Thursday, December 30, 2010

I looooove to cook!

Egg plant and squash curry with marinated beef on sauteed spinach.  Delish!
This is chicken tortilla soup.  I absolutely love cooking this back at home and I was delighted when I rounded up all of the ingredients here in Japan.  Some normal things,  like cans of black beans for example, are hard to find. We have to travel about an hour to get them. But it is so worth the time traveling!
A Japanese Thanksgiving. It is possible to find turkey here. You have to travel and pay for it, but it is possible! As much as we would have loved a turkey, we had to settle for something that would fit into our microwave/convection oven. So chicken breasts it was! Our dear family back home sent us pumpkin pie filling, cranberries, stuffing, and gravy mix so we were able to have a lovely little Thanksgiving for ourselves. :)
A little while ago we were feeling a bit under the weather, so naturally, I made chicken noodle soup. Simple and delicious.
This is a chickpea curry with roasted veggies. My ever-hungry husband ate almost the entire batch in one sitting!
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Sunday, November 14, 2010


When Karl and I moved to Japan, we knew life would be much different. And indeed it is. I feel that I am adapting to life in Japan relatively well....but culture shock is like a never-ending roller coaster. And you can't get off.  I feel like I have hit a stable point since I got my job.  However, having a job has introduced a whole new set of cultural differences.

I work in an English Conversation school (enkai in Japanese). My company sends me all over the Saitama Prefecture.  This means I commute. A lot. Riding the train is really not so bad. I mean, I get to listen to podcasts and stay up-to-date with my favorite NPR shows from across the world. I also knit. It's not so bad.

Riding the trains everyday in Japan can lead to some very interesting observations. One night when I was almost back to Ogawa, there was this guy sitting across from me. The poor fellow was so exhausted. He was attempting to maintain a reasonably upright position...while sleeping. This sort of worked. Until....CRACK! I started and looked over. He had lost control and his head had smashed onto the large glass window behind him. He was, apparently, fine. As was the window. I was astonished when his head hit the window a second time. He was still sleeping! This continue to happen until he got off the train.

This is really not unusual.  Many, many people sleep on the trains. As far as I can tell, it is break time for most people.  I am too paranoid to sleep on trains. Afraid I will miss my stop, also not trusting everyone else who is riding the train. Don't get me wrong, Japan is a very safe place, but still.

When I come home from work at night, it is usually a 1-2 hour commute. I get home around midnight. You would be amazed at the tremendous number of people commuting home at that hour. There are so many people here, I am constantly amazed. Business men and women coming home from work. Students coming home from cram-schools (juku in Japanese).

The Japanese people are stereotyped as being very hard working.  This is one hundred percent true. I have Junior and High School students who get up at 5 am, go to school all day, then have club or sport activities, then go to Juku  or Ekaiwa schools, like the one I teach at. They get home around 10 or 11 at night. That is a 17 hour day for some students. Oh! And plus, most of these students also have Saturday school (this is sometimes every other week though).

I feel bad for them most of the time. They have a schedule similar to what my college schedule was. I wouldn't wish that on anyone, especially 13-16 year olds. These kids are young. Sometimes they are so tired, they fall asleep right in class. When this happens, I just let them sleep.

This seems to be what is expected of students here in Japan. I am having a difficult time understanding it. I love school and think studying is important, but I also know how important it is to have at least a little bit of down time. And I am sure they do. This is just my impression when I am teaching.

One other cultural difference I have having difficulty with is the shoe thing. I get that it is aren't tracking in outside dirt inside. Good thing? I guess....except when you have to put on slippers that who knows how many people have worn. I am especially grossed out in the summer when socks are not part of the equation. The most questionable though? The special bathroom slippers. That everyone wears. Ew. Thank goodness these practices are not standard. Where I work, there are only a few rooms where we are not allowed to wear shoes. But those are carpeted kids classrooms, so stocking feet are fine.

One last thing. You friends and family in the mid-west, if you think passive aggressive people are bad there, you have never been to Japan. That is all I have to say about that.

