Monday, December 31, 2007


Well everybody, I hope you have set your alarm clocks. We are into the countdown to 2008 and it could hardly be better. I am not able to tell you too specifically why beyond saying that things are just so remarkably enjoyable even at this very moment as I type this, you wouldn't believe me even if I could be more specificd.
Um, how specific can I be? Well, the things I had hoped for so long are all around me. And the people who make them possible are as kind and generous and sweet and loving as your wildest dreams could conjur. And in some sense, I have to say thank you to someone who indirectly helped bring all this together by trying to kill me a few months ago.
Rage does strange things to people. It is scary. And in the aftermath, there are doubts and attempts to soften the shock. None of that matters now. She has a bright red coat and a closet full of costumes. Her fantasies come true every month or so by long-distance. All that twisted sense of dreams fulfilled is also waaay past my caring now.
Instead, I see, although not yet clearly, at least so much more brightly than I could a year ago. I am on what you might call the receiving end of bliss. And what could be a better way to start the new year?
I think a toast is in order!. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you: Peace of mind, good health, happiness, love returned, caring and sharing. They are all out there, and this is even before the new year has nice is that?

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Annus Notsobadus

On one hand, 2007 will go down as a year of dubious note for all the bad things that happened. On the other hand, however, it certainly is closing out on an upbeat note. It's not good to make comparisons, but I can't help but look back on events of the past three months as outstanding in a nice way, after things like death and destruction, blindness, poverty and despair in the first three or so. The middle has become a soft blurr, which is just as well.
So now, we set the table, adding some Oshogatsu touches (The new year will be the year of the mouse or rat, if you are keeping track.), and prepare for quiet, happy times. We'll have a toast to the tail end of the old year and another toast, perhaps with honey or jam, to the year to come. And since I am the optimist of the bunch, I will work on the idea that if things are this good already, they must be about to get even better. Let's see if we can make that happen.
Oh, I didn't forget the gingerbread recipe. It was very good gingerbread, according to authoritative sources, so I will post the recipe after the new year. We're too busy getting ready to tuck in to a raspberry pound cake and some nice spicy Korean barbecue. But we'll get back to you in the new year. Happy holidays to all, and to all a good night.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Christmas Colors

Counting down from today, we have just 10 days until Christmas eve. That will be a special day here (partly because Christmas day is a working day in Japan, unfortunately). It seems most of what I cook these days looks like the Christmas decorations. Tonight's salad, for example, was dark green leafy stuff with baby tomatoes and red and green peppers and white Mozarella. The dessert was fresh strawberries with yogurt and honey. So, to keep a sense of balance not to look like Italian nationalists or Santa's workshop, I made chicken-vegetable stew and garlic toast--which is a great way to recycle old French bread.
Yesterday, I made ginger bread, using a great-grandmother recipe out of Germany, which includes applesauce, but modified with my sense of Asia, using fresh-grated ginger root and, instead of allspice, cardamom, cloves and more cinnamon. And instead of dark molasses, I used kuro mitsu. That's a kind of black molasses, and the flavor....well, the result was pretty good, by my standard. I will get a second opinion from my special friend and let you know. And if she likes it, I will post the recipe. If not..... well, let's see how it goes.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007


I received a sweet pre-Christmas present today: Blueberry muffins. These muffins are special because they were made by a special person. Besides that, I know how she made them, and it is pretty clever, especially for people who may not have or want to buy all the parts to make muffins from scratch. She used pancake mix. And because blueberries are very expensive and not easy to find in Japan at this time of the year, she used dried fruit, soaked in hot water, then sweetened with honey. Very nice.
I appreciate her thoughtfulness and her muffins. At Christmas, people sometimes give gifts or get involved in gift-exchange things without knowing what to give. My advice, if I may offer it, when you are not sure what to give, is to give something you would like to receive. That has an element of the Golden Rule to it, I suppose, but in the worst case, that person will know you have good taste!
Another thought, especially about gift-exchange giving, is to give a few small things, rather than one big one. For example, one friend told mer her office will exchange gifts, and people were told to keep the price within 2,000 yen, or about US$20. Well, that does not buy much in Tokyo these days. It seems that nice and clever gifts can be found from about 1,000 yen and less, and for more than 2,000 yen, but not for 2,000. So I suggested that she buy a 1,000 yen gift, plus some 100 yen gifts to put in a nice bag. Things like bath salts, or sachets or potpouri fragrance things are good. Wine is another nice gift, and even if the person who receives it doesn't drink, they can recycle the wine to someone who does.
So, I'm having coffee and a blueberry muffin now, and saying thank you to the chef!

