Tuesday, 29 December 2009

Daring Bakers' Challenge December 2009 - Home for the Holidays



The December 2009 Daring Bakers’ challenge was brought to you by Anna of Very Small Anna and Y of Lemonpi. They chose to challenge Daring Bakers’ everywhere to bake and assemble a gingerbread house from scratch. They chose recipes from Good Housekeeping and from The Great Scandinavian Baking Book as the challenge recipes.

I was delighted when I saw what this month's challenge was to be! I had planned to make one of these for the first time last Christmas - I'd made the dough and was all set to enroll the boys' help on the 25th, when M got taken into hospital, and by the time we got out the dough was only fit for the bin!

I chose to work with Y's choice of recipes, simply because I could easily get the ingredients needed. The dough was, as many DBs noted, extremely dry even after spending a day resting in the fridge:



I didn't have time to start again so just persevered with what I'd got. It worked out OK, I still managed to roll it out thinly (and I was surprised at how thick the gingerbread was after it had been baked). I made my royal icing a little too thick (which I suppose is better than too runny!), but I had no trouble 'gluing' the house together. Decorating it was the fun part, however what happened to all the sweets that I'd bought for this project?! Never mind, I'm beginning to think that less is more...



The pattern I used was taken from the BBC Good Food website:

http://www.bbcgoodfood.com/content/recipes/templates/gingerbread-house-2576.pdf

Scandinavian Gingerbread (Pepparkakstuga)
from The Great Scandinavian Baking Book by Beatrice Ojakangas

1 cup butter, room temperature [226g]
1 cup brown sugar, well packed [220g]
2 tablespoons cinnamon
4 teaspoons ground ginger
3 teaspoons ground cloves
2 teaspoons baking soda
½ cup boiling water
5 cups all-purpose flour [875g]

1. In a large bowl, cream the butter and sugar until blended. Add the cinnamon, ginger and cloves. Mix the baking soda with the boiling water and add to the dough along with the flour. Mix to make a stiff dough. If necessary add more water, a tablespoon at a time. Chill 2 hours or overnight.

2. Cut patterns for the house, making patterns for the roof, front walls, gabled walls, chimney and door out of cardboard.

3. Roll the dough out on a large, ungreased baking sheet and place the patterns on the dough. Mark off the various pieces with a knife, but leave the pieces in place.

4. [I rolled out the dough on a floured bench, roughly 1/8 inch thick (which allows for fact that the dough puffs a little when baked), cut required shapes and transferred these to the baking sheet. Any scraps I saved and rerolled at the end.]

5. Preheat the oven to 375'F (190'C). Bake for 12 to 15 minutes until the cookie dough feels firm. After baking, again place the pattern on top of the gingerbread and trim the shapes, cutting the edges with a straight-edged knife. Leave to cool on the baking sheet.

Tuesday, 27 October 2009

Daring Bakers Challenge October 2009 - French Macaroons

The 2009 October Daring Bakers’ challenge was brought to us by Ami S. She chose macarons from Claudia Fleming’s The Last Course: The Desserts of Gramercy Tavern as the challenge recipe.

It's days like today when I wonder if I was dreaming when I imagined I could bake. Maybe it's because I was already in rather a bad mood before even tying my apron strings. Let's just say, I've been knocked back a peg or two.

I had to gulp when I read of this month's challenge. The posh department stores have stunning arrays of French Macaroons, all perfectly formed and beautifully stacked. I've never tried one, never considered treating myself to one of these delights - they always seemed too sophisticated, too chic for me! My opinion hasn't changed.

It was my own fault. As usual, I'd left things to the last minute and was on a tight schedule. I'd gathered all the ingredients (and 'aged' the egg whites for 3 days) and scribbled what I needed to do on a scrap of paper, but stupidly didn't allow time to read the comments and advice from, thinking "If I just follow the instructions, I'll be fine!". I knew exactly what I wanted to do - they were being baked for K to take in to the office tomorrow to share with his colleagues (he's another year older!), and I'd planned a chili-chocolate roulette. K really isn't into fancy flavours, and I wanted to do something a little more interesting than just chocolate (his request), so the idea was that I'd bake a box of cocoa macaroons filled with a chocolate ganache, one of which would be secretly laced with chili. And cross my fingers that K's boss wouldn't pick the wrong one. I'd bought a fancy black and red box to package them in, they were all going to be sooo impressed!

Pride comes before a fall. Everything appeared to be going smoothly, however the smug feeling started to fade as I was piping them onto the trays. I counted them... enough to make 14 filled macaroons (the recipe states that this can yield 5 dozen!), perhaps mine were a little on the large size? The next problem, the lowest setting on my oven is 100c (the recipe said that the first bake needed to be at 90c). Oh well, I'm sure it'll be fine. Next step, baking for 7 to 8 minutes, or 10, or 15, or 20... they just didn't want to cook! It was now quite obvious to me that they were not going to look anything like French Macaroons, I decided to treat them as a completely different type of treat (K has never even heard of them anyway, no-one need know). They were flat, sightly soft and chewy, but actually quite delicious! So I paired them up and sandwiched them together with the ganache I'd prepared.


Then I phoned K. Exactly how many did he need (I was dying to try one)? "At least 15." Noooo...

Now, if it weren't the end of the month I would have had another attempt at this recipe (or, as many of the other DB's did, try Tartlette's recipe out), but unfortunately I am out of funds until Friday, so I raided the cupboards to see what else I could throw together. Reluctant to trust my oven again, I decided to go with one of the recipes in the instruction manual - my oven has various functions (including steam) and recipes programmed in, and these seem to work most of the time. Apart from today. My choux pastry didn't puff up at all, no chance of squeezing any cream in those... So much for the tight schedule, ended up baking a batch of CocaCola cup cakes. So much for sophistication!

Check out www.thedaringkitchen.com to see how French Macaroons are supposed to look. xxx

Saturday, 26 September 2009

Kicking off

Saturday is soccer day. Both the boys train and play for the local junior club, which means that I get to spend hour upon hour on the side-line doing the dutiful mother thing. Which is a bit more involved than it was back home. Training is on Saturday afternoon from 2 til 5, usually running over by half an hour (and Sunday mornings, but we're at church). The athletics ground is brand spanking new, and is just on the other side of our little mountain.

