Wednesday, December 9, 2009

iTunes, youTunes, weallTunes

I'm a fan of the Pasta Queen blog, formerly known as "Half of Me." Originally, it was a weight-loss log and culpability mechanism; after reaching her goal (more or less, but that's one of the things I like about her), Pasta Queen diverged into more personal entries about chronic headaches, branching out into self employment, and her cats.

I'll admit that her casual, anecdotal style, which (in spirit, at least) reminds me of my own, was one of my motivating factors in starting to blog. She's also the reason I decided to try out the Couch to 5K; after training for and completing a half marathon (horrified gasp!) as part of her weight loss routine, she, well, I'm going to say "took a break" from running long enough that she began to struggle even on short trail jogs. After running a half marathon (horrified gasp!), she had no shame in partaking in a training program designed chiefly for total beginners. So why not me?

Anyway, there's all that, but mostly, I mention her because she did an entry a while back (that I can't find. I can find more cat pictures?) on the music she listens to while working out. She mentioned a preference for fast beats, sneaking oversized headphones into her races, and a few programs that will automatically adapt one's playlist to match one's pace.

Yesterday, during my 2.75 mile jog (because I ran that far, people! That's 2.75 miles, jot it down somewhere so you can compliment me later), I attempted to listen to music for a while, and absolutely hated it. The rhythm! The pacing! They did not line up in perfect symmetry! No, this did not do. And no, I am not saying that this was the first time I tried listening to ANYTHING on my run.

Normally, I'm very happy with NPR.

Podcasts, specifically. "This American Life" is my favorite, but I'm also partial to "This Week in Food," "Story of the Day," and recently, "Radio Lab." I'm also giving "Planet Money" a stab, in the hopes that a twenty minute broadcast of blog post-esque analogy-based humor will make up for a twenty-five year run of totally failing to understand economics.

It all makes perfect sense to me. If I'm going to run to escape from wallowing in thought, why not upload something new to think about for when I'm done? The lack of steady beat in talk radio lets me work out my own pace, too - and, while I might need to rethink this once the weather grows partial to running outside, there's no rush when I'm stuck on a treadmill.

Am I alone here?

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Still time!

I have an entry in process, to be posted tomorrow. Promise for reals!

Until then: I didn't even remember sending this thing until someone I met by chance contacted me about it on Facebook. Huh. A new friend, and a published letter of sorts! Today ended well.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

I so want to make an-pan from this, now.

When we last left our Daily Update Vow-breaking heroine, she was nursing a freshly wounded ego that craved bread. Pumpkin bread. Yeasted pumpkin bread. Alas, like catgut, the Hundred Years' War, and Diet Crush orange soda (which boasts about forty calories a can - you misled me, supermarket display designed to induce impulse buying!), my beautiful dough was a misnomer of epic proportions; the can may very well have contained butternut squash for its superior texture and pleasantly sweet flesh, and the yeast, well, it managed to sit unopened on the counter for the span of preparation.

I grieved my lost bread far more than I did the family's pet frog that I can't remember having. (He was with us for... years, you say? Seriously, it doesn't register.) I grieved, until I read - alert the presses! - my blog's very first comment ever.

Er. Second, that is, since a long-lost friend claimed a number one spot. So second. My blog's very second comment ever. Ever.

Hey, I've done that too (forgot the yeast)! Thanks for trying our stuff, I'm so glad you like it-- come visit our website for questions anytime-- still answering ourselves.

Signed, Jeff Hertzberg, co-writer of Healthy Bread in Five Minutes a Day. Which is the book where I found the original recipe, for those keeping score.

Holy dinner rolls, Batman! That sure did the trick.

So, I present to you, for the first time ever, Amanda's Second Attempt at Pumpkin Pie Brioche: Revenge of the Leavening*.


Behold, it is oozy. Inhale, it is yeasty. Smile, all will be well.

The first time I made this, I put half of the dough in a loaf pan, let it rest, baked it, ate it with dinner. The next day, I ate it with pumpkin ice cream. Then, with apple butter. Cranberry sauce. It's not brioche, exactly (I went with canola oil, which is not only healthier than saturated-fat laden butter or highly processed margarine, but - and this is the important thing - doesn't require the additional fifteen seconds to melt it. Spend those fifteen seconds doing something for yourself, like temporarily spacing out while trying to remember why you ran upstairs this time.), but it's delicious.

