Thursday, November 12, 2015

November Newsletter

Newsletter #30
November 10, 2015

Dear Friends and Family,

We’re already four months into our home assignment, with only six months left! Time flies. This time we thought we would give you a home assignment update and answer the question:

“What are you doing, anyway?”

We get this question a lot. To be fair, we didn’t really know what to expect when we were planning for our home assignment--we’re figuring things out as we go along. Really quick, though, I’ll tell you what home assignment isn’t: a year-long vacation. Nope. We work six days a week.

At our pre-home assignment workshop last January, I think there was some sort of mnemonic device for the tasks and purposes of home assignment with words starting with “re.” We can’t actually remember which ones, but as a joke we started writing down as many “re” words as we could think of… including words like reeking, regurgitating, and recomposting--is that even a word? Surprisingly, a lot of the other words we came up with applied to our situation. So, what are we doing, anyway?

Reconnecting: This is probably our highest priority this year, since four years away means a lot happened in our friends’ and families’ lives while we were gone. As we are living with Celia’s parents, we are enjoying lots of family time; we’re looking forward to Thanksgiving with Keith’s family. Meanwhile, we are meeting up with lots of friends and people who have been praying for us, and making new friends as we connect with people who are considering their involvement in missions.

Relocating: We had to move out of our Ishikari home to come “home” to Seattle… and while we’re here, we’ve been all over the place to meet up with people.

Having high tea at the Empress Hotel in Victoria, Canada... a break in the midst of attending conferences and visiting friends...
Leading worship at the OMF 150th Anniversary celebration in Victoria
Retelling: We have a lot of stories to tell from our first term in Japan; telling them is probably our biggest task this year. God is at work in Japan, and it’s exciting how we were able to see this. We want to share these stories with people in the US and Canada who have been praying for us… and we’ve had lots of opportunities, both informally over a meal or coffee, and in presentations and preaching. Presentations and sermons both take lots of work to prepare--since we know from experience that well-crafted stories tend to stick better than lists of prayer points or general overviews of our ministry, we put a lot of effort into preparing presentations that will engage the listeners, and hopefully encourage them to praise God for his goodness and pray that his glory will be known throughout Japan.

Keith tells stories at our Newport Covenant Church presentation
Our friend, Pastor Kyota Takahashi helps lead a game at the NCC presentation introducing English loadwords in Japanese.
Rehashing: We call this the elevator speech--not nearly as nice as “retelling,” and we have to do it all the time. The elevator speech is the answer to the question, “If you had to explain to someone during the length of an elevator ride what you were doing in Japan and why, what would you say?” Usually I (Celia) say, “I work at a Japanese church.” That might get me a wide smile from a fellow Christian, polite disinterest from a salesperson or server at a restaurant, or a glare from someone who has baggage with Christianity.

Replicating: Many of our friends and supporters are interested in our Japanese Culture studies, especially tea ceremony. We’ve already had a few chances to demonstrate tea ceremony and Japanese music, and to show practically some of the ways we use the traditional arts for God’s glory. Recently we also replicated one of Wakaba church’s youth group movie nights for friends here to experience.

Celia teaches high school students about tea ceremony.
Celia performs Japanese folk songs on the shamisen at the NCC presentation.
Restocking: Back in summer of 2013, we went on a hiking and camping trip to Rebun and Rishiri, two remote islands in the sea of Japan. On the very first hike, the soles fell off Celia’s 15-year-old hiking boots, and we discovered that they were completely rotten. When we got back to Sapporo, Celia went shopping for new hiking boots… and discovered that there were no women’s boots to fit her (rather average) size 8 ½ feet. So she bought men’s boots. But for most other clothing needs, men’s clothing doesn’t work so well. Thus Celia, who dislikes shopping, is in the process of replacing four years worth of threadbare, faded clothes.

Relearning: America has changed a lot in the last four years. We are finding that things are not the same as when we left, so we are experiencing some of the same kind of exhaustion that came with culture shock when we went to Japan. Don’t expect us to know any recent TV shows, movies, music, etc. We haven’t even heard of them, let alone seen them.

Reconquering: Inbox overhaul is in progress. Celia is finding many emails she should have answered years ago. Sorry.

Relinquishing: We’re busy, so we’re learning to drop the stuff that can get dropped while keeping our priorities straight--people and relationships are the most important.

