Thursday, December 30, 2004

2004 In Review

Another year has passed by, so it's time to reflect, and time to make plans for the new year.

What did 2004 mean to me? It certainly wasn't a particularly good year. Globally, the situation in Iraq went from bad to worse with US losing control day by day; hundreds died in the Madrid train bombing; Japan and the US both experienced record numbers of typhoons/hurricanes and suffered severe damage; WTO predicted a bird-flu pandemic; a major earthquake hit northern Japan, leaving tens of thousands seeking shelter in school gyms. To top it all off, during the Christmas holiday season, a disastrous tsunami hit southern Asia, resulting in death tolls in the 100,000 range and rising.

On the personal front, although given more and more responsibilities at work, I have come to realize undeniably that I am not and will never be interested in what I am doing now as a profession. However, without knowing what I want to do, or what will make me feel happy and fulfilled, I am reluctant to let go of the one safety net - my job, and also the lifestyle that my paycheck allows me to lead . I suppose I should be thankful that Jason, Libby and I are all healthy, and we can all count on each other. I am grateful for that, but can you blame me for wanting a purpose in life, for wanting to find my true calling? My dad has always said that you need to look at your job as means to an end, it provides you with the financial basis you need to do what you truly enjoy. Maybe in reality it's true in most people's cases. But is it too much of a luxury to want to love what you do for a living?

Speaking of my dad, 2004 is definitely a bad year for him. He went from a highly energetic person who loves his job as a senior software developer to being bed-ridden, unable to work, and for a short while, not even able to carry out simple daily activities such as feeding himself. Countless tests and doctor visits later, the true cause of his mysterious illness is still not found. He now sees a accupuncturist twice a week and a powder mix of six venomous insects seemed to have put him on the right track to recovery. I hope 2005 will be a better year for him and he can make a full recovery.

So what's my new year's resolution for 2005?
1. I will try my very best to go to the gym three times a week.
2. I will try to be less wound-up and learn to relax once in a while
3. I will be more patient and not get irritated when Japanese drivers do stupid things to piss me off
4. I will play with Libby until she's had enough no matter how tired I am when I get home or how rushed I am to get dinner started
5. If 2005 is the year we leave Japan, we will take a driving trip to Hokkaido before leaving
6. I will plan at least one dinner party for eight people so our effort to haul back our dining table from Shanghai is not completely wasted7. And we will visit Tibet!

America the Great

So I've been back for more than a week now and since I was away for so long, I am experiencing a reverse culture shock. Here's a short list of things I find good and bad:

Good: the big-assed SUV Washington Flyer taxi that swallowed up our two suitcases without a blink

Bad: Pre-Christmas shopping madness with full parking lots and long lines at the checkout

Good: Post-Christmas sales at discounts you won't believe

Bad: Having the hardest time finding things in your size, when wasitlines are too big even on some size 0, but pant legs are too long because at 5'5" you are a dwarf

Good: Self-esteem is up when you compare yourself to the overweight American mass and think that maybe you can slack off on gym

Bad: Checkout clerks are so slow it's like watching them in slow-motion (I miss Japanese cashier's efficiencies)
Good: The self checkout at the supermarket that lets you scan and pay without the help of a cashier
Bad: Sales people who greet you and expect to be greeted back. Why am I obligated to answer the question, "How you're doing?" every time I step inside a store. Why can't they just be like the Japanese sales people, and simply bow and say welcome?

Good: Fountain sodas tastes much better than the ones you get in Asian countries

Bad: Portions are so big in restaurants that you share an appetizer and a main with your girlfriend and still have to remind yourself not to gorge

Good: Being able to buy produce at 1/6 the Tokyo price

Bad: Twenty-four isles of floor to ceiling grocery shelves, not one bottle of clam juice

Good: Wide roads, cheap gasoline, and cops ticket idiots who park on the road and block traffic

Bad: Having to drive extra carefully because without congestion, you might actually go over the speed limit and get ticketed

Good: Carrying only $50 in my wallet because everything can be paid in visa

Bad: Make it almost everything, because Neiman Marcus only takes AMEX and their own charge card. Whatever happened to "Visa: All it takes" or "'There are some things money can't buy, for everything else there is MasterCard"???

Great: Getting free wireless connection in the kitchen!

Friday, December 17, 2004

Lazy Woman’s Solution to Christmas Cards

This year, I am too lazy to even send out e-cards. I am wishing everyone a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year on my blog. I know it’s a little impersonal, but believe me each and everyone of you is on my mind when I send you my season’s greetings.

Anyway, I am off to go home tomorrow and will stay for two and a half weeks. My turducken is scheduled to arrive before Christmas and I will let you all know how it goes. If any of you will be in the DC area between Dec 19 and Jan 4 and want to catch up, email me!

Technical Matters

Only recently after browsing through some other people's blogs did I realize the lack of extra features on my blog template. Essential things such as Links is prominantly missing. So I decided to upgrade my template.

Searching blog's add-ons yielded free downloads of web counters and message boards. In an effort to create a fully-loaded blog, I decided to install them. The webcounter never worked for some reason, but the message board seems ok.

Next step was to add some links, but again, blog's suggested code didn't work. So I went to my friend Hsin-li's blog and stole her source code. Now I have a very short link section, yippy!

I also want to categorize my blog entries, divide up my profile to include Jason and Libby, so on and so forth. So many things to do but so little time!

Thursday, December 16, 2004

The Demise of the Rosemary

It has always been my dream to have a luscious herb garden so I can pluck whatever is needed for dinner right from it, instead of paying exorbitant prices for a big bunch, from which I will only use one sprig, and let the rest wilt in my fridge. In the past, I have made numerous attempts to cultivate a little corner of scent and flavor in my humble little yard. There were the times when I took home pots of parsley from the grocery store, only to have them die before I ever got to use them. There was also that time when I got so excited upon finding mini-hockey puck like packed soil cakes pre-seeded with herbs in Tokyu Hands that I bought one of every variety. As soon as I got home, I took out little containers, filled them up with water, and floated my little soil cakes in them. They quickly soaked up the water and expanded, and within a week, I had baby hair like sprouts coming out of all of them. Yeay! My dream was finally about to come true! However, in the heat of the excitement, I had forgotten about our 10-day trip to the Maldives coming up in less than a week. I duly potted all the herbs before we left for the trip, but they did not survive the ten days without any water, even though I placed soaked towels under the pots. Since then, there had also been other store bought herb plants, mainly basil and parsley, but none lived long enough to grow to a size suitable for using. The plants sold in stores are so small that if I plucked the 3 leaves from the basil plant, I’d have nothing left but a stub. Why do they all have to be so fragile?

Enters the rosemary. The first time I noticed how sturdy they are were on our trip to Marrakech. The boutique hotel where we stayed was owned by a French woman and her American ethno-herbologist husband. During the years that they operated the hotel, he had covered the landscape with organic herbs and indigenous vegetables, with rosemary bushes everywhere. It was so abundant that we had a big sprig on our pillow every night and it’s featured prominently in the daily display of fresh wild flowers in our room.