The rest of the dough returned to the fridge. And Monday night, I realized, it was nearing the end of its short fuse. With a series of busy days ahead of me, I needed to do something now, which is no longer now, but it was then! I needed to do something then. Off to the kitched I trudged.

Drawing on a comment from the book's website, I rolled the rest of the dough into a thin rectangle, sprayed it with a bit of cooking spray, sprinkled it with demera sugar and cinnamon, rolled it up, plopped it in a loaf pan, huffed and grumbled as I realized I had forgotten to grease said pan, shrugged it off, and left it to rise in the fridge overnight. I then trudged back to the den and went back to knitting antique-looking slippers. (I mean that in a derogatory way.)

First thing next morning, it looked like this:

We have refrigerator rising, I repeat, we have refrigerator rising! (Hee hee. I sound like a switchboard operator. Testing, testing!) (My cat thinks I'm funny.) Bread, 1; slippers, 0. I'm back to booties for a bit.

To the oven! From the oven!
Oh, yes.
Aaaaaand I'm happy**.

Next time: Tummyache Day!

*Some pictures may actually be from the third bread-making effort, which currently awaits Tummyache Day in our 'fridgerator.
**I didn't actually eat it, by the way. I'm told it was delicious. That's enough for now.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Japanese video: Metropolitan Museum

I'm going to New York City today for an appointment, and in addition to my routine book store trawl, I'm going to try to stop at the Metropolitan Museum of Art for the Art of the Samurai exhibit.

So today, in lieu of an entry, I bring you a video that has apparently traumatized generations of Japanese children!

The angel statue on the marble pedestal
Leaned over and whispered to me,
"At night, it gets cold in here.
Won't you lend me your clothes?"
Time travel is so much fun
At the Metropolitan Museum!
If it would be all right,
I'll give you one of my red socks!

In Egypt, the Pharaoh sleeps,
Wrapped in a bed of stone.
I tried to call out to him, but still
He lies in a dream that's lasted 5000 years
Time travel is so much fun
At the Metropolitan Museum!
Okay; I'll just leave set this here,
An alarm clock for you!

A violin case...
A trumpet case...
Who needs to pack a trunk?
I'm ready to go!

Time travel is so much fun
At the Metropolitan Museum!
It's all locked up
In all our favorite paintings!

(That last line could also mean, "I'm trapped in my favorite painting." Which further explains the trauma.)

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Another gift card rendered useless by current trends.

The main problem with knitting somewhat obsessively: you can't really buy any generic knitted goods.

It's not just that you fear being asked by every Shrewd Observer if you made your hat, or your boots, or your sweater. It's that, once you reach a certain point, and knitting stops being a mere vehicle to churn out more scarves, and frankly, you don't even want to hear about scarves anymore, anyway; once you reach that point, at least for me, buying a sweater at Macy's becomes... a Waste.

You still see things, sure; and you still think, perhaps, how interesting a particular style might be, and how attractive it might look should you put it on. The difference, however, is that you aren't actually seeing a consumer product, oh, no; you're seeing a yarn, and a stitch, and a cut of sleeve and joins and seams that you could easily avoid by working in the round, and I wonder how it's set under this oversized collar, and wouldn't it look nicer with that three-inch trim you saw on the sweater by the entrance?

And no, you don't actually have time to make every sweater you own yourself. In fact, you very well may never get past the dreaming stage, or at the very most, you may continue relying on actual patterns from magazines and books and the net, copied more or less to the letter with minor variations to suit your preferences.

But you still can't bring yourself to buy that sweater, unless you plan to unravel it and make, say, slippers.

You can see the slippers when I finish them.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Oh, forgot one.

So do I write about the yarn that I need for my current project, and tossed who-knows-where-not-me? (After a two hour hunt peppered by deep breathing sessions?)

Do I write about comics, which I've yet to read this week because the comic shop is out of my way?


"And jogging blog! Cooking-knitting-comics-jogging blog!"

So said my mother, and, oh, yeah. I'm doing the Couch-to-5K.

The Couch-to-5K Running Plan is... you know what? Quotation marks make everything easier:

"You should ease into your running program gradually. In fact, the beginners' program we outline here is less of a running regimen than a walking and jogging program. The idea is to transform you from couch potato to runner, getting you running three miles (or 5K) on a regular basis in just two months."

