Friday, January 29, 2010

From teacher to student

This afternoon (after teaching a couple of riveting kindergarten classes....) I became a "student" rather than a teacher and took part in a group that is starting to think about creating something new using local ingredients. Fortunately for us this town is known for its beef so we were able to use that as our base (we don't eat much meat at our house usually). Unfortunately for us this town is known for its beef and therefore the price is usually way out of our budget. Fortunately for us the group had some funding and therefore the whole program was free for participants. Unfortunately for me the beef was the top quality beef, which is so marbled that I can only ever eat a couple of bites without feeling like a layer of fat has stuck on my stomach lining. Anyway, we made 4 different dishes - the most interesting being a slab of beef that was cooked inside a salt and egg white "oven". Basically the beef was seasoned then tied tightly into a layer of cooking paper and then coated very thickly in a casing of salt with egg white that has been kneaded till it is very soft and fluffy. The salt casing doesn't add any flavor, but prevents all the flavour leaving the beef and I must admit it was pretty good. The casing becomes so hard that you basically need a hammer to break it! Traditionally this style of cooking is used for fish, but it seemed to work fine for beef too. Too much meat for me though.... I ended up having toast with peanut butter and jam for tea!

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Cooking to produce waste

The big push in the world at the moment seems to be to reduce waste. Today I was asked to do the exact opposite. My friend is a kitchen designer and her latest "item" is a waste disposer with mulches up food scraps and dries them so that they can be used for fertiliser or just for easy disposal. It was therefore my job to do a cooking classroom that produced lots of food scraps so she could show the participants how the machine works. She has a wonderful demonstration kitchen so it was fun to do -despite not knowing where anything was or how to use any of the ovens etc. We made spinach and tuna quiche, herbed potato salad, sweet potato and mandarin salad and pumpkin muffins. There were enough vegetable scraps leftover for her to show another 10 groups how the machine works. A great idea for people living in apartments etc., but not exactly necessary here in the countryside where you have hungry chickens and a big compost pile!

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Crumpet making

When you live in the same country for your entire life you never seem to discover that some things can actually be made from scratch rather than simply bought at the supermarket. Today I finally managed to make one of those things - crumpets! Megan had put the idea into my head the other day and since then I have been searching for the rings to make them with. Of course until I actually wanted them I have seen them in every hundred yen shop, but now that I tried to find them they were no where to be seen! After an "interesting" morning "teaching" this morning I finally found some and rushed home to mix up the batter before collecting the kids from school. The end result.... I rushed most of the stages, but they still ended up pretty good. Unfortunately because the rings are so cheap the batter sticks to them too easily (no matter how much I oil them) so getting them out becomes a bit of a problem. A little more practice and a lot more tasting is needed to make the perfect one, but a good start!
The recipe I used is.... Crumpets

Monday, January 25, 2010

Perfect day to be out of control

Although I try to pretend otherwise I think (and probably anyone who knows me agrees) that I am probably a bit of a control freak. I am happy for some things to just happen and can usually go with the flow, but in general I like to know what is happening, when and be a relatively central figure in organising it (although this weekend I am going to do the opposite and leave all the planning over to Katy for a great "girls weekend" away in Fukuoka - yoroshiku!). Today I had absolutely nothing that had to be done until I picked up the kids at 3pm to take them to piano, so I started to get organised for the rest of the busy week ahead. I planned classes for tomorrow and Wednesday, I thought about what I will cook at a cooking class in Oita on Thursday, I brought in loads of wood for the fire and I even started to make dinner at about 1pm - a delicious bacon, egg, potato and spinach pie. And then... the one thing that I really can't control struck me down. My family all seems prone to migraines and I am no exception. I know that all migraine sufferers have different symptoms, but for me it usually starts out with the weirdest feeling in my eyes - I can see some things clearly, but there are huge gaps in my vision - as in I was trying to read the recipe book, but could only see half the words. Next comes a tingling feeling in my fingers that results in complete uncoordination. I can't pick anything up, I can't sense hot and cold. Next the tingling feeling spreads to my mouth and I feel like I have been at the dentist and the anesthetic hasn't worn off. I can't put together a complete sentence because my mouth is numb and refuses to cooperate. I can't communicate what is happening to anyone... Finally the part I actually look forward to... a splitting headache. Pain I can cope with, the other side effects I can't! Anyway, today I tried my complete calming and chocolate coping routine. I downed some nurofen plus, I sat outside in the rain and breathed deeply, I went for a quiet walk, I ate some chocolate and then I shut the world out and slept for an hour or so. I recovered and because it was my "day off" I didn't have to cancel anything, put anyone out or try to deal with classes of screaming kids while trying to work out which part of the room they are actually standing in!
For me migraines usually strike after a relatively busy period when I finally have time to sit down and relax. For others they are triggered by different food groups. I haven't been that busy lately, but I did have a big slice of bread coated in recently made marmalade... one of my Mum's triggers. I guess I'll just keep that off the menu for the next year or so! Compared to my university days I don't get migraines anywhere near as often as I used to. In fact I think I would be lucky (or unlucky) to have more than one or two each year now... fingers crossed! The feeling of being out of control is not a great one, but at the same time it makes me sit really still for a few hours and focus on nothing else but silence and darkness. I would be interested in hearing from anyone else who suffers from migraines and who has good ways of coping with them - especially when they are not as perfectly timed as mine was today!

