31 05 2009

Oishi – delicious (word of the day for Sunday).

Homemade Vegan Gyoza

Homemade Vegan Gyoza

Crispy Pan-fried Homemade Vegan Gyoza

Crispy Pan-fried Homemade Vegan Gyoza

Gyoza was next on our list of Japanese foods to try to make at home. We found some gyoza wrappers in the fridge of the supermarket and Benno bought some  TVP (soy mince) in Tokyo this week.

The filling was made from a mixture of:

1/2 cup soy mince (rehydrated in 1/2 cup hot water)
1/2 cup cabbage, shredded and boiled in the pan
150g mushrooms, diced
1 tablespoon each diced garlic and ginger
5 spring onions, diced
2 tablespoons soy sauce
salt and pepper
2 tablespoons vegan dashi sauce
2 tablespoons plain flour

To make the gyoza,
1. Place about a teaspoon of the filling in the centre of a wrapper.
2. Wet the edge of the wrapper with water.
3. Fold the wrapper in half and pleat the edges so that the bottom of the gyoza is flat and the top is rounded.
4. Heat 1 tablespoon vegetable oil in a saucepan. Cook the gyoza (flat-bottom down) for one minute. Then add 1/2 cup water. Put the lid on, turn the heat down and simmer for 4 minutes. Remove lid, turn up heat and cook for 1-2 minutes to evaporate the water and crisp up the bottoms.
Serve with dipping sauce (2 T soy sauce, 1 T rice vinegar, 1/4 t chili oil).

Yummy Peach Crumble

Yummy Peach Crumble

Benno made a dessert of peach crumble. It was so yummy – I feel like we haven’t eaten peaches in ages!

Earlier in the afternoon Lara made some more fluffy white cupcakes and turned some into red bean butterfly cakes with a peppermint chocolate pastille stuck between the wings. We gave these to our neighbours when we introduced ourselves (finally). They seem very nice – perhaps not too much older than us, with a small baby. Hopefully we will get to see more of them and maybe even practice our Japanese language skills with them!

Monday's Bento Lunch

Monday's Bento Lunch

Leftover gyoza were saved for Monday’s lunch. Here is Lara’s bento. It features an onigiri smiley face with steamed broccoli, apple triangles and a choc-chip vanilla cupcake. In the bottom layer is a heart onigiri (rice ball/triangle) with lettuce, cucumber flowers, soy-mince gyoza and an elephant bottle of dipping sauce.


30 05 2009

mendokusai – the students’ favourite saying when they can’t be bothered, roughly translated as ‘difficult’ or ‘i can’t be bothered’. Lazy bums.

saturdaybentoSaturday’s bento

I have a long way to go before I have bento looking as pretty as o-bento’s. However, my bento are vegan and don’t contain quail’s eggs. Satuday I had (from left to right) peppermint chocolates, leftover miso pasta with a triangle yaki-onigiri (grilled rice cake), a fluffy white cupcake (with heart strawberry) and popped corn, flower peanut butter sandwiches, strawberries and chocolate cake penguin(?!) with kiwi fruit belly.

Tofu Tonkatsu

Tofu Tonkatsu

To add to our list of Japanese foods we have tried (miso, onigiri, umeboshi, okonomiyaki) on Saturday we made tofu tonkatsu (tofu pork cutlets). We basically followed the recipe from here and they were pretty good. We don’t know how authentic they tasted, but they were yummy and successfully dirtied every plate/dish in our kitchen in the making.

The weather this week was a little dreary – raining most days. However it didn’t stop Benno from having an excursion in Tokyo to see MxPx in concert at the LiquidRoom in Shibuya-ku and going to an Australian Embassy party for Adelaide University graduates. Thanks to Atsu for showing Benno around and letting him stay!

Lunch Buffet at Saishoku Kenbi.

Lunch Buffet at Saishoku Kenbi.

Benno enjoyed a gyoza.

Thanks to everyone who Sykped us for Lara’s birthday or for SSS – we enjoyed catching up over the phone with our Australian friends and family this week!

Camera Alert

30 05 2009

I was wondering why there were people with cameras coming into my classes three times in the past week, and now I know why.

si_0905_lang001Lara teaching the H-1 class science.

bento happiness

24 05 2009

This week at school was busy with revision, followed by 3 days of mid-term exams. So I was writing tests, photocopying, supervising study lessons and exams, marking, calculating grades and getting ready for mid-term reports and newsletters.

