Golden Week

By Gem

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It’s Sunday night of a lovely long weekend here in Nagahama, and we’ve been spending it doing things we like best!

Yesterday, we finished everything that needed finishing (housework, shopping and the final co-op missions of Halo 4) and we’re off to have adventures in the south on Monday and Tuesday, so we’ve spent this Sunday having a lovely, gentle time.

A sleep-in for Kin, while I made a morning visit to friends in Kinomoto, then home to a simple lunch, scavenged from the contents of the fridge (I told you it’s good to keep soup and salad dressing in there!)

Kin then headed out to do some pottery in Kurokabe, while I baked bread, puttered around in my pots and studied for an hour or two. When he got home, we enjoyed afternoon tea together; you may notice we’re eating some of the same banana bread at both lunch and afternoon tea. That banana bread is actually a bit of an accident…

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A few weeks ago, my sister inspired me to make a nice, big batch of dulce de leche and, when I noticed our bananas were beginning to look a little sad in their bowl, I thought that I was being provided with a wonderful opportunity to transform my ingredients into a delicious banoffee pie for us to enjoy over the weekend. A little chocolate, a little cream, a drizzle of toffee sauce…. Subarashii!

What actually happened was that I got home on Friday evening, opened the last container of dulce de leche, tasted it to be sure it was still okay and then grew canines, howled at the moon and devoured the lot with a soup spoon.

(I wasn’t really in a fit state to observe myself, you understand, but I’m pretty certain this version of events is pretty close to being true.)

At any rate, I was left with the situation of having a bunch of sick-looking bananas and no caramel, so banana bread was a fairly obvious choice; cold slices for snacks and hot chunks with custard for desserts. Combined with the bread Oinky and I baked, this treat has made our apartment smell absolutely lovely. Outside, the air still carries a fairly heavy chill, but inside, everything is warm and clean and wonderfully fragrant. Life is good.

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The indoor refugees don’t seem to be phased by the cold; they’re so happy to be outdoors, they’re shooting up like rockets. The cold, gusty wind is giving my poor snow peas some trouble though. Every time they try to get a grip on the balcony railing, they’re blown off! After this photo was taken, I tethered them with a bit of hundred yen crochet cotton (Kin says the balcony looks like a spider web now!) and that seems to be helping them hang on a bit better.

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And now, I’m preparing dinner and listening to Kin sigh while he sketches. I’m so proud of him at the moment, I could explode!

Kin has just completed the Betty Edwards drawing program for the second time, and the results have been phenomenal. You can see his previous “Before” and “After” self portraits here (seriously, go look at them, I want you to see how awesome this is).

Now have a look at this:

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That was his latest “After” portrait. Isn’t he amazing?

It’s lovely when we can combine peacefulness and productivity this way. We’re looking forward to exciting times over the next few days of Golden Week, but we’re both very glad we had a little stretch to work and recuperate first.

However you’re spending your week, we hope you enjoy it! Don’t forget to take some downtime.

(For a calorie count of my caramel orgy, or a look at more of Kin’s photos, please check out our Facebook page!)

Best wishes,

Gem

XX

April was…

Sweets

April sweets.

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And an April Fool (we won’t see Shallow again until August).

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Very important preparations being made.

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By Kin as well! He’ll be studying again in August and is making sure that he’s ready.

 

Hikiyama matsuri

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Hikiyama Matsuri (one of Nagahama’s most famous festivals).


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Time to resume our Lake Biwa adventures!

 

April was short days, long bike rides and genuine joy at being outdoors. It was time for both of us to shake off our winter blues and get back to work on our drawing, studying and just straight making; food, ceramics and music.

We’re looking forward to a period of rest and focus in May, before we really start to get ready for Australia!

Kin and Gem

XX

 

On the Boil: The Awesomeness of Soup

 

By Gem
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Now Australia is beginning to settle into autumn, and the spring days here in Japan maintain their chill… Now, it is time to sing the song of soup.

O Soup, the nourishing
Soup, the tasty
O, Soup, ye friend of the poor and saviour of the lazy…

… not to mention, Soup, the best way I know of getting rid of whatever’s going leggy in the garden, or leaky in the fridge. Or, Soup, how you can get five serves of vegetables into one meal, let alone one day. Or even Soup, a really good way of impressing lunch guests without really doing anything. 

But none of those really rhyme so well, do they?

