Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Whole Wheat Waffles With Beer!

Whole Wheat Waffles with Beer Added

Yep, I tried Mora's advice of adding some beer to the waffle batter. Unfortunately I didn't have enough beer to substitute half of the liquid with it -- because I bought only one can yesterday and drank most of it with the meal last night :P -- but the small amount I used today did make a difference. I didn't smell much of the beer while baking, but it made the texture fluffier (airier?) and flavor richier to make my waffles special this morning. Mmmmm..... Thanks, Mora!

My next step seems to be improving my waffle-baking skill so that both sides turn out equally brown. This waffle maker is the kind that you place on gas stove and turn over when one side is done. I LOVE it because it bakes waffles much faster than electric ones, but I guess I should bake one side a little longer than the other, and need some practice to find the perfect timing.


... And Look, Moffles!!

Moffles made with mochi (rice cakes)
from an outdoor event in my hometown

Gosh I really want to thank the person who invented this stuff! Moffle is a word made by combining mochi (rice cakes) and waffle, and what it is is rice cakes baked in a waffle maker. I had herad a lot about it, and been curious about it. Now today, after making the waffles in the above post, I decided to go for this moffle thing, too, to satisfy my curiosity.

Luckily, I didn't have to go out and buy some mochi; I had two of them from the outdoor tea ceremony event in my hometown last Sunday. In Japanese rural areas, people still keep the traditional custom of throwing rice cakes to celebrate happy occasions, and they did that at the event. (Atually in my hometown, it's becoming popular to throw things like packed sweets and instant ramen noodles in addition to mochi. Is it the same in other areas in Japan?) Anyway, I had these two rice cakes on hand:

The Chinese characters mean "Celebration."

I was a bit worried that these may be too thick, and thought about microwaving them beforehand. But I thought, "Oh, what the heck," and put them on the bottom of the waffle maker and closed it. Of course, it didn't close. But as the rice cakes softened, the top iron of the waffle maker gradually came down and finally completely closed. I didn't know exactly how long I was supposed to bake and was worried about burning them, so I lifted up the top several times to check on them.

First, the rice cakes were flat disks and the center looked still raw. But after I turned over the waffle maker and baked some more, they started making noise. (It was the sound of heated air inside the mochi coming out.) Then they started spreading out, filling out the iron and then -- believe it or not -- started pushing up the top! And finally, I got these two square-shaped, airy moffles!! :D I found some leftover anko (sweetened azuki bean paste) in the freezer, microwaved it to make it a little runny and topped my first moffles with it.

Boy, the moffles were crispy on the outside, airy but chewy and sticky rice-cake texture still remaining on the inside. And unlike baked rice cakes, moffles didn't turn hard after they were cooled. Well, they did turn a little hard, but not as much as regular rice cakes, so grandpas and grandmas with bad teeth wouldn't have a problem. They didn't stick to the iron at all, and looked like it was very hard to burn them. I thought I baked them quite a while, but they didn't even turn brown.

Next time I'm going to buy some thin rice cakes for mochi-shabu and make moffle sandwich with mentaiko(pollock roe) and shiso (green perilla) inside. Or cheese, pizza sauce and sausage version? Yum!!

*** WARNING!! (added Feb. 11, 2009) ***
The rice cakes we usually use here in Japan to make moffles are the ones made by pounding steamed glutinous rice. There is a softer type of rice cake made from mochiko (rice flour) -- you know, the mochi used as daifuku skin. I have never ever seen, heard or read about anyone in Japan making moffles using that softer mochi, and I DO NOT recommend anyone to do so because it may stick to the waffle maker real badly and make a mess. Well, it may not -- but we don't know until someone actually gives it a try.


Saturday, January 24, 2009

Testing, Testing!!

Photo from summer, 2007

Hey, I'm at my parents' house now, testing the Internet connection with the data card! Good news! The connection is slower than ADSL but faster than ISDN, and seems pretty stable in this countryside where there's no railroad, no construction works and no tall buildings. :D

So far I've tried browsing some websites with many photos, downloading Java (for checking the transmission speed), watching Obama's inauguration speech on ABC news online, ordering some books on Amazon, and watching Youtube. All went OK except Youtube, and the speed was not as slow as I had expected. The Youtube movie I tried to see completely froze, though the connection itself didn't die. ABC news was much better, though it did pause from time to time... But it came back after 20 to 30 seconds and reached the end, so I should be happy.

