Tag Archives: japan

Calder Is In Japan

This is a continuation of my previous post where I was trying to write a Goodbye of sorts to my son who moved to Japan for 2 years to study Japanese and the Japanese culture. I was attempting to do this a few weeks before he left but it was way too difficult a task. The excitement and joy for him was completely overshadowed by motherly angst, fears and panic. You always know when you have a child that they will leave you one day and truly if they didn’t that would be kind of like telling me I was going to live forever instead of die. We think we want to live forever, but do we? The finality of it all puts us into the circle of life orbit and I think as humans we like a beginning, a middle and an end. That’s kind of another story.

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Little Side Shrine off Fushimi Inari Shrine Kyoto, Japan

If someone told me that my son would never stop being a child and would live with me until I died I might rethink having children. The beginning is having a child, the middle is raising that child, and the end is them leaving to find their own way. Of course it is not the end of the relationship, but more like a new beginning, a new cycle. This is where I am with Calder, the beginning of our new cycle.

I could never think of him as not living in our house. He was part of everything every day for the past 18+ years and I couldn’t think past that. I could only imagine feelings of what it would be like with him not sitting with me in the kitchen while I cooked, or him helping or him sleeping in his bed or sitting in the car going somewhere. Imagined feelings are awful and I felt sick every time I looked at him and thought about not being able to do that. I mostly seemed to dwell on the moment myself and my daughter Íde (we were both going to Kyoto to “drop” him off) boarded the plane for home without him, and then walking into the house after getting home. I knew I was going to strip the sheets from our beds before leaving and wash them so our travel-worn bodies could sleep in perfect cotton crispness, but I couldn’t stop imagining how Calder’s bed would be stripped and then left like that. It was stupid and overly sentimental but I get like that. I get wrapped up in the feeling and all I could think about was this loss and me pining away without him. The last few weeks were the worst because both he, and his sister would either be afraid to mention anything about him leaving for fear of me busting into tears or they would talk about it on purpose just to see me busting into tears (their sick way of making me laugh at myself, and it worked sometimes).

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 Bamboo Forest in Saga-Arashiyama, Kyoto

So, I decided to put off writing about Calder and his big adventure away from home, and from us, until I got back. And now here I am writing, and not a tear is being shed. I imagined all sorts of scenarios, but I never imagined what is actually happening: me being able to cope, and not just cope, me being happy, without him. 

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It was Cherry Blossom Season

I realize now that my feeling of panic and sadness was not really about him being gone, it was about him being unhappy. I can see now that when I got upset I was imagining him being far away from home feeling lonely, or scared or regretting his decision because his idea of what Japan was like in his head was completely different and disappointing. To my greatest relief, it was quite the opposite, which showed me once again that worrying about something is such a waste of time and energy. I need to remember that when my daughter leaves for God-knows-where next year!

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Monkey Park in Saga-Arashiyama, Kyoto

We were in Japan for 10 days and in that time Calder moved into his cool new digs with a bunch of international students like himself, started classes, and literally… disappeared. It was like a magic trick where I tapped him on the head with my wand and said: “You are going to love it here and we are going to be ok” and it happened, just like that. I cannot even explain it. My friend Kristen said it best when I came home and told her of his transformation. “He found his people”, she said. And that’s it really. He found where he wanted to be right now in his life, and immersed, body and soul. 

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Calder has been sending me pictures of the dinners he makes. sitting in the kitchen with me all those years has paid off!

 

How could I be sad? How could I want him back? We text, talk or video chat every day for just a little bit. We promised that we would and we said if we didn’t make it into a big deal, taking up tons of time (unless we can), it should be easy to keep up…and it has.

The only “Japan” thing I want to talk about is the place I mentioned in my last post: the Fushimi Inari Shrine 

Two years ago I knew for sure that my son, who was in High School at the time, did not want to go to college right our of school, but wanted to go to Japan and to live there and experience all the things he had been reading about since he was very young (the movie Totoro was the beginning of his obsession!). He and I began looking at how to make this happen and found a great language and culture institute with a campus in Kyoto. We had no idea how to proceed but over the course of the his last year in high school we got his application in and went through the arduous tasks of getting a visa and everything squared away. 

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Still from the movie Totoro

I did all this without really knowing if I could swing it financially. I have never let the lack of money stop me from at least trying to do the things that I want to do. I figure if I go ahead like everything is going to work out, at least I have the opportunity to do that thing if it miraculously does. I am a total optimist and it’s a blessing and a curse. Not everything works out but the odds of good things happening are better if I activity work on them. A couple of years ago I made something that might be corny to some but it is something that has helped me: A Vision Board. I am a big believer in visualization, not only for grandiose dreams like Calder’s but for small things too. My vision board contains just the pretty big things that I want or care about and one of those things was an image of a shrine in Japan to represent what I wanted to happen for Calder. I didn’t know anything about the shrine, or even where it was at the time I pasted it onto my board. I just knew it was something beautiful that said Japan to me. 

