November 2008 Archives

The Wedding

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Some wedding highlights

What a clever and wonderful wedding Jenn & Dan planned. Both poets, they chose the reading room at the Osterhout Free Library as their venue and all the materials had a bookish and library theme.

They processed from the fiction stacks to the mystery section located at the front of the room between two leaded glass windows. The guests sat at lamplit tables.

Their friend Jim, who is not only a poet but also a minister, officiated the very brief ceremony. They exchanged rings and read their own vows which were funny (I am marrying you because you like my meatloaf) and touching (I am marrying you because I've been able to make you laugh every single day I've known you. Usually before noon.).

Then we adjourned to a charming restaurant for dinner, dancing and an entire Methuselah of champagne. Our places were set with books instead of namecards. It was a puzzle and an icebreaker to find your seat. I was Michael Pollan's The Botany of Desire; Tod's book was a collection of short stories. Each book had a library card inside with the name of the recipient, so if you weren't sure, you could check.

The evening ended too soon, but not before many laughs, great conversations, a broken glass, spilled drinks and a very drunken Reverend Blackout. There are some photos and videos on my Flickr: Jenn & Dan's Wedding

Three Little Boxes

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Everything we accumulated over the first thirty years of our lives has been reduced to 3 small boxes containing photos, a few books, two childhood toys, my wedding dress, some jewelry, artworks, and writings. All of the furniture and other household goods we stored when we left America have been given away. Soon these boxes will join us in Tokyo with all of our current possessions. One integrated household is on the horizon.

The "move" from storage went smoother than expected, because the moving guys (one of whom had moved us 9 years ago) saved us the hassle of taking the things to Goodwill ourselves. They have their own donation system and were happy to keep the things we didn't want. So I stood in the truck and pointed at furniture. King sized box spring and mattress - you can have it. Desk, bar stools, dining table, chairs, cabinet, armchair, ottoman, bookshelves, shopvac - take them. Most of the big things didn't even have to come off the truck.

We managed to sort through the dozen or so boxes pretty quickly and packed our photos and bits up into new boxes for shipping. Everything we didn't want, we took to Goodwill with Tod's mom driving the truck that the self-storage place loaned us for the afternoon. Tod's cousin, Goldie, lent a hand, too, running errands and hauling trash to the dumpster under surveillance. People were so kind to us. Moving day would have been a lot more hassle and expense without their generosity.

But there was one heartbreaking moment. When I opened the trunk where I had packed the silver coffee service that had been given to me by my grandmother, it was gone. The trunk was empty except for some sewing things. I stood there in shock. Then I felt guilty for having lost the family heirlooms on my watch. I cried later. But really, what can you do? It is gone. An insurance claim or lawsuit might cover some of the monetary value, but that isn't its real value to me. My mother tells me to not to worry about it, "It's just things. Forget it, it doesn't matter." She is right, but I still feel guilty and sad.

There were a few other things missing - some semi-precious jewelry and the crystal ball Tod gave me as a wedding gift. At least I have the memories of them. And considering the size of our Tokyo apartment, it is a good thing we don't have a huge attachment to more things.

Goodbye, stuff. I hope you find happiness in new homes.

Zoupi's Wash-n-Dry

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Zoupi says he is getting headspins, but that it is fun looking at the world upside down.

Zoupi ended up knee-deep in Tod's spilled coffee this morning so he had to have a bath - his very first full-body soaking. I've carefully squeezed him out and clipped him to the balcony railing in the sun. Zoupi is pretty small; I hope he dries thoroughly.

See Tink Topple

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Hooping in costume. Photo by StinaSparkle.

There are some things I really love about hooping: my new hooping friends, the challenges of improvement, the physics of moving with or against the hoop, and flow of hoop dance. And you can't beat the exercise benefits.

Another thing I like is the excuse to make and wear costumes frequently. Yesterday I attended a outdoor hoop party wearing flowery bloomers and matching flared pants, my favorite multicolor fur collar, a headpiece shaped like goggles, and an LED pendant that I programmed to read "SEE TINK HOOP." Deanne said I looked ready to attend Burning Man. I am pretty sure that was a compliment.

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Deanne fire hooping. Photo by StinaSparkle.

The thing I don't like about hooping is when I injure myself. I did a good job of that at the party last night.

After the sun set, Deanne brought out her fire hoop. The fire hoop has kerosene tipped spokes protuding from it and looks beautiful moving in the darkness. I was keen to have a try though some of the other hoopers were afraid they would catch themselves on fire. They may have had something there.

