Friday, December 26, 2008

Merry Christmas!!

Obachan's Christmas Wreath 2008 (With Cookies)

I wish you had a wonderful Christmas time. :)

It's Dec. 27th today and I'm adding some photos to this belated Christmas post @ an Internet Cafe, AGAIN. (No, not the one I posted about the other day.) Looks like Heaven thought that I haven't suffered enough in 2008 -- My ADSL connection got upset a couple of days ago, and went dead right after I posted this entry with only two photos yesterday. So I had to come here to email the technical support of my ISP anyway, and I decided to upload these photos as well, because I really think these are better than the two dinner photos I posted yesterday.

Obachan's Christmas Tree 2008

I felt like a small tree this year and it was a right choice, I guess. The tree was again one of those Daiso 100yen stuff. The cookies were home-baked and not a great success. Well, you can't expect much when baking cookies in a cheap toaster oven without temperature control, you know.

I was worried that it might take hours to make this wreath without a glue gun, but it didn't take too long. :)

And here comes my light fruitcake.

It was not as soft as I wanted, to tell you the truth, and that was my fault. This year, I wanted to tie the cake with ribbon with no wrapping -- as in the photos above -- and I didn't want the cake to be too wet because it would mess up the ribbon. So, though the recipe told me to make syrup and brush the cake with it until it is used up, I didn't follow the instruction; I only brushed my cake with rum a couple of times. What I got as a result was a rather chewy cake which wasn't sweet enough. I think I'm going to mature it some more, this time following the recipe's instruction.

Carrot Cake (Baked in my Electric Rice Cooker) with Cream Cheese Frosting

Yes. It worked. I mean, theoretically it should be possible to bake cakes in an electric rice cooker. It cooks rice by heating its inner pot. Then the batter in the heated inner pot should be "done," too, eventually. Some Japanese websites even dare to say that for baking certain types of cakes, electric rice cooker may be more suitable than oven because inner pressure and temperature are controlled more precisely. I doubt it, though. Anyway, for me, using a rice cooker for baking a cake was not as care-free as using an oven, and the texture of the cake was more like steamed cake than oven-baked ones. But I should say that the result was quite satisfactory.

This is how the carrot cake looked when it came out of the rice cooker.

And with cream frosting and decoration ...

See inside?

Oh, I got the carrot cake recipe here, if you're interested.

* Let me add a little warning if you're interested in baking cakes with electric rice cooker. I did have a satisfactory result, but I don't necessarily recommend this unorthodox use of the rice cooker, unless it "officially" has a baking function.

To make this cake, I poured batter into the inner pot and pressed the start button. When the rice cooker beeped for the first time, the cake was not done yet, as expected. I switched on the rice cooker again right away to let it cook some more. (Be careful. Some "smart" rice cookers take it as abnormal heating and give you an error message.) The cake was still not done yet at the second beep. I pressed the start button again to let it cook for 10 to 15 more minutes and manually stopped the cooker.

So it's a bother, isn't it? Besides, many websites warn that baking cakes somewhat damages the teflon coating of the inner pot. I assume that recent electric rice cookers with a baking function must have special program to keep certain temperature for longer (than regular rice-cooking) until batter will be done, and also have heavy-duty teflon coating on the inner pot.


And my cookies. Only two kinds this year: gingerbread cookies and shortbread cookies.

And my creations looked like this altogether...
(Maybe I could make a postcard out of this?)

And the dinner photos...

Obachan's Christmas Dinner 2008

Yes, I managed to make this Christmas dinner, after all. Despite some challenges, I didn't give up and enjoyed a Christmas dinner. After the dinner, I kept nibbling on desserts for hours, enjoying the sparkling wine, wishing the moment to last forever...

Dear readers,

Thank you so much for your support, especially for the past couple of weeks when it looked like things were going worse and worse.
I'm so lucky to have you as my friends.

*** Merry Christmas ***

- obachan -

Monday, December 22, 2008

And As If It Was Not Enough...

Guess what. Heaven told me, "No baking for this Christmas."
My oven-cum microwave just broke. The baking fairy inside of me got pissed and just left. How can this happen to a foodblogger? A couple of days before Christmas!!
What did I do to deserve all these?