And I admit, the view makes the wait more pleasurable. But at least when it's just training, all we mums have to do is watch and look interested. Match days, well... the day of this home match, dads were asked to come early to prepared the ground for play, meeting at 7.00am! Mums needed to arrive by 8.00am, bearing 2 large blocks of ice (must be made in 1 litre milk cartons), 2 small towels, drinks, packed lunches (it was a tournament), balls and don't forget the kids! At 8.30 there was the briefing on how to use the kakigori-maker (ice-shaving machine, we had to man the stand whenever own own kids weren't playing, and the children could have as much as they liked), and then we were drilled on how to serve the kakigori (ice first, clear syrup next, then more ice, then fruit syrup, do not deviate from this) before kick-off at 9.00am. Of course, everything has to be done just so, no initiative-taking allowed. I got into trouble when, at half-time, I started to hand out the iced towels to the hot and sweaty players but... used the wrong box first. Shock horror. The two boxes were identical, one was for half-time, the other for when the final whistle blows. And as I was the only mother standing on the side-line watching (the others had all retreated to the shade as their UV-protective long sleeves, hats, scarves, gloves and SPF50 sun cream might not offer them quite enough cover) and found that the hoard of red-faced boys were heading straight for me, I opened the box nearest to me. Stupid foreigner.


Hey ho, it's good for the boys and they enjoy it, so I guess I'd better learn the ropes in this new role. I noticed something today at practice that wouldn't happen at home - towards the end, the coach was stood on the pitch directing the youngest players with a cigarette in hand! So much for encourage heath and fitness.

Oh, and today is pretty Ayumi-chan's little boy's 2nd birthday - Happy Birthday Noah-kun! I made him a 'Totoro' cake (Totoro is a character from one of my favourite anime, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/My_Neighbor_Totoro). It didn't quite go to plan, as the fondant icing I'd made was far too dry to do anything with, so quickly had to change to Plan B and work with butter cream. Of course, I couldn't do any modelling, so the finished cake isn't as fancy as I'd hoped (I wanted to include some makkuro kurousuke (dust bunnies?), acorns and leaves), but hey, the birthday boy is only 2 some I'm sure he won't be complaining.

M took one look at the cake and then begged to watch the film after we'd spent a good while marching around the room singing "arukou, arukou"!

Friday, 25 September 2009

How roo'd

Remember a while back I posted about cooking with kangaroo meat (http://creatingastir.blogspot.com/2009/08/faba-roo-ny-yeah-i-have-toddler.html)? I'd been sent some meat by www.roomeat.co.jp for me to have a play with and see how the folks liked it. It occurred to me that I'd prepared two different recipes but, what with all the excitement of the sudden trip to Australia, I forgot to tell you about the second. And isn't is just like me to forget where I found the recipe? I know it was on-line, I thought I'd bookmarked it... Anyway, I'd had to adapt the recipe as I wasn't using beef, and I started off want to make tataki however ended up simmering the meat in a marinade for a few minutes instead of the traditional method of searing the meat. I think I can pretty much remember the recipe. Not sure if this is really tataki, but it went down well with K and was unbelievably simple to make...


Kangaroo Tataki

a good size piece of kangaroo long fillet
3/4 cup sake
1/2 cup mirin
3/4 cup soy sauce
2 cups dashi

Mix together soy sauce, sake, mirin and dashi in a pan and bring to a boil. Add the meat and return to the boil. Cook 3 to 5 minutes (depends on the thickness of the meat, but be careful not to overcook the meat;it should be rare on the inside). Remove the meat, wrap it in foil and put it in the fridge overnight. Continue gently boiling the liquid in the pan until it has reduced to a thick sauce, being careful not to let it burn. Allow it to cool and keep in the fridge overnight with the meat. To serve, slice the meat thinly, arrange over hot rice, pour a little of the sauce over the top and garnish with some sliced spring onion.

Naturally, cooking with kangaroo has generated some interesting conversations. One friend said that she would probably enjoy eating it as long as she didn't know what she was eating (and remember, I didn't tell K the first time I fed it to him as I wanted to see if he found it tasty without any prejudice). That seems to be the main issue - kangaroos are cute! But it is far more ethical to eat the meat of an animal that requires culling than to raise 'ugly' animals battery-style for our dinner tables. Hey - cows are beautiful, just look at those big eyes! I do think that kangaroo meat would benefit from a new name (just as with beef or pork). There has been some attempt to re-brand the meat as australus, but it doesn't seem to be taking! Check out some of the other suggested names here:

http://calorielab.com/news/2005/09/06/kangaroo-meat-touted-as-diet-food/

hahaha, cyril! Don't be shy to have a look at what RooMeat have to offer (www.roomeat.co.jp - it's not all kangaroo!), the site is all in Japanese, but if you send them a note in English I'm pretty sure they'd be very happy to help you work it all out!

Saturday, 19 September 2009

Let the games commence

As I write this, mums all across Ayagawa will be busy at work preparing impressive bentos (packed lunches) for tomorrow's school sports day. And out of all the events that sports day entails, this is perhaps the most competitive. This is where the women proudly display their prowess in the kitchen, producing artistically arranged boxes of goodies to catch the eye of the family sitting beside them. I wasn't going to buy into it. I was perfectly happy to do an English-style picnic with sandwiches, crisps, fruit and cake... but then K phoned his mum this morning to ask her if she wanted to join us, and so I had to up my game somewhat. The menu now stands at:

onigiri (rice balls), three different flavours
sticky chicken drumsticks
deep-fried octopus
sausages in various animal shapes
spicy tiffin eggs (recipe follows)
edamame (boiled soy beans)
sweet potato sticks in syrup
mini tomatoes
fruit salad (apple, nashi, kiwi, orange, banana)
shortbread
various crackers, crisps and snacks

I am breaking one of the rules, I refuse to prepare all of this on the morning of the event as we need to be out of the house by 7.30am and so most of it is already done. I'm just not that dedicated. I must say, I am most proud of the tiffin eggs! I wanted to make something vegetarian for me to enjoy and the recipe for these leaped of the BBC Good Food page at me just begging to be made! It's a bit like a scotch egg, only without the meat and it's baked instead of fried.



Spicy Tiffin Eggs

7 eggs
1 onion, finely chopped
2 tablespoons olive oil
250g carrots, grated or very finely chopped
2 heaped tablespoons of curry paste (your favourite, I used Patak's Coriander and Cumin)
200g bread crumbs
75g pine kernels, toasted and chopped
3 tablespoons flour

Boil 6 of the eggs for 5 minutes, then cool them in cold water and peel. Fry the onion for a few minutes, add the carrot and fry gently for 10 minutes. Add the curry paste, cook for a couple more minutes, then stir in the bread crumbs and allow to cool. Beat the remaining egg and add t0 with the carrot mixture. Divide the mixture into 6 balls and flatten them with your hand. One by one, roll the eggs in the flour, then wrap them in the flattened discs, squeezing the mixture around the egg until completely covered. Roll the balls in the chopped pine kernels and put on a baking sheet. Bake at 190c for 15 - 20 minutes.

They smell amazing.

Sunday, 13 September 2009

Time flies, my little flutterby...

Gosh, M's two! How did that happen? She was still a baby last time I looked... now she's a proper little madam! I decided to invite the rellies over for an English style party tea, it was all very girly - can you guess the theme?

