Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Our Homemade Olives are done — oh, are they done!

We started a tiny batch of olives last September, and now they're finally ready to eat.

They're quite easy to make: Make a cut in each olive, then put them in brine (1:8 salt and water by weight) for a few weeks. Replace the brine, add garlic cloves and chilies, and let stand until done.

I topped-up the jar with olive oil since that's supposed to keep the top ones from oxidizing, but a few still turned out dark and mushy. Next time I'll rig up some kind of net in the jar to keep them from floating to the surface. We first tried them in January but they were still a bit more bitter than we like. I changed the water one more time and left them for another month.

Homemade Olives
Our olives are done, and they turned out great. They're also fun to photograph.

We tried them for real last weekend. They're juicy and salty, with just a hint of bitterness and lots of umami. The chilies and garlic cloves add a pleasant tangy note. They're delicious; now I wish we had an olive tree. And a garden to keep it in.

With luck the local market will have fresh olives again next autumn. If they do, we have to make these again. Add a sprig of thyme next time perhaps...

Monday, February 23, 2015

Making Miso

Miso is a staple of Japanese cooking. Nowadays you buy it ready-made in supermarkets or miso-shops, but up until fairly recently it was not uncommon for people to make their own. It's really quite simple: cooked soy beans, rice or barley is mixed and fermented with "koji" until it turns into a brown, intensely flavourful paste.

I stumbled on a miso-making kit recently, so we're having a go at it. You could easily get the ingredients for yourself of course, but it's very convenient to get the right amount of everything and a set of instructions.

Boiled soy beans; rice mixed with koji; salt; and a bit of miso dissolved in warm water. A strong plastic bag is good for mixing stuff, but a bowl would be fine too of course. Had we used dry beans we'd have first soaked them for a day, washed them, then boiled them for a few hours until soft.

Mix everything. First add all dry ingredients and shake it around until it's more or less mixed. Then pour in the starter miso. The miso is not really necessary, I think — some recipes use only water or nothing at all.

Crush the beans and rice. How much you mash it will determine the texture of the final miso paste. This is where a plastic bag is really convenient; with a bowl you'd end up with mashed bean paste all over your hands. For large amounts you can use a meat grinder.

Our finished paste. The texture should be fairly soft; "like squeezing your earlobe" is a common comparison. This is on the rough side, and should give us a nice texture. If it's too dry, add a bit more liquid.

Knead the paste into dense patties or balls, then push them into the bottom of the container. The idea is to get rid of any air pockets.

Press down on the paste as you add it, so you end up with a solid mass and a smooth surface.

Cover the surface with kitchen wrap to avoid air contact, then add a heavy weight. Put the container away in a dark, cool place. Done!

Now we wait. The main risk is getting mold on the surface (that's what the kitchen wrap and the weight is all about). Check every month or so, and if green or black mold appears just scoop it up, then sprinkle salt over that bit to stop it from reappearing. Some recipes call for a layer of salt on top, but that makes the miso rather salty.

In May, when temperatures rise, the process will start to speed up, and by October or November the color should begin to change. Once it's done, put it in airtight containers and keep it in the fridge. That's cold enough to stop the process, and the miso should keep for many months. We'll see if we succeed.

Monday, February 9, 2015


February already. Time flies. Things aren't going to let up for a while, so long, coherent posts isn't happening. Let's just do some quick check-in style mini posts instead. And since there's no particular theme, I can also post recent(1) pictures that I happen to like.

A Cat's Life
A couple of cats in the morning sun on Nagahori street on my way to work.

I failed the JLPT as I expected, but with a better score than I thought (97/180). I'll try it again in July this time, and start studying for it in late March or so. Should give me a decent chance to take it this time. Just have to motivate myself to actually study grammar...

Autumn Wedding
A newlywed couple is enjoying the autumn sunset at Sōrakuen gardens in Kobe. This is a pleasant little garden just a few minutes from bustling Motomachi.

My passport expires this summer so I renewed it last weekend. Swedish passports are valid for only five years, and you have to apply in person at the embassy in Tokyo, on weekday mornings only. Which means I have to, at a minimum, take the train up from Osaka, spend a night in Tokyo, apply, then return back home. Between the train, the hotel, one unpaid vacation day and the steep 20k yen application fee it makes for a very expensive passport.

Since I have to go anyway we turned it into a fun weekend trip together. We browsed the used bookstores in Kanda, shopped for kitchen stuff in Kappabashi — I almost bought a small drum coffee roaster before I remembered I'd have to bring it on the train — and met a couple of old friends for dinner. One afternoon we split up, with Ritsuko in Ginza while I went looking for a used oscilloscope probe in Akihabara. I found the probe — along with a bag full of useful tools and components.