It was amazing to hoop in the fire hoop - the scent of the fuel is heady and the sound of the fire whirling around is a like synthesized rush of wind. And then there is the brilliant golden light. I couldn't see anything beyond the flames. It is very focused and intense - just me, a moving circle of fire, and the occasional cheer from an onlooker.

I stood in the center of the flames and held the hoop at waist level before lifting it over my head and back down to my hips. I spun it on my waist, shimmied it up to my shoulders and then pulled it off it over my head and started a slow lasso turn. It was at that point that I slipped on the river gravel underfoot. I didn't see the large rock that I tripped on, but I sure did feel it when I landed on it. I ended up with scraped and bruised knees, feet and a swollen hand, but fortunately I managed not to singe myself at all.

I don't know if anyone captured my tumble on film or video, but if they did, I'd like to see it. Next time I fire hoop (and there certainly will be a next time) I will be more aware of my footing.

Chickpea Cutlet Burgers

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I derived these delicious veggie burgers from traditional Indian veg cutlets and from Heidi Swanson's Chickpea Burgers in Super Natural Cooking. Veg cutlets are made with mashed potato as a base for a mixed of minced vegetables and strong bitter seasoning. Heidi seasons her chickpea burgers with cilantro and lemon and stabilises them with egg and a clever cooking method. I borrowed the chickpeas and method from Heidi and the seasoning and veggies from the cutlets.

Heidi's recipe also suggests using the patty as a bun for a vegetable sandwich by making the burgers thick and cutting them in half like a bun. This works really well.

My recipe calls for "mixed vegetables" and you can use a convenient frozen mix but this is also a thrifty way to use up those slight wilted bits of vegetable in your crisper drawer. Half a carrot here, a forgotten parsley there and you'll have half a cup before you know it.

If you need to substitute seasonings, you can use fennel seed instead of aniseed; lemon zest instead of dry mango powder. Unfortunately, nothing quite substitutes for the bitter pungency of fenugreek leaf, but I tried dried dill and cilantro with interesting results.

Chickpea Cutlet Burgers
serves 2

1 can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
2 eggs
1/2 tsp salt
1 pinch turmeric
1 pinch cayenne pepper
1 pinch garam masala
1/2 tsp aniseed
1 tsp fenugreek leaf (methi)
1 pinch dry mango powder
1/2 onion, minced
1/2 cup mixed vegetables, small dice or minced
1/2 cup breadcrumbs (panko or toasted crumbs)

In a food processor, blend the rinsed chickpeas, eggs, salt and seasonings until you have a slightly chunky, gooey paste.

Pour the chickpea paste into a bowl and stir in the onion and vegetables. Add the breadcrumbs, mix well and allow to stand for 5 minutes. This allows the crumbs to soak up the moisture and turns the paste into a soft dough.

Form 6 or 8 balls. Flatten them slightly when you put them into the pan, but you want them to be fairly thick so you can halve them for buns. Cook them - covered - in a pan with a bit of olive oil on medium low heat. The low heat and cover give the burgers a partial steaming which sets up the egg and makes the texture just right. 7 minutes a side usually does it but if they aren't brown and crispy on the bottom, give them a few more minutes or turn up the heat a little.

Kristen's Project Runway 2 - Dress Mess

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I decided that I ought to design and build the dress I will wear to Jenn's wedding later this month, considering that I worked out the design of her wedding gown (though I know it has undergone considerable tweaking in the final making). So a couple weeks ago I bought some lovely nubby Indian silk on a whim and decided to work with it.

But I didn't quite have a design in mind, though I did have a neat sleeve idea involving a contrasting lining on a nearly circular off-center ruffle. I thought the constraint of 2.5 meters of fabric in hand would energise me. Mostly it stressed me. Anyway, here is what I am calling the Dress Mess that went on yesterday and today.

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10:00. I have a week's worth of rough sketches, a cup of coffee, and I am ready to do some technical drawings.

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11:45. I transferred my ideas onto muslin for a fitting model. I love Sharpie marker on muslin. Not sure how this will work out, but I'm keen to be sewing.

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12:15. Oops. Maybe I ought to have calculated the armsyce a little more carefully on paper. I have marked the necessary adjustments in pink pen. Everything is better in pink pen. This will be OK.

