Friday, July 26, 2013

Sounds are also part of the feast

Today’s coffee: Brazil (brewed at home, again…)

I had very good intentions of going to the café yesterday and taking a leisurely hour or two for writing. However, “lasagne for 35+ people” happened. Or rather, shopping, making herb salt and roasted garlic, and preparing the meat sauce happened. Today is the big day; I make the cheese (yogurt) filling and the noodles and put the whole thing together. I hope we have enough pans… and since I don’t actually use a recipe for lasagne, I really have no way of judging if I’ve purchased enough ingredients or not. It certainly looks like a lot!

Anyway, in my home country, it is still Friday. That counts, right?

We’ve been on vacation, for almost 3 weeks, if you include the church retreat. I have to say; coming home from vacation (and preparing to go away, for that matter) really hurts. Emails don’t stop coming just because I stop checking. Japanese flashcards don’t stop piling up. The farm doesn’t stop producing vast amounts of zucchini. And we really should write another prayer letter soon.

The last bit of our vacation was 2 nights at Niseko, a ski resort about 2 hours away from here. We went there (during the winter) with my family 3 ½ years ago, and this time we stayed at the same hotel… I knew the onsen and food were amazing, so why look further? A friend of ours is a pastor there, so we visited his family too.

For me, having time away at an onsen is a special spiritual retreat. I don’t have to cook or clean up, there are none of the distractions of home and work, and onsen resort towns tend to be in beautiful places—I can relax and listen for God’s voice surrounded by his creation.

On the morning of our second day, we went on a hike. (It was great—not too long or difficult, but interesting, lots of wildflowers, and great views. The mountain is called Iwaonupuri, if you’re interested.) On the way down it started to rain, but that made the onsen feel even better when we got back to the hotel.

At the peak of Iwaonupuri
Iwaonupuri is a volcano; this is the crater. Smelled a bit like eggs.
View out over the Sea of Japan

Some kind of wild rhododendron

As I was sitting alone in the outdoor pool, I asked for God to speak to me. God brought to mind something that our tea ceremony teacher once said: 「音もごちそうです。」 “Sounds are also part of the feast.” Our teacher was referring to the fact that tea ceremony engages all the senses—not only do we enjoy drinking tea and eating sweets, but there are beautiful things to look at, and the various sounds of preparing the tea are beautiful and refreshing.

So I listened. The wind, the rain, the birds, the sound of water flowing into the onsen became a part of the “feast” as I enjoyed God’s creation.

Later in the afternoon, we went to the deck on the roof of the hotel. We’ve just finished a sermon series on the Sermon on the Mount—I think probably our third or fourth sermon series or Bible study on that topic in the last 3 years or so. I decided to read the whole Sermon (Matthew 5-7) again, while watching the swallows dart around above us. “Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?”

This particular passage has always been close to my heart. I think that’s because I always need another reminder to trust in God’s provision—he will give me what I need, even if I think my “needs” are different. He wants me to ask and to trust. I need not be afraid that my prayers will not be heard or my needs left unmet.

The feast in the hotel dining room
Praying for God’s provision for my first attempt at a major cooking project. Today is the first part of an outreach series—we’re watching a movie together (Shiokari Pass) and discuss over a meal. Of course, the meal is Lasagne. More on that next week. :)

Friday, July 19, 2013

On holiday, and camping in Japan

Today’s coffee: coffee roasted by the pastor of our previous church (what a multi-talented guy!) and brewed at home by me.

We’re on holiday. We spent a week on a couple of islands off the northern tip of Hokkaido, but now we’re having a “staycation” week. The week away was really fun, but planning it was kind of stressful… so we really needed some restful time at home. Today we went for a picnic and walk in a nearby park; now we’re hanging out in the living room watching sumo on TV. Then we’ll probably watch a movie or something later.

Today's picnic bento
We went to Yurigahara koen (the "lily park") at just the right time!
Red dragonfly perched on a red lily
I posted earlier this week about camp cooking. As you can see, we went camping—our first Japanese camping experience. And it was quite different than our experience camping in the US. There were no individual sites, just an open field and communal dish washing facilities (which are very convenient, I might add). No showers—why bother when there are onsen nearby?

Our campsite on Rebun
The biggest difference, however, was the people. The first night, other than the two of us, all of the other campers were men traveling alone, some carrying their gear on motorcycles or bicycles. They went to bed early—I heard one guy snoring away in his tent at about 7:00 p.m. There were no late night guitar solos or campfires or drunken parties like in American campgrounds. Well… we had a campfire. It was in our “grill.” But no one else did.

Why was everyone so quiet and well-behaved? My theory is that if you don’t go to bed early, you’ll be pretty tired still when the sun comes up at 3:30 a.m. You won’t want to get up when it gets too hot to stay in the tent (in the open field—no shade!) at 6:00 a.m.  But it’s too hot, so up you get. There you have it.

If I get really ambitious, there may be a post about the hiking we did on our trip sometime in the next few days… but only if I feel like it. I’m on holiday, after all. :)

Monday, July 15, 2013

Camp Cooking

We've been on vacation. Well, we're still on vacation, actually, but we're at home... but if you ask me to do anything, I'm going to say no. :) Last week was our 8th wedding anniversary, and also the 10th anniversary of the night on the sand dunes by Lake Michigan when, during a romantic starlit walk, Keith said "Well, I guess we're dating now." Happy anniversary, us.