I'm in the middle of week 7 now - that's three days of 2.5 miles with no walking - and I have to say, this plan is certainly working out. I particularly like it compared to my plan from when I tried running two years ago, which consisted of... oh, that's right, no plan at all. My father and I walked together, and he would tell me to run ahead and come back. As soon as I got back, he'd do so again. I wound up jogging up and down hills, wearing the first pair of shoes I found, barely stretching, and a bit less than a month after starting I was running every other day without walking breaks.

A bit more than a month after starting, my Achilles' tendons began to ache and tear so badly that I limped for weeks. Oops! Dad blamed my lack of a thirty-second warm up stretch. I blamed him.

Turns out we were both... well, I was probably premature in my analysis, and he was only about a third right. This time around, I'm spending five-to-ten minutes stretching before and after each jog; I'm running mostly on a level treadmill; and, in sharp contrast to some well argued theories, I'm trusting my ankles to sneakers designed to ameliorate pronation. I'm also only going three days a week, and repeating days of the program that I couldn't finish the first time. If my initial attempts were foiled by running too far, too fast, too soon, too often over too difficult terrain, then maybe - just maybe - my natural tendency to favor doomsday will at last be trumped by logic. After all, I've made it almost two months so far.

By the way - when my brother got married three weeks ago, I wore high heels to the wedding for one of the first times in my life. Gorgeous shoes; sore calves. I limped for a week, and worried profusely about how my regimen would be affected. Wonder of wonders - after an extra long stretch, I succeeded in jogging the full session without a twinge. The walking intervals were torture, but it appears that jogging really does rely on different muscles. See, kids? Physiology actually has real-world parallels!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Milk for the bread!

My parents joined a CSA this year, and since coming home from Japan, I've been rediscovering vegetation outside of the sparse pickings at a Nagoya corner grocery.

Carrots? Check. Spinach? Naturally. Little white hakurei turnips, heads of napa cabbage, and curiously itty-bitty daikon radishes? Inexplicably, yes. There's synchronicity for you.

Carrots are great for munching (I haven't turned orange, yet), and both the daikon and hakurei were victims to my culinary adventures - the former, boiled into a newly nostalgic miso soup; the latter, victim to a slapdash adaptation of a savory steamed custard that only I could really finish. Mom tends to lay claim to any greens other than lettuce, which is probably for the best, as my cooking reputation isn't exactly built upon being adept at washing and preparing, and these come to us straight from the mud. (We've been forced to offer lukewarm hospitality to a number of hitchhikers, notably a merry little slug from some lettuce the other day. I was entirely ready to name him Stu and be jolly friends forevermore, but mom insisted that he be evicted immediately. Yet, I'm supposed to make eye contact and listen and everything when HER friends visit. Pfft.) Mom has a knack for cooking leaves, anyways - she's come up with some pretty ridiculously good salads, like spinach wilted by sauteed onions and mushrooms, or braised cabbage with apple cider vinegar, or good ol' fashioned grilled radicchio.

What really excites me, however, are the roots, squashes, and cruciferous veggies. While the carrots never seem to last long enough to actually cook, we've pulled dozens of cookie sheets from the oven laden with beets, turnips, parsnips, and rutabega, not to mention cauliflower, broccoli, and (as of tonight, we hope) Brussels sprouts; and both my mother and I have found ourselves stuffing sweet dumpling squash with cous cous, frying spaghetti squash into fritters, and pureeing butternut squash and acorn squash into soups accented by onions and garlic, apples and ginger, or a couple of sweet potatoes.

Yes. The sweet potatoes.

We got a lot of those. I've been playing with them almost every day, and the pile has barely been breached.

A brief tangent: a few weeks ago, I picked up Healthy Bread in Five Minutes a Day, a sequel to Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day. I don't own the original, but that's for the best, because the book I do own has taken over my life. I've found wild success in the master recipe, inundating my household with whole wheat in free-form, bread loaves, crackers, and croutons. With a basement full of sweet potatoes, it was natural that I try the "Sweet Potato and Spelt Bread" next. I grated tubers until my arm ached, searched high and low for spelt flour, and left a bubbling concoction perfumed by yeast to rise all night long, with dreams of nuanced sweetness and light, chewy textures. As it developed in the fridge, I babbled about making more for Thanksgiving, sharing it at an office where I volunteer, working out the best price to sell it. There's a strong possibility that I was introducing myself to strangers by describing my highly anticipated sweet potato bread.

My hopes might have been a touch high.

