The Flavours of Autumn

Did you notice that I neglected autumn in my post about the seasonal flavours of Japan? I enjoy fall foods so much that I thought I would give them a whole post to their lonesome. When I think of autumnal foods, the first things that come to mind are pumpkin, apples, cinnamon, corn on the cob, and traditional Thanksgiving food. In Japan, fall brings with it a whole slew of delicious seasonal treats. There are all sorts of delectable yam, chestnut, and pumpkin goodies. Here are a few sweet snacks in flavours that you can only come across during the fall: 

A maple flavoured version of the normally chocolate biscuit bamboo shoots
A chestnut version of the normally chocolate biscuit mushrooms. These were so good!
A purple yam  and black sesame flavoured version of the normally chocolate biscuit bamboo shoots
Pumpkin pudding Kit Kats
Another food that is representative of autumn in Japan is a thin silver fish called sanma, or Pacific saury. They cost only about 100 yen a fish in this season and are served grilled with grated daikon,  and soy sauce. This fish is one of the numerous reasons that fall is my favourite seasons for food in Japan. It is just so amazingly good! 

This year we had (maybe a new tradition?) a Japanese style autumn feast and of course invited our friends the Oshimas to join us. We barbecued sanma, and made a huge pot of miso soup, steamy rice, and chestnut pumpkin cake for desert. 

Sanma, cut in half and popped on the barbecue. That lone little
pork cutlet was for Dustin, who really only eats fish when
it is absolutely necessary or battered and deep fried. 
Usually sanma is grilled whole, with the head on, and not gutted. Mrs. Oshima wasn't sure the kids would be too fond of that, since the guts are pretty bitter, so she beheaded them, cut them in half, and gutted about half the fish for the boys. I tried one with the guts but found them to be so taste smotheringly bitter that I couldn't enjoy the mild fish flavour at all. I ended up joining the boys eating their gutless ones. Maybe one day I'll learn to eat what the grownups are eating!

A close up of the beauties
All crisp and ready to eat. 
Fish is one of Theo's favourite foods. He really anticipated this meal!
Rosie didn't know what she was missing
But at least she didn't miss out on a good opportunity to have a nap in the cozy arms of Obaasan

Another, not to be forgotten, star of the fall foodscape is the mushroom. Japan in autumn is the place to be for mushroom lovers. There are so many varieties and they so inexpensive that there is no reason no to eat them all the time. I think I could eat them for every meal! 


Japan's Seasonal Flavours

Japan is a land that is highly aware of the changing of seasons. I often get asked if we have four seasons in Canada and when I say that we do, I am met with a surprised and seemingly never ending "eeeeehhh?!?", like they assumed that Japan was the only place on earth that had four distinct seasons. In some ways they are right though. Japan relishes in the changing of seasons like no other place that I have ever lived.

Baby William trying to break his way into
a pack of sakura flavoured yogurt
In Canada we fairly passively observe the changing of seasons. Spring is met with a "Hey, its nice that the snow is gone and flowers are on the lilac bushes", but not that much more. Maybe because of year round climate controlled houses the seasons are merely something you see outside your window, not a cold, heat, or humidity that you endure all day long. If Canadians dealt with humid, sticky houses when it rained, freezing cold houses in winter, or hot and humid houses in summer, they might find a way of celebrating and glorifying the changing of seasons a bit more. We also like to have constant access to our favourite foods all year long, even if this means we are importing them from across the world and they taste like little more than bland shadows of the foods they should be.

After moving to Japan, we noticed fairly quickly the availability of certain foods and products only in the right season. Want to buy a fan in the winter? Sorry! Have to wait until the appropriate season. Is it an unseasonably warm spring day? Be prepared to get some looks like you are a crazy person if you wear anything other than long sleeve shirts, a sweater, and pants. Do you want to by strawberries in October or tomatoes in December? Not every store will carry them, and if they do you will pay and arm and a leg.

In late spring, I am always happy to eat boiled soramame
Summer is the perfect time to eat a delicious meal of cold noodles like somen
Would winter be winter without eating mikan every day?

