1.16.2015

Wild Boar Lard

About two years ago we were fortunate enough to find a source of wild boar meat. They are a big nuisance in Japan, causing all kinds of damage to crops and properties and occasionally attacking people. Populations of wild boar can be very high in rural areas, so the government encourages farmers to trap and kill boars to reduce their numbers.

Our friend's step-father lives in the countryside near Fukuyama and often traps boars on his property. He usually eats them too, but can only eat so much and apparently there isn't enough demand to get rid of all the meat. Those are the moments when it is good to know a Canadian family!

A boar trap

We were overjoyed to have access to healthy game meat and gladly agreed to take any and all boar that he was willing to send our way. We have gotten some dropped off here and there over the past two years and enjoyed every bite. This week our friend came by and gave us 6 kilos of meat. I was surprised at how fatty this boar had been, especially since it is winter, and I was able to trim quite a bit of fat from the meat.   
I trimmed so much off that I started to feel a little bit weird at the prospect of just throwing it out. Most of my life has been spent under the belief that animal based fats are to be completely avoided. However, there is continuously growing evidence that saturated animal fats are not actually the heart killers they were made out to be all these years.

I have never tried rendering fat before but I pushed my mental stigma aside and decided to try making some wild boar lard.

First I trimmed the fat from the meat which left me with about 1 kilo of fat.


I cut it into smallish (~1cm size) pieces. I put the pieces into my nabe pot with 175 ml of water.


I popped the nabe with no lid into my oven at 150 Celsius and baked for about 4 hours. I stirred the fat chunks every 10 minutes or so in the first hour of baking so that nothing would burn. As soon as the fat started melting down I wasn't too worried about anything sticking or browning too quickly.

sizzlin away
After 4 hours, the water had completely cooked out and tiny pieces of meat and fat crackles were all that was left.


I used a sieve with a paper towel inside, a funnel, a glass jar, and ladle to transfer and strain the fat. A cheese cloth would have worked much better for fine straining but I didn't have one so paper towel worked fine in a pinch. Once I strained the liquid fat through the paper towel and sieve into the jar, I put all of the crackles in a paper towel and gave them a good squeeze to get all the extra fat out. Another bonus is that my extremely dry hands now look pretty nice!


In the end I had only about 1/2 cup of crackles and crispy meat left. Rosie tried these out and thought they were delicious so maybe I will save them to mix into their morning omelette or something.

 

I was able to sieve nearly a jar of honey coloured liquid.


After a few hours the fat cooled and I was left with a jar of clean, ivory coloured lard. I wasn't sure if there would be a trace of gaminess to it but there is only a slightly bacony smell and basically no taste. I think I should be able to safely use it in any kind of pastry without changing the flavour. Success!  


First recipe to try it out on? Boar stew with boar lard dumplings. I can't wait!

Hatsumōde

On one of the first days in the new year people in Japan traditionally go to a Shinto shrine or Buddhist temple to pray, buy good luck charms for the next year, and burn the good luck charms they bought the year before. This visit is called hatsumōde. Two popular places in Fukuyama for hatsumōde are the Fukuyama Hachiman Shrine and Kusadoinari Shrine. So many people visit these shrines in the first few days of the new year that the parking is crazy and there are long lines to buy fortunes and charms.

Fukuyama Hachiman Shrine
Kusadoinari Shrine
Since we don't go to the shrine to pray or buy fortunes we don't bother fighting the crowds and instead walk over to our little neighbourhood shrine on the nearby hill. It is about a five minute walk and the kids love adventuring over the semi-neglected, bamboo covered hilltop. 

On our way up the hillside


Dustin, the caveman that he is, was instantly drawn to this bonfire burning off to the side of the shrine. The men there were burning all of the old woven grass ropes that decorated the shrine since last New Year's Day.



The boys helped the men with their fire for half an hour or so and then we headed back down the hill.


On the way down the trees open up and you can see most of downtown Fukuyama laid out in front of you. The night before had been unusually cold so there was a fine dusting of snow on everyone's roofs.


Later in that day, our neighbour brought by a branch of nanten covered in red berries. This small bush grows just about everywhere in Japan and is often used in New Year's decorations. Here is Bosco and the nanten wishing you all a very happy Year of the Sheep!

1.15.2015

Another Year Older

The changing of the year is always a super busy time around our house. Christmas, Dustin's birthday, New Year's, and Theo's birthday all fall back to back and make for a joyful and hectic time.

On December 30th, Dustin turned 35. In recent years he has become a little bit more balanced and accepting of his age and this year I didn't hear even a hint of, "I'm getting soooo old! What have I even done with my life?!?" It was a nice change.

Opening his birthday present from the kids and I: a board/card game called "Dixit".
We went out for supper at our favourite ramen shop, Ippudo Ramen.
Divine
Rosie just knows how to add a little flair to any picture.

