January 2008 Archives

Office into home

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For three of the past four nights I've napped on the floor under a desk in the editing suite. With deadlines tomorrow morning at 7 and later in the day, tonight promises to be another long one.

Since I never seem to leave, I'm slowly transforming the office space, which is a converted apartment, into a temporary home. I have my sleeping bag, camping mat and pajamas for after hours kips. I've scoped out the nearest sento so we can bathe from time to time. Rob & I ordered clothes from Uniqlo to be delivered later this week so we will have something clean to wear.

And today I bought a nabe to cook in. This crosses the line into "probably not ok with my boss" (as would clearing out the boxes in the bathroom to have a shower) but honestly, I cannot stomach another restaurant or delivery meal. Having a covered ceramic dish means I can bake casseroles in our oven or simmer soups and stews on the range. Tonight we're having kimchi nabe. Healthy food!

The shop where I bought the casserole dish is just around the corner from here on the forgotten stretch of Roppongi Dori where the highway blocks out the light. It's an old place chockablock with dusty kitchenware, vinyl slippers, and coils of rope, garnished with a scattered assortment of tools, bath supplies and other household necessities.

I was digging through the pots looking for one the right size when I heard a creaky voice calling from the corner, "Customer! Customer!" It wasn't directed at me, but about me. An extremely old woman bundled up in a purple wool shawl and quilted pants was sitting with her feet at an electric hearth calling her son to come attend me. He scampered over and helped me find the nabe and was impressed that I could cook Japanese food from scratch. I was shown off to Grandmother as a foreigner who could cook. She nodded at me and went back to her heater.

And I went back "home" looking forward to good food cooked from scratch.

All dressed up

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Tod & I showing off our pretty clothes.

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Yutaka and Misa, me and Tod, Chris and Lauren, Rachel, Tracey & Ashley

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Anna, me and Judy enjoying a toast to hard work.

These are some of Martine's photos from the Australia Day Gala Ball. You can see them all on her site, http://www.martinecotton.com/

Had a ball

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The Ball went off very well on Friday. In a ballroom transformed with gum and wattle into a starry outback night, 422 people dined and drank while three musical acts performed not including the Australian ambassador who led the anthem. Everyone seemed to be enjoying themselves, though I was running around doing errands for a good portion of the evening. It was still a good time because although our accounting isn't finalised, my back-of-the-envelope calculations indicate we raised a record amount for our charities.

Martine took photos of the evening and I will give you a pointer as soon as I have one. She even made sure to get a head-to-toe picture of me so I could show Mom my gown in full. My frock turned heads, got compliments from three strangers, and I was never without someone handsome at my side. It was a good choice.

The morning after the Ball, I came directly to work and have been here ever since. The floor is as surprisingly comfy as ever but as usual I wish we had some pots and pans in our kitchen. I think we'll see a break in the mad rush after Feb 15th, but until then I will be blogging from the editing suite during renders. Like now.

Copper pipes

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We own a house in Pittsburgh that we've been trying to sell for the last year or more. Last winter in a cold snap, the pipes burst and caused a lot of damage.

So we fixed everything with the coordination of Tod's father, Pete, then spruced the place up, fired the manager/realty agent who had let the pipes burst and got it an aggressive agent to sell the house. But with the subprime crisis, the house hasn't sold and has stood empty all year.

This morning I woke to find an e-mail from Pete telling me that someone had broken in and stolen all the copper pipes and wires in the basement. Great. More stuff to have repaired.

This makes me sad and angry. I love the house but I want it out of my life. I can see why absentee owners are considered a bad thing. I hope that I am soon not one.

Anyone want a charming 1930s bungalow?

IKEA

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Yesterday I went to IKEA to help buy table decorations for the Ball.

Although it's been more than a decade since I last shopped there (and that was in the US, not Japan), IKEA hasn't changed a bit. The strangely named products, the large displays in the meandering showroom leading to the easy impulse purchases of the Marketplace were as familiar as if it were 1991 and Tod & I were shopping for a kitchen table.

