For Your Amusement

Work has been picking up again, and I shouldn't be blogging right now. Hell, I shouldn't have blogged this entire week. Thus, rather than spewing today's mess of thoughts onto the screen, instead I offer you a little Web basket of assorted goodies:

Warning: For US residents only damn it!
Yeah, as if having entire libraries of English books wasn't enough, you damn Americans now get BooksFree as well. Arrrrr [brief pause for jealous teeth gnashing]. I recently learned about this wonderful (but utterly selfish and exclusive) book-rental service that torments me with its humongous selection.

Who Links to Me ("For the Ultimate Narcissist in You")
You're not narcissistic, you just want to know who's reading you, loving you, linking you, you, you!

A welcome new addition to the food blogging world, not only does kitchenmage know her way around the kitchen (and herb garden), she's an honest-to-god writer [girly squeal], and one with a distinct, funny voice, to boot. Bonus tracks: a category just for bread, a cute cat, and insights into life in "evenTinierTown," Washington.

Manolo's Shoe Blog
I never thought there'd come a day I'd tolerate a person writing about him/herself in the third person, much less enjoy it. But the playful, and sometimes snarky, pseudo-European tone of "the Manolo" (no connection to the designer) has somehow won me over. I don't even like shoe shopping, let alone reading about shoes--the Manolo does address other issues, often of the mockworthy celebrity variety--but his fashion posts (accompanied by big, colorful photos) tend to be brief and surprisingly fun. I may be an Old Navy girl, but that doesn't mean I can't admire a pretty red Prada dress or giggle at the reviews for The Gallery of The Horrors.

Have a good weekend, everyone!


Removing Melted Plastic

Overall, it's been a particularly harrowing week in the kitchen--I intended to mention that the other day when I whined about my salty bread, but I was indulging in incoherence at the time, and writing about related matters would have been out of place. I really *was* exhausted that day, and if this is any sort of indication, I think I sleepwalked the next morning, after I woke up. I remember dragging myself out of bed, feeling extremely woozy; I closed my eyes for what felt like just a moment, and the next thing I knew, I was out of my bedroom, past the living room, and standing by the door leading out onto the balcony. Weird, huh?

So what else went wrong for me, culinary-wise? Let’s see. I baked a lemon-olive sourdough quickbread, which usually doesn't give me any trouble but this time came out looking like loaf-shaped regurgitated matter—and, much to my unease, seems to feel and taste the way it looks; though, rest assured, I’m not positive of the latter, having never had first-hand experience with such. Though, thanks to Edward, I have *seen* my fair share of regurgitated matter, as well as the re-eating of said matter, if I don’t move fast enough). Okay, so I think I've established a suitably gross mood to match the foul quickbread I had somehow brought forth into this world, and which I have been dutifully eating with the help of *loooong* toastings, bits of melted cheese, and other disguises. I don’t throw food away ever, unless I suspect an extreme reaction upon ingestion, like my death. I have some sense.

Then the other day, I was trying to tip out some of the thin fluid that inevitably separates from the yogurt (I don't remember this happening with yogurt in America, but then I never ate plain yogurt in America either)--even though a food scientist on TV reassured me once that this liquid is full of some nutritional element that in Japanese becomes a word I could never hope to retain in my memory or translate into even a semblance of English--when the entire mass of yogurt shot out of the carton and hit the floor. Thankfully, I happened to be sitting on the floor at the time (long uninteresting explanation) and the yogurt didn't have very far to fly. Also, plain yogurt in Japan is quite firm, and thus it didn’t spew everywhere so much as glop en masse. Still, surprise and dismay caused a chilling screech to issue forth from somewhere within me, startling Edward and traveling out the window to effectively silence a group of children frolicking below—have I mentioned how nothing hurts me more than wasted food?

But the pinnacle of all my kitchen trials began with an innocent, bonny blue Tupperware top forgotten in the microwave. And it is really this final story that prompted me to write this post, because—yes, that’s right, children—I have a fresh cautionary tale to share, as well as more of those priceless gems of wisdom that come only upon my committing the truest acts of asininity.

