The second and third days of Obon

Note: One of the more difficult things to do is to pin down exactly when this festival actually is.  Some parts of the country list it as “August 15.”  Others list it as “July 15.”  The difference comes from whether or not you follow the old Lunar calendar.

Now, I started these entries with the idea that one of the festival dates was August 15 in the Tokyo area, which logically should mean the last day of Obon would be on the 17th.  But Japan Talk lists it as ending on August 15!

So here I am, a little late to the party, but there are other years and perhaps one day I’ll get to celebrate the festival in Japan itself.

On the second day of Obon, the party really gets started.  There is dancing and drumming and good food and games.  It’s a colorful, summery event.

Per this article from the Huffington Post:

“The second day of Obon is spent celebrating the spirits’ homecoming. Towns build stages in the center, where dancers perform the Bon Odori, or traditional Obon dance. Although this dance varies regionally, it’s usually accompanied by traditional Japanese drums. Along the stage, booths of Japanese treats, games, and shops provide a festival-like atmosphere. Since Obon occurs in summer, many attendees wear traditional yukatas (light-weight kimonos).”

Sounds like fun to me!

For another perspective, and lots of great pictures, here’s an article from Japan Talk:

https://www.japan-talk.com/jt/new/obon

Also, here’s a wonderful blog called Just One Cookbook, and the dedicated page for summer festival foods!  The instructions are great, so maybe you’ll want to try one soon.

https://www.justonecookbook.com/japanese-summer-festival-foods/

The last day of Obon

This is the day when the famous floating of the lanterns happens.  In many parts of Japan this now happens in ponds with no outlet, rather than on the rivers.  This is done for environmental reasons, but in the places where lanterns are floated down the rivers, it’s a truly beautiful sight.  See the two articles above for more details.

As the lanterns float away, spirits of beloved family members are bid a fond farewell, until the next year.

Drive-through-fast egg sandwich

I’m always rushing out the door in the morning and many times I want a hot breakfast but don’t want to spend a half hour cooking and eating it.  Wouldn’t it be nice if there were a small meal I could have that’s relatively balanced and I could make in less than five minutes?

Well, it is nice, because it’s totally possible, and here’s how to do it!

You will need:

1 egg

1 English muffin

1 slice of cheese, or 1/2 ounce of shredded cheese

Salt/pepper to taste

Optional:  Slice of lunch meat, hot sauce, other condiments you like

A tall container to cook the egg in that’s roughly the same diameter as the muffin.  I use a cheap plastic storage container.

A microwave and a toaster.

Directions:

Split and toast the English muffin.  While it’s toasting, crack the egg in the bottom of your cooking container, add salt, pepper and/or dried herbs, and mix with fork or whisk.

Microwave egg on High for one minute.

When muffin is toasted, put cheese on bottom half.  Add your egg, which should have cooked into a fluffy disk that fits perfectly on your muffin.

Add any other toppings you want and close sandwich.  You can wrap it in foil to take with you, or eat it right there.  I like to use a whole wheat English muffin so it stays with me a little longer.

There you have it- simple, easy, can be made in less than five minutes.  That’s less time than it would take to buy something at a drive-thru.  As a tip, soak your egg-cooking container for a while, as it’s much easier to clean the egg out of it if you do.  You could also spray it with cooking spray before use.

 

 

Seriously Easy Berry Jam

Who isn’t tired of paying top dollar for all-fruit jam?  It’s great to make your own, but sometimes a quick and simple recipe that you can whip up in ten minutes is nicer than standing over a hot pot of boiling fruit.  Luckily this recipe exists.

You can make this jam out of any fruit you like using nothing but a spoon, some boiling water, a refrigerator, and a blender.

You will need:

2 pints berries (blackberries, raspberries, blueberries, strawberries, or whatever you like.  You can use fresh or previously frozen.)

1/2 cup boiling water

1 4-serving packet of Jello-style gelatin dessert, any compatible flavor (I like cherry with blackberry, personally)

A blender

A spoon or whisk

A container to keep the jam in

Directions:

Place your fruit into the blender and blend until relatively smooth.

Add the contents of the gelatin packet into 1/2 cup boiling water and mix well.

Mix gelatin and fruit, pour into a container.  Refrigerate for several hours.  The mixture will thicken into a nice, sturdy jam that’s perfect for toast or English Muffins.

That’s it!  This jam is so easy to make and it tastes really good.  You can get fancy and use organic gelatin, or just use packets of Sure-Jell if you want to go ultra-simple.  You can use sugar free gelatin too.  It’s also fun to try different combinations of fruit flavors with your base fruit.  If you like to reuse containers, two pints of berries makes the perfect amount of jam to fit in an old Talenti Gelato jar.  Those make great jam jars.  This jam will keep in the fridge for at least a month.