Now the last thing to try today is uploading a photo to my blog. If you see this post with a photo on, you know that I'm going to go for the data card. ;)

Oh, BTW, I took this photo when I made cucumber pickles in 2007. The reason why I didn't post about them was... uh... after canning, I closed the screw-top lid too tight and couldn't open the jar when I wanted to eat the pickles... So the jar is still in my fridge, unopened. :P OK. Let's see if the photo would be posted alright.


Thursday, January 22, 2009

Hakusai (Chinese Cabbage) Soup

Hakusai (Chinese Cabbage) Soup Inspired by a cooking magazine, "Lettuce Club"

I seldom buy cooking magazines, because they are rather expensive but usually all I want is just one (or two at the most) recipe(s) per magazine. But when I visited my parents' house the other day, I got to the train station too early in the morning and I needed something to kill time. So I chose this latest issue (Jan. 25, 2009) of "Lettuce Club," hoping to find some good ideas to use up hakusai (Chinese cabbage) which I often end up wasting some.

What caught my eyes in this soup recipe was the interesting combination of soup seasonings: instant Chinese chicken soup stock, miso (fermented soybean paste), soy milk, grated garlic, sesame seeds and red pepper. But when I actually tasted the soup, I found it a little too much for me... I'd like it much lighter. Maybe less garlic or less soy milk next time? The idea of putting meat between the layers of the cabbage was really nice, I would say. (Too bad, the above photo doesn't show much of the meat. I used ground pork.) I ate up a quater of hakusai at once and wanted more, even though the soup was not my favorite.

Tomorrow night I'm going to visit my hometown again to try the data card there and to help mom with another tea ceremony event. Wish me luck.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Yeah, Adventures!

Obachan's First Homemade Waffles!

(with homemade strawberry jam)

Too bad it's raining today and I couldn't get lovely morning sunshine for this waffle photo. But it was real fun to make waffles! Yeah, I just bought what they call "Belgian waffle maker" here the other day and used it for the first time this morning. See? I have started preparing for my move already. I'm doing as much online shopping as possible while I'm here in Kochi city.

I know. You want to say, "Wait a minute. You can do online shopping in your hometown, too, can't you?" One thing is that the delivery guy there is, IIRC, my younger sister's ex classmate in elementary school or something, and I don't want him to think that I'm addicted to online shopping. :P But more serious reason is that I may not have a very comfortable Internet access in my hometown.

When I made the decision to move to my hometown, I naively assumed that I would be able to have the same broad-band service there. I checked the area-coverage of the service on their website, and found that my hometown was the area for an even faster Internet connection. Yay! But just to be safe, I checked it with the local phone company that actually takes care of the phone lines. Then they told me that I couldn't have that service because of some problem with the line. A substitute line could solve the problem, they said, but there's no vacancy. AHHHHHH!!! Other broad-band services do not cover my hometown, and seems like the obsolete (I would say) connection called ISDN is the only choice! AHHHHHH!!! Give me a break. What can I do with only 64Kbps?!

So, frantically I did some net search, only to find that this is a common problem in most countryside in Japan. If it's a REAL small village in the middle of mountains, the situation is better because they have cable TV network which also provides Internet service. But there are countless young or middle-aged Japanese who have moved (or are going to move) to rural areas with no cable service, and totally stressed out with ISDN and crying out for a broad-band service. It's so stupid. The government encourages young people to move into the country so that the areas won't be depopulated and elderly folks there won't be abandoned, but is so reluctant to provide them with decent Internet environment! It's crucial! Actually some people are gathering petition signatures to make the situation better.

Anyway, knowing that other people also have cold doesn't cure your cold, and I have to find a possible alternative -- something faster than ISDN. After some more frantic net search, I learned that now I can insert some data card(?) from a cell phone company into my PC and use the Internet with a flat-rate plan. I know the real speed I would get in my hometown would be FAR less than the "best-effort" speed they advertise. But anything faster than ISDN would do!

So this morning, after enjoying the waffles, I went to a cell phone shop and asked about the above mentioned service. There is no way to find out beforehand how it would work in my hometown, but they said they would lend me the card and let me keep it for a week to bring it there and actually try it out. How nice. :D OK. I'm going to do it this coming Sunday.

Coming back to the waffles. Oh, I really, really loved making waffles. The moment I opened the waffle maker and saw the golden brown waffles! And when they were easily removed from the iron without sticking to it at all! I almost jumped with joy. Life does give me challenges, but it doesn't forget to give me fun, too. :) Maybe buckwheat or whole wheat waffles next time.