Yes, I know they're fairy cakes (and not just fairy cakes, I'll have you know, they are made with murasaki imo (purple potato?) and cream cheese frosting) but we also call them butterfly cakes. M loves butterflies. There's a TV programme on in the mornings that sometimes features a butterfly dance...



You must have worked it out by now, but just in case...


Really, I should have coloured the icing pink, but I thought it was a bit much given the colour of the actual cake underneath all that frosting. It was a Red Velvet cake and was, indeed, very, very red. Not very cakey though, kinda dense and chewy... wooops, I'll blame my oven! I'd read a lot about red velvet cake on other blogs lately, it's something I'd never heard of let alone eaten. Certainly, mine did not turn out how it was supposed to but I will attempt to make it again (it tasted rather good in spite of the texture, there were no complaints, everyone had seconds and there's only a small slice left!). And it's bound to turn out better next time as I have a new best friend to help me out! Yes, allow me to introduce you to...



I haven't stopped grinning since she was delivered! I recently sent an SOS out asking if anyone had an old mixer hanging around that they weren't using, and within seconds of me clicking send I had a reply from my lovely AFWJ friend Betty! Betty, if you're reading this, thank you, thank you, thank you for making my wish come true! There's no stopping me now, oh I can't wait to get creative again!

PS Just in case you are wondering, we did eat lots of stuff other than cakes - we had little sandwiches with the crusts cut off, sausages made into rabbits, lots of healthy, bite-size finger foods such as cheese, Nigella's kiddie meatballs, mini-onigiri (rice balls), but yes, copious amounts of e-numbers and sugar did get wolfed down and barely a crumb was left. Maybe that's why M is still awake 2 hours after her bed time. Ah well, it's only once a year.

Wednesday, 9 September 2009

Random

This is going to be a bit of a mish mash, I'm afraid. I've a collection of photos sitting in my camera that were supposed to be blogged about weeks ago, but then other stuff happens... Anyway, I'm just going to get them out here for you, all a bit random but never mind.

While M and I were gadding about Sydney, they boys were busy partying hard. It was Matsuri season! There seemed to be at least two Natsu Matsuri (summer festivals) each week, each town has their own. The fun includes games (the top favourite one being the one where you try to catch fish with a tissue paper scoop, we still have two survivors living in our genkan), food (W has been known to eat 4 helpings of kakigori in one evening) and fireworks. Our local festival enrolled the children in the bon odori (a dance) and here they are ready for the off in all their finery:
Next up, chocolate. Gotta love funky flavoured Kitkats! Back home we get the odd release, maybe a dark version, or chocolate orange. Here, there are special limited versions appearing on the shelves all the time, and they are are far more creative than you could ever imagine! This, for example:

Uh huh, that's right, lemon vinegar! They were actually very nice, it took me days to pin down what it was they reminded me of - lemon puffs (you know, those biscuits you can buy that are sandwiched together with lemon cream)! Other recent varieties have included cherry, plum soda, melon soda and kinako (a powder made from roasted and ground beans that gets dusted over lots of Japanese sweets).

In spite of the yummy chocolates I enjoy here, I managed to find a photo of me looking really very trim:

Obviously the gorgeous girl in the foreground is little M, but that's my leg you can see behind her. No, not the hairy one, look to the left. Amazing!

Not too long ago I escaped to the mainland for a weekend (first time to leave this island in a year!) and got to enjoy a train journey through the countryside without a small child climbing all over me! For any train geeks reading from back home who have never seen what the shinkansen (bullet train) looks like, here is one of the most recent models:


They look so unbelievably sleek as they glide into the station, stopping at exactly the right spot for you to board your allocated carriage.

Well I did warn you that this was going to be a scatty post. There are plenty more, but as this isn't making much sense I'd better leave them for now. Thanks for bearing with me!

Sunday, 6 September 2009

Coming out of hiding

At long last, the storm that is the summer holidays has finally past. The boys have gone back to school and I have already almost completed the clear-up operation necessary after having had the house full of boys big and small for the last 40 days. Not that I dislike the holidays, quite the opposite! There's no need for the morning rush to get everyone fed, suited and booted and out the door by 7.30am, no uniforms to prepare, the boys help to look after baby sis and we do have a lot of fun. But at the same time, it's sooo intense and utterly exhausting (as well as very noisy). There's not much chance of a break, I've no-one to meet up with for a play date, no-one to meet at the park and chat with while the kids play, it's just me and the kids at home all day, every day, and the fighting does get me down... it get's a bit lonely and that's when I really miss my life back home the most. BUT...

I did get a break! My sister in Sydney rang a few weeks before the holidays were about to start to say that she'd got enough airmiles to fly M and me over for a visit, and it took me the blink of an eyelid to accept! We escaped the heat and bugs and headed off down under for 10 days, leaving the boys with dad (believe me, they couldn't have been happier - they got to stay up late, eat junk, and do all they things I won't let them do). There were lots of firsts - I'd never been to Oz, never seen a koala, never touched a kangaroo, never seen cherry blossoms in August, but the best one was that I'd never met my nephew and I got to be there for his first birthday! And a very handsome little chap he is too:

We had a busy time whizzing around the sights of the area, taking in the beaches and mountains as well as the sights of the city. Yep, I could live there. I also had the chance to have lunch with the fabulous Lorraine of Not Quite Nigella - what a treat! We totally went for it on the cake front, take a look at Lorraine's blog to read of our gluttony:

http://www.notquitenigella.com/2009/08/20/pasticceria-papa-haberfield-the-famous-ricotta-cheesecake/

(Apologies if I can't get this link to work, I'm still not very adept at this blogging stuff, but it's worth cutting and pasting to take a look as Lorraine has a far better way with words than I do, and she took some gorgeous photos of M, too!)

As well as treating me to lunch, she also gave me a super duper bag of Australian goodies to try... yuuuuuum!

I should point out that there were also 3 chocolate teddy bears in there for M, which M promptly ate on the spot (including a 70% dark one, that's my girl!), not that I minded as it kept her occupied and happy as we chatted!

The last day of our visit was nephew O's birthday party, Italian style! Lots of family and friends over, lots of food, lots of wine - perfect! I made his cake, the first one I've done in over a year so was a little nervous. Turned out well, although the cake itself was a little dry as sis and I were to busy chatting to remember that it was in the oven (didn't really matter as the wine had been flowing for a good number of hours before anyone tasted it!):

Hurrah for sisters and airmiles! Honestly, I came back a different person, a break from life here was just what the doctor ordered (indeed, the Lord truely does provide that which I really need)!

