Saturday, April 25, 2015

Why I Do Tea Ceremony

Today’s coffee: Affogato (espresso poured over vanilla ice cream)

The cherry blossoms came very early this year (pictures forthcoming). I find this rather frustrating: they will probably be gone by next Thursday, when we are scheduled to go on a “hanami” flower-viewing picnic with some friends. So Keith and I will also be doing hanami on Monday. Last year I was flattened with a cold during the entire hanami season, so I’m determined to see some cherry blossoms this year.

This week I had one of those moments that reminded me why I’ve been working so hard at tea ceremony for the last two years… not to mention, why I’m in Japan.

On Tuesday night, I was super tired, but I really didn’t want to give up a rare chance to meet with A, a busy high school student, for Bible study. I had received some advice from a friend: why don’t you share something with her that’s been important to you lately? So I chose Psalm 125, which had been an encouragement in the days following my grandfather’s death. “Those who trust in the Lord are like Mount Zion, which cannot be shaken but endures forever. As the mountains surround Jerusalem, so the Lord surrounds his people both now and forevermore.” And for the sake of brevity, as well as introducing a useful spiritual discipline, I decided to do Lectio Divina.

As I gathered resources, I started thinking about ways to calm our hearts to listen to what God is saying through the text. Of course I thought of tea ceremony, which has a calming effect on me, and A seems to like it too. So I gathered up the necessary tools and headed for church.

I explained that I was going to do tea ceremony; A’s eyes sparkled. I invited her to use the time in which I prepared the tea to quiet her heart and give her worries to God. Then I explained briefly the guest’s role: “お点前ちょうだい致します” (otemae choudai itashimasu—thanks for the tea), raise the chawan in a gesture of thanks, turn the chawan clockwise twice, and drink. “Let’s thank God for the tea and ask him to fill us with thankfulness,” I explained.

After we finished our tea, we moved on to Lectio Divina. I can’t say I was really able to explain it well—I was tired—but I think the quietness and peace of the tea ceremony lingered on as we listened together for God’s voice. I don’t know what was going on in A’s heart, but she seemed to gradually relax after her long day at school. I hope that she was able to remember and enjoy the benefits of this precious quiet time free from distractions as she returned to her studies.

This is why I’m studying tea ceremony. This is why I’m in Japan—well, one reason. Please pray with me that the busy, overworked, overtired people around me can find true rest in God.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

How to Make Miso

We eat a lot of fermented and pickled foods in Japan. Various pickles, umeboshi, miso, natto, and so on. Of course, with most such foods, you prepare them and then wait a long time until they're ready to eat. Good things come to those who wait. A lot of what we do in our line of work is waiting and praying, so pickles are a good (and tasty, not to mention healthy) reminder to be patient.

I posted a year and a half ago about making lasagna--both my recipe and pictures of a lasagna class I did. I mentioned to some of the ladies at that church that I am interested in pickles of all sorts, which resulted in an invitation to join them in their annual miso-making event. Awesome!

Mrs. Minamie, grinding the soybeans
The following is the result of the notes and pictures I took at the miso-making event. I had to wait a year to see if it turned out to post anything... but I'll just say I will be doing this again. Once you have tasted homemade miso, it's hard to go back to the store-bought kind.

However, big disclaimer: If you are squeamish about mold, don't bother.


How to make miso

Ingredients
  • 1 kg (2.2 lb) soy beans
  • 1.2 kg (2.6 lb) kome-koji (rice mixed with a fungus that ferments the beans)
  • 400 g (14 oz) salt (天塩--amajio if you can get it; it has some minerals which improve the taste, I'm told.)

Instructions

Soak soy beans overnight. Transfer the beans to a large cooking pot with plenty of water; bring to a boil. (Watch out, they get very frothy.) Skim off the foam about 2 times, then cook at a gentle simmer for about an hour. (Cooking time depends on how old your beans are, so test them periodically.) Let stand for another 15 minutes if necessary--you want the beans fully cooked but not falling apart. Drain, reserving some of the cooking liquid in case the miso is too dry.