Monday, January 12, 2009

Taking a New Step Forward

As many of you probably know, I didn't have a chance to visit my parents on New Year's day this year, because I had to work. To make up for that, and also to help mom with the first tea ceremony meeting of the year (and possibly help dad a little with picking oranges) I stayed at my parents' house for two days.

For the tea ceremony event, looks like mom tried to do more than she could handle, as usual, and obviously got things done without getting any sleep the night before. I helped her with serving these kaiseki dishes to mom's students who showed up that day and dishwashing while they practiced tea ceremony after the kaiseki meal.

Helping my parents with chores was not the only reason why I visited them. This time I wanted to talk more seriously about when would be the good time for me to move in with them.

Now let me give you a little explanation on the situation around here. Perhaps you might have heard that Japan is "the most rapidly aging country" in the world? In this country where apx. one out of four people will be over 65 y.o. by 2015, putting parents in old people's homes is not a very practical choice any more. There is no way that enough number of facilities can be built and maintained to meet all the needs. Besides, it costs too much to use such a service, and even if you had money, there's a waiting list at every facility, and waiting time could get longer and longer because people live longer now and more so in the future.

So, if you hear about/see young, healthy and totally physically capable Japanese adults living with their parents in this 21st century, please do not be judgemental. It's not that they're still bound by the old tradition of "children MUST take care of their parents" or too immature to be independent from their parents. A lot of times, it's the only practical choice -- especially when the economy is down like this. And the government is trying hard to come up with a decent system to support the home care for the elderly.

A while ago, I had agreed to go back to my hometown to live with parents. The only question left was when. I used to think that it could wait until one of them gets really sick and needs nursing care, but recently I had a second thought.

I asked myself, "What are the things that I would have to give up completely if I moved to my hometown?" And the answer was -- "Nothing." Really. I can continue almost everything I'm doing here now even after I move in with my parents, with some adjustments and modifications, of course. My hometown is in the middle of nowhere, but I can get any information or buy anything via the Internet. The job opportunity used to be better in a bigger city, but look at the jobs I have here now: dishwashing and part-time office work at a language school. Such jobs are available in my hometown, too. Then, if there's no reason why I've got to live in Kochi city definitely, my living here alone and paying my rent and utilities is just a waste, isn't it?

If I live with my parents, such expenses will be saved. And actually there would be some advantages for me in my hometown as well as drawbacks. When I want leaves and berries to garnish my dishes, I won't have to steal them at night; in my hometown, they're available everywhere. When I want to go fishing, the ocean is right there -- only 2 minutes by walk! The sight of blue sky and blue ocean, the sound of waves ... those things I loved so much in childhood and have craved for so long ... they'll be there with me every single day. If there's no reason why I have to live away from them, why not go back to them. Yeah, why not?

So, dear readers. I've decided to quit my current jobs in a few months and move back to my hometown sometime in 2009 (before summer, maybe?). I'm going to close this "Obachan's Kitchen and Balcony Garden" then, and start a new blog to let you know how I live my life in the real countryside. Oh, I'm so excited! :D


Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Lazy Morning With Brunch In Bed

Now you know that I have a new oven in my kitchen!!

Well, more precisely, it's an oven-cum microwave. The new one arrived the day before yesterday, and this morning I did my first baking with the newcomer. Yay! I feel -- I'm finally back!!

Of course this equipment is nothing fancy. Actually it was the smallest and cheapest one I could find on the net. JPY9,760 (USD105 ), shipping fee included, for a brand new oven-cum microwave with all the basic functions -- I would say this is a pretty good buy.

The new one is slightly wider but shorter than the one I had before and uses slightly less power. Yeah, the efficiency must have been improved in past years. It was more than 10 years ago when I bought the previous one. I still remember... It was a few weeks after the Great Hanshin Earthquake (1995). The one I had then fell off the shelf and broke, and since the gas service didn't come back for months, I had to buy a microwave to heat food and water to survive the winter. And I bought the cheapest one that cost JPY19,800 (apx.USD213) at Daiei near Sannomiya stn. That's the one that just died the other day. Yeah, it worked long enough, didn't it?

There are a few things I'm not too happy about with the new one, to tell you the truth. It comes in two colors: black and white, and looks like black version is more popular because it is more expensive. So I chose the white one but it sure looks "cheap." The ceiling inside is not high, which means, I would have to use the smallest chiffon tin to bake a chiffon cake. And it beeps three times when heating job is done, which is a bit too much. But looking at, and tasting the cinnamon rolls this rookie just baked for me this morning, I wouldn't complain. Good job, sweetie. ;)

Confession time:
Do you want to know what happened after I enjoyed my "heavenly" New Year's feast? Maybe I was too tired from work (including New Year's eve and New Year's day), stea picking leaves and berries on the roadside (at night when no one was watching) and all the cooking... What happened was that, on the night of Jan. 2nd, I suffered from headache and nausea.

