Thursday, 30 September 2010

TILTing on the train

With the big Girl Scout event happening in just over a week I've been kept more than busy lately and a busy Sarah is a happy Sarah! I've been meaning to do a 'Things I love Thursday' post for a few weeks now, so this'll be a round-up.

- the reason for the title and the reason for my smile since I picked it up last night - I'm now the owner of a brand new iPhone 4! Emailing during my morning commute makes being squashed into some sweaty businessman slightly bearable!

- meals with friends - good food and conversation, how can you go wrong? Especially when one of those meal partners is an 'old' friend back in Japan for a month?!

- using my long unused French! One of my projects right now at work is translating 150 year old French newspaper articles into Japanese. It is a challenge and I love it!

- planning our Christmas trip to Canada! U decided he had to take advantage of the strong yen and has already changed his money!

- knitting! Thanks to a friend and her recent announcement I have a very good reason to be knitting. I've put aside a scarf that was boring me and being ignored (and thereby not getting knit). Baby knitting is fun!! With the cooler weather I've also started using some of my hand knits, wrapping myself in something I made myself is incredibly rewarding.

Sunday, 26 September 2010

Weekend Why...

Why is it that U, who lives in a company dorm with no regular access to a kitchen, who is always suggesting we go out for meals, who had never really cooked before he met me, why does he have a thing for kitchen gadgets?

Don't get me wrong, I'm not complaining! Not complaining at all! U buying kitchen gadgets = Sarah getting a fun new toy to play with, after all! But it does amuse me!

A while back he became obsessed with the Lekue steam case and I have been enjoying steaming food (veggies, banana bread, chocolate cake...). It is never something I would have bought myself, but I am really happy to have it in my kitchen now, as I love how super quick and easy it is to use.

Today we went to the Indian Festival at Yoyogi park and found a mini farmer's market type group of stalls nearby. U stopped at a handmade bamboo goods stall and became entranced by the daikon grater. (me, I was off fondling handspun yarn...) I convinced U that I did not need the full-size daikon grater (it would have taken up my entire counter space when set out and would not fit in the limited cupboard space... well at least not unless I continue on breaking dishes at the same pace I have the past few days, at this rate I'll be out of dishes by late next week!) The mini-sized grater, however, found its way home with us and I guess I'm going to have to go buy a daikon now!

I wonder what will be next...

Friday, 24 September 2010

Garam Chai!

One of my favourite memories of travelling around India was the chai wallahs – the men who would come around selling paper cups of hot milky sweet spiced tea. Sometimes there would sell a coffee version, and sometimes one or the other would be without spices or even sugar, but every morning I woke up on the train I awoke to the call of the chai wallah yelling “chai! Garam chai! Garam chai!”

Trains definitely weren't the only place I could get chai, however, and they weren't the best either. When I visited the home of a friend or acquaintance, when I went to the hairdresser or was waiting in a shop, a cup of chai would often be offered. It seemed that each and every time was different, each person seemed to have their own ingredients and amounts. One friend’s chai was thick and sweet – made with extra sugar and more milk that water, another friend’s was more strongly tea flavoured – she boiled the teabag for longer and put the spices in near the end, my hairdresser’s was light and aromatic – she used lemongrass and no cardamon… Most of my Indian friends used the same type of tea – a loose semi-powdered strong black tea, but since leaving India I've seen chai made from decaf black tea, herbal teas, green teas, red roiboos teas, and, then there was La Fuji Mama:s barley tea chai with mugi-cha! When you think about all the different methods, spices, teas, and the variations thereof… well the variations of chai are endless!

