At Grace Choy’s Table in Tokyo, a Tantalizing Portal to Cantonese Cuisine

Owen Ziegler wrote . . . . . . . . .

Grace Choy’s kitchen is very small — about the size you’d expect in a studio apartment.

There’s enough room for Choy to walk the two or three steps from fridge to stovetop, but not much else. A humble array of premium Le Creuset cookware and high quality ovens accent the cooking area and dining room, but this is no industrial kitchen built to house a cadre of line cooks.

The layperson strolling through the backstreets of the Aobadai neighborhood of Meguro Ward might take a look through ChoyChoy Kitchen’s floor-to-ceiling window and consider it all yet another serviceable entry among Tokyo’s innumerable eateries. That would be a grave mistake — not only for the meal you’re robbing yourself of but also for the story you’re missing out on.

Choy has made sure everything here in this dining room tucked away almost as if it’s a carefully crafted secret has just enough for only one chef: herself.

Until early 2020, she was splitting her time between her native Hong Kong and Tokyo, where she served as the driving culinary force behind a Nishiazabu restaurant backed by a Tokyo-based restaurateur and event planning consortium. When her annual contract she’d signed the year before was up for renewal, Choy found herself faced with a difficult decision: continue working as a cog in a successful, larger culinary operation or reclaim everything for herself.

Choy opted to go back to basics. In March 2020, just before the COVID-19 pandemic closed Japan’s borders for the next several years, she relocated here and opened up her private kitchen in Nakameguro — one she supplies, staffs and serves on her own all by hers.

“I wanted to cook like I did in Hong Kong,” says Choy, who designed the modest space and lodges on the second floor when she’s in Tokyo (she also owns a home in Shizuoka Prefecture). “At that moment, I wanted to focus on cooking instead of business — even now.”

Despite the magnitude of the decision, Choy was no amateur embarking out on her own. It had been years since she had left her previous career as an office worker behind to focus on cooking, and she already had much to show for it. Choy’s 2018 cookbook, “Grace’s 60 Recipes,” earned the Best Woman Chef Book designation by the Gourmand Awards the following year, and CNN once described her private kitchen back in Hong Kong as one of that city’s best kept hidden gems. She also partners with several premium culinary brands — an explanation for all her Le Creuset cookware she puts to great use.

Now, Choy continues on in Nakameguro, but beyond serving up succulent meals, what exactly is her goal? To hear her tell it, it’s a simple yet challenging one: Use the freshest ingredients available in Japan to bring authentic Cantonese cuisine to many who’ve likely never had it before.

A Cantonese journey

For too many Americans like myself, a critical step in appreciating your first authentic Cantonese meal is dissuading yourself of any of the notions picked up over years of consuming “Chinese” foods like orange chicken, crab rangoons and spare ribs. Only the willfully ignorant can convince themselves that these dishes represent anything in the same neighborhood as traditional Cantonese cuisine, yet that awareness only leaves you with an empty box, an unfurnished room you know exists yet can’t quite imagine what fills it.

In Japan, assumptions about Chinese cuisine are different, though — in Choy’s eyes — no less inaccurate. She often hears Japanese diners quip that Chinese chefs are capable of little variety and that dishes are oily and salty beyond reason. As in the United States, a belief persists among some in Japan that Cantonese and wider Chinese cuisine exists on the unrefined end of the culinary spectrum.

Choy considers it something of a mission of hers to dispel these mischaracterizations, and a few bites of her cooking not only helps you divorce yourself from such regionally adapted idiosyncrasies — it ushers you toward a new definition entirely.

Over an afternoon together, she puts together several dishes for me, chatting and cooking as if it was nothing. First comes a Hong Kong-style char siu pork made from Kagoshima-bred kurobuta pig (the Japanese version of the famous Berkshire), a delicate welcome of fresh flavors laid over a bed of fresh vegetables. Next, Choy chills jidori chicken from Tokushima Prefecture and drizzles over it a mixture of oyster sauce, mature vinegar and Sichuan pepper — not once did this topple over into overspicyness, a sterling example of balance.

