2006 summed up in exactly 25 words.
Forty was a pleasure/pain year - a roiling emotional sea. Heartbreaking anguish half drowned me but also un-dammed a flood of patterns, photography and creativity.
2006 summed up in exactly 25 words.
Forty was a pleasure/pain year - a roiling emotional sea. Heartbreaking anguish half drowned me but also un-dammed a flood of patterns, photography and creativity.
Today we're traveling to Hokkaido for a New Year ski holiday, which is silly because neither Tod nor I ski much. Last time I hit the slopes (quite literally, several times) was 1998 and I lasted half a day. Tod's not skied in the entire eighteen years I've known him.
So this should be interesting. The area is renown for its superb powder skiing but I think we'll mainly be cooking for the snow-bunny friends we're accompanying, and soaking in hot onsen baths. The town is also famous for attracting many Australians, so I'm sure we'll have a good time regardless of our activities.
P.S. I'd be very grateful if you would chant "no broken limbs" once a day through Jan 3rd, please.
It's time to review the year's creative projects. I don't think 2006 has been very kind to me. I feel as though it was a year of failures and false starts, but when I look back on everything I've done, I am truly surprised at all I accomplished.
So your last Creative Perspective for 2006 is to get a perspective on what you've done. List out on paper (or in the comments, if you like) every creative thing you remember doing this year: poems written, sweaters knitted, songs remixed, landscapes painted, costumes sewn, pinecones crafted, recipes invented. Then give yourself a good pat on the back for a year well spent!
I do not mean to toot my own horn, but I want to be able to refer to this list when I'm feeling blah and boring and uninspired. So here is
Kristen's Creative Accomplishments 2006
Patterns drafted: Tasty the lobster, dead wolf prop, mock wrap skirt, festive skirt, tetrapockets, metal bird masks, Indian lanterns, 5-minute t-shirt jacket. Recipes invented: 22 originals presented on Recipe Thursdays; dozens more unpublished. Videos edited: UltraBob wedding videos (including Japanese Wedding Wranglers), Hello Tokyo 2006, Hotta Rakashi Museum loop, KC's wedding greeting, Collectik screencasts. Recordings made: 13 chapters read for LibriVox, 2 shows for Hanashi Station; Matsuri in Matsudai; Sado Fringe Drumming. Stuff drawn: countless maps; dot painting; South Stradbroke Island; Tower of London; Jama Masjid (Delhi); untold random scribbles and paintings. Items sewn, knitted, & crafted: 4 pairs of pants; 3 skirts, 1 hat, 1 table mat, 1 pillow cover, keitai cover, several necklaces. People encapuslated in 40 words: 273 and counting... Collaborations enjoyed: Scott de Vacherie; Hotta Rakashi Memorial Museum; Futari.
This is the base of the meat sauce at Amoroso - a mixture of meat, wine and tomatoes. Maeda-san adds rosemary to the sauce to reduce the scent of the meat - nutmeg would also work, but nutmeg doesn't pair well with wine.
Maeda-san makes a huge batch and freezes it. He finishes it by adding extra ingredients if he feels it needs something special to match his menu. The original recipe calls for 2kg of beef and filled a huge saucepan. Since I don't have a pot that big, I've cut it to a more manageable size.
100 g onion
100 g carrot
100 g celery
1/4 tsp fresh rosemary
1/2 tsp salt
500 g ground beef
1/2 bottle (or so) red wine
1 can (250 g) whole tomatoes and water to rinse can
Mince the onion, carrot and celery. Cook over medium-low heat until onions are translucent (about 20 minutes). Add ground beef, increasing heat slightly to brown beef. Season with salt and rosemary. Pour in enough red wine to cover the meat mixture completely. Simmer slowly until the wine is reduced and the meat is no longer covered (it will look dry on top, but will be wet if you stir it). Crush the tomatoes and add to the meat. Simmer on low for two hours.
This is the base sauce which can be frozen.
To finish: Heat a ladle of sauce in a skillet. Add a big lump of butter (maybe 2 Tbsp) and cook until the sauce looks creamy. Toss in your cooked pasta. Salt to taste. Remove from heat and stir in a handful of grated Parmesan cheese.
The master at work
We spent yesterday afternoon with Maeda-san in the kitchen at Amoroso learning some of his cooking techniques. We racked up a lot of procedural knowledge in a few short hours and I jotted down five recipes as we went. By 6 pm we were pretty well impressed with what we'd learned and we got out of chef's way so he could finish up before guests arrived.
