Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Strawberry Jam and Strawberry Mousse

A few days ago I bought a lot of strawberries that were on sale at a supermarket, and with them I made some strawberry jam and strawberry mousse last Sunday, which seemed to bring spring to our home.

I like homemade jam because I can make it according to my taste (not as sweet - about 70% less sugar than the commercial ones - and thus pleasantly fresh and tangy). To my relief, Amar also liked fresh homemade jam, so we enjoyed it together with a slice of my raisin-yeast loaf fresh from oven on that day.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Teaching Calligraphy at Middle School as a Volunteer

Last Saturday, I helped out at the International Fair at the Bachlor Middle School in Bloomington as a volunteer to introduce and teach Japanese calligraphy to middle school students (from 12 to 15 years of age) who visited the fair. There was another Japanese volunteer, Hagiko, and together with her we did calligraphy with perhaps around 20-30 people including several adults who also wanted to try it.

Most children wanted to write their own names, so Hagiko and I coined Chinese characters to copy the sound (and to have a nice meaning whenever possible). We wrote them together with the children, one stroke at a time. It was quite fun!
I also enjoyed talking with Hagiko and Patricia during the breaks.

Here are some photos from the event:

( The last two photos: African Gunboot Dance and Korean Drum Performance)

Sunday, April 15, 2007

My Piano Teacher's Recital

Yesterday (Friday the 13th), Amar and I went to one of the Graduate Chamber Recitals at IU's Jacobs School of Music, in which my piano teacher Natsuki played as an accompaniest.

She did a really great job, and we thoroughly enjoyed the concert as well as being very proud of Natsuki.
She is a Masters student in the Jacobs School of Music (which is considered one of the best music schools in the U.S.), and I have been really enjoying learning the piano with her.

The number they played was Trio No.1 in D Minor, Op. 49 by Felix Mendelssohn, and Natsuki accompanied her fellow senior students, Shu-Ting and Yeon, two Chinese doctors in Violin and Cello, respectively.

Though I have a long way ahead of me to be able to play in a trio or ensemble, it would be my dream come true if I can play with a cellist or a violinist some day... But at the moment, I am content with practicing smaller pieces like Bach's Well-Tempered Klavier, a sonata of Mozart's, and a Prelude of Rachmaninoff's (these three are the pieces I am practicing right now). (Among all the pieces I have practiced, I feel most comfortable and relaxed when I play Bach - and he is my most favorite composer to listen to, too.)

Friday, April 13, 2007

Korean Dumplings - ISC cooking session (2)

Yesterday, at the International Spouses Circle (ISC) gathering, we had the second cooking session of this semester. (For the first cooking session, please see the March 3rd article). The dish we tried was Korean dumplings. Three Korean women (Jaesun, Myungsun, and HeeMyung) explained and demonstrated how to make a filling (I was totally surprised and impressed to know how many ingredients are put together in the filling for Korean dumplings - in Chinese and Japanese traditional dumplings/gyozas, we usually put only ground pork, mushroom and chinese cabbage (or chinese garlic chives) for the main ingredients, but in Korean dumplings, they put kimchee, mungbean sprouts, korean sweetpotato starch noodle and tofu to go along with the pork!), and then everyone put the filling into wrappers and shaped them together, which was a lot of fun.

Apart from the dumplings we made there, we also had a chicken-cucumber salad brought by Yen (from China) and daikon-radish sweet-and-sour pickles brought by Myungsun as appetizers. Both were very nice and people especially loved Myungsun's daikon pickles. We have a similar daikon-radish sweet-and-sour pickles in Japan too, but I never imagined that this dish can be so popular among people from different countries, especially among those from the Western culture. Well, I was totally wrong and am happy to find it out ;-)

(left: Three teachers of the day: Myungsun, HeeMyung and Jaesun right: Daikon-radish pickles that were so popular!)

(left: Enjoying eating and chatting... right: Sandy, the organizer of the ISC)

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Handmade Tablecloth - finished!

I started working on this tablecloth two weeks ago - and I finally finished it today, together with matching placemats, napkins and a table runner! (Hooray!)

Our dining table, which we bought together at an antique/used furniture shop near our previous house in Bloomington, is a very large round table (about 75 inches =190 cm diameter), and so we couldn't find any readymade tablecloth that fits the table on the market. So I thought it would be nice to make one by myself, partly for our second wedding anniversary - according to Amar's mum, it is a tradition to exchange something with cotton for the second wedding anniversary gift. I chose the colors (navy and creamy white) as they are favorite colors of both Amar and myself.

