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The One Burner Cookbook: Epilogue

February 27, 2008 in Oishii, spazarific

Don’t assume I’m not excited about the move to Kankokumura just because I haven’t written about it much – I’ll have you know that I’m thrilled, thank you very much. I’m telling everyone I meet, from confused students to fellow partygoers to the members of the absolutely delightful book discussion group I joined this week. Yep, just about everyone and their Mama-san knows I’m super psyched about the move, and now you do, too. What’s not to be ecstatic about, after all – a brand new thick-walled apartment more than twice the size of my current one at perhaps half the cost?

Well, there’s the move itself, I suppose. It all goes down this Friday and the preparations are underway, more or less. I’m demolding the rubber grout in my bathcubicle, filling bags of garbage daily, weighing the moving options – Kuro Neko or overpriced cabs? – completing the steps of the Carnitas-begun movement to get my internet connection moved to the new place, and culling heaps of ripped and unsuitable clothing to donate. Of course, there’s also the food – the squirrel hoards of canned and packaged goods I’ve bought and forgotten in my makeshift pantry over the year. This, I say, is a job for The One Burner Cookbook, and so shall serve as a tidy little epilogue to the one burner cooking madness. Amid suitcases stuffed to the gills, I sift through my packets and cans and rack my plumb-tired little brain for the Last Hurrah.

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That is a cup of sake in the front, with the pink label, fresh several months ago, from the 100 yen store, in case you wondered.

Bechamel, Asparagus and Prosciutto Tortellini

1 package of Bertolli cheese tortellini, gifts from an August care package, never eaten due to the erstwhile gluten-and-dairy-free diet

1 carton of milk

several stalks of asparagus, cut into bite-sized chunks

1 package of 100 yen store prosciutto, or ‘raw ham’

1 pat of butter

several heaping teaspoons of rice flour, leftover from the gluten-and-dairy-free diet

salt and pepper to taste

Cook tortellini in salted water until tender; drain, dump into a bowl and transfer said bowl to the microwave, where it shall lie in wait. In another pan, on the one burner, melt a pat of butter while cutting asparagus and ham directly into melted butter with kitchen scissors; gently sautee asparagus and ham until cooked. Begin to add spoonfuls of rice flour and dollops of milk, heating and stirring until desired consistency is achieved. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Pour over the until-this-moment dormant tortellini. Mix gently. Serve alone or with extra grated parmesan cheese, pepper and basil from your friendly windowsill basil plant.

Vegetable Dregs Curry

1 tablespoon of canola oil

1 package of 100 yen curry roux

Several stalks of asparagus

Half a carton of 100 yen mushrooms

1 package of 100 yen potato and carrot curry mix

Half a leftover onion

1 package of 100 yen frozen green beans

2 packets of 100 yen brown rice

Refer to the Original 100 yen Curry recipe, only substitute scrap, leftover vegetables for the meat.

Pasta e Fagioli

3 cans of cannelini beans

1 clove garlic

Half of an onion, diced

1 carrot, diced

1 tomato

1 package of ditalini pasta

1 tablespoon of olive oil

1 package of 100 yen spinach

Salt and pepper

Grated parmesan cheese

Heat a tablespoon of olive oil in a pot much bigger than the one in Liv’s kitchen. Brown a whole, unpressed, unmashed clove of garlic – discard. Add diced onions and carrots. Sautee, while mashing two cans of cannelini beans in a bowl far too small for the task. Add bean mush to the sauteed onions and carrots, as well as two cups of water. Also add the remaining can of whole, unmashed beans. Stir. Slice a tomato into strips and add to the pot, as well as the spinach. Bemoan the fact that your spinach is not escarole and that you have never been able to find canned chicken broth, with which your soup might be much tastier. Bring it all to a boil anyway, adding salt and pepper to taste. Allow to simmer for about 30-45 minutes. Add pasta to the soup and allow to cook. Serve hot, with sprinklings of grated parmesan cheese and pepper. Make enough to save – this soup is always better in the following days.

