Category :

good year, and good night

It feels like just yesterday, I was typing up my special “What I did this year” post for my old blog, and hemming and hawing over the perfect resolutions for 2014 (“Don’t argue so much.”)

Someone explained to me that, mathematically speaking, the years get shorter as you get older because they become a smaller and smaller fraction of your life. To a ten-year-old, one year is 10%. To a 25-year-old, it’s 4%. And that’s why as I go through my 20s, it feels like someone’s shoving me from behind at a more and more aggressive rate every day.

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It’s terrifying.

2014 was an amazing year, better in so many ways than 2013, which was far better than 2012. If I had to define success, something I’m loathe to do at this age, I would say it’s having each year improve over the last, overall. I can say with confidence that I think 2015 will be a more exciting year for me than 2014, even if I can’t predict what might happen.

Speaking of which, what did I do in 2014?

  • I stayed away from home and my home country for the longest period of time in my life: one year exactly.
  • I got pneumonia for the first time.
  • I taught 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 4th grade, and kindergarten, for the first time.
  • I discovered that I have scoliosis.
  • I visited Kochi, Hokkaido, Osaka, Sendai, Aomori, and Kobe for the first time, and went back to Hiroshima (twice), Tokyo (three times), and Kyoto.
  • I bought a new computer, my first ever Mac (and I haven’t looked back since. This computer is the best I’ve ever had.)
  • I started working with the magazine run by my program, and learned just how much work it is trying to put together even one small section of a publication.
  • I got terribly sick at least four times.
  • I went white-water rafting in Tokushima and ate so many homemade bagels I almost puked in the rapids.
  • I discovered and recovered from a 6-week bout of Jumper’s Knee.

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Why are so many of these about sickness and injuries? Maybe I should re-assess how amazing my year was…

  • I finished my first ever NaNoWriMo with two days to spare and 200 words over the minimum.
  • I filled up my first ever “creativity journal,” a journal meant for random ideas that you want to save for later. I read about it in a book called The Creative Compass (by Dan Millman and Sierra Prasada), a book about becoming a writer, and they recommended keeping journals of writing ideas. I bought my second journal a week ago in preparation.
  • I learned the value of holding on to things, while also teaching myself to let go of things.
  • I went to a cherry blossom viewing party at one of the top sites in Japan for watching cherry blossoms: Hirosaki Castle, in Aomori.
  • I gained a kitten, by way of my parents adopting another cat.
  • I started going to baking classes, thanks to a friend of mine introducing me to a woman who makes bread professionally.
  • I finished my first school year and my first JET year abroad
  • I made the electricity in my apartment shut off by using too much of it. That is a first. The accompanying almost-heart-attack, however, was not a first.
  • I went fishing twice, and caught a fish…once.
  • I got a raise! But everyone on my program gets a raise at the beginning of every year.

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Sitting around and waiting for things to happen can also be a valuable achievement…sometimes.

  • I learned how to make udon twice.
  • I experienced my first Sports Day at school, where I screwed up the teacher-student relay race. I hope they don’t resent me…
  • I finished reading 14.5 books, and gave up on another book.
  • I gained 11 pounds!! And I can see all of it on my stomach.
  • I lived through my first official typhoon, holed up in my apartment with my friend who visited from Osaka. And then we made breakfast the next morning.
  • I started working at a new elementary school where I learned just how hyper elementary school students can be.
  • I saw one class of students graduate and leave, and one class of students start junior high school…and I learned just how hyper junior high school students can be.
  • I went to Naoshima, finally, for the first time for Naoshima Meets the World, the greatest event ever thrown in Shikoku…ever. We did culture and language activities with the elementary and junior high school students on the island, and they took us on an art tour to see some of the most famous art in Japan.
  • I started this blog! And I almost threw my computer out the window trying to get it set up.
  • I made two big decisions. One of which has already panned out, and the other of which is still to come, but I won’t say anything about it yet.

I have so, so much to be grateful for and at least as much to be proud of. Teaching myself to be proud has been difficult, but an important experience for me, and I find that these kinds of posts help me see that I’ve actually done and accomplished things.

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So what about 2015?

Tonight, I’ll watch the ball drop on TV with my high school friends, loaded up on candy and sparkling grape juice (we’re 23…but I have to drive that evening), make fun of how orange Ryan Seacrest looks, and maybe plan a recipe or two for the rest of the week.

