Monday, December 29, 2008

Arigato, Santa Kat!

Just as the post-Christmas blahs were setting in, the most wonderful package arrived at my door, courtesy of Kat, creator of the awesome blog Our Adventures in Japan.

Kat, a fellow Hawaii-expat who blogs about her life in Japan, ran a contest recently. Inspired by the holidays to send a small gift to one of her readers, she ran a contest and asked us to share our thoughts about Japan. I like to think that my entry was so poignant and brilliant that Kat immediately chose me; what actually happened was that she received so many entries from her adoring readers that she ran the names through a random generator. Guess whose name it spat out? (Thank you, random generator.)

I love things that represent everyday life in other cultures. Having lived most of my life near the Asia-Pacific corridor (first in Hawaii, now near Seattle), I've seen my share of Japanese items and some of the things in the box looked familiar. But there were some surprises. There were also reminders that big international food companies produce different flavors of the same items for different markets (see the Kit Kat listing below).

The photo above doesn't do the shipment justice. Here's a partial list of some of the things Kat sent:
  • A pair of pretty blue and white teacups and a pair of little dessert-sized plates in the same pattern.
  • A set of plastic egg molds. According to Kat's English note (since all instructions were in Japanese), you put a hot hard-boiled egg into one of the molds, immerse it in cold water for a few minutes and you have an egg shaped like either a bear or rabbit! Who are the geniuses who think of these things?
  • A cute plastic lunch container with a matching set of chopsticks and chopstick case.
  • A postcard featuring one of Kat's many great photos.
  • A box of Kit Kat in the flavor of ... get ready ... Caramel Macchiato McFlurry!
  • Assorted bags of cookies. One bag is the McVities brand, with chocolate digestive cookies on the outside. The filling, if I understand correctly from the picture, is a center of red azuki bean surrounded by creamy green tea. I love chocolate and azuki bean, so I may not be sharing this one.
  • Assorted bags of hard candies.
  • Two bags of chocolate covered nuts. One of them is called The Caramel Corn and appears to be cashews covered in bittersweet chocolate and then dusted with a spice mixture of black pepper, ginger, cinnamon, cardamon, cloves and allspice. Can't wait to try this one.
  • A bag of wasabi-flavored arare (rice crackers).
  • A bag of ume furikake. Our family loves furikake, which is a dry Japanese condiment usually containing bits of seaweed, sugar and other flavorings. This one contained bright red flakes, which puzzled me until I read Kat's note that it contained ume (bright red pickled plums). The red coloring, combined with the dark coloring of the seaweed flakes, makes for a really pretty combination.
  • A bag of ume tea packets. Each packet contains a powder that you mix with a small cup of boiling water. To me it tasted like a light vegetable or miso broth with a light tangy flavoring from the ume. I wasn't sure I liked it at first sip but it really grew on me. It's a winner!
I'm slowly rationing my cache to make it last longer, which will require me to hide it not only from my kids but also from myself. This way I won't blow through everything by the end of the week.

Kat, doomo arigato for your kindness and for brightening up my day!

If anyone out there has not read Kat's addictive blog, I highly suggest doing so, although not on an empty stomach. Kat is a great photographer AND gourmand, a dangerous combo in my book. She posts the most delicious and interesting looking culinary treats, both homemade and purchased. She also does a wonderful job giving us a look at everyday life in Japan (where she now lives with her husband Satoshi), stuff you would never find as a tourist.

I leave you with photos of the stamps that came with Kat's package. I don't know whom or what some of them represent, but they're fascinating to look at. My daughter has already swiped them for her journal and has claimed the chopsticks and lunch container for herself. See why I have to hide stuff?

Friday, December 26, 2008

Fun With Informercials

One of my favorite guilty pleasures, especially when I have insomnia and am snowed-in (as has been the case this week), is to watch late-night informercials. Nothing soothes like bad acting, loud booming voices and incredulous claims.

A current favorite of mine is the Magic Bullet, which, according to perky hosts "Mic" and "Mimi," can replace A WHOLE CABINET FULL OF KITCHEN APPLIANCES. I usually don't use all caps to type, but Mic really projects when he speaks, and I imagine he would type in all caps, too.

So the fake scenario is that Mic and Mimi's friends are visiting and all hovered around the kitchen, waiting for their hosts to provide for them. Did they have a sleepover or were they promised a breakfast buffet? This is not addressed. There is an assortment of fairly attractive middle-aged people (the types of actors that are usually cast as "everyday" people in commercials), an overweight hungover guy and some strange older chain-smoking woman in an old housecoat who doesn't seem to fit in with the rest of them. I get the feeling she was some cantankerous neighbor who just wandered in and they were too polite to tell her to leave.

