Happy new year everyone, hope 2013 is a great one for you. New year is my favourite Japanese holiday. It is so peaceful as everything shuts down, people dress up and there’s a feeling of anticipation that the new year will bring good things. There is a mad rush in December to get ready, to do a thorough house cleaning, finish up business especially relating to money and prepare food which will be eaten during the festivities. There is always a temple or shrine visit during the 3 days of new year to pay your respects to the gods and start the year off auspiciously. From talking to my mom this year, it seems much of the stillness has gone with shops opening on January 1. When I was younger, everything was shut for the first three days. I remember about 15 years ago when the convenience shops started opening on New Year’s day, I thought that was the beginning of the end.
The nice thing about living overseas is that your memories can stay frozen in whatever time you choose. So even though I’ve been home for new year’s in recent years, the ones I recall most vividly are from the 70′s, the last time I lived in Japan as a child. Lots of food, ridiculous television, endless games and just hanging with my family are what I remember. Also in my memory, January 1 was always bright and sunny, it probably isn’t true but that’s what’s great about memories right?
But fast forward to 2013 and here I am in London where January 1 is more a day to recover from the excesses of December 31 than a day unto itself. I didn’t make any of the traditional foods for new year both because of a lack of ingredients and a general lack of interest from the other family members. I did want to make the soup we have on new year’s day but I hadn’t bought any of the ingredients. So rather than make a traditional Japanese ozoni with dashi, mouli, spinach, bright red carrot and of course mochi, the pounded sticky rice cake, I made a vegetable soup with onions, cabbage, jerusalem artichokes and carrot. It’s the mochi that makes it new yearsy I think and it didn’t disappoint. I felt like I had kept the spirit of the tradition. Here’s a photo.
My new year’s soup
I’m going to try very hard to do a better job blogging this year. Here’s to another year full of fun and adventure.
It’s been so long, I’d nearly forgotten that I have a blog that I used to write pretty regularly. Life has been extremely busy and I haven’t had any time for introspection let alone writing anything down. I think that’s one of the hazards of having a blog that you write when you feel like it. Maybe it should be themed, I’ll have to think about that.
Anyway, for a quick recap on what’s been happening since my last post, I’m still juggling my cooking and nut business and have signed up to do my first trade show. I did a show last year with my distributor, but this time it’s all on me. I signed up for it without thinking that much about it as usual and have discovered that there are a million details to keep track of, many e mails to read through, forms to fill out etc. I want a minion but only if he looks like this.
But I digress. I went away on my annual summer holiday with the family. It was a nice holiday but also a bit of a reality check to discover how old and frail my dad is getting. He never recovered from his heart surgery 18 months ago and the doctors think he had a stroke during surgery. It is so sad to see him struggle with everyday tasks and for him to be bewildered and confused. This was a man who was up until the time of surgery, as sharp as a tack and still travelling domestically by himself. I’m trying hard to see the positive in this and failing. It’s not fair and it sucks.
On a happier note, my kids really pitched in and helped out during the holiday, I don’t think I could have done it if without them. My 80 year old mother, who can barely use a mobile and had absolutely no interest in the computer has gotten herself an iPad. My sister and I each have one and she discovered that she could do things with them. So she went out and got one and we installed Skype on it. I wish I had taped her introduction to Skype, it was a classic. She couldn’t believe she could see me (I was in a different room skyping her) and talk to me. She woke my dad up who was napping on the couch to show him what she could do. I just hope she remembers when she gets home. She’s had no trouble accessing the games we downloaded for her, but the internet remains a bit of a mystery. I think you should be able to relabel the icons so instead of Safari, I could just label it internet, what does she know from Safari?
Where was the hubby in all of this? He has been in New York on a consulting gig. He did a whirlwind visit on our holiday but really I haven’t seen him since he went away at the end of May. As this is likely to continue for some time I am planning a visit out to see him. It’s been a wonderful experience for him, catching up with friends and living again in the city that he loves.
Now that I’ve written it down, it doesn’t sound like I’ve done much, but I swear I’ve been really busy. I must get back to it now, I have more arrangements to make for the show and I need to place orders to get my Christmas products in place.
I’ll try not to let another 3 months go by, talk soon.