Tomorrow, I’ll resolve to make more. I resolve to write more, to get through another NaNoWriMo in November, to fill out my second idea journal, and to publish at least as much in 2015 as I did on this blog in 2014. I resolve to read as many books in 2015 as I did in 2014, and more if possible. I resolve to take far too many photos just so I can get more likes more often on Facebook. And I might revive my defunct photography Tumblr, unless I can find another way to showcase my photos. And finally, I’ll actually use the baking books I’ve spent so much money on this past year.

How about you? What do you want to do next year?

 

And here I say, good evening, and happy new year!

明けましておめでとう!

Nick P.

Categories: about me, photography

holiday cookies

Christmas just ended a few days ago, and with it, the fervent cheer of the season. I was too busy being cheerful (binge-watching Modern Family starting with the last season) to work through any blog stuff, so this post may be late, but let’s face it…it’s never too late for cookies. And in my family, winter means cookies upon cookies upon cookies.

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My mom’s side of the family has a special butter cookie recipe that we’ve made almost every year since I can remember, though we didn’t have time to make them this year. I tried making them on my own in Japan last December and they were just a step short of disastrous. They’re essentially butter with just enough flour and sugar that they won’t melt and burn all over the cookie sheet, and then you frost and decorate them. Or in my case, you bite the legs off and re-enact gruesome scenarios with the people-shaped cookies.

Or…I mean…what.

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A couple years ago, I started trying to building up a base of cookie recipes, adding one or two more every December and compiling them all. That all went out the window when I killed my old blog, so I started over from scratch two months ago. Take a look at the first few cookie recipes of The Kitchen Klutz Blog: easier chocolate chip cookies, cardamom shortbread, spiced and salted chocolate chocolate chip cookies.

The over-thinker and over-planner that I am, I had considered adding two or three new recipes this past week, but to be honest, I could only manage one. And it wasn’t even until after Christmas. I did make the chocolate chip cookies and a test batch of molasses cookies, as well as a failed batch of chocolate whole wheat muffins, before Christmas Eve. One of those ended up in the trash, one has since been devoured, and one is still in a tupperware container. You guess.

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I made three different versions of the molasses cookie recipe, but because the original recipe, which came from my favorite cookbook, Flour (by Joanne Chang), was already flawless (and my batch came out really well), I couldn’t for the life of me figure out what to change to make it my own. And after much hemming and hawing, I figured it out:

Cardamom.

The original recipe had a surprising lack of cardamom. I also changed out half of the all-purpose flour for whole wheat flour to see if it would give the cookies a fuller flavor. I had to cut back on flour because whole wheat flour is drier than all-purpose, and the cookies turned out a little bit firmer, but it really did work with the molasses flavor. And naturally, cardamom. Anything with cardamom is a plus in my book, even though the spice costs more than my arm or my leg.

 

cardamom molasses cookies

based on molasses cookies from Flour, by Joanne Chang

makes 40 small (2 tsp) cookies

 

6 oz unsalted butter, softened

180 g light brown sugar

60 g dark molasses

2 large egg yolks (~30 g, or ~1 oz)

140 g all-purpose flour

130 g whole wheat flour

1 tsp baking soda

1 tsp ground ginger

2 tsp ground cardamom

1/2 tsp ground cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

granulated sugar for coating

crystallized ginger, chocolate chips, etc., if desired

 

Using an electric mixer or whisk, beat together butter, molasses, brown sugar and egg until fully combined.

In a separate medium bowl, mix flour, baking powder, and spices.

Combine the dry and wet mixtures, pouring the flour into the wet mixture, until fully combined. Cover the bowl in plastic wrap, or transfer everything to a container, and chill for at least a few hours until it firms up. The cookies bake better when you put them in the oven cold.

When ready to bake, preheat the oven to 350 F (177 C), and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Don’t use wax paper. I learned this the hard way.

Using a soup spoon or medium-sized cookie scoop, scoop out the dough and roll into balls. Pour about 1/4 c granulated sugar in a shallow bowl and roll the dough balls around in it to coat with sugar. Place them on the baking sheet about 2 inches apart. Whole wheat flour is drier than all-purpose, so these don’t spread as much as the original recipe.

