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Umeshu

Hooray! Two posts in one week, I’m finally getting this baby back on track. In fact I’ve got a massive stack of stuff to write about now and plenty of free time at work to knock out some posts so we should finally be ahead of the game again.

Woo hoo!

Anyway today I just want to go over a few miscellaneous odds and ends that have been gathering up and need to be addressed.

New School

No photos as, well, it isn’t very interesting looking, but I have recently moved to a new school, Higashiochiai.

In contrast to my last placing out in the middle of nowhere Higashiochiai is smack dab in the centre of the kobe metropolis. Well, not quite, but it is decidedly urban. And whereas Iwaoka was an hour’s journey everyday Higashiochiai is less than half the time away. This is a massive boon to my free time and has granted me an extra half an hour in bed in the morning. Bliss! And no snakes either.

However I’m now in a decidedly weird situation. I will probably be moved from this school at the end of March and it is already nearly the end of January. I have barely 2 months left at Higashiochiai before I will be shipped out yet again to meet new teachers, get to know students and generally adjust. This means I’m kind of in limbo. Sure I work here but I feel like all of my efforts here are pointless. I don’t really have enough time to properly get to know anyone, students or teachers and I certainly don’t have enough time to train students up to my expectations of them in lessons.

Still everyone seems nice enough so far so I guess I’ll just enjoy it while I’m here and worry about the future later.

Sweet Potato Kit-Kats

I have been as lax with my kit-kat reviewing as I have with the blog in general but I intend to let this error persist no further. Already I have skipped over informing you people of the important evolutions of strawberry cheesecake and blueberry cheesecake kit-kats, cookie kit-kats and anko kit-kats. Maybe one day they shall return to stores and I can educate you as to their deliciousness or lack of delciousness. Alas, that is a dream for the future.

For now let’s talk about sweet potatoes.

Sweet potatoes are very popular in Japan. In fact potatoes of all kinds are fairly popular but particularly potatoes that are traditionally grown in Japanese soil, of which swete potato is one. In fact there are a wide variety of sweet potatoes native to Japan ranging from the purple skinned but orange centred imo to the wholly purple beni imo.

Sweet potatoes can be used a both a savoury option, in nabe (a kind of stew), roasted, boild or baked on its own or pressed into rice and as a sweet option, made into a dessert called daigaku-imo, sliced, fried and sugared or used as a starch in wagashi (tea ceremony sweets). There are even varieties of shochu made of it. And now there is a kit-kat version.

And it is delicious! Incredibly delicious. In fact it may be my favourite variety of kit-kat. The taste is incredibly nuanced and complicated for kit-kat. It’s mostly a kind of caramel flavour but a very rich caramel with nutty, earthy notes coming through too.

And it tastes, not even slightly, like a sweet potato.

Delicious though.

Umeshu

You may re-call from this post all those many months ago that I was making some umeshu.

Well here it is.

As you can see it has gone down in height by quite a significant amount. This is because I have been drinking it, not because of the ume absoribing the water or anything like that. The colour has obviously changed to a more recognizable ume tone and the ume have shrunk.

My how they’ve shrunk, and now they look like little brains. Tiny brains in a jar. I’ve always wanted to own some brains in a jar, now I can fantasise that I do.

The taste is, actually a little bit disappointing. It’s definitely umeshu but it isn’t as sharp as I usually like my umeshu and furthermore it is very, very sweet. To the point of almost being sticky. I aim to try again next year with much less sugar in the mixture.

I also aim to brew it for a whole year. We cracked open the jar around about Christmastime after a period of more than 6 months but I am now informed that a ful years wait is needed to make a fully mature umeshu.

I should point out that my girlfriend was very happy with it though, even if it is a little bit sweet for me.

Mushrooms

Until the next spring my attempt at making umeshu has drawn to a close but now I have a new project to divert me.

Growing shiitake mushrooms.

My wonderful girlfriend got me a grow your own mushroom kit for Christmas. After dithering with the Japanese instructions for a while I eventually figured out what to do and have been cultivating a patch of mushrooms in the same cupboard the umeshu used to live in.

My first mushroom was constrained by the shape of the bag and had begun growing before I had even opened up the kit. It went a bit strange shortly after I set up the kit properly and turned all watery and…odd. So I ripped it off.

Presently I am growing 1 single solitary but unbelievably massive mushroom. The biggest shiitake I have ever seen. I am going to eat it for my tea tonight in fact in the hopes that if I cut it off it will stimulate all the other spores to start growing.

I will keep you updated on further mushroom news.

Finally I like to end any odds and ends post with a video showcasing the madness that is my adopted land.

http://content.fliqz.com/applications/1f866af11db04864bca16236377b518f.swf

This is a trailer for the upcoming live action version of the yatterman anime. Yatterman is about a pair of super hero mechanics riding a giant robot dog who fight a trio of super villains who also have various robots, and a 3 person tandem (tridem?) The show is mostly about the villains and the comic relief they offer. In tone it feels like hannah-barbera filtered through Japan. And now they are making a live action movie. I have high hopes for this.

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When it comes to alcohol my first love is beer of all kinds.

After that it’s port.

Then whiskey, then probably wine.

However after that it is definitely umeshu.

Umeshu is a plum liqueur made from the Japanese plum (or ume). Unlike English plums Japanese plums are waaay too sour to just eat and are pretty small and by all accounts unpalatable. However despite this they form an important part in Japanese cooking and Japanese culture. Most notably in umeboshi (pickled plums that are a common feature of people’s lunches here) and umeshu.

Fran absolutely adores umeshu and turned me onto the delights of this drink shortly after she arrived in Japan. Typically one mixes the liqeur with some ice and water to create a cool refreshing sweet drink with hints of sourness and strong alcohol underneath. It is one of the finest things one can drink on a hot summer’s day, and trust me Japan has a surfeit of hot summer days.

Just recently it was the Japanese plum harvest here and so the supermarket has been stocked full of plums and, crucially, the equipment one needs to make ones own umeshu.

So in the interests of a cultural experience (and cheap booze) I had a go.

Here is my first attempt at making umeshu.

The method, for anyone who wants to try it, is ludicrously easy.

1. Acquire your ingredients.

You’ll need

500g of plums (ume)
90ml of shochu (distilled sake)
500g of rock sugar

I doubled up on all the ingedients as those were the quantities the supermarket had for sale (plus more booze, wahey). You can add more plums to the mix for a stronger flavour, use a stronger shochu for a more boozey umeshu (although at 35% I was plenty pleased with mine) or some honey to make a sweeter drink.

2. Prepare the plums.

This is really easy. Use a toothpick to remove the stem from the plum, give them a wash and scrape away any damage to the skin.

3. Put them in the container.

4. Add the rock sugar.

5. Add the shochu.

6. Give it a vigorous stir.

7. Leave it in a cool dry place for 6 months.

Technically it is drinkable after only 3 months but I’m planning to leave this until Christmas when I can offer it to guests. If this is sucessful then I plan to do two or more batches next year and see if I can keep one batch going until the summer.

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