Saturday, November 30, 2013

Thanksgiving 2

Well, my tart made it across Tokyo on the trains (above), and tasted quite good.  My friend's apartment had a fantastic view of the city and the Sumida River, and with 15 people, the party was a lot of fun.

There were two turkeys, as only one 4 lb bird could fit into the convection at a time.
 The spread- mashed potatoes, gravy, broccoli, stuffing, wild rice salad, tart, and turkey. Brownies and doughnuts for desert.

My plate of carbo-loaded Thanksgiving goodness. 

Spinach Mushroom Tart

Tonight I'm going to a Thanksgiving party at a friend's house, and I offered to bring something with leafy greens in it. One of the challenges of cooking abroad isn't necessarily finding things you like, or adapting your cooking, but rather I find the challenge to be in the moments when I'm trying to cook American-style food, or cook things that are easy to prepare at home. Enter the tart. Enter my oven.

In my apartment I have a combination microwave-toaster-convection oven. It is the size of a small American microwave. I also own one large pyrex measuring cup, and one pyrex pie pan, both of which I inherited from friends moving back to the States. My usual pie/tart crust is a Pate Brisee, and my usual method is made on a large marble board with a rolling pin- two things I don't have. Instead I found a recipe for an easy dough (click here), that consisted of cooking together water, oil, sugar, salt, and butter. The recipe said for about 15 minutes, but mine took more like 25. Add flour, mix, and it worked to create a crust! Magic. Meanwhile, I chopped a mixture of three mushrooms, some garlic, and onion. This is a Japan bonus- there is a great variety of mushrooms here that are very inexpensive.

The crust was pinched into the pie pan, and then I baked it for about 20 minutes, twice as long as the recipe said, but it looked good.

I sauteed the mushrooms, onion, and garlic together with some spinach and a liberal amount of basil and some sage. Unfortunately I couldn't find thyme in my neighborhood, and didn't take the time to go to an import grocer.

I mixed the veggies with an egg and some heavy cream, stirred in grated Parmesan, salt, and pepper, and baked for about 30 minutes. Voila! The apartment smells heavenly, and I now know a shortcut for tart or pie crust. I can't wait to see how it tastes!

Thursday, November 28, 2013


It's a Fulbright Japan Thanksgiving! Although I spent most of the day working on research, Ti and I had a lovely dinner here to celebrate the holiday. We splurged on imported cheese, had some great wine, and a salad, as well as a homemade pumpkin-sage cream sauce pasta, and a store-bought chocolate chiffon cake. I hope that you have much to be thankful for this year, I know I do.
Thanksgiving dinner, plus my foot.
Cheese! (of a different sort than above)
Pumpkin sage cream sauce pasta.
Store bought dessert. YUM. 

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Japanese Christmas

1920s Santa is in a rush in his wacky polka-dot-pjs! Thumbs up!

Well, it's the day before Thanksgiving. The holiday doesn't mean much here in Japan, but it does make me a little homesick to see all of my friends posting things to the internet about meals, travel, and break. I have a few things planned for tomorrow and the weekend, and have enjoyed reading the NPR Project Expat series this week, so my favorite holiday of the year will definitely not go without notice.

While Thanksgiving is virtually non-existant, Christmas is a secular holiday here in Japan, something celebrated the way Americans celebrate Valentines Day or Halloween- good, fluffy fun. I'll post more about it in the coming weeks, but decided to start my own Japanese Christmas season today. In the midst of combing through 1920s newspapers this afternoon for my research, I came across an amazing 1921 advertisement for Christmas decorations at a Ginza department store, complete with cocoa served at the store (above). I took it as a sign that my own holiday season should start today, despite my usual hard line against anything Christmas before Black Friday. So, this evening, I got out the decorations that I bought at the 100 Yen store a few weeks back.
Five dollar Christmas!

I turned to YouTube, and selected a Christmas music mix with a fireplace video. Amazing!
Ah, modern life.

I poured a glass of wine, and about 15 minutes later it's Christmas in my Tokyo apartment! Yay!

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

File under: things I don't understand

Tokyo University's Akamon (Red Gate) with golden gingko leaves in the background.

It's been a busy few days filled with museum exhibits, a day trip to my old stomping grounds in Yokohama, lectures, library research, archival research, food and beer time with friends, and a notable train delay (a very rare occurrence in Japan). All great stuff, and all very worthy of sharing with the internets. But, as I'm short on time and sleep, it'll suffice to tell of perhaps the most head scratching story of all- today's archival experience. 

I found some amazing stuff at one of the many Tokyo University archives this afternoon; lots of great images and one particularly interesting text. Luckily, the late 19th and early 20th century magazine I was searching through was digitized on a DVD ROM, so searching wasn't as painful as it could have been, and printing was quite simple. Until I went to pay. This particular archive didn't accept payment at their window, and also didn't accept library copy card payment. Instead, I had to take my self-count of print outs up to the window, write down every page I copied (title, date, page), and tally the damage. Almost 2000 Y (about $20). I then received a sheet of directions on how to complete a bank transfer to the archive. Yup, a bank transfer. For copies. So, I walked the two blocks over to the ATM through the beautiful autumn foliage of campus, waited in line for a few minutes, and then proceeded to place cash in the ATM and go through a very long string of transaction screens before receiving a receipt. I took this receipt back to the archives and submitted it in order to receive my university ID, which they held throughout my use of their facility and my ATM adventure. Archive win!

