was sleeping

Stupid sick people!

Right now I can't sleep, because I can't breathe. I had a bit of a sore throat earlier in the week, and hoped I wasn't coming down with something, but obviously I was.

Normally when I get a cold I just lay in bed for a few days and wait for it to pass. Colds come, and they go. But this time, I feel so angry! I know exactly why I'm sick: the head of staff at my school has a computer next to the one I use, and he was coughing on me this whole week.

In other words, I'm sick because a stupid sick person refused to just go home! Why the heck do they insist on working?

I know the answer to that one. It's because they're Japanese. Japanese people never stop working--they're given way too much stuff to do. The head of staff, like the vice principal, typically works from 7 in the morning to 8 at night. He is fairly high up the administrative ladder as well as teaching a full course load. Even regular teachers have so many administrative duties that they typically work from about 7 to 6, and the ones who supervise the sports work from 7 to 7. They have too much to do to go home earlier. Pretty much all of my Japanesr friends who aren't retired work from about 9 to 9 or 10. So even if they officially have sick leave, Japanese workers pretty much aren't allowed to go home.

My classrooms are emptying out now, and I'm sure that the absentee rate would quarter if the parents would just let their kids stay home too. I see kids looking like death every day, kids going through lots of tissues, kids who just can't stop coughing. I see kids with rings of empty desks around them. I'm sure that plenty of my sick kids wanted to stay home, but their parents just didn't believe them when they said they didn't feel good. Or, being Japanese, maybe they believe that anything short of malaria or a norovirus, probably at the same time, doesn't warrant a day off.

I know this problem isn't unique to Japan, but given the whole culture of overwork, I think it's especially bad here. But it's so stupid! Don't people know that if they just force themselves to work when they're sick, not only will it hurt their recovery, but they'll also spread disease and force everyone else to deal with the bug too? Don't the parents realize that if they send their kids to school sick, they'll encourage whatever bug to become an epidemic? Potentially spreadng to the teachers and thereby lowering the quality of instruction? Do the parents realize how little goes into your head if you're struggling with a cold?

I know I'll be taking Monday off. I got the gift that keeps on giving, but I'm not going to pass it on if I can help it.
was sleeping

leftover issues

I am the worst at planning parties! There were 3 people who could come, so they came over, we all ate way too much food, talked, and watched Treasure Planet on Netflix. I think a good time was had by all.

Here's the problem: I bought and made way way way too much food! Since I was just going to lay everything out on the table rather than plate and serve portions of everything, I didn't even think of the calories (or the money); I just made whatever. As is I bought between 2 and 3 times as much food as I needed. Here's just what I have left over:

-About 2 cups of tomato sauce, made from cherry tomatoes and rosemary that a friend grew in her garden and gave to me. My eggplant parmigiana, made from the Serious Eats recipe, really didn't take as much as I thought it would. (Btw, I made half with fresh mozzarella, like the Serious Eats post said, and half with Pecorino Romano, since most of the other recipes for Italian-style eggplant parmigiana called for either Parmesan, Romano, or Grana Padano. I think I liked the Pecorino Romano part better, but they were both so good! I also grated far more of the Pecorino Romano than I needed, and that's in a bowl in the fridge too.)
-A whole lot of cherry tomatoes! I thought the amount my friend gave me wouldn't be enough, but it was more than enough!
-2 roasted red peppers and one raw one.
-Over a cup of hummus.
-Almost a whole box of chickpeas. One of the guests is of Jordanian descent, and she came over to show me how she makes hummus yesterday. The mixture was too thick yesterday, so she said to open up another can/box of chickpeas and thin it down with its liquid. We also decorated the top with some of them. So now I've got about 380 g of chickpeas that I want to eat soon.
-A stuffed zucchini.
-A lot of rice prepared the Jordanian way, with lots and lots of allspice and cinnamon and fried pine nuts.
-A bunch of almost-Scottish shortbread made with buckwheat flour. (One of the guests had celiac disease, buckwheat is a local delicacy, and I thought shortbread would go with all of the other desserts I was making.
-A lot of this fruit salad made with local Wasser peaches and nectarines-- I made far more than I needed.
-Several Wasser peaches and nectarines that didn't make it into the salad.
-A couple of cups of Earl Grey pudding.
-I wasn't sure what dessert I'd make when I hit my last supermarket yesterday, so I bought about a pint of heavy cream more than I used so that I could try this butterscotch budino.
-Guests brought several large bottles of tea and a bag of chips. Only some of the tea got drunk-- we might have drunk more if the Jordanian guest hadn't shown us how to make mint tea-- and the chips never even got opened.