Although I am a big fan of rosemary, it never occurred to me to grow my own. Why, I don’t need to! I have been picking it from that shopping center five minutes from my apartment. It’s a little open space surrounded by shops and restaurants, and rosemary bushes. Whenever I needed rosemary, I went there to pick the freshest. I did have to be careful and only pick those growing in high places, as you see, it’s also a popular place for people to walk their dogs and I didn’t want to find out how doggie-pee would smell on rosemary. Still, it would be nice to have my own stash so I wouldn’t have to suffer the suspicious looks on passer-bys' faces while I loot the rosemary bushes.

As luck would have it, the very next time I needed rosemary and went to pick it at the shopping center, I discovered rosemary plants on sale at the flower shop in the plaza. I gladly shelled out $10 for a plant that measured about 40cm in height and two smaller ones 10cm tall each. The big plant was very healthy looking and had so many leaves that I immediately used some for a rosemary bread. I then placed the plants in a sunny spot in my yard and watered them diligently every week. All things were going well and images of rosemary scented chocolate fondue and lamb chops in rosemary marinade danced in my head. Then I went on a business trip for five days, and entrusted the care of the rosemary to Jason. This is what I found when I came back.

Not a single live needle on the entire plant! How could it be? How can it die in just five days?! How is it that it can survive Marrakech’s desert climate but only lived for two short months in my yard? Jason denies any wrongdoing or negligence and suggested I collect the dried up needles for future use. But I don’t need dry rosemary! I have two bottles already. What I want is those plump, firm needles that leave a strong fragrance on your fingers for hours!

Luckily, the two smaller plants survived and are now sprouting new branches. My little rosemary plants, now the future of the herb garden lies in your hands (branches). If I have success with you, I shall give you some friends next spring. If you fail, I will have no choice but to go back to my rosemary-stealing ways.

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Confession of a Procrastinator

I always say I work well with deadlines, but the truth is that without a deadline, I will keep on putting off doing something FOREVER. It’s one of my fatal flaws, I know, but recently, when I least expected it, it actually worked in my advantage.

A couple of months ago (September to be exact) my stupid Cartier Tank watch broke down again. This time also after a plane ride (this had happened before but being the procrastinator that I am, I put off having it checked). I was in Singapore for a wedding (Hi Imelda!) and after I came back my three-thousand-dollar-piece-of-crap (TTDPOC) stopped ticking again! It took me another month to send it in to the Cartier boutique in Shibuya because it is just so darn far (one stop on the subway) and I just didn’t have the time (I pass by Shibuya every week for my kimono lesson and sometimes go there on weekends too). Two weeks later, the boutique called back to tell me that they found the problem, and brace yourself for this: the TTDPOC had stopped because it was affected by magnetic forces. Dumbfounded, I asked where could the magnetic forces possibly be coming from? I went to Singapore, not to the center of the earth! The salesperson proceeded to tell me with a straight face (I imagined he had a straight face on at the other end of the line) that it could be a number of household appliances, such as microwaves, cellular phones, even PCs. So I am supposed to take off my watch when I make a phone call now? Ridiculous! But the best part is yet to come. They want $350 dollars to repair it. Do they realize for that amount of money you can buy a pretty nice watch? Flabbergasted, I told him to hold off the repair and let me think about it. And I took my time thinking.

This is not the first time the TTDPOC had broken down. It happened a year ago too, and I spent over $100 to have it fully checked and serviced. Now barely one year had passed and it’s on strike again? After “thinking” about it (procrasnating) for about a month, I decided that the TTDPOC is really a bottomless pit for me to throw money at. I am convinced that it’s a flawed piece to start with and there is no guarantee that it won’t break down again the next time I take a flight. I made up my mind to make a complaint to Cartier and wrote to my friend who works for the Cartier group and got some names.

It took me another couple of weeks to call the boutique and tell them that I decided not to fix the TTDPOC and asked for it back, along with all the service records. The girl on the phone seemed concerned that I wanted service records and said it would take another four days to get the watch back from the service center. Why would it take four days, you procrastinator! However, I was in no mood to bicker, plus what use do I have for the TTDPOC even if I got it back? So I decided to be big about it and let it go, but told her to call me once the TTDPOC returns to the boutique. I then went on my business trip to Shanghai.

After coming back to Narita airport, while waiting for my luggage to come out, I turned on my phone and found a message on it. It was from Cartier, the same guy who told me about the mysterious magnetic force fields that surround us. He blabbered on and apologized for quite a while before getting to the point: by the time I told them I didn’t want the TTDPOC repaired, the service center had already done it; since it’s their mistake, they are not going to charge me for it. Hmmm, how about that! Maybe I had always known that sometimes it pays to be patient (lazy) and waiting for the perfect time to do something (procrastinating) can have its rewards.

It has been a week since I got the message but I still haven’t found the time to go pick up my now functioning Tank watch. This time I gave myself a deadline: Friday, December 17th, just in time to test it the next day on our flight home.

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Shanghai Night

I have always considered Shanghai my hometown, even though I only lived there for 11 years. But those were the most impressionable years and the fond memories are permanently etched in my mind. The food is hard to beat too so we trudge back to Shanghai every year, but the trips are always very rushed. A normal trip itinerary looks something like this:
Day 1 – arrival at 9pm, dinner with in-laws
Day 2 – send clothes to tailor to be repaired; get eyes checked for new prescriptions; lunch at grandmother’s place; visit DVD shops; dinner; get hair washed
Day 3 – pick up altered clothes; leave on a trip to somewhere else in China
Day X – return to Shanghai; pick up new glasses; last visit to DVD shop; dinner with in-laws; hair wash again if time allows; pack
Day X+1 – 8am leave for airport

As such, I never have any time to visit the new landmarks or do any sightseeing. You might think it strange that a person who grew up in Shanghai would have the urge to go sightseeing, but Shanghai is changing so rapidly that in the last 15 years since I left, the landscape has gone through a total transformation. I can no longer recognize even the street that I grew up on, let alone name the dozens of new skyscrapers that jump into your vision field everywhere you turn. Lucky for me, a recent business trip to Shanghai gave me the opportunity to do some touristy things.

It was my company’s annual Asian regional regulatory affairs conference, a.k.a. free trip to an exotic location. Granted, Shanghai is not exotic to me, but I welcomed the chance to go for some great food and shopping, on company time. After the first day of meeting, which lasted from 8:30am to 6:30pm, our Shanghai office arranged a night sightseeing tour after dinner.

A tour bus with an English-speaking guide picked us up at our hotel and took us to the Oriental Pearl, Shanghai’s multi-functional TV tower complete with three observational decks. At 468m, it is the tallest tower in Asia and the third tallest in the world.

Looking at the Oriental Pearl from its base

The tower sits on the east bank of the Huangpu river across from the bund (waitan in Chinese), the financial district of Shanghai’s colonial era. From the tower, the old customs house with the trademark clock and various bank headquarters can be seen across the river.

View of the bund

I found that the best spot to take pictures is actually the lowest deck. It is not enclosed in glass like the two upper decks so there is no problem with glare, and the open design provides some very much needed fresh air. It is from this deck that I took the following photos of my favorite skyscraper in Shanghai, the Jin Mao Da Sha, which houses the Grand Hyatt Hotel on its upper floors. It looks infinitely better at night, and always reminds me of Gotham city.

