Three Second Rule and Other Adventures in Home Economics

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Home economics is taught during a students’ last few years in elementary school. Here in Aomori the topics covered include sewing, cooking, nutrition, cleaning, washing clothes, and farming. Though I did not have the opportunity to take pictures of the soy bean or potato harvesting that went on a couple of months ago, I might yet be able to see the rice being collected if I get called in next Wednesday. At this point in time I would like to point out that though my elementary school had a thriving arts and science program, home economics was the far away distant dream that would not be an option until high school…

Lunch in Japan is also quite different from the United States. Food is prepared by the local school lunch plant and shipped to each school in town but it isn’t served in a cafetaria or by any staff member. Instead, kyuushoku (school lunch) becomes a collaborative effort that is distributed in each class room by the students themselves, similar to cafetaria duties. Then while everyone is eating, students selected to serve as school announcers relate the nutritional information of each meal before playing music for the lunch hour.

Cooking days for home economics at the elementary school occur once in a couple of months, if not once a semester. Students contribute ingredients and the equipment is provided by the school for them to use. Skills learned include the proper ways in which to prepare food for consumption (washing, peeling, chopping, and spotting for mold or rotten parts of ingredients), how to read and interpret recipes, substituting certain items for others, and the actual cooking part itself. All students chop their own vegetables so emphasis on class cooperation and mature level of expectations are widely understood and followed.

But that isn’t to say that kids won’t be kids, even here in Japan where so many behave like mini adult versions. In one epic moment, one of my students accidentally tripped and dropped her ingredients on the floor. Before anyone, even the head teacher, could react she grabbed the spilled veg and invoked the most sacred rule known to man, woman, and child alive by shouting: “THREE SECOND RULE!!!” And yes, in the soup they went – much to the head teacher’s horror and my amusement.

Moving to Japan #1-5, Part I

I totally forgot to add pictures into the last post meant to make the last post into a ‘teaser’ that would later devolve into a mini post series on my first impressions about Japan (from this time around and from when I studied abroad 2-3 years ago),.. ahahaha >.> Yeah, I totally forgot to add the pictures. But here we go!

This mini-series is called ‘The Thing About Moving to Japan’ and will include more explanation than the previous post about my first impressions on moving to the Land of the Rising Sun.

1. We all take language for granted. Then you have that moment when you need to do something simple, like, say: wash the laundry, cook rice, or you know set up a fish tank and this is what you get…

Seriously, taking foreign language lessons before you arrive to your host country will make your stay that much better, but if for whatever reason that isn’t possible due to time constraints/obligations the next best thing is to invest in a smart phone. Smart phones have applications such as dictionaries and kanji readers that will help out in moments like these. My first time here I had one of those granny flip phones (no offense meant!) and I struggled through the experience for the first six months. True, I learned things I will never forget and learning the hard way sometimes makes for the best experience but looking back on it, if given the chance to do things differently, I would probably opt for the smart phone choice.

Very helpful applications that can get you out of a bind and which I’ve personally used:

Imiwa? (iOS devices)

Midori (iOS devices)

JED Dictionary (Android)

Denshi Jisho (this website will save your life and homework)

2. Home ec might have taught you how to fry eggs and boil water but let me tell you: there is nothing more frightening than cooking rice in a Japanese rice cooker for the first time with all the buttons and setting in Japanese. This is where Midori-chan mentioned above came in and saved the day but that wasn’t until long after… as I’m fumbling around trying to find an option for brown rice and accidentally setting it to stew for the next six hours. The end result: porridgy… rice?! Yeah, don’t try to go all “I can do this!” mode if in reality back home you’d still need some auxiliary help.

Gaijin derps aside, I love Japanese utensils (however sci-fi-ish they may be). My only problem is cooking for one. It’s something I am still trying to accustom myself to and forgetting quite often. I’m constantly mentally checking in to ensure I use only 1/4 of the ingredients necessary. Though I haven’t posted the recipe yet, I made tempura about three nights ago. I still have enough for the week, on top of which Mina and her cousin left for a trip to Hokkaidou and left me with extra food from her fridge. What amazing sempai *sniffle*!  I’ve been getting creative with how to pair up tempura with mac and cheese, mashed potato, salsa, and whatever else happens to be in my fridge ^-^

3. Yep. Moby-chan. My fish. There’s something definitely Japanese about him, completely unlike any American goldfish I’ve ever owned… very… fishy… >.>”

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He tried eating the FAKE seaweed… twice O.O Gave me such a scare I finally had to take it out!

Home stay is a wonderful way to integrate yourself into a culture and make lasting connections with people from your host country but if that family has pets it also shows you the ways in which how people from around the world treat their pets. My host family had Pooh-chan (yes, named after Winnie the Pooh), a scruffy little poodle mix that I would torture ceaseless with affection. He was quite literally a member of the family and strictly trained, I might add! Even his meals were regimented, although I find that Japanese life is in general much more scheduled than the American one. He had a free reign of the house except for certain areas and at night Pooh-chan was expected to sleep in a kennel. From their interactions with Pooh-chan, I learned dog-speak (so to speak) in Japanese (sit became ‘osuwari!’ and such) and I noticed that the family also didn’t play tricks on their pet (I hide Kenji’s ball all the time or pretend to throw it and then hid it behind my back ahaha) which made Pooh-chan irritable when I did it. Pooh-chan, so honest and adorable!!!

