Thursday, February 17, 2011

Halftime Report

We’ve just completed week six of this 12-step menu program. I haven’t gone back and done a tally yet but I think I’ve had more hits than misses. This exercise in taking control of the kitchen has also had a trickle down effect – the purging and organizing has not been limited to just the kitchen. Not so sure my family is digging this new phase but I am. Last Sunday I woke up at my usual “o-dark-thirty” as my friend Shawn calls it, I started the coffee and realized with any luck I would have two to three hours before anyone else in the house moved. I decided to get a jump on the weeks dinners before my motivation waned.

I had downloaded some of the Splendid Tables podcasts to my iTouch, so I plugged myself in and cooked the morning away while listening to the familiar voice of Lynn Rossetto Kasper ( There’s something very comforting to me about her voice accompanying me while I slog through the exercise of feeding a family of five. It reminds me of living in Norfolk – the NPR station there would broadcast her show at noon on Sundays, just as we were coming home from church. I would walk in the house, put on my apron, make another pot of coffee and with any luck get a jump-start on that nights dinner. It was a routine, a ritual, like putting on comfy slippers when you walk through the door. With her voice and laughter filling my kitchen last Sunday morning I longed for our Norfolk kitchen – it was as they say the heart of our home. We have a counter with a breakfast bar and countless conversations were held here while I cooked. Homework assistance was meted out and because I believe in my kids head mom is so much less of a threat when she’s occupied (as is also when she’s driving) – great questions were asked, school/sports experiences were shared, topics on NPR were addressed. Here in our base-box I am stuck in a galley kitchen and I realized what I was missing from our old kitchen (apart from the duel/fuel gas top/convection oven that I never ever want to have to live without again) was what really matters, family communion. Since I can’t get myself out of the galley I’m already working on a way to get the rest of the family to come back into the kitchen and help keep me … inspired.

Week in Review
Black Bean Tostada – Moosewood, three thumbs up.
Curried Butternut Squash Soup – three thumbs up (note to readers: I don’t use coconut milk because of allergies, I sub in evap. milk. We leave out the chicken and no one seems to have noticed) 
Cheater Dinner – It was a long day for me and while I was supposed to have made Eggplant with rice and cumin I ran out of time. I cheated and used a prepared Eggplant Parmigana that Jeff and I love but apparently the kids do not. Bummer. Three thumbs down.
Monjardra – Lebanese Lentils served with couscous – I enjoyed this recipe a lot, given to me by a friend whose family is from Lebanon, but it was a major no-go with the twoteensandatween, maybe I need a new category – the Empty Nest recipe collection for when I can finally cook what I want with no complaints (because I swear in the nearly 27 years of marriage to Jeff I don’t ever remember him complaining about a dinner, even new recipes that I tried out and I didn’t want to finish eating).
“Boys hit the fridge” – For the fifth night in a row Jeff was not home for dinner, Wrenn had a babysitting job and I knew there was still some of the Eggplant in the refrigerator (for me), so I declared that it was leftover night. I have no idea what they ate, they just had to make sure they cleaned up after themselves! There’s a lot to be said for self-sufficiency! 

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Carol’s Beach

There is something about being close to large bodies of water that help clear away the cobwebs in my brain. There have been quite a few cobwebs lurking in my head lately and even though I really should have been at home taking care of the business of running a family, I decided to jump at my friend Debbie’s offer to take me to “Carol’s Beach” one morning and hunt for sea glass and blue and white pottery shards.

Jeff, Wrenn and I tried to find this beach almost a year ago with directions that would only have been clear to someone who’s already been there. We spent over an hour trying to find this beach – well known among the GW crowd here in Yokosuka but not so much for those of us living on the fringes of the GW community (Carol's Beach is what the American women here on base call it after the CO's wife from the GW who has led countless field trips to this beach). Wrenn and I have our beaches in Hayama that we like to frequent looking for sea treasures but I still had this beach on my “must hit list.” So with Debbie driving I tried to pay attention to some of the details of getting there (see directions below). 