Soup and Scheduling

I’ve spoken before about the importance of planning when you’re trying to keep your diet properly balanced. If you’re generally lazy (I am!), busy (I am!), or just someone who can’t always be trusted to make decisions like a grownup (I am!), but you still want to keep everyone properly fed during the week, then you need to organise your kitchen ahead of time.

Soup is central to my day-to-day organisation. If you always keep a jug of soup and a bottle of salad dressing in the fridge, you will always have a lovely, vege-ful meal half organised before you even get home from work.

This is great for those days when you just plain don’t feel like cooking or discover you have unexpected guests on a night you were planning to make scrambled eggs on toast. With about three minutes extra work, your scrambled eggs become an omelette, and you have soup, salad and toast ready to go with it! Salads and soups travel quite happily to work with you and will turn your lunchtime sandwich into a real meal. It also helps you feel better about those days when you haven’t prepared, but you’re already exhausted and just buy a barbequed chicken and some bread rolls on your way home from work. You’re still giving everyone a decent, balanced meal, you’re just not killing yourself to do it at a time when you just don’t have the energy.

Soup is also another arrow in my quiver against the Healthy-Food-Costs-More brigade.

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Getting Organised

Soup and salad dressing are both very simple to make. I shake up my salad dressing in an old squeezy-top mustard bottle that Kin washes out each time we empty it (about every month or so) and store it in the fridge. Just find an old jar, dump in a couple of tablespoons of a nice vinegar (we like a very acidic red wine vinegar), about double that of oil, salt, pepper and any additives that take your fancy (I often add about a tablespoon of Dijon mustard, crushed garlic or some parmesan shavings), shake it up and boom; vinaigrette dressing ready whenever you want it. Just give it another shake when it’s time to squoodge some out.

(Here are some rather more precise recipes if you’re nervous about that sort of thing. Or you can simply buy a nice, low kilojoule salad dressing to keep on hand).

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On the whole, though, it’s even easier to construct a soup than it is to make a salad dressing, and it’s a lot more impressive to visitors.

Basic Soup No 1: Green Velvet

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This soup is Kin’s favourite; it’s also the easiest soup I know! A basic soup like this just needs vegetables and stock. I usually use a liquid chicken stock for my soups, but there are no real rules when it comes to soup. If you are vegetarian, use vegetable stock. If you can’t make liquid stock (I’m not very good at it, either) or afford to buy it, use cubes from the supermarket. Don’t fret too much about getting things right; it’s soup. Soup will forgive you for just about anything.

Ingredients:

1 head of broccoli, divided into small florets, stem chopped
1 bunch of spinach, washed
1 large onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, crushed or finely chopped
2 largeish potatoes, peeled and chopped into cubes
1.2 litres of stock (or whatever. If you like a thicker soup, use less. If thinner, use more)
Splash of olive oil
Herbs or seasonings (see variation). Today’s herbs for us are oregano, thyme and rosemary.

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Method:

Heat the oil in a saucepan and brown the onion and garlic over a low-medium heat until softened (probably more than five minutes, probably less than ten. Again, it’s soup; don’t worry so much). Add the potato and stir fry for 2-3 minutes (if adding dried herbs, this is a good time. This is also when I add hard herbs like rosemary), then pour in the stock. Bring to the boil, and then simmer for about fifteen minutes, or until the potato is tender. Add the broccoli (and any other fresh herbs), simmer for about four minutes or until broccoli is tender, then add spinach. Stir through and turn off heat.

Liquify soup using a stick blender, food processor, or whatever you have on hand. If you don’t have any of those things, go to an op shop or a pawn shop and buy one. I don’t care how broke you are. Being able to make soup is going to save you more money than a second-hand stick blender could possibly cost you.

Pour soup into bowls and serve, or into containers to store in the fridge. I sometimes pop a swirl of cream in each bowl, but it isn’t necessary. This soup reheats quite happily in the microwave and keeps for over a week in the fridge.

Variation: Leave out the herbs and instead add half a teaspoon of cumin at the end of cooking. Serve each bowl with a blob of natural yoghurtIMG_8409

This soup can also be made with any sort of vegies you have lying around, like carrot, beans, zucchini and any sort of leafy greens. Just simmer hard veg for longer and add leafy veg toward the end of cooking time. If you like a thick soup, add more potato. If you like a thin soup, add more stock. However you make it, it will always be delicious. It will also be cheap and give you a hefty serve of vitamins and fibre with every verdant bowlful.

