After nearly 20 years in big Tokyo I was feeling burned out in my not-so-successful "career" in the service industry, knocking on several after a chance discovery of cheap old farmhouses we set out towards the countryside - but still close enough for my wife to further pursue her working live, commuting by Shinkansen while I would take care of the house and kids and build my own little cafe at home...
Our first bump came when we realized that the bank wasn't willing to give a loan for an old rundown house on some worthless property in the "Hinterland". So, we changed plans and will be building a new house. We already bought the plot last year, with about 400 square meters size, and I have started the vegetable garden beforehand, next project will be the garden house.

25 November, 2011

Hannah update

In letzter Zeit habe ich so viel über das Gartenhaus, Herbst hier, Essen usw geschrieben das es jetzt schon einige Zeit her ist, seit ich Bilder von Hannah hier reingestellt habe. Dem soll hiermit Abhilfe geschaffen werden, also wenig Text aber viele Bilder. Das neueste ganz oben. Ach ja, ein wenig laufen kann sie auch schon, aber noch keine Gelegenheit gehabt, sie dabei zu fotografieren, wird nachgeholt.
 Spaziergang zum nahegelegenen Shoppingcenter. Da aber grade Schlußverkauf war passte der Kinderwagen nicht ins Geschäft rein..
Hannahs Augen sind immer noch so groß, und zum-Dahinschmelzen-gucken schafft sie auch noch ohne Probleme
Neulich beim Kekse essen.

Neulich nach dem Kekse essen.

Im Shinkansen unterwegs mit Papas Mütze, auch wenn kaum eine Kopfbedeckung länger als 5 Minuten auf dem Kopf bleibt.

Sportveranstaltung in Tokyo, Mittagessen auf der Tribüne

Hannah genießt die U-Bahn in Tokyo, zum Glück ist es am Wochenende ja nicht so voll

Hannah und Hiromi in der U-Bahn

Abends im Hotelzimmer

16 November, 2011

Climbing up a tall rock

The name of this mountain is "Takai-iwa", "tall rock", very fitting as it sits towering above the highway entrance of Karuizawa. Thus I had seen it many times but never realized that there was a way to climb it. It doesn't appear in any of the many guide books about Karuizawa, as it seems to be unfitting for a "Resort town" with a big shopping mall to engage in serious outdoor sports. 

The mountain can be climbed from two sides of which I choose the south side. As there is no parking space at the entrance to the hiking path from a narrow road I left my car a bit away and thus got a glimpse of this autumn combination of flaming red maple leafs and a tree without any leafs but lots of bright persimmon fruits.

After hiking through some forest and then upward between big boulders the climb became steep up a ravine of sort with rocks that looked as if formed by concrete and stones but in reality formed during volcanic activity.

The top consists of two big towers with several tops connected by ridges. Autumn had finished at the top and I could thus enjoy an unobstructed view. This one is to the east side with the highway towards the Kanto plain showing in a few places.

And here a view of the late autumn colors of the forests below with Mount Asama sitting at the top
After crossing several ridges I decided to take the front path down with this point being the only kind of challenge. It only doomed to me later that I had somehow missed the biggest challenge, the "chimney" where  one would climb straight up the inside corner of the rock supported by a chain hanging from the top. This place isn't a major attraction, marking of the path with colored plastic bands was scarce and the bottom was totally covered with fallen leaves, making it even more difficult to spot the trail.

When taking pictures from the bottom a flash from the very top caught my eye and I realized two persons standing (!) on the flat top of the highest tower taking in the 360 degree view in disregard to any vertigo and the cold wind that was blowing. I knew than that the small path I thought would end at a small water outlet actually led further on to the "chimney"! But altogether I was done in two hours, so a "revenge" is coming up for sure.

15 November, 2011

The Wall

After more than 20 years I am mixing mortar again and holding a  trowel in my hand - and it feels good. The smell and sound support my memories, I automatically do the movements I had done so many times during my 3 years of apprenticeship as a mason, which was serving as the base for the  architectural college study I entered afterwards; but that lasted less then 2 years before I quit and went off to Japan...

I was happy with the trowel, even in Germany there are different shapes depending on the region and here in the home center I had the choice between a rounded heart shape and the delta. So smaller in size I felt comfortable with the straight edge and the narrow tip as if I had never stopped using it.
Mortar can be purchased as a ready to use mix, but that is more expensive when you are using a lot like I would need. So I purchased a 25kg sack of portland cement and three 20 kg bags of dark grayish sand. I than mixed it dry together before adding the water and started the wall.

I had a bunch of smaller rocks collected from our lot since the beginning, knowing that I would put them to use somehow. But the idea to use them as a base wall came to me only much latter, originally I had planned to  use only red bricks for the lower compartment, hence the mortise below the middle beams in the front wall. And also I had more than enough for this wall I didn't have that much to choose from, so it might look imposing from the front there are a few very thin points which I intend to strengthen with mortar from the back and form a straight base on top for the bricks that will come atop them.
As for the bricks, they are not a common building material because they are very weak to earthquakes and so I had to search around to find some cheap ones. These are actually rather small in size, only about 18 cm long, giving me 4 1/2 lengths for one field. On the other hand this will look nice with only two small fields to fill and gives me more freedom to do some ornamental stuff.

