August 2006 Archives

Matsudai roundup

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I've been away from the computer mainly spending more time in Matsudai. So much happened last weekend that I'm hard pressed to recount it all, but here I go.

Thank you to Hanako Murakami for introducing me to Matsudai and its people. I really do love that town. And congratulations to Hanako for shepherding an amazing performance of mushroom dancing at Nobutai on Friday last week. "Kinseees!" was an energetic, delightful surprise.

Higashino-sensei's dance as the お化けキンコ (mushroom ghost) was exactly the right complement to the old folks doing their dances. She encouraged them, teased out their special talents and made the evening flow. Motohei-san, at 82 the oldest dancer in the group, was so full of joy and humour that it was hard not to whoop and holler during all his little solos. I know how much work everyone put into creating the evening's entertainment, and I think all 160 of the audience members were impressed. I didn't take my camera that evening, choosing to enjoy the event without the lens between me and it - a wise decision, even though it means no pictures for you.

One of the items in the Kinseees! program was each dancer's favorite mushroom. The モグラ was often mentioned, but we don't know "mogura" as a mushroom - it's a mole. Now Tod does cutest impression of a mogura (the mole, not the mushroom) that makes me giggle and ask for encores.

The two days after Kinseees! were the Matsudai matsuri. We hung around town to tour the Triennial art and spent Saturday evening drinking and singing with the adult children of some of the dancers. I had my recording gear and turned the evening into the latest Hanashi Station podcast.

play mp3 Matsuri in Matsudai (10'15" 9.4 MB MP3)

Matsudai, population 4,000, is divided into three sections: Kammachi, uptown; Nakamachi, midtown; and Shimmachi, downtown. We were at the top of the hill in uptown most of the night, where the drunken karaoke and dancing took place. Midtown and downtown were equally lively, but more family-oriented.

Early in the evening, before the party really started, the skilled singers encouraged Tod & I get up and do a duet. You really cannot refuse people who ply you with sake and snacks. We flailed our way through John Denver's Country Roads - one of the few English songs in their midi-based karaoke system. Later on, we were called on to perform again - "Mr. Tod and Kristen dancing please!" - and foxtrotted clumsily to some beautifully sung enka.

The town reporter captured all of this and more with his camera, so I expect there will be at least one photo of us in the local newspaper. Horrors! But I wonder how I can get my hands on a copy of it?

Over the course of the evening, we were treated to many plates of food, cups of drink and little gifts. I was so stunned by the generosity that I took an account: 6 onigiri; 2 bowls of kenchin soup; 2 dishes of pickles; 10 sticks of yakitori; 4 shiso-cheese gyoza; 1 plate of fried octopus; 2 grilled sazae; 1 packet of otsumami; 1 harisen clapper; 1 pink stuffed monkey; 1 pair pink sequined devil horns; 1 pair of sequined devil horns; 2 glasses of tea; countless cups of sake.

All that, plus a few things I was actually allowed to pay for, made up the feast of the evening as we sat around the streetside fire pit. Thank goodness there were a lot of people in our little tribe to share the bounty. I don't think anyone went hungry that night.

After the matsuri, I rolled a very tipsy Tod down the street to Kimie-san's family's second house, where we spent the night with Hanako and her crew. In the morning, before anyone had a chance to sip their coffee, Kimie-san turned up with freshly cooked rice and laid our breakfast table of pickles, simmered dishes, soup and rice. She is such an amazing hostess.

We took our leave of Matsudai the next day, after watching the kids' parade of mikoshi (portable temples). Tod helped to pull one of the huge wagons full of kids. I turn turns with the local police are trying to catch fish with a paper spoon. I took photos which I will develop and post eventually.

If this were my last trip to Matsudai, I'd be sad, but I am hoping/planning to go back in a couple of weeks to harvest rice with Akira-san, Kimie's husband. I may be a liabiliity, but I will work hard and it will be a good experience. Matsudai always is.

