Monday, September 26, 2011


Mugwort rice cake/ 草もち

DSC_1366At the ridge of a rice field, there are lots of mugwort (よもぎ) grass growing and my friend would pick them and take them home. The next day, she shared mugwort rice cake with me which her mother had made. I was totally jealous of her. How marvelous is it that weed-like plants transform into a deliciously sweet confection? I decided I want more! I plucked plenty of mugwart to take home to my mother but she dismissed me with just one glance at grass then told me that was a mugwort look-alike and not the real thing. This stuff will make you sick, she added. You’re joking, right? It was just like the ones that my friend picked a few days earlier though? I felt defeated, how can you argue with an adult who seems to know everything?  Not only I got the wrong grass but it was poisonous. That was a frightening thought to a young child. 

My grandmother on rare occasions took me to a woody hill side to pick some ostrich fern called zenmai. I don’t really like them but I loved to spend time with her. I didn’t put any effort at all into finding wild edible ferns because I already knew I suck at it, so, while she looked for them I played hard at exploring nature, digging, discovering and destroying things. She called me when her small bucket was full. Me and my clothes were all dirty from head to toe.

That was long ago in spring. Both my grandmother and mother have passed away now. I already forgave my mother for lying. That was real mugwort. She was bombarded with tasks and had to deny my request. Back in that era, you had to make everything from scratch. She simply did not have time to spoil me. Although she could have said she would make it later or some other time but that was not her style. She didn’t have “round about” in her wording. It’s OK mom, nobody’s perfect. Not even me.

Ingredients-Make about 12 rice cakes

  • 300g of Sweet Azuki bean paste. comes in can or refrigerated pouch (this is less expensive)DSC_1332
  • 3g of dry powdered mugwort grass available in flour section of Japanese market DSC_1329
  • 1 tablespoon of water
  • 200g of rice flour, I recommend Joshinko  available in flour section of Japanese marketDSC_1334
  • 160ml of warm water
  • 40g of ultra fine baker’s sugar
  1. Make balls with azuki bean paste-about 20g each. Set aside.DSC_1336
  2. In a medium bowl, sift mugwart with coarse sifter then add the 1 tablespoon of water. Set aside.DSC_1337
  3. In a large bowl, put Joshinko and add warm water little by little while you knead; about 5 minutes.
  4. Lay a clean dish towel on the steamer. Tear the dough into small pieces with your hands then put all on the top of towel. Loosely wrap the dough with the dishcloth. Cover and steam for 30 minutes.DSC_1341DSC_1344DSC_1345
  5. After you finish the steaming, grab the end of towel to transport dough to a bowl. Cool for a minute or so then start kneading while dough is still warm. You need lots of strength to do this task.DSC_1347
  6. Wet your hands once in a while to knead the dough. Add sugar 1/3 at a time.
  7. When sugar and dough are completely combined, start adding mugwort powder a little at a time. Add more water if the dough is too stiff or dry. It should feel about the same as your earlobe doesDSC_1353
  8. Roll about 30g of dough to1/8 inch thickness then cut out with round 3-1/2 inch cookie cutter (I used a glass).
  9. In the middle of round dough, put 1 azuki ball. Fold in half. Cover with plastic wrap or moist dish towel to prevent drying out while you make the rest of rice cakes.DSC_1357


My husband and my son traveled to Tokyo Kobe,Osaka, Ise, Nagoya and Kyoto after finishing volunteer work. They ate plenty and they were fed well and they visited many konbini, bakery and of course Mr. Donuts which is my son’s favorite sweet shop.!


My neighbor brought flowers from her garden to my husband on his birthday. She even sang Happy Birthday to him. She is awesome!