Part of my preparations for the big Girl Scout event next month was to make a “chai recipe sheet” for us to include with the logo-ed mugs we are selling. I decided that just one recipe wasn't going to cut it, so ended up making a multiple-page little booklet with information about the spices, various chai spice mixtures, and then some info about Indian desserts as well. But to be able to write about various flavours of chai I had to try them myself first, and try out the basic recipe too. So I hosted a planning meeting at my place where we also made 8 (yes, EIGHT) batches of chai. Each batch was slightly different from the other and, for the most part I was the only one who knew what was in each. We numbered paper cups and each got 1/4 of a cup of each batch, which we tasted one by one, sort of like a wine tasting – discussing the spice mixture and flavour. In the end we came up with five mixtures that we liked, and I used those for the recipe book.

Hearing all about the chai-tasting, U demanded that I make him chai sometime, so I went out and bought all the spices for my own kitchen. I was worried when I did that I might end up making chai once and then having all the spices cluttering up my cupboard and gathering dust. I needn't have worried, however, as I've found myself making chai a number of times a week now. Sure it takes more effort than just brewing a cup of regular tea, but it is ever so worth the extra effort. Ever so worth it!

And while I would love to have everybody who reads my blog come out to the event and buy their own tea goods to get my chai recipes, I'm guessing it'd be just a liiiitle too far for some of you! So, here goes...

1 cup water
enough tea for one cup (bag or loose)
1/4 cup milk
1/2 tbsp sugar (more or less to taste)

(I use skim milk instead of the 3.7% that is more common in Japan, so I switch my water and milk amounts)

1)Heat water in pan over low heat. When it starts to boil add tea and continue to simmer for 1 minute.
2)Add spices. Continue to simmer for 2 minutes.
3)Add sugar and milk. Stir occasionally and heat for 3-5 minutes (should be light brown in colour).
4)Strain and pour into mug.

Spice suggestions:
-basic chai: cinnamon (stick) 6 cm, 3 whole cardamom, 4 cloves
-fragrant chai: cinnamon (stick) 3 cm, 3 whole cardamom, 4 cloves, 1 tbsp lemongrass
-sweet chai: cinnamon (stick) 3 cm, 3 whole cardamom, 4 cloves, 1/2 tsp vanilla essence
-warming chai: cinnamon (stick) 3 cm, 4 cloves, 1/2 tbsp ginger powder
-spicy chai: cinnamon (stick) 3 cm, 3 whole cardamom, 4 cloves, 1/4 tsp black pepper

Wednesday, 22 September 2010

(mostly) Wordless Wednesday - Prambanan

After starting our day very early with the pre-dawn climb up the Buddhist temple of Borobudur, U and I relaxed for the rest of the morning before heading out to the Hindu temples of Prambanan on our way back to Yogyakarta. The temples have been badly damaged numerous times by earthquakes and other disasters, and the pile of orderly rubble around the temples shows just how much still is left to be done despite their beauty.

U and I wandered around the temples and the park, only to catch sight of something that was so odd and out of place, and yet so perfect, given where U used to live...

Only these deer were behind a fence and thus didn't try to eat our map - unlike their cousins in Nara!

Tuesday, 21 September 2010

Eating (a) Head

If I learned anything from TV when I was little (besides developing a crush on the CBC's anchorman Nolton Nash) it was that there was a proper order for eating things.

I mean, I've never really been a fan of Smarties, but I feel the need to save red-coloured candies for last, even now more than twenty years after that commercial ran in Canada!

So when presented with a rather cute frog-shaped souvenir sweet by a coworker today, I knew there had to be a proper order for eating said adorable bug-eyed little guy.

I debated the issue with my bemused coworkers (they are used to odd conversations at lunch with me by now), first coming up with the example of chocolate Easter bunnies - I would unwrap the top and nibble off the ears slowly before chomping the head and gradually moving down the body. The head had to be eaten first - it was the only humane thing to do for the poor bunny (never mind that it may have taken me a while to get past the ears).

Not used to chocolate rabbits, my Japanese coworker countered with the example of tai-yaki, a fish-shaped sweet filled with red bean paste. One of the two women breaks her fish in half and then eats it, while the other woman admitted to eating from the tail - leaving the face for last.