If there hadn't been that door lock incident, I might have rushed to a discount store to get a new (least expensive) oven-cum microwave. But... now I can't afford it. You know why.

Well, good thing is that Christmas fruitcake was already baked about 10 days ago. And I managed to bake one batch of gingerbread cookies this morning before the oven broke. So I will do my best with what I've got for my Christmas post this year. Now I'm going to look for some pan-fried or deep-fried chicken recipe...

Dec. 23rd

Hey, thanks for your support and advice. :D
After recovering from the shock, I realized that I do have a cheap toaster oven which may be used for baking cookies. (Of course, I would have to manually turn the baking dish around several times and use alminum foil properly to prevent burning.)
Also, if I decide to bake another cake in addition to the light fruitcake that is maturing (hopefully) now, yes, my electric rice cooker can bake certain types of cakes.

So things are not as bad as I had thought. My baking fairy is still in a bitchy mood, but she's back now, at least. :D

Today I have the whole day off. I'm going to forget about my work or the fact that I have to work on Dec. 31 and Jan. 1, and just have fun baking and making a wreath.


Friday, December 19, 2008

Yeah, I Know. It Was My Fault. But...

"Western" breakfast at an Internet Cafe

This photo was taken at 7:02 am this morning. Why did I go to the Internet cafe that early? Well, tell you the truth, I didn't "go" there early this morning. I'm still at the net cafe and I've been here since 11 pm last night. Right. I didn't sleep at home but slept here. See the pink blanket they let me use? The reclining chair was very comfortable -- could have been more comfortable than my bed, actually.

No, no. It's not that I got kicked out of my apartment and became one of the "net cafe refugees" in Japan. But I might be one soon. What happened? I lost my room key and couldn't get into my apartment room last night.

It was just unbelievable. Yes, I'm not the most careful person on the face of the earth, and do something stupid like this once in a while. But WHY did it have to be yesterday?! Yesterday morning, I had to work terribly hard. I completed almost legendary workload all by myself and got already exhausted at around 11:00 am. But I had to wash dishes again at lunchtime, too, which was also a hard work because it was a very busy day even though it was a weekday. I was almost unconscious while at work at night, being completely exhausted from the manual labor. All I could think about then was hot, relaxing bath and nice, hearty soup dish with a little drink because I didn't have to work next morning. Nabeyaki udon was my choice -- with special toppings such as prawn tempura, kamaboko, egg, maitake mushrooms, even small oysters!-- and mizuna from my balcony garden.

I looked at the clock at every five minutes and finally it was time to go home. I bought all the necessary ingredients at a supermarket on my way and went back to my apartment. That was when the tragedy started.

I checked the small pocket of my bag -- that's where I always keep my room key-- but found nothing in there. Wait a minute. I looked everywhere in the bag, but still couldn't find it. OK. Calm down. It's gotta be here somewhere, because I didn't take it out today. I took a deep breath, sat down on the steps in front of the apartment door, and emptied my bag. Still no key. Checked all the pockets of my clothes... but still nothing. OMG!

So instead of relaxing in the hot bath or enjoying hot udon noodles, I rode my bike in the cold wind to visit all the places I went yesterday: a convenience store, my locker at the workplace, the net cafe where I had a snack before night time work, the language school I work at night... Of course I couldn't find the key.

Finally I gave up all the wonderful plans for that night and decided to stay overnight at an Internet cafe. They have a special night hour rate, and at this particular net cafe, all the food is 50% off this month. And they serve breakfast for free. Not bad, huh?

So now, I'm posting this to kill time until the landlord's office opens at 9 am. I'm going to ask them to let me use the master key to get into my room. And after that, I might have to change the door lock to be safe, which would cost me a fortune! OH WHY DOES THIS HAVE TO HAPPEN? Yeah, I know. It's my carelessness that should be blamed. But...AHHHHH!!!

Yeah, OK. Let's see the bright side of things. The bright side of this was -- uh -- the blanket was very cute.

11:10 am

Thanks so much to those who already left caring comments after reading above. And here's more to jerk your tears (... of laughter, I guess).

At 9 am, I called the landlord's office from the Internet cafe. But I was told that they only take care of the paperwork on behalf of the owner of the apartment who lives in a different prefecture, and they don't keep master keys; the owner does. And what I should do was calling a locksmith and having the door lock replaced to be safe, then bringing one new spare key to their office so that they could send it to the owner. Sigh. B-I-G expense! But no other choice. Feeling down, I used the restroom at the cafe, then the toilet flooded on me...

