June 2007 Archives

Sunset after rain


Four minute sunset

Just before 7 pm, I noticed that everything outside was glowing orange. The sun had poked through the rainclouds to give us a beautiful sunset. The sky was vivid but soon morphed into a grouping of bright spots in a shadowed blue.

2007: Year of the Tailbone


This weekend I fell down a flight of stairs and broke my tailbone. As Tod rushed to my rescue and helped me up from my undignified heap while assessing my injuries, Jim was counting the number of thumps he heard - seven steps' worth.

The venue was Tofuya, the "shedding house" at Echigo-Tsumari. It's beautifully hand carved in scratches and shreds on all of its wooden beams, pillars and surfaces. Even the steep, ladder-like Japanese staircases are shredded and it was on one of these that I lost my footing. I was even being careful not to do so, so I am doubly annoyed at myself.

Tailbone fractures are effectively untreatable. The injury will heal on its own eventually and until then, I just have to be careful with the way I sit and move. Getting in and out of the car yesterday as we were touring around Niigata was painful. I'm a little bit worried about spending too much time at the computer.

This is the second time this year I've injured my coccyx. The first time was in January while attempting to snowboard. It was about three months before it healed. I hope this break heals quickly but it feels worse than the first one. Time will tell.

P.S. Thanks for the well-wishes. I wasn't expecting the kind sympathy; I really only wanted to note this for future reference, so when I'm an old(er) lady I can remember when I fell down the stairs the first time.

Illustrated Morsbag Pattern


Download the PDF
(345 KB)

I love the simplicity of the Morsbag pattern, but the original written instructions were not going to work for non-native English speakers. I recreated the pattern from scratch in pictures with minimal text. I think this is pretty easy to follow no matter what language you speak. What do you think?

Father's Day



To celebrate the day, I enshrined the memory of my father in a little cedar Shinto altar I bought in Kawagoe.

It's not the ornate Buddhist butsudan that Japanese families use and I realise I'm not using it the "right way" but it looks like something Dad would have built himself; he enjoyed working with wood and miniatures. I like it and I think he would chuckle and shake his head at me if he knew what I was up to, enshrining him as Shinto kami.

Enjoy, Dad.


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The first 14 bags!

Greg, Tod & I worked on eco-bags this afternoon and churned out 14 fruity and funky bags that we'll distribute for free in Tokyo later this summer. Thanks to Yasu for giving up his tablecloth!

The morsbags pattern is easy and ideal for doing in a production line. I'm looking forward to make more soon. You want to make some bags? Let me know when you have time and we can do it together. Or do it on your own - that's great, too!

Sunday Breakfast Treat

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Avocado and Marmite on full-grain toast

Isn't this beautiful? And with its heavenly amounts of fat, whole grains, and B-complex vitamins, I'm ready for the day.

Kawagoe Food Delights

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Tod & I ventured out to Kawagoe today. Aside from my aborted attempt to walk there in 2004, I haven't been to Kawagoe since a day trip there in 1996 - the first time we came to Japan. It hasn't changed all that much but we have! Today we visited the usual tourist hotspots, but for us the real highlight turned out to be food.

Shortly after beginning our walk, we realised we were hungry. On the next utility pole, Tod spotted an ad for a soba shop called Kamakura directing us to "turn right at the next light." So we did and followed the signs another ten minutes. It was worth it. The homemade soba with was delicious.

But it was a meal short on vegetables, so when we spotted the "cucumber on a stick" stall at Kitain Temple, we stopped to share one. So simple. Very refreshing. Gave me enough energy to visit the 500 Rakan statues in the garden.

We'd walked about 200 meters out of the temple when we found a little restaurant serving organic, healthy foods. Not exactly vegetarian, but on the right track, so we got some 15-grain onigiri to take away and while we waited discovered homemade dried yuba (tofu skins) that can be used as a meat substitute. The nice lady running the place explained how to cook with it (soak it, squeeze it, dress it with shoyu, (and/or mayo) and dredge it in flour.) I love yuba nd friendly people, so we bought some.