It was a fun trip. I brought the Minolta SRT 101, but when I loaded the camera I neglected to make sure that the film actually caught on the take-up spool properly. The result is a roll full of no Tokyo pictures. Oh well.

Crab Pot
We go eat crab hotpot once a year or so at the Kani Dōraku restaurant on Dōtonbori. For some reason, crab is insanely popular among Japanese; I like it too, certainly, so I enjoy this as much as Ritsuko.

Ebisubashi bridge, Dōtonbori, view from the restaurant. The bridge is a place to see and to be seen, especially during the warmer months.

Dōtonbori canal.

This is insanely cool: a home-built — as in built completely from scratch — 6502-based home computer. He even made the case by himself. And all of it, from the board layout to the software, is open source.

"Askul" is a Japanese office supply company. It's a portmanteau of "明日来る/Ashita kuru", "Arrives tomorrow". In Swedish it means "Damn fun!". Every time I see one of their boxes at the office my day brightens up a little.

Ritsukos cousin, Ide Teruko, is a ceramics artist (ceramicist?), and we try to go to her exhibitions when we can. This was in a gallery in Kyoto last October.

#1 "Recent" only as in recently processed and uploaded. These are all taken last autumn.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015


So, mid-January. This blog is turning into an occasional travelogue more than anything, and there's a few reasons for that. Deadlines are looming, and when I do have some free time I'd rather spend it with Ritsuko, read a book or study Japanese.

The Lettuce Awakens
It's mid-winter. But our small-scale lettuce farm (it doesn't get smaller-scale than this) is showing signs of life out on the balcony. Small, new leaves are beginning to sprout already.

But another reason is my new calendar. When I first became smart-phonified, I gave up on a paper calendar. It seemed so convenient to have it on the phone and on my laptop, and I could also synchronize work calendars with my own. But I never quite managed to become satisfied with it. I tried several calendar apps and tried to adapt but it just never really worked well.

I finally realized the problem: An electronic calendar is a timeline. Everything has a specific time and date, and everything is connected to that timeline. But I've always used a calendar more like a notebook. The basic structure is a note about something. One note can be anything from a single word to half a page of text and drawings. And one note might contain several datetimes — or none at all.

A two-day conference is a good example. I'd add the entire two days as a single note or two, with flight times and numbers, the rough conference schedule, talks I want to hear, hotel info and so on. During the conference I'd add notes about talks I hear, paper references, sketches or maps. Since I know when I wrote it down I can always find it again later.

How is a paper calendar connected to this blog? I need to practice my Japanese. And since I now always have paper and a pen with me, I've started writing a blog/diary/running notes in Japanese. Since it's in longhand, I have to actually remember how to write the kanji, not just pick them of a list on the screen. And with a pen I have to decide what to say and how to say it before I start writing. It's a lot of fun, and good practice, but it does cut into my time writing here.

We spent New Year in Hokkaido. But Ritsuko still likes to cook new years food, so we made some osechi-ryouri at home once we came back. Best thing about making it at home is that you can make just your favourite foods and skip the rest.

I'll post about our New Years trip to Hokkaido eventually. So far I haven't even developed the film so it will take a while.

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Happy New Year

2015, the year of the sheep.

A happy new year from Janne and Ritsuko.

Monday, December 29, 2014

The Netherlands

We went to the Netherlands this August(1). I went for work — the Neuroinformatics 2014 conference was held in Leiden — and Ritsuko came along to see the sights. No time for a real vacation this year so I took a weekend off at the end of the conference, and we spent that together in Amsterdam(2). Since we're leaving for our New Years trip tomorrow morning, it's well past time to post about this.

Japan is hot in summer. Europe, by and large, is not. I did vaguely remember this as we were packing, but we grossly underestimated just how miserable the weather can be. The moment we stepped off the plane to Schiphol, we realized we should have left t-shirts and sandals at home in favour of padded coats, scarves and umbrellas.

Leiden. Wet and cold when we arrived, but quite beautiful.

Leiden is a picturesque university town. It reminds me a lot of Lund and Uppsala in Sweden, with a lot more waterways. And frankly, like Lund, Leiden also seems to be the kind of place you love living in as a student for a few years but eventually outgrow.

Bicycles everywhere.

Boat Life
Apparently you can't live here and not have a boat. Puttering around on the canals certainly looks relaxing.

A few larger boats parked along one of the canals early in the morning as I was going to the conference site.

The conference was held at the faculty of law. As the name "neuroinformatics" can tell you, it dealt less with pure neuroscience and more with modelling, data analysis and management and things like that. The talks and posters tended toward the concrete and practical. As many of us come from the informatics side, there was also a refreshingly positive attitude towards Open Source and data sharing, something that's unfortunately largely missing within much of the neuroscience field.

