Friday, January 17, 2014

And the Challenges Go On..Part 10

Seaweed, being cooked with soy sauce and sugar

Long term readers of this blog probably know that my posts labeled "challenges" here are usually about my mom. And the last time I posted about her on this blog was Aug. 2010. Wow! Four years ago!! :O At that time, dad and I were aware of her memory problem and minor confusion. But she didn't get diagnosed with dementia then, because her MRI scan showed no brain shrinkage.

Now let me give you some updates. ;)

Her problem gradually got worse, as you might have guessed. It became harder for dad and I to deal with, not only her memory loss but the stories she made up to compensate for it. (And in this four year period, dad underwent bladder cancer surgery twice.) We tried to take her to the hospital several times, but she kept refusing. Dad consulted with his relative, who used to be a vet, and he said that the medication may not do her good so we should avoid it.

So, it was Dec. 2013 when I finally managed to take her to the hospital for dementia screening. Yes, she was diagnosed with dementia, and she got on Aricept. (But believe it or not, her MRI didn't show almost no brain shrinkage again!!)

You think that made things better for us, like a magic? Huh! Let me tell you. It was the beginning  of a turmoil.
Yes, the medicine DID enhance her cholinergic function. But that means it made her more anxious rather than improving her memory.
Here's my post on my Facebook page in Dec. 2013, which was just a few examples of the agonies we had:

"Pleeeeeeeeeeeeease, mom!
Stop walking to the post office (wearing your heavy, painful artificial leg and using the cane) to withdraw money from your account again and again, and again!
Stop asking me where your bank card is again and again, and again and again and again! You agreed to let me keep it so that you won't withdraw all your money from your account.
Stop walking up to dad's orchard alone (wearing your heavy, painful artificial leg and using the cane) to take a look at the oranges when no one is around to stop you!
Stop walking down to the really ragged and rocky part of the beach (wearing your heavy, painful artificial leg and using the cane) to pick sea snails when no one is around to stop you!

About two weeks ago, Aricept made mom a bit hyper and she started withdrawing money from her postal saving account quite often. She said she lost her savings book and all the account statements. I had a hell of a time trying to check how much money she used up, because she refused to go to the post office with me and I had to go back and forth (3 times) to get an authorization letter done correctly and have her savings book re-issued.

Then two days ago, she lost her wallet. I kept the debit card of her postal saving with me, but her bank card was in the wallet. So I called the operator to put a stop on her card, then took her to the bank today. Yep, the same procedures again -- registering a new seal (hanko) and having the bank book and bank card re-issued.

Dad and I decided to keep her important bank books, seals and cards for her. I wrote on a piece of paper who has what and who to ask when she wants to withdraw money, and posted it on the wall in her room, because she kept asking us "Where's my card?""Where's my wallet?" every three minutes. (OK. I exaggerated.) And every time she was reminded that she lost her wallet, she felt down and so incapable. So tonight, I prepared dinner with her -- her favorite tempura --, which seemed to have made her feel better.

And she just came by and said that she can't find her cell-phone recharger. "


Every single day, she misplaced/lost something and had to go through a frantic search frenzy, and of course dad and I had to help her. Imagine what it was like to prepare New Year's feast with this person. LOL

And what about the photo on top of this post? Well, look at these photos below. Notice some rocks are covered with chocolate-like brown thing? That's seaweed. Today, being driven by the strong urge, mom went on the beach alone and scraped off some seaweed from the rocks and brought it home.

There's nothing wrong with that. Many of us locals do the same thing, because cooked with soy sauce and sugar or mirin (rice wine), the seaweed makes wonderful topping for cooked white rice. But knowing how slippery the seaweed-covered rock is when wet, I sure don't want her to go there alone...

Like I wrote on my FB page, living with her, life is always thrilling.  ;) 

Good thing is that she seems to be getting used to her new situation and the medication, so these days, she is less frantic when she needs to look for something. Thank goodness!


Friday, January 10, 2014

Long Procrastination...

Homemade Blueberry Jam 

Last year was a good year for my blueberries. The summer was quite hot and dry, but they yielded more-than-usual amount of berries. Mom and I had fun picking them and throwing them into carefully storing them in the freezer. Then I almost forgot about it. Hahaha... The berries came into my attention at the end of 2013 when I stored/defrosted lots of frozen food to prepare the New Year's feast. I kept telling them (in my mind, of course), "OK. I know you're there. But not right now!"

Now, it's 2014. The Osechi feast is gone and our fridge and freezer are getting back to normal status. And I thought it was time for this.
This is how they looked when they came out of the freezer.
Now what? Blueberry pies? Pancakes? Muffins? What I really, really loved to do in the States was eating them fresh, smothered in cream. MMmmmmm!!! I could eat a big bowlful within seconds.