Reading: While in Japan, there was rarely time to read. So, we’ve been catching up on a stack of books we’ve been wanting to read, while also continuing with Japanese study.

Relishing: Mexican food, good cheese, eggnog, and other delicious foods that are hard to come by in Japan.

Refreshing: We try to get some rest. Wednesday is our day off. That’s when a lot of the reading and relishing takes place.

Rekindling: Even while we’re in the US, we are also preparing for our next term of service. Part of this task is to refresh our hearts--to hear sermons and attend Bible studies in our mother-tongue, and to spend more time privately reading and studying the Bible. We have been learning to lean in--to listen closely to the Holy Spirit’s voice as he convicts and comforts. We hope to go back to Japan next May rekindled with holy fire to serve God and his church in Japan.

Prayer Points

  • We thank God for the pledges of support that we have received for our next term. Many people have re-pledged from our first term, and we are also blessed with some new financial and prayer supporters. We have 62%; please pray with us for the remaining 38%.
  • Pray for opportunities for us to share about Japan and raise awareness of Japan’s prayer needs.
  • Our second term placement seems to be coming together. Please pray for good dialogue between us and the OMF leadership in Japan. We may come to a decision later this month.
  • We were blessed to reconnect with many friends during our trip to Canada in October. Pray that we can continue to have quality time with friends and family during the remaining 6 months of our home assignment.
  • We are excited to take the train from Seattle to Grand Forks on the way to spend Thanksgiving with Keith’s family in Iowa. Pray for safe travels and good time with friends and family.
  • Please pray for wisdom in determining an appropriate balance of work and rest.


Tea Bowl: We have 62%!

The money jar from five years ago has a new look. This time we’re filling a tea bowl (chawan) with tea! We need 100% pledged monthly support for our second term before returning to Japan. If you plan to continue your support from our first term into our second term, thank you! Please be sure to let us know again in person, by email, or through the OMF website: (go to “update info,” and enter “re-pledging” in the comments). Our deadline for 100% pledged monthly support is March 23, 2016.

Home Assignment Schedule
November 16-December 3: North Dakota and Iowa trip
November 29: Shamisen and Tea Ceremony, Grace Lutheran Church, Fort Dodge, IA
December 6: Celia preaches at Newport Covenant Church
December 26-31: Urbana missions conference
January 10: Keith preaches at Newport Covenant Church
February 28: Tea Ceremony for Newport Covenant Church youth group
… and we’d love to see you too! Please contact us.

Language Corner

We’re living in native-English-speaker-land now, so thankfully we have a backlog of interesting signs and such from Japan. This one was found in a rest area bathroom. It reads: “Troubling a janitor lady is like troubling your friend’s mom.” And you wouldn’t want to trouble your friend’s mom, would you?


Thanks again for praying for us. May you also be rekindled with God’s love.

Love in Christ,
Keith and Celia

Friday, October 30, 2015

Autumn in Vancouver

Today’s coffee: I don’t know what it was, but once it’s gone, I can open the coffee I bought at Murchie’s!

It’s been a while. We went to Victoria and Vancouver, and since we’ve been back, we’ve been preparing for an event at church this Sunday—Japanese Culture Day. It will be lunch, stories, games, shamisen, and more! Fun!

I started writing something last weekend while we were on the ferry from Vancouver to Victoria… but I kept getting distracted by the horrible children’s show that was playing on one TV, and the hockey game on the other.

I did, however, manage a poem, inspired by our day-off-date location last week, Van Dusen Gardens, where we went on lots of dates when we lived in Vancouver. It’s a tanka, a Japanese form, 5-7-5-7-7. It’s longer than a haiku, so I like that I can say a bit more.
Fat raindrops splatter,
Crying my unshed teardrops,
Flooding the dry ground.
A brief moment passes, then—
Sun flickers through golden leaves.
I’ve written several tanka lately. I like about tanka and haiku that I can use an image from nature to reflect something I’m thinking about or feeling. Autumn gives lots of possibilities, if I pay attention. The weather and scenery at Van Dusen Gardens suited my state of mind very nicely.

Last week was crazy. I’m still tired. We met lots of friends, hung out at home in our old house with our landlord-family, presented at a couple of missions conferences, and I preached at our Vancouver church home. There were so many wonderful moments of fellowship, mixed up with waves of grief as we remembered the life we left behind there. Our friends’ kids got so big! And everyone sang the hymns at church with such joy… I cried at least twice during the service, thankfully not while I was preaching.