Jin Mao building

Another angle

In the Spotlight

Last week, after coming back from a business trip, I went into to look for something to cook, and what do I see on the top page but a picture submitted by yours-truly. On closer look, I discovered that my photo gallery has been featured on the “What’s New” section!, my cooking bible, featured moi on their front page!

“I would like to thank for giving me this chance to showcase my food pictures. It is such an honor just to have my username mentioned. I would like to take this opportunity to thank all the people whom I have subjected to my cooking. Thank you for being my guinea pigs! Most of all, I thank my husband, whose uncompromising taste buds and vehement objection to eating the same thing every week inspired me to be the best cook I can be…… (blah blah blah blah blah)

But alas, fame is so short-lived (one week). By the time you read this blog, the link to my photo gallery has already been removed. However, you can still look at the photos by going to the following page:

Monday, December 13, 2004

Walnut Sourdough?

Ok, that's it, my sourdough starter officially went on a strike. This loaf of so-called walnut sourdough was not only not sour, it even tasted a little sweet. What does it take to have a sour tasting bread?

But if you overlook the fact that it's supposed to be a sourdough, the taste is not bad.

Living with Shouji

I woke up on Saturday to this pretty view. This is the floor length window in our bedroom, with a paper screen (shouji in Japanese) on the inside. On most days, when I get up, it is still pretty dark outside, so this was nice for me: sleeping in and getting a visual treat. It is moments like this that makes me thankful for not having curtains, and forget about the annoying fact that these paper screens are screaming, "poke a hole in me!" We have six shouji in our three bedrooms and after two and half years of living there, not one of them is intact. Libby, Jason and our cleaning lady all did their fair share in putting holes of various sizes into the shouji.

Although unsightly, some serve very useful purposes. Take for example, the one that Libby created one night when she got super excited about some birds chirping ceaselessly in the tree (our very first hole, and after that it was like a dam had been broken). It is exactly her nose-height and the perfect size for her to peek out into the yard. So now, instead of asking me to open up the shouji, she just sits there with her nose through the hole and observes. Works for me!

The functionality of others are less obvious, like the one made by the cleaning lady while vacuuming, or the one where Jason put his thumb through trying to close the shouji. Those I will repair, some day, by pasting flower shaped patches onto them. I first saw them at a temple in Kyoto. Sakura and plum shaped paper patches were scattered on all the paper screens and looked really artistic. It took me a while to realize that they were not for aesthetic purposes alone and serve double duty as band-aids. You can always count on the Japanese (and Balinese) people to think of ways to make every detail look pretty.

Friday, December 03, 2004

Japanese Exaggeration Part II

I went shopping for food after lunch today in preparation for the teleconference I have this evening. It will last until 8pm and I didn’t want to be hungry and grumpy by the time it’s done so I planned myself an afternoon snack. I thought if I can’t overlook the fact that some idiot decided to have a teleconference on a Friday night, and right before my business trip to China too, leaving me with no time to have dinner with Jason, I could at least comfort myself with food.

After careful consideration, I plucked from the myriad of puddings and yogurt a hazelnut chocolate pudding touted to be “shifuku no dessert” (a dessert that will enable the eater to achieve the highest level of happiness). That alone should’ve tipped the alarm off in my head, but I love everything hazelnut so I happily picked up the tiny container with “flavorful and thick creamy chocolate” written across it.

Well, I just ate that “happiness inducing” dessert, and let me tell you I am not happy. Aside from the fact that it essentially tasted like Jello, I can’t believe I paid almost $2 for a 3 ounce little tub!

Thursday, December 02, 2004

Upside-down Libby

One of Jason’s favorite pastimes is to think of different ways to torture our sweet Libby. This shows the newest torture technique that Jason has come up with. (And you wonder why I don't want kids?)

Libby, being the sweet-natured dog that she is, is totally defenseless against such roughhousing. It took her years to realize that it can’t be a good thing when daddy approaches her with a. laundry basket; b. thick magazine; c. sofa cushion; d. a big grin on his face. She’ll try to run away while sweeping her tail from side to side wildly as if to say, “Daddy, please let me go.” If I am in sight, she’ll cast sideway glances my way, “Mommy help!”

But because of Libby’s unwillingness to throw a big fuss in order to defend herself, Jason always wins. Then Libby will have this resigned look on her face and remains motionless for the remainder of the torture session as if by doing that time can somehow pass quicker.

Of course I am also guilty of taking the picture instead of rescuing my baby from Jaosn's clutches.

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

The Big Deal about the Gingko Trees

There is a famous Gingko Boulevard near my house. It is a big deal every autumn when the leaves turn golden and people from all over the country come to see the less than 500m of street, which is closed for foot traffic only on weekends. People “Oooh” and “Aaaah” over how beautiful the sunrays play off the leaves so they appear almost transparent; kids pick up bunches of fan-shaped leaves from the ground; old ladies collect gingko nuts that have fallen off the tree; and everyone is toting a camera.

Since this is our third year living in the area, Jason has long lost interest in this crowded event so I went alone with Libby last Sunday. While most people crowded on the four-lane street, I know that the best colors are found on the sidewalks, where the trees have more even colors and the pavement is painted yellow by fallen leaves.

Although I do enjoy the colors and am thankful that I live so close to an autumn-color landmark so I don’t have to fight traffic just to see some gingko tree turn yellow, it never fails to amaze me how exaggerating some of the Japanese can be. Every year, I can always overhear someone gushing, “Nihon de umarete yokatta!” (It’s so great to have been born in Japan) I rolled my eyes the first time I heard it and I still do it every time I hear it uttered. That said, I do appreciate the nice gingko trees and will probably miss it when I leave Japan.

Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Autumn Sky

Pond with autumn sky reflection in Meguro Park

Autumn this year came really late, but came it did. I thought we were just going to skip right on into winter, but thank goodness autumn decided to make a peek appearance after all. It is my favorite season, with the crisp air and vibrant colors. I wish we had weather like this year-round.

Monday, November 29, 2004

November: Steal from Lynn Month

I am glad that November is almost over, for it seemed that in November, people were happily stealing from me without my knowledge left and right.

Last Friday, I got my credit card bill, and was shocked to see that the total was almost $4,000. Since moving to Japan, I have adopted the local way of carrying wads of cash in my wallet because a lot of places don’t take credit cards, so it’s extremely unusual for my monthly bill to be over $2,000. Something must be wrong.

Upon further inspection, I realized that out of the twelve transactions, only five were mine, totaling to approximately $700. The rest of the purchases had been made at various jewelry shops and department stores in Ginza, an area I seldom go to. Since the card (an only copy) has been in my wallet the entire time, someone must have gotten the information electronically and made a fake card. I just couldn’t believe it happened to me.

Credit card theft must not be very common in Japan, because when I called to report the incident, the girl on the other end of the line was completely clueless as to what to do. She didn’t understand why I asked her to read me transactions posted after the statement date and said she had to check with someone when I asked her to terminate this card. When that someone, presumably more experienced, called back, he asked whether I want my new card to be issued with the same card number. Duh! Does he even understand the entire reasoning behind having a new card issued?!