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2:45. I fortified myself with lunch then cut up the muslin to reflect my alterations. Still not certain about the armscye, but it looks like it is moving in the right direction.

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3:30. The adjustments weren't sufficient. The armhole is a disaster. I need to rethink this. Miss Shrew and I are having a look at some sewing books. Maybe there is something with a suitable sleeve in one of these?

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5:00. I found a generally simple sleeveless dress in one of the Japanese sewing books. I am sure that I can draft sleeves for this without much trouble. I decided to cut directly into the fashion fabric. Isn't it pretty?

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8:00. Time to meet Tod for dinner. The dress is basically together, but the sleeve I basted in isn't sitting right. It bunches up at the font of the arm in a strange way. I need to rework the sleeve cap. Tomorrow.

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Day 2, noon. I made a muslin for the new sleeve. You can see the old sleeve underneath - it is a major reshaping. The new one has been carefully drafted and will fit much better.

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Day 2, 2:00. Well the sleeve part does fit better. But the armscye is not cooperating. WTF? I have a sort of space costume thing going on here. Argh....

Day 2, 3pm -5 pm. I was too frustrated to continue taking pictures. I unpicked the mistakes and decided to abandon sleeves. I sewed in the lining, somehow forgetting that I had already put in the zipper and wouldn't be able to turn the garment right side out no matter how hard I tried to. So I unpicked the arms (for the 3rd time), turned the dress and lining the right way around, pressed them like crazy, and very carefully pinned and top stitched the sleeveless edges.

The finished dress looks OK. It's not what I wanted but it will do. In place of the sleeves, I will knit myself a shrug. Somehow. I will not be detailing that just yet. You might have to wait for the photos on Nov 29th.

Crazy Bread

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I learned this recipe from a very early love of mine, Sam, who got it from his neighbors when he was a kid. It has always been a favorite with everyone who tries it. Who can argue with a cheesy variant of garlic toast? There isn't exactly a recipe, since quantities vary depending on what you have on hand, but here is how I make it:

Crazy Bread
never makes enough

1 loaf Italian bread or French bread
butter (or olive oil)
garlic
parsley
lemon juice
cheese

First you make the garlic butter (or garlic oil or garlic butter/oil) by mashing, mincing, or pressing a clove of garlic into the fat of your choice. Mix well. Finely chop the parsley. Grate the cheese. We usually use mozzarella, but just about any cheese will work.

Cut the loaf of bread lengthwise. Butter both halves. Generously layer with parsley. Sprinkle liberally with lemon juice. Lots of lemon is good; it cuts the fat from the butter and cheese. Top with cheese - how much depends on your dairy tolerance and whether you consider this a side dish (sprinkle) or a main dish (pile).

Grill, broil or toast until the cheese is bubbly and browned. Cut into bite-sized servings. Wish you'd made a second loaf.

10K with Tod

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This was not a 10K run, but a day-long walk around town last weekend. It was probably even 11 km or a little more, but who is really counting?

We left the house to get lunch at a nice shop that sells hand-made soba. I was feeling a cold coming on, so I had the kake-soba - simple buckwheat noodles in a hot broth. It was just what I needed.

Then we walked through Hongo 4-chome, up a street we hadn't visited before, towards the zoo. Hongo has been part of Tokyo for a very long time and there are all sorts of historical markers and old walls and buildings to enjoy. The street we walked was part business, part residential in that lovely mix that older parts of Tokyo often have.

We wandered along the antiques market at Shinobazu Pond at Ueno. There are always lots of weird and tempting things there. Old coins, carvings, trinkets and toys of many kinds. I am not sure that we have ever bought anything, but it is great fun to browse.

At the zoo, Tod bought an annual pass, so now he can go visit the elephants any time he likes. We got to watch the elephants lying down to be brushed clean by their keepers before walking trunk-to-tail into their house for the evening. We love the elephants.

When the zoo closed at 5, we headed off, but we weren't sure exactly where we wanted to go. So we meandered the back streets until we saw a jazz bar called La Cuji. We stopped for a Guinness (only to help the cold, honestly) and ended up staying for more than an hour, enjoying some of the owner's 2500 jazz records and talking to Crazy Terry, a jazz lover sitting next to us at the bar. I asked the owner if he had Errol Garner's Concert by the Sea, one of my Dad's favorites. I hated it as a kid and hadn't heard it in a long time. I like it better as an adult, but I understood why I didn't like it when I was young. Anyway, I sat there thinking about Dad and the music until I cried.

