January 2015 Archives

Hisashiburi, Kimie!

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Me, Kimie Yanagi, and Hanako Murakami.

A few summers ago, or maybe more than a few, I was part of Hanako Murakami's exhibition at the Echigo Tsumari Trienniale in Niigata. It was a great summer of making art and helping out with the festival in the tiny village of Matsudai. One of the residents, Kimie Yanagi, adopted Hanako and her entire crew. Kimie cooked for us and at rice harvest time, we went up to help out. 

Since then, Hanako has moved to Europe to pursue her art there. Kimie and I have kept in touch a bit, but we've not managed a visit until Hanako came back to Tokyo last week and organised a dinner for the old festival crew. It was a delight to catch up with people and to see Kimie again in person. At 80, she is as genki as ever. What a sweetheart!


Tod & I have promised to go visit and a handwritten letter received from Kimie yesterday means she isn't going to forget. Looking forward to a relaxing weekend in Niigata this spring.

In Front of the Camera

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Me & Tod "on set" in our living room

For a change, I am in front of the camera in character and in costume. I have a small part in a film project being done by Jesse & Will at Ice Block Films. Their shooting schedule spans a full year and mine are the first scenes to be captured.

We spent the weekend running around the city shooting my character larking around doing her things while I ad-libbed all of her lines. I am grateful to Jesse for being cool with my spontaneous rewriting of his script. I am a horrible memoriser. 

I'm not going to spoil the surprise and tell you anything about the film or my character, but the weekend culminated in an accordion concert in our living room. After we wrapped, Tod made us all dinner.

Jesse and Will are usually too busy with their creative work to socialise much, so to have them to myself for an entire weekend was delightful. We chatted up a storm on the trains, over a surprisingly wonderful lunch in Shimomaruko, and of course during dinner at home. It's likely I won't catch up with them again until I help them out behind the scenes on a shoot later this year and I can hardly wait.

Minimal Wardrobe Experiment

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I am trying out the idea of a very minimal wardrobe. I put away all of my clothes except five layered outfits, two pairs of pyjamas, and four each of socks and underwear. I've got one sweater, one fleece, one coat. Four pairs of shoes. It's been a week since I started and I am enjoying the benefits of not having to make too make decisions about what to wear.

I am even thinking I could get by with one less outfit. But then again, I might swap for something to train/exercise in. It's currently a little bit fluid as I discover what I really, truly need. For the moment, all of my clothes are stored in a big bag in the closet. I'm going to give it a month or so and then see if I can release them into the world to be loved by other people.


Like I wrote last week, I'd actually like to have a personal uniform. So I've found myself a dressmaker, Melanie Uematsu at Sewing Circle, to remake one of my favorite dress/tunics in four different fabrics. 

I met with her today, got measured, and picked two lovely knits from the collection at her studio. I'll go shopping to find two more that coordinate. Once my uniforms are ready, I'll retire what is currently in my closet and everything in my wardrobe will mix or match with everything else. I will be able to dress in the dark with no mistakes.

This appeals to the minimalist in me. I do it when I travel, so why not do it at home, too?


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As I go about simplifying and minimising my life, I've been reading about personal uniforms  - the efficiency of not having to think about what to wear. New day, same look. Steve Jobs and his mock turtleneck and jeans is a good example. 

I had a uniform for a while: leggings, short skirt and tank tops. It was a very hoopable outfit that I could also wear around Tokyo without embarrassment. But it's not me anymore. I don't hoop all the time; I'm aging and my body's changing. I would like something that allows for movement, but is also modest and if not age appropriate, at least a bit more forgiving of softer curves.

Having been in India recently (and expecting to go again), I am thinking something like soft pants and a long tunic. But not a traditional salwar kameez, because that is too specifically Indian and I am definitely not going to pull it off outside India. It would be like wearing a kimono in Thailand. Awkward cultural appropriation.

So I need a design. Time for some fashion sketching!

Minimalism Game

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Tod & I are planning to move house this spring and we are also striving to simplify and downsize. We've been in our current apartment for over 13 years, so even though I frequently purge things, moving is going to be painful. So I was sort of delighted when Tod agreed to play the Minimalism Game with me.