In just SECONDS and MINUTES, Mic and Mimi not only make smoothies and omelets using the Magic Bullet, but also salsa, guacamole, quesadillas, pasta sauces and blended cocktails. If my friends were that efficient and cheery before I had my morning cup of coffee I'd have to smack them.

Who needs to dirty a knife and a cutting board when you can just throw onions into the tiny little Magic Bullet to be chopped? Of course, I'm not sure how the onion was peeled and quartered to begin with. Maybe the system works best if you buy really tiny fruits and veggies and only bring home cheeses that come in little cubes.

The claims that you can prepare EVERYTHING you need for your gastronomic pleasure using their product reminds me of an older informercial I used to enjoy that featured a sandwich grill: You would put in bread in, close the lid, and two hot slabs of Teflon-coated metal would enclose your bread and seal and grill your sandwich to perfection. Grilled cheese sandwiches? You bet. But that's not all. You could also make a breakfast sandwich with this, putting eggs and sausages and what-not between two slices of white bread and then closing the grill. Also, a hot-pocket meal that involved scooping some canned beef stew between two slices of white bread. And of course there was dessert, easily made by scooping canned apple pie filling between two slices of white bread. I imagined families ordering this and running out to buy loaves of white bread and perhaps a bottle of Metamucil for the ensuing constipation.

As I like to tell my kids: "Just because you can, it doesn't mean you should."

The following are some of my other favorite infomercials, in no particular order. I hope you find them as enjoyable as I do, but keep in mind that I'm easily entertained.

  • Dual Action Cleanse: If a greasy-looking guy named "Klee" tells you that you have a TON of fecal matter stuck in your intestines; talks about how thick and round his healthy four-year-old's poops are; and suggests that his product will help you lose weight, gain energy, eliminate acne, and prevent cancer, by golly, listen to the man. Not an informercial for those having a snack.
  • A variety of exercise equipment "programs," including the Gazelle by Tony Little (a disturbingly tanned bodybuilder) and anything piece of equipment that you strap to your abs.
  • Kinoki Foot Pads: From Japan? Really? I know the Japanese are generally a very clean people, but I've never heard of them attaching to their feet special pads that will draw toxins out of their bodies as they sleep, resulting in disgustingly brown pad in the morning. But if they say it's true, it must be. I wonder if I can skip using this if I'm already using the Dual Action Cleanse.

Do you have a favorite infomercial? Or am I just "special?"

Sunday, December 21, 2008

A White Christmas, and Other Thoughts

It has snowed at least three times this week, which doesn't happen very often around these Northwest parts. When the white stuff shows up, kids joyously suit up and run out to play while adults call in sick from work because 1) they want to go skiing or 2) they're too afraid to drive.

People who move here from the East coast or Midwest laugh their asses off watching us try to drive in the snow. Because this wondrous phenomena doesn't happen here often, most cities don't have a lot of snow-clearing equipment for the roads. Combine that with spastic newscasters who scream "SNOW!" every few minutes and a newspaper photo of a bus hanging off a road overlooking the freeway, and it's white-knuckle driving all the way.

It began snowing last weekend and we all enjoyed it. Then Monday rolled around and all the school districts began delaying school. Then on Wednesday it became apparent that winter break was beginning ASAP. Every morning at 5:30 a.m. when we received a phoned recorded message from the superintendent giving us the school status (canceled) for the day, I could hear the collective screams of parents everywhere, especially moms of young children who had planned to finish their holiday shopping before winter break officially began.

(On a side note, I have learned that many parents resented the 5:30 a.m. call because it woke them up early and they couldn't go back to sleep. I didn't mind the call because I am a sleeper. You could call me early to tell me I won the lottery and I would thank you and go back to sleep. It's a gift. Now I'm done digressing.)

Other than having my kids at home when I had planned to have some peace and quiet, the snow hasn't affected me much. I didn't plan to buy much this Christmas anyway (thank you, economy!) and had most of my shopping done by the time the white stuff hit. I did drive verrrry carefully to Costco the other day to pick up a ham and other supplies for Christmas Eve dinner. I thought it might be quiet there with the roads being icy, but apparently everyone else within a 30-mile radius had the same thought and it was packed in there. Great minds think alike.

