a brush with plummy death

I jammed the ripe ume and they were amazing. there must be a lot of natural pectin in them as the jam jelled quite quickly and set very firmly.

I was talking to some of my students and neighbours yesterday about why we don't see ripe plums in the fruit section and without exception the reaction was:

"Ehhhhhh????? You ate ume??????!!!!!"

Whether it's an old wives (and husband's) tale or not I don't know, but apparently it's not a good idea to eat ume. I heard again and again that you will give yourself the runs, become seriously ill, end up in hospital and everyone knew of (importantly they knew of rather than knew) someone who had died from eating ume.

Hmmm, not sure why adding copious amounts of salt and red perilla turns these deadly fruits into the ubiquitous pickled plums but hey, what do I know, I'm so silly I ate a mouthful of ripe plum!


no more wondering

I always wanted to know what ume- Japanese plums- which are actually apricots but not what we call apricots- they're anzu (confused yet?) - taste like when they're ripe.  All the recipes I know use them while they're still green.  Curiosity piqued I ripened a kilo of them.


Ummmmm.... Well, juicier than an apricot but not really plumlike.  And still so sour I only managed one bite.  

One bite out of one ripe ume out of one whole kilo.  Hmmm... 

I see jam on the horizon again!


Go Meggy, Doh Mummy

Yeah for Meg who managed to stand up and walk on stilts.

Doh for mummy who still can't remember that movies on the camera can't be rotated.  Oh well.


Fabulous day

Last night we had four adults and six girls: 20, 17, 10, 9, 5 and 3.  Even in a pretty spacious house that's a lot of people and it could have been a disaster, but it just really worked.  All four of the big girls were amazing with the little girls and all six of them seemed to really enjoy picking raspberries and blueberries, lettuce, cucumbers, zucchini, onions, garlic, mulberries, rhubarb and a huge cabbage, feeding the chooks, playing on the stilts and just exploring.

Last night we had chirashi-zushi and DIY ice-cream smushees for dessert: all those berries with pineapple, banana, orange, apricot, plum and coconut smushed into vanilla ice-cream.  Yummmm.

After talking until 1:00am, this morning everyone chipped in to get a brekky of fried eggs, scrambled eggs, bacon, salad, bread, pancakes, rice, fruit salad, juice, and coffee.  I was so impressed to watch the 10 and 9 year old work in the kitchen.  The 9 yo made scrambled eggs with me once and then (when they were so good everyone polished them off before M had any) she cooked them again all by herself.  Wow.  Only four more years, Meg...

After collecting some veggies we all made pizzas for lunch and totally amazing yuzu puddings that S's nieces brought with them- thanks girls!

It was really great having S and her family here and it's sooo quiet now they've all gone.  And the icing on the cake?  S took some amazing photos and said I could share them here!  So: 

A taking a rest at the big garden

M picking (and obviously eating!) mulberries

Very seriously making pizza

Wow, when you see it like this maybe all that effort making straight lines wasn't such a bad idea after all...

She even made my front door look good!


shiso juice

red shiso

liquid rubies.

Thanks S!!  How many house guests not only turn up and immediately start helping with dinner but also make 10 litres of yummy shiso juice?


garden update

Today M had a friend over after kinder and the three girls had a whale of a time running around and playing chasey and going on the swings and:

picking the first of the blueberries- yeah!!  While they were (very happily) occupied I took some pictures of the veggie garden:

A well hung capsicum.  Capsicums cross-pollinate with each other and if there's a chilli in the mix you get undercover spicy hot peppers- they look like harmless old green capsicums but take a bite and wham- chilli pepper.  To avoid this we put the chillies and the capsicums on opposite sides of the garden but I think it is one of those barriers like the smoking/ no smoking sides in family restaurants- it's there but smoke (and bees) can't read the signs...  Oh well, lucky we all like chilli, hey?

rampaging cucumbers.  Our JA official veggie growing bible had two whole pages on cucumber pruning for maximum results.  Step 1 was remove all leaves in on the bottom 30cm of stalk one the plant is over 60cm tall.  Easy.  Step 2 was all about child stalks and grandchild stalks and when and where to cut them.  As you can see we're not doing so well on that one.  I think it's a good thing that two mums aren't very good at throwing children and grandchildren in the rubbish personally...  

gratuitous green shot- yum and not an iceberg in sight. :)

the zucchinis are going great and we've been eating them raw in salads so far.  Yum. 