My life these days is one big juggling act. I have so many demands on my time that I don’t have any down time mentally. The cooking classes have really taken off this time and every class is full. Plus I am now getting requests to do private classes which is lots of fun. The famous foodie blogger Ms Marmite Lover came to a class and wrote about it. You can readher post here. This has led to new enquiries about classes and more followers on Twitter. All very exciting. So I spend a fair amount of my time thinking recipes and menus. It’s almost two years since I started teaching and I am finally comfortable enough to not be in a panic before. But I’m also thinking of restructuring the class schedule so more thinking, more planning.
Then there’s the Kinomi business. In hindsight it was probably foolhardy to begin this not too long after launching a cooking class business but ignorance is bliss, right? I have added a new flavour, Spicy Chilli Nuts and reformulated the Sweet Miso Nuts and I am really happy with all three flavours. So now I have to go out and sell them. It’s scary, nerve racking and hard not to take the nos’ personally but I have made some small attempts. It is so much easier to advise other people what to do. Lead by example is not one of my strong points, I am discovering.
I also have a translation due at the end of April. It is a continuation of the last one I did so I know the story, I know the format. But it still needs to be done. Fortunately I have plenty of time, just have to get down to Piccadilly Circus to pick up the book (really a manga).
So these are the three balls that I have up in the air at the moment. I do plenty of procrastinating during the day but I don’t know that I’ve ever worked this hard. When you do your own thing, it’s hard to not always think about it.
My mental sanctuary is the gym. When I am there doing a class, I don’t have time to think about anything else. For one hour, sometimes two, all thought beyond how to survive the class gets put on hold.
I wonder when I come out the other side, will I still have friends? I haven’t seen anyone for lunch in I don’t know how long. But I am content in a chaotic, panicked, each day is a roller coaster kind of way. Is it time for a holiday yet?
Happy New Year. This is a post I meant to write at the end of last year, but in true procrastination form, never quite got around to it.
2011 was a very eventful year for me and the world. The world you know about, but here are some highlights from my year, good and bad.
The year did not start off great with my dad in the hospital recovering from heart surgery. I learned that Japanese medicine is crap at telling you worst cast scenarios, so he went in thinking that this was a routine procedure (triple bypass) and came out not knowing his PIN number. I couldn’t make it to the surgery due to the masses of snow on the ground, so arrived to find my dad in ICU post op, completely disoriented, hallucinating and looking ancient. A bit of a shock when no one has prepared you for it. Anyway, a year on, he is making slow but steady progress to the point where he is starting to make more sense and according to my mom, his eyes are regaining their focus. I’ll be home next week so I can see for myself but it did really make me think about existing as opposed to living. He was a vibrant, vigorous man who at 85 had a very active social life and was out on his own all the time. Maybe it would have been better for him to have had a couple more years on medication but maintaining his lifestyle as opposed to having a surgery that will probably rob him of maybe two years of his life. He made the decision so this is the way it turned out but it does make you think. My kids came out to help and they were wonderful, they took turns so my mom would have support for an extended time as opposed to everyone turning up for 2 weeks and disappearing. My son, who was on his gap year stayed for a month taking his grandpa for walks everyday even if it was to the end of the condo building and back.
Back in London, I resumed my cooking classes and pursued the opportunity to turn the roasted nuts I serve in class into a product. Working with a distributor, Kinomi was born. I had never done anything like this before and I know if it wasn’t for J, I would have given up. By the end of May, I had a product that I could actually start selling. I had really good feedback at the first show I did and there is nothing like having someone who isn’t your friend like what you are selling and actually pay money for it. The next step beyond that is having people who haven’t even met you buy your product. Obviously we all do it all the time but when you’re on the producing end, it’s surreal in a good way. By the end of October I was selling in Harvey Nichols. Hopefully they are selling well enough so that the store is willing to keep stocking me. I even got a little write up on their website http://www.harveynichols.com/hnedit/food-and-wine/whats-in-food-wine/kinomi-nuts-by-hiromi-stone-at-harvey-nichols/. I have also started selling in some local shops and hope to grow the stores I supply in 2012. Any suggestions or leads are most welcome.