I apologize that each of these differences seem to be negative. There are positive differences as well. Like when you go to a restaurant there is a button you press when you want the waiter to come and get your order. Brilliant! Also the way they recycle and sort trash. It is extremely efficient. Japan is not big, so they use what space they have well. One thing they have done with trash is created an island. It is called Dream Island and is located right in Tokyo Bay. Crazy! Also, despite the annoyances of riding the trains late at night. I still love that public transportation is so good in this country. It is quite incredible. We have virtually no reason to drive and I love it!
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Some people eat to live....we live to eat.

Food is good. Here are some of the delectable items we have been cooking up recently!

 This is an incredible salmon dish that I made Last month sometime.  There are sauteed leeks on top with the lemon slice. I love salmon!

I made this ratatouille to accompany the salmon dish above.  It was marvelous! There are so many varieties of this dish. I chose to make the one found in the food memoir called "A Homemade Life." Served with a french baguette and white wine, this meal was delightful! 
 This is something I made up when we were in the mood for something Mexican. It is basically just a fajita salad.  The dressing I did find in a book, the same food memoir I mentioned above. Garlic, cilantro (coriander), and garlic ALWAYS work well together!
 This is the recipe that the dressing officially called for.  Roasted cauliflower with a chili verde sauce. It made an excellent side dish to my fajita salad! Plus it was a breeze to make.

 Karl and I really love gnocchi dishes.  There is one dish that we use constantly. We found it on Eating Well's website. (GREAT site to find healthy delicious recipes!) This one here we also found on that site. It is very simple, just gnocchi, zucchini, onion, garlic, spices, red pepper, and parmesan. It was excellent and very easy. The side is a simple Mediterranean steamed salad.
 This soup is from the Chinese teaching cooking that is one of the three cookbooks we actually have with us. Karl had never had it before and he loved it! It is a chicken soup with ham, creamed corn, ginger, egg, and scallions. It is positively divine. 
 I did NOT make this! Karl brought it home for me when we was away on a teachers trip in Tokyo.  He found a little shop called "Chocoholic" and had to go in for me. :) Isn't it adorable?!
This last dish I just made tonight.  Another gnocchi dish! I found a recipe online and got the idea for it. Then didn't follow it at all.  The gnocchi I simply boiled for a few minutes till it floated, then drained and tossed it with extra virgin olive oil, basil, pepper, salt, and parmesan. I sauteed onions and garlic in another pan with a bit of olive oil.  When they were beginning to carmelize, I put the salmon on top of the onions and sprinkled it with rosemary, thyme, lemon juice, olive oil, pepper, salt, and a bit of white wine. I covered it for a few minutes till it was cooked through. It was delicious!!!
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Thursday, October 21, 2010

A Bit of Precious Wisdom

When I was a little girl, I was fortunate enough to receive birthday cards from many of my grandparents.  These included cards from my Great Grandma and Grandpa White.  These cards were particularly special because of the letter that inevitably would accompany each card.  Letters from Great Grandma were written in crisp handwriting, speaking volumes of her personality.  These were the words of a woman who picked strawberries, walked around a lake everyday, gardened, and quilted until she quietly left us to join my Great Grandfather when she was 90.

Great Grandmas letters were spoken in a simple, wise voice geared to my elementary mind.  When I was probably six or seven I received one of these letters.  In the letter, Grandma asked me how school was going.  As any typical little girl, I would rather play outside, color, dress up my Barbies...anything but school!

She continued in the letter to say how important school and learning were, and that we even continue to learn as adults. My six year old brain exploded.  It was horrifying to me, this notion of being an adult and still...learning new things!?  What madness. I silently scoffed to myself.  There simply had to be a point in life when you either A) knew everything, or B) stopped learning things because you didn't need to know anything else. 

Oh! To be a child.  And oh, how fortunate to have such a wise great grandmother. 

This past May, I graduated from college.  A very wise professor told me something I will not soon forget.  She said the moment she was awarded her doctoral degree, it dawned on her just how much she didn't know.  The vast amount of knowledge out there in our world is...well...vast.