I made the tablecloth as reversible - so I took pictures with the other side up too (the left picture below). I also tried out a table set-up with a Japanese indigo-dyed tablecloth that my mother gave me before my move to the U.S. using it as a top piece on my navy tablecloth (the right picture below). The indigo-dyed tablecloth is a very nice piece, and I'm very glad I can finally use it now that I made a bigger matching tablecloth :-)

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Easter Sunday Dinner

For our Easter Sunday dinner this year, I cooked a rack of lamb. Just like making hot cross buns, cooking a rack of lamb (or any part of lamb) was the first experience for me. Living with a Kiwi husband in the U.S., gives me plenty of opportunities to try new things and I like that ;-)

I chose a fairly small rack of lamb and roasted it in the oven coated with parsley-mint-garlic-flavored bread crumbs. It turned out quite successful, and to my great relief, Amar appreciated and enjoyed it a lot too! Here is what he said: "Well, my family and friends in NZ will be totally impressed if you can cook lamb like this! If you cook Japanese food for them, it's nice..., but if you can cook NZ food just as good as they can, that's a totally different story ;-)!" ( ... ha-ha. is that so? :-)

The bottle of wine Amar chose for the Easter dinner was a Pinot Noir from Oregon - it was very nice wine too, and went along very well with both the lamb and the chocolate mousse I made for a dessert.

Monday, April 9, 2007

English Traditional Hot Cross Buns on Good Friday Morning

I made these traditional hot cross buns for Easter this year for the first time in my life, as Amar persistantly pleaded for "hot cross buns for a Good Friday breakfast treat".
I referred to three different recipes from three different bread cookbooks including two borrowed from the public library. In the end, I went for the recipe from the book that I own, with a few changes made in favor of my preferences (such as reducing the amount of sugar and butter).

These buns turned out quite well for a first try: Amar was very happy with my buns, as well as the fact that he got to have real traditional hot cross buns for a Good Friday breakfast, as he used to do every year in NZ ;-)

According to these cookbooks I referred to, hot cross buns were born in pagan England, but somehow it became a tradition in the UK and English-speaking countries to eat hot cross buns on Good Friday morning. Some people still believe, one book says, that there is a curative power when you eat these buns on Good Friday morning. (Notes: However, it seems that hot cross buns are not so common in the U.S., as all the several American friends we asked if they eat hot cross buns for Good Friday answered that they only know of the cross buns from a nursery rhyme but never actually tasted them. Of which Amar said to me, "A sad life, isnt't it..." with a sigh and a wink.)

As I was so pleased with these buns, I made them again on Easter Sunday and shared some with two family friends of ours. When I was making the second batch, Amar's mum Christine and her husband Peter happened to "call" us for a video chat on Skype, and they saw me putting the crosses on the buns before baking and brushing syrup onto them after the baking was done! At both ends of the video phone, we all found it very funny :-)

These pictures are taken by Amar while I was making the first batch of hot cross buns on Thursday night:

(Good Friday Breakfast with Hot Cross Buns)

Tuesday, April 3, 2007

Tea Ceremony Demonstration

Yesterday, I was invited by the "Bloomington Conversation Club", a kind of social club composed of middle-aged and senior women (mostly the wives of IU faculty and company executives) living in Bloomington, to demonstrate Japanese tea ceremony as one of their monthly lectures to learn about other cultures.

According to one of the members I talked with over the coffee and cake preceding the lecture and demonstration, the Bloomington Conversation Club has a history of more than 100 years: back then, women were not allowed to go out nor even visit friends freely by themselves, and so the club started as an excuse for women to gather and socialize with each other, since they were allowed to go out if for educational reasons - such as lectures with an invited speaker. Each monthly meeting always starts with coffee/tea and cake, always accompanied by some chocolates to nibble on, and then proceeds to the lecture - this tradition has been passed on without exception for all of these years. Their meeting places are rotated among members' private houses, it seems, and the house where today's meeting was held was a very large and handsome house with a grand piano in its lounge.

After the Chair of the club introduced me to about 25 women who had gathered that day, I started with a brief lecture on the history of the Japanese tea ceremony, its relationship with Zen philosophy, and its influence upon the Japanese way of life, and then did the demonstration. Both lecture and demonstration were quite successful, with lots of members enthusiastically taking notes and asking me questions during the lecture and assuring me that they really enjoyed the whole thing as well as the tea I served them.

It was also very nice to get to meet Patricia and Deb thanks to this occasion - Patricia is a staff member at IU East Asian Studies Center, and as the mediator for the Club and me for this particular event, she gave me a ride from my house to the place where today's event took place. It turned out that she has some personal connections both with Japan and NZ - she worked as an English teacher for 3 years in Japan and she visited NZ three times, including her honeymoon a few years(?) ago, as she loves the country. Deb is a ceramics art teacher in Brown County Highshool near Bloomington, and she has been interested in inviting me for a tea ceremony demonstration for her class sometime this year. Both Patricia and Deb are very nice and interesting to talk to, so I'm looking forward to having more opportunities to get to know them more in the future.

All the photographs uploaded on today's entry are taken by Deb - she has a talent in photography, as you can see - thanks to her beautiful pictures, I look like a real graceful tea master in these pictures, don't I??? ;-)