My husband came home after a year in Prague and so the whole family went to Hawaii on our summer holiday, including my parents. My niece got married, the first of the nieces and nephews to do so. We became empty nesters in the autumn when my son went off to university. He and his sister are at opposite ends of the country having very different experiences, but they are both enjoying themselves so my day to day obligations as a mom no longer exist. I now enjoy them when they come home and know that the chaos in the house won’t last. They are kind, smart, thoughtful young people and I am very proud of them. And did I mention funny, some of the best times are when we all sit around after a meal and just “banter” as my kids call it.
2011 turned into an unbelievable year for meeting new and wonderful people. I guess it is because I am now doing something specific that I can tell people about, I have met some really interesting people. People have been so supportive and kind, I really appreciate it and hope to do the same for anyone else who might need a hand. I am also settling into the neighbourhood and making new friends. It’s great to feel connected to a neighbourhood and see people you know in the street to have a quick chat. This is probably the friendliest place we’ve lived in, we are very lucky to have found it.
This is definitely turning into a novel so I will sign off. But you can’t look back on 2011 and not mention the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster that hit my country. The people who live in that region are used to natural disasters, they had training days and scenarios worked out for what to do when a tsunami hit. This one exceeded everyone’s expectations and just wiped the area out. As tragic and horrible as it was, they can rebuild. But the man made disaster of a nuclear meltdown, the effects are so long lasting I worry about the future of the region and Japan. As a Japanese person living overseas, I was very proud of the way the Japanese people reacted in the face of the tragedy. I was also touched by the outpouring of support globally The last time I gave any thought to Japan in the world was the 80′s, when Japanese cars were being smashed in Detroit and Japan bashing articles were fairly common in the American press. I guess a lot has changed in 30 years.
Okay, I’m really done now. I don’t make new year’s resolutions because I’m not that great at reflection or forward planning. I hope that 2012 is a wonderful year for all and may we take a step closer to peace.
It’s now been over a year since I started teaching Japanese cooking in my flat. During the course of that year, I have been fortunate to have had the support of many friends who took my classes as well as a wonderful array of people who have simply come to learn Japanese cooking.
I decided to throw a drinks party for my cooking class students and people who had expressed interest in my classes. It was a good way to launch my autumn classes as well as introduce my students to each other. So I sent out my invites using a spiffy e mail marketing programme and waited to see what would happen. It is hard to plan for numbers when many people don’t RSVP (pet peeve). In the end, I figured between 25-30 people would show up. I planned my nibbles carefully since I wanted to showcase the kind of things they would learn in class but also make it reasonable for me to make quantities for 30 I did a couple of different kinds of sushi, fried tofu balls, salmon and of course, my Kinomi nuts. I also had goody bags with Kinomi nuts and a class schedule to take home. My florist, A florum on Caledonian Road did a spectacular job with the flowers and the flat was ready.
Gorgeous flowers, but I failed to take a photo of the table set with food.
I stepped into my dress just as the first guests arrived and then it was a non stop whirlwind 3 hours of socialising, nibbling, answering the door and generally keeping things going. Not that anyone required any help, people did a great job of meeting each other and getting to know one another. There were so many fascinating conversations going on, it was hard to decide which one to join in. The food was going too, a good sign for me as a cooking teacher.
All too soon it was over. I had a great time and it appears my guests did as well. I do love a good party, so I’ll have to plan another one soon.
PS Thank you to my friend S for the photo. Without her I wouldn’t have any evidence that it happened.
I know I know, I go for months without a post then, bam! Two in a row. Well a lot’s been happening and I’d like to share.
Friday night I did the Underground Night Market. For those who have read my previous posts, you know this is the only market I do to publicise my cooking classes to the outside world. For those who read my post from Friday, you know this is where the Kinomi nuts got their start.
With my third outing, I think I can say that I have finally gotten used to doing a market. My preparations were so much more relaxed. This time I didn’t do a cooking demo, or Dragon’s Den panel. End result, much less stuff to schlep. It also meant that I could give a little more thought to my presentation and here is the end result.
We were really lucky with the weather. It was a gorgeous day which turned into a gorgeous evening. The market started at 6 pm and people started trickling in. Soon, it was a steady stream of people, most looking like they just got out of work but all looking for a fun and interesting night out. The live musicians in the garden and the DJ in the bedroom really provided a wonderful soundtrack to the evening. I chatted with many people both explaining my flavoured nuts and my classes. It was fun to have people say, ” Weren’t you at the last one? My wife brought some home.” I even met a guy who knew the previous owners of my flat and had been there. What a small world. Thank you to everyone who stopped by my table, it was lots of fun chatting with you.