Our friends' kids got so big...
That’s our life: a crazy mixture of joy and grief. The reason the grief hurts so much is because we have loved and been loved so much.

On an entirely different note, one fun surprise from our trip was meeting Mimi, whose husband, Jamie Taylor, was the keynote speaker at several of the events. (Of course, we enjoyed meeting him too.) Mimi is my sempai at Boston University—she studied music there too! It was such an encouragement to talk to her and to hear her sing. Of course I’ve met other missionaries from Regent, but she is the first I’ve met from BU.

Our Vancouver-based colleague, Gary, Mimi and Jamie Taylor, us, and a great big birthday cake for OMF!
I can't resist a couple of food pictures too. We ate really well.

High tea at the Empress Hotel in Victoria. The most recent Empress to have tea there was the Empress of Japan, in case you were wondering.
Pumpkin pie brûlée at The Shaughnessy Restaurant, next to Van Dusen Gardens. Highly recommended.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Tea ceremony, Pacific Northwest style

Today’s coffee: Rwanda (still drinking Tokumitsu coffee, which I’ve been hoarding…)

Yesterday was a long day: I did a tea ceremony presentation for high school students at Missions Fest Seattle. There were a lot of preparations, but what resulted was a uniquely Pacific Northwest style of tea ceremony. (It wasn’t necessarily “correct,” but sometimes it’s fun to be creative.) Let me explain.

Here's my setup. Unconventional, but that's not a bad thing.
Tea ceremony can be pretty expensive. There are lots of valuable (breakable) tools and accessories and clothing, so I try to get things used whenever possible. Here in Seattle, it’s hard to get tea ceremony equipment at all. But I have discovered some work-arounds for these problems, or, to put it in inappropriately casual terms, life hacks for tea ceremony.

There is a precedent for this way of thinking. Sen no Rikyu, the founder of tea ceremony as it is currently practiced, repurposed everyday objects for use in tea ceremony: peasants’ rice bowls became tea cups, tubes of bamboo became flower vases, and rustic iron cauldrons became kettles for tea water. I’m just putting Rikyu’s wisdom into practice… is what I say to justify myself.

I collected various tools in Japan and brought them to Seattle, but a hearth (furo) was too large and heavy. I figured I could find something comparable. Thankfully, the fruit stand at the bottom of the hill was selling their planter pots at half off for end of season clearance; I purchased a large (despicably heavy) brown clay planter.

This setup needed some work, though. First, I needed an electric burner to keep my tea kettle warm. I found one on Amazon for $13. Sweet!

Next, I needed a slab of wood to keep the planter from damaging the picnic mat I sit on when doing tea ceremony. The picnic mat itself was a life hack, since transporting tatami mats from Japan would have been nearly impossible. I asked my dad if he might be able to cut a cross section of a tree and clean it up a bit. In typical fashion, he took my simple request to a whole level beyond what I had expected. Dad chain-sawed a round off a log from a tree behind our house (part of the tree was rotten, so it had to be cut), then cleaned it up in his workshop.

The log.
Dad working on the cross section of log to make it pretty.
The gigantic coaster, as we started calling it, and the matching insert to adjust the height of the burner and tea kettle, turned out gorgeous.

My kettle (tetsubin), which I brought with me from Japan, hanging out in its new home (planter pot fitted with two slabs of maple tree). The tea tray in the foreground came from the same tree. And of course, my beloved picnic mat and tea basket.
I also needed a tea tray. I could have easily brought one home, since they are light and small, but my dad can make guitars, so a tea tray ought to be child’s play, right? Dad used many of the same techniques he uses for guitars (bent sides around a book-matched piece of maple from the same tree as the previously mentioned coaster).

Dad bends the side of the tea tray with his bending iron
Of course, I couldn’t imitate Rikyu properly without also scouring the house for interesting objects to use. I re-discovered a painted screen which had adorned my grandparents’ living room fall for decades, and set it up behind me to give the feel of being in a tea room. Keith carried sweets to our guests using a wooden tray my grandfather made. I also found a cute flower vase from our exchange student’s hometown in Wernigerode, Germany, which Mom filled with late autumn flowers from the garden.