It’s funny that a piffling moment of forgetfulness could have the potential to lead to brain damage, possible sterility, and/or a finger-scalding blue gel puddled on the floor of my microwave. Have I mentioned that my microwave is also an oven? It’s one of those neat space-saving inventions that are practically a basic necessity to the average Tokyo resident, who would never have room for a toaster, microwave, *and* oven—absurd! Little factoid: In the cheapest apartment buildings, there isn't even room for a communal bathroom, which is why you will sometimes see Japanese people walking along the road with a towel around their neck and toting a little basket of toiletries as they head to/from the public baths.

Anyhow, as much as I dearly love my oven-microwave, there are certain unavoidable setbacks. For example, after using the oven setting, the microwave quite staunchly refuses to operate until the oven’s interior has cooled down to an acceptable temperature. Well, another example would be if, say, some idiot leaves a Tupperware lid in the microwave and then later decides to pre-heat the oven to a very high temperature to bake what will later turn out to be painfully salty bread, never seeing the plastic lid (somewhat excusable if this idiot were short of stature and the oven was set quite high up, like on top of the fridge) as she walks away and buries herself in work until 20 minutes later, when she opens the oven door and is greeted by a grey cloud and stinky fumes, which she suddenly realizes have begun to permeate the room and whose origin is a Windex-blue puddle that the idiot slowly realizes was once a forgotten Tupperware lid.

But now you are caught, you are intrigued by this example I have supplied. Your mind is abuzz with questions, namely: What would be the best way to remove melted Tupperware from the floor of a microwave?

How to remove melted Tupperware:
  1. Do a frantic Google search.

  2. Following the instructions of some guy on the first website you come across, snatch up a wooden spoon and try to scrape up the mess.

  3. Observe that the mess is a lot more liquid in consistency than it first appeared and that the wooden spoon has done nothing but paint pretty swirls through the blue goo.

  4. Note grimly that you missed the part where the guy breezily tells you to throw away your now-ruined wooden spoon. He doesn’t know how much you hate throwing perfectly good things away; it's not the wastrel's fault.

  5. Realize that as the plastic cools, one of two things might happen. The plastic might turn into a malleable sheet that will easily peel off the oven floor. Or, the plastic will fuse itself to the oven and will have to be re-melted, meaning: more toxic fumes, additional brain damage, and further increased chances of sterility (not that you're absolutely dead-set on having children, but, you know, burning bridges and all that).

  6. Scan kitchen utensils and triumphantly seize meat cleaver.

  7. Wield cleaver like car windshield squeegee thingy, carefully drawing melted plastic toward the edge where you hold a wad of paper towels to sort of scoop everything up—careful, that stuff is hot; not that I burnt my fingers or anything, but this is what I as a sensible person would assume.

  8. When the majority of the plastic is scraped off, finally, use a pot scrubby thingy to buff of any remaining residue.

  9. Proudly examine floor of microwave, which is now looking cleaner than it has in a very long time.
Mother Mary, this post was way too long for such an inane subject.


Lilly Pads



A Rape Victim Who Became a Hero

Thanks to Nadz's post on a few amazing women, I was reintroduced to Mukhtaran Bibi (also known as Mukhtar Mai), whose story I had read in the newspaper three years ago. Then, she had been a hopeless victim in a small village, sentenced by a Pakistani tribal council to be gang-raped, as punishment for an alleged offense committed by Mukhtaran's little brother. Then, what set Mukhtaran apart from all the countless women before her who had endured a similar ordeal was that she miraculously did not commit suicide, as is the expected course of action for a "dishonored" woman in a conservative Muslim society. Instead, she went public.

No matter what kind of environment a woman person [edited because boys and men shouldn't be excluded] grows up in, reporting one's own rape must be frightening and humiliating. But in a society where a woman's word has little authority, trying to stand up for oneself can be downright dangerous. According to this article by New York Times journalist Nicholas Kristof:
"In Pakistan, if a woman reports a rape, four Muslim men must generally act as witnesses before she can prove her case. Otherwise, she risks being charged with fornication or adultery--and punished with a public whipping and long imprisonment."