All in all, this thief used my card to buy electronic goods, pay for taxi fare, buy clothes, jewelry and who knows what else, and he/she is probably going to get away with it. Japanese sales clerks are so courteous that when this card is declined at the register with big “stolen card” flashing on screen, they will probably politely ask the thief if he/she has any other means of payment, losing the only chance to report the thief to the police. Then again, the police in Japan are equally impotent, so I guess the only outcome I can hope for is to have the charges revoked. I also made a decision to keep every credit card receipt from now on and diligently check every credit card statement. Maybe it’s time to dust off the trusty Quicken software again.

Friday, November 26, 2004

San Francisco Sourdough

Has anyone had a real SF sourdough before? Is it supposed to look like this? It's the second loaf from the yogurt culture. Smelled promisingly sour but still didn't taste quite sour enough. I haven't eaten a real sourdough bread for so long that I am beginning to think that they aren't that sour to start with. But Jason said to trust him on this one: mine are not sour enough. I will keep on trying.

BTW, we ate it with some balsalmic and olive oil marinated plum tomatos, and I imagine this is the kind of things we'd be eating if we ever manage to rent a villa in Tuscany and stay for a month (substitute SF with Tuscany). Of course, there, the tomato would be vine ripe from a neighbor's yard, and the olive oil and balsalmic vinegar would both be home made. I can always dream, can't I?

WHO warns of flu pandemic

It’s supposed to happen anywhere from next week to the next few years. And it will originate in Asia, as a mutant strain of bird flu that has found a way to be transmitted from human to human. Because it will be an entirely new strain, our immune systems won’t know how to fight it. Add to that the unlikely chance of a vaccine being discovered before March 2005, up to seven million people will die as a result, regardless of gender, race and age.

Great! As if it’s not enough that I am sitting on earthquake central, there is now another way for me to die young and childless. Ok, I was going to choose to die childless anyway, but not before I have finished doing everything on my mental “Things that I must do before I die” list. You think I can make it to Angkor Wat before the bird flue breaks out in Cambodia?

Sometimes don’t you just feel so small and helpless in the bigger scheme of things? I am not one to panic in situations where I have absolutely no control. I figure, what’s the use? What will happen, will happen, and there is absolutely nothing I can do to stop it. I am, however, extremely annoyed at how these things affect our lives. Call me selfish for only focusing on petty things, but I don’t like it when I have to change travel plans to avoid certain areas or modify my lifestyle to cut out the so-called high-risk behavior such as eating out at a restaurant.
I hope WHO overestimated the severity of the situation, or someone made a mistake calculating the casualties. However, deep down I know it’s just my wishful thinking. I guess the only rational thing to do is to enjoy life to its fullest while it lasts, which I should do, by quitting my job first.

Wednesday, November 24, 2004

Who ate my banana bread?

I don’t know whether I should be flattered or alarmed. Since I have been regularly making different kinds of banana bread for breakfast, I found that I have been consistently missing slices. Call me a freak but when I make a loaf that I plan on to last a set number of days, I divide it into the exact number of slices needed. So when a loaf that is supposed to last four days only lasts 3 1/2 (Jason doesn’t get his on day4) I notice. And the slices always go missing on Mondays. After questioning Jason to make sure he didn’t eat it, (I didn’t think he did because he never actively seeks out food in the fridge and the only time he eats is if food is presented to him on a plate.) the only logical deduction is that Sonia, our cleaning lady, did. But why?

She comes on Monday while we are at work so I had to trust her exclusively for her to work alone. And I do, as she has demonstrated her honesty time and again when she carefully collects all the loose change and 1000yen bills that we leave around the house and place them on the sideboard in a neat pile. So why would she forgo money but choose to steal bread? (Maybe she is taking money too but I just don't know because I don't count my money the same way I count my bread slices) Is she hungry? I must admit I never asked when she takes her lunch break. Is my baking so irresistible that she had to have some but was too shy to ask? Am I being a bad person to have never offered my baking to her as a gesture of appreciation? But I already pay her $60 for four hours of work each week. To me that’s appreciation enough, or--- would she rather get paid in bread? Maybe this Christmas, instead of giving her the annual bonus, I will give her a loaf of bread. (Too obvious?)

It is such a tricky situation that I am too embarrassed to even bring it up with her. So I have tried to solve it subtly: by not pre-slicing the bread. But alas, Sonia is no Jason. She, unlike Jason, would not be deterred from eating just because eating requires a little extra effort such as slicing a loaf of bread. (Do not ask how I know she is still eating the bread without slices to count, I am not willing to admit the level to which I have stooped)

As a result, I continue to run out of bread one day before I am supposed to. What can you do?

Thursday, November 18, 2004

The Turducken

“The what?” you say? Those are my exact words when Jason announced last weekend that for our Christmas back home with my parents, we should order a turducken: a boneless chicken stuffed in a boneless duck, stuffed in a boneless turkey. My first reaction was, what an absurd idea! But after some internet research and reading accounts from people who’ve actually eaten this curious thing, I have decided that I have to try it too.

My website sources tell me that after deboning all three fowls, they are laid on top of each other, with three kinds of stuffing in between. The turkey is then sewn shut, enveloping all the ingredients, and the whole thing is shoved into the oven for a total of anywhere from five to nine hours of baking. The rationale behind the three different stuffing (smoked sausage stuffing between the turkey and the duck; cornbread stuffing between the duck and the chicken; and the oyster dressing inside the chicken) is so that each can compliment the meat by which it is sandwiched in between.

Turducken is now available in the States in a pre-stuffed, pre-flavored frozen form, shipped to your home overnight in dry-ice packs. All you have to do is to defrost in the fridge for 2-3 days and bake it for a very long time before you have a meal that feeds 15 to 20 people. However, if you know me, you will know I shun from commercially prepared food whenever possible and prefer to do everything from scratch as much as practical. Besides, if we really fall in love with it and are dying to have it again, there is no way for me to lay my hands on one once we come back to Japan. So I thought I’d explore the possibility of making one myself. How hard could it be? I’ve made many successful turkeys before.

Upon further googling, I found no shortage of enthusiastic home-cooks’ wibsites with recipes on the turducken and everyone seemed delirious with praise for the flavor. I am quite confident in getting the flavor of the stuffing right, but the most difficult part seems to be deboning the birds. Many recipes contain extensive descriptions but no pictures or drawings to show the procedure. Since I am a bit rusty on my bird anatomy (read: none), I needed graphics. And graphics I found! While I will do many things to satisfy the epicure in me, I do believe the profession of the butchers is created exactly to shield us from this kind of gore. (I did find the author of the above website to be quite funny though. So if you are ever inspired to debone a chicken/duck/turkey, you might as well refer to his website and do it with a little humor.)

However, after reading up on all this material, I no longer wish to stuff my own turducken. In fact, I am not even sure if I can rid the bloody image from my mind long enough to enjoy the supposedly heavenly flavor.

Meanwhile, Jason enthusiastically wants to order one for his brother in Atlanta too when he goes for New Year’s; until I reminded him that since each feeds fifteen, the one at my parents’ alone will probably last us a week. Does he really want to eat leftover turducken everyday for two weeks? I didn’t think so.

My Kind of Bag

A bunch of very smart people at MIT designed a bag that reminds you when you forgot to pack your keys, mobile phone, wallet, etc. It also lights up in the dark so you can see the content, and very soon, it will be able to check weather forecast and tell you when you need to bring an umbrella. Ok, they need to redesign the bag so it doesn’t look like a grocery tote, but otherwise, this bag is perfect for a scatter-brain like me! Throw in a GPS and the nerd in me will happily give up my Gucci’s and Prada’s. Ahem, until they come up with their own versions of the smart bag.

