An apple a day....

Or a few dozen boxes of them!

So, I like to help people. Who doesn't?

So, when my neighbour asked me to help fill in the address labels on some boxes of apples she was sending I said sure.

(Actually I said- are you sure?? In a neighbourhood of Japanese people you want me to write all that kanji for you?)

Then I said sure.

Then I wrote out 42 address labels in kanji.

Horrific kanji.

Really complicated kanji and for about 10 of the addresses I was working from a handwritten list. this is kind of like being asked to rewrite doctor scrawl. How can you know what to write when you don't know what to copy??

Anyway, I got it done.

I delivered the address labels.

Then after she packed all the apple boxes K and I took them all down to the apples-to-be-posted-collection-area.

Our k-truck has a maximum tare of 300 kilos.

The usual apples-to-be-sent box weighs 10 kilos.

I'm not super good at maths but, even with some 5 kilo boxes thrown in the mix I'm pretty sure that 42 boxes of apples is over the tare limit.

I was the only person who was worried that this was illegal and quite possibly unsafe as well.... And sliding boards down the side of the tray and roping everything in doesn't change that fact.

The apples-to-be-posted-collection-area is a really cool place.

It's in one of the (several) warehouses at the local petrol station.

Which also doubles as the local rice dehusker/ polisher and kero delivery business.

Multi-talented, huh?

Anyway, K and I drove right into the warehouse and lo and behold there's a little table there with two guys in Japan Post uniforms (on a Sunday??) and about six guys in workwear absolutely killing it. Seriously, the productivity level here was amazing.

We were unloaded, boxes reloaded into trollies based on destination and box weight, customer copies of all the address labels removed, counted, collated, totalled and signed off on in under 5 minutes.

Which is just as well, as, after we were finished being gobsmacked by the amazingness of the process, after we got back in the car and drove through to the other side of the warehouse (of course it was drive through) we realised we had gone in the out and were now driving past a nice neat line of trucks and vans waiting patiently for their turn.


Blurry picture of the super cool apples-to-be-posted-collection-centre:

It's just unfortunate that now we mucked that up so badly we may never be able to go back...


weekend farm kids

When your parents are weekend farmers you get to be a weekend farm kid.

We have never made a big deal out of this. It's just 'Get your paddy clothes on, we're off to the rice paddy.'

Sometimes they help out and sometimes they play.

Taking your kids to the field with you is something people used to do a lot more than they do now and so it makes the retiree age farmers around us get all nostalgic. 

One of the neighbours told me how she used to tie her toddlers to an apple tree with a rug, some toys and a drink while she worked. 


Others tell me of how, pre-machination, kids were a vital part of the rice harvest as they picked up all the stray strands of rice and made them into bunches.

At last year's community meeting of the local PTA, kids' club leaders, neighbourhood leaders and neighbourhood welfare workers one of the neighbourhood leaders who just happens to farm next to us, used her 2 minutes to reveal to all present that our kids are out in the field running around and playing and everyone else should lock up their kids' DS's and send them outside too.  It was slightly squirm inducing and I felt like I should have added a disclaimer that we don't actually give the girls a choice and Meg does actually have a DS....

While I do get pangs of guilt that other kids are spending their weekends at karaoke, cheering on the city's soccer team, at festivals, shopping centres, movie theatres or Disneyland while Meg and Amy are in their gumboots making daisy chains again, all in all I think they will appreciate the freedom they had and the adventures it afforded them.

Exhibit A:

This is a set of rice rack legs. Well it was until it became a bird nest. Amy is the mother bird and the little girl at the bottom is the baby. Meg is making sure the nest doesn't fall on the baby bird.

Exhibit B:

Mum and Dad spent a looooonnng time during the rice harvest with a rake and a pitch fork spreading out the chopped up rice straw so it will become fertiliser for next year's crop.

Then Meg, Amy and the little friend built this tepee from a number of sets of rice rack legs and spent a loooong time collecting up armfuls of carefully spread rice straw to furnish their tepee.

We finished the rice harvest at 2:30. The weather was cold, the wind was colder, everyone just wanted to get out, get home and get lunch.

Well, everyone except the kids who had to be cajoled out of their tepee and home again. They are adamant the tepee should become a permanent fixture in the paddy.

The fact that that would make growing rice very difficult is beside the point.

