Tag Archives: okinawa

My Sister and My Mother

Back when my ex-husband was flying 747’s for Evergreen International, I read an article about owner Delford Smith, and was moved by what he said about his sons growing up in an affluent family. I can’t remember the exact quote, but it was something akin to: “My kids didn’t have the advantage of growing up with disadvantages I had as a child.” That really hit home for me, and I often think about how lucky I am to have had such a “different”, at times very difficult, childhood.

Dancing with my big sister Janet, OkinawaThe first eight years of my life in Okinawa were pretty idyllic. Living on a tropical island, even though we were in close proximity to the Vietnam War, was simple and carefree. My older sister Janet and I both went to American schools, because our dad was an American citizen working for the U.S. Navy.

Since both our parents worked nights (our mother ran successful “Hostess” clubs), there were many evenings where I was in Janet’s care. I can’t imagine leaving a 7 and 10-year-old alone night after night, but that’s just the way it was back then. Luckily, we spent many afternoons with our oba-chan (grandma) watching her make tofu (which she sold at market) and caring for her pigs (which we ate).

Our Parents, Okinawa (early 60's)I don’t have many memories of my mom being a “mother”, but I’m so grateful that I had oba-chan and my sister. If it wasn’t for oba-chan’s nuturing and love, I think both Janet and I would have turned out much differently. During World War II, she adopted our mother, along with many other war orphans on the island. Our oba-chan was just a phenomenal woman.

The shock of divorce is never easy on children. Break-ups are rough, but when my father got custody of myself and Janet, we were suddenly on an airplane (just us little girls) flying across the Pacific to live with our grandparents in America.

My Sister JanetWe didn’t want to leave Okinawa, but looking back, our father made the best decision he could have made at the time. Okinawa had been under U.S. possession since 1951, but reverted back to Japanese control in 1972, the year our parents were divorcing. Our dad was simply afraid that he would have no rights as the American parent in a foreign land.

Janet and I settled in San Marino, California with elderly grandparents who tried to “Americanize” us immediately. We had visited them before when we were younger with our mother, but those were only quick trips. Our dear grandfather tried to make us more comfortable by treating us to Chinese food once in awhile (heck, he tried… it was “Asian”), but our grandmother did not NOT like the “Okinawan” part of us at all. Let’s just say that she and I never became close.

Scotland Visit 1980After our parents divorced, our father was transferred to Scotland (his mother was from the Maxwell Clan), where he re-married and still lives today. As you can imagine, we had some rough patches during the past 30+ years, but as adults we moved past the blame and the pain. “Life’s too short”, is something we say over and over again.

Now, I absolutely adore my dad, step-mother and younger brother Greg, and will be visiting them again in Scotland this summer. But as a young girl I had some major “daddy issues” that I couldn’t even admit to until a few years ago. Janet, who was older (and wise beyond her years), fared much better.

My Sister JanetOur first year in America was rather turbulent, but mostly just confusing. Even though our grandparents (who became our legal guardians) did the best they could, they eventually placed us in a children’s home nearby. Janet and I always felt like the “lucky ones” though, because at least we got to spend every holiday with our grandparents, away from the “home”. We both lived there until graduating from high school. Janet “served” (as we joked) seven years and I struggled through ten. Looking back, it really wasn’t THAT BAD. We had a roof over our heads and plenty of food.

With my Oba-chan, MyLastBite.comMy relationship with my mother is very complicated. I’ve travelled to stay with her several times over the years, and although the visits were exciting, they definitely lacked any real warmth. I’m sure the disconnect is there because she never “mothered” me as a child. She was busy working, and helping to put food on the table, so I don’t blame her for that. The truth is, after we moved to America the only person “mothering” me was my sister. When my beloved oba-chan died, I didn’t feel the need to visit Okinawa on a regular basis anymore. I didn’t need to, because my sister was then, and is now, my mother.

When I look back at family photos of the two of us, the most notable thing I see is that my big sister is always looking out for me… literally. Of course back then, I was the baby sister, but even as adults she still wraps me tightly in her arms. Janet was always determined to take care of me, and as a kid I was just as determined to escape her big-sister clutches. Thankfully, she never gave up on me, because I was NOT an easy kid, teenager or even young adult.