Friday, 28 August 2009

Daring Bakers Challenge August 2009 - Dobos Torta

The August 2009 Daring Bakers' challenge was hosted by Angela of A Spoonful of Sugar and Lorraine of Not Quite Nigella. They chose the spectacular Dobos Torte based on a recipe from Rick Rodger's cookbook Kaffeehaus: Exquisite desserts from the Classic Caffes of Vienna, Budapest, and Prague.


Phew, I did it! I admit I was a little scared when this challenge was first announced, but after reading through the recipe a few times I decided that it was perfectly doable and so not to chicken out. The result is just lovely. Well, mine doesn't look a patch as good as a lot of the other entries I've seen (take a look here: http://www.thedaringkitchen.com/), but it tastes absolutely divine. I just wish that that I'd timed making this with a special occasion, but hey, it's Friday and that's good enough! I'd promised something special for dessert tonight, but now I have to confess that the boys persuaded me to cut into it after lunch... hope there's still a piece left by the time K gets home.
I'm having a little trouble with blogger at the moment, it's not allowing me to paste the recipe for you but you can find it in The Daring Kitchen (it's eight pages long, so I hope you don't mind that I won't re-type it here!). As I was making this for the family, I went nut-free.


It's the butter cream that does it for me. I'd never made this type of butter cream before, but I think that it is the same type of butter cream that my mum used to use for her Gateau Diane, a creation that I would request of her every time my birthday came around!

Yeah, this was quite a challenge for me. As I said yesterday, my batter went a little flat from being left to stand. As a result, the layers were crepe thin and a little difficult to work with, and the final cake wasn't as deep as it should be (in spite of having 8 layers). I didn't encounter any problems with the top layer, which was the part I was most worried about - hurrah! A big thank you to our hosts this month for choosing such a fabulous cake for us all to make, and for the great lengths they went to to ensure that we would be able to pull it off! xxx

Thursday, 27 August 2009

It's on it's way...

OK, it's made, just not yet assembled! Ran into a few problems, mainly due to preparation. I was very prepared before I went away (more about that another day) as I knew I'd be pushed for time to meet the posting deadline, but I hadn't factored in the possibility of my MIL moving in during my absence. I happily started on the sponge mix bright and early this morning, only to find that the new bag of icing sugar I'd bought was nowhere to be found (I later discovered it 'tidied away' at the back of my plastic tub cupboard) so had to make do with half icing and half caster sugar, then when I came to prepare the layers for baking I was irritated beyond belief to find that the baking parchment bought specially for this project (and DH confirms that this was indeed prepared as I'd sent him out to buy it before I headed off into the blue yonder) had also vanished into thin air! So my lovely, creamy, light mixture sat in the fridge until this evening when I could dash out for more supplies, and by the time I came to use it had separated and need a thorough beating which knocked out a lot of the air. Oh well, I'm pleased to report that I did end up with a good number of layers, the butter cream is ready and waiting (I hope there's enough left, I kept raiding the fridge for a spoonful), and you will see the finished result tomorrow. I suppose I could finish it tonight, but then I'll have to try some and it's getting a bit late for that...

Yikes!

Just a quick note to let you know that I am right in the middle of doing my Daring Baker's Challenge for August and am determined to post about it before the day is out! Somebody has been using my baking paper and finished the roll without telling me. Arghhhh! Please bear with me...

Wednesday, 5 August 2009

A cut above

Sorry, didn't have my camera with me so you're just going to have to use your imagination for this one! I was beginning to look a bit like a shaggy dog in desperate need of a hair cut, but needed keep the purse strings tight this month in anticipation of next week's trip. Instead of heading for the luxurious, totally indulgent and relaxing salon, I chose to slum it at the cheap and cheerful 1000 yen (about £6.50) cut shop.

It's a no frills, no appointment necessary outfit, along the lines of Supercuts back home. Only of course this is Japan, so they've managed to squeeze in a bit more technology and they are super polite. I went in the evening so I could be child free, and I was the only customer so didn't have to wait at all. Bought my ticket at the vending machine and was ushered to a chair by a very nice lady who draped me with a gown and made me very comfortable. Not half as comfortable at the fancy shop on the 3rd floor, but I'm not complaining (I'll tell you about that another day). My bag is stashed away in a cupboard behind the mirror so that it doesn't get covered in hair. One of the things I really feel uncomfortable with when I visit a salon is having to stare at my own reflection, but here there is a TV screen showing the latest news updates, a great distraction, even if I can't actually read the majority of it! My stylist asked what I wanted (just a trim, wasn't about to risk anything too drastic) and set to work. Ten minutes later and she was done. Then came the highlight for me... she pulled out a long hose with a soft brush on the end from the side of the mirror and hoovered my head! What a fantastic idea! It got rid of all those prickly bits of hair that usually get stuck in your collar and down your back, far, far more effective than the quick brush off you get from a salon back home. And then finally, she presented me with a shibori (wet towel) to wipe my hands with before saying 'Otsukaresamadeshita' ('thank you for your hard work!') and bowed until I was out of sight. Hardly slumming it, eh?

Sunday, 2 August 2009

Faba-roo-ny (yeah, I have a toddler)

Had a very disappointing day today. Was feeling very sorry for myself until I walked into my kitchen and set to work on a special dinner. Earlier this week I was delighted to take delivery of a very exciting parcel from an AFWJ friend who's family have a business importing meat from Australia (www.roomeat.co.jp), and so a have had enormous pleasure browsing my cookery books for recipes that could be tweaked to suit kangaroo and ostrich meat!

I decided not to tell K what I'd be serving and just watch his reaction to the taste. People can get very judgemental and picky about a new food just from hearing it's name, before even taking a bite. What's cute and cuddly in one country is often a delicacy in another, but I can't be doing with this pick-and-choose attitude - flesh is meat, right? I should point out that I myself am a vegetarian (I don't eat any meat or fish, my personal choice and not one that I force on others), although I do prepare and cook meat and fish dishes for my family. (Oh, and I don't understand people who claim to be vegetarian and yet eat fish, or even chicken, that always seems somewhat hypocritical to me...)

Anyway, on to tonight's dinner! I decided to attempt my own version of a recipe I saw in Nigella Lawson's Feast (Sake Steak and Rice), I suppose I could call it Kangaroo Don but let me know if you can think of anything better!




Kangaroo Donburi (serves 2, but K ate the lot!)

2 good size pieces of Kangaroo long fillet
some thinly sliced spring onion
2 shiso leaves, chopped

Marinade:

2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoons soy sauce
1 crushed clove of garlic
1 tablespoon oil
1/2 teaspoon wasabi

Sauce:

60ml sake
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1/2 teaspoon fish sauce
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1/2 teaspoon wasabi

As I was advised, start by soaking the fillets for a while to remove some of the blood before adding to the mixed marinade ingredients and leaving to steep for a good few hours. Take it out of the fridge about 20 minutes before you are ready to cook. Heat a frying pan (or a griddle if you have one) and cook the fillets for two minutes on each side. Double wrap each fillet in foil and leave to rest for 10 minutes while you make the sauce.
Put the sake in a small pan and bring it to the boil before adding the remaining ingredients. Open the foil parcels and pour the juices into the sauce. Slice the meat (it should be rare and cooked perfectly), place on top of steamed rice, pour over some of the sauce, and garnish with the onion and shiso - ready to go!

A quick look at the wikipedia entry for kangaroo meat should be enough to convince you to give this a try:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kangaroo_meat

So if you've read that, you now know that it is free-range, as organic as a wild animal can be, high in protein and anti-cancer and body fat reducing CLA, and very low in fat. But does it taste good? I can't tell you from my own experience, but as I said, K ate the whole lot, mumbling 'oishii, oishii' the whole time, so I can assure you that it gets the thumbs up in this house!

A huge thank you to Eric for the very generous package - friends, please do have a look at his website to see what they have to offer! And watch this space for more recipes, K is now very keen to sample ostrich...

Wednesday, 29 July 2009

Something sweet

I realise I've been somewhat of a slacker on the recipe front lately. Not that I haven't been cooking, of course, it's just that everything seems to get eaten so quickly and I keep forgetting to have the camera on hand before I lay the plate on the table! I'm blaming the humidity, it seems to anaesthetise my brain cells...

Here's one I prepared earlier.


Girls, it's low fat!

Almond Sponge with Lemon Yogurt and Blueberries (serves 10, 200calories per slice)

4 large eggs
200g golden caster sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
75g plain flour, sieved
50g ground almonds
500ml fat-free yogurt (ideally Greek, but I couldn't get any)
3 tablespoons maple syrup
zest of 1/2 a lemon
225g blueberries
15g toasted, flaked almonds (I forgot to use mine!)

Whisk together eggs, sugar and vanilla for about 10 minutes, until pale and moussey. Gently fold in the flour and almonds, taking care not to knock the air out of the mix. Pour into a prepared and lined 20cm tin and bake at 180c for about 30 minutes. Turn the tin upside down on a wire rack and leave to cool completely.

Beat together the yogurt, syrup and lemon zest. If you're using Greek yogurt it should be thicker and you can cut the cake in half and sandwich it together with some of the yogurt mixture (sprinkle some of the blueberries in the middle, too). If you're using normal yogurt, just spoon some over each slice as you serve it before topping with some berries.

Friday, 24 July 2009

Time...

... doesn't fly. It's exactly one year since I arrived in Japan. It seems a lot longer since I said goodbye to my family and friends, since I handed my cats and tortoises over to their new owners, since I gave up the keys to my home, since I prayed and sang with my church family, since I had a good curry, since I had a night out with the girls... I miss my old life. Oh, lighten up! K is happy, the boys are happy, it's not all bad! It's just one of those days, you know?

Anyway, we've had an eventful week. The boys are now on holiday for the summer, and things got off to a great start with the school camp (and it absolutely chucked it down the whole time they were there, with a tremendous thunder storm to boot) and then the solar eclipse on Wednesday morning! We headed to Kodomo no Kuni, a park on a plateau right next to Takamatsu airport. It was very cloudy so we didn't have any great expectations, but we thought we'd go anyway and enjoy the spooky darkness. As 11am approached, a huge thick black cloud moved over the grey spot where the sun was hiding, and then at exactly 11.02am the sun broke through and everybody clapped and cheered. The viewing box I'd made was a total waste of time, couldn't see a thing through it. But the clouds helped to disperse the brightness and we got some fabulous views:





The boys are being quite good about their 'holiday' routine, at least W is (J takes a lot more persuading). They are expected to gather for rajiotaiso (morning exercises) and 6.30am, but they'll only have to do that until the end of the month. Then they've each got a plan of how they are supposed to spend each day, with mornings being reserved for studying. They've got rather a mountain of homework to get through, and that, combined with the odd fun workshop and the school pool sessions, should prevent them from getting too bored. Yesterday they had a pottery class, learning how to make a money box. I only remembered about this class 10 minutes before it was due to start, so legged it out of the house just as I was (and bear in mind this was before 9am) and managed to get them there only 10 minutes late. Anyone who knows me knows that I hate to be late for anything, and that I can't bear to be unprepared. So we arrive at the venue thinking that I can just drop the boys off with an apology for our tardiness, but NO, mums/dads are expected to stay and help! So I attempted to sneak unnoticed(!) into the tatami room where there are perhaps 30 perfectly turned out mums... The lesson I have learned from this is that I must make sure that I brush my hair, slap on a bit of lipstick and make sure that I am wearing something half decent, including some of those little foot stocking things, before I even eat my breakfast, as sometimes it is easy to overlook the day's schedule when trying to ensure that my rabble are fed, dressed and not attempting to kill each other.

Finally, here's an 'only in Japan' treat for you:


It's a bottle of stout... for kids! It's non alcoholic, of course, but I was still kind of shocked. They've actually called it Kodomo no Biiru (Kid's Beer). And although it's really just a sweet, fizzy drink, it does have a slight beery taste to it... wow.

Friday, 3 July 2009

Going green

Not in the eco sense by, by any stretch of the imagination. For some reason I just particularly like green at the moment. So, what do you reckon this is then? A clue... this is Japan...




Um, no, not green tea. It is in fact...





Pepsi! The Japanese certainly love to surprise us with new flavours each season, last year it was cucumber (wasn't here to try that one) which I imagine would be very refreshing. This years it is shiso. None the wiser? Shiso is a leaf (perilla, same family as mint/basil apparently) often used in cooking here, shredded as a dressing or chopped and mixed with ume. It has a very distinct smell and flavour. Never would have thought it could end up as a Pepsi flavour... and despite it's rather radio-active looking flourescent colour, it is unexpectedly, rather delicious!

Speaking of cucumbers, we were given a whole bag of them by a farming neighbour the other day. Now, I don't exactly hate cucumber, but let's just say that there are plenty of other vegetables I would rather eat (except okra, I really do dislike okra), however I do have a penchant for pickles and read a recipe on Not Quite Nigella's website a couple of weeks ago that I was quite keen to try:

Ooooh, these are goooood... I have enough cucumbers sitting in the fridge to make another batch, these won't hang around for long, especially as I open the jar pretty much every time I open the fridge. Thanks NQN's mum for sharing the recipe with your fab daughter! And if you are wondering, they are an absolute doddle to make. Here's a link to the recipe:

http://www.notquitenigella.com/2009/05/16/cucumber-pickles-nqns-mums-recipe/


I have no idea what a Lebanese cucumber is, but this worked perfectly well with the smaller-than-home fruit we get here!