Many people talk about education versus experience.  For myself, not earning a degree was never an option.  It was simply the next logical step.  It was what I thought I had to do to "discover myself."  I would say I came a long way...a long way I never thought I would go.  Japan is certainly not were I thought I would be even one year ago.

So, here I am.  Out of school, or, rather, back in school...I just happened to be on the opposite side of the table.  The only formal education I received on the subject of education was my piano pedagogy class.  I taught piano for three years and loved it.  I had many students who successfully performed in recitals.  But teaching English is really quite different.

I am currently in the middle of my third week teaching at Saiei International English Conversation Schools (yes, I meant to use the plural) here in Saitama, Japan.  I have probably learned more in the past two and a half weeks then an entire semester in college.  I have a fantastic head-trainer who really has a contagious desire to teach and to teach really well.  How lucky am I!? To get paid to learn such an incredible new skill is something I am not taking for granted.  So here I am. An adult.  Out in the "real world."  And learning just as much as I learned in school, if not more.  

How right my great grandma was. 
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Friday, October 1, 2010

Smell those delightful aromas...

I love food. I love cooking.  I love eating.  Nothing excites me more than adventuring through a grocery store or farmers market discovering treasures to transform into a delectable dish.  My favorite section of the grocery store is the produce section.  Sifting through the fruits and vegetables to find the perfect specimens to suit my desires.  Inspecting the colors of peppers.  Feeling the texture of a ripe tomato.  Smelling the sweetness of a pineapple through its tough spiny shield. What magical flavors to combine and savor!

What is better than sharing good food with friends and family, really?  Think about how much time during our lives we are either preparing to eat or eating.  Hours every day.  At least I would hope so.  The Italian people have a lovely belief regarding food.  It goes like this: At the beginning of every person's life, their Creator makes a clock for them.  This clock represents that person's life in time.  When the clock stops, the person will die.  However.  When that person is eating good food, drinking good wine, beer, lemonade, whatever they fancy, and sharing good company, their clock is paused.

What an absolutely charming belief.  Those Italians certainly have their priorities in order.

Well I am not in Italy.  I am in Japan.  They certainly do love food here, as much as any Italian loves red wine.  The simplicity of Japanese cuisine is something that must be appreciated when eating Japanese food.  Staples of the Japanese diet are rice, seafood and vegetables.  The spices added to foods are simple.  Usually a rice vinegar called mirin, soy sauce, ginger and others.

This first dish is called Steamed Sake Chicken.  The flavor is remarkably simple and refreshing.

Steamed Sake Chicken

 These are simply California Rolls.  They are not Japanese, but American Japanese.  I have been told by a Japanese person.

California Rolls
This is Lemon Chicken.  A Chinese dish that Karl made.  He did an excellent job! It was positively dilish.

Lemon Chicken
This last dish is from Thailand.  Hot Chicken Curry with Pumpkin. Very spicy, but very delicious!

Hot Chicken Curry with Pumpkin
As my Karl likes to say, "we live to eat. We do not eat to live."

For your enjoyment, here is one of the recipes:

Steamed Sake Chicken

1 lb chicken
1 t. salt
1/3 cup sake
2 T. lemon juice
1 1/2 in fresh ginger cut into matchsticks

2 T. Japanese soy sauce
1 T. mirin
1 t. sesame oil
1 spring onion, sliced

2 spring onions
1/2 small red pepper

1) Use a fork to prick the skin on the chicken in several places. Place chicken, skin side up, in a shallow dish; sprinkle with the salt. Combine sake, lemon juice and ginger in a bowl; pour over chicken, cover and marinate in the refrigerator for 40 min.
2) to make sauce: Combine the soy sauce, mirin, sesame oil and spring onion in a small bowl.
3) To make garnish: Peel the outside layer from the spring onions, then cut finely into diagonal pieces. Lay the red pepper flat on a board, skin side down. Holding a knife in a horizontal position, cut just under the membrane surface to remove the top layer; discard top layer. Cut pepper is to thin strips.
4) Line the base of a bamboo or metal steamer with baking paper. Arrange the chicken, skin-side up, in the steamer. Fill a wok or frying pan with two cups of water; sit steamer in pan.  Cover, cook over gently boiling water for 15 to 20 minutes, or until chicken in cooked.
5) Cut chicken into bite-size pieces; arrange in the centre of a serving plate and drizzle the sauce over it. Arrange papper strips around the chicken, scatter spring onion over chicken.
Serve warm or cold over rice.