We didn’t have enough chawan (tea bowls) for the number of guests we expected. Solution: Say hello to my first project in pottery class.

It's a bit lumpy, but it worked out fine.
Then of course we needed wagashi (Japanese sweets). Since it’s rare to find proper wagashi outside of Japan, my Seattle-area teacher makes all her own wagashi for our classes (I look forward to them every time!!) The only thing to do was make them myself! It’s autumn, so it was perfect timing to make the kuri manjū (chestnut buns) I learned to make from a friend at church. I also tried making kuri yōkan for the first time. (Mine didn’t look as pretty as hers.)

Here's what they looked like before they went in the oven. I forgot to take an after picture. Preoccupied with other stuff, I guess.
Finally, I needed helpers. Keith was an obvious choice for the hantō role, carrying tea and sweets to each guest while I prepare the tea. He had to kneel and stand 2 or 3 times in front of each person (about 30 total guests), amounting to the equivalent of about 80 squats. His legs are pretty tired, he says. After a last minute crash course (the day before), Mom took on the backstage helper role, standing at the back of the room while making tea and washing tea bowls, since I couldn’t go fast enough by myself.

Last minute practicing in our living room

Yesterday, I got up at what seemed like the crack of dawn to do final preparations, and off we went!

I thought there would be 10 high school girls for tea… but far more showed up than expected. After the first 14 or so, Keith started taking down reservations for a second session. Thankfully, I brought more than twice as many kuri manjū as I thought I needed.

This was session #2.
I served tea as part of a presentation in which I told stories about our life and work in Japan, talked about the history of tea ceremony, and then invited everyone to enjoy some quiet, reflective time while I prepared and served the tea. No rest for Keith or Mom, though. They were working hard the whole time.

This morning I had tea ceremony class. I enjoyed being served by my teacher and fellow students after experiencing firsthand the extent of the preparations for an ochakai (tea gathering). Next time there should be fewer tools to make from scratch, though.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Vancouver and Victoria Trip, October 17-25

Guess what? We're going to Vancouver and Victoria! For those of you who live there, we can meet in person!

We'll be participating in the following events:

Heart for Asia Victoria conference (OMF)
Saturday, October 17, 10:00 a.m.-3:00 p.m.
Saanich Community Church
4566 W. Saanich Rd., Victoria
We'll be leading worship and presenting briefly about our work.

Sunday Worship, Vancouver First Christian Reformed Church
Sunday, October 18, 10:30 a.m.
We'll be tag-teaming the sermon (mostly Celia)

Heart For Asia: Youth 2 Young Adult Night (OMF)
Friday, October 23, 7:15-9:30 p.m.
Evangelical Chinese Bible Church
5110 Marine Dr., Burnaby

Heart For Asia Vancouver (OMF)
Saturday, October 24, 9:30 a.m.-3:00 p.m.
Evangelical Chinese Bible Church
5110 Marine Dr., Burnaby
We're presenting a seminar on some of the challenges to evangelism in Japan.

OMF 150 Years Anniversary Celebration
Sunday, October 25, 3:00-5:00 p.m.
Emmanuel Baptist Church
2121 Cedar Hill Crossroad, Victoria

Please come! (Or send us an email if you want to have coffee together or something...)

Listening (really)

Today’s coffee: Something from Costco, I think?

So, we’re settling into home assignment, I guess. Settling might be a bit of an overstatement, since no two days are the same, and no two weeks are the same. Earlier this month I was lulled into a false sense of not being busy… which was fine, to some extent, since I am still recovering from a nasty cold. But I’m starting to panic about preparations for various things we’re doing next month. This leads me to spend lots of time planning out what I have to do when, and then not doing anything, and then panicking. It’s a vicious cycle.

There’s also lots of food around here. I’ve been helping my mom deal with it all.

We canned applesauce, ginger pears, pear mincemeat, and apple jam. 3 types of salsa were already in the pantry...
In the middle of all of this, I am realizing that perhaps one of my most important “tasks” during these 10 months at home (or away from home, depending on how you look at it) could be to actually learn to listen to God’s voice. I’ve been talking about this for years, and encouraging others to do the same.