In a large bowl, break up clumps in the kome-koji between the palms of your hands. Mix in the salt.

This is kome-koji.
Crush the beans with a food processor or meat grinder. Allow the beans to cool until you can handle them. This is important; you don't want to kill the bacteria in the kome-koji! You may find, however, that the beans cool off plenty during grinding.


Combine koji mixture and crushed beans together with your hands. After things are pretty well blended, press and squeeze the mixture, forming fist size balls. Press these firmly into a clean pickling crock or bucket one at a time; make sure no air can get in below the surface.


Wipe around the edge of the crock with a liquor-soaked paper towel. (We use White Liquor, which is 35%. Basically, it's to kill the germs while still being safe if it gets into the miso.)


Press a layer of plastic wrap onto the surface of the miso and sprinkle with salt.


Store in a cool place… for a long time. About a year. You need at least one summer to mature the miso. (We made our miso in February 2014, and it was ready to eat at Christmas time.)

I can't wait... but I'll be waiting a long time!
When you get your miso out of storage, there will probably be mold on top. Do not be (too) alarmed, as long as the mold is only growing on the surface.

Looks pretty freaky, but it's only on the surface.
Carefully scrape off the top layer, wipe any mold off the sides of the crock with a liquor-soaked paper towel, and remove the nice miso below to a clean container; store in the refrigerator. Or, you can leave some of the miso in the crock, topped with plastic wrap and salt, and store it in a cool place to age for another year or so.

See? It looks pretty good... and tastes even better!
Now go try it! Easy! If you live in Seattle, I'm pretty sure you can get all the ingredients at Uwajimaya.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Happy birthday?

Today’s coffee: Mother’s Day Blend (a bit early, but…)

I’m in a bit of a daze. Up until a few months ago, my grandfather was doing pretty well. I thought for sure he would make it until we go “home” to Seattle in July. I thought wrong. 16 years ago today, on the day after my 18th birthday, I lost my paternal grandfather. How ironic that I would lose my maternal grandfather on my 34th birthday.

I’m so disconnected from things on the other side of the pond that I’m not even sure what to think or feel. My family is going through a painful time, and I’m not there. Reverse culture shock aside, I’m kind of scared of the shock of how much has changed in the lives of friends and family when we go on home assignment.

But let me tell you about Granddad. Here’s my favorite picture of him, with my family’s cat, Indiana. Indiana did not want to sit on Grandmother’s lap, even though she desperately wanted him to. Instead, Indiana went to Granddad, who scratched him behind the ears with a smug look on his face. The cat looks pretty smug too. Heh heh heh. I printed out this picture and gave it to Grandmother.


Here’s a scene that could never have happened in Japan. Here you have to have a license to drive a boat. I’m pretty sure I was under-qualified at this age, but Granddad let me try anyway. I also have many happy memories of playing hide and seek on tiny islands and hand-feeding grapes and carrot sticks to deer together. When we came back to the boat, Grandmother, in the midst of dinner preparations, would complain how noisy we had been. “I could hear you halfway across the island!”


They were there for my high school graduation, my college graduation party (not pictured, since my face was mangled from a bike accident), my wedding… and they came all the way to Colorado for one of my recitals in college, although I can’t find a picture of that either. My parents, my brother, my cousins, and I were blessed to have them nearby, eager to help out and support us whenever we needed it.




And of course, we had lots of Christmas and birthday celebrations, too.

I'm not sure how old this picture is. I didn't change much in high school or college, but judging from my brother, I was probably 18 or 19?
Speaking of birthday celebrations, as I was trying to figure out what sort of frosting to put on my birthday cake (I was out of powdered sugar), I found this recipe—handwritten by Grandmother—in the file of recipes I scanned before we came to Japan. This frosting adorned the top of every birthday cake for at least 20 years. I didn’t make it this time (I didn't have corn syrup, and I'm not sure what “soft ball” really means), but my mom promises that we’ll make it together during our home assignment.