Yield: 4 servings
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Monday, September 27, 2010

Culture Shock Phase 2: Yay for getting a job! ---And Autumn in Japan

Life has a way of changing...and quickly too.  Last Friday was my birthday and whilst being treated to an amazing Japanese dinner, I received a phone call. It was a job offer. I am quite certain this will remain one of the best birthday gifts I will ever receive!

As I just graduated this past May, this will be my first "real" job.  I am SO excited.  The company I may now call my employer is Saiei International Schools.  It is an English conversation school company.  The operate a number of schools throughout the Saitama Prefecture.  Teachers are not assigned to individual schools; they rotate schools throughout the week.  So I will be teaching at a variety of locations.  This means that my commute will also vary considerably from day to day.  Luckily, I commute my train which means I still may fill my time with constructive things such as reading, studying Japanese, knitting and listening to music or audio books on my iPod. Could be worse.

Saiei is, as I said before, an English conversation school.  English is taught through immersion. Japanese is, in fact, forbidden from the classroom.  They are very strict regarding this matter.  Fine with me...I don't know much Japanese yet! (I am trying to learn though...) I will be teaching a set curriculum for twenty minutes of each class period.  The rest of the class periods will be filled with various conversation activities. As the German tutor on campus last semester, I had a great time teaching the whole class when the German teacher was out of town.  I am thrilled I have been given the opportunity to further my experience teaching languages! :)

The most challenging aspect of taking this job will be the commute as well as the hours.  My working hours will be either 1 - 9 or 2 - 10 every day.  That is pm, of course. Also! I will always have to work Fridays AND Saturdays.  Happy happy joy joy.  I really don't care though.  I am certainly not allowed to be picky when it comes to finding work in Japan, let alone the whole world. (Yeah, economy.)  I will always have Sundays off as well as some other random day through the week.  Next week I have Thursday off, for example.  So with the crazy commute, I will be able to sleep in everyday but I will be getting back home very late.

In other news: the rainy season on begun.  The temperature has plunged downward.  The clouds have shrouded the mountains in their mist.  We have quickly retreated back to out familiar sweat shirts and jeans.  Being from northern Minnesota and Wisconsin, we were having a rather difficult time acclimating to the sultry summer of Japan.  This chilly temperature calls for slippers, soup and warm drinks.  I find myself comforted by the Autumn scents which drift through the air when the rain decides to take a break.

Autumn in Japan is entirely different from home.  The trees have barely begun to change.  Rice is being harvested.  Chestnut trees are dropping their prickly fruits to the ground.  Pumpkins are not orange, but a very pale yellow.  Flowers are still blooming.  I miss the familiar Fall rituals from apple cider, bundling up and wandering through Bayfield the first weekend in October, breathing the crisp, salubrious air that blows across the great lake and through the northern forests. I fend off the melancholy with my new discoveries here: sweet potato candy (odd, but strangely delicious), making little pots of tea, hiking up the Chichibu Mountains, learning to bake in my teeny-tiny oven...I have discovered that baking is extremely satisfying for the soul.  Pie, bread, brownies...The scents the consume the kitchen and the warmth that permeates from the oven is enough to transport anyone to a Autumn paradise. 

The Fruit of the Chestnut Tree
A Chestnut Tree
Chestnuts fallen to the ground. The prickly skin is broken away to release the edible chestnut fruit.

