Friday, May 22, 2015

Goodbyes and finished projects

Today’s coffee: Affogato, Father's day blend

Preparations continue. I checked another thing off the bucket list: my yukata is complete! The fabric was my birthday present from my mom last year, chosen while on a family vacation—batik dyed cotton with a pattern that looks like fireworks or chrysanthemums, both of which are very appropriate for a yukata. And if you’re still wondering what a yukata is, it’s a casual summer kimono which is typically worn for evening outings, in particular, festivals and watching fireworks.

In my sewing corner
I promise, it was perfectly ironed when I put it on...
While I suppose I could have packed the unfinished yukata up to finish when we come back, I received a lot of helpful advice from Fujiyama-sensei, our tea ceremony teacher, who also teaches kimono-making. Sadly, Tuesday was our last class. I definitely wanted to show her my finished work, so I hurried to finish it, and then I wore it on Tuesday… despite the fact that the “rules” state that yukata are only for July and August. Not to mention, it was cold, rainy, and the wind was blowing like crazy—definitely not yukata weather. Oh well. Sensei’s living room was nice and warm, so I didn’t get cold.

As a special treat for our last class, Sensei made us a delicious supper consisting of various dishes using 山菜 (sansai—mountain vegetables), including lots of pickles for Keith. We will miss her warm hospitality, her encouragement, the way she gets excited and talks on and on about Japanese history, the way she corrects us to help us make tea more beautifully.

Pickled cucumber, udo, tofu, and carrots, stir-fried fuki, udo tempura donburi, and miso soup with fresh wakame!
Thanks to her help, and the help of another experienced teacher in the area, I have been connected with a teacher in Seattle so I can continue my studies and start working towards certification.

Now I’m going to brag about my dad’s handiwork. I sent him pictures and measurements, and he copied a tea tray which is used for 盆略点て (bonryakudate), a simple form of tea ceremony, using gorgeous figured maple from our backyard. (I mean, he can make guitars and shamisen, so why not a tea tray?) Actually, he made two—we gave one to Fujiyama-sensei, and the other is waiting for us at my parents’ house… so be sure to come over for tea! Looking forward to seeing what other interesting things we can make in dad’s workshop to use for tea ceremony.

Dad used his bending iron (metal tube with a halogen light bulb inside) to bend the sides, just like making guitar sides.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Kuri Manjū 栗饅頭 (Chestnut buns)

Today's coffee: Spring-colored blend (春色ブレンド)

I have lots of things on my bucket list of stuff I want to do before home assignment. A few of these are cooking projects—making sure I can make from scratch certain foods that I can easily get here but not so easily in the US. (If you come over to my house while we are on home assignment, you will likely benefit from this.) Although it is possible to get wagashi (Japanese sweets) in Seattle, they are expensive and would require a special trip into the city… so I definitely want to be able to make a few simple sweets myself—wagashi are an important part of tea ceremony!

I’ve long admired Mrs. Haga, a church member, for her delicious kuri manjū, so I asked her to teach me to make them. Last Saturday, Noriko and I spent the afternoon at Mrs. Haga’s house, learning to make kuri manjū… and of course, taste testing! I have translated the recipe below.

Kuri Manjū 栗饅頭 (Chestnut buns)

Ingredients, for 15 manjū:
  • 50g sugar
  • ½ large egg, beaten
  • 10g butter, chilled
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • 100g flour, sifted
  • 240g shiro an (白あん, sweet white bean paste), chilled (I'll try to post a recipe for this soon...)
  • 15 sweet stewed chestnuts (栗の甘露煮, kuri no kanroni)
  • For the glaze:
    • 1 egg yolk
    • 1 teaspoon mirin
  • White poppy seeds (けしの実, keshi no mi) (If you can’t find these, normal poppy seeds should work fine; they’ll just look a bit different.)

Remove the chestnuts from the syrup, and remove excess syrup with a paper towel.

