Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Okuizome.... 100 Days of Happiness

Well, this may be a little late (as our daughter C-chan celebrated her 100th day a couple of weeks ago now), but I thought we'd share this day here... Now okuizome is hard to translate direct, but is often translated as something like first eating in Japanese. The celebration in Japan is to wish for the child to grow up always without hunger... and is often also done with hagatame, or teeth strengthening ceremony. It's clear that some Japanese traditions stem from a time (not that long ago) when times were quite a good deal harsher, and you could count your luck by how many of your teeth you retained. Okuizome is all about the first (pretend) feast for the young baby... though if the truth be told it is as much our feast (if not more so).

The centre-piece of the celebration is the fish tai, which (as far as we can tell) is equivalent to bream. Now in Adelaide, bream is normally black bream, so that's what we bought (please check out the Fish Factory on Grand Junction Road for a good place to buy fresh fish in Adelaide). The fish is scaled and gutted, and skewered lengthwise as well as being heavily salted prior to being oven-baked.

Although I have to admit that bream isn't my favourite fish.... it has a reasonably strong flavour made even more stronger with the salting.

The cooked fish is served with a number of other dishes...

There's osekihan, a celebratory red-rice dish made with azuki beans... this is a traditional meal given for good luck in Japan. Pumpkin is also a popular dish for wishing fortune as well - the association with good luck with money due to the gold colour I guess.

And T-chan also made some delicious osuimono fish broth, along with a dainty little salad.

And then there umeboshi (not necessary for the dish, but salted plums are always a delicious addition) and a very special ingredient... a stone (collected by L-kun from Anstey Hill Recreation Park... so it could also have been a dinosaur bone...wink wink). The stone is there, as mentioned, as a token for wishing strong teeth to the child. In retrospect, not sure that this is the most hygienic of traditions - especially as it's wishing good health and all.

We also had some Taiyaki, a cooked pancake in the shape of, once again, a bream. The pancake is filled normally with an anko paste (also made from the azuki beans). Actually, these were given to us by a family friend who had found a Korean version of it... as it's hard to find the real Japanese dish here in Adelaide (though why it's easier to find the Korean ones is a bit of a mystery to me). The anko paste is a sweet, but it still retains it's beaniness... and is a very common flavouring in Japanese sweets.

So that's okuizome in a nut-shell.... apart from one thing. Now obviously it ISN'T C-chan's first meal. No, we're not that bad! The point is that she should pretend to eat the meal. This isn't as easy as you might think... no, taking candy from a baby is easy in comparison to pretending to give a baby food. Even if they haven't eaten real food yet. The job of faux-feeding is up to Daddy who obliges with the required seriousness. He of course knows where the food will really end up... in our bellies. As for C-chan, she was a real trooper (for the most part), and suffered our tom-foolery quite well. I think she would have been quite happy to have really eaten the food... this could be a good sign!

Anyway, she's well past 100 days now... and rapidly approach 4 months old. She's sleeping well most of the time (we had our first all-through-the-night sleep last weekend), but she sometimes reverts to waking up 1-2 times during the night. She continues growing at a prodigious rate, to the point that T-chan is starting to suffer sore back and shoulder from the weight. That's a very happy pain however, and every hour at night less sleep is still a hugely welcome blessing. Happy okuizome C-chan... the first of many happy family feasts to come.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Anstey Hill... Adeventures Of A Dinsosaur Hunter

Today was a beautiful Winter's Day in Adelaide... though it only reached 15 degrees (or thereabouts). It was fine, and not even a breeze. Well, as we'd all been cooped up inside for too long, we decided to go out for the afternoon. And to my surprise, L-kun wanted to go bush-walking.  I decided we'd have a look at Anstey Hill Recreation Park, one that we'd not been to before. So off we went... looking for adventure.

The park itself can be found at the end of Lower North East Road and Grand Junction Roads, in the foothills of the North East suburbs, about 18km from the city centre.

View Larger Map

There are a number of lookouts, and the view towards the city is good... though from this vantage point you might actually suspect that Adelaide was a city of trees, with the city centre perched far into the distance.

Now, whilst you can grab information from the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (see link above), there's not much of a map that goes with it. The Park is about 380 hectares, and much of it used to be either quarry or (of all things) a nursery, as well as semi-rural land. It's been turned into a Recreation Park to ensure that it doesn't get developed and eventually returns to something like it's natural state. Not having been to the park before, I though the "Geological Hike" sounded interesting for L-kun... even though it was rated as a moderate bush walk... this can be reached from Gate 9 on the SW corner of the park.