But my habit tends to look like this: scurry around like crazy doing what I think I’m supposed to be doing, so busy that I’m really not paying attention to my surroundings or my friends and family, and if God is trying to say something to me, he’d have to shout over all the noise… and then when something difficult or perplexing comes up, to suddenly try to shut off all that noise and strain my ears and try to ask God for help. But then, I’m rarely able to tell if what I’m hearing at that point is God’s voice or my own thoughts, since I’m not accustomed to listening.

We’re in the middle of discerning where in Japan we will return to next May, and what sort of work we will be doing then. We have more ideas about the sort of work than the place, but in any case, we are perplexed as we struggle to sort out our own thoughts and emotions and figure out what is God’s leading and what is our own desires getting in the way. (Thankfully we have many others thinking this through and praying with us, so we’re not alone.)

At the moment, however, we are taking a breather. We’ll get back to thinking seriously about our next placement shortly, but for now, there’s a bit of space to develop good habits of listening before we need to make a decision. A book I have been reading suggests that perhaps I would want to seek instruction from God first, then direction. I think that’s good advice. 2-hour quiet times? Why not? Bring it on. We’ll see how well I do with that given next month’s schedule. I’m praying that I can use my time wisely and protect a bit of margin so that I will have time to listen… and so that I won’t go crazy when everything takes longer than I think it will. (At least I’m writing and delivering talks in my native language these days…)

"'You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you,' declares the Lord..."
   Jeremiah 29:13-14a

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

For my introverted friends

It was seven in the morning… and I’d been up all night, because we were having a party, and some of the guests just wouldn’t go home. I stared, bleary-eyed, at the clock, cringing at the thought of my 10 a.m. rehearsal. I knew I would be in no shape for that now. Just as I thought that our guests might finally be starting to think about going home, and that I might get a few hours of precious sleep, the doorbell rang. “Hey, is the party still going?” a voice rang out. I desperately wanted to lock the door and pretend to be asleep, but someone (I’m not naming names) opened the door and let them in. I sighed and pasted a cheery smile on my face, hoping no one would notice how bloodshot my eyes had become.

...And then I woke up. Thank God, it was only a dream. (It’s not like we’re in the habit of hosting all-night parties. I suppose I should have recognized the familiar “something’s not quite right here” feeling that goes along with weird dreams.)

Last week we had a lot of amazing times of food, fun, and fellowship with a whole lot of friends. If you were one of them, thank you! I loved every minute of it. 

But apparently my subconscious was starting to feel strained.

For the record, I’m not trying to say “leave me alone, I’m an introvert.” (Please picture me smiling as I write.) I’m writing this because I think my introverted colleagues and friends will find it funny. So please, dear friends and family, invite me over, come over to my place, or let’s go out for coffee… after I’ve recovered from last week.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Friendships and baby steps

I'm writing various stories this week. I just (re)wrote this one, even though it took place over 10 years ago. I hope the subject of this story isn't embarrassed by it... after all, she is awesome and I really wish she didn't live so far away.

We have found that people often want to know what motivated us to go to Japan, so I needed to write some stories on that subject. I've written a bit about this before, but I think God has put Japanese people in my life since childhood who have been treasured friends, mentors, and colleagues. These important friendships nudged me towards Japan one step at a time.

On the day of the first rehearsal for my cello recital at Boston University, harpsichordist, Akiko Sato greeted me at the door to her apartment and invited me to sit down for a cup of green tea. We’re not starting rehearsal right away? I thought to myself, surprised.

Akiko asked me how I was doing. We chatted about school and gigs I had done and pieces of music I liked. She told me stories about her own studies in Montreal, her family back in Japan, and her husband, Toshi.

An hour or so later, Akiko checked the tuning on her harpsichord while I got my cello out of its case. As we started playing, each piece came to life with Akiko’s rich accompaniment. Her insight and suggestions displayed an immense knowledge and love of Baroque music.

I didn’t notice that several hours had passed, except that I was starting to get hungry. “We’re having a special Japanese meal tonight; do you want to join us?” Akiko offered. I eagerly agreed, following her into the kitchen to help. We cut long, thin slices of vegetables and omelette and squares of seaweed. Toshi came home in time to help set the table. Akiko demonstrated how to spread seasoned sushi rice over the square of seaweed, pile on the vegetables and egg, roll, and eat the finished temakizushi with her hands. She watched me as I wolfed them down one after another. “Do you want me to take you to the Japanese grocery store?” she offered. I nodded, mouth full.