Nabe. In winter we revel in it and every other season we
remember it fondly. 
The strict seasonality of products can occasionally be pretty annoying, but once you get used to changing your shopping and menu planning every three months it is really fun and wonderful. I look forward to spring every year because I love how sakura (cherry blossom) flavoured products suddenly show up on the shelves. In summer I am always happy to see my friends warabimochi and all sorts of fresh veggies like tomatoes, cucumbers, and edamame cheap and readily available. Even though brassicas have never been my favourite, we eat turnips, cabbage, and daikon fairly often in the winter months. Though this is something we never really needed to do back home, it has made the seasons into something that we celebrate and anticipate. It is also a way to overlook the unpleasant things that come with them, like heat, cold, bugs, and rain, making them seem more bearable.

Every New Year my children test just how much
fresh mochi they can ingest in one sitting. 


Fall Fun

Theo loves dressing up and as Halloween draws near, every day is a chance to try out a new look. That is why we get to spend our afternoons with clown boy

and eating supper with Batman.

Last year I was happy to discover that the fruit farm where we went apple picking grew large carving pumpkins. This year they allowed us to take one home as well. Theo was overjoyed and spent a deal of time talking to the pumpkin and protecting it from William.

Last year, I carved the pumpkin about a week and a half before Halloween. In Canada, this was perfectly fine since the outdoor temperature is cool enough by mid-October that it still looks fresh by the time the end of the month rolls around. Not so in Japan. Ours was kind of warped, moldy, and shrunken from sitting out in the sun and warmth. This year I made sure to wait until just before Halloween to crack the pumpkin open.

Theo insisted that the pumpkin told him what face he wanted carved on himself (yes, I know how creepy that is) and proceeded to draw me a couple of diagrams of how I should carve it. I let the boys help me scoop out the innards but I did all the carving. This is only partially because I don't want them to cut themselves and almost entirely because I love carving pumpkins and don't want to give up my one chance a year to my children. It is pretty selfish, but when they are older maybe, maybe I will relinquish my supreme carving rights. I thought I was being pretty generous this year to allow Theo to completely decide what the carving should be.

Here is the finished jack-o-lantern:

Theo seems to be pretty pleased with the result.

Theo has officially named it the King of Darkness, which I think is a pretty apt name for a jack-o-lantern.

All ready for Halloween! 


Apple Picking

A few weeks ago we headed off into the mountains near Mihara, Hiroshima with Obaasan and Ojiisan to a tourist fruit picking farm. We had visited this farm during apple harvesting season last year, but because of my crippling morning sickness I wasn't really able to enjoy it all that much. This year the weather was once again fabulous, I actually had an appetite for apples, and the children were generally well behaved, so all was grand.

They grow all types of fruit at the farm, including kiwi, apples, strawberries, grapes, peaches, and pears, and depending on what time of year you visit you can pick different kinds of fruit. I think they also have a large pasture of chickens where you can collect eggs for purchase. There is a small fee to get into the farm and once you're in you can eat all the fruit you want for free. They give you a small basket and a paring knife for collecting, and peeling and coring your apples if you wish. If you want to bring any home with you, you have to pay. It is a very relaxing and tranquil place with a large field to picnic in and beautiful view of the mountains. Now that we have gone two years in a row I guess it has become a bit of a tradition. Can't say I'm too upset about that!

The apple orchard had about fifteen rows of apple trees in five different varieties.

Next to the apple orchard, the kiwi were hanging large from their vines. Kiwi are the next fruit to be harvested, toward the end of October and into November. 

Last year, I spent the majority of the time policing William and making sure he didn't yank apples off the trees willy nilly and just to toss them on the ground. This year he knew the drill and was pretty good about asking before picking. 

He did manage to yank off a few spotty ones though. 

Theo managed to eat about two apples, which was no simple feat considering that he had one bottom tooth missing and a very wobbly tooth right beside it. Here he is trying to take a big bite while avoiding his front teeth.            

William, who is a little bit more particular about how he eats his apples, waited until they were cored and sliced by Obaasan.

He also enjoyed wandering around with Ojiisan who was much more lenient about which apples William picked.

Rosie even joined in on the fun by gumming and sucking on an apple slice. She wasn't too terribly impressed but kept on sucking nonetheless. 

