Sunday, December 30, 2007

Mochi making - again!

Things are starting to become very predictable here.... I just checked the archives of last year's blog entries and.... that's right on exactly the same day last year we did exactly the same thing. In fact my husband's family has probably been making sticky rice cakes on December 30th since before the invention of electricity! (it is not possible to make them on the 29th as any day with a nine in it is bad luck...).
Anyway, for anyone who missed last year's blog entry here is a run down on what happens on mochi making day - at our house anyway. Of course with virtually identical photos to last year too!
First the rice is soaked over night (note - the rice is different to normal rice eaten every day in that it is even shorter grained and therefore even stickier....). It is then steamed in a big pot over a fire before being transferred to the pounding machine thingy (similar to a bread kneading machine really) where it is bashed around until it resembles a big sticky blob.
It is then immediately shaped into balls (as this is Japan there is no sitting at tables... squatting on the floor is more appropriate....) and placed on a big tray to dry out. Although it is really sticky to begin with it quickly turns into a very hard thing that you wouldn't want to try and eat unless you had a jack hammer in your mouth. Fortunately as soon as you put it in hot soup or put it under the grill it goes back to its originally sticky stuff - preventing broken teeth, but still giving your jaws a bit of a work out.
There are some made with special sweet beans inside too that have a kind of grass beaten in with them, but this years one's were a little bit of a disaster.... something about not chopping the grass fine enough.
Anyone interested in participating in next year's event... I can almost guarantee that if you are here on the 30th of December you will be more than welcome to help!

Monday, December 24, 2007

Christmas number 1

Despite the fact that it is only the 24th we had our first Christmas dinner for the year today. Although we had it here we organised who would make what in advance so the work load was spread and we had a great meal. With 16 people in total (well 17 if you count 2 month old Marina!) from Canada, England, New Zealand and Japan there was a great mix of food with lots of traditions from each country - turkey, roast veges, salads, trifles, steamed pudding, pavlova, mince pies etc. Yum, yum, yum!
The children all enjoyed swapping presents as did the adults! A nice start to the Christmas season. Now we just have to repeat it all tomorrow and then try to deal with all the left overs.....

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Kindergarten Concert

Despite having a 39 degree temperature last night my son managed to take part in his kindergarten concert today, transforming into a very young Elvis Presley for a "space rock" dance after bashing out a Santa Claus song on the drums. Not too bad for 5 year olds... and of course don't forget the costumes and rocket were made by us Mums! Don't worry these will be the last videos for a while!

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Citron and Pumpkins

Today was officially the Winter Solstice in the northern hemisphere - in other words the shortest day of the year. Here in Japan there are two main traditions that you are supposed to indulge in on this day and for once we did both!
The first is to eat pumpkin.... why - because it helps to prevent you catching a cold (my husband eats it every year on this day, but had to look up why he does to explain it to me... I guess that says something about these customs!).
The second thing to do on this day is to take a bath with some "yuzu" or Chinese lemons. Apparently their aroma warms up your body and like the pumpkin prevents you from catching a cold.
As I said, we did both this year, but as my husband just concluded if the effect of these things is so good at preventing colds then we should probably do it before the shortest day and all through the winter as well.... but tradition is tradition!

Monday, December 17, 2007

Piano concert videos

I think I have finally managed to download the videos of the children playing the piano in their concert on Sunday. Don't feel obliged to watch them all! The concert was only 3 and a half hours this time compared with five and a half hours last year... don't worry the 4 videos are all very short!

Saturday, December 15, 2007


This week seems to have been dominated by making gingerbread cookies. As part of an "international understanding" class we made zillions of cookies at school to be iced next week for a Christmas party. Unfortunately we ended up giving half of them to teachers who came to watch a demonstration lesson that I had to do so the teacher called me tonight to ask if I would make some more... it's not as if I have anything better to do on a Saturday night!
The good thing about doing cooking in Japanese primary schools is the fact that they have all the official looking aprons, hats and masks that they have to use for serving their school lunches. Very professional! Of course like everywhere in the world the teachers found it difficult to leave everything over to the students and got very involved!

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Tis the season....

The last few days seem to have been filled with making things for the kindergarten end of year concert. The kindergarten that the children go to is reasonably famous for their concert - mainly because of the costumes, which the MOTHERS make every year. Each child is in one dance with 3 or 4 other children as well as a song and musical instrument performance with their whole class. Fortunately they only need a costume for the dance.... This year my son is in a dance called "Space Rock" so we made costumes in the Elvis theme. The teacher also requested a rocket that the 5 boys could get into and move around on the stage.... another few days work!
Every year I dread the concert, but when I think about it it is really a good way to get to know the other parents and also the pride that the children show when they put on their costumes that their parents have made for them is really rewarding! My son keeps asking me if I was able to sleep each night as he knows I have to spend a lot of the night hours sewing.... the concert is not till the 23rd, but the dress rehearsal has already finished and fortunately there are only a few small adjustments to be made. Roll on next year.....

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

The problem with Japan is....

On Tuesday I was silly enough to do another cooking class for the lady who came by herself last month. Of course this time she also came by herself, but this time I didn't try so hard to do wonderful things with her in the hope that she won't be so keen to come again next year..... one person just doesn't make for a great day! She wanted to do some "Christmas cooking" so as well as making gingerbread men - well cookies anyway and decorating them, some special herb tea and an eggplant dip (very Christmassy right!) I showed her how to make pavlova. The night before I also made a pavlova so it was going to be like a cooking show where you put one in the oven and miraculously another one is ready. The only problem was that the first pavlova was a complete flop... I have had the same problem in the past where it just doesn't stay crispy on the outside despite looking wonderful in the oven while it was cooking.
Anyway yesterday I finally discovered why after reading a recipe for pavlova that was written in Japanese. They said "if it is raining you should either give up completely or try to dry out the air with the air conditioner etc." Unfortunately Japan's climate just isn't appropriate for making pavlova for most of the year! The summer is far too hot and humid and rainy. In the winter my husband has the fire going far too hot which makes the air too "moist" too..... I guess that leaves the spring and autumn!
Just in case you are wondering... I managed to open all the windows while I was cooking the second pavlova and it was beautifully crispy on the outside and soft in the inside. We enjoyed it for dessert!
Another thing that I have struggled with here is rhubarb. Again I think the humidity is the problem and although I can usually keep it growing for a few months it always dies off in the summer and never appears again. I guess some things just weren't meant to be grown in rural Japan!
By the way - I can't take credit for either of the photos in this entry, but the page looked a little lonely with no photos and the pavlova is gone and it is dark outside....