Tuesday, December 11, 2007


That huge wad of roses, pine boughs and cotton bolls was just too formidable for the table, so I made some adjustments. What do you think? My dear muffin-making friend says it looks more like a New Year decoration than a Christmas arrangement, but that's alright, because I will need a New Year decoration too. One nice thing about being a foreigner in Japan is that I have the choice of holidays, and I like to observe Japanese events as well as those more familiar to me.
One thing we discussed is the similarity of some events across cultures. Halloween and Thanksgiving come about the same time as the Day of the Dead or Diwli or Obon and similar harvest-time, ghost-welcoming, spirit-honoring, ancestor-revering events in other parts of the world. Christmas and Kwanzaa and Hanukkah come at about the same time, and though they obviously honor different events, some of the customs associated with those holidays are similar, so it is no problem to observe a Jewish festival (which, by the way, ends tomorrow) of light, as well as Christmas and Kwanzaa, the African harvest festival, from Dec. 26, or Norooz from the start of the new year. I was never quite sure what Boxing Day was all about (I thought it was some kind of sports day when I was a kid in Indiana. We obviously didn't get out much.)
So the decorations don't matter too much. Some all-purpose combination of cotton and roses and pine should do for all of them plus any others I don't know about. The important thing at these times is to think of the idea of sharing and respecting each other and basically trying harder to live by the Golden Rule (or whatever you choose to call it in your culture.) All seem to have the same fundamental notion, which is simply this: "Treat others as you would like them to treat you."
As the Dalai Lhama put it, "If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion."
This holiday season is as good a time as any to put that into practice, don't you think?
Have some of the good feeling of Why Don't You and I, live:

Monday, December 10, 2007

Cho-Choju Giga

The Suntory Gallery, in Tokyo's new Midtown shopping-office-malling complex, is about to wrap up a fascinating look at what might well have been the first manga, ink illustrations on scrolls, some of which date from the 12th century. The oldest of the illustrations depicts animals doing things people would do-- or would have done 700 or 800 years ago. Most of the scenes involve frogs and rabbits, and you know this is a fantasy, because the frogs are as big as the rabbits, for one thing.
There are other scrolls that show some more straightforward illustrations, such as sketches of religious activities or fables dealing with Buddhism, and even a sequence of what to put it gently might be called an ancient farting contest.
The exhibit drew upon sets of these illustrations compiled by temples and other galleries and museums, and some illustrations that were not included in the scrolls. Historians are still trying to figure out who did the illustrations and why, but they have come up with some guesses and pieced together the illustrations based on what is known so far.
We particularly liked the sumo competition, in which the frog, who has a tummy much like mine, is decked by a fox. There are illustrations of rabbits who might have been the inspiration for the Uncle Remus Br'er Rabbit stories, and pompous priest frogs and wild boars and monkeys giving each other baths--something Japanese monkeys actually do at hot spring resorts, without having to pay.
Viewing the whole exhibit was out of the question, since some of the scrolls were rolled up to reveal other illustrations a week at a time, so it would have involved going back to the gallery weekly.
There are stories, or fables, to go with some of the illustrations, something like Aesop's fables, only more to do with things like a mouse who wanted to marry a human princess, or the farmer who gave up his daughter to a monkey who agreed to help him till his paddies. It's more interesting to see than to write about. But here is what you missed (or will miss unless you get there by Dec. 12.)

Wednesday, December 05, 2007


Quomodo Invidiosulus nomine Grinchus Christi natalem abrogaverit . Or almost.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

A Brunchtime Journey

"Eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince, and dinner like a pauper."

This being Dec. 2, another less day before Christmas, I was thinking about the Advent calendar. And this being Sunday, breakfast was brunch. This is a custom I had not observed for several months, until recently, when I found myself making it for two again after coffee and cake in bed to wake up with. A good brunch is the start of a good day.
I was inspired today by an idea from my dear friend: Papaya fruit boats. Actually, my little papayas from Okinawa were only big enough for fruit kayaks, but, as she said, even a kayak can let you sail on a journey wherever you want to go.
I thought about that and about a comment from noted food person Julia Child, who said "You don't have to cook fancy or complicated masterpieces - just good food from fresh ingredients." So I made a fancy omelette to go with the papaya kayaks, croissant, orange juice and coffee and thought about where I would like my kayaks to take me.
The destination is Negril, Jamaica. There, you may find some of the best food in the world and, as Julia suggested, made from fresh ingredients. So, in the days before Christmas, since I am back in the mood for food and for taking the time to fix it, I will steal some ideas from the menu of Negril's Rockhouse restaurant, a particularly good place to dine well without spending too much. As my dear friend and I agree, it is much more enjoyable to make food to share with someone than to dine alone. We seem to bring out the culinary creativity in each other, which, I believe, is a fine quality.
You can see the menu here:
And learn more about Negril here:

And, while Advent calendars are usually for kids, they are not exclusively for kids. I think grownups will get a kick out of trying the quizzes on the interactive Advent calendar. And keep in mind the 24 days of Advent are not like the 12 Days of Christmas, which come AFTER Christmas day. Confused? Well, life is like that.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Another Day Before Christmas

I did a bit of Christmas shopping yesterday and at one of the shops, I asked the clerk whether she had gone nuts yet by constant exposure to the same Christmas carols on the background music.
''Not quite, but I think it will happen soon,'' she said.
And I agree, which is why one of the Christmas presents I got myself -- ahead of schedule -- is a little Sony Walkman MP3 player, so I can listen to something other than Christmas carols when I am out of the comfortable confines of home. So I thought it would be nice to see what songs you would rather listen to than Deck the Halls or Jingle Bells ten zillion times.
Here's a little inspiration I got from Youtube:

As an aside, I am also trying not to get too caught up in Christmas food just yet either. I will do that when it gets down to a handful of days before. But for now, simple fare, such as what's in the picture here (pork chops, potatoes, peas and corn, a salad and some wine, from last night, or the beef stew that's simmering now, will do just fine.
Bon Apetit.