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Rain Rain Rain

July 28, 2009 in Ex-Patriate Games, Ireland, My Funny Irish Friend, spazarific

Liv: So every weather report I see for Dublin is rain, rain, rain. I guess I should buy some woolens and a pair of wellies for when I move!

Sean: Wellies? Oh my lord. Wear normal shoes. No one wears rain boots; you must be joking me.

Liv: You don’t wear wellies?

Sean: I haven’t worn wellies since I was eight years old.

Liv: But why, if it’s so rainy?

Sean: Because I became a big boy!

Liv: But I thought people might wear rubber boots because of the constant rain. Don’t people wear rain boots? They wear them here sometimes! Wellies! Wellies!

Sean: Oh, Liv. You and your precious American ideas.

ラ-ラ-ラ-ラ ラザーニャ

July 24, 2009 in Ex-Patriate Games, My Funny Irish Friend, Oishii, spazarific

Lasagna in Japan: three words that might send a flutter through your stomach. What kind of flutter it is depends on whether you’re dreaming about a luscious, gooey meaty lasagna (excited), eating it at a Japanese-Italian restaurant (disappointed) or trying to make it yourself on your one-burner-no-oven Japanese microkitchen (enraged). That enraged flutter becomes a punch to the gut when you think about how much it cost to even attempt to put together a lasagna in a country that sells lasagna sheets for 700 yen and golf ball-sized hunks of cheese for upwards of 300.

Take heart, friends. It took me some time, but I finally perfected my Japanese Lasagna recipe. It takes a bit of maneuvering and a hefty dose of shame, but the result is surprisingly delicious and, happily, doesn’t break the bank … too much.

I usually cooked this lasagna in a kitchen that looked like this:

PA010018

But have done it in a kitchen that looked like this:

Obviously, I had to buy a toaster oven, my desk had to double for a countertop and I had to stick the pot of cooked vegetables in the microwave while the meat was browning. Still: great success. This lasagna recipe was originally part of the One Burner Cookbook series but since its original inception in 2007, I’ve amended it to be cheaper and more efficient. I give you:

“Lasagna Bolognese in Japan”

Serves 4

You’ll need:

  • A toaster oven (mine was a 3400 yen model from Muji). They do the job and will give you enough space for a small lasagna. Because it’s Japan.
  • 1 large sauce pan
  • 1 medium frying pan
  • a cutting board
  • 1 vegetable knife
  • toaster oven-size baking tin; make sure it fits yours. It should be 3-4 inches deep (I got mine from Loft for about 600 yen)

Ingredients

For the sauce:

  • 1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 -2 cloves of garlic
  • 1 medium-sized onion, diced
  • 1/2 cup carrot, diced
  • 1/2 cup mushrooms diced (shitake, white, not kinoko)
  • 1 medium-sized package of ground buta/nikku blend ground meat
  • 2 boxes of crushed tomatoes
  • 1 tablespoon of salt
  • 1 teaspoon of pepper

For the bechamel:

  • 1 can ホワイトソース (White sauce). It’s sold everywhere from Supa Tamade to K’ntetsu. Try the Heinz brand.
  • nutmeg to taste
  • No-boil lasagna sheets. These are crucial due to the lack of space; read the package to make sure.
  • 1 package of Fresh Mozzarella (the wet kind). Comes in a small white pouch, will run you about 350 yen. I’ve seen it in Izumiya and Max Value. Alternatively, use shredded mozzarella (about 400-600 yen).
  • 2-4 packets of slice cheese (depending on how much real cheese you use for the top layer)

Slice cheese. Yes, you heard me right, as much as I loathe to say it. Processed, cracks-when-heated slice cheese. I’m shuddering. In fact, I just got back from the shower, where I sat, fully clothed, hunched into a ball and sobbing under a stream of hot water. My mother has come and is now beating me steadily with a wooden spoon. The pain. The shame. But using slice cheese, especially the kind from the 99 yen store, can save you about 1000 yen.

