Tuesday, August 25, 2015

a lesson from the seagulls

August was a month of large and small tribulations, and I'm not sad to see it end. The very least of these, and the only one that is slightly funny, inspired a short series of etegami at a time when my desire to paint had completely dried up.

I've been spending a lot of time at a small house on the northwestern coast of Hokkaido, where almost all the windows face the sea. I came back one day to find every one of them covered with excrement that could only have come from the droves of seagulls that glide past just inches from the house when the fishing boats are in our area.

I haven't recovered enough energy to do anything about the windows, but I sure am glad I recovered my urge to paint. Thank you, seagulls. You guys are okay.

Monday, August 3, 2015

save the date (2)

You may remember my post last fall about save the date cards --a concept that was new to me at the time. I had been asked to design a set of cards for a couple who were planning a vow-renewal ceremony (another concept that was new to me).

I knew they loved coffee, but hadn't realized the extent of that passion. As it turned out, they were rather keen for me to use a coffee theme in my design, and asked me to try to include the phrase "all you need is love & another cup of coffee."

It's been almost a year since I designed their cards. They were professionally printed and sent off a couple months ago,  and the event itself will soon take place. Now I can post the images without fear of ruining the surprise for those invited to the event. May they enjoy many, many more years of the love and commitment that led to this celebration, and I thank them for letting me play this small part in it.

Monday, July 27, 2015

2015 illustrated recipes: set 3 (pickled plums)

I'm happy to report that the third in my series of illustrated recipes for The Japan Times ST was published in the July 24th issue. The ingredient I chose to focus on for the summer set (four recipes from appetizer to dessert) was umeboshi (Japanese pickled plums).

Umeboshi comes in more forms than you might think.  First, and most typical, is the red, wrinkly, soft umeboshi that is so sour and salty it sets your teeth on edge. It is a great accompaniment to fish with strong flavors, such as the sanma (pacific saury) in my recipe for Pacific Saury with Shiso and Umeboshi.

Lately, though, some of these umeboshi are marketed as "marinated in honey," a treatment that takes the edge off the extreme tartness and makes them suited to dessert recipes like my Umeboshi Cheesecake.

Then there is the small, crunchy umeboshi (kari-kari ume) that comes in both green and red varieties. Green is the natural color of the unripe ume fruit, and red is the outcome of pickling the ume with purple shiso (perilla) leaves. The small crunchy umeboshi are great as a snack, or when you want that crunchy texture in a refreshing summer salad like my Naga-imo and Umeboshi Salad.

There is also the pureed umeboshi that comes in small squeezable tubes, and the crumbled, freeze-dried (from puree) version that comes in small plastic bags. Umeboshi is considered to have health benefits, but it is also high in salt content, so beware of eating too many at one time. FYI, ume are not really plums at all, but a type of apricot. You can learn more about umeboshi from this Wikipedia entry.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

where the stars live

I've been spending a lot of time in Atsuta Village, on the Japan Sea coast side of Hokkaido. It's only a little more than an hour's drive from my home in Sapporo, but it's a different world. Atsuta is where the stars live. They press against my window after dark to kiss me goodnight.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

flower salad

My father-in-law is an avid hiker, bird watcher, and admirer of wildflowers. He often sends me photographs of colorful flowers to inspire my etegami.

His birthday is coming up, so I asked him if he had any special requests, or did he want to take a gamble and let me surprise him. He sent me more flower photos and then added that he wouldn't mind taking a gamble.

I did make an attempt at the straight-forward approach-- using his photos as a model for painting wildflowers in their natural setting. But mischief, that constant companion of my heart, raised its tousled head, and the next thing I knew, I was painting flowers as food. As in food for the stomach, not food for the soul.

The words in the etegami shown above say o-hanami yori hanami (preferring flower-tasting to flower-viewing), a play on the same-sounding words hanami (flower-viewing) and hanami (flower-tasting). Actually, I made up the second expression by forcing together the word for flower and the word for flavor. I just can't resist wordplay, and Japanese is the perfect language for it.

The words on the etegami shown below quote a poem by haiku master Matsuo Basho. He was reflecting on fate and the fragility of life. Only, it wasn't a horse that ate the flowers. It was yours truly.  I wonder if my father-in-law will think that his gamble paid off.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

rainy season haiku

While Hokkaido looks forward eagerly to a typically mild, sunny, fragrant, bright green, sweet-breezy June, the rest of Japan has entered-- or is about to enter-- the pre-summer rainy season called tsuyu, often translated literally as "plum rains."

The mugginess of tsuyu can be quite miserable-- one of those times of the year when I wonder out loud how anyone would choose to live anywhere other than tsuyu-less Hokkaido. (In just a few months, the Hokkaido winter will arrive with a powerful reply to that question.)

Well, anyway, I've been working on tsuyu-related etegami to encourage my friends who have to endure the rainy season. I started with a couple of etegami collages that recombine parts of previous etegami that may seem familiar to you.

Both the Japanese version and the English version quote a gently humorous haiku by Matsuo Basho: The crane's legs/have gotten shorter/in the spring rain (translated by Robert Hass). It's easy to imagine the cranes standing in the water, their long, skinny legs appearing shorter and shorter, as the level of the river, stream or lake rises higher and higher. The folded paper cranes, being legless, are kind of perfect for this haiku, don't you think?

Sunday, May 24, 2015

turnips are in season

I learned to appreciate turnips late in life. Like a lot of other things. Like puns.