As you can see, I definitely have enough food to have another 4 people over, maybe another 8 or 12 people over, without doing any shopping. I am happy that I probably won't need to buy food tomorrow. (Unless, for instance, I want to make pizza with the leftover tomato sauce and leftover fresh mozzarella-- I'd buy bread flour and yeast. Should I do this?). But I'm a bit worried about being able to eat all of this before it rots! I throw away so much food anyway!

I've texted a few other people asking if they want to come over to my place for lunch tomorrow. Is that a thing? Is there a word for the sort of follow-up party you have the day after a party to get rid of the leftovers? People who have people over a lot-- how can you calculate how much food you'll need?
was sleeping

party thoughts

Now that I've had people over lots of times, I've figured out what the hardest part of planning is. It's not the food. Even if it takes me a couple of days to put together a 7-course banquet, most of the time just a few dishes you can throw together in an afternoon are fine. In fact, if you tell people to bring food, you don't even really need to make anything. (I do so love to go all-out every once in a while, though!)

No, the hard part of planning a party is the people. There's never a day that works for everyone. Some people are picky about guests-- they say they only want to go to a party with mostly people they know. If that's the case you have to ask all of the people who they know who you also know, and if the stars aren't lining up, it doesn't happen. Otherwise people always have something going on. It's particularly bad here, where people get out of work late and get to bed early, and where teachers often have to supervise club activities that can stretch late into the night. But even accounting for that, I seem to have the hardest time getting people together. Maybe my parties are just always too boring?

I want to have a small gathering on Friday, but right now I'm at 2 yeses and four maybes. Since "maybes" are almost always "no"s, I'm debating cancelling.

That said, if I don't cancel, I'm thinking about desserts. Stone fruits are in season, so I could do a fruit salad like this one from Melissa Clarke, where you soak the fruits in a syrup flavored with star anise and hot pepper. I tried it and it's very lovely. Also, some people like to poach plums with a little rosemary, and since a friend just gave me a lot of fresh rosemary she grew, I could do that. I've also been meaning to try any of those lemon-and-rosemary desserts, like lemon bars with a rosemary crust, that were so popular a couple years ago. Or I could do what I just had today-- I thickened some spicy chai tea with just enough gelatin to make it a spoon food rather than a beverage, and I topped it with just a bit of whipped cream. One of the people who's a pretty definite yes has offered to teach me how they do baklava in Egypt. There's so many options!
me frosting

Sashimi

I asked a local fishmonger a few weeks ago if he would show me how to butcher a fish for sashimi. The stars finally lined up, so now I've made my first sashimi!

I already knew how to fillet a fish. To turn it into sashimi, you just go a few steps farther: you lay your fillet skin side down on your cutting board, and you take off its skin with your willow-blade knife. Then you cut out the spines from the middle of the fillet-- that is, you cut each of the 2 fillets into 2 smaller boneless fillets. You feel them carefully to make sure you got all the bones, and if there are any remaining, you cut them out. Then, assuming you started with a sashimi-grade fish, all you need to do is slice these fillets, and you have sashimi!

I'm so happy that I can do this now!
was sleeping

(no subject)

I checked out a public pool today. I want to learn how to swim, and that means practice. I quit the gym that I'd been in after they stopped offering private swim lessons-- I tried their group lessons but felt so uncomfortable that I thought I'd be better off looking elsewhere altogether. In any case I am now looking for a place to practice swimming and someone to teach me.

This pool seemed fine, and I was happy that it even had private changing stalls, so you don't need to get naked in front of strangers. I never liked how the locker room was always so crowded in the gym.

So I paid, went in, put my stuff in a locker, and went to look for the shower I'd use before going in. The only ones were by the pool, with no soap. I asked a staff person what was going on, and he said that if I wanted to shower with soap before swimming, I was welcome to use the showers upstairs, but people generally just rinsed with water.

I felt so disgusted I just left. This is a popular pool, and there were lots of people in it even then! I would not want to immerse my face in water that hundreds of unwashed people have wallowed through!

Thoughts? Am I just being germophobic? Or would you do the same?
forgot to sleep by amaralen

(no subject)

OK, next time I hold a gathering, I'm not even going to post about it here, because it's becoming so commonplace.