As Anna and I wove our way towards vases and dried foliage, I delivered a monologue to her 8 month old son. "Look how happy everyone here is. They are having the best time of their lives; forgetting their cares by buying bright shiny things made by people with worse lives than their own. Someday, you might grow up to be one of these happy people. Isn't that great?"

I made him giggle and I don't know how much Nicholas understood, but the lecture worked for me; I escaped with only a potted plant (for my office) and some cookies (for my lunch).

Required Japanese

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Foreign Minister Masahiko Komura is considering making Japanese ability a requirement for long-term gaijin. Of course the ministry haven't said what level of proficiency would be needed, who would be required to prove their language levels, or how and when any of this might be implemented.

With my still limited Japanese, this strikes a certain amount of terror in my heart.

But like all of Japan's rules and regulations, it will be approached with a certain amount of flexibility and "spirit of the law" that will be in the hands of each bureaucrat. So がんばりましょう!

Japan's unnatural resources

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Japan has a shocking amount of the world's precious and rare metals tied up in electronics, appliances and other consumer goods. Tokyo is an "urban mine."

A study by Komei Harada at the National Institute for Materials Science has uncovered that Japan has more gold than South Africa's reserves - 6,800 tons of gold, 16% of the world's reserves - and it's all in manufactured products that are likely to be discarded sooner or later.

It's not just gold. We have 22% of the world's natural reserves of silver, 8% of the world's copper reserves and a whopping 61% of indium, which is used for LCD displays. We've also got 5.6 million tons of lead, 38 million tons of copper and 1.2 billion tons of steel in small quantities scattered through out every household in the nation.

For example, according to an article in the Nikkei last week, "Each mobile phone handset contains 3-4 grams of copper, 0.1 gram of silver and 0.01 gram of gold, and with Japan now having 100 million cell phones in use..." Small bits here and there add up to a lot of useful materials.

How does one mine the metals after they are consumed? There are recycling programs for electronics here, but I don't know exactly what they extract. There's a 2005 report on the DTI Mission focused on electronics recycling in Japan, but it doesn't give many details.

It seems that there's a market for these metals, so it would be wasteful not to mine them. I want to do some digging and learn more..

The ridiculous price of costume jewelry

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I escaped my duties today to shop a few hours for a necklace to go with my gown for the Australia Day Gala Ball (tickets still available, but not for long!). Yuka accompanied me as my guiding star but even with her help, I am a very poor consumer.

After abandoning our first plan, we found a few options at one of the jewelry counters at Takashimaya in Shinjuku. I tried on at least six different necklaces, fell in love with one in purple and green (I *must* buy a green dress for the next event) and had good feelings about several black rhinestone pieces.

Until I turned over the price tags: 32,000 yen. 37,500 yen. 40,000 yen? This is glass. Pot metal. Plastic.

No way am I paying $400 for a piece of jewelry I'll wear only two or three times, no maker how nice it looks.

I must find the $50 -100 jewels. I know they have to be out there, somewhere.

Kristen's Crispy Bean Curd

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Chatting with an old Pittsburgh friend last week, we reminisced about "Tony's Crispy Bean Curd," one of our favorite tofu dishes at a local Chinese restaurant. It inspired me to make my own crispy bean curd that night. This one has a fruit-based sweet & sour sauce over deep-fried tofu.

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Kristen's Crispy Bean Curd
serves 2

1 block (200g) tofu (momen/firm/cotton style)
2 Tbsp cornstarch
oil for deep frying
1/2 cup orange juice (or juice of 3 mandarin oranges)
1 Tbsp onion paste (or 1 tsp minced ginger + 2 tsp minced garlic)
2 fresh red chili peppers, minced
2 Tbsp cornstarch
1/2 cup water
2 tsp salt
2 tsp sugar
1/3 cup vinegar
pomegranate seeds
minced green onion

Press the tofu under a weight for 20-30 minutes. Drain and pat dry. Cut the tofu into bite sized cubes. Set aside.

Saute the onion paste & chili in a little bit of oil. When lightly brown, add the juice. In a separate bowl, mix 2 Tbsp cornstarch with 1/2 cup of water. Add cornstarch mixture to pan and stir to thicken the sauce, adding more water to thin as it cooks. Season with vinegar, salt and sugar - adjust to taste. Remove from heat.