INCF 2014 Poster session
The INCF poster session. The long, narrow hall worked better than I thought it would; people would drift up on one side, then down the other, without causing any jams.

Einstein Lectured Here
Apparently Einstein lectured in this room when he worked here. I know this because the organizers reminded us of that fact about twice a day for the entire conference. ^_^

Antoinette Christina
Antoinette Christina. Did I mention the boats? Lots of boats.


There are many places I like to visit. But there are only a few places I could imagine living permanently. Amsterdam may have become one of them. The city is a beautiful mix of old quarters and newer, and criss-crossed with canals. And the relaxed attitude among its inhabitants really grabs me. This is a place where "work-life balance" doesn't mean "the only balance is all work, no life".

There Are Canals
There are canals. Oh but are there canals. Very picturesque, very soothing. But I can't but wonder just how often the canal-side buildings get water damaged.

A creative door design at a row of townhouses. The buildings on either side had the same doors but with the numbers shifted.

We stayed at Bed and Breakfast Margot. It was the first time at a B&B for us, but we had nothing to worry about. A beautiful room with a view of the canal, and our host Margot served up a wonderful breakfast that could have kept us going all day had we only been able to eat it all. Highly recommended.

Bed and Breakfast Margot
Our room, facing the canal. Beautiful and relaxing, and the view is great.

The downstairs entry hall and kitchen. Beware those stairs; navigating them with a heavy suitcase is painful.

The Dutch language is sort-of, kind-of like Swedish. I feel I can almost understand it, and I probably could with just a few months practice. It was sometimes almost unnerving; I'd hear bits of a conversation, and without focusing on it I could pick out the overall meaning. But once I realized that and tried to listen in, I no longer understood. Margot, the bed and breakfast owner, said she sometimes watched Swedish television dramas, and had no problem following the story.

Amsterdam is famous for legal marijuana and legal prostitution — no, we didn't try either. I'm vaguely in favour of having it legal and controlled; it seems better than the alternative. The prostitution business seems to be fairly well controlled and run, and it's clearly a tourist draw not just for sad single guys. You can see entire families walking through the red light district, and couples shopping for toys and visiting the museums and exhibitions. No pictures, as that raises too many privacy issues.

The drug business, however, seems to be its own worst enemy. The shops look seedy, run-down and dirty. They're not charmingly disordered and hippie-like, just sad and depressing. The kind of places where you expect wet stains on the seat and cigarette butts in your coffee. Whatever the product, it would never cross my mind to enter a shop. When their legal status is already under attack, fulfilling every prejudice of catering only to the desperate and the addicted does not strike me as the wisest business approach.

Holland is not well known for its food. That's not because the food is bad - far from it - but simply because the traditional cuisine, like Swedish food, doesn't stand out as uniquely different from its neighbours. If you know German food you are not going to encounter any big surprises in Amsterdam. But the food we had was all good.

It's not just a kebab. It's a symbol of Europe. Seriously. This one in Leiden, Netherlands, was cheap, filling and delicious - and all but identical (right down to the selection of sauces) to one I would have received in a good kebab place in Stockholm, Madrid, Prague or in any small town across the continent.

I love Japanese food. But one thing I do miss in Japan is the European pita kebab. I take every chance to eat this whenever I return to Europe. It's origins is vaguely middle-Eastern-Turkish-Greek, but it has spread across the continent, soaking up influences along the way, and now it has a strong claim to be one of the few true pan-European foods.

If you're looking for the germs of a new pan-European identity then forget old paintings or dusty culture. Look at the new cheap, popular foods - the bastard children of a dozen culture clashes - that we create and enjoy.

When foodies, cultural gatekeepers and the far right all hate and fear it — when everyone with a stake in national rather than European identity feel deathly threatened — then you know you're looking at the future of European identity. And it looks bright. Also delicious and covered in garlic sauce.

Dutch herring. Similar flavour (and surely a shared origin) to Swedish pickled herring. We don't eat it on bread like this — at least I've never done it — but it's a quick, tasty meal. I actually had this for lunch twice, it's so good.

Sari Citra
A friend recommended Sari Citra toward the southern end of the city center. It's an Indonesian restaurant; as it was a Dutch colony, there is a lot of food influences from there. This is a café-style place where you can eat in or take-out. Everything is fresh and very good, and it is well worth the trip. There's an outdoor market just around the corner worth a visit as well.

Sari Citra
Set meal at Sari Citra.

Pub Arendsnest is another recommendation, and just a couple of blocks from the place we stayed. If I had no other reason to move here, this would almost be enough by itself. Good, relaxed atmosphere, and an amazing range of ales and stouts on tap. It would probably take months of occasional visits to really sample all the things on offer. If you like beer, this is the place to go.

