Sunday Baking, Blueberry Style

I am trying, this year, to bake all our bread (and cake, oh, so much cake) myself, in the hopes of both saving money and being a little healthier. It’s amazing how easily it has slipped into daily routine, and it is almost automatic now to start a loaf while the toddler naps. On weekdays it’s all about basic loaves or rolls, no recipe required, but Sunday, with the toddler happily entertained by Daddy, is the time to try new and more involved projects.

I was originally searching for an olive oil croissant recipe (I know, I know, terrible, sacrilegous idea, and it seems the internet would agree, based on the lack of results, but lack of butter leads a person to have strange ideas) when I arrived somehow at a bagel recipe. The toddler is a blueberry fanatic, and blueberry bagels are one of the exceptions to my all-homemade-bread-baking rule, as she will happily devour most of one in the time it takes us to get home from the supermarket. Tasty as they are, though, they are sugary-sweet and far fluffier than a bagel should be. Blueberry bagels, then, seemed the perfect choice for this afternoon’s baking adventure.

I followed this recipe for New York style bagels from The Sophisticated Gourmet, using a 60/40 white/wholewheat flour blend, and adding a handful of frozen blueberries to half the batch. I am in no way qualified to judge the results on their New Yorkiness, having spent a total of about 48 hours in the city, and those ten years ago, but, despite their less-than-consistent appearance, they were oh so good, chewy and dense, and a repeat perfomance – cinnamon and raisin, perhaps, or maybe an everything bagel – is but a matter of time.

Blueberries on the mind, when thoughts turned post-dinner to cake this recipe for Old-Fashioned Blueberry Cake from the wonderful 101 Cookbooks sounded perfect. And it was – subtly sweet from blackstrap molasses and blueberries, gorgeous plain straight from the oven, better still topped with a dollop of whipped coconut cream. Happy Sunday, indeed.


Proper Snow

Unlike the previous weekend’s blue skies, we awoke Saturday to this:

We have had several days of snow this winter, but this was proper snow, settling for the first time, frosting pine trees and plum blossom and inviting little feet to make their first snowy footprints. (Said little feet’s owner was, however, not entirely convinced that this was a good idea, much as she enjoyed watching the snow – “snooooow! snoooow!” fall).

Winter’s duty fulfilled, the snow melted fast, and by Sunday afternoon our tiny snowman lay collapsed in a pool of his own water and the blossom was back to its unadorned, springlike state.

Eleven Bananas

We are on day two of rainrainrain,and becoming just a little cabin feverish. The weekend, though, was glorious. Blue skies and the bright bright pink of early ume blossom.

Saturday afternoon, banana bread in mind (I’ve been making this one – sugar-free, wholegrain, vegan and altogether more tasty than that might imply – of late) we set off for our local veg shop, battle over hat and mittens happily avoidable.

Walking with the toddler is a stop-start affair, journey peppered with treasures to find and dogs to chase, a five minute walk becoming a half  hour adventure.

Destination eventually reached and suitably brown bananas chosen, my outstretched wallet was met with a muttered “service, service” as the shop owner glanced up and down the street (looking out, I imagined, for envious onlookers) and stuffed two bunches of bananas in a plastic bag, sending us on our way with yen unspent

Several were destined straight for the bin, having crossed over from the dark-and-delicious side to the stinky-and-fermenting side, but still there were enough for a loaf of banana bread and milkshakes all round.

I shop all too often in one or another of our nearby supermarkets – cheap, quick, easy. Rarely, though, do I regret the extra effort – three shops instead of one, a bus ride here and there – spent  going instead to our town’s independent shops. The health food store with the freshest organic eggs and the owner who asks after the toddler, the community produce shop with daily deliveries of vegetables from a neighbouring prefecture, the tiny macrobiotic shop and cafe with treat-day hummus rolls and blueberry muffins. And a vegetable shop whose owner gave us eleven brown bananas, despite us only having shopped there once before.

Happy Japanniversary to me (reflections on five years in Japan, part one)

This month marks my first big Japanniversary, five years since I first set off from Heathrow, working holiday visa stamped in passport, green-stickered vegetarian meal ordered, and absolutely no idea what to expect.

I was thinking of writing a ‘things I’ve learned about Japan’ type post, but when it comes to this country, it really has been “the more I know…”.  So, instead, I’m going with simply looking back on half a decade spent living half a world away, beginning at the beginning, when my photography was shabby and my Japanese shabbier. Welcome to 2007…

I can still feel the excitement of that first (of many) airport limousine* journeys from Narita to Tokyo, the energy – only found in a city so totally crammed with life – palpable even from behind glass. Tokyo was like nowhere else I’d ever been, and in those first months it really did feel a little like living in another world. Everything was so new, so exciting, so foreign. I barely left Tokyo that first year – we took day trips to Nikko and Kamakura and I climbed Mount Fuji, which still seems highly unlikely – but for the most part it was TokyoTokyoTokyo and it was wonderful.

Out of Tokyo…

Stone lanterns, Nikko

Daibutsu (Great Buddha), Kamakura

Climbing Mount Fuji

And in…

The next few are from Yoyogi Park, site of so very many Sunday afternoons (and so very much fun)…

Next time: 2008 – festivals, Kyoto, and a different view of Fuji.

*not actually a limousine, somewhat disappointingly, but a bus.