July 2007 Archives

Doyo Ushi no Hi

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The local supermarket is ready for the evening onslaught of eel shoppers

Today is Doyo Ushi no Hi, which is the day the nation feasts on eel to increase stamina and to beat the summer blahs. Today is an unseasonably cool day but we're going to indulge in a bit of eel at dinner anyway as non-vegetarian insurance against the remainder of the summer.

If you want to know more about Doyo Ushi no Hi, my friend Elizabeth has an informative article about preparing and eating eel on her Taste of Culture site.




In April, Bunkyo-ku launched a community bus service that circuits the ward's public offices and major parks. It's a convenience for people who need to get across town to the tax office or are back-and-forthing between city hall and hospitals or taking their kids to the park. The bus runs every 20 minutes between 7 am and 8 pm and a full circuit of the ku takes 65 minutes.

I am delighted that this is how my tax money is being put to use. Not because I ride the bus, I haven't yet, but because I love the name of the service. The B in B-ぐる stands for Bunkyo and くる is the verb "to come" so that makes nice sense. The part that makes me grin is that B−ぐる is pronounced like beagle and the mascot is a a beagle wearing orange pants.

From August through October, B−ぐる is teaming up with local cafes to offer discounts if you show them your one day ticket. The campaign page has all the details and even tells you what stop is closest. And in another campaign, if you save up 12 one-day tickets, you can redeem them for a B−ぐる shopping bag or commuter pass holder.

Bunkyo-ku rocks. And rolls, too.

Summer Entrapment

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Summer started on Tuesday this week - rainy season ended and the temperature shot up - and I'm dreading the next three months. My plants are all wilty and so am I.

The home office was so hot this morning (32C by 11 am) that I turned on the aircon so that our server doesn't overheat and crash like it did all last summer. Now I feel trapped in the relative coolness because walking out into the rest of the house is almost oppressive. This is why I hate air conditioning.

Maybe I should just leave the server to cool alone, go out into the summer, and deal.

All About Home Baking


In another "I'll give your ephemera back after I've used it" moment, I snagged This 1935 edition of General Foods seminal baking book, All About Home Baking from Greg.

It's an excellent primer on the fundamentals of baking from scratch. 23 Easy Picture Lessons promise to cover the keys to baking success. And they really do, not only through the recipes, but in the hints illustrated in Key Steps picture lessons.

Tod's promised to scan the book for me, so that I can return it to Greg for artistic repurposing. When I have the scans I will post them. But until then, I want to share some of the useful knowledge this book imparts.

Butter is generally preferred for greasing because of the good flavor it imparts to the crust. Melt the butter in a cup over hot water and use only the oil on top. Do not use the salt that sinks to the bottom, as salt tends to make the baked product stick to the pan.

I never knew that. I guess that greasing the pan with solid butter will make the cake stick because of the salt. Here's another tidbit.

Divide the baking time into quarters. It will help you controlling your oven heat if you know just when you ought to look at your cake and what you may expect to see. For that purpose, baking time for cake has been divided into quarters as follows:

1st quarter - Cake mixture begins to rise.
2nd quarter - Rising continues; surface begins to brown
3rd quarter - Finished rising; cntinues to brown
4th quarter - Finished baking; shrinks from sides of pan

Take a look at your cake at the end of each quarter and, if you find that it is not baking according to this schedule, adjust the heat.

This was written in a time when ovens didn't always have thermometers or good heat regulation. Here's a practical test suggested for checking your oven's temperature:

Set a pan sprinkled with flour in the oven and if the flour becomes a delicate brown in five minutes, the oven is slow (250 F to 350 F). If the flour turns a medium golden brown in five minutes, the oven is moderate (350 F to 400 F). If the flour turns a deep, dark brown in five minutes, the oven is hot (400 F to 450 F). If the flour turns a deep dark brown in three minutes, the oven is very hot (450 F to 500 F). These same tests may also be done with white tissue paper or white unglazed paper.

Veg*n Eateries in Central Tokyo, part 1


Although the Japanese idea of vegetarian food includes fish, there are some vegan and vegetarian friendly restaurants in Tokyo. Tod & I have been checking them out, one by one, and I'm posting my reviews so that I'll remember which is which.

Eat More Greens, Azabu Juban (Azabu Juban 2-2-5)

This may be the elusive vegetarian-restaurant-that-serves-actual-vegetables and it has outdoor dining, too! At lunchtime, the menu offers several specials including a bread, soup and salad set, and a filling rice and grains plate that is served in a huge bowl of salad. The menu notes which items contain wheat, soy and peanuts for the allergic among us. The dinner menu is more extensive with more than half vegan dishes. The desserts in the case by the register were tempting. Next time!