Yeah, well, I probably should've drained the sweet potatoes, because that's not what I got. The free-form boule was a total failure; the muffins and the loaf were somewhat better, but still far too dense, pretty much raw in the middle. This is what happens when you decide at 9 PM that you MUST start combining ingredients NOW, and never mind that this is going to wind up way too wet, because thinking is for daylight hours. It's why I'm a day person.

So, last night, I decided to go in another direction, the "Pumpkin Pie Brioche." This one relied on canned pumpkins and white whole wheat, and was insured by eggs, honey, and oil; it seemed a safe bet. And the result had a far more promising texture, still wetter than average (as the book assures is desirable) but stiffer than the un-enriched versions, slightly pliant. The cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, and cloves didn't hurt, either. I left it to rise with high hopes.

Ten minutes went by with nothing - no bubbles, no yeasty aroma. Since physics has yet to back up the theory that the progressed time until completion is inversely proportional to the time spent observing a physical or chemical reaction (read: a watched pot never boils), and since I have far too much free time, I knew from past loaves that SOMETHING should have happened by now. Were the additions of fat and sugar affecting things?, I wondered. Or...

Oh, crud. I forgot the yeast.

Yep. A big bowl fulla sweet-smelling dough, DOA. Maybe the chefs of the Night Kitchen can rely on little boys in suits of bread to pilot wonder-enhanced propeller planes into jugs milk to magically enhance their wares with moments to spare; but it was pretty apparent that the time for yeast had long since passed, and so, down the drain it went, and mope I did.

Though, I stopped moping just long enough to adapt this recipe from Smitten Kitchen with sweet potatoes, wonton skins, and plenty of garlic. An hour or so of sauteeing, mashing, folding, and boiling later, I had a sweet plate of dumplings and a freezer full of more.

And a sink full of dishes. But today, I'm not writing about doing the dishes.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

...on a rock.

I made a new friend last night.

We met in my favorite South Street yarn/miscellania shop. I was knitting; she was crocheting. We chatted about the effect of internet misinformation on the versimilitude of information, and about how low standards benefit self esteem.

We also talked about blogs. She has a blog, she says, because one cannot always rant about ideals through an oral medium if one plans to maintain certain social ties.

Me - I have a different problem. I just want somewhere to rant about my interests, to showcase my writing, and possibly to, perhaps, <i>forge> a social life. Earlier entries attest that I found the perfect title; apparently, though, that wasn't enough to delve out an angle. My interests remain myriad and subjective.

"If I write about my interests," I said, "I'd be writing the 'Knitting-Cooking-Comics Blog.'"

"Well, just write about all of them, then," said my new friend.

Yeah, sure. I was leaning that way, anyway. I'll even throw in "Japan stuff," for good measure.

"Three Years on a Rock" has a new direction, then. Same title. ("Knitting-Cooking-Comics Blog" is probably already taken.) My mini-goal: I'll be posting every day until Thanksgiving. Honestly, if A.J. Jacobs can read the encyclopedia, I can talk daily about the hobbies that pervade my consciousness every time the TV goes off.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Taking the time to enjoy life, involuntarily.

This year, at the beginning of June, I slept in a bed for the first time in a year and a half. I began eating three square meals a day, prepared to include sufficient protein, vitamins, and calories. After months stuck in a job that revolved around speaking nothing but English, I was given the chance to speak nothing but Japanese from morning till night, while I could read a book of Japanese essays to my heart's content. I was cared for.

I would have given anything to be anywhere else.

See, a week before that, fatigue had me set to blow up at work. Shortly thereafter, stomach pains forced me to actually blow off work, at least to the extent of repeatedly pleading for time off. My appetite steadily decreased, until I was eating only my meager portions at meal times, with all snacking phased out. My weight was going down. I didn't want to move. When horrific heartburn had me up in the middle of the night, I gave up and went to see a doctor.

The doctor didn't speak English, and frankly, I didn't care. It couldn't have been more than a bad bug. (Or swine flu, but I'd be far too unconscious for communication to matter if that were the case.) I gladly let him poke my belly and prod my chest, and made no complaints when he ordered a blood test. (Having a fully protruding vein in the middle of my right arm, blood tests have always been short and relatively painless, so long as the nurse is capable hitting the broad side of a barn with a tractor, a skill claimed by a good eighty percent of the nursing workforce.) I even waited patiently for an hour, a full hour, while nifty little machines shook my blood with multi-colored chemicals until weird reactions garnered a string of numbers written next to three-letter codes for proteins, hormones, and acids. The doctor finally called my name, and presented me with a sheet listing those numbers.

