Sunday, December 30, 2012

The Tail of the Holidays... and a Little Memoir

Time always rushes away to a new year once it hits Thanksgiving. This year was not an exception. I love the time between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Christmas music is on. Christmas lighting is on. Never ending cookies and chocolates... It's hectic, but cheerful and lively. Now Christmas is behind us, I feel the time is going a little bit slower.

My friend in Japan facebooked about the little package I sent to her. Glad to hear she enjoyed the caramel popcorn. Yes, I sent her a trouble... a super addictive, rocket high calorie munch.

My parents called me when they got their package. They put one of the CDs I sent them so I could hear it over the phone. Their voices were full of excitement, which brought me a big smile.

Since my grand mother past away right after Thanksgiving, things haven't been easy. I missed her funeral. As our custom, they have a wake at the night a person past and a funeral on the next day. There was no way I could make it to the funeral. So, my parents didn't tell me until they finished the funeral. My mother was wrecked. She was crying and tying to accept what happened and find more things she should have done for her mother. I was very upset because I couldn't find words to comfort her and be there with her to hold her hands. What kind of a daughter am I? Something like this happens the distance always sits in my way. But this is one of the consequences of my decision on my life... something I need to live with. I never be able to wipe my guilt to my family about this.

A couple weeks prier to the day my grand mother past, Nana, the next door neighbor, crossed the rainbow. It was a very quiet death. She was ninety eight. Marilyn and I visited her a week before she past. She was sleeping peacefully. Marilyn gave her kisses on her face. Nana never opened her eyes. Thinking back, Marilyn knew Nana's time was running out. Kissing Nana was her way of saying good bye. In fact, she doesn't look for Nana anymore whenever we go to her house. Marilyn used to look for her when she didn't see Nana. She knows Nana is gone.

Nana was such a grand mother figure. A little old lady with gray curly hair and glasses. She read newspaper, played cross word puzzles, taught her great grand children crocheting, and enjoyed baking. She had a quite sense of humor, too. Whenever Marilyn visited her, she petted her with her small hand saying "Good dog." She loved company. We always had a great time with her. We just love Nana. She always reminded me my grand mother. Spending time with Nana comforted me making feeling like being with my own grand mother. And, I hoped my grand mother would be hanging out with somebody like Nana did. I feel I lost two grand mothers at once.

My grand mother was also a small lady. She was a determined brave woman. Her husband, my grand father, worked for a government own coal company. This is a story in 1940s. Japan had invaded Manchuria for their resources. The movie, The Last Emperor, describes the history pretty accurately. He seemed to be one of the engineers sent to Manchuria. He took his family there. Then, he received a pink slip. It was 1945. He never came back to his family. She was still in Manchuria on August 15th in 1945. As soon as she got the news that Japan lost, my grand mother started walking toward the coast holding her baby with other Japanese people in the community. It was not an easy trip. A lot of families gave up their children on the way for their survival—both the parents' and the children's. They left their children to Chinese families. Unfortunately, most of the children left behind would have tough lives after that. But, my grand mother never gave up her baby. She brought her baby back to Japan with her. The baby was my mother. My mother never forgets to appreciate her mother's courage and determination to protect her baby. You wouldn't believe she did it if you saw her. She was a small humble old lady.

My grand mother told me the story only once. Something reminded her her husband. She started, "My husband was a great person. He was smart, hard working..." That was her tough memory to talk about. I guess she sealed it deep in her mind. I never asked her about my grand father before and after that. I know one thing for sure. Without her achievement, I wouldn't exist today.

When Chad and I were invited to the Christmas dinner at the next door, Shirley, Nana's daughter, said "Have some apple pie though this is not Nana's..." The table was hard to fill without Nana's apple pie. Nobody believes their parents would die until that happens.

I called my mother one week after they told me the news. My father said "Mother does not keep crying anymore. She is moving forward". My mother said "I'm doing better. My friend is coming over to check on me today. I have your father. Your thinking makes me feel better. I'll be ok". TLC from people around her has been supporting her. She also stepped up to accept their TLC. I think that makes my grand mother happy. I guess people who past would worry about their loved ones they left behind. If they see their loved ones get strength to look ahead and make their positive move, and they have people who support them to do so, that must be a great relief to ones who crossed over.

I miss my grand mother a lot. She was my only grand mother since my father's parents had past before my parents got married. Just so many great memories with her... A good thing is we would lose none of them. I talked about her a lot with my parents. That's comforting to us. So, I visit Shirley. We just talk. Marilyn joins us sometime. Shirley's families often visit her. I hope Nana feels good about what she sees from there.