Friday, April 03, 2015

Feeling the time crunch

Today's coffee: Rwanda and "spring-colored blend" (春色ブレンド)

My computer is still in the shop, so here I am at Tokumitsu typing with my thumb on my iPod. I was on my way home from an appointment, so I uncharacteristically came by car. On days like this I'm very glad to have a car; it is pouring rain and windy. I saw lots of inside-out umbrellas this morning. (Actually, it's kind of fun to watch as the wind blows across the puddles in the parking lot.)


I'm also glad to be inside drinking coffee!


This week I've been cooking for our friends' two teenage sons. They eat a lot. 2-3 times as much as I eat, in fact. It's a challenge to make enough food for all of us. Thankfully there hasn't been too much else on the schedule, so we've been catching up on lots of projects around the house.

With a bit more time to think about things, it really hit home this week that we only have 3 more months left of our first four-year term in Japan, and really only two months left of ministry. Once we hit June, we will have some vacation time and then packing up and saying our goodbyes. We can't start anything new now. Whatever we haven't been able to do will have to wait until next term.

But I was reminded yesterday, thanks to Keith's message at our weekly OMF prayer meeting, that while we are called to be obedient and diligent in doing the work God has given us, most of what we do is watching, waiting, listening, and praying as God works miracles all around us. This is God's work, not mine. (All the same, we have become quite attached to our church family at Wakaba, so I don't want to say goodbye.)

I guess that's it for this week. I'm clinging to God and trusting him for our next steps.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Ultraman's photo diary, part 3

Today's coffee: iced! It's warm outside!

It's been awhile since I've had time to write. Things have been rather busy lately.

My computer is broken (again), so this week, I'd like to present another edition of Ultraman's photo diary via my iPod. Enjoy!

"Greetings, earthlings. It's been awhile. I'm sure you've been eager to know what I've been up to. Let me enlighten you.

Of course I've been training. I got a bit stuck this time, though.


In January, I took a trip to Tokyo for a photo shoot. 


Here's some of the photos. Some of my friends took part too. I think they turned out pretty good.


This one was on a train!


The people in Tokyo must really like me. They even wrote a song in my honor.


And there were street lamps shaped like my eyes! I didn't know whether to be creeped out or impressed.


When I got back to Hokkaido, I injured my foot again. I think I was pushing myself too hard in training. But Keith took good care of me (he got some stronger glue) so this time I should be okay.


My friend showed up again. We played hide and seek.


I'm a lot better at hiding than he is. 


I got an awesome hat. 


That's about it for now. Look forward to my next update!"

p.s. The Tokyo pictures were taken in the neighborhood where Takahashi-Sensei grew up. Now I get it...

Sunday, March 08, 2015

I can't believe all this happened in just one week.

Today's coffee: I think I had some a while ago.

This has been quite the week.

On Sunday after church, two people confessed faith during a seeker's Bible study. Praise God!

On Monday, I went skiing for the first time in five years. I can still ski! Yay! (I think maybe God knew that I needed the fresh air and alone-time given what was coming later in the week...)

The gondola was very comfortable.
Hokkaido's birch trees are beautiful in any season.
On Tuesday, three more people started seeker's Bible studies. I am leading one of those myself... and preparing new materials to use (in Japanese). Feeling expectant… and a little underprepared. (We also celebrated Girls’ Day at our tea ceremony class!)


Sensei made us some delicious chirashizushi... and I'm not sure what the soup-like dish was called, but it was baked or steamed egg. Either way, it was very tasty.
On Wednesday, I worked all day revising a talk about marriage that Keith and I did together for the youth group so that I could give it again by myself for my small group (women in their 30’s and 40’s). It didn’t come together quite as easily as I thought—due to complexities of Japanese, it’s somewhat complicated to talk about what someone else was thinking, so I had to alter some of Keith’s portions quite a bit.