Cauliflower.  Yeah!  Last year huge green caterpillars ate them down to the ground so very happy that we've made it this far this year.

baby grapes.  This grapevine has been mowed over, sat on, buried in a woodpile and ravaged by huge caterpillars and still it comes back.  Not only comes back but this year we have baby grapes.  Yeah!


move over marmalade...

...make room for amanatsu jam:

soooo much easier than marmalade but that's 4 amanatsu worth...

So to avoid the waste and try to be more productive, I made candied peel as well:

I am so over these ruddy fruit!

And I still have 10 amanatsu left... 



then and now

M and A a year ago:

And tonight:

Same door
Same kids
Same silly faces

Oh and Amy still pokes herself in the eye when she does peace signs.  Hence the sad face.


adding it up

11 amanatsu
+ 2 kg sugar
+ 3 hours
+ 1 scalding injury
= 9 jars of marmalade.

Hmmmm, is it worth it?  At the moment I'm exhausted and feel the answer is barely.  But I know tomorrow morning at breakfast I'll be signing myself up to make another batch...



a tale of two gardens

Every year we write down what we planted where so we remember before we plant the next year's crops.  This is important for crop rotation.  Some vegetables like tomatoes and eggplants don't do well planted in the same place consecutive years and become prone to disease.  Other plants sap the soil of particular nutrients leaving the area they were planted lacking in those minerals.  Considering that each year before we plant we completely dig up, dig over and dig manure in to the field I am slightly dubious as to just how important this whole palaver is, but, well, like that darn black plastic mulching business I'm a lone voice of dissent among some serious- and seriously successful- traditional farmers so I toe the line.

So, here's the garden from 2006:

and here's garden 2009:

Kind of hard to see but I used shapes to represent each vegetable and each shape is one plant.

X is tomato
triangle is eggplant
O is cauliflower
口 is zucchini
star is red, green, yellow or chilli pepper
upside down triangle is stick broccoli
heart is lettuce
moon is cucumber
spiral is goya
black circle is sweet potato
c is corn
e is edamame 
The seed raising beds at the bottom of the page I didn't bother with symbols.

The tricky part of this system is that as we harvest things and plant new things I keep having to add to the map.  By Autumn almost all of it will be gone and planted with nozawana, chingensai, spinach, next years garlic, leek and onion etc etc.

It sure was easier in 2006 when I had a 2 1/2 year old and a 5 month old and I hardly planted anything.  Probably the only thing that was easier back then, though!


and the winner is..

I have blogged about the giving thing before.  

I was trying to think of the very worst thing I've ever been given.

By worst I don't mean the thing itself is bad but just that it caused me stress/ grief/ heartache/ heartburn at the time.  For example a daikon is a great gift but twenty daikon? That's edging towards thanks-but-no-thanks territory...

So, in Letterman style:

10. All the clothes that people in the neighbourhood buy and realise are too big for them.  (ouch!)

9. All the clothes that people in the neighbourhood buy and realise are too big for them but are still too small for me (double ouch!)

8. 2kg of fresh mochi.  Not dried, can be frozen stuff, but fresh must be eaten or it will go mouldy stuff.

7. A gold fish.  Well, two actually- one each for M and A. Very expensive free fish after we bought a tank and pump and food and water stabiliser ...and then replacement fish...

6. The mail.  Well not the mail itself but the fact that the mailman always gives it to the girls if they're outside and then I have to negotiate for my rights to the telephone bill...

5. Any and all produce from the grumpy guy who was busted using humanure.  Apparently he's stopped, but, well, it's the idea of it...

4. 10kg of oversized citrus fruit.  Normally a welcome gift but I was given it and asked to make it into marmalade... 10 kilos of it....

3. The chrysanthemums.  They're still going strong- more's the pity!

2. A flower from my favourite rose.  The flower from my favourite rose... with half the rose bush attached.  By Amy so I couldn't get too mad but I still look at the remaining half rose bush and imagine what if...