The little kids' like excited voices of my parents were the best Christmas gift to me... especially this year. To get this again, I might even break my bank.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

クリスマス

感謝祭が終わると本格的にクリスマスの準備が始まります。ハイウェイを運転しているとクリスマスツリーをてっぺんにくくりつけている車を目にすることしばしば。日が落ちると様々な電飾が家々を飾り、凍える夜気の中にも温かさを感じるような気がします。

クリスマスの時期の習慣のひとつがクッキーのお裾分け。職場や友人、ご近所さんにホームメイドのクッキーを配ってまわったり、クッキーパーティーを開いたりします。我が家でも友人を招いてクッキー持ち寄りのオープンハウスを12月の始めの週末に開きました。

これは今年作ったクッキーとキャラメルポップコーン。クリスマスの特別なクッキーと言えばジンジャーブレッドだろうけど、それにこだわらずみんなそれぞれいろいろなクッキーを作るのが主流。

マリリンがいつもクッキーをごちそうになるご近所さんにお礼代わりに配ってまわり、職場のクリスマスランチにデザートがてら持っていったら、我が家の分が全然なくなってしまいました。私たちの口に入るはずのクッキーは残らなかったけど、マリリンはクッキーを届ける先々でクッキーをもらって大満足。「今日はもらう日じゃなくて、あげる日だよ。」と言ってもマリリンには聞こえない様子。

いつも誰かがクッキーやチョコレートを差し入れする12月はおデブ危険度がとても高いのです。今朝もマリリンと朝の散歩途中、久々に会ったご近所さんのお宅にちょっと立ち寄るとコーヒーと朝ご飯をごちそうになってしまいました。朝ご飯ってバターたっぷりクランベリーのパウンドケーキ。アメリカ人って朝からこってり甘いものを食べるのが平気な人たちなのです。

クリスマスの朝、お隣さんからおおきな骨のプレゼントをもらって誇らしげなマリリン。30分後にはほとんどたいらげてしまいました。

これは私のクリスマス一番のお気に入り。町の広場のクリスマスの電飾。毎年12月の第一土曜日に点灯式が行われます。毎日広場の横を通って家に帰るのでこの時期はこのライトを見るのが楽しみ。

年が明けると電飾が見られなくなるので今のうちに見納めしています。冬の寒い暗がりを灯す華やかな電飾がなくなると長く暗い冬を強調するようで気が重くなります。

もともと町役場だった建物を復元した図書館もこの時期、クリスマスらしく変身。シンプルな一色の電飾で品よくまとまってます。

今年もクリスマスが駆け足で去っていきました。さて、またまた今から来年のクリスマスに向けてプレゼントのショッピングが始まります。みんなプレゼントの交換をやめればもっと気楽で楽しいクリスマスになるのに、物質主義のアメリカ人にはなかなか理解できないみたいです。

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Beef Tongue... Stew

Lately, I find things I'd never seen on the shelves of their meat section at the local grocery store. Beef tongues are one of them. The store is not a fancy one like Whole Foods. The area the store locates has various ethnicities. Thankfully, the store is flexible enough to accomodate residents' tastes.

When I saw beef tongues there, I couldn't believe my eyes. I'd never seen one anywhere since I came to the US. "I've got to get this!" They remind me my mom's home meal. She used to sauté thin slices seasoned with salt and pepper. This simple dish was a full of flavor. It had a happy flavor with an indulging moment.

Yes, it looks intimidating, but it's quite a delicacy. This is a part closer to a throat. It's already prepped. Prepping a beef tongue is easy. Cover the piece with water in a pot and cook it for two hours. Then, remove a top layer skin turned white after cooking. That's it.

This time, I decided to make a stew. Another benefit of prepping a tongue is that you get broth at the same time. Its flavor is light. I would add some broth made from bones, too.

Rich broth is the key for a simple dish like stews. The depth of the flavor is up to a quality of broth. A watery taste stew is just awful. Rich broth is not necessarily fatty one. I refrigerate broth once it cools down, and remove any fat. Majority of fat is gone, but its rich flavor stays.

Cook onion, celery, carrots in olive oil and butter and a bay leaf. I like to add extra onion for sweetness. Add potatoes, sprinkle some flour, then add broth. Let it boil, then add demi-glace, tomato paste and red wine. This time, I added some dried oregano and a pinch of Herb de Provence. I don't like to add more than a pinch of this herb mix. I don't like to taste lavender in the stew. It turns me off.

Tomato, mushrooms and beef tongue are added. At this point, you just need to wait the tongue gets tender. I add salt, pepper and soy sauce. It might sound strange to add soy sauce, but it actually adds some depth to the flavor.

I've seen many recipes say adding salt and pepper before serving. I like to add them while simmering. I think salt and pepper blend into a dish better this way.

