Saturday, September 30, 2006

Chestnuts part 3

Today my son and I went chestnut hunting again and although we were confronted by a snake that seemed determined to follow us we bravely kept collecting until we had enough to make the delicious sounding Chestnut and Chocolate dessert. I even managed to borrow my mother-in-law's chestnut peeler thingy so I didn't have to risk any more explosions in the kitchen. If you are looking for a dessert that is easy to make (after you've peeled the chestnuts....) and that looks pretty good then I recommend the following recipe:
Baked Chestnut and Chocolate Pudding
If however you want a dessert that you don't have to smother with yoghurt or cream in order for it to be slightly edible then I would probably opt for a different one. Even my children (who usually devour anything vaguely sweet) decided to pass....
As for peeling chestnuts - they would have to come a close second to broad beans - not a lot of fun, but definately easier with a proper peeler!
Today's photos were courtesy of my daughter, Emily, who thinks she is a budding photographer.... at the age of 5 (almost 6..).

Friday, September 29, 2006

Chestnut links

Someone asked if I could pass on the links that people sent me about cooking chestnuts after my "exploding" experience - here are a few. I particularly like the comment in one of them that my sister sent me:

Chestnuts that have not been cut or pricked to allow steam to escape may explode, even after being removed from the heat.
Thanks Meg! A little late, but nice to know I proved them correct.

Anyway, here are a few links I received:

UK Ready, Steady Cook Site

A Japanese blog

The Australian Chestnut Company

Now the question is which recipe to try tomorrow.... I'm heading towards the "Baked Chestnut and Chocolate Pudding" - provided I can get the chestnuts out of their shells safely!

Destroying the balance of nature

Meet "Bob" and "Bertie". They have become my new best friends! I once read in an "organic farming" book that you should avoid using any machinery as it disturbs the balance within nature.... I am now sure that they were organic farming a two metre by two metre plot as opposed to my big garden! My father-in-law is away at the moment so I have had free reign of the rotary hoe. Usually he watches me and takes over after I have struggled away for about 1 minute, but today I went up and down, and up and down, and up and down the rows watching the machine do what it would take me 20 hours and buckets of sweat to do if I had to do it all by hand. I may have upset the balance of nature, but I definately had fun doing it!
Nature was again put out of balance when I started up the pump to get some water from the river. After what seemed like months of rain we are now in a drought.... but it is time to plant lots of seeds and without water they are not likely to go beyond being seeds. We are still averaging temperatures in the high 20s every day so after watering the spinach, daikon, onion seeds as much as I could I attempted to make a nifty shade cover for them to give them a chance of surviving the hot, dry weather. I know by tomorrow my father-in-law will be back and will have made me a "proper" cover, but it was fun to try!

As for me..... by the look of the size of my seedlings I think I will need to be spending all day in the tunnel house tomorrow pricking them out. Sunny, where are you when I need you!!!!

Tuesday, September 26, 2006


In a previous entry I wrote about Yamaga meaning the "scent of the mountains". Sadly there is another "scent" near our house that I can't imagine anyone wanting to bottle and take home with them. In fact at certain times as soon as some people arrive at our house their noses start twitching and although they are usually too polite to say anything you can see them thinking "what on earth is that smell?". It is usually at this stage that I point down the road at the "chicken farm" and try to convince them that our drains don't need cleaning.
I am in two minds in terms of the chicken farms. They are not "egg farms" but they just raise the chickens until they are big enough to eat and then the trucks come in the middle of the night to take them away. There are a lot near us and when the wind is blowing down the valley the smell comes directly towards us. The bigger the chickens get, the bigger the smell gets. Today (as you can see by the photo) the chickens are pretty big and the wind was blowing today....
I understand that the farmers need to make a living, but there are many people living near here that are starting to protest more and more. Some people are sandwiched in between two or three farms so no matter which way the wind is blowing they are affected. I won't even start on the "cruelty" aspect of it....
On the other hand, the piles of poos that come out of the farms are a great source of manure for my garden, so today I put on my gas mask (actually I forgot my gas mask so worked as quickly as possible) and went and collected bags and bags of chicken poos to put in the garden. It is hard to be politically correct when you can get things you need for free....

Thank you to all those who gave me good hints about chestnuts. I think I'll try again in the next few days - I discovered some other areas today that I didn't manage to clean last time....chestnuts really fly!

Saturday, September 23, 2006


As I think I have mentioned before, Japan is a country of seasons. Right now we are just heading into autumn and as well as the quite dramatic temperature drop at night, there are many other signs around the place that autumn has arrived. Today we went chestnut hunting – great fun as long as you have thick gloves! My parents-in-law have quite a few chestnut trees and it was interesting to see the difference between those which have been protected by fences from the wild boars and those which haven’t. Those protected have zillions of chestnuts under them while under the un-protected ones all you can find are wild boar footprints. No chestnuts in sight! I guess they are not bothered too much by the prickly protection.