Now, three years later, I was amazed to learn that not only had Mukhtaran testified against her attackers at court--six men were sentenced to death--but she had used the settlement awarded to her to build two schools for her village, one of which is for girls, a first. She could have taken the money and run; and I don't think anyone would have blamed her. Indeed, Mukhtaran was offered the option of living the remainder of her life in comfortable anonymity in Islamabad. But it was in her own village that she believed she could make a difference--and she has. Through education, Mukhtaran hopes to create a fairer, more hopeful world, where someday women will not be subjected to rape and murder to appease men's whims and honor and to assuage their fears.

Mukhtaran however did not quietly retreat to her village, never to be heard from again. She has openly invited interviews and accepted offers to speak about her experiences and about women's rights in her country. With her quiet strength and her willingness to put herself on the line for the sake of others, she has won the support of the media, the public, and even the Canadian government. With the contributions she has received, she has installed electricity in her schools and has other plans in the works, such as improved medical services for the people in her village. But perhaps Mukhtaran's most important achievement to date is the courage she has given to the unheard and unknown women who have been through a similar situation. Demonstrating in a very public way that she will not obediently shut up and die, and that a woman can fight for herself and even win—for Mukhtaran, the consequences of such radical actions have meant living with 24-hour police protection, because of the very real threat posed by her rapists' supporters. What’s more, by remaining devoted to her village, she has accepted the possibility that her rapists might soon return, free men, to become her neighbors once more.

That's right, those men were convicted, but then they got acquitted, and even set free for a bit. However, just weeks earlier, the Supreme Court of Pakistan decided to take over the case.

If I were the praying sort, I’d be praying for this woman. As it is, the only thing I can do is help spread her story and encourage support not just for Mukhtaran but every woman who could be spared her fate.

Some interesting comments in this blogger's post on Mukhtaran.


I Don't Think I Can Think of a Title for This One

I woke up this morning, haunted by the same question that had transformed sleep into an elusive spirit the night before: What should I do about my nearly unpalatable bread? Yeah I'm still harping about the damn bread--you got a problem with that?

I refuse to throw the loaves away. What a waste. I can't bear the thought.

If I pulverize the bread and funnel the crumbs into pretty glass bottles, they might make a nice gift of bath salts. What do you think? A steaming tub, redolent with the aroma of freshly baked bread. When I was enrolled in one of the big mistakes of my life called Architectural Assocation in London, our end-of-term project was "Breakfast"--don't ask; I'm still bewildered to this day--and I envisioned people steeping in giant cups of tea. I think it was a rather superb idea: tea baths. I'm sorry, we were heavily pressured to be absurd at that school. One of my teachers had neon pink hair and often taught class in a lederhose/barmaid outfit that kind of looked like a combination of these--she was forever exasperated with us and her favorite invective to bellow at our heads was that we were a bloody dull lot.

There was one redeeming point to my time at the AA. It was there that for the first time, I fell in lust with a man's single body part.

I'm referring to his neck. Oh dear god above, this senior student had the most sexy neck I have ever laid eyes on. The rest of him--eh. But with his back turned to me, I could not tear my eyes away from his nape. It was a sickness. It was beautiful. Elegant but strong, smooth, and curved just so, in a way that said "Hello!" to me quite distinctly. Hey, is a girl not allowed to have a few cherished memories from her youth?

Special note to husband: Honey, if you're reading this, the rest of him did nothing for me. Nothing! In fact, I found him decidedly unappealing when he opened his mouth and spoke.

I did come up with one solution to make my bread more endurable: For lunch, I soaked a few slices in a generous egg bath (no extra salt added!...Hmm, egg bath) and then made french toast with my Vitantonio hot sandwich maker, which is hands down the simplest, least messy way to make perfect french toast--i.e., puffed, crisp, and golden on the outside, tender inside. Not bad, except that I actually find fluffy white bread makes the best french toast--crusty, hearty whole wheat does not.