Gotta love the thinking of the weekend farm kids.


Old skool

Last Christmas we went to Australia. Meg and I were riding around the neighbourhood chatting while Meg checked out the real estate (she doesn't want much- just a house with a wrap around verandah, a pool, a paved driveway and a basketball hoop...) when we came across a garage sale.

An old school garage sale with all the goods out on sheets in the driveway and things going for 50 cents and a dollar. We raced home and grabbed my wallet and went back and bought them out.

Well not really but almost!

Meg got a whole lot of science magazines, Amy got Where's Wally books, they both got Little Miss pyjamas, Meg picked up a bunch of her favourite Target camisole tops (shirts in Australia, underwear in Japan), I picked up some great board games and on a whim, to round our purchases up to a whopping $10 I threw in a dance dance revolution game.

I remember dance dance revolution from when I was on exchange here- game centres had huge crowds around the dance dance revolution games as players robotically moved in time to the prompts on the screen.

We are a wii/ playstation/ xbox free household so this is our first video game. 

Amy had a friend over on the weekend and they got it out.

The friend was asking questions:

Where do the mats plug in?

They don't.

Ahhhh is it wifi?


How does it work?

You just dance.

...... cool!

And so they did.

They danced and danced on their non-plugged in mats.

And I had to use the remote to change the song every 2-3 minutes as requested after I saw Amy poking at the TV screen.

Poor child usually watches TV on the i-pad and didn't realise our TV is not a touchscreen....

She needs a bit more old skool education, huh?



Manicured trees are very popular here.

Some of them look like normal trees but just rather unusually symmetrical and a little too picture perfect for nature to have done.

Others are like the toy poodle of the garden world. All bauble-like round tufts of foliage on bare branches.

One thing they all have in common is how much time, effort and money goes into the upkeep.

Now is the season for pruning and small teams (usually just 2-3) of old men (it's a traditional art so the gardeners tend to be older guys) with their two and three legged ladders, their aprons, their little scissors and bigger shears, their little brushes for shaking down the prunings and their large plastic sheets for ease of cleaning up.

The trees are usually about roof height or a little taller.

But this time we were stuck at the traffic lights watching a team working on this huge tree:

Notice the ladders are tied back with ropes so they don't touch the tree at all?

I'm sure it's all safe and stable and all but that's not my idea of fun for sure!!

I was trying to think how you'd describe this job. I mean gardener seems far too simple. They're not really arbourists as their job has a narrower scope... and it's quite an artistic endeavour getting the shape and balance jussssstttt right.

So I came up with my own word- arbourartists!



It's lucky there're no roses in bloom this time of year as, between the rice, the veggies, the darn falling leaves (could they not just all fall at once so I could rake once and be done with it???) and preparing the fields for winter there's just no time to stop and smell the roses!

Coming from Australia with its eucalypts and banksias and ti-trees and all the other grey-green all year round trees there really is something enchanting about the way the leaves change colour here though.

Well, there was the first time until I realised that changing leaves is a surefire sign that winter and all its bleak chilly cold, freezingness is coming.

So I don't enjoy the beautiful red and yellow leaves quite as much as that first winter but I do still have to admit that they are pretty:

It would just be nice if they could be a precursor to Spring rather than winter!


Oh deer...

This is one of those super helpful posts that honestly you will never need to have read.

The kind that if I was any good at all at journalling or diary-ing or even updating my recipe folder I would just do that.

But I'm not.

And I worked out what blogger's labels are and I've fallen a little bit in love with them so you get to be party to me remembering this recipe or rather cooking tip.


Oh deer.... deery me..... dear deer.....

K's boss likes to hunt.

Good on him.

He seems rather good at it.

Good on him.

He doesn't like to "sport hunt" and waste the quarry.

Good on him.

His wife is sick of dealing with kilo after kilo after 10 kilo of deer meat.

So she said he had to give it away.

Good on her!!!

He gave some to K.

K brought it home and we got the stray pine needles and hair off and whacked it in the oven.

It was.... hmmmmm..... half way to beef jerky?

It was VERY tough and had sinewy bits and hard bits and a VERY gamey smell and taste.

It was very lean meat and we talked about how it was definitely good for us- and look at this jaw muscle workout we were getting for free!

But to be honest I was happy to never see the stuff again.

