February 2005 Archives

Three Pink Drinks

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Ready for a a taste test

Suntory Double Shibori, Sakura & Cherry
Poured out a fizzy pale pink. The bouquet is nice. Not too sweet, but has a slightly medicinal aftertaste. Just the thing to cut the salt of senbei at hanami. 0.5% cherry juice; 5% alcohol.

Mercian GyuGyu Shibo Premium, White Peach
Translucent clouds of palest yellow. Fresh peach scent and juicy flavor. Slight carbonation cuts the cloying sweetness. A good starter drink for toddlers. 52% juice, 4% alcohol.

Fauchon Scented Tea Sake, Cassis & Rose
Pinkish brown tea, non-carbonated. Smells like roses. Tastes like tea brewed too strong then sweetened with cassis. Tod says it's "too girly." 0.3% juice, 4% alcohol.

How to self-promote

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creative perspectivesOne of the more challenging aspects of being a creative person, especially if you're a freelance whatever-you-do like me and so many of my friends, is promoting yourself. How do you let people know what you can do, and do well, without coming off as an overinflated egotist?

You get one of your other creative friends to write your PR materials.

This week, make an arrangement with a creative friend who knows your work well and offer to trade puffery for puffery.

How do you want to promote your friend? How about a press release about a recent project, a brochure for her company, or a letter to send out to potential clients. Talk it over first to find out what will work for her.

A bit of reciprocal publicity lets you see your world from another perspective. You might be surprised at how glamorous and exciting your work is to an outsider. Give it a try and see what happens.

Chicken in Coconut Gravy

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recipe thursdayThis is a recipe I first encountered in Singapore. It's in the Nonya tradition--the Straits Chinese who settled early in the area and mixed their culture with the Malaysians.

There's a lot of paste-making to do and though you can use a knife to chop everything extra fine, a small grinder makes it easier.

If you can't find fresh lemongrass, you can use dried; if you can't find either, try a few strips of lemon peel. I've seen lengkuas labeled "grater galangal" and "laos"; it looks like big, pink ginger. Pandan leaf doesn't seem to exist outside SE Asia but if you can find it, use it. It imparts a subtle, sweet, grassy flavor to the dish.

Chicken in Coconut Curry
serves 4-6

1 chicken, cut into pieces
1/2 tsp turmeric powder
2 in fresh ginger
16 shallots (or 1 onion)
2 cloves garlic
3 stalks lemongrass
6-8 fresh chilies
2 slices lengkuas
3 Tbsp oil
3 cups thick coconut milk (coconut cream)
1 pandan leaf (optional)
1 tsp salt

Mix the turmeric with a little water and rub the resulting paste on the chicken pieces. Grind ginger, shallots, garlic, lemongrass, chillies and lengkuas into a paste. Fry the paste over medium heat in a wok for 5 minutes, then add the chicken and fry for 5 minutes, making sure the chicken is well coated with the spices. Add coconut milk, pandan leaf and salt. Coconut milk needs to be stirred constantly as you bring it to a boil so that it doesn't curdle. When it boils, turn down the heat and simmer 30-45 minutes until the chicken is tender and gravy has thickened.

Odaijini Flowers

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Bright flowers in a chalkboard vase

Imagine my utter surprise when flowers appeared at my door yesterday from "The Girls." I think flowers are a better palliative than the garlic tonic; my fever broke last night.

Flannel

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wonderfulwords.gifWelcome to the start of a new (likely irregular) feature--wonderful words. I've been having so much fun flipping through the OED I received for Christmas that I want to share some of surprises I've come across.

There are many words that I think deserve to be resurrected into our vocabularies. I will present common words with unfamiliar meanings or old words that have fallen into disuse. Expect to see these in my writing and hear them in my conversations.

flannel
verb: To bluff or mislead with flattery.

The OED cites J. Braine in the mid-20th century as the first use. "I managed to flannel him into the belief that I approved of his particular brand of efficiency."

Benefits of Garlic Tonic

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I put the garlic tonic I made last spring to the test today. I'm laid low with a febrile cold and was prompted to eat plenty of garlic to get healthy. I had forgotten about the tonic I had stashed away in the pantry, but Tod hadn't.