On Thursday, we lost our colleague, How Chuang Chua, to cancer. I realize that in missions work, no one is indispensible, and I am glad that he is no longer suffering… but I cannot help but think that this is a huge loss for OMF Japan, for his colleagues at the theological school where he had been teaching, for his family, and for us personally. I’m not really able at the moment to talk or write about this subject using “missionary appropriate” words, so I’ll link to an excellent blog that a sempai (senior student) from Regent College has written. Lord, have mercy.

On Friday, I made タコ飯 (octopus rice), having received a leg and part of the head of an octopus. Apparently they are in season. (I confess I really have no idea what to do with seafood of most kinds.) Keith’s Japanese teacher, a single guy who lives with his mom and doesn’t cook much, helped coach me through “what to do with octopus.” It went something like this.
Shriek from kitchen. (The suckers on the legs still suck.)

I carry a bowl containing octopus parts into the living room. “Sensei, can you eat this part?” “Yeah, no problem.” “What about this?” “Uh…” (“Just throw that part away,” Keith whispers in English.)

Back in the kitchen, I boil the octopus leg for a few minutes. Some sort of film is detaching itself from the skin. “Sensei, is this okay? Can I eat it like this?” “Yeah, it’s fine. Maybe boil it a little longer?”

I carefully slice the leg, being careful not to touch the suckers again. Difficult, as it's slimy and round. Sensei said that the octopus rice was really good. (I used this recipe.)
On Saturday, I gave the aforementioned talk to my small group. I think it went pretty well. We had a good conversation afterwards.

Today is Sunday, and I’m looking forward to Sambi-Reihai (worship service with lots of songs, scripture, and a short message) this afternoon. Today for the first time our three middle-school musicians will join us for two of the songs! Apparently they’re very excited.

I’m also looking forward to my day off tomorrow.

Friday, February 27, 2015

The Multiplying Bento

Today’s coffee: Dominican Republic

It’s already melt season. I suppose we could get another round of snow storms, but already we can see the road outside our house. Usually we would not expect this for another month. My friends (in this area) are posting pictures of crocuses on Facebook. Global warming?

I want to write about some encouraging things that have happened in the last few weeks… besides the melting snow.

Keith and I were away from home for 3 weeks during the end of January and the beginning of February. As often happens when we take time off for a conference or vacation, appointments and responsibilities got crammed in before and after we go. The day after we returned, I was scheduled to give the Sunday school message.

The usual pattern for the Sunday school message has been that the children sit in chairs in rows while one of the leaders stands at the front and gives a talk or tells a story. Keith and I have been trying some different models. If it’s a story they know well, we get them to tell the story. That worked well on Easter Sunday. Once, Keith had the kids act out the story of the good shepherd as a play. That time the story got a bit out of hand—the so-called “good shepherd” let the robber into the sheep pen and the sheep were overjoyed to be “attacked.” Oops.

The shepherd and the thief "fight" while the "sheep" enjoy the show
I have read to the kids a few times from a children’s Bible story book that I like. Usually I have them sit on zabuton (cushions for sitting on the floor) in a circle, and I ask them questions and interact with them as we read through the story. This seems to keep them engaged (and sitting still), while being a good option for someone like me who doesn’t enjoy public speaking.

To return to the Sunday school message a few weeks ago, I was assigned the story of the feeding of the 5000; thankfully, this story was included in my book. Unfortunately I didn’t have sufficient time to practice reading it aloud—I was busy preparing my visual aid: a bento. (As a cultural aside, this story is a favorite among children in Japan, since they love going on picnics and eating a bento lunch.)


Opening my bento box. That day I had yakiudon. What story does this remind you of, kids?
I stumbled over an unfamiliar word in the first paragraph. I apologized for my lack of preparation and just as I was going to continue reading, one boy snatched the book out of my hands and continued reading where I had left off, perfectly expressing the nuances of the story—the disciples’ doubt, the small boy’s faith, and Jesus’ sense of humor shone through. (My young helper’s brothers were also eager for a chance to read—my role switched from reader to supervisor as I made sure everyone got their turn so that we didn’t end up with a riot…) After the three brothers (and their older sister) finished reading, I wrapped up the story by talking about how God can use even the small and insufficient to do amazing things—he can even use us!