From there, two heartier dishes follow: a Hong Kong-style soup with Shizuoka chicken, dried yam from China’s Henan Province, wolfberries and fish maw, all double boiled for four hours and finished in an earthen-brown tea pot; and grouper in a supremely moreish Hokkaido-grown, Shizuoka-fermented black bean and Aomori garlic sauce — it’s difficult to understate how truly inviting the next bite is.

Finally, dessert: a homemade apricot pudding served with almond slices and fresh strawberries. It’s a left turn in terms of flavors, to be sure, but it’s a welcome rerouting and almost a reminder that I’ve just been along for the ride, one Choy’s been navigating the whole time.

It’s a microcosm of a full-fledged dining experience at ChoyChoy Kitchen, which usually runs about ¥30,000 per person before tax for six or seven courses. There are, however, two wrinkles. One is negligible: Choy allows diners to bring their own wines and other preferred beverages with no corkage charge. The other — actually making a reservation — cuts to the heart of Choy’s entire cooking philosophy.

“I don’t accept same-day reservations,” she says. “If you emailed me today, I think it might take a few months before I could have you in for dinner.”

It’s not a matter of bandwidth, Choy explains, but of quality. It’d be no issue for her to walk into a Nakameguro supermarket and stock up on what ingredients they happen to have, but that would necessitate compromising dishes to a level she’s not comfortable with. The jidori chicken and kurobuta pork she sources are not just feathers in her cap — the quality these ingredients represent is a cornerstone of her menu.

Hastily made bookings, therefore, would likely leave both diner and chef alike wanting more. Moreover, a combination of a packed schedule and a lingering arm injury has forced Choy to close future bookings to close friends and acquaintances only.

“Normally, I would work Friday, Saturday and Sunday,” Choy says of her limited availability for the foreseeable future. “This year, though, I’ll be focusing more on research and development — searching for new ingredients around Japan and testing new Chinese dishes in my kitchen.”

With more and more guest chef spots popping up on Choy’s calendar, including earlier this year at the Sheraton Grande Tokyo Bay in Urayasu, Chiba Prefecture, and The Ritz-Carlton in Macau, seats at ChoyChoy Kitchen have become all but impossible to obtain. However, the chef remains committed to reaching as many would-be diners as possible — critically, through an upcoming series of contributions to The Japan Times.

“I want to write because I want more people — especially the people of Japan — to spread (authentic Cantonese) cooking style.”

Source: Japan Times

See selected recipes of Grace Choy . . . . .






Scientists Get Closer to a Better PSA Test

Dennis Thompson wrote . . . . . . . . .

The most common screening test for prostate cancer so often returns a false positive result that it’s no longer recommended for men older than 70, and it’s offered as a personal choice for younger men.

But researchers think they’ve found a way to make the blood test for prostate-specific antigen (PSA) accurate enough to significantly reduce overdiagnosis and better predict dangerous cancers.

By calibrating PSA levels to each man’s genetics, doctors could control for other factors that might cause levels to be elevated, according to researchers at Stanford Medicine, in California.

The researchers envisioned combining the regular blood-based PSA test with an additional genetic analysis that detects inherited genetic variants that can affect PSA levels.

Elevated PSA levels can be a sign of prostate cancer, but levels can also be high due to other issues like inflammation, infection, an enlarged prostate or just old age, the study authors said in background notes.

“Some men have higher PSA levels due to their genetics,” senior researcher John Witte, a Stanford professor of epidemiology and population health, said in a university news release. “They don’t have cancer, but the higher PSA level leads to a cascade of unnecessary medical interventions like biopsy.”

By one estimate, less than one-third of men with elevated PSA levels were confirmed by a biopsy to have prostate cancer, the researchers reported. Moreover, 15% of men with normal PSA levels were later found to have prostate cancer.

But health experts are reluctant to write off the PSA test completely, given that prostate cancer rates are on the rise in the United States.