Bake for 15 – 20 minutes, until the cookies crack on top and are just starting to firm up. Remove from the oven and let cool on the baking sheet on top of a wire rack. You can store them for up to 3 days at room temperature in a container, or in the refrigerator.

They’re best softened a little bit in the microwave.

 

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Feliz Navidad, y’all.

Nick P.

Categories: cookies

cardamom shortbread

There are moments when we’re covered head to toe in yogurt or bees or something, and we’re thinking “well…shit.” Everyone has those moments. The difference between a klutz and a normal person, though, is that those moments happen regularly for a klutz. maybe three times a week, at least, on average.

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For example, the time I read an issue of Vegetarian Times magazine, and after I found an article on homemade facemasks with oatmeal, I decided to test it out. I had all the wrong ingredients, and I ended up with sour cream all over my face. As I stood over my parents’ kitchen sink contemplating how to get the cream off my face, I started laughing at myself, as one does when they realize they have just smeared sour cream all over their face.

For another example, the time last week I tried warming up a block of butter in my uninsulated apartment by putting it on top of my toaster oven, while I toasted bacon. I didn’t think the oven would get so hot. I should have known better, though, as I usually keep all my baking pans on top of the oven and whenever I try to move them, I burn myself. As you can expect, the butter melted all over the top of the oven. Cut to me thinking, 6 years after I started baking, that I could move the butter to a cooler place and it would resolidify, good as new.

False.

Don’t try to use melted and re-solidified butter when you actually want softened butter. I put it on top of the microwave, and promised I wouldn’t use the  microwave for at least week…and yet the microwave still ended up covered in butter. Nearly a week later and I’m still trying to figure out how to clean off the toaster oven, and it smells like butter and bacon whenever I try to bake something.

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After I cleaned off the microwave, I considered using the butter, because I had planned on making shortbread that night with it. I couldn’t even open the box. It was, for my intents and purposes, ruined. So into the trash it went, 200 grams of unsalted butter, worth $4 total.

As I surveyed my now oily apartment, and considered the money I had just dropped into the trash can, I had to laugh.

Because if I laugh at myself first, then Life can’t laugh at me at all.

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And you, too, can laugh with me when you make cardamom shortbread. It is just so good that you have to chuckle a little. Shortbread is one of the simplest recipes I’ve ever found: it’s just butter, flour, sugar, beaten together and baked. Consider playing with the amount of flour to see how it affects the final product, and see what spices suit you best!

 

cardamom spiced shortbread

based on a recipe by Annie’s Eats

makes 16 cookies

 

90 g unsalted butter, softened and at room temperature

45 g (1/4 c) granulated sugar, plus extra for topping

1 tsp vanilla extract

1 g kosher salt

150 g all-purpose flour

1 tsp ground cinnamon

1 tsp ground cardamom

 

1. Beat the butter until pale and fluffy, about a minute. Beat in the sugar gradually and continue mixing for 2-3 minutes, scraping down the sides of the bowl occasionally. Finally, beat in vanilla and salt.

2. In a separate bowl, combine flour, cinnamon, and cardamom.

3. Slowly add dry mixture to butter and beat. When the flour is almost fully combined, use your hands to knead the dough together until there are no crumbs.

4. Dump the dough out onto a sheet of parchment paper. Don’t knead too much or too hard, just make sure the dough stays together. Form a block about 10 cm wide by 10 cm long (or 5 inches by 5 inches.)

5. Wrap the dough in cling wrap and chill for at least an hour, until it firms up.

6. Preheat the oven, if using a conventional oven, to 325 F, and line a baking sheet with parchment paper, or use the parchment paper you shaped the dough on.

7. Using a rolling pin, press on the square of dough to flatten it and make it wider, about 9-10 inches on each side (~20 cm), and 1 cm thick. If it starts getting warm and soft, chill it again.

8. Cut the square into smaller squares, 4 by 4, and arrange on the baking sheet, and sprinkle with granulated sugar. They puff up a little in the oven.

9. Bake for 10 – 15 minutes, until they just start turning brown. If using a toaster oven, toast at 740 W for the same amount of time.

10. Let cool in the oven for a few minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to finish cooling.

Categories: cookies