March 2006 Archives

Green Peppercorn Sauce

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recipe thursdayI whipped this up the other night to go with grilled beef. Yum yum yum. Green peppercorns have a hint of turpentine flavor. I'm not sure why I enjoy this so much, but I do. . Be sure to have some crusty bread on hand for dipping in the extra sauce.

Green Peppercorn Sauce
makes about 1.5 cups

1 Tbsp butter
2 Tbsp scallions, minced
1 scant cup beef or vegetable bullion
1 cup heavy cream
3 Tbsp brandy
2-3 Tbsp green peppercorns, drained

Saute the scallions in butter, add the remaining ingredients and simmer until thickened to sauce-y goodness, about ten minutes.

Un-surprise party

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"We know you don't want a surprise, so I'm letting you know some of your friends are planning something for your birthday. Don't look daggy," MJ prepared me two weeks ago.

"Just something casual in a park," Tracey added a few days later. "It will be fun. Jeremy says he'll drag you there kicking and screaming if he has to."

(Not to worry, MJ had already sat me down in front of this episode of Absolutely Fabulous, so I will be well-behaved.)

"Yes, it is on your actual birthday," Tod admitted a couple days on. "I think you should wear a hat and a sundress."

"No, jeans and a turtleneck won't work. Wear a floaty dress," Tracey told me last night. "Think 'high tea.' Do you have any lawn games, like boules or croquet?"

I am getting a picture of what my 40th birthday party will be like. Elegant. Casual. Outdoors. Sounds like something I'd plan for myself, actually. Yay, friends!

Saturday's weather is forecast to be partly sunny and warmer than it's been the last couple of days, but still too cool for any of my floaty dresses. I want something with sleeves! Guess I'll be doing a bit of pre-birthday sewing or shopping. At least I won't be embarrassingly daggy.

Package redelivery

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Japan's post office is very efficient. If you're not home when they deliver a parcel, they leave a slip with several options to get the package to you: stop by the post office in person, return a postcard telling them when and were to bring your box, make a phone call (in Japanese or English), or fill in a form online.

Today I figured out how to navigate the online system in Japanese. Here are instructions in English, so that you can do it, too. [nb: You must be able to type in Japanese with your computer]

At the Zoo

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Me, Sean & Tara at the zoo

I took advantage of the lovely spring weather to go to the zoo with Tara & Sean. I love the zoo enough on my own, but watching an 18 month old enjoying the elephants, prairie dogs and penguins is a kick.

Sean toddled from place to place, signing "more, more" a lot. He figured out how to climb up onto the curbs and low railings for a better view over the handrails. And he waved goodbye to the animals before running off, hands in the air, to see something new.

He was equally fascinated with the trash cans, water fountains, and rocks. It's good to be little.

Workroom Fire

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Is video editing a glamourous job? You tell me.

On Wednesday, I arrived at 4 pm to do some video editing of corporate conference highlights. By 6, I was dashing back into a smoky, burning room for the third time to save the computers, decks and tapes. Someone should have had the camera rolling, because I think our behind-the-scenes fire was more exciting than anything else happening at the hotel during the event.

The hotel staff didn't call the fire department but investigated the fire themselves. The cause was obvious to me. It was a short in the coffee warmer and inadequate electrical outlets in a room full of gear and devices. They apologised and gave us ham sandwiches to replace the deluxe delivery dinners that had been ruined by the smoke.

My colleague & I had to wait for an uncharred room to open up so we could set up our workspace again. 'Til 10 pm, we hunkered over laptops in a corner of the lobby - homeless editors surrounded by tangled cables and uncertain equipment.

When we set everything up in the new room, we were fortunate not to have too many problems. Only one disk had errors and they were repaired quickly enough. Everythign else was covered in grime, but in good working order. I was up until 2 getting ready for the next day's footage. Rob stayed up all night to complete the module that would open the morning's session.

At 8 am, after a quick breakfast of sandwiches, pickles and yogurt, and some further edits, all my plans changed. The president of the company had literally dreamed up a great idea and wanted us to implement it for his closing video, the one I'd been working on. So I scrapped what I'd done and reworked the whole thing for a 3:30 deadline.

At 2:45, one of the managers came to see what we'd done. He found it unsuitable and requested three different versions with footage we simply didn't have and could not get in time. I'm glad I got to sit there quietly while my boss explained reality. I turned around and started doing what I could to satisfy the client. I managed two different versions in time for the deadline. The president was pleased.

At least my job is never boring.

New Sofa

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We finally found a sofa that combines comfort and style. it arrived today.

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I rearranged the living room. It seems bigger now.

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Another perspective

Commemorations

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Today marks the annversaray of my father's death. My mother, sister and I all marked the day in different ways, but we each took time and action to think of him today.

Jenn wrote a poem, got tree seedlings, and wrote about him on her 37x365

Dad taught me to hug the inside curve, to do one thing at a time to reach a goal, and that trees are worth planting even when someone steals them. His light still arcs in my mother's house.

Mom plucked a daffodil from the garden ("The most open one I could find," she said) to the cemetery and had a chat with him.

