Saturday, 31 July 2010


We've gotten our shots, our bags are (mostly) packed, and we have to be at Narita early early early in the morning. U and I are off to Indonesia for just over a week - visiting good friends who are there for a year on research. I'm excited and a little nervous, U's nervous and a little excited. Its only his second real overseas trip (a few days in South Korea for a conference don't count as he didn't even leave the conference hotel!), and the last time he went to the Grand Canyon so Indonesia will be.... a little different! We'll be visiting a world heritage site temple complex, hitting up a few museums, but most excitingly going on an overnight jungle hike!


Thursday, 22 July 2010

Cooling addiction

My name is Sarah and I am an addict.

It all started last year with one simple purchase at the discount grocery store. It was an impulse purchase - it was hot and muggy out and I was equally hot and sweaty. I would have bought a popsicle if the store had a frozen section but they didn't, so instead I bought a package of freeze-yourself freezies. I couldn't wait until they were fully frozen to try one, and they rest disappeared a few at a time over the next few days - one or two to cool down each time I came home. I tried to cut back, but I found myself addicted to the frozen coloured sugar and unable to stop until the weather cooled down.

This summer I decided I wanted to do something about my addiction, and not just give in to the temptation. But a cool frozen snack is so perfect after having arrived home that I just didn't have the heart to go cold turkey... or rather hot turkey!

After reading la Fuji Mama's post last fall about her yogurt pops, I tried a few variations of my own but was not quite satisfied with the result. Then I read Bakerella's post about the King of Pops and thought.. hey! That sounds DELICIOUS!

I made my first batch with canned mangoes with a bit of my home-made yogurt. They disappeared quickly. Batch two was blueberries with kiwi and while I love the tart/sweet combo I admit it would have been better with more blueberries and less kiwi. My latest batch was peach and tart plum - sweet and a little tart, but lighter than the others. I'm already planning blueberries with raspberries next time, and I want to try the blueberry/kiwi again to improve it... U has requested (VERY STRONGLY) that I make the mango for him next time he's down... And I'd love to figure out someway of using oranges/grapefruit/citrus as frozen mikan are a great summer treat!

Any ideas?


When I was in India one of the Canadian girls I lived/worked with had a problem with ants. The Centre's Indian staff decided that what was needed was a puja, a Hindu ritual. The puja was sure to rid the room of ants. The only trouble was that the puja involved leaving an offering in the room for a certain amount of time, an offering of part of a coconut and sugar.

The ants in India could find their way into a sealed plastic container. In the staff room the sugar for our tea was kept in a metal container in the freezer. A pile of sugar on the floor in the middle of the room? The ants found it in no time. And they called their friends, and their friends' friends, and their friends' friends' friends. The room was crawling with more ants than it ever had been.

Judicious use of anti-ant spray and much clean-up later, the room was ant free. It even stayed that way for a significant amount of time - meaning that the Indian staff INSISTED on the efficacy of the puja. Afterall the puja had been performed and now there were no ants, right?

Well I'm wishing I could have them perform a puja in my room. Not an anti-ant puja, mind you, but an anti-roach one. Just about every time I go to the toilet I find an itty bitty roach baby scuttling about (fairly easy to squish and flush but still I'd rather not have to do so every time I need to pee!) and I'm finding the odd bigger (but still not all that big really) one elsewhere - running across the kitchen wall, or scuttling into the shoe rack, or escaping into the folds of the curtain.

Roaches where a problem before I moved in, but besides the odd one last summer, they haven't been a problem since. But this year it seems they've decided to invade. I've laid traps and roach killer all over, and have spray at the ready, but it doesn't seem to be doing any good. Definately time for some divine intervention. I just need to dig out my diyaa and find a fresh coconut...

Wednesday, 14 July 2010

Public Clipping

I’ve see Japanese students clip their fingernails in class. My nextdoor neighbour often stands out in the outdoor hallway to our rooms and cuts his nails into the flower bed. A couple of weeks ago U bought a little nail clipper at the 100 yen shop and, when I came out of the bathroom, I found him sitting on a bench in corner of the mall by the toilets, clipping his nails (ignoring the clippings that were falling to the ground). Recently a co-worker has started doing it at work – he’ll get up from his seat at the computer and either go to the garbage can behind my desk or, if he’s feeling generous, into the small kitchenette down the hall.