Wait. A can opener says what?

Sauteed Onion and Carrot Dinner

A tablespoon of olive oil

1 carrot, diced

Half an onion, diced

Heat olive oil in a pan, adding diced onions and carrots when the oil is hot enough. Sautee. Realize you’ve got no can opener and that your delightful plans of using up cans of cannelini beans to make a gorgeous bean soup on a blustery winter night are trash. Witness the carrots and onions beginning to burn. Take pity. Eat with your wooden spoon.

Just about packed now.

People

February 24, 2008 in Japanese Mix, Oishii

This weekend, there were people everywhere – at a housewarming party for co-workers, and at an absolutely wonderful book discussion group I had the pleasure of joining this weekend. For someone who usually only sees her students, Japanese teacher, random strangers and her funny Irish neighbor – with smatterings of a fellow New Yorker, a delightful Englishman and a peaceful Japanese dude – this has been a head-spinning two days. New names. New faces. New accents. New stories. New e-mail addresses. New parts of town visited – the lake in Juchai is lovely, glittering in the moonlight, mere steps away from a co-worker’s new place; massive by Japanese standards, carpeted in a lush red, paneled with wood, and decorated with Buddhas, courtesy of the landlord, who did not even ask for her new tenants’ phone numbers before she agreed to let them move in. There was new information, too – did I know, for example, that the writers’ circles I thought were long defunct in Osaka are still thriving, welcome new members and will meet again in April? Did I happen to think that there was too much bad, awkward sex in Everything is Illuminated? Did I mind speaking a bit of Spanish to help classify my accent? Did I have any suggestions for books to read next month? Was I interested in joining group members in attending salsa parties later on in the month? Further, did I judge other members for having packets of phone company promotional tissue packets? Certainly not, since they came in handy when I needed to mop up my spilled lemonade. Besides, anyone living in Japan knows that you must always accept the packets of tissues crammed with advertisements from the hawkers on the street; they are [free] saviors for when you are caught in a public bathroom, confronted with a dreaded, dirt-encrusted squatter and an empty ring of toilet paper. I accepted business cards with the somber earnestness my time in Japan has taught me to employ, though the cards came from Europeans. Next month’s book: Out, by Kirino Natsuo – a detective thriller about a bento factory employee turned murderess. Fits in nicely with my recent obsession with bentos, which I stonily ignored for my first year here. Now I take great pleasure in scouring conbinis for the most tantalizing neatly-packed boxes of food combinations, militaristic in their approach to miniature, easily portable lunch. Thursday saw me enjoying a bento box of pickled plum-and-shaved-salmon-sprinkled rice, fried chicken, a slab of unidentified but tasty fish, a teriyaki sauce-smothered meatball, and a mini cupcake-holder’s worth of seaweed salad. I savored it while sitting in seiza, as I often find myself doing lately for no reason at all. I don’t know; it somehow feels right. I tuck my calves under my knees and arrange myself in a chair, huddled in the 5×5 cubicle that passes for a teachers’ lounge. Japanese staff members squeeze past me to punch in or out and giggle.

“Ribu san,” they say. “You are in seiza!”

I know I’m in seiza. I just don’t know why I am.

Yes, I Do Want Mo’ Scrubs

February 20, 2008 in Japanese Mix, My Funny Irish Friend, spazarific

TV Links, that most exalted haven for ex pats suffering from TV and movie withdrawal, is back and even better than before – easier to navigate with far less dead links. I have now seen – and loved – “Juno.” I have finally seen the one missing episode of Father Ted - cruelly snatched away when TV Links went under last summer. I might be watching even more movies from back home if Sean and I weren’t in the midst of a marvelous Scrubs marathon.