At 7 pm, we returned to enjoy the fruits (and veggies) of our labor: oven baked fish that we'd gutted and filleted ourselves; lamb chops we trimmed and bathed in boiling oil and for which we'd prepared a balsamico sauce base; red pepper mousse that started with thoroughly charring the peppers; chicken smoked on the stove top under a crusty well-carbonised bowl; bolognese sauce completely scratch-made...we cooked lots that afternoon.
But watching Maeda-san behind the counter finishing, plating, refilling glasses, washing dishes, and chatting with customers, I realised that despite all we'd contributed to the evening's repast, it was only a fraction of what went into our meals. Everything we'd cooked, he completed.
The bolognese was heated with a lump of butter, some shredded gobo and a handful of Parmesan (and Maeda-san's own hand made pasta tubes). The fish came out of the oven to be drizzled with oil, sprinkled with pepper and plated with a lemon. Our lamb was reheated, carved into parts and plated with creamy potatoes and spears of grilled asparagus before being topped with the balsamico sauce that chef brought to perfect consistency with a bit of butter.
He also served to us (and nine other guests) a magnificent fish soup, ravioli with vongole and vegetables, oxtail stew, and a luscious ice cream and fresh chocolate dessert. We waddled away from the table.
I have great respect for this man and look forward to another afternoon in his kitchen in the coming months.
Merry Christmas! I wrote and directed this skit for my elementary school Christmas program in 1977. I was in the sixth grade. Ah, juvenalia!
"Too Tired" by Kristen Hill
Time: night before Christmas
Opening: Santa is sitting near table. Mrs. Claus is cooking.
Santa: (yawning) A-h-h- I think I'll take a nap.
Mrs. Claus: For goodness sake, you know you ought to be getting ready for your trip.
Santa: I'm not going.
Mrs. Claus: (gasping) And disappoint all the little children?
Santa: I'm just so, so fed up with all this going down 30 million chimneys and getting my beautiful red suit all dirty. Lugging that dumb sack is getting to my arthritis. Nowadays, nobody believes in me anyway. Those that do give me a rotten glass of warm milk and a couple of soggy cookies. Anyway, I'm too tired.
Mrs. Claus: No, a bicycle is two tired.
Santa: Very funnny.
Mrs. Claus: Please, go or the children will be very unhappy.
Santa: I'm very sorry, but it's ruining my image. Every time you see a picture of me, I'm all sooty. I'm not really like that. I'll show them. I'm not going.
Mrs. Claus: Please!
Santa: No! That's final!
Mrs. Claus: Well, if you're not going, at least go out and get some fresh air.
Santa: Oh, all right.
Time: 15 minutes later
Opening: elves bustling around, putting gifts in sleigh, etc.
Elf 1: Santa? Aren't you a little late? You should have been here three hours ago.
Santa: Yes, I know. I'm not going.
Elf 2: Hey everybody. Santa's not going on his trip this year.
All: Hey, oh no (ad lib) !!!
Elf 3: Why aren't you going, Santa?
Santa: Oh, I'm fed up with warm milk and all that other junk.
Elf 4: Santa, why dont' you go talk to Rudolph?
Santa: Oh, no!
Santa: Oh, O.K. (walks over to Rudolph) O.K. kid, shoot.
Rudolph: Santa, do you remember what happened the year you were late?
Rudolph: Big S, I know you remember. You just don't want to. Anyway, I'll help you. Now think back.
(Children come on stage in pajamas, being comforted by parents.)
Child 1: But, Mommy, we were good.
Mother: Yes, dear. You and your brothers were very good.
Child 2: Then why didn't we get any toys?
Child 3: Do you think Santa forgot us?
Father: Now, now children. You know Santa is a good man. Maybe he's just a little late.
Children: (sob) (Exit)
Rudolph: Remember now, Santa?
Santa: (looking sheepish): Yes, and I remember you cried so hard it burst the bulb in your nose.
Rudolph: Oh, don't even talk about that. It hurts just thinking about it.
Santa: O.K. I won't.
Rudolph: You still don't remember the worst part.
Santa: What was the worst?
Rudolph: When they started to take down the Christmas trees and other decorations (take down some decorations in auditorium) They started to forget about Christmas.
(Santa faints. Elves try to revive him)
Santa : That was awful.
Rudolph: Do you want that to happen again?
Santa: No! No!
Elf 5: Does that mean you're going?
Santa: Yep. Sure does. OK, elves, get my sleigh ready.
All: It already is. Everything's ready.
Santa: Well, what are we waiting for? Let's go!