The morning was nippy, the locals must have had fires going because as we walked along the cove area the smell of incense mixed in with the smell of firewood would periodically waft our way. It was quiet, with not much more than the occasional car driving by or the one man fishing junk puttering out of the cove and it was clear – not quite clear enough to catch all of Mt. Fuji but she was there, a small side shoulder seen across Sagami Bay.

We meandered along, poking through the beach detritus, finding a keeper every now and then. We talked, we listened, we had moments of silence. My friend was in the middle of housing battles trying to purchase their retirement home from half way around the world (One day I just may land on your doorstep Debbie, in an effort to escape the three H’s of a southern summer, New Hampshire will sound oh, so wonderful. I can work for my keep – give me a shovel, a rake and a good pair of gardening gloves and I’ll be happy for hours). She listened … the woes of Navy life – orders/no orders, twin sons in their critical high school years. She’s been there done that with all but one of their children out of the nest. With the cobwebs gone, treasures in my bucket, we got in the car and headed back to the base. It was just what I needed, I felt rejuvenated and more peaceful – once I could feel my fingers and toes again.

Sometimes the military life can be awesome – you meet new people, you see and experience things you never would have if you’d decided to homestead. Other times it can be incredibly overwhelming – the sense of loss as you miss landmark holidays and celebrations with friends and family back home and the frustration of the waiting game as powers that be decide you family’s future fate (and no, this is not God I’m talking about). Out of necessity, I believe military spouses develop a sixth sense, the intuition to know when to reach out and offer support, when to back off and give someone space, when to let someone just be. It’s a sisterhood I never thought I would be a part of, and certainly not for more than 20+ years, but it’s one I’m incredibly grateful for especially here in Japan. I wouldn’t dare attempt to name all my sister-spouses here in Japan that have made this overseas tour so much more enriching for me and of course have with their endless talents, wit, intelligence and compassion left me … inspired.

Directions: From Yokosuka take Rt.26 to Rt. 134. Route 26 ends at a T-intersection, take a left. You will see the Japanese School (JMSDF?) diagonally. Follow 134 until you see the intersection with the Terabun drugstore on the right (see photo) – Arasaki Ent., take a right and follow this road along until you pass the red/white/blue buildings on your right, then the cove – contineue to veer towards your right, following the water, until you see a small space to pull over and park next to the water. The red/white/blue buildings (from top photo) will be almost directly across the water from you.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Why do taste buds change?

Is it just my children or is this universal – what they seem to love, or at the very least eat one week will change by the next (I’ll state this right up front, I do not have picky eaters). When I make a recipe I will write next to it comments such as “very good,” “excellent,” “not a hit.” I’ve also started writing a date next to the recipe the first time we test it out. Some recipes seem to hold up year after year. Others though … take the Chickpea Vegetable Medley this past week. This was a recipe from the original Big Red (BH&G) cookbook – not exactly one of my vegetarian go-to books and reprinted in the Virginian Pilot. I first tested this one out in 1998 – the year our daughter was born. I am not sure if I’ve made it since then, and that’s partly why I’m going through this 12-week exercise, to rediscover oldies but goodies and weed out the no-hitters. This particular recipe I was looking forward to making again, it had “excellent” written next to it followed by exclamation points – how could I miss? Miss I did though, the twoteensandatween were less than enthusiastic, a bite or two and then the tell tale plate turning. That is never a good sign, when one of my kids takes the plate and turns it so that the offending item is somehow further away from them, or maybe if they look at the plate in only one direction the item in sensory question is out of their peripheral view. No matter how they handle it, the message is clear – not a hit. For my part, I thought it was good but not worthy of the high praise I bestowed on it over a decade ago. This made me wonder, why do your taste buds change? When the kids were younger I used to make spinach lasagna and they loved it but now it is on their most hated list (I used to make it when my parents would come to visit because they loved it and I knew the four of us could put a dent in the casserole dish, I haven't had it for nearly two years now ... wonder if it's as good as I remember). Wrenn was rabid about sweet potatoes when she was little, she would eat them like I was giving her a bowl of ice cream – she won’t even put them on her plate now. At times I sigh and think it was easier to feed them when they were toddlers, with two misses and only three hits this week I swear I think serving prepared foods would just be so much easier – but those three hits are what keep me going and … inspired.

