June 2006 Archives

Lemon Cake with Lemon Curd & Coconut


recipe thursdayAshley's birthday is today and I wanted to bake a cake to celebrate. It had to be carried across town and survive a dinner cruise before we tucked into it, so I decided on a sheetcake, simply decorated. It was well-received - even cake-hating Troy ate a piece (or he tossed it out the window while I wasn't looking).

Lemon Cake
makes 1 round layer or a thin sheet

1/2 cup butter
1 cup sugar
1 1/2 cups flour
1 tsp baking powder
2 eggs, separated
1/2 cup milk
1 lemon, juiced and zested
1/2 tsp vanilla

Cream the butter with 1/2 cup of sugar. Beat the egg yolks and add to butter mixture. Sift together flour and baking powder. Measure the lemon juice & zest. In a separate container, measure enough 1/2 cup milk minus the quantity of lemon juice. Alternate adding flour and milk to butter mixture, beating well. Mix in lemon juice and vanilla. IN a clean bowl whip the egg whites until stiff. Add 1/2 cup sugar to the whites. Fold into batter. Bake at 170C in a greased and floured pan for about 20 minutes.

Lemon Curd
This is a nearly clear, sweet-sour spreadable jelly to top the cake. It would also go great between layers. The amounts are dictated by the juiciness of your lemon, but I've given some guidelines in parentheses

1 lemon, juiced and zested (3 Tblsp)
sugar (9 Tblsp)
water (6 Tblsp)
2 Tblsp cornstarch
2 Tblsp water

In a small pan over medium heat, mix the lemon juice with about twice that quantity of water. Add twice that in sugar and allow sugar to dissolve. As the mixture comes to a simmer, dissolve the cornstarch in an equal amount of cold water. Whisk into the simmering mixture, being sure to avoid lumps. Remove from heat and whisk til smooth and thick. It will thicken a a little more when it cools.

Coconut Frosting

1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup coconut
1 tsp rum
~2 cups powdered sugar

Sprinkle the coconut with rum and allow to sit until the coconut softens. Cream the butter, add the sugar until you get a spreadable consistency. Add the vanilla. Mix in the coconut.

To put the cake together: spread the lemon curd over the cooled cake. Freeze until firm. Spread the coconut icing on top, sprinkle with more coconut. Top with chocolate pastilles. Sing happy birthday very loudly.

Week of Sundays

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Yes, yes. I realise it's Wednesday today. But it feels like Sunday. It's been Sunday all week.

John & Kris were scheduled to arrive last Sunday - so we thought. Unfortunately John forgot to take the international date line into account, so they really appeared on Monday. And so Monday started a trend of Sunday-like weekdays.

We're on vacation now. The pace here is relaxed and laid-back. We're reading books, sipping libations of many sorts and enjoying home cooked food from the new grill. And I'm working on projects between times, but I do that on Sundays too.

Guests & Grill



Friends have come to stay for a couple of weeks. While we girls were off having a relaxing massage, the boys went shopping. They came home with a new grill and they are planning to break it in tonight with a whole fish. Mmmmm.


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Takarabune, the treasure boat of the seven lucky gods

Each god is represented by his or her sigil.

As a surprise, Shinji gave us his takarabune as a present. He bought it thirty years ago to bring his good fortune. Now he has everything he wants, and he passed his lucky boat to us. It's a symbol of the Shichifukujin, the Seven Lucky Gods.

Elizabeth Andoh

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capable and practiced hands prepare somen

Elizabeth demonstrates the value of long chopsticks

Today I went to my friend Elizabeth's place to take some pictures of her teaching a class. Her publisher will send they photos to newspapers and magazines. It was a lot of fun and I got a few good shots - these two are from the reject pile, but I like them anyway.

Boiled Egg


"We'd say you are a 'boiled egg'," Shinji laughed last night. Is that a compliment, or an insult? I'm not entirely sure.

Am I turning Japanese? I really don't think so. Even if I do make dashi from scratch.

Tod's Favorite Beef Stroganoff


recipe thursdayJust about every time I want to have a special dinner, romantic candlelight, or fancy occasion meal and I ask Tod what he'd like to have, he answers "beef stroganoff." And this is the one he means.

Tod's Favorite Beef Stroganoff
serves 4 or Tod

650 gr beef tenderloin, cut into 2x2x4 cm strips
olive oil
2 Tblsp butter
6 shallots, minced
40 white button mushrooms, thickly sliced
1 cup beef broth
2 Tblsp cognac or brandy
150 ml heavy cream
1 Tblsp dijon mustard
1 Tblsp fresh dill, minced
salt & pepper

Sprinkle the beef with salt & pepper. Heat a couple tablespoons of oil in a heavy skillet until very hot, then brown the meat on both sides. Work in small batches so you don't overload the pan, and transfer the browned beef to a baking pan.