Trust me – if the slice cheese is inside the lasagna – hidden by pasta and sauce – it will melt properly. If the real cheese is confined to the top layer that’s what you will taste. The rest fades into delicious oblivion. Trust me.

Note – using shredded cheese is probably the most economical way to make a lasagna but should you want to go a much tastier route, having 1 top layer of fresh mozzarella with inner layers of slice cheese is the way to go. おいしい!!

Instructions:

Salsa bolognese:

Pour 1-2 tablespoons of olive oil into a pan; turn pan to allow oil to coat the bottom. Add clove of garlic (more, if you like) and heat on low to brown. When garlic browns on one side, turn it over. As garlic browns, dice the onion and the carrot. When the garlic is brown on all sides, throw it away. Add the onion and the carrot and allow to cook through; when the onions are cooked, they will turn clear. Add the chopped mushrooms. As the onion, mushrooms, and carrot are cooking, use your second burner to brown the ground meat. Buta/nikku mix tends to turn stringy, which is ugly but fine taste-wise. When it is brown, drain and add to the carrots, olive oil and onions. Immediately wash frying pan to open up the other burner. Add crushed tomatoes to the meat and vegetable mixture: stir in entire contents of the box. Add salt and pepper. Set to medium-high heat and simmer for at least 30 minutes.

Bechamel:

Open the can of white sauce and empty into a bowl. Sprinkle nutmeg into the sauce and stir. Set aside.

Assembly:

Pour 1-2 tablespoons of salsa bolognese into the bottom of the lasagna pan and spread with a spoon to ensure that lasagna cooks all the way through. Add the first layer of noodles and cover with more sauce. Make sure that each layer of pasta is entirely wet with sauce or you will end up with crispy lasagna.

Layer in this order:

3-4 tablespoons Salsa Bolognese

1 tablespoon Bechamel

Slice cheese to cover (try not to gag as you do so; closing your eyes helps, as well as your mouth should any accidental vomit escape. Ti prego, mamma. Ti prego.)

drizzle of Salsa Bolognese

Pasta

When you reach the final layer, cover it with both sauces and then (finally) bring out the good cheese. Slice with kitchen scissors to get the most from it.

Slide into the toaster oven. I used to cook mine on the medium setting for 15 minutes at a time (so as not to burn the cheese in the tiny, coffin-like toaster oven). A small toaster oven-size lasagna should take two 15-minute cycles. Test by cutting a knife into the noodles to see if they’re soft.

Serve. 召し上がって下さい. It’s really and truly lasagna in Japan. Made by you.

Sean’s List

July 21, 2009 in Ex-Patriate Games, Ireland, My Funny Irish Friend, spazarific

Liv: Sean, what should I know when I move to Ireland? Who should I tip? What time do the stores close? What’s considered appropriate behavior and what’s not?

Sean: Well, you should speak as loud as possible.

Sean: And be sure to speak as much Irish as you can.

Liv: ….

Sean: Be as pushy as possible.

Sean: Demand to pay for everything in dollars.

Sean: Refuse to take any attitude from anyone. Remember – you’re from America!

Liv: Hold on a second, let me write this down.

Sean: This is a blog post, isn’t it! I’m not telling you any more.

A Man Called Sincere

July 19, 2009 in Ex-Patriate Games, Ireland, spazarific

Beginning the apartment hunt – again. Dublin appears to be divided into numbered zones and I’ve been told I should live in Dublin 2, 4, or 6. Sean says apartments come fully furnished in Ireland, which, from what I understand, will include furniture and appliances like a washer and microwave. The rents are what I would have paid in Queens or Brooklyn before the hipsters moved in. Many of the apartments I’ve been looking at are in old Georgian homes, “minutes away” from St. Stephen’s Green. St. Stephen’s Green is a large park. There is a pond. Swans float on that pond.

