Cooking during COVID-19

Hello everybody,

I know it’s been a while since I posted but I’ve become even more of a hermit than usual. I got off Facebook before all the nonsense started rolling out simply because I do not invite No-nothings, Flat Earth Society or Luddites into my life or headspace willingly.

Those of you who know me, can always message me, but I’m not going back into the quagmire of social media any time soon. So what have I been up to here in the land of the rising sun? Well, not travel that’s for sure.

In most ways my life has not altered much due to COVID-19, I tend to live pretty quietly. We have not had the shortages, only on masks, and generous people all over this island have been sewing and creating masks as well as sharing them.  It’s the best side of people. I am so impressed. Also, I have quite a collection of masks since I have been wearing them just round and about since I landed here almost five years ago. Every trip to Korea, I go to the public markets and pick up one or two. For me, and Japanese people, wearing a mask if I am feeling a little under the weather is a courtesy to other people. On planes, even when I am feeling fine, I always wear a mask just as a little filter.

singapore mask
Yes, it does get a little chilly here in Okinawa. I bought this mask, my favorite, in Little India in Singapore last August.

However, the traveling…or lack thereof has been something I miss greatly. My last short trip was back in January to Hakodate (in Hokkaido) where I spent a memorable and lovely four days in an onsen hotel. That particular pleasure may be a thing of the past… I miss the onsen.

There has been a bit of teleworking which was lovely while it lasted. Since I am an introvert, working alone is just about heaven to me….being able to wear my old Under Armor shorts and tee-shirt have made it very wonderful.

teleworking
Yes, I was working hard…and thank you for the shirt Rui!

Also with restrictions we have not been able to visit restaurants out in the community in the same way that we previously enjoyed.  I have enviously driven by Family Mart on more than one occasion longingly looking at people who could go in there….like seeing a recently broken-up boyfriend with someone else. Sad…

near my house
I don’t feel too sad for myself, this is right around the corner from my house.

Anyway, one of my great loves is creating meals that are healthy (体に優しい), simple and delicious. So what have I been doing? Cooking…a lot of it…and reading and researching…and keeping a journal with photos of everything I’ve eaten or drunk since April 27.

This blog has always served as an outlet for my writing and when it comes to documenting things, I have been keeping personal journals since I was 11.  I was turned onto the China Study by a friend a few years ago, but I hadn’t had time to read or incorporate some of its findings into my diet. Now was the time to read and get educated on what I can do to make myself healthier through diet. 

‘Let food be thy medicine’ has been attributed to Hippocrates rightly or wrongly, but I agree with whoever said it.  So here we go… those of you who know me, understand I can get a little fixated on things. When I was growing up, I would hear one or both of my parents say, ‘Julie’s going through a phase….’ I thought maybe I’m just a weirdo…but Debbie Ballard-Miller can attest to my Star Trek phase (which has never ended).

So here’s my project, after much conversation. Oh, I also am a  minimalist and only own one pot (with a lid) and a pan (also with a lid); a toaster oven (Japanese houses only have a fish cooker (broiler) and no microwave.  Don’t forget the tea kettle where I make my homemade ginger/turmeric/lemongrass tea.

braising vegetables
Braising a variety of vegetables in vegetable stock: Okinawa spinach, Bok Choy, Swiss Chard and garlic.

One more thing…I decided it was a good time to take a break from meat and coffee while I was at it… I still love meat, but I always appreciate it  more after a little time away, same for coffee.

avocado toast and egg
Avocado toast (sprouted spelt) with amazingly orange yolk eggs from the local chickens at the Farmer’s Market.

