Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Return to the Sugi Fortress

It bothers me that someone or some people took the time to make terraces up a large swatch of the mountain side. I just realized, however, the purpose of this somewhat odd creation. It was established as a large set of retaining walls for trees that would act to protect the homes down below in the even of heavy rain or other natural disasters. That is at least what I think. I'm pretty sure that when the next major earthquake happens the homes will slide right off the mountain sides. It worries me even more with the homes and things that are built over rivers on steel and concrete platforms. I doubt those were built to be earthquake safe. Bye bye buildings.

The Mat Grass Path

These grassy areas are peaceful. But you almost feel the long forgotten foot steps by those that once lived here. The warm sun and wind pressing gently on the stalks makes a rustling sound. In the background you can see a waterfall but there is no telling how the path might get there.

Speckled Leaf Pettles

A stop by some rocks.

Enter Sugi Fortress

Up into the prison blocks.

Moss Worms

Reaching into the sun for a little more on the warm day. I tread into shadows.

Out In Niyodo_8531

The shadows aren't cold this time. I'll see you again soon sun.


Why your staunch disapproval?

Fortress 水道

Were you wishing I left the fallen ones rest in peace?

Tear of Sap

I shouldn't give in to your sappy tears but a sappy joke is too hard to refuse.

Out In Niyodo_8536

"Oh you found us," it said.

One Easy Slip to Ruin My Day

But it wasn't all of them so through the thicket I climbed to find.

Tariyama Fall

"Now you really did it. Come back anytime you feel inclined."

The Usual Place

Oh the pleasure is all mine.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Stuck Inside

It was only by choice though. Weather was bland and disappointing this weekend so the next best option was to distract myself in the kitchen. I wanted to start printing this weekend but ran into some problems with that. The printer was broken at school and when I tried to use another one, the images were printed wrong on my transparencies. Plus, I need to go back and fix the artwork. The overlap wasn't lining up properly so the printing would have come out bad anyway. Annoying to say the least but another week of waiting isn't anything at this point. I'll do it right.

I woke up very late on Saturday and proceeded to prepare dough for English muffins. It all seemed easy enough. While that dough was proofing, I prepared dough for focaccia and French bread. I would use these two doughs on Sunday. The English muffin dough was too dry and I knew from the kneading point I had done it wrong. I thought it might be forgiving but nope. Pretty much a failure there and nothing else to say. I still ate the bread because it had a roll type taste and quality to it.

I made some garlic ginger chicken wings after the English muffin failure. These were so good. F for presentation here but A plus for taste!

Garlic Ginger Wings

Today saw much better success. I almost went out for a walk somewhere but the temptation of dough in my fridge was too much to resist. Being tempted by dough, who ever heard of such a thing? Anyway, the focaccia was looking pretty good. I don't think I've ever had before so I wasn't sure what it was really supposed to be like. When I was making the dough my scale went over the weight limit as I added water. I didn't know how much more to put and added too much. The dough was probably too hydrated. It was forgiving however. I let the dough chill in the fridge over the previous day and then brought it out to dechill for a few hours this morning. I ended up making two pans because I don't have a big enough oven or pan to handle the amount of dough that was present. The focaccia had a lot of oil in it. It also had a herb oil topping that was applied before baking. Just a mixture of whatever I had on hand. It tasted good.


I think it's supposed to more dense but this version was very soft. It's actually very good.

Foccacia Slice

I made two of these so I'll be having focaccia bread sandwiches all week. I froze the other entire pan of bread. This would also make an interesting pizza crust methinks.

Then I finished with what I had looked forward to the most, the French bread. I've read it's hard to make a great French bread. That didn't stop me. I wanted to bake some baguettes of eloquence. During the same time as the focaccia baking I prepared the dough for the French bread. It's straightforward and very simple. The overnight ferment enhances the flavor and makes it even better, supposedly. I think it's definitely true. It was around 8pm that I got the loaves finally scored and into the oven. After 20 minutes and a few rotations to get more even browning, my first loaves came out. Here is the whole happy lot of them.

French Breads

I had to make 4 because my stone is only 9 x 9 inches. Don't pay attention to the odd shaped one on the left. I was trying something new and didn't know what I was doing. Still looks beautiful, right?