The thing that always strikes me about these types of interactions is my lack of understanding of "the system." I had to ask the archivist two times if I was understanding the system correctly, and from his humorous responses, I'd venture to say that I'm not the only one who has had a slightly dumbfounded reaction to paying copy fees via bank transfer. Sometimes the words make sense, but the concepts are what confuse the issue. In any case, I know can claim knowledge to another way of doing things, and was so happy to have the chance to acquire some great material and to visit Tokyo University in it's autumn glory.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Kiyosumi Gardens 清澄庭園

Today I took a trip over to the east side of Tokyo to visit the Kiyosumi Gardens. The site of the garden dates back to an 18th century residence of a wealthy Edo (the previous name of Tokyo) businessman, but the current design dates to the late 19th century. The reason for my visit is that the funeral hall of Emperor Taisho (r. 1912-1926) was located here, until it was destroyed during the Second World War. The garden does presently house the Taisho Kinenkan (Taisho Memorial Hall), which is a 1953 reconstruction of the emperor's hall, but using the materials of his wife's funeral hall. In addition to my academic interest in the garden, it was also a lovely autumn day, and visiting the garden was a great excuse to go for a stroll in a beautiful park, escaping some of the bustle of Tokyo for more serene landscapes.

 One of the many boulders at the site- gathered from all over the country to give the garden character.

 Entering the garden!

 Rocks and trees and water. 

 Me and the Taisho Kinenkan (Taisho Memorial Hall).


The park is known as a place to view not just the scenery, but also to see fish, turtles, and birds. The koi in the central pond were particularly huge, and both the fish and the birds were crazy for the little breadcrumbs that visitors were feeding them.

 Koi. So creepy when they open their giant mouths.

 Getting a little Hitchcock vibe from the birds swarming the breadcrumbs.

Taisho Kinenkan again.


 The ginkgo leaves were particularly lovely.

 A small stone pagoda in the garden. 



 I watched this little turtle for quite a while. He was chillin', floatin', and then sunning himself. So cute. 
Such a relaxed way to spend the day. I am learning from the turtle about how to live better.

There was an area of stone Buddhist sculpture near the south end of the park, which was a nice surprise.


 Oh, no big deal, just throw in some 16th and 17th century sculpture near the back (!).

 Garden view.

 Another garden view.

 Stepping stones.

 Crane! So elegant. I could also use some life lessons from this guy. 
Move slowly, observe a lot, be serene, strike quickly and with purpose when catching fish.

 One last view on the way out.

Next to Kiyosumi Gardens is Kiyosumi Park. While the garden was quite formal and full of people on afternoon dates, older folks taking photos, and families on day trips, the park was full of exuberant life- a toddler learning to walk, high schoolers practicing baton, families picnicking, people walking dogs and dogs barking at each other, people on bikes, kids playing ball. As the sun set between the gingko trees, it was a truly joyful sight.

 Life being lived to the fullest.

Golden afternoon glow.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Friday 金曜日

Walking to Uguisudani Station after work on Friday, pausing to view the Sky Tree and the rush hour trains speeding by below the bridge. 

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Ramen Video

A great little video on Japan, ramen, and life.

The Way of Ramen from Paul von Spector on Vimeo.

National Diet Library, Again もう一度、国会図書館

 Ah, yes. Another day of searching through the Diet Library. Another marathon of sitting and clicking. Another stack of photocopied materials to sift through, translate, and cite. After a few visits these past few months, I'm getting used to the system, and faster at collecting materials. Today I sifted through over 3,000 newspaper headlines, which seems unreal when I type it. I am definitely rewarding myself with some t.v. and a beer this evening.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

秋 Autumn

The leaves in Ueno Park are lovely this week. The autumn color combined with blue skies and cool temperatures makes it the perfect time to be outdoors.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Ramen ラーメン

Confession time: I ate meat. 

For the first time in I-won't-admit-how-many-years-but-more-than-half-my-life, I ate pork. It wasn't bad! For years, I've spied ramen places here in Japan- they serve fresh noodles in a savory broth, nothing like the cups or packages that most Americans are familiar with. Everyone raves about how good the shops are. It's a cultural phenomenon with countless blogs dedicated to the subject. But, ramen shops are decidedly not vegetarian. I've been thinking hard about the reasons I don't eat meat (global warming, factory farming), contrasting this with my adventurous spirit and desire to immerse myself in my surroundings, and decided that trying something new on a rare occasion can fit into my ethical stance. This will likely be a once a year or less thing going forward, and will only be for special I-need-to-sample-this-cuisine-at-least-once-in-my-life reasons, but I'm feeling pretty good about my new flexibility.

So- the food. I went with a friend to Tsuta in Sugamo, which was voted Tokyo Ramen of the Year in 2012. If I'm going to do this, I'm going to do it right. It was truly phenomenal broth, owing to the mixture of three artisan soy sauces, and the noodles were wonderfully fresh. I really enjoyed the hard boiled egg and the vegetables. The dark meat pork was good, flavorful, but not chewy. The fatty piece of meat was not for my taste, but this is likely personal preference as Mimi really liked that part. Beer was the perfect accompaniment. Like many restaurants in Japan, Tsuta was small, seating perhaps a dozen people at a counter behind which the three chefs did their work. The guys running the shop were young and hip, and the shop had a clean, bright vibe to it. Overall, it was a great experience, and something that I'm glad I tried.

Next on my food adventure list: finding veggie ramen so I can indulge in more noodles!

Monday, November 18, 2013

Polka-dot Day

I seemed to have a theme going today...