Toshi drove my cello and me home with Akiko beside him in the passenger seat. We argued about baseball and I laughed as Akiko explained that even though they lived in Boston, they were closet Yankees fans because of the Japanese players on the team.

In front of my apartment building, I thanked them again and again. “Don’t worry about it,” said Akiko. “I’m glad you were able to come over.”

Over the next two years, Akiko’s work ethic, expertise, generous hospitality, and most of all, friendship, grew my love for Japanese people and pushed me one small step closer to Japan.

One month later: my baroque cello recital, accompanied by Akiko on harpsichord and my teacher, Sarah Freiberg on cello

Friday, September 11, 2015

Reverse Culture Shock Moments

Today’s coffee: Trader Joe’s

For those of us who have lived overseas, “home” is a complicated subject. I’m back living at my parents’ house, and although in some ways it feels very much like home, in some ways it doesn’t. Having grown accustomed to my life in Japan, leaving our home there and coming back to the US for our “home assignment” of 10 months has been a mixed bag—joy of reunion with friends and family here in the US along with missing people and places we left behind.

Over the course of the last week, I’ve been writing down some of my reverse culture shock moments; like the overall experience of returning to my hometown, they’ve been a mix of joys and sorrows and surprises. Here are some of my experiences and observations.

This little guy (photographed at music camp last month) looks about like how I feel... 
My parents have almost the same Zojirushi (a Japanese brand) hot water pot and rice cooker as we do in Japan. The rice cooker even plays the same song when the rice is done. But the writing on the buttons is in English and the temperature on the hot water pot is in Fahrenheit. I found my eyes were drawn to the “押す” (push) labelled lever to open the water pot and I tried pressing that to get the hot water to come out rather than the English-labelled “dispense” button.

The milk comes in 2 and 4 liters… by which I mean half gallons and gallons. In Japan it comes in liters. But the American “whole milk” isn’t as creamy as the 2.5% we usually buy in Hokkaido.

Making eye contact: I’ve trained myself not to do that, since we often don’t in Japan. Now my lack of eye contact probably makes me look sketchy. (Sorry if I’ve weirded you out.)

Taking tea ceremony classes in Kirkland overlooking Lake Washington is pretty surreal. But outside of my circle of friends, no one knows what tea ceremony is. Or where Hokkaido is. Well, almost no one.

Spending $15 at Starbucks for 2 people: really? (To be fair, we have Starbucks in Japan, but we never went there, since it was far away from where we lived… and if I wanted a chain coffee shop, Doutor was just as good and a lot cheaper… and great sandwiches and cakes.)

Getting a cold: no one has asked me if I’ve been to the hospital yet.

Box springs: why do we even have them? They creak and make the bed too soft. Thankfully my resourceful dad and husband fixed our bed so it doesn’t sag in the middle any more.

No onsen. Sad face.

There is ramen in the Seattle area, but it’s not the same as Hokkaido ramen. (I’ll probably go eat it anyway, because I’m craving it like nothing else.) On the other hand, there’s a much larger selection of ethnic food to be enjoyed (MEXICAN FOOD), although we will miss our neighborhood Indian restaurant in Ishikari.

Free fruit! Cheap fruit! We have already harvested more apples and pears and plums than I could ever hope to eat right out of our yard. Some of them we have preserved in gigantic quart-sized canning jars, which we can’t get in Japan. We will make applesauce this year, and apple pie, which were prohibitively expensive in Japan (1 apple=$1). Also, I bought a melon for less than $3! (Cheap Hokkaido melon=$10)

Keith washes a sink full of apples
Pears and plums
I asked my mom to grow shiso in her garden. I forgot to tell her that shiso plants get quite large. She planted 5 rows.

Our shiso jungle
Seattle rush-hour (or not even rush-hour) is terrifying… especially when I went to make a quick lane change and turned on the wipers instead of the blinker.

We went to eat at Denny’s once and went home knowing more about our waitress’ family than we ever learned about Yasuda-san, who served us breakfast at the Royal Host almost every Monday for two years. Also, compared to booths at family restaurants in Japan, which are quite tall, I was surprised that I could have easily leaned over the back of the booth at Denny’s and started a conversation with the people at the next table. I guess that’s what we did on those late-night large-group Denny’s trips in high school. We ended up speaking Japanese so we could have a private conversation, whereas we spoke English at the Royal Host for the same reason. And the man at the next table over was speaking Chinese on the phone.