What other sort of soup recipes would you like to see? Or does anyone have a good recipe of their own? I’ll be back in my garden soon and I’ll be on the lookout for nice ones.

Happy souping!

Gem

XX

March was…

 

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Spring! Finally, actual, no-more-wishful-thinking SPRING! 

 

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The return of old friends…

 

 

 

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Including Shallow!

 

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Rediscovering that Tokyo is insane.

 

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Parties! Actual outdoor ones, after dark!

 

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Hanami (cherry-blossom viewing) in Yoyogi Park. There were so many different parties going on that they all sort of made one BIG party!

 

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The Indoor Refugees’ triumphant return to the Great Outdoors.

 

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Gem’s birthday! These are my presents from Kin, including Kyoto courtyard gardening books and a gorgeous new (second hand) goldy-green kimono! My parents have a finger lime waiting for me back in Oz as well, so I have a pretty good haul this year. Thank you everyone! – Gem

 

March began chilly and still, but soon warmed up to be busy, busy, busy, with trips, events and new discoveries popping up every day!  March was new blooms, night buses and near-nudity! Well….

Okay, no-one’s actually naked, but now that we’ve peeled off the layers of yeti-skins we’ve been wearing all winter and are walking around in actual human clothes, we feel a bit that way. It’s so lovely to be able to wear pretty clothes again and to just step outside whenever you feel like it! The ducks are back, the bats are back, insects are busy everywhere you look and we have survived our LAST EVER Northern Hemisphere winter! In four months, we’ll be back where the weather is sane!

February’s promise has definitely been met; the earth has warmed, nature is hard at work and it’s time for things to happen. And our countdown to Australia gets shorter every day…

It’s go-time!

Kin and Gem

XX

 

The Best Things in Life…

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Today we’re off on holiday! The plan for this post was just a couple of quick, merry little paragraphs (mostly as an excuse to show you photos!) detailing our early start, breakfast in Gion, then our cheery voyage aboard a JR highway bus, getting us to Tokyo station at about five thirty in the afternoon. A relaxed check-in, a little stroll, a pleasant dinner and then a gentle evening spent chatting, writing, sorting out the day’s photos and drinking our wine underneath the cherry blossoms in Ueno Park before hitting the frantic scramble of the city the next day. It was a good plan.

Instead, it’s rained all day, breakfast was McDonalds, our bus was late, there were landslides in the mountains, Kin was poisoned by a highly suspicious roadside Pluto Pup and, typing this at eight thirty at night, I am STILL on this goddamn bus, stuck in a traffic jam outside a city I’m HOPING is Tokyo, cramped, cold and getting crankier by the second.

Well, I was. I’m still stuck, that’s true, but I’m feeling a little more cheerful about it thanks to an even crankier email I’ve just read from a friend in Oz, detailing woes renovating, with a newly mobile baby in the house…

…And I started laughing at both of us. Honestly, there I was, grumpy about being en route to one of the most exciting cities in the world and there she was, cranky about her healthy child’s typical development and her house becoming lovely. People as lucky as we are shouldn’t feel so cranky!

 Gratitude

Feeling a lot more relaxed, I settled back into my (still kind of uncomfortable) seat and started giving some thought to gratitude. Why does it make such a difference to happiness? Not to mention, why is gratitude so essential for being awesome?

Mostly, I suppose, because being grateful for good things helps you to accept how much they cost. Right now, I am fatigued, uncomfortable and getting chillier by the second… but I get an amazing trip out of it, so I’m happy. The best things in life may be free when it comes to money, but there will always be some sort of sacrifice needed, of comfort, time or other resources. Without being grateful for the rewards these sacrifices earn you, though, you’re more likely to find the costs unacceptable… and so good things will come to you less and less frequently.

Accepting the costs

Being grateful for the fun you have at a party is great; it means that you accepted the awkwardness and boredom of the first half hour. Being thankful for the daffodils is a result of your choice to go for a walk instead of being sedentary. Appreciating a good dinner helps you accept the time spent preparing it. And once you get used to these sacrifices, they become part of the joy.

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See, that’s the part where I think a lot of people get the wrong idea about gratitude. They think it’s a passive thing, where you simply choose to accept with joy what the world has given you… and leave it at that. Now that’s fine, as far as it goes, (and it’s certainly better than being a miserable wanker about everything) but it’s really only a very basic first step. Gratitude isn’t passive. It’s a choice and a force. What do you do when you’re grateful to a person? You thank them and you and try to return the favour. You DO things! Gratitude is very, very active. In fact, just hanging around waiting for nice things to happen seems pretty UNgrateful to me. Simply by virtue of being when and where we are, we have been given immense opportunities for joy and growth.