Oh, Scrubs. As an intern at TV Guide, I was touched by it long before it first aired when publicists sent me the pilot to be reviewed for 2000′s Fall Preview. I soon lost the tape to the fact checkers, who I could hear hooting and cackling at the bumbling interns’ antics over the thin plywood separating their department from mine. I vowed this hysteria-inducing tape would be mine and, finally, I managed to wrest it away from them. Like my co-workers, I adored it and kept up with it as best as I could through school work and, after graduation, a TV trivia-writing night job that made me eerily intimate with television shows I could no longer watch due to my schedule. I found few things as comforting as a classic Scrubs episode, one of the only TV shows that could inspire me to howl with true, uncontrollable laughter and then, moments later, snuggle cozily in the hug of whichever glorious song the soundtrack featured that week. As my last job came to an end, my snarling disquietude knew no bounds … until I discovered that episodes of Scrubs were available on YouTube. Each night at my desk, I greeted my co-workers, accepted my workload for the evening and then, slipping on a pair of headphones, cocooned myself in J.D’s inner monologue, my feet tapping to the smooth sounds of Ted’s barbershop quartet. Soon, the sounds of my laughter replaced my ordinary frustrated rants. I am sure my fellow co-workers were as grateful for the Scrubs love as I was.

Sean and I now watch at least 4 episodes per night, the perfect way to unwind from long, flustered commutes and classes of shrieking kancho-happy savages. In fact, we watch so much Scrubs that I think we’re both beginning to show signs of Scrubs infiltration in the brain. I recognize my life in the stories. I can feel Sean tingle each time Dr. Cox delivers yet another huffing rant. I can also now see Elliott’s spastics and Carla-from-tha-block’s slap downs in my own monologues.

“If you send me yet another Facebook Scrabulous nudge,” I warn Sean. “let me tell you what’s gonna happen. Not only will I beat your pathetic letter-hoarding Irish butt so fast that your head will spin, but then … uh … [enter Elliott] I won’t talk to you for a week!”

“You need to take your go.” he retorts. “It’s been a bloody week already!”

Well, at least one of us is living, sleeping and talking Scrubs.

At school, inspired by an episode in Season 3, I hold my hands above my young students’ heads and pretend to work their arms like a puppeteer. I envision delivering Cox-style rants to my brattier students who, of course, would understand nothing and would only be confused if I called them all names ending in “ko” – one of the most popular suffixes for girls’ names in Japan. Nonetheless, I dream … and look forward each evening to catching more of my favorite TV show; a comfort of home in the comfort of my own Japanese home.

In my inbox today, a Paypal payment for some freelance steno work I did, confirmation of my enrollment in an online writers’ workshop and an e-mail, regarding the Creative Copywriter position in Osaka I applied for last week:

Dear Mr. Ibarguren,
Thank you for your apply and sorry for my late reply.
Our main client is ____ and we are producing promotion tool for the global market. The work will be freelance basis and will occur irregularly. We will contact you when a work come up.
Sincerely,
H ___

Oh, it’s gun ta be a greeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeet day!

This Pigeon Ate His …?

February 19, 2008 in Uncategorized

The large number of people who find my blog by googling things like “clean and eat pigeon,” “how to eat pigeon,” “pigeon recipes” and the like is disturbing, but worse, still, is what they’d have to google in order to find this post.

There, outside my beloved neighborhood 99 yen store, high up in the shopping arcade rafters … is it a plane? Is it Supaman-san? No … it’s big, fat, stupid pigeon.

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And he has a severe case of Vengeful Diarrhea

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He’s been up there for days, refusing to show his face, raining pigeon sludge on the sidewalk as he sees fit. I suppose the many denizens of Osaka who walk or ride on this path every day could join forces and throw pebbles at the roosting menace, or maybe all ring our bicycle bells at the same time so he’d fall and then I – the heroine – would scoop him up to shake his dirty pigeon neck and shout, “See what you’ve done!” He’d repent. I could enter the 99 shop to buy my cans of tuna and sticks of soba noodles without fear of being bird bombed.