After one of the kid's birthdays last year, Dustin jokingly bugged me that I always make fun decorated character cakes for the kids but never for his birthday. I think his exact words were, "How come I never get a Star Wars cake?" So this year I made him a cake of Admiral Ackbar, his favourite Star Wars character. There was some blatant geekery at our house and I was a total enabler.  

"It's a traaaap!" 

Theo and Ojiisan's birthday last year.
Three days later Theo turned seven. I was amazed at how little he looks in photos from his birthday last year and how fast the year has gone by. 

2014 was a big year for Theo, especially starting elementary school. It's been a lot of learning for both him and us but we've come a long way. I'm really excited to see how 2015 shapes up! 


Theo on his first day of elementary school in April

I always feel vaguely guilty about how low key Theo's birthdays are. Because it is so close so many other special days we are all a little burnt out on January 2nd, so the day usually ends up being spent at home, playing with toys, eating a special meal, and having some cake. This year was no exception.

The boys and I made some pizza dough in the morning and "decorated" our own pizzas for lunch.



I spent the afternoon decorating a cake and being reminded again how annoying it is to work in an insanely tiny kitchen with makeshift cake decorating tools. None the less, I think my monster cake turned out pretty fun and Theo was more than pleased. 





Happy birthday to two of my wonderful boys. I am so proud of all the ways you have grown over the past year. I love you both more that words can say! 

1.14.2015

Christmas 2014

We really love Christmas around our house and do our best to make it traditional and festive for ourselves as well as the kids. This requires a little bit more effort on our part since we live in a country where basically all Christmas amounts to is seeing really badly decorated trees, eating fried chicken and tasteless cake, and hearing Wham's "Last Christmas" played a million times.

Two years ago we bought a large artificial tree (well, large for Japanese standards since the trees here are usually only about a meter tall) and the kids "helped" set it up at the beginning of December. We spent a few days in December whipping off batches of cookies in our new oven. In previous years I had been baking cookies 6 at a time in our tiny microwave/oven combo and it took me forever to get any amount of cookies baked. It was wonderful to have 4x the baking capacity this year!

We also went to a few Christmas parties in the middle part of December which were kind of hectic but fun for the kids.
William, who I think was intending on a peace sign, at the Fukuyama Foreign Association Christmas party
Rosie checking out the little tree at our church Christmas party
Opening a present from Santa at the church Christmas party
Winter break began for the kids and I on December 22nd. Dustin's winter holidays usually only begin around the 28th, but he always takes at least Christmas day off. We spent the days before Christmas going on exploratory bike rides, going to a train show, and trying to keep warm.

Checking out Bingo Honjo station from the wrong side of the tracks
William the conductor
Playing with electric trains
An exceedingly hairy looking Dustin and a rare Fukuyama snow.
Here's my little bit of whining: I managed to feel sick on and off all winter break. All I wanted to do was curl up in bed and sleep off the headaches, congestion and coughing but a mother doesn't exactly have the luxury of being out of commission during the holidays. Instead I just went through the motions in a kind of a sickly daze and hoped that everyone was enjoying themselves more than me. Dustin was nice enough to wake up at the crack of dawn with Rosie every day so that I could get an hour or two more sleep each morning.

On Christmas Eve we brought the kids to the zoo only to find out that they were randomly closed for the day. There is an awesome playground next to the zoo so we just let the kids spend the afternoon running around there instead. Compared to some of the seriously sketchy playgrounds in our area this one is amazing.

いないないばあ!
William on a classic rolly tube slide
And Rosie watching

I am not sure if this will become a permanent family tradition for us, but for the last few years we have designated Christmas Eve as our Japanese Christmas dinner day and Christmas Day as the typical western holiday cuisine day. Last year we had nabe on Christmas Eve this year we went all out with fried chicken, pizza, and the best part of Christmas cake: strawberries. 

The children then spent the rest of the evening decorating sugar cookies for Santa and writing a letter to go with them.
Cookie decorating time
They got jealous of Santa's spread and needed their own glass of milk and cookies before going to bed
Once the kids were asleep we finished up a bit of wrapping and pulled the presents from their hiding places to go under the tree. 

 And the next morning:

William showing off the book given to him by his kindergarten.
Theo helping Rosie open up her present.
William and his walkie talkie with ecstatic Theo in the background.
 I spent the rest of the day in a sick but industrious cloud baking a turkey and pies, making stuffing mashed potatoes, and all the lovely veggies.

This was just the beginning of our holidays and I will hopefully find the time to write about the rest of it soon. I also noticed that there were no pictures of Bosco or me from Christmastime, and since this post is so picture heavy already, here is a token selfie and a cute picture of our lavender pooch soaking in some winter sunshine.