4. If you are not a vegetarian, are a culinary adventurer, and open to trying the following: raw fish/salmon eggs, raw or cooked horse meat/ intestines/heart, squid, eel, raw egg yolk/whites, wasabi, all manner of seafood sauces and dishes, fermented beans, mayo on just about everything, deep-fried vegetables, etc…. Then Japan is the place for you! I personally do not eat raw egg yolk (guck!) but raw salmon eggs and raw fish are absolutely no problem for me. I will eat anything at least once, no matter how vile looking or foul-smelling because otherwise how will I ever find out what tastes good and what doesn’t, right? I mean, you could chicken out and live off of Subway and McDonald’s but you will find yourself in a foreign country only so often: might as well make the most of it while you can!

That’s exactly how I found out that wasabi, raw egg, and nattou are the three most evil things invented in the history of forever. Seriously not a fan. But I had to sacrifice the taste buds at least the once to know for sure what not to ask for at restaurants. Horse meat is surprisingly almost beef like and I would eat it again. You read that. I WOULD EAT HORSE AGAIN. Be a little bit more spontaneous with your foods, you might be pleasantly surprised!

5. Spice rack. It be intense! I don’t think I’ve ever once been able to afford saffron in my life (and probably never will) so I don’t quite know what to do with the little that has been bequeathed onto me… and I need to Google search half of what my predecessors and sempai have been giving me for free (also looking up recipes that require these specific types of spices) but I love culinary adventures almost as much as the travelling kind.

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“The spice must flow!!!” Although laughing matter aside, Japanese people do not like spicy food in general so this was a pleasant surprise to find!

Dinner with Murakami + Recipe

It’s time for a recipe! Eating on the cheap is no joke in Japan but this is a meal that cost me 590 yen and I didn’t use up all the ingredients, which means I can make another meal on that same amount.

When in Aomori, eat all the vegetables! This prefecture may not be as convenient as more financially prosperous ones but it sure has some damn fine veg. Although still quite expensive by American standards, it’s still a very far cry from the grocery expenses I racked up in Tokyo. So what’s a girl to do in a hard-boiled wonderland filled with all the veg she could want and an insatiable love for reading?

Simple. Dinner with Murakami night! Tonight’s specialty is a hearty vegetable soup with a side dish of roasted potatoes and the wonderful company of Murakami’s novel Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World. Also, this serves as cooking practice for when the one and only Michelle comes to visit next year! A staunch vegetarian and vegan Monday lover, Michelle made sure to give me her favorite vegetarian broth in a jar just before I left for Japan.

WARNING: Depending on the kind of vegan you are, check for a Better Than Bouillon label that does not include honey. The kind that I used has honey listed in the back but it only says vegetarian friendly though I’ve heard this company has all sorts of bouillon substitutes. I’m sure they have a vegan one, it’ll just take some Googling.

BETTER THAN CHICKEN SOUP RECIPE (Vegetarian and vegan friendly version)

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 cup chopped carrots
  • 1 cup chopped onion
  • 1/2-1 cup of chopped potatoes, washed and peeled
  • 1/2 tsp dried rosemary
  • 1/4 lotus root, three round slices and julienne the rest
  • 1 quart of vegetable broth (water + Better Than Bouillon added)
  • 1 clove garlic, finely chopped
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • Salt and black pepper to taste
  • Freshly squeezed lemon juice (optional)
  • (Optional veggies: tomato, mushroom, broccoli)

DIRECTIONS

Prep/Notes: Wash all vegetables well, make sure to chop them ahead of time to save time. When slicing the lotus root, try to keep it at about 1/4 inch thickness. You don’t want them to be too thick or they won’t cook thoroughly but too then means that it will break apart when boiling. Begin simmering water for vegetable broth a pot large enough to accommodate vegetables as well. When using Better Than Bouillon make sure to taste the broth regularly. I started with a teaspoon and worked from there. Make sure it dissolves completely before adding more.

1. In a large frying pan, pour some extra virgin olive oil and gently heat the rosemary to infuse it with flavor. Next, stir in the onions, lotus root, and garlic. Saute them for about five minutes or until you see the onion becoming transparent. Add a pinch of salt.

2. Add the lotus root (round and julienne slices), carrots, and potatoes and continue to fry on medium heat. Once the potato and carrots begin to turn soft, transfer to the vegetable broth and boil on medium to high for thirty minutes. Sprinkle 1/2 teaspoon or less of pepper to taste. Stir occasionally and check the flavor every once in a while. Adjust broth/salt/pepper levels as necessary.

3. Serve immediately and squeeze some fresh lemon juice for an added kick! Let cool before eating.

ROASTED POTATOES WITH ROSEMARY

INGREDIENTS

  • If using three small potatoes as depicted, measure out about a 1/2 to 1 cup of the chopped potatoes for your soup (some people prefer to use less potato and more of the other veggies, so depending on your tastes), use what’s left for this recipe.
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 clove garlic, chopped
  • 1/2 tsp dried rosemary
  • Salt and black pepper to taste

DIRECTIONS

1. Pour olive oil in frying pan. Warm the garlic and rosemary. Once heated add the chopped potatoes and sprinkle salt and black pepper to your taste.

2. Serve once all potato chunks have cooked through and are golden brown on the outside

3. Pour yourself a glass of grape juice (or wine), set out your favorite Murakami novel and enjoy the tastes of a vegetarian friendly meal with all the comfort and taste of home.

This meal cost me about 590 yen, or about a six dollars, and serves anywhere from three to four people (depending on appetite and how likely you are to go for seconds). It might also be more expensive depending on what you have to buy (for example, I inherited a massive spice rack and olive oil from my sempai) but if you don’t have something, McCormick’s at Walmart/Target work wonders. For the lotus root, look for it in an Asian supermarket.

Enjoy!