And 1. The winner.  By sooooo much I swear I hope I never get a gift that tops this one?  Not one but two ko shamo.  What's that, you ask?  The island next to Koh Samui perhaps?  Nooooo, but the Thailand reference is apt.  My Ko shamo are roosters.  Not just any roosters, game cocks, descended from Thai fighting roosters...  Fabulous.  Wonderful.  And did I mention they are just about the ugliest looking birds I've ever seen?  I thought the two I was given were looking a bit scrawny because they had been unloved but nope.  Here's a picture of a prize winning Ko shamo:


Thanks to these people for the pic.

Now beauty is in the eye of the beholder and all that but when someone turns up on your doorstep at 8:30 in the morning bearing gifts that's not what you expect to see!

The story is that a local free range egg place had these two cockerels as pets but with Asian flu and all anyone in the bird business is not allowed to keep any pet birds on the property.  Mr Free range eggs was inspected this morning and told to get rid of his pets.  He immediately thought of us (I'd asked his advice on encouraging my hens not to sleep in their nesting boxes a couple of months ago.) and walah we have a couple of street fighters move in.  

I tried all the usual 'ohhh, we couldn't possibly' and 'No, we really couldn't' and when he moved to convince K with a round of 'and they are the same breed used in cockfights!' I looked aghast and said probably a little strongly for politeness: 'No way!' but to prove how docile these particular cocks are Mr free range eggs lifted them into the cage with my four gorgeous fluffy white girls and it was game over.  M and A think they're a riot- way more fun to watch than the hens as they are almost vertical they walk so upright and they posture like they're auditioning for Mr Universe.  And I guess if they don't kill each other they might scare off predators... and it is nice hearing a rooster crowing.... and if it doesn't work out Mr Free range eggs has promised to come back and ring their necks as neither K nor I could do it, but then that's why he gave them to us in the first place.... sigh... oh well...

But seriously- does that not win the alltime most amazingly horrible no-really-you-shouldn't-have gift award?


six things

that are important to me... and that no-one else around here seems to value....

1. my me time.  My superior peace negotiating skills are so recognised by the girls that they will run right past K in order to hunt me down and have me adjudicate the latest she said/ she said incident. *sigh*

2. eating hot things hot and cold things cold.  I know this is a cultural thing but if I'm going to juggle soup, pancakes, bacon and scrambled eggs on a measley 2 burner stove you can bet I'm going to eat it while it's at it's best.  If that means I eat alone? Bonus!! (see 1.)

3. the art of hurrying.  Monday's all four of us need to be out the door with 4 bentos, 2 futons, 3 hats, 2 sets of keys, 2 kinder library books, 2 sets of PJs, materials for 2 preschool English classes, water bottles and towels for after kinder mummy and me aerobics, and 4 pairs of weather and destination appropriate shoes.  I seem to be the only one who feels that singing songs, spinning yarns, relaxing over your coffee, indulging in wardrobe indecision and generally faffing about is not really helpful to this end...

4. vegetables.  I think I'm probably a meat eating vegetarian.  I need vegetables.  While K can eat a huge bowl of udon or soba and call it a meal I could skip the carbohydrate altogether as long as there was something green, something yellow and something red.  At the moment the girls can go either way on this- happy to eat mountains of salad with me and mountains of udon with K but I'm working on brainwashing them to the green side...

5. sleep.  Well this is something that's pretty important to those around me actually.  I am horrible without enough sleep.  Seems I need a good 8 hours each night to stop from tuning into a snarky monster.  Unfortunately for all of us my two crack of dawn loving children haven't figured this out yet...

6. minus ions.  Actually I'm not sure I believe in minus ions but I do like all the places where you are supposed to be able to find them- forests, waterfalls, glades, gardens...  I can't believe one of the jobs at kinder is pulling up anything green in the whole playground, and my neighbours think it's a great idea to spray their front yards with heavy duty 'shhh, this stuff isn't available anymore...' weedkiller...


observation day

Today was observation day for M's class.