Now, I called a locksmith, went to the bank to get money, got back to my apartment and had the lock replaced and paid for it. Then I brought the new spare key to the office as I was told, and there was no one in the office. Yeah, right. Things will go like this all day today. The horoscope must be warning me NOT to do anything or go anywhere today. If I ride my bicycle, I might hit an old lady crossing the road, and if I go shopping, the particular thing I want would be sold out at everywhere.

OK. Fine. Then I'll go for a domestic pleasure. I'm going to take a hot bath now and after that, make nice nabeyaki udon which I missed last night. How could these go wrong? I don't know. They might, somehow. But I really REALLY need some comfort now!

1:30 pm, same day.

Look! Nabeyaki udon... Finally.

Dear readers,

I took a nice hot bath. Now it's a warm, sunny afternoon. I'm eating this nabeyaki udon as I watch my laundry drying on the balcony. So comfortable and relaxing...

Everything that happened last night and this morning seems like a bad dream. Maybe after I had a good sleep tonight, I would be able to laugh about the whole thing from the bottom of my heart. Now... let's go for hot tea and dessert... :)

Thursday, December 11, 2008

How I Wish...!!

Light Christmas Cake 2008

Oh, why can't photos capture the aroma and let viewers enjoy it? See this cake? It has just come out of the oven, and I really, really wish you could smell it. IT'S HEAVENLY! I don't know about the taste yet, but this cake does smell much better than any other fruitcakes I have baked before.

This year, I used this light fruitcake recipe. Oh, of course I didn't make this huge batch; I reduced it to one-fifth. I picked the recipe after long hours of googling because the texture looked nice in the photo and it is the type of cake that you mature for weeks brushing with liquor over and over. And as you can see in this post, I used Myers's rum to soak the dried fruits this year and it was the key. The moment I opened the jar to use the soaked fruits today, I knew that I had made a right choice. It smelled already wonderfully then, and the aroma was even better when the cake was almost done in the oven.

So, about two more weeks to mature it? Gee, I can hardly wait! :D

Here's another thing I should be working on to get ready for Christmas:

Obachan's Prospective Christmas Wreath 2008

This photo may look better than the wreath I'm going to make...
(The vine is from Daiso 100yen shop, BTW.)


Monday, December 08, 2008

Broccoli Chicken Casserole on a Productive Day

Broccoli Chicken Casserole

I didn't have to work in the morning today (Thank Goodness!!) and I was going to sleep in this morning. But the stupid alarm clock woke me up early -- well, no, I'm the stupid one who forgot to set it off last night -- and I spent good 30 minutes in bed thinking about what I need to do today. Then I realized that it is the second Monday of the month today, which means it is the "big trash day" when we can throw away things like recyclable non-plastic trash (cans, bottles, cardboard boxes, books n newspapers, etc.) , old furniture and electronic wastes. The day comes only once a month, and since this is December, I would have to carry over big trash from 2008 to 2009 if I'd miss this chance today.

So I jumped out of the bed and grabbed the plastic bags full of empty cans and bottles to bring them to the designated place. I tell you what-- I never like riding a bicycle before breakfast. But it was a kind of emergency situation and there was no other choice because we are supposed to take our trash to the designated place only between 6 am and 8 am.

After the busy start of the day, I had breakfast, did my laundry, paid the rent (which I was supposed to do at the end of last month :P), went two supermarkets to look for a bigger garbage pail for the kitchen and picked nuts near someone's graveyard(!) for my Christmas wreath. Pretty productive so far, isn't it? Wait. That's not it. I have some more plans for the afternoon and evening, too.

And this casserole was a quick and easy lunch for me today. It was quick because I used store-bought white sauce. Although I put some breadcrumbs in it, the casserole turned out rather runny and it was more like what we call "guratan (gratin)" here. Well, I don't know... What's the difference between gratin and casserole anyway? I thought gratin was runnier than casserole but I may be wrong; they may be just different names for the same dish?

Anyway, now I'm stuffed with warm and cheesy food, and I'm ready to get some more things done before my work tonight.


