Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Cheery, And Violent-- A Recipe for Cucumber

Japanese cucumbers are rather smaller than the ones I always see in the US, but no matter.  I think this can be made with either kind, though you may need a little more oomph and/or a heavier rolling pin.  Shovel would work fine, too.

A shovel for... what??

"Cheery... and violent"  (why do I hear that in Terry Jones' voice in my head?  Was it in a Python sketch that I can't quite remember?)
...For making a very quick sort-of pickle out of cucumbers without any tedious marinating, nor canning.  This is a marvelous recipe for anyone who's had a bad day at work, a fight with an SO, or who is suffering from PMS. 

You see, to 'soften' up the kyuuri (cucumber) just a little, yet retain crunch (which is, after all, the defining characteristic of a 'pickle'), grab your rolling pin and beat that cucumber to within an inch of its life. 

Then break it apart into bite-sized pieces with your hands, into any serving dish you like, and pour the dressing over.  Toss.  *Excellent* replacement for potato chips. 

The sauce (assuming you can't get it as-is, in that bottle up in the top photo) is basically:
1) sesame oil
2) salt (*little*)
3) garlic
4) *little* sugar
5) toban jan (that really hot, red paste that you use to make Mabo Dofu)
6) tsp or so of soy sauce
7) red karashi peppers (the small, very hot ones)

Sauce is somewhat spicy, but my kids *love* this (those in the photo lasted about 3 minutes this evening--I got one bite:-((... "Mama!  Oishiiii!" 

Gosh, I love to see my kids snarfing down vegetables like candy:-)

Typhoons Already? (And Kitty Update)

We got to go down to Kawana (near Ito, on the Izu Peninsula) to visit O-Jiisan and O-Baasan over the weekend.

We got to go because baseball practice was cancelled Saturday and Sunday on account of rain.  Typhoon, to be exact.  The second one of the season, already--and rather too early.

Granted, the hydrangeas seem to like it and the plums are getting nice and fat...

...but we've had a fair bit of rain (which I wish I could send to Dominic!), and it seems rather too early for the rainy season.  It makes me wonder how so much rain so early will affect the rice (which will already be in short supply later in the year because of the tsunami, which destroyed the field in the Tohoku region.   Can't grow rice in field that have been swamped with salt water.).
Koshi's fifth grade class planted rice in a field across the road from the school, which I'll be posting about as soon as I get some decent pictures.  I hope their rice doesn't get ruined!

Anyway--we got to play with Kitty (O-Baasan calls him Mario, which the kids suggested) all weekend.

He's nearly twice as big as he was when we found him-- and, my goodness, what a Genki little kitty!  I think he's driving my in-laws nuts.  He's been biting and scratching... because he wants to *play*!

The kids played with him like that literally for hours, until...

...kitty just passed out.  He had so much fun playing...

...helping with homework...

Oooh!  A pen!

...well, sort of helping.  Helping that was more like playing (or stealing pens and pencils...;-).

Koshi and Kitty

They watched TV together...

...played under the Kotatsu together (it's nice and warm under there--that's an electric carpet, which was nice and warm, and made even warmer by the blanket draped between the table top and the frame.  Beloved of kittehs:-))

...batted toys all over. Scampered back and forth.  Made me feel guilty, leaving my poor in-laws to deal with a wound-up kitty after we left...

...and then everybody went to bed together:-)  O-Yasumi nasai!

Monday, May 30, 2011

Monday Manglish-- Cool Towel

A Cool Towel-- Must Haz!

So, I had to go to the drugstore to buy a new thermometer (or a "tempehchuu", as my kids call it;-)...the other one was lost and I was pretty sure Cici was running a fever this morning (yup--38.7.  Eek.)

So I walk in to get a thermometer... and walk out with Cool Towels!  For Baseball, of course, for Koshi and Teddy at practice when it gets hot.  It says you're supposed to get the towel wet, then put it on your neck or arms.  But that's not all it said...

"Being cool, feeling it is good, it is appearance of the towel of the new material."

