Japanophilic: Kizuna and Black Sesame Otsu

Some people use the word obsessed pretty casually. Not me. I reserve the word for things that I am absolutely nuts about-- things that really preoccupy my mind. Examples of such things include the Momofuku/Milk Bar Birthday Cake Truffles, Pinterest and Japanese design. I'm also (mildly) obsessed with bamboo. A fast growing, incredibly strong grass, bamboo has become popular in green design and building. And bamboo forests are just the coolest. 
I was really excited when I heard that Kizuna (which means the "bond between people" in Japanese) was going to be on display at the Denver Botanic Gardens. I mean, c'mon. Japanese installation art with bamboo? It's just too good to be true!  
Kizuna: West Meets East is a series of pieces that were created by Tetsunori Kawana and Stephen Talasnik. The bamboo was plied and manipulated to form bold, striking pieces on land and more intricate, delicate water-based sculptures. The ephemeral forms play off the landscape beautifully...it's really something you should check out if you live in the city.   
In addition to the installation art, pretty much every inch of the botanic gardens is in bloom right now. There are peonies, irises, and poppies. We saw butterflies fluttering and colorful beds that were buzzing with bees. And the wildflower patches? They are pretty much what I hope my own garden will look like...one day!
As if the spring  blooms and Kizuna were not enough, the annual plant sale is also taking place. Otis really wanted a 'blue plant' and I found one that was just the right size. He named the plant Walter, which I think is a pretty good name for a potted lobelia. When I found out that it was buy one-get one free, we went back to the tables and picked out another plant. Otis named the second plant Alice-- which I think is in honor of "Imo" Alice who gifted Otis and Theo their very first Radio Flyer wagon..and boy do they love it! 
After we returned from the gardens it was nap time. The boys shluffed and I read up on Bonsai trees and maintenance. I regret to inform you that I think I'm getting a little bit obsessed...

Inspired by Kizuna, I made this Japanese-style soba (buckwheat) dish for lunch. I used a whole bunch of scallions (light and dark parts) that were fresh from the farmers market. Though scallions are available year round, this is their season and their flavor is delicious.
The recipe comes from my un-official bible, Heidi Swanson's Super Natural Every Day
Black Sesame Otsu (Courtesy of Heidi Swanson, Super Natural Every Day)
Serves 4.
1 teaspoon pine nuts
1 teaspoon sunflower seeds
1/2 cup black sesame seeds
1 1/2 tablespoons natural cane sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons shoyu, tamari, or soy sauce
1 1/2 teaspoons mirin
Scant 1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
2 tablespoons brown rice vinegar
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
Fine-grain sea salt
12 ounces / 340 g soba noodles
12 ounces / 340 g extra-firm tofu
Extra-virgin olive oil
1 bunch green onions, white and light green parts, thinly sliced
  • Toast the pine nuts and sunflower seeds in a large skillet over medium heat until golden, shaking the pan regularly. Add the sesame seeds to the pan and toast for a minute or so. It's hard to tell when they are toasted; look closely and use your nose. Remove from the heat as soon as you smell a hint of toasted sesame; if you let them go much beyond that, you'll start smelling burned sesame - not good. Transfer to a mortar and pestle and crush the mixture; the texture should be like black sand. Alternatively, you can use a food processor. Stir in the sugar, shoyu, mirin, sesame oil, brown rice vinegar, and cayenne pepper. Taste and adjust if needed.
  • Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Salt generously, add the soba, and cook according to the package instructions until tender. Drain, reserving some of the noodle cooking water, and rinse under cold running water.
  • While the noodles are cooking, drain the tofu, pat it dry, and cut into matchstick shapes. Season the tofu with a pinch of salt, toss with a small amount of oil, and cook in a large skillet over medium-high heat for a few minutes, tossing every couple minutes, until the pieces are browned on all sides.
  • Reserve a heaping tablespoon of the sesame paste, then thin the rest with 1/3 cup / 80 ml of the hot noodle water. In a large mixing bowl, combine the soba, half of the green onions, and the black sesame paste. Toss until well combined. Add the tofu and toss again gently. Serve topped with a tiny dollop of the reserved sesame paste and the remaining green onions.

For another Heidi Swanson soba dish click Cold Soba Noodle Salad with Ginger-Sesame Dressing. It comes from Super Natural Cooking