Thursday, May 29, 2008

Can paper cut paper? - paper made paper knife

This knife is made of paper; uses material called vulcanised fibre. I've never thought that paper could be so hard and sharp to cut paper, but apparently it could.

It was designed so as it minimizes the process such as cutting.

It never gets rust and can be used for long time.

It seems like such familiar material like paper has much more potential than we know.

Designer: Takashi Ashitomi

Monday, May 26, 2008

Overripe banana pancake

I know that banana is not a sustainable choice if you live in Northern hemisphere....

But I still buy them sometimes.

And I get them overripe sometimes. But I shouldn't waste them because they traveled all the way to reach my kitchen!

Smoothie is great to make out of overripe banana.

My favorite is pancake.

When the bananas are so overripe, they are easily mashed and become like paste. I mix it with regular ingredients such as flour, baking powder, egg and milk. The mix is lumpy as above picture. I add no oil though; it's not necessary. I don't even bother to measure ingredients because banana paste functions like binding. No matter how the ratio is, it tastes good. If you add quite some banana, you don't need to add any sugar or spread because the pancake is already nicely sweet.

Only one suggestion is that you might want to cook a bit slower with lower temperature. Probably because of banana, the mix can get brown fast.

It's super easy and requires only one bowl and a pan. Minimum dish-washing!

Friday, May 23, 2008

Futon: Japanese minimalism in bedroom

When I first came to US, I was amazed to see that "futon" has evolved somehow and did not look like Japanese original futon.

The original futon bedding is just mattress and blanket. No frames whatsoever.

I guess the idea of futon was to live efficiently in a small country/small house.

Futon is foldable. Traditional house rule is that you have to fold your futon and put it in a closet when you wake up in the morning. You pull it back from the closet when you go to sleep. In that way, you can keep your futon clean and use the room for something else during the day.

Living in a smaller house is one way to reduce our carbon footprint. Futon will fit nicely in a small house and help you use the space efficiently.

Do you really need one of those pesky “beds” taking up space in your home?

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Sushi is not sustainable

This isn't news; world fish stock/supply is depleting.

Blame Sushi.

And I'm not joking.

Japanese eat a lot of fish and seafood; Japan has been importing enormous amount of fish from every part of the globe. Now, with more people in the world choosing seafood over to meat for health reasons or just because they love Sushi, the world is depleting fish stock even faster.

Sushi has traditionally been very high-end food, expensive.

That means fish supply (especially fresh) has been far below the demand if there was no aquaculture involved, at least in Japan. This is the very important rule that we should never have forgotten. However, by accelerating import, Japanese misinterpreted the situation and acted as if the fish supply grew. Sushi got cheaper and became almost like daily food. But it wasn't right. Suppy cannot grow really; we were merely depleting the stock in other parts of the world.

Some fishery and aquaculture is very unsustainable...actually disruptive to the environment. Illegal fishing beyond the boundary is also a problem. But consumers are not well informed about those facts.

I am trying to buy "sustainable" seafood. (Check out Seafood Watch by Monterey Bay Aquarium) And they are expensive! Price is deterimed by the relationship of supply and demand - a classic economic principle. Fish is expensive = supply is limited.

Graphic: World fish import: Japan is purple.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Mimimizing input, maximizing output

Japan is geographically small and isolated. It has very little resources except for water. Up untill the middle of 19th century, Japan had almost no contact with foreign countries; it had to live on what scarce resources it had. Japanese needed to be the expert in efficient resource survive.

I belive this is the underlying secret for the success of Prius (most energy-efficient hybrid vehicle) and whole bunch of other energy/resource efficient products that Japanese companies offer. For centuries and centuries, Japanese were under constant pressure to maximize output by using minimum input, which probably became our second nature.

I took lessons for Japanese flower arrangement for a very short time of period. I was totally amazed when I dawned to me that it was not the flowers that I was arranging! It is the space or dimention in between or around flowers that I had to capture and display.

You don't have to have so many flowers to impress people. Mimimum is beautiful because it's not all about flowers. Japanese flower arrangement enjoy the combination and interaction of what is there (flowers) and what is not there (nada). Art of minimum input.

photo by: YAYAYAYAYAY!

Friday, May 16, 2008

How to make Tofu Hamburger (semi-vegan)

Ingredients: ( for 2-3 person)

*Tofu (1 pack)
*Ground beef and ground pork ( around 1/2 lbs...I am trying to reduce the meat as much as I can. If you try for the first time, start by Tofu: meat=1:1 to be on the safe side. )
*Onions (1/2, finely chopped)
*Spinach (or other vegetables of your choice such as carrots, mushroom, celery, cabbage...)
*Hijiki (1-2 pinch)
*Binding -- egg (1-2 ) and potato starch (3-4 tbsp)

1) Drain water from Tofu by simply placing something heavy on it.

2) Soak Hijiki in water for 20 minutes and then drain. Looks scary? Good news is that it is very rich in iron. Bad news is that it does not taste least to me. The reason why a lot of people use Hijiki for hamburger is because Hijiki becomes almost unnoticeable. Good way to let your family take nutrients without even letting them know.

3) Chop Onions and spinach finely. Use food processor if you prefer. Grate ginger.
4) Mix ingredients: Tofu, meat, onion, spinach, Hijiki, ginger, salt and pepper.

5) Add bindings. I used one egg and about 3 tbsp of potato starch. Potato starch is heavily used in Chinese cuisine. If you don't see it in your grocery store, check Chinese, Korean or Japanese grocery stores.
Other binding is bread crumbs (larger pieces) soaked in milk.

6) Form patties. Smaller, easier to deal with. Stir fry them.

7) Bon Appetit!