Swine Flu is still on the front page everyday of The Japan Times newspaper that comes to the Inter department. The school called a 3 hour meeting for students on Saturday afternoon to go over the drills for a flu pandemic (and a flu outbreak coupled with a fire, and a flu outbreak with a lockdown etc). Luckily I wasn’t required to attend the meeting. I also got to go home early 3 days this week (on the days when there were exams- exams only went for the first 4 periods). They were much needed afternoon’s off!

During my afternoons off we went bento shopping (for my birthday).

My cute bento and accessories!

My cute bento and accessories!

We now have 2 triangle onigiri makers with stencils for the toppings (heart, star, music note, faces), animal sauce bottles, small cutters for fancy shapped vegetables etc, colourful animal picks for eating small fruits and my bento lid with the top section. Benno also has a large bento for his lunches. It is black and boring whereas the smaller lady-sized bento are cute and colourful.

My first attempt at making onigiri, ready in the second layer of my bento for lunch tomorrow.

My first attempt at making onigiri, ready in the second layer of my bento for lunch tomorrow. There's a heart, a smiley face and a star topping.

The weather has been all over the place – typical for spring. Wednesay was 26 degrees with 60% humidity while Sunday morning was dreary and pouring rain.

Saturday night we had dinner at Apita’s Italian restaurant with the other Inter staff. It was complementary, thanks to Kocho (the principal), except he wasn’t even there as he was in hospital this week with illness. We thought we had found a vegan option, the waitress said it was fine. The salad seemed ok, but the mushroom pasta was distinctly fishy. They must have added fish stock to the sauce. Bugger. The Japanese never seem to understand or even realise that fish stock (dashi) is not cool. However the grapefruit sorbet was delicious. After the meal we rode our bikes to a karaoke place where we sang some songs with the younger inter staff.

Sunday morning Benno got up and made pancakes while I did some marking of exams. We had red bean jam (adzuki bean paste) on some, maple syrup on some and lemon and sugar on the rest of the pancakes. Yum! Then Benno surprised me with birthday presents! He had snuck out of bed in the middle of the night and made a lemon and coconut mousse and a chocolate mousse in cute heart shaped dishes. We ate them after pancakes, and then he gave me a present of an oven-mit. So good, as I’ve burnt myself 3 times this week trying to remove things from our small convection microwave oven with a folded-up tea towel. So now I feel spoilt! I made cupcakes to take to school on Monday to celebrate my birthday with the other Inter staff. I hope they like them!

Lara's Birthday cupcakes. Fluffy white sponge cupcakes. Some made into butterfly cakes with red bean jam, some with lemon icing and strawberries and choc chips.

Lara's Birthday cupcakes. Fluffy white sponge cupcakes. Some made into butterfly cakes with red bean jam, some with lemon icing and strawberries and choc chips.

Vegan Strawberry Cupcake.

Vegan Strawberry Cupcake.

Inside the fluffy sponge cupcakes, showing the red bean jam inside.

Inside the fluffy sponge cupcakes, showing the red bean jam inside.

Vegan Okonomiyaki

16 05 2009

Tonight we made vegan okonomiyaki (savory pancake). It doesn’t look fantastic but it tasted great.

Our homemade vegan okonomiyaki.

Our homemade vegan okonomiyaki.

Here’s how we did it:

2 cups plain flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon vegie stock powder
1 tablespoon miso paste
1 cup water (or more).

1/4 red cabbage, chopped
1/2 brown onion, diced
5 spring onions, chopped
1 clove garlic, diced
1/4 cauliflower, cut into small florets

1. Mix up batter by putting the flour, baking powder, stock and miso in a large mixing bowl. Add water until a pancake-like batter consistency has been reached.

2. Add the fillings (we used cabbage, onion and cauliflower but you could use any vegetables) and mix through the batter.

3. Heat vegetable oil in a saucepan and spoon batter into the pan. Cook on both sides until slightly golden (about 2 minutes both sides).

4. Serve with ketchup and mayo and cucumber on the side.

This recipe makes enough for 4 savory pancakes and they are very filling so that was all we needed for dinner. You could also try other fillings and toppings such as corn, nori, v.tonkatsu sauce etc.

Indicator Time

16 05 2009

We’ve now been in Japan for 2 months! Time has gone by so quickly.