Given my reaction to both the public nail cutting and the littering of nail clippings, I doubt U will cut his nails in public again - at least when i'm around... but my friendly elderly neighbour is less easily influenced... sigh...

Has anybody else seen this happen? Am I the only one who finds this odd and/or disgusting?

Although really, I suppose I could be witnessing worse things - like the student plucking his nose hairs in class, or my next-next-door neighbour who likes saying goodnight and good morning to the entire neighbourhood with an enthusiastic long hacking up of lung on his balcony, or random old men peeing in public!

I just always thought that triming your nails was something you did in the privacy of your own home. But then again with all the girls putting on their make-up on the trains I guess the guys want to get in on the public grooming action? (and yes, all of the examples I mentioned ARE guys, but is that just because most of the girls are wearing fake nails and sparkly nail art?)

Tuesday, 13 July 2010

Noodle Chill'n

This month's Washoku Warriors challenge was chilled noodles - either thin somen noodles or hiyashi chuka (chilled chinese noodle salad). Since I made hiyashi chuka last summer as part of the miso challenge I decided to make somen. U wasn't impressed - he couldn't figure out what there was to make as somen are a super quick and easy meal that takes almost no effort to as the dipping sauce for the chilled noodles tends to come from a bottle. When I explained that no, I'd actually be making the sauce from scratch he was very surprised! I was equally surprised by how easy it was to make the sauce and by how much better it is than the store bought bottled stuff.

I loved having lots of fresh toppings - grated ginger, chopped green onions, shiso, and roasted seaweed - and the dipping sauce was a perfect balance of salty/sweet/flavourful... mmmm!

A few nights later, after one night of somen salad (lettuce and other veggies thrown on top of the somen and tossed with a sesame dressing) as I was wondering what to do with the rest of my package of noodles, I happened to turn on the tv to a prime-time cooking game show. The show has tv personalities come up with yummy easy recipes that are super fast (some recipes are under a minute in prep time, whereas others or entire meals can take up to 10 minutes). These aren't gourmet meals, nor are they using ingredients from scratch most of the time (like the gratin made with left-over rice, ketchup, potato croquette, and shredded processed cheese), but the recipes are easy and fun. The theme the night I was watching happened to be somen, and the contestants had to mix up a fresh take on the dipping sauce and deliver it to the taste-testers before the noodles found their way down the bamboo water-slide and past the testers. Some of the mixtures the contestants came up with were downright odd and despite the rapturous claims of "DELICIOUS!!" squeeled by the testers, I wasn't so sure... (I mean come on, my tomato allergy aside, throwing salsa and ground parmesan into the soy sauce-based dipping sauce?! urrrrmmm....) But there was one recipe that caught my interest, for a spicy tantan somen - made by adding only three ingredients to the usual dipping sauce!

So I gave it a try...

and it was DELICIOUS! Sweet and spicy and creamy... and spicy! Obviously not as good as if I had spent hours slaving over a real tantan noodle soup, but amazing for something that took me less than 2 minutes to mix up with things that were already in my cupboard. Any guesses? (a hint - one's very Japanese, one's very North American, and the third is not originally Japanese but is currently a super popular item here)

Monday, 12 July 2010


Walking to the train station in the rain this morning I saw an older lady ride by on her bike. She had eschewed an umbrella but was clutching a clear plastic garbage bag containing her brand-name pursed in a plastic bag. Wouldn't want Louis Vuitton to get wet, right?! Makes sense.

What didn't make so much sense, however, was the message on the bag - "eco-bag."