Still, it wasn't awful. But can a person really eat two entire loaves of savory french toast? And despite the salt being diluted by the egg, would I still technically be consuming an alarming amount of sodium that might lead to a severe stroke 40 years down the road? And if I continue in this delirious, pointless fashion, will I lose you, dear reader, forever? Perhaps I could wheedle a little tolerance from you with the admission that I missed two nights of sleep this week working overtime. I think I'm going to stop now.

I leave you with a closing image of tonight's dinner: natto makizushi. Fermented, slimy, gossamer thread streaming goodness. Drool--oh wait, no, that's the natto.


Amy's Rustic Italian Bread

Dried Fruit and Walnut Bread

I recently tried the Rustic Italian Bread recipe on the Amy's Bread website. It's kind of pretty isn't it? Look at those big holes--oh. Yeah, it's just too bad that my bread is so damn salty it could be used as a murder weapon on someone with even moderately high blood pressure.

Gargh. What makes it more aggravating than the other failures in the past is that this bread took forever--or at least I made it take forever--to prepare. I wanted to experiment with using infinitesimal amounts of yeast paired with very long rising times: would the yeast be strong enough to ultimately raise the bread? Would the flavor have more depth? The answer to the former question is yes. The answer to the latter is I sure as hell can't tell because every time I try to take a bite, the only thing I'm aware of is a painful burning sensation in my mouth from the angry sodium assault.

The cause of the problem I suppose is that the recipe calls for kosher salt--something I didn't notice. I just used the regular, fine stuff. I guess it makes a SUPERHUGE difference.

Now I'll present my results on the yeast. Warning: most people's eyes will likely start to glaze over from here on, so you really don't have to read this following part if you're not interested in yeast. The recipe asks for 1/4 teaspoon of active dry yeast for the sponge starter; instead I used 1/16 teaspoon. I then put the starter in the fridge to slow things down even more, left it for 24 hours, and then took it out to finish rising, which took another 24 hours.

Is it just me, or is there something about the sight of a happily bubbling starter that makes the heart go "awww" the way some people coo at the sight of a baby? Okay, just me then.

I then made the final dough, which calls for 3/4 teaspoon yeast; instead, I used about 1/8 of a teaspoon. Quick knead, into a tupperware, and then the fridge. After almost a week, the dough had risen just a teeny bit. Again, took it out to finish rising. After about eight hours, the dough had big bubbles coming out the top (it was an extremely wet dough). And yes, when I finally baked the loaves, they rose with no problem and the finished texture, at least, was lovely.

One thing: the first time I took the bread out after baking, the crust was quite brown but soft. I put the loaves back in the oven, baked them for ten extra minutes, and then left them in the oven with the heat turned off for about five minutes. This made all the difference, and I got a nice, crusty crust. Too bad I have no desire to eat my nice, crusty bread, and I'm the one in the house who eats everything nobody else wants.




Cutting My Own Bangs

So I was trying to save a little bit of money--more like a whole hog load of money--by cutting my own bangs the other day. I know. But some Allure-type magazine assured me that anyone could do this and look really cute, just like the model in the article who had cut her own hair. Yeah, I know.

Bangs grow really fast, or at least mine do. And there's no such thing as a bangs-only haircut price in Japan. Oh, no, whether you cut it all off or just get a little bit of a trim in the front, it's always 6,000 yen, which is ludicrous. And a grave financial threat, since my bangs reach eye-stabbing length every two to three months.

I think a trip to the hairdresser's in Tokyo is so exorbitant because, sometimes, it feels like there are more salons than human beings per block in this city--and that's saying a lot. Seriously. In my podunk little neighborhood, we've got about three supermarkets and about 40 salons, and there are more opening all the time. It's like, you're pondering what kind of business to start, and as you walk pass six struggling, unpatronized hair salons all lined up in a row, you think, "I know! What this place needs is a hair salon!" Groan.