So, in celebration, we went on an exotic island vacation to two small islands off the northernmost tip of Hokkaido. I should perhaps mention, perhaps, that the location was quite remote, cold at night, and we camped. Also, not much in the way of grocery stores or restaurants, except for shops selling kombu seaweed and uni-don (raw sea urchin on a bed of rice).

So... camp cooking was in order! And I have to say, we ate pretty well. Here are some highlights.

The first is uniquely Japanese, although I don't think many Japanese have this meal while camping. However, I'm sure this will be the new wave in camp cooking. You can have delicious rice, meat, and vegetables all in the same little pot! It's called kamameshi.

Thanks for the mini-kama (the little pots with cooking stand) and camping table, Mom and Dad! We used some of the anniversary money. :)
We have it several times on our trip, but this time it had poached and marinated chicken (this recipe with chicken breast substituted for the pork), daikon, and slivers of local kombu seaweed, with homemade radish pickles on the side. Delicious! (On this particular day, we had hauled all our gear to a park by the ocean to watch the sunset... which was underwhelming... although the previous night and the following night were both spectacular. Oh well.)

Waiting for the kamameshi to cook, with Mt. Rishiri in the background
Kamameshi, ready to eat!

We also had aluminum foil wrapped packets cooked in the coals of the campfire. The first time it was potatoes, but the second time was daikon, chicken, carrots, and furikake made with some greens from the garden. It's a cooking technique Keith's been using for ages, but with a bit of a Japanese twist using local ingredients--we got the daikon from one of our neighbors at the farm!

Keith's favorite part of camping: making a fire and cooking over it.
Meat and vegetable packets over the fire!
Not cooking fast enough; Keith put the packets right in the coals.
Ready to eat! Served over rice cooked in the mini-kama.
Right when we came back, we went for an overnight retreat with our church, so of course there was Japanese-style barbeque--"Jingis Khan," which is a Hokkaido specialty of lamb and vegetables cooked on a cast-iron pan over the fire.

Jingis Khan! (The zucchini came from our farm--a bit of an unusual ingredient, but delicious!)
Keith with the youth group boys
Everyone helps when cooking Jingis Khan!

Thursday, July 04, 2013

Café Meguri

Today’s coffee: Nicaraguan coffee from Tokumitsu, ground and brewed at home. :) Busy day today… now is the only time available, and Tokumitsu doesn’t open until 10!

There’s a cultural difference for you. In America, we expect our coffee shops to be open by 5 or 6 a.m. so we can get our early morning fix, right? I’m not sure about Starbucks (I’ve never been in the vicinity of one that early in the morning), but most cafés in Japan seem to open around 10 or 11 a.m. If I want early morning coffee, I have to make it myself. Thankfully there’s a coffee-otaku nearby who taught me how to make good coffee.

Sharon demonstrates the correct way to make coffee with an aeropress. Also, there's some tasty stuff in the picture. That was this year's Osechi (new year's feast)
Not just one, actually. The pastor at our previous church roasts his own coffee… and it’s good! When we went to visit him, he brought out the coffee siphon. Fun!

Actually I had intended to write about tea ceremony today, but things seem to have taken a coffee sort of turn. So let’s talk about coffee.

Back in April, my friend, Sharon (the previously mentioned coffee-otaku) and I decided to do a coffee crawl in Ishikari and the northern parts of Sapporo. When explaining to a Japanese friend what we intended to do, I discovered that there is actually a Japanese word: カフェ巡り(café meguri). “Meguri” means going around; it can also be attached to “onsen”—温泉巡り(onsen meguri). I also like to do that. Good word, yes?

The first café we visited was Café Olive. It’s run by a church. Keith and I went there for lunch before, but the lunch was spectacular and filling, so we didn’t need dessert. (Not that you ever “need” dessert…) I absolutely wanted to try the gobo (burdock root) chocolate cake, so I’m glad we went again! It was tasty and a bit crunchy from the gobo… and I felt so virtuous eating a dessert with gobo in it.

Sharon, with our desserts.

Gobo chocolate cake!

Next stop was Sakura, which is not too far from our house. Fantastic lunch… and no room for dessert. Although the focus was supposed to be coffee, we actually didn’t have any there.

Lunch set at Sakura!
Although I checked the intended third café’s website, I must have made a mistake, because it was closed. :( Instead, we took a very cold walk on the boardwalk at the beach… and quickly gave up and went to the next place.

A great day for coffee, but not so much for taking a walk.
The last stop was Tokumitsu, which I discovered was about a 3-minute bike ride from my house. It came highly recommended from a number of coffee-loving friends. Noriko, a friend from church, joined us. I have to say Tokumitsu wins the “best coffee” prize… but that’s not surprising, since it’s a coffee specialty shop. There aren’t any cakes or cute handmade items for sale—just coffee. It’s a nice spot to sit and chat with friends.

Enjoying the Japanese tradition of "taking pictures of food and drink"
Which brings me to the “why” of it all. Of course we were searching for good coffee and good food. But I was also looking for places to meet friends, and places where I can go to relax or to get work done if home is too distracting. I’m also interested in cafés as ministry—places where people in the community can gather and care for one another.

I’m glad there are some good options nearby!

No post next week, probably... we're on holiday!