But he’s a pigeon. There is no reasoning.

So pigeons do belong in pie, after all.

The Prom Dress

February 17, 2008 in Holidays, The Children

I suppose it’s no secret by now that I don’t deem my students as “good” or “bad” based on their performance in class but on, of course, how much they give me. Specifically, edible things, which are all I really care about in life. In class, Ken is a hyper pain in the neck but has, at times, offered me hard candies and soggy French fries from his oily McDonald’s carton. Thus: good student. Last week, Valentine’s Week, he enlisted his his tiny sister with the giant eyeglasses to waddle up to me and hand me an entire bar of Dars chocolate. Fantastic student.

There are others; peach Kit Kats from Yuki, pineapple hard candy from Aoi, a cellophane packet of squashed, yet delicious, chocolate truffles from Meg and, most electrifyingly, three mini packages of Teddy Grahams from Brad, one of my adult students whose son lives in Wisconsin and often sends her loads of American sweets that she simply can’t eat all by herself. Yes, Brad is a woman.

I gave candy, too – in Japan, Valentine’s Day is primarily a holiday designed to fatten the male, not the woman. To celebrate his impending obesity, Sean and I shared a somewhat upscale dinner on the evening of the day. I wore my prom dress, schlepped with me from New York.

And now, we break for:

The Story of Liv’s Prom Dress

In 1994, thanks to the John Hughes movies of my childhood, I was absolutely in love with the idea of high school. By 1998, rap-and-grunge reality had dramatically soured things and I couldn’t bear to look high school in the face. We exchanged only hostile words, slept in separate rooms. I thought of nothing but graduation, of escape from Bumblefork to New York City. I couldn’t have felt more alienated from the majority of my graduating class and when Koko, Greta, Magcartney and Chicky begged me to attend the “Garden Romance”-themed Senior prom with them, my initial 1432 responses were “no.” Naturally, they interpreted this response as “Why, yes, my darling friends. In fact, you are free to ambush my sleeping form on a Saturday and drag me prom dress shopping.”

Koko bought a forest green velveteen turtlenecked, sleeveless gown and white, elbow-length gloves. Greta bought a flowing violet spaghetti-strapped caftan, to be paired with a matching violet chiffon scarf. Chicky bought a flowing black scoop necked gown with spaghetti straps, printed over with large blossoms. Brattily, I chose a spare, black, knee-length cocktail dress.

My friends were flabbergasted. “You can’t wear that to the Prom!” they said. “That’s not a Prom dress at all!”

I bought it anyway. I had decided on the car ride up that going to Prom could only be bearable if I treated it as a dinner party. The cocktail dress was to complete the ruse, and to help me look as far removed from my classmates as I felt. Whether or not I succeeded, I’ll never know, since I only remained at the function for about 45 minutes, during which “My Heart Will Go On” was played perhaps 4 times and “Gettin’ Jiggy Wit It” about 3. Worse still – and this part is shameful – I was the one who had driven us there so rather than remain stranded at the Prom, my friends had little choice but to leave the Garden Romance, too. As soon as we piled into my car I felt the spasms in my chest abate. In those days, nothing terrified me more than the idea of being with people my own age, people who I felt had steadily rejected me since elementary school. Back at my parents’ house, we watched “Pride and Prejudice”. If my friends were angry with me, they never told me so. Instead, they cheerfully remarked upon Mr. Darcy’s coldnesses and Lydia’s follies, sampling the thimbles of Peach Schnapps and Kahlua we ferreted out of my father’s liquor cabinet. Eschewing all alcohol (if Peach Schnapps and Kahlua really even qualify), I curled up on the couch, silent, knowing what a wrong I had done to my friends, who had only wanted to create memories we could one day look back on and do what normal people our age did. I don’t know why, I thought miserably, I just can’t be like everyone else. 10 years later, I know the answer: because I tried so hard not to be.