Lightly coat the tofu cubes in cornstarch and deep fry at 190-200 degrees until the tofu is light brown all over.

Pour sauce over tofu and top with pomegranate seeds and onions.

Time Dilation

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After a delicious 3 1/2 hour sleep, I rousted myself from the office floor to get back to the grind. Before I had blinked (but after I'd put on yesterday's clothes again and had a coffee), it was 11:45. I am not sure where the time went. We scarfed lunch from 2 - 2:15, then suddenly the 5:00 bells were ringing. The next 90 minutes were frantic as we hustled to get the edit finalised for the narration recording. Now it's 7:30 and I'm home but confused about whether it is morning or night.

Seep deprivation, coupled with focus on work, plays funny tricks with time. And maybe if it didn't, video editors wouldn't notice all the little details we see in the film we make. After a few days of intense work, Rob & I review our edits and see misaligned transitions, transparency problems, and all sorts of things that normal people really don't notice. I think if we had adequate sleep, we wouldn't see those nits.

I'm not sure if this is a good thing or not, but it is a little bit interesting.

Office Birthdays

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I celebrated last year's birthday by working all night, and enjoying a surprise cake and gift from Rob in one of our less frantic moments. Today, I am returning the favor. Rob's been so busy that until a friend reminded him, he didn't even remember it was his birthday.

Sometimes work takes over too much of our lives. Good thing we like our work.

7 Spring Herb Porridge with Crab

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Nanakusa, the seven spring herbs, are a traditional Japanese medicinal meal. On January 7th, people eat rice porridge flavored with the first bitter wild greens of spring. It's refreshing and delicious (plus it's supposed to strengthen the immune system and prevent colds) so I try to remember to do this. It is hard to miss, since all the grocery stores sell packages of nankusa around this time.

The herbs are mainly all weeds: purslane/shepherd's purse, chickweed, dropwort, nipplewort, cudweed, plus turnip (root and tops), and daikon (root and tops). They are the first things to peek out green in the early spring.

This year, I went a little bit upscale and added some crab and other seasonings. It turned out so well, I'd like to share the recipe (and to not forget it for next year). If you're outside Japan, the nankusa herbs may be difficult to find, but feel free to substitute whatever edible wild herbs grow at hand.

7 Spring Herb Porridge with Crab
serves 2-4

2 cups sprouted brown rice
7 cups water
1 small turnip, cubed
2" daikon, cubed (or 2-3 radishes)
1/4 carrot, minced
1 cup wild herbs, chopped fine
1 tsp yuzu kosho (citrus chili paste)
1 Tbsp soy sauce
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup crab (real or imitation)
1" ginger, shredded

Boil the rice (or use a pressure cooker) until it is soft. Add the turnip, daikon & carrot and simmer for 5-10 minutes, until the vegetables are soft. Remove from heat and stirr in the herbs and seasonings. Serve topped with crab and ginger.

Circles

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Last night we celebrated Mike Griffin's 50th birthday. We haven't seen him in several years, but our friendship was strong back when we were all new in Japan and it weathers long absences.

Also attending the party were mutual friends and acquaintances, but all known through different routes - Digital Eve, Lehman Brothers- the room was full of people I like but don't often see. It was fun to catch up and it reminded me that my social circle is much wider than I sometimes let it be.

And dinner at Jewel of India in Roppongi was very good. Happy birthday, Mike!

Handmade Mini Notebooks

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Tiny notebooks with dust jackets

I've been trying out some different types of bookbinding over the past few months. These tiny notebooks are among the simplest to make but I like them a lot. They are based on a maze book, aka meander book, which is cut and folded from a single sheet of paper. I added a cover from cardstock and little dust jackets for decoration.

I used Fence Poste's maze book tutorial to make my books, but glued the pages together to make them more manageable as notebooks. There's a more advanced tutorial for a meander book with pockets that looks like fun if you figure out the basics first.

3-Eared Knitted Hat

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3-earedhat.jpgI haven't learned to knit in the round yet, but I wanted to knit a hat so I devised one made of three rectangles sewn together. It turned out well and friends have asked me to make more.