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Well, this place turned out to be a few train ride stops away from where Calder lived and the day before we left him, we made our visit to the Fushimi Inari Shrine (read a tidbit about it here). I was really overcome with the place and seeing it, after looking at it everyday for two years on my little board, was like a real dream coming true. I linked Calder’s arm and walked through the first pillars with him, a physical affirmation that was the beginning of his own new life and of my new life cycle with him . Both of my kids knew this was a big sappy moment for me and they let me have it, tears and all. I will never forget it. When I came home the first thing I did was put a little ✔️ by the dog-eared picture of the shrine on my board.

I will write some posts about some of what I absolutely loved later but for now it is enough to say that the time I spent there with my two kids doing something really important and exciting is something that I will treasure forever. And the feelings I felt are not the kind that will fickly fade into the recesses of my memory. I will hold onto them because it was magic. 

Thank you to everyone who made it possible for Calder to go to Japan, to my family and friends who I love so much and am forever grateful

 

Goodbye Calder

This is the place that I have written about food, well kind of about food, but truly more about me, buried under the “food” banner.

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Fushimi Inari Shrine, Kyoto

It definitely started out as a place to write down recipes and served as the platform to make me write more regularly. I have always loved writing, but clearly, not enough to call myself a writer, or even a blogger. But blogging is hard because the means: blogging, is supposed to have an end. Well the end is that everyone reads the posts and you become famous or something like that…and if that’s the aim then I have failed miserably. I didn’t go by the book and write catchy posts or drop the F bomb or I don’t know, didn’t do whatever it takes to become popular.

So what did I get, or am I getting out of spending hundreds of hours at this point writing in a public way about what I deem as important? Well, even though I have failed in the blogger superstar sense, I have totally succeeded as I am still writing when it is important, to me.

At the beginning, everything was important, but right now, I only write about whatever matters to me, so I can read it later and recall those feelings. Your feelings right in those moments are real and even when you look back and maybe have regrets or doubts, or are proud, the feelings in that moment go away. And, you even forget how you felt. We live every day and we change I suppose. But do we really change? I have no idea. When I meet people who I haven’t seen in years or even decades, they say to me, “you haven’t changed a bit”. This is supposed to be a compliment of sorts, like we are still ourselves or still genuine, but at the same time it is a baffling thing to hear. Wow, is this the me I was 20 years ago after all that has happened or after all I have been through? It is a weird question to grapple with, especially since my life, to me, seems to have changed a lot.

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This place (Fushimi Inari Shrine) is important to the story I will tell)

But before I say how my life has changed I want to thank this blog of mine for saving some of the things that I felt important enough to write about that I know for sure I would have forgotten. I might not have forgotten the day, but I most definitely forgot how I felt in that moment. It is why I am writing right now. I have to recall this moment because tomorrow it will just be me trying to remember how I felt, as opposed to right now, writing about the exact thoughts and feelings as I am experiencing them. And who will read those thoughts are just people like me who read a couple of blog posts a few times a week and in that moment are moved or interested, but mostly the content is lost and you only remember the things that you connected with etc etc. I am writing this to me because I have found if I write with an audience in mind I am not as honest or as free.

Dinner is over and in the past it is a dinner I would have written about. It is Easter Sunday and as I have never gone along with traditional meals for the occasion, I was thinking about making Chicken And Waffles. I don’t even know for sure what that is but my son, Calder (ah the blog is about him, Not Thee Calder!) had been talking about them for a while now. He has always loved giving me suggestions or requests of what to make for dinner and he must have read about it or seen it somewhere while watching something on the internet.

But I do have to tell you that what I did make was very good actually. We had fried  Salmon which was  marinated in a lime soy sauce mixture on a bed of Festival rice (our version of this tonight was rice and fried vegetables, which consisted of whatever I had in the fridge: onions, lacinato kale and mushrooms from a local farmer, and yes, that sounds uppity and pretentious but the kale is my go-to green and the mushrooms were a surprise, given to my kids from a farmer they visited).

Well I never owned a Waffle Iron and it is such an American gadget to me, it never occurred to me to own one. But now I wanted one because there was an urgency to please my son. I started looking at them over the past few weeks but I couldn’t justify buying a cheap crappy one but also couldn’t really afford to go all out for a really good one, especially if it was going to end up being one of those space-wasting things that never got used.

My decision was made for me when I happened upon a store-wide liquidation sale and got a fairly decent one for 80% off. It was meant to be.

It was meant to be because I was counting down the days to the 6th of April when myself and my daughter would accompany Calder to his new home for the next two years: Kyoto Japan.