After La Cuji, we traipsed tipsily toward dinner, but found ourselves outside Asahi no Yu, a beautiful old public sento. So we had a bath - an extremely hot bath - to ward off the incipient illness we both dreaded. My lungs were happily warmed and Tod chatted with the attendant on duty who told us all about the ghost stories associated with the bath. Spooky Halloween stuff.

We arrived at our dinner destination just in time for the dance show. Zakuro is a Persian restaurant with no tables or chairs, just carpets everywhere and some boards on the floor. The Uzbekistani dance performance was highly entertaining, with everyone dragged in by the maitre'd to dance in the middle of the room. After the dancing, we were brought a stunning array of vegetarian dishes. It was more than we could eat, though we did our best. I had forgotten the delights of Zakuro; we will have to go back soon.

Eventually we rolled ourselves away from the feast and walked the final leg of the day, passing by two of our old houses and many happy memories of places we used to live. It was a very good 10K (plus a bit), but we did end up spending the next two days sick and sleeping. The soba, Guinness, and bathing didn't do the trick.

Yoshiwara today and yesterday

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On Halloween, Jim & I went for a spooky walk around Taito-ku to visit some of the grim old landmarks he has been researching lately. He took me to see Jokanji, the Throw-Away Temple that he wrote an essay about earlier this week. It has a beautiful cemetery full of memorials and markers that note a sordid past. We paid our respects to the 25,000 prostitutes whose bodies were left anonymously at the temple over the years.

They had been carried there across the rice paddies from Yoshiwara, the "licensed pleasure quarters" where so many young women lived out their lives in debt. A few became classy courtesans with rich patrons who looked after them, but most did not. Many died in natural disasters when earthquakes toppled shoddy buildings and fire ravaged the walled precinct. Others died of natural and unnatural causes, but with no families to claim them, were dumped at the temple.

I wanted to see how the old pleasure quarter looks in modern day Tokyo, so we wound our way over there - not through rice paddies, but via the city's busy roads and sidewalks.

I was surprised to discover that the area is still a pleasure quarter. It is no longer walled and the licensing rules have changed, no doubt, but the boundaries haven't budged. There is the same square grid of streets, 400 meters on a side, exactly as it has been for hundreds of years. A winding road still leads into the district from the main road.

Most of the streets within Yoshiwara (which isn't officially called that anymore) are lined with brothels. The buildings look like love hotels: garish exteriors in the shape of castles or fantasy villas, facades of old buildings, or glittering casino lights. The difference from love hotels is in the staffing and pricing. At a love hotel, you and your partner might choose a short "rest" for 5,000 yen, or an overnight "stay." The Yoshiwara rooms ranged from 7,000 yen to 35,000 yen and include a companion for the duration of your 100 minute visit. At most entrances a man in a suit stands watching the passersby. As we walked by one brothel, the doorman/bouncer greeted a returning customer and ushered him inside. Where the doors were open, I saw head and shoulder photographs of the girls on display.

And in the hours between 3 and 4 pm, the girls themselves could be glimpsed coming into work. Some were simply dashing down from the dormitories nearby. One group of three girls wearing velour mini dressed chatted as they passed in the alley. Another woman arrived on foot, but was preceded by a burly, dark-suited bodyguard carrying her designer purse and a shopping bag. At a tight corner, we gave way to a taxi carrying a beautiful young woman with a long lovely legs (Jim's observation) and a look of bored scorn (what I noticed). There were several women chauffeured in white SUVs. I imagine these girls are the equivalent of the classy courtesans of years past.

We walked out of Yoshiwara the back way towards the local shrine (which is not Jokanji), stopping first to take in the monument to an old pond and the people who sought refuge there after the 1855 earthquake. At Yoshiwara jinja, we discovered an extraordinary poster of local history, with four maps comparing the district during different eras, plus statistics, photographs, drawings and so much information it was impossible to take it all in.

After studying the poster for a quarter hour or more, we wandered out to the street to decide where to go next. We didn't need to go anywhere because history seemed to come to us. Jim has a Hiroshige woodblock titled Yoshiwara (from one of his many "53 Tokaido stations" series) stored in his iPod and comparing it to the street we were standing on - could it be the same place? The curve in the road certainly looks right. We were excited. But I wonder now...was this Yoshiwara a station on the Tokaido road between Tokyo and Kyoto? If so, lucky travelers (I guess).

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