I finally reached the point today when I took a deep calming breath and realized how pretty everything looked covered with snow. Case in point: the fir tree in my front yard, shown in the photo above. How can you look at that and not appreciate what you have? Perhaps Mother Nature gave us this snow as a symbolic cleansing of our soul, or a chance to spend more time at home with our loved ones, or a reminder to slow down and look at the beauty around us, or all above.

Thank you, Mother Nature. But next time, could you consult with the school calendar first?

Monday, December 15, 2008

In Your Facebook

In a previous life I think I was a Luddite.

How else to describe my non-techie nature? It takes me forever to send a rare text-message because I actually have to hunt and peck for the letters. Also, I spell everything out because I don't remember the shortcuts. Sometimes I even punctuate.

I have an iPod (without video!) that I rarely use because I forget I have it, so I resort to the radio and that new-fangled invention called CDs.

So when my friend Kristin started nagging me to join Facebook I laughed. I might have even laughed in her face. But she finally wore me down and I got on that damned site out of curiosity. Now as I check Facebook on a daily basis, I silently curse her for getting me started. It's a lot of fun to find out what your friends are up to and to check out their photos and videos. Addicting, even. And recently I discovered their Chat function, which allows me to *gasp* chat with friends on real time! This really comes in handy when you're a night owl and are looking for someone to gab with at 10 p.m.

While I am enjoying Facebook, one component that perplexes me is all the virtual stuff that people send you. Food, animals, holiday ornaments, pieces of flair, drinks, you name it. I just checked and I have 82 things that people have sent to me, all links that are waiting to be opened.

I appreciate the fact that friends are thinking of me, but I just don't have time to open all these links, let alone send a gift back or to others. I'm busy doing other important things, like working on my blog and chasing my dog with an anti-shedding comb. But I feel guilty not acknowledging their gifts and I'm not even Catholic. I'm the kind of person who writes thank-you notes for everything. I used to be even more extreme, but one year this guy I worked with sent me a thank-you card to thank me for sending him a thank-you card and I knew I didn't want to reach that level of obsession.

So if you send me any gifts via Facebook, please accept a big blanket THANK YOU from me. And please know that, even if I don't send one back, I still feel appreciative and guilty. You're welcome.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

A Chilling Holiday Warning for Men

Gentlemen, as you comb the malls this Dec. 24, looking for that perfect gift for the lady in your life, heed this cautionary tale:

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Ma and Pa Kettle Shop for a Dishwasher

Our 12-year-old dishwasher finally bit the bullet this weekend. I'm surprised it lasted as long as it did, as it came standard with the house and was one of those cheapo no-name brands.

For a second we considered becoming one of those back-to-basics families that spend their evenings washing and drying dishes by hand while having heartfelt conversations. Then we laughed and headed out to look at appliances.

After several hours and many stores later, I learned something very important: Dishwashers now come with a lot of extra crap.

Our old model cleaned and dried dishes, period. Oh, there were some nice options, such as Air Dry and Short Wash (as oppose to the Full Wash), which you selected by twisting the dial a certain way. But now, a lot of the newer models also offer a delayed timer (what?); "Adaptive Wash," in which sensors (you heard correctly) determine how much cleaning your dishes really need; and a sterilizing mode. Because it's not really clean until it's sterilized.

Apparently when you don't shop for household appliances very often, going into the stores is like being an Amish person shopping for a cell phone. Really, the number of options were quite overwhelming to us, as were the widely varying price ranges. If I'm going to pay more than $1,000 on a dishwasher, it better clean my dishes, charge my iPod AND offer me a neck and shoulder massage.

In the end we selected a well-reviewed, reasonably priced model from a locally owned appliance store. We didn't go for the bells and whistles (don't you love old-fart phrases like "bells and whistles?") because we just want a machine that washes and dries. We did splurge on the stainless steel exterior and also will receive a rebate from our utilities company because we picked an energy-efficient model.

I feel so modern.

Monday, December 1, 2008

The Bird That Came to Dinner

Hey, Thanksgiving at my house was JUST like this Norman Rockwell photo! Well, okay, we did carve the turkey in the kitchen instead of bringing it whole to the table.

It is now four (almost five) days past Thanksgiving and apparently I cooked the magical never-ending turkey. We've eaten several meals of it. I also made a big pot of comforting turkey jook with the carcass and a lot of the meat. I believe my son even had a turkey sandwich. And yet the masses of white and dark continue to taunt us.

So into the freezer they go, where they will be reincarnated in a few weeks into something incredibly healthy and highbrow. There's a 99 percent chance that a can of cream of mushroom soup will be involved.

What are YOU doing with your leftover turkey?