Nataraj, Ginza (Ginza 6-9-4)

This is the only pure vegetarian Indian restaurant in Tokyo. They note the dishes that have milk in them, offer a choice of brown rice or turmeric rice, and offer several macrobiotic choices, too. The spinach and lentil curry topped with fresh ginger was especially delicious. Tod's Nataraj curry of gluten meat and creamy red sauce was not as spicy as I expected it to be, but a treat nonetheless. At lunchtime they have a 1,000 yen buffet. There are branches in Minami Aoyama and Ogikubo, but the Ginza one is convenient for us.

Vegan Healing Cafe Shibuya (Udagawacho 6-20)

In a small storefront in the surprisingly quiet fringes of Shibuya, Vegan Healing Cafe serves up the usual beige vegan food - brown rice, bean stew, tempe sausages and falafel - a little over salted for my taste, but certainly not bad. They have excellent desserts, including a chocolate tart that would give any cream-based one a run for its money. In the review I first read of this place, the writer said "I knew I was getting close when I saw the PETA truck." Sure enough, as we were leaving after lunch, the PETA folks were coming in.

Fangsong Cafe, Akasaka (Akasaka 6-10-39)

This is Jim's favorite lunch spot, I think. They have low seating, an interesting variety of music, a dog hiding under a table and lots of lifestyle information. The lunch menu is limited to two options - a macrobiotic curry set or a vegetable plate with a variety of tidbits and delicious purple rice. Both are good and around 1100 yen. I particularly like the tempura battered soy meat on the vegetable plate.

Mother's, Jimbocho (Kanda Jimbocho 1-15-2)

Although Mother's bills itself as an organic foods restaurant, there is not a speck of meat to be seen on the buffet, though perhaps there is fish in the stock. I couldn't tell and didn't bother to ask. The all-you-can-eat buffet is 1260 yen and there are take-away options at a lower price. At Sunday lunch, they refreshed the table frequently with new items. Vegetable curry rice was my favorite, followed by a mix of fried root vegetables. All you can drink houjicha and coffee is a treat, too. Downstairs from the restaurant is an organic grocery store with a range of bento lunches, produce and the usual mix of crazy health foods and cosmetics.

Yuba Kara-age


I'm not keen on substitutes for meat, dairy and eggs in my vegetarian diet. I don't really miss them all that much, and am quite content to eat vegetables, beans and other tasty whole foods without disguising them as "meat." However, a few weeks back in Kawagoe, we picked up a bag dried yuba (tofu skins) that was bunched into ugly little dessicated balls. The health food store lady told us they were delicious if breaded and fried. She was right. The texture is uncannily like chicken breast and this recipe makes a delicious meat-like side dish.

Yuba Kara-age
serves 2

6 dried yuba balls
warm water
1 Tbsp soy sauce
1 tsp black sesame seeds
chili powder
coriander leaf
1 Tbsp flour
1 Tbsp corn starch
Chinese mustard

Soak the dried yuba in warm water for about 45 minutes to an hour. When completely reconstituted, it will be doubled in size and spongy with no hard bits in the middle. Squeeze the water out. Drizzle the yuba with soy sauce then sprinkle with sesame seeds, chili powder, coriander and cumin. Toss to coat. Dredge in flour and allow to marinate for 20 minutes or so.

Heat oil quite hot in a fry pan or deep fryer. Coat the yuba in corn starch and fry until golden brown. Drain (or blot) and serve with spicy Chinese mustard.

Ocean, Earthquake, and Anniversary


Today was 海の日, the "Marine Day" holiday, so Tod & I headed down to Shonan to visit with MJ & Yoshi and enjoy the sea breezes under a cloudy post-typhoon sky. The waves were high and the beach littered with storm trash, but we sat above it all in the sand and played Catch-phrase (thanks again, Ultra Mom) and attempted badminton in the wind.

What we didn't know until later is that while we were en route, there was a huge earthquake in Niigata of the same magnitude (6.8) that destroyed so much of the area in 2004. I tried calling my friends up there, but the phone lines are congested or out of service. I'm confident they must be OK, but I will try again tomorrow until I can get through. Just like everyone else, I guess.

Today also marked the 9th anniversary of our landing in Japan. Hard to believe we were only going to be here for three months and we haven't gone home yet. Time has flown and it hardly seems like nine years could have elapsed so quickly.