These red flowers are blooming everywhere now. I am trying to figure out what they are.
A pumpkin pasta dish we made last week. Delicious!
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Thursday, September 23, 2010

Culture shock: Phase 1

Life in Japan. I am not a happy person now. Hmm…that is a lie. I must correct myself: I am a happy person regarding my personal life. Karl is a superb husband. I have a positively charming apartment with everything I could possibly need within it. This melancholy feeling which has steadily crept up on me over the past couple of weeks has more to do with my professional life, or lack thereof, as it were.

Since before I flew to Japan over a month ago, I have been trolling the interwebs for potential employment opportunities in or near our area here in Saitama, Japan. Since I am currently unable to speak any significant amount of Japanese I am limited to jobs teaching English. This narrows the field of jobs for which I am eligible. Furthermore, the status of my visa is dependent. This means I am not allowed to work full-time. I am permitted to work up to 28 hours while in possession of a dependent visa; however, I must acquire approval from local authorities.

Acquiring a working visa is possible. (Hooray!) Unfortunately you must get a job and your new employer must agree to “sponsor” the visa change before you can become eligible for the upgrade. Sounds simple enough, right? Well, it is simple. The tricky part comes when you are searching for jobs willing to sponsor the upgrade. Ninety percent of the job listings I have found refuse to sponsor visa upgrades. Please do not ask me why. I wish I knew.

So. Assuming I find the small number of jobs willing to sponsor visa upgrades, I then check other requirements. This is usually when I find the experience expectations. Most places will not even consider applicants without at least one to two years experience in teaching English. Sigh…

Despite these very particular requirements, I have successfully acquired two job interviews within the last two weeks. The first one was for an international preschool called Beans. Each “grade” has a name that has something to do with beans. The youngest children are “Jelly Beans,” for example. Way cute. My interview here went extremely well! I really enjoyed seeing the school and meeting the teachers and kids. Unfortunately, I was not chosen. L Fortunately, this means I will not have to commute five hours round trip every day.

Speaking of commuting, that is another reason why finding a job is difficult. We live in a town called Ogawa-Machi. It is forty-five minutes away from the nearest city by train. This doesn’t seem to bad, really. Once you add the time for walking to the train station and then walking to the job location, time adds up extremely quickly. My interviewers at Beans seemed very concerned that I live so far away. I can’t really blame them. Commuting that far is no fun.

My second interview was a week ago. It was at a place called Saiei International- even further away than the other interview. If I get this job, I would be traveling to different locations within Saitama five days a week, some closer and some further away. Unfortunately, my odds for getting this job are pretty slim as I am one of 2366 applicants. Yikes. But hey! I got an interview at least.

For the past five years I have been in school with an average of seventeen credits per semester. Plus life guarding, being the campus orchestra librarian, teaching seven piano students, planning a wedding (this past year), attending rehearsals, practicing, not to mention trying to maintain my personal life. In other words, I am used to being extraordinarily busy. After graduating, getting married, and then moving to Japan last month, my life feels like it has gone from 5000 mph to 5.

The first couple weeks in Japan were fine, of course. Everything was new and exciting! I am afraid the novelty of living in a different country has begun to wear-out. I am just plain annoyed at times. I want to turn on the TV and understand what is happening and know what people are saying. I want to go to the grocery store and find a huge display of cheese that doesn’t taste like gross. (Wisconsin cheese is what this girl wants…) I want to go shopping and find a pair of pants that aren’t five inches too short…assuming I can find a pair to fit my American sized hips, that is.

I am trying my best to not go stark raving mad…and I find I have been successful (for the most part…). I usually have things to keep me busy. I have also been making friends. A very sweet family has taken me under their wings. I met the lady mother of this family through the chorus I have joined. She is a pianist and wanted to give me a piano lesson. She doesn't speak much English. I don’t speak much Japanese. I explained as best as I could that I had to leave all my piano music at home and also that I have no place to practice. So it turned out to not be much of a piano lesson but she was still very sweet and took me shopping and made lunch for me.

I met her husband as well. He speaks English extremely well. They were very concerned that I do not have a job and am by myself all day. So they have decided that I should come over to spend time with them a few days a week until I find a job. I can practice on their grand piano, play with their puppy, and they can help me learn Japanese!

