July 17, 2017

“I say to you all, once again – in the light of Lord Voldemort’s return, we are only as strong as we are united, as weak as we are divided.  Lord Voldemort’s gift for spreading discord and enmity is very great.  We can fight it only by showing an equally strong bond of friendship and trust.  Differences of habit and language are nothing at all if our aims are identical and our hearts are open.”
~ J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire



In chaotic and confusing times such as these, it can be all too easy for us to retreat into comfortable circles of culture and opinion, to draw ideological lines in the sand or separate ourselves from the unknown.

Some fear is justified and and a certain amount of prudence keeps us safer.  A woman choosing not to walk alone at night is, unfortunately, too often a realistic precaution.  If you’ve never learned to swim, going on a cruise would probably not be the wisest choice of vacation.

However, avoiding our fellow humans because of cultural barriers, such as language, appearance, sexuality or religion is more often than not, simply an issue of discomfort with the unfamiliar.  We might avoid a person or situation we see as “different” because of shyness, on account of our own or other people’s prejudices or simply out of laziness.

As an Aquarian, my default nature is to be curious; for this I am grateful. I also feel fortunate to have grown up in a place where there are people from all over the world, belonging to most every religion and cooking nearly every kind of cuisine.

A dear friend of mine, also a California native, returned from a trip to Japan recently and brought me back a packet of sansho pepper seasoning, along with some anime cat-themed bandages and other quintessentially Japanese-style souvenirs.  The seasoning is unique, and I’ve been experimenting with its flavor in various recipes (two of which are posted below).  My friend’s gift reminded me of an old boyfriend I once had and a game of Uno that taught me a lesson about communication and connection.

Back in the 90s, I dated a guy whose mother was born in Japan but had moved here as an adult.  His father was American, of Swedish Ancestry I think, and born in Ohio.  One day he invited me to his mom’s house for lunch.  He warned me that his aunt was visiting his mother from Japan and that she didn’t speak a word of English.  At first it was a bit awkward.  Neither my boyfriend nor I spoke Japanese, although he understood a little better than I did.  Lunch was what you might expect: lots of polite smiles and nods and not much else.  Then, after lunch, my boyfriend’s mom got out a deck of Uno cards.

I grew up playing board and card games and Uno was one of my favorites.  Apparently, my boyfriend’s aunt was, not only familiar with the American card game, but an enthusiastic fan.  All four of us, my boyfriend, his mom, his aunt and myself, played the game over and over, each of us taking turns matching colors and triumphantly revealing the dreaded “Wild Draw Four” card.  By the end of the afternoon, I had learned the Japanese word for red, “aka” (my boyfriend’s aunt must have had a lot of red cards in her hand).

I haven’t seen my old boyfriend or his mom in years, but I still remember that “aka” means red, and I’ll never forget how much fun it was to spend an afternoon playing Uno in Japanese.


Sansho Pepper Butter turns ordinary seafood, veggies and snacks into salty, buttery comfort food with a Japanese flair.

Sansho Pepper Butter
A simple recipe for flavored butter with a Japanese twist.  The green flavor of sansho pepper gives a citrus/yuzu kick that pairs well with oily foods, so butter is a natural companion.  This unique butter is wonderful on rice, sweet potatoes, Yukon Gold potatoes, popcorn, corn on the cob, grilled shrimp or fish, and cooked carrots.

You can find Sansho pepper powder online or at specialty stores or the Asian section of a well-stocked grocery store.

If you have trouble finding Sansho pepper, you can substitute Japanese Seven Spice seasoning (Shichimi Togarashi), which is easier to find in the U.S. or you can make your own.  For the adventurous among you, I’ve included instructions for making your own Seven Spice Seasoning below the Sansho Pepper Butter recipe.

About Sansho pepper:
My friend Geraldine brought me some Sansho pepper powder from Shichimiya Honpo, a famous shop in Kyoto, which has been in business since 1655.  Sansho pepper has a citrus/yuzu bite to it, making it unique and well-suited to oily foods.  It loses flavor when heated, so it’s best sprinkled on just before eating.  That is why my recipe for Sansho Pepper Butter is made by stirring the seasoning into softened butter, rather than heating it on the stove.

Sansho Pepper Powder (Sansho No Kona) from Kyoto, Japan


Sansho Pepper Butter Recipe
You can double, triple or quadruple this basic recipe as needed.  This amount will probably be enough for two to four servings, depending on what you are flavoring.

2 tablespoons butter, softened (not heated)
1/2 to 1 teaspoon of soy sauce (with salted butter, use 1/2 tsp. soy sauce)
1/4 teaspoon Sansho Pepper Powder*

*you can substitute shichimi togarashi or nanami togarashi for the Sansho

In a small bowl or dish, using a fork or back of a spoon, mash soy sauce and seasoning into softened butter.  Shape into a ball or oval, cover and chill until ready to serve.

About Shichimi togarashi:
Shichi means “seven” in Japanese and Togarashi is the word for “chiles”.  Shichimi Togarashi, or Seven Spice, is called as such because seven ingredients are used to make it.  Nanami Togarashi is similar, but emphasizes the citrus flavor.  Both can usually be found at grocery stores with an Asian foods section.  You may remember seeing this bottle on the tables at Japanese restaurants.

Here’s what to look for:

Shichimi Togarashi (Seven Spice Seasoning)


Here’s how to make your own:

Homemade Shichimi Togarashi (Seven Spice Seasoning)

2 tablespoons sansho pepper or 1 tablespoon black peppercorns
1 tablespoon dried tangerine peel or orange peel
1 tablespoon red chile flakes
2 teaspoons nori flakes
2 teaspoons black sesame seeds
2 teaspoons white sesame seeds
2 teaspoons ginger root powder

Coarsely grind the first six ingredients together and add to a small bowl.  Stir in the ginger powder and mix well.  Store in an airtight jar and keep in a cool spot, out of the sun.  Use within 3 months or so.


Leave a Reply