I poured myself a shot and drank it at lunchtime. It tasted just like medicine; I'm sure it will do me some good.

Tod says that I will be "too stinky to be fit for cohabitation" so it's a good thing he's soon out the door to work. Perhaps I will be less garlic-scented when he comes home, but I suspect not. I plan to have some more tonic after my nap.

Foreign Section Trust

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bochi.jpgThe foreigner's section of Aoyama Cemetery in Tokyo is under threat of being bulldozed. Why? The old dead foreigners aren't paying their cemetery fees. Bad gaijin!

According to the cemetery's rules, if a plot's 590 yen/sq meter annual fee isn't paid for five years, a notice goes up and the plot will be razed at the end of a year. 78 plots in Aoyama Reien were flagged in October and many of them are in the foreign section.

These are the graves of expatriates from the Meiji era, men and women who promoted Western ideas and practices in Japan--doctors, educators, missionaries, and artists. Although many of their contributions live on, it seems a pity to remove their memorials.

There is some hope; according to an article in the Daily Yomiuri on Friday the city government is reconsidering for some of the "important" graves--those foreigners the city employed way back when. They will make a final decision in April.

Not everyone is convinced the government will do the right thing. From the Yomiuri article:

Yuzo Takahashi, a Tokyo University of Agriculture and Technology professor specializing in the history of science and technology, is calling for the preservation of foreigners' graves.

"It's unthinkable that those who contributed to the modernization of the country are being forgotten. I'd like to see their graves preserved. In the case of foreign nationals, it can't be helped that fees aren't paid, but I hope the government will preserve as many graves as possible," he said.

Which still leaves the problem of the "unimportant" foreign graves.

The Foreign Section Trust is forming now to take action. We hope to first pay off the debt on the delinquent tombs and then build a trust fund to take care of them in the future. And just imagine the fun and good feelings at the FST hanami party (currently slated for April 2).

If you're interested in joining the society--whether to donate money, sponsor a plot, or offer your help with administration--visit the fledgling FST site and send an e-mail.

1938 Canoe Fun

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Sunset Beach, New Jersey.

These are my grandparents, George and Romayne Burroughs, and Romayne's brother, Marvin Jenkins, on a summer outing at Sunset Beach (probably in Cape May near where they lived).

Pampal sizzled in his sunglasses. Romayne's wearing a skin-baring top; she was always a fashion plate. Young Marvin, aged fifteen and on vacation from school in Williamstown, PA, thankfully went on to become a barber.

Shape of Creativity

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creative perspectivesImagine that your creativity is an entity of its own. What does it look like? Does it have a shape? What color is it? Does it move or is it static? Does it have a name? Where does it reside--in you, near you, somewhere apart?

My creativity is a sphere that's slightly fuzzy on the edges. The blur is from scattered particles outside the denser main body of speckles that are all single creative ideas. I see it as the photo of a distant elliptical galaxy.

My creative sphere changes sizes. Sometimes it's small and dark, like a red dwarf star or a galaxy on the edge of being engulfed by a black hole. Other times it expands, loosening the bonds between the individual points that comprise it, and changes color to a bright creamy white.

Regardless of size and color, my creativity hovers in front of me at eye level but pans left and right randomly. It doesn't have a name. It's quite a stellar image, isn't it?

Carbonara

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recipe thursdayWhile on vacation this week, I watched a famous Japanese cooking show called "Today's Food". They made carbonara and I liked their techniques, so took notes to share with you.

Today's Food Carbonara
serves 1

100g pancetta, cut into sticks
3 Tbsp olive oil
1 Tbsp brandy
1 egg
2 egg yolks
4 Tbsp cream
4 Tbsp fresh parmesan, grated
pasta of your choice
1 Tbsp parsley, chopped
black pepper

Whisk together egg, yolks, cream and cheese. Chill. This will prevent the egg from scrambling when you add it to the pasta.

Fry the pancetta in olive oil until crisp. Remove half of the bacon from the pan. Drain the oil from the pan and discard. If grease still remains, wipe the pan carefully with a paper towel.