These are the store-bought stewed chestnuts.
These are the ones I made.
Divide the shiro an into 15 equal portions, and roll into little balls.

Measuring the shiro an
"Make sure it's chilled. Otherwise it's too sticky."

We actually made 16, so we split the shiro an into four equal balls, which we checked with the kitchen scale. After that, we did our best to divide each ball into 4 equal portions (didn't bother to weigh those.)

Spread out each ball to form a little pancake shape, and set a chestnut in the center. Wrap the shiro an around the chestnut; roll around in your hands until the outside is smooth. Cover in plastic wrap and set aside.

Put the butter and sugar in a bowl; break up the butter with a wooden spoon and work it into the sugar. Add the egg and mix.

Put the bowl over a pot of simmering water (you can use a double-boiler if you have one). Stir continually until the sugar has melted somewhat.

Set the bowl in a larger bowl of cold water and chill it a bit.

Dissolve the baking soda in a bit of water; add to the butter-sugar-egg mix. Add the flour and blend. (It’s probably best not to over-work this dough.) When it’s just blended, wrap it in plastic wrap and chill it in the refrigerator for 30 minutes.

Now it’s tea time! Go take a break.

We were joined by enthusiastic taste-testers, Mrs. Suzuki and Mrs. Aizawa (Mrs. Haga's younger sister and daughter)
Preheat the oven to 180 degrees C (350 degrees F).

On a lightly-floured work surface, divide the dough into 15 equal portions. Roll each one into a ball; using your flour-covered fingertips, spread them out to little pancakes. You want the center to be thicker than the edges.

Put one of the chestnut-shiro an balls into the center, and wrap with the dough and pinch shut. Round the bun in the palms of your hands; the shape will somewhat depend on the shape of the chestnut, but generally you want to aim for an oval shape. Make sure the shiro an is completely covered.

Arrange on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper or a silicon baking mat. Brush with just a tiny bit of the glaze; really, just a little, since you want it only on the top, not the sides. Sprinkle with some white poppy seeds.

Bake for about 15 minutes, until golden brown.

Now it’s tea time, again! Kuri manjū are delicious hot, or you can keep them for a couple weeks.

Sweet Stewed Chestnuts (栗の甘露煮)

If you want to make kuri manjū but can’t get stewed chestnuts, make them yourself! (Not at this time of year… they’re in season in fall.) I made them for kuri kinton which is a special New Year’s dish, but had lots left over. They are also an important part of chawan mushi (a savory steamed egg pudding).

Sweet Stewed Chestnuts (栗の甘露煮, kuri no kanroni)

  • 500g raw chestnuts in the shell
  • 300mL water
  • 300g light brown sugar
  • 40mL mirin
  • 1 tablespoon rum (or more, if you like rum flavor)
  • (I’ve seen some recipes call for くちなしの実 kuchinashi no mi, which colors the chestnuts bright yellow, but no worries if you can’t get it. I believe these are gardenia seed pods.)


Bring a pot of water to a boil. Meanwhile, pierce the shell of each chestnut on the flat side with the tip of a knife. Add the chestnuts to the boiling water and simmer for 15 minutes.

Drain the chestnuts and let them cool a bit, until you can handle them. The outer shell is pretty easy to remove at this point; the problem is the inner skin, which you also have to peel off. I used the tip and edge of a (dull) knife to scrape it off. Rinse to remove any remaining peel and bits of shell. (The store-bought variety of stewed chestnuts are a lot more evenly shaped and bright yellow color; however, I imagine that a lot of chestnut gets lost when cutting them to that shape.)

Put the water and sugar into a pot over medium heat. Stir until the sugar is melted, then add the mirin, rum, and peeled chestnuts. (If you can get kuchinashi no mi, put one in a bit of cheesecloth or teabag and add that too.) Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 15-20 minutes.

Remove from heat and cool. (Remove the kuchinashi no mi.) Store the chestnuts in the stewing liquid in a glass jar in the refrigerator. They should keep for several months.

