My Birthday Week – August 2016

Day 1 – Wednesday

Wednesday is my flamenco day. My teacher is very kind and brings a bottle of bubbles if someone’s birthday falls on the day of the class. The first year I did not know the tradition so I just said thank you and enjoyed the kindness. The second year, it was during a workshop (my favorite La Chica!). When I was leaving, they sang Happy Birthday for me. It was really lovely. This year was my third year at this school, so I thought I should prepare. I brought a bottle to enjoy with my flamenco people. After class, we stayed to have a glass of bubbles. It was a lovely, intimate and relaxing time we spent in the middle of the week.

Day 2 – Thursday

Thursday is my ballet day. I started ballet 6 months ago just to help my dance technique – core strength, balance and furthermore to learn how to turn. To be honest, it is not much fun as I do not know what I am doing in the class…. At least what I can do is not drink at dinner and show up at the class every week. So no glass of bubbles for me this day….. But I was proud of myself for not giving in to the temptation!

Day 3 – Friday

This day was my real birthday. My day started with a chocolate biscuit with salted caramel cream and hot chocolate for morning tea. Not a bad start at all. Dinner was sushi at the best Japanese restaurant here – our home. Tonight the chef was my husband. He visited 2 different fish shops on the way home and got my favorites; Coffin Bay Oysters, Tasmanian Salmon, its head and frame, Canadian Scallops and cooked Tiger Prawns.

We started with Coffin Bay Oysters and a glass of cava as entrée. While I was preparing rice for sushi, he prepared all fish for nigiri sushi. Salmon’s head and frame were salted and went to the oven until they became crispy (200 ◦C for 40 mins). AAAAHHHH! Just loved to surround by real food! To be honest, I strongly believe that we cannot find any better in Perth. By dinner time the table filled with sushi, we opened the second bottle – bubbly red. Yuuuuuuuummmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm….

Day 4 – Saturday

After cleaning the house and doing the laundry, we went for a bike ride to Kings Park. The wild flowers had started blooming here and there. It was beautiful. At the café, my husband ordered me a cup of maccha latte. It was a lovely gesture from him! After a little bit of nap, we headed to Co-Op Dining (http://co-opdining.com.au/) in East Perth for dinner. The restaurant focuses on local produce which is organic and bio-dynamic (Refer to https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Biodynamic_agriculture). We tried the 5 course degustation with matching wines. All dished were fresh and delicious. I especially liked the first dish – raw vegetables (cauliflower, radish, kabu radish, parsnip) with rhubarb puree and the desert. My husband liked the slow cooked egg yolk with carrot puree topped with puffed buckwheat and garlic chops, and the slow cooked kangaroo tail. The down side was the appearance and décor. Although it was located in a nice area, we could see it was a renovated office. The service was friendly, but not pro. Some were poorly explained (e.g. the first dish was supposed to be eaten by hand but it was not explained, Kabu was introduced as Japanese radish etc). This place was certainly a wonderful bistro, not fine dining though. Having said that, we loved the food and wine. All wines were so nice and unique we had never seen them before.

Day 5 – Sunday

As my husband went to see AFL, I decided to do what I like. A bottle of bubbles was opened at 2pm. I called my mother to chat, ‘line’d with my friends in Japan and watched Osaka’s comedy shows. And most importantly, doing nothing! My husband might call me lazy but why not?! A bottle of bubbles, family and friends and laughing out loud made me happy and was the best way to finish my celebration.

 

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The Easiest Ever Muffins – Lemon & Coconut

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These muffins can be made just by adding ingredients. All you need to do is just place a large mixing bowl on a scale and keep adding and mixing all ingredients in order.