Sunday, November 30, 2008

White Stew with Walnut Raisin Bread

White Stew with Salmon

Today was a nice, productive Sunday. After doing dishes and laundry, I went to nearby park and Kochi castle to take some photos. (They'll be posted on my another blog soon.) It was the perfect timing and the maple leaves were breathtakingly gorgeous. Oh, the real ones were much more beautiful than my photos. I wish I could take you there!

It was a warm, sunny day but it turned cold in the late afternoon. My hands and feet were almost frozen when I came back to my apartment. It took a hot bath, tamagozake and this white stew to warm myself up tonight.

The bread-like things in the background are walnut raisin bread I baked today. They are ... uh... edible. I'm pretty sure that they would be more like a weapon rather tan food tomorrow. Hahaha... I learned a lesson today: Never bake bread before going on a photo-taking excursion.

Oh, BTW, today I spent such a long time looking for a gadget that shows the local time, weather and temperature here. Finally I found the one that's small enough for this sidebar. But I just noticed that it's working on Firefox but not on Internet Explorer on my laptop...

Dec. 2
I replaced the weather sticker. The new one is working fine on my Firefox and IE. Thanks to those who left comments to let me know if the previous gadget worked on different browsers.


Sweet Seasons / November 2008 - Cold Winter Wind -

"Kogarashi (Cold Winter Wind)" by Shingetsu

When I saw this wagashi at the shop for the first time, there was no name tag placed in front of it. That was so unusual that I couldn't help asking the lady there why. She laughed and said that the name wasn't decided yet.

A few days later, I went to the same wagashi shop again and found the name for this wagashi; It was named "kogarashi." Yeah, this does look like a dead leaf and twigs blown together on barren winter soil. Pretty Poetic name, I think. :)


Thursday, November 27, 2008

Just To Let You Know...

Yes. Christmas fruitcake, again

OK. The problem solved. The Internet is back. Yay!!
FYI, the problem was not the modem itself. It was more like the balance of the speed of downloading and uploading, as far as I can understand. The system I'm using is called ADSL, one of the broadband services. And it seems like that when the above mentioned balance is no good, the connection becomes unstable or dead. That was the answer I got from the net search.

Now the question is why the balance which had been OK for years becomes "no good" one day, all of sudden, even though the setting is absolutely untouched. But looks like it is difficult to nail down the specific cause(s) of the problem, and ISPs -- at least here in Japan -- do not really help you with the investigation. What they do instead seems to be adjusting the speed balance at their end. I heard that it does regain the connection, but slows down your Internet (of course-- why would they make it faster for free?).

Well, in my case, the connection seems to be OK now and the speed is just a little bit slower but not too terrible, so I'm happy. The good thing is that the problem was solved real quick with no charge, and I didn't have to bring my modem to the store or clean up my apartment to have people come into my room to fix some lines and cables. Phew!

Anyway, now that my Internet connection is fine, I wanted to let you know that I soaked some dried fruit again for Christmas fruitcake. I might go for a light fruitcake this year, with less or no molasses added, and try more simple and plain decoration... like this. No icing at all. Or I might go for a real heavy, classic pecan-nuts-and-cherries topping. I don't know. You'll see. ;) I've been looking for ideas through google image search. Isn't it great? The Internet rocks! I can't live without it -- definitely.


Monday, November 24, 2008

My Thanksgiving Dinner 2008

Obachan's Thanksgiving Dinner 2008

OK. I just added the photos! :D I did make and have nice Thanksgiving dinner last Sunday night, despite the fact that I had to work from 6:30 am to 3 or 4 pm on both Saturday and Sunday.

The problem is that I cannot have access to the Internet from my laptop at the moment... The modem seems to have a problem. I first posted this entry from a PC at a "Manga and Internet Cafe" in town, and though I brought photos of my Thanksgiving dinner on a CD-R, the PC there did not have a CD-R drive. AHhhh! So I added these photos at somewhere else. ;)

Anyway, I made almost the same dinner as I did in 2004 and 2005, and enjoyed it very much. Yeah, alone -- again. But how could I find someone to have a Thanksgiving dinner with? You know what? Here, if you are a Japanese and celebrated Thanksgiving, you've got to be ready to face an accusation, "You're not an American, are you?" though no one says to a Japanese person who celebrates Christmas,"You're not a Christian, are you?"

