Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Doll Festival is coming.

Mousugu Hinamatsuri

It's almost Doll Festival again. I need to get the dolls out soon.

In the meantime, the Pumpkin Granny made this for her favorite princess.

They're called tsurushibina. The Pumpkin Granny stitched each of the pieces by hand from silk fabrics.

Mice are symbols of fertility.

Dogs (yes, that's a dog, not a cat) are symbols of fertility and uneventful, easy childbirth. So very important in the days before retirement benefits and emergency C-sections.

Cranes and turtles are symbols of longevity.

And, of course, something for girls would not be complete without a fan.

It's absolutely beautiful.

There's just one thing, though.

I REALLY need to find a better place to put it.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Continued from previously

Sakki no tsuzuki

Miso soup for busy people 101 :P

So we have dashi, to which we ad miso to taste.

The package may say that the miso contains dashi, but using dashi instead of plain water improves the flavor immensely.

The official water to miso ratio (by volume) is 10 to 1, but I think that's way too salty. It's a good guide to go by, though.

The Pumpkin Daddy's favorite miso soup is tofu and scallions. Always add tofu after you add the miso, so the flavor of the miso can work its way into the tofu. Ingredients like potatoes that require actual cooking should be cooked in the dashi before the miso is added, because you don't want to actually boil miso. It'll lose its flavor.

I keep a supply of chopped scallions in a ziplock bag in the freezer. I toss in a handful or two of these after the dashi-tofu-miso combo is heated to just below boiling.

Then I heat again (but do not boil) just before serving.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

I do it all the time!

Itsumo yatte iru yo!

Wiki has it wrong. I make dashi from kelp and fish flakes all the time. It's really easy.

I start by tossing a piece of kelp in my pot, and adding water.

I bring it to a boil on low.

I think this is what makes dashi less cumbersome.

They're self-closing tea bags. Great for making tea, but also great for making dashi. And you can stuff herbs in there instead of fish flakes when you're making chicken stock.

While the kelp-water is heating, I stuff about a handful of fish flakes in the bag.

When the water comes to a boil, I turn the heat up and toss in the bag in the water and hold it down until the bag and flakes are soaked throughly, let the water boil for another minute or so, then turn off the heat and let it sit for two or three minutes.

I take out the bag and let the bag cool on a plate for a few minutes.

Then I squeeze out any excess water still in the bag.

Now, this is the SAHM Pumpkin Mommy method.

The Professional Career Pumpkin Mommy tosses a piece of kelp in a pot of cold water and lets it sit at room temp until she comes home, and brings it to a boil on high.

She has a stash of already-stuffed fish flake tea bags in a ziplock bag in her pantry that she tosses in when the water comes to a boil.

The rest is the same.

The points are that bringing out the flavor of kelp into the water takes time, so a slow heating process (or just soaking in water for a very long time) is what you need, but for bringing out the flavor of fish flakes, you need a short, brisk period of heat.

Too long, and you will end up with an overly bitter broth from amino acid overdose. Apparently, the taste buds, when confronted with an umami overload, get confused and send an erroneous signal of "bitter" to the brain.

There, it wouldn't have been a Pumpkin Mommy cooking post if there hadn't been a taste of geekiness thrown in for good measure, would it?

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Fix Minnie!

Minnie-chan naoshite!

This morning, the Pumpkin Princess noticed something on top of the refrigerator and asked to see it. It turned out to be a plastic Minnie Mouse Christmas tree ornament. It was cute but cheap and the nose broke off when we brought it home. I fixed it with super glue and it did well for a few days, until the Pumpkin Princess pulled it off the tree and dropped it and the hand chipped off. I put it on top of the refrigerator to repair later, and forgot about it until now.

Yes, I realize that it's the second half of February. I never claimed to be organized, I only claimed that I try to be.

So after sending the Pumpkin Princess off to day care, I found some epoxy glue, but it wouldn't stick. So I tried getting the super glue and found that it had solidified. So I guess that's on today's shopping list, along with laundry detergent and fabric softener.

Yesterday's list of accomplishments:

1) Laundry. Washed the kitchen curtains in addition to the usual clothes and towels .

2) Went to an outside gig for a very short while to show one of my co-workers (my maternity leave replacement for that gig) how to use the computer system there

3) The Pumpkin Princess got an hour long bath. Again. Compliments of two adults. Again.

4) Dinner was penne in a bolognaise sauce (made a couple weeks ago and frozen in a ziplock bag), french onion soup (caramelized onions stocked in freezer, leftover bread from garlic bread a couple nights ago), and broccoli stir fried in anchovy sauce. For dessert, we had some cake that previously mentioned co-worker gave me.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

What did you do yesterday?