 

 

Meditations on an ice cream scoop…and moose poop.

If I’m going to have dessert, I’m going to go all the way.  I don’t have to have a lot if it’s really high quality stuff.  So I find myself scooping out two bowls of Moose Tracks ice cream, into cute little blue and white porcelain Happy Neko bowls from Japan.  The scoop is sturdy, fits well into my hand, carves out the creamy goodness with ease, and never bends.

I think it cost five dollars and I’ve had it for years.

I consider how I have been before.  Whyever would I need an ice cream scoop?  I had a spoon, after all, and so what if it bent?  I could always bend it back.  Never mind the frustration and sticky mess caused by it almost every time.  What a way to begin a dessert.

So I’ve got my scoop.  As I wash it and put it in the drainer, I think about how the difference between an easy time and a hard time can be traced to one right tool or perhaps a right technique.  It’s not about skill, though that helps, or even money.  My scoop was cheap.  But it makes a big difference.

The spouse won’t call Moose Tracks Ice Cream by its right name, because it reminds her of moose poop.  It’s a nasty thing to be reminded of when you’re all warm and happy

from a good meal.

We decided to call it Denali ice cream instead.  That way it can be glacial boulders on clean snow.  No large, aquatic, messy moose needed.  Did you know that moose can get most of their food from water weeds during the summer time, and even dive for them like large ungainly antlered ducks?  Little moose are often frightened to try and often require persuasion.  Go look it up if you want a good laugh.

And here’s to well made ice cream, in moderate quantities, easily served into pretty bowls with a proper scoop.

 

Recipe for Simple Grilled Mackerel

Blue mackerel, cleaned and headless (can use clouded mackerel, Norwegian, etc)

Mushrooms

Kosher salt, black pepper

Heavy duty aluminum foil

Chop mushrooms finely, mix with salt and pepper.  Pack mixture into fish cavity.  Wrap each fish into a foil packet, sealing well at the edges.

Preheat grill to cooking temp.

Set packets on heat, medium works well, and close lid.  Open after five to ten minutes and flip.  Close lid again, cook for another five to ten minutes.  Test temperature according to your preferences, let rest for another ten minutes before unwrapping.

Serve on bed of rice with soy sauce.  Be careful not to swallow any bones.

 

Sunday Morning

It’s quiet, just the way I like it.  I wake up a bit late, maybe a half hour after I wanted, but I don’t worry too much because it’s Sunday after all.  I dodge cats all the way though morning routine – fluid exchange, shower, brushing hair, dressing.  Shinji, my 15 year old Siamese mix, plays his usual game of getting in my way, cris-crossing my path and then running away when I try to pet him.  Silly boy.  I’m glad he’s still capering like a much younger cat.  He was a rescue, his Other Mom died about a year ago.  It took him months to get over his depression.  Amazing how many people still think cats don’t love!

My slightly younger cat, a fine 12 year old queen calico, greets me out in the living room.  Everything is still a little chaotic this soon after my move and the house is still rather empty in certain places and cluttered in others, with painting supplies and tools on the bread making counter and paint cans scattered hither and yon.  Everything will come together, I know.

Eventually I say goodbye to the spouse and make it out of the house.  The morning is still fresh and new.  I back out of my steep driveway, careful to watch and avoid the parents having a morning walk, little kids attached by the oldest leash of all – their hands.  I smile at the pink clad youngsters.  Nice to see people being outside, just to be outside.  I pull out and head to my first grocery stop, gritting my teeth as I pass over the one mile of potholed road that bears little resemblance to a proper city street.  It smooths out just as I get to the store.

The aisles are quiet and the employees are fresh.  I catch a yawn or two.  I love being here at this time, when everything is new and organized and I don’t have to fight for my position in the aisles.  I start playing my favorite bargain game.  Recalling what other stores charge for things, I buy, or don’t buy, crossing things off my list as I go.  This can of chili?  There’s a screaming deal, I’ll buy extra to put by.  That condiment?  Stuff must be made of hand picked saffron for the price they charge.  I’ll get it at store number two.  And so on.  I get out of there with a total that’s way under budget.  There’s only one cashier, at the express line no less, and my cart is way over 15 items.  I chat with her as I help her get things moved through quickly.