So you can imagine my feelings when K came home with not one but two HUGE bags of deer. One that contained an entire, not-broken-down deer leg.


Turns out K was the only deer beneficiary who went with the socially acceptable 'It was delicious, thank you' rather than the more honest 'Oh my god- it's like eating your sneaker!' and was therefore the sole beneficiary of his boss's subsequent kill.

That was last year.

We tried marinading it, frying it, stewing it, uber thin slicing and bbqing it....

All methods were better than that first attempt but none of the versions were anything you'd write home about. Nothing you'd write anywhere about in fact!

And so when K got out a huge bag of deer meat from the freezer to share with my parents I was groaning on the inside..... my dad has dentures- would deer meat consumption induced dental care even be covered on his travel insurance? 

I started googling....

I realised my problem until this point:

I had been googling venison not deer.

But they're one and the same you say.

Oh no no no my dear (deer!)

Venison is some mythical tender rendering of the deer meat that is incredibly versatile, cooperative and all round lovely.

Deer on the other hand is musclebound and a lean mean denture fighting machine.

I found this site. And then after reading it all I decided to ignore the advice.  Or rather make my own style!

So, I spent about an hour cutting away all the silver skin, fat and sinewy gristle and stuff.  Then I crushed a whole bulb of garlic and added it to the meat in a bowl along with a jar of tomato sauce, a slog of balsalmic, one of oil, some salt, pepper, cayenne pepper.

I left that in a tupperware for 24 hours then browned the meat in batches, added onion and more garlic and more tomato sauce and water and lots of green capsicum and some pumpkin and sweet potato and cooked it low and slow in the shuttle chef for 12 hours.

That's a LOT of work.

The result though?


Seriously, really good. And not in a 'well, if you have to eat deer I guess this is ok.' kind of way but in a 'wow- this is yummy- is there any more?' kind of way.

Which is lucky.

As there was LOTS more.

We ate venison stew for three meals!

There was still one portion left but I froze it.

And you know, I'm actually looking forward to eating it some lunchtime when it's just me for lunch.

I do have my fingers and toes crossed that the hunting season is over, though!

Oh deer!


Warning- this post may offend vegetarians and hypocritical omnivores

You were warned!

We helped out at the annual duck butchering this last weekend.

It was miserable weather and we came in at the tail end helping on day 5 so there weren't as many people there to chat with as there usually are.

But, we did our bit and mum got to try her hand at plucking a duck (hey hey it's Saturday reference for Aussies) and we were part of finishing the cycle of the rice farm year.

And that night I made duck and confit potatoes for dinner and felt very masterchef with our farm to table dinner.

Here's the newest duck plucker on the block:


Planty people

My mum's whole family are planty people.

Really planty people. The kind who drop latin names into conversation and converse knowledgably about alkalinity and zones and tip pruning and striking cuttings and unusual cultivars etc etc.

The giving and receiving of plants, cuttings, flowers and seeds is something I grew up with.  Every Christmas, birthday, family get together, my mum, grandma and my uncles would be showing off and sharing out their new finds and latest successes.

Moving to Japan I'm a bit out of the loop now but I'm still sharing the generosity.

I grow beans from seeds my uncle gave me when we met at my sister's wedding in a completely different state.

And when my parents flew over to visit this time my mum was carrying this flower:

(It looked a lot better two weeks ago!)

A little bit of Australia right here in Nagano.

I'm happy to surrounded by all these planty people and hope to be one when I grow up...


sweet addiction

Sweet potato addiction that is!

It's hard to talk about these sweets in English as in Japanese the word for sweet potato is satsumaimo and the sweet snack you make from satsumaimo is called sweet potato.

But that gets complicated in English!!

Anyway- whatever you want to call them these are delicious- and EASY!

Amy and I made all these in about 30 minutes:

The "recipe" (it's more a formula or set of instructions I guess) is:

Get a sweet potato (or two or three!), wash and roughly peel.

Cut into slices about 2cm thick.

Place in a bowl with a slosh of milk (about 1/4 cup for a bowl full of potato)

Cover and microwave till soft (about 10 minutes with that big bowl full we used)

Add a chuck of butter (about 30 grams I guess), 2Tb sugar (to taste- we go low here), either cinnamon or lemon juice (we made some of each and opinion was divided on which was better) and mash all together.