TokyoBags Session #3

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This afternoon's bagging output and future bag materials

Another TokyoBags session sees 11 completed bags for Morsbags, plus 8 pairs of handles and 10 bag bodies ready to receive them. Thanks to Blair who braved the remains of the typhoon to bring a heap of his gorgeous old shirts (and a coat!) and then manned the iron for two hours. I do rely on the kindness of strangers! Tod took care of music and snacks as usual.

Next time, we may have a special guest from London. Mark your calendar for July 29th and come over to save the world with shopping bags.

Handmade Envelopes

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Handmade envelopes

Swap-bot members run crafty swaps that encourage me to try new things. Today I made some envelopes from origami paper, tracing paper, and an old map. I'd never done that before, but it's easy and fun. I like these especially because they are pretty and practical, too.

To make your own envelope:

  1. Take an envelope you like, carefully rip it apart at the seams (or Google for "envelope template" for some that you can print out)
  2. Use the old envelope as a template on some fresh paper
  3. optional: Trace around the template
  4. Cut out the envelope shape following the template or tracing
  5. Fold up the new envelope
  6. Glue the side and bottom flaps together
  7. Decorate as desired

It really couldn't be easier and you end up with fun envelopes from your own stash of papers. It's not too late to join the Handmade Envelope swap if you want to give yourself an excuse to try making some.

5 Ways to Top Tofu


Chilled tofu salad is a popular summer dish in Japan. Hiya-yakko traditionally is topped with soy sauce and ginger paste, green onions and bonito flakes. But that's not the only Yakko option. In Tofu and Beans Recipe 176, there are 10 more ideas for topping your tofu.

Some of them are unspeakable (squid guts with citrus peel - yuck!) but here are five that will make a delicious light meal on a hot night. Each of these recipes serves two people as a side dish or light main.

200 g silken tofu
2 anchovy fillets
1/2 clove garlic, sliced
1 tsp olive oil
1 sprig parsley

Cut the tofu in half. Mince the anchovies and place on top of tofu block. Fry the garlic slices in olive oil. Arrange on top of anchovies. Garnish with parsley.

200 g silken tofu
30 g grilled unagi (eel)
1 tsp sesame oil
1/2 tsp pickled sansho (sichuan pepper)

Cut the tofu in half. Slice the unagi into 1 cm pieces. Heat the oil and lightly fry the unagi and sansho. Server on top of tofu.

200 g silken tofu
1 bulb myoga (young ginger)
1 leaf aojiso
1 umeboshi (pickled plum)
bonito flakes

Cut the tofu in half. Finely slice the myoga and aojiso, allow to rest in a bowl of salted water. Pick the plum into small bits. Drain the herbs, mix with the plum and spoon onto the tofu. Garnish with bonito flakes.

Octopus & Kimchi-Yakko
200 g silken tofu
30 g boiled octopus legs
30 g kimchi
sesame oil
soy sauce
sesame seeds

Cut the tofu in half. Cut the octopus and kimchi into bite-sized pieces. Sautee briefly in a little bit of sesame oil. Season with soy sauce. Spoon onto tofu and sprinkle with sesame seeds.

Bleu Cheese-Yakko
200 g silken tofu
20 g bleu cheese
1 stem chives or green onion
bonito flakes

Cut the tofu in half. Crumble the bleu cheese. Finely slice the chives. Top the tofu with the cheese and chives and sprinkle with bonito flakes.

LibriVoxing again


It's been a long time since I'd recorded anything for LibriVox, but after receiving a message about Jumping July, their latest push for completion, I had the urge to spend some time in front of the microphone. I've churned out 4 chapters of Howards End and two sections of Stops, or How to Punctuate this week and last. Now, I really ought to work on the duet of Isabella Bird's Adventures in Japan which has been languishing for half a year. I'm not sure I'm that jumpy, though.

If you want to record a chapter yourself, have a look at the list of books in the Readers Wanted:Books section of the forums. Unclaimed chapters are noted in blue inside the Magic Box in the first post of the book's discussion thread. All the instructions are in that first post, in fact.

If you want to listen to me reading about footnotes from Stops, or How to Punctuate, download this WAV file: https://mt.mediatinker.com/librivox/stops_15_allerdyce.wav It is certain to cure your insomnia in 3 minutes, 2 seconds flat.

Destruction of History or Value-Add of Trash?


Collaged pages using antique documents

Yesterday, Greg & I explored his huge collection of ephemera and put together some collaged pages. We had an interesting discussion about whether it is OK to use old things and in the process of using them, destroy them or their context.