Reading the story together
This development was completely unexpected, and I felt like the story was playing out right before my eyes. Here were three squirmy boys vying with each other for a chance to help. God was using my insufficiently prepared children’s message and making it so much bigger and better than I ever could have imagined.

Last Sunday, another encouragement: our budding middle-school musicians accompanied the Sunday school worship time. I think it’s no surprise that one middle-school girl brought a friend for the first time on this particular occasion. It’s as if she was saying to her friend, “This is my family, my church—I belong here.” This makes me want to give each of these children more opportunities to contribute their gifts to the life of the church, fully expecting that God will make their contributions bear fruit.

A-chan on piano, Ko-kun on guitar, Ke-kun on cajon. (A-chan's friend in the foreground.)
My friend, Izumi once told me that if you want a person to come to your church and stay there, don’t treat them as a guest. Treat them like family—give them something to do; give them a chance to serve. Let them know that they belong. Good advice, I think.

I like to help people find their “bento”: what is God asking that person to contribute? What is it that God has given her that she needs to offer back to him? What is it that God wants to multiply? Our offerings may seem as insignificant as a small child’s bento, but God uses them! I trust that God will continue to multiply the eagerness of each of these children to serve—and use this eagerness for his glory!

Friday, February 20, 2015

Airplanes and Pyramids: The Wind Rises

Today’s coffee: Rwanda, White Day blend

I’ve had this blog post stewing in my head all week. Last week’s chocolate event was actually the prelude to a movie night. This time we watched 風立ちぬ (Kaze Tachinu; the English title is The Wind Rises). This time was a bit unusual: we had 5 newcomers—church kids brought friends!! This also meant that the discussion time was a bit quieter than usual. But then again, it’s usually pretty quiet. We’re still struggling through a major cultural barrier: Japanese schools do not teach children to express their opinions. We started doing movie nights with the youth group because we wanted to teach them to think about the movies, TV, etc. that they watch and engage with them, rather than simply taking them in.

But I digress. Today I mostly wanted to write about the film itself. If you haven’t seen it, watch it now. (Mom and Dad, I’ve had it sent to your house. Other friends in Seattle can borrow it when my parents are done with it. Enjoy!) It’s an amazing, bittersweet, conflicted film. It seems it was a very personal film for the director, Hayao Miyazaki; it may also be his last film. (Maybe. He already came out retirement once.) If you are from Seattle, you may also find that you recognize someone you know in the protagonist, Jiro Horikoshi—he’s an aeronautical engineer. He reminds me very much of my maternal grandfather.

Japanese poster for The Wind Rises
In the tradition of our movie nights, I’ll even give you some “warm-up” discussion questions and some things to think about while you watch. These are the questions we used last week... translated, of course.

Warm-up questions:
  • Do you have a dream? What is it? (Future job, place you want to go, something you want to do, family, etc.) Why is that your dream?
  • When you hear the word, "wind," what do you think about?
Things to think about while you watch:
  • Wind is treated somewhat as a character throughout the film. What sort of character is it? What sort of roles did it play?
  • Who/what did Jiro love?
  • What were Jiro's dreams? Did they come true? Was he satisfied?
Spoiler alert from here on. (You’ve seen the movie now, right?)

I’ll start by saying that I feel somewhat conflicted watching this film. (I think provoking conflicted feelings was Miyazaki’s intention, actually.) While the real life Jiro Horikoshi, a genius engineer, was building the Mitsubishi Zero and its predecessors here in Japan, my grandfathers were engaged in similar work at Boeing on the other side of the ocean. I have visited Pearl Harbor and Hiroshima and Nagasaki, where photographs and displays and uniformed staff tried to explain why such atrocities were committed by both Japan and the United States, so I understand (in a very limited way) the results of Jiro’s work, and that of my grandfathers and their colleagues as well.