French Crusts

Man, I love how these look. They came out looking just as I hoped they would. The taste was delicious too. The only gripe is that the inside was rather dense. I wanted some more holes. I think I need to work on my kneading technique because I don't think it was my handling of the dough or much else that I did wrong. Oh well, I'm still learning.

And I'm still eating far too many carbs. Yet, I'm a bread fiend. It surely can't be helped.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Raw Chicken, Corn Bread, and Hinges

Not necessarily in that order though.

I made corn bread tonight. It was good but my pan was too small and the bread was too thick. It didn't cook right. Kind of a failure. Still eatable and tasty. Oh well, I'm just following the cook book so I don't care about this recipe. On to other more important things!

I met up with some friends on Friday night for dinner. When one menu item was listed as chicken and kimchee I didn't quite expect what came out. It was thinly chopped RAW CHICKEN and kimchee. It was cold. I have seen raw chicken in Japan before but gladly passed on the opportunity. Perhaps it's the fear mongering back home that you can get sick easily from raw poultry and meat that gives me an uneasy feeling. It sure doesn't help when I know people can get parasites from raw food as well. It's also possible to eat raw horse meat in Japan and some think of that as a delicacy. But who doesn't think something is some great delicacy? Anyway, not one to waste food I slowly attacked the slimy cabbage blend. Every time I swallowed a bite I had fearful flashes in my mind of waking up the next day incapacitated with salmonella. Thankfully nothing happened to me. I was curious about the subject so I looked it up and found that Japan has far fewer salmonella cases compared to the U.S. And they are eating all kinds of raw things here. Just because I can doesn't mean I want to.

I found some cheap t-shirts on Saturday. I could probably find cheaper online but I didn't want to bother looking through Japanese webpages. Five bucks a piece isn't too terrible. Any higher and I wouldn't have bought. I also bought a hose, sprayer, and connectors to hook up to my bathroom sink. The shower head wasn't going to cut it for spraying out silk screen stencils so I knew I had to get a sprayer of some sort set up. After a bit of fumbling around with some plastic connectors I had hooked it all up and it worked great. The shirts and the spraying issue were the biggest things keeping me from moving forward with screen printing. Now that they have been rectified I can get the artwork prepared and be on my painfully frustrating and loving way of printing.

I wouldn't have gone forward with all of this if I hadn't planned out a suitable multicolor printing solution. I almost decided I was going to relegate myself to boring single color prints because it's ten times easier. But if you recall my previous post about the hinge and clamp system I came up with, you should know that I meant business. I got most of the printing supplies weeks ago now but was too scared to do anything with them, especially the silk screen itself. I was afraid that when I tried to screw the hinges on that I would split the wooden frame and destroy it. This subtle fear was enough to keep me away for awhile. I'm happy to say that today everything is looking top notch. I even put a video together for your viewing pleasure.

I've been meaning to take a picture of all the printing supplies and finally did it. It also includes the free table I picked up from a friend. Take a look at all my goods.

Screen Printing Supplies

From left to right we have the following. A halogen work lamp for exposing screens. The screen/hinge setup with a squeegee for printing. I have five kinds of ink including the primary colors, black, and white. A brush for cleaning and agitating screens during wash time. The spray bottle is for photo emulsion remover which is the liquid in the pink containers. The black trough is the scoop coater I fashioned out of cardboard and duct tap. The emulsion is poured in that and then coated on the screen. The emulsion is in the brown bottle. The OHP film is overhead transparency film for printing artwork on. The t-shirts don't need explaining now do they?

I almost have a whole system setup. This week I will coat my screen in emulsion and do some exposure testing. Then I will know how long to expose the screen for easiest stencil creation and spray out. If I can get the artwork printed out this week there is a good chance of printing next weekend. But if the past weeks have been any indication, it might take me awhile longer. No need to rush a time consuming venture. I pick too many hobbies that test my patience virtue. I guess I should be glad for that bit of character building though.

Let's printing!

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Carbohydrate Spike

A couple months ago some friends came over for lunch. They brought ice cream that is made here in the prefecture. It was kind of a let down because the consistency was like creamy sand. My friend assured me it must have been a bad batch of ice cream. She contacted the company and they said they would send free ice cream. So she gave them my address and on Friday afternoon I finally received the ice cream. It was a great surprise.