Cook the pasta until slightly softer than al dente. remove from water, reserving some of the cooking liquid.

Reheat the bacon pan and deglaze with brandy (or white wine). Add the pasta and a couple tablespoons of the pasta water, stirring to incorporate bacon.

Remove from heat and pour the egg mixture over the pasta, stirring well. The heat from the pasta will cook the egg. If the sauce gets too thick, adjust the consistency with some more of the pasta water.

Garnish with the pancetta you set aside, plus parsley and plenty of coarsely crushed black pepper.

SL Fuyu no Shitsugen-go

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Instead of taking the complimentary shuttle bus from our hotel to the airport in Kushiro, we decided to take the steam train for one final adventure in Hokkaido.

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The engine pulls into Shibecha station.

Taking the Fuyu no Shitsugen-go (Winter Bog) is a special event. It's a tourist event for train geeks. The train spotter in me was happy to be riding it.

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Each car has a "daruma stove" that the conductor kept well stoked with coal.

The cars are decorated with stuffed foxes, deer and owls plus lots of fake branches with polyfil snow draped on them. It's just silly because the real sights were outside: fields full of grazing deer; steam from the engine drifting through the trees; and a fox on the hillside.

Drift Ice

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Another day, another trip out of Kawayu. We took the train to Abashiri to have a look at the big chunks of ice that float in across the Okhotsk Sea from Russia.

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Fields of ice floating on the sea's surface.

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The water is so cold, the waves are viscous and slow.

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The thinner ice cracks as the ship passes by but quickly refreezes.

Doutou Field

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Having exhausted the possibilities for local walks and Kawayu entertainments, we signed up to go out for the day with a guide from Doutou Field. We had a day full of adventures with Ando-san, who worked as a policeman in Chiba until the lure of fishing brought him to eastern Hokkaido.

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First we went snowshoeing.

Ando-san, knowing that we were foriegners and likely to be big people, brought his largest size snowshoes. He and Tod talked a lot as we went along. I just walked and watched.

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Our destination was Ponponyama, another mountain heated by volcanic forces.

There are crickets hiding under the warm wet leaves here, though we didn't find any. We did see lots of animal tracks on the way in, heard a woodpecker or two, and stumbled across a dead deer.

My best memory of Ponponyama is the colors. The mosses and clay are wonderful red, grey and green colors. The colors of frozen blood and deer fur against the snow were truly lovely. Next website redesign scheme might be "dead deer."

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These swans are keeping warm in the sand.

After shedding our snowshoes and warming up with some coffee, we went birdwatching. Along the lake's edge there are places where the water runs warm and birds like to gather. This is Sunayu and it's famous for keeping the swans warm in the winter.

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Japanese cranes are huge birds--two meter wingspans.

Tanchou are truly impressive birds--they are very loud and like to flap around at one another. They were thought to be extinct but about 100 years ago someone found a few and started feeding them. Now there are more than 600 at this site. There were nearly as many avid photographers there as birds. You can see them live on the Wild Bird Society Japan webcam.

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We made ice cream by filling a fishing float full of salted snow, then tying it to the back of a snowmobile

The most exciting part of the day was making ice cream. Not because of the treat, but because of the snowmobiling. Or rather, the snow mobile accident. Ando-san has a course laid out in front of his house. After Tod went around once without incident, I hopped on the back and rode with him. But on our trip around, he failed to negotiate a curve and we tipped off into the hip-deep snow, landing under the snowmobile. Ando-san brought us a shovel and we dug out the beast while he chuckled and shook the ice cream ball.

I think I got a touch of frostbite from that adventure; my feet got all wet and my ankles look like they are sunburned. The bath felt extra hot that night.

Iozan

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Panorama of Iouzan (click for larger view)

We decided to shake off our sleepy Saturday with a short hike to Iouzan, a mountain a few kilometers from Kawayu.

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Yellow sulphur deposits around a vent.

Sulphur hot springs are beneficial for rheumatism, skin disorders and myriad other minor complaints. The source of the sulphur is, of course, the volcanic mountains in the area. Iouzan has several active blow holes that jet hot steam into the air. Kawayu smells like rotten eggs.