Reduce the heat to medium and melt the butter. Saute the shallots, scraping the pan to release the beef drippings. Add the mushrooms and cook about 10 minutes, or until the liquid evaporates. Add the cognac or brandy and the beef broth. Simmer 15 minutes or until the liquid is reduced by about half and coats the mushrooms. Stir in the cream and mustard. Add meat and any juices from the pan. Cook until beef is heated through, about 2 minutes. Season with dill, salt & pepper.

Serve over buttered egg noodles and garnish with paprika.


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Sage's sinuous stems seek the sun

Happy solstice.


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Iris in the genkan. Click for larger view.

The genkan is the Japanese entry hall where you remove your shoes and set your bags before stepping up into the house. In Matsudai, fresh flowers greeted us at every home.

I've added a dozen more photos of home interiors, people and gardens to the Matsudai set on Flickr.

松代 is not always Matsudai


This weekend I was back in Niigata taking photos. This time Tod came with me and we decided to take the train instead of the gallery's "staff bus" that leaves at an ungody hour from the gallery across town.

So I checked the very handy Jorudan Norikae site and typed in Tokyo to Matsudai in Japanese. I got our route, the time and cost and we set out with plans to arrive at 12:13 in time for my 1:00 shoot.

At 12:11, we realised something was amiss. "Next stop, Matsushiro. Matsushiro, next."

Huh?! MatsuSHIRO??


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Signs are pointing towards a North Korean missile test in the near future, perhaps as soon as today according to some reports. Dear Leader lobbed the previous one (in 1998) over Japan and into the ocean, so be prepared to duck and cover just in case it goes awry.

Alternate Seasons

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creative perspectivesWith the summer solstice approaching and a series of comments on Dr. Dave's blog I've been thinking about seasons. Of course spring, summer, autumn and winter are rational and natural, but why not some other more personal seasons?

I made up a few of my own seasonal sets today. Two are on an annual rotation, the other describes a shorter and more irregular cycle. What seasons can you find in your life?

Creative Seasons

Garden Seasons
hopeful plans
freshly planted

Seasons of Feet
new blisters
soggy shoes
itchy toes
painted toenails
callous formation
extra socks

Three Salad Dressings


recipe thursdayI can tell summer is here because I'm making a lot of salads now. The secret to good salad dressing is enough salt--don't use too little or your dressing will be flat.

Here are three dressings I whipped up this week. Nothing was measured carefully when I made these, so adjust to your liking. These recipes make enough salad dressing for 2-4 people, depending on how much dressing you use.

Umeboshi-Garlic Dressing

1/4 carrot
1 clove roasted garlic
1 soft umeboshi (Japanese pickled plum)
olive oil
white wine vinegar

Press the garlic and ume through a garlic press. Grate the carrot very fine. Add olive oil and vinegar in your preferred ratio. Season with salt and pepper.

Creamy Ginger Dressing

fresh ginger
3-4 Tbsp mayonnaise
1/2 tsp soy sauce

Finely grate about 2 cm fresh ginger root. Mix together with mayonnaise and soy sauce. Thin with milk to dressing consistency.

Green Lemon Dressing

1 lemon
2 stems parsley
1 clove roasted garlic
1/2 tsp capers
olive oil

Juice the lemon, removing seeds. Mince the parsley. Run the roasted garlic and capers through a garlic press. Mix together with olive oil to your liking and season with salt and pepper. This was especially nice on a salad with smoked salmon in it.

Time Cookies

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Morinaga Time Cookie

These petite yogurt flavored cookies are filled with blackcurrant cream. They are tasty, but I cannot figure out why they are called Time Cookie. The copy on the package doesn't say much. But TIME is a registered trademark...

I've eaten half the packet so far and no effect. Time's not slowing down or speeding up. I haven't seen any flashing clocks or countdowns in my peripheral vision. Well, I can only hope that the TARDIS will appear at the end of the week.


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Country Food

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The farmhouse spread

We enjoyed a feast of simple Japanese dishes in Matsudai. I've put some photos on Flickr describing the individual dishes.

Marinated Seafood

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recipe thursdayAnother summer dish I tested out on a party crowd. Couldn't be much simpler and need no heat at all - just start it the night before to ensure you get enough marination time.

It's easy to find bags of mixed seafood in Japan, and it's already cooked and prepped for salads like this. If you can't find something similar, frozen shrimp alone would be delicious, too.

Marinated Seafood
serves 12

1 kg bag frozen seafood mix (shrimp, squid & octopus)
2-3 small colored peppers
3 lemons
1/4 cup olive oil
1/2 tsp salt
1 bunch chervil, minced
dash of msg

Juice the lemons. Mix with olive oil, salt, msg and minced chervil. Use a mandoline (cabbage slicer) to thinly shred the peppers. Add to dressing.

