Wednesday, February 29, 2012


It may not always be obvious, but I try quite hard not to write really negative things on my blog. There are a lot of frustrating things that happen every day and for me focusing on them just seems to make them all worse. But... having said that I also find that if I do a bit of complaining then I often get the problem off my chest and realise it wasn't such a big issue anyway. So on that latest note, I'm going to break my "positivity rule" and get something off my chest so that I don't take it out too much on the person involved....
Yesterday I drove up the road to our house and discovered my mother-in-law in my garden. I think I have mentioned before that we have a pretty good relationship and after a few tears in the past which were shed over plants which she ripped out thinking they were weeds etc. I thought we had an agreement that she would stay out of my garden or at least consult me before she got her digger out. However she seems to have forgotten that recently (either that or she just has far too little to do) and I arrived home to find that she had weeded a big strip between my peas... which I had planted in clover to help improve the soil, attract a few bees etc. The clover was just starting to take off as the weather warms up a little. Needless to say I was more than a little annoyed so called out the window to PLEASE stop immediately as I had actually intentionally planted those "weeds". I managed to say it quite nicely, but for some reason she got angry at me and told me that I should have told her... not quite sure how I could have done that when I wasn't even home when she started it and when I thought we had an agreement that she leaves my garden alone..... I think she is just anxious because her peas failed to germinate this year and so is relying on mine for her dinner!
Phew, that is off my chest. It's not going to bring back my clover, but it does make me feel a little better. Thanks for "listening"!

Monday, February 27, 2012

Splitting Bamboo

Japan has a way of using bamboo like no other country I know. They use it in very intricate weaving of plates, they use it for tomato supports in the garden, they use it to make fences and they use it in another zillion kinds of ways. Until today I've always been puzzled by how they split the very large, very long pieces of bamboo to use for fences etc., but today it was all revealed when I wandered past the neighbour who was making himself a wind/wild boar fence. He was using this tool - a bamboo splitter! Basically an axe-like blade that splits the bamboo into four... very simple, but very effective. Of course now that I've discovered my father-in-law also has one of these gadgets I might go for a wander up the hill and get myself some bamboo to try it out.
Or perhaps I'll just ask my father-in-law to get me some bamboo and split it for me and I'll take a few more photos!

Sunday, February 26, 2012


One of my dreams is to punch a huge hole in our kitchen wall and extend it out a few metres, giving us a bigger kitchen with more bench space and a pantry. Unfortunately it looks like that will have to wait for many years, unless we win lotto in the near future. So in the meantime we have to be satisfied with practicing by punching a huge hole in the side of the chicken house and extending it out a metre or so to give the chickens a bit more roosting space. When we first built the chicken house we planned on having about 5 chickens, but quickly fell in love with them and now want to keep at least ten, hence the size problem.
Today stage one was completed... the wall is gone. I wonder how many weeks it is going to take to get onto stage two... I really hope we will have some more chickens before the end of March, but it may be a little chilly without a wall!

Saturday, February 25, 2012

New uses

You may remember a while ago that I bought an octopus ball maker hotplate which has different kinds of plates that you can use for different kinds of cooking. Last night we used the grill plate for hamburgers, but tonight the kids requested octopus balls again so it was back to the little round holes.
Near the end of our feast we ran out of batter so decided to make some "cheese fondue" with the leftover fillings. It worked really well - just throw a bit of cheese in one hole, a bit of sausage, shrimp or octopus in another hole and combine after the cheese is melted. I'm guessing we may be running out of batter even earlier next time... delicious! I wonder if chocolate would also work....
Apologies about the photos... hard to get in focus!