Well, I once wrote on this blog in 2004 why I keep celebrating Thanksgiving here in Japan. And as far as that reason is good enough for me, I don't care what others think or say about that. :p

Now, the details. The dinner consisted of Roasted chicken breast, mashed potatoes, green peas, corn, cornbread and two kinds of desserts: a pumpkin tart and small apple crumble tarts. (The ones in bold are linked to the recipes, but of course I tweaked all of them. For the tart shells, I used this Japanese recipe, again with my own twists.

The cranberry sauce (I used dried cranberries) was a great success this year! This time I added a couple of secret ingredients: a little vinegar and chopped dried fig, and added no sugar. For some reason, it worked out fine, and I might make the sauce again for some kind of pork dish soon. The stuffing was good, too. I couldn't afford hazelnuts this time, but chestnuts gave a nice sweet touch which went well with the sauce.

I cannot say that this cornbread was a great success, partly because I used buttermilk substitute (vinegar-added milk) instead of real buttermilk, and partly because I replaced small amount of white sugar with brown sugar, thinking that it might enhance the flavor. I regretted it when I saw the batter turned darker, but it was too late. And the cornbread turned out a bit too sweet. But I loved the texture very much. It was nice and moist.

For this tart, I used kabocha pumpkin -- the less moist and nutty type -- so I should have adjusted the amount of condensed milk. But I forgot, and as a result, this turned out a bit drier than I had wanted. Maybe whipped cream on top could have helped, but I was too lazy.
And this apple crumble tart was the biggest success. It made up for the minor disappointments with the cornbread and pumpkin tart, and gave a nice ending to my Thanksgiving dinner 2008.

I don't care about accusations. I had something to enjoy that weekend, and it was much better than just spending the whole weekend resenting the person who made the awful work shift. I'd rather enjoy cooking and eating than being praised for behaving properly as a Japanese.

Dec. 4th
Talking about adaptation of foreign customs...
I guess people have different opinions and feelings about the issue, and I'm aware that many have a negative view on how Japanese -- including myself -- adapt Western customs. I don't mean to get into the debate on whether it's good or bad, but I just want to mention one thing: I believe that just blindly following foreign customs and trying to find your own value/meaning as you adapt something are two different things, and I hope that what I've been doing is the latter.

Anyway, last year before the Thanksgiving week, this issue of "Japanese mimicking anything American" kind of got on my nerve, and I seriously wondered if my Thanksgiving dinner was just part of it. I knew it WAS in many Japanese people's view, but I was more concerned about what it meant to myself, not others. And when thinking about what the spirit of Thanksgiving means to a Japanese (me), a crazy project (again!) popped up in my mind; I thought, "How could ancient Japanese people have celebrated their first successful harvest when, let's say, they started growing rice in Japan? What kind of dinner did they prepare?" So I ended up preparing an ancient Japanese thanksgiving dinner based on my very little knowledge of food in ancient times and wild imagination.

I think I've heard that rice in ancient times was rather reddish, and people must have eaten it with lots of different kind of grains. Maybe beans were already available. They must have eaten wild nuts, too. I don't know when they started farming chicken, but at least they must have caught and ate wild birds way before that. And of course, they must have made alcoholic drink out of rice, because in ancient Japan, alcohol seems to have played an important role whenever people needed to relate to various gods in the nature. The ancient sake was not clear, but looked milky, as far as I know. Also, I've heard that something similar to yogurt and cheese was already available around 10th century...

Now here are the result of my wild imagination:

Obachan's imaginary "Ancient Japanese Thanksgiving Dinner" 2007

Rice balls made with rice and many kinds of grains
Simmered beans
Skewed Chicken (I couldn't get wild birds) with miso seasoning
Yogurt with sweetened black beans

Gosh, obachan, you certainly had a lot of time to kill! -- you want to say? Well, you're right. My work schedule at that time was not as terrible as it is now. Anyway, I had so much fun with this project. But days passed too fast while I procrastinate, and then it was already time for Christmas baking, so I didn't have a chance to post about this project. Now C's comment inspired me to bring these stock photos into the spotlight, and post about the hilarious dinner that could upset any expert of Japanese ancient history. Hahaha...