This week we experimented with miso in our cooking with some awesome miso eggplant and tofu. I entered our average daily food into fitday.com and we seem to have almost ‘by the book’ nutrition – we consume 60% of our 1800 calories from carbohydrates, 30% from fat and 10% from protein.

At school we had 2 groups of prospectives come view lessons. On Thursday 40 5th and 6th grade elementary students came to watch my Senior High School lesson (on electromagnetism) as there were no Junior high lessons when they came – talk about bad timing! So my classroom was invaded and no work or teaching could be done for 10 minutes while noisy children gathered and looked around the rather boring room. Then on Saturday the 5th grade parents came. We had been told that they would come in block 4. So they came in block 3. My students were stunned into silence by the 20 parents in the room staring at them and with all the complicated science vocab on the board I’m sure they looked like the most diligent students that have ever graced this planet. How far from the truth!

I managed several experiments this week- an acid and base reactions practical; red cabbage, litmus and UI paper tests (where the students all brought something from the dorm like milk, soda, shampoo, washing liquid etc to test its acidity); density practical and lighting a bunsen burner with the J-1 kids. It’s more effort as I have to set up the prac and clean it up myself, but the students have so much fun it’s worth it.

The students have mid-term tests/exams next week so the teachers are busy with revision, supervising after school study sessions, writing test papers and preparing for reports. Also this week I had Day Duty for the first time- one teacher each day has to write in a school diary the weather and absentees then lock up the two high school buildings after 5.30pm, ensuring that windows are shut and lights are off.

There seems to be a desire to shorten English words that can’t be shortened. for example, a supermarket and home centre was called “Super and Home”. If you look at a hairdressers you will often find prices for a “sham and cut”. Also in Japanese is a tendency to use English words in ways that we don’t – for examples dresses are called a one-piece.

An Introduction to Kisarazu

10 05 2009

Today we rode our bikes around Kisarazu, following the temples and filming sites from the TV show Kisarazu Cat’s Eye.

We rode up a hill past a video rental store, and then beyond the train station with a statue of a tanuki and to a small temple called Komyo-ji Temple. Not that exciting- on to the next one.

Yatsurugi Hachiman-jinga shrine seemed quite popular- several young Japanese were offering prayers. The shrine contains one of the largest portable shrines (mikoshi) all coated in gold and used in festivals around July. Out the front of the shrine was a small fish pond with one of the largest koi we have seen. It totally dwarfed the rest of the gold fish in the pond.

We went down the “Mimachi Shopping Street” which was used for a lot a filming in the Kisarazu Cat’s Eye show. Unfortunately most of the shops that featured in the show are non-existant now. It’s a bit said to see all the closed shops and empty streets. One thing that has stayed are the little stone statues of Kisarazu’s animal mascot, the Tanuki. Every statue features large balls. The statue of Ozzy the Tanuki (from the show) is still in the street.

We had a little rest in the Shojo-ji Temple where we looked at the large bell they ring.

Then we crossed the river thinking we might see the strip club from the TV show, but all we saw in the street were closed-up shops and houses. We rode on past the fake chapel for getting married in and past Hotel Christmas (huh?) to the Red Bridge (Nakanoshima Ohashi Bridge). The bridge doesn’t really go anywhere- just to a made made island that is a park for people to picnic in. It seemed to be a popular spot as there were many families with picnic baskets and fisherman lined up by the water. There were some stalls and we ate a toffee apple. It was really warm spring weather today – about 24 degrees and humid but nice weather for a leisurely cruise around the city.

We rode back home past the Kisarazu Touei cinema (it also featured in the TV show and is looking very neglected now, although it was open).

We had miso-seasoned grilled eggplant with carrot flowers, cauliflower and rice for dinner. I also made peanut butter and banana biscuits for our lunches this week.

The end of Golden Week

8 05 2009

The spring weather that was so sunny and warm on Saturday, Sunday and Monday (excellent weather for our excursions) took a turn to the cold side for the rest of Golden Week. Tuesday and Wednesday it rained on and off for most of the day and it was cold. Perfect weather for baking and reading books and so we stayed inside wrapped in mofu (blankets).

Benno had bought some minature cookie cutters from the 100 yen shop – a dog, a car and a fish. So I made some spiced biscuits so I could try out the cutters.

