyn’s heart is at peace knowing her beloved Yogi is now free of pain.
I will dearly miss you, Yogs.
For those who don’t know what a Vienna Sausage is:
Uncle, let’s go home… Those were the words that devotedly flowed with compassion from Masako’s daughter, Izumi, during our fourth and last memorial service on Leyte. “Leyte Fuji” stood before her, covered in greenery that had likely been destroyed 70 years earlier. Her voice was draped in unchained anguish and power. Her unbridled emotions from her 心 – her heart – were felt by everyone; tears and restrained sobs were in abundance.
There are readers who had their fathers or other loved ones killed or imprisoned by the Japanese. There are readers whose loved ones learned to forgive after fighting a bitter war. There are readers who will forever despise what the Japanese did. I certainly accept that.
While these services may be foreign in appearance, they are to honor those killed in a field of combat. If you live in America, place yourself on the sacred grounds of Arlington… Then you glimpse a caisson pulled past the crosses with the flag draped over a casket or taps being played with the folded flag presented to the deceased loved one with thanks given by a comrade on bended knee.
That is what these services are in substance, at least in my opinion.
Just no cemetery.
Day 4 – Last Service
After the long climb down the path Japanese soldiers took in December 1944 from the town of Catagbacan, we briefly rested in a small, humble cluster of family dwellings.
In an effort to help in their sustenance, Mr. Ota paid the village folks to climb up palm trees to cut down what appeared to be coconuts. They chopped open the narrow end at an angle with a machete and we sampled it.
Soon, we retreated to the air conditioned vans, taking two villagers (including the guide with the machete) to where a motorcycle would take them back up the long, winding dirt road and home (Catagbacan). While I was near death, these two young men weren’t winded at all. My older cousins had also recovered nicely. Hmm…. Am I old?
We headed to a quick outdoor lunch before continuing on to our last memorial stop: “Leyte Fuji”.
Last Memorial Service – and the Most Emotional
As we neared the end of our journey, I had come to realize we have been reading our kind thoughts to our family members, both Uncle Suetaro and Lt. Nakamura, both of whom were killed in war and left on this island. What made it doleful is that it would have been much, much better to say these kind words to them while they were living.
But there was one anguished tone among all the letters, excepting Masako’s: we all apologized in one way, shape or form to our departed uncles for not knowing of them or even they had died in war… That we were enjoying life. And we all shared remorse for all the young men who died here under these gruesome conditions – Japanese or American. They took their last breaths fighting for what they believed in, smothered by depression and futility, death, disease, in unwashed and bloodied uniforms.
“Leyte Fuji” is the nickname given to Mt. Calbugos (aka Calbukos, 11.2541,124.4539) by the Japanese over the decades. Many deaths occurred around this hilly range with the one prominent peak; while large numbers were of Japanese, American soldiers also perished as did many Filipinos.
Leyte Fuji was in clear view from the spot picked by Mr. Ota; it was at the end of a short road, in from a narrow highway. There were some very basic dwellings and a small village store. There were children about as there was an open air schoolroom adjacent to where we parked; it was an unpaved and decaying homemade basketball court. Palm tree stumps were used to hold the rickety backboards made out of scrap pieces of wood.
An occasional two-cycle engine’d motorcycle would putt by and the loud voices of young school children at play showed their interest was understandably elsewhere.
The sun was not bashful; the sunshine was blazing and the air sweltering. The group did their best to setup the memorial table for the last time but a constant and mischievous hot breeze kept the photos fluttering and softly toppled the other items.
The two best “readings” were from these two fantastic ladies. The best for last, as they say. Every heartbreak, every torment, every regret, every loss and the feeling of shame flowed forcefully – shame that we all knew very little of these men who died. Some did not know them at all until recently – like me and Setsu.
While Izumi read her letter first, I choose to describe now Setsu’s passionate reading to her uncle, Lt. Nakamura. She had chosen to write her letter on a traditional Japanese notebook with brush and charcoal ink, writing daily and filling it with her deep and unrestrained feelings.
