Monday, December 29, 2014

What we ate (and other Christmas notes)

Today’s coffee: New Year’s Blend

It’s raining today, which is annoying, since it makes some of the huge amount of snow that fell on December 26 rather slushy and gross. But this too shall pass; the weather will get cold again later this week.

This is our car, on the morning of December 26. It's hard to tell from the picture how much snow that is, but it's more than 2 feet...
Actually I was rather pleased with a quiet day indoors on December 26. I made sauerkraut, yuzu curd, and sandwich fillings for the Christmas tea party the following day. Then we sat in front of the window watching the snow fall. (Keith also shoveled snow.)

Tea Party menu:
Scones with yuzu curd, jam, and cream
Mini-quiche with ham and sundried tomato filling
Tea sandwiches: egg salad on pumpernickel, cranberry pecan chicken salad on pecan sourdough
Linzer cookies
Cardamom rolls
Chocolate banana pound cake (from Noriko)
Raisin pound cake (from Mina)
Sasakushi dango (from Kyoko)
Lots and lots of tea

Tea party table, complete with flowers from one of my concerts.
Tea party guests: members of my small group and some friends.
Being in Japan has influenced me in many ways, perhaps especially in the area of food. Taking pictures of food, thinking more carefully about color and balance and seasonal vegetables when putting together a meal, and considering the tastes of my guests, to name a few points. Also, just spending more time thinking about food, and planning menus. Today, I have food on my mind for various reasons, so that’s what I’m going to write about, mostly.

I think I’ve never been as well-fed as I’ve been in the last week. We have invited a number of Japanese friends over, thinking that they will help us to eat the mountain of food currently in the house. However, Japanese tradition dictates that when you go to someone’s house, you bring a gift, usually food. This means that the mountain of food did not necessarily decrease when our guests went home.

In Japan, Christmas is “over” on the evening of December 24. After that, it’s time to prepare for the New Year holiday. We deliberately invited people over after Christmas, since now that concerts and church events are over, we have time to relax with friends… and celebrate Christmas. There has been a steady stream of guests at our house since Christmas Eve, and this will probably continue until after New Year’s. (Meanwhile, Keith is trying to write a sermon…)

Christmas Eve menu:
Swedish Meatballs and gravy
Mash potatoes
Cranberry sauce
Green bean casserole
Dessert: Cardamom rolls
Drinks: Sparkling apple cider

Thanks to Costco, we had ham for our Christmas dinner; that’s the first time we’ve had ham since coming to Japan. I made a glaze with mikan (mandarin orange), and we roasted potatoes and carrots together with it. Uncharacteristically, there is no picture of the ham. Tonight the leftovers will become split pea soup, also a first since we’ve been in Japan.

Christmas Dinner menu:

Ham with mikan glaze
Roasted carrots and potatoes
Brussels sprouts with chestnuts
Stuffing, provided by Sarah
Dessert: Fruitcake with marzipan, mince pies
Drinks: Sparkling apple and grape juice

The reason I’ve got food on my mind is because I’ve started preparations for Osechi, the Japanese New Year’s feast. This year will be my fifth time making Osechi. Keith says it gets better every year. I wouldn’t doubt it; the first time I made Osechi, I could hardly read the recipes I was using. Most people make Osechi over the course of several days. Usually I just do it all on December 31, but this year I’m trying to spread it out a bit.

This, too, is part of my training. Keith and I hope that hospitality will continue to be a big part of our ministry in the future.

Other than the previously mentioned meals, here are some other pictures of various Christmas events.

Church potluck #1. Can you find Ultraman?
Christmas concert #1 at Hokuei Church
Church potluck #2
Playing for worship service at Wakaba
Christmas concert #2 at Wakaba

Friday, December 19, 2014

Imomochi recipe: a Hokkaido specialty

Today’s coffee: unfortunately not.

I’ve been sick the past couple of days, but to celebrate the fact that I have somewhat regained my appetite, here’s an awesome recipe that is both easy and a specialty of our region: imomochi (potato mochi).


  • Potatoes
  • Katakuriko (potato starch), about 25% the weight of the potatoes. Or probably corn starch would work. I use katakuriko and corn starch interchangeably.
  1. Peel the potatoes and cut into chunks. My potatoes were medium sized, so I cut them into four chunks each to reduce cooking time.
  2. Boil the potatoes until they are tender, and then drain.
  3. Mash the potatoes. We used our Kitchenaid mixer. 
  4. Add the katakuriko or equivalent, and mix. (If you are using a Kitchenaid mixer, we recommend the dough hook.) Soon, the mixture will become gelatinous, or as we say in Japanese, mochi-mochi. And… it will be very hard to mix.
  5. Form the dough into one or more logs, about 1 ½ -2 inches in diameter. Wrap in plastic wrap if you’re not going to use them right away. 
  6. Slice the logs into ½ inch slices.

Finished imomochi-log

How to eat:

You have lots of options. You can put them in a soup such as this one, or substitute imomochi for mochi in this one.

We made a simple soup with seasonal root vegetables, konnyaku, mushrooms, and mitsuba (the leaves on top). The broth was dashi with a couple tablespoons of saké and a bit of soy sauce.