The little spiced biscuits in the shape of a car (kuruma), a fish (sakana) and a dog (inu).

The little spiced biscuits in the shape of a car (kuruma), a fish (sakana) and a dog (inu).

We ate soup and had our new found dessert, zensai. A steaming bowl of sweet adzuki soup and mochi works great to warm you up.


It was back to school on Thursday. I went in early at 7.30am to organise myself for the week – why would I do any prep in my holiday time, now? It was still cold and rainy at night so that called for curry and rice pudding for dinner.

Friday was another normal day.. struggling to stay awake. I never felt tired or like I wanted to fall asleep at my desk in Australia – why am I so tired in Japan? Is it because the work day is from 7.30-4.30pm perhaps (I actually only work these hours on Mondays – other days are from 8.30-4.30pm or 7.30-3.30pm)? Time to put fat on the bones and eat chips with gravy and a side salad for dinner.

So, it was dreary and drizzly for the rest of the working week, warming up again on Saturday when we had parents enter the classrooms to observe and see if they want their children going to Gyosei high school. Unfortunately they were scheduled to visit during my science lesson with J-2 (that is, the class with the worst English skills and lacking most in motivation to do any work). Oh well. Good/Bad news is that they arrived late and completely missed my fantastically planned lesson and the parents didn’t enter any of my classes (they entered the poorly planned block 4 classes instead). One of the parents asked an English teacher “my child has buck teeth. Will she be able to learn English? The dentist said French would be okay, but she may not be able to learn English with buck teeth.” How do you reply to that!?

Here’s a picture one of the girls from that class drew for me. The person has blue eyes, so it’s obviously me.

Rina's drawing of me, for me...I think.

Rina's drawing of me, for me...I think.

Onsen and BBQs

4 05 2009

Today we were entertained by Atsu and his girlfriend, Mizuki.

We drove for ages through traffic jams to a famous stone buddha site in Chiba prefecture, but it was packed and the line up was hours long. So we went straight to lunch, eating some homemade cookies and Japanese citrus sweets in the car.

On the way Lara saw a monkey on the side of the road. Then we went to a State Park in Kimitsu for a BBQ lunch. Atsu made a delicious sukiyaki sauce to have with barbequed potato, onion, tofu, konyaku and grilled rice balls. Then we passed stage 1 of becoming Japanese by eating rice balls wrapped in nori sheets with umeboshi sour plums.

After lunch we drove a while to find some hot springs. Some of the places had closed early due to Golden Week. We eventually found an onsen that was open and joined the queue for a hot spring bath. It was quite busy – lots of people were also wanting to enjoy the baths. We collected towels, then put our shoes in a locker, then wandered through and put our personal belongings in another locker. Then we split off into boys and girls. We undressed in the change room and then washed with soap while sitting on little stools. After getting clean we sat in the hot springs outside in a little rock pool while looking at the scenery.

We had a great day and enjoyed talking with Atsu and sharing Australian/Japanese culture. For example, we taught Atsu the Tim Tam Slam in return for being initiated into the onsen experience.

Thanks guys for a fantastic day out! Happy Golden Week!

Yokohama Yodel

3 05 2009

Early in the morning we packed our bags and headed to the train station on our bicycles to catch the 8.30am express bus to Yokohama for our Golden Week Sunday excursion.

We had been warned that during Golden Week it would take twice as long to go anywhere because of the crowds of people. Plus there were ongoing Y150 celebrations (Yokohama 150th birthday). But, it took the normal time of 55 minutes to get to Yokohama station.

We wandered down to collect a map from the next station, passing the Anpanman Children’s Museum. There was a line up of parents and their little children going around the block waiting for hours to get into the museum.. and for what? Anpanman merchandise? If you don’t know who Anpanman is, there’s a picture below.

We walked down the ‘horse-drawn-cart’ avenue, Bashamichi Ave. Features of the avenue include old stone buildings (for example, the Former Bank Head Office. As the sign said, “a fine example of European classical style work left to posterity by a Japanese architect. Large pediments in front and at corners on both sides, along with prominent giant order pilasters between windows, emphasize a baroque effect.”) and the first gas lamps. There were also lots of police men and people sitting on the footpath.. we asked a police man and he said there was a street parade for Yokohama’s 150th birthday celebrations in one hour. We ate some homemade cookies for a snack and kept walking.

