Challah

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My first-ever handmade challah.

I observe the Shabbat (Sabbath) beginning Sundown Friday to Sundown Saturday. For a long time I have wanted to try baking challah- not that we must have challah on Shabbat it isn’t a commandment. It’s just that I think that a loaf of challah is so beautiful and makes the Shabbat dinner table look so pretty.

There is also a lot of symbolism in challah that I think reminds us of why we observe the Shabbat.

It takes a while to produce a loaf. Bread-baking takes time but that’s ok because I didn’t want it to be a fast activity. I wanted to take my time and savor the process.

Some of the things that I thought about this afternoon while I was preparing my challah:

There are seven basic ingredients is challah: flour, sugar, water, yeast, eggs, oil,  and salt. The number 7 reminds me that we are commanded to rest on the 7th day.

I made my challah into a three strand braid. The three strands reminded me of this scripture:

Ecclesiastes 4:12  And if a man prevail against him that is alone, two shall withstand him; and a threefold cord is not quickly broken.

The number three also reminds me of The Father, The Son and The Holy Spirit.

The bread itself reminded me of the command to remember  Yeshua’s sacrifice and resurrection. It also reminded me of the scripture:

Matthew 4:4 But he answered and said, “It is written: ‘A man does not live by bread only, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.’ “

This particular recipe called for 6 minutes of kneading so I embraced that part of the process and used the time to pray. I think I went a bit over time in kneading. I had a lot to pray about.

I also spent time contemplating the upcoming month of Elul and the 40 day period of repentance and introspection until Yom Kippur- the Day of Atonement.

The table looked so beautiful tonight-so much so that my husband asked many questions. This “loaf of bread” was the catalyst that opened up some very good discussion about faith.

I used to think that participating in rituals like this was not necessary and actually they aren’t. Our salvation isn’t based upon whether or not we bake challah on Shabbat. However, today I found that this task of mixing and kneading and contemplating ….it really enriched my Shabbat. I could see that it gave something to my husband also- who is just in the beginning stages of learning this new faith.

I adhere to the Shabbat, Feast Days and other mitzvot alone here. There are many ways we can observe the Shabbat even if we do not belong to a congregation.

I just read an excellent blog post about observing the Shabbat alone-you can find it HERE.

 

 

Spring Activity

Early spring and all the lovely activity that comes with it lifts the spirits!

Let me tell you first about an activity that I’ve discovered since moving here. It isn’t just a spring activity but it is easiest for me to participate in during spring……gathering sansai.

Sansai is the Japanese word for mountain vegetable – wild edible plants found in the fields, river banks and woodlands of the Japanese countryside. There are some interesting facts about gathering and using sansai BUT I’ve just written an article for Taikan Japan on that subject in my new series for them: At Home in Rural Japan. When the article is released soon I’ll share the link here -don’t want to be a spoiler.

For now-just come along with me as we forage for nanohana. When I took you on the walk down to the shrine and historical home a while back I shared a photo of a single stem of nanohana, one of the harbingers of spring. They are beginning to pop up everywhere now and this is the perfect time to forage for them. You can buy them cut and neatly packed at the farmer’s market but it is so much more enjoyable to wander the little country roads, dirt paths and fields gathering them yourself. This is what I have been doing almost daily.

Donning my garden apron and a light jacket, basket in hand I set off for my secret spot where I’ve discovered a small field of newly sprouting, tender nanohana.

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They are best picked when they look like this-rather like mini broccoli heads and in fact they are closely related to the broccoli family.

Walking among the spring grasses and ferns I savor the freshness that spring brings. I’m listening for the sound of the uguisu which will soon be heard singing through the valley-the loveliest bird song I have ever heard. A swarm of the tiniest of winged insects hover over a patch of snowdrops as I tread gingerly through the little patch I’ve found. I am overwhelmed with gratitude at what the Lord freely provides for me and I take only what we will eat for dinner tonight.

It is such a lovely day so I decide to wander a bit. Down by the river the ume trees are almost in full bloom and they look lovely draped over the river banks.

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The bare trees you see here are sakura which are now full of buds and soon this humble river bank will be as glorious as any grand riverbank in Japan. We have already planned our hanami party. This year we will have a small BBQ on our patio so that mother and father in law can sit comfortably and enjoy viewing the sakura that are all around our home.

The path that runs along the riverside is inviting with its elegant carpet of moss and I wander down along the river’s edge until I reach the farm road at the end. There is a stunningly beautiful old farm house that sits right on the corner and as I look up I see a white Japanese heron perched right on top of the roof.