Prostate cancer rates rose by 3% a year between 2014 and 2019 after two decades of decline, and advanced prostate cancers increased by about 5% a year, the latest American Cancer Society statistics show.

The problem is that the signal delivered by current PSA screening — a man’s risk of prostate cancer — is too often mixed with background noise, the researchers explained.

“To improve the signal, which is the variation in PSA levels caused by a prostate tumor, we subtract out the noise, which in this case comes from genetics,” said lead researcher Linda Kachuri, an assistant professor of epidemiology and population health at Stanford.

For this study, the investigators looked at the genomes and PSA levels of nearly 96,000 men without prostate cancer to better understand the genetics behind normal variation in PSA levels. The data had been collected as part of earlier studies and included mostly men of European ancestry.

Through this analysis, the researchers estimated that 30% to 40% of the variation found in each man’s PSA levels constitutes “noise,” determined by genetic factors unrelated to cancer.

“Specifically, what we’re trying to capture are the genetic determinants of normal PSA variation,” Kachuri explained.

“This is different from our usual research deciphering the genetic basis of cancer,” Witte said. “We want to remove the non-cancer-related part that’s making PSA a less specific biomarker.”

The researchers identified 128 specific sites in the genome that can affect a man’s PSA level, and then developed a means to account for these normal genetic variations when calculating what they called a PSA polygenic score.

“A polygenic score is a quantitative way of summarizing someone’s genetic predisposition for a trait in a single value,” Kachuri said.

The researchers then tested their PSA polygenic score against data from a separate group of nearly 32,000 men without prostate cancer.

They found that the score could predict close to 10% of variation in PSA levels. However, it was much more effective among men of European ancestry than among men of East Asian or African ancestry.

Next, the researchers applied their score to a mixed group of men with and without prostate cancer, as confirmed by biopsy. The results showed that their PSA test could have spared roughly 30% of those men a biopsy.

The adjusted PSA levels particularly improved detection of the more aggressive forms of prostate cancer, although the benefit was noticeable only in men of European ancestry, according to the report.

“What we’re really worried about are those aggressive cases, so the fact that we’re able to show that genetically adjusted PSA is more predictive of aggressive disease is really promising,” Kachuri said.

Unfortunately, the adjusted PSA levels also would have missed approximately 9% of positive biopsies, the findings showed.

The majority of these missed cases were slow-growing tumors, which are not as dangerous and may not even require treatment. However, the misclassifications point to room for improving the score, the study authors said.

The team next plans a larger study that will include more men from diverse populations, to better improve the accuracy of the test.

“Ideally, we want to come up with a single score that works well for everybody, across the spectrum of ancestry,” Kachuri said.

Even a small improvement in screening could save lives, given that one in nine men in the United States will be diagnosed with prostate cancer and one in 40 will die from it, the researchers said.

The new study was published in Nature Medicine.

Source: HealthDay





6 Simple Ways to Ease Bloating on a Vegan Diet

Kat Smith wrote . . . . . . . . .

It’s true that a vegan diet, or eating more plant-based foods in general, can benefit your health. But, a significant shift in your diet might leave you with some much-maligned digestive woe, including bloating, gas, heartburn, and an upset stomach. Thankfully, being more intentional about the food you eat is one way to help soothe what ails your gut. Here’s how to ease bloating on a vegan diet, plus six ways to combat tummy troubles.

Why does eating vegan cause bloating?

Between 10- and 25-percent of healthy people experience the occasional stomach bloating. But, bloating, gas, and stomach cramps seem to be especially big problems with new vegans, vegetarians, and flexitarians.

The culprit is usually dietary fiber—the indigestible plant fibers that, unlike protein or carbohydrates, pass through your digestive system intact. Fiber is found mainly in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes, and packs a number of benefits, including lowering “bad” cholesterol, controlling blood sugar levels, increasing longevity, and helping to maintain healthy bowels.

Some vegetables may cause more bloating than other plant-based foods. “Cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, and cauliflower are also responsible for some of these undesirable effects, thanks to an oligosaccharide called raffinose,” Stephanie Wells, RDN, tells VegNews. “Raffinose isn’t digested until it is fermented by bacteria in the large intestine, causing gas to be produced.”