But Jiro, the film tells us, just wants to make beautiful airplanes. This is also Miyazaki’s paradox: he is an outspoken pacifist who is fascinated with war planes—because war planes are the fastest and most beautiful planes.

I think perhaps for this reason, Miyazaki inserts another aeronautical engineer, Caproni, into the film. (Seattle people: Caproni’s work is on display at the Museum of Flight.) Caproni and Jiro meet in their dreams and talk about airplanes—or rather, the ethics of airplanes. “Airplanes are beautiful, cursed dreams,” says Caproni. He has already experienced the devastation of World War I. His dream is to make passenger planes, but the Italian government has him building war planes.

Caproni poses this question to Jiro: “Would you want to live in a world with or without the pyramids?” He explains: the pyramids are great monuments, but they were built at the cost of many lives. What about airplanes? They are beautiful and useful to transport people and cargo. But in the wrong hands, an airplane becomes a weapon. Is it possible to build such a weapon "because it's beautiful" and not take responsibility? Who is responsible, Jiro or the pilots flying the Mitsubishi Zero planes? Or is it the people who gave orders to the pilots? What should Jiro have done?

The film points out repeatedly that while Jiro and his colleagues used a huge amount of government funding to research and build new airplanes, at the same time, people all around them were unemployed and even starving. The protagonists seem conflicted, but they are still driven by the embarrassing reality that Japanese airplane technology was 20 years behind Germany and the US. Were they perhaps convinced that advancing technology would give average citizens a better life?

To return to the question about the pyramids, we asked our middle school guests what they thought. Would they want to live in a world with or without the pyramids? The looked at us blankly. I made a stab at answering the question: no, I wouldn’t want the pyramids. I wouldn’t want to build an airplane and have it used as a weapon. And I wouldn’t sacrifice my family to make it happen, either. One guest pointed out that without the need for war planes, airplane technology would not develop nearly as fast. Another pointed out that Jiro’s (fictional) wife chose to become a sacrifice in order to help her loved one achieve his dream.

As I listened to others’ thoughts on the subject, I continued mulling over the question in my mind. This question was much bigger than just pyramids or airplanes. Is it possible to do or make anything in this world and not have it misused or misunderstood? Would I really be satisfied with a sterile world devoid of anything that could possibly lead to suffering or abuse? Could such a world even exist?

This “pyramids” question isn’t a black and white question at all. What if there is a third answer? What if there was a way to have a world filled with beautiful things, but without the risk of having them abused?

At the end of the discussion, I answered the question a second time. I said that I wanted a completely different option: God’s world returned to its original state of perfection. God made the world and called it good—all of it. Yet fallen humans abused God’s good world in their selfishness; beautiful dreams became cursed through misuse.

But this is not the end of the story. Jesus gave his life to reconcile the world to himself. His kingdom already exists in the hearts of those who love him, and we wait with expectation for the full coming of his kingdom, when every wrong will be made right. No more will beauty become cursed through sin and selfishness.

The end of the film finds Jiro watching the successful first flight of his prototype; the pilot, his colleagues, and representatives from the military surround him with praise and congratulations, but he doesn’t seem happy at all. In fact, he wasn’t even watching his plane’s maiden flight; he was looking off into the distance towards where his dying wife was. Jiro’s dream has come true, at great expense. Was it worth it?

That’s all from me; feel free to write your thoughts about the film in the comments below. What about you? Would you want to live in a world with or without the pyramids?

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Chocolates for Valentine's Day

Happy Valentine’s Day! We celebrated in Japanese style (sort of) by making chocolates with the youth group from our church. Although in Japan it is usually girls who make Valentine’s Day chocolates for their significant other, friends, family, and people who have “cared for” them (boss or senior colleagues), we do not discriminate against male chocolate lovers. We had 3 middle school boys (one of whom wants to become a chef) come to make chocolate too.


I’ve long thought about posting my recipe for truffles, but it’s difficult to get pictures with chocolate-covered hands… and I wasn’t really so consistent with measuring and such. But I made an effort this time while making test-batches for the chocolate party. So here we go.