Woven mat

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Rag woven mat, detail

I made this myself on Sunday while visiting the Echigo-Tsumari Art Triennial. At Kinare, the big exhibition center in Tokamachi, they have a hands-on room set up with looms, shibori dying vats and silk painting materials. It took me 30 minutes to weave up this little mat.

Tod took an onsen bath (I was barred because of my tattoo) while I wove. It's been a long time since I last sat in front of a loom. My results are a little bit uneven, but not too bad, considering how rusty I am.

As much as working on this made me happy and left me with a big smile, if I had a loom of my own I'd never use it. I really despise warping treadle looms.

Lemon-Walnut Shortbread Cookies

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recipe thursdayI'm beginning to believe that I can bake with a nearly empty larder, the same way I can make a meal from what Tod calls "nothing in the fridge." I wanted to bake a treat for the Matsudai folks who will be dancing in the Kinseees program on Friday, but my fridge was a little bit lacking.

I'm all out of eggs. That's one strike against baking. There wasn't enough butter for a full recipe of anything. But I found some walnuts so I took advantage of the walnut oils to shorten my cookies. And I had a lemon to flavour the dough. So I decided on a variation of a holiday favorite: balls of walnut shortbread.

And the cookies are lovely: delicately lemon scented, strongly walnut flavoured, and when rolled in powdered sugar, they are just sweet enough.

Lemon-Walnut Shortbread Cookies
makes 48 cookies

3/4 cup butter
1/3 cup sugar
2 tsp lemon juice
zest of 1 lemon
1/2 cup walnuts, finely chopped
2 1/2 cups cake flour
1 cup powdered sugar

Cream the butter and sugar. Add the lemon zest & juice, mixing throughly. Stir in the walnuts. Add the flour a cup at a time, stirring until just mixed. The dough will form a soft ball. Roll 1" balls and bake on an ungreased cookie sheet at 180°C for about 12 minutes, or until not-even-lightly-brown.

Remove from cookie sheet while hot and roll in powdered sugar. Be careful not to burn your fingers. Cool completely on trays.

How to Call a Frog

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One evening last week in Matsudai, we heard the most delightful chorus of frogs - deep croaking, quick peeps, and a percussive almost wooden clapping. But as we approached the little garden pond for a closer look and listen, the frogs stopped their songs.

Kimie-san started talking to them. She called; they answered. We giggled. She called again and soon they were all chatting away. I was delighted. Her technique was simple.

She made a loud, hollow sound by closing her lips with air in her cheeks and in between her lips and teeth, then opening them quickly while sucking the air in. The resulting sound was a hollow, lip smacking pop. She repeated it a few times and the frogs talked back.

On another night, I went to the pond alone and tried it with the recorder running. It worked! Have a listen:

Frog Call 0'04" 72KB MP3

Celebrating the Earth on Sado

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Camping on the cliff above Sobama beach, our group of eight did a lot of relaxing nothing this weekend.

After brunch each morning, we sat under the shadecloth talking for hours about whatever came to mind: halloween costumes, books, travels, work. Lukie showed me how to do contact juggling. Aya sketched. Everyone sweated. We indulged in ocean swims, cold showers, and lots of beverages until it was time to head into Ogi for dinner at the festival market and then to walk up the hill to the evening's Earth Celebration concert.

This year, Kodo played with a dance troupe called Tamango's Urban Tap. As always, each group took a bit of the other's style and incorporated it into their performance. I cannot say I'd ever expected to see four women in yukata and geta doing a tap dance, but they did - giggling like girls as they sang their own accompaniment - and did a fine job of it, too. Tamango led the audience in singing the Zousan song (which made Zoupi exceedingly happy) where he bungled some of the words, then led an African chant where the audience bungled most of the words.