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

'Tis the Season to Eat Nabe

My local supermarket started hawking nabe paraphernalia as early as August: clay pots, heavy metal pots, little slotted scoops made out of metal and plastic, table-top burners, gas canisters, you name it. Nabe, or hotpot, is one of my favorite winter foods. It’s the ultimate one-pot meal. With all kinds of pre-mixed soup stock available, all you have to do is to add vegetables, meat, tofu, and throw in some cooked rice at the end to make a nutritious and delicious meal in under 30 minutes. It is a lifesaver when you want a hot meal but are short on time.

Although I love nabe for the obvious reasons, Jason is not a huge fan. I don’t understand what the man has against nabe. After all, this is the same person who asks me to make chicken soup almost every week in the winter. Soup, nabe, what is the difference? So serving nabe for dinner is like planning a sneak attack, and it goes like this:
Jason, “What are we having for dinner tonight?”
Me, “Oh, I don’t know. I’ll think of something when I go to the grocery store.”
Come dinnertime: burner and clay pot all set to go.
Me, “Ta-da! I saw a new kimchi-flavored nabe stock at the supermarket and thought we’d give it a try.”
Jason, “Not nabe agaaaaaaaaaain!”

Mind you, I have put in a lot of thoughts in the nabe I make over the years. Every time I order nabe in a restaurant, I am always careful to take note of any unique ingredients, or the technique employed in making the zousui at the end. Ah, the zousui is another reason I love nabe. It means “everything cooked together” and is like a rice porridge. At the end of a nabe meal, when most of the goodies have been scooped up, the soup is brought to a boil, and then the burner is turned off. Immediately, some cooked rice is added to the soup, and a beaten raw egg is poured in egg-drop-soup-style. The lid is then replaced on the heavy clay pot. The residual heat cooks the egg and makes the rice absorb the soup. Ten minutes later, you lift the lid off to find – zousui! Udon noodles or, my favorite, rice cakes can be used in place of rice. When using rice cakes, they need to be placed inside the nabe a little bit before the heat is turned off so that they can turn all gooey. Mmmmmm, nothing beats piping hot rice cake melting inside your mouth. BUT, not even zousui can sway Jason in favor of the nabe. He finds it too starchy.

That is why it is imperative that the season’s first nabe makes a good impression on Jason so we can have more later. This year, I found the perfect solution: crabs. Who does not love crabs? So for our first nabe of the season, I chose zuwaigani (a long-legged Japanese variety with not-too-hard shells) as the main ingredient, and for stock I used a non-overpowering kelp base as I trust the crab to do enough flavoring on its own. To give it a gourmet touch, I even pre-cracked the legs so someone wouldn’t complain about how hard it is to eat crabs (although I obviously need more practice in this area since some of the legs were almost severed in half, oops).

As predicted, nothing could possibly go wrong when you throw crab in the nabe. Jason even went so far as to say he enjoyed it, but was quick to add, “It doesn’t mean I want to have nabe every week though!” Darn, I was so close!

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

My Picky Dog

Do other dogs get pickier as they age? Mine certainly does. She used to gulp down her food so fast I was afraid she would choke. Ok, maybe having Jack constantly eyeing her food was the main factor. But now, it takes her forever to finish a meal, and she always insists on company while she eats. Don’t even think about setting the food dish down in the kitchen and go back to watching TV. If I want to watch TV while Princess Libby eats, I’d have to move her to the living room with me. However, this only applies to dry dog food, which leads me to think that it just may be that she’s too lazy to chew?

Look at these delicious homemade dog cookies. They are made of 100% whole-wheat flour, with a healthy dose of beef and carrots added. When they were baking in the oven, Jason mistook the wonderful aroma for a meat dish and asked what we were having for dinner. Libby used to love them when I last made them for her when she was about 3 years old. Now, three years later (I know, I am ashamed to admit that I hadn’t baked her anything for three years) she has completely lost interest. When I gave one to her, she dropped it on the floor, looked at it, and then looked back up at me to see if I had anything better to offer. Only after making sure that there wasn’t any steak coming her way did she turn her attention back to the cookie. And she ate it reluctantly, like she was only doing it to please me. What really bothered me was that she didn’t even chew it, like a dog is supposed to. After breaking it into two pieces, she swallowed each half whole! Why can’t my own dog appreciate my cooking? Could it be because she just didn't want to chew it?Maybe next time I should try making doggie cakes and see what her reaction would be.

Monday, November 15, 2004

Tomato Sourdough

Made this sourdough bread last Friday. Since the starter is still new, it wasn’t as sour as I would’ve liked it to be, but the crust on this bread was awesome! Had it for dinner hot out of the oven, and used the leftover for a sandwich on a Saturday picnic. Maybe it was the sun and the grass; maybe it was the $4/slice super expensive ham; or maybe it was just my yummy bread, but it was the definitely the best sandwich I’ve ever had. I wish I could go on picnics everyday. Everything tastes ten times better when eaten outdoors sitting on a blanket.

Friday, November 12, 2004

Anti-Atkin’s Diet

Due to my recent rekindled interest in bread making (brought on by the cold weather, maybe) I find myself in a dilemma. There are simply too many recipes to try and too little stomach space to accommodate the product, unless I eat nothing but bread.

Could someone please invent an all-bread, anti-Atkin’s diet? That would really be the perfect solution. I can bake to my heart’s content, and eat all different varieties of bread without having to worry about bloating up like a loaf on its first rising.

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

Fun in the Sun

Our company had an earthquake/fire drill today. The way the drills are conducted is very different from in the States. For one, we were notified two days in advance. And the day before the drill, people were assigned to all sorts of tasks: one guy went around and made sure everyone had a helmet; another tallied up the people who will be in the office on that day (not taking into consideration emergency sickness, but then again, in Japan you are not allowed to get sick); clipboards were distributed to group leaders with action plans for the drill, etc. etc.

9am this morning, the loudspeaker cackled into life. A man announced that a drill would be conducted in 30 minutes. How nice of them to give us yet another notice.

9:30am, the real drill began. We were told that an earthquake had just occurred, and then were instructed to put on our helmets and hide under the desk for one minute. Then our floor leader informed us that a fire has broken out on our floor, but everyone should stay calm while they contact the fire department. We were told to wait until further instruction (despite the burning FIRE??!) After enough time that would’ve allowed the fire to engulf the whole building, we were instructed to evacuate the building via the emergency exit. Then we had to cross the street in an orderly fashion (and wait for the traffic light) and assemble in the parking lot.

After confirming all 546 people who are supposed to be in office today are all present, the drill was declared a success. (Is it a coincidence or extremely well planning? Because every time we have a drill, we always have gorgeous sunny weather.) This would’ve been a total waste of time, despite the weather, had it not been for the “Smoke House” experience.

The local fire department set up a smoke-filled room (about 3ft wide and 15ft long) in the parking lot. We had to find our way through it without bumping into the partitions inside.