Those numbers, as it turned out, were higher than they should have been. Much higher. Around 200 times higher. And the computer conveniently added a little "H" right smack dab next to them, just like how Skype sticks a little moon icon next to your name when you go idle.

"H" for "Hepatitis."

I spent about three full days in the hospital, followed by about three weeks of total rest and frequent blood tests. I've been eating more and moving less, and amazed to see that my weight has stayed the same. I'm finally starting to feel better again, gradually returning to work, thinking about what comes next. Because, to tell the truth, I've had enough.

Congratulations, Japan. You've given me enough material to last me well into my late twenties. Of course, I'll still be here another two months, so at your current rate, there's no guarantee I'll even last that long.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Just so you know.

Just so you know - I plan to keep this blog going.

Just so you know - there have been some significant changes to my hastily laid plans. But I still plan to keep this blog going.

I just really, really need a direction.

I'll type out a full update on my status in work and health, very soon, ideally this weekend. I have an idea for a series to keep things active for a little while, and will try to implement that (it involves food!).

But right now.... just so you know... plans are truly overrated.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Medium popcorn in a tub the size of your head. Like home.

What to write about. It has to happen.

Let's see. It's Golden Week, which should be fodder for adventure, but - prepare to feign surprise - I'm not so great at planning, meaning that five solid, consecutive days without work are essentially going to waste. I tend to compensate by riding my bicycle all over the city and watching a lot of movies, though. Window shopping and theater hopping are, indeed, something.

So, well, movies. Hm. Not including that time I saw "WALL-E" a few months ago with the Japanese dub, which wasn't much of anything - face it, the main character mostly communicates in beeps and pops - most of the films I see here are in English to begin with. It's so easy to forget that you're even in Japan once you step in that theater.

There are hints, of course: a pervasive buttery, sweet smell from the omnipresent caramel popcorn; sales of overpriced brochures for every major feature; an employee behind the counter asking where you wish to sit, so that he can print your reserved seat on the ticket; patrons waiting for the last credit to scroll and the lights to flicker on before vacating their seats; Japanese subtitles cluttering the bottom of the screen; beer. Oh, and lots of Japanese language films.

But once you step in the theater - actually find your seat and sit down and take a sip of the diet cola you snuck in because the theaters here don't actually sell any, though regular cola and melon soda grace most menus - once the lights go out, and the previews end and your old friends from Hollywood begin reading their cue cards - it goes quiet. And you're sitting in the same reclining seat, cradling the same old bag in your lap to save it from the sticky floor... and, for an hour and a half or so, you're escaping the unfamiliar.

And, at 1800 yen a ticket, you probably won't be escaping all that often. But, anyway, there are enough theaters at a stone's throw from my apartment, if that stone were dislocated with a cannon, that it's a pretty solid way to compensate for another national holiday that isn't going to be all that different. Hey, I can always talk about food next time.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Cue the Queen music.

If you have a moment, and only if you're comfortable with it, but would you mind letting go of the mouse, closing your eyes, and saying a quick, silent prayer? I would truly appreciate it, as would a very dear friend of mine whose health recently took a turn for the nasty. Truth be told, I had seen it coming for some time, though when things finally came to pass, no one could have foreseen the manner in which my friend toppled. It's like they say - "When it rains, it pours?" Well, stormy skies certainly raged last week when, after an active lifetime despite ill health, and on something so simple as the daily commute to work, my dear friend's rusted iron seat snapped clean off.

Oh, my friend is a bicycle. I really hope that last sentence made it obvious.

Anyways, the seat thing came from out of the blue, but the tires and the breaks have been giving me trouble since day one, when I bought it second-hand last May. It doesn't help that I over-ride it, but I really do love my bicycle. Like most of the "mama-chari" (ママチャリ) that are popular here, it's equipped with a basket for food shopping and a built-in lock that essentially stops the back wheel from turning; however, while those are single speeds, mine's a six-speed. This might be why I'm so reluctant to just give up and buy a new one, actually; the thought of tackling hills with a common used bike gives me chills. It's Spring now. The time for chills has passed.

