Ponyo and Homemade Pizza

I first saw the beauty of his work during an annual screening of “Hotaru no Hakka” (Grave of the Fireflies) — even with the Japanese language ability of a two-month old his animation transcended the major gaps in my vocabulary and deeply touched my heart.  He seemed to have captured every detail from the everyday task of tapping the shoe just right to get it on to shaking a tin of candy drops to get the last ones out.  The work of Miyazaki, Hayao is well known, not only through Japan, but also internationally.  Such masterpieces as “Tonari no Totoro” (My Neighbor Totoro), “Mononoke Hime” (Princess Mononoke), and most recently “Gake no Ue no Ponyo” (Ponyo).  DVD cover to "Ponyo"With the nostalgia that each Miyazaki movie brings me, it almost feels like a betrayal to the artwork and culture to watch his films dubbed in English.  Now don’t get me wrong, Disney and Pixar do great work to assemble a fantastic cast, and they go to great lengths to preserve the integrity of the production, but if I have the option to see the works as they were originally created with English subtitles, then bring it on!

To celebrate our Ponyo-viewing occasion, my husband and I invited some friends over for some homemade pizza ala Trader Joe’s.  We bought the pre-made pizza dough in plain, garlic herb, and wholewheat.  We decided to vary our toppings to create a Thai Chicken, a Works, and a Pineapple Pepperoni  – deelish!  What’s more, it was easy, healthier than our beloved Papa John’s delivery, and easy on our budget.  We sliced and diced a bunch of fresh veggies — green and red bell pepper, onion, carrot, green onion, mushroom, tomato — the works.  Then added some pizza sauce and peanut sauce (respectively), mozzarella, pepperoni, and chicken sausages.  Our favorite was the Pineapple Pepperoni, but don’t let us tell you which one’s the best — check out the pics and judge for yourselves.

Thai Chicken Pizza on Wholewheat Crust

Thai Chicken Pizza on Wholewheat Crust

The Works on Garlic Herb Crust

The Works on Garlic Herb Crust

Pineapple Pepperoni on Plain Crust

Pineapple Pepperoni on Plain Crust


A Classic Yummy — Tuna Sandwich

My father came to the U.S. in his early adulthood – an immigrant from the coastal country of Perú – with big dreams for his life, an innate curiosity about nature, Science, and the world around him, and a great love for seafood.  My mother, a mix of German, Austrian, Irish, and Native American ancestry, is a confessed carnivore — she relishes the experience of chewing meat, sucking the flavor from bones, and being able to sample the rare and highly-prized meat delicacies of the globe — this includes those that make their life below water’s surface.  And then there’s me — I have vague memories as a child of eating shrimp, lobster, and other fishy things, but something happened along the way.  I think when my taste and texture palates developed, they sent signals to my brain further excluding anything which had lived in water from my “like” food list.

As a child I often tested the limits of my mother’s patience, out-waiting and out-stubborning her with a plate of fish on my plate, and no desire, nor intention, whatsoever of eating it.  I didn’t care about the rumblies in my tummy — I could not bear the texture and taste of those scaly-covered creatures.  One finned friend, however, did sometimes make it to the “like” list — usually this was during the season of Lent at my Catholic school.  At the time I didn’t really understand why, but often when other lunch menu options were no longer available, suddenly the tuna sandwich was — so, I ordered it.  Was it was the presence of mayonnaise, bread, relish, onions, celery?  I don’t know.  I just know that I didn’t mind eating tuna sandwiches.

Flash forward about five or six years and I was now teaching English in a rural rice-farming (I thank God, not fishing) village in Japan.  Fortunately, although my palate had not matured, my cultural sensitivity had — I was determined to try everything on my plate at least once.  I ate fish head, I ate little translucent fish, I ate fish with eyes, and I ate lots more fish in other forms.  I can’t say that I enjoyed it, and often I got sick to my stomach, but I tried it all.  About six months into my first year (I was there for three) I noticed on a Sunday evening while brushing my teeth and getting ready for bed that my wrists and stomach were kind of itchy.  When I awoke the following morning the small areas of itchiness had exploded in growth and covered most of my body.  I learned a new Japanese term — “jinmashin” or hives.  Although the experience of recovering from hives is not one of my favorite, the gift that came with it was well worth it.  After visiting the doctor it was determined that I was allergic to certain varieties of sealife – and that I had probably eaten one fish or another at my Sunday church lunch.  From this point forward I could politely let people know (and in a small rural village, most found out quickly anyway) that I had allergies to fish and would sadly (well, not really) not be able to partake of the seafood options.  Fortunately, although contrary to wide-held belief, Japan offers all kinds of culinary delicacies that have nothing to do with fish.  I was happily sustained on all the many other food choices.