There's a pickle shop in Kawagoe that we visited in 1996. This time, armed with nine years' more eating experience, we realised just how good it was! And we know the name is Kawamuraya. We sampled happily and bought some whole onions pickled in red wine.

Next stop: "candy alley" where there are dozens of shops selling old-fashioned sweets and crackers. We picked up some treats, including Tod's #1 irresistible food item, fancy imported salt. We had another cucumber-on-a-stick, too. This one was slightly salt pickled. It was even better than the first one.

As we wandered along Kurazukuri street, Tod spotted a shop specialising in beans. Wow, did they have lots of beans! Not only dried, raw beans, but many differently flavored prepared beans - fried wasabi beans, chickpeas soaked in sweet sauce and dusted with cocoa, freeze-dried red beans, semi-dried black beans. We tried them all and we walked away from Mame-ya with seven different kinds for home and a handful of recipes, too.

I thought we were done with food as we walked the final leg to the station. I mean, hey, we're on a diet, we're vegetarian, and what is there for us to eat? I should know better. We walked past an olive oil and wine shop. We backed up and entered the olive oil and wine shop (Tasty Globe), enjoyed a degustation and conversation with the owner, then left with two bottles of oil and two of wine!

Now we are home and I'm making dinner. I'd better get back to it - it's time to squeeze the yuba.

Eco Bagging with Morsbags


Recently I've jumped on board the eco-trend of using my own reusable bag when I shop. It seems like everywhere you turn, shops are selling (or giving away) lightweight fabric bags, that are foldable, rollable or otherwise containable. I have two. One in each of my purses, folded up and ready for shopping trips of all kinds. It is more comfortable to carry a fabric bag that can be slung over a shoulder than a plastic bag and ever so much better for the environment.

But I don't see so many people using them, even though they are easily available in shops, so I was excited to find a movement to recycle fabric into shopping bags and hand them out for free to friends and strangers. Here's a blurb from the website:


Let’s do something positive to reduce the hideous number of plastic bags being used - 1 million are consumed per minute globally - of which hundreds of thousands end up in the oceans.

The idea is to get together with people in your local community, drink wine and make reusable cloth bags (from old duvet covers, curtains from charity shops etc) and hand them out to the unsuspecting public for free on specified dates outside different supermarkets.

Meet new people, do something marvelous for the planet and beat other pods (groups) of baggers with your morsbag tally.

go to www.morsbags.com to be a part of a wonderful thing!

p.s. non-commercial/ non-profitable - just full of beneficial things for everyone, especially whales!

I'd like to start a "pod" of morsbag makers in Tokyo. I've got a sewing machine, an iron, and some fabric, but more people and more fabric would make the creation more fun, easier and more productive, too. Would you like to play? I'm thinking about starting this Sunday. Send me an e-mail or leave a comment.

Pepsi Ice Cucumber


icecucumber.jpgThis is Pepsi's limited edition summer drink for Japan - Pepsi Ice Cucumber. It went on sale yesterday and seemed so strange that I had to buy a bottle. Tod saw it near his office and bought one, too!

We tasted tested it last night, splitting most of one 500 ml bottle among three glasses with a lot of ice. None of us finished our glasses but I think that was the shock of the sugar more than the drink itself.

Ingredients: liquid grape sugar, flavorings, acidifier, preservative (benzoic acid), caffeine, coloring (blue 1, yellow 4). Neither water nor carbonation makes the list, but Japanese labeling laws are a little different than the US ones; the product type is "carbonated beverage" and that covers the carbonated water bits.

Ice Cucmber very sweet, but probably not any sweeter than other fizzy drinks. Its color is pale mouthwash, as you can see for yourself through the clear bottle in the photo. That color sets the tone for the taste. Its flavor is a combination of light ginger ale and diluted Scope with a slightly fresh aftertaste that is reminiscent of cucumbers the same way cherry flavor reminds you of the real thing if you squint your brow and think really hard.

Pepsi Ice Cucumber is not unpleasant and it's definitely different to other fizzy drinks. I'd say that I might even buy it again, but we still have the second bottle.