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Colorful tourists lining up for a commemorative photo.

There's not a lot to do in Kawayu once you've had enough of bathing. Iouzan is a big tourist attraction.

Off to Hokkaido

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Thanks to a good deal at lastminute.co.jp, we just had a five day holiday in eastern Hokkaido. I didn't post while we were travelling, so these next few entries are backfilled.

After staying up all night to work on a video project for a client with a very tight deadline, I met Tod at Haneda at 6:45 am. There was virtually no hassle getting our tickets; we weren't even asked for ID after we flashed the reciept of our payment. Boarding passes were handed over without question. In fact, for the entire rest of the trip we were never asked to identify ourselves. Maybe that we were the only foreign guests at the hotel--or even in the town--had something to do with it.

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The stream that runs through Kawayu is hot.

We arrived at Hotel Kitafukuro (North Owl) in Kawayu mid-morning, settled in, then ventured out for a walk at lunchtime. There was snow everywhere! The hotel staff said there wasn't too much snow this year, but there was stilll more than a meter blanketing the town. It was so bright and shiny that my eyes hurt for hours.

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This handsome stranger is warming his feet in an outdoor foot bath.

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The town park is full of deer.

Most of the afternoon was devoted to napping--Tod had stayed up all night, too--then a relaxing soak in sulphur baths that tarnished our silver rings and even our gold ones. We topped off the day with a delicious dinner and a long, log-like sleep.

Armatures

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creative perspectivesArmatures are wire frames buried deep inside scultpures for structural support. They are a necessity for providing strength to the clay and direction to the artist.

Painters use frameworks, too. If you look at many of the old masters' paintings, you will find evidence of their armatures--figures arranged in the golden mean, root rectangles and other polygons. Once you learn to see them, they are everywhere.

I believe any creative person can benefit from armatures. I use them all the time in my creative endeavors, although rarely physical wires or even the golden ratio. I use time, patterns, and symmetry to structure my videos and writing. Since I am often telling documentary stories or explaining things, my choice of armatures works out well for the audience as well as for me.

There are people who say that structure limits creativity, but I disagree. I create improvise on top of my frameworks. Having an armature to drape ideas on allows me to set a creative desitnation, discard the paths not taken and focus on creating. An armature allows for flexibility and change, but makes sure that I achieve what I intended.

Jala Neti

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"Has Tod been making drug paraphenalia in the middle of the night?" I wondered when I spied a length of rubber tubing glued onto a 500 ml plastic bottle sitting on the kitchen counter. On further inspection, it became clear that this was not a bong, but I had no idea what it could be.

It is a neti pot.

Jala neti is a yoga practice meant to improve breathing. You use warm, isotonic salt water to wash out your nose and sinuses by pouring water in one nostril and letting it flow out the other.

Sounds gross, but it's quite effective.

Not only does it loosen mucus, but it can also help to unblock your ears and every time I do it (perhaps through a fault in my procedure) I get a refreshing wash of saline across my eyes. It's said to be effective against allergies, hay fever and other sinus-related illnesses. It's too soon to tell if that's true; I just think it feels good.

If you want to try it, this instruction manual (PDF) is helpful, or you can Google for nasal lavage, sinus irirgation or my favorite--nose douche. Although the manual advocates having someone teach you in person, I found it wasn't at all difficult after I stopped laughing and snorting water everywhere (Tod was watching me). Every swimmer will recognise the feeling.

The plastic contraption Tod created will be replaced by a proper metal neti pot in the very near future.

Downsides of searching

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I'm starting to dislike the search-enabled, easy-access-to-information lifestyle. I'm putting the blame on Google, but it's all searchable databases that are doing this to me. Here are three reasons why:

Googling changes opinions.
I wonder if having such ready access to facts changes our opinions. If I think X, but then check and everyone else is saying X-prime, maybe I'll shift my idea to X-prime. Does Googling direct people into the mainstream of accepted thought?