These pages I did are a good example. They include two old photos, a telephone line transfer form dated 1953, a 66 year old train ticket from Kyoto, and a tourist pamphlet from the seaside resorts of Chiba prefecture. Did I add value by turning them into something else? Or did I destroy a bit of a stranger's personal history (and thus a minuscule portion of the world's historical record)?

It was difficult to make those first cuts into the telephone form, even though Greg has a total of ten of them and they are obviously long-forgotten beuracracy. They were interesting to examine and to imagine what the process was like and why Tada-san sold his phone line way back when.

Now that form's been reduced to a series of slices - names, date-canceled duty stamps, name stamps - and worked into something that's vaguely artistic and divorced of its original context. Is it better off in a travel collage tucked into Greg's Moleskine and displayed online? It's different. Maybe not better. But maybe not worse, either.

Some collage people scan and reproduce their old documents. That's not a bad idea for really precious or personal things. But it's not quite adequate to print out a new copy of a scanned photo.

I loved working with the old paper yesterday. The texture of old stuff can't be reproduced very easily. The hard, curled-up edges of the 50 year old photos, the weight of the paper ticket, the bone-dry feeling of the form, acid-brittle newsprint of the tourist pamphlet. Those were exciting to manipulate. Now they are cut up and glued down, never again to be enjoyed whole, the way I did yesterday.

I feel a little sad for the objects I destroyed. But maybe I've extended their memory by incorporating them into something new. I don't know. What do you think?

8 Random Facts/Habits About Me

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Ginny over at Blogula Rasa tagged me for this meme. Good timing, since I'm a little thin on blog subjects at the moment.

  • We have to post these rules before we give you the facts.
  • Players start with eight random facts/habits about themselves.
  • People who are tagged need to write their own blog about their eight things and post these rules.
  • At the end of your blog post, you need to choose eight people to get tagged and list their names.
  • Don’t forget to leave them each a comment telling them they’re tagged, and to read your blog.

And here are my facts and habits.

  1. Fact: I dislike having things touch the sides of my neck and I get antsy and uncomfortable if I'm wearing something that constricts in the wrong place. As a result, I wear v-neck shirts and my crewnecks get surgery. Strangely enough, turtlenecks don't usually bother me.
  2. Fact: My wedding ring cost $59.95 at David Weiss Jewelers in Pittsburgh in 1989. If my fingers were more feminine, I could have saved $10. I probably would have bought a pizza with the savings.
  3. Habit: Nearly every morning at 8 am, I take a mug of coffee into the bedroom to wake Tod. He needs the caffeine and the prompting to get moving. We sit together and talk for a few minutes before the day proceeds . It's an enjoyable ritual.
  4. Habit: I bite my fingernails. Not down to the quick, but I use my teeth to keep them at a manageable length. I've determined that it's absolutely impossible to stop and no longer have any desire to try. I'll take this habit to the grave, thank you very much.
  5. Fact: Now that I've stopped eating cheese and dairy products, I fart less. I know you were interested in that. I had no idea that dairy could do that to a person; I'm glad I stopped eating it. My skin's nicer, too, but that could be an increased consumption of antioxidant fruits & vegetables.
  6. Fact: The doctors told my mother I'd be an Aquarius, but I came out an Aries. With my April 1 birthday, I'm still trying to decide if that fact is a joke my parents played on me for all these years.
  7. Fact: I make some of my own clothes but only the easy ones like skirts, drawstring pants and simple tops. I love designing my own patterns, but find the actual sewing frustrating if it is too fussy.
  8. Habit: I can't pass a realty office without stopping to look at the floor plans in the windows. I'm fascinated with spaces and rooms. From my observations, I'm getting a good education in what makes Tokyo real estate pricey (aside from market fluctuations) and how you can save money.

Now who is going to get tagged? Nobody, because I hate doing that to people. However, feel free to snag the idea for your own blog if you wish. It's rather fun to think of 8 random facts you will share with your readers. I thought of a lot of facts that I wouldn't share, too.

24 more bags

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38 morsbags to date (minus the ones we've handed out to friends)

Sachiko and Tracey came over today to make morsbags. Tracey brought along three huge bags of fabric and we churned out 24 finished bags - plus a few in stages of completion that we'll work on next time. It won't be long before we have enough to start handing out to strangers. Thanks, ladies!

We used a wide range of fabrics today - a sari, some pillowcases, & cottons left over from other projects. It seems like we hardly put a dent in Tracey's fabrics, even though Sachiko took a piece home and I claimed one to make a winter skirt for work.

If you want to join in, the next session will be Sunday, July 15th from 2-6 pm. Everyone welcome, no experience required. :-)

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