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pesto, mini meatballs & radiated water

March 24, 2011

I’ll have more of a personal update on my week later on, but for now I thought would be good to write an eye-witness update on the situation here in Tokyo, since even just today I saw some pretty alarming information in foreign news media which was grossly exaggerating the truth. It seems that certain foreign media agencies have latched onto the panic buying and food scarcity topics which were coming out of Japan last week and run away with them in light of recent events.

One piece I read just today spoke of “shops across Tokyo rationing goods -such as milk, toilet paper, rice, and water- as a run on bottled water coupled with delivery disruptions left shelves bare nearly two weeks after a devastating earthquake and tsunami” and said that “the unusual sights of scarcity in one of the world’s richest, most modern capitals came a day after city officials reported finding radioactive iodine in Tokyo’s tap water.” (original article here)

Yes, another doughnut picture, because I have a lot of them: sakura and cranberry cake doughnuts.

I’m not entirely sure where the writers of this and other similar pieces are getting their information, but it is most definitely not from anywhere around us. I have heard stories and seen pictures of some stores asking customers to line up to get inside in other parts of town or outlying areas with fewer stores, but not since early last week at the height of post-quake panic. Here in Shinjuku I’m happy to report that we have never been made to stand in a line or dealt with any sort of rationing through this entire experience. In fact, I have not seen many bare shelves at all lately, not since the bread supply normalized at the end of last week.

Milk continues to be the one item that is most difficult to find, but even so it is still available at many stores, including our very own T-mart, and can actually be pretty easy to find if you go earlier in the day and beat the post-work commuters. Despite the shortage, I have not run out of milk once since this whole thing started, even taking the few days it was completely missing from stores in the middle of last week into account.

Water is still something that sells out quickly, and yes, there was absolutely a rush on it yesterday after the announcement that iodine-131 had been detected at the water purification plant, but it is not to the point of being impossible to get. In fact, I’ve seen pictures of mountains of bottled water on display at Costco, and the government has requested that water companies ramp up production, just in case. Some smart stores, like Summit and Ito Yokado, did impose limits on the number of bottles customers could buy at once, but I’m fairly certain that was a precaution against panic buying and aimed at discouraging hoarders rather than due to limited supplies or true shortages.

This is what happens when you pull out your camera in range of Eric and the necessary props.. (click for big)

As far as the iodine in the tap water itself, the levels have not reached the legal limit for adults and iodine-131 has a very short half-life of just 8 days, so it is not really a cause for alarm at this point, but it is still disconcerting to know that something like that could happen. I do think it’s important to point out that Japanese limits for radiation in water and food are extremely strict at 10x lower than international standards (300 bq/L vs the 3000 bq/L limit set by the IAEA) and already have long-term exposure in mind. At present, Eric and I do not feel that we are in any immediate danger from this, as adverse effects from radiation are generally gained through prolonged exposure to much, much higher levels rather than a sudden low-level two-day spike. However, we have lowered our consumption of tap water and have been drinking a higher proportion of bottled teas and such for the time being as a precaution and for peace of mind.

The levels which triggered the alert and warning for infants yesterday (220 or 190 bq/L) had dropped to at least half by early today, thus falling back down into the safe-even-for-infants range, and will hopefully continue to drop. I am hoping this was a one-time freak occurrence brought on by rain and the cooling operations at the plant, but we are definitely keeping an eye this, as well as the reported cases of contaminated spinach, etc. in Fukushima, in case anything changes. Radiation in the air is dealable, but radiation in food and water is not particularly something we want to take any risks with.

Anyway, on that cheery note, I thought I’d leave you all with a recipe, since I haven’t posted one in a while. Nothing fancy this time, though.

On Tuesday evening I made a quick vegetable pasta with broccoli, mushrooms, sun-dried tomatoes, and spinach in a butter, garlic & olive oil sauce to use up some of the abundant fresh produce we have on hand. For protein, I topped my pasta with pesto chicken mini meatballs and a good helping of grated parmesan cheese.

I like to make sure I have quick sources of quality protein on hand at all times to add to my dinner on days when I don’t feel like spending too much time planning or preparing a complicated meal. I generally keep sausages in the freezer as an option for Eric, and eggs are always an option for me, but I do like to be a little more creative from time to time. One of my favorite things to keep on hand for myself are these pesto chicken mini meatballs.

These are perfect for a number of reasons. First of all, a single recipe makes a decent number of mini meatballs without using up too much actual chicken, which keeps the cost down; they are quick to defrost due to their small size; and it’s easy to grab just as many as I need directly from the freezer to supplement whatever it is that I’m making for dinner that night. Usually I like to grab for about three of them to bulk up something like pasta, but I could go with more or less if I were using them for some other kind of dish.

The pesto in this recipe serves the dual purpose of adding interest and flavor to what might otherwise be a plain and boring meatball, and also helps to keep them very moist and juicy. I did not have any basil on hand when I decided to make these on Tuesday, so rather than a standard pesto, I went with a less traditional Cilantro Walnut Pesto. It came out quite well, and I had enough leftover pesto to use in sandwiches, etc. for the rest of the week after taking out the amount needed for the meatballs.

Cilantro Walnut Pesto

    50 g cilantro
    35 g raw walnuts
    25 g pecorino cheese
    42 g (3 tbsp) extra virgin olive oil
    3 cloves garlic
    salt & pepper to taste

Wash and roughly chop the cilantro. Add to a food processor or blender with the rest of the ingredients and pulse until well combined, scraping down the sides as needed. Transfer to a glass jar, or other container, and store in the fridge until needed. You can press a piece of plastic wrap down on the surface of the pesto to prevent it from oxidizing or turning back in the fridge.

Pesto Chicken Mini Meatballs

    300 g ground chicken
    100 g onion
    50 g pesto
    25 g parmesan cheese
    1 slice whole wheat bread
    1 egg
    salt & pepper to taste

Preheat the oven to 180°C ( 350°F) and line a cookie sheet with parchment paper or a silpat.

Grate the onion and parmesan cheese, and process the bread in a food processor or blender to make fine crumbs. Add to a clean, medium-sized bowl with the ground chicken, pesto, and egg, and season with salt and pepper. Using your hands, mix and knead the mixture until it is thoroughly combined and forms a cohesive but sticky ball.

Use a spoon to shape the mixture into small balls about 18-20 g by weight or 1″ in diameter, and place onto the prepared sheet. Bake for 15-20 minutes or until cooked through. Makes 28-30 mini meatballs.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. March 25, 2011 8:35 pm

    Thanks for giving us a more realistic view of the situation – and the donut photo. It’s good to know that it’s more normal than we’re hearing about.

    • March 26, 2011 10:05 pm

      Thanks so much for stopping by! I’m glad I could give you a bit more realism about things here. Sometimes it almost feels too normal, actually.. knowing all that is going on so close by. As I mentioned before, it would be really easy to just ignore what was happening and pretend it didn’t exist, other than a few glaringly obvious signs.

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