Last week I decided to roast some chestnuts, a first for me. I figured you could just put them in the oven and roast them…. apparently not! After just having cleaned the kitchen in preparation for the Korean guests I found myself re-cleaning it after the chestnuts not only exploded in the oven, but also after I had taken them out of the oven. It is incredible how far little pieces of exploding chestnut can fly! I guess I need to do a little more study before I attempt it again! Any hints, recipes welcome….

Other signs of autumn at the moment are the red “higan-bana” which although are very attractive and deter moles, are also very evasive. The cosmos flowers are also starting to make an appearance. If only the start of autumn didn’t mean that winter is just around the corner…..

Thursday, September 21, 2006

First “paying” visitors

Well the first “paying” visitors to Kiora Cottage have now been and gone. They turned out to be a little different to what I had been originally planned and prepared for, but it all worked out in the end. Tom told me that there would be 2 men and 2 women. The youngest would be 61 and the oldest 75 years old…. So I figured a nice healthy breakfast of homemade bread and muffins might not go down so well and bought some things that would go better with a traditional rice breakfast and some things to eat and drink with them in the evening. Then at about 5pm I got a phone call from an embarrassed Tom saying that he had made a little mistake and that they were a little younger than he had first said – in fact the 61 and 75 referred not to their ages, but to the year that they were born! So with that in mind they had to shuffle the male and female pairs and we ended up with 4 females who really enjoyed a breakfast of homemade bread (with jam of course), pumpkin muffins, homemade muesli (thanks for the recipe so many years ago Dawn!) and fresh fruit and yoghurt.

They were from Korea and it brought back many memories of what it was like when I first came here to Japan and couldn’t speak any Japanese. One of the women spoke a tiny bit of English, but apart from that we were limited to gestures etc. They didn’t arrive until about 8pm, so after they “freshened up” in the cottage then came to our house to talk for a bit it was bed time. Up for breakfast at 7am and then away by 7:45am. A very short visit, but it was a nice start. They all seemed to really enjoy staying in the cottage and all said they wanted to build one like it back in Korea (that was translated by the interpreter!). Now we just need to get all our permits etc. sorted out so we can start advertising properly and then we need to train Emily and Masaki to not put on their “we’re so shy we can’t speak” act! Both sat on the floor in the hallway to eat their breakfast……so much for mingling with the family!

Saturday, September 16, 2006


After tea we went monkey hunting again, and although we didn't find any monkeys we did find some beautiful "steamy" mountains. The name of the town I live in is "Yamaga" and the meaning of the kanji can be translated as "the scent of the mountains" - very accurate today!

Monkey Mountain

About 45 minutes drive from our house is a mountain called "Mt. Takasaki". It is home to hundreds of monkeys and for a fee you can pay to go and literally walk around with the monkeys and watch them being fed while listening to their horrible screeching. Today I discovered a better way to view monkeys - just go outside our house! That's right - today I looked out across the rice fields and saw a big monkey galloping along the road. We took chase and managed to spot it in a persimmon tree up on the hill, but it ran off into the bush as we got within photo range. Apparently it is not uncommon to see monkeys here and they are usually a lone male who has been thrown out of his group and is in search of food. It just reminded me that not only do we live in the countryside, but we live in the "wild" countryside! Last year wild boars, this year monkeys, next year.... bears????

With a typhoon due ot hit here tomorrow I spent all day yesterday trying to get the garden under control and somehow I think I have got most of the weeds out - for now! Just in case you have forgotten how overgrown it had got, here is a before and after shot - now all I need to do is plant some more things in it. Fortunately the tunnel house is starting to get full of trays of seedlings so within a month or so I should have lettuces, onions, potatoes, silverbeet etc. etc. planted among the weeds!

Monday, September 11, 2006

No more pumpkin patch

The first time my husband went to New Zealand he was seen lurking around the window at 3pm looking very confused. When asked what he was doing he said he was looking for the rain. Apparently it had said on TV that it would rain at about 3pm and he believed them - a very silly thing to do in New Zealand! In Japan however the weather forecasts are basically 100% correct. Well they have been until today! Miracles of miracles it didn't rain like it said it would and I managed to get a whole lot of weeding done. Mickey, do you recognise this garden?? Until today I had given it over to the pumpkins that had self seeded in the compost. My plan when I went into the garden today was to pick the pumpkins (just a few more to store...) and that was it, but when I started weeding I just couldn't stop! It felt good to get the whole garden clear so now I can start the autumn planting tomorrow.... if it doesn't rain of course!

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Bloody rain!