One look at that copy, and I felt totally justified in shelling out 598 apiece for Cool Towels.  Being cool! Feeling it is good!  And the last part could be used for anything, really--just take out 'towel' and 'material'.    "It is appearance of the (X) of the new (Y)."... I think Apple or Chevy could put that to good purpose, don't you?

I'll let you know whether they actually work or not;-)
Mata asobou, ne!

(p.s.-- I did remember to get a thermometer, and did not completely lose my head over the exciting towels.  And Cici's tempehchuu is *down* now:-)

Saturday, May 28, 2011

What's In A Name

I put this up-- not because I wish to point out what a great scientist Feynman was (which, of course, he was)-- but because he says something in this interview that I think (*gasp*) he got wrong.  Not entirely wrong--just, I think he never thought about it further, beyond it's being something he learned from his father, whom he admired tremendously.

Feynman was an amazing scientist-- a scientist in the real sense of the word.  A person who wanted to *know*, know about everything.  He was interested in...everything in the world, really.  If you've never read Surely You Must Be Joking, Mr. Feynman, I encourage you to pick it up--it's a series of great stories about an insatiable curiosity and a guy who loved a good joke, among other things.

One of my favorite bits from Surely You Must Be Joking... was the story he tells about the time he decided to switch fields for a summer--from physics to biology.

I began to read the paper.  It kept talking about extensors and flexors, the gastrocnemius muscle, and so on.  This and that muscle were named, but I hadn't the foggiest idea of where they were located in relation to the nerves or to the cat.  So I went to the librarian in the biology section and asked her if she could find me a map of the cat.  
     "A map of the cat, sir?" she asked, horrified. "You mean a zoological chart!""  From then on there were rumors about some dumb biology graduate student who was looking for a "map of the cat."
 When it came time for me to give my talk on the subject, I started off by drawing an outline of the cat and began to name the various muscles.  The other students in the  class interrupt me:  "We know all that!"
 "Oh," I say, "you do?  Then no wonder I can catch up with you so fast  after you've had four years of biology."  They had wasted all their time memorizing stuf like that, when it could be looked up in fifteen minutes.             (Surely You Must Be Joking, Mr. Feynman, pp. 58-9)

If you've already watched the video up above, maybe you noticed the part around the 4:00 mark, where he talks about other kids knowing the name of a bird ("that's a brown-throated warbler!") and how they ribbed him a little for not knowing.  He went home and asked his dad why he hadn't taught him that--and his father tells him that knowing the name of something isn't really knowledge.   That stayed with him, apparently.  The attitude that it doesn't matter whether you know the 'right' name of something is what makes the Map of the Cat story funny.  And, in many ways, he's right.  His dad was right.

Except in one way.  One kind of name really does convey important information-- a taxonomic binomial.  The two-part naming system invented by Linneaus.  If you know that name, you know what else the organism is related to.  You have an idea, albeit a rough one, of where that organism fits into the Big Bushy Tree of Life.  And that's not a piece of knowledge to toss away.

Other than that-- Feynman's a hoot:-)

Friday Field Notes-- Drink Me...

Did you drink?  If you did, you'll have shrunk down small enough to see the 6mm spider whose world is a Bachelor Button... Thomisus labefactus, Azuchigumo.

All I had to do was return the community center keys this morning.  But I took the camera along.  I know what happened the last time I forgot to take it.  

 Well, no sooner was I down the stairs than I noticed somebody clinging to the side of the neighbor's house.

Looked her up when I got home--ah.  One of the Nymphalidae.  Neope goschkevitschii, split off at some point from the very similar-looking N. niphonica.  What an awfully long handle for such a small butterfly--clearly named for whoever figured out this should be a separate species.  Must be nice to be immortalized in a butterfly name...;-)
Acer palmatum, dissectum cultivar

 Another neighbor's lovely momiji (maple) tree has put out its helicopters.

Did you play with these when you were a kid, too?

Pieris rapae, The Small (Cabbage) White

 It started to rain a bit, so I tried to hurry along.  Just run up to the temple, drop off the keys, and go home.

'Cept,  I spotted a lovely little Monshirouchou resting quietly on a small daisy...