We wandered past the old buildings, then to the Yokohama Stadium. A baseball game with the Yokohama BayStars was scheduled for 2pm and there were fans dressed in baseball costume already waiting for entry.

But we continued through Yokohama Park to Nihon-odori Avenue to look at a floral expo. There were artworks on the road made from coloured petals (not live plants like I was expecting, but nice none the less).

We walked up the floral avenue and intersected the closed off parade road. We watched the marching bands, floats and cheerleaders for a while. One band played ‘In the Navy’, followed by another playing ‘It’s a Small World’, then a coca cola boat float with the Yokohama 150th mascot, a camphor tree seed, went past followed by some Chinese dragons with a lot of noisy firecrackers.

We left the parade and went into Chinatown. Yokahama’s Chinatown is the world’s biggest with over 500 restaurants and shops. There are meant to be 10 gates in Chinatown. One is not even in Chinatown but is on the other side of the expressway, and two we didn’t walk past as Benno was getting hungry for lunch. We looked at the shops and restaurants and ate a huge sesame/bean (anman) steam bun. By lunch time the throng of people was bumper to bumper. Busy! We saw some funny t-shirts. Some lines read ‘LET EAT BEANS’ or ‘Curiosity Polishes’ or a grammatically strange shirt ‘I like your taste in men’s’.

It was about 1pm, now so we crossed over the parade road in a squish of people jostling to get over the road in-between floats. We ended up in Yamashita-koen (Yamashita Park) by the Port. We ate our marinated tofu salad sandwiches and non-msg chips under a tree while watching the end of the parade (yes, it was still going. It look about 4 hours just to pass the starting line.)

We looked at the Hikawa Maru Steam Ship at the Port (a passenger liner that sailed the world and once had Charlie Chaplin travel on it) and the Marine Tower (the world’s tallest lighthouse at 106m above sea level) before going further south and up the hill to the Minatonomieruoka Park (Harbour View Park). After a lot of stairs we ended up at a lookout point with a view of Yamashita Pier – industrial and not actually very pretty to look at. We could see a wind turbine, the Yokohama Bay Bridge and the Landmark Tower from the lookout, but the rest of it was just industrial Port buildings. Benno had a nap on a bench to rest after all those stairs and then we walked back down a different route back into Yamashita Park.

We followed the crowds (still bumper to bumper) to Minato Mirai 21. We looked at the touristy Red Brick Warehouses (Akarenga Kokusaikan), described as “nostalgic through its unique red brick architecture” but they were also packed with lunch-goers.

We wandered past the giant spider, La Machine, to Yokohama World Porters, a shopping mall with imported clothing and food. We ate a sweet potato bagel from “le Bon Pain” and found mexican food in the Vivre Supermarket. One night this week we will be feasting on tortilla chips and refried beans.

Next we went past the Amusement Park Cosmo World, with the world’s largest clock/ferris wheel called Cosmo Clock standing at 112.5m. In my mind I had an image of clock hands on a giant ferris wheel, but no, there is just a digital clock display on a ferris wheel. Cosmo World has free entry, just admission for rides. So we were able to walk through all the attractions.

Past Landmark Tower, a very tall building (296m to be exact, the tallest building in Yokohama), and past the Maritime Museum with a navigation sail boat called Nippon Maru, much like the merchant ships that arrived in Yokohama 150 years ago and opened up the Port and Japan to the West.

We laboured up a hill to Iseyama Shrine, which was almost deserted apart from about 4 monks. It was built in 1870 as a place to pray for national security.

Then we came back and watched the lights on the Cosmo Clock until it was time for dinner. Dinner was at a vegan macrobiotic restarant called Flancl Garden Chaya  Macrobiotic Cafe (another branch of the Chaya’s in Isetan, Tokyo) in a shopping mall attached to Yokohama Train Station. We ate the Millet and Soy Vege Loaf Plate, the Mild Vegetable Curry and a small Cabbage Soup. Dessert was Black Soybean and Matcha Cream Tart and Mixed Berry Blancmange with fresh mint tea and bacha tea (not sure what that is). All that for only 3500 yen.

We raced out after our delicious meal and back down to the bus station where we only had to wait 10 minutes for a bus at 8.30pm to Kisarazu. An hour later and we were back at the station, collecting our bicycles and riding home by 10pm for a good night’s sleep to rest our walking legs for another day out tomorrow.