Redacted Perl recipes

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You might scratch your head over this, but Perl hackers like food so much that they add recipes to their source code. But the new maintainer, Andy, has deleted the recipes. Horrors! To preserve these two tasty vegetarian Middle Eastern ones, I'm republishing them here. Thanks to Sean Burke for including them in the first place.

Tangy Moroccan Carrot Salad
formerly found in Locale::Maketext

6 to 8 medium carrots, peeled and then sliced in 1/4-inch rounds
1/4 teaspoon chile powder (cayenne, chipotle, ancho, or the like)
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 tablespoon honey
juice of about a half a big lemon, or of a whole smaller one
1/3 cup olive oil
1 tablespoon of fresh dill, washed and chopped fine
Pinch of salt, maybe a pinch of pepper

Cook the carrots in a pot of boiling water until just tender -- roughly six minutes. (Just don't let them get mushy!) Drain the carrots.

In a largish bowl, combine the lemon juice, the cumin, the chile powder, and the honey. Mix well. Add the olive oil and whisk it together well. Add the dill and stir.

Add the warm carrots to the bowl and toss it all to coat the carrots well. Season with salt and pepper, to taste.

Serve warm or at room temperature.

The measurements here are very approximate, and you should feel free to improvise and experiment. It's a very forgiving recipe. For example, you could easily halve or double the amount of cumin, or use chopped mint leaves instead of dill, or lime juice instead of lemon, et cetera.

Easy Hummus
Adapted from a recipe by Ralph Baccash (1937-2000)
formerly found in HTML::Element


juice of two smallish lemons (adjust to taste, and depending on how juicy the lemons are)
6 tablespoons of tahini
4 tablespoons of olive oil
5 big cloves of garlic, chopped fine
salt to taste
pepper to taste
onion powder to taste
pinch of coriander powder (optional)
big pinch of cumin

2 16oz cans of garbanzo beans
parsley, or Italian parsley
a bit more olive oil


Drain one of the cans of garbanzos, discarding the juice. Drain the other, reserving the juice.

Peel the garbanzos (just pressing on each a bit until the skin slides off). It will take time to peel all the garbanzos. It's optional, but it makes for a smoother hummus. Incidentally, peeling seems much faster and easier if done underwater -- i.e., if the beans are in a bowl under an inch or so of water.

Now, in a blender, combine everything in the above list, starting at the top, stopping at (but including) the cumin. Add one-third of the can's worth of the juice that you reserved. Blend very well. (For lack of a blender, I've done okay using a Braun hand-mixer.)

Start adding the beans little by little, and keep blending, and increasing speeds until very smooth. If you want to make the mix less viscous, add more of the reserved juice. Adjust the seasoning as needed.

Cover with chopped parsley, and a thin layer of olive oil. The parsley is more or less optional, but the olive oil is necessary, to keep the hummus from discoloring. Possibly sprinkle with paprika or red chile flakes.

Serve at about room temperature, with warm pitas. Possible garnishes include olives, peperoncini, tomato wedges.

Variations on this recipe consist of adding or substituting other spices. The garbanzos, tahini, lemon juice, and oil are the only really core ingredients, and note that their quantities are approximate.

For more good recipes along these lines, see:
Karaoglan, Aida. 1992. /Food for the Vegetarian/. Interlink Books,
New York. ISBN 1-56656-105-1.

Vegan Blueberry Cobbler

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It's blueberry season and the American imported blueberries are too tempting to pass up even though they come from much farther than 150 km away. This is a vegan, low fat dessert in case you don't want to eat your blueberries plain. Only 175 calories per serving, so it won't ruin your diet, either.

Vegan Blueberry Cobbler
serves 4

2 cups blueberries
1.5 tsp cornstarch
1/8 c honey
1/2 tsp lemon juice
1/2 c whole wheat flour
1 Tbsp brown sugar
1 tsp baking powder
pinch cinnamon
pinch nutmeg
pinch salt
1.5 tsp canola oil
1/4 c unsweetened soy milk

Cook the berries, cornstarch, honey and lemon juice over medium heat until the mixture boils and thickens. Pour into an ungreased baking dish.