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Research Outing

My father is bringing another group of visitors for a tour in April and today we took Megan and Nathan to explore a couple of new places we are thinking of visiting. The main destination was a wonderfully quiet temple called Monjusenji which is half way up a big mountain with nothing but mountains and trees all around it. They not only provide accommodation, but are also amazingly willing to share their knowledge and allow us to participate in all their daily routines. Hopefully it should turn out to be a highlight of the tour of Japan. Of course to get there there are a large number of stairs.... definitely worth the climb though!

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Big Plans

This week has been quite a quiet week for me - not much teaching or other meetings etc. so I have made the most of the wonderful weather and made some progress in the garden. Today it finally rained so I was all set to do some catching up on the computer, a bit of baking and more tidying up... but then I remembered I have a big tunnel house that needed the old plants pulled out of, the asparagus bed mulched and the out of control passion fruit vines trimmed back! So as per usual the house and computer were neglected in favor of some hard labour outside. Before I remembered my tunnel house I did manage to find most of our electricity bills for the last couple of years and mucked about making a graph of them. You can see the huge dip from August 2009 when we installed the solar panels and we have had 2 months so far when we actually made money out of the system. The price they pay us for any excess electricity we produce has now doubled and with longer days ahead hopefully the system should keep working well. It should be noted that we also changed our water heating system from kerosene to electricity when we installed the solar panels so the drop really is significant.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

How to boil a fresh egg

The best thing about having 10 chickens in your backyard who refuse to believe that just because it is freezing outside they should stop laying eggs is that you always have fresh eggs on hand. The worst thing about having 10 chickens in the backyard that are very good layers is that you always have fresh eggs. For most things fresh eggs are wonderful, but when it comes to boiled eggs the fresher the egg the more difficult it is to peel when it has been boiled. We eat a lot of boiled eggs so I have been experimenting and I think I have now found a method that makes peeling even the freshest egg easy and doesn't result in a tough skinned egg. For anyone interested.....
1. Prick a hole in both ends of the egg with a pin or needle.
2. Put in a pot of COLD water which fully covers the eggs. Put the water in first to prevent cracking the eggs when you put them in. Put a lid on the pot and bring to the boil.
3. As soon as it starts to boil turn the heat right down and let it simmer very gently for about 4 or 5 minutes (less if you want a softer egg or if your eggs aren't as big as mine!).
4. Run the boiled eggs under cold water, but while they are still very hot smash the top of each egg and remove the end part of the shell - making sure you remove the membrane as well. This allows water to get in between the egg and the membrane and makes peeling it very simple.
5. Roll the egg on the bench to crack it all over then peel it under running water. 90% of the time this results in a very easy to peel egg!
Now I just have to work out how to make the perfect pavlova with fresh eggs....

