Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Wordless Wednesday - 'tis the Season

Days before Halloween the Colonel was spotted sporting his Christmas suit... When can I put up our tree???

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

Falling for Nikko

An old friend (from grad school, a Japanese art historian) had a few days in Tokyo at the end of a work trip through Asia and decided she wanted to go to Nikko for the weekend.  She planned to spend Saturday (when she knew we had to work) wandering around the shrines but asked me and U if we wanted to join her for a hike in Oku-nikko on Sunday.

So, U skipped out of work by 3pm and picked me up outside the museum at 5:15. We stopped for dinner at one of the service areas and pulled up to our ryokan by 8:30. After we discussed plans for the next day, U excused himself to soak in the onsen bath and my friend and I knitted and chatted, catching up until the crazy work schedule she has been on the past few weeks caught up with her. A quick soak in the bath for me, and I too was ready for bed - burrowing under a thick down comforter as Nikko is quite a bit cooler than Tokyo.

The ryokan my friend had picked, the Annex Turtle Hotori-an, seemed to cater to foreigners and, instead of the usual grilled fish and rice and miso soup for breakfast we were given a large plate of lovely fresh fruit, a hard boiled egg, and thick slices of crusty french bread dripping with butter. U wavered in between saying he was glad it was a light meal as he doesn't like heavy breakfasts and complaining to me that it wasn't a "traditional" ryokan breakfast, but I was a very happy camper.

As we drove up Iroha-zaka all three of us tried to remember the old poem for which the road is named, the old order for Japanese characters, which is used for the road as a sort of numbering with each switch back given a successive character as the road snakes back and forth up to Oku-Nikko.

We parked by the Yu-no-taki and caught a bus up to Yumoto, then walking back along the lake and then doing the Senjogahara hike back to the car. The hike was gorgeous. The path wound through forest and across the Senjogahara plain (debating the differences in meaning and local usages of "plains," "marsh," and "moor"). Nikko itself is still green, but as we drove up to Oku-Nikko the spots of colour increased, a little splash of yellow here, a bright red blotch there... And Senjogahara was beautiful! Probably not quite peak, but given the peak of fall colour will also mean hordes and hordes of people, I'll take almost peak and only mildly packed parking lots!

After our hike we drove back to Yumoto and soaked our feet in the free public foot bath (a long narrow covered wooden building with a stone bath with hot hot hot spring water bubbling out of cement fonts. I'm trying to break in a semi-new pair of hiking boots, so the ashiyu was a perfect follow up to the hike.

All too soon, however, it was time to head back to Tokyo (first via a road called "Japan's Romantische Strase as we knew the roads would be packed with cars heading back after a weekend enjoying the lovely fall weather... something we're going to have to do again and again this fall!

Monday, 15 October 2012

Red Purple Pink

We bought roasted corn from a veggie stall near Nikko and they brought out a dish of home-made pickles for us. The pickles disappeared almost as quickly as the corn - both were delicious and U was very disappointed to discover the stall didn't sell their pickles. When he asked the obaachan laughed and the younger woman said they did sell raw red daikon! So, we bought a red daikon of our own and the obaachan instructed me in the making of pickles.

Despite the name it isn't red, on the outside it is a purplish brown.

And purple and white inside.

When it was peeled, quartered, sliced, and covered in salt and left to sweat, it became a deep purple (as was the liquid I poured off!)

When sugar and vinegar were added, however, it turned from purple to a bright pink!

A slice of un-vinegared daikon on the outside of the jar looking in...

It doesn't taste quiteas good as did the veggie stall obaachan's, but it sure is colourful and U still  ate double the amount of rice at dinner he normally does!

Sunday, 14 October 2012

Wordless Sunday - Fall

So often the beauty of fall is on a large scale - a mountainside afire in red and orange and yellow. But if you look closely there is beauty in the detail too.

Thursday, 11 October 2012


It finally occurred to me that I still had one last Canada blog waiting to go, pictures at the ready but no text put in to explain.

While the highlight of our trip for me was going to Maligne Lake, most importantly paddling on Maligne Lake, the highlight for U was a few days later, when we went to Prince George and a friend of my father's took us out in his MASSIVE pick up truck to Carp Lake, a few hours drive away. It is a provincial park, and a delightful one at that (although after three days in the Rockies and the gorgeous lakes there it seemed like a poor cousin, especially given all the weeds and bugs and motor boats whizzing by).

The boys climbed aboard our friend's motor boat and zipped off, leaving me in my kayak far behind.  It took me two and a half hours to paddle to the island where we had decided to meet for lunch, and when they arrived shortly after me I discovered that U, at least, had had a productive morning.

We ate our packed lunch at a campsite on one of the tiny islands in the middle of the lake and discovered that the wildlife (not just the bloodsucking type, either!) was very friendly! This little bird hopped around our feet the entire time we were there. Totally uninterested in any of the bread crumbs we offered, she seemed to prefer to gobble up all the bugs that followed us about - a win-win situation!

As we got ready to leave after lunch, she seemed rather alarmed and hopped about around my kayak.

We pushed off and discovered she had hitched a ride on the power boat, resting on one of the fishing pole rests! The first sound of the motor, however, and she was off, fluttering back to the island rather annoyed by the noise. (I don't blame her!)

The boys puttered off

And when we all reached the docks at the end of the day they had three more fish to join U's first. They were gutted and cleaned at a stainless steel counter at the docks and packed into coolers for the ride home. Four rainbow trout, two of a deep salmon pink, one an even deeper pinky red, and one a pale pink. The darker the colour the better the flavour, but all were delicious.