(All gather round sleigh and sing "Here Comes Santa Claus")
For the 1964 Olympics, Tokyo reinvented itself to accommodate the needs of a world-class sporting event. The Shinkansen was completed before the opening ceremony; a network of elevated highways sprung up over Tokyo's rivers; a neighborhood was razed to build a stadium and park. The Tokyo we know today was shaped by the needs of the Olympics.
And Tokyo is redesigning itself again, partly in anticipation of hosting the 2016 Olympics (the location will be decided in October 2009, but the city is hopeful) and partly to fill the needs of this still-growing city.
On the 22nd, the Tokyo government unveiled its 10 year plan for Tokyo. It's a huge and detailed document in Japanese, well worth perusing. Here's my brief summary in English:
The other day I was listening to an interview with an author on NPR when a call-in comment made me stop and think. This caller, John from Chicago, explained the powerful creative tool he learned from doing improv comedy.
Whoa. Two words that affirm and springboard to more ideas. How simple. I can see that these two words will create a spark in my creative projects - and in my business and personal life, too.
Let's all say it together (good and loud now):
Curried Salmon Spread would look even tastier with grapes.
I wanted to celebrate the solstice with a spread of tapas, so I went to the store and bought a bunch of unrelated ingredients, then came home to turn them into little dishes to top toast points. Here's one that made me shout "Wow!" to myself as I tasted it. Like everything I make, it's super simple.
Curried Salmon Spread
makes 1 1/2 cups
1/2 onion, minced fine
1 clove garlic, minced fine
1 can (about a cup) salmon, picked clean of bones
1/2 cup walnuts, minced fine
1/4 tsp curry powder
2 Tbsp mayonnaise
Saute the onion and garlic in olive oil until they are brown. Mix in the salmon and walnuts. Sprinkle the curry powder over everything, then stir in the mayonnaise. Serve warm or chilled. If you have grapes, they'd make the perfect addition on the side or mixed in.
That's more like me.
In Matsudai this summer, I bought this full-coverage Japanese apron just because I thought it was funny and cute. But the more I wore it in my kitchen, the more I realised it didn't quite fit. I felt like I was wearing an apron taken at random from a hook in another woman's kitchen. So tonight I got out my needle and thread and fixed it.
It fits better now.
My good friends Bob & Tomoko held their wedding ceremony at a reception hall on the Kanagawa coast earlier this month. I taped the ceremony and party and have been editing together a couple of highlight reels for the happy couple.
Throughout the celebration, several staff members - I've started calling them the Japanese Wedding Wranglers - kept things on track by guiding the bride and groom through the space, handling props and timings, setting up microphones and doing all the background tasks you would expect - though perhaps to an extreme not usually seen in the US.
Here's a short film highlighting all the work they did that day.
I have always been proud to say, "There are no beggars in Tokyo." But two incidents in the past month have made me a liar.
The first took place at Shibuya station a couple of weekends ago. Tod was buying a ticket for the Hanzomon line. When I looked to see if he was done, there was a balding man dressed in grey pants and a blue jacket talking to him. He looked like a do-gooder trying to help a confused tourist with the machine. I saw him talking to a different foreigner as we went thought the wickets a few minutes later. When I asked Tod about their conversation, he said the guy asked him for 500 yen. In English.
The second incident was also at Shibuya. As we passed along the street from the Hachiko side to the Toyoko side of the station last night, a filthy, dreadlocked rag-man got a bright look in his eyes and shambled in our direction. I watched in my peripheral vision as he walked along with us for a couple of steps, face angled toward us in a hopeful way, before he gave up and stopped. He didn't try this with any of the gazillion Japanese also walking along that way.
So it seems that foreigners are being targeted by panhandlers in Shibuya. Has this happened to you? What did you do?
Looking for shoes that fit your "big" feet in Tokyo? Over the years I've amassed a collection of shops that carry women's shoes in sizes 25 and above.
Shoes Ten: Long wearing standards and basics. Sizes 25-27. Moderate to high prices. Shinjuku; Shinjuku 7-8-13 (1F).
Washington: Basic, elegant and classic styles in shoes and boots. Sizes 25-26. Average to high prices. Ginza; Ginza 6-9-4 (6F). 03 3572-4985
Queen's Himiko : Fashionable, colorful shoes for casual, party, "recruit" and boots. too. Sizes 24.5-27. Average to high prices. Shinjuku; Keio Mall (B1F), 03 5324-7266
Kotuca: Designer and top brand shoes to buy in-store or online. Sizes 24.5 - 27. Above average prices. Omotesando; 3rd floor Harajuku Belpia (down the street from Fujimamas). 03-3406-8863
Nissen: Mail order shoes in a range of styles. Sizes to 27 and EEEE. Inexpensive. Online or catalog only.