Run the frozen seafood under cool water to dislodge any ice crystals and to partly defrost it. Combine dressing and seafood and allow to marinate overnight.

Inaka Hospitality


The weekend in Matsudai was primarily spent taking photos - I shot 530 in two days - and two of the photo sessions were with local obaachan & ojiichan (grandmas & grandpas). They dressed up in old-timey clothes and let us come take pictures in their gardens and alleys. And then they invited us in.

Sekiya-san and Kadoeya-san spread an elegant table of cool glass dishes and colorful fruits.

Kadoeya-san's house is beautiful. It's full of traditional Japanese colors and textures, seasonal decorations, multi-generational calligraphy. She is an elegant woman and her home reflects that. She also loves to sing and dance. While we nibbled fruit, she and Sekiya-san danced for us. I don't think anyone has ever performed a dance for my entertainment before. I was truly touched by their grace and generosity.

The Six Beauties of Chitose served up a meal of home cooked vegetable dishes from their gardens

Kodoeya-san's son drove us to the next village, Chitose, for our other shoot. Six women were waiting for us - I hadn't expected such a crowd - and invited us inside the old farmhouse while they finished getting ready. What an amazing building. Built 76 years ago, the rooms are two stories high with timbered ceilings. Thatch peeked through in places, though the roof had been tinned over years ago. And the walls crumbled in patches. Old, well-used and beautiful.

After the shoot, they surprised us with a feast of their specialties. I'll write more about those soon. In the meantime, you can have a look at home photos I've added to my Matsudai Flickr set.

Weekend in Niigata

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I went to Matsudai, Niigata this weekend as part of キンシーズ (Kinshees), an art project in the Echigo-Tsumari Art Triennial beginning July 22 and running through September 10.

What a beautiful place. I had my camera with me and took a lot of photos. Some scenes from the town are up on Flickr and I'll add more through the week.

Red & brown flower


Afternoon light on the potted flowers

Q10 Ice Cream


Healthy! Beauty! Dessert!

Apricot Sauce and Vanilla Soymilk Ice Cream with Co-enzyme Q10 and vitamin E. Only in Japan. From the Healthy & Beauty line by Lotte-Snow.


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creative perspectivesThis week I've been working on illustrations for two different projects. For one, I needed a model. I browsed my collection of photos looking for someone turned at the correct angle, smiling and looking at the camera. No such luck. So I picked up the camera, tilted, smiled and snapped.

Then I went to work in Photoshop, using the pen tool and many layers to create a block-print look face. I made a very simplified version (at right below), using the placement of my features and the general shape of my face, ignoring details and eliminating curves, wrinkles and my nose. It was pretty much the look I wanted to achieve, so I submitted it for comments to the Collectik crew.

And then I decided to try making a more realistic stylised version of me. I added the laugh lines and moles, followed the curve of my face more closely, and gave myself a nose and slightly more accurate eyes.

The reference photo; me, realistically stylised; the submitted face.

I truly enjoy abstracting the essence of something in to shapes and lines. Simpifying an object requires you to focus on positive and negative space, form, shadow. Which details tell the story? What can be discarded? Which lines must be 100% accurate? Which ones can be adjusted and how? Can or should you add details that aren't there?

It's especially interesting when you work with your face as the object. I'm sure a psychologist would have a field day with the details I included or didn't...


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recipe thursdayI made this as part of a menu for a dinner party last weekend. The recipe came from Peter Why via the LibriVox forums but I made some conisderable changes to his original - including skipping a cooking step and substituting anchovies for garlic. The results were raved over and I'll be making this all summer.

serves 12 - 15

2 large onions, cut into bite size pieces
4 bell peppers (2 green, one yellow, 1 red), cut into bite size pieces
2 sprigs fresh thyme, destemmed
5 small Japanese eggplants, cut into bite size pieces
2 stalks celery, cut into bite size pieces
1/2 can pitted black olives, rinsed
2 cans (800gr total) crushed tomatoes
6 anchovy fillets
2 Tblsp capers
1/2 cup red wine vinegar
2 tsp sugar

Saute the onions and peppers in olive oil until the onion turns translucent. Remove from pan and set aside.

Heat about 1/2 cup of oilve oil in the pan, the add the eggplant and saute for about five minutes. The eggplant will soak up the oil completely. This is good. Don't allow to overcook.

Add the tinned tomatoes, celery, thyme, onion/pepper mixture, olives, anchovies and capers. Allow to simmer for about 20 minutes, uncovered.

Stir the sugar into the vinegar and pour into the pan. Mix well and allow to cook another minute or two. The consistency should be "jam-like."Remove from heat. Allow to cool. Serve at room temperature.

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