First I make ganache—truffle filling. Depending on how hard it is, you can cover the ganache in coating chocolate or not. I make a variety of different fillings, but let’s start with the easiest.


Classic Chocolate ganache

Ingredients:
  • 120-150ml (1/2-2/3 cup) whipping cream (More cream makes a softer ganache; less cream makes a ganache that is easier to work with.)
  • 120g (4 oz) bittersweet chocolate chips (or other chocolate of your choice, broken into small chunks.)
  • 1 teaspoon rum (optional) or other liquor of your choice, for flavoring
Directions:

Put a little water in the bottom of a double-boiler and bring to a simmer. Put all the ingredients in the top of the double-boiler. (Or, if you are like me and you don’t have a double-boiler, a heat-proof bowl set over a small saucepan of simmering water will work just fine.) Do not stir; put on the lid and let all the ingredients warm up together for a few minutes. After the chocolate starts to look glossy, mix the chocolate and cream together until smooth. Transfer to a container and chill at least 5 hours or overnight.

Measuring the ingredients. The cream has had green tea steeping in it for the green tea variation below.
Assembling the ingredients in the top of my makeshift "double-boiler."
This is the caramel version.
It takes a while for the chocolate to melt. So we waited.
Chocolate is nice and melty; time to stir.

Nice and smooth; ganache is finished!

Classic Chocolate variation: Chocolate Nut ganache
Ingredients:
  • 120-150ml (1/2-2/3 cup) whipping cream
  • 120g (4 oz) bittersweet chocolate chips (or other chocolate of your choice, broken into small chunks.)
  • 50-80g (1.75-2.75 oz) finely chopped nuts of your choice—my suggestions would be almonds, pecans, walnuts, or hazelnuts.
  • 1 teaspoon rum (optional) or other liquor of your choice, for flavoring
Directions:
Follow the directions for Classic Chocolate ganache.


Classic Chocolate variation: Green Tea ganache

Ingredients:
  • 150ml (2/3 cup) whipping cream
  • 2 teaspoons green tea (sencha) leaves
  • 120g (4 oz) bittersweet chocolate chips (or other chocolate of your choice, broken into small chunks.)
Directions:

Place the whipping cream and green tea leaves in a small saucepan; bring to a simmer, then shut off the heat, cover, and let steep for at least 15 minutes. Pour the cream through a fine mesh strainer; press the tea leaves with the back of a spoon to squeeze out as much liquid as possible from the tea leaves.

Continue with the directions for “classic chocolate ganache.”


The previous 3 varieties of ganache are easy to make and easy to work with. They don’t necessarily need coating. Let’s move on to a more challenging ganache: caramel!


Caramel Ganache

Ingredients:
  • 100ml whipping cream (That’s approximately ¼ cup plus 3 tablespoons? Seriously… can’t we use the metric system already?)
  • 130g (4.5 oz) bittersweet chocolate chips (or other chocolate of your choice, but I would recommend dark chocolate for this recipe, broken into small chunks.)
  • 120ml (½ cup) caramel sauce*
  • ¼ teaspoon salt (optional)
  • 1 teaspoon rum (optional) or other liquor of your choice, for flavoring
Directions:

Follow the directions for Classic Chocolate ganache. Make sure the salt get mixed in completely; if you’re not sure whether you want salt in your caramel or not, add a little at a time.

*Although using plain caramel sauce is a good option, I like to mix things up with flavored caramel sauce. Since Hokkaido is famous for lavender, I have made lavender caramel sauce from this recipe, using lavender from our garden.

Another favorite caramel variation is my very own invention, which I call "failed mikan (mandarin orange) marmalade caramel sauce."


Shaping the Ganache

Now that we have chilled ganache, it’s time to shape it into little balls!