Mix the remaining dry ingredients, then stir in the oil and soy milk to form a thick batter. Drop by tablespoons onto the blueberries. Bake at 425F/220C for 15-20 minutes or until the topping is beautifully browned.

Serve warm with ice cream, if you like.

Tofu Steak with mushrooms


Years and years ago, our friend Tak taught us how to make tofu steak topped with soy sauce and bonito flakes. I loved it, but made it infrequently. Now that real steak is off the menu, this vegan variation topped with sauteed mushrooms will appear on our plates more often. It's takes about 30 minutes from start to finish, but ten minutes of that is pressing the tofu, which leaves you time to make a salad and steam some veggies.

Tofu Steak with Mushrooms
makes 2 servings

400 g tofu (firm, cotton type)
2-3 Tbsp corn starch
1 Tbsp oil
6 shiitake mushrooms, sliced
2 Tbsp soy sauce
2 tsp mirin

Drain the tofu and press under a weight for ten minutes to squeeze out the excess moisture. Slice in half horizontally to form two thin slices (like a layer cake). Pat dry with kitchen paper.

Dredge the tofu slices in corn starch on all sides. Make a slurry of the remaining startch and some water. You'll use this to thicken the sauce at the end.

Fry the tofu in oil on medium high heat for about five minutes on a side, or until they get crispy. After the first flip, add the mushrooms to the pan.

Mix together the soy sauce and mirin with about 1/4 cup of water. Remove the crispy tofu from the pan and plate. Deglaze the pan with the soy sauce mixture. Add the corn starch slurry and any additional water necessary to bring the sauce to a consistency you like. Pour mushrooms and sauce over tofu.

Notes: For Tak's version, skip the mushrooms. After removing the tofu from the pan, drizzle it with soy sauce and sprinkle katsuobushi (dried bonito flakes) on top. • More alternate toppings: soy sauce with daikon oroshi, ginger paste or wasabi paste. • My pan is seasoned with turmeric from cooking Indian curries and my tofu steaks were slightly colored as a result. Bonus tasty!

Design Festa in Video

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Dai Cast's Design Festa 25 video is online today. Ian captured a lot of the fun of the event and interviewed several of the artists, including me. Since he edited it so well that I don't seem totally dorky, here's the direct link to the video file: http://www.tiltyhouse.com/dai-cast//Design-Festa-25.mp4

Molasses Muesli Cookies


Molasses Muesli cookies looking all healthy

For the last couple of weeks, I've been testing the vegan waters. In many ways, I am loving the increase in vegetables, lack of animal products, and the weight loss, too, but there are some drawbacks.

Sweets are one of them. When I had a sugar craving this afternoon, I searched around for recipes and ended up inventing my own based on a few that looked not too bad. These are exactly the sort of sweets that my mother mocked our vegetarian health-food fanatic neighbors for making. But now that I'm eschewing eggs, dairy and meat, I'm reduced to doing my best with these healthy ingredients.

The cookies turned out soft and chewy with a lightly oat-y texture. Mine have a slight overemphasis on the molasses flavor because I only had dark molasses on hand; I think light molasses would be a better choice.

Each cookie is 66 calories, is very low in fat and has a 3% of the US RDA of iron. Tod says they are evil because it's very easy to eat three of them for a total of nearly 200 calories. I just say "Aaaahhh, sweets. Please pass another cookie!"

Molasses Muesli Cookies
makes 24 cookies

1 banana
1/4 cup molasses
1/4 cup honey
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 cup muesli (I used Dorset Luury Muesli)
1 sp baking soda
1 tsp ginger
1.5 tsp cinnamon

Mash the banana and stir together with the molasses, honey and sugar. Add the spices and baking soda, then the flour, mixing well. Stir in the muesli.

Drop rounded teaspoons onto greased baking sheets. Bake at 175C/350F for about 8 minutes.

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