 She let me get quite close to take her portrait:

Monshirouchou,  Pieridae family

 ...ok, the camera is getting sprinkled on.  I figure I'd better hurry before I get caught in full-on rain with no umbrella (the weather report said cloudy!).  I walked quickly...

Veronica persica-- Ooinunofuguri, Persian (or Winter) Speedwell
 ...for ten steps.  Oh, look!  Ooinunofuguri--my favorite little blue flowers.  The first flowers I noticed after coming to Japan.  I'd never seen them before (although according to Wiki
it's spread to the US from Europe and  Asia), at least, not in the field I played in as a child.  It was blooming there with wild strawberries, in amongst the Equisetum and other field grasses, attended by tiny (unidentified) hover flies...

Harmonia axyridis... Tentoumushi has emerged
 Just as you turn in to walk back to the temple, there is a wall of dense growth (part of the mountain) on the left-- I remembered seeing lots of ladybugs there the other day when I'd come to pick up the keys.  

Ooh--there's one! 

Sanagi!  A ladybug emerging from the Pupa...
 ...Another one!  This one is just starting to emerge from the pupa.  They're all along here--every other leaf has a ladybug at some stage in the process of trasformation from the larval to adult stage.

My steps slow to Bug Time...

happy birthday:-))
 ...I stood and watched as this one shrugged off the larval skin.  She's still pale yellow (why do we call Ladybugs that, and consequently think of them all as female?).  She won't darken and get her spots for a while, and until then she's vulnerable to predation.

My feet aren't making much forward progress as I check every leaf, like a crime scene investigator running the grid...

In the order Phantasmodea...Baculum irregulariterdentum
 ...a Walking Stick!  A young one, judging from the color (I am, by the way, milimeter by milimeter, approaching the back door where the monk and his wife live--I'm to put the keys on top of the mailbox)...

Difficult to photograph from this angle-- she *glows* in the light

 He stands out against the foliage--or, rather possibly She.  Most species of Phasmatodea are parthogenic, that is, the female can lay eggs without needing to mate.  In that case, all young are female and are clones of the mother.  Some species are bisexual and retain the ability to mate, depending on the presence of males. 

A ten-spot... or twenty-spot?
 My slow pace is rewarded with another type of ladybug (unable to identify with my bug book--will get on Google later)...

Macroscytus japonensis

...and a lovely shiny, black member of the order of Coleoptera.  In other words, a sweet little Beetle (*not* a bug!), and of whom the Creator is said to be inordinately fond, seeing as how there are over 350,000 species in four suborders... and those are just the ones we know about:-)) His name is Tsuchikomemushi in Japanese.  I wonder whether it was he who ate that hole in the leaf... 

Punica granatum
 I really did get the keys dropped off this morning;-)  When I turned to go home, I noticed that the pomegranate tree, whose fruit  I found burst open last fall, has flowered.  Since I've never seen pomegranate flowers before, I stop to take a picture.  The flowers look delicate, but are waxy to the touch.

I take a little detour, down some stone steps--maybe not the best idea since it's threatening rain again, but...

Ookabafusujidorobachi... Orancistrocerus drewseni

A noise stops me in my tracks.  Oh.  You there.  Hi--I won't hurt you, if you won't sting me. K?  May I take your portrait this fine morning, sir?
Yes, certainly:-)

Thank you, kindly.  I didn't know there were Mud Daubers in Japan. A very great pleasure to make your acquaintance, sir.

Likewise, I'm sure.

Kurourihamushi... Aulacophora nigripennis
Order:  Coleoptera

 Someone has surely dumped the contents of Alice's Drink Me bottle into my coffee this morning.

Curiouser and curiouser. 

The bugs have gotten bigger--it's so much easier to see them all.  Or I've gotten smaller?  I hardly move a step before noticing something else...

The worm that flies in the night...
...somebody's larval stage crawls around the Bachelor Button buds...

Centaurea cyanus

 I love Bachelor's Button (also called Cornflower, though that's actually a different plant), but I realize I've never looked closely at the buds before.