Ingredients (8 medium size muffins)

100g of Self-rising flour

40g of Shredded Coconut (unsweetened)

2 Eggs

70g of Sugar

40g of Lemon Juice

20g of Coconut Milk

40g Unsalted Butter – melted

20g of Olive Oil (or any of your favorite oil)

 

Method:

  1. Preheat oven to 200◦C. Line a muffin tin with paper muffin cups. Sift self-rising flour.
  2. In a large bowl, beat eggs and sugar until sugar is dissolved completely. Add lemon juice, coconut milk, melted butter and olive oil and combine them well.
  3. Add self-rising flour and shredded coconut into the mixture and combine them gently until they disappear. Do not mix as gluten will come out and the muffins will be dense*.
  4. Pour the mixture evenly into the prepared muffin cups. Bake them for 15-18 minutes or until they are just cooked (until a wooden skewer inserted into the centre of muffin comes out clean).
  5. Take them out of the oven and cool them down on a wire rack.

 

Note:

*How to combine dry ingredients into wet ingredients gently*

I use a wire whisk. Scrape and scoop the mixture of ingredients with the whisk, and lift up and drop it. Repeat this until dry ingredients disappear into the mixture. It helps you to work quicker when you turn the mixing bowl in the opposite direction of the whisk scrapping the mixture.

My Japanese Folk Remedies for a Cold – Common ?

I know when it got me. It was when I went to the gym. It was a yoga class with 15 people in a small studio last Tuesday. I could smell of the first sign of a cold at the first downward facing dog pose.

I feel that the cold is sitting in my nose now. I just do not want it to spread to any other parts of my body. I am still fine. This is the time that I have to take care myself and get rid of it quickly before I really get sick. So what should I do?

There are some common folk remedies for a cold taught by my family. What I believe the most is to sleep and sweat. The method is soaking in a bath at night, going straight to a bed, wrapping yourself with a warm blanket and having a deep sleep. OH! Do not forget to put socks on. Perspiration is the key. Make yourself sweat a lot while you are sleeping. Change your clothes frequently when you are sweaty.

Seriously, it really works. Well…, at least for me.This is the remedy from my mum, and my grandma and my great grandma. But, unfortunately, we do not a bath in our apartment so I cannot do this. I have to think of something else.

Eating something easy to digest is another one, so your body does not need to use unnecessary energy. A bowl of Udon Soup was the dish that my mum cooked for her sick children. I am never tired of Udon, especially the broth! Yummmm…. But my husband might (or already has), so I cannot cook Udon every day until I recover for dinner.

Gargling with green tea is a good one too. Apparently, the catechin in green tea protects your throat from dryness. But, green tea here is not cheap. I would rather drink it than gargling with it…. Is it still effective?

How about spring onions? It is said that they are good for a sore throat. Once I actually wrapped spring onions around my neck while I was sleeping. I was in a choir at the time and I guess I was desperate to get my sore throat better. I cannot remember whether it worked or not though….

How about eating ginger, garlic, hot cocoa and Vitamin C? My mum always made a cup of Honey Lemon Ginger Tea. And of course Hot Cocoa! I was told that ginger, garlic and cocoa are effective to keep a body warm. That’s something I can do in Australia too!

So this is my home-made Honey Lemon Ginger. – Place all slices of lemon (2 lemons) and ginger ( a big chunk!) in a jar. Pour honey over it. Marinade and store it in a fridge.

 

I asked my husband if there are any Aussie remedies like my Japanese ones. He asked me back – “Do you mean, common ones or just funny ones?”… See how my cold goes hey!

 

 

Japanese Valentine’s Day and the Really Difficult Biscuits

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Godiva, Pierre Marcoloni, Salon du Chocolat, Jean-Paul Hevin, Demel, Lindt…

These high-end chocolates are all over in Japan, especially in February. It is for the 14th of February, Valentine’s Day.

The Japanese custom on Valentine’s Day is that women give chocolates to men to tell their feelings. There are 2 types of chocolates that exist here. One is given to someone special (husband, boyfriend, prospective boyfriend), which is called “Honmei Choco” (Honmei means a real target). Another is for colleagues, bosses and male friends, which is called “Giri Choco” (Giri means obligation).

Obviously, this “Giri Choco” is the funny one. In the workplace, it is quite common that female employees are “obligated” to give chocolates to male employees. I remember that my dad brought a lot of boxes of chocolates back home on the day.

It sounds like a good custom only for men? HAHA! Sorry, Gentlemen, there is a catch. Off course.

