Saturday, November 12, 2011

here comes the sun

Here's a fun fact: Did you know that when you ask Japanese kids "What color is the sun?" they'll answer: red.  It's true.  As one who grew up crunching on cereal and watching Sesame Street, I drew sunny yellow spheres with rays of the same color — or if I was feeling particularly daring — orange but never red.  In Japan, you'll see in drawing after drawing of equally sunny suns always in red.  I don't have an explanation other than that the national flag hinomaru, the gracefully designed Japanese flag, represents the sun as a red circle on the white background.  I also have this photo, taken last spring, which makes the whole idea of representing the sun as red sphere; perfectly logical.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

About Chocolate Cake

So this isn't the cake recipe that I shared in my video but it's the only shot I had of a chocolate cake.  It's actually a photo of a delightful birthday cake my partner-in-crime made me a few summers back.  Gotta love a man that bakes you a cake, especially one containing beets!  Beets?! Yes, those red root vegetables that appear in the pages of old fairy tales.  My cake was delicious and ever so subtle reddish hue was the only hint that it contained a vegetable. 

At any rate, back to the My Favorite Chocolate Cake...

There were some questions about the inclusion of vinegar and as explained in the video it's purpose is to react with the baking soda.  Vinegar is and an acid and when mixed with an alkaline or base, in this case baking soda, it causes a chemical reaction that creates carbon dioxide gas.  The carbon dioxide bubbles continue to fizz and expand during baking and creating all of those crumby pockets inside the cake.  Look carefully the next time you eat a piece of bread or cake; you'll see what I'm talking about.  The goal is well-risen poofy cake, so we add the vinegar at the end to conserve as much of the CO2 as possible.

Also a note about baking soda vs. baking powder.  This are NOT interchangeable.   In a recipe that contains only baking soda there's usually an acid (vinegar, lemon juice, yogurt) to react with it to create a leavening reaction.  Baking powder on the other hand, is a combination of baking soda and an acid that just just water to activate.  Sometimes recipes call for both leaveners, which I've read is to counteract baking powder's sometime have a bitter, metallic flavor.   The alkaline baking soda is used to neutralize the remaining acid found in the baking powder.  Whew!  Now that we've gotten through the technicalities of chemical leaveners, let's talk chocolate cake.

My Favorite Chocolate Cake 
adapted from The Moosewood Cookbook
If you're looking for a no frills chocolate cake, this is your recipe.  It sweet enough to be a cake but not so rich that you regret your indulgence.  It's just right.

1 1/2 C. all-purpose flour
1/3 C. cocoa powder
1 t. baking soda
1/2 t. salt
1 C. sugar
1/2 C. oil
1 C. cold water or coffee
2 t. vanilla extract
2 T. vinegar
1 - 1 1/2 C. chocolate chips (non-dairy if making a vegan cake)

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees (180 C).  Sift together the dry ingredients.  Separately mix the wet ingredients except for the vinegar  Add liquid ingredient to the dry mix well.  Add chocolate chips and vinegar, stir quickly leaving some swirls of bubbling; don't over mix.   Pour batter into a greased 9" cake pan or into a muffin tin.  Bake for 25-30 minutes for a cake pan, 18-20 minutes for muffins, or until a wooden skewer comes out clean.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

More on How to Make a Mini Pond

Because there were so many questions about my pond set-up, I put this together with the hopes that it answers some of your questions. 

Remember not to overcrowd your pond.  Your fish need room to grow and overcrowding makes for an unbalanced system and adds stress to your fish.  I'll eventually have to look into making another pond soon as my fish get larger.  Also be careful not to shock your fish when introducing them to their new home.  Float the bag containing the fish in the pond water for 10-15 minutes, then open the bag and add a little of the pond water and reseal with air and continue to float for another 10-15 minutes before pouring them in.
Common name: Pearlscale Goldfish
Cost: purchased 3, for ¥500 at local farmer's market
Common name: Killifish, medaka メダカ
Cost: purchased 8, for ¥500 at local farmer's market

Beside being purdy water plants are important for 1.) keeping your water clean 2.) sheltering your fish from critters and the sun 3.) providing a source of food. 
Common name: Parrot feather Myrophyllum aquaticum
Cost: free - collected & introduced from a nearby canal
I uprooted a couple of small healthy looking stalks and used a piece of wire to attach them to a rock.