Ice Cream Surprise

I opened the box when I got home. It looked beautiful. To this point I have eaten the egg, roasted potato, and green tea flavors. After eating the green tea ice cream I realized I don't care much for these odd flavors of ice cream. I would prefer something clean, rich, and refreshing. The remaining flavors are milk, baked egg plant, and pumpkin. I think the milk and pumpkin will be good but I'm not optimistic for the egg plant. I tried it before when the consistency was bad and I think I won't like it again. I would rather have fruit or baked good infused ice cream. Who really wants to eat egg plant ice cream? Come on, just go eat some real egg plant. Same could be said for potato ice cream. What were they thinking when they made these?

On Saturday I met some friends in the city and went around to a few different places. The first stop was an organic market. Many local vendors were selling products, especially food and drink items. My friend's older sister had a stand and was selling mini pizzas. These were really great. I envy anyone with a gas oven. The only way to make an excellent pizza is with the right oven. After the market we went to a stationery shop. Paper is cool, I guess. Then we went to an exhibit of a Japanese illustrator and author. The artwork was interesting. I liked his large high contrast paintings the best. Taking pictures wasn't allowed but that sure didn't stop this person. And I thought Japanese people were so responsible! Gasp.

We took a short walk around the castle grounds and then drove to a soft serve ice cream shop. They make their own ice cream with the milk from the cows they have. The plain ice cream has a very deep milk flavor that is superb. I doubt any vanilla was in the ice cream. It was top notch soft serve in my opinion. I just hope they haven't fooled me to think they aren't using cartons of premade formula. The place was called Deer Land Park but there weren't any deer. I guess Cow Land Park would sound pretty lame, right?

Today I decided to tidy up a bit and proceeded with the next bread in my book, cinnamon raisin walnut bread. The recipe was simple and it was easy to make the dough. I didn't have very many raisins so I used what I had left and substituted cranberries. I could have eaten just the berries so I had to slap myself on the wrist before they were kneaded into the dough. There was about 3 1/2 hours of proofing time on this bread. That seems to be typical though. It's usually about 2 hours for the first rise and then 1 hour to 1 1/2 hours for the second rise. This is where the process takes the most time. After I the first rise I then shaped the dough into loaves. I added a cinnamon sugar layer for a swirl in the final baked loaves.

After about 35 minutes of baking my humble loaves popped out of the oven.

Cinnamon Raisin Cranberry Walnut Bread

Looking good.

Cinnamon Raisin Cranberry Walnut Bread 2

Ah there we go. The swirl of cinnamon sugar in the middle is a nice bonus. The bread texture and taste is amazing. I ate half the first loaf, probably because I didn't really eat dinner but who cares! This is a really straightforward bread with great qualities. I get a great feeling of euphoria from a successful loaf of bread. In our fast paced society bread baking or baking in general helps you take a step back. Well, I'm already back a few levels more than the average person anyway. I've completed 9 types of bread with my book so far and it's all been a great journey. I'm really infected with the baking virus. I think I have been carrying it since I was young. I was fascinated by the Richard Scarry books for many reasons. One of my favorite illustrations was a bakery. There was a giant trough that was being used for making dough. Huckle or some cat creature was pulling loves from the ovens. Able Baker Charlie accidentally added too much yeast to the batch he was mixing in the trough and it got so big when it was baking that the oven exploded. It looked so nice to mix dough and bake. I'm sure I've thought that ever since because of those images. Who knows where a loaf of bread might carry me next.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Measured In Sugar

I failed to do much of anything except finally make the next thing in my bread baking book, cinnamon rolls! The only thing I haven't made so far is the brioche. I really wanted the right pan for making that instead of baking it in a regular loaf. It might not even be appropriate to do the latter. I'll get back around to it eventually.

I lazed around all morning until I finally got myself off my rump in the afternoon to start the dough for the cinnamon rolls. There are probably a billion different recipes for cinnamon rolls out there. I almost tried making them before my bread book. Not sure what prevented me from doing so. Might have been the long list of engagements and events in my planner, yeah right.

The recipe called for the sugar and butter to be creamed. Because my house is kind of cold the logic to let the butter reach room temperature would not work. I softened it fairly well in the microwave but it still was a bit tricky to work into the sugar. When I whisked in a cold egg the mixture became a clumpy creamy mess. I try not to worry much because the kneading helps work most things in. But if there are butter clumps, those might stay. One interesting ingredient was the addition of lemon extract or lemon zest. I was half tempted to leave it out but after kneading the dough for about 15 minutes, sometimes I work up a sweat, the smell was wonderful. The lemon oils gave the dough a unique smell. I knew it would be simply good from that.

