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?