Sunday, 11 July 2010

Guiding across language barriers

I've been involved with Girl Guides/Scouts on and off since I was about 6 years old and I wanted to be cool like all the other little girls in my grade 1 class and wear the beeeeeautiful brown dress to school on Wednesdays and sell cookies (thankfully my fashion sense, although not terribly good has improved since then, just wish I could say the same for my taste buds... mmm Girl Guide cookies! mmmmm....) My mother balked, as she thought Guiding was a para-military movement. But I joined, and had great fun including my first camp - a one night sleep-over where, much to the amusement of my leader, the four of us in my tent ended up rolling about so much in our sleep that we used each other as pillows!

I became a leader first in Canada as an undergrad, found a troop to join while on exchange in Osaka, then started my own troop in the US as a grad student, visited a troop on a semi-regular basis in India, and now the troop in Tokyo that I've been with for four years. It has been an incredible experience to learn about Guiding/Scouting in so many different countries, but it has also had a drawback, having to get used to Guiding/Scouting in so many countries means having to learn a new set of rules, a new set of customs, and a new set of songs each and every time. Sure the handshake is the same, and many of formal songs have been translated or are the same, but the little things are different.

Or at least they normally are.

I just got back from a one-night camp that managed to tie in just about everywhere I've been in my Guiding career. There was the Brownie sleeping next to me who kicked off her blanket when she was hot and then got cold and thought my sleeping bag was hers, so tried to steal it and ended up using my feet as a pillow, much to the amusement of one of the other leaders. One of the other leaders had decided to teach the girls a whole bunch of new songs, two of which turned out to be my FAVOURITE Japanese camp songs - one from Osaka and one from the Japanese girl I worked with in India. And then, when we had finished other tasks early and were waiting for dinner, I suddenly had a brainwave and came up with a song from my days as a Brownie that my Japanese brownie could also sing! Aie Oonie. They weren't too sure about it at first - it sounds pretty silly and the hand motions can be confusing, but the next morning they asked to sing it again as we were waiting for their parents to pick them up, and after a dozen or so times they had all the words and actions down and were BEGGING to PLEEEEEEEEEASE sing it just ONNNNE MOOOOOORE TIME!

Sure I got less than 4 hours of sleep on a hard church building floor in a room that alternated between freezingly way over-air conditioned to stiflingly warm and humid, but I honestly can't think of a better way to spend my Saturday night.

Friday, 9 July 2010

Omiai and omimai.

Two very similar-sounding words with VERY different meanings.

Omiai means a set-up or arranged meeting (as in arranged marriage). Omimai is going to visit a sick person. I know the difference but, much to the amusement of friends and coworkers, my tongue seems to always want to say the wrong one!

Thursday, 8 July 2010

Long time no TILT

So I'd like to say that I've been neglecting my blog because I've been crazy busy, but it is more like after a couple of weeks of being crazy busy I've been relaxing and largely avoiding my computer. It doesn't help that I've also been away for the past few weekends, spending them with U as his car is in the process of dying and he doesn't trust it for the drive down to Tokyo. The good news, however, is that one of the things we did the weekend before last was to go car shopping! While the plastic wrap covering the seats and just about everywhere else in the cars we test drove was somewhat disconcerting, the whole process was actually much less painful than I had worried and I was pleasantly surprised with the guy at the dealership who spoke to both me and U equally and never once treated me differently or made me feel like a foreigner.

So, besides the new car that will be arriving in two weeks, what am I loving this Thursday?

- meeting a bloggy friend in real life! She visited the museum and we went for lunch. It was great to meet her and I look forward to doing so again soon, but I couldn't get over the very odd feeling of having a conversation with somebody I'd only just met and yet already "knew."

- my microwave steamer! U heard about these steamer containers for microwaves. When we were shopping the weekend before last we passed a kitchen shop and he dragged me in to take a look. The entire recipe book caught my interest - with all sorts of super simple and delicious looking recipes - but U was taken by one particular recipe - for chocolate cake! Since he lives in a company dorm and has no cooking facilities he ended up buying the steamer for me, and I've been having fun steaming veggies (and then negating the healthiness by smothering them with cheese! mmmmm!!) I did make him a chocolate cake this past weekend, however, and even whipped up a matcha buttercream frosting to go with it... yummmm!