With my big sister Janet, MyLastBite.comI had planned on writing this last year before Janet’s birthday in July. Then again for Thanksgiving when we celebrate a family feast at her house. Christmas would have been a perfect time to share her awesome “Christmas Chili” recipe, and March 18th is the anniversary of our move to America, but that came and went as well.

Through all these years, the only consistently good thing I have had in my life is Janet, and I’m so grateful we had the “advantage of sharing so many disadvantages” together. It’s taken a lot of tears to get these words on paper (plus a wee bit of courage), and there’s no way I could have conveyed how much my sister means to me, without sharing a bit of our story.

Happy Mother’s Day, Janet. I know it’s early, but thank you for always being my wonderful sister, and my mother.

(Originally posted 4/12/10)

My Sister Janet
Sisters

My Sister Janet
Janet & her husband Paul and oldest son Camron

My Sister Janet
Janet with her kids Cody, and twins, Kindal & Chace

My Sister Janet
Janet (at right) always the “mother”. And yes that’s me with the two bottles!

A yearly, family tradition is to gather on Christmas day at Janet’s house for her awesome chili. The recipe:

Janet's 4- 15oz. cans of White beans
2-15oz cans of Black beans/drained
4-6 cups of cooked chicken breast diced
4 onions minced
2-4 cloves of garlic minced
4 cups of broth
2 cups of white wine
1 small can of jalapenos
1 –7oz. can of diced green chiles
2 Tablespoon Oil
Juice of 3 freshly squeezed limes
½ – ¾ cups of chopped fresh cilantro
2 tsp. Oregano
1 tsp. Cumin

Sautee the garlic and onions in the oil

Combine all the ingredients **except the wine, cilantro and limejuice into large pot or crock-pot, simmer not boil.

Add the wine, cilantro and lime juice before serving.

Janet’s Notes:
These amounts are basic…I add more garlic for my family!
The chili is thicker and tastier the next day, so make plenty!

My Sister Janet

More photos of Janet


Mentioned above:

Visits to Scotland

History of Okinawa

Okinawa Military History

My ex-husband Perry

Evergreen

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Kiwami

Katsuya Uechi’s new restaurant is called Kiwami. It’s just a few blocks away from Katsuya (our usual sushi joint on “sushi row”), and it’s also owned by Katsuya Uechi.

For our first visit to Kiwami, my husband Peter and I sat at a table so I could capture photos easier. Well, at least easier than sitting at the intimate sushi bar helmed by Chef Uechi himself! Our charming server, Hugh, explained that Kiwami is more “upscale” then Katsuya restaurant, and this was definitely reflected in the ambiance and decor. I’ve worn flip-flops and shorts to Katsuya, but that would be way too casual for a meal at Kiwami.

We ordered mostly from the “Today’s Specials” menu and loved every bite. Kiwami translated, means “doing something extremely” or “the best degree in Japanese”, and Chef Uechi definitely delivers the kiwami to this soon-to-be super hot sushi spot!

Sayuri Unfiltered Sake at Kiwami, MyLastBite.com
Sayuri, our favorite unfiltered sake.

Kiwami's Blue Fin Tuna, MyLastBite.com
Blue Fin Tuna, flown in from Spain $16

Kiwami's Skip Jack Poki, MyLastBite.com
Skip Jack Poke $9

Kiwami's Yellowtail Jalapeno, MyLastBite.com
Jalapeno Yellowtail $16

Kiwami's Yellowtail Jalapeno, MyLastBite.com

Kiwami's Unagi Shirayaki, MyLastBite.com
Unagi Shirayaki (first steamed, then baked) $10

Kiwami's Trout, MyLastBite.com
Tasmanian Trout in foil, $15

Kiwami's Tempura, MyLastBite.com
Mixed Tempura $16

Kiwami's Baked Roll, MyLastBite.com
Spicy Tuna with Baked Crab Roll $12

Born in Okinawa (like me!), Japan, Chef Katsuya Uechi began his career as a chef at the Harbor View Hotel in Okinawa. He moved to Los Angeles over 20 years ago and opened the Studio City Sushi Katsu-Ya in 1997.