They strike me as Jacobean-- like the stylized buds that are part of fabric patterns called Jacobean.  I imagine buds and flowers like this curling over James I's cushions... 
At this level the unnoticed becomes exotic. 

Drink me... and a dandelion can be your home, too.   (Eysarcoris annamita... Order: Hemiptera, a True Bug.)

Thursday, May 26, 2011

SpyShopper-- A Guessing Game

A cake...what?

Guessing Game Time!

They had slices of cake out at our Daiei today.  Sometimes I get some for dessert.  Today, I just took a photo because what the sign says is one of my favorite loan words in Japanese.

Here's the game (open to those who don't speak Japanese, or at least not very much.):

The sign above the cake (the one telling you that it's Y98 each) says "Cake Viking".

Guesses as to just what exactly they might mean by that?  The sign is written in Katakana, the syllabary used to transliterate foreign words.  So the sign says literally (just transliterated, not translated--it's two English words written in Katakana) "Cake Viking".


  Minna yoku gambarimashita, ne!! (Everyone tried very hard!)
Alice is the closest-- it basically *is* a buffet, and the same word "Viking" is also used in restaurants to mean that (and was, in fact, where I heard used first).  The question, though, is "Why 'viking' to mean 'buffet'?"
 Well, it goes something like this (although I have no direct evidence of the correct etymology, so this is my Best Guess etymology):

    Another word used in English for 'Buffet' (borrowed from French), is 'Smorgasbord', borrowed from Swedish.  Click on that link back there for more Food Porn.   'Buffet' and 'Smorgasbord' are pretty near translations of each other.  English (greedy language that it is) has borrowed both words.
Japanese, like English, loves to import sexy foreign words to sell stuff... but apparently 'Smorgasbord' was just a bit much for Japanese mouths to handle.  So since the Smorgasbord originated in Sweden, and Sweden is a Scandinavian country, and the Vikings were *also* Scandinavian... Viking just got substituted for Smorgasbord.  Or 'Smorgasbord'=Viking-Style, with 'style' left off.

In restaurants, the Drink Viking is very popular (same as the US--where you just go up and get your own drinks out of the fountain and coffee from the pot instead of the waiter bringing them to you).  Drink Viking is, in fact, the first place I heard the term.  Thought it was *hilarious* (well, once I'd figured out what the heck they were talking about).  Every time we go to a restaurant that has one, I wish desperately that I still had my horned Viking helmet that I used to wear when I taught German (Diana will know what I'm talking about;-)).  I would dearly love to saunter up to the Drink Viking... and calmly  drop ice cubes into my glass with a horned viking helmet on my head;-)  Mysteriously, there never seems to be any mead available at the Drink Viking, despite the inevitable images of Valhalla that the term conjures up.

So there you have it (maybe)... convoluted enough for ya?

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Beyond Plain Rice II--A Recipe for Take No Ko Gohan

You know what that dark brown thing is... right?

It's Take No Ko... a bamboo shoot.  A baby bamboo (or, well... maybe an elementary school bamboo, judging by the size).

You can cook with these-- I got one of these once a year after Koshi started kindergarten, as the third year kids were taken out to dig bamboo shoots.  The first time he came home with a large something wrapped in newspaper, I'll admit, I panicked slightly.

I knew that it could be cooked with, though, since I'd seen them at our Daiei packaged with what looked at the time like sawdust (couldn't imagine what *that* was for).

That one ran me about Y498-- not bad.

Yes, it's fuzzy.  See?

You don't eat that part, though.

Chop off a big hunk of the bottom and peel off several of the thick outside layers
(I know-- I see you all.  Racing to your local Asian market to get bamboo shoots as is, right from the ground.  Rest assured that you can make this with the kind that's already sliced and boiled;-)

Use your Big Knife and put a slice into the center, top to bottom, so that it will finish cooking in your lifetime.

Put the Take no Ko (Bamboo's Child, literally) in your Big Pot, and fill with water 'til it's covered.  Dump that little pack of sawdust nuka (rice bran--it's *very* good for you, and it figures as an ingredient in lots of Japanese facial skin care products.  Ever notice how Japanese tend to look a lot younger than they really are?  This may well be one of the reasons.)