Anyhow, in the spirit of frugality, I grabbed the kitchen scissors, and started snipping in front of the bathroom mirror. After the first few tense moments--particularly when I had to bring the scissors extremely close to one of my eyes--I got rather into it, and was soon feeling pretty happy. A revelation: cutting one's own hair can be addictive. Wasn't long before the sink looked like a scene out of a Japanese horror movie--i.e., lots of black hair everywhere. But I thought the results weren't so bad.

Until my husband got a good look at me. For an entire weekend, a disturbed expression would spring up every time he glanced in the direction of my forehead. At one point, he declared that I looked like a samurai--and I don't think he meant this as a compliment. And, no, he wasn't referring to those samurai who seemed to work quite hard at achieving a look some men seem helpless these days to prevent from naturally occurring. No, I'm quite certain he was talking about this guy.

Hello! I do not look like that. I don't. Okay, maybe on a very windy day or right after I get up in the morning. Or if I went to bed with wet hair. That's it. Otherwise, my forays into hairdressing really did not go too badly at all.

Quote of the Day

"Do not lick dead fish on the road."
-- Rachel to Edward, who licked a dead fish that was lying on the road


Five Ways To Become a Social Outcast in Japan

Have I mentioned that I'm married to the Emily Post of Japan? Ask my husband questions about wagashi or Buddhist shrines and you'll get a bored shrug; stab your chopsticks into a bowl of food * (the most effective way, in my opinion, of keeping the blasted things from rolling gleefully to the floor for the umpteenth time) however, and my dear hubby's posture will grow so rigid, you'd think you'd stuck your chopsticks up some place else entirely. He will then proceed to berate you to such a degree, the need to strap on a corset and balance a book atop your head will become fairly overwhelming (but don't, because then he'll think you're mocking him).

The Japanese are so nice and polite, you'll never know you ever committed a faux pas in their presence. But people will know. And according to my husband, that would simply be unacceptable (sharp, matronly sniff). As well as mortifying--to him (indignant little quiver).

Being a rather bungling sort of creature, I'm quite guilty of having committed--in some cases repeatedly and allegedly without compunction--almost all of what in my husband's book are the major no-nos. For those desiring not to appear gauche and ignorant during a visit to Japan, take careful note:

  1. Never pass food between two pairs of chopsticks - Sometimes, during a funeral, the bones of the deceased are passed with chopsticks from one family member to another **. Just remember: human bones okay, food no-no

  2. Never rest your chopsticks horizontally on top of your plate or bowl - The plate forms a circle, which is pronounced "en," which can also mean "relationship," and so symbolically crossing out the "relationship" with your chopsticks is an offense to your dining partner

  3. When using chopsticks, only the top chopstick is supposed to move - and don't hold your chopsticks too close to the tip, or you're liable to find yourself being mocked by some little kid.

  4. Hold your bowl and tea cup like this - But according to my dear Mr. Post, the fingers should be held more neatly together, and pointed more to the side. I'll get a picture.

  5. Always wear clean, matching socks - People are constantly taking off their shoes in Japan: in homes, restaurants, offices, clinics, toilets. If you're expected to remove your shoes, slippers will often be provided. But this doesn't mean there won't be many moments for people to catch a glimpse of your socks and whatever state they might be in--gasp! I must say, if the sheer popularity and variety of socks is anything to go by (really, it almost needs its own post), nice foot undies do seem de rigeur.

*Sticking one's chopsticks into a bowl of rice is a surefire way to draw a collective mental gasp from every Japanese--and probably Chinese--brain in the room; something to do with how that's only done when offering food to a dead person. What is it with chopsticks and death?
**I found an extremely interesting and detailed description of a Japanese funeral, which also covers the subject of handling bones with chopsticks.