I thought I could just follow the person in front of me and be out of there in no time. Boy was I wrong! I now know why smoke is more dangerous than an actual fire. The smoke used was of course harmless but nonetheless gave out a strange sweet smell. I crouched low like I was told because smoke rises up so visibility is supposed to be better closer to the ground. At first, it was fairly easy to see the person’s shoe in front of me, but after two steps all I could see was white smoke. No sign of the person in front, not even the ground. I felt like a blind person and had to rely on my hands to guide me. For a brief moment of not knowing which way to go, I actually (am not proud to admit it either, but it's the truth) felt the onset of a panic attack. But luckily, fresh air gushed in from the exit and guided me out of the smoke house before my imminent breakdown.

Moral of the story: if you are trapped in a smoke-filled room, you are as good as dead!

Friday, November 05, 2004

Libby II

I read about this company (Genetics Savings and Clone) that clones cats commercially. It’s the company that cloned Cc, but only 9 cats were cloned in 2004, due to capacity limits. They hope to perfect the technology to clone dogs in 2005. Right now, the going price for a cat is $50,000. I wonder how much they’ll charge for a dog.

Am a little fuzzy on the details of exactly how they clone an animal, but according to the CEO, Lou Hawthorne, it involves lots of donor eggs. He says that his company is the largest underwriter of spaying clinics in the US, and they buy the eggs, which would’ve been thrown out as waste anyway. The clinics use the money to spay more strays. Sounds good to me! Or is it just that I am willing to believe anything so I can harbor even a glimpse of hope that when my sweet Libby goes to doggie heaven, I can replace her with a clone? And the image of Sigouney Weaver seeing all the failed clones of herself in Alien 3 haunts me too. I am not so naïve in thinking that they’ll have 100% success rate so they only start with one egg. So what about the ones that don’t work out? Funny thing is, I am pro-choice, but I just can’t stand the thoughts of half-developed Libby embryos or fetuses being thrown out as trash. I guess it really is different when it comes to your own baby.

Jason, on the other hand, is curious as to what Libby’s reaction will be if she were to see her own clone. I wonder if the clone will have the same scent signature as the original. That’ll probably confuse the heck out of Libby.

Minty Sourdough

In all of Tokyo, I have never seen a single loaf of sourdough bread. Though it's Jason's favorite, I just couldn't commit myself to the maintenance of a sourdough culture. That all changed when I had to buy a Qt-sized container of yogurt, even though I only needed 1/2 cup for the blueberry banana loaf I was making last weekend because that's the only sugar-free yogurt I could find! (grunt) I have an aversion to yogurt, maybe because I ate too much of it in college, so I was trying to figure out what to do with this almost full container, when I remembered the recipe for sourdough culture, which calls for yogurt.

I rinsed out a big glass jar with hot water and mixed in the milk and yogurt. After leaving it out for a day, the mixture settled in a curd. This is the sign for the next step - mixing in the flour. Anxiously, I opened up the jar to take a sniff. Wait ---- this smells minty!

The only big glass jar I had was used to store mint tea that I bought on our recent trip to Marrakech, so I moved the tea into a ziploc and washed out the jar. But I guess minty smells are hard to get rid of.

My jar of minty sourdough culture is sitting next to the window now, taking in all the sun, hopefully bubbling. In two days, I can use it to make my very first sourdough bread. I can't wait to see what a minty sourdough loaf will taste like. Maybe this is what I could do after I quit my job, selling one of a kind "Sourmint" bread. Heck Japanese people love anything exotic. With a bit of marketing savy, I am sure it'll be a huge hit. Anyone want in?

ps. as for the yogurt, turned out I only needed two tablespoons for the culture. On to making more blueberry loaves to use up the yogurt.

Tuesday, November 02, 2004

My Funny Brain

I was sitting at my desk minding my own business when, all of a sudden, the image and taste of chocolate covered marshmellow popped into my head. It's this candy that I used to eat when I was little, in China. The marshmellow filling is considerably fluffier than the kind we get in the US, and not as sweet. The chocolate, well, is just some generic milk chocolate that's got so much impurities that it probably doesn't even melt if you heat it up. But combined, the taste is heavenly, or maybe just in my mind.

I didn't even know I still remembered it. Now I can't get this image out of my head. Must find chocolate covered marshmellow, must find chocolate covered marshmellow. Darn it, I'll make it myself if I have to!

Monday, November 01, 2004

The Nikko Curse

Path next to Chuzenji Lake

Sometimes some places just refuse to cooperate. Be it Mt. Fuji who refuses to show itself from behind the clouds, or a specific restaurant that stubbornly remains fully booked every single time you try to go. We have the Nikko curse. Never had much luck with it: cancelled trip due to typhoon; freezing weather; crazy bus driver; buses running late; being stuck in a smoking cart on a train for two hours, etc. But when our trip to Niigata had to be cancelled due to the recent earthquake, Nikko came up as an alternative. Since we’ll be going with a bunch of other people, I thought, maybe the curse will be diluted by the luck of other people, if not completely lifted.

First thing to go wrong was the navigator on our rent-a-van. It flat-out refused to work. Then in the middle of hiking on Saturday, it started to rain. But that was the extent of things that went wrong, we even made the 7:15pm deadline to return our rental car. Not too bad at all. Maybe I can even consider the curse lifted?

More photos

Autumn Collors

Torte Florentine

A torte with white bread crust, filled with a stuffing of spinach, artichoke hearts, red bell peppers, cheese, and eggs. The leafy design on top swelled up and is all but unrecognizable, but perfect comfort food for a cold rainy day nonetheless.

Friday, October 29, 2004

All I Want for Xmas is My Baby's Two Front Teeth

Her two front teeth, her two front teeth
Gee, if I could only have her two front teeth
Then I could wish you, "Merry Christmas"

I am such a bad mummy (dejected sigh).
My baby has lost another front tooth and I don't even know when!

She broke one of her upper front teeth a long time ago, but just this week, I noticed that another one is broken clean in half. It had to have been within this week because last week when I checked it was still intact. But when did she do that? Could it be from the bones that I gave her to chew? (unlike most dogs who chew bones with molars, she likes to nip on them with her front teeth) Or did it happen when she try to catch a frisbee? Although I can maybe get away with not feeding her bones, I cannot stand to take away the frisbee from her! It's only her second favorite activity, next to swimming, and I already don't take her swimming enough.

Science Diet, what are you not doing enough to strenghen the teeth of my baby?!

Wednesday, October 27, 2004

Only In Japan

Someone has gone and invented a camera for your doggie! Called Wonderful Shot, it's a digital camera with an 8MG memory card, strapped on to the dog's collar. You can take pictures with a click of the remote control. The sales pitch is "See what your dog sees."

Now, I got suckered into buying the dog bark translator “Bowlingual” to find out that the only thing that Libby ever says are “I feel lonely” “Please don’t leave me by myself” “Play with me!” No such thing as “I am happy!” “I love you!” for when she’s happy she doesn’t speak!

So I will not pay almost $90 for a doggie cam to find out what Libby sees. I know exactly what she sees: the food on my plate, people’s knees, bushes, grass, cats, and the occasional doggie butts.