Anyway, anyhow, I think that people's most simple, basic feelings are often universal, and different cultures have developed different ways to express the basic, possibly universal feelings or wisdom. In adapting something from outside, you might get in touch with some aspects of your own culture which have been taken for granted, and enjoy the difference and sameness at the same time. I like that very much, and it has been reflected on my blogs -- I think -- and will be in the future, too.

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Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Because It Was So Cold...

Kimchi Udon

Unbelievable! Just about a week ago, we had a summer-like sunny day. Then today, I was almost frozen to death on my way back from work at night. I HAD to have a warm, spicy soup dish, and this is what I had for dinner to bring me back to life.

Gosh, it's already late November... Time to start thinking about Christmas fruitcake! :D


Saturday, November 08, 2008

Store-bought Summer Roll Salad

Store-bought Summer Roll Salad from "Sunny Mart"

It's my complete day off today after six consecutive days with both daytime and night-time jobs back to back (well, mostly). You can imagine how lazy I'm determined to be all day today. Oh, I deserve it. Definitely.

I bought this for my lunch. This healthy dish will accompany "spaghetti aglio olio e peperoncino" which I'm going to make myself. And I have ginger ale in my fridge. International lunch, huh?

BTW, I didn't know until 10 minutes ago that this type of fresh spring-roll like food is called "summer rolls" in English. So "spring rolls" usually means the deep-fried version, right?


Friday, October 31, 2008


Obachan's Halloween Cookies 2008

Anyone worried about me not posting much lately? You thought that I lost interest in cooking and/or baking? Oh, don't you ever worry about that.

As I wrote before, for Halloween of 2008, I was determined to make cut-out cookies using cute Halloween cookie cutters. And I wanted two colors -- pumpkin yellow and chocolate. So I made the pumpkin cookie dough using the same recipe as last year and rolled it out and cut it out into these pumpkins and ghosts. But unfortunately, these flat ones did not taste as good as the ball-like ones; They were bland, and the texture was not very impressive (at least to me) when they were thin. And the taste of these chocolate cookies was a bit disappointing, too. So I decided not to bring these cut-out cookies to Halloween party at the language school I work for.

Then I made the same pumpkin cookies as I made last year.

These turned out fine, but I didn't bring them to the party, either.

Instead, I made and brought these...

Mini-pumpkin muffins

... mini-pumpkin muffins to the Halloween party. Oh I loved them so much. Again, the recipe is from a Japanese recipe site, and it was one of those light-tasting, not-too-sweet muffin recipes that Japanese people love, so I couldn't help giving it a twist or two; I added some almond powder, cinnamon and a small amount of vegetable whipping cream. The muffins turned out great with this lovely bright orangish-yellow color !

I'm not quite sure if those who came to the party really loved my muffins, because those Japanese people (I mean, moms who came with the kids) could force themselves to eat something they don't like just to be polite to the school staff (me). Anyway, anyhow, my muffins were all gone at the end of the party and I would never find out if it was politeness or real fondness. Well, at least no one was brought to the hospital after eating them, and that is enough for me. ;)

There was nothing really special about my Halloween 2008... I didn't even go to the late-night costume party which I attended almost every year until 2006. But looking at these cookie photos makes me feel happy and warm inside, so I guess it was worth making them. :)


Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Garden Report - October 2008 -

My Sunshine Blue is going to survive! :D

It's kinda hard to believe that I used to post garden report monthly. I guess I'm getting older and lazier. :P

Anyway, as you see, about one third of my blueberry plant looks dead. It was the crazy summer heat that caused this trouble. But the lower part seems OK, so I think this baby is going to survive and give me a handful of berries next year. (I removed the dead part after taking this shot.)

Sweet Marjoram and Mint

They never die. No matter what. Amazing.

Young Mizuna

And I'm looking forward to using this mizna for nabe (hotpot dishes) this winter. ;)


Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Preparation, Again...

Kabocha Pumpkin & Cookie Cutters

Maybe some of you readers remember that I was trying out a pumpkin cookie recipe in mid October last year to prepare for a Halloween party ? Yep, it's time again. Like I did last year, I'm going to -- well, at least hoping to be able to -- bake some pumpkin cookies for the party at the language school I work for. This year, I'm going to use the same recipe but make cut-out cookies. Let's see how my attempt turns out in about 10 days. :)