Thursday, October 13, 2016

Sauerkraut recipe, and the Wakaba Bazaar!

Today’s coffee: East Timor and Ethiopia (because I wish Sharon were here, and that’s what she would drink)

Tomorrow is the Wakaba Bazaar! (Saturday, October 15 at 11 a.m. Please come, Sapporo area friends!)

Which means I will be busy this evening baking cookies and putting things in little bags. Keith will be busy eating the rejects. I’m also making Keith’s favorite cake (pumpkin cake with cream cheese frosting) and sourdough walnut bread. I’ve made a couple batches of sauerkraut this year, so I decided to try selling a bit of that too. After all, naturally-fermented things and “slow food” are rather popular here in Hokkaido.

In honor of the bazaar (and at the request of a couple of friends), I’ve decided to write out my method of making sauerkraut. It’s easy, and good for you, too!

Sauerkraut recipe


  • Cabbage: plain old green cabbage is traditional, but lately I’ve added some red cabbage and nappa cabbage to the mix. Straight red cabbage sauerkraut is also nice. You want it to be fresh, or you won't get enough brine.
  • Optional: garlic cloves, apple slices or minced apple peel, shredded carrot, onion slices, peppercorns, etc. Be creative!
  • Salt: pickling salt or sea salt (not iodized), 2-3% of the weight of the cabbage and other optional vegetables. I use 3% in the summer, and less after the weather gets cold.
  • Caraway seeds (traditional, but optional)

Slice the cabbage as thinly as you can. You can throw in the heart as is. Slice any other vegetables or herbs you want to add.

Weigh the vegetables, calculate how much salt you need, and weigh out the salt. In a large bowl, combine salt and vegetables and massage the salt into the vegetables. They should start releasing their juices. Pack everything into a jar or crock. (Make sure there’s no bits stuck to the sides of your crock, since those can get moldy. You want everything to go under the surface of the brine.) If I still have some kraut from a previous batch, I add a bit of the brine, which has live kraut-germs in it, to get the process going more quickly.

This batch has a blend of red and green cabbage with some carrot, just for fun!
Put a plate or… whatever the plastic thing in the picture is called in English… can’t remember… on top of your kraut to hold everything under the surface. Put pickle weights (twice the weight of your vegetables) on top of that if you have them, or you can use a plastic bag filled with saltwater or smaller jar filled with water. (Thankfully in Japan, we can get pickle weights in all different sizes at our local hardware store.)

Argh! Forgetting English...
Cover the whole thing with a plastic bag to keep fruit flies out. They love sauerkraut. I use a (new) shower cap. Those are perfect. Keep an eye on it; the brine should rise above the top of the vegetables within about 36 hours. At this point, you can reduce the weight somewhat--you just need to keep the vegetables under the surface.

Keep watching and waiting. Sauerkraut can take between about 6 days and a month, depending on how warm your kitchen is. When it starts bubbling (see photo), give it a taste. Bubbles mean that the microorganisms are busy!

When it is as sour as you like it, store it in the refrigerator or other cold place (we kept ours in the unheated entryway of our previous house) and be sure to share it with your friends! It keeps for a really long time--6 months or longer if you keep it cold.

That’s all! Easy, right? Japanese version coming soon!

Back to the subject of the bazaar, I still remember my first time to the Wakaba Bazaar, when I was a short-termer, back in 2009. I thought it was the best thing ever. Little did I know how involved I would be at Wakaba in the future! My first Wakaba Bazaar makes an appearance in this post. 懐かしい!

Here I am, waiting in line at the 2009 bazaar with friends and teachers from language school.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016


Today’s coffee… I mean tea: some really old tea that spent a year in storage. Waste not, want not…

This month, we’ve been focusing on catching up on various things and doing house projects. The bar counter is finished!! Half of the painting in the bedroom is finished, and Keith is currently putting the second coat on the other side. In just a few days we will be able to move some furniture that goes in the other half of the bedroom out of the dining room, so maybe we can start work there next… replacing rotten tatami with wood floor and flaking wallpaper with the traditional plaster wall that tea rooms have! One step at a time… there are many other projects too.

This is the talented Mr. Inoue who built the bar counter and helped us and advised us in many other ways.
All done!!
We’ve also been enjoying lovely early-fall weather by working in the garden. Keith invited a friend from church for a “concrete party” to break up a slab of concrete that was unfortunately slanted towards the house. He used some of the broken concrete chunks to make a path, where before there was only weeds and mud.

