Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Despite the Trials

I mentioned recently that I have been having a rough time the past few weeks regarding the planning of our trip to India.

The thought of canceling the trip altogether was a very real and viable option.  And I confess. I was at the point of not wanting to deal with it anymore. 

But I am glad we pressed through the annoyances.  I was reminded of the reason we are going to India. 

Speaking of those reasons, let me share them with you in a bit more detail:

In the not too distant past, India officially abolished their caste system.  Unfortunately, reality speaks differently.  A group of people formerly known as the untouchables is trapped at the bottom of society.  Discrimination and prejudice dictate the conditions of these people’s lives. 

These former untouchables are now known as the Dalits.  Those born into this bottom rung of society are faced with tremendous challenges throughout their lives.  Because of the discrimination they face it is next to impossible for them to find a decent job, which in turn leads to numerous other issues.  Providing the essentials for living: food, clothing, healthcare and shelter, is a daily struggle. 

The sole purpose of our trip is to help these people. 

Karl and I first heard about the organization Go Longitude when two of our friends told about their personal experiences in India.  Our interest was immediately peaked.  We checked it out and signed up for this year’s winter trip, which one of our friends happens to be leading.

The goal of the volunteers during the trip is to help the Dalit people in a tiny village by building a family a house.  One trip at a time, volunteers are helping the Dalits rebuild their homes. 

The participating volunteers all pay their own travel expense, food and lodgings during the trip.  On top of that, it is the volunteers’ responsibility to fundraise for the materials used to build the homes.

The fundraising goal is a mere $5000.  It is so amazing that just $5000 is enough to build a brand new home for a family! 

This Christmas, Karl and I are putting everything towards this trip.  If you are interested in helping us buy the materials to build a home, please click on this link.  Any help at all will be transformed into materials that will become a home. 

In case you haven't seen it, here is a great video about this volunteer experience:

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Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Thanksgiving with a Tiny Oven

First, watch this video.

Who doesn’t have a battle ax, chainsaw and bazooka in their kitchen!?

Ok, now watch this one.

Maybe you don’t care for the Muppets…I think they are hilaaaarious. 

Fortunately, I did not have to skewer my own turkey or deal with talking pumpkins this Thanksgiving.  Also, having been in Japan for over a year now, I was able to approach Thanksgiving preparations with much more confidence. 

If you want to prepare a turkey for Thanksgiving and you live in Japan, this is what I recommend:

Step 1: They do sell turkeys at Costco, but unless you have a big enough oven this option is out of the question.  We ordered a tiny 5 lb turkey from a website called “The Meat Guy.”  It’s great. Order about a week in advance.  The website even allows you to choose a specified day and time of delivery.  
The turkey-sitting in an 8x8in pan.
Step 2: Make sure your turkey is thawed out completely 12-24 hours before you want to roast it. 

Step 3: Brine it!  I followed this recipe (I also added an apple, as you can see) for brining our little turkey.  Brining makes a huge difference in the juiciness of the turkey.  We let ours brine for about 16 hours before roasting.
The turkey brining away.  We had to put it into a backing bag and then into our crisper-it was the only way it would fit into our fridge!
Step 4: Stuff and roast.
Stuffed with wild rice cranberry dressing. Yum!
A perfect fit for our tiny oven!
Step 5: Eat!

This is what the rest of our holiday meal looked like:

Kabocha squash with butter and brown sugar.
Mashed potatoes-because you have to!
A made-up wild rice, cranberry shittake stuffing.  Delish!
Sorry, my gravy is out of focus.  If you make gravy, for mercy's sake, make this one!
Pumpkin-one of the best desserts (or, let's be awesome, breakfasts too!) ever.
 Our holiday was delightful in every way.  Flowing with apple cider, champagne, and white wine.  Bountiful, delicious food.

So very much for which to be thankful!
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Tuesday, November 29, 2011


I made to this week. 

This is an accomplishment. 

I have lots of delicious things to post, but I just haven't had the time.