Still, it took far too long to get my bicycle the in-patient treatment. (I keep saying "bicycle" instead of "bike" for a reason. In Japan, if you say "bike" - バイク - you get gapes, since that happens to be the word for "motorcycle.") The first place I went to ignored my requests for a checkup, instead skipping straight to insisting that I needed a new one, and that said new bike had to be the most expensive model in the store. The second place, a multi-national chain called "Don Quixote," twice informed me that I'd have to wait until there was an opening just to check it. (The man who said that then promptly went back to lolling around in his fold up chair and scowling. Way to hold on to potential business, corporate world!) The third place said that it would be too expensive to fix, and I'd just need to get something else repaired in the near future, so it would be better to ride my consumptive behemoth to its death, then buy something better. I began searching the Sayonara Sales and sending out e-mails.

And then, on a whim, I went to one more place, where a sweet old guy gave me a loaner bike and, after an agonizing hesitation, promised that he could patch up the old girl for 5000 yen, about $50.

So we wait.

It's always something.

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Out of the woodwork, into your reusable bag!

Welcome to March! I took a month off. I promised myself not to dwell if that happened, but apologies nonetheless. I still need something to get back into the groove of blogging, though. And, as a great man (or woman?) must have said in one of the cartoons or tween dramas I once coveted: When in doubt, stall.

So, a year ago. Over a year ago. I was 23, just out of college, working a job for which I was already overqualified, and ready to go back to a country that considers poisonous blow fish a major delicacy. (That and raw horse. Oh, you never hear about that one, do you.) A month before shipping off, I quit that job by the book, and made cookies for my infantile coworkers which they subsequently ignored, just as they ignored my leaving. Fortunately I also made those cookies for the super awesome coworkers who gave me cute chopsticks that I'm still using, and which have been surprisingly useful, even though countless forests have been sacrificed to ensure that I can always and whenever snag a free pair of wooden eating utensils. Wrapped in plastic, just to make sure Mother Earth feels it when you punch her in the gut.

Ooh, that sounds like a tangent I just can't refuse.

I know that the States are working on a Green movement of their own right now, with Whole Foods suspending plastic bags and all. There's something similar going on in Japan, of course - a number of supermarkets and food stands have come up with ways to encourage customers to eschew plastic in favor of a cloth or vinyl "My Bag" (マイバッグ) that the customer brings for him-or-herself. Said bags are often offered in exchange for points collected by buying certain products - the bread companies are huge on this. While the bigger chains will usually just take a few cents off your purchase, a sort of reversal of the Whole Foods method of charging for the plastic bags themselves, smaller stores offer another point card, giving out stamps or stickers for every bagless purchase of ¥200 or more. In addition, while these cards are generally the same for most stores, and can be used interchangeably, some of the national supermarkets give out their own, exclusive point cards.

Clothing stores and restaurants tend to have point cards, too. It's very easy to lose track of your point cards. And if you don't, and manage to remember said card twenty times or so, and salvage enough tiny, soiled stickers, you'll probably be rewarded with fifty yen or so off when you buy overpriced broccoli. Mazel tov! Moving on.

The "Eco" (エコ) movement, Japan's mandatory abbreviation for "Ecologically Friendly" (which English speakers further transformed into a mandatory metaphorical representation in its "Green" movement), doesn't stop with cloth bags that most people don't care about. You can also buy overpriced, eco-friendly thermos cups for coffee! And, the source of the tangent, reusable bamboo chopsticks, also known as "My Hashi" (マイ箸), which you are expected to tuck into your bag and carry on your person at all times, just in case you're struck with the munchies and need to nip into one of the three or four convenience stores on every block to buy a calorically unsound "bento" lunchbox. (Convenience stores and bento. There are two topics that'll be revisited fairly soon.) For the record? I still can't figure out how "My Hashi" are any different from the chopsticks that you can buy for 99 cents or so in bargain stores. Maybe they're imbued with extra smugness. That would explain a lot about the Japanese psyche. Or maybe, in this case, the ¥1000 yen bill that you exchage for two dull sticks is the equivalent of another point card.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

There have been complaints.

Just a word in hopes of exonerating myself on a point from that last entry: Kasha the semi-puppy is not evil. My use of the moniker, "evil puppy," was merely an effort to empathize with her wary cousins of canine and feline derivation, both of whom have been known to describe her as such in moments of frustration. Everybody loves Kasha. This is a fact.