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I watched it for quite a while-it never moved. What an interesting and beautiful scene. Standing for several minutes-I admired the home and wondered how on earth they kept that huge tree so beautifully manicured. It is quite expensive to have that done professionally. As I walked past the front of the home I laughed when I noticed that the crest on the roof-top edge was…a crane! The crest is located on the four corners of the home on each level of roof.

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My wandering took me past a few old farmhouses and down to the small lake. Soon the trees along the lake’s edge will be full of nesting heron. I guess this is actually not a lake but one of the many rivers that run criss-cross through our area and all of Japan.

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It was time to return home and prepare for dinner. Nanohana are easy to cook. I soak them first in a large basin of water-rinsing and changing the water several times. Then I boil them for about 2 minutes, drain them and refresh them in cold water for around 30 seconds.

The entire plant can be eaten-flower tops, stem and leaf.

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After that they are squeezed to removed the excess water and cut up in to about 1 inch sized pieces. Seasoning is simple-I drizzle them with sesame oil and citrus soy-sauce. Today I added small crispy dried and fried fish. Really delicious.

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My vegetables cooked -I set about placing the few wild flowers I foraged into vases around the house. The little wall vases are just darling. I found them the other day at our local Daiso of all places!

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Now onto the next activity- sowing my flower seeds and nursing them until they grow into seedlings and the weather warms enough to put them into the ground.

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Healthy Eating-Japanese vegetables

This is a shot of a typical grocery haul for us. Notice all the fresh vegetables.

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I was surfing the net not long ago and came across a photo of a typical grocery haul by a family in another country and I was startled because the table was piled high with packaged foods, junk foods, sodas and other non-nutritious foods.

It made me think about how really fortunate we are to live here. Healthy eating is not something out of the ordinary, it’s the norm. At least for us, in this area.

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This is a picture of my typical breakfast: a grilled fish, scrambled eggs with onions, spinach, mushrooms or some other vegetable. Vegetable miso soup, komatsuna-wakame (mustard cabbage and seaweed) with a vinegar and sesame seed oil dressing, 50 grams of rice from our farm-topped with grated daikon radish in the photo.

Hubby eats the same. We wash it down with hot green tea.

This is kind of a typical Japanese breakfast. Add natto for hubby (I can not get past the smell).

I really enjoy cooking with all the wonderful vegetables from the farmers market.

Fresh spinach gets par-boiled, drained and squeezed. Then I cut it up and top it with dried, shaved bonito (fish).

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Eggplant ready for grilling…..

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Lovey vegetable miso-soup. Ingredients are Chinese cabbage, carrots, onion, wakame (seaweed). I use kombu dashi (a broth made from seaweed) as the base and then I add 2 tablespoons of miso paste. Healthy and hearty!

 

 

Summer Tomatoes

I planted each seed and lovingly tended it. When the seedlings were about six inches tall I transferred them to the ground.

Last year I put the seedlings into pots and I didn’t have even half of the yield that I have this year. Not even close. They must like the garden much better. I have had buckets full of cherry tomatoes!

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The plants go all the way around the little path to the left. They grew so big that I didn’t plant anything else in my little plot.

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Each morning after I cook breakfast and bento I go out to water and pick whatever is ripe. I fill my apron pockets.

Our summer has been beastly hot and I’ve needed to water daily. Temps have been between 98-112 F. Last week with the heat index it was 122 degrees F. I think I said that in a previous post.

As I’m writing this I’m wondering why I didn’t add any mulch.

For a few days we’ve had it a bit cooler…around 95. Imagine…95 felt cool. This morning at 9:00 am it was already 98.

As I was filling up my pockets with tomatoes a wasp flew over my head and landed in the water garden to grab a drink. Everyone is thirsty. I drink gallons a day at the moment.

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We discovered that our favorite way to eat our tomatoes is grilled. I throw them whole into a fry-pan with a tiny bit of oil on low heat and just let them roast until they are soft and crack open. Sometimes I add a bit of garlic sauce or just a tiny bit of salt/pepper.

We eat virtually salt free so, many times I don’t add anything. Yesterday for lunch I threw a handful of tomatoes and several shishito peppers from my bush into a pan. I grilled them and then I threw in a handful of shredded cheese. I had a couple pieces of home-made whole wheat flat bread with it and a glass of ice-coffee. Awesome lunch!

As I was tending to the tomatoes today I realized something. I realized that my once long time dream of simple living was being realized.

Sometimes people think that “simple living” means “no work”. Nothing could be further from the truth. I do a lot of work by hand. I walk to do shopping and errands. The distances I walk are quite long…sometimes it takes me an hour one way to get to a certain store that I frequent. I am rarely idle because there is always something to do.