Sprinkle minced parsley and ready to eat. It came out very savory. The meat is so tender and melts in the mouth. I found topping with some sour cream is also good. Chad doesn't like stews, but he actually enjoyed this one.

I told my dad that I made the beef tongue stew. He was quite satisfied that I actually prepped the tongue and made the dish. He is a Foodie, too.

I'm going to hunt a couple more beef tongue recipes to try. Cheers to the grocery store! This didn't happen without you.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Getting Ready for Christmas

Here comes again, the Holiday Season. We love Christmas. I started decorating the house the weekend before Thanksgiving. Many routines this time of a year are fun for us except for holiday shopping. Also, this is the time a little bit of coordination makes a huge difference. Timing is everything.

December 1st

It was a busy day. It started with Marilyn's appointment with Mr. and Mrs. Santa. She had a picture with them. We make Christmas cards with it. This year, she was nervous while shooting for some reasons. She might worry if she was on the naughty list. Was she a bad puppy this year?

Barkery, her favorite store, offers pictures with Mr. and Mrs. Santa for pooches every year. We got an early appointment. The store was still quiet. We didn't get a chance to see many dogs this day, but usually it is quite entertaining to watch how all dogs respond to the photo shooting situation.

Here, Marilyn meets her new fiends and treats. She always finds everything here is her favorite. She enjoys their recognition, "Hi Marilyn!" whenever she comes into the store. We never see any unhappy dog at this place. Marilyn is not an exception. Whenever we get to the parking, Marilyn recognizes where she is. She goes banana. She gets anxious to get out of the car. Her excitement takes her to a wrong door every time, guaranteed. I guess she is so focused to get to a door, not "the" door.

While we were there, she started Christmas shopping. "Sniff, sniff... This looks good. That smells so yummm. One for me, one for me..., two for me..." To her, Christmas is time for giving to "herself", oh well. If she could talk, she would give Santa a long long list after the photo shooting. It could be easy shopping for him. Everything on her list should be in this store.

She checked out every squire inch in the store. All her reachable shelves, the kitchen and behind the cases. She looks like helping, but she was checking out the goodies.

Their cases are filled with Holiday theme cookies. Marilyn was ready to try out every single one of them.

They just look like treats for people. Of course, we can eat them. Probably they are healthier than people treats since they don't have any suger, plus all natural.

Anyway, that was the first stop. We headed out to a Christmas tree farm in Littleton. The snow set a mood for holidays. We saw many families and their dogs here.

To Marilyn, this is the first time to join us to get a Christmas tree. The place we used to go doesn't allow dogs in their farm. She was pretty excited with her first Christmas tree farm and motivated to find a perfect one. Her footwork was light.

It is like a treasure hunting to find a perfect tree. You never know what you find. Trees' imperfections stimulate our imagination for how they could be our perfect tree. We walked around, circled around trees, compared some, then finally Marilyn approved. "This is it."

That night, her accomplishment for the two missions of the day brought her early night-night time.

This evening, there was a tree lightening ceremony at the town center. The common is beautiful and I look forward to it everyday I come home. This is the only thing to be happy to come home after dark.

December 2nd

The tree was set in the dining room. It was ready to get decorated.

Another big thing for Christmas is cookies. I spent a day for baking. I hope they are enough for people we give them.

This year, I used 7 boxes of butter, two dozens of eggs, 5 lb. of flour, 0.5 lb. of almond flour, 5 lb. of sugar, 2 lb. of brown sugar, 1 1/2 lb. of confectioner sugar, and some nuts, cocoa powder and spices. I cannot imagine any other occasions for this much intense baking session.

Surprisingly, it was not stressful at all. I had a great time making them though I'm not a cookie person. I think this is the only occasion for me to make cookies in a year.

Only thing I need to be careful is the caramel popcorn. I'm not a big popcorn person either, but caramel popcorn could be my big trouble. It's so addictive. I have to give it away real quick, otherwise I find myself empty the whole container. Yes, it is wholesomeness of butter and sugar... Tell me about it.

By the end of the day, we finished decorating the tree.

December 8th

We had an open house with our friends. We asked our guests to bring a dozen of cookies. Yes, it was a cookie gathering. It was a bit crazy with a lot of people, but a nice and relaxing time. It was nice to see friends we hadn't seen for a long time. It looks like it's going to be our yearly event.

December 15th

I shipped out all packages in the morning. Once this is done, I can be finally relaxed. This year, I sent my friends home made hot chocolate mix, caramel popcorn (sure, you've got to give it away as soon as you make it.) and some cookies.

Today was a giving day. Marilyn turned to be a Santa Paw and delivered cookies to our neighbors. We'll do a couple more visits tomorrow. Somehow, she got cookies as she delivered some. How that works? I can hear she says it works great!

Anyway, the time for merry continues.