Our friend breaded them in a flavoured egg wash and herbed flour, then pan-fried them and added milk to make a cream sauce... Mmmmmm!  I *thought* I had a picture of our dinner that night, but can't for the life of me find it on either of my cameras or my phone. Sigh... I guess we'll just have to do it all over again sometime! :)

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

The Day After

I had a nice big slice of a surprisingly decent store-bought apple custard pie for breakfast and the scent of soup bubbling on the stove is slowly replacing the reek of fresh paint (our building is covered in scaffolding and fabric swathes and is being repainted). The combination of soup and pie can mean only one thing - it is the day after Thanksgiving!

After spending all day Sunday and the first half of Monday cooking (the "oven" was on from shortly after we woke up until just before we went to bed on Sunday, and was turned off only slightly earlier on Monday) we ended up with a platter of roasted chicken pieces, bowls of roast onions and carrots, a pan of roast potatoes, a tureen of maple mashed potatoes, a mountain of herb bacon apple stuffing, a nice big pot of gravy, a marble-less marbled pumpkin cheesecake, and pumpkin cheesecake brownies (that had to be rescued before going into the oven as the new pan turned out to be a tiny bit too big for the oven and thus U had to attack it with pliers to get it to fit, thankfully not harming the brownies, which actually turned out marbled!).

(apologies for the horrible photography, but it was on my phone and taken rather hurriedly)

Since this list was a rather significantly lacking in veggies I asked invitees to bring veggies or an appetizer... and learned (again) that as unlikely as a guest in Japan is to arrive at a friend's home without a gift for the host, potluck parties are just not common or truly understood. Only two guests made dishes -  a delicious marinated mushroom salad that was the perfect complement (decided upon after much discussion with me) and cheese and ham and tomato bites that were handed to me as my suddenly distraught friend yelled "you can't eat tomatoes!" Another coworker brought cheese and crackers, but since she arrived late, just before we started eating, I ended up putting her appetizers out after the meal and deserts (which had the added bonus of meaning they weren't eaten, leaving me with brie and sharp cheddar and crackers for lunch today!) Two other friends, who I know can cook, brought bottles of sparkling wine, and the final guest brought two small fruit pies.

Thanksgiving Dinner
(again, a hurried phone picture)

In the end, however, it turned out for the better.  Despite U's assertions I was making way too much food, we had a house full of guests and just the right amount of food, with only a small bowlful of leftover veggies making it to the soup pot along with the chicken bones. And desert stretched on through the two courses I had made to the two fruit pies, with the cheese and crackers put out for anybody who wanted snacks with their drinks.

The bubbly was the perfect way of sharing a toast over a Thanksgiving tradition - everybody saying what they are thankful for. It was a wonderful evening of friends and food, and made me aware again of just how lucky I am to have such wonderful friends - work friends, Girl Scout friends, school friends new and old.

I am also very thankful for how much U enjoyed himself too, surrounded by my friends he had a great evening and was the perfect host - helping me prepare the food, doing loads of dishes in our mini-dishwasher, pouring drinks, and chatting with guests.

It was the perfect way to start a new tradition for us, one that I am already looking forward to repeating next year. (Although I think I'll just skip asking people to bring food and suggest they bring beverages as we came perilously close to running out of those!) It was also the perfect occasion to use some very special dishes, those chosen by my mother before her marriage to my father. Brought to Japan carefully in batches since U and I moved to our new place, I now have the complete set (minus one cup, but with a saucer that seems to have been in about a dozen pieces a rather long time ago) and love being able to use the dishes as they mean a lot to me and I know my mum would want me to be using them.

Pumpkin cheesecake with whip cream, on my mum's plates

Although the bubbly may have run out, let me offer a toast to you - Happy Belated Thanksgiving to you and yours!  (and what are you thankful for this year?)

Thursday, 4 October 2012


After finally completing two large projects (or finishing one and then looking at another that WAS complete and saying, "hey we should add x to that" and discovering that x required a whole WHOLE lot more work than expected so just pushed the whole thing to the back burner for the foreseeable future) at work I was asked to work on something I've been doing on and off since I started.

It seemed very simple. My boss said "how about A? Could you spend the next few days on it?" Sure, no problem! Only A, of course means B and C and D too. Which, after a good look would mean at least E, F, G, and H too... And take the next month.

So it was scaled back. Forget A, I'd do just B, C, and D, and leave E-H until after I finish the other project on the back burner.

I started with C and it quickly became apparent it wasn't going to happen quickly, so D was also shaved off and the timeline increased to a week

I floated a draft of C past a superior last week and she added I through L.

This morning I got what I thought was a almost complete draft of C plus I to L done and sent off to the related higher ups. Only to have my boss say "hmmm... What about M?" And the first asked me to rework J and K, and add N and O... and re-think E-F.

As my head exploded over the keyboard a very patient coworker (who does the whole alphabet in its Japanese version) sat down with me and rehashed the whole project.

He told me that S and T (wha?!? First I had heard of it!) will be happening next month, and since that will affect E and F and X and Y, there really is no point in going anywhere near any of it yet. But, we kept going in circles and rehashing W, X, and Y, the project we both want to get started on...

So do we draw the line at V? Or at J? What about P and Q?!? Or E and F?!? Or back to B and C?!

As we went around and around I got dizzier and dizzier, until 30 minutes after my day was supposed to end the second higher up came by and said "E and F need to be done, but not this time. They can be done with O and P next time. But we must do R, see I've done it part way."

I signed out but it took me a further 30 minutes (and nearly half another alphabet worth of things that just HAVE to be done) to actually get out the door. I *think* I have a meeting tomorrow with my boss and coworker to finalize that I am currently supposed to do C (with I-L, and R snuck in) and B too... hopefully by next week (a month after A was initially supposed to be done...)

Either way, I know for sure that I need a whole lot of D, R, I, N, and K with U this evening before I can face it all again tomorrow!