Monday, September 07, 2015

Tied for Last Place (Delicious) Green Chili

My chili is on the right, and my dad's (also delicious and tied for last place) is on the left.
As the title says, I tied (with my dad) for last place in the Easter Acres chili cook-off this year. We know this because there were only 4 "hot" chili entries, and we shared third prize. Mixed feelings.

Still, I know this chili is good, so I'm sharing the recipe. The first time I made it with green tomatoes and Hokkaido toramame (tiger beans), but as usual, chili is something I throw together with available ingredients... and there has been a bumper crop of tomatillos in Mom's garden this year.

Part 1: Chicken and Stock

  • Whole chicken
  • Olive oil
  • Salt and pepper
  • Minced cilantro and oregano
  • Garlic powder
  • Vegetables for stock (onion, garlic, herbs, etc.)
Preheat the oven to 350°F.

Wash the chicken, rub with salt, rinse, and pat dry with paper towels. Rub olive oil, salt, pepper, cilantro, oregano, and garlic powder over the whole chicken; place in an oven-safe stock pot.

Roast at 350 uncovered for 30 minutes, then turn the oven down to 300 and roast covered for 3 hours; allow to cool.

When the chicken is cool enough to handle, remove the meat from the bones and shred the meat (I recommend using your fingers). Put the bones back into the stock pot (no need to wash it--that would be a waste) with some onion, garlic, herbs, or whatever vegetables you have on hand, and cover with water. Simmer for an hour, then strain out the solids.

Part 2: Beans

  • 3/4 lb dried cranberry beans or similar
  • Chicken stock (see part 1)
Cook the beans, according to package directions, until they are just tender, then drain. Marinate them in a little of the chicken stock and set aside.

Part 3: Chili

  • Olive oil (or bacon grease, if you have any)
  • 2 large onions, chopped
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 pound bacon ends, diced (normal bacon is also okay)
  • 1 small leek, chopped fine
  • 6 cloves garlic, minced
  • 3 cups anaheim and bell peppers (green), or other mild green peppers
  • Green hot peppers to taste
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon coriander
  • 1 cup white wine
  • Chicken stock (see part 1)
  • 3 pounds tomatillos, chopped (green tomatoes are also okay, but you will need to peel them)
  • 1 pear, peeled, cored and diced
  • 1 tablespoon oregano, minced
  • 1/2 cup cilantro, minced
  • 1 can corn
  • Chicken (see part 1)
  • Beans (see part 2)
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • Cayenne or other spicy chili powder, to taste
Clear any weird bits from your stock pot (No need to wash; that would waste the tastiness in the pot, right?) and put it back on the stove over medium-low heat. Warm up the oil (or bacon grease), then sauté the onions until they are beginning to turn caramel-brown. Add the bacon, leeks, garlic, and peppers in order as you cut them up and continue to cook until they are soft.

Turn up the heat to medium-high. Add cumin and coriander; stir to incorporate well, until spices are fragrant. Deglaze the pot with the wine, then add the tomatillos, pear, and enough chicken stock to cover everything. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer until the vegetables are tender, about 30 minutes.

Add the oregano, cilantro, corn, chicken, and beans. If necessary, add more chicken stock. Simmer for another 5 minutes, then season with salt, pepper, and chili powder, if it's not spicy enough for your taste.

Serve with cilantro and sour cream.

Chili and writing projects

Today there was no coffee. I’m sick. (Again.)

I’ve declared this week to be writing week in our house. My parents are on vacation, so the house is very quiet, making this an ideal time to work. And there’s not much on the schedule, and I’m recovering from a cold, which makes me not want to budge very far from “sitting in a comfortable chair wrapped in a quilt with a cup of herbal tea within reach.” Thankfully, my laptop is also nearby, so I’ll try to write something.

 I have lots of projects—liner notes for a CD, blog posts, bits for talks we’re giving various places this fall, and a sermon. I will perhaps post some other things that I write this week, but right now I feel like writing about recent happenings around home. Specifically, last Sunday, we had our annual neighborhood chili cook-off! (Our neighborhood is called Easter Acres, by the way.)