There was a really buzzy mellow atmosphere, it felt almost like a private party. The market was officially over at 10:30 but when I left at 11, there were still people hanging out, enjoying the evening. Met lovely fellow stall holders, I was finally relaxed enough to have a chat with them.
Another one under my belt, thank you, Ms Marmite Lover for hosting a wonderful evening. Really looking forward to the next one.
My son took off on his great adventure this morning. He is on his gap year and has gone travelling for 2 months. The time leading up to departure is a familiar one for anyone who has or had teenagers. You remind them to do things for the trip. They agree, days go by and then it’s the day before departure. Well, I can’t begin to list the things that went wrong. I still have my fingers crossed they let him into the States. He is my baby and I’ve definitely coddled him so I hope by going out there even for a short time on his own, he’ll come back a little more grown up.
Even though he doesn’t start uni until the autumn and he’s only gone for 2 months, his departure symbolizes an empty nest for me. It’s the beginning of the rest of my life. While I adore my children, I’m very happy they are growing up and moving into worlds of their own, both emotionally and geographically.
So what to do with the rest of my life? I’ll put more effort into my cooking classes, I have wonderful friends with expertise in areas where I am seriously deficient so I’m going to take them up on their offers of help. I am also pursuing an opportunity to turn the roasted nuts I do as nibbles for my students into a real product. It opens up a whole other set of challenges which I am trying to meet. The translation business is booming at the moment so I am kept busy happily subtitling the adventures of a robot cat and his hapless human. I think it’s a good place to start to build.
On an entirely different note, I went to a concert with my kids last night. We saw the Foo Fighters. The kids are huge fans and have seen them many times. I have been a fan but have only seen them once before, I think about 13 years ago in Tokyo. The kids credit me with having introduced them to the music so I’m feeling a little cool. Anyway, it was a blast, they are a wonderful band to see and it was so much fun to share an evening with my kids. It wasn’t as loud as I would have liked. Apparently concerts these days are not as loud as the old days and we were in the nosebleed section which may have affected the volume, or maybe it is simply age? There were fans there from early teens through to late 50s which maybe the demographic for established bands with a history these days. I think how different our generation is from that of our parents. I can’t imagine my mom at 52, going with me to a concert (or gigs as they call them now).
Can’t wait to see what’s going to happen next in my life. Whatever it is, I’m ready.
It was fabulous! For those of you who read my post after the last market I did, you know it was a “learning experience”. Well I was determined to put some of that learning to good use and signed up to do another one.
So here’s how this one unfolded. I went the day before to help set up. This already gives you an idea of where I was since the last time, I couldn’t even think straight the day before, I was so furiously trying to get ready. But this time, I simplified greatly and my merchandise was ready to go on Friday, the day UPS finally delivered my packing material after the wonderful www.cakescookiesandcraftshop.co.uk people got my order out the day after it was placed. Funny how everyday since Tuesday, the UPS people claim to have tried to deliver when I’ve been at home and I have a porter. So many phone calls later, the last manager tried to use the weather as an excuse and said they were 3 days behind, to which I had to reply, “well if you’d actually deliver the packages you wouldn’t be behind”.
But I digress, back to the market. I had a very ambitious programme for the day, sell my roasted nuts, advertise my cooking classes, participate in a Dragons’ Den type panel and do a cooking demo. The last time, my entire family came to help and while it was lovely to have their support, I think they spent most of the day without anything to do. This time, I was in the summer house with 3 other stall holders so I knew there would be no room for extra people. The weather in London has been brutally cold and thankfully I was in a shelter with a wood burning stove. Here’s a picture of me at my stall.
As you can see, my orange ski jacket stayed on the whole time. I’m so glad I hung onto it even though it’s been years since I’ve been skiing. Here’s a photo of my merchandise.
I was given some very sage advice by Jo from the Deli Station about the size bags I should have and she was right! The mini bags for £1 sold very well.