We have a day called “White Day” a month after Valentine’s Day -the 14th of March. The day is for men to give gifts to women in return for the Valentine’s gift. White Day gifts are often confectioneries, such as cookies and candies etc. This custom applies to all men who got “Giri Choco” too. Imagine if you are a boss who got a box of chocolates from each one of your female staff in your workplace!!! I think that the real obligation lies here. I remember that my mum had to go to buy a lot of boxes of cookies and candies for my dad to take to work.

My workplace in Japan was pretty good though. As the company was a confectionery company, most of us were interested in sweets, so I guess that we took it as an opportunity to try something new and trendy. We, girls, chipped some money in and got something really good. In return, boys got something really nice treat to us. We all shared and enjoyed it at work. So we were technically buying what we wanted to eat at the time. I quite liked the arrangement.

This year’s Valentine’s Day was on Sunday. I had a plenty of time to prepare so I made this cookie; the famous cigarette shaped biscuits from Yoku Moku. Since I got the recipe from my friend, I had wanted to try out. But! OH! This was really really difficult!!! The biscuits have to be rolled while they are hot, but to do so, it has to be the best timing to take them out from the oven. If you take them out late, they are too crispy to roll. If you are too early, it is easier to roll, but the biscuits do not become crispy.

As a result, 6 out of 14 were presentable. 2 out 6 were crispy…. I think I need more practice. At least, my husband will welcome that.

 

Dashimaki Tamago – Japanese Omelette

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This is my favorite egg dish. It was always in my Obento which my mum made every day for me when I was a student.

Ingredients

2 Eggs

3 Tablespoons of Water

½ Teaspoon of Fish Stock Powder

½ Teaspoon of Soy Sauce

 

Method

  1. Mix all ingredients together in a small bowl. Do not mix too well, as the Dashimaki will become hard.
  2. Pour a small amount of oil in a Tamagotaki frying pan (see note below). Heat the pan on high, and wait until the pan gets really hot.
  3. When the pan gets really hot, turn it back to medium heat. Pour 1/3 of the egg mixture into the pan. Spread the mixture evenly over the pan. As bubbles start coming up, pop them and cover the holes by the egg mixture on the pan by rolling the pan.
  4. When the bottom of the egg layer is set (make sure it is not fully set and there is still some liquid on top of the layer), start rolling the egg from the far end toward yourself. O found it is easier to “Fold” it rather than “Roll” it. Try to fold the egg layer to the middle first, and then try to fold it to the end.
  5. Slid the rolled egg back to the far edge. Pour ½ of the remaining of the egg mixture and spread it over the pan. Make sure to spread the mixture under the rolled egg too.
  6. Once the bottom of the egg is set, roll it toward you as before.
  7. Pour all of the remaining egg mixture into the pan and repeat step 5 and 6 once more.
  8. Remove the rolled egg from the pan. Leave and cook it down for 5 minutes.
  9. Cut into 6 equal prices and serve.

 

Note

A Takagoyaki Frying Pan is a small rectangular pan which is used only for Tamagoyaki. The size is 18cm x13cm.

 

Unlucky Year s “Yakudoshi” and the 40th Birthday

In Japan, we have “Unlucky Years” called “Yakudoshi”. We say that unlucky things happen to you during the “Yakudoshi” years. The years come to you when you are 19, 33 and 37 years old for females, and 25, 42 and 61 years old for males. The year before and after each of the years is pre and post unlucky year, therefore, you need to be careful too. So technically, “Yakudoshi” continues for 3 years every time. This is a very old belief with no scientific proof, but this idea still remains and somehow the majority of us in Japan believe it.

And…, just be careful, as how to count your age is different from the normal way. We have to think how old you will become (or you became) this year and add 1 on it. For example, if you are 39 years old now and your birthday has not come yet, you are 41 years old under the “Yakudoshi” chart, just like my husband.

It sounds really horrible and harsh, doesn’t it? It does…. It sounds just scary. In Japan, what we normally do to get rid of the unluckiness is to go to a shrine and pray. A priest at a shrine can perform a special “Yakudoshi” purification for you. There is a special charm “Omamori” available in a shrine, which is believed to protect us from the unluckiness or evil.