Every day for 31 days, you get rid of things. On the first day, one thing. Two things on the second day, three on day three until you are getting rid of 31 things on the final day for a grand total of 496 things removed from your house. Aside from actual garbage like wrappers and orange peels, you can choose to remove anything from furniture to clothes to supplies to food and you can count your items any way you want. A handful of hairpins could be one thing, or it could be 18. The only real rule is that each day's gleaning has to leave the house by midnight, or it doesn't count. So by the end of 31 days, Tod & I will have removed 992 things from our house - 496 each.

I mentioned this on Facebook and started a sort of support group, Minimalist Game Japan. In less than a day, over 50 people have joined. We're sharing our accomplishments day by day and ideas are flying, including doing it backwards - pitching 31 on the first day and ending with one item to remove.  If everyone last the 31 days (in whatever order), we will have minimised by 25,296 unwanted items.

Today I got rid of two broken lights. Tod tossed two red gift boxes. I also lined up homes for about 35 small things from my jewellery box and other accessories, so I am rather ahead of the game at the moment.

At the Kid's Table

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Lucy and her mandala with Lily in the background. A selection of our drawings.

Tod & I went to an oden party yesterday evening hosted by Elizabeth and Atsunori. Their apartment was filled with food and families. After chatting with the parents for a while, my introverted self decided to go color with the kids. It was about 3 minutes before I had an audience (with lots of questions!) and before long we were all drawing together. Lucy was especially interested in drawing mandalas with me. Lily and I did some shading work. Luka played with stripes and Malika enthusiastically scribbled along with us. Only Elia, in the pink princess dress, opted not to draw. She prefers videos.

A bit later, when the ice cream was finished, we did some circus games together. Tod helped me to demonstrate flying and basing and we did some acrobatics including building pyramids with Tod and one of the dads, Paul, as the solid bases. They kids absolutely loved flying on my feet. I even flew Atsunori! We played soundball, silent statues, log rolling, and the unknotting game. Amazingly, we didn't kick any holes in the shoji or fusama and nobody cried, except at the end when we had to stop to go home.

Best party ever. I really do better playing with the kids than talking with the grown ups.

Waffle Experiments

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Tod's been cooking up a storm over his long two-week winter holiday. Over the last couple of months, we kept seeing interesting waffle recipes, so this break has been taken us from "we should try that" to "that was delicious." This is my report on Tod's tasty experiments.

Waffle #1: Cornbread with Chili
The waffles are barely visible under all the chili and toppings.

This one was based on Joy of Cooking's Northern Cornbread recipe, http://www.foodgeeks.com/recipes/northern-corn-bread-20218, which uses yellow corn meal and more sugar than a Southern cornbread. We figured that might be good for waffles. It worked pretty well, but next time a little less sugar and maybe a wetter batter. This was an early experiment before the winter break. After eating a dinner's worth, we froze the rest of the chili and waffles in portion packs for a rainy day (or whenever the flu arrives here). 

Waffle #2: Rice Waffles
Rice in the waffle iron. Who knew?

The next waffle really kicked off the waffle experiments. We'd made a slightly overcooked batch of rice and set it aside in favor of better cooked rice. The next day, I was in charge of lunch and I pulled together a soup of leftover vegetables, this rice mixed with a bunch of seeds (cumin, mustard and sesame) and some sardine burgers I had in the freezer. With sweet chili sauce in place of maple syrup, it turned into quite a nice meal.

Rice in our waffle iron got crispy on the outside and a tiny bit brown, but stayed chewy on the inside. I'd hoped for a more brown crispiness, but it was fine. And then the waffle iron out and Tod got excited for the possibilities.

Waffle #3: Naan-ffles with Palak Paneer
Naan-ffles with Saag Paneer, an Indian spinach and cheese curry.

I am not sure what made Tod want to try making paneer from scratch, but the grocery list was suddenly rather heavy on the milk and lemons. It worked beautifully, especially when combined with four bunches of spinach cooked into saag curry. With the waffle iron at hand, or course the naan became naan-ffles. Tod used Manjula's naan recipe and it turned out great. We also got to test out our oven's "soft" function for the rising. Effective!