I took a trip to the southern tip of the Izu Penninsula, went out on the water in a boat and talked to the waves. I walked up to the lighthouse on the cliff, visited two temples, and stood at the lookout where Commodore Perry's black ships were spotted.

We all miss you, Dad.

Tetrapocket: the tetrahedral pouch

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Tetrapouches

This is a flat pack, L-shaped piece that folds into a self-closing, 3D pouch.

Tetrahedrons, four-faced pyramids, are used for a wide range of items from packaging (tetrapacks) to weapons (caltrops). This soft felt tetrahedron makes a good coin purse, or in a larger size with a strap attached, a clever shoulder bag.

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Tetrapocket pattern (PDF 444 KB)

Creative Commons License
This pattern is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.5 License.

Using Up the Supplies

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creative perspectivesOver at Simple Sparrow, a crafter's weblog I've just run across via Whip Up, I found a challenge I will take on.

Use What You Have Month
No new supplies in April.

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I'm not, perhaps, as crazy about purchasing supplies as some people are, but even so, I've got a sizable stock of paint, papers, fabrics and other creative toys. And lately, I've had a craving to be crafty so I might just get some of these things used up next month!

It's hugely fun to improvise when you don't have just the right thing. What's close enough? How can you modify what you already have? I'll bet you can find all sorts of ways to use the remainders and oddments you have sitting around or maybe, like me, you have some completely new, untouched supplies to work with.

There's even a Flickr group for people to post photos of what they've been making with their stash of old stuff: usewhatyouhave. So go ahead and join in, and make some space for new stuff later this year.

Niku Jaga

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recipe thursdayThis is tomorrow night's dinner: potatoes and beef stewed in a soy-flavoured broth. Mmmmm. Served with rice, miso soup and pickles, this is a tasty home-style Japanese meal.

Niku Jaga
serves 4

100 g thinly sliced beef
4 potatoes
1 onion
1 Tbsp olive oil
4 Tbsp soy sauce
4 Tbsp sake
4 Tbsp mirin
1 Tbsp sugar
2 c dashi broth
12 snow peas, green soy beans or peas, steamed or boiled (optional)

Peel and quarter the potatoes and onion. Heat the oil in a deep, lidded frying pan, and saute the onion, meat and potatoes for 3-5 minutes. Add the dashi, ensuring there is enough liquid to cover the poatoes and meat. Add the soy, mirin and sugar. Simmer, covered, for 20-30 minutes.

The broth should be mostly absorbed during the siming, absorbed into the pottoes and meat. Garnish with a green vegetable as suggested in the ingredients.

Early Sakura

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Opening

We're in the season between plum and cherry blossoms. Some of the late ume are still blooming and a few hardy sakura are just beginning to open. I caught this one in the act yesterday afternoon in my neighborhood. Official blooming is predicted for March 25th in Tokyo.

Meet Tasty, the stuffed kiwa hirsuta

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Tasty

Inspired by the recently reported kiwa hirsuta lobster, I designed a plush toy. Although she's not anatomically correct in every detail (PDF), I think she is an identifiable member of this new species.

For anyone interested in sewing one of their own, I've developed a pattern with instructions and released it under a Creative Commons license. I don't recommend this project for people averse to hand-sewing or turning things inside out--there's plenty of both involved. But it's all simple sewing and assembly if you understand the basics of seaming and stuffing.

"Tasty" stuffed lobster pattern & instructions: 4 page A3 size 700 KB PDF
"Tasty" stuffed lobster pattern & instructions: 10 page Letter size, 1.1 MB PDF

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Kiwa hirsuta rendered in muslin and fur (dorsal view)

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Tasty the lobster (ventral view)

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The original kiwa hirsuta lobster, discovered in the depths of the Pacific Ocean.

Creative Commons License
This pattern is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike2.5 License.

When words collide

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creative perspectivesSometimes I reel at my own denseness when a twist of perspective opens my eyes to the obvious.

Tonight in the conbini, we were picking up some odds and ends to snack on and I saw a lovely can of chu-hi, - flavored soda with alcohol - with a beautiful style that evokes pre-war Japan. The color combination, typface and textured can drew my eye. And then I read the label:

Takara Shochu Highball Dry

Shochu Highball? Shochu Highball? Chu-hi?

Argh! I know that Japanese is full of portmanteau words. Why did the origins of this one never occur to me? Perhaps too much consumption and too little consideration.

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Can of revelation. Tasty, too.

Gnocchi with Portabello & Artichokes

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recipe thursdayThis luxurious pasta dish is utterly simple to make if you use pre-packaged (frozen or fresh) gnocchi. The seasoning is minimal to allow the flavours of the mushrooms and artichokes to predominate.

Gnocchi with Portabello & Artichokes
serves 3-4

2 large portabello mushroom caps
3 Tblsp butter
1/4 cup olive oil
150 grams ground chicken
1 small red pepper
1/2 cup marinated artichokes
16 oz gnocchi
dash MSG
salt & pepper to taste
grated parmesan cheese

Slice the portabellos to about 1 cm wide, and halve the slices. Cut the pepper into similar sized pieces. Chop the artichokes into eighths or bite-sized pieces.

