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.

Monday, April 20, 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

  • 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.)


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.

Thursday, April 02, 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.