Delicious Fish (swapped out for salmon on the grill when one teen declared he’d had enough eating salmon for a while) – oldie but a goodie – three thumbs up.
Mulligatawny Soup – a friend gave me this recipe and said her family loved it but it was not a hit with the Cleary Clan, “I like your other soups better” was the comment.
Spaghetti with Lentil Sauce – thankfully, still a hit, three thumbs up
Chickpea Vegetable Medley – three thumbs down
Tuna Noodle Soup – was supposed to be sandwiches but I was feeling a bit under the weather and this is one of our family’s comfort foods, three thumbs up. 

Friday, February 11, 2011

Silk Museum in Yokohama

Hiroshi TAJIMA

How many silk cocoons does it take to make one Japanese Kimono?

Spend an hour or two in the Silk Museum in Yokohama and you’ll find out plus so much more. In February, a small but dedicated group left Yokosukachuo and headed to Yokohama to learn about the silk industry and hopefully see some beautiful traditional Japanese kimono. We were not disappointed. The museum has two floors, the bottom floor is dedicated to silk production, information about the silkworm and the many different types of fabric that can be produced from silk cocoons. Normally, I might start to glaze over at some point with information about insects and production but was surprised to find the information was not only presented in English (YEAH!! A big thank you to whomever at the museum made that call) but it was interesting as well. They have hands on stations where you can feel the different types of fabric, you can visually see the silk threads being pulled from multiple cocoons and made into thread. Admittedly, I might have more interest in this process than the average person, having dyed silk scarves for a number of years before moving to Japan, but even my fellow Explorer’s seemed to take their time meandering through the museum. The second floor is dedicated primarily to an exhibit of traditional Japanese silk clothing. There were beautiful Noh Theatre costumes and silk kimono but the discovery of a video presentation was what made this trip so worthwhile. Tucked in the corner was a touch video display – four options in English. The first video we watch was interesting but moved pretty darn slow, I was fighting to keep my eyes open. When that ended I wasn’t really sure I wanted to select another option – more worried that my companions would feel obligated to sit through another slow-mo video but they encouraged me to make another selection and am I ever so glad they did. We watched Kako Moriguchi at work in his Kyoto studio using the yuzen-zome dye painting method to create breathtaking artwork in the form of Japanese Kimono. I saw some of this process on another video when I visited the Kubota Museum last June, but this video put together by The Japan Foundation, takes the viewer from conception of the design to completion of the kimono. We learned about a special technique that Moriguchi created – maki-nori– where the artist sprinkles small particles of resist paste onto the fabric to create gradation and texture. I have seen some of these beautiful kimonos on display but had no idea how they were created – according to an article from The New Yorker, each kimono can take six to eight weeks to create and can go for between $40,000 – 80,000 U.S.D. If you’d like to learn more or see some of Kako Moriguchi’s work, or his son Kunihiko click on the links below.

After a quick stop at the museum gift shop we headed over to the Red Brick Warehouse, about a 10 minute walk, to check out Bills Restaurant. From the looks of our plates at the end of lunch we all enjoyed our fare and I, always amazed at the Japanese presentation, couldn’t help taking another photo of a cuppa with that heart-felt attention to detail.

It was a great outing, easy to get to and I left both the museum and Bills … inspired. Oh, and the answer to the question “how many silk cocoons for one kimono?” Drumroll please … 9000!

For Yokosuka-peeps: Take the Keikyu from Yokosukachuo to Yokohama. Switch to the Minatomirai Line and take the subway to Nihonodori. From the train station, take exti 3, take a right at street level, then a left at the light and cross over heading towards the water (there’s a LandRover dealership on the corner). Walk two blocks and you will see the Silk Center on your right. The Silk Museum is located on the second floor. To get to the Red Brick Warehouse from the Silk Center cross the street caddy-corner and head towards the Ferris-wheel. You’ll see the Warehouse area after you go behind the buildings and follow along the water.