Googling limits creativity.
Writing a blog entry that is factually correct is informative and important but what about creative invention? Don't new ideas require mistakes and false starts? Perhaps some people feel that those ought to be private, unpublished musings and notes but I don't think so. Incorrect ideas, suppositions, brainstorming--or even a question--invite people to participate. If you look up the answer online, you lose that chance to spark a new idea.

Googling is time consuming.
Googling and fact checking eat up a disproportionate amount of my day. It's not the searching itself that takes so long, it's the incessant need to know. Some of it is justifiable research for projects, but much of it is not. as an example, I spent ten minutes double checking an idea that I have no intention of ever implementing. Followed by a quick check of the name of that movie with that guy in it that I was trying to remember yesterday. And then a search to find out if I can buy a pair of gloves at Haneda Airport. Surely I have better things to do with my time...

The perfect bouquet

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On a day when I'm not much good for thinking or typing (migraine's got me all uncoordinated and confused), I can still pull it together enough to draw a bit.

This is a bouquet of eucalyptus, freesia, spray roses and chrysanthemum. It might be the perfect arrangement for me--it smells good, the colors are interesting and each element has a happy connection to people, places or events.

Doctor Knowall

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No longer thwarted by broken sound equipment, I recorded one of the shortest of the Grimm brothers' fairytales. this morning. It's a funny little story about a peasant turned savant via a book with a cock on the frontispiece.

I used Audacity to record and convert it to MP3 (after Tod located the correct LAME library for me). The new mixer and mic work perfectly; any faults in the recording are strictly my own inattention to breathing, phrasing, and acting.

playDoctor Knowall. 4'21" (3.9 MB MP3)

Recording Setup

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A few weeks back, I was thwarted when trying to make a recording on my computer. Again this week, my computer failed me when I wanted to do voice overs for a film I'm working on.

After a lot of searching around on forums and websites, I figured out that I need a mic pre-amp or something to boost the mic to line level. The Griffin iMic should do the job, but it doesn't work for me. Maybe mine is busted...

So today I went out and bought myself some proper gear. Now I can record voice overs and narrate stories to my heart's content. This setup works great.

What did I get? A Behringer Eurorack UB802 8-input 2-bus mixer/preamp, an M-Audio "Nova" condenser microphone, an indestructible mic stand/murder weapon, various cables, and a "popkiller" screen (much cheaper than elocution lessons to correct my aspirated p's).

And didn't cost as much as I thought it would--under 30,000 yen for everything. If you're in the market for audio gear, go talk to Honma-san at Music Community Miyaji in Awajicho. He's knowledgeable and very patient.

Creativity cards, set 3

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creative perspectivesHere is a new set of five quick and easy creative activities on printable cards. This set takes a slightly dark turn to match my mood this week. But never fear, these activities are more likely to buoy your spirits than to bring you down. Be silly with them and see where they lead you.

If you have ideas to share, pass them along and I'll include them in upcoming sets.

Creativity cards, set 3 48K PDF

  • Shades of Grey
  • Fifteen Faces
  • Break Something
  • Emergency
  • 50 Ways to Leave

How to Cut

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recipe thursdayNo matter how many recipes you master, if your knife skills are lacking you're not going to cut it in the kitchen.

Today, take an inventory of your knives. You must have one good chef's knife (8-10"), a utility knife, a paring knife and a bread knife. More than that is a luxury. Less than that and you're cutting yourself short. Do not try to cut everything in your kitchen with a serrated steak knife, like I remember doing as a kid. Go to the best knife shop you can afford and fill the gaps.

Next, sharpen your knives! A dull knife will cut you worse than a sharp one. You use more pressure on a dull knife and it's easier to slip when you're pressing hard. The test for me it tomatoes. If you can't slice a tomato like butter, then your knife is too dull. Manually sharpening knives takes some practice; for most people, it's easier to buy a knife sharpener that holds the blade at the correct angle. Whichever way you do it, be vigilant. Don't let your knives get dull.

If you're not sure what to do with your razor sharp knives, this utterly useful illustrated essay on How to Cut will get you started, or refresh your memory. Peter Hertzmann also shares French recipes on his website, a la carte.

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