How to ease bloating on a vegan diet

“Going plant-based is likely going to increase a person’s fiber intake exponentially, especially if they’re replacing a significant amount of meat with more beans and legumes which are very high in fiber,” Jenna Volpe, an RDN who specializes in gut health, tells VegNews.

Bloating may last a few days for some, and may persist for a few weeks in others as the body adjusts to the increased fiber intake. It could also be a sign of an underlying condition, such as leaky gut or irritable bowel syndrome. The best way to learn if your gut troubles need medical attention is to see your physician. You should talk to a doctor if you’re experiencing regular discomfort.

Ruling out digestive issues that should be addressed by a professional, here are six ways to manage everyday bloating on a vegan diet.

1. Eat slowly and mindfully

Eating slowly isn’t just about savoring the food. It can also help ease bloating. Research shows that people tend to eat less when they eat slowly because it leads to a boost in fullness hormones. There are a few reasons why this happens. When you eat faster, you tend to swallow more air, which can cause bloating.

So, being more mindful of how much fiber you’re adding to your diet can also help. Wells recommends introducing high-fiber foods to your diet gradually, rather than all at once.

“Start with smaller amounts of beans or cruciferous vegetables in meals, and try alternating whole grains with refined grains,” she says. “Some people find lentils to cause less gas than other beans, although this varies from person to person. Tofu and tempeh are other plant-based proteins that tend to be more easily digested.”

If you have persistent issues with bloating, you might want to start logging your foods in a journal with your daily meals and symptoms, which could help you or your doctor identify potential triggers.

2. Drink water — and not just at mealtime

Most vegan diets, especially a whole food plant-based diet, involve a lot of fiber. But, as with most diets, drinking enough water (3.7 liters a day for men and 2.7 for women) is essential to keep your body in good working condition. Water prevents soluble fiber—which is found in oats, beans, apples, citrus fruits, and carrots—from sitting in your gut for too long. Insoluble fiber—found in foods like whole wheat flour, beans, and potatoes—attracts water in the small intestine, also speeding up its exit from your body.

“It’s best to spread your water intake throughout the day rather than only drinking at mealtimes, so that water is readily available when required for digestion,” says Wells.

3. Soak legumes before eating

Legumes—chickpeas, black beans, lentils of all colors, pigeon peas, mung beans, and split peas—are staples of many cuisines and are a top source of plant-based protein. But, they are high in fiber, which can make gas and bloating worse. Soaking dried beans overnight leaches out the sugars that are responsible for this, reducing the chance that they’ll upset your stomach.

“Some people also find that blended beans are easier to digest, like hummus and other bean spreads,” says Wells.

4. Take a walk

If you have the capacity for it, a short walk or light exercise session after a meal can help reduce bloating and gas. Whatever you do, keep it casual so you don’t overwork yourself while your body is trying to digest food. As an alternative, take care of some chores around your home.

5. Limit processed foods, salt, and fat

Certain processed foods can trigger bloating and gas. These include sodas and other carbonated drinks, and sugar alternatives such as xylitol, sorbitol, and mannitol.

Salt is another culprit. This is because the sodium in salt causes the body to retain water, which can lead to bloating. Many processed foods, like cured meats, cold cuts, and fast foods are high in salt.

Limiting your fat intake to small amounts of healthy oils and plant-based fats may also help reduce bloating. This is because your digestive tract needs more time to process fat.

To combat gas and bloating, limit your intake of super salty and high-fat noshes, including fast food, chips and other snacks, fried foods, and other highly processed foods.

6 Eat more probiotic foods

Research suggests that probiotic foods—such as sauerkraut, kombucha, kimchi, miso, and tempeh—may help reduce bloating. However, more evidence is needed in order to understand which probiotic strains are particularly beneficial. Either way, the medical community embraces the fact that probiotics are good for your gut in other ways, so try incorporating them into your regular diet.