Moriguchi Kako

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Running Behind vs. Controlled Chaos

It seems I’m always running behind or at least I feel like I'm always running behind. I set goals – daily/weekly/monthly/annually – and the promise of achievement, the thrill of being able to cross something off my list, keeps me motivated. At the same time, there's a moment of despair at the end of the day when I look at my list and realize there's more left uncrossed than crossed. Last year I read an article about how one should never have more than 7 items on their “to do” list – I guess studies have shown that on average people cannot accomplish more than seven items in a day – but as much as I’ve tried, I cannot seem to keep the list to only seven. Maybe that’s because with five family members it appears that by default I’m the household manager, I’m making sure that not only are my seven items moving forward each day, so are the items of three kids and a husband. Realistically my “to-do” list should be 35 items, and with that realization I've concluded that beating myself up over not getting everything off my daily list by the end of the day is counter-productive. Juggling, I always feel like I’m juggling at least five different balls (one for each family member … maybe it should be six – does a dog count too?) all while standing on a balance board that’s rolling one way and then another. 

Last week was the end of the semester for our two teens. I am not sure I am cut out to be a teen mom, looking back I am starting to wonder why I thought twin toddlers and a newborn was so hard. I guess it’s what you’re in the middle of at the moment – and the moments around here last week were high stress. Projects, papers, exams … I wanted it to all end so we could go back to “normal” and I wasn’t even the one having to study! Every day though, there was one thing I was incredibly grateful for (aside from the obvious, like a healthy family) and that was that there was no thinking about what’s for dinner. The week my family needed good meals, needed to have table time to touch base, I was prepared. They weren’t all hits – more misses this past week, but I think what was the most important was that we were in the trenches together, dinner gave us a moment in a crazy, high stress week to check-in, touch base with each other. It wasn’t always pretty, don’t even get the notion that we were having Rockwellian scenes in the Cleary household, sometimes the banter flying across the table was down right nasty, for example the night I hadn’t even sat down yet and the bickering had already started. “Oh good” I commented, “I haven’t even had a moment to sit and you all are already at it.” But I guess what I should be thankful for is that they were at least interacting, not exactly in the way that would warm a mother’s heart but they were talking to each other, sort of. Even these moments are teachable moments – like calling someone out on what I call “spouting” … “you can’t just throw a reactionary comment out there, if you do you’d better be able to back up whatever you’re spouting.” So I’ll keep at this Menu thing, “making dinner” doesn’t even make my daily “to do” list, sadly I guess it’s like brushing my teeth – it’s something I have to do each day. But having the meals planned out has given me the opportunity to be more focused, more present, more on top of the controlled chaos that twoteensandatween seem to swirl up in our household. More time to listen, more time to be a family, even if it is for only 20 minutes before someone is off to the next activity and that gives me reason to be … inspired.

Week 4
Salmon Cakes with Lima Beans and Roasted Carrots – Three thumbs up!!!
Split Pea and Rice Soup – Moosewood – not so much a hit, but I have four stars next to it and I remember it being really good. Maybe the missing cardamon (the commissary here does not stock it) makes the difference.
Spinach artichoke risotto – this was a new recipe for us from the Simple Suppers cookbook, not so much a hit. Everyone ate it but not with gusto. Also had to sub in Orzo, no risotto at the commissary (well they have the packaged kind but that stuff’s nasty).
Garlic Broc with yellow noodles – Simple Suppers – again a new try for us. Unfort. The commissary doesn’t stock Tumeric and so no yellow noodles. It was a good meal but not fabulous.
Cucumber Tomato Salad with Marinated Feta Cheese* and Wheat Rolls – big three thumbs up!! (Saved the planned meal for another night).