She bowed at her uncle’s picture on the memorial table. Leyte Fuji was dominant before her. She began by introducing herself as his niece. She understandably broke down a number of times. There is no shame in that.
In one passage, she said a nurse had stopped by her grandmother’s house after war’s end. The nurse said she had went with Lt. Nakamura to dockside to send him off… and that he told this nurse he should be on the next ship and coming home soon. Even after she received official notification after war’s end that he was declared dead on July 15, 1945, she probably continued to believe he would still come home… just like my Grandmother Kono.
In another passage, she talked about her father (Nakamura’s brother) that when he went off to war, he knew in his heart Lt. Nakamura would never be coming home. She felt tremendous anguish knowing her father suffered such a burden for so many years.
A much shortened video of Setsu’s letter:
Setsu’s letter was very eloquently read in spite of overflowing emotions. It simply brought many to tears; Masako had to sit down, apparently overcome with the sadness and heat.
Of my Hiroshima cousins, I have communicated with Izumi the most. The only daughter of Masako, she looks after Masako in spite of working six days a week as a pre-school teacher and raising her beautiful daughter, Yuu-chan. She is a most caring person and feels for others.
It is with Izumi this trek for Uncle Suetaro’s hidden life and death began in 2010. My then seven year old daughter Brooke was snooping in my dad’s closet at his assisted living apartment when she stumbled across my dad’s small box. She had opened it up and brought out a photo of a Japanese soldier. I thought, “Gee, that’s odd,” as I knew my dad was US Army. So I showed my then 91 year old dad the picture of the Japanese soldier and asked him, “Who’s this?”
He quickly replied, “Sue-boh (pronounced SUE – e – boh).”
“Sue-boh? Who’s that?” I asked.
“My brother. He was killed.”
And so the journey began, culminating in Izumi’s passionate reading of her letter to Uncle Suetaro below.
Preceded by a short, softly spoken message from Namie, trying to summarize Izumi’s well-written letter afire with emotions by using words is not possible; yet, I will try to summarize her words here and how it was delivered:
“Dear Uncle Suetaro,
We have come together at last… I have come to take you home…”
Five years of pent up emotions burst forth. Her emotions overcame her and sadness showed itself through her broken voice and tears. Indeed, after we all heard her say “take you home” to our forgotten uncle, the flood gates opened for everyone.
“You still have family in America… When Koji asked me about you, I was so ashamed as I knew nothing… Since then, you have become deeply entrenched in my heart and soul, day in and day out… You are forever in my mind…”
She paused to try and collect herself. She was only partially successful; it was clear that for her, this was a cleansing, a purging of sorrow, regret and happiness that had amassed over the last five years.
“With the unending patience from Mr. Ota, I learned of your hardships… Of how you arrived here for war… Your battles and final days.
After learning of your sacrifice for your (American) family as well as Japan, I said to Koji, Masako and my aunts, ‘We must go to Leyte’… and now, we are finally here with you… I have now heard your voice, was touched by your heavenly soul and heard of how kind and gentle of a young man you were…”
She paused again to collect herself and continued with her magnificent reading.
“Last year, my mother was hardly able to walk. After memories of you from 70 years ago were stirred up, my mother said you beckoned her here… and she is now here, dismissing her bad legs and all from her mind, to be with you here and to honor you on this land…
And to all of your fellow 41st Regiment soldiers who died, you had to do your duty seven decades ago and you did that with tremendous fortitude and courage… Your bravery has seeped into me…
To the souls of the 41st Regiment and Uncle Suetaro, let’s go home together…
Nobody had Puffs… Even then, several boxes would have been required.
Indeed, Izumi’s thoughts were righteous.
We did take him home – some took him home to Japan.
I took him back to America where he was born and where his two older brothers and sister lived as he died.
Epilogue to follow.
Other chapters are here for ease of locating earlier posts in this series: