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, 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 ( I'd been sent some meat by 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:

hahaha, cyril! Don't be shy to have a look at what RooMeat have to offer ( - 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)
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


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:

(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)!