29 December, 2011

Paper Cranes for Japan

I've just come back from a visit to Japan via a blog written by Annie Donwerth Chikamatsu, who writes children's books as well as the wonderful Here and There Japan.  Though she says her blog is aimed at children, I have found it to be the best place to visit to quell the homesickness for Japan that regularly rises with the passing of the seasons and the coming of the special days celebrated there but that pass here in Canada unmarked, and among the people of my acquaintance, unmourned.  Possibly only people who have lived there feel this.

Ms. Chikamatsu keeps most of her posts short and to the point, supported with an evocative photograph or two, that could only have been taken in the Japan that I know and love. To read her is to sink into the Japanese countryside, like entering a warm bath, and as I soak up the words, the feeling grows that if I were to look out my window right now I would be able to see the brown houses and the ceramic roofs, the narrow alleys, the shops decorated gaily for the season, and smell the freshly roasted coffee in my corner coffee shop, or the tang of soy and sugar and vinegar of the obento shop as they prepare all the holiday favourites.

The post I want to reference, before I lead myself too far down memory lane, is the one called In Memoriam, in which she talks about the loss of friends in the Indian Ocean tsunami and the fund raising effort for The East Japanese Earthquake by Students Rebuild.  Students around the world folded 2,000,000 cranes to raise money.  And they inspired a poster by the artist, Vik Muniz, currently being sold here to boost the relief effort.

Here in Halifax, students were at our local farmer's market soon after the Earthquake and tsunami folding cranes and accepting donations. Those donations were being matched by local banks.

There was a huge crowd around the booth wanting to talk and offer support both in words and with donations. I'm not sure if this fund-raiser was part of Students Rebuild but it was certainly the same idea, and I think this is a great time, with the New Year approaching, to remind ourselves that Japan can still use our well-wishing and whatever we can give.

Note: All photos courtesy and copyright of R. J. O. 2011

16 December, 2011

Every Fruitcake Has a Paper Lining

This past week I made our family's traditional fruitcake, Nannie's Darkest Fruitcake, that I've posted the recipe for the last few years and put prominently at the top of the recipe picture list, in case any of you are so inspired. For the first time in awhile I made a double batch, enough for two large round cakes. I baked them up in springform pans with parchment or greased brown paper in the bottom.

The lining is a hint from my mother for us young'uns what have forgotten about greased brown paper to line pans. It works wonderfully.  Just remember to grease under as well as on the paper to make sure it will stay in place and be easy to remove. With springform pans there's no need to worry about papering the sides, just a good greasing will be fine.

It was a multiple day job, as I candy my own fruit peels and pineapple. And each of those takes awhile to cut, and simmer (3-5 times) then bathe in syrup, and dry, before rolling in powdered sugar. And then there's the dicing them up in small chunks flouring as you go, so nothing sticks -- too much --  together. The cutting and weighing alone took me two hours.

This year I made the cakes with  non-dairy "butter", original flavour Earth Balance margarine.  I know many of you are vegan or dairy intolerant, so if you want to try that, it works pretty well. The fruitcake texture is very moist and just a bit crumbly, so that you might need to cut it in larger pieces and lift it with a cake lifter. You won't be getting dainty thin slices, but as good as the taste is, I don't think it will be too much of a hardship. I bathed the cake this year in a rum/leftover pineapple heavy syrup mixture and have to say I prefer it to the liquor alone. Other small changes were using the juice of one tangerine and one lime along with the two lemons. I also used walnuts this year. All changes worked out well.

I made the double batch this year because I wanted enough to give as presents to the family. Since Nannie is gone and her daughters are all getting past the baking age, especially for pounds of fruit to cut and heft-around cake, I'm the last in the family, as far as I know, to make it. As inheritor of the fruitcake trust, I don't want to drop the ball. Even though, with taking care of Mom and all the kitchen duty I do every day, my cooking inspiration muses are sometimes out to lunch.

Well, it's all over now except the best part, and that's the eating. The fruitcakes are now snuggled in their wrapping beds improving their flavour and soon, soon, in a week or two, we all shall have sugarplums.

Merry Christmas and Happy Fruitcake to us, every one!

09 December, 2011

Gift Yourself with Fuel

Give yourself the gift of a great movie, free now on youtube.  Fuel  proposes the energy solutions we need right now.  I just finished watching it -- you should too.

My favourite quote from the film is, "When the people lead, the leaders will follow." - Gandhi

08 December, 2011

December Morning

The weather has been strangely mild this week, raising fogs that soften morning views of the cove. We may have snow for Christmas, or we may not. But fog or snow, there will be beauty here in the place of my ancestors.