Marui Model: A better selection than their horrid large size clothes. Sizes 24.5 - 26. Average prices. Shinjuku, Ueno, Ikebukuro, etc.
There are other shops, too, which carry selections mixed in with smaller sizes including many of the major department stores (particularly in the designer brands) and the "family" department stores like Ito Yokado. Zara has shoes up to 25.5 sometimes. There are small boutiques and shops tucked away here and there all over town that have larger sizes. If you find one you love, write me and I'll include it on the list.
Maeda-san presides over his five fork restaurant
Last night we had the good fortune to get a last minute seating (hooray for cancellations!) at Ristorante Amoroso, a swank, Italian restaurant around the corner from Kagurazaka. We've been told "It's the best meal you'll eat this week/this year/ever" but such praise seemed overblown.
But it was the best meal I've eaten all year - probably the best meal I've ever enjoyed in Tokyo. Here was our menu - all chef's choice, made fresh in front of us by Maeda-sensei with a fair bit of tasting, frowning and adjusting as he went.
Serrano ham and dried persimmon
Kyoto carrot mousse with sea salt and olive oil
Hand smoked chicken, and liver pate
Stewed tripe with tomato
Cream of seafood soup seasoned with ginger
Homemade tagliatelle with tomato, crab and anise
Pan seared Iberico pork with porcini, mashed potatoes and turnip
Chocolate-rosemary mousse topped with salt and olive oil
Each course was more stunning than the last. Maeda-san has a true talent for marrying contrasting textures and flavors into a dining experience.
He's a sommelier, too. He paired all the dishes with exactly the right wines - a simple champagne with the starters followed by a raisin-y Valpolicella, a glass of white for the soup, another completely different red, and a French version of grappa. No wonder my head is feeling quite a bit precious today.
Bite-sized nuggets of fruity goodness
Here's a cookie recipe to use up all the leftover dried fruits and nuts from your other holiday recipes. I included shredded apple and cream cheese to give the cookies a moist and dense texture. I left the choice of spices and flavouring up to you and what's in your pantry.
The cookies pictured include walnuts, raisins, dates and figs because that's what I had in the cupboard. I mixed cinnamon and cloves for my spicing, and for the flavouring, I used one tablespoon each of freshly squeezed mandarin juice and a sweet-spicy digestif called Managlore.
makes 4-5 dozen
1/2 cup chopped nuts
1/2 cup dried fruit, chopped
1/2 cup shredded apple
2 Tbsp flavouring (juice, liqueur, etc)
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup cream cheese
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 tsp spice (cinnamon, cloves, etc)
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
2 cups flour
(optional) glace cherries
Cream the butter and cream cheese. Stir in the sugar. Add the eggs and mix until smooth. Stir in the "flavouring liquid" and vanilla. Mix in the apple. Add the spices, baking powder and salt, mixing thoroughly. Stir in half of the flour, then all of the nuts and dried fruits. Add the remaining flour to form a soft slightly sticky dough. Be careful not to overmix the flour, or you you will have baked cookie-rocks.
Drop by rounded teaspoons onto a baking sheet. Top with bits of glace fruits, if desired. Bake at 180/350 for 10 minutes.
Beginning to blur at the edges
For more than a week now, I've been sitting at my desk to the accompaniment of a faint, persistent beep. It's about 60 bpm though its rhythm is slightly irregular; sometimes it seems to skip a beat or double up.
I have wandered around the apartment listening carefully and the only place I can really hear it is at my desk. It's not coming from outside. I've checked all the closets and rooms for a mysterious beeping device and found nothing. I stuck my ear up close to all the computers and peripherals and there's no noise but fan whirs. This lack of source brought me to my recent theory that the old lady next door is on life support.
But that theory was shot down when, in the spirit of thorough investigation, I turned off my computer. The beeping stopped. I turned it back on. After a moment, I heard beeping again. Argh. What can cause a computer to beep at a relatively steady and extraordinarily annoying pace like this?
I'd better take a backup now.
I did go for a walk today to shake off the Sunday blah. I ended up taking a good long hike through central Tokyo that racked up 14,000 steps and 12 km according to my manpokei.
Winter gardening in Tokyo
While I was out and about, I stopped to watch a crew pruning trees near Tokyo station. Two guys in the trees sawed off leafy branches, leaving tree silhouettes in their wake.
And on Hongo Dori I saw a plum tree blooming. It must sit in a micro-climate that gets just the right dose of sun and warmth because I've seen this particular tree bloom out of season before. Sure is arresting to see the pale petals fall on top of the bright yellow ginko leaves that litter the sidewalk just there.