One of the advantages of raising your children to be bi-lingual in the countryside of Japan is that you can control a lot of the language that they learn. My children think the only way to ask for a drink of milk is to say "Please Mum/Dad may I have a drink of milk" - there is no "drink please" here! They also don' t know any really "bad" words - unless there have been some recent slips in the Sesame St videos that I haven't seen yet! But one word I am thinking of teaching them very soon is "bloody" because right now that is the only way I can think to describe the rain that has been falling for the last week or so and which is forecast to fall for the following week or so too!
Now for anyone reading this who is not so familiar with the English language here is a short lesson. When I say "bloody rain" - I don't mean that rain the colour of blood is falling from the sky. It is an adjective to describe the rain that I have become to hate so much this year - rain that is overflowing the swimming pool, rain that is flooding the lawn and rain that is turning the garden into a mud puddle making it impossible to pull out any weeds let alone plant the autumn seeds! "Bloody" is not a "good" word, but there are worse that I could teach my children and that I would like to use to describe the rain that is still falling here right now!
The insects seem to be enjoying it though - here are a few more that have been appearing all over the garden (and in the house... the lizard seems to like our bedroom!). I hope you are having a drier day wherever you are in the world!

Thursday, September 07, 2006

For anyone who doesn’t know, this is my Grandma. Unfortunately she died in 2001, but she left behind a legacy that has perhaps helped me to move in the direction I am at the moment. My Grandma made jam – and not just the occasional jar, but enough jam to feed all the students in Dunedin! Every summer we would go on outings to Central Otago to get the best apricots and peaches and she would make it into jam to sell at the local flea markets etc. Every year I would get a jar of pickled onions for my birthday – the best present she could ever make for me!
My father made a collection of my Grandma’s jam recipes and gave it to all her grandchildren for Christmas one year. In that book he says:

One of the memories we all have of Grandma and her flat in Melbourne St, Dunedin is the huge pile of boxes filled with jars of jam and pickles, relishes and chutney. The smell of cooked jams was part of that lounge. And he was exactly right. Everywhere you went in my Grandma’s flat you tripped over boxes of jams. On the tables, under the tables, under the beds, in all the cupboards. There was jam everywhere!
Anyway, her book of recipes has been well used in this house and I am following in her footsteps with boxes of jam… fortunately I have a new guest house with lots of cupboards so I don’t have to put it under the beds anymore. And after a spurt of activity this week I am now up to 7 varieties and about 150 jars in total. Next week it is selling time!
By the way – I hope this picture is symmetrical enough for you Mike and Dad….

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Lack of sleep....

Unlike my husband I have never been one of those lucky people who can fall asleep within one minute of my head hitting the pillow. I don't know why (I don't think it has been a full moon lately...), but for the last couple of nights I have been having even more trouble getting to sleep, which has given me even more time than usual to think about what I really want to achieve this year. When I initially built my new kitchen I planned to start a jam and muffin business - trying to grow as many of the ingredients needed to make these as I could. That is still my dream in many ways, but for the meantime I have decided to focus just on jam. I figure if I can make that a success then I can branch out into other things later.
The main advantage in making jam as opposed to muffins is that jam can be stored for at least 6 months, whereas muffins need to be baked and sold on the same day (and of course taken to the shops etc. every day too). Much less waste! Anyway to celebrate my big decision I went and picked the pumpkins (before the crows ate too many of them..), bought a new jam pan (26 litre capacity) and 15kgs of sugar to start with. Tomorrow I am going to challenge the marrow and ginger jam again.....

I've been making good progress with my weeding and each day seem to discover more plants which are surviving in amongst the weeds. Today I found mini tomatoes and peppers. I guess the garden is at least one-third weeded now, although I know that by the time I finish weeding it the first place I weeded will be overgrown again. I've been getting up at 6am and doing a couple of hours in the garden before Tom leaves for work and before it gets too hot and trying to do some in the evenings too - but as it gets dark here by 7pm you can't exactly get a lot done. I did outlast Tom's father tonight though - but had to stop after I realised I was probably pulling out the pepper plants and not the weeds......

Friday, September 01, 2006

A day of surprises

Today seemed to be a day of discovering new things. For starters I went to make Apricot and Pumpkin jam and discovered that although we can't get any radio reception in our house, the new kitchen gets perfect reception! A good start followed by a good jam making session with my new gas. I would have to say it is fantastic! About three times as powerful as a normal kitchen one so it is perfect for making jam. Now I just need to invest in a few larger pots....
Next surprise... I started on the big task of weeding my vegetable patch to discover that I had in fact become a rice farmer! Until last year my garden was a rice field and there must have been quite a lot of rice within the soil as it is all through my garden! I have left a section of it beside the tunnel house just to see what happens. I guess with the amount of rain we have had the ground was in a flooded state most of the time.
The third surpise was when I started weeding around my dried up cucumbers and discovered that they haven't actually dried up at all. Well the ones that I had growing up the poles had all dried up, but the offshoots had found some shade in amongst the weeds and were growing well. I've trained them up the poles and hopefully they will produce some more before the cool weather strikes.
The final surprise was when I took out the compost and discovered a pumpkin plant growing up our olive tree! The garden in our bottom section is totally overgrown with pumpkins. They are all self seeded and I have just let them go wherever they want - which is exactly what they have done. I think I'd better get this one out of the tree before the pumpkins get any bigger and break the tree!
The only thing that didn't really come as a surprise to me is that after a month or so of no weeding, you get really tired after a day in the garden! I probably got about a fifth of the big garden weeded today though so it was a good start. Now it's time for a foot massage - any one willing???