It's simple, using only 2x2 rib stitch, moss stitch and a simple increase (or decrease) so I thought I'd write up the knitting pattern and share it.

I'm sure this first attempt at a knitting pattern is going to be pretty awful. Feel free to suggest corrections and improvements. For example, this pattern has no real gauge, but my finished hat is 13 stitches, 22 rows in a 4" swatch. I knit loosely.

Kristen's 3-Eared Hat

Materials
#10 needles, 22 cm
1 ball (50 g/~100m) DK or worsted yarn
yarn needle

Procedure
Cast on 26 stitches*, leaving a 20cm tail.
Row 1-8: k2 p2 to end
Row 9: k1 p1 (repeat for12 stitches), k2tog, p1,k1 to end
Row 10-37 (?): k1, p1 to end

3-earedhat-top.jpgYou will need to measure your head to decide where to stop. I did this by holding the rectangle to my head and when it reached from just above my brow to the crown of my head, I cast off.

Repeat to make 3 rectangles.

Finishing
Mark the top center point of each rectangle. Using the long tails, stitch the pieces together to form a tube. Bring the marked center points together in the middle and sew the top closed, forming a Y (see photo). If you have extra yarn and want a super-cute hat, sew tassels or pompoms to the points.

* For a hat with tighter ribbing, cast on 24 stitches, do the ribbing rows, then increase (make one) instead of k2tog on Row 9.

Khadai Curry

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This is a basic stir-fried curry that I learned from Shakti's Indian Spice Box cooking school in Udaipur when we went to India in 2006. I included it in Almost Vegan, so you may already have see this one, but I fear losing the photocopied recipe I got from Shakti, so here it is again!

Home-style Indian food is not as heavy as the ghee-rich dishes you get in restaurants. This curry is flavorful and light. Although it may seem complicated because it is prepared in several steps, each step builds on the next one, and can be set aside or varied along the way. I can whip up this curry while the rice cooks and it's always good, no matter what I decide to throw into it.

I specify tofu or cauliflower in this recipe, but you can use paneer, potato, eggplant or any other vegetable (or meat) that you like. If you're using chicken or meat, parboil it first or it won't cook through.

Khadai Curry
serves 1-2

Onion Paste
1 onion
2 cloves garlic
2” fresh ginger

Blend in processor with a bit of water. Keeps in fridge for a week. Can be used in all sorts of dishes.

Basic Curry Mix
2 Tbsp oil
1 onion, thinly sliced
5 black peppercorns
2 cloves
1 whole cardamom
2” cinnamon stick
½ tsp brown cumin seeds
1 Tbsp ground coriander
½ tsp turmeric
½ tsp chili powder
2 Tbsp onion paste (above)
¼ cup water
salt to taste

Heat oil in pan and add onion slices. When onions begin to brown, add the whole spices. When onions are caramelized, add the powdered spices, onion paste and ¼ cup of water. Simmer on low heat for 3-4 minutes until the mixture thickens; the oil will separate and float on top of the mixture. This is basic curry mix and can be used as a base for many curry dishes.

Curry
2 small tomatoes, crushed
2 small green peppers, in bite-sized pieces
1 small onion, quartered
100 gr tofu or cauliflower, in bite-sized pieces
dash garam masala

To the basic curry, add the crushed tomatoes and cook until the mixture thickens and the oil floats to the top. (This is a basic tomato-based curry). Add green peppers and onions (and cauliflower, if using it) and cook for two or three minutes. Add tofu and cook for one minute, mixing well.

Remove from heat and serve with a sprinkle of garam masala.

Welcoming myself back

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"Hi, Kristen. Nice to see you here again."

With that warm welcome from myself, I return to a life of regular weblog updates.

I've fallen out of the habit of sitting down and writing about my life and surroundings. I've still observed the world around me, but only long enough to upload a keitai snap to my Flickr account. This year, I will make time to reflect more thoroughly, or at least to dash off a quick missive every day.

Although it is a New Year's Resolution of a sort, I hope to keep this one without too much trouble.

Happy 2008

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Best wishes for a prosperous and interesting year.

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