On August 19, less than two weeks before the big day, we residents of Easter Acres crammed around the table on my parents’ deck. Ostensibly, we were meeting to make plans for the annual chili cook-off, but there was little indication of any sort of “meeting” to be found within the lively conversation, loud laughter, and guests making multiple trips to the kitchen to refill their plates with salmon, steak, bread, and salad.

Over peach cobbler and ice cream, the conversation finally turned to the business at hand. This year would be the 27th chili cook-off, so making plans consisted of going through a well-organized to-do list and finding helpers for each task. I could see my dad inching backward from the table, hoping to avoid being asked to do too much. After some initial “Why do we do this every year? It’s too much work!” and other such complaints, each person cheerfully volunteered to take on a number of tasks. The one task remaining was managing the trash; my brother, who was not present, somehow found his name down for that task.

On August 28, two days before the chili cook-off, I came home from my tea-ceremony lesson (wearing a kimono) to find every surface on the kitchen counter covered with chili ingredients, and my parents both hard at work on their chilis. What, already? I thought to myself. After a quick trip to the store to get the few ingredients that weren’t available fresh from the garden, I started to prepare ingredients for my chili, but it was already dinner time. After dinner, I looked at the recipe again and discovered that the whole chicken I would shred and put in my chili needed to roast for three and a half hours. I groaned. This would be a late night.

On August 29, the day before the chili cook-off (and my dad’s birthday), I could hear the telltale sounds of moving furniture. As I went downstairs for breakfast, I found a large, white armchair halfway down on the landing. “It’s so no one spills chili on it,” my mom explained. All the downstairs furniture had been rearranged to accommodate the chili cook-off crowd, since the forecast called for rain. Keith headed off to our church to borrow some tables while I began to pull roasted chicken meat off the bones to prepare the shredded chicken and soup stock for my chili. Soon a pot of stock and a pot of cranberry beans simmered on the stove while I cut up onions, peppers, tomatillos and herbs. Mom moved anything unnecessary out of the kitchen; Dad, fighting a cold, avoided all unnecessary movements. I left a birthday card on my dad’s computer while he was napping, with a promise to make him a cake when all this craziness was finished.

On August 30, the day of the chili cook-off, we made a pact. After church, we were heading straight home: no talking to anyone, straight out the door. However: Keith ran off to get a snack (he hadn’t had breakfast); Mom and I followed him and started up a conversation with a friend. Meanwhile, Keith issued a last minute invitation to a person he had met recently. Then Mom realized: “We have to go! I still need to season my chili!” We hurried out the back door towards our car.

At home, Dad, who had stayed behind because of his cold, was heating up our chilis on the stove. I tasted my chili: too mild. I added salt and a tiny bit of the insanely hot chili powder my brother brought home from Mexico. I tasted again: still too mild. And something is missing. I added a drizzle of honey, some cooking wine, and more of my brother’s chili powder. Still too mild. I sprinkled the chili powder more liberally over the surface. By this time, our guests had started to arrive, so I cleaned up the kitchen while directing guests where to put their potluck contributions.

To my surprise, only three others brought hot chilis, while the rest brought mild chilis—about 12 pots. This year, I’ll win, I thought as I dished my chili up into little plastic cups for judging. What was there not to like? Shredded roast chicken and beautiful cranberry beans against a backdrop of sweet-sour tomatillos, peppers, and onions. The pear tree in the garden provided us with an abundance of fruit this year; I chopped one up and added it for sweetness. After all, you need something interesting to distinguish your chili from all the others. My friends, Hiromi and Chris made a chili with kabocha, shiitake, and gobo. I think that was the most interesting one.

Preparing sample cups for the judges
Hot chilis
Mild chilis
After the judges picked up their sample cups, I picked up a bowl and hovered around the chili table, sampling a bit of each chili and talking with guests about their impressions. As the results from the mild category were announced, I quickly snatched a mouthful of each of the winning chilis before they were devoured. Then we moved on to the hot category. Maybe this would be my year? There were only four hot chilis, after all. “Tied for third place: #13 and #27.” So, Dad and I tied for last place. (I thought it was good…)

Judging in progress
When the judging was over and most everyone had finished eating, in a weird cross-cultural moment, I got out my shamisen at the request of some of the guests, and played “Nasu to kabocha” (eggplant and kabocha squash) in honor of Hiromi and Chris’ unusual chili.