 Active Gratitude

Life has many gifts for us, but the gifts won’t just happen, even if you have been lucky so far. To keep on getting, you have to keep on doing. Even if it’s just making the decision to stay on top of your bad mood; you can’t be grateful for the violets near your feet if you’re scowling at rainclouds.

If you’re happy now, there are probably still things you can do to ensure your future has gifts to be appreciated (I’m thinking bone-density and financial security, ladies. Get that load-bearing exercise on and review your expenditures; it’s never too late!) If you’re not happy now, do something to be grateful for. Stand up right now, stretch as high as you can and then try to bring your chin to your knees. Hold that for twenty seconds, then straighten up (bend your knees as you straighten if you have issues with your back). Do that three more times. Feel good? Not yet? Okay, do it again tomorrow. Keep doing it for a week and I guarantee you’ll have something to be grateful for, as you recognise your increased gluteal strength and flexibility. Every time you do that simple thing, you are doing something awesome.

 When Activity is Hard

If you’re depressed, never learned, or are just plain out of the habit of looking after yourself, it can be difficult to experience these everyday rewards (I’m talking mild-moderate depression here; if you’re in the middle of a serious episode, some chick talking to you on the internet probably won’t be helpful; you need to see your healthcare professionals and keep working on your plan). So, instead of telling you to look around for reasons to be grateful, I want you to look around for reasons why you’re awesome. But you can’t tell me things you are (I’m smart, I’m friendly, etc) you can only tell me things you’ve done. Five of them. Five awesome things you’ve done since you got up this morning.

And don’t tell me “Nothing”. I don’t believe you. I’ve been on this bloody bus all day, but I reckon I can still scrape out five. Yours will be much better. What have you done?

“Um… I watered the pot plants” YES! You’ve done something to ensure the continued existence of another being AND maintain your own environment’s liveliness and joy. What else? “I…. um… I let someone in ahead of me on the roundabout.” BRILLIANT! You demonstrated kindness and consideration at a particularly stressful time of day. What else have you done? Did you make breakfast? Shave? Wash the dishes? Pick best five and chuck them on your list.

“But I do that stuff every day!” So COUNT it every day! If you don’t think it’s good enough for your list, count it anyway and keep counting it until you have something else that bumps it out of the top five. THIS STUFF MATTERS.

If you’re depressed, just getting dressed might be enough to make it to your list. If you’re an alcoholic, not drinking is the best possible action you can take. We can’t measure this list against anything that other people are doing, it all has to be just us. And every day, we need to make five. I know that sometimes it can be hard to make yourself achieve anything in a day, let alone five things. But really, if you’re already miserable, then doing things won’t make you any less happy, will it? And by giving yourself things to be grateful for, you’re making happiness so, so much more likely.

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 My Awesome Five

I’ll admit, my mojo is kind of being hampered by this bus, but I’m still not without resources. My five things from today are:

1-     I’ve stretched at each rest stop, so I wouldn’t get headaches.

2-      I successfully blow-dried my hair out of its usual dead-seaweed tendencies (still a very new and unreliable skill for me) so I still look human.

3-      I’ve kept my temper all day despite being sleepy and cranky, so Kin and Shallow still love me.

4-      I’ve answered an email and made my cranky friend laugh (she feels much less cranky now).

5-      I’ve written a blog post about doing five awesome things!

What are your five awesome things? Did you cook something? Make something? Plant something? Help someone?

Leave your awesome things in the comments. I’d love to see what you’re doing!

Gem

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Edit II: If you can’t find the “Comments” box, try clicking on the heading “The Best Things In Life” so that you’re actually in the post. Then you should be able to see comments at the bottom.

It also seems that the reason some of you are PMing me your five things is that sometimes an error message comes up when you try to comment. I’ll do my best to fix it, but in the meantime, I’m told that just refreshing a couple of times should do the trick.

I really need to learn some HTML, damn it.

Edit: This was actually completed on Wednesday, and was supposed to be uploaded the same day, but issues with batteries, camera cards, hotel wifi, and the generalized insanity of Tokyo meant that it was much, MUCH easier to just wait until we were back in Shiga. Also, a more complete album of the Penis Festival is now available on our Facebook Page.