Well the waffle iron got used and we made the long-awaited trip to Japan and I couldn’t finish my account because before the trip it was too difficult to get a handle on all of those cursed feelings. Mostly though, I was so overwrought by worry, I couldn’t find the perspective I was looking for. This was a good thing and I didn’t want the protective mother that I am color everything I wanted to say about my beloved son Calder and his amazing adventure. 

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Now I feel ready to write the goodbye I had in mind.

Stay tuned…

POCKY!

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Press This -> “Anatamo Watashimo Pocky!” (“you and I are Pocky!”)

If it is Japanese and my son happens to spot it (and believe me he is always on the lookout!) it will most definitely make it’s way into our shopping basket at least once. Then, if it gets rave reviews, it usually earns a permanent place in the pantry. This is how Pocky found it’s way into our lives and into our greedy hearts!

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Pocky: a chocolate covered plain biscuit – pure and addictive.

It is a very simple thing, but when you combine two tried-and-true staples it is hard to go wrong – at least when it comes to chocolate (in my opinion anyway!). I will admit to being the kind of food shopper who is completely won over by a really great display of fresh herbs and I can spend a lengthy amount of time staring at a glass case full of confections of any kind, giving in according to my mood and how much money I have to spend on trivialities. Combing the shop for Japanese sweets was never part of my routine until my son discovered his love for all things Japanese at about the age of four and it hasn’t relented or waned into Teenagedom  (can you say that? I’m sure not  – ha).

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Very sweet pink box with delicate strawberry cream that is irresistible.

This is another thing I love about being in the company of my two children. They get ecstatic about things I either never knew existed or about things I thought I had no interest in whatsoever, that is until I become infected by their pure and utter enthusiasm for whatever the “thing” happens to be. Some of the stuff is short-lived and not worth investing any of my precious time but over the years I have learned when to sit up and pay attention. Even little things like the skinny-sticked Pocky are worth it when it plays a part in the kind of relationship I have with my kids – yes, corny and sappy is the road I happily take when it comes to my kids!

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The Japanese love their Pocky with an ice-cold glass of water!

What is this Pocky anyway (pronounced po-ki): well if I grew up in Japan it seems it would have been as iconic a thing to me as what?: Cadbury’s chocolate to me and possibly Hershey Kisses to American kids. It is a slim plain snappy biscuit covered in a thin assortment of chocolate or creamy flavors. The first one came out in 1966 and was chocolate which is my absolute favorite. The box is bright and fun and is probably the reason my son was drawn to it in the first place.

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Pocky that are in my pantry right now!

Over the past five decades the Japanese have made countless different flavors and even themed versions like “Decorer Pocky” which sports stripes, and one that amuses me called “Men’s pocky” which has a richer bittersweet chocolate! The ones that are available to me here in the United States are nothing to what is readily available in Japan. I can find dark chocolate (alas no “Men’s Pocky” to be found!), milk chocolate, strawberry cream, almonds and chocolate, salted chocolate and a mint. I will need to go to Japan (and I fully intend to!) to get my hands on things like mango, green tea, azuki bean, soy bean, black sesame, goka, and coconut to name just a handful!

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I love a half-dozen of these little sticks with a cup of coffee: dip then into the hot liquid and they literally melt in your mouth!

They are also fun to eat. You can take two bites and it’s gone or you can eat it like my daughter, in one long succession of tiny chipmunk-like bites! 

Dear Little Pocky

Dear Little Pocky

So the mission is to scour your supermarket or Asian Shop for a box of these addictive delights.

I will leave you on this NOTE ! (press to play)

Mirin ; The magically Sweet Elixir

I have cooked lots of recipes with mirin and realize I haven’t explained what it is to those of you not in-the-know!

Types of Japanese Mirin

Mirin is Japanese and was first introduced as a highly prized distilled alcoholic drink. Sake (which is Japanese rice wine) was mixed with rice, and/or sweet rice to make this drink which could be as much as 14% proof. This is over-simplifying the whole history of this wonderful condiment but suffice is to say that a few years or century later, industrious chefs got hold of it and starting adding it to dishes to enhance flavors. You know, the way wine is used in cooking today.

kikkoman make a good mirin

Authentic mirin contains rice, sweet rice, and water, and it has no additives or preservatives. The alcohol content was lowered for cooking to around 1 % so it qualified as a condiment, and not a taxable liquor.

this one is on the too-sweet side but not bad if you're stuck

If you look hard to can find more authentic mirin. The local run-of-the-mill supermarket varieties have additives like fructose. This is still acceptable in a pinch. Mirin has a lovely sweet nuttiness and pairs great with salty things like soy sauce. 

It is Asian, so any kind of stir-fry is a vehicle for this lovely syrupy liquid. I also love it in a marinade for fish or soy sauce.

It is less expensive than a nice balsamic vinegar or olive oil, so buy a bottle and give it a try.

And, if you ever visit Japan, I would love a bottle of the real deal!