Tonight I will hear if I got the job...cross your fingers and say a prayer with me!
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Thursday, September 2, 2010

 Beef Sukiyaki 

This post is to update the cooking adventures. 
There have been many successes! Hooray! As I continue to cook every day I become increasingly more adventurous in what I am willing to try.  I have also learned that de-veining shrimp takes for-ev-er. But that is ok because they are so delicious! Seafood here is WAY cheaper than in the midwest, for obvious reasons.  We are much closer to the ocean here. It am still amazed when I walk into the grocery store and there is a huge section devoted to whole squid, octopus tentacles, various crustaceans and a truly amazing variety of fish.  

Dish number one (ichi-一)! This is beef sukiyaki. The funny looking white things in there are a certain type of noodle called Shirataki (白滝). They are thin, translucent and have a jelly-like texture to them.  You are able to buy them either cooked already or dry.  They have a very interesting flavor that comes from the root of the plant from which they are made.  This plant is Japanese devil's tongue.

Another thing I learned when I made this dish is that red meat was not allowed in the Japanese diet until fairly recently: the mid-1800's.  Up until that time it was against the Buddhist teachings to eat red meat.  During the mid-nineteenth century international influence weakened this teaching and it was removed altogether.  It is from this time that this dish, Beef Sukiyaki, dates. 

Udon Noodle Soup
Dish number two (ni-二)!  This is Udon Noodle Soup with pork.  This has been one of our favorites thus far.  Udon is a thick type of noodle made from wheat.  Almost always served in broth, there can be a large variety or toppings.  Some examples are tempura (てんぷら), prawns, or pork, as we used.  It is also typically served with the thinly sliced scallions on top as a garnish.

Braised Shrimp with Vegetables

Dish number three (san-三)! This is braised shrimp with vegetables.  I strayed from the Japanese cuisine the night I made this and cooked Chinese style.  I was able to find the oyster sauce at Inageya (いなげや) just fine.  When I was searching for the bamboo shoots I suddenly realized I was looking for them in the canned goods.  They are, naturally, in the produce section here.  You can buy them whole and slice them yourself or simply buy a bag of them that have been pre-sliced.

Curried Noodles with Pork

Dish number four (yon-四)! Straying yet again from Japanese cuisine, I decided it was time to try something from Singapore/Malaysia. (The section in the cookbook groups these two together.) This dish is Curried Noodles with Pork.  The noodles are a dry stick noodle.  You put them in a bowl and pour hot water over them and let them sit for twenty minutes.  Very different!  They have a significantly different texture from any other type of noodle.  The best way I can describe them is chewy.  We enjoyed them! As with many curry recipes, this one called for coconut milk.  Finding the coconut milk was not difficult.  What I did think was different was the consistency.  When one purchases coconut milk in the States it is usually relatively liquid like.  This was practically solid.  My guess is they leave most of the natural oils in...? Just a guess.  It still worked great and tasted oishii! (おいしい! Delicious!) 

So there you have it! I have obviously been cooking more then this, these are just the top picks.  :) Also, as you can probably see, my adventuring with my camera is going well! I am learning much more about proper settings and when, where and how to use them. 

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Blues, Jazz and City Lights

Last Saturday Karl and I met up with a group of other JET English teachers for a night out on the town.  We met in Saitama City.  Saitama City is about a two hour train ride away from Ogawa-Machi, where Karl and I live.  Not a bad ride at all.

I was very excited when we found the John Lennon Museum in the Saitama Super Arena.  I just about stopped breathing I was so excited! (The Beatles are my favorite band ever of all time.) It was closed, but Karl has promised to take me there for my birthday next month before it closes on the 30th of September.  :)!!!!

We ate at a Hawaiian burger place (I had the pineapple burger, how could you not!?).  We were very impressed that the food was "American" sized.  If you ordered a large, it was actually what we Americans would consider large.  You typically get what we would call medium for a large order here. 

After eating we found the coolest tiny little Jazz/Blues bar downtown Saitama.  It was fabulous! They were singing and playing all these tunes that we recognized, like Johnny B. Good and Oh! Darling (The Beatles), for instance. Fabulous.  We had the best time and are definitely going to go back and check it out again!