After eating as many apples as our stomachs could handle, we had a picnic in a large grassy field. The boys loved being able to tear around and shout with not a care in the world.

I remember regretting not bringing our kite last year and so we made sure to pack it along this time. It was a nice breezy day; perfect kite weather.

As if the apples and bento weren't enough, the boys also had a tasty ice cream cone before heading back to the car.

What a perfect way to celebrate the fall!


Undoukai 2013

On October 10th, Theo participated in his very last kindergarten undoukai, or sports day. Sports day in kindergarten has very little to do with athletics, other than a few short races and warm ups, and is basically a day for each yochien class to present an act they have been working on for the past few months.

After a bit of stretching and warm ups, groups of children ran short obstacle races. Last year, Theo couldn't be bothered to speed up beyond a slow lope and came dead last in every race. I was curious to see if he'd developed even one tiny grain of competitiveness over the course of the year but it seems that he didn't. The funny thing is that he is a super high energy kid who is normally tearing around, climbing everything in sight, and bouncing off the walls, but when it comes to organized sport with large groups of children he shuts right down, whines, and drags his feet. I have a feeling that Dustin's parents felt the same way during his short lived time in peewee hockey. Good thing for Theo that our family is much more supportive of individual physical activities like kayaking, hiking, and cycling.

William was pretty bored/cranky since, from his point of view, it was four hours of fun that he wasn't allowed to participate in. It also spanned his normal lunch and nap time which always undermines Williams efforts to behave.

                     Meanwhile, Rosie had no problem sitting on Obaasan's lap, playing with her hands, and napping. Four months is such an easy age!

The first year classes did a bizarre but cute Halloween play and dance, the plot of which completely eluded me. The second year classes wore sparkly little costumes and did a routine using large multicoloured parachutes. Meanwhile, Theo and his fellow third years were getting all dressed up in plaid outfits for their Scottish military tattoo presentation. 

I really have no idea how they manage to train a group of sixty 5-6 year olds to play drums, march, and wave flags without it disintegrating to complete mayhem, but they did and I was utterly amazed. It was absolutely amazing to say the least. Here is a video that we took of the marching. I apologize for the bad quality and shakiness, but it does let you get the idea. If you scroll to about 60% of the way through, you can actually see Theo close up. 

Afterward it was another hour and a half of thank you songs and parent participation dances (seriously, why do these things have to take so long? I don't even think the kids were enjoying it by this point) and then Theo's final yochien undoukai was finished. Good job Theo! Can't wait to see what you will do next year once you start elementary school!


Canadian Thanksgiving 2013

In March, we were happy to welcome a Costco to our capital, Hiroshima City. Before its opening, there were certain foods that either we couldn't get at all, like turkey, quality cheese, pecans or cranberry juice to name a few, and some foods that were only sold in small amounts and egregiously overpriced, like oatmeal, flour, and coffee. I was, however, sad to see that not all of the products sold back home made it to the shelves in Japan. I would have been so happy to see whole wheat flour, hemp hearts, quinoa, flax, basically any healthy whole grain, dried beans, and some kind of breakfast cereal that wasn't cornflakes and Cheerios. You can't have it all, I guess.

Unfortunately in some ways and fortunately in others, we live about two hours from Hiroshima City and don't really get the opportunity to visit more than a handful of times in a year. In early October all five of us packed into a friend's car to drive to Costco and pick up some Thanksgiving essentials. We were joined on the big day of feasting by our neighbours and their one year old daughter and our good friends the Oshimas.

Making apple pie
Can you believe that I fit a 6 ½ kilo turkey into this oven? 
Getting ready to sit down to our feast 
William was overwhelmed with delicious scents and smells
Theo and our neighbour's daughter waiting mostly patiently to eat 
No Thanksgiving is complete without apple and pumpkin pie! 

Every year that we are here, cooking for holiday meals seems to get easier and easier. I am not sure if it is because I am fast becoming used to my tiny, nearly counter-less kitchen, because I am just not putting as much pressure on myself to make the "perfect" holiday meal, or because I am starting to invite more people and delegating what dishes I want them to bring along. Whatever the case may be, this ended up being a fun day with friends, family, and yummy food! Until next year turkey!