Carry on.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

"Metabo" part 1: The Ballad of Lucy the Dog

Lucy the Dog is, arguably, the most beloved creature on the planet. This is a simple fact, and you cannot possibly argue otherwise: If you're warm-blooded, capable of rational thought, and not an evil cat or guerilla bunny, you love Lucy. Even if you've never met Lucy, you love Lucy.

Or so my dad would have everyone believe, which is probably how poor Lucy wound up in her recent predicament.

See, in her heyday, Lucy was a solid mass of muscles, with the razor instincts of her (assumedly) pitbull father and the going-and-going-and-going joy-powered body and brain of her labrador mother. She had been painstakingly trained to treat every situation as a possible game, and go tearing through the house barking wildly whenever she got excited. She spent her days sprawled across the living room couch, gazing out the window and snapping into Aggression whenever she saw a possible threat make its way across our property. (Possible threats include large men, other dogs of all sizes, Girl Scouts, squirrels, and toddlers. ESPECIALLY toddlers.) No small animal in the backyard was safe, as we learned the hard way almost every summer.

And, Lucy the Beloved enjoyed treats of all caliber, from carrot sticks to peanut butter; sampled every mass-market brand that could fit into our already overflowing closet; learned to expect her bright-red Kong every night, the horn of plenty, that spilled forth all of her favorites. No problem. Like I said, she was solid muscle. Like I said, that was her heyday.

Lucy has since slipped into her golden years, and she's not the same doggy-dog as she once was. In her lifetime, she's survived lime disease, attacks from other dogs, botched home manicures that left her goose-stepping about in socks, and a certain temperamental teenage girl accidentally (she swears it was an accident and she felt horrible and lost sleep for real FORGIVE HER) slamming the door on her tail. Lucy shrugged off these peripheral attacks, ultimately; there was far too much fun to be had to sit around and bemoan a virus or an ouchy. Alas, our Lu couldn't escape from her genetics, as we discovered a few summers ago when she bounded off after a rabbit in the middle of her walk, then limped home - and never stopped limping.

It was a congenital condition. One of her back knees was shot, and the other was soon to follow. After a summer spent lying down, she finally needed an operation - a stressful experience for anyone, especially a very pack-oriented dog - and that carried another few months of recovery time. Even after her gait steadied out, she was never quite as spirited, growing easily fatigued and increasingly irritable around unfamiliar visitors, such as my older brother's iron-skinned (and -headed) eterna-puppy. She gained weight. A lot of weight. That's what continued to stand out, the weight gain. We tried putting her on a diet, limiting her treats to the occasional carrot stick and weaning her off the wet dog food that had crept into her bowl during her extended convalescence. She got walked every morning (a necessity, seeing as she had begun suffering from incontinence, on top of everything), yet the weight kept piling on. And then the seizures started.

I never saw this first hand (thank god - I'd have panicked), but during what remained of her walks, if she strained herself at all - pulling at her spiked collar toward another dog, for example - she'd occasionally collapse, phase out, and drool for a few minutes. The second time this happened, my parents brought her to the vet and got some tests done. There, they learned two things:

1. Lucy had gained twenty pounds. Granted, she's a large dog, 70 pounds in tip-top condition, but come on, and this was while she was on a diet.

2. Lucy had metabolic syndrome. This was probably responsible for the seizures, and was definitely beckoning additional pounds.

Metabolic syndrome, incidentally, can be treated with a pill, which has become a regular part of Lucy's regimen. Astoundingly, within days, the old Lu began creeping back into those old bones. Her energy spiked, and her mood improved. She struggled less to keep up with Kasha the Evil Puppy, and required less recovery time. She lost weight, a LOT of weight, 9 pounds at her last weigh-in.

But, see... metabolic syndrome. As soon as I heard that, I laughed. Guffawed. In relief, mind, but mostly for another reason. Trust me, you'll laugh too.

You will. Next time. When I explain.

(Meaning, "To be continued." In case you missed that.)

Sunday, January 11, 2009


That does it. I'm baking again.

There were actually two inspirations here - one was a cheap cookbook, and the other a giveaway. But, since I've only loaded the pictures for one...

See, I went to a party the other day, a "sayonara" party for a friend who's going back to Germany within the week. The group of friends that we share is extremely diverse, ethnically speaking - of eleven participants, two (he and I) were of European origin (in my case, a fourth generation American Jew); two were Korean; and the remaining members were all Japanese, though at least two of them had studied within the continent of Australia for extended periods. It's a fun bunch, but the basic point is that the party was decidedly "Japanese," and that generally means either "all-you-can-eat" and "all-you-can-drink," with everybody dipping into the same dishes, or - as this one was, and as I happen to vastly prefer - buffet-style.