Kiwami
11920 Ventura Boulevard,
Studio City, CA  91604
818-763-3910

Dining date: 1/31/09

website

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Shin Okinawa Izakaya

Unfortunately this restaurant has closed.

 

“My Island of Pork”

Pork, for me is not just the “other white meat”. It’s absolutely my favorite meat… be it pork cutlets, pork chops, pork ribs, pork loin, slab bacon, guanciale, pancetta, prosciutto, speck, pig ears, chicharrones,  juicy trotters, pork belly or even SPAM. There is nothing I love more than PIG. 

Dancing with my sister Janet, MyLastBite.comNot surprisingly… my porcine passion is actually a birthright. I was born on Okinawa which is known as the “island of pork” and I don’t remember eating any other meat when I was a child. Fresh fish, yes (my grandmother’s beautiful steamed salmon), but pork was the only “meat” I recall, and when I was hungry and asked my big sister for “RED” meat, I was actually requesting my beloved SPAM*. 

A few weeks ago, my husband Peter and I decided to try Shin Okinawa Izakaya, an Okinawan restaurant in Torrance, CA. I first read about it a few months ago and was hoping to try it with my sister, Janet, and her kids. With everyone’s busy schedules, it hadn’t happened yet.

With my Oba-chan, MyLastBite.comPeter and I had an early evening reservation and as we walked in the door, the smells coming from the kitchen along with the Okinawan music instantly made me feel like I was back in Koza… with my sweet, little Oba-chan (grandma).

In the ladies’ room, there were huge, red hibiscus flowers painted on the wall. I had to take a photo of it for my sister. In Okinawa we had beautiful hibiscus trees on the side of our house and our mother used to wear the flowers behind her ear. Janet and I loved to pluck out the center stem piece and suck out the sweet juices. I thought the painting in the bathroom was a good start for the evening. “Ok they get it. Hibiscus means ‘Okinawa’.”

Hibiscus in the Benjo! MyLastBite.com

After sitting down at our table, we ordered an Okinawan beer called “Orion”. It’s funny how something as simple as a bottle of beer can make you smile. Three simple words printed on the bottle, “Brewed in Okinawa” meant that maybe I was a little bit closer to my island of pork.

Dinner was wonderful. Of course our table was monopolized by pork, but the best food memory that hit me was when I bit into a purple potato. That really took me back to my Oba-chan’s kitchen. I got  a little teary and wished my sister was there with me, but then I remembered that Janet does NOT like pork. She loves Okinawan purple potatoes, seafood and poultry but she does not share my obsession with pig. I just laughed while I tucked into a bowl of delicious shredded pigs ear. I’ll bring her back next time for some tasty chicken skin or monkfish liver!

Itadakimasu! (Let’s eat!) aka…
What we ordered and LOVED:
Grilled Tebichi, MyLastBite.com  Grilled Tebichi
(Pork Feet) $8

Andansu, MyLastBite.com Andansu
(Pork Meat & Miso) $5.50

Okinawan Kimchi, MyLastBite.com  Okinawa Kimchi
(Shredded Pig’s Ear) $5

Hamachi Kama, MyLastBite.com  Hamachi Kama
(Grilled Yellowtail Collar) $12

Suku Garasu, MyLastBite.com Suku Garasu
(Baby Pickled Fish & Okinawa Tofu) $6

Tori no Kara-age, MyLastBite.com  Tori no Kara-age
(Fried Chicken With Okinawa Ponzu) $7

Takoyaki, MyLastBite.com Takoyaki
(Octopus Balls and Shaved Bonito) $5.50

Fried Mimi Ga (Shredded Pigs Ear) $6.75

So-ki Soba (Pork Ribs) $8.75

Raftei (Simmered Pork Belly) $8

Beni Imo Dango, MyLastBite.com
Beni Imo Dango (Deep-fried purple sweet potato balls rolled in Sesame) $6.75

http://www.ShinOkinawaIzakaya.com

Entrance, MyLastBite.com
1880 W. Carson Street Suite #A
Torrance, California, 90501
(310) 618-8357

Dining date: 11/23/08

About Okinawa

*My Beloved SPAM

For PORK Lovers

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Filed under Eating Out, Food Stories (written by me)

The Key to Red Meat

By Jo Stougaard

I love SPAM.

