Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Playing With Takeru

And who is Takeru, you ask?

A band?

A person?

Well, Takeru is about about a foot tall, eight inches in diameter, plasticky, and gets hot vey quickly.

Okay, it's a rice cooker. Well, the full name of the thing is "Super Lunch Jar TAKERU" - say it really fast, as if you were some sort of deranged Japanese game-show host. It's labeled as a 'travel kitchen', with a nonstick metal bowl in a heating unit, kept in place by a locking lid that presses the bowl down on its heating element. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

I've been thinking about downsizing my foodbox for some time. I carry a full-sized electric skillet with me in said box whenever I'm on the road, but I probably haven't used it in close to a year. Damn, still getting ahead of myself.....

One of the main problems with being a musician on the road is finding a decent meal, or to be more precise, what to do when one is not freely available. Most of the places I play will comp bands a meal a day, though some don't comp anything at all - not even rooms for bands coming in from out of town. Though on the other end of the spectrum, when I played at Sam's Town in Shreveport, they comped us for three meals a day. Damn shame I really didn't get much chance to enjoy that, between the kidney stone and..... well, go read that adventure, it's in the archive.

But the problem is what to do when comped meals are relatively few and far between. I try to be able to adapt to any situation, and until about a year or so the big skillet, purchased at the Wal-Mart in Bullhead City, AZ while I played on the other side of the Colorado River in Laughlin, had been my jack-of-all trades cooking device. If I wasn't cooking something directly upon its surface, I used it as a kinda-sorta heating element for a small saucepan for soups and such. But using it for something other than grilling a sandwich, or cooking something that required that much space to cook in, got to be kind of unwieldy after a while. It's gotten to the point where I just don't use the damn thing anymore, though I still carry it for reasons still unexplained. Nowadays I just heat up water for Cup Of Noodles soups in my travel coffeemaker and eat cold sandwiches. Not a lot of variety there.

But Takeru changes things. Joy and I met Takeru a few months ago while perusing the household-goods section of Uwajimaya in Seattle. We were both intrigued by the little fella's claims of versatility, its relatively small size, and reasonable price (US$35), and we agreed that it might be a good fit for me in the future, and that I should get Takeru as soon as I had the chance. And after my attempts at buying a laptop during Black Friday failed miserably (though Joy is fully enjoying the Android OS tablet that I bought her), buying Takeru suddenly became an possibility?

But how? I'd never seen the thing at any other place than Uwajimaya. Then I remembered that there was an Uwajimaya in Beaverton, in Portland's western suburbs. It turned out that getting to the Beaverton Uwajimaya was a breeze, just off the OR217 freeway that runs from the Sunset Highway (US26) to I-5 in Portland's southern suburbs of Tigard and Tualatin. The store itself is in a nice enough neighborhood, right across the street from an Azteca and a Hawaiian Plate Lunch restaurant, with a strip club and porno shop just down the street....

AUTHOR'S NOTE: Portland is a very porny town. Or at least very open-minded to the adult-entertainment industry. I remember reading a article in the Seattle sunday paper about how there were 54 strip clubs in the Portland-metro, compared to only six or seven in the much larger Seattle-Tacoma metro. Hell, now there's only three or four Deja Vu titty-bars in the SeaTac metro, and maybe another half-dozen or so clubs in the rest of the state. And they're full-nude bars, not topless like they are in Washington, or even in Reno. And then on top that, Portland is the home of SuicideGirls. Maybe that's why I like Portland so much. Now if only SG could get a sponsorship deal to get their logo on Timbers uniforms. That'd be fucking epic.....

But I digress. Back to the lecture at hand.

Beaverton's Uwajimaya was nice enough, though it only had an 'Authentic Japanese Restaurant' (not a dig, that's just what place described itself as) on the premises in lieu of the flagship store's pan-Asian food court - not enough space on the premises for a big food court like that. I had Joy on the phone the whole time I was in the store, and the first thing I told her was that it smelled like Uwajimaya to me. Not a bad smell, not funky, nor was it some sort of overpowering scent of foods and/or spices. I couldn't really tell you what the smell itself was, just that the Beaverton Uwajimaya smelled just like the flagship store in Seattle, and that I liked it. After finding the housewares, I had to flag down an employee to find a Takeru for me in the back. I also picked up some green tea for my mother, then got back on the road, taking the 217 up to the Sunset Highway to get back to I-5 downtown. Got all that? Jeez, fire up Google Earth already if I've lost you.

I've been playing with Takeru ever since I got home, making myself lunch with it, and progressively trying out different things with it. Takeru takes about twenty minutes to make a decent serving of rice, and Takeru heats up enough to cook proteins in it if I desired. Last night I purchased a small steak for experimentation, and this morning I diced up half of it and briefly browned it before adding rice and water to the pot, and then at the last minute adding in some powdered pho (Vietnamese beef-noodle soup) base to the pot before locking the lid in place and letting Takeru do its thing. Twenty minutes later, the rice was very tasty, but the steak was overcooked. I kinda thought that would happen, so I think I'll have to use fattier cuts of beef or pork instead, or even chicken breast, instead of steak.

The irony is that I'll probably still need to take a skillet with me on the road. The only difference will be that said skillet will not be the one I currently carry. Instead, It'll be one of those mini-skillets with a surface area about the size of your hand. But that - plus Takeru - will still take up less space and weight than the skillet that sits alone and unloved in my foodbox. I think it'll be a good addition to my arsenal.

UPDATE: Takeru works much better with pork than with beef. A small pork sirloin chop, diced and par-cooked the same way as the steak was before, turned out very nicely, though a fattier cut of pork would still be better than the relatively lean sirloin chop. Sliced pork belly might be the ticket, and relatively cheap to boot.

UPDATE #2: Takeru now has a new playmate, as Joy and I picked up the mini-skillet I'd talked about before. We got it at the Big Lots! in University Place (suburban Tacoma), while doing grocery shopping that spanned most of our favorite grocery outlets - Trader Joe's (right next door to the Big Lots!), WinCo Foods in South Tacoma, and the Central Market in Poulsbo on the way home. I pulled the big skillet out of my foodbox today and replaced it with Takeru and the mini-skillet, and they take up a fair bit less room than the big'un did by itself, though I had to take Takeru out of its box to insure the foodbox's lid would close properly.