Simmer it for an hour, then turn off the fire and let it just sit there in the pot for two more hours.  That way, it won't be over-boiled, and will also be easier to peel away the rest of the fuzzy layers when it's cooler.

Always ends up *much* smaller than what you thought it would be..

Make sure to take off all the fuzzy-- it's nice to pet, but not to eat.

Slice it in half, then into smaller, bite-sized pieces (not too thick).

Other ingredients (though this can vary) are:

1. One piece of aburage (bean curd) cut into four pieces then sliced.
2. About half a carrot, thinly julienned.
3. Konnyaku (solidified jelly made from the rhizome of Devil's Tongue), cut small.  Or, use the noodles (about 50g).  I cut them in two places so they wouldn't be too long.

San go of rice... three of those cute little wooden measuring boxes if you have one.  If not, 450g of rice (in ounces?  *No* idea.  But I think that's a pound.), rinse it well and put it into the rice cooker and fill to the line for 3-go of rice (or 450g).

Dump the vegetables on top.

For the soup, you need:

1. Light (Usu-kuchi) Soy sauce, 1Tbsp
2. Cooking Sake, 2Tbsp
3. Hon Dashi (powdered stock--in the box on the left), 1 Tbsp
4. Shio (salt), 1tsp

Put all that into the water in the Kama (you can see my rice-cooker pot on the right) and mix it all up.

Put the Kama into the rice cooker and hit Go!  This rice is fairly filling (or maybe my kids just like it a lot, and eat more of it than usual), so you don't really need to have a huge meat dish with this.  Bamboo Rice is nice to have with tofu and miso soup and a couple of vegetables for a vegetarian dish that I never notice is vegetarian.  Just Japanese.  Take no Ko Gohan also makes *great* onigiri the next day (if there's any left over;-))



Mata asobou, ne!

Monday, May 23, 2011

Encyclopedia of Life

I've said before-- I think 'weeds' ought not to be overlooked.  But even when you look-- there are things you miss.  I never noticed the aphids under the stem of this 2mm diameter flower ('Cucumber Herb' Trigonotis peduncularis ) 'til I got it uploaded.  Then I wondered-- Is the ant 'milking' these aphids, just like E.O. Wilson (among others) discovered?

 I had heard of the Encyclopedia of Life while watching E.O. Wilson's 2007 TED talk where he accepts his TED prize, and talks about the stages he went through as a child, how he was blinded in one eye and his slight deafness,  and his love of all things in the natural world--especially the Little Things.  I've been reading his lovely book Diversity of LifeIt's well-written--the layperson gets a very real sense of how much he delights in the world, and how much he loves science.

I recently re-discovered it looking at somebody's Flickr stream-- "wow!", I thought, "What gorgeous photos!"  Then I noticed that it was in a Flickr Group called "Encyclopedia of Life"... The same one?  Just named after that?  I clicked on it...  and sure enough-- the link took me right to the Encyclopedia of Life itself.  Oh boy!  Clicking around some of the entries with photos of organisms, I noticed a link on the sidebar under "Contribute"... 'Submit an Image', it said.  Really?  I checked--sure enough, anybody can submit photos to the Encyclopedia of Life.  Just get a Flickr account, upload your shots, put the right kind of copyright on it, and make sure it has a taxonomic machine tag so the photo can be harvested (machine taxonomic tag found by their search algorithm) to build the Encyclopedia.  Citizen Science that anybody can be a part of--no matter where you live, nor how old you are.  
So, I've uploaded some of my photos, since I noticed that very few Japanese species are represented in the Encyclopedia... and some of them have been harvested (though not yet reviewed as far as I can see).  

(Undignified, but I will allow myself a very small... squeee.)

I figured out how to put recent Flickr photos and a link in the sidebar (scroll down a bit), so you're all welcome to have a look if you like.  And if you have some nice, clear photos that would be good for identifying any form of life-- consider uploading it to the Encyclopedia:-))