I had 12 people over to watch movies. My apartment has always been big enough, but it hasn't always been clean enough, nor have I always had a TV. Given that a lot of the last-minute cleaning was just finding places to hide stuff I didn't want people tripping over, I should probably spend what's left of the weekend going through my closets and bedroom to actually deal with the stuff I shoved out of the way. But I was able to make the floor sweeapable before even the first of the people came, and those first few people came early specifically to help with the vacuuming and whatnot, so as of about 7:30, my apartment was cleaner than it's ever been. (When I arrived never counted, because I didn't have anything in place then.) 12 people came, I met most of them in the parking lot near my house that I directed them to, my sofa filled up, chairs filled up, the zabutons I put on the floor in front of the sofa filled up, and the endtable I put another zabuton on also filled up. We watched Edge of Tomorrow for the first movie, since someone mentioned it a few days ago. I wanted to draw ballots for the second movie, but after one of the people who volunteered to let me use their Netflix account pulled up her Netflix page, everyone agreed on Mean Girls. Some of the guys hadn't seen it before; some of the girls were quoting the lines alongside the characters. It was great.

Now I'm thinking about my next one. I feel like movie nights are a really nice, easy, low-key party for a bunch of people. But what sort of party shall I do next? A dinner party where I make everything? (And if so, how crazy am I going with everything?) A potluck? Is there some sort of middle ground, where I make maybe half the food? What about the sort of party where I just set out cheese plates and have people milling around-- is there a way to invite people over just for that?

I also am thinking about the guest list. My next movie night with all English teachers shouldn't be too hard-- the date will be more or less determined by other prefecturewide events, I wouldn't want to do it too soon with the same group anyway, and, like this one, I'd set up a Facebook event page a few weeks before and invite all the ALTs within about an hour's drive. But for any other kind of party, I think very hard about who I'm inviting. Some people don't like large crowds, some people love them. Some people would be thrilled for me to make them a seven-course dinner, some people would be happier with just beer and potato chips. (Some people, I don't even know which they prefer!) Some English teachers want to practice Japanese; some Japanese people want to practice English; and most people I know are really only comfortable with one language. I'm new to this!
me frosting

(no subject)

The school librarian just bought a book of vegetable-based desserts. I am of course familiar already with many of the dessert possibilities of pumpkin, zucchini, and carrot, but these books also do less-familiar ones, like cucumber, tomato, and sugar snap peas. Since it is actually aimed at children, most of the recipes are relatively simple, but even so, they're unusual enough to make me pay attention. Cucumber is grated, mixed with simple syrup and grapefruit juice, and made into a granita. Zucchini are fried in butter and sprinkled with sugar, and then bananas are fried in the same butter, and the two are served together. And cherry tomatoes are layered into the middle of a cake with some whipped cream.

As it so happens, I had a bunch of cherry tomatoes left from an attempt at Shirazi salad. (The small tomatoes seem to be more widely available than the large ones, so they were what I used.) So I checked the cookbook, and it said you just halve the tomatoes, spread a layer of butter cake with whipped cream (it said you use only a little sugar in the cream, not even any vanilla), layer the tomatoes on, spread on more whipped cream, then put the other layer of the cake on top. Then you decorate the edges of the cream with more sliced cherry tomatoes.

Since I don't have an oven, I couldn't make their butter cake, but I got some from a local bakery I like. I had this cake with sliced cherry tomatoes and some cream I whipped.

And maybe it works better if you use the cake recipe they gave, but I have to say it was a really weird combination. Weirder than a bacon and nutella sandwich. Tomatoes have a naturally rich, heavy, sort of meaty quality to their flavor. They really felt very out-of-place with the light, sweet cream and cake.