After a few hours of swinging the trowel, slapping the mortar, swapping the stones back and forth to find a nice fit, I was finally done. I used the grout trowel to fill the small holes and flatten the surface of the mortar and after it had fairly dried I used a big brush and lots of water to wash the mortar off the rocks and smooth the mortar lines.

In the garden the broccoli is growing steadily showing not a single caterpillar or other bug after I had sprayed the leafs once, because they had been infested by green caterpillars by the dozen and summer time wasn't the right season for me to look after the garden more than once a week.

Even the cauliflower, which we had planted together with the broccoli was opening up beautifully, can't wait to prepare some nice food with these.

13 November, 2011

Homemade Hazelnuts spread

 When I started this blog I had a multi-themed style in mind and cooking was supposed to be one of it. Alas, the crammed kitchen in our apartment never seemed to be clean enough for taking pictures in it. But after some serious furniture moving and rearranging on the shelf and inside the drawers I feel much more comfortable to do more of these, so enjoy.

Like the vast majority of German people I grew up with "Nutella", the famous creamy hazelnuts-spread or some cheaper imitation. And like probably many Germans I always thought there is something good in it...It was only less than a year ago that American-Pastry-chef turned Parisian book-writer  David Lebovitz had an article on Facebook describing the reality, it's high sugar content and the psychological usage of Football players and whole-grain bread in the commercials, opening my eyes to see through the farce. He also put forward a recipe, which I changed a bit to my liking, and which should only be seen as a basic "mixture", an invitation for you to try and create your very own Nuts'n Chocolate spread.

My basic recipe

Hazelnuts 100 g
Milk 100 ml

Cocoa powder 15ml
Honey 80 g
Bitter Chocolate 60 g
Butter 50 g

Coarsely chop the nuts and roast them in a pan without oil until they are browned. You can tell by the nice smell that's starting to come out when they start to brown.

Put the roasted nuts in your mixer and blend until very small, occasionally moving the parts in the corners towards the middle.

Meanwhile heat the milk in a medium pot, slowly adding the other ingredients until they are all molten.
Pour this cream into the mixer and blend again until you have a smooth, rather liquid, cream.
Fill the cream into clean jars or other containers of your choice, put in the fridge and let cool for at least 6 hours. This cream is supposed to melt in your mouth, or on your freshly baked toast, but it might be the case that because of a different chocolate or butter-substitute it won't set enough. In this case just mix in a bid more melted chocolate or butter and cool it down again.

Variations, where the Fun starts
Nuts: Try walnuts for less sweetness, almonds for more, peanuts, cashew nuts, different blends, etc whatever you like or have at hand.
Roasting: Same as with caramel, the darker the nuts, the more bitter the taste gets. So, if you like your caramel slightly burned, you might try the same with nuts.
Sweetness: You can use sugar only or a blend of both but be aware that the creaminess might change.
Chocolate: As with nuts, use what you like, dark and bitter, or milk chocolate, or even white.
Spices: My favorite is cinnamon and a bit of clove, or use your flavor syrup. For a "special" taste, add some liqueur into the milk, but beware that the alcohol might not totally evaporate if you don't heat the milk until nearly overflowing.

The spread consists of solid and liquid ingredients that together give the creaminess. Changing the amount of one of these might thus result in a not so perfect cream at the first try, so be sure to have some chocolate or butter at hand if it is to liquid after a few hours in the fridge.

04 November, 2011

Glass cutting

After I got my hand on a pair of old Japanese sliding doors with glass I decided to put these to work for my window instead of the acrylic I had planned. It would be cheaper, only the cutting tool needed to be bought, warmer, and less delicate towards the seasons temperature changes. I had never cut glass before but was thrilled to try it, and a quick how-to search on Google got me started.

The most important thing to know is that you don't get your cut by weakening the glass like in wood, but rather by the tiny wheel of the cutter putting tension/stress on the structure of the glass. The oil for the wheel plays it's part, too (my cutter had a small tank which I filled with some bicycle lubricant). Once cut, you should proceed to break the glass, otherwise the the tension ebbs and the cut "heals" itself.

Make sure that the glass lays on an even, clean surface. You might want to put a few sheets of newspaper under it to soften it a bit. When marking the cut be aware that the cut will be about 2mm away from the ruler, depending on the thickness of the cutter's head.You don't need to put much pressure on the cutter, more than that a stable and smooth motion from start till end will get you a clean cut. Than break the glass over an edge.

Here are my frame parts and the ledge after some painting. The color didn't look as I had imagined and didn't run very smoothly, probably because it was an already older bucket, but in the end everything looked nice together.
The filigree kumiko where of darker wood so I left them like that and they turned out to give the window a rather pleasant appearance, even the height looks just right. And the glass gives the window an old-fashioned look.