Finally, here's a little something to make you smile. M LOVES noodles! It's just as well, given that we live in the heart of Udon Land. And she's definitely mastering the Japanese art of slurping. Keep an eye on that noodle, it disappears fast:

video

Saturday, 27 June 2009

Daring Bakers Challenge June 2009 - Bakewell Tart... er... pudding

The June Daring Bakers' challenge was hosted by Jasmine of Confessions of a Cardamom Addict and Annemarie of Ambrosia and Nectar. They chose a Traditional (UK) Bakewell Tart... er... pudding that was inspired by a rich baking history dating back to the 1800's in England.



I was so pleased when I saw what this month's challenge was to be - a taste of home! Although this is not quite the same as the famous Mr Kipling's tart. I was very tempted to smother mine in thick white icing purely for nostagia's sake, but decided to get a grip and go with tradition instead. I LOVE frangipane, mum used to make them a lot when I was younger and so I couldn't wait to get cracking, no last minute rushing this month! And there were no problems at any stage, I actually found this challenge straight forward. Hurrah! The only thing was, I felt it looked rather plain and I couldn't think of a way to pretty it up. Not that it hung around for long, mind. I was going to slice it up and freeze portions, but, um... ooops...

Bakewell Tart…er…pudding
Makes one 23cm (9” tart)
Prep time: less than 10 minutes (plus time for the individual elements)
Resting time: 15 minutes
Baking time: 30 minutes
Equipment needed: 23cm (9”) tart pan or pie tin (preferably with ridged edges), rolling pin

One quantity sweet shortcrust pastry (recipe follows)
Bench flour
250ml (1cup (8 US fl. oz)) jam or curd, warmed for spreadability (I used an apricot compote, which was already quite runny)
One quantity frangipane (recipe follows)
One handful blanched, flaked almonds

Assembling the tart
Place the chilled dough disc on a lightly floured surface. If it's overly cold, you will need to let it become acclimatised for about 15 minutes before you roll it out. Flour the rolling pin and roll the pastry to 5mm (1/4”) thickness, by rolling in one direction only (start from the centre and roll away from you), and turning the disc a quarter turn after each roll. When the pastry is to the desired size and thickness, transfer it to the tart pan, press in and trim the excess dough. Patch any holes, fissures or tears with trimmed bits. Chill in the freezer for 15 minutes.

Preheat oven to 200C/400F.

Remove shell from freezer, spread as even a layer as you can of jam onto the pastry base. Top with frangipane, spreading to cover the entire surface of the tart. Smooth the top and pop into the oven for 30 minutes. Five minutes before the tart is done, the top will be poofy and brownish. Remove from oven and strew flaked almonds on top and return to the heat for the last five minutes of baking.

The finished tart will have a golden crust and the frangipane will be tanned, poofy and a bit spongy-looking. Remove from the oven and cool on the counter. Serve warm, with crème fraîche, whipped cream or custard sauce if you wish.

When you slice into the tart, the almond paste will be firm, but slightly squidgy and the crust should be crisp but not tough.

Jasmine’s notes:
• If you cannot have nuts, you can try substituting Victoria sponge for the frangipane. It's a pretty popular popular cake, so you shouldn't have any troubles finding one in one of your cookbooks or through a Google search. That said, our dear Natalie at Gluten a Go Go has sourced some recipes and linked to them in the related alt.db thread.
• You can use whichever jam you wish, but if you choose something with a lot of seeds, such as raspberry or blackberry, you should sieve them out.
• The jam quantity can be anywhere from 60ml (1/4 cup) to 250ml (1cup), depending upon how “damp” and strongly flavoured your preserves are. I made it with the lesser quantity of home made strawberry jam, while Annemarie made it with the greater quantity of cherry jam; we both had fabulous results. If in doubt, just split the difference and spread 150ml (2/3cup) on the crust.
Annemarie’s notes:
• The excess shortcrust can be rolled out and cut into cookie-shapes (heck, it’s pretty darned close to a shortbread dough).



Sweet shortcrust pastry
Prep time: 15-20 minutes
Resting time: 30 minutes (minimum)
Equipment needed: bowls, box grater, cling film

225g (8oz) all purpose flour
30g (1oz) sugar
2.5ml (½ tsp) salt
110g (4oz) unsalted butter, cold (frozen is better)
2 (2) egg yolks
2.5ml (½ tsp) almond extract (optional)
15-30ml (1-2 Tbsp) cold water

Sift together flour, sugar and salt. Grate butter into the flour mixture, using the large hole-side of a box grater. Using your finger tips only, and working very quickly, rub the fat into the flour until the mixture resembles bread crumbs. Set aside.

Lightly beat the egg yolks with the almond extract (if using) and quickly mix into the flour mixture. Keep mixing while dribbling in the water, only adding enough to form a cohesive and slightly sticky dough.

Form the dough into a disc, wrap in cling and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes

Jasmine’s notes:
• I make this using vanilla salt and vanilla sugar.
• If you wish, you can substitute the seeds of one vanilla bean, one teaspoon of vanilla paste or one teaspoon of vanilla extract for the almond extract

Frangipane
Prep time: 10-15 minutes
Equipment needed: bowls, hand mixer, rubber spatula

125g (4.5oz) unsalted butter, softened
125g (4.5oz) icing sugar
3 (3) eggs
2.5ml (½ tsp) almond extract
125g (4.5oz) ground almonds
30g (1oz) all purpose flour

Cream butter and sugar together for about a minute or until the mixture is primrose in colour and very fluffy. Scrape down the side of the bowl and add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. The batter may appear to curdle. In the words of Douglas Adams: Don’t panic. Really. It’ll be fine. After all three are in, pour in the almond extract and mix for about another 30 seconds and scrape down the sides again. With the beaters on, spoon in the ground nuts and the flour. Mix well. The mixture will be soft, keep its slightly curdled look (mostly from the almonds) and retain its pallid yellow colour.

Annemarie’s notes:
• Add another five minutes or more if you're grinding your own almonds or if you're mixing by hand (Heaven help you).

Monday, 22 June 2009

At last...

After years of saving our Christmas money, we have finally taken the plunge and bought our piano!



Actually, it's an electric piano, which means that that the volume can be turned down and we will all be able to practise whilst wearing headphones, which is a very, very good thing. And we won't get kicked out of our house (there is a clause in our lease that says we are not allowed a piano as it would disturb the neighbours! Never mind that the neighbours have a big dog that barks 24/7. Grrrrr.) Of course, none of us can play as yet. I've ordered a book to see if I can teach myself, until we can afford to take some lessons. The idea is that one of the children (M?) will have lessons and I will sit in and eavesdrop... Until then, at least we have the demo option to listen to, hahaha. It was a real bargain, less than half of what we would have to have paid in the UK. And it's beautiful, if somewhat bigger than it looked in the shop!