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Japanese food

I am often asked what kind of food I cook at home and my usual answer is that I cook a mix of Japanese and "Western" food - perhaps lately with more of an emphasis on the Japanese food. Most Japanese dishes use a combination of 7 basic seasonings - soya sauce, mirin, sake, vinegar, salt, miso and sugar. I like the fact that the flavours are not overpowering, but tasty enough to bring out the best of the vegetables etc. I am pretty good at reading Japanese cookbooks and producing more or less what the picture shows.
The only area I really struggle in is fish. I don't really like fish all that much anyway, but the kids love it and I know I should try harder to cook it. But the majority of fish in the shops is whole and is often still moving. I don't like bones and I hate the smell of fish on my hands so unless I can find some fillets I very rarely buy it, which is such a shame as there really is a lot of fresh fish available near us.
Fortunately my husband sometimes brings home special treats for the kids - like these little beauties. Both kids went crazy tonight over these dried out whole little fishy things. I almost had to leave the room as they were being lightly grilled.... the smell, the sight, everything about them just makes my stomach turn. But the kids had great fun chomping them down... chewing at their heads, grinding on their tails. Now if it was a good ole lamb chop bone I would be happy, but... these fish are just evil!

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Trying to snow

This morning we woke up to a small amount of snow on the ground. The sun then came out and melted it all away. It is now trying to snow again, but unfortunately it doesn't look like it will be enough to make it impossible for me to get to my "party" tonight. It is a gathering of parents from school who worked together for the bazaar etc.... I just hope I get to sit next to my friend and not next to the loud, needs to know everything (even more so than me...) mother. I think I'll go and do a snow dance just on the off chance I can get out of it!

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Cake pops

Just a quick sneak peak of my latest way to put on weight because I'm sick of funeral posts and the most exciting thing I did today was clean the bathroom.....
Cake pops... cake on a stick, covered in chocolate... yum, yum, triple yum! Emily and Masaki also made a batch the other day, but they seem to have disappeared before any photos could be taken. Next challenge is to make them into much more interesting animals etc. Unfortunately I'm sure there will be many failures before the perfect animal is formed... and therefore lots to eat before anyone sees how bad they are!

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

And another one....

This morning at 6:30am we got another phone call.... another old lady in the neighbourhood had died overnight. The small community center just across the road from us had been used for the first funeral, completely tidied up yesterday and then.... set up again today for the next funeral. It hasn't been used for a funeral to my knowledge for at least 12 years, but now it will be 2 in 3 days. Most people have the funerals in their houses or more recently at the funeral parlours.
I think I have probably mentioned the "funeral notices" here before, but can't find an entry about it, so I'll write it again. I can remember the first page my grandmother used to read in the newspaper was the back page - ie. the funeral notices. There would be information about when the funeral was - usually about a week after the person had died. Here in Japan there is no time to publish anything in the newspaper, so they just put out big signs - they say who died, who the main family member is, when and where the wake is and when and where the funeral will be held.
The lady had died in the night, this sign appeared before lunch today. The wake was tonight, the funeral tomorrow. Often family don't make it back in time for the wake - speed seems to be essential, something which dates back to when they had no dry ice to keep the body cool in the summer. Our community is very small. It is getting smaller.... here's hoping we have a break from seeing these signs for a few more months (or preferably years!).

Monday, February 13, 2012

Demolition mode

This first photo was taken about 8 years ago.... the grass was green, the steps in the grass were solid and not rotting away, the stoned area under the wooden frame thingy was quite a handy place to put a small swimming pool in summer, the railway sleepers all around the garden were perfect for keeping kids off the garden and images of lots of beautiful flowers flowing over the edge of the sleepers were floating around in my head.
Then... the trees grew very big - which is great for privacy, but terrible for growing a decent lawn. The wooden steps rotted away. The kids no longer fit in the paddling pool. The straightness of the sleepers and the reality of not being able to grow flowers in the area are getting on my nerves. The stoned area is too dangerous in the wet and too small to really utilise for anything. So... on Saturday I had had enough and started by ripping out some of the sleepers - not an easy task to do alone. I then somehow managed to get the whole family to help to pull down the wooden frame and smash all the stones (which we originally got for free) and remove them, leaving a big open space to play with. I had big plans to rip out the rest of the sleepers and mark out the new garden today, but (un)fortunately it rained all day so that may need to wait till the weekend.... The plan is to get most of this area paved in some way, but that may be a while away yet. Unless there is a master paver lurking out there that wants a week of free accommodation, delicious food and wonderful company in return for their services!