Recording the Kodo concerts is strictly prohibited and I respected that, but I did capture some frenetic drumming at one of the after-concert fringe events. If you'd like to hear the noisy musical atmosphere of the festival market in the late evening on August 18th, have a listen to this:

play mp3 Earth Celebration Fringe Drumming 4'59" 4.6MB MP3

Bobotie

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recipe thursdayAnother South African classic in my new repetroire. I wasn't sure I'd like this - it's a fruity meat curry topped with a layer of savory custard. Sweet main dishes have never been a favorite. But this was delicious - delicately flavoured and not too sweet at all - and Tod loved it ,so it will be seen on our table again.

Bobotie
serves 4

1 large onion, thinly sliced
1 clove garlic, minced
1 Tbsp oil
1 whole dried chili
400 gr beef-pork mince
1 Tbsp curry powder
1 tsp turmeric
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp black pepper
1 slice bread, ripped into crumbs
1/2 lemon, juiced & zested
1 Tbsp chutney *
1 Tbsp raisins
1 Tbsp milk
1 egg, well beaten
1 bay leaf (or 1/4 tsp thyme)

Topping
1/2 c milk
1 egg
salt & pepper to taste

In a large frying pan, saute the onion, garlic and chili in oil until the onion turns translucent. Add in the meat and cook until lightly brown and crumbly. Remove from heat. Mix in the spices, lemon juice & zest, chutney, raisins, bread, milk & egg.

Pack into a greased, covered casserole and bake at 180C for 30 minutes. Remove from oven, carefully smooth the meat flat with a spoon to form an even base for the custard.

Whip together milk, egg, salt & pepper to taste. Pour over meat and return to oven, uncovered, for 20 minutes or until the custard is golden brown.

Serve with yellow rice and a salad.

* Variation: instead of chutney, try a mix of 1/2 grated apple, 2 minced dried apricots, and 1 tsp sliced almonds.

Another Week in Matsudai

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Here I am blogging from the Matsudai dormitory where I'm spending the week helping Hanako with a mix of video editing and minding the Hotta Rakashi Memorial Museum.

Once again I am stunned by the generousity and friendliness of the townsfolk who have taken Hanako under their wings. We have been well fed from garden produce, given handmade treats, and chatted up every time we walk out the door. There have been offers of beds, invitations to meals and events, and photographs taken at every turn.

The town has transformed since the first time I came up here. It's busy all day. Nobutai is mobbed with people in the gift shop, participating in workshops and watching performances. There are scores of people visiting the village with "stamp rally" booklets in hand, collecting stamps at every place they stop to see the art. The shotengai (shopping street) is an art gallery itself with big and small exhibits up and down the street.

Speaking of which, I must return to mine and greet the visitors with a cheey "Irasshaimase!"

Will be back in Tokyo on Monday with stories to share.

Lawson Ticket

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Finally, finally, I've conquered the Lawson Ticket system. The trick is to say way far away from the complicated and confusing web page and to go use one of the "Loppi" machines in the convenience store itself.

Loppi does a lot of stuff - dispenses event tickets, tops up phone cards, even makes out cash loans. All I really cared about today was getting tickets to Earth Celebration and Kinseees.

At the machine, you can enter the L-code if you know it and jump directly to the ticket purchase, or if you don't know the code, you can search for the artist's name or the date of the event. You can pay with a variety of Lawson-based credit cards, or type in your name and phone number and receive a slip that you take to the register and pay. The cashier trades your cash for computer printed tickets and you are done.

I know I'm probably the last person in Japan to have figured this out, but I'm glad I did. It's been one of those niggling "I know I can do this, but argh!" hurdles for a long time.

Bad Picnic

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Last night, Tod proposed that we make a picnic lunch and enjoy an afternoon in the park today. Great idea!

I got up early and baked some treats, made sandwiches and an variety of things to nibble on. Tod ran out to the supermarket for a bottle of wine - an exceptionally good 1997 St Emilion Chateau de Lussac. We packed everything up and headed out of the house at 1.

