Apple Pie Recipe <3

  
Japan is not known for its baking culture. Houses and apartments are not fitted with ovens. The ovens that are sold in tech stores across the country come in the following specifications: small and more for microwaving functions than anything else. You can warm up a can of beer. You can roast some veg. Frozen personal pizza sizes are okay. But you can’t make anything bigger than cookies, cupcakes, or really tiny pies.

Something else to keep in mind: the flour sold at most supermarkets will be of the cake making variety. For those who don’t have enough experience with different types of flour, most of you will have become accustomed to utilizing all-purpose. It’s like the middle ground between the moist and crumbly type used for cakes and the ‘sturdier’ kind that is the base for most breads. In Japan, all-purpose means cake flour or something akin to a midpoint between all-purpose and the cake variety.

So now that the peak of apple season is waning, sour apples go on sale – the last of the last, the unwanted of the least desirable. And they are the best for baking. This recipe calls for pate brisee (the all buttery, all fattening, all delicious French version of pie crust) and as many apples as you can lay your hands on.

For about 800 yen, you can tabehoudai (all you can eat) and take as many apples as you can carry. But that’s in Hirosaki. In Aomori City, where we conducted our yearly apple picking ritual (or, as ritualistic as the second year running can be), the nearest apple farm we could find charged 300 yen for taking home 3 apples of your choice (a bargain considering they sell one for almost that same amount at the supermarkets) and 500 yen for on-site tabehoudai. There would be no omochikaerihoudai this year. We coughed up the equivalent of $15-20 for apples that they sold on-site.

  

::For the buttery PATE BRISEE::

Ingredients

Also known as, le pie crust. Makes one crust. Double the ingredients for the pie covering, or leave as is to make apple crumble.

~1 cup of flour (and some extra for rolling out)

1 tsp of salt

1.5 to 2 tsp of sugar

1 stick of unsalted butter, diced (butter should be as cold as possible)

2-4 tsp of ice cold water (add on tsp at a time and use your common sense to gauge if it needs more)

 Directions

1. Cut your stick of butter into cubes, then stick in fridge or freezer. The colder the butter, the better the outcome. Although it’s quite difficult to blend completely frozen through butter, so make sure to take it out before it grows icicles.

2. Mix flour, salt, and sugar together. Spatula or hands, either is fine! Personally, if I can feel the flour, I am better able to tell if the ingredients are mixed in. I am not a visual person.

3. Take butter cubes out. Toss in about half. Work the dough as lightly as you can with your fingers. You want the butter and the flour mixture to crumble together. Once all the butter has been incorporated (don’t forget the other half), add a tablespoon of cold as the Arctic Sea water at a time. Continue mixing with your fingers until the crumble turns into something resembling dough.

4. Lightly dust your work space with flour. Don’t over knead the dough but, you know, give it a good old shaping until it looks like a circular blob. Pat said blob down. Roll out from the middle outwards in equidistant directions around the starting point. If you work with clay, basically what you do to clay to flatten it out.

5. Should be about a quarter inch thick or so. Or maybe about the width of a quarter. I forget but in any case once it’s as flat as either one of those measurements, lay it out over the pie or quiche pan that you will use, pat it down a bit, and cut off the overhanging parts.

6. On to the apple mixture!!!

::For the APPLE FILLING::

Get ready to have your apartment smell like a spice merchant’s ship on its way to Europe.

Tart baking apples (if like me, you have no idea what this means when you read these words in fancy food blogging recipes… it means use your favorite apples if you don’t like Fuji or the sour variety)

Apples, as many as you like, sliced

2-3 tbs of flour (ours was a small pie so two sufficed)

1/2 cup of sugar

1/4 tsp of the following ground spices: nutmeg and allspice

1/2 to 1 tbs of cinnamon

About 1 tsp of vanilla extract

1. Toss all ingredients by hand. Make sure to evenly coat all the apples.

2. Pour mixture into your waiting pie crust, also make sure the liquid at the bottom makes it into the pie dish.

3. Cover mixture with the second rolled out pie crust. Cut out four to five fancy leaf looking openings on the top. Or stab with fork, which is also the height of class and style.