The End

At dinner, over extremely miniature versions of Insalata Caprese, Sean said my dress was lovely. The basic black frock hasn’t gone out of style and it still fits, though I fill out the top better now, if I do say so myself. I’ve worn the dress about once every couple of years since I first wore it in 1998; to the opera my Freshman year of college with Richard, a “friend” who later referred to me as a “sacrificial lamb,” to New Years’ Eve parties, to fancy dinners with my ex. For the most part, I wore it the other night because we were going to a restaurant where classy clothes were required but, for the very minor part, I chose to wear that particular dress because, though I will not go, my 10 year High School Reunion continues to prey on my mind.

Since I no longer live in America I have no idea if this is the case there, too, but it seems as if here, in Japan, ’90s music is suddenly hipper than hop. I’ve noticed that each restaurant I enter, each school I teach at, each department store I browse through has its radio system tuned to a station playing only songs that I hated in high school. My inbox is suddenly sieged with Myspace friend requests from people who spoke to me exactly zero times in high school, all now wanting to be buddies. Their true desires to gain access to my private profile and pics could not BE more transparent, in the words of one Chandler Bing, my high school TV-character crush. There is now also a Website, independent of Myspace, constructed for the purpose of promoting the 10 Year Reunion, going down in June at The Cotton Gin, no less – the very hotel that fired me after 6 months in my Junior Year. As my former classmates add their profiles and pics to the site, I cannot tear my eyes away from the classmates who are now adults with adorable children, nor can I stop hoping that perhaps Addie O’Grady, for whom I had the utmost respect, or Buck Stevens, with whom I fought an as-of-yet unterminated Cold War, will add their information to the pile.

I will not go to my high school reunion. Were I still living in New York and were Greta and Koko able to go, I might have considered it but as things are, the distance makes the whim ridiculous, the prelude to what would probably be a very, very costly disappointment. Because of my steadfast resolution, the reunion haunts me, as does the knowledge that it has now been 10 years since I graduated. 10 long years and very little accomplished that I was once so sure I would do.

I could be depressed about that. Or I could take the realization as motivation to do some really positive things for my career for a change. I’m going part-time with my company next term, which begins in a few weeks. This is something I consider crucial for my sanity and, the way I see it, crucial for the things I really want to do, things I should have been doing all along.

For the past couple of weeks, I’ve endeavored to do at least one positive thing for my career a day. This usually means applying for jobs in my old field – telecommuting and in town. Just as when I lived in New York, my queries turn up nothing and I remember yet again, why I remained at my old job for so long. It is very shameful to reach out and touch nothing. Sometimes it is much more comforting to the shaky ego to stay still.

Perhaps this is an important way in which I’ve changed in the past few years; I no longer want to stay still. Finally, finally done with it (staying still, that is); I rejected my old life in New York and am now rejecting the idea of becoming a full-time teacher for keeps. The fact that I don’t speak Japanese and that I live in a country where English is not the first language severely limits my part-time job opportunities but I suppose I have to stop hiding from what I really want at some point.

From the local jobs paper, today:

CHRISTIAN WEDDING MINISTER Kanto Mission seeks Christian (M) who is free on w/ends & holidays to join our registered & legitimate wedding group. We will provide training at no cost but applicant must have basic Japanese ability, a valid visa, and be a born-again Christian. Email for interview.

English Steve has told me about these guys; they approached him, once, in a park. Western-style weddings are super popular in Japan right now, even though barely any Japanese are Christians. That doesn’t stop them from wanting white dresses and tuxedos, nor does it stop them from reaching out to random foreigners in the community to add that special authentic touch to their Western-style wedding. This particular group seems a little more discerning, seeing as they want an actual Christian to pretend to be a minister. Despite being so blasphemous that even I am offended, I have to admit that it’s somewhat tantalizing and would, undoubtedly, make a fascinating experience. Unfortunately, I’m neither a Christian or a male. Or free on weekends. But, on the bright side, as my JLPT results prove, I do have basic Japanese ability.

