Grilled as you like it

Beppu June 24, 2010

Takegawara Onsen, Beppu

We headed off to Beppu on the Sonic limited express train. The hotel had a nice outdoor onsen on the rooftop so we could enjoy the view of the stars and the hot bath. In the morning we checked out of our hotel and walked along the shore (which was lined with giant concrete erosion control “jacks”) before walking to Takegawara Onsen. Takegawara is a historic onsen that dates back to 1879. There we took a sand bath: you dress in a cotton yukata, lay down in the hot sand, and the bath attendants bury you up to your chin in steaming hot sand. You lay under the sand until you feel just a little bit cooked and just a little bit crushed, before they tell you to wriggle out of the sand and rinse off in the bath. Unfortunately by the time my “bath” was finished, the morning sun was shining right in my eyes, so I had to close them. The feeling is uniquely oppressive yet refreshing.

After the bath we hopped on a bus to see some of Beppu’s famed jigoku (“hells”). The first one we arrived at was Hon-bozu Jigoku (Real Monk’s Hell), which is managed independently of the other hells. The jigoku is named for the hot bubbling mud that resembles a monk’s shaven head, and the historical  handout that we got said that when the geyser first opened up during an earthquake there was a monastery on the site and the monk was tossed into the air by the hot steam (I hope that part is just a legend). In any case, the muddy hills were pretty cool to look at so I would definitely recommend this jigoku.

There was also a spot where volcanic gases vented out from under a rock. Lots of people have left their coins here and the 5 and 10 yen coins turn an impressive shade of violet.

Next we walked downhill to Umi jigoku (Sea Hell). This hell was very popular but also very beautiful. The water is a beautiful aqua shade. There are some torii that lead to a small shrine. Onsen tamago in a basket suspended from a bamboo pole cook in the main pond.

onsen tamago

In addition to the main pond there is a large, emerald green pond. In the pond you can see lotus flowers and giant lily pads which are apparently large enough to float small children on.

Umi Jigoku’s Chinoike

There is also a mini Chinoike (Blood Pond) there. Although it was small, on that day this Chinoike was much more impressive than the real thing.

the real Chinoike

Unfortunately, it was really sunny that day so the jigoku were not at their photogenic best. The steam rising from the ponds was a little thin and a lot of them were just plain old boring. I’d say that Umi Jigoku was the best value and Hon-bozu Jigoku was pretty interesting. Bozu Jigoku, next to Umi Jigoku, was a huge disappointment and hardly seemed worth the 400 yen entrance fee. Shiraike Jigoku was just ok, but might be better on a cooler day. Chinoike Jigoku seems to have potential, but was pretty boring on a sunny day.

Of course our day in Beppu wasn’t all hells an photo-taking. We also stopped to enjoy some snacks. I wanted to try the onsen tamago at Umi Jigoku, but unfortunately they’re sold 5 at a time. I didn’t really want to eat 5 boiled eggs so we had some ice cream and an onsen steamed custard (it was just ok). Outside of Shiraike Jigoku, some vendors were selling eggs cooked with onsen steam by the piece, so we bought some. They were much firmer than the onsen tamago that I’m used to (I suppose that makes sense, steam is hotter than most onsen water) and pretty bouncy (well done). I suppose in the end it’s just a novelty, but it was a pretty tasty snack. We also found a shop selling moromi soft serve. Moromi is a kind of chunky, whole-grained relative of miso that is often used as a vegetable dip. It’s a little sweet and tastes a lot like miso. So how was moromi soft serve? Pretty good, actually.


Turkey Avgolemono November 30, 2009

Filed under: Cooking,recipes — laurel @ 7:45 pm
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Avgolemono soup

Last Friday I attended the Gunma JETs’ Thanksgiving dinner for more than 50 local JETs, other foreigners, and friends. As you can imagine, a Thanksgiving dinner for 50 is quite a spread. I’m pretty sure there were 6 (small) turkeys! Not wanting to waste, I volunteered, as in past years, to take the bones home for turkey soup. I’m sure we were quite a sight bicycling home with our two giant bags of turkey bones, an empty wine bottle, and a pair of wine glasses (not that we would bicycle after drinking wine, as, of course, it is illegal… that’s merely a coincidence).

So on Saturday morning I got to work removing any bits of meat remaining on the bones that filled a good part of my refrigerator. After that, I had to nest everything together as efficiently as I could to get them into my two largest pots. Onto the stove went the pots. I filled them to the brim with water and set them simmering.

After several hours the house smelled like Thanksgiving, and I had a quart of turkey meat and three or four quarts of very concentrated turkey stock–it’s like jello once it cools. Ordinarily I would get more stock from so many bones, but my pots are small so they were packed so full that there wasn’t much room for the water. I’m sure it won’t be a problem to dilute it with water before I use it.

And after making turkey stock all day, what would make a better dinner than turkey soup? After I strained the stock I managed to find enough meat still on the bones–but now fall-off-the-bone tender–to make a very meaty soup. And avgolemono is nice and easy. I just cooked up an onion and some celery (I don’t think it’s traditional, but it’s tasty and I had some in the fridge) in a bit of olive oil, added some rice, stock, and meat, and finally finished the soup with lemon juice, egg, and chopped dill. Although this soup is easy, the egg and rice make a thick soup that’s filling enough to enjoy as a main course. And that’s just what I did.

So next time you have leftover turkey bones, why don’t you get in the mottainai spirit and make turkey avgolemono? Of course this recipe is delicious made with chicken too. In fact, the picture above is actually a chicken avgolemono that I made this spring, but trust me, it looks almost the same.

Turkey Avgolemono

olive oil
one onion, chopped
half a stalk celery, chopped finely (optional)
one half cup uncooked rice
white wine or sake
about 6 cups homemade turkey stock (or chicken)
some turkey meat (or chicken), chopped
two bay leaves
juice from one lemon
two eggs or 4 egg yolks
handful of fresh dill, chopped
salt and pepper

Heat some olive oil in a large pot. Add the onion and celery. Sprinkle with some salt. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are soft. Add the rice and stir. Add a splash of wine or sake and stir again. Add the turkey stock, bay leaves, and turkey meat. Add salt and pepper to taste. Simmer for 20 to 30 minutes until the rice is very tender.Turn off the heat.

Put half of the lemon juice and eggs in a bowl and whisk together thoroughly; make sure that there are no bits of unincorporated egg white or they won’t make your soup creamy. If you use all egg yolks the soup will be more yellow and taste richer. Don’t use all of the lemon juice at first because you don’t want the soup to be too sour–you can always add more later.  Gradually stir a few cups of hot soup together with the egg mixture to temper the eggs. Once the egg mixture is warm, add it to the pot of soup and stir well.

Add a handful of chopped dill or other green herbs like parsley and green onions. Stir soup and taste. Adjust your seasoning with salt, pepper, and lemon juice.