Simple life isn’t a life of idleness….but it is a life filled with peace and contentment.

But…. more on that later. The stars of this post were my tomatoes….

 

 

 

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Morning Kitchen Chaos

A reader asked me to blog more about my cooking so here goes…..

In the morning I usually stumble (flop, drag myself) out of bed anywhere between 6:00-7:00 am.

It used to be 5 am thank goodness that stopped.

I’m not a morning person. I am cheerful enough after my first cuppa but I’m just not really geared up for a lot of activity in the mornings. When hubby fell ill and was put on a special diet it really upset my apple-cart for a while because of all the cooking I have to do now. Of course after about a year of practice it’s all good. I’ve pretty much got it down and it’s not so stressful anymore. I’ve learned a few hacks that help things run smoother.

So come on in the kitchen-just stand to the side and stay outta my way! It’s a small kitchen….

This morning: 6:45 I hit the ground running. Thank goodness I’ve cooked the chicken and bamboo shoots last night-that saved me time. The harusame noodle and carrot salad I also prepared last night-as well as the miso soup for breakfast. I’ve learned that it’s way easier for me in the morning if I prepare whatever I can the night before and put it in the fridge. It may mean standing in the kitchen until 9 or 9:30 pm the night before but it makes for smoother sailing in the mornings.

Hubby had the coffee brewing-good boy!

I yank open the griller and throw in his 2 breakfast fish.

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Take out the small saucepan and heat up a serving of the precooked miso soup. Once it comes to a boil I shut it off and quickly crack an egg into it-slam the cover on and leave it….time to open the griller and check on the fish-turn fish-close griller.

Fill the small tea pot with genmaicha, set it on the little red try along with his tea cup. Fill up the electric kettle and turn it on.

Go back and check the fish. Grab a cup of coffee for myself.

Get out the little red fry pan and start to cook the bento-box food. Throw in 2 scallops and simmer them in water, after a few minutes drain the water and add a bit of butter and garlic paste.

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Check the fish. Put the sugar and creamer into my coffee and stir.

Turn over the scallops and brown them on the other side, place them on a small plate and set aside. Wash red pan and get it out of the way.

Take my first glup of coffee. Turn off the fish.

Haul out the big red tray and set it on the table. Open fridge and take out natto, place it on the big red tray. Take the fish out of the griller, place them on a small plate and onto the big red tray-this signals hubby that he can “shoot” (insulin). After he “shoots” I fill the tea pot and bring it to the table, fill his miso soup bowl and set it on the tray and then measure out 170 grams of rice into his rice bowl and set it on the tray.

Shucks-forgot the komatsuna! QUICKLY open the fridge and take out a serving of (precooked) komatsuna-season it with vinegar and sesame seeds and place it on the tray.

Hubby starts on his breakfast!

Now I can start to get his bento-box put together. The chicken and bamboo shoots need to be reheated so I measure out a portion and throw it in the microwave. While that’s heating up I soak a handful of dried seaweed in a small bowl and grab the little red frying pan to saute a handful of iriko (little dried fish)  until brown and crisp. By the time they are done the dried seaweed is done soaking-I drain it and squeeze out the excess water, add the iriko and season with vinegar, sesame oil and sesame seeds and a little bit of kombudashi.

Kombu is seaweed-kombudashi is a seasoning made from seaweed. I never ever use salt in any cooking. I don’t use sugar either. I have had to learn how to use other things like vinegar and kombudashi to flavor foods.

The seaweed-iriko salad gets placed aside next to the pre-made harusame and carrot salad.

 

The omlet pan gets hauled out, oiled and then I throw in a handful of frozen spinach. While the spinach cooks a bit- I grab and egg out of the fridge, beat it and then pour it in the pan. One side is cooked so I gently turn it over and then place a slice of cheese in the center and roll it up. Viola-spinach and cheese omelet!

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I need another gulp of coffee….

With all the dishes for the bento-box cooked I line everything up on the counter and begin to fill the box.

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Japan has got bento making down I tell you. There are just tons of helpful little supplies specifically made for bento boxes. Besides the box itself I love all the little tinfoil cups that you can buy at Daiso. They really help to organize the food inside the bento box.

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With all the food cooked and packed into hubby’s thermal lunch bag I can take 5 and pour myself another cuppa before starting on the mountain of dishes in the sink….

Until tomorrow morning when I do it all over again….

There you have it- a sample of my morning routine….I’ve got to go cook dinner now and start to prepare some things for tomorrow morning…..