Category Archives: autumn

The last first birthday

Anna is our last baby, so it was a poignant thing to celebrate her first birthday. First birthdays are big in Korean culture, and all our other children had a dol, or Korean first birthday ceremony, where they sit in front of a low table piled high with fruit, rice cakes, and symbolic items. Everyone watches while they choose one item which, according to tradition, predicts their future life. Noodles or thread: longevity. A calligraphy brush: a writer. Pencil: a scholar. Knitting needles or scissors: nimble with the hands, perhaps a career involving handwork. Money: a head for business. And so forth.

I wrote this post for Mothering's community blog on why we almost didn't do this ceremony for Anna, but are glad we did. More pictures from our day are below. Tell me how you celebrate birthdays in your family!

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Stamping and a fall giveaway

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A few weeks ago I found myself totally riveted by Filth Wizardry's blog post on stamping, using plasticine to make amazing prints. I used to love stamping as a child. And who didn't? Ink, paper, and magic. I loved that breathless anticipation as I waited to see what would emerge when I lifted my hand. 

As far as crafts go, printing and stamping have that blend of stillness (as you press down and wait for the ink to set) and instantaneousness that just appeals to little kids. We spent a whole happy afternoon making many different kinds of stamps while little A. cooperatively napped. 

Do check out the link above, as well as this one from Floating Ink – I love her handcarved stamps! Have any of you carved your own stamps? I'd love to carve stamps like these someday.

Here are photos of our session. There was stamping with erasers and plasticine and wiki stix, using toothpicks, cutters, sharp pencils, and so forth to carve our designs. 

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In the end I think that it was beeswax, (which we collect stray bits of in a jar on our windowsill) which made for the most durable stamps. 

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My kids have also made prints with potatoes and lotus root at school. Lotus root was particularly beautiful. What else can you think of to stamp and print with? 

Now the fun part: a little giveaway to celebrate autumn, since it seems to finally be cooling down in Japan. 

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These sweet little stamps are not handcrafted, though they do look like it. There's a little autumn-themed stationery set too. Comment below and tell me one craft you'd love to learn, to enter the giveaway. For an extra entry, join Origami Mommy on Facebook, so I can start putting blog updates on there. You can also tweet about this giveaway – just be sure to let me know. I'll pick a winner at random two weeks from now, on Friday November 5th at 8 PM EST!

End-of-summer sewing

Being in-between countries like this, the end of summer seems to have slipped past me before I've had a chance to catch my breath….We had time for a brief vacation back home, connecting with relatives, and a day or two of bliss at a late summer beach.

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There were unexpected treasures, like pine cones on small bushy trees just off the ocean.

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I hear it's cooler back home – here in Japan it's still quite warm and muggy. I'm longing for fall. I hear a friend is going apple picking soon. How I miss that! 

Towards the end of the summer I did manage to get a lot of sewing done. It was extremely addictive.

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For many of these projects I splurged on Liberty print fabric, which is beautiful, and quite popular in Japan. I feel like it's not too bad of a splurge when you're making something for such a little person, because you really don't need a lot of fabric.

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I used the small grey flower print as a lining for this little vest and then as the material for a dress for A.

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and also made managed to make several items out of this:

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The girls wore some of the things I'd made for them earlier in the summer, too. The little top on A was very simple – just 3 rows of elastic smocking on a tube of fabric, then I added straps.

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And I've started making a few Oliver + S patterns. I LOVE these. Each pattern is like a personal sewing lesson. This, below, is from the Puppet Show Tunic and Shorts pattern. I made a halter top out of the trim fabric to go with these.

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I actually made several halter tops and dresses for both girls. These are very fast! I think you can complete an entire one in about 20 minutes if you're not constantly interrupted by a baby! Faster than going shopping for clothes, no?  My go-to pattern is from my favorite Japanese dress pattern book of all time, Koharu no fuku. I love how simple, yet infinitely adaptable, the lines and patterns for all the clothes in this book are. I adore this book and often find myself recommending it to other friends who are just learning to sew. Perhaps a giveaway is in order?