Common name: Water Hyacinth Eichhornia
Cost: ¥100 from home & garden center
I recommend just buying one of these; they're like zucchini in the sense that they're prolific.

I opted to collect rocks for two reasons: 1.) an established bacterial colony which help to breakdown pollutants 2.) they're free.  Also look for water snails that can help clean eat excess algae.  You want to make sure your rocks are clean.  Using any old gravel probably isn't a good idea.  Clean, aquarium rocks are cheap and sold in all kinds of colors and sizes.
Cost: free - collected from a nearby stream

Tap water is treated with chlorine to make it safe to drink, but it can kill your fish.  Treat tap water with a chemical decholorinator — found at any pet shop, or in my case the 100 yen shop — before introducing your fish, just follow the instructions on the bottle.  I do a partial water change every couple of weeks, meaning I siphon out about 1/3 of the water and replace it with fresh treated water.

I opted for this set-up because it was what I had on hand but it's not ideal.  In a perfect world you would want a container with more surface area to allow for more oxygen transfer, but because my pond is relatively small I just went with it.  You can also oxygenate the water using an air stone and a small pump.

I feed my fish once a day a small amount of fish food.  Be careful not to overfeed.  One last thing, remember that this is a closed system so every couple of weeks you'll have to do a partial water change.  This means, siphoning out 1/3 of the water and replacing it with clean treated water.   Also the plants will take up water and water will evaporate so replenish it as the water level drops.

Whew!  I hope I got everything.  Honestly, this may sound more complicated that it actually is.  Once you get everything going, it does a great job taking care of itself.  Make it;  you won't regret it.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

neighborhood temple

Just around the corner from our apartment we have a lovely temple called Zigenji.  A few weeks ago, I woke up freakishly early and took these photos just as the sun was beginning to rise.

I'll do a video of it soon. It certainly deserves it.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

a good thing

I'm a firm believer of reminders of good things past.  This video is a case in point.

Monday, October 3, 2011

the rice paddy now

Will you take a look at that.  It's a little hard to believe that a couple of months ago this drying patch supported an entire ecosystem of ribbiting critters.   Along with his family of helpers, our gentleman farmer harvested his rice, bundling the stalks to be dried before being threshed and milled.
Our farmer friend also plants flowers from seed along the bike trail, rotating them with the changing seasons. The marigolds are just about to bloom.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011


Recently while out on a hike I shot this rock face gushing water.  I think a typhoon that came through the week before explains the water source, but by the looks of how established the plants are, it's probably a regular occurrence.

Saturday, September 24, 2011


Soon after I arrived to Japan a year ago I remember admiring these spidery red flowers.  They were hard to miss, their bright redness dotting the edges of soon-to-be harvested rice fields.

As it turns out the flowers have a purpose.  Red spider lily (Lycoris radiata) is a member of the amaryllis family, the bulbs being toxic, help to keep unwanted critters out of the rice fields.
Known as  higanbana in Japanese,  the flowers pop-up like clockwork around September 23, marking the shift into from long summer days to longer autumn nights.  Autumn equinox also is the time of year when people pay respects to their ancestors.  Happy Autumn, Everyone!

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

it's all about what you call it

Still trying to wrap my head around this.  Is it a greeting or a statement?

Monday, September 19, 2011


Yesterday, while getting my shoes repaired I stopped into Daiso only to find that Halloween has arrived.  From what I can tell the Halloween is considered a Western novelty more of a happy-orange-and-black party, than candy-filled scarefest.

