Monday, 30 November 2009

Unforgettable Behind

I'm wandering the crowded exhibit space, listening to the audio guide and taking notes - lost in my own world. The interview I just conducted for my thesis went well, and my brain is a whir. The exhibits are fascinating and -


A short middle-aged woman touches my arm and my train of thought is suddenly interrupted. One word, a simple question, but I am confused. The woman isn't wearing the red jacket or name card worn by all the exhibit staff and volunteers, so she isn't an employee. I have the vague feeling that I should recognize her face, but can't place her or come up with a name.

"Yes, my name is Sarah..."

I let my voice trail off into a question, but all the woman needed was affirmation of my name, and she all but hugs me as she bounces with glee and beams at me excitedly. When she finally notices my confusion she steps back and looks at me.

"I used to be a leader with a Girl Scout troop in Hirakata City..."

Now it is her turn to trail off, and my turn to bounce with excitement and hug her as my jaw dropped. Hirakata City Girl Scout troop?! Its K-leader!! Wow! My mind jumps back over a decade and fills with memories of my exchange year in Osaka, by far the best part of which was the time I spent with a local troop. Despite my lack of language skills the girls and leaders of the troop welcomed and accepted me. They encouraged me, challenging me to use my fledgling Japanese to lead songs and games. After meetings the other leaders (one occasional leader was a fellow university student, then there was K-leader, and then three or four women in their mid-sixties) would hold a meeting over tempura and noodles. I was dragged along every time despite being unable to follow the discussion in rapid-fire Osaka dialect. Hiking Mount Fuji in the middle of a rainstorm, attending a national camp, learning about Japanese festivals, learning about the tea ceremony, and all sorts of other wonderful moments flooded my mind as K-leader continued to beam and bounce in delight.

She asked me what I was doing now, why I was at this museum in a remote area a few hours from Osaka. Without really stopping for me to answer, she continued on in a rush, telling me how she hadn't been supposed to be one of the teachers on the school group she was with, how she had stepped in at the last minute when another teacher got sick. Then she began to tell me how she had recognized me. I hadn't changed a bit, she said. My face was exactly the same. But even more so, she had recognized my profile from behind - in particular my bum was what convinced her it really was me.

Should I take it as a compliment that a woman old enough to be my mother, who saw my 19 year-old ass and everything else in a Japanese hot-spring, says my rear hasn't changed in the intervening decade plus??? Either way, she was terribly amused by this, and showed her amusement and general appreciation of the correctness of her guess by reaching over and pinching that part that she found most recognizable...

We chatted a bit more, and I gave her my card so that she and the other leaders could be in touch and we could all get together next time I visited Kansai. Then she dashed off to find her group, leaving me and my somewhat sore rear to go back to my research.

Tuesday, 10 November 2009

Rollin' it My Way

This month's Washoku Warriors Challenge was sushi rice with the option of then using it for Rolled Sushi Two Ways, Five-Coloured Foods with Sushi Rice (chirashi sushi), or Sushi Pillows (inari zushi), and then the added option of Clear Ocean Broth with Herbs and Lemon Peel.

U was on hand to help me out - he's quite excited about the whole "cooking challenge" and really enjoy's checking out all the photographs on La Fuji Mama's round-up.

This time around we started with the broth - which while a bit finicky was simple enough to make. I must admit that neither of us were very taken with it and I strongly doubt it'll appear again in our kitchen.

We also made sushi rice - my first time from scratch (I usually use the instant powder packets). Again, relatively straightforward once you get the hang of it - providing you have two sets of arms to pour vinegar, fan, stir, and hold the bowl all at the same time of course!

What to do with the rice was an easy decision for both of us. I've made both chirashi and rolled sushi before, with the latter being my favourite. It is fun - because you get to do what your parents always told you not to - play with your food! And of course since you are the one making it you decide what to put in. My dad and I used to have roll-your-own sushi dinner parties - a big hit (especially when one friend brought her home-smoked salmon... wow)! In university the student union I was involved with ran "Make-your-own-Sushi Lunches" every other month or so. It was fun and a great fundraiser (I pitied the History Student Union who had to rely on bake sales - the East Asian Studies Student Union ALWAYS had the best food!)

So, rolled it was... but... well, that was where we parted ways with Andoh. I had told U that the recipe for rolled sushi called for eel, and although he loves eel he decided he didn't want it cold. So we went looking at the grocery store - on empty stomachs... ALWAYS DANGEROUS! Here is what we came home with:

(clockwise from bottom front: scallops, avocado, red snapper, salmon, tuna belly with green onions, tuna, squid, and cucumber)

Since we were splurging on ingredients we figured we should go the whole way, and bought fresh wasabi instead of powdered or prepared paste. U scraped off some of the knobbly skin and grated it - filling the kitchen with a wonderfully fragrant aroma. The flavour too is incredible - spicy, yes, but with so many other flavours too. Fresh wasabi can be expensive, but it really is so much better than the other choices... mmmm! (and a mite more photogenic to boot!)

With all the choices we got a little adventurous - here I'm combining tuna and cucumber with a shiso leaf and salted plum paste - giving the roll a great tart kick.

in addition to that roll, here's also a salmon and cucumber/avocado roll, and one of my attempts at an inside-out roll - with tuna belly and green onion (my ALL-TIME favourite) and avocado.