In case you were wondering, this is what the kuchinashi no mi looks like.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Date Pudding recipe

Happy Mother's Day! Cooking is one of my favorite ways to honor the legacy that my grandmothers and my mom have given me, so let's celebrate with a recipe.

Last night we had friends over for dinner. We had feijoada and the works and my grandmother's date pudding for dessert. Recently I discovered that I had forgotten about the Costco-sized carton of dates I bought a while ago, and a bag of black beans I had been saving for a special occasion. With 7 weeks left in this house, now is the time to use up all those hoarded "special occasion" foods.

When I discovered the dates in the pantry cupboard, I emailed my mom for recipes, and she sent me a scan of my grandmother's carefully handwritten recipe card. I ended up typing it out to make note of a few changes and clarifications, so why not post it here?

Date Pudding

(This 9x13 pan was too big. I would definitely suggest a smaller size.)
Preheat the oven to 300 degrees F (150 degrees C)

Put in baking pan (around 8 or 9 inches square):
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1 ½ cups hot water
  • Butter (about 3 tablespoons) cut into small chunks
Stir to melt sugar and butter.

In a bowl, mix:
  • 1 cup flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup chopped dates
  • 1 cup chopped nuts
Make a well in the center and add:
  • ½ cup milk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
Mix until smooth. Spoon batter into sugar-water-butter mix.

Bake 45 minutes-1 hour, until the pudding is set (shake it a bit, and make sure it doesn’t jiggle).

Here's the original recipe. Note that the amount of sugar has been reduced (by my mom). I reduced it again. It's still very sweet.

In case you are interested, here's pictures of last night's dinner:

With Kyoko and Tsubasa
Feijoada, farofa, Brazilian rice, vinaigrette, greens with garlic

Friday, May 08, 2015

Documenting the daily grind

Today’s coffee: Kenya

Tired. Thank God for coffee.

The pre-home-assignment photography frenzy has started. As we went through 4 years of photos, picking the best ones to turn into photo books and slideshows, we found that there were some important aspects of our lives that had gone un-photographed, simply because they were such ordinary things that we never bothered to take pictures—prayer meetings, language study, time spent informally with friends, places visited on a regular basis.

We hear that this is a normal occurrence: missionaries running around like crazy right before home assignment snapping pictures left and right. I suppose usually I just think of these everyday routines as “not worth taking pictures of”—so I don’t. But these things are also an important part of our work. Not to mention, somehow these routines are comforting in the midst of looming change.

So this week I’m going to give you a glimpse at the usually-not-photographed daily grind sorts of things that we do. There are still lots more photos I need to take…

As I sit here at Tokumitsu and write, Keith is working on a sermon with his Japanese teacher at home. They usually talk for hours about things which may or may not be related to Japanese study.

This is Keith’s study spot—it has been since back when we were in language school. When I got to Shino’s house for rehearsals on Thursday afternoons, Keith sits in the student lounge at JLC (the OMF language school), hangs out with people and studies Japanese. And sometimes he looks out the window when he needs a break.

Then later on Thursday afternoon, we have tea time and prayer meeting for the Sapporo area missionaries. I have been preparing drinks and snacks for tea time each week for the past couple of years.

And the prayer meeting. I think we’ve said this a lot of times, but praying is probably the most important thing we do as missionaries. If I am not praying, I end up trying to do things on my own strength and failing. Prayer acknowledges that this is God’s work, not mine.

"Now get into groups and pray for..."
After prayer meeting is supper. Once every couple of months there is a potluck. I usually bring casseroles.

We sit around a bunch of big tables. These days there are lots of people!
On other weeks, we sometimes go out with friends. “We need to take photos” became our excuse last night to go to our favorite soup curry restaurant.

Everyone loves the mushroom soup curry!
We got the owner to take a couple group pictures, and I switched with him for the last picture--he's next to Keith.
Well, most of that is what takes place on Thursdays. I still need to photograph church prayer meetings, small groups, the worship service… lots to do! The photography frenzy continues.