I must apologize for the lack of photos in this post.  For some reason my photos will not upload. I blame my crappy mooched interwebs! (I am still waiting to get our own interwebs. sigh....)

The next post should be fun. Karl and I are going out with a bunch of people tomorrow for some Japanese Karaoke! woohoo! I am pretty excited.

Till next time...

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Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Adventuring my way through a cookbook

Have you ever watched the movie Julie and Julia? I watched it last winter and I must say I was inspired.  Not only to start cooking and be more adventurous with my cooking, but also to start a blog. This one as a matter of fact!

So this blog is about living in Japan, learning to cook amazing Asian cuisine, learning how to use my fancy new camera, and also starting out as a newlywed. :) So while Karl goes to work every day I busy myself with studying Japanese, playing with photography, planning what to have for dinner and grocery shopping, to name a few of my activities. I am also hoping to find at least a volunteer position teaching or tutoring English around somewhere. 

But now back to the cooking adventures! Karl and I received the sweetest cookbook as a gift for our wedding.  It is the perfect cookbook to learn how to really cook authentic Asian food. It is called The Essential Asian Cookbook.  It has a picture glossary of ingredients if you aren't sure what something is, big color pictures and very clear step-by-step directions. The other really neat thing about this cookbook is that is has a special section on each Asian country. So Karl and I can cook our ways through Japan, China, Taiwan, Vietnam, and so on! How fun! たのし!(tanoshi-fun!)

The other cookbook in the picture we got from Karl's mom.  It is also a fabulous cookbook! As the cover says, it is a cooking class cookbook.  This means that each recipe has step-by-step instructions with pictures! SO nice. We really enjoy cooking from both of them. 

Here are some pictures from this past Monday's dinner.  California すし rolls and teriyaki chicken drumsticks.  I made the California rolls up myself. The teriyaki chicken was out of the Essential Asian cookbook.  Both turned out great! The teriyaki did call for sugar; however, I ended up using some of the maple syrup which I has mailed to Karl before coming to Japan.  The reason is that we had thought we had purchased sugar...but (you guessed it!) bought salt instead. Oopsies! The syrup worked just fine though.  照り焼きは おいしい です!The teriyaki was delicious!

In other news: On Monday three of Karl's supervisors came to meet me! They took us out for coffee and also asked Karl and me to join a choir. How exciting! So we have our first rehearsal next Monday at 7:30 pm.  I will report back on what it is like being in a Japanese choir.  I am looking forward to it!

Till next time! さようなら!
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Friday, August 20, 2010

Orchids, Birkenstocks, and a fancy new Phone

Last night was the first night that Karl and I went out on the town.  After applying for my がいじん カ-ド (Gaijin Card of foreigner card) we hopped on a train and headed to かわごえ(川越)or Kawagoe。 This city is about a 45 minute train ride from おがわまち(小川町)(Ogawa Machi, which we found out yesterday means brook town. Brook as in river.)

We were heading to かわごえ to pick up our new cell phones.  The way it works here with cell phones is you go sign the contract with your はんこ (hanko stamp).  Karl was given a はんこ、so he signed that contract and then we had to wait a while for the people there to set up the cell phones with the server.

This is a shot of the shopping area in 川越。
Since we had some time to kill we decided to stroll along the shopping district where we were. 

Earlier that evening I had made an observation.  What I noticed was that Birkenstock shoes are extremely popular in Japan.  Karl and I decided to keep out eyes open for them just to note the price comparison.  Well, we walked by a shoe store and there they were.  The cutest sandals. They were 53% off the regular price of 1100円 (approximately, which is comparable.)  Anyway, so they were on sale for the equivalent of about $60.  I tried some on...they magically fit...Karl bought them for me! :)

Yay! :) 

After the Birkenstock adventure we continued on to a darling little flower shop.  We wandered our way through the sweet smelling blooms to the back of the shop where I found these beauties. I would have bought them all and shipped them home to my darlings Rachel and Yvette if I could have! Take a look...