To be specific, it was at an "Organic Farm Restaurant" called "Moku-Moku," which specializes in fresh, homemade dishes, many vegetarian, all from seasonal ingredients, all extremely healthy. Oh boy. Please don't ask how many "second helpings" in which I partook, but the whole thing filled a comfort quota that's been neglected in my body for some time, and that goes beyond warm, delicious food. The people present were just fun - non-judgmental, inclusive, unconcerned about nationality or language, resulting in flowing conversations that had more to do with life and the present than futile scrapes at cultural barriers that might not even exist. Refreshing, rejuvenating, satisfying in all ways.

(Can you tell that perceived barriers are something that contributes to my stress? Yeah, you're smart like that.)

But, anyways, I wasn't talking about fitting in and finding my way in an unfamiliar environment. I was talking about food! And, for whatever reason, "Moku-Moku" had a big basket by their front counter, full of little bags, full of a grayish powder, with the sort of sign that seems to glitter and flash neon green lights, even when it's jotted on a piece of scrap paper, as this one was:

"Help yourself."

Everyone was trickling towards and away from the cashier, paying for dinner, chatting, waiting. I grabbed a few sheets of paper, one with recipes, the other two putting a name and information to the mystery ingredient - it was definitely food, something called "kome nuka" (米ぬか). I had seen it before, and knew that it could be made to make a certain type of pickle, but had never bothered to look into it; could this be an impetus to find out? One of the papers, after all, had instructions for making "nukazuke" (ぬか漬け), detailing the pickling process, and it seemed simple enough. Everyone started to leave, and I joined them, walking away, leaving the dust for another day when I knew what it was, what I could do with it, when I wouldn't waste it.

And then I remembered that it was free.

And I ran back for it.


So what was it? Squinting at the sheets of information that I had gathered, and ultimately deferring to Wikipedia, I at last discovered: it was rice bran! (BRAN. Not brains. Why must we all default to the assumption of typos? If I use this much overture to introduce a little baggy full of America's original superfood, I think consumption of brain-matter, or anything that claimed a similar name, would merit a novel at least.) So that would explain all of the health claims. Very nice. Unfortunately, my squinting had also determined that the pickling wasn't of the overnight variety, and would in fact involve several weeks of daily interaction with a bucket of brownish sludge. As tempting as this project seemed, the fact is that I'm slowly killing a basil plant with indifference right now. No, I needed something instant. I needed to consult my favorite Japanese recipe website, Cookpad for anything that I could throw together with zero effort, using ingredients that were gathering dust in my fridge.

Which is how I wound up making miso-bran cookies.


The process - simple. Mix the bran powder, some miso, some sugar (I used brown. Because I can!), some water; roll it out; cut, poke, bake. The appearance was pleasant, not unlike graham crackers. The texture was lovely, unbelievably soft and moist and just a bit crumbly.

The taste, well, opinions diverge.

At first, I thought it was... interesting. Yeasty, a bit sweet, with a strong... something. Hard to judge. Love it or hate it. On the other hand, my neighbor took a bite, made a face, and politely excused herself to go spit it out. She just doesn't like kome-nuka, she explained. Nothing personal. And a day later, my roommate braved the cookies that I introduced as "kind of bad," and announced them to be quite tasty indeed - upon hearing which, I took another, and had to agree. They definitely benefit from aging. That just doesn't seem right with baked goods, but it was true. The yeast in the miso must have something to do with them mellowing over time.

Anyways. There's nothing traditional about these cookies. They probably don't even deserve to be called cookies (health crackers?). But they deserve some time. And with half a bag of bran left... maybe I should just go the expected route this time and make muffins. Or something.

Monday, January 5, 2009

A momentous occasion.

Happy Strawberry Day!

Because... it's January 5th?

Um. 1/5?

And, see, in Japanese, 1 is pronounced, "ichi," and 5 is "go."

Which makes it, you know... "ichi-go." Right?

Okay. And in Japanese, "ichigo" (苺) is "strawberry."

Get it? Get it?!

This is all according to my "Holiday a Day" calendar. At least half of them seem to be less actual holidays than similarly crafted puns. Expect to be reminded in the event of writer's block.