First we did Rhythm Play.  This consisted of moving to music.  The kid's in the two 5yo classes sat opposite each other while the mothers (and occasional father) sat opposite each other to make the other two sides of the square.  We took turns doing exercises to music.  First walking, then crawling (yes crawling!), then duckwalking, then backwards duckwalking:

Then running sideways and changing direction with a clap when the music changed, then one where you throw yourself on the floor when the music stops...

And yes, it looks cute when the kids do it but it's a little embarrassing when you're the one doing it- and doing it in front of 50 odd 5 yo's and 25 odd parents sitting watching you...  I really had no idea how serious they were when they wrote 'please wear clothes you can move easily in.'  Sometimes I really wonder whether we're all being taped for a variety show here.  I get the feeling they probably don't make Crown Princess Masako do this stuff when she goes to watch Aiko-sama, you know?  The kids had a lot of fun watching us all though and apparently there was a huge discussion about whose mum had the jiggliest boobs. "K's mum's almost touched the floor!" "But Y's mum's almost touched the roof when she jumped!" Somehow quite happy to think I'm out of contention there...

Then we headed into the classroom to watch them do their morning greetings.  Pretty impressive: the teacher stood to the side while the daily monitors got everyone sitting in their groups: tulip, melon, red, strawberry and... ramen.  (They chose their own group names.  Can you guess which Meg is in?) and took the roll "Tulip group 4 people, no absences." "Melon group, three people, two absences: Y.K and H.N are absent."  Then at the end sensei asked how many kids were here altogether and they added up each groups numbers and came to a total.  I was surprised as these kids always seem part monkey, part puppy when you see them outside playing.

Then the kids sang us a song Japanese kinder style.  Which means YOU YELL AS LOUD AS YOU CAN UNTIL THE ACTUALWORDSAREINDECIPHERABLE.  I think I've mentioned before how much I love this form of musical entertainment?  At least it was in a large room with the windows open this time rather than in the back of my car....

Then the kids got to play outside while we parents had 40 minutes to discuss issues.  You know, because everyone's just dying to discuss discipline, nutrition, development and their other failings as a parent in front of a room full of people they will be glued to PTA-wise for the next nine years or so... So usually this means 35 minutes of everyone staring out the window, at their cuticles, at the ceiling, at nothing at all- anything to avoid actually having to speak- but this group has been together for 3 years now so it was a total gabfest about the downlow on the local elementary school, where to find the best beetles, diet tips, 'when we were young...' stories etc etc.  Not quite sure that's what sensei had in mind but hey at least we were talking!

Then the kids came inside again and it was time for lunch.  The non-monitor kids sat down with their aprons on:

While the monitors dished out the dishes and chospticks:

This table's monitor won't be working fine dining anytime soon...

Then it was lunchtime.  How is it Meg?

Just kidding!  I asked her to smile and this is what I got.

There was even a taster for the parents:

namul (korean boiled veg in vinegar soysauce and sesame oil) and a shu-mai thing with minced chicken, mushroom and veg inside and rice outside.  It was served with a clear vegetable soup and a loquat.  Guess it was China day in the lunchroom today.

And that was it.  They very sensibly have us all go home while the kids are still eating.  Far fewer tears that way!

Can't believe I've been to Meg's last kinder observation day... oh well, I still have pool observation day ...and sport's day ....and festival day... and Autumn yardwork day.... Christmas party day.... mochi making day.... come to think of it I'm not sad at all really- more like one down, twenty seven more to go.


Today in pictures

Today we:

walked to kinder, well ran and skipped and jumped and hopped and crab-walked and twirled and wiggley-walked to kinder anyway...

on my way home I went up to the big garden:

It's a great road up there.

Oops, looks like we need to weed the leeks...

From the left: lettuce and spinach going to seed, tomatoes, rye and wheat at the back.

From the right, cabbages, red onions, brown onions, white onions, more tomatoes and the wheat and rye at the back.

Onion harvest.  Regular sized one on the left and one of the bumper onions that were planted in near straight chicken manure on the right...

Then it was in to Matsumoto for lunch at a Coco's with a full Japanese garden in the front.  Are they all like this?

And after lunch a stroll through the Matsumoto Art Gallery.

Then back home via kinder and the girls and I made the first 'completely from our garden' salad: three types of leaf lettuce, zuchinni, cucumber, green pepper and radish.  Yeah!