There… I said it. The salty, mystery meat has been an absolute favorite my entire life.

With my big sister Janet, MyLastBite.comFrom 1964 to 1972 I lived in Okinawa, Japan during the Vietnam War, and our family struggled through the usual war food rationing. We rarely had fresh meat unless we were visiting our Obachan (grandma) in her village. She slaughtered pigs in the same area as she bathed us, which was out back behind her kitchen. Obviously this should have made me uncomfortable eating pork, but it didn’t.

Back at our home near the Navy base, my older sister Janet did a lot of the evening cooking since both our parents worked nights. I used to jump for joy when she would pop off the key from a can of “red meat” (as I called it). I would wait impatiently as she would slowly wind the sharp metal around and around… as gelatinous SPAM juices would squeeze over the top and onto her little fingers.

Sugar cane in the backyard, MyLastBite.comJanet usually fried up thin slices and served them with white sticky rice. Our house was next to a beautiful sugar cane field, and dad had built a little picnic table and chair near the edge of our property. I remember being so happy with my bowl of “red meat” and rice, listening to the workers chopping the cane in the distance. Sometimes, before it got too dark, Janet and I would jump the small concrete fence and steal a sugar cane or two. We would laugh as the workers chased us with their machetes! Out of breath we’d hide in our garden shed and hurriedly slice the ends of the cane, chewing and sucking out the sweetness.

Dinner time wasn’t always so perfect. I remember one evening when Janet wasn’t home and I was left alone. I tried to open a can of SPAM by myself but the little key BROKE. There was nothing to grab the little “starter” tin ribbon. I remember smashing the can against the edge of the kitchen counter, but only the juices escaped. My fingers were cut from the sharp edges. Thank goodness we had our friend Chef Boyardee in the cupboard that night.

Throughout my adulthood, when I felt a little blue or wanted to recall those days in Okinawa… I would simply go to the market and grab a can of SPAM. Not the “light” or low sodium version. It has to be original “classic” SPAM. The problem with this was that I would eat the entire can of SPAM in one or two sittings. I mean heck, it’s opened in front of me (no more darn key!). It’s crispy, greasy and just so tasty!

So along with my Okinawa memories of Moon Beach, Naha and Koza Village, I would also become flush with a sort of sodium overdose, burning eyes and severe bloating. As I got older, of course, I cut back on my beloved SPAM. Maybe eating it once a year, usually with my sister’s kids on a special occasion.

Spam Single!Then a few weeks ago, as I walked up the canned meat aisle…. I stopped dead in my tracks. There next to my beloved cans of classic SPAM were individual portions of my favorite mystery meat! Bless you Hormel for embracing moderation in your packaging! One easy open pouch of a “SPAM Single” has a 3 oz. slice (instead of the 12 oz. can). Just zip off the top and toss into a hot frying pan.

The single portion is just enough for me to savor my childhood… without bloating until my eyes burn.

So is the key to red meat the key to my happiness?

Whatever brings you joy, don’t you think?

==============

My Recipe for Spam Baked Pasta (It’s a family favorite and the kids love it!)

Ingredients:

1 can of Spam, sliced into thin pieces and fried

1 lb of pasta cooked (in unsalted water) and drained

5 tablespoons butter

4 tablespoons flour

3 cups milk

2 teaspoons salt

1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

1/4 cup mayonnaise

2 cups grated cheddar cheese

1/2 cup of grated parmesan cheese

1 cup chopped red onion

1 teaspoon each hot red pepper sauce, Worcestershire sauce, nutmeg, pepper

Instructions:

Spam

Slice spam and grill or fry until browned.

Bechamel Sauce
5 tablespoons butter
4 tablespoons flour
3 cups milk
2 teaspoons salt
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

In a medium saucepan, heat butter until melted.

Add flour and stir until smooth.

Over medium heat, cook until light golden brown, about 6 to 7 minutes.

Meanwhile, heat milk in separate pan until just about to boil.