Needless to say, I am not a big fan of fish.  Every so often I am tempted — like that time when I was reading “Angela’s Ashes” and just had to see what all the fish and chips fuss was about.  And for whatever reason, my body decides every so often (and lately it is more often) that it wants tuna.  So I buy the little tin can filled with water and tuna (and which, might I add, resembles nothing of the creature from which it came) mix it up with some mayo, yummy, yummy relish (I love the dill pickled relish, but am such a fan that it doesn’t matter sweet, dill, or other), some pepper, maybe some raw onions, celery — the works!  On my latest favorite — Orowheat Sandwich Thins — loaded with fiber (5g), and not so much with fat (1g) and calories (100), the tuna sandwich is a true classic, very easy, and absolutely tasty — even in my humble non-fish-loving opinion.

Tuna & Swiss Sandwich on Orowheat Sandwich Thin

Tuna & Swiss Sandwich on Orowheat Sandwich Thin

And as always, for fellow weight-watchers – the total Points value for this number (will vary depending on your mayo and bread, and additional toppings) is 3.

Here’s the breakdown:

  • Orowheat Sandwich Thin – 1 serving – 1 Point
  • Trader Joe’s tuna in water – 1 serving – 1 Point
  • Trader Joe’s Reduced Fat mayo – 1 serving – 1 Point
  • Heinz Dill Relish – 1 serving – 0 Points
  • (Optional) Trader Joe’s Lite Swiss or Lite Havarti Cheese – 1 serving – (Add 2 Points)

Nostalgia in a Bowl — Potsticker Soup

Many favorite childhood memories include visits to a little hole-in-the-wall Chinese restaurant called “Mrs. Wong’s Kitchen”.  In addition to being a favorite dining stop for my dad, Mrs. Wong’s Kitchen also had a large, jolly Buddha statue, and in my young opinion — served the best Won Ton soup on the planet.  Even now, and especially after having taught for three years in Japan, my fondness for a good Asian soup has not diminished.

In one of my recent visits to the library I came across what is now one of my new treasures — the “I Heart Trader Joe’s Cookbook“.  It’s loaded with delicious combinations of favorite Trader Joe’s ingredients.  You’ll understand why I chose to try this first one in particular…

Bowl of potsticker soup

Potsticker Soup

In a large pot I put together vegetable broth, soy sauce, rice wine vinegar, frozen chicken potstickers, frozen stir fry vegetables, and green onions.  There’s a lot of room for flavor customization — adding ginger, making it vegetarian by choosing to use vegetable potstickers, etc.  Not only is this soup incredibly easy, very tasty, but it’s loaded with vegetables…and for those counting their Weight Watcher’s points — the grand total is about six points if you have a serving with three gyoza (dumplings).


Comfort Food-Lover’s Delight

I’ve had the good fortune throughout my life to be blessed with good roommates.  Almost five years ago (I can’t believe it’s already been that long) I had roommate who possessed not only with the gift of cooking, but also the love of tweaking the ingredients just so to produce satisfying and healthy results.  One favorite I like to call Comfort Food-Lover’s Delight.  It’s a mix of sausage, onions, pepper, marinara sauce, and if you’re so inclined — cheese, all hot and melty on your choice of bread.  My husband loves sausage and I’m a marinara sauce fanatic, so this suits both our needs, and since it’s so easy it can be a great meal for those nights when I’m feeling lazy about cooking.  And for those fellow weight-watchers out there, although it hits the spot just so, and tastes sinfully delicious, the whole construction adds up to about 8 points.  Obviously, as you change ingredients, the points-value will change, but I’ll share the ingredients we used — and you may notice that most are from Trader Joe’s — I love Trader Joe’s!

Ingredients (enough for 2 servings):

  • 1-2 tbsp. olive oil
  • 1/2 red onion, cut into long thin slices
  • 2 garlic cloves, pressed or chopped
  • 1 small green bell pepper, cut into long thin slices
  • 2 sausages (we like TJ’s Spicy Jalapeño Chicken or Sweet Italian Chicken)
  • spices (TJ’s 21 Seasoning Salute, or cumin, basil, oregano, red pepper…)
  • 1 cup marinara sauce (TJ’s Tomato Basil)
  • 2 slices lite Havarti cheese (again TJ’s sliced is our choice here)
  • 1 serving TJ’s Mediterranean Flatbread (adds 2 points to recipe) or Orowheat Sandwich Thins
  • fork, spoon, and lots of napkins to enjoy the “mess”


  1. Boil the sausage until it swells (usually 5 or so minutes).  Drain.  Cut into bite-sized pieces.  Set aside.
  2. In a large skillet over medium heat, sauté oil, red onion, garlic until the onion begins to turn translucent (about 5-7 minutes).
  3. Add the bell pepper and sauté for another 5-7 minutes.
  4. Add the bite-sized pieces of sausage.  Sauté all ingredients until they start to lightly brown.  Sprinkle your choice of spices (we like TJ’s 21 Seasoning Salute – mixture of salt, garlic powder, oregano, basil, and about 17 others).
  5. Pour in marinara sauce.  Stir until sauce begins to bubble and ingredients are mixed together well.  Cover and turn off heat.
  6. Toast sandwich thins and/or flatbread.  Add cheese.
  7. Spoon sausage and marinara mixture onto your bread.  Let the cheese melt.
  8. Enjoy!

If you try this out, let me know how you like it AND if you have some recipes of your own, please feel free to share!