Put a large pot of water on to boil.

Melt the butter in a large pan, add the oil, and sautee the mushrooms until they begin to soften. Add the chicken, fry gently to brown the meat. Add the pepper, artichokes and MSG, reduce heat and allow to simmer. The mushrooms will continue to reduce and the peppers will soften while the pasta cooks.

Add the gnocchi to the boiling water, using a small strainer to remove the pieces as they float to the surface. Put the gnocchi directly to the pan of sauce ingredients and stir gently. Season to taste. Serve topped with grated parmesan.

Roujin?!?

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Today in the mail, I received a set of form letters from the ward office. As if shortly turning 40 weren't bad enough, now my government classes me as old.

Turning Point Physical Examination Details

The Kowishikawa Insurance Service Center would like to inform you that as a roujin (old person), you're entitled to a free physical examination every five years as part of your old age social insurance plan. This includes a general exam with x-ray and bloodwork, hepatitis test, and cancer screening with barium x-ray. The next scheduled date for exams is 4/19. Our records show your qualifying birthday is within the next two months. Please schedule early.

About Hepatits Virus Screening

Bunkyo-ku offers free hepatitis virus screenings every five years for its citizens starting at age 40.

Roujin Dental Exam Information

All of Bunkyo-ku "aged persons" 40 years old and over are invited to a free yearly dental examination.

At least I know where my tax yen are going. I think I'd rather have had that 988,000 yen refund, though.

Big Berries

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Gigantic strawberries

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Freakishly large

Twice to the tax office

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My path(s) through the tax office

Tax day in Japan is March 15th. As I had a question about my return, I bundled up all my bits of paper and walked down to the tax office after lunch today.

It's a busy place this time of year. There are forty seats at desks kittted out with pens, calculators, staplers, carbon paper and extra forms. 70% of the tables were full of harried housewives and small business owners. Another section of the large room is for consultations. I was directed there with about a half dozen other folks.

My question was answered ten minutes after I arrived, and to my surprise, I was told to get in line to use the touch panel system to fill in and print out my forms.

Fortunately there was a nice young man there to help me, because the kanji for tax-related items are quite over my head. He told me which buttons to press and where to fill in various numbers. There was some confusion about my income slips, as two clients didn't send me any, but two did. He told me what to do, and I did it.

I was out of there with a completed and signed return 59 minutes after I walked in to ask my question. Hooray. Then I got home and actually looked at the numbers on the form. Uh-oh. It showed that I should be getting a 988,000 yen refund. That's way too much. A quick calculation returned a more reasonable amount.

I turned right around and returned to the tax office. 25 minutes later, after my mistakes had been taken into the mysterious back room and corrected without my confused meddling, I was on my way with a corrected filing and still anticipating a refund.

The Harder Path

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creative perspectivesI read this quoted on my colleague Chris's weblog, and was struck by its simple insight.

This is from Paul Graham's How to Make Wealth but I think it applies equally to creativity as to commerce.

If you have two choices, choose the harder. If you're trying to decide whether to go out running or sit home and watch TV, go running. Probably the reason this trick works so well is that when you have two choices and one is harder, the only reason you're even considering the other is laziness. You know in the back of your mind what's the right thing to do, and this trick merely forces you to acknowledge it.

When you have a choice between two creative ideas or two ways to implement an idea, isn't it more fulfilling to do the harder one? I get such a sense of accomplishment from hard work. But sometimes I forget that and this reminder is a good kick in the pants to go do the multi-page mapping project I've been putting off for weeks.

Lemon Sauce

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recipe thursdayThis recipe comes from a Japanese cookbook called "Tare, Sauce, Ajitsuke" published by Ikeda Shoten. It's a chunky sauce more like marmalade then mustard and good change of pace to a lemon wedge next to your fish.

Lemon Sauce
serves 4

1 lemon
1 clolve garlic
2 Tbsp butter
2 Tbsp white wine
salt & pepper to taste

Wash the lemon, slice it into very thin rounds and sprinkle with a little bit of salt. Mince the garlic. Melt 1 tablespooon of butter in a frying pan over medium heat. Add the lemon slices and garlic, mix with butter and add the wine. Remove from heat before the lemons or garlic begin to brown. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Top with remaining butter. Serve over pan-fried fish.

Pulling Pigtails

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Why am I mean to the people I like the best? I am polite to strangers and acquaintances, but I take the most terrible liberties with my companions.

My sometimes cruel words are delivered playfully or with a smile, but the snarky comments I make to friends about themsleves, myself, and our relationships are harrassing and rude and I realise it.

I have thought about this bad trait and I think I know why I do it. Though it isn't at all conscious at the time, I want more control or dominance in the friendship; I want a different friendship than what I have (either more or less intimate); or I need to show off to third parties my level of knowledge of my friend's inner life or our relationship.

I don't like it and I don't want to do it, but I'm not sure how to stop myself. Why can't I just be nice to the people I love?

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