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There was sewing for boys too, but I think might discuss those in a separate post! Until then, here is a quick glimpse of some double gauze pants which D lived in this summer:

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Now I'm feeling ready to try a few projects for myself. I'll start with this book, and see where it takes me.

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It's also time to break out the knitting needles in earnest. I got a few small projects done, and am now hoping to tackle Never Not Knitting's Playful Stripes cardigan. As if life weren't busy enough – but small portable projects, along with an abundant supply of dark chocolate, are what get me through these hectic days. Casting on today!

What fall projects are you hoping to get to?

Japanese Sweet Potato Cakes

It's fall harvest season in Japan.

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We've been eating persimmons, chestnuts, apples, and of course, sweet potatoes.

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We could eat these all day long. Field trips in the fall to harvest sweet potatoes (oimo hori) are a common activity in kindergarten, and I still remember our children getting on a bus, and coming back hours later, covered in dirt and proudly carrying their bags full of sweet potatoes fresh from the earth. I miss apple picking back home in New England terribly – it's something we did every fall with the boys before we moved here – but I am so glad they get to have this sort of experience while living here.

One spring, they even got to plant sweet potatoes at our homestay family in Gifu-ken, and they have also planted them on the garden in their kindergarten, along with many other vegetables.

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The other day our homestay family sent us a wonderful package of freshly harvested sweet potatoes and chestnuts and lotus root. Plain, roasted sweet potato, or yaki imo, is the best. It is less sweet than the sweet potatoes, or yams, I grew up with. It's a beautiful golden color (you can also get purple ones these days) and the taste is reminiscent of chestnut. You can roast it at home in an oven at 400 degrees for a wonderful plain after-school snack, or, if you live here, you can purchase it from the "yaki imo" vendor who makes his rounds in the neighborhood in the fall.  I will never forget lying with my newborn daughter the day she was born and hearing the distinctive sound of the potato man in our neighborhood. Such a Japanese fall sound for me, forever linked now with the lovely memory of a peaceful birth.

In addition to plain roasted sweet potato, I like to cook it in a vegetable braise, dice it and roast it with olive oil and herbs, make caramelized sweet potato (daigaku imo), and bake sweet potato cakes. Sweet potato cakes are a wonderful way to enhance the sweetness without going overboard. Here's a photo. A recipe follows, and I'll try to post a recipe for daigaku imo too sometime in the next few days.

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Japanese Sweet Potato Cakes

Sweet potatoes, about 2 medium or 400 grams 

40 grams butter (about 2-3 tablespoons), softened

70 grams sugar (about 1/3 of a cup)

One egg yolk

2 T cream

Flour

For flavoring – a splash of rum, or a generous teaspoon of vanilla essence, or cinnamon. We love vanilla.

One more egg yolk for brushing on top of the cakes before baking.

*Note: All measurements are approximate and leave much room for flexibility! I'm not much of a measurer. A few potatoes, a dollop of butter, a splash of cream – this is how I bake these and it turns out fine. These are more forgiving than other baked goods. So don't worry about this part too much and definitely don't feel you need to race out to buy a cooking scale! I happen to own one because Japanese recipes call for them. 

Directions:

Roast your sweet potatoes in the oven until they are soft, then cut in half and scoop out the insides into a bowl. If you mix in the butter right away there is no need to wait for it to soften, as the heat of the potatoes will do it for you. Mix in the egg yolk, cream, sugar, and flavoring of your choice, and mash all together with a wooden spoon until creamy. Kids love doing this part! Now add enough flour to bind it all together so that you can mold it without it losing its shape. Add flour only a little at a time, because you want the dough to remain creamy and soft. Some recipes don't even call for any flour at all but I think it is helpful. I probably added about 1/2 a cup in the end altogether.

Put your cakes on a greased cookie sheet (I usually use parchment paper instead of grease) and then brush the tops with egg yolk. Pop them in the oven at 350 for about 15-20 minutes, and enjoy! 

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If you can't get Japanese sweet potato where you live, perhaps this would be good with butternut squash, pumpkin, or yams. 

What are your favorite ways to cook with fall harvest vegetables and fruits? I'd love to hear.