At 1:03, a raindrop smacked Tod in the forehead. We returned to the house for umbrellas. By the time we got to the park at 1:45, the rain had stopped and started and stopped again, but the sky was dark and we heard the rumble of thunder. We found a pavilion marked on the map and beelined there. Within ten minutes, the deluge began.

The shelter kept us dry, but we hadn't counted on the mosquitoes. I smote a dozen or more, smacked at fifty and was bitten by...I'm afraid to count. But the food and wine were delicious and the company was entertaining, so it wasn't as bad as it might have been.

After the rain let up and we'd finished our wine, we visited the Science Museum. It's just the kind of place I love - lots of interactive, hands-on exhibits. And surprsingly little language on most of the displays. You have to figure things out on your own just like a scientist. I laughed and giggled and took my turn with the kids until closing time.

Spiced Pumpkin

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recipe thursdayThis week I've discovered South African foods and flavours thanks to some very tasty boerewors sausage from The Meat Guy, a specialty meat purveyor in Nagoya. I was trying to figure out what to serve with our corriander-clove spiced sausages, and started reading South African recipes and cuisine information. There are lots of sweet potato, corn and bean dishes in various combinations, so I decided to improvise with a Japanese pumpkin (kabocha). This was truly delicious, with a subtle hint of cinnamon that made the dish almost sweet.

Spiced Pumpkin
serves 2-4

1/4 kabocha (Japanese pumpkin)
dash cinnamon
dash white pepper
dash onion powder
water

Cut the pumpkin into large chunks. Put chunks in a saucepan and just cover with cold water. Sprinkle in the spices. Boil until soft. Remove the pumpkin from the water, reserving the water. Rice or mash the pumpkin and mix in a little bit of the cooking liquid to adjust consistency.

40th Birthday Ring

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18k white and yellow gold, black opal, and diamond

I have been trying to get a decent photograph of this ring for a months but I give up for now. It doesn't want to be photographed in focus, so you'll have to look at it slightly burred.

This was presented to me by Tod as a gift on my 40th birthday. We worked with my jewelry designer friend Mami Katsuki and discussed the possibilites during a long rambling conversation over lunch. She took the napkin we'd all sketched on, along with the stones I bought at a jewelry fair, and created this from my ideas of orbits and connections.

I'm so pleased with it that I'm a little bit afraid to wear my precious bauble. But in the spirit of not "saving" good things, I will try to wear it frequently until it is just a comfortable part of my wardrobe.

My new chair

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Cross legged

I sit at my desk nearly all day long but I don't want to be completely sedentary, so I'm experimenting with a balance ball as a desk chair. 4,567 bounces into my first day "on the ball", I am enjoying the novelty.

As you can see in the photo, I've figured out how to sit on it cross legged. Although I haven't mastered it yet, I can type from this position. MJ says this is "a one way street to a bump on the head," but I think it's more likely a fast train to backache.

Still, a backache is better than an expanding bottom.

How Long a Walk?

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Mapion, my favorite online Japanese map program, launched a nifty new tool called Kyorisoku. It lets you draw out your route, then calculates all sorts of handy info about time, distance and calories.

kyorisoku-distance.png
Kyorisoku Distance Calculator (click for larger view)

I marked out the walk from my house to the boat launch at Ueno Koen. It is just over 3 km, and will take me 3569 steps (not even half of my daily 10,000). I can walk there in 33 minutes if I keep a brisk pace of 5.6 km. At my current weight and age, I will burn 166 calories on the way there.

If I care less about calories and more about the amount of beer, cookies or ramen I can consume as a result of my exercise, that's customisable, too.

kyorisoku-area.png
Kyorisoku Area Calculator (click for larger view)

In its other mode, which I think is somewhat less useful, you can calculate the area of anything you draw around. Not only does it give you the usual units like square meters and jo , but you'll see how many Tokyo Domes, sheets of A4 paper or tatami mats it is, as well.