I could imagine tomatoes as a very small component of a summer fruit dessert: maybe mostly strawberries and blueberries, with a few raspberries and tomatoes thrown in. Let tomatoes be one summer berry among many-- that's what they are, anyway. Maybe then their richness could help support the rest of the fruit flavors. Maybe skin them and make them into a sauce with the rest of them? Or maybe tomato-peach melba? Maybe just chop them and let them macerate with strawberries with a spoonful of sugar before you make them into a parfait? There's also a recipe I found online, where you blanch-peel a beefsteak tomato, then cook pieces of it in sugar before you use them to top ice cream. I feel like the tomato dessert idea has some interesting possibilities-- the one I made just wasn't one of them. I'm not giving up on that cookbook either!
was sleeping

food waste

Tomorrow is burnable trash collection day, and since food waste counts as burnable trash, that makes tonight a very good night to clean out the fridge. I threw out the following:

-about a third of a head of lettuce, gone bitter
-300 g of tofu, scarily beyond its expiration date
-5 eggs, weeks expired
-parsley I'd washed, enough to fill a 400 mL box, gone scary-looking
-about a quarter cup of heavy cream gone bad
-a box of strawberries gone moldy
-the peels from 2 udo, which I never got around to using back before they turned all brown and weird
-about 2 oz. of steamed chicken breast

It's ridiculous! I swear I must be shopping for at least 2 people and throwing away at least half of it! Most of it I don't even really understand why I have to throw it out. The strawberries, I forgot to put in the fridge when I bought them, then I went on an impulse Golden Week trip to Kanazawa, and when I got back they were bad, sure. The udo peels are tough and stringy and hard to use, sure. But tofu? Snack anytime! I had weeks of use! Eggs? I can think of at least 10 different ways to use any number of them off the top of my head-- they go in desserts like puddings and French toast, pancakes, as a major componant of pasta carbonara or Caesar salad, or on their own either as an omelette or a tamagoyaki, poached, scrambled, etc. So how did I not get around to finishing the box of 10? The parsley, I'd already washed and made nice, so I couldn've nibbled on it or used it as a garnish for anything for a while before it got all weird-- how did this not happen? What have I been living on, if not all the food in my fridge?

Do any of you have a thowing-out-too-much-food problem like this? Better, did any of you used to have a problem like this but got over it? Do I just need to always remember exactly what I've got in my fridge? I thought I'd been doing that, but somehow I'm still shopping for a whole family. I can't stand throwing away so much food!
was sleeping

dinner party

If you can count having two friends over for dinner as a dinner party, today I had my first one! I'd wanted to do one for years and years, and now that my apartment and my kitchen are finally coming into shape--

The menu:

Amuse: Pecorino Romano drizzled with molasses (N.B: before today I had never served anyone an amuse-bouche! I've hardly even ever used the word, let alone made them!)

First course:
-Carrots stir-fried with ginger and hot pepper
-Udo braised in cream with lemon and ginger
-Spinach ohitashi (spinach soaked in katsuo broth)
-bread

Second course: Salmon meunière

Pallete cleanser: iceplant

Dessert: strawberry parfait

It was a lot more effort than I thought it would be to put it all together. I didn't have all the plates and dishes to even serve all this, or store the parts I could make ahead, so just buying and washing them was a chore. I'd been thinking about a lot of variations for almost all of those, and had been busy all week testing them out. (Meunière is my favorite way to do fish, so that was decided, but what fish to use? I tried about four different kinds before settling on fresh anchovy, which are delicate and delicious and in-season and relatively sustainable. But when I got to the supermarket, there were no fresh anchovies, but there were some really beautiful salmon steaks.) I spent the week trying different variations of Smitten Kitchen's butterscotch pudding (I like it with bacon and five-spice powder and the maximum amount of cream she specifies), but at the supermarket yesterday, there were some gorgeous tiny little strawberries, which led to an abrupt change of plans and me whipping cream for parfaits at 7 p.m. today. I tried the spinach ohitashi with a little lemon zest and decided that it was better without.

I'd meant to make udo kimizu ae, which is udo dressed in a sauce based on egg yolk and vinegar. Udo has a lovely aroma, a bit like fennel, but until then, had never eaten an udo dish that tasted as good as udo smells. Even raw and plain, it doesn't taste as rich and as aromatic as you think it should. So I was very happy a few weeks ago in a ryokan when I was served it in this thin yellow sauce tasting as full and as luxurious as it should. The chef said that it was in kimizu (literally, egg yolk vinegar), which is a sauce thickened with egg yolks and soured with vingar. I found a recipe for it online, and it produced a stinking yellow gloop. So I still really don't know what that chef did, and just cooked the rest of the udo in cream, like cream-braised fennel, with a little lemon and ginger at the end. It still wasn't as good as that chef's version!

I'd also meant to make truffles as a final goodbye nibble, but between one thing and another, I never had time to get them ready.

