Thirty-four: Setsubun

We went to the local Shrine for their Setsubun (the holiday marking the end of winter/beginning of spring) festival. The main event was the mamemaki, bean throwing, but there was also hot amazake and a kendo display. The last time we went to a similar event was four years ago in Tokyo, on a cold, snowy, decidedly un-springlike day. This year, though, it was warm enough to believe that winter really was ending.



Six: Baking

Christmas brought the toddler’s very own set of baking utensils, and barely a day has passed since without her asking to “do some baking”.

Plum Lovely

On days when the husband is home, I like to do the grocery shopping solo. Much as I enjoy the company of the toddler – lately she likes to reel off a shopping list as we walk around the supermarket, usually (ba)nanas, (avo)cados, and tissuuuuue – there is a certain luxury in taking half an hour to buy five things. Reading the ingredients of products I have little intention of buying, choosing the very best pineapple, spending far too long deliberating over which tofu to buy.

The way to the supermarket – to pretty much anywhere, really – from our flat, is along a gently winding, tree-lined cycle/pedestrian path, mountains visible in the distance, on clear days at least. There are rose bushes and hydrangeas, giant beech trees, pine trees and more, something for every season and some for all. Right now, the ume (commonly referred to – see title of this post – as plum, but actually more closely related to the apricot) trees are in bloom, and although several have had their branches drastically hacked, just a few blossom-covered twigs hanging on, there is still a whole lot of blossom going on. Bolder than the more celebrated, yet-to-come cherry blossom*  and so very beautiful for it.

*not long to wait, though – blooming date forecast is March 28th here, according to this post from the ever-helpful Surviving in Japan.

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.