What about you? Are you a head first or tail/toes first person?

More to the point, perhaps, when the sweet in question, however, is ALL head, with especially cute bug-eyes, how do you go about eating it? (and no, shoving it all in your mouth at once is NOT an option!)

Wednesday, 15 September 2010

The Death of Sarah-chan

Apparently I’m not the only one who doesn’t much enjoy the heat we’ve had this summer. There is another Sarah-chan who has fared even worse. I even have before and after pics to prove the point.

But first let me go back, to when I first met Sarah-chan. It was mid-December and she was healthy and happy – she likes the cold weather. Of course, I didn’t call her Sarah-chan then, that was a name given to her many months later by U, but I digress. Sarah-chan and I met in the train station near school, she was gorgeous and caught my eye from where she sat at the front of the florist’s display. Her bright red leaves made me smile and remember my mother’s Christmas tradition of buying the reddest poinsettia she could find for my grandmother every year. While my grandmother’s annual gift tended to be quite large, I was attracted to Sarah-chan because of her diminutive size. I knew she would fit perfectly on my desk beside my computer and give me a little bit of Christmas spirit as I worked on my thesis through the holidays. And that she did, I loved having her there beside my computer almost seeming to cheer me on.

I finished my thesis a few weeks after Christmas and began spending less time at my computer. Sarah-chan became somewhat neglected, no longer did she get asked for advice on which word sounded better in a certain sentence, but perhaps more importantly, her waterings became rather more irregular. By the time I left for Canada in early February her red leaves had all fallen off, and she was looking rather scrawny. I was going to toss her – who keeps poinsettias after Christmas anyways? I’m sure grandma chucked hers a few weeks after New Years every year!

But U came to little Sarah-chan’s rescue. Perhaps he was lonely wanted something to look after while I was away for 3 whole weeks. I happily gave her to him, however, figuring that she’d die on him in a week or two anyways.

Much to my surprise, however, when I came back to Tokyo, U proudly announced Sarah-chan was healthy and green. It took me a while to figure out who or what he was talking about (it was his first use of the nickname for the plant, and I spent the longest time trying to figure out if it was a good thing that I had turned green or not…), but once I did figure it out I told a very happy U that he was welcome to keep her. He was full of plans to lavish her with care and love and bring her back to my apartment the following Christmas. I’m not sure if Sarah-chan will be able to become a redhead again after going green, but I wasn’t about to rain on his dream. He was taking it all so seriously after all – opening the curtains every morning and leaving them open so little Sarah-chan could get her daily dose of sunlight, watering her regularly, and meticulously watching her leaves for any sign of wilting.

Fast forward to the middle of summer. Poor Sarah-chan didn’t much like a week alone in the very warm confines of U’s dorm room. She looked very wilted when he got back, but regular waterings and the use of the AC at night (I convinced U he didn’t need to leave the AC on in his empty dorm room all day for the sake of a plant), and she started perking up.

It was then that poor Sarah was poisoned. U came back from Indonesia to discover his dorm room had been taken over by a horde of dust mites. No amount of sheet washing or dusting or vacuuming was getting rid of them so he went and bought a bug bomb. The first one didn’t get the suckers and he was still getting covered in little welts every night, so he bought a second stronger bug bomb, letting it off as he left to come to my place for the weekend.

When he got back Sarah-chan was looking wilted again. He turned on the AC and gave her some water as he cleaned up the residue from the bug bomb, figuring she was just over-heated and thirsty. A few days went by, however, and she continued to sicken, getting more and more wilted as she gradually lost the strength to hold her leaves up tall. Having realized what he did, U tried rinsing off her leaves and planned to buy special plant food for her. Long days at work, however, meant he wasn’t able to buy the plant food and poor Sarah-chan continued to sicken.

Her once green leaves are now brown and crinkly and still U refuses to get rid of her. He is heart broken that he let down poor Sarah-chan. I think he feels he let me down in letting her die and I can’t seem to convince him that he actually saved her and gave her an extra half year of life.