On a more domesticated matter, I've been doing what housewives all across the country have been doing - making umeshu:



Basically, it's layers of green apricots and huge chunks of sugar drowned in white liquor, now to be left of a few months before it's ready to drink. I followed Blue Lotus' method, so if your curious please do check out her post as she's far more eloquent (and takes better pictures!) than me:

http://blue_moon.typepad.com/blue_lotus/2008/06/making-umeshu.html

I also made Jo's zucchini-chocolate cake for K's dad yesterday, as we have an abundance of courgettes at the moment:

http://joruraljapan.blogspot.com/2009/06/zucchini-chocolate-cake.html

In fact I really want to make another for us (we didn't get a slice so don't know what it was like, although it looked/smelled fabulous), but that would involve going out into the garden and after this morning's encounter with 2(!) mukade, I'm just not brave enough yet... They really freak me out, but not only me. Read the following from Hanami Web Inside Japan:

'Mukade is a poisonous centipede in Japan. Mukade belongs to Scolopendridae family, which refers to the poisonous centipede species.

They are often referred to in Japanese literature as a symbols of darkness and evil.

For example in Tanizaki's "Yume no hashi", bite of mukade kills the narrator's mother.

Their reputation is well deserved. These centipedes climb to walls, and sometimes drop on to victim. Although few accidents are reported, some of the mukade species contain so much poison that a bite to neck can kill adult human being. Also they have nasty tendency to crawl to human body cavities, such as nose or ear when subject is sleeping.

Mukade eats cockroaches and flies and spiders. They are predators with amazingly fast movement. They might lay still for long time, and when disturbed they move swiftly. When killing them one should be careful, because if you cut them in half, the biting end might attack you. It is necessary to hit the head.

Mukade lives in dark and moist places, such as in kitchen sink sewer. They are said to live up to seven years.

There are many interesting folklore and beliefs about the mukade in Japan. It is said for example that to kill them you must burn them, otherwise they might come back to life and revenge you. There is also story that during the Kanto earthquake, earth opened up and they broke free from the depths of hell and escaped on earth.'

And if you're brave enough, check out this link (I learned my lesson when I posted about the geji geji - I don't want to log on to see one of these beasts waiting to greet me, thank you very much):

http://www.flickr.com/photos/41365123@N00/13525967/

At least they eat cockroaches...

Saturday, 13 June 2009

This and that

Still here. Keep meaning to write stuff, but sleep seems more important at the moment - the days are so busy, I start to nod off as soon as I sit in front of the computer...

W is VERY happy today. K always buys the boys a 'Homerun Bar' (ice-cream lolly thing) on their way home from karate. He got very excited when he saw this:



It's a lucky stick ('atari!'), he just has to take it to the shop and exchange it for another bar for free - a six year old's dream!



He's also very happy because his teeth have started to fall out. And no, I don't mean that he hasn't been looking after them, just that he is finally losing his milk teeth. He's been pretty envious of J's visits from the tooth fairy (yes, she does come to Japan, although she did get lost on her first trip here and arrived a day late) and now it's his turn. He was so impatient with the length of time the first one was taking to come out that he enrolled big bro's help and indulged in some DIY dentistry:



In the end, it fell out of it's own accord when he got to school the next day. Thank goodness. What is it about wobbly teeth that make me so sqeamish, especially when they're really ready to come out?

Just before I head for my bed, and going back to the 'atari' thing,
does anyone out there know if Curls (those cheese corn puffs in yellow bags) also do 'atari', like a lot of Japanese treats do? K found this in a bag yesterday:



For the uninitiated, the curl on the left is your bog-standard curl. The one on the right looks like a headless baby. Well, if he's hit the jackpot with it... ooops, he ate it.

Friday, 29 May 2009

The vegetable patch

It's not just me who's afraid of the bugs biting (bear in mind that this photo was taken on a hot 28c day):



K doesn't do much in the garden. He does, when the weeds get to be knee height, wave the strimmer around, but that's about it. To his credit, when he decided that he wanted a vegetable patch he did dig over the area ready to plant. And look, as if by magic, a whole array of produce has appeared!



We'll be eating water melon, potatoes, beetroot, carrots, pickled onions, courgettes and sweetcorn before long (the rhubarb is going to take a little longer). That's if the weeds don't gain control first. Over this last week the mozzies have started biting and the spiders are getting bigger, so I'm somewhat less inclined to get out there and tackle them. I have noticed an awful lot of lizards (and I'm not scared of them, surprisingly), so hopefully they'll help to keep the creepy crawlies at bay. Oh yeah, and frogs too - don't see so many of them, but if there's so much as a drop of rain they start making a right racket, so I know they're there!

Wednesday, 27 May 2009

Daring Bakers Challenge May 2009 - Strudel Moodle

The May Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Linda of make life sweeter! and Courtney of Coco Cooks. They chose Apple Strudel from the recipe book Kaffeehaus: Exquisite Desserts from the Classic Cafés of Vienna, Budapest and Prague by Rick Rodgers.

You cannot rush a strudel. It is not something to do last minute, completely unprepared, and short of time. Doing so can result in a minor diva paddy, followed by complaints at the dinner table.

I only realised on Monday that time was running out (what happened to May? Where did it go?) and that I only had 24 hours left. I'd been looking forward to this challenge, too. Would have loved to make a sweet one, but as I'm trying to watch what I eat (I have little self control when it comes to sweet things, and I'd end up eating most of it) I decided on a savoury strudel we could all share for dinner. Shiitake and shimeiji mushrooms with garlic and herb infused cream cheese. I could hardly wait!

The dough turned out really well, but then the trouble started... I cut up an old (clean!) sheet to use for the cloth. It was all I had, but not ideal as was slightly pilled (actually,I think it was flannel cotton). Used plenty of flour, rubbed it into the cloth as instructed. Rolled the dough out no problem, beautiful and thin, picture perfect... however it STUCK to the sheet! Did my best and put the filling on ready to roll, the strudel was having none of it. Bit of shouting and stamping of feet, picked the whole lot ready to dump in the bin, but decided to scrape what I could onto the tray and make do. Now had I left myself ample time to tackle this challenge, I would probably had just thrown together another batch of dough and started again (with a better cloth), but after yesterdays episode if I am ever to make another strudel again it will be made with bought filo pastry! Am I going to show you what it looked like? Er, no. Here's a shot of the good end, just to show that I did at least have a go:



In spite of how it turned out, the filling was in fact delicious. From memory, here's what I put in:

1 pack shiitake mushrooms, sliced
1 large pack shimeiji mushrooms, separated
1 onion, chopped
1/2 red pepper, chopped
a bunch of spinach, chopped
150g cream cheese
1 clove garlic, pressed
1/2 teaspoon thyme
1/2 tablespoon black sesame seeds

Fry the onion and pepper, then add the mushrooms and cook for a few minutes. Stir in the spinach and season. Mix the cream cheese, garlic and thyme together. Spread the mushroom mixture over one end of the strudel pastry and top with the cream cheese mixture. Sprinkle with black sesame seeds after rolling.