Kinou ha nani wo shita?

1) Take Pumpkin Princess to day care.

2) Routine OB visit. The appointment was for 9:30, and I was out of there by 9:50.

3) Laundry. How much do I love that I can do laundry every day for my family of three?
4) Grocery shopping

5) Chatting with a friend from...get this, elementary school. From when I lived in Suburbia, USA.

6) Order new O-ring for T-fal Clipso pressure cooker. The process takes at least half an hour of being put on hold and hung up on by T-fal Japan customer services, but I manage to place the order.

7) Redeem credit card points for T-fal cookware set. I am so looking forward to non-stick frying pans that actually don't stick.

6) Start fixing dinner. Chopped veggies and mixed soy and spices and chicken bullion for veggie stir fry, mixed soy, sake and spices for spicy mapo dofu, made dashi for miso soup (hmm... Wiki says dashi made fresh from katsuobushi and kelp is rare these days, funny, I do it all the time), made extra mild mapo dofu from a prepackaged mix (for the Pumpkin Princess), make taros in soy sauce, set water and rice in rice cooker.

7) Pick up Pumpkin Princess from day care.

8) Continue to fix dinner (cook veggie stir fry, finish miso soup) while playing legos with the Pumpkin Princess.

9) Took bath with Pumpkin Princess. Had Pumpkin Princess protest violently that she preferred Pumpkin Daddy's shampoos (although the Pumpkin Mommy is good enough as a playmate for playing with the bath toys). Breathe sigh of relief when Pumpkin Daddy gets home.

10) Switch places with Pumpkin Daddy and finish fixing dinner (spicy mapo tofu made from scratch, for the grownups)

(I know this sounds strange to Americans and Muslims, but giving kids their baths is a standard job for Japanese daddies and grandpas. Par for starting solo bathing is around when their age becomes double digits.)

11) Dinner is served.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

I'm a full time homemaker

Watashi ha sengyou shufu desu

So maternity leave started yesterday. I tried to actually do stuff and not just fool around on the internet.

1) I did laundry.

At the Pumpkin Palace, like most Japanese households, we line dry, but cedar pollen season has started, so I hung everything in the spare tatami mat room. It's currently estimated that about 20 to 30% of the Japanese population is allergic to cedar pollen, and that number is growing. Both the Pumpkin Daddy and I are allergic to cedar pollen, but our allergy is mild compared to most people, and we can get away with not using meds. Which is a good thing, because I couldn't take it if I did right now. Unlike ragweed pollen, which I understand is the big allergen in North America, cedar pollen rides the wind for long distances, so even if you are miles and miles away from the cedar forests, you can have the itchy eyes and runny nose. And there are a lot of cedar forests. After WWII, Japan was faced with a housing crisis. It was clear that lumber would be needed to rebuild the charred wasteland compliments of the American air raids, and also to house the beginning baby boom. Cedar was a hardy, fast growing tree, and the government encouraged forestation. It was a good idea at the time, but as it turned out, it was cheaper to import North American and Asian timber, so the cedar trees just grew. And grew. And bred. And now we have a source of decreased productivity in the general workforce, and a major source of revenue for the pharmaceutical companies. Laundry dried outside is a pollen magnet. Plus, the Pumpkin Palace can use the humidity the drying laundry generates.

In addition to the usual laundry, I washed the curtains in the master bedroom. They are "make do" curtains that used to hang in the Pumpkin Daddy's bachelor pad. They looked a bit gray, so I tried chlorine bleach, but they didn't get any whiter. The only thing I have to show for my trouble is a strange brownish spot on my black maternity top where I accidentally splashed it. Oh well. I'm hoping to trim and hem them to a proper length later this week or perhaps sometime next week (like I said, they are make-do curtains).

2) I dusted and swiffed upstairs.

3) I started to gather up the paperwork I needed to do my taxes. I can't find the part of my life insurance form I have to cut out and paste to the tax paperwork. But at least I know what I need to look for now, right?

4) I went grocery shopping.

5) I cooked dinner (oyster stew, salad, garlic bread, broccoli stir fry).

And my favorite:

6) I took an hour long nap when I felt the usual wave of pregnancy-induced uncontrollable mid-afternoon drowsiness.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Health care reform

Iryou seido kaikaku

My maternity leave officially starts tomorrow. In Japan, you get six weeks before your due date and eight weeks after you give birth. I have a feeling this baby is going to show early, but we'll see.