New Man on the Block

I saw him yesterday for the first time and then again today. Exact same clothes, dark skin, and a slow meander to his steps--in Japan, these are sometimes the only signs of a homeless person. The homeless in Japan are vastly different from those I've encountered in Canada and the United States; they have their own society, their own world, they often dress quite well, and they almost never speak to me; they never ask for anything.

In my park, us regulars know each other's faces. But yesterday there was a new face. I wasn't sure he wasn't just a man enjoying a stroll until I saw him again today. Unlike the handful of homeless who frequently hang out here, and can often be seen chatting and laughing together for hours at a park table, this man seemed so lost and so painfully thin, his mint green sweatshirt all but flapping in the wind, with nothing within to protect but a sheaf of skin and bones. At one point, I saw him crouched against a fence, his gaunt face in his hands.

What does one do in this situation? The homeless in Japan do not beg and do not welcome the charity or attention of passersby. But it seemed so wrong to simply keep walking, to pretend there wasn't a man by the side of the road, utterly alone. Should I speak to him if I see him again? Being the cowardly custard that I am, I gotta say I'm a bit afraid to do so.

Dreaming My Nights Away

For two months straight, I've been having extremely long, complicated dreams every single night. Is this normal? I've always been a pretty heavy dreamer and sometimes my dreams are so vivid, especially the recurring ones, when I think back on them, they're more like memories that can stir up emotions and everything. There are dreams I've had between the ages of five and ten that I still can recall today.

I also used to be plagued with nightmares, so many in fact that my greatest fear as a kid was when I hadn't had one in over a week. It's like your period; you think, "Oh crap, it's been too long. I just know it's going to come any day now," except that I'd actually lie in bed trembling with fear and dread (not that having one's period is a night at the ballet or anything, but it's not exactly a terrifying sort of blood-letting, is it). My nightmares, however, were entirely attributable to all the horror movies my brothers and I watched from a far-too-early age. Every stupid kissing scene on the Love Boat, I was told to cover my eyes; while Jason on his usual slaughter spree was somehow okay, if "a bit noisy, kids." My brothers and I could actually scream the lines of Friday the 13th right alongside Jamie Lee Curtis ("The keys! The keys!"). I'll never forget one grueling dream I had though of being stalked by Freddy Krueger for what felt like half the night. Only, when Freddy finally caught up with me, it turned out he just wanted my help to find his little boy, who had been kidnapped by an Egyptian queen. After that, he was very sweet, though naturally anxious about his son. Somehow Nightmare on Elm Street was never as scary after that.

Although I'm not sure exactly when, somewhere along the way, all that dreaming eased up. I still have on occasion a few of the same dreams I've had since I was six, but for a long time I would wake up with only a vague notion that I had dreamed; and during one period of my life, it seemed as if I stopped dreaming altogether.

But two months ago, all those stoppered-up dreams came spilling out. Every night feels like a movie marathon, and I wonder if my waking up exhausted each morning is connected. My husband says I'm recalling every dream because I'm sleeping shallow, and he thinks I'm sleeping shallow because I'm sleeping too much. I say he's just jealous because his work doesn't allow him the necessary number of hours of sleep that a normal human being requires.

I'm curious as to whether my excessive dreaming is connected to the hayfever medication I've been on--I also began taking it about two months ago. Although I woke up sniffling and sneezing this morning, hayfever season should be coming to an end--finally!--and with it my drug-enslaved existence. After that, we'll see what happens to the dreams.



What's That Word...?

Is there a word for the moving, rippling reflection made by light on water? Seeing as it's the way the light shimmies and undulates on the reflected surface that captivates me, attempting to capture a still image is ridiculous, but I find the sight so hypnotic that I can't resist.



Breakfast Memories

Brace yourself, people. Last night, I was spending a rare moment in front of the telly when what would flash before my dazed eyes but the music video of Paula Abdul singing Rush, Rush and prancing around an extremely-dopey-looking-even-for-him Keanu Reeves. Sorry, Keanu fans; if it's any consolation, at the time this video came out, I was about 12 and had a mondo crush on Mr. Reeves myself. But the whole thing--Paula crooning and prancing, Keanu flipping his floppy hair about and sounding very circa Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure--was too much, and now I'm totally in...a nostalgic mood. Ack, and I can't fight this feeling anymore!