Add milk to butter mixture 1 cup at a time, whisking continuously until very smooth and bring to a boil.

Cook 10 minutes and remove from heat.

Stir in Parmesan cheese.

Season with salt and nutmeg and set aside.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Mayo Onion Sauce

1/4 cup mayonnaise
2 cups grated cheddar cheese
1 cup chopped red onion
1 teaspoon each hot red pepper sauce, Worcestershire sauce, nutmeg, pepper
Mix all ingredients together and place in a pie plate or any baking dish.

Bake until golden brown on top, approximately 30 minutes.

Lower heat to 250

Mix Mayo Sauce with Bechamel sauce and add spam & pasta.

Bake in oven to warm through, then add cheese to top and broil top for a few minutes.


Okinawa – The Island of Pork

http://www.spam.com

http://www.okinawa.com

“The Key to Red Meat.” Written by Jo Stougaard ©MyLastBite.com All Rights Reserved. No usage allowed including copying or sharing without written permission.

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Filed under Family Stories, Food Stories (written by me)

Fusion Sushi 313

by Jo Stougaard

Stripmall sushi joints. Aren’t they always the best finds? Even the original Studio City Katsu-Ya (my regular haunt) is better than the newer, larger outposts.

Yesterday was my sister Janet’s birthday so we went to her favorite sushi place (in Glendora, CA) called “Fusion Sushi 313”. A tiny little place in yet another dreary looking stripmall. Joining us for dinner was my husband Peter and Janet’s three kids; Chace, Kindal and Cody. Her husband is a firefighter and was working at the station.

Janet ordered her favorite sake, Sayuri (smooth & creamy unfiltered sake). I was thrilled to find they imported Orion beer from Okinawa (where Janet & I grew up before moving to California). Not many Japanese restaurants carry Orion beer, so this to me was definitely a good sign.
Fusion Sushi313 OrionBeer SayuriSake
The restaurant looked pretty boring from the outside, and was tastefully simple on the inside… but when the food came the energy completely changed. It was simply awesome!

My nephew Chace is 12 and is the least adventurous eater in the family. There’s nothing wrong with that. He just likes good old Teriyaki steak, and will only go so far as to eat California rolls. His twin sister Kindal and big brother Cody (19) will try ANYTHING. Kindal happily ordered Crunchy Spicy Tuna & Seared Albacore. Cody was in charge of ordering the “fusion” dishes off the extensive three page menu.

We were all so excited to share the multiple plates of rolls & sashimi, reaching over each other, that one delicious piece was dropped into a glass of water (more on that later).

The Salmon Tataki (salmon sashimi, olive oil, balsamic vinegar, fried olives, avocado and garlic chips)… this was incredible… so elegant to look at… something you’d see on an Italian Crudo menu. That was my sister & husband’s favorite dish.

Fusion Sushi 313 Salmon Tataki

Cody and I loved the “Heart Attack”. When Cody suggested it I said “I don’t even care what it is… with a name like that I know I’ll need it!” It was just wicked good! A Jalapeno stuffed with cream cheese, spicy tuna and of course… DEEP FRIED.

Fusion Sushi 313 HeartAttack1

The Dynamite baked seafood dish was terrific too. I don’t think I’ve had it with such FRESH clams before.

Fusion Sushi 313 Dynamite

At the end of our meal, I noticed that the dropped sushi roll was still in Chace’s water glass. The ice had melted so it was a bit cloudy and well…. just really gross! I jokingly said to Chace “Twenty bucks if you drink that sushi water”. He didn’t hesitate for a second and just started sucking down the sushi-infused water! Now, this is the kid that ordered Teriyaki Steak because he isn’t really “into” sushi yet! I was shocked at first… then thrilled and handed over the $20! The next time we go to Fusion Sushi 313, I know he’ll be brave enough to try Uni (sea urchin) and I don’t care if it costs me another $20!

Chace drinks Sushi!

Cubaks Fusion Sushi 313 Fusion Sushi 313 is located at
1758 S Grand Ave
Glendora, CA 91740
(626) 335-4033

Lunch: 11:30am-3:00pm (Mon-Fri)
Dinner: 5:00pm-10:00pm (7days)

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