The names in the rent ads are pretty but mean nothing to me. Harold’s Cross. Terenure Village. Kenilworth Park. Fleet Street. Christchurch. How much is 600 euro in dollars? How far is Harold’s Cross from school?

Last week, I found an apartment that seemed perfect – just a few minutes away from school, a couple of hops from a Luas stop, and an inch away from the swans of St. Stephen’s Green. I was to contact a man named “Sincere” for more information.  “Sincere” – could have been one of those funny Irish names, like Eoin, Aoife, Laoise, or Sean. It was probably pronounced “Frank.”

Hello Sincere, I wrote. My friend and I are looking for an apartment and yours sounds wonderful.

Ah, my dear E, Sincere responded.  Calvary greetings to you. I would love for you and your friend to live in my apartment. Please be advised, however, that I am a humble man of GOD – it is he who has named me “Sincere” – and, as such, I request that you both sign a morality clause before accepting a lease.

“Delete,” urged Sean. “Delete!”

I’m e-mailing a few other apartment lessors today, but am wondering if I should have asked for the a copy of the morality clause. Just to see.

The 英語の先生’s Top Ten List

July 17, 2009 in "Teaching" English, I'm Learning Japanese ... I Really Think So, spazarific

If you teach English at an eikaiwa, the higher ups will probably prefer that you arrive in Japan with little to no Japanese ability. This, they believe, improves the chance that you’ll comply with their “English Immersion” policy – i.e., the idea that one hour of exposure to English without translation per week can teach a child the language. It’s no secret what I think of this approach, but many tuition packages are sold by the very idea that teachers will speak only English to their students, no matter how confused or disrespectful they are. If you’re one of those brand new monoglot eikaiwa teachers who’s currently drowning in a world of Japanese, here’s a handy Top Ten List of most common words your young students are almost certainly saying behind your back, right to your face.

  • Dekita. You know, the thing they say so often you might even have picked it up if you speak as much Japanese as they speak English. All together now: dekita means “I was able to do it,” in the spirit of “Done!”
  • Unchi. Number two on this list – literally. A word they just can’t get enough of. What is it about poo that dazzles kids so? It’s brown. It comes in a variety of sizes. Once it’s out, it serves no real function. Yet – breathtaking, just like any other “dirty” part of the body. Also included in the typical Japanese child’s litany of scatological swears is oshikko (urine), kuso (crap again; but in the swearword sense), oshiri (backside), chin chin, ketsu, and kintama - three words which I am too ladylike to translate.

  • Mendoukusai, often shortened to mendou. “Annoying.” This term will usually be directed at something you’ve done or tried to get them to do. How encouraging.
  • Baka. A classic schoolyard taunt roughly translating to “idiot.” If you’re in Kansai, you might also hear “aho.” Hopefully, they’re not talking about you.

  • Muzukashii. “Difficult.”  This is a good one to learn so you know when to slow down or try pantomiming “can” another way.
  • Mienai. “I can’t see!” In Kansai: “Miehen.” Try moving your flashcards higher.
  • Tsumaranai! “Booooooooring.” English is so boring, nee?!?! To be able to bellow this in the middle of my dullest classes would have been a dream come true when I was a kid. Somehow, it was less cool when I was the one being complained about.

  • Machigaeta. Finally, a bit of humility – “I made a mistake.” That, or you made a mistake.
  • Wakaranai. “I don’t understand!” In Kansai: “Wakarahen.”
  • Dou iu mi? “What do you mean?” Notice how many of these Top Ten items have to do with the kid not knowing what’s going on.

Kids are kids. They think you can’t understand them and they sure as heck can’t understand anything you say beyond “dog,” “cat,” “orange,” and “lion.” Naturally they’ll complain, but try to see the upside in being surrounded by yapping kids. For a beginning Japanese speaker, it can be hard to pick out any words when adults speak, but children speak more slowly than and, as you’ll see, they repeat themselves constantly.  I owe my entire grasp of plain form verbs and sentence level fluency to my disinterested kids. Of course, the downside is that I speak Japanese like a bratty 8 year-old fecophiliac.