On the other hand, my mum always tells me that it is not a “bad “year, just an “unlucky” year, so we do not need to worry too much. The important thing is to behave, do the right things and don’t forget to appreciate others. Just do what people are supposed to do and do not bring evil in your mind. This will help to reduce your unluckiness or assist you in getting out from the unluckiness which might have occurred.

Maybe my mum just tried to be positive, but somehow for me, this thought makes sense. I guess you cannot be lucky all the time in your life, however, if you live properly, maybe unluckiness will not grow too big to handle.

My husband has just turned to 40 (pre-Yakudoshi Year). We headed south to celebrate. His parents and his best friend joined us. We had his birthday lunch at Voyager Winery. It was a fabulous long weekend. Although I’m not sure if “Yakudoshi” affects Australians, considering the fact that he has wonderful parents and a best friend travelling interstate for him, I think that no unluckiness has come close to him.

Happy New Year – 2016

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FAQ

“Do you celebrate Christmas in Japan?”

Answer

“No, we don’t. We enjoy Christmas.”

Japanese people love different cultures. We know how to adapt and enjoy to make our life more colourful. Christmas is one of them. Although we roast chicken (not turkey), Father Christmas comes to give presents to Japanese children, Christmas cake is sold at a bakery and streets are decorated. It is party time.

Instead, we celebrate New Year, just like we do for Christmas in Australia. The day is the most important holiday for us in Japan. Traditionally it is the event to invite a god (one of Shinto’s gods) who brings a household happiness for the new year. In modern days, at least for me and my family, the day is for family or the loved ones to get together, and celebrate and pray for each other’s health and happiness for the new year. What we do is pretty much the same though. We clean our house before New Year, decorate our house in certain way, go to a shrine to pray and cook&eat the traditional food- Osechi.

Osechi is a set of several dishes prepared for New Year’s Celebration and normally packed in Jubako – which is like a big bento box (but 3 layers!). Just as an obento, Osechi contains several kinds of dishes. Each dish in Osechi has each meaning to describe the reason why it is served for this celebration. Osechi is prepared a day before New Year. The amount is big since Osechi was traditionally meant to be eaten for the next 3 days, and women should not work in the kitchen during those 3days except for preparation of Ozoni (Mochi/ Rice Cake in soup).

As you can imagine, my mum’s Osechi is wonderful. I went back to Japan to eat her Osechi every New Year on the first 4-5 years in Australia (I have stopped doing that now since Japan is too cold for me in winter). And then, it was last year. I realised how much I missed my mum’s Osechi! So I decided to make it by myself. Of course my mum assisted me with some tips and advice over the phone. I have to say it was pretty good for the first time. This year I did it again. Here is the menu:

Kuromame (black beans cooked in sugar and soy sauce): While mame means beans, it is also used to describe the person who has dedication. This is a wish to become a person who can dedicate.

Konbu Maki (rolled kelp): Kobu sounds associated with “Yorokobu” , which means joy.

Kohaku Namasu (pickled daikon and carrot): Red and white is the colour for celebration in Japan.

Tazukuri (dried sardines caramelised with sugar and soy sauce): My family calls as “Gomame”. “Tazukuri” means making a rice field, describing an abundant harvest.

Ebino Umani (prawns cooked in soy sauce, sake and mirin): It is to wish for a long life until we stoop from old age, just like a shape of prawn.

Kurikinton (chestnuts and sweet potatoes paste): The yellow colour describes gold and richness.

Nishime (simmered vegetables): traditional Japanese dish which was eaten from a long time ago. I use Daikon, Carrot and Konnyaku.

Koya-dofu (simmered dried tofu): The square shape looks like a shield for protection.

Tamagoyaki (Japanese omelette): This is the substitute for Datemaki- egg and seafood extended mix omelette, which I cannot obtain here. It represents knowledge and learning from the rolled shape (books in ancient time were rolled).

It takes so much time to make Osechi since there are several dishes involved. But I feel so happy to look at the completed Osechi. Don’t you think it is beautiful? It is beautiful for both your eyes and mouth. I believe that it is the best dish to eat on the first day of the year.