Wednesday, 4 November 2009

Selfish Knitting

After numerous projects for friends, I suddenly became a very selfish knitter - three projects on the needles at once, one each for me, myself, and I! Two are done, and I was waiting for the third to post, but it big and has turned into a black hole of knitting - eating up knitting time but not seeming to show much effect.

So, here go two finished projects:

One was one that had been hibernating for a while. I was given some gorgeous yarn a while back, and wanted to make myself a shawl. Even combining the yarn with a few others, however, I just didn't have enough to make it big enough. I hid it away for a long time, trying to come up with ideas on how to make it bigger. I ordered a few yarns that I thought might match, I thought about knitting or crocheting on a border. In the end I decided I liked the yarn too much to settle for anything that wasn't perfect. So my Muse Shawl turned into a mini-Muse. I still love the colours, however, and am still happy with it. The big button makes me happy too!

The second was an impulse yarn purchase. I made a scarf for a friend with a funky yarn that knitted up well. After seeing the same yarn in some of my favourite colours I just couldn't resist... So I bought one ball and started knitting it up in the same "Dropped" pattern. I knew I wouldn't have enough for a scarf, so instead went for a much skinnier version and - voila! A fun belt!

Tuesday, 3 November 2009

Not a Halloween Prank

U dropped me off and went to park the car, remarking as I climbed out that an ambulance had just driven by in the wrong direction down the narrow-one way lane in front of my apartment building. "An ambulance?" I remarked, and looked up to see the reflection of flashing red lights in the windows of the first floor apartments. I didn't give it a second thought, however, as I headed to my apartment to put on the kettle for a warm cup of tea to warm up a bit before U headed off on the 90 minute drive back to his place. I was a little surprised then, to see dark marks on the concrete path approaching my building. In the dark night they just seemed like muddy smudges - much like the ones left outside my door the other morning by the gardening crew.

I took another step, however, and there was another mark, bigger than the one before and... well... not really muddy looking. Most importantly it didn't look mud coloured. My immediate thought was that it was the exact same colour as the raspberry jam I had had on my peanut butter toast for breakfast (I've never been a pb&j fan, but this raspberry is really tart and just puuuuurfect with pb... anyways, sidetrack... where was I?? ahhh, yes, sidetracked... again!) My next thought was that it was a waste of jam. That raspberry stuff was a present I received in an itty-bitty jar. Not many pb&js worth.

Yes. Honestly, I'm standing there on the path to my apartment, looking at large wet red splotches on the pavement and thinking that it is a waste of JAM! uh huh. Wondering how and why somebody spilt jam all over the path. In a country that doesn't eat a whole lot of jam. Especially the older male population - who if presents from strangers on trains are anything to go by, live on a diet of rubbery dried fish and mikan oranges... (and another sidetrack... it is really a wonder that I manage to write papers for school, what with my apparent inability to stick with one thought for more than a few sentences!!)


I took another step, however, and as I saw another, again bigger puddle, I suddenly thought "I really really really hope that is not blood!" Another step, another splotch and... yeah... that IS blood...

All my years of first aid training kicked into gear and I immediately....

turned into a wimp! My first thought was "EEEEEEEEWWWWW!! YUUUUUUUUCK!" and I made a run for it - dashing past the door where the blood puddles stopped, unlocked my door and locked it behind me.

As I slammed shut the door to my apartment I heard the door of the apartment two doors down open, and my already overactive imagination hit over gear...visions of crazy knife-wielding maniacs - or at the very least a mean old obaachan intent on revenge for garbage infractions (which, for those of you who live in Japan realize can be just as scary!!)

Through the paper-thin walls I could hear the ambulance attendants as they rushed to the apartment (my conscience quietened down as soon as I realized there were experts on the scene and thus I could hide in my apartment without the guilt of wondering if I should be helping) and began speaking with the old guy (the one who seems to enjoy standing on his balcony and hawking up a nice lungful of phlegm from about 5am until well past 11pm). He seemed to be trying to tell them he did not need help, and they kept repeating requests for him to keep pressure on the wound.

The ambulance guys were young and very polite. Politely requesting the guy to maintain pressure on the hankie held to his wound. Politely asking his permission to enter the apartment. Politely asking him to sit on the stretcher. Politely pointing out that with the amount of blood he had (and was continuing to) loose, that walking to the hospital on his own two feet was not a good idea. Politely apologizing to U (who was trying to get by) for blocking the path.

I relaxed a bit - no axe murderers or grannies with on a mission of vengeance - just a stubborn old guy. And stubborn he is! It took the ambulance guys a good 15 minutes to convince him to get onto the stretcher and be wheeled to the ambulance waiting around the corner.

Meanwhile since the ambulance guys, the old injured guy, and a few neighbourhood busybodies were all blocking the path leading to the apartment, U could not get in. He made a valiant attempt at a Romeo type assent over the aloe bushes and into my balcony, but in the end had to settle for waiting till the old guy lost enough blood to become docile enough to be coaxed onto the stretcher and wheeled off. U then dodged the puddles of blood and came in for his tea...

So that was the end to my Culture Day (today is a national holiday in Japan - Bunka no hi, or "Culture Day"). Anybody else have an exciting day?