Another option is pan-frying. My personal favorite is to fry some leek in butter and add soy sauce, and serve that over the top of the pan-fried imomochi. Or, more traditionally, you can make a simple sauce with soy sauce and sugar.

Pan-fried imomochi topped with leek
You can freeze leftover slices in a single layer.


Friday, December 12, 2014

Advent: Trying not to be so busy.

Today’s coffee: Christmas Blend

We’ve finally achieved 根雪 (neyuki, meaning snow that doesn’t melt) here in Ishikari. It was late this year; we were wondering if we would get a green Christmas. This year will be my fifth Christmas in Hokkaido; I’ve begun to think that Christmas without snow is weird. Next year will be weird, I guess.

So far we’ve had three Christmas events at church: women’s group Christmas cooking class and lunch, middle and high school fondue party, and children’s party with cookie decorating. Three concerts, three potlucks, three worship services, and three or more house parties to go. Three Christmas boxes to send. Exciting, but busy.

Here's a few pictures of our "Christmas" so far.

Women's Christmas lunch. Keith gave a talk (which was actually about Thanksgiving) and carved the turkey.
I just ate. First time to eat turkey with chopsticks.
Not actually a Christmas event, but we had a movie night for the youth group, which also featured making bread (we watched Shiawase no Pan--The Bread of Happiness) and decorating the Christmas tree.
Admiring their creations. The bread on the orange mat is actually shaped into the Japanese symbol for onsen (hot springs bath)!
Youth group Christmas fondue party. "Silent Night" accompanied by Ko-kun on guitar, Ke-kun on cajon, and A-chan on piano.
The meal was 3 courses, but most popular fondue was chocolate, of course. We ate it with meringues and seasonal fruit.
The children's party featured Christmas story told by a ventriloquist with a puppet!
Keith will be preaching from Isaiah 40 tomorrow: a message about preparing the way for the Lord, and specifically, preparing our hearts to receive him. Keith and I both preach from our hearts; each message is first for our own good, and then we share with others what we have learned. Ironically, Keith’s message tomorrow will be a rather sharp criticism of busyness, since the temptation to fill all our time with various activities (and not listen to God’s voice) is something we both struggle with, especially in the weeks before Christmas. Keith and his Japanese teacher, still hard at work on the sermon at 8:00 last night, joked that neither of them were taking to heart the content of the message.

Feeling convicted of not spending enough time resting and reflecting, here I am at Tokumitsu, despite the house party later today, the concert tomorrow, and the cake I have to bake for tomorrow’s potluck. The weather is beautiful; cold and partly sunny, snowing a bit. I stopped to chat with a neighbor on the short walk to Tokumitsu, and then I admired a flock of fat, noisy sparrows perched in one of carefully manicured trees in his yard. Somehow I felt better, having done that.

Every morning and again before bed, I am reading and reflecting on one of the traditional Advent passages, using a devotional book written by fellow students and professors from our seminary. Before dinner, we light the candles of our advent wreath and sing a verse of “Oh Come, Oh Come, Immanuel.” It seems that we stay longer at the table when the advent wreath is there. It was at times like these that Keith and I talked through various points he wanted to put in his sermon. It’s times like these that are helping me remember why I’m here in Japan—and helping me keep my priorities straight.

I feel like a broken record, repeatedly bemoaning the fact that I have a “busy heart,” when what I need is a quiet heart that depends on God, even when circumstances beyond my control keep me busy. But sometimes the circumstances aren’t beyond my control. Sometimes I need to make a conscious choice to stop and listen.

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

Ultraman's Photo Diary, part 2

Hello, everyone! Lately we've been having multiple Christmas events each weekend, making posting during the weekend a major challenge. So, I'm going to turn this week's post over to Ultraman, so he can fill you in on what he's been up to recently.

"Greetings, earthlings. It's been awhile. As you will see, the last few months have been very eventful. First, I made a new friend. We hung out quite a bit in September. 

Then for awhile, I went undercover on a secret mission. I can't tell you where I was, because it might put you in danger. But then something went wrong, and my memories are kind of fuzzy for a bit. When I came to, I was napping on the couch with this kid. I guess he rescued me?

I think my aura grew, though. Suffering builds character, I guess.

Then I was playing with some other kids, and there was a terrible accident...

Oh no! Will Ultraman ever walk again??

But never fear, I was hospitalized (at Keith and Celia's house) where my severed foot was carefully re-attached. (With superglue.) I'd better be careful for awhile, though.

So, for post-accident rehabilitation, I started with a healthy bowl of onion dip.

Then some push-ups (while also getting some spiritual nourishment)...

... and Christmas Tree climbing, of course.

While I was at it, I checked out some of the other Christmas decorations around church.

I also checked out some of the news from while I was gone.

Walking still isn't completely back to normal...

Despite being injured, I am still finding opportunities to help others.

I helped blow up some balloons to get ready for a Christmas party.

Well, that's about it for now! See you next time, and have a merry Christmas!"


p.s. Fun trivia: the plural of Ultraman is not "Ultramen;" rather, it is "Ultramans." There you have it.