But by 7:30, I had carrots and spinach and udo chilling in the fridge (the former two completely prepared last night, which is the only way you can get the ohitashi to be the right kind of tender, but with just a bit of bite to it), cream whipped and vanilla'd, strawberries chopped and hanging out with just a spoonful of brown sugar and a drop of lemon juice, the iceplant washed, the parsley with which to garnish the salmon washed, water for tea on, and cheese and salmon and bread ready to go.

Even serving was more work than I thought it would be: all four of the vegetables and the bread had to be plated, the spinach had to be cut into chopstick-edible lengths, the salmon had to be fried, the parfaits had to be assembled (they said, "Whoah! Did you just make parfaits right now?" and I said, "Well, I'd already done all the work!"), and even though I was hanging out with friends, I kept thinking about the next course and whether or not it was time to get it ready.

Next time I do something like this, I'm going to try to avoid thinking about the menu until about a week before, and I won't try to develop more than one recipe for it-- I think all but one of the things I make should be things I'm already reasonably familiar with. Also, even if you're going somewhat crazy for the food (which I definitely want to do sometimes!) you probably don't need to have much more than this, and a lot less would've been just fine. I think I did well in choosing mostly dishes that could be largely done in advance or else cooked easily, but I also realized just how important that is. If it were possible to do everything in advance, so much the better.

Anyway, I'm so happy that I pulled this off! The food was served and enjoyed and the dishes cleaned and put away and only a few things left that didn't make it to the table. I don't know when I'll next do this, or with who, or whether I'm going to go all-out or just make it a "Come over to my place-- let's have sandwiches and watch a movie" kind of deal. But I'm looking forward to doing it again.
me frosting

honey

I was with a friend the other day and I mentioned that pine honey is really good. I bought some Greek fir honey from Follow the Honey, a honey store in Cambridge, a few years ago, and even though I only ever used it for normal things, I enjoyed its rich sweetness and piney scent every time I had it. The friend said that he'd never had pine honey, but there was a honey store nearby, so we went over to check it out.

Like Follow the Honey, this honey store sold mostly only honey, and a variety of them from across the country and across the world. There wasn't nearly as much selection-- I think there were only about 20 types of honey, as opposed to the hundreds in Follow the Honey. But I could still try all of the ones I was interested in.

I tried sakura honey, made from the nectar of the famous Japanese cherry blossoms-- very sweet, light, and with a faint floral hint. I liked it well enough, but would not pay the 3,000 yen (right now about $25) for 250 mL of it. The shopkeeper explained that since there are no very large collections of cherry trees, in order to make the honey, they bring the bees to one grove, then another, then another. And since being trucked places a lot of stress on the bees, many of them die on each trip. So making sakura honey is hugely labor-intensive and inefficient, but worth it for a small number of rich gourmets. He said that the same was true for almost all of the Japanese honeys made from a single plant: they're all made by driving bees from one grove to another, so even apple blossom honey is the same price.

I also tried shina tree honey. The man explained that the shina tree, also known as the Japanese lime, forms the basis for the old name of Nagano (Shinano) as well as place names like Tateshina. It was very dark, almost bitter, and somewhat caramelly. Finally, I tried haze honey, which he explained is relatively well-known in the Kansai region. The haze tree, also known as the Japanese wax tree, produces a lot of nectar, so it is somewhat easier to get honey from it. It is also caramelly and funky. He said that most Japanese people prefer the mildest and sweetest honeys, such as acacia honey, or wildflower honey. When I visited a Tokyo honey boutique, all of the honeys I tried there were all very sweet and plain, with maybe just a bit of a floral or fruity note-- nothing as strong as pine honey, or as deeply rich as dandelion honey (which I tasted here), and certainly nothing as peculiar as shina honey. I was interested in getting the shina honey, but I didn't have the cash on me.

When I got back home, I called up Follow the Honey again and asked them if $30 for 250 mL is a reasonable price. The lady there said that most of their honeys were about half of that, but some of them were more. Manuka honey from New Zealand is $38 for that amount. Also, the honey production in Japan is considerably less industrialized than it is in many other countries, so it'll be more labor-intensive to make, with high Japanese labor costs. Then factor in the costs of having a shop (and also, IMO, the fact that Japanese people generally don't like bizarre honeys), and that's about what it's going to cost. She also told me that they don't have any Japanese honeys, so any of the Japanese honeys I like would be a nice souvenir for friends or family, and she also asked me to give me the card of any of the Japanese honey shops when I get back to Boston. I promised I would.