Sheep Ride

July 15, 2009 in Ex-Patriate Games, writing

Sometimes I wonder if I’m in denial about the fact that in less than 2 months, I’ll be moving to Ireland. I wonder why I’m curiously still about the entire thing; it’s something I’ve been planning for close to a year and studying at “Christminster” is something I’ve dreamed of since I first learned how many of my favorite authors studied there. And yet, mental quiet. I go through motions – paying my tuition fees, making sure my Italian citizenship greenlights me to study there without a student visa, looking at rental listings – but beyond random bursts of joy at the thought of pecking at my assignments from the dark comfort of a moody pub I don’t think about it all that much.

Of course there are thoughts – fleeting ones. I’m asked every day when I’m going, and if I’m talking to strangers, they ask what I do so it creeps into the conversation. Sometimes people are confused – I just came back from Japan and now I’m going where? Some people know “Christminster” and some don’t. Everybody knows Dublin.

I think about hiking through the green fields. I tell Sean I want to ride the sheep. He says I’m “mad” – sheep aren’t for riding, what am I on about? Of course I’m just joking about the sheep, but not so much about the hiking. Then Sean tells me that the weather will be rainy all the time so I can forget about running through all of the green grass with a picnic basket. Don’t worry, he says. It’s still beautiful weather. Nine degrees and rainy – brilliant.

I wonder if the other students will like my writing. I wonder if I’ll be the only American. I wonder if I have a lot of karmic torture coming to me after my years of haranguing Sean about his accent, if my every “dude!” “man,” and “awesome” will be fodder for amusement. Sean giddily tells me my suspicion is correct, right before asking me to hold on because he has to brush his “teet.”

I think, too, about the trip I took to Italy and France in the winter of 2005. I had used the last of my savings to finance the trip so my souvenirs were meager: a bottle of apricot-scented Dop bodywash, a tube of Labello cerise-flavored lip balm, and a handful of unused violet Metro tickets. One by one, my tangible memories of that trip began to disappear. The body wash was the first to go, and I hoarded the lip balm until the last cherry red smears faded from my lips. I still have one of the Metro tickets – the mere sight of it recalls the two days I spent eating mussels in Flanders. Now it’s my Japanese cosmetics that are down to their last dregs. The BB cream, the Keana Scrub, the Ettusais whitening sunscreen. My clothes, artwork, and T’Estimo eyeshadows will last for years, but already I’m losing my grasp.

A brand name can recall a time and a place just as surely as a photograph. I wonder if it will be strange to swap Cape Cods for Taytos when I’ve just stopped expecting to see Calbees lining the shelves.

Japanese Blog Fan Dance

July 14, 2009 in Looking, Oishii, spazarific

If I could figure out how to do it, I’d put an adorable button on my site that encourages you to become a fan of I Eat My Pigeon on Facebook. But I can’t, so if you’re into it, click here.

P.S. Thank you to everyone who voted for I Eat My Pigeon for the June BlogNet Awards – you made me Runner Up and a very flattered girl to boot. Cupcakes for everyone!

おいしそうな? 食べ てみたい

Mr. Sensitive Part 2

July 9, 2009 in The Odd Siblings

Just to illustrate what I’m talking about:

Liv: Diego! Diego! Look at what I’m doing!

Diego: What now?

Liv: I’ve been having so much fun with this Meiji era photo transmogrifier that I found through tofugu.com! Look at all these cool pictures that I made!

Diego: ….

Liv: The Meiji era – you know, the end of the 19th century and beginning of the 20th, right before the Taisho period, when Japan opened itself to trade and Western culture?

Diego: ….