*What do you do with eight (EIGHT!!) cucumbers and two blocks of feta cheese? My friend Kathy had a function at her house and let’s just say she must have cleared the commissary out of cucumbers and feta – she way over bought. So when Val and I stopped by her house last week she loaded us up with her overstock. “What am I going to do with all of this?” I muttered. Showing no mercy she quipped “you’ve got three kids, you’ll figure it out” as she pressed a loaded down bag into my hands. Remembering that at one point, a long time ago, my sister, mom and I had all made Marinated Feta Cheese I searched through my recipes until I found it. It was perfect with the cucumbers and tomatoes, served over two containers of the organic lettuce they sell here. My kids are big into salads, and we all pigged out that night on a salad dinner – it was casual and easy.

Marinated Feta Cheese
1 cup sun-dried tomatoes
4 cloves garlic
1 lb feta cheese
2 tsp of dried oregano
2 tsp dried thyme
1 tsp red pepper flakes
4 stems fresh parsley, chopped
4 cups olive oil

Place the sun-dried tomatoes in a bowl and cover with boiling water, let soften for about 20 minutes. Peel and halve the garlic cloves. Cut feta into small pieces. Drain tomatoes and return to bowl. Add garlic, cheese, oregano, thyme, pepper flakes and parsley. Cover with oil. Marinate for 2 days (I didn’t wait and by the empty salad bowl I don’t think anyone noticed) in the refrigerator. If using as a salad dressing I added ¼ cup of red wine vinegar to ½ cup of the marinade. 

Thursday, February 3, 2011

2011 Tokyo International Quilt Show

Celebrating its 10th anniversary, featuring 1800 works and a seemingly endless supply of vendors, the 2011 Tokyo International Quilt Show had an abundance of eye candy. A group of us traveled up from Yokosuka by train, taking the Green Car with reserved seating, a new experience for our group. No standing in a crowded train car, packed with commuters. We were able to sit in style for the 90-minute train ride to Tokyo. Of course, we were probably anything but the demure, quiet commuters we should have been – I’m sure our fellow Japanese passenger’s wondered “Why did they have to pick this car?” and “When will they stop talking?” (when we arrived in Tokyo). For most of us this was a break, an escape from reality, a chance to see some incredible work by some very talented artists. Yes, yes – I’m talking about quilts. But until you’ve seen Japanese quilts, you really haven’t seen quilts. These artists take this fiber art form to the next level. The hoards of people crowding into the Tokyo Dome indicated that there are a whole lot of Japanese out there that think this show is worth seeing too.
My first mission was to scout the vendors. I had coerced my friend Judy into coming along, convincing her that this is a once a year opportunity that she really needed to experience. We formed up our attack plan and starting winding our way through the vendor aisles. I only had one thing on my list, but of course found many more items I just “had to have.” My rule of thumb was, when I returned to the States would I regret not having made the purchase? Of course the answer was almost always “yes.”

Bags, bags and more bags
There were so many vendors with bags – patterns for bags, kits to make bags, handles for bags, and the thing that was all the rage were the bags made out of tatami matt webbing. I had first seen these at the Tokyo Hobby Show last year and had picked up a roll and made myself a bag. Now the rolls were everywhere, different colors from what I’d seen before and some very creative techniques (see photos for some of my favorites – yes, Mom, I’ll make you one).
Special Exhibitions
After a break for lunch we headed towards the quilts. There were quilts in many different categories but probably my favorite section was the “WA” Quilts … I’m not entirely sure but I’m guessing this was the Wall Art category. Most of the quilts in the slide show are from this area. Like last year, the attention to details blew me away. There was also a “Quilt Garden” special exhibition and I was enchanted by the garden with the birds and village.
All in all it was a great day. It was hard to get a good photograph of the quilts – it was so crowded, all I could really manage were for the most part detail shots, but those are where the inspiration lies. The exceptionally crafted houses and birds, the blanket stitch surrounding the circles with the added purple “fluff” for dimension, the reemergence of the big-stitch – popular in the 1930’s in the U.S. – I love how it is used in the quilts to emphasize details of the quilts. I came home with my purchases, realizing my hands were itching to create, should I make a bag? How about finish up a wall quilt with the big stitch? Maybe I should place an order for fabric dye? No matter which path I choose, it’s clear that this years Tokyo Quilt Show left me … inspired. *

* for another take on the show, check out Kathy's blog "Aranoyas" - the link under "My Blog List."