Monday, September 19, 2011

Off the beat on Summer

Japanese pumpkin curry/かぼちゃのカレー

DSC_1175My husband and my son had almost forgotten Japan’s terribly hot and humid summers. My husband declared that next time he goes to Japan is either Spring or Fall. I have no problem with that. I think we should avoid the rainy season (May to early July) and the typhoon season (September to October) also. Winter is no good either, many sweaters and coats take up all the space in the suitcase and I like to travel light. I don’t think we can afford to go there around New Year’s Day either. Because the tradition in Japan is that adults hand out New Year’s money called otoshidama (お年玉) to children. Although, my son still expects to get some money on New year’s Day. March or April are inconvenient time for some relatives. That’s when school is ending , Spring breaks, new school year start or new hire, shinnyushain  (新入社員-hired fresh out of collage or high school. This differs from a person who is changing jobs) start working or training so they are too busy and no time for visitors. You must also watch out for renkyu ( 連休)which are holiday connected to Saturday & Sunday to form long weekend usually 4 or 5 days. Especially people with car driving all directions for a mini-vacation. Was it last May? There were major traffic jams at freeways that people were stuck there for 10 hours? I may be exaggerating but it could get difficult to find good hotels and inns around renkyu. I always check with Japanese calendar to see which dates to avoid.

Anyway, Here in Oregon we are having a cool Summer and that is not so cool! Asian pears are dropping before they are fully ripe. Many poor performing vegetables such as edamame looked shabby I yanked the out last Saturday to put them out their (my) misery. While my husband was away at the office I harvested a Japanese pumpkin against his warning that it’s not ready. How he knows? Can you tell by looking? Just because he grew up in farm and worked in field from young age? … Oops, he was right. The skin was so hard I had to cook in the oven first to able to cut it. The taste is still juvenile though I can’t glue it back together therefore I must use it. At the dinner table, he question me about the source of the pumpkin. Then I mumbled something like ‘Ahh, you know close, near by,,, back,,, Would you like some more?’


  • Japanese pumpkin Kabocha-I used 1/3rd of a 7 inch diameter pumpkin. Wash well and put in a glass casserole dish and bake whole in the oven for 20-25 minutes at 400 degrees. Kabocha should still be fairly firm. Seed and slice into wedges.*DSC_1171
  • 1 tablespoon of oil
  • 1 box of curry rue block pasteDSC_1196
  • 1/2 pound of ground beef
  • 1/2 pound of ground pork
  • Shelled edamame- available in frozen section of Asian market
  • 2 ears of yellow corn, remove kernel off the cob DSC_1146DSC_1155
    I like this gadget from Kitchen Kaboodle to take the kernels off
  • Sliced almonds lightly toasted about 1/3 cup
  • Cooked rice
  1. Heat oil in a large skillet at medium high heat.
  2. Brake up curry paste and all meats in skillet; sauté to brown.
  3. Pour in 1000 ml of water and bring to a boil.
  4. Discard foam that comes up on the top using a spoon. Lower heat to lowest.
  5. Add kabocha and corn. Cover and cook about 30 minutes.
  6. Add edamame and cook 2,3 minutes more. Add more water if it’s too thick.
  7. Serve with cooked rice. Sprinkle almonds and minced parsley (optional). DSC_1181 

* Left over pumpkin may last a couple days- Good for pumpkin pie or whatever.

My husband and my son are grateful for the opportunity to play a small part in the recovery effort in Japan. They and other volunteers cleaned up places that were devastated by tsunami. Though it was such eerie feeling to see cars perched in the middle of rice field, they had sense of peace and triumph when they saw a lone tree was still standing when everything else was washed away. Someone started calling it  ‘A tree of hope’  What a powerful message it rendered. The day of the trip, friends come by and left us a cash donation for the cause. I tally up the amount that I earned at a garage sale and wrote a check to trusted large organization. We are so thankful for friends generosity and 20 some years of faithful friendship.P1020009

Come to think of it, actually any time is good time to go to Japan. There is an abundance of delicious foods available through out the year. Romantic cherry blossoms in spring.  Kyoto’s fall  leaves are gorgeous to see. You may be awed by artistic snow sculpture at Sapporo Snow Festival in February or dip in beautiful warm ocean in Okinawa (which unfortunately we weren’t able to do).  Except Summer, you should try hot springs. My husband ‘s favorite is Yufuin, Oita. I have many other suggestions. I can also reserve accommodations for you. Better yet,why not take me with you as a personal tour guide? I can speak Japanese. Naturally.

Kegan’s Mission President and wife


This used to be a baseball stadium

There were still mountains of rubble to be dealt with

It was a very nice Inn but 2 hours bus ride away

It left part of the bridge

This used to be a building…Can you see what’s left of the stairs?

Bento time!

Kurk and Kegan after a hard day’s work

Mormon Helping Hands My guys are in the back.