We are in the midst of planning a big trip to India. I am excited.

But let me be honest...I am actually just now allowing myself to get excited.  The past couple weeks have been drenched with issues having to do with airline tickets, visas, passports and my own stupidity...issues potentially big enough to cancel the trip.  I'll spare you the details.

We are almost finished dealing with all the big stuff and getting back into the excited frame of mind.

That being said...have you ever traveled to India?  If so, got any advice?  I'm all ears!
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Thursday, November 24, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving

May your day be filled with love!

...and lots of pie and turkey.

Happy Thanksgiving!
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Monday, November 21, 2011


I love flowers.  
As I arrived at my Thursday school last week, I was greeted at the doorway by some of the most magnificent flowers I have ever beheld.  
These Japanese chrysanthemums stand almost shoulder height.  The diameter of the flowers is at least eight inches. 
I was delighted to find the chrysanthemums again this week had hardly atrophied at all.  Yet another reminder that I am living in a far different climate from my native lands next to Lake Superior.  Here we are in mid November and flowers are blooming all over the place. 
I miss the snow of my past winters…but when it comes time to leave these year-round flowers, I will miss them too.
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Sunday, November 20, 2011

Chili and Corn Bread-or-A Match Made in Heaven

This wasn't planned.  But sometimes, the best meals aren't planned.  They are thrown together in an hour.  And they are de-licious.

My amazing husband made this chili while I was away at my koto lesson. 

Guys-it was amazing.  I don't know how he made it.  He explanation was, "I'm a guy-all guys just know how to make chili!"

Ok. Not arguing with that.  

I made a super quick corn bread when I got home.  Because cornbread and chili together...they are like peas and carrots

I used this recipe and added a small can of green chilis and some grated sharp white cheddar cheese. 

It was marvelous.  A great end to a weekend. (We were at an awesome wine festival yesterday-post coming soon!)
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Thursday, November 17, 2011

Apples and Cinnamon

Don’t you hate those days where you just can’t seem to shake off a bad feeling? 

Something keeps nagging at you…but you can’t figure out what.

You keep playing over the parts of the bad dream from last night.

You create absurd scenarios in your head and wonder what would happen if they ever came to be.

I am not a depressed person, but everyone has a bad day every now and then.  One of the best things you can do to perk yourself up is to have some comfort food.

What is your favorite comfort food?  I am definitely a macaroni and cheese girl.  One of my other favorite things is hot apple cider with cinnamon sticks.  In fact, apple cinnamon is just one of my favorite flavors. 

Which is why I made a bagel version.  Sweet apples+spicy cinnamon=delicious bagels. 

What makes them even better is the cinnamon walnut cream cheese I made to enhance their delightfulness.  It totally worked.  (Making new cream cheese flavors is so fun!) 

Nothing hits the spot on a bad day like a delicious toasted bagel with cream cheese.  Especially with some hot apple cider on the side.  

Apple Cinnamon Bagels

Note: The apple and applesauce provide enough liquid for the recipe.

5/8  cup applesauce
medium apple, cut up into tiny pieces
1 T vegetable oil
2 T honey  
1 t salt
5/8 cup whole wheat flour
2 3/4 cup bread flour
2 1/2 t active dry yeast
1 t cinnamon

1. Mix all ingredients together.  Knead and let rise an hour.

2. Shape dough into six bagels. ( Roll dough into balls and poke a hole in the middle.)  Let rise 30 min. During this time prepare your pot of boiling water.

3. Boil the bagels.  About 1 min per side.  Preheat oven to 400 F.

4. Bake 25-30 min.

5. Smother with cream cheese and enjoy!

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Wednesday, November 16, 2011

飛躍 (Hiyaku-to leap forward)

This is the first section of one of the koto pieces I have recently studied.  My part was the second part, I could not find a recording of both parts played together, which is unfortunate because it is stunningly beautiful.