Concrete-bashing relieves stress.

I have spent most of my outdoor hours weeding. Although we have been somewhat successful removing weeds from the front of the garden, the back of the garden, where there are a lot of trees and shrubs, has been a challenge… untangling the roots of persistent weeds from the roots of plants we actually want growing there.

I thought at first that the bamboo grass would be the hardest weed to get rid of, but now I don’t think so any more. Our entire garden is infested with dokudami (Houttuynia cordata, which is sometimes known as chameleon plant in English). When we started digging beneath the surface to pull them out, we discovered an thick web of roots. “It looks like medusa down there,” Keith commented. Leave even a tiny bit of dokudami root in the soil, and it will grow right back.

Dokudami roots growing through a random block of styrofoam we found buried in our garden
But the funny thing is, dokudami isn’t really a weed. It’s a very pretty plant, with deep green heart-shaped leaves tinged with red, with lovely cross-shaped white flowers in July. It’s also an herb, prized as a detox-tea in China and Japan. I heard recently that if you rub the leaves on a mosquito bite, the itching goes away. Dokudami also keeps your compost from stinking… but we’ve found that the composting process doesn’t kill the roots… yikes.

See all those cute white flowers? That's them...
In the hours and hours I’ve spent carefully removing dokudami and bamboo grass roots from my around rhododendrons, I started to think of weeding dokudami as very similar to what is going on in my life right now. I have two jobs--I work at Wakaba Church, and I am also a musician with dreams of starting an arts ministry. There are many very worthy tasks and ministries and causes that I could be spending my time on, but if I tried to do everything, I think I would burn out very quickly. I need to make space in my life for the most important things--the things God has specifically given me to do. It’s just difficult sometimes to discern what those things are. Which “weeds” (which are actually very nice plants) in my life do I need to say “no” to in order to make room for other “plants”?

Please pray with us… we have some big decisions to make… and we need to make them soon!

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Three typhoons and a camping trip

Today’s coffee: Costa Rica

Yes, you read that correctly. Three typhoons. Typhoons don’t usually come to Hokkaido; we often get the outer fringes, but not direct hits. This year at the end of August, we got three direct hits in one week… global warming? Actually, Sapporo wasn’t right in the middle. Eastern Hokkaido got the worst of it, with torrential rain and landslides and flooding. In Sapporo we just got heavy rain.

View from our campsite. Katoributa (anti-mosquito-incense-pig) hangs from the canopy.
But Keith and I had our heart set on a camping trip to eastern Hokkaido. Great hikes, gorgeous caldera lakes, delicious food… not to mention “Sunayu” (砂湯): the beach on Lake Kussharo (I’m going to call it “Kussharoko,” since “Lake Kussharo” sounds weird) where you can dig a hole in the sand and ONSEN WATER FILLS THE HOLE. We had to try it. Bad weather kept us from our Kussharoko camping trip early last summer, so we weren’t giving up this time, even though the typhoons had done a fair bit of damage to the area…

Keith is eyeing the debris piles for potential firewood. The shore of the lake should be behind the fence in the background...
Oh no! Sunayu!
… for example, Kussharoko’s water level was rather high, which meant that the famous Sunayu beach was completely underwater… sad face. Some parts of the campground were flooded. To get to the toilets, we had to cross three streams. I gave up keeping my feet dry, and wore flip-flops at all times. We won’t mention the number of bug bites I had on my feet.

But on the flipside, camping right next to the lake! Sunsets! Morning fog! Birds! (And crows. Stupid crows…)

Sunset over Kussharoko
I was worried that we wouldn’t be able to hike because of landslides or downed trees, but the trails were clear and dry (except the flooded part next to Kussharoko). The biggest problem was fog over the peaks. The locals said the fog hadn’t lifted since the last typhoon. But the fog made for some interesting and dramatic scenery.

Our first hike was Mokotoyama. The fog lifted for a bit right when we got to the peak. We couldn’t see the lake, but we saw the sea of clouds covering the lake. We enjoyed watching a large number of hawks soaring around the peak.

Almost at the peak, and the fog lifted!
Under the clouds, there's this really big lake...
There were probably 15 hawks circling the peak. (Do hawks eat bugs?)
The second hike was around the rim of Mashuuko (Lake Mashuu) to the peak of Mashuudake (Mt. Mashuu). It was a lovely, pleasant hike… it’s just that the peak was so swarming with bugs that we couldn’t stay there more than the 15 seconds it took to snap a picture of the sign as is my custom. Also, it was foggy. I’d love to do this one again on a day with less fog (and bugs).