I introduced simple seasoning (serve with ketchup), but try your own favorite. The patty is pretty mild, so it should work with different spices.

The idea is to make hamburger light and nutritions, not greasy yet tasty.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Small cars aren't fragile

Smart receives top crash scores

It seems like there is a strong belief that bigger/heavier cars are always safer.

Recent crash test reveals that the 8-foot, 8-inch vehicle received the highest rating of good in front-end and side-impact testing by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, helping address some concerns that consumers may be more vulnerable in the tiny two-seater.

While it is true that bigger/heavier are less vulnerable in accidents in general, there are the researches that show no direct correlation in increased mass and safety. Why? There is technical aspects such as center of gravity or the design to absorb impact. But I am not an expert so I would like to bring up a simple side of the issue. I think it is because it's all relative. Imagine:

Reckless large truck crashing with a small car on a highway at 100mph.

Small car colliding with a compact car in a narrow urban street at 30mph.

You can't really compare the risk of these two cases. Accidents are affected by many factors that are not related to car design itself. Even if you arm yourself with a lot of steel, it doesn't protect you from all the risks.

Small cars have their own way to be strong and accident resistant. Isn't it enough?

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Grape leaves for Tempura!

I read an article in a local paper about a family that grows grapes for leaves. According to them, the leaves are so good that they wait for them rather than for the grapes.

I decided I need to try....we have Thompson in our backyard, which is a good kind for leaves, the paper says. So I picked some. Young, soft and thin (almost transparent) ones are good for eating.

Then I realized that the paper didn't have the recipe! I had Google a little. I found a Greek cuisine that rolls ground meat with grape leaves, but I was not going to use meat.

So I decided to deep fry them.

Actually, they were good! Soft yet crunchy and have a hint of sweet....probably grape?

I can't help thinking this should be good for Tempura!

Tempura is one of the Japanese dishes that are difficult to find authentic one. "Cost-effective" Tempuras are unnecessarily fat with coating and overly greasy. That is not Tempura.

The real Tempura needs fresh and tasty ingredients, thin coating, good oil and good frying technique. It's not really a home dish. My product above is pretty miserable compared to the picture here...I had hard time to deal with the thin leaves. I couldn't straighten them easily and they turned brown so quickly. Even though they tasted good, they could be much better! I was envisioning something like the green leaf in this picture.

Well, I need a Tempura chef. I dream of good grape leave Tempura, that is not greasy, just crunchy and light. Arrhh!

If you would like to try your grape leaves, it seems like May is the best season in California. The leaves get too hard in June. Googling some more will take you to some more recipes, or, since the leaves are pretty docile, you could be creative and invent your own dish.


Photo at the bottom: panduh

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Is dish-washer eco-friendly??

I sometimes come across Japanese articles bragging "dish washer is eco-friendly."

In the meantime, I bought "the complete idiot's guide to global warming" out of curiosity. It says that the dishwasher uses as much energy as cloth dryer or freezer. That's a lot.

Are they contradicting?

The reasoning for Japanese articles is because dishwasher only uses about 3 gallons of water/load, which is much less than hand washing. Plus, the machine is energy efficient. Therefore it has overall advantage over hand washing (which assumes hot water requiring energy).

We will need hard numbers to really determine whether the diswasher is truely eco-friendly or not. But there is one obvious difference in determining "what is a dishwasher by the way?": Japanese dishwasher is tiny!

This one is only 1.8'X1.1'X1.8'. Offered by National (domestic brand of Matsushita=Panasonic)

Complete idiots guide recommends using air drying head drying, scraping dishes off....but downsizing can be another easy solution. It doesn't need any cutting-edge technology.

And don't forget about the fridge! Fridges don't have to be as big as what we my opinion.

Home appliances, go lean!.....and it will probably keep the occupants virtually lean.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Toward low carbon & sustainable community; Ronhert Park and Sonoma Mountain Village, Sonoma, CA

Although it has not been talked much in the past, land use has large impact on the environment and GHG emissions. Principally, only local authorities can design their community. General plan& CEQA (California Environmental Quality Act) can be a powerful tool to shift planning toward sustainability in California.

This is powerpoint presentation, case studies for community development toward sustainability in two communities in Sonoma County, California. Sends the message very clear.
I love this photo.

Benefits of walkable community

Learn from Atlanta study. Very interesting report about smart growth.

Neighborhood walkability and driving
! people in walkable neighborhoods drive less.
! people in closer-in, high-walkability neighborhoods take more trips by bicycling, walking or transit.
! less driving reduces a household’s expenses.

Neighborhood walkability and the environment
! neighborhood walkability is linked to fewer per capita air pollutants.
! neighborhood walkability is linked to fewer per capita greenhouse gases.

Neighborhood walkability, obesity and physical Activity
! neighborhood walkability is linked to more moderate physical activity.
! neighborhood walkability is linked to lower obesity levels.
! time spent driving is linked to obesity.

Japan's minicars selling big

Japanese carmakers are once more proving that small sells big.

Article 27/07/07

Japanese home style

Japanese stye is the defining influence on modern day minimalism. Find out more about its history and its key influences.

BBC Homes

Monday, May 5, 2008

Nissan Cube launced in North America?

According to Carlos Ghosn, CEO of Nissan, 15% of world's car use is for urban transportation such as commuting or shopping. Nissan considers this as potential market for EV and compact car.
It is targeting to introduce EV in US in 2010.
It also dubbes Cube (photo), a mini multi-purposed vehicle (MPV), a global strategic car for Nissan and will start marketing it worldwise in the near future. It will get 37 MPG. Nissan expects high gas price will help boost the needs for compact/small cars.

To me, it seems very straightforward. Dragging less steel requires less energy, therefore smaller car is better.

Cars, go small!