Pub Arendsnest, along one of the many canals.

FEBO. I guess tosome this is scraping the bottom of the culinary barrel. Not just a hamburger joint, but a vending-machine style hamburger joint. But it is also fun, and it's also quick, and the food is more varied and tastes better than the usual big burger chains.

Mint tea
Everybody and I mean everybody was drinking mint tea. Pour hot water over a fistful of mint leaves, then add honey to taste. Simple but very warming on chilly days.

You can't throw a bottle of genever in this town without hitting an outdoor market. The narrow streets with small squares and open areas seem well-suited to stalls and carts, and they seem to happen everywhere. There's plenty of markets selling used goods, off-brand items, and cheap knockoffs. But there's also markets full of cheese-mongers, fruit and vegetable sellers, fish and meat.

Did we buy cheese? Yes, we bought cheese. Did we buy a lot of cheese? Why yes, we did buy lots of cheese. We still have some left now, four months after the trip. Good cheese.

We got corn! Yay!!
We got corn! A happy couple grocery shopping at an outdoor market.

Hats? Hats.
A hatmaker at one of the markets. I got one for myself; it's a good hat.

The Snake
Amsterdams local anarkists sport the usual creatively decorated building.

Schiphol Pod
Schipol has a completely automated luggage check-in system. When you shove your ticket into a slot it opens the pod bay doors a hatch where you put your bag for weighing, then attach the printed luggage tag before the close button sends the bag on its way. Pretty cool; I wish I could check in myself into my own pod in the same way.

I've flown into Kansai airport many times by now, and I've never seen a dog patrol of any kind. Except this time, flying in from Amsterdam, we had not one but two drug-sniffing dog patrols walking around in the baggage reclamation area. I couldn't imagine why.

Morning View
Amsterdam in the morning.

#1 Is this post late? Why yes, it is late. Deadlines is the hobgoblin of little minds(1.5).

#1.5 As are accurate quotations.

#2 Before anybody thinks we're living the high-life: My job pays for my coach ticket and my hotel room during the conference. All other costs, including any fare increase from not returning directly after the conference, is paid by ourselves. And no, I don't get any money back if the ticket ends up cheaper.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Osaka Festival of Lights

I've been a little too stressed for my own good lately. So I took the Sunday off this weekend, and didn't even log in at work all day. Instead we went to see Osaka Festival of Lights (大阪光の饗宴). Every winter, Midosuji avenue is decorated with lights all the way from Shinsaibashi up to Nakanoshima island. And around Christmas, there's a lighting festival in the park on the island itself. Lots of people, lighting displays and stalls selling food and drink.

The weather had finally turned after a week of miserable rain and dampness. We left home early and walked up Midosuji to a Vietnamese restaurant for lunch. There were a lot of people around; some were waiting for the illumination, while others were just enjoying the break in the weather. After lunch we spent a couple of hours at a café studying Swedish and Japanese (no points for guessing who studied what).

Right-wing speaker vans were out in force, probably because of the recent election. A single van parked near Yodoyabashi was criticizing Christmas. In a desperate tone the speaker urged people to "remember that New Year is a Shinto holiday! Don't you even care Tuesday is the Emperors birthday!?"

Of course, Christmas isn't much of a holiday here. You don't get time off work, and it has no religious or cultural meaning; it's a dating day for young people and another excuse to add festive decorations and sell stuff to people. I can't imagine how oversensitive that right-winger must have been to burst a vein over this.

Hot wine is really popular right now, and most food stalls sell it. This stall also sold hot sake, and frankly I like it even better than hot wine when it's cold outside. It's less sweet and sticky, but just as warming.

As dusk approached we arrived at Nakanoshima. The crowd was large already, and the food stalls were doing a brisk trade. At many festivals you'd mostly have snacks and junk food — hot dogs, taiyaki, yakisoba and so on. Here, though, one of the two food areas is dedicated to Western-style foods, mostly catered by restaurants. We had borstj, pirog, and clam chowder in a hollowed-out bread. Later on we also had okomiyaki and beef kushiyaki. Healthy living.

The highlight of the festival was a projection event on the Osaka Public Hall. It was a fun little animation featuring Anooki, French animation characters. Here's a YouTube video of the animation: Anooki á Osaka.

You are feeling sleepy... Very, very sleepy...
You are feeling sleepy... Very, veeryyy sleeepyyy... This one was fun; the display is actually animated and set to music, so the picture doesn't really convey the full experience.

I haven't felt this refreshed in months. For the first time in a long while I managed to forget about work for a while and just enjoy taking pictures and watching people. I wish I could do this more often.

All the bridges around Yodogawa are illuminated as well (though I vaguely think they are all year round). This is Tenjinbashi bridge as we were leaving for home.