When smooth form into balls and place on an oven tray (I really think the patty pans were unnecessary except we were taking these with us to a Japanese friend's place and people seem to prefer things that aren't messy to pick up.)

Then just bake them for about 10 minutes at 200 till they go a little brown on top. You can make them go browner with egg wash or milk if you want.

And that's it.

They are sooooo goooooooooood!

Be warned- we made them for the first time then two more times in less than 48 hours....



We have lived in Nagano about 11 years now.

In all that time we've done very little tourist stuff. That's what happens when you buy a fixer-upper within months of arriving then get into farming.

Anyway, there's a great place called Utsukushigahara-kogen or 'beautiful highland plain' only an hour and a half from us and as it was a beautifully sunny day we decided to take mum and dad up there to enjoy the autumn leaves and the view and the break from all the gardening and farming!

As the sign says it's 2000m above sealevel.

We lucked out with the weather and it was a beautiful sunny crisp and clear autumn day with just enough cloud to add dramatic effect to our pictures.

It was also FREEZING COLD!!

So cold that there weren't even any autumn leaves left up there, they were all done and dusted and there was ice on the decks and stairs around the lookout building instead. Brrrr! The car thermostat was showing that it was 7 degrees but that doesn't take into account wind chill factor. Despite knowing that we were going into the mountains we woefully underdressed and ended up with tingly ears and fingers.

There is a great outdoor sculpture museum up there and we spent a couple hours walking around trying to guess what the title of the sculpture would be before we got there. The sculptures ranged from abstract to very lifelike and in all kinds of mediums so even non-arty people like us could enjoy it!

Amy in K's jacket as she was only wearing a shirt. She doesn't look too cold though really... maybe it wasn't that cold afterall?

No. Trust me. It was FREEZING!


So good I forgot to take pictures. >_<

We had a very untraditional Halloween party here today.

Not only was it run by an Australian (to the amazement of many japanese people Halloween is t an Australian custom) but it was held in November.

Anyway, we had 9 neighbourhood kids from 3 years old to 11 years old here for games and crafts and jack o lantern carving culminating in walking to each of their homes to trick or treat.

The kids all had a ball and got along really well, the boys made swords out of calendar paper and chased each other around while waiting to carve their pumpkins while the girls painstakingly decorated Halloween shaped cookies.

Everyone played bingo and mummy wrapping and "don't eat frank!" Which was a new game for me this year and was a blast.

I was having too much fun watching and organizing and helping the littlest ones do their craft and use the loo (memories!) that I took four photos all afternoon.

And I didn't purposely get the back of heads to save their privacy or anything- I was just that bad at taking pictures today.

Oh well, there's always next year!!

Don't eat frank!

Mummy wrapping team a

Team b


Bah humbug

Bah humbug. It's that time of the year again.

I know it's coming every year. As inevitable as death and taxes, but I'm still disappointed every year when I wake up to the first frosty morning. The first morning I have to find the window scraper and allow extra time in my schedule for warming up the car and scraping the windscreen before I go out.

It's all downhill from here- first frost, leafless trees, first frozen ground, first snow...

 Gyahhhh might as well just give up now. 

Harvest time

It was a wet old harvest this year which means slow, painful, muscle pulling, mud sucking, slimy, slippery, dirty slow progress.

Due to a number of factors beyond our control we did the cutting and hanging alone this year.

By we I mean k cut rice using a headlamp from 3-7 each morning and my mum and dad and I hung it during the day around my classes- nothing like a challenge huh??

It was the first experience for mum and dad and they rocked it!!

Serious. I offered tem references but they reckon it's not something they'll take up anytime soon.

Some rice was in areas where k couldn't even get the harvester in- think mud bath rather than straight mud so they got a chance to try cutting rice old school style!

This was the yeeeeeeehaaaaaaa moment we (they) cut the last bunch of rice- we still had another couple hours hanging work to go but seeing not a single bunch of rice standing anymore is a huge milestone!

The finished product. I stood across the road to try and get it all in to really show the size of the job.  You can see how muddy some areas are!

Bonus artistic shot of rice hanging as I think it looks really nice. Or maybe the sense of accomplishment at completing the job just makes it look beautiful to me!

We just need the rain to let up and a string of sunny days and we can finish the job and get the rice in bags and in the rice stock cupboard and I can stop worrying for a bit.

Until we start readying the field for next year's crop anyway!