Tuesday, October 26, 2004

Getting Prepared for the Big One

A series of three quakes shook Japan on Saturday September 23, 2004. The largest one was measured at Richter scale 6.9, in Niigata prefecture, some 200km northwest of Tokyo. It happened around 6pm. I was in the kitchen frying ribs, when all of a sudden I heard the clinking sound of wine glasses and when I took my eyes away from the frying pot, I saw the glasses swaying precariously on the rack, then I felt the ground shaking. For a split second, I thought about turning off the stove and go hide in a room where there’s no risk of being scalded by boiling oil, but I decided to stand my ground and finish frying the ribs. After a few seconds of shaking, I actually felt dizzy (funny isn’t it?). And the quakes occurred two more times, all in the coures of dinner preparation.

Last night, I watched on TV the damage caused by the quake. They showed National Guards evacuating people from dangerous areas and I was glad to see dogs among the rescued. Twenty-six people have already died as a result, mostly elderly people and young children. Some 100,000 people were forced to evacuate and are now living in emergency shelters with not enough food or blankets. Over 200 aftershocks have occurred, sometimes as large as scale 5.

When we first came to Tokyo four years ago, our relocation advisor told us we should prepare an earthquake kit and familiarize ourselves with the emergency shelters in the neighborhood. I always brushed it off as paranoia, but seeing it happen, albeit just on TV, convinced me that it’s time we get prepared.

After carefully surveying my entire apartment, I have decided that the walk-in closet in our bedroom would be where I keep the kit (i.e. we’ll try to run there when the house starts to fall apart). I picked it because: a) it has no windows so no danger of being decapitated by falling glass, although come to think of it the window glass at my place is of the type that don’t break apart, but one can never be too careful; b) we will never be cold due to skimpy clothing items; c) it’s right next to the bathroom which, due to all the pipes running in the walls, is supposed to be structurally sound, relatively.

Now, what should I put in the kit? The Niigata earthquake has proved that you really do need 3 days of food because that’s how long it’s taking to get food and other supplies to the area. The recommendation is 2L of water per person per day. I think that’s a ridiculous amount of water, but anyway, I will keep a case of six 2L bottle water in the closet. Food is a tough one. If I stash candy bars and cookies in the kit, I will just end up eating it, so I’m going to stock it with canned food, with the pull-open top of course. (Maybe just one or two candy bars.) When I was talking to my colleagues yesterday about the earthquake, one guy said that it would be good to have a tabletop gas stove, the type for hotpots that uses canisters, in case you want to have something hot to drink. Hmmm, not a bad idea, I will throw that in too, along with some instant coffee, tea bags, our camping mugs, two sleeping bags, a tent (one family interviewed on TV was saying how grateful they are to have a tent to protect them from the icy rain), foam mattress, flash lights, heating pads (another useful item according to the rescue authority) Libby’s food, bowls and toys. Man, it’s just going to be like a camping trip!

Monday, October 25, 2004

Commuter Fun

I take a train to work everyday, the train that leaves Akasaka Mitsuke station at 7:55am. When I get off the train, it's another 10 min of walking to my office, and every morning, I can always count on running into the same people going towards the station, and I always wonder what's the story behind.

There's the old bald guy with glasses always in a black tunic, the thickness of which changes with the season. He looks like a Feng Shui guy of some sort. By chance, I even found out where he lives and works. Am not a stalker, I swear.

There's the elementary school boy who shivers in a T-shirt and shorts even in the deadliest of winter storm. I was told boys often try to win the contest at school by wearing only a T-shirt and a pair of shorts all year round.

There's the lady with the stick, who I don't think is really blind. Seriously, I am sure I read somewhere that it is illegal in Japan to pose as blind people.

And my favorite is the cute couple who are obviously newly weds. Every morning, I see them go towards the station, in their work clothes, hand-in-hand, their wedding bands shiny on their fingers. A couple of months ago, the girl doesn't go to the station any more, and I thought, she must have quit her job. And I was right, for this morning, I saw them again, except she was in jeans and a sweat shirt. I guess she must be going to the station with him to see him off.

By the way, I take this as another sign that I should quit too!

Sunday, October 24, 2004



This is the first braided bread that I've ever made, and I can't say I am not pleased (the black bits are poppy seeds not burned).
It's supposed to be a Jewish egg bread, but since I've never had the real thing, this will be what challah tastes like to me. Even my picky husband approves.

Recipe Here

Garfield the Cat

This is Tama-chan, a very fat yellow tabby often seen near my office where he suns himself. Am not entirely sure if he belongs to anyone, but I have heard the owner of a clothing store call him “Tama-chan.” Tama means ball in Japanese and I think it’s a very suitable name for him.

Anyway, has anyone seen the Garfield movie or the preview of it? Why did they have to use a computer-generated cat that doesn’t even really look like Garfield, when there is Tama-chan? Tama-chan not only looks like Garfield, but from what I can tell, also has the same personality. I have never seen him in any activities other than sleeping and eating. And even his facial expressions remind me of Garfield, especially when he puts up with passersby who pet him.

Tama-chan, you could’ve been a Hollywood star, if not for those slack-off casting scouts who were too lazy to look. But then again, knowing Tama-chan, he couldn't care less about fame and fortune, as long as he has a warm bike seat to sleep on and a hearty meal when the sun goes down.

Chinese, anyone?

The problem with Chinese cooking is that there are just no clear-cut recipes out there. Open up any Chinese language cookbook and you see under the ingredient section phrases such as “a little bit of salt”, “the appropriate amount of cooking wine” etc. How am I to know how much is “a little bit” and exactly what is “the appropriate amount”?!! If you are like me, who’s never had to cook while living at home, hence missing out on the opportunity to learn from your parents, you are doomed. And that is exactly why my entire repertoire of Chinese dishes is made up mainly of stir-fried green vegetables, the only dish my dad hand-taught me when I was little.

So why would I attempt to make a Chinese dinner? It all started when I went grocery shopping on the day that typhoon #23 made landfall in Japan and saw Chinese chives on sale, 2 bunches for 99yen (a bargain in Tokyo). I thought, I know how to make stir-fried egg and chives. So I bought two bunches. Come Saturday, I realized that stir-fried eggs and chives a meal does not make. I have to come up with a meat dish. Stupid me, who had to ask for my husband’s opinion, to which he gladly offered, “Can you make some tang-cu-xiao-pai (sweet and sour spare ribs)?” Great, he had to pick the one dish with the difficult sauce, which most of the Shanghainese restaurants in Tokyo couldn’t even get right. But he’s worked very hard all week, and just twisted his knee running with our dog, Libby, so I thought I should indulge him a bit. I drew the line, however, when he asked if we could have a soup to go with it. Do I look like iron chef?

So out came the Chinese cookbook that a friend of mine brought back for me from China years ago. Low and behold, there’s the recipe. But wait, under ingredients for sauce, it only listed what’s needed, with no amount whatsoever, like I am supposed to know intuitively how much to add. And to top it off, the spare ribs had to be deep-fried first. Did anyone know this? As if to highlight my inadequacy at making Chinese food, all I have in my kitchen is olive oil, so I had to run to the grocery store again to buy vegetable oil. But I am the proud owner of a tampura frying pot, complete with thermometer to test oil temperature (bought two years ago, and never been used). Why would someone who has never deep-fried anything own a tempura frying pot? Well, I am a firm believer that you first have to have the right instrument before you can make anything.

So after three trips to the grocery store, I am finally ready to cook. Three earthquakes later (richter scale 6.9, 200 some km northwest of Tokyo), and a minor panic over not knowing when the ribs were done, Dinner is Served!