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Another departure

This morning we heard the news that one of our neighbours had died. She was 97 when she died and spent basically every day of her life until today wandering up the road to her garden to weed, pick off caterpillars and harvest far too many vegetables than the family could eat. She would always chat for a bit on her way past our house and was totally "with it", a real character in this tiny hamlet.
She was up at the crack of dawn every morning to go and pray at the family grave and this morning it seems that it was no exception. Only this morning she slipped on the way and fell down a steep bank and was found at the bottom a few hours later by her very worried daughter-in-law who was trying to find her for breakfast. She was one of the lucky ones in this area in that she lived with her family. There are so many elderly living alone in this area and so many fears about what would happen if something happened to them. The traditional Japanese arrangements of having many generations under one roof is definitely changing - not necessarily for the better.....

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Location, location, location!

Usually when I plant something new in my garden I buy more than one and plant them in different places and see where it will really thrive and where it will flop. I used this technique with my lemon trees and there is a HUGE difference between the two trees, despite being planted only about 30 metres apart. The tree down by the chicken house is laden with huge, very juicy lemons and the tree up near the road has ZERO lemons on it - in fact it has never produced a lemon in the 4 or 5 years it has been there. My husband is determined to freeze them all (something he saw on TV....) so I need to use some of them to make a few things before they all disappear into the depths of the freezer. This morning yielded lemon honey and crunchy lemon muffins. Yum!

Friday, February 10, 2012

Shaking houses

At the moment our house is shaking reasonably regularly and the shaking is accompanied by nerve racking bangs. No, there are no earthquakes (although that is what I thought originally) and no, the kids aren't stomping around after a bad day (that was yesterday). It is actually the American army practicing their bombing skills in a town about 30 kms away. There is a lot of debate and coverage about the army bases in Okinawa, but the little towns that are used around here for firing practice are less well known. There seems to be many opinions about whether the American army should continue to be allowed to use the Japanese land for this purpose. I'm not going to get into a huge debate about it, but I do question the late night firing practice when people are already on edge about earthquakes etc. Both my children have decided to stay up a little later tonight until they finally call it quits for the night and we get some peace and quiet. The practicing will continue for 10 days.....
There were images on TV of the children in the town all taking taxis to school during the duration of the "occupation" of their town - just as a precaution. There were also images of some pretty good facilities which were built with the money the town receives from the "occupation". I guess there are good and bad sides to everything.
This video is of a different town, but I'm guessing it is the same kind of training they are doing.

This video is of the town near us during the training in 2010. A bit long, but you can flick through to get the idea.

Thursday, February 09, 2012

Pulling their hair out

A while ago I drove up to the top part of our road and discovered that someone had hung big bags of something all along the side of the road. I presumed they were using them to mark the road for some repairs or something, but after asking my mother-in-law I was a little surprised by the answer. It turns out that the neighbors were tearing their hair out over the problem of the wild boars coming down from the mountains and destroying young seedlings etc. so they went to extreme measures.
The bags are all full of.... human hair! Apparently the boars don't like the smell of humans so rather than have us all take turns to stand like scarecrows in the freezing cold they decided to use hair instead. I'm kind of hoping they got a supply from a hairdressers and haven't been collecting it for the last 50 years, but with the way people hoard things around here I wouldn't actually be surprised if it was the latter!
I have no idea whether it is working or not, but it is a bit freaky walking up past huge bags of hair... especially now that it is starting to get all matted from being out in the elements and little bits are poking out all over the place. I guess if it doesn't deter the boars it will deter the mountain climbers from straying off the road to pick up rogue chestnuts that the boars have missed!

Sunday, February 05, 2012

Going a little too far

I'm all for healthy food and I love tofu - in fact I just opted to have a bowl of tofu topped with salad and meat rather than a bowl of rice topped with salad and meat. But some things are just not meant to be "healthy". For me chocolate is one of those things. Chocolate is one of those treats that you eat knowing it is not so good for your physical health, but oh so good for your mental health. So when I saw one of this year's valentine gift giving options I was more than a little surprised. Tofu Chocolate.... it just isn't right! I haven't tried it, but I am tempted just to prove to myself that some things really shouldn't be mixed. Has anyone tried it? Perhaps you can tell me how bad it is without me having to buy some (which would be very fortunate as it seems to be sold out on all the internet shops!).