Late-season wildflowers!

Peak obscured by fog (and trees)
Yeah. Not much point in staying here... possibly an all-time low for summit experiences.
A bit of an autumn feeling...
Finally can see the lake!

Finished! Our destination is in the background (still obscured by fog)
Camping culture is in some ways quite different than in the US. It’s rare for anyone to stay more than one night in the same campground. A lot of people travel alone by motorcycle, go to sleep when it gets dark, and leave as soon as it gets light, around 4 a.m.These sorts are pretty quiet and keep to themselves. But over the weekend… lots of families and big groups and loud parties. The campground was packed. I was glad to have earplugs. But it was nice to see families enjoying time together.

One group of guys occupied the space next to us for two nights. The first night they were up late… taking pictures of their kayaks by lamplight. I am not making this up.

Keith engages in his favorite hobby: making campfires.
Our campsite. The nearest onsen is right on the lake at the foot of the hill on the left.
Kussharoko, being a caldera with an active volcano on one side, has lots of little onsen all along the lake, in addition to Sunayu. We could see one of them from our campsite. Unfortunately, we were not able to bathe in that particular onsen, because it was barely obscured from public view by a hedge, and even then it wouldn’t matter… because it was a mixed bath. We’re not quite that bold. Thankfully there was another onsen nearby--a rustic outdoor bath in the middle of the forest, with perfect temperature.

Foot bath in Kawayu Onsen town. So nice after a hike!
Mt. Iou volcanic area
The sign in English reads "Hot Spring!" (Yay! Let's get right in!) but the Japanese reads "Beware of burns." Hmmm...
I’m happy to say that by the last day of our camping trip, the lake water had gone down somewhat, and we were able to dig our own onsen at Sunayu beach. I think most people just dig a bit, put their feet in the water, say “Sugoi! (Wow!)”, take their pictures, and get back on the tour bus. (Boring!) We, however, put on swimsuits and dug a hole big enough for both of us to sit in. Keith got all the way in. And we got some weird looks from the tour-bus crowd--two adult gaijin playing in the muddy water in the rain. “Metcha yogoreteiru!” (“That’s so dirty!”) said one. Lots of snarky replies went through my head, but I ignored her and pretended not to notice…

Yep. Water: very hot. No pictures of us sitting in the water, since my camera would have gotten dirty.
Eastern Hokkaido is a magical place for food. Did you know that Hokkaido is the only prefecture in Japan that is self-sufficient for food and even exports to the rest of Japan? We ate many delicious foods, but I think my favorites were butadon while passing through Obihiro and the pizza with soba (buckwheat) flour crust.

Soba crust pizza with fresh local vegetables! I'm getting hungry again just looking at this picture...
On Saturday night, we were in a bit of a bind. Missionaries don’t skip church, even when they are on vacation. After frantic searching on Google, we realized that the closest church was about 45 minutes away, over a mountain pass in Bihoro… and that our friends were serving in that church. And surprise! We got to witness their newborn daughter’s dedication! We headed back to their place a few days later for food and fellowship, including breakfast out in their favorite cafe, which a church member runs. I went home with an omiyage (souvenir) of two coffee seedlings.

I could eat this breakfast every day!
I named them Kona and Sharon.
All in all, I would highly recommend Kussharoko. Great place, lots of fun! But maybe don’t go right after three typhoons.

Did you know that there are horses in Hokkaido? (Our Japanese textbook constantly reminded us.) Keith is riding a "Dosanko," which is a breed of horses from Hokkaido!

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

August Newsletter

Keith and Celia Olson
Newsletter #33
August 31, 2016

11th anniversary hike to Zenibako Tengu Yama! Sapporo is in the background.

Dear friends and family,

Thank you for praying! We are safely settled in Japan for our second term.

We arrived in Sapporo May 24, started our 3-month Japanese language “refresher course” May 30, moved into our new home June 11, moved our belongings out of storage June 16, went to OMF Japan Field Conference June 20-24, got our new-to-us 2005 Subaru Forester July 1, celebrated our 11th anniversary with a hike July 9, had a much-needed kitchen update August 8-9, and finished language school August 26. It’s been a packed 3 months juggling language study with working on our house.

We plan to start September with a camping trip, followed by working on our house, getting up to speed again with things at church, and catching up on various things that fell through the cracks while we were in school.