So the dough is supposed to be about 77 degrees after kneading but my kitchen is too cold and my ingredients a tad cold too. I just had to pray that the warm living room would kick the yeast into gear. It kind of doubled by 2 hours later but probably would have done better if the dough was warmer after kneading. I then rolled it out into a rectangle and spread about 1/2 cup of cinnamon sugar on the dough. This was rolled into a log and then sliced. I would make a nicer rectangle next time so the ends aren't so malformed. Then they sat for another 1 1/2 hours to rise some more. Here they are before baking.

Cinnamon Rolls Prebake 2

They looked tasty already. Supposedly they were supposed to double in size but I couldn't tell if they had gotten that far. I figured there would be considerably oven spring once they hit the hot air. I was right about that.

Cinnamon Rolls Baked 2

I was so excited to pull them from the oven. I stared at them for awhile admiring the swirls and colors. I was lost in the sweet folds of golden brown bread. The smells of cinnamon and sugar wafting to my nose. Just your typical euphoria that comes with baking delicious wonders. After cooling for 10 minutes I glazed the rolls. This is where they look amazing and you wish you could eat one for yourself.

Glazed Cinnamon Rolls

Are you okay still?

Glazed Cinnamon Rolls 2

Okay probably not anymore. I ate two of the small ones for testing purposes and were great. I took two rolls over to the vice principal's house. I think they appreciate my treats. They gave me a bunch of little snacks in return. It seemed like obligation but I think they just had extra and wanted to repay the favor. They said we should have dinner again sometime soon. It might not be incorrect to say I sometimes have ulterior motives. Occasionally you have to bribe people in life, right? Oh it's just a joke, well kind of, I think.

Breakfast is waiting for me tomorrow. All of those sweet delicious cinnamon rolls.

BBQ'n Blaine But Not Literally Me

It was such a beautiful day yesterday. I almost put aside my ambitions of smoking the pork leg and shoulder but decided that none of the nature I love is going anywhere anytime soon. I'm glad that I went shopping on Friday night and didn't waste my time yesterday. It's more peaceful shopping at night anyway. Plus, I scored two bags of rye bread for half price. It's much better than the typical Japanese white bread. With the J-bread I feel like I'm eating dough conditioners more than bread. But that makes it good for french toast.

I originally planned to do just the pork shoulder. I then decided to do both the leg and shoulder I had stuffed in my freezer a couple weeks back. More leftovers for the trouble of it all. That makes it sound like a bad thing. I assure you it's not. It's just time consuming and in the end you want something to show for it. Also I didn't eat breakfast or lunch so I was hungry. A little shoulder of meat wasn't going to tide me over.

I hit a few small problems in the course of making the dry rub and BBQ sauce. I knew I had garlic and paprika but I didn't check how much before I went shopping. When I started to make the dry rub I was heavily short of paprika and garlic. A complete and silly oversight on my part. This seems to happen quite often when I go shopping, even if I make a list. Always something I wished I had picked up. I also forgot mustard powder. For the strangest reason I believed deep inside I had some at home. This proved to be false even though it was the second time I thought the same thing. I had looked at mustard powder in the store and told myself I could find it at home. So not true. Anyway, I left out certain amounts of ingredients in both the rub and sauce. The positive to this was that both were still very good.

Previously I had setup the grill on top of some cork board to act as a table outside. This was clearly not going to work a second time as the board started to stretch and crack under the weight. I played around with some stools and tried to position them to hold the three legs of my cooker. It just wasn't any good. I then noticed a metal shelf in the kitchen that I kept my toaster oven on, below my table. It looked perfect. It was perfect.

Grill Setup

This time I managed to control the temperature much better than last time. Last time it got way too hot and the meat didn't cook slow enough. I knew this time might be more tricky with two pieces so I tried to take it as slow as possible. I'm using wood chips so I have to add them more often to get smoke in the first 2 hours of cooking. I added these every 15 minutes. In hindsight that lead to a couple problems. In the smoking period the grill didn't retain enough heat to bring the meat far enough along. Opening the lid to add chips every 30 minutes would be better. It's hard to control the temp on the little grill I have but I make do. I smoked for about 2 hours and after that I cooked for another 3 hours perhaps. Close to 5 hours in and the meat temperature was still only like 177 degrees. According to smoking information 190 is the point where one should check to see if the meat is done. At that point the collagen and fat in the meat should be broken down which makes the pork so easy to pull apart.