Scanned imaged from Department of Environment and Natural Resources

The Park itself is quite nice, though quite different from the other parks in/around Adelaide. It has a feel of a slowly evolving rural landscape... and is a good mix of open land, and bushland, with a range of hills and valleys.

And even though the Winter's been wet, and the drought an increasingly distant memory, every where there are signs of it.

But also of the new life returning to the landscape.

For reasons I'll explain shortly, it was difficult to take photos today, and the wild-flowers hadn't really appeared in all their glory yet.

But it was still a very pleasant environment, and not at all like the thick scrub we would often walk through.

The great thing about the Geological Hike is the fact that there's a mix of views of the city, the old "gun emplacement" and the quarries to walk through. The rocks in the quarry are old - as they say - as the Hills. About 450million years ago the sands were turned into a mountain... and the park also spans the Eden-Burnside fault line which marks the transition from Adelaide Plains to Mt Lofty Ranges.

And the quarries are fun to walk around, observing through the cut in the mountainside, the history of Adelaide through a geologists eyes.

Actually, one of the unexpected things that happened during the day was that L-kun decided that he'd go Dinosaur Bone hunting/ I think he'd taken to heart a dinosaur show he'd seen on tv a while back, and all of a sudden everything he saw on the ground was a dinosaur bone. And I mean everything!

As for myself, I got into the act.... but you can also see that this wasn't the only thing that I was concerned about. I was the official baby carrier for our bushwalk adventure, and this was the first time we'd tried out the baby carrier with C-chan. So I wasn't really able to enjoy the freedom to photograph as I would like, but I like to think that it was a shared compromise, and a shared moment of peaceful togetherness. Especially as C-chan fell asleep through most of it.

We had a great time - and L-kun brought back a bag (yes, I mean a big bag) of "dinosaur bones". I don't have the heart to tell him that they were just rocks, but I figure, what do I know... somewhere in that bag was the remains of our deep deep past. Whether it was bones of long-gone animals or the bones of our world. Either way, I loved that he was so excited about it, and it certainly made for a more interesting walk.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Temakizushi... Easy Japanese Deliciousness

Now... I have to admit that I'm struggling to get time to blog, so this is a little disjoint. However, as I'm the only one really reading the blog, I guess it doesn't matter too much. So let's get back to our post-Children's Day celebration. Our daughter, C-chan's first... but of course, she wasn't enjoying the food (except several hours later through the breast milk, if that counts).

In some parts there's also a tradition of eating mochi, or rice cake however, we don't have that tradition in our family. Whilst we didn't really have time this year (with our daughter C-chan still taking up most of our spare time), T-chan did put together a simple though delicious temakizushi (or hand-rolled sushi)... ably assisted by L-kun. Nothing exotic... but it's always a fun family meal.

Ingredients are simple... freshly cooked rice (I'll talk about recipes later...) cut nori or seaweed...

A selection of cold fillings... we went with Atlantic Salmon, cucumber and crab-sticks.

With a simple tuna filling... 

A beef filling...

And an ebi (prawn) filling...

Not to mention some natto... fermented soy beans. Sounds nice doesn't it (can anything fermented be bad)?....really? 

My wife tends however to also describe them as rotten beans.... and they are a Japanese institution (especially in Hokkaido). Me - well, I prefer my food NOT to be rotten. Even if it's described in warm glowing terms. IT'S STILL ROTTEN! And I have to say, not only are they oozy and gooey... but they also have a very strong flavour as well! A lot of people compare them to a Japanese version of the Australian savoury spread Vegemite (which people either love or hate). I'm not sure which side of that analogy should be more offended however...

Now this photo's not meant to show how extravagantly elegant the temakizushi is... it's not that sort of dish. Rather, it's just the sort of thing you whack together, dip in some soy sauce, and throw down the hatch.... and have a lot of fun doing it... 

And don't forget, whilst appearance is always an element in Japanese food, when you're family's home alone you can always be as messy as you want.

What it lacks in terms of sophistication, it more than makes up for in terms of deliciousness and ease. What's more, you eat the serving plate. What more could you ask for?... An empty rice dish.... 

And a satisfied grin....

And the great thing is that you can generally come up with ingredients for temakizushi from just about anything... including rotten beans!

Wherever you are, whatever family traditions you hold - it's always a joy having a nice family dinner together. And it's always nice to have a day to reflect on how lucky we all are with our children, which we often take so readily for granted.

And this was C-chan's first Children's Day... next year, she might be enjoying some good temakizushi with us!