Here is the first page of music.  Each measure is a "box."  There are thirteen strings, each assigned a kanji character.  The first ten are simple numbered one through ten.  The last three strings are "toh, ee and kin."  I am not sure why...  The strings kanji are as follows from lowest to highest-ichi to kin.

一、二、三、四、五、六、七、八、九, 十、斗、為、巾。

My part, the second (which is what I am playing the video),  is the part on the left.  The music is read top to bottom, right to left.  I have added further explanations of some of the notations in blue. 

Since this piece is several pages long, I just recorded the first and last sections.  Here is the ending:

There are also many, many ways to tune the koto.  This piece has a more "major" sound to it whereas Sakura sounds "minor." 

More to come!
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Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Toyko National Museum

Did you ever read that one book when you were a kid?  The one about a country mouse in a city house?  I think it was a “I spy book.” 

I loved those types of books as a child.  I also wanted to live in the country.  And ride horses everyday.  But alas, we lived in town. 

We technically live in the “inaka” or countryside here in Japan-though the Japanese perception of “the middle of nowhere” is decidedly different from the US.  This probably has to do with their comparative sizes.  

I am glad that we live in the inaka.  The air and water are fresh and clean.  There are many people, but nothing like the city.

I am also thrilled that we live a mere hours train ride from one of the most fantastic cities in the world: Tokyo.

Living close enough to Tokyo for day trips is great.  Museums, historical sites and other attractions are abundant.  Last weekend we went to Tokyo National Museum in Ueno, Tokyo.

This museum is supposed to be one of the best museums in the world.  It did not disappoint. 

The museum is set up as a campus of five or six buildings.  We paid extra to see the special exhibit on Honen and Shinran-two important figures in the history of Buddhism in Japan.  

It took us three hours to see the special exhibit and one floor of one buildings' permanent exhibits. 

Here are a few of my favorite items we saw of the permanent exhibit.

Seeing everything will take a few more visits.  Good thing we live so close to Tokyo! 

Also, Bailey's lattes are delicious!

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Monday, November 14, 2011

Pumpkin Spice Muffins

I had searched and searched and really could not find a staple item for my kitchen…

...muffin pans. 

I get that baking doesn’t really seem to be a thing here…(Seriously, options are limited with such tiny ovens.)  But no muffin pans? 

What about cupcakes? 

Such joys are possible when you have yourself a nice set of muffin pans.

Thank goodness for awesome sisters who send you things!  My sweet older sister sent me two cute little silicon muffin pans a couple months ago.  One green and one blue.

I have never used anything silicon in the kitchen before besides rubber spatulas.  I did a bit of research online before baking with them.  I discovered some really cool things:

  1. You don’t need to grease silicon bake ware.
  2. The pans cool down significantly faster then regular metal pans.
  3. They can be folded up and put away-space savers!

The one drawback is that they can take a little while to clean, by hand anyway. 

Since it is autumn, I decided to christen the new muffin tins with pumpkin spice muffins.
With cinnamon sugar sprinkled on top.

They were divine.
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Friday, November 11, 2011

Season of Soup Part 3: French Onion

I’ll be honest.  I really wanted to make this soup because I finally had the perfect dishes in which to serve it.

Is that weird?

Don’t get me wrong: I also made it because it is stupendously delicious.  But I am of the opinion that presentation can help make food taste even better.  

The last time I made French Onion soup was because I had been given around thirty pounds of onions by a fellow teacher.  That was my first time making it, and it was good. 

But this time, it was better.

I followed a different recipe this time.  The only real difference was the addition of thyme.  I also melted provolone on top...because it's what I had.  It was delicious!

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Thursday, November 10, 2011

Season of Soup Part 2: Tortellini Spinach Pesto

I know I have complained before of some ingredients being difficult to find in Japan.  (Cheese is one, if you recall.) 

Making Chinese soups is a snap.  Finding ingredients for Asian recipes is usually not too hard.  Things like fresh shiitake mushrooms and bamboo shoots, which would otherwise be dried or canned. 