Or I could e-mail my company and see if they need any copy editors for their new text books.

Contracts

February 15, 2008 in Uncategorized

Question:

Is the cutest part of the contract for our new apartment in Kankokumura the part where it says we will be living in a brand new, spacious 2LDK mere steps from the train station at about half the rent we pay now … or the part where it says wearing outside shoes inside is a breach of the tenant rules?

Discuss. Or not. After all, there are two – count ‘em – two burners.

Not Much to Brag About?

February 13, 2008 in I'm Learning Japanese ... I Really Think So

At last, my JLPT results:

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And a word about the 4-kyuu – not on behalf of those who passed it, like myself, but on behalf of those who didn’t, as I’m sure that there must have been some who did not. Though it is the lowest level of the Japanese Language Proficiency Test, the 4-kyuu is still deserving of respect. The people who deem it a “pointless test” or “passable by a chimp” and shake their heads at people who fail it are, of course, native Japanese speakers or students who have reached a high level in their studies. Given that perspective, of course a basic Japanese test seems simple. But consider the work required to even crack the code in the first place – the beginning student of Japanese must not only learn to read 3 new writing systems but learn to erase the ideas of articles, plurals and all known grammar from their minds. Japanese grammar is practically the inverse of what exists in English and if one wants to learn it, they must train themselves to think in a completely unusual manner. High level students have already been trained and have, perhaps, forgotten what it was like to even have to learn a new system of thinking in the first place.

I don’t by any means intend to put the basic Japanese test on the same level as the far more complicated 3, 2 and the outrageously involved 1 level tests. The mere mention that a coworker has taken the 1-kyuu or 2-kyuu tests sends a shiver of respect up my spine, whether they passed it or not. I only hope that those who didn’t pass the 4-kyuu are not feeling low. I, for one, would like to see a chimp learn hiragana, katakana, 100 kanji and to even speak in the first place, let alone master the elements of a completely foreign language to a basic level.

Give it another year. See you in Level 3.

Home Ec

February 12, 2008 in Japanese Mix

Mr. Yoshita, an elderly, high-level student, has made his own wine. He doesn’t remember when he did this or really much about the process at all. He remembers that he bought grapes and that he put them in a bottle. He vaguely remembers that he left the bottle alone for a long time … and then there was wine. He doesn’t remember if it was good or bad.

Nobu, a good-looking 40-something chemist with biceps as big as his head, likes to make ice cream. It’s easy, he says. You don’t even need an ice cream maker – just one egg, some fresh cream, sugar, a whisk and four bowls. First, you separate the egg – the yolk goes in one bowl; the albumen in the other. Add sugar to these bowls and whisk up their contents, allowing plenty of air to infiltrate. Follow the same sugar-and-whisk procedure for the cream in its own bowl. Finally, combine the contents of all three bowls into the remaining bowl. Freeze for about 4 hours. Nobu says it is “very delicious” but cannot be done with cream from the supermarket; truly fresh high-quality cream is necessary. Nobu’s solution is to swipe such cream from his lab. Some people steal pens, some steal blank disks. Nobu steals cream.

Yoko always sleeps with a towel around her neck. She says that the Japanese believe that a cold neck equals a sick body. Yoko only gets sick about once a year.

Sumiko washes her hands and gargles with plain water each time she gets home. She hasn’t been sick in 10 years.

I’m wide-eyed and eager to hear more, particularly about the ice cream. Were it not for the necessity of using only fresh lab-stolen cream I’d certainly have tried my own hand at creating a bowl. The only mildly cool home treatment I employ is using vinegar to remove stains or balled up foil to remove rust on my stove’s burner. I learned the first trick from my days transcribing episodes of DIY Network shows for Closed Captioning and the second from Sean, who learned it from someone at his dojo. They both sort of work.

I suppose I shouldn’t feel too bad at my lack of home economic prowess. After all, my students are students of English; it’s possible I lost something in the translation.