And finally after the bedtime routine I made marmalade. 

Phew.  No wonder I'm tired!


not a worm part 2

M & A are dramatists.  A runny nose is a blood nose.  A stubbed toe is broken.  An ambulance siren means someone's dead and worms are snakes...

Huge day yesterday and I made it to kinder pickup with one minute to spare before grovelling apology time and then Amy was inconsolable the entire trip home because she realised after we had left the carpark that she hadn't high-fived her teacher goodbye.  And mean, horrible, nasty mummy wouldn't turn the family tank around on a precariously narrow one-way street so she could slap some skin with Yuka- sensei.  I know, I know, tantamount to child abuse in the eyes of a three year old but hey it's a lesson in 'life's not fair', or 'we can't always get what we want', or 'remember to high-five your teacher before we leave kinder' or something anyway.

So, after a less than enjoyable drive home I lug everyone's bags and my bag and my laptop bag to the front door while juggling my keys, explaining to Meg that I don't think it's an onerous and unfair task to be asked to carry our own kinder hat and keeping an ear on Amy to make sure she's still yelling and howling from within the car and isn't half way down the mountain on her way back to kinder and that hand slap... you know, the usual mummy multi-tasking..

And when M said 'hey mummy a snake!' I didn't even play along.  Just wearily said 'It's a worm, Meg...'  
'No, mummy!  It's bigger.  It's a real snake.'
Stuck my head back out the door and AGHHHHHHH!!!! there was a 2 metre odd snake sunning itself on the very steps I had just walked up.  I know I was tired and preoccupied but how on earth did I miss that????

Grabbed Meg, went to the car and grabbed Amy who when informed by Meg that there was a snake immediately stopped howling...hmmmm maybe we should get a pet after all.... and headed over the road to my neighbour the tough old tomato farmer for the lowdown on whether our uninvited guest was poisonous or not.  Coming from Australia I am not used to the idea of non-poisonous snakes and tend to get in a tizz about it all.  Anyway, turns out tough old tomato farmer is scared of snakes... but a little goading by his wife and he grabbed a 3 metre pole and came over with us all in tow.  Found the snake again (to my relief- I'd stupidly left the door open when we went over the road so when the snake wasn't where we left it of course I panicked!) and everyone was very impressed.

It was an aodaisho- the green general- but a harmless snake called the Japanese Rat Snake in English and yup, no poison.  But apparently seeing one as big as ours is pretty unusual.  70 odd year old tough tomato farmer reckons it's the biggest one he's seen.  Serious neighbourhood bragging rights there...

And tough old tomato farmer, his tough old wife, down the hill neighbour who heard the commotion and came over for a look see and the courier who arrived in time for the show all commented 'In Japan we say that if you have a snake you'll be happy.'

Glad down the hill neighbour felt that way because I stomped and shooed until the snake disappeared into the jungle between our houses.  

I guess that means we'll both be happy!



what's cooking?


I got in a rut cookingwise last week and realised it when Amy said 'salad again?'  I could eat salad- chicken salad, tuna salad, ham salad, egg salad, caesar salad, salad nicoise- every meal all summer without a problem but in an amazingly selfless fit of wifely/ motherly love I decided to shake things up by making something I haven't made before each day for the rest of the month. 

So far we have:

kinpira green pepper and pumpkin- same as kinpira burdock but with pumpkin and green pepper instead.  Tastes yummy and I love the colour combination.

Feijoada Completa- Brazilian bean stew, apparently it's the national dish.  I'm trying to use up all the dry goods before weevil season starts and as I buy beans in kilo bags I needed a new recipe that would use a lot of beans.  The original recipe for this one contained a total of about 3 kg of meat- a mixture of salt pork, sausages, bacon, beef, ham, corned beef and spare ribs.  Whoa!!  I'll have to make that one when my dad's here sometime but for us I went with about 500grams of mixed sausages and bacon and added the bulk with vegetables.  And yes, it's frozen- I forgot to take a picture before I froze it all.

Strawberry ice-cream!  This is soooo amazingly good and has a total of two ingredients: coconut milk and strawberry un-jam.