Saturday, February 04, 2012


Enough baking posts for a while... but still on the food theme... Friday was "setsubun" - the official day before spring begins (I don't think the weather gods have quite realised this) and the kids and I were talking about how much fun it was at kindergarten when the teachers used to frighten them to death (you can read more about what setsubun is and what they did here). I think the only thing they do at school related to setsubun is to eat the dried soybeans that come with the school lunch on that day - and my kids hate them so they don't even do that. At home we each had one of the huge sushi rolls - you are supposed to face the lucky direction for each particular year and eat the entire roll without speaking. My son and I didn't even try, but my daughter faced the "lucky direction" for the year (north north-west) and ate silently for the first 10 seconds or so before giving up. It seems to have worked a miracle on her though as today she was incredibly helpful, even going as far as doing not only ironing her own apron etc., but her brother's and mine too. Perhaps we should eat these huge sushi rolls every day!

Last day of baking before a morning of deep frying....

This morning I managed to produce the requested muffins and cupcakes, but gave up on the madeleines. I personally don't particularly like them and they are a pain in the bum to make so I opted to make vanilla cupcakes instead and promised to make madeleines tonight if they thought they were necessary. Fortunately the cupcakes were cute enough for them to agree that madeleines were unnecessary so I get a "night off" tonight. I ended up making 48 chocolate muffins, 36 pumpkin muffins and 36 vanilla cupcakes. That is plenty for a school with only 50 kids in it! Now I just have to be at school by 7am tomorrow for a morning at the deep fryer and it is all over for another year. The things we do for our kids! Photobucket

Friday, February 03, 2012

Another few hundred cookies

By 7am I had finished another 100 cookies... by 9:30am I was at school with a total of 530 cookies ready to help make some jelly and get some help to get all the cookies into bags. I ended up making 5 different kinds in the end - chocolate chip, chocolate fudge, chocolate mint (can you see a trend...), anzac, and pinwheel.
Tomorrow I have to make about 80 cupcakes and 40 madeleines..... after making the kids Japanese lunch boxes and before I go to school to help make donuts, steamed bread, popcorn and set up all the things people have donated for the "bazaar". I'm off to bed very soon!

Thursday, February 02, 2012

99 down....

Sunday is the yearly mochi making, musical presentation and most importantly the "bazaar" at school. You can read about my first experience of it here. I am guessing that it will all be exactly the same this year. The big cookie bake began for me tonight - I decided to bake one kind before the other two "helpers" arrive tomorrow morning. Japanese people seem to think that there is only one basic kind of cookie that you can make so each year I try to add another kind just to show them what else can be done. These ones are chocolate fudge, there are chocolate chip and pinwheel rolls ready to be cut in the fridge and I'll make our current family favorite, mini anzac biscuits first thing in the morning(Mike, I finally found a recipe that doesn't run all over the tray if you want it!). I think the aim is to make about 100 bags in total with 5 cookies in each... I made 99 tonight so if my addition is correct it means I have about 401 to go tomorrow morning ....
Then Saturday is cupcakes, muffins and madeleines which I am making by myself then taking to school to get everyone to help put them in bags.
Sunday is a 7am start at school - I am in charge of deep frying the chicken nuggets. I can't wait for Monday!

Wednesday, February 01, 2012

Here we go again....

My husband had the day off on Tuesday so the big plan was to get the chicken house all fixed up and ready for some new occupants once the weather warms up. (Un)fortunately the chance to collect some wood came up and whenever free wood is offered we tend to drop everything and go and get it so the chicken house hasn't progressed at all. We have quite a good system going for our firewood now - we try to get these two big parts of the shed full by the end of the spring so that we have enough wood for about 2 years... in theory! Each section fits 6 rows and we are onto the 4th row of the first one... I'm guessing we will dip into the second section this year, but we shouldn't run out unless the winter doesn't end until about May!
I (half) joked with a friend the other day that I would give up my children before I gave up my fire and more and more people are putting fireplaces in here in the countryside. Unfortunately most people don't think much past the installation. I was drooling as we drove past all the huge firewood supply places in New Zealand, but of course there are no such places in Japan so the chainsawing, splitting and stacking begins all over again..... any volunteers welcome!