When we weren’t at language school or working on our house, we reconnected with friends: Yugo and his family...
... and... Ultraman?

Matsu House
Matsu House, on replace-the-kitchen day. (Not our car, by the way.)
As we mentioned, we have a new home. Our landlady during our first term, Mrs. Saito, offered us a larger house, closer to church, with a huge garden (by Japanese standards). (Her grandson now lives in our previous house.) Our new home belongs to Mrs. Saito’s aunt, who is now unable to live on her own, and Mrs. Saito is the caretaker.

Before we moved in, the 40-year-old house had been unoccupied for two years, but was in surprisingly good condition considering. The garden was (still is) overrun with persistent weeds (if you ever find dokudami in your garden, KILL IT), the wallpaper is flaking off, the kitchen was leaky and moldy, and the tatami flooring was rotten in places. On the other hand, the layout of the first floor will allow us to have a kitchen and living room in addition to tea room, music room, and dining room--perfect for having guests in a wide range of situations. And unlike the new houses in our neighborhood (box-shaped and boring with asphalt for a garden), this house has a lot of character. It just needs a lot of work.

Celia was hoping that it would be possible to quickly replace the kitchen unit and the offending flooring and wallpaper before we moved in. Keith had no such delusions; he expected that it would take at least a year before we got the house “as we like it.” We waffle between despair (will we ever be done painting the bedroom?) and excitement at the possibilities since we’ve been given free rein to do as we like with the house.

Kitchen, before
Kitchen, during. Our friend, Shino's dad, Mr. Inoue, is building us a bar counter.
Kitchen, after (?)
In one of those despairing times, God gave us a name for our new home: Matsu House. Matsu has two meanings in Japanese: “pine tree” and the verb “to wait.” Because of the double meaning, we chose to write it in Hiragana and Katakana: まつハウス.

Celia chose the name “Matsu House” as she thought of a beloved pine tree at her grandparents’ house, and remembered that the pine tree symbolizes eternal life in both Japan and the West. While in the West we use evergreen trees in our Christmas decorations, Japanese use pine during the New Year holiday. For the same reason, we chose a Japanese family crest for ourselves featuring three snow-covered pine trees.

Our family crest. It's called Yuki mochi mittsu matsu. (Say that ten times fast.)
Keith, on the other hand, chose the name “Matsu House” for its second meaning, which expresses our hope that in our home, we and our friends and neighbors would learn to wait and hope in God--to be quiet before him, to cry out to him in our need and in our joy.

We have certainly been waiting a lot recently. Waiting for God’s guidance regarding our house. Waiting to get our car. Waiting to finish house projects. Waiting for vacation time. Waiting for God’s leading regarding our new ministries. It seems that everything takes longer than we think it will. We’re not very good at waiting, so maybe that’s one reason God gave us Matsu House.

Right now, there are no pine trees in our garden. There is, however, a pine cone, collected on a recent hike. It’s on the table in the living room. We are waiting for it to open so we can plant the seeds. This pine cone seems a lot like us right now.

“Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. I say to myself, ‘The Lord is my portion; therefore I will wait for him.’ The Lord is good to those whose hope is in him, to the one who seeks him; it is good to wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord.” (Lamentations 3:22-26)

This picture of the table in our living room represents our last few months pretty well...

Prayer Points

  • We are thankful to be back at Wakaba Church. Please pray for us as we reconnect with our friends here and try to find a good balance for church responsibilities and our other ministries (Celia’s music ministry, Keith’s preparation to teach at Hokkaido Bible Institute [HBI]).
  • Please pray for us as we try to make our home a welcoming place, and for wisdom to find ways to creatively fix it up in a cost-effective way.
  • We will take some vacation time at the beginning of September. Please pray that we get some rest so we can start ministry refreshed.
  • The Wakaba Bazaar is October 15. Please pray that we and church members can make new connections with people in the community and deepen the connections we already have.
  • Keith plans to start taking classes at HBI November 22. Please pray that he can develop relationships with students and faculty, learn theological vocabulary, and get a good sense for how the school runs and how classes typically operate.


New Address
We have a new address! Let us know if you need it. Our permanent address in the US stays the same as before.

Language Corner
In Japan, there are said to be many gods. Thousands, in fact. One of them is the toilet god. (We are not making this up.) We photographed this sign in a rest-area toilet. The idea is to say, “please keep the toilet clean” in a cute (?) way.


Thanks for praying! May God be present to each of you as you wait for him.

Love in Christ,
Keith and Celia