Liv: Look! Aren’t these great? Look at this picture of Bob and I that we took when we were dressed in yukata for Gion Matsuri! Don’t we look amazing? I mean, it helps that we were already in yukata and in Gion but it looks so real!

oldphoto(15)

Diego: This is creepy.

Liv: No! It’s cool! And look at this picture of me when I was in Thailand on Poda Beach!

Diego: Ugh. What is that thing you’re next to?

Liv: It’s a cliff.

Diego: Well, it looks like a big, round turd.

Liv: IT DOES NOT!

Diego: It’s like Turd Mountain. It’s like the sky crapped it out. It’s the Turd-tanic. Where’s Leo? And look at that thing you’re wearing – it looks almost as old as the picture.

Liv: It was mom’s!

Diego: Well, there you go. Turd-tastic.

Liv: YOU SPOIL EVERYTHING!

oldphoto(8)

The Bruce is Loose

July 8, 2009 in New York, spazarific, The Odd Siblings, True Fairy Tales of New York

Diego had a college roommate who hailed from Texas. Big Jeb was his name. They were roommates in the early years of the century, when it had become acceptable for men of all creeds to address each other as “bro.” “Bro”s were dropped at reckless speeds, but not from Big Jeb’s mouth: he preferred the strange epithet, “bruce.”

A bruce, Big Jeb explained, is a rowdy, ill-mannered guy. Go on. Picture a guy named ‘Bruce.’ How do you picture him? Yup. Loud. Jerky. Don’t be a bruce, man. No one likes a bruce.

Diego was delighted by this term and for him, it immediately replaced “bro,” “dude,” and “man.” The term was soon used by all of their soccer buddies and roommates, and everyone was a bruce until proven innocent – even if the object of the game was to not be one. Women could be just as unruly as men, so a female bruce was naturally dubbed a brucette.

Big Jeb moved back to Texas after graduation, but as far as Diego was concerned, the Bruce was still loose. By that point, all of Diego’s high school buddies were bruces, too. When Diego’s dog piddled on the rug, he was commanded not to be a bruce. It was a brucey-bruce world.

In 2005, Diego moved up to New York City, as did a number of his high school friends. The Bruce had come to the Big Apple and was taking it by storm. The Big City Bruces now party in midtown Manhattan instead of Channelside and are prouder to be bruces than ever – one of them has bought a domain name. There has even been talk of creating a Bruce fashion line.

Koko is one of my oldest friends. She moved to New York City in 2003. Her two brothers are bruces. I shouldn’t have been surprised when she, who used to exclusively call people “punks,” referred to her brother Ron as a bruce the other day.

“How far does this bruce thing go?” I marveled.

In just a few short years, the bruce has traveled from Texas to Florida to New York City. Japan, even – I’m sure I called Sean and Bob bruces once or twice. You know. When they were acting like bruces.

The big question is – what can’t the bruce do?

Mr. Sensitive

July 6, 2009 in The Odd Siblings

My brother Diego is smart, successful, charming, and chicks think he’s handsome. What some people might not know about him is that he possesses a particularly nasty, cutting wit. If he weren’t a news segment producer, he would have no problem finding work writing barbs for the Worst Dressed pages in celebrity magazines – so keen and unforgiving is his attention to detail. As a boy, he immediately picked up on all of our family friends’ quirks. Thanks to Diego, I will forever think of my Tia Rosita’s mumbling and moustachioed second husband as The Swedish Chef. Likewise, it was Diego’s fault that my parents and I could never again look at their friend Giuseppa after Diego pointed out her slightly wobbly right eye.

“Look at it next time,” he’d say. “It’s as loose as a turd in a punchbowl.”

Clearly, he should have been the writer – not me.

One by one, the people in our lives unknowingly fall prey to Diego’s cruel humor. He’s always the first to notice when something is amiss, and when he combines his wit with his powers of persuasion, an object is forever ruined for us.