Source: Veg News





Vegetarian Set Lunch of Vegecafe Lotus in Toyohashi, Japan

The main dish is No-egg Spanish Omelet.





Oral Estrogen Therapy for Menopause May Increase High Blood Pressure Risk

Women who take estrogen hormone pills to relieve menopausal symptoms may be more likely to develop high blood pressure than women using other forms of the medication, according to new research.

Hormone therapy may be prescribed to relieve symptoms of menopause, such as hot flashes, night sweats, mood changes and sleep disturbances. It’s also used in gender-affirming care and in contraception.

Menopause causes a woman’s body to produce less of the hormones estrogen and progesterone – which may increase cardiovascular risk factors, according to a 2020 scientific statement from the American Heart Association.

The study, published Monday in the journal Hypertension, explored factors associated with hormone therapy, including the types of estrogen used and how it was administered, whether orally or through topical and vaginal forms.

“We know estrogens ingested orally are metabolized through the liver, and this is associated with an increase in factors that can lead to higher blood pressure,” Cindy Kalenga, the study’s lead author, said in a news release. She is a medical student and doctoral candidate at the University of Calgary in Alberta, Canada.

Researchers used health data from more than 112,000 women in Canada ages 45 and older who filled at least two consecutive prescriptions – a six-month cycle – for estrogen-only therapy between 2008 and 2019. The women mostly used estradiol, a synthetic form of estrogen that most closely mimics what women’s bodies naturally produce pre-menopause, and conjugated equine estrogen, an animal-derived form of estrogen.

The results showed that women who used the therapy in pill form had a 14% higher risk of developing high blood pressure compared to those using estrogen topically, and a 19% greater risk compared to those using vaginal creams or suppositories.

Compared to estradiol, the use of conjugated equine estrogen was linked to an 8% higher risk of developing high blood pressure.

The study also associated the use of a higher estrogen dose for a longer time with a greater risk of high blood pressure. The findings suggest that some types of estrogen may have lower cardiovascular risks, Kalenga said.

“These may include low-dose, non-oral estrogen like estradiol in transdermal or vaginal forms – for the shortest possible time period,” Kalenga said. “These may also be associated with the lowest risk of hypertension. Of course, this must be balanced with the important benefits of hormone therapy, which include treatment of common menopausal symptoms.”

Research has found that starting menopausal hormone therapy in the early stages of menopause may have cardiovascular benefits – though not in the late stages, according to the 2020 AHA scientific statement.

Dr. Sofia B. Ahmed, a study co-author and a professor of medicine at the University of Calgary, said more than a quarter of the world’s female population is now older than 50, the average age at which natural menopause occurs for women. The number of women experiencing menopause is projected to reach 1 billion by 2025, she said.

“Approximately 80% of people going through menopause have symptoms, and for some it lasts up to seven years,” Ahmed said in the news release. “While menopause is a normal part of the aging process, it has huge implications for quality of life, economic impact, work productivity and social relationships. We need to give people the information they need to choose the most effective and safe hormonal treatments for menopause.”

Since the effects of different forms of hormone therapy on high blood pressure were based only on health records, the researchers cautioned of limitations in their findings. The study focused only on women taking estrogen-only therapy and did not include women younger than 45 or collect data about hysterectomies. The researchers also did not have data on menopausal status, so they instead relied on women’s use of estrogen therapy to indicate postmenopausal status.

Although the study focused on women in Canada, researchers noted that the country’s guidelines align with those from the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists in the United States. Both recommend appropriate use of hormone therapy and advise that it should not be considered for prevention or treatment of hypertension or heart disease.

The study’s authors said their future research will look at combined estrogen and progestin, as well as progestin-only formulations of hormone therapy and the impact on heart and kidney diseases.

“It’s really important to have greater knowledge on safe and effective hormonal treatments for women during menopause,” Ahmed said. “At the end of the day, it’s an individualized decision about what is best for the person going through menopause and should include open dialogue with their physician or health care team.”

Source: American Heart Association