On to the second store, where I pick up the things I passed over at the first.  I see a firefighter buying massive quantities of beans, I chat with him as I pick out my diced tomatoes.  Fresh salsa is in the offing, traditional Shaw family Scottish salsa.  Scottish salsa, you say?  Aye, and we used ta make it with onions and turrrnips, but t’was improved greatly after the New World was discovered.  Last minute, I remember the cilantro.  Can’t have good salsa without fresh cilantro.

I come out of the store smiling, still under budget.  It’s a lovely sunny morning.  An acoustic version of “Who’ll Stop The Rean?” comes on the car radio.  I answer the question – nobody stops it, you have to move away from it.  I pull into the drive and commence stocking the pantry, gently shooing cats out of the way, breakfast burritos on the brain.

 

Shaw Family Salsa Recipe

6-8 pickled jalapenos

1 large can diced tomatoes

1/2 small red onion

1 handful fresh cilantro

6 cloves garlic, peeled

Salt to taste

Plenty of Cumin

 

Blend thoroughly, can store in fridge for 1-2 weeks.

Snack Hack: Honey Mustard Pretzels

As I was in the grocery store looking for a decent snack, I incubated a new idea.  I absolutely love mustard pretzels, but they are usually $2-3 more than I want to spend, and several extra ingredients more than I want to eat.  An idea started incubating and now it’s hatched!

Why not make my own mustard pretzels, I thought?  So I did, and now you can too.  I like making my own snack foods when I have time because I like controlling the ingredients.

DSCN1596


I used:

1 bag of sourdough pretzel pieces, 15 ounces

Plain yellow mustard, 1/2 cup

Honey, 1/4 cup

Small bowl, whisk, large mixing bowl, sheet pan.


I started by measuring the mustard, then made a kind of cup in the mustard by coatingDSCN1598 the sides with it.  That way I could pour the honey into, straight from the jar.  I did this with half my mustard so it would fill a half cup measure in total.  It was really easy to clean the measuring cup afterwards!

Similarly, I poured a little water into my mixing bowl first, so the honey would have less chance of sticking there, too.  Don’t use much here, a quarter cup at the absolute most.  I whisked it all together then added the other 1/4 cup of mustard.  I gave it a final whisk.

I poured the pretzel pieces into the large mixing bowl, then poured the coating on top, mixing it all thoroughly with clean hands.

DSCN1600

I placed the coated pieces on the baking sheet in a single layer, then baked in the oven for 60 minutes at 250 degrees.

Stir them every fifteen minutes or so.

If your pretzels are still damp, they may need a bit of drying on the counter or in a warm oven.  I live in a dry climate so don’t have that issue.

 

I found these to have a milder flavor than my favorite brand, but I liked the price and DSCN1601ingredients a lot better!

You can, of course, alter this recipe to your own tastes.  You could add cayanne or garlic, both would be amazing, change the mustard type to something else, or dream up something interesting like using ranch dressing mix as part of the recipe!

Happy crunching.

 

via Daily Prompt: Incubate

Energy Balls and a new guitar

I’m taking a bit of a break from Inktober to bring you, by request, my recipe for Energy Balls.  They are a no-bake snack that can be customized infinitely and make a great alternative to expensive energy bars.

Dry ingredients:

Six packets instant oatmeal (can use flavored or unflavored)

2 TB instant coffee (I use Bustelo packets)

2 TB sugar (white or brown)

3 oz Craisins or raisins (1 small bag is fine)

2-3 oz black sesame powder ( can use ground flax seed or protein powder)

1 TB pumpkin pie spice

1 jar creamy peanut butter, any kind (can use other nut butters)

Instructions:

Mix all dry ingredients, including Craisins.  Make sure they are broken up.  Then fold in peanut butter and mix well.  Roll into walnut sized balls and chill in the fridge.

This recipe gives you protein, some vitamins, some antioxidants, and a little caffeine.  It’s infinitely variable.  You can add nuts, chia seeds, flax seed, other kinds of dried fruit, you name it.  You can change the spices, leave out the sugar, whatever.  The possibilities are literally endless.  I also like to add whey protein powder at times, chocolate flavor.

 

Guitar UpdateDSCN1466

I have purchased an Epiphone Les Paul Special II, the limited edition in wine red.  I named her Rosie.  She’s a little beat up but I can tell you she feels so good in my hands – the right weight and everything.  I love how she sounds even when she isn’t plugged in.  Here’s what she looks like:

Right now I’m plugging directly into my computer instead of using an amp, though I have my eyes on a Peavy I’ll be getting in a few weeks.  I run Linux, and use Rackarrack and Tuxguitar.

I’ve learned: how to tune using a digital tuner, how to strum with a pick (sort of) and two basic chords.  I’m even having fun while making awful noises!