Recently, Diego has turned his powers of observation to fashion. Hounded by the epithet “metrosexual” since his teens, Diego makes no secret of his appreciation for style. He also makes no secret of his disdain of my own attempts to explore it. Let me elaborate: if Diego is the style hound in the family, I am the bargain hound. Lately, while scrounging all of my earnings for graduate school, I’m even more of a bargain hunter than usual but two years of hating Japanese fashion has made me desire new clothes more than ever. I badly want to wear something new, and I badly want my new items to be appreciated. If my brother should be the one admiring something I’m wearing, I know I’m on the right track.

The other week, I went shopping with Momo. While I’ve never been much of an impulse shopper, Momo is the one person who can inspire me to pick up something new without stalking it first. That particular afternoon, a sunny yellow headband adorned with matching covered buttons caught my eye. It seemed impossibly cute and Momo agreed. Since it was only $3, I figured I couldn’t lose. I squirreled it home, excited to show Diego my new purchase. It was the first new thing I’d bought since arriving home in New York.

P6290163

When Diego cracked open the apartment door, I pounced.

“Wanna see what I bought today?” I asked, bursting with pride. I had loved the way the yellow looked against my dark hair in the store and pictured myself wearing it with a black shirt. In my vision, I was rowing a boat across the pond in Central Park, my hair was wavy and my wide smile was slicked in a coral-hued lipstick I had yet to buy. I presented my new bauble to my brother, who examined it diligently.

“Nice. Real nice, sis.” sneered Diego. “Wow. You know what that headband looks like? It looks like the chit that people can’t get rid of, and then they combine it with more chit to create … even more ridiculous chit!”

“You don’t … like it?” I asked weakly. I sat, heartbroken – my lovely headband threatening to slide from my grasp.

“Come on, sis,” said Diego callously. “You know better than to buy chit like this. It’s like a cross between Mary Poppins and Curious George.”

And just like that, my lovely new headband was ruined. Each time I tried to put it on in the following days, my inner voice crooned lyrics about feeding birds and flying kites. After a week of attempts to wear it, I gave up and banished it to the far rung of my accessories holder.

A couple of Sundays later, I met up with Diego and Joy for brunch and ended up tagging along with them to Bloomingdale’s. They were headed to a black tie wedding in Greatneck that weekend and they both needed shoes to wear with their ensembles. Joy quickly found a pair of very beautiful black pumps that even Diego approved of. That done, we perused displays of clothing and shoes to hunt for Diego’s own items. As we looked, he delivered his typical sharp, short edicts any time an offending item caught his eye.

A pair of strappy, flat leather sandals? “Hi, Sister Roberta.”

An A-line fringed blue dress? “Who disemboweled Cookie Monster?”

Diego left Joy and I in the shoe sale while he browsed menswear. I browsed through the 3 pairs of size 5s and Joy was smitten by a pair of flat, black, gladiator sandals. She fell even more in smit with them when she tried them on. Beaming, she bounced in her chair.

“I love them,” she said. “And I know Diego will love them, too!”

When Diego finally returned, Joy thrust her sandaled feet in his direction to best show off the shoes – so sure that his face would melt in a smile to match hers. But my brother’s features remained cold and slack, flexing only to curve into a judgmental grimace.

“Baby,” he said. “They’re okay. Too much hardware. They fit funny – like Spartacus’s cobbler was blind in one eye. I don’t know. And you just spent all that money on those other shoes for the wedding!”

Joy’s face crumpled.

“You don’t … like them?” she shrunk into her chair, deflated. “I really thought you would.”

“Well, I’m sorry,” scowled Diego. “But they just don’t look worth the price tag.”

As I watched Joy’s mood darken, my inner feminist wanted to shout: Stop! Who cares what some guy thinks? Don’t let him tell you what to do! If you like the shoes, buy the shoes!

… but who was I to talk when just that morning, I’d ripped my Mary Poppins headband from my head and crammed it into my purse in shame?