When one is caught up in nostalgia, one's thoughts naturally turn to breakfast. After all, I only ever ate it at the correct hour (i.e., in the morning) when I was a child. I'm rather swamped with disbelief when I consider that there was a time I would wake up without the aid of an alarm clock. Morning would approximately arrive, my eyes would magically pop open, and I'd be able to get out of bed at 6 or 7am without any feeling of pain or reluctance.

One reason I loved early mornings when I was young was that I'd have the whole house to myself, while the rest of my noisy family continued to slumber. It would be just me, my breakfast, and a goodly number of hours of uninterrupted cartoon time. Heaven.

As an added bonus, my mom didn't seem to care what I fed myself when I got up. Oh, sure, she had her own stern rules regarding dinner: good girls drink soup (my mother's people believe soup should have its own category in the food guide pyramid) and good girls eat lots of leafy green vegetables. However, breakfast was a freer time when girls, good and bad, could eat as they pleased, most likely cause mom was too tired to keep track. It was possibly the greatest thing about growing up in my house. I could nibble slowly on giant puff marshmallows interspersed with sips of milk, savoring the whole white-on-white scheme; I could scarf down countless Eggo Waffles so supersaturated with syrup the synonym that came to mind when one took a bite was "juicy"--the trick was to toast the waffles well enough that when you filled each hollow square to the brim with syrup, the waffles would hungrily suck up all the syrup like a sponge and require at least two or more refills; or I could microwave frozen mini chicken pies, as opposed to baking them, so that the crust would be all white and soggy...mmmm.

During those early years of morning concoctions, I learned some valuable lessons, and as always, I am more than happy to share my bounty of knowledge with all of you:
  • Although melted cheese works quite nicely, liver pate is not a good topping for waffles; in fact, I might even be moved to use such harsh words as nauseating and inedible.
  • Pizza Pops contain mechanically separated chicken (or at least they used to).
  • There is actually a limit to how much extra chocolate one might melt in one's hot cocoa (disappointed by the anemic quality of Swiss Miss, I'd sought to create a darker, more chocolatey beverage, but soon became a tad overenthusiastic in my endeavor). The chocolate gets all sludgelike and clumps together at the bottom of the mug, while unsavory bubbles of oil rise to the surface.
  • In Canada, "Bombay toast" is called "French toast!"

Perhaps you're thinking my mother let us kids run a bit amok, but I assure you she simply knew how to choose her battles, channeling her energy toward the areas she felt were really important, sometimes with the aid of a cane as backup. Not to fret--no revelations of child abuse here. But from what I can tell, it is a fact of life that Asian parents beat their children. Or at least they did when I was a kid. And in Singapore, the weapon disciplinary tool of choice was the cane--a long, polished (wouldn't want it splintering--yow) bamboo pole, which struck fear into the hearts, and welts into the buttocks, of many children.

In our house, there was an ominous umbrella stand in the coat closet filled with an assortment of canes that rattled happily against each other when jostled. The fatter ones could do more damage but the slender, more flexible canes whistled terrifyingly when rapidly whipped through the air.

We kids would often gather round to compare notes, and I assure you I was the object of no small amount of derision because mommy had only really whaled me once: I'd been six or seven and stubbornly objecting to the idea of doning a dress. I think I'd been a bit of a brat, and the confrontation with the dress finally drove mom over the edge. I recall bellowing like a deranged cow during the ordeal, not from the pain--though of course it hurt--so much as from the utter indignity of being beaten with a stick. I don't remember what happened after, but I'm quite sure I wore the dress.

I in fact had it extremely easy. My brothers, who were a little more mischievous, suffered far worse. And I have plenty of friends with downright chilling stories of their parents' own brand of punishment. Yet we've all since grown up to be fairly normal human beings, I guess. Heh.


