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Two Australians walk into a bar after 8.00 pm on a Tuesday. Everything else within proximity of their hotel seems to be closed, but this one has a flashing OPEN sign and seems to indicate it’s a dining and drinking establishment.

The four customers at the bar, enjoying cigarettes and their own bottles of sake which the bar retains for them, turn their heads simultaneously. This is not a usual occurrence in this side street of Izukogen.

Still, the barman calls his wife who emerges from the kitchen with the Japanese word for welcome. The two are seated at one of the two tables. It is explained to them by one of the bar patrons that this is mainly a bar, and only a set meal is served. “That’s okay”, the visitors say as they order one set each and a beer for the non-driver.

It is busy in the kitchen if the emergent sounds are anything to go by.  The drinks arrive and soon, an egg salad appears. The food keeps coming. Yakitori next, followed by more beef than these two have seen for the past 4 weeks in Japan. Fried rice accompanies the feast.

In between courses, the host runs through some cities in Australia she knows. When they zero in on Brisbane, she mentions jacaranda trees and the time of year they flower.

Someone is diving into her Japanese notes to keep the conversation flowing. A dessert of watermelon and orange pieces finishes the meal, followed by a “presento” of non-alcoholic beer for the driver.

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The couple is us, and we were made to feel most welcome. This was no set meal that our host prepared. This was Japanese hospitality. We left with bows and hugs and a photograph of another memorable night in this country.

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Dining Bar, Mitsuko. Izukogen, Japan.

img_1817Last night we walked past a restaurant that we heard before we saw it. We decided to get in on some of the fun tonight at Ni-No-Ni on a rainy night in Fukuoka.

We ordered eggplant, green vegetables, pork and garlic shoots and dumplings. Sesame balls with red bean paste and almond tofu with black sesame seeds topped off the meal.

I confess that sometimes Sentio posts serve purely personal purposes, like recording memories of a very pleasant day and/or playing with images made from photos I’ve taken.

We’re in the Central West of New South Wales staying with friends in Orange.  Today we visited Brangayne and Ross Hill cellar doors, drove up to the top of Mount Canobolas, and ended up with a most delightful lunch at Borrodell Vineyard.

I can recommend the Chardonnay, Riesling and Shiraz varieties in case you were wondering.

Can you tell that lunch was the highlight?

lunch - 24 Jan 2014 Brangayne wines Mount Canobolas view Mount Canobolas

This past week was my first ever encounter with fried green tomatoes.

This little food snap means more than how good they tasted. It reminds me of strong connections made, laughter, shared stories and aspirations, and two new friends from Ann Arbor, Michigan.

fried green tomatoes

This is what happens to mandarins that sit in the fruit bowl and look for all the world that no-one is going to eat them.

I used this recipe from ABC Tasmania inspired by its simplicity.

Along the way, I added my own instructions to fill in the gaps.

1. Take off the stickers on the fruit before placing them in the water.

mandarins 1

2. Throw in the whole lemon as well as its juice.

mandarins 2

3. Find out what temperature setting point is.

It’s 220C.
mandarins 3mandarins 4

4. Try really hard to reach it.  I got to 215C and if I’d waited much longer for the gas stove to get there, the jam would have evaporated.

mandarins 5

5. Insert the word ‘carefully’ at the pouring into jars stage.

mandarins 6

6. Once cool, whack the jars in the fridge and hope to high heaven that the beautifully coloured marmalade will set magically overnight.

mandarins 7

PS – it tastes REALLY good!

How to have a Sri Lankan feast in your house.

1.  Take two young women and one young man.

2.  Ensure they have recently returned from Sri Lanka and participated in a cooking class.

3.  Check they have string hopper flour and the mechanisms by which to prepare the dough.

4.  Purchase other ingredients according to their scribbled notes and diagrams.

5.  Give your kitchen over to the magic.

6.  Pour yourself a glass of wine and watch the fun unfold.

7.  Be seated and enjoy the food and the stories.

string hopper dough

loading string hopper dough

squeezing the string hoppers

squeezing the dough onto steaming racks

steamed string hoppers

steamed string hoppers

dahl ingredients

red lentils and other dahl ingredients

beetroot curry ingredients

beetroot curry ingredients at the ready

carrot curry ingredients

carrot curry ingredients

chicken curry ingredients

chicken curry ready to cook

eggplant curry

finished eggplant curry

dahl

dahl ready to eat

chicken curry

chicken curry

coconut sambal

pol sambal

the feast

the spread