I managed to sleep a couple of hours, fortunately, but on the next day, I was almost dead at work. And it WAS another busy day. I jumped into a hot bath as soon as I got home and went to bed right away. The same routine the next day, too: Went to work, came home, got warmed up in a hot bath, then slept as long as possible. I lived on isotonic drinks, yogurt and vitamin-added jelly those two days, because those were the only things that my stomach would accept. Fortunately the stomach medicine and long hours of sleep helped, and yesterday I was already feeling good enough to have rice porridge and udon noodles after work.

Today I don't have to work in the morning, and I woke up feeling hungry. Good sign. :)

For some reason, I had this cinnamon roll craving. Now, going out to buy bread for breakfast was out of question, but I could manage baking some rolls in my kitchen, resting in bed while letting the dough leaven. It turned out to be a good idea, after all. I was able to pamper myself with "brunch in bed" this morning -- with cinnamon rolls, instant soup, hot tea, tomato juice and yogurt.
Yes, I'm happy again.

How I wish I didn't have to be at work tonight...

P.S. The cinnamon roll recipe I used today is this one (in Japanese). It calls for some rice flour and starch syrup(?) or honey to keep the bread soft and moist even on the next day. Mmmm... does it really work? I'll find out tomorrow.

Categories: Add Image

Friday, January 02, 2009

My New Year Celebration

To Welcome the God of New Year...

So, I worked hard from 7:30 am today, cooking and getting things ready for my one-day-late New Year celrebration with traditional Japanese feast called osechi and zoni. I was hoping to finish everything around lunchtime, but it was past 2 pm when the food and decorations were ready. Then I spent some time shooting photos of my creations, as usual. Now I'm finally "digging in," sipping my favorite sake from time to time.

Ah, H-E-A-V-E-N-L-Y...

I hear the cold wind roaring outside. But here, I'm at my kotatsu heater, feeling warm, relaxed, happy and lazy...
Nishime (Simmered Vegetables) and sgtore-bought turnip pickles in the First Tier

Two tiers of osechi food was all I could manage this year. But it was more than enough.

Our family tradition: Zoni soup with fish, kelp strips and rice cakes.

Oh no, I didn't fake the above photo with an empty soup bowl with a lid. I really made the soup. See? Honestly, I could start a new year without osechi but never without this soup.

Store-bought mochi (rice cakes)

I guess, in the enlarged version of this photo, you can see the cracks in the surface.
(Hey, you already know that almost all photos on this blog can be enlarged by clicking on them, right?) It's only half a day since I took them out of the package. My room must be a real dry place.

Second Tier with Ryugan-age (back left), Kamaboko (back right)
Tataki-gobo (front left) and Kuromame (front right)

Those on the right were store-bought but I made the two kinds of food on the left myself. Are you wondering how the ryugan-age was made? You boil quail eggs and wrap them with nori (dried seaweed) and seasoned chicken fillet, then deep-fry them. Tataki-gobo is slightly pounded burdock with sweet 'n sour seasoning and good flavor of sesame seeds.

Plate of Appetizers

The paddle-like things in the back are made from ground chicken and called matsukaze-yaki. My favorite food. BTW, I never expected to find an English recipe for this, but I found one here. It's pretty close to Japanese typical matsukaze-yaki recipes, except that we sprinkle white poppy seeds on top.

About the decorations: The leaves and berries were from roadside (Shhhh! Don't tell anyone) .
Everything else was from DAISO 100 yen shop except the ornament with pink 'n white balls.


Here's To A New Year!!

Jan. 1st, 2009, 5:40 am @ the nearest shrine

As I had mentioned, I had to work on January 1st, 2009. But I didn't want to start the day just like any other day -- I needed something special to celebrate the start of the new year! So I woke up 10 minutes earlier than usual, and, on my way to work, went to the nearest shrine to wish a good luck for the new year. This is the paper fortune I got then, and it said "Best Luck." Yay! Great start, isn't it? I tied it to a branch there so that the wishes will come true.

It was a terribly busy day at work on the 1st, but today (Jan. 2nd) I have the whole day off. I'm going to do a lot of things to celebrate New Year's day and take photos and share them with you later. ;)