Frost Bites

Though I recently wrote about ice cream in Japan, I thought it rather abominable that I never provided photographic evidence of what one might find at one's neighborhood convenience store. I thus took it upon myself to rectify the situation.

A few nights ago, with the midnight munchies upon us, my husband and I stood waffling before the cooler of a 7-Eleven--no, in truth, my husband is one of those annoying individuals who only needs to scan a selection once before making up his mind about anything; it was thus just me doing all the waffling. I couldn't decide whether I wanted (a) the mint chocolate ice cream bar studded with chunks of caramelized almonds, (b) a swirly soft-creamish thingy, or (c) the Haagen-Dazs Berry-Berry Parfait.

Well, naturally, I wanted all three, but for some reason that doesn't seem allowed in real life; I don't know why.

My husband, who does not endure waffling--particularly mine--very well, hastily steered me toward (c), the parfait, using brilliant, irrefutable logic: it looked the most fun.

Well, his assessment turned out to be quite accurate. It was berry, berry fun! And berry, berry yummy! (Sorry, I'll stop now.) As I broke through the frosty strawberry surface with my spoon, I felt like a geologist exploring the strata of Planet Barbie...which does not sound delicious at all, but rather conjures up shiny, beige rubber flesh. Don't think about that. Quite simply, it was all very pink, but in a good way. Here's the breakdown:




No Ordinary Cherry

There are two kinds of fruit in Japan. You have your regular, market variety fruit, and then there are the fruit you would never buy for your self but for those you love very, very much or to whom you very, very much wish to suck up. One can recognize the latter type of fruit because they will be packaged, often in ways that are not quite normal. Take the above cherries: single layer, probably individually hand inspected, militantly lined up five by eight, and costing 9,800 yen. Oh yeah, that's the other way to spot a "not for one's own consumption" fruit: the price. If you see an Okinawan mango or a melon with its t-bar-like stem still attached, run. Alright, that would be an overreaction. But I wouldn't buy one. I could be dead wrong, but I have a very hard time believing a melon that costs 25,000 yen would taste that much better than its humble 1,000-yen cousin. I can attest however that a mango from Okinawa has the potential to taste awfully good--brilliantly sweet, juicy, and smooth as butter, not a fiber in sight--but usually about 6,500 yen.

Regardless, if anyone gives you a present of fruit in Japan, you better get down on your knees and start doing a bit of toe kissing. If you're an insanely nice person or truly want to show your appreciation, the best thing you can do is to cut open that fruit and offer to share. Being Japan, there's a very good chance the fruit giver will protest and back away, in which case, you send them off with an over-profuse farewell (walk them outside, then stand on the road and keep shouting high-pitched thank-yous and waving frantically until they are completely out of sight--a speck on the horizon does not count); hurry back inside; do a happy dance around and around the precious box, because its contents will taste very good; and ever-so-slowly savor each bite--but not too slowly because there's nothing more painful to behold than rotten gift fruit.


A New Genre of Fiction

I couldn't resist dropping into the fairly new Maruzen* bookstore near Tokyo Station the other day--an entire floor of brand-spanking-new English books (swoon!)--and as I was scanning the labeled aisles divided by the usual genres of fiction, I was both exasperated and mildly amused (but not annoyed) to note that "Harry Potter" has been added to the ranks of mystery, science fiction, and romance. Oh, please!

And while I'm on a roll here, what is up with The Whole World Loves Norah Jones? Someone please explain this baffling phenomenon to me. Her nasal voice gives me the willies, her music style--Sesame Street does country--unfortunately monotonous. Last, I've never heard Ms. Jones sing anything that sounds remotely like jazz. You may not believe this, but I don't actually enjoy being mean; but I just don't get it: what's with all the Norah love? And enough with the Grammys!

Maruzen Marunouchi
B1F-4F Marunouchi OAZO
1-6-4 Marunouchi, Chiyoda-ku
Tokyo Station
Tel: (03) 5288-8881
Hours: 9am - 9pm daily