Preparation time
Total: 2 hours 15 minutes – 3 hours 30 minutes

15-20 min to make dough
30-90 min to let dough rest/to prepare the filling
20-30 min to roll out and stretch dough
10 min to fill and roll dough
30 min to bake
30 min to cool


Strudel dough
from “Kaffeehaus – Exquisite Desserts from the Classic Cafés of Vienna, Budapest and Prague” by Rick Rodgers

1 1/3 cups (200 g) unbleached flour
1/8 teaspoon salt
7 tablespoons (105 ml) water, plus more if needed
2 tablespoons (30 ml) vegetable oil, plus additional for coating the dough
1/2 teaspoon cider vinegar

1. Combine the flour and salt in a stand-mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Mix the water, oil and vinegar in a measuring cup. Add the water/oil mixture to the flour with the mixer on low speed. You will get a soft dough. Make sure it is not too dry, add a little more water if necessary.
Take the dough out of the mixer. Change to the dough hook. Put the dough ball back in the mixer. Let the dough knead on medium until you get a soft dough ball with a somewhat rough surface.

2. Take the dough out of the mixer and continue kneading by hand on an unfloured work surface. Knead for about 2 minutes. Pick up the dough and throw it down hard onto your working surface occasionally.
Shape the dough into a ball and transfer it to a plate. Oil the top of the dough ball lightly. Cover the ball tightly with plastic wrap. Allow to stand for 30-90 minutes (longer is better).

3. It would be best if you have a work area that you can walk around on all sides like a 36 inch (90 cm) round table or a work surface of 23 x 38 inches (60 x 100 cm). Cover your working area with table cloth, dust it with flour and rub it into the fabric. Put your dough ball in the middle and roll it out as much as you can.
Pick the dough up by holding it by an edge. This way the weight of the dough and gravity can help stretching it as it hangs. Using the back of your hands to gently stretch and pull the dough. You can use your forearms to support it.

4. The dough will become too large to hold. Put it on your work surface. Leave the thicker edge of the dough to hang over the edge of the table. Place your hands underneath the dough and stretch and pull the dough thinner using the backs of your hands. Stretch and pull the dough until it's about 2 feet (60 cm) wide and 3 feet (90 cm) long, it will be tissue-thin by this time. Cut away the thick dough around the edges with scissors. The dough is now ready to be filled.

Sunday, 24 May 2009

Holidaying at home

Been ages since my last post. Been a bit busy, but had so, so, so much fun! We've had visitors, my dear friend Ronna and her husband from our home church back in England! So the week before they arrived I had a ton of cleaning and tidying to get done (including our 'spare' room, aka the dumping room), then while they were here we were zipping here there and everywhere. Their visit was perfectly timed (of course!), we had fab weather for sightseeing and the mozzies weren't biting just then (although they certainly are now), so I took them to some of my favourite places.

Of course we just had to go to Ritsurin Kouen, a beautiful Japanese garden in Takamatsu. It was all very green on this visit with not many flowers in bloom, although there were some gorgeous irises:



We went into the tea house for tea ceremony, which I really enjoy, but was a little disappointed that they only served the tea rather than performing the tea ceremony in front of us.



I took them for lunch at my favourite kind of restaurant - okonomiyaki!



One day we visited Kotahira, where the men climbed 800 steps up to a shrine (Konpira-san) whilst we ladies enjoyed a pedicure by fish (hahaha, more of that another day, waiting for the photo!) followed by a soy sauce ice-cream (very nice actually, very subtle flavour).

Another trip was a ferry ride out to Naoshima, an island in the Seto inland sea which has been turned into an art project. I'd been dying to go, but K really isn't interested in art, and the boys would be quite bored I think. So hurrah, for visitors! We started off the visit at the Benesse House Museum, and was surprised to find works by Andy Warhol, Jackson Pollock and David Hockney, very unexpected. I think my favourite piece was the Banzai Corner by Yukinori Yanagi - hundreds of Ultraman dolls with their hands in the air, forming the Japanese flag! The World Flag Ant Farm (by the same artist) also caught my interest. Wish I could have taken photos, but of course that wasn't allowed. We wandered around the old village, peering in through gates to view the gardens, but didn't have time to visit the house project (artists were invited to come to the island and make houses into works of art), so I'm just going to have to go back there agin sometime (shame).



This was M's favourite piece, the Red Pumpkin (don't know who it's by) - she spent ages sticking her head through the holes and saying 'BOO'!

As I write this, Ronna and Ian are on a plane winging their way back home :( Their visit flew by, I was so sad to see them leave. But how wonderful to see good friends again, their visit was certainly the next best thing to an actual trip back home! I feel so blessed!

Tuesday, 5 May 2009

Noodles

I've been procrastinating. So many things I could have posted about, but by the time the children are in bed asleep K has downloaded the most recent episode of Hell's Kitchen ('Yes Marco!') and I can't seem to drag myself away from the sofa. But, if I don't get back into the swing of things this blog could well end up simply clogging up cyberland, so...

Today is Kodomo no Hi (Children's Day, but more for boys than girls, and a national holiday), and the countryside is spiked with koinobori, proudly swimming in the breeze:



It also happens to be Golden Week, and the nation is going quite mad (really) in their desperation to do something 'special' over the break. Like this:



This was taken at 10am this morning, it's a drive-by shot and I can assure you that the queue went waaay back. Oooh, such excitement in our sleepy little town, go on, have a guess... Here's a clue:



And the answer is... noodles! Udon, to be precise. This grubby little shop (yes, the grey building at the back is a restaurant) was featured on TV about 10 years ago for having the best Sanuki udon in the country. Will have to check it out for myself after the crowds have subsided, I didn't believe it before as I'd previously driven past and seen the owner flat on his back asleep on a table... at lunchtime!

We were treated to a fabulous lunch over in Niihama with extended family - SIL's DH's father is so generous and decided to splurge his government handout money on a slap-up meal for us all! We went to a Japanese-style restaurant, the food was simply stunning. Lots of small dishes so was a little shy to snap each one as they came, but just to give you an idea here's the Okosama set (kid's meal):



W was slightly freaked out by the enormous prawn being served complete with it's head, but M (being only 19 months old) was none the wiser and happily munched her way through it. K also helped out by eating the ikura (some kind of roe, maybe salmon) that was sprinkled over the rice balls. The boys both ate nearly everything. Was very happy that neither of them kicked up a scene with cries of 'I don't like it' - they've come a long way!

And this was my favourite dish, simmered aubergine sandwiched together with light tofu:



The thinly sliced and fried renkon (lotus root) was wonderful, must make some at home!