But these were helplessly sour. I know. In the photo above, obviously some don't look ripe enough. But even the dark-colored, ripe-looking ones were sour. I knew it because I tasted some last summer. So, I decided not to take a risk.
Yes, I went for blueberry jam.
The jam turned out alright... It was sweet enough because I put lots of sugar.
But the texture! :(
I should have googled about "tough blueberry skins" before freezing them.
Anyway, at least it's pretty photogenic when served this way. 

Luckily, the tough skins and lots of seeds did not bother me too much when I ate the jam on a toasted bread. So that's how I'm going to consume the rest of it.

Tuesday, January 07, 2014

Be Kind to Your Stomach!

 Nanakusa Gayu (Seven-herb Japanese Rice Porridge)

Today is the day for Nanakusa-gayu (seven-herb rice porridge) in Japan. It is our tradition to eat rice porridge cooked with seven kinds of herbs on January 7th.

They say that the custom originally came from China more than 1000 years ago. According to the websites I read, the 7th day had a special meaning in ancient Chinese belief, and people back then ate seven-herb soup on Jan. 7th to protect themselves from evils.

After the custom was imported into Japan, people replaced the soup with rice porridge. And gradually it became a nice, kind-to-your-stomach meal with vitamins that people eat after their indulgence in New Year's feast and sake. :)  (Oh, don't be too picky about the vitamin content. Must be better than none. :P)

But were the ancient Japanese really able to find the seven-herbs in the field at this time of the year? I doubt it... Even on the Lunar Chinese calendar, January 7th is still in the middle of the winter. So, some mysteries still remain. ;)
Anyway, thanks to the advanced distribution system, now we can buy something like this at the supermarket.

These were what was inside the package.

1. seri (dropwort); 2. nazuna (Shepard's purse); 3. gogyo (cudweed) ; 4. hakobe (chickweed); 5. hotokenoza (henbit); 6. suzuna (turnip); 7. suzushiro (baby daikon)

What? You don't see 1? Don't worry. I don't, either. ;)
Honestly, I couldn't find seri in the package. Was I too nervous or did they forget to pack it? Oh, well. Let's not make a fuss about it. It cannot ruin my health for the whole year. Right?

Now, if you really want to go authentic, you should make the porridge from scratch, means, you should use raw rice. But today I used pre-cooked rice -- leftover from my parents' breakfast, because it's much faster.

 I rinsed and drained the rice, then chopped the herbs. Then I put the rice and water in the clay pot to make porridge.

As stated above, I wasn't making it in an authentic way, so I poured in some store-bought shirodashi (concentrated dashi stock).

After it started boiling, I added the herbs...
... then seasoned it with salt and soy sauce.

The porridge really warmed me up.

So why do we pass down this tradition in the 21st century? If our stomach was sick from pigging out and our body was craving for vitamins after the Osechi feast, we have medicines and supplement pills. Without doubt, they are much more effective than some wild herbs. Then why this porridge-making?

The way I see it is that it is not the porridge itself that we value. The food is the symbol of the efforts that ancient people made. In order to stay healthy and live happily together, they made the best out of what was available at that time. Such way of life is what we're proud to succeed -- well, at least, I am -- and this custom reminds us of its importance every year.

Everyone, let's stay healthy in 2014!! :D 

Sunday, January 05, 2014

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year!

See the first sunrise of 2014!  That morning, I stayed on the beach for about an hour, trying to shoot impressive shots of the sun rising from the horizon.

... I know. The previous post was written in September. What have I been doing for the past three months? No excuse. It's just that I was a slave of Facebook.
But I promise. This year, I'm going to post more on this blog. Just like I used to do.


As some of the long-term readers of my blog may know, in the morning of January 1st, my family goes through the New Year celebration rituals. I first blogged about the rituals in 2005, and I don't think I can explain it any better now. So if you're interested, find out about it here. (Oh, but now it's only three of us celebrating together: my dad, mom and I.)

OK. I might as well explain this again here:
This container is filled with rice, and on top of it you see sliced mochi (rice cakes), daidai orange (symbolizes the success passed from generation to generation = daidai in Japanese), sprig of bamboo, pine and plum (symbolize blessing of longevity), thinly-cut kobu (kelp: happiness and joy, from a Japanese word, yorokobu = to feel happy), kachiguri (dried chestnuts: victory because Kachi means "winning") and hoshigaki (dried persimmon: long life).

And basically, our Osechi feast is the same every year -- Yes, same food, same jubako (tiered lacquer boxes), and about the same amount. :D
But it IS a blessing that my family can do the same every year, because that means we're not in a serious trouble or anything. You know what I mean?

There WERE minor problems, of course, and I was exhausted to death when everything was ready.
But let's not be pessimistic.
My family members are not totally healthy but not seriously sick.
The main breadwinner is still unemployed but the family is not starving.
And the sun shines on everyone, including me.

So, here's to all my dear friends,

I wish you all the very best of 2014!


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