Monday, January 18, 2010

Spring Cleaning

There are two major times of the year when Japanese people do a major clean of EVERYTHING. The first is before the new year - so you can welcome in the New Year with a completely new start. The second is when the ancestors of Japanese people return to visit the living - during the Obon festival in August. Unfortunately they coincide with the coldest time of the year and the hottest time of the year and I never feel inclined to do cleaning at either time. Of course now that the pressure is off I have finally got into the cleaning spirit and have spent the last few days getting the kitchen cleaned (anyone who visits is forced to look in the fridge!) and today I started on the children's rooms. In general they are left to clean them by themselves, but my daughter's room was starting to set off pollution alarms so I decided I would spend ONE hour this morning getting it into a slightly more livable state. Unfortunately the first hour passed, the second hour passed and despite continual cleaning it still didn't look like I'd made much of a dent. Fortunately Katy and Megan came to prevent me doing more in the afternoon so it is still looking very much like a rubbish dump. Unfortunately I can't really say too much to her.... I have memories of literally piling all the things dumped around my room into a huge pile in the middle of my floor and then slowly putting them all away when I was a child. And, despite spending a few days cleaning my room it is still has piles everywhere right now. I'm thinking that I may need to make some incentives for us all to keep it clean.... either that or start looking for a house cleaner!

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Health Marathon

Today was one of those wonderful days in winter that feel like summer has arrived. Of course tomorrow winter will return, but for today I sat at the beach and enjoyed watching other people suffer! The children wanted to enter in the "health marathon" the city was running and I had the image of a fun run where participation rather than speed was the focus (I repeat it was called a "health marathon") so I even managed to convince Nathan that he really wanted to run too .... oops! It turned out that it was actually quite serious timed event with more people out to win than out to just complete the distance - and it took forever for them to complete all the races so it was very fortunate that it was a beautiful day!
The kids ran first and both Emily and Masaki ran 1km. Masaki managed to come in first for the first grade students and has spent the rest of the afternoon and evening shining his gold medal. Emily managed to run the full 1km....and has decided that swimming is definitely her strong point - enough said! Nathan did a great job and managed the full 5km without even breaking into enough sweat to have to ring out his t-shirt. Megan, Tom and I did a great job cheering them all on....

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Hope is fading

Those of you who are living in Nagano, Hokkaido etc. will just laugh at this post, but for those of us in the southern regions snow is a bit of a novelty.... and in my case it brings hope that perhaps my classes this afternoon will be cancelled! Last night there was a heavy snow warning and this morning we woke to about 1cm of snow on the ground and more falling rapidly. The kids were taken off to school in their new gumboots (thanks Santa) and I kept a close eye on the live cameras of the roads near here hoping that they would get to school okay. Next I kept an eye on the live cameras in the hope that the roads would then become relatively dangerous so that I wouldn't have to worry about going to classes this afternoon. And then the snow stopped and the sun came out. Bugger! It has just started snowing again quite heavily so I guess there is still hope of being snowed in... with the kids stuck at school.... oops I hadn't thought of that!
If you want to check out the roads in our area (just in case you feel like popping over for a coffee!) here is the link: Local Cameras Number 10 camera is the closest to our house. It seems to work if you first click on the camera you want to look at and then the "Windows Media Player" button.
In other news... my daughter has discovered where Santa does his shopping! The other day she took her alarm clock that Santa brought her out of its box and found the guarantee in it. It was dated December 23rd.... and was from Beppu YouMe Town.... At first she couldn't work it out, but then she decided (with a little bit of encouragement) that Santa probably can't make all the toys on his own and carry them all the way from the North Pole so he has special helpers who go shopping for him and leave the things ready for him in different "drop off" points around the world. The story gets more complicated every year!

Sunday, January 10, 2010

17th Memorial Service

Today was one of many memorial services for one of my husband's ancestors. In Japan there are specific years when each person is remembered after their death by a service led by a priest. Today was the 17th year after my husband's grandfather died so a few close relatives gathered to pray and eat. The first part of the morning was 45 minutes of chanting by the priest.... I never understand what is being said and as this time I didn't even meet my husband until after his grandfather had died I found it hard to concentrate. Fortunately the people beside me were also snoozing so I didn't feel so bad! Next is the eating and drinking... well eating for some of us and drinking for the hardcore men. My husband's uncle snoozed a little too early and my daughter decided he needed some face paint. My husband had a little too much to drink and staggered home at about
6pm and we literally dragged him into bed and put lots of towels under his head.... I think I'll sleep by the fire tonight!
I really like the idea of remembering ancestors with services like this (perhaps with a little less time sitting on your knees!). It is nice to hear stories of the person being remembered being told over the meal, but I have a problem with the amount of money which it costs to do so. The cost for the priest to come is high enough without the cost for the meals (all ordered in) and then of course the presents which need to be given to each of the "guests" who come to attend. Each guest is expected to give money but it doesn't cover very much and these services continue for each ancestor until the 50th anniversary of their death -fortunately not annually, but enough times to make it a fairly regular event. Surely there is a different way to do it so that everyone can be remembered without spending so much money.....