My prenatal checks are currently once every two weeks. I kind of feel like this is overkill, but oh well.

In Japan, you get issued a mother-baby book (boshi techou) sometime around your 10th week of pregnancy. You get one book for every baby, so if you have twins you get three. Health care providers will write down info like prenatal exam data, vaccination dates and lot numbers, and dental exam records. This is the Pumpkin Princess's book

and this is the in-utero Pumpkin Prince's book.

The Pumpkin Prince's book, in addition to being Disneyfied, has info about family services, general health care, and first aid in the back. The Pumpkin Princess's doesn't (the same info came in a separate booklet that I received the same time as the mother-baby book).

I guess they tweak health care every so often. Which, of course, is a good thing.

One of the things I noticed this time around is that the weight gain restrictions are a bit more lax then they were when I was pregnant with the Pumpkin Princess. That time around, I was told to limit my weight gain to 8 kilos (18 pounds). Yes, I tried. No, it didn't work. I was doing barely OK until maternity leave started, and then my weight skyrocketed. No, I'm not telling you how much. I will say that the Tomato Mommy was told to limit her weight gain to 4 kilos (9 pounds) and did as she was told. Amazing, amazing woman.

Anyway, this time around, I was told that I could gain up to 12 kilos (26 pounds). See the chart?

Apparently, recent research has shown that low birth weight babies have an increased risk for developing diabetes and hyperlipidemia and cardiac disease later in life, and being overly agressive in keeping maternal weight in check is not as good as previously thought.

Whatever works. Maternity leave started today. I'm trying to avoid just sitting around like I did last time (I ended up spending a lot of time fooling around on the internet and eating food I didn't need to eat). We'll see how it goes.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Making do with what you have

Aru mono de maniawaseru

My beautiful and generally cool net friend Angie sent our online group a cookbook one Christmas. It was a collection of recipes posted online by people in the group. One of the recipes was for a cream cheese based mushroom pate, but it called for things that were kind of hard to get here. Like plain white mushrooms (available sporadically, and pricey when so). And chicken stock (you can't get it canned here. I make my own, but I keep it frozen in ziplock bags, and it's kind of hard to thaw just small amounts). So I tried using what I can get easily, and I got pretty good reviews when I took it to parties. I'm taking this to the Okra Palace for their housewarming party tomorrow.

Mushroom Pate

100 g (4 oz) cream cheese
200g (8 oz) any kind of mushrooms (original recipe calls for ordinary mushrooms, I use shimeji or shiitake or maitake, whatever is in the fridge)
1 thin or 1/2 fat green onion
1 clove garlic
3 T butter
80 ml (1/3 cup) white wine (original recipe calls for chicken stock)
1 sprig thyme
2 t lemon juice
2 t Worscestershire sauce
1/2 to 1 t salt (to taste)
freshly ground pepper (to taste)

Finely chop mushrooms (i use a food processor) and sautee in butter for about 2 minutes. Finely chop green onion and garlic (again, food processor for me) and add to mushrooms and sautee for another minute. Add white wine and turn up heat to high and cook until it stops looking watery. After the mushroom mixture has cooled, combine well with softened cream cheese, thyme leaves, lemon juice, Worscestershire sauce (I just toss everything into the same food processor), and salt and pepper to taste. This will make about one cup and you can either put it in a silicone mold overnight and serve as a pate, or put it in a bowl and serve it as a dip. Either way, it should sit in the fridge overnight to let the flavors merge. I like it with whole wheat crackers, but it also makes a rather sinful chip dip.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

I feel like eating it now.

"Tabetaku nachatta!"

The other day, I told the ikura story to my co-workers. The general reaction is that of amused disbelief, but one co-worker said that after seeing the picture of all that ikura, she felt hungry for sushi and was going to get some on the way home that night.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

There's a long path ahead.

Michi ha nagai.

This past Saturday was open classroom at the Pumpkin Day Care. It was ordinary enough, showing the kids sitting at their tables and decorating boxes with stickers and singing songs and having the parents join in and what not, but to me, the highlight of the day was just before lunchtime, when the teacher announced that it was time to go to the toilet. The kids all took off their pants and 20 or so adorable bare bottoms made a beeline for the toilets.

In spite of the cuteness overload, I did not fail to notice that the Pumpkin Princess was the only 3 year-old not in big girl pants. After some discussion with the teacher, today, I sent her out to day care in big girl pants, and was quite pleased when she came home with no diapers or laundry. However, although I managed to coddle her to use the toilet as soon as we got home, the kid was standing in a puddle within the hour.

Oh well.