Fun Fun Fun! All in all, I think this is a very handy addition to Mapion's other offerings. Way to go, Mapion.

Ten Things to Do in DTW

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Having recently spent a total of 8 hours over thrree days at the Detroit airport, I'm pleased to bring you this list of things to do during your next transit on Northwest Airlines.

  1. Watch the acrobatic fountain in the center of concourse A (McNamara Terminal).
  2. Watch the indoor shuttle train run the length of concourse A.
  3. Walk a full circuit of concourse A .
  4. Enjoy the son et lumiere in the tunnel between concourse A and the B/C gates.
  5. Eat a chili dog or any of the all-American foods on offer.
  6. Stare at the really hugely fat people eating ice cream and extra large portions of fried food.
  7. Tap into a power outlet on the support columns and charge your laptop.
  8. Get frustrated by the spotty Wifi access you just paid for.
  9. Browse the magazines and books.
  10. Buy a snacksfor the plane, since NWA doesn't supply them for free on short flights.

At the Library

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creative perspectivesI took some of my own advice today. I changed locations to focus on my creative work. I walked over to the local library, and amidst some curious looks from the librarians and child patrons, plopped myself at the reference table and spent several quiet and productive hours poring over books and maps.

I am positive that if I'd tried to do the same amount of work at my office desk with its myriad distractions (all bundled into one tidy computer), I would have failed. But now I have a sense of having progressed on my latest idea, even though it is still in the early stages of planning and deciding. I'm excited about it and hope that in the coming weeks I'll be able to tell you more about what I hope to be doing over the winter months.

Smoked Salmon Cream Sauce

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recipe thursday This is another one of those quick sauces you can make while the water boils and the pasta cooks. I served this last night over gnocchi but it would be good over just about any shape of noodle.

Smoked Salmon Cream Sauce
serves 2

120 grams smoked salmon, cut into bite sized pieces
5-6 white button mushrooms
2 tsp capers
2 Tblsp butter
1 Tblsp flour
1-2 cups whole milk
black pepper to taste

Slice the mushrooms and saute in 1 Tbsp butter. Remove from pan and set aside. IN the same pan, melt the remaining butter, add flour and allow to cook until the roux is light brown. Very slowly and steadily add in about 1 cup of milk, stirring briskly to prevent lumps. When your sauce is acceptably smooth, return the mushrooms and any mushroom liquid to the pan of cream sauce and add the capers. Allow the sauce to simmer gently, thickening while the pasta cooks. Add more milk as needed. At the very end, stir in the salmon and adjust the sauce with a little milk to your preferred consistency. Season generously with black pepper.

The McQuillin Clan

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The McQuillin Clan

This is the first time since 1993 that Tod's family has gathered together. Some of the cousins were little kids last time I saw them. It was fulfilling to catch up with everyone and get reacquainted a little bit, all in the span of 30 hours. Concentrated family time.

In case you wonder who is who (and so I won't forget before the next family get-together), here's the rundown. Seated: Uncle John, Aunt Sandy, Ben Lambert, cousin Brian. standing: cousin Thea, step-mother Nancy, Pete/Dad, Uncle Roger, Jean/Mom, Uncle Luke, Aunt Carol, Tod, me, cousin Megan, Aunt Denise, cousin Beta. absent: sister Maureen, cousin Ben, nephew Seth, & cousin Chris.

Hanashi Station, season 2

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Hanashi Station started its second season today with a special podcast I did with some of the artists and participants at the Echigo Tsumari Art Triennial in Matsudai.

The show is 13 minutes long and features interviews with artists Hanako Murakami & Emi Suzuki, a chat with Andrea Kleist from the City of Melboune public art program, and lots of interesting atmospheric sounds from the town and villagers.

You can see the show notes for additional details,
or download the MP3. Hanashi Station is also one of the podcasts in Collectik, so go ahead and add it to your playlist there.

My next show for Hanashi Station will be in the Japanese Kitchen series.

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