Friday, January 08, 2010


I think in order to appreciate silence you have to have noise. To this effect I am very appreciative of my children...... who have school holidays...... in which they want to play with you (not a sad thing really!)...... and in which they get bored and feel the need to fight. This morning at 7:50am the holidays for the children ended and my morning of peace and quiet began. The selfish person that I am I made the children have the house nice and tidy (I even vacuumed) last night before they went to bed so I wouldn't spend my first hour or so of freedom this morning putting away their things and doing general cleaning. I had the dishes washed, the clothes washed and hung out and the chickens fed before they left. To celebrate my free time I then did our new Wii Fit games for 30 minutes (my personal favorite right now is the skateboarding one - although it almost kills me by the end!) and now I am actually sitting at the keyboard and am going to try and reply to the zillions of e-mails that I have definitely been reading, just not responding to lately - in silence. At 10am I am determined to get into the garden (it is too cold before then!) and then at 1:45pm the silence will end again for another 3 days....
On a different note we had a really nice day yesterday with friends doing ten pin bowling - well actually the kids bowled and we watched. A great way to end the holidays - thanks Keiko, Ken and Kai!

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Boys, Boys and One Girl

The winter holidays are finally coming to an end and we had our last group of friends come to stay the other night. For some reason most of my friends have either all girls or all boys so one of my children always feels a little left out. This week's gathering was two families who both have all boys.... we had a total of 6 boys and one girl. My daughter survived well though and managed to enjoy lots of soccer outside and their new favorite game - Labyrinth by Ravensburger. It is one of four games we bought them for Christmas and it is a wonderful game if you can get your hands on it.
The boys favorite activity is always collecting the eggs in the morning. They managed to check literally every 10 minutes from about 8am till 10:30am when they finally gave up at the 6th egg. With the pressure off from being "watched" closely the hens were back to laying the full 10 eggs today!
Tomorrow is the last day of the holidays - one day back at school and then another 3 day weekend. Only in Japan!

Sunday, January 03, 2010

New Year Cards

For anyone who is not familiar with the Japanese custom of exchanging New Year's cards they are probably the equivalent of the Western World's Christmas cards. The main difference is that no matter how early you post them they will be delivered on January 1st and each year are based on the animal of the Chinese New Year - this year being the year of the tiger. As much as I used to think it was a bit of an obligatory thing, where people exchanged them with basically anyone they had ever had contact with in their lives, I now really look forward to receiving them. It sounds like in the bigger cities and with younger people they are being replaced with Internet greetings etc. (much like Christmas Cards are) however I still really enjoy getting something in the mail and this year my children have enjoyed making them for their teachers, classmates etc. This year we have already got over 90 of them and are likely to get a few more over the next few days.
The main problem I have with them is that I get quite a few from people that I really have NO idea who they are. It is standard to write one back to each person that you receive one from, but when you literally have no idea who they are it is sometimes a little difficult to write a personal message.... Fortunately there is the standard "I hope you have a great year in 2010" message that covers most people!

Saturday, January 02, 2010

Long time no see... again!

No -we haven't had a long holiday overseas where there was no Internet connection. No - we haven't been so busy I haven't had a chance to sit in front of the computer. No - life hasn't been so boring there has been nothing at all to blog about. Yes - the main computer is in the unheated bedroom. Yes - the weather has been quite cold lately. Yes - I have just been too lazy to write any updates!
I think I am now officially so far behind that I am not going to attempt to update everything at once. We had a really nice Christmas, a very quiet New Year and a wonderful day today! Despite me eating too much chocolate and not doing enough cleaning in 2009, Santa still felt I was in need of a bike and brought it along with a wonderful telescope (through which we have literally seen the craters on the moon) and gumboots for the kids. I took the kids on a really nice cycling road in Usa today for our first big adventure. It is a great cycling path that apparently goes all the way to goes all the way to the sea. We didn't quite go all the way as lunch was waiting at the dog cafe, but we will definitely attempt the remainder in the near future. It was great to be able to bike all together and not have to worry about any cars etc. I am really keen to try the cycling track through an old train route with the kids in spring - hopefully by then my out of shape bum will have recovered from today's adventure!