Saturday, 11 September 2010

Forget Forrest and his box of chocolates...

Pearls of wisdom from NHK's morning soap opera:

Life is like a cloud blown by the wind, you never know where you'll end up... No, no, no, thats not right... Life is like a fart. Yes, a fart! You make a lot of noise and attract a lot of attention when entering the world, you annoy some and amuse others, but all too soon its all over and you disappear into nothing.

Thursday, 9 September 2010

Getting back on the TILT wagon

I know things haven't been nearly as crappy as they seem lately, but everything got tainted with the same negativity so I wanted to get back to doing Things-I-love-Thursdays. So here goes...

- the weather today! I know reports say Tokyo will be melting again soon (over 35 on Saturday) but today was cool and sunny and lovely.

- random care packages! (thanks Cath!!) I opened my mailbox yesterday to find a thick brown envelope with a fun kids book and a bar of Swiss chocolate (that had completely liquefied in the heat and needed a time-out in the fridge).

- SWISS CHOCOLATE! After a day in the fridge the liquefied bar showed absolutely no bad side effects - if anything being even more creamy and melt in your mouth delicious. I had planned to use it as an award for having finished the translation I am currently working on... but my will power apparently isn't that good... oops.

Speaking of translations... I had thought I was almost done with this particular contract, only to open my inbox and discover a frantic email from the same art gallery - they just realized that a few images in the exhibit opening next week are actually new ones and don't have English titles yet... could I translate their titles in the next few days? Right then... enough procrastinating from me!

Wednesday, 8 September 2010

Sort of Wordless Wednesday - Taman Mini

One of the most fun days I had in Indonesia was the one U and I and our friends spend at Taman Mini, a theme park / museum of Indonesian culture outside of Jakarta. It is a crazy mix of traditional type houses with cultural displays and B-rank theme park (no big rides but there was a gondola going back and forth above the park, a monorail going around it, swan boats on the central lake, bikes for four for rent, and a range of other "rides").

I spent a lot of my time giggling - until the heat and lack of food got to me and the rest of us and we all just about collapsed en mass!

So here's Taman Mini:

the "traditional" houses and the gondola

the castle (because all good theme parks need a castle)

the fake animals (only seconds after taking this picture I had my head between the jaws of the tiger... tee hee!)

and the characters off-duty

(The characters, with their heads on, would run up to you, pose for a photo, and then ask for money... it kind of freaked me out when I saw them all later without their heads to find out they were this dodgy looking middle aged guy and a couple of toothless women in their sixties...)

Monday, 6 September 2010

Yay for September!

I am pretty happy to see the end of August - it started of really with an amazing week in Indonesia - but went downwards immediately upon our return and didn't get much better. Getting sick, then some stuff at work, worries about a Japanese friend and her adventures in the less-than-stellar Japanese mental health system...

But September is here and a long-awaited break to the never-ending higher than average disgusting summer heat has to be just around the corner, right? Right???

Either way I have an art gallery translation contract to translate and a huge Girl Scout event to plan for - that should keep me busy! I've also decided to finally take level 1 of the Japanese Language Proficiency Test. I passed level 2 over a decade ago and have kept on putting off taking the next step. I don't think my kanji or esoteric grammar skills are good enough to pass but I'm not worried as the real reason I'm taking the test is to make me study Japanese with the hopes of passing a different exam in January.

Also, I discovered a silver lining to getting sick and loosing my appetite - when I pulled out the much-neglected Wii yesterday it told me I had lost more than 2 kilos! I don't recommend it as a diet technique but I'll happily accept the results! especially since as U's been working late a lot the past few months and that means late night dinners of ramen or fast food - the only places open when he heads back to his dorm late, and that means weight gain, so I actually weigh less than him now - tee hee!!

So there's plenty to look forward to, here's to the promise of fall!