You will need:
  • Chilled ganache of your choice
  • Aluminum foil or non-stick silicon mat
  • Cookie sheet or other wide, flat containers
  • A teaspoon, or melon scoop, if you have one
  • Cocoa powder, green tea powder (matcha), finely chopped nuts, etc. to roll finished balls (firm ganache only)
  • For very soft ganache, you may want to use a piping bag with a wide tip
  • Space in your freezer
Directions:

Prepare your work space: line containers or cookie sheets with foil, or use a non-stick silicon mat if you have one.

Option one: using a teaspoon, scoop out a small amount of ganache, and shape it into a ball with your fingertips.

At this point, you can either put the balls in a foil-lined container and freeze them to coat with chocolate later (freeze at least 5 hours)…

OR, if you aren’t going to coat them with chocolate, roll the finished balls in your choice of topping: cocoa powder, green tea powder, or chopped nuts. Refrigerate for a few hours until firm. (And you’re done! You can ignore the rest of the recipe.)

Option two: for softer ganache, spoon the ganache into a piping bag and pipe onto a foil lined tray. Freeze for at least 5 hours. (If your ganache is soft enough for this method to work, you will definitely want to cover the ganache balls with coating chocolate.)

Note: You can make the balls as big or small as you want, but keep in mind that if you are coating them, the additional layer of chocolate makes them quite a bit bigger.

Finished ganache balls
These are caramel ganache. They look kind of funny, since they were stickier than the plain chocolate ganache balls.
Explaining the rolling process to the group.
Rolling ganache balls makes for sticky fingers.
Finished uncoated truffles, rolled in matcha, cocoa powder, or chopped nuts to finish.

Final step: Coating Chocolate!

This step is necessary for caramel ganache, but for firmer ganache as well, this makes a nice finish. And my experience is that most people don’t bother with coating, because it’s a bit of a pain… so that makes it special! But it’s not really as hard as it looks…

…especially if you have one of these nifty coating chocolate packs that you can get in Japan. I think you might be able to get them elsewhere, too. You can melt the chocolate right in the bag (immerse in hot water for a few minutes), open it up, and use chopsticks or a toothpick to dip the ganache balls in the coating. And it hardens right away! Neat! We used them for our chocolate party—(almost) no mess.


But I’m assuming you don’t have access to one of these nifty packs. Here’s how to coat truffles with normal chocolate.

You will need:
  • Frozen ganache balls
  • 150g (5 oz) chocolate of your choice—anything is fine, as long as it melts. I recommend 50-70% dark. CAUTION: Some chocolate has additives to help it keep its shape—you want to avoid that, since it won’t work at all.
  • 2 teaspoons unsalted butter
  • Non-stick mat or foil-lined containers
  • Toothpicks or chopsticks
  • An ice pack or two (optional)
  • Toppings: green tea powder (matcha), lavender flowers, candied fruit, chopped nuts, etc. (optional)
Directions:

Using the same double-boiler method as for the ganache, melt the chocolate and butter. Don’t mix until it starts to get shiny and melty.

Remove your ganache balls from the freezer, and set the container or tray on top of an ice pack if you have one. This will help keep them cool, since warm ganache balls are much harder to dip.

Using chopsticks or a toothpick, quickly roll each ganache ball in coating chocolate. Put in foil-lined container to dry. If you’re using toothpicks, you can leave them in; this makes for easy consumption later. You may want to use chopsticks to swirl the chocolate a bit and make a pretty pattern. This also covers lumps and dents in the coating.

Before the chocolate dries completely, add toppings of your choice.
Chill the finished truffles in the refrigerator until immediately before serving.

Ready to stir. This is milk chocolate, since it's hard to find dark chocolate in Japan that is not expensive imported chocolate.
Ready to dip!
It wasn’t easy to take pictures left-handed while dipping melty ganache balls with chopsticks in my right hand.
I usually swirl the chocolate on top of the truffles--covers lumps and dents!
Everyone is hard at work dipping and decorating with chocolate pens!
And now you're done! Enjoy your truffles! (And feel free to post variation ideas in the comments.)

Finished lavender caramel truffles
Green tea truffles with white chocolate coating and matcha topping
A variety of finished truffles