I have disliked Sundays since I was a kid. The cold shadow of undone homework hung over the day's activities. Now that I'm an adult there's still a bleak feeling about the pursuit of leisure on a Sunday.
Today I rattled around the house. I cleaned a couple of cabinets, knit a few rows on my latest project, read for a while, reheated leftovers, made an Indian Party Lamp, and designed our nengajou. Tod tinkered with the stereo and is deep in the music database, deleting duplicates and tidying tags.
Maybe it's the sedentary aspect of Sunday that gets to me. I should go for a walk to stir my brackish blood, but there's oden stewing and a movie waiting to be watched. I guess I'll walk tomorrow.
Last night a large party of us were playing Catch Phrase, a game where you must beat the clock to describe a word or phrase without using the word itself. It's a fun game - for Americans. For non-native speakers, it's a little bit frustrating because it's full of American cultural references. Honestly, "tailgate party" is not a phrase you'll hear in the rest of the world. Our Australian friend (who shall remain nameless to protect the innocent) got stuck with that one. Here's what emerged:
"Someone is following me. I'm in a car and he's really close. He's following me. [pause] Someone is following close behind my car but it's ok...we're having fun. It's a good time!"
None of us guessed what it was, but when the answer was revealed we laughed hard and long. Tailgate party - of course! Such a creative explanation. Yay!
In another game I'm playing 40x365, I wrote today about someone whom I had almost entirely forgotten, but whose influence has certainly carried over into my adult life. I can so clearly remember Mary Alice's design studio - I loved examining all the stuff she had pinned up to her idea board, and the rows of yarn in all the colors and textures available to her. It was bright in her space and always interesting. Mary Alice herself was unflaggingly cheerful and enthusiastic, which I girlishly assumed was the result of getting to spend time in such a great room. Even now, I try to keep my room bright and full of inspiring things.
Whole Carrot Soup from "My Precious"
I can imagine this soup being served in a rural Japanese restaurant that was trying hard to serve posh Western dishes. It may be the strangest recipe I've come across this year. It's from a food gift catalog, opposite the page selling carrots and sesame oil.
Whole Carrot Soup
1 packet consommé (bullion)
700 cc water
dash black pepper
dash sesame oil
Peel the carrot. Add to a pot with the water and consommé. Simmer over medium heat until done. Season with salt and pepper. Sprinkle sesame oil over each serving.
This long A-line skirt has a tulle-edged slip peeking out from the bottom, soft wide waistband, and back sash/bow detail. It sews up in under three hours. Perfect for a last minute holiday outfit! There will even be scraps enough to make a matching bag.
3 meters cotton or lightweight wool fabric
2 meters lining fabric for slip
2 meters tulle for slip
30 cm zipper
1/2 inch waistband elastic
A: Waist - at natural waistline
B: Hips - at fullest point
C: Waist to Hips
D: Waist to Ankle
E: Stride - take a comfortable step in your party shoes and measure front toe to back heel
Click for larger image, or download a printable PDF
Sew the Skirt
Sew the Slip
Just after the wedding both UltraBob and Tomoko caught colds so UltraMom and Heather were faced with a day stuck in the house or wandering Zushi on their own. That seemed rather dull to me, so I offered to show them a bit of Tokyo while the newlyweds rested.
At 14:06, I met them on the train platform at Tokyo station and we headed up to Asakusa to see the temple and do some souvenir shopping, followed by a stroll along the neon-drenched main drag of Ginza, then maybe a relaxing foot massage and dinner with Tod.
We never made it past the shopping!
The shops and stalls that line the street leading to Senso-ji are chockablock with gifts and foods. Standing at the big gate, you can barely see the temple in the distance, so highly decorated are the lane and the stalls. Everything is colorful and bright. There are crowds of people sauntering along, looking at samurai swords, key chains and rice crackers. We made it to the temple, sniffed the purifying smoke, got some mikuji, took pictures and then went back along the lane to shop.
I love visiting Asakusa, and it's been a long time since I have been there with newcomers. I did my best to balance storytelling and education with letting them explore and discover things on their own. And no trip is complete as a "tourguide" without learning something myself. One of the shopkeepers showed us how to tie an overflowing shopping bag's handles together to make it easier to carry.
We did meet Tod for dinner, but only after stowing all of the purchases in a train station locker! I didn't count exactly how many things they bought, but I know there were two huge shopping bags full, plus a plastic grocery bag stuffed with extras. Everyone on their gift list is getting something Japanese for Christmas, I bet.
Hope we'll have another chance to see some sights before they return to the US.