After the Schezuan soup, I was in the mood for something different.  So I looked to Italy.

I have found and used some great soup recipes on the Eating Well website.  This particular recipe I based off of Eating Well’s Chicken and Spinach Pesto recipe-it's delicious. 

When I made this soup, I basically made the Chicken and Spinach Pesto soup, but added tortellini.  If I could get my hands on Italian sausage, I would have substituted it for the chicken, but alas.  I have yet to discover Italian sausage in the Land of the Rising Sun.  Sigh.

But the chicken is still delightful.  It's an excellent soup.

I recommend wine and Italian bread on the side with tiramisu for dessert. (In my book, these three things go with any meal.)


Find the soup recipe here.
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Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Season of Soup Part 1: Szechuan

Chinese food.  Yum.

Growing up, at least a few times a month, we had a big Chinese dinner. 

I usually loved everything…except the shiitake mushrooms. But I’m over that phase now. 

My parents always cooked out of the same cookbook for Chinese night.  Now I have a copy of that same book and have been exploring some of the recipes we never made when I was little. 

One of my all time favorite soups is this one...chicken and corn soup.  

Most recently…Schezuan Soup.  It’s a good thing I am over disliking shiitake mushrooms, because this soup wouldn’t be half as good without them and the flavor they bring. 

 I basically followed the recipe exactly, substituting fresh bamboo shoots for water chestnut.  

It was delicious.

Szechuan Soup

1 oz. dried shiitake mushrooms
boiling water
6 oz. uncooked julienned pork
4 oz. cooked julienned ham
1 small red pepper, cut into strips
8 scallions, chopped
1/2 cup sliced water chestnuts
8 oz. firm tofu, chopped
2 quarts chicken stock
1/2 cup dry white wine
4 t. soy sauce
1/2 t. Chinese chili sauce
2 1/2 T. cornstarch
5 T. water
2 t. vinegar
1 t. sesame oil
1 egg
8 oz. uncooked shrimp, shelled and deveined

1) Place mushrooms in bowl, cover with boiling water. Let stand 30 min. Drain. Remove and discard stems. Cut caps into thin slices.

2) Combine chicken stock, wine, soy sauce and chili sauce in 5-quart pot.  Cook over medium heat until boils.  Reduce heat and simmer uncovered 5 min.

3) Blend cornstarch and 4 T. of the water.  Slowly stir into soup. Cook until boiling.  Add mushrooms, pork, ham, red pepper and water chestnuts. Simmer uncovered 5 min. 

4) Stir vinegar and oil into soup. Beat egg and remaining 1 T. water together with fork.  Gradually drizzle egg into soup while stirring vigorously.  Add onions, tofu and shrimp.  Cook until shrimp is done, about 1-2 min.

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Sunday, November 6, 2011

they just keep getting better

There’s a thing about making bagels…you can make them taste like any season you want.

It’s awesome.  And really fun to come up with delicious flavor combinations.

It's Autumn in Japan.  We just had Halloween.  Leaves are changing into a brilliant matrix of color. The air is crisp and fresh. 

So how do you make bagels taste like autumn? 



Result: the best bagels I have (yet) made.

Ready to be boiled.
Autumn Pumpkin Spice Bagels

5/8 cup warm water
1/2 cup pumpkin puree
2 T honey
1 t  salt
2 t  pumpkin pie spice
1 1/2 t cinnamon
3 1/3 cups bread flour
2 t  active dry yeast

1) Mix flour, water, salt, honey and yeast.  Knead, let rise for an hour.

2)  Separate dough into six sections and shapes into bagels. (I knead the dough into a small ball then poke a hole through the middle with your finger to form the hole.)

3)  Allow formed bagels to rise for 20 min.  Prep your pot of boiling water.

4)  Drop the bagels gently into the pot of boiling water for about 1 min per side.

5)  Place on a baking sheet dusted with cornmeal.  

6)  Bake at 400 F for 20-25 min.

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