In this version the monsters look more confused than scary, pumpkins are eaten rather than carved, and kids don't walk around collecting candy from strangers.  Man...Halloween was the best.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

the candy aisle

I recently posted a video giving a glimpse of the prepared food area at one of my local supermarkets.  I probably should've mentioned that I got busted while filming - a very polite security officer approached me and asked me to stop recording.   Ouch. 

At any rate, I've received a few requests of the candy aisle.  While I don't have any footage, I do have some photos that include a sweet wee shopper.

 Notice the kid-sized shopping baskets and step stool for easy access.
 Finally, on the bottom shelf; that's where Popin' Cookin' lives.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

off with their heads

It's the time of year when the rice fields are bearing fruit and farmers do their best to keep critters from eating their precious crop by putting up the best scarecrows EVER.
Call me macabre, but I just love these impaled heads. 
They're simple, pragmatic, and dotted in a sea of green; just stinking cool.
This one's my favorite.  It's got mange.

Monday, September 12, 2011

How to Eat a Hanbaagaa

1. Admire the generous amount of lettuce.

2. Notice that these particular french fries come with a tool.
3.  Use said tool.
4. Smile like a goof.  Hesitate for a moment before dipping your fry.  Repeat.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

a simple ritual

Last night, friends whisked us off to neighboring Matsuyama 松山市 for an evening of onsen luxuriating.  Onsen,  Japanese for hot spring is a tradition that dates back to days before indoor plumbing and used  public bath houses. The ritual is simple - scrub down in civilized bathing areas complete with soap and shampoo, then soak in hot spring fed baths.  Most onsens have a variety of pools at different temperatures and the vibe is quiet and communal, despite what you may think about being naked with a bunch of strangers (all women, sexes are separated.)  If you're ever in Matsuyama I definitely recommend Sora to Mori Higashi Dogo a posh onsen that does a lovely job of marrying tradition with modern chic.  We'll definitely be back.  

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Ack, Stop slurping so loud!

I love learning about new things.
Today in the New York Times I learned of a condition called misophonia.  People with the condition are sensitive to sounds of people eating, their reactions range from annoyance to uncontrollable rage.  I can only imagine a misophone's reaction to an udon shop; where it's considered rude not to slurp. 

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

a year later

It's sort of hard to believe but it's been a year.  A year ago that I took this video riding the train with some apprehension, doing my best to see into my future and what would be my new life in Japan.  I would've never predicted the kindness of strangers and the otherworldly beauty of some of the places I seen.  I also would've never predicted having the support of so many on my adventures.  Thanks.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Anyone there...?

Hot dang, it's been a long while.

Getting hitched makes for a busy summer, but I'm back and planning to make more regular appearances on this ol' blog.  Let's get to it, shall we.  Today on my way home from work I stopped by the supermarket and did my regular perusal of the candy aisle and came home with this:
It's a new Happy Kitchen kit called sofuto kukki or soft cookie.  Look for a new video soon.  Alright, I'm off to get some shut eye.  おやすみなさい Oyasuminasai

p.s. - Please feel free to leave comments - I love hearing from the black depths.  Blogging can be a lonely pursuit and sometimes all it takes is a thoughtful comment to reinvigorate a thumb twiddling blogger. 

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Mountain. Ocean. Sun

M.O.S. burger's a fast-food joint that originated in Japan and places second only to McDonald's in popularity.  The shot above documents my first taste of the fabled kinpira burger, which consists of a delicious mixture of veggies dressed in a sweeten soy sauce, sandwiched between two 'buns' of toasted rice.  Yep, rice.  Paired with scaldingly hot fries and a soda served in a glass, it was scrum-diddly-umtious.  So delicious in fact it inspired a homemade version that's become a regular in dinner line-up.  So if you ever find yourself looking at the bright red letters M.O.S. (they're all over Asia): give 'em try. 
p.s. - If you're skeptical of rice buns, never fear, they've got plain ol' buns too.  