I was so tired of waiting I sacrificed the meat being tougher than I would have liked to just eat. It was close to 9pm and if you remember I had been starved all day. Another potential hour of cook time wasn't going to make me happy. I knew I wouldn't regret whatever I did. I was hungry enough to eat anything. Upfront is the pork shoulder.

Pork Shoulder

Here is the pork leg.

Pork Leg

You can't really tell me that looks unappetizing! I love how that bark forms on the meat. It really needed more time but I'll do it even better next time. It was a tad tricky to actually pull the meat apart, much like I assumed. Oh well, as I was pulling the meat liberally with two forks I couldn't stop myself from eating a fair amount before I ever sat down. I made a coleslaw and french fries to go with the meat. I almost forgot about these because I was so enamored by the meat. The mustard based BBQ sauce was incredibly good. I might be a permanent convert to the mustard vinegar side. This is probably the type they serve at 17th Street.

Pulled Pork Mustard BBQ

The pork leg ended up being more dry than the pork shoulder. The smoke flavor in both was subtle and tasty. I could do more smoke next time in the 2 hour smoking period. Overall both were good in their own respects. I would like to try a pork shoulder again and get it cooked to the proper temperature for meat that just falls apart with a light touch. That is my ideal goal. I'm going to take a break from BBQ for awhile until it warms up more. I think good things will come in the future. And maybe a fat Blaine.

Pulled Pork Mustard BBQ 2

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Hello February

Someone asked me what the pronunciation of February was and I started to become unsure of how it's actually said. I think I drop the 'r' but I don't know if that is right. I had to go check and see what the great scholarly community of the internet had to say about the issue. It seems that some believe it to be more appropriate to include the 'r' after the 'b'. Others said that not pronouncing the 'r' sound was fine. I suppose I'll tell people from now on that they can pronounce it however they like until someone tries to correct them. It's similar to the whole often debate. I noticed that I was inclined to pronounce the t so I did a double check of the pronunciation. Either is fine. While there are specific elements of the English language that we generally agree on, there are countless variations in vocabulary and usage. That is merely its historical past. So before we begin to gripe about what way is correct and which is wrong, we better take an English sedative.

I'm thinking about trying to do some phonics activities with students. It is brutally painful to try to get students to learn pronunciation by reading and memorizing. They would improve their reading considerably if they had some practice with letter and word patterns. Phonics might help them more than anything. I'm thinking of introducing phonics with the elementary students this year. I will wait till April when the new semester starts and the fifth graders move to sixth grade. I would like to see how well they would do by the time they enter middle school. I would like to practice with the incoming sixth graders as well.

My Japanese writing practice is progressing very slowly. However, it's been highly satisfying to master specific characters repeatedly. Many of them I should already know from my past studies but not writing them makes one forget quickly. According to the stats in the program I use to help me methodically go through kanji vocabulary I know roughly 430 characters. I'm not sure how many words and combinations that comes to in total though. I can feel that I'm making progress and even if I have a long way to go, I don't mind the task. It's rewarding every time I can write the specific strokes to characters. It's fun writing words like drunk driving (飲酒運転). It's even more fun to write washing machine (洗濯機).

I'm thinking of what to make this weekend. The cinnamon rolls need to be made as soon as possible. They are burning a whole in my memory banks. I just want to proceed on but I manage to find a number of excuses. I would like to smoke the piece of pork shoulder I bought a few weeks back. I might do that on Saturday if the weather is going to turn sour on me. Making pizza also sounds good. Oh the problems I face. I'm still trying to get started with screen printing. I need shirts to print on and I need to get the artwork printed on transparencies which I'm dragging my heels into the ground like a wagon making ruts in the muddy soil. I have that giant Illinois map with all the cool facts on it and noticed that the word prairie comes from French. I'm not surprised but I like how English so freely borrows.

The vice principal asked if my house was on fire Tuesday morning. She saw smoke billowing out when she was on her way to work. I'm glad she noticed but the more worrying fact is that she just kept going...