Yup, un-jam.  I tried jam with only 10% sugar and it didn't set.  Oh well, it was good on pancakes, great on yoghurt and fabulous in ice-cream!


cherry picking

We have been so busy in the veggie garden it wasn't until a neighbour walking her dog pointed out we were losing all the sakuranbo (Japanese cherries- but confusingly not what you get after cherry blossom, they are just decorative) to huge flocks of birds.

So yesterday morning we trooped out to the big garden with the girls and my co-farmer A and climbed a rusty old ladder, and got tangled in a broken old bird net, and A ripped gnarled old branches down for the girls to strip bare and we ended up with:

About a third of a shopping basket full.  Now this is a secret but, shhhhhh, I much prefer big flavour whopping American cherries to these refined (insipid?) Japanese ones.  A's family don't eat sakuranbo either.  When I asked K which he preferred he said 'Well, I'm Japanese, so of course I prefer sakuranbo.' Hmmmm... 

Anyway, the girls ate (more than?) their fill and we gave away big bagfuls on our never ending mission to return all the favours.  Usually this is pretty futile as I take something over and wham! walk home with yet another gift.  I have found a way around this, though.  It's devious, there's a 5-10% chance the gift won't reach it's intended recipient and it breaks all sorts of stranger danger rules but: I hand the gifts to my neighbours' grandchildren.  It's brilliant!  They're far too interested in the unexpected loot to think about finding something to give in return and I get to walk home with a light heart and empty hands.

"Look mum, this is why I picked a whole branchful and never needed to put any in the basket."



竹馬 たけうま  bamboo horses    stilts.

Every year at Meg's kinder the oldest class (5 year olds) puts on a stilts performance at sports day.  When I say performance I mean stirring chariots of fire style music (but Japanese) more cameras and videos than the Oscars, lots of tears (parents) and guts and determination (kids and parents...)

Now, I'm all for the idea behind the stilts: that the kids take on a challenge- a tough challenge- and put a lot of time and effort into achieving a goal.  I think it teaches a lot of valuable lessons about perseverance, believing in yourself and the importance of practice.

But I don't like the pressure of having to perform in front of everyone.  Surely it would achieve all the same goals if they just did it for themselves?

I know kid's in previous years who have been really upset and not wanting to go to kinder at all because they couldn't master stilts while all their classmates had.  And level of mastery is painfully obvious as the step part of the stilts are raised each time the child achieves walking at a set height so by Sport's Day some kids are a good metre off the ground while others fall and get up and fall and get up at 10cm off the ground- all in front of half the village...

Meg is enjoying it all at the moment so I am keeping my opinions to myself but I just really don't feel good about this whole thing...

But one part of the whole thing made me laugh- we paid our 730 yen for stilts and went to pick them up.  And got four pieces of bamboo and a sheet of instructions....  BYO wire and pliers...


The girls are on a diet...

Not Meg and Amy, my new girls:

We got four pullets today.  They come from a great free range broiler farm run by a Brazilian friend of my neighbour A.  But because they were broiler bound they have been hitting the all-you-can-eat buffet since day 1.  Layers need to be less sumo and more sumo's svelte  girlfriend.  So they are on 100grams of feed each per day: 50 in the morning and 50 at night with all the greens and kitchen scraps they want.  I really don't like the idea of putting them on a diet but apparently it will make them healthy and ready to lay which is kind of the point of having them so we'll give it a go.

Meg is having trouble naming them as they are all white.  After trying 'mummy, daddy, Meg and Amy' and getting horribly confused who was who she came up with the brilliant plan of calling them 'the sitting down one, the eating one, the sunny one and the other sunny one' but, well, they moved.  The audacity, huh?  Stage three she's going to call them all 'Whitey' because "it will be funny to call one name and they'll all turn around!!"

It was a day of new additions around here, we also planted  new veggie:

It came with the pullets- in Brazil they call it Shu shu which I think is the cutest name and add to that the fact that the new plant grows right out of the old fruit- the one in the picture doesn't even have roots yet- and I had to try it.  Even if I have a sneaky suspicion it's a hayato-uri. 

And the first cherries of the season served with some more strawberries.  The perfect end to a big day.