Waffle #4: Mochi
It looks like styrofoam, but it's not.

This is major magic. Mochi is a dense rectangle of rice paste that killed two people in chocking incidents over this new year. Moffle - mochi waffles - are fluffy, chewy crispy delights. If you don'd do mochi in your waffle iron, you are a fool. No recipe. Just put it in, press gently while the mochi relaxes into the squares, then let it cook for six minutes or so. We even topped ours with crappy plastic-wrapped "torukeru" cheese (the Japanese equivalent of Kraft Slices) heated on the waffle for a minute in the waffle iron. Delightful.

Waffle #5: Gingerbread
Dark spicy gingerbread. So festive!

This recipe turned up on Smitten Kitchen just before Christmas and it is the reason I wanted to make any waffles at all. Wow, so good with a strong molasses and spice flavor. It's a weird one, though. When you pull it out, it is floppy and soft. Once you extract it, it crisps up. We ate it as shown, with a snow of powdered sugar. Leftovers got a fancier treatment as dessert with some ice cream and chocolate sauce. Tod declared that dessert worth having again.

Waffle #6: Hash Browns

We'd see a few waffle latke recipes but Tod decided to go simple and try basic hashbrowns - shredded potato with onion - in the iron. It worked pretty well. He salted the mixture and let it sweat a bit, then squeezed the liquid out. The results were crispy and well-cooked, but not easy to get out intact. There wasn't enough binder. Next time, we'll try the more battery latkes.

Waffle # 7: Wiscuits
Bleu cheese and onion biscuits, wafflised.

This one was my creation. I wanted to use up the leftover soup from the rice waffle day, so I made some biscuit dough. I don't use a recipe for biscuits; it's random every time. This one was 1.5 c flour, 2 t baking soda and 1/2 t salt in a bowl. Some coconut oil (3 T?) and the leftover bleu cheese yogurt dip (1/2 c?) worked in until it felt right. Then about a 1/4 c finely chopped scallions and milk until it formed a soft, wet dough. These worked really well in the waffle iron, browning nicely on all surfaces. 

That is the final one of our current batch of experiments, but I think that we'll be playing more with the waffle iron.

Ringing in the New Year

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At midnight, we joined the parade of neighbours and worshippers at Denzuin temple and payed our respects. It is a beautiful temple, very rich and recently renovated. Outside there were festival booths selling warm foods and drink.  One sold a lucky opportunities to ring the giant bell. The bell started ringing at midnight, pulled 108 times to clear away sins. Inside the temple, the side altars glowed golden and in front of the main altar, the monks chanted, prayed and played music on a reed pipe and drum. As Tod & I approached the donation box, the photographer pointed his camera at us, of course. Foreigners at the temple. I just chucked in my coins, clapped twice, bowed my head and said hello to the deities. 

Bunkyo-ku is chockablock with temples and shrines, so we usually do a double hatsumode by simply stopping into Daikokuten shrine, right next to Denzuin. They always give out little bowls of tonjiru as a boy scout community project. One of Tod's coworkers lives nearby and was just leaving as we approached. We greeted him and his partner, then lined up to greet the kamisama. It was fun to watch how people approached the ringing of the gong: two aggressive bangs, an uncertain waggle, one good knock, a creaky swing that somehow failed to hit. As we ate our soup, the wind started to pick up but we decided to visit one more shrine before going home.

The Inari Jinja is where we attended a blessing ceremony of a venerable tree last year. It's a favorite of ours, especially its tiny but secluded wooded that winds around the side of the shrine and has multiple minature fox shirines along the path. There was a good line of people waiting to pray and even more taking off their shoes and crowding into the shrine to hear the monks. This is another reason I love this place - it bustles with everyday life rather than formality. The wind had really picked up by this time and the tree branches lit from below were swinging wildly above us. It was beautiful. We stopped on the way out for a bowl of toshikoshi soba  - a gift from the local soba shop.They make the best inari zushi and I am sure it is because this fox temple blesses them.

Here's to a well-blessed year ahead.

Year of the Sheep

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Wishing you and yours a prosperous and enjoyable new year.

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