4. Pinch the edges and cut the excess.

5. Bake on 350F for the next 55 minutes as you enjoy the scent of the holidays flooding your living space. Chill before serving.

Serves about 3 people if it is a small pie baked in a small Japanese oven. About 5-8 people if baked in an American-sized oven.

Bon appetit!

An Abundance of Apples… And Then Some

The final chapter in the sixth years’ quest to grow the perfect apples and the fifth years’ rice farming experience. No matter how many times I participate, it’s always invigorating to see my kids learning something for the first time: the fumbled guesses, the hair raising stumbles, and the beautiful ‘A-HA!’ light bulb moments. It just never ever gets old.

Children are incredulously and incredibly, well, incredible. I know this explains nothing, but there are no better words for all the funny, candid moments I get with them. The things they say, the ways in which they problem solve. Every precious victory is cause for day long celebration, every failure a drama worthy of a season on HBO. Kids are so full of life, everything is so new to them. And it’s been a real privilege and an honor to be taken along for the ride.

I almost want to pitch a documentary series to NatGeo about kids and how they grow up around the world.

 

Akita Road Trip 2014

Three day weekend. Good company. An open road. It’s road trip time!

Life is like a Kei car going up a windy mountain road: loud and full throttle 😀 The prelude of our first (of what we are sure will be many more) three-day-weekend road trips began with an excursion to Hirosaki, the castle town of Aomori Prefecture. In these parts it’s a time of apples and harvesting, so the Ringo Kouen (Apple Park) we visited was ripe for the picking. It’s approximately 200 yen for every kilo you pick and the time limit is fifteen minutes. Guides give tours of the land, explain local farming techniques, teach the proper way to test apples for ripeness and instruct in the correct methods for picking apples. Apples are absolutely my most favorite fruit in the world so when it came time for mine to be weighed, an astounding four kilos in fifteen minutes seemed to break the gaijin picking record 😉

 

Akita Prefecture is known for two things: Namahage (evil demons who come to terrorize and steal your children) and bijin (beautiful people, particularly women). There are also no apple flavored drinks, jams, or themed foods anywhere. That is sadly how we knew we were no longer in Aomori. Otherwise it looks much like the rest of Tohoku, windy mountain roads and the most beautiful trees I have ever seen in my life. Though the rest of Japan might feel that Aomori is the backwoods and full of country bumpkins, there are surprisingly more adventurous and kind people in these parts than anywhere else that I have seen. A woman working at the Namahage Museum told us many interesting stories about how her husband was a farming activist who lived out of his car and traveled all around the country to test water and soil levels for pollution. Most of my adult night class students have also traveled abroad a minimum of six to ten different times for farming conventions or have generally seen more of the world than the average city slicker (which is what they call city folk). There’s just something about Tohoku that’s off beat and refreshing. I recommend any traveler looking to get a real taste of Japan to go into the backwoods to see how real people live and celebrate life. Akita and Aomori so far have not disappointed and I look forward to travelling to each and every prefecture before my time is up in Japan.

We finished our day excursion to Akita with a relaxing out door onsen, watching the moon rise above the trees. Onsen (for those unfamiliar with the concept) is a communal outdoor or indoor bath and it is often times translated as bathing in a hot spring. While ours certainly mimicked the natural environment in which a hot spring would be found, it was by no means natural.

To get to Akita from Aomori, it is a three hour drive, round trip six, and requires at least one gas tank refill in a kei car. If travelling with a group of friends cost of the trip is cheaper because it’s broken down among four or five people. Generally you’re looking at this for a cost analysis break down: ~3,000 yen for gas (one 18L tank); ~2,000 yen for toll roads (or free if you don’t mind driving four hours on a non-toll road); ~1,000 yen for dinner at a restaurant (half that price for convenience store food); ~700 to 1,000 yen for onsen. The trip is easily going to cost 10,000 to 20,000 depending on your personal spending habits though as omiyage (souvenirs) can be upwards of 2,000 yen for everyone in your office.