Hambāgu, not Hamburger

Marc Matsumoto’s recipe for the Japanese family favourite hambāgu is pretty much foolproof, but here are some tips to make it even foolproofer.

Get your mince from the butcher rather than the supermarket. It’ll be fresher and due to the higher fat content, taste better. Beef mince will do the job, but I find that a combination of 60 per cent beef with 40 per cent pork produces deeper and more complex flavours.

Don’t skip the tofu, even if you’re not a tofu person; it’s what gives these their wonderful juiciness. As Marc says —

If you’re worried about it tasting like tofu, fear not, you could feed these to tofu haters all day long and as long as they don’t see the carton in the trash they’ll have no idea they were eating bean curd!

What you want to do, though, is mix it really thoroughly into the mince so that it becomes almost like a paste. Keep mixing until nothing white remains. Do this before you add the onions, otherwise you’ll end up pulverising them into nothingness along with the tofu.

The one aspect of making these that I slightly dread is the cold that runs up my arms into my brain after a couple of minutes of having my hands deep in 5 ℃ mince. I usually have to stop a couple of times to madly grimace (much to my kids’ amusement) and run my hands under some hot water. You, however, may be made of sterner stuff.

I’ve made the sauce a couple of times and it’s pretty good as these things go but the taste of the hambagu, as long as you haven’t skimped on the garlic, soy sauce or oyster sauce it easily stands on its own.

Chicken Ramen Victory

My first attempt at making tonkotsu ramen was an unmitigated disaster. After many hours I was left with a bland broth and a glutinous mess of noodles. I was crushed.

For my next attempt I went with Marc Matsumoto’s somewhat more straightforward and much quicker recipe for chicken ramen.

There are few things I miss more about Japan than a good bowl of ramen.

I couldn’t find anywhere that wanted to sell me just wingtips so instead of 1 kg of chicken bones and 500 g of wingtips I just used 1.5 kg of chicken wings. It tasted great but I ended up throwing away a lot of chicken meat. Next time I try this I think I’ll use chicken feet instead.

I don’t have a pressure cooker so I just used a regular pot from Ikea. I let it boil for an extra hour, hoping that the extra time would make up for the lack of pressure. Just make sure you keep the water topped up. I used ten litres to start with and added another two or three while it was cooking and after two hours had about three litres of stock.

Instead of refrigerating the strained stock I put it in the freezer for a while so the fat had a chance to harden, making it far easier to scrape off. And you do want to remove most of the fat. I skipped doing that the last time I tried this recipe thinking that the more fat there was, the better it would taste. Even I thought it was greasy.

To add a bit more punch to the soup I doubled the salt and soy sauce and added some grated garlic. The garlic, I think, took the soup from pretty good to great. Use the grater you have with the smallest wholes then chop through the grated garlic for a bit until the pieces are miniscule.

Dolphin Discovery

My number one tip for visiting the Dolphin Discovery Centre down in Bunbury is to go early. The dolphins usually visit between 8 and 10 am. They’re wild, so there’s no guarantee that they’ll come even then, but you’ll be giving yourself the best chance of seeing them and avoiding the bother of waiting all afternoon for an appearance because you slept in and got there after they had come and gone, driving back to Perth with a grumpy family then driving back to Bunbury at the crack of dawn two days later to redeem yourself. Probably best to avoid that.

And if they do come, you’ll be waist deep in water, so dress appropriately. Speaking from experience I can say that a pair of chinos are not entirely the best choice.

My own (not very) private C64

My first computer was a Commodore 64. Way before I had my own though, I had access to one at the local public computer lab, aka K-Mart. The nearby library had a few C64 magazines, all of which had plenty of BASIC programs ready to be typed out. Magazines, for some reason, could not be loaned out. I can’t clearly remember but I think there was also a rule against them being photocopied. Otherwise why would I, as I clearly remember, have spent hours copying these programs by hand into an exercise book?

After I’d got one down and more or less checked I’d ride my embarrassingly non-BMX bike to K-Mart where I would stand for hours typing away at the display machine. It seems strange now but I don’t ever remember anyone ever asking me to move on or stop what I was doing. The majority of the programs I tried out threw up a SYNTAX ERROR, caused either by my hunt-and-bash typing, poor copying, or the frequent flaws in the magazine text.

Sometimes, though, they would work. When they did it was like hitting a home run. I had no way to save these programs, though, so when I was done I had no choice but to just walk away, leaving them to be wiped when the power was shut off for the night.

Hey, Siri.

In two years of using my iPhone I’ve accidentally activated Siri by pressing the home button a bit longer than intended maybe half a dozen times. Since updating to iOS9 it’s happening half a dozen times a day. I don’t understand why Apple have changed what counts as a long press. I’ve seen lots of complaints about Siri but none that it’s too hard to activate.

iOS9 Notes

Apple released iOS9 this week. Some notes:

The blue dots that mark newly updated apps are, sadly, still there. Who finds this useful? If they must appear could they not disappear after a day or two rather than requiring that I open the app.

The Reminders app is still pretty much the same. I’d hoped for two things:

  • black as a list colour choice
  • the ability to tap and hold on a task to make it moveable the way you can in Clear and Apple’s own Calendar app.

Neither made it into this release. Apple must at least be considering the second one though, right? Right?

The News app didn’t show up at all. I needed to change my region setting to USA to be able to see it. This will apparently change in 9.1.

Ad blocking seems to be a very big deal, judging from my Twitter feed at least. I haven’t given much thought to this either way but I’m pretty disappointed that my joke tweet about it garnered not even one measly star:

“Why’s everyone so excited about ab blocking these days? I’ve been doing it for years with beer and cheeseburgers. You will see no abs on me.”

Swimming With the Fishes?

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Words, carefully chosen, can be precise in meaning. With emoji you lose that precision, but in exchange you gain a remarkable expressiveness for feeling. An emoji is seldom worth a thousand words, but depending on the moment, it can come close. In the way that email turned everyone into a writer, emoji turn everyone into a visual communicator. That’s something.

I think I prefer John Gruber’s writing when it’s not about Apple, Google, Amazon, or the other usual suspects. His commentary for this week’s Layer Tennis is at least as good as the artwork. And the artwork is great – both teams used very different visual styles but incorporated elements of each other’s work really nicely.

The Dog Cat

Tonight we sat down to watch The Bourne Identity. It’s one of the few films that has Japanese audio and subtitle options on the Blu-Ray so we could watch it without me having to explain things in Japanese every 15 minutes or so.

Jason was driving the wrong way down a Paris street when we heard howls, growls, and meows from our back yard. My first thought was that something was attacking our cat. I jumped to my feet and rushed to the back door. Halfway there I remembered that it couldn’t be that. She was buried deep in the ground in the shade of the biggest tree in the garden and had been since February.

Both cats fled the scene as I opened the door. The aftermath was impressive. Large clumps of black and white hair lay scattered all over our patio.

As Jason continued to outwit and beat up the world my daughter kept stealing glances out of the window, hoping to see the “dog cat” she thought she had seen. “It was as big as a dog!”

Her glances were in vain. The dog cat, like the hero of our movie, had vanished into the night.