I don’t know how much I’ve talked about the Farmer’s Markets here, but they are set up like a supermarket. The Ginowan Farmer’s Market was one of my first stops when I first got here. It’s still my favorite. Local farmers grow their food, with a garden hose and help from a few goats.  The chickens are responsible for the bug control, that’s what the sign says next to the eggs!  They fill up their areas in the markets and when it’s out, it’s out. Okinawa, of course, is  known for having more people living over the age of 100 than anyone else in the world. It is reflected in their simple food choices, eating seasonally and using what is available. I shop for only certain items at the Commissary, my favorite cheeses for instance. Japanese do so many things superbly,  cheese is not one of them.

okinawa spinach, stems and kale
Okinawa spinach, kale and cauliflower stems and leaves.
breakfast oats tray
My Yomitan pottery tea pot full of Japanese green tea. Also my standard breakfast, refrigerator steel cut oats with chia, plain yogurt, fruit and a kiss of maple syrup.
leeks, pesto, salad and miso
Roasted leeks, kale pesto with walnuts, avocado and bean salad and my first miso soup (vegan). Chopsticks (おはし)were also a gift from a friend
cauliflower steak, miso and bean salad
Cauliflower steak with basil pesto, bean and avocado salad and my homemade miso soup.  I learned how to make dashi, and thank you my friend for name of a great miso to use.
roasted kabocha, sauerkraut and bean salad
Sauerkraut (not mine), bean salad with avocado, miso glazed kabocha (it looks like an acorn squash and tastes like heaven).  I have my portable Snow Peak chopsticks which unscrew and come with a little container for camping. Also the spoon is Korean…I love the big spoon!
another tomato pesto...maybe this one
Sun-dried tomato pesto, my all-time favorite meal, with a very nutty parmesan. Thank you 犬神!
golden milk ,apple and almond butter
Golden Milk with locally grown fresh turmeric (ウコン) , ginger (生姜), almond milk, cinnamon and black pepper. Almond butter and a sliced apple.

That small piece of pottery that my knife is resting on was found on a beach in Hakodate and repurposed to be my chopstick holder. Also, my pottery is all hand-made in Yomitan by families who have been doing this work for hundreds of years. The small tea cup was made in Saga, Japan, in a similar pottery village.

oatmeal banana cookies
Oatmeal banana cookies!
steel cut oatmeal with dried cherries and dark chocolate
Sunday morning decadence – Hot steel cut oats, cooked in coconut milk and dried flaked coconut; topped with organic dried cherries, dark chocolate chips and raw almond slices.
buddha bowl tray
My first Buddha Bowl – Toasted quinoa, snow peas, red onion, avocado and a poached egg.     オいしい in my Snow Peak titanium bowl, also for camping.
homemade ghee
Liquid gold….my first ghee. It is smoky, nutty and rich…butter squared in flavor and loveliness. Also healthy and used in Ayurvedic medicine. It can be stored without being refrigerated and last for weeks. In the refrigerator up to a few months…it won’t last that long in my house.
work in progress copy
Works in progress…

Of course this isn’t all the stuff I have made over the past month. But I am having fun planning meals and executing them. All this time at home has also given me plenty of time to catch up on ‘Chopped’ and I’ve been through every season of ‘Top Chef’.

me zamami copy
I am alive and well in Ginowan.

If you’re interested in any of the stuff, please check out the Microbiome Diet by Dr. Raphael Kellerman and Total Gut Balance by Dr. Mahmoud Ghannoum. The China Study is also a very good read, you may even be able to find it in PDF form online. Your local library has all these resources as well. I feel healthier and better than I have in years. 

Just a final note, I have found this pandemic a time to reflect on what’s important to me and what isn’t. I’ve used it as a time to see what I need in my life and what I don’t. I’ve also seen inherent kindness in people and sharing here in Okinawa. We have so much to be thankful for, we did not face shortages and were paid our salary while supervisors have checked on our wellness. Maybe it’s because our strange little tribe of civilians who choose to live abroad and serve our military are very different from the average bear.

Lastly, I am so proud of our US Marine Corps who have stepped up with out argument or questions, but pulled together to help each other and us. I feel genuinely blessed to be able to be in a position to work with them. As Fred Rogers’ mother used to say, (I’m paraphrasing) ‘in times of trouble, look for the helpers.’


Take care and be kind to each other.

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