Doesn't look too bad, huh? But as it turned out, I still didn’t fry the ribs long enough to give it the right texture. And I have to confess that I was so discouraged by the vague instructions in the recipe that I cheated and bought a sauce package. Jason’s comment, “No wonder it doesn’t taste right.” Ha, at least now I can blame it on the store-bought sauce.

Friday, October 22, 2004

Fall is upon us!

My beautiful pumpkin roll. So moist and fluffy and the nice orangy color! Yummy!

Am a geisha/maiko

When I stepped into my kimono lesson (kitsuke is the correct Japanese term), I was greeted by the teacher with a cheery "Lynn-chan, can you be my model for period costume (jidai ishou)?" Ever the adventurer, I said yes happily. Turns out my teacher (sensei) is teaching an advanced level kitsuke lesson to a group of students aspiring to be kitsuke masters (professor is the term used), and she needs to practice on someone beforehand. So for the next hour I pateintly held out my arms at my side while sensei and her assistant frantically worked around me. After putting on a underrobe, first they had to put some padding on me, one draped in front of my chest, and three in the back, to give me a perky butt (sensei's words exactly). Then comes the second layer, called nagajuban. This layer is usually made of silk of a subdued color like ivory and pink, but for jidai ishou, the skirt and the sleeves are a luxurious red silk. The back of the collar is pulled way low to expose a good portion of the neck. Now comes the real thing. The beautiful black kimono with colorful drawings near the bottom hem. This kimon differs from the modern day ones in that it's longer and slimmer. Around the opening of the collar, sleeves and the bottom hem, a padded layer of white silk edge is attached. The front hem is pulled open and secured so a triangle of the bright red under skirt peaks out. From there on, the real torture started. A long piece of red silk fabric (maybe 10m?? they sure tied it around me a million times) was wrapped around me from just below my hip bone to reach my armpit. I imagine that's how mummy would feel, if they could feel. We're not quite done yet though. On top of this comes the obi. I think the particular pattern was called "yanagi" but I am not sure, as I was focusing all my concentration on breathing. Anyway, with the obi came more tying of strings, etc. etc. But I must say the end result was pretty impressive, although I could neither walk nor sit and I had no idea what to do with my hands. Mind you, I have worn kimonos before, but this is an entirely different league. Hats off to the petite Maiko-sans who have to drag all this fabric around while entertaining guests! Phew, now I am tired just writing about it.

My Dog Libby

This is the pride and joy of my life.

These couple of days though, she's been driving me a little crazy. She would plop herself down in front of me when I'm watching TV and demand that I pay attention to her. I think it's a sign that she's lonely spending the whole day all by herself. I think she's trying to tell me that I should quit my job and spend more time with her.

Monday, October 04, 2004

My very first blog

So there, I've done it. More out of boredom than anything else, but also would be a good way to keep in touch with people.

Anyway, kinda busy today so I will write more later about my sweet Libby. She turned six on June 21, by the way, but is still every bit as playful as when she was a puppy.


The Nikko Curse

Shanghai Night

First Ski 2005

Ski Trip to Tsumagoi

Manmade Mother Nature

Tibet Travel Advisory


Random Rantings

Who Ate My Banana Bread

November: Steal From Lynn Month

The Big Deal About the Gingko Trees

Japanese Exaggeration Part II

Demise of the Rosemary

Passengers Only

Wanna Know How a Japanese Company Works?

Blind Mens' Elephant


Chinese New Year is When?

Pitfalls of a Romantic Idea

Losing My Mind

Inexplicable Fashion Trend

Inexplicable Fahion Trend Part Deux

A Day Ruined

Drink Juice and Floss

For the Love of Water

The Things that Nobody Told You About Hanabi

How Stupid Am I

What A Waste

Are We Too Picky?

Why can't Life Always be Peachy?


Life's Little Moments

Am Geisha/Maiko

Garfield the Cat

Commuter Fun

Getting Prepared for the Big One

Only In Japan

My Funny Brain

Fun in the Sun

Anti Atkin's Diet

My Kind of Bag

WHO Warns of Flu Pandemic

Autumn Sky

Living with Shoji

In the Spotlight

Confession of a Procrastinator

Lazy Woman's Solution to Christmas Cards

America the Great

2004 In Review

A Somber New Year

Icy Icy Rain

I Quit

Analogy Between Skiing and Driving

Suspicious Job Offer

Fantasies Come True

Valentine's Day Part 1: Lost Dog Found

Three-Month Long Kimono Break

No Regrets


Let It Snow

First Signs of Spring

Rice, Snow, Earthquake & Breast Pudding

Unexpected Discovery

Spring Blooms

Let the Hanami Begin

The Big Day

Falling, Fallen, Gone

He Did It

My New Toy

Are You Going to School There?

Home is Where the Dog Is

Here We Go Again

The Nice People at

Farewell, My Cucumber

Am Back


My blog is One Year Old

Scent of Autumn

Judging for DMBLGIT

From Tokyo to Hong Kong



My Dog Libby

All I Want For Xmas is My Baby's Two Front Teeth

Libby II

My Picky Dog

Upside-Down Libby

Doggie Pillow

A Dog's Life


Close Encounter

The Dog Knows It All

Who's the Luckiest Dog in the World?

Libby's Best Friend

Like Mother Like Daughter

My Baby Can Howl

Doggie Helper

Princess Chariot

Happy Birthday Libby


Pierre Herme

Emotion Ispahan


Emotion Ludic & Inca

Emotion Eden

Collection & Emotion Exotic


Food Related Entries

Pumpkin Rolls

Chinese Anyone?


Torte Florentine

Minty Sourdough

Tomato Sourdough

Tis the Season to Eat Nabe

The Turducken

San Francisco Sourdough

The Pudding

Walnut Sourdough?

TV Cooking Tip #1

Apple A Day

Kitchenware Galore

Strawberry Attack

Nabe For One

In Love with Fennel

IMBB#11: Beans of Fortune

Initiation to Sukiyaki

Chive Box

TV Cooking Tips #2: Homemade Cottage Cheese

Chive Pao

You Say To-may-to I Say To-mah-to

Blueberry In Winter

SHF: Portugese Egg Tart

Valentines Day Part 2: Lack of Planning

TV Cooking Tips #3: Five Minute Pao

Sourdough, At Last

IMBB #12: Natto, You Are What You Don't Eat

Back to Square One

ABC: Feb

Quest of the Perfect Char Siew Pao

Crumpets on a Snowy Day

Pork Soup For the Soul

Cooking ABC: March 1st Half

IMBB #13: My Little Cupcake

Birthday Celebration Round 1: Italian

Birthday Celebration Round 2: French

Cooking ABC: March 2nd Half

Black Eyed Pea Cake

SHF: Molasses - Indian Pudding

IMBB #14: Orange

Cooking ABC: April

Want Seconds?

I Scream For Ice Cream

SHF #9: Sweet Tomato Tart

Cooking ABC: May

Cooking ABC: June

Cooking ABC: July

IMBB #18: Summer Frying

Best Blueberry Pancakes

Keep it Simple

Let's make macarons

Le Cordon Bleu posts

Le Cordon Bleu Here I come

In Two Days

First Week