Aren't they lovely!? And yes, they are all the real deal.

When we were done gazing at the gorgeous flowers we meandered our way to a place to eat.  Karl took me to a すし(sushi) place.  It was very fun!  You didn't order your food at this type of すし bar. Instead, there was a tiny little conveyor belt going around in front of all the customers.  We were seated in a horseshoe shape.  So the conveyor belt went by everyone then back to the kitchen were the cooks put more すしon it.

So the way it works is the plates are color coordinated to a certain price and the examples are displayed on the wall so you know how much each thing costs.  When you see something you like pass by, you simply grab it and chow down! As you eat, you stack up your plates and when you are finished one of the workers comes over and counts the plates and then you pay accordingly.  What a neat system!

After our すし bar adventuring we strolled around some more until we decided we weren't quite full.  We popped into a cute little place that had pictures of amazing looking dumplings outside.  We were right! The dumplings were to die for!  おいしいです!(Oishii desu!) They were delicious. 

We wandered out way back to the cell phone shop, e-Boom! Yes, that is really what it is called. The cell phones were almost done! I was amazed at how fancy the phones are.  Usually, cell phones will cost around $1000.  That is correct. A grand. Before your jaw drops to the floor, let me tell you that Karl worked with a friend and found a deal.  :) We got them for free with our plan (which is not a bad price.)

Pretty fancy, eh? As you might have guessed, the prices are so high because of the fact that this also happens to be a 12.2 mega pixel camera.  Holy smokes. It is also a mini computer, television and oh yes...a phone.  Karl has a dark purple one and mine is teal as you see here. How fun!

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Thursday, August 19, 2010

So long Mid-West! I am heading to the far east.

My family brought me to the airport at yikes o'clock in the morning on Tuesday, August 17th.  The parting was sad, but I was so excited to reunite with my new husband that I couldn't be anything except thrilled to go.

The flights from Minneapolis to Chicago and from Chicago to Tokyo/Narita were not bad.  The first little flight had a fair amount of turbulence but the second one (which was 12 hours) was the smoothest flight of my life! Not a speck of turbulence the whole way.

I was fortunate enough to have window seats for both flights.  This was especially fun during the long flight when we flew over the Apostle Islands and Highway 61 going up the North Shore at 35000 feet.  It is so interesting and fun to see familiar places from such a different perspective.  I had just driven up the North Shore three days before I found myself flying over the same area.  I will miss Lake Superior...

Karl was there to meet me at the airport in Narita.  My flight was an amazing 40 minutes early and he still made it on time! Perhaps it will be possible to break him of his habit of showing up everywhere late. :) One can hope.

After a car ride, two plane rides, a bus ride, a train ride and a taxi ride,  we finally made it to our new apartment in Ogawa-Machi.  I was so exhausted but Karl made me stay up and eat dinner so that my body would acclamate to the new time zone better.

My first impression of living in the land of the rising sun has been good.  On our first full day together in Japan, Karl and I walked all around town and he showed my many important places.  Like the grocery store, いなげや (Inageya).  We popped into the sweetest little pottery shop to take a look around.  Two sushi plates (slender, rectangular plates) caught my eye and we bought them.  The little Japanese lady was adorable.  She picked up a plate full of little cell phone charms and told me (in Japanese) to pick one out for a present. So sweet!

One funny thing happened yesterday while we were out walking.  And I suppose it will happen every day at noon.  I am not sure from where the chimes come, but at noon everyday chimes ring out a tune many people know.  Edelweiss. You know, like from The Sound of Music?  I was delighted! An Austrian folk song somehow made it out here to the little town of 小川町。(Ogawa-Machi)

Karl is in 東秩父村 (Higashichichibu-Mura) right now picked up his first months pay.  I am currently waiting for the rice cooker to ding and tell it is done so I can continue making rice balls. :) Delicious rice balls!

Fun fact before I leave...every time a write something in にほんご(nihongo or Japanese) you can read the characters by putting one syllable  to each one.  I have to do all I can to learn this language!

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