There were so many people, and everyone was so lovely and interested. It was great to have people think what you made tastes amazing and actually want to pay money for it. What an ego boost. They were also very enthusiastic about my classes and I gave out lots of information cards, ran out and gave out business cards. Remember, I do gift vouchers too.
Then, there was the Dragons Den. I wanted to know if my nuts had any market potential. It was an opportunity to present to a panel comprised of experts in the field and it was a very positive experience. They were very enthusiastic and complimentary, another ego boost.
And finally, towards the end of the day, I did a cooking demo. A simple avocado rice bowl, that is so quick to make and delicious. Again, well received, really the day couldn’t have gone any better.
A special thank you to Charles and Carrie, who stepped in last minute and provided beautiful music all day. They sang their hearts out for hours and really added to the festive atmosphere. Here they are.
And to Ms Marmite Lover, you are one brave woman to do this to your house and we love you for it.
Some people are planners and some people go with the flow. I guess I am more the latter although I do try and plan. But when something happens, you just have to go for it, right?
I am participating in another Underground market, this time a Christmas theme. I wasn’t going to do it figuring that I don’t do anything remotely Christmasy but one thing led to another and here I am, gearing up to do it again. Some of you may have read my post after the last one so you know that I learned many things. Might as well put them to good use and see if I can do a little better this time.
I will be selling my roasted nuts. I have been doing them ever since I started teaching as something for my students to nibble on while I cook. Since the classes are at night, I didn’t want people to perish waiting for dinner. So I put together a soy sauce, kombu (sea weed) and sake combo and toasted mixed nuts. Very simple and very good according to the feedback I have gotten. Actually, the feedback has been so good that friends have started asking me to make them for them. Very flattering and also got me thinking, is there business potential here? So for this market, I have added a sweet version, made with miso, agave, mirin and sake. Pretty good if I say so myself.
The wonderful Ms Marmite Lover, the hostess of the market has come up with a new twist for this one. A Dragons Den type event for food producers. Hopefully not as scary as the real dragons but a chance to find out if there is any potential for my nuts. I started off hoping for just a chat since I didn’t think I was ready to participate in something like that, but again, the opportunity was presented, so I thought, why not?
What all this does for me is it gives me structure to get things done. Because of the market, I now have my classes set until the end of March next year. I have to give some serious thought to the costing of my nuts so that I don’t sound like a blithering idiot in front of the nice dragons. What a tremendous opportunity, to pick the brains of people who are actually successful in the business.
So I guess my pattern will continue to be, fall into things, roller coaster ride then see how it turns out. It’s never boring.
I’ve posted here before about some questionable food claiming to be Japanese. I went to a cooking demonstration recently and saw Rick Stein make 5 dishes in an hour. Most of it looked good and simple to recreate at home. But I took exception to the second dish he produced, a plate of sashimi.
Now, I am not an expert in preparing sashimi as it takes special training. I don’t teach it in my classes because you need sashimi grade fish for which you have to go to a specialty shop. And while I am happy to slice some up to serve to family, I wouldn’t presume to teach it. But I do know the basics of what you can and cannot do. And you cannot, as he claims, just buy farmed salmon and eat it raw. As it says on the Food Standards website, “If a shop or restaurant buys fish to be eaten raw or almost raw, for example, sushi or raw herring, it must have been frozen at minus 20°C for at least 24 hours.” This is to kill off the worms that can be present. They are killed in the cooking process but obviously you don’t cook the fish for sashimi. So please, don’t buy fish at your local supermarket and think you can eat it raw.
Then he made a dipping sauce. I know that some very high end sushi places serve a special sauce which starts with dashi, the seaweed and bonito stock that is the soul of Japanese food. He used an instant one, which I understand since explaining dashi would have been an hour onto itself. But he used one which has as the first ingredient, MSG. But as it is the most popular brand, I am willing to cut him some slack. It is how he prepared it that was a problem. You cannot just put some into water and stir it up. It is granules and requires heating for it to dissolve and actually turn into stock.
Aesthetically he didn’t do a great job plating which was surprising given his credentials. All in all, I got the impression that he didn’t think anyone in the audience would try and reproduce it so he just whipped it off to have another dish in the programme.
I hope next time he attempts this, he watches the programme he did in Japan beforehand so he can remember what it’s meant to look like in the end. And note where the fish came from.
how I hoped it would look when he said "sashimi"