Because I still haven’t had enough of the ridiculous circus that is My Life in a Japanese Micro-Kitchen, I’ve been trying my hand at baking. I have no counter so I must mix powders and sugars in a metal bowl balanced on my lap. I have no mixer so I must churn batters with a spoon powered by my weak little girl fist. I have no oven so I must reset the timer on my toaster oven every 15 minutes. I don’t know where to find Crisco so I’m doubling up on the amount of butter I use. I’m trying to bake batches of “Thank you for helping me with my internet!” brownies for my landlord and, when my toaster oven burns them into black bricks, I’m considering dumping them on my students instead. Most of all, I’m annoyed that for all my effort, chocolate chip cookies aren’t lining my belly.
I blame Chibi-chan; she put the baking idea in my head. Chibi-chan is one of my adult students who comes for class on Thursday. The other week, she told me about Ice Box cookies.
“You buy,” she said. “Slice.” She mimed slicing a loaf of dough with her flattened hand. She then drew a picture of a checkerboard cookie on her notebook and began to write “chocolate” next to the dark squares in Japanese before she caught herself, scribbled out the katakana and replaced it with roman characters.
“Ice Box,” she said.
Slice. Ice box. Immediately, loaves of Pillsbury refrigerated dough swam into my mind and I, who rely on Subway restaurants for my chocolate chip cookie fix, was suddenly squirming with chocolate chip cookie fever. First things first: Chibi-chan doesn’t really speak English. It was entirely possible that I had misunderstood her explanation.
“Ice box,” I repeated and mimed slicing a loaf of Pillsbury dough. “You buy and then you bake?”
“Yes,” she said.
“Do they have many flavors?”
“Where can I buy them?”
“Most anywhere,” she said. “They are normal. Supermarket.”
And that, stupidly, was enough for me. I really should have known better; it’s not like I haven’t been burned by a student’s poor English before. I must have scoured 5 different supermarkets looking for those stupid Ice Box cookies, sniffing through aisles of milk, natto, eggs, frozen yakisoba, and “cheese” but the closest I came was an “Ice Box” slushy pop in the ice cream freezer. Slushies aren’t a suitable replacement for warm and gooey chocolate chip goodness; I made up my mind to give Chibi-chan a good talking to when I saw her next.
“Chibi-chan,” I said the following class. “I went to many supermarkets looking for Ice Box cookies. I couldn’t find them. Where exactly can I buy them?”
“Supermarket?” she said. “You buy in Takashimaya.”
Takashimaya is a swanky department store.
“Second floor, maybe. You no bake,” she said. “Already bake.”
“Oh,” I said, making perhaps my 50th mental vow to never again take a student’s word for anything. As if I didn’t know all too well by now that when someone says something you don’t understand, the only response you can give if you are choosing to pretend you’re following the conversation is, “Yes.” As if I haven’t done that a million times myself.
As I’ve mentioned, I obsess over foods rather quickly and my initial craving for just-out-of-the-oven chocolate chip cookies has morphed into an all-out American baked good fervor. Hence the plotting. Hence the planning. Hence my recent surprise to learn that there is a retail outlet in Japan that sells some basic baking ingredients and equipment for extra cheap.
This here is the baking section at Toys ‘R Us. I was there recently helping Sean pick out a present for his dojo friend who just had a baby girl. The Toys ‘R Us was close by and I was sure I’d seen baby clothes there before but within minutes we quickly realized there were no onesies to be found at this particular location. Sean wasn’t into the idea of adding to his friend’s rattle-and-stuffed bunny stockpile so we decided to just putter about for a bit and possibly buy candy before heading back. I hung a left at the doll aisle and found the Future Homemaker Corner.
Pastry makers. Potato chip crispers. Ice cream machines. Sushi rollers. It was such a far cry from the E-Z Bake ovens of my generation. Happily, Toys ‘R Us not only stocks the gizmos, it stocks the ingredients, too. Behold:
Dry yeast for 149 yen? Baking powder for 99? Cocoa powder for 299? I paid at least 500 yen for the chocolate powder I bought for my misbegotten brownies. I think I know where I’ll be coming for my dry yeast from now on.
An infomercial starring squealing little girls played on loop as I scanned the items, wondering if it would be unacceptable for me to buy the Norimakimakki Kurukuru Party sushi roller for myself. What? Rolling sushi is hard. I gaped at the infomercial; how easily the little girls rolled their sushi and produced perfect ice cream. How cute they looked with their hair arranged in two buns high on either side of their heads like cute little panda ears! A price check stopped my fantasy in its tracks (5999 yen???), but not before I had envisioned myself in my own Norimakimakki infomercial, my hair in little panda ear buns and each fist wielding perfectly molded tekkamaki.
I honestly didn’t know whether to be hungry, angry or jealous. Did I want to eat delicious homemade goods more than I hated spending money or more than I wanted to be a model on Japanese TV? I might be an old, old woman before I figure that one out.