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

creepy crawlers

Usually, I'm indifferent to bugs and the like, but when Edo leaped out of bed with a yelp - bitten by a mukade, a Giant Japanese Centipede - I had the willies.  These suckers are fatty, several inches in length, covered in thick crunchy armor, framed in fast moving legs.  Here's a video of the bugger, nabbed under a plastic container.  Holy heebie-jeebies.

The mukade's bite is venomous and causes a lot of pain, but like a bee sting it's generally not life threatening.  Coincidentally, last week at my Japanese teacher's house we talked about common creepy crawlers and methods dispatch.  I was instructed to drop mukade into boiling water so I did.
Here's the beast post-mortem.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

bunny foo foo

Ordinarily, I'm not too impressed by cuteness but good heavens - will you take a look a Edo's latte. 
It made my espresso look geriatric.

Monday, April 18, 2011

styrofoam terrace garden

Yesterday, I spotted some clever styrofoam repurposing on our walk through town.  There parked on the cement wall of the canal: a vegetable garden.  Old coolers reinforced with packaging tape and neat wooden frames filled with soil and plants.

Well mulched taters.
Bonsai with mossy feet. 
A small tree.
So give that trash a second thought; you never know what could grow into a garden.

Friday, April 8, 2011

mochi's cousin dango

These are dango, skewered rice cakes similar to mochi with a slightly different, less sticky texture.  Eaten year-round, dango are a common sight but during spring you see them in the cheery pink (sakura), green (yomogi), and white (good ol' plain.)  Happy Spring Everyone!

Monday, April 4, 2011

digging for treasure

Awhile back I interrupted this rosy-cheeked fellow to ask what he was doing.  Rocking Wellies and smelling vaporous, he very graciously demonstrated his digging-for-odd-crustaceans technique. At the time, I thought he called them tejiro, but both Kenkyusha and Google have concluded I'm deluded.

Regardless, of my confoundings here's visual evidence of the transparent shrimp-like critters.
Anyone out there in the black pit of the web-o-sphere know what these critters are called and how I can eat them? 

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

red faced monkey

Initially, I thought this guy was a tanuki but I soon realized (with much delight) that it was a monkey.  And not just any monkey, but the red faced variety often photographed in hot springs in the snow.   Please forgive my terrible photo — it turns out macaques are also camera shy.  

Friday, March 25, 2011

Kimchee Making as Therapy

Craving some spice and needing a reason to stop watching the ongoing nuclear madness up in Fukashima, I made me some kimchee.  Blessed pickled cabbage. 

Small Batch Kimchee
This recipe is not particularly precise- it's suppose to be therapuetic.

a quarter head of napa cabbage,  cut into pieces, soaked overnight in salted water (1/4 C salt & H2O to cover,) drained
3 stalks of green onion, finely sliced
1/4 of a carrot, julienned
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 medium yellow onion, finely chopped
1 T. fresh grated ginger
2 T. togarashi powder, this was a substitution for traditional Korean chili powder
2 T. fish sauce
1/2 t. salt

Begin by making the chili paste by grinding the garlic, ginger, and yellow onion into a paste (definitely use a food processor if you have one.)  Add the chili powder, fish sauce, carrots, and green onions.
Wearing plastic gloves, work the chili paste in to the drained cabbage until everything is well mixed.
Tightly pack the cabbage into a plastic/ glass container, pressing out any air bubbles.  Cap and leave at room temperature for 1-4 days depending on the time of year and on how sour your like your kimchee.  I like mine tart so I let mine go for 4 days.  Taste daily to check for tartness then store in the fridge.  Makes 2-3 cups or a enough to fill a big peanut butter jar.   It's reassuring to know that if I ever need to work out any anxiety; I can always turn to kimchee.