Prairie View

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Tempura on Christmas Day

This year Hiromi and I and our offspring had a first as a Christmas menu:  Tempura.  It's a Japanese food, and consists mostly of battered, deep-fried vegetables, eaten with a dipping sauce and rice.  We all love it.  We did decide, however, after seeing the total for the grocery bill when we shopped for ingredients, that there was a good reason for eating tempura during the summer when many of the star ingredients come from our own gardens.  Zucchini squash, for example, is available this time of year only in skinny little versions the size of a slim cucumber and about six inches long.  Green beans?  I've never bought them by the handful at Wal-Mart before.  Shrimp is usually served with the vegetables, but we also served chicken this year.

I'm pretty sure Hiromi is developing a bit of food snobbishness regarding the preparation of tempura, judging by his references to recipes, methods, equipment, etc. coming from "the best tempura restaurant in Japan."  I've always made it from a recipe in a cookbook we bought in Denver on our honeymoon--a comb-bound volume consisting of recipes by immigrants or expat Japanese living in the Denver area.  It's helpfully written in English and uses English measures instead of metric ones.  This Christmas, those recipes would not do.

I'm documenting some things here for posterity, since we're not all able to appreciate the details conveyed in his Japanese-language cookbook "from the best tempura restaurant in Japan." I'll also assume the use of an electric skillet or deep-fryer instead of the monstrously thick and heavy cast iron* wok-shaped, double-handled tempura fryer (also from the best tempura restaurant in Japan) Hiromi brought with him when he first came to the US.  I'll also assume that you  may wish to use a whisk and tongs where Hiromi would use cooking chopsticks.

Prepare all vegetables for frying.  Here are some suggestions:

Onions--sliced as though for topping a hamburger
Sweet peppers--either in rings or "slabs"
Zucchini and other summer squash--sliced in rounds 1/4-inch thick, or less
Green beans--tips removed and left whole
Mushrooms--left whole, or halved or quartered if very large
Sweet Potatoes--sliced thinly

If shrimp are used, make sure the shells are removed.  Removing tails is optional.  Since we used small, bite-sized shrimp, we removed the tails to avoid having to handle them at the table.

Prepare batter:

Beat eggs (two is a reasonable number for a family-sized batch)
Measure the eggs by volume and add water equal to three times the volume of eggs (for example:  if the eggs equal 1/2 cup in volume, add 1 1/2 cups of water).
Remove a portion of the egg-water mixture and put it in a separate small bowl.  Repeat as needed.
Sprinkle cake flour over the mixture and incorporate it lightly into the liquid.  Don't over-mix, and  stop mixing while some lumps remain.  A thin gravy consistency is probably about right.

The Japanese cooks in Denver emphasized keeping the batter very cold, by setting the bowl in ice water while the cooking process is underway.

Heat oil:

Any bland oil is OK, but in Japan, toasted-sesame-seed oil is preferred.  I think a good compromise is to use a bland economically-priced oil with some sesame oil added for flavor.  We heated the oil to 350 degrees.

Make a dipping sauce:

Hiromi insisted yesterday on making the dipping sauce the same way the "best tempura restaurant in Japan" makes it.  Before, we've always done it the Denver way--using a clear chicken broth base, and seasoning it with commercially prepared tempura sauce--in whatever ratio the instructions on the bottle call for.

The snobbish way to make the dipping sauce is to heat in a small amount  (a cup or two)  of water (but not to boiling) several nearly square pieces of kombu (broken from dried seaweed leaves several feet long and about 4 inches wide), with bonito (shaved smokey-flavored dried fish).  Add a little salt and soy sauce and mirin (sweet rice wine) after removing the seaweed and straining out the shaved fish.  Serve it warm in small dipping bowls for each person.

"Do you taste the delicate flavor?" Hiromi asked me while I was dipping and eating.

"I guess," I said.  "It's pretty bland."  I don't think that was the right answer.


The chef sets up his cooking pot very near the table where people are eating.  He dips and fries and removes from the fryer at the appropriate times, and passes the latest offering around the table, usually on a paper-towel-lined plate.  Often, Hiromi counts the number of diners and then puts one piece for each person into the pot at the same time.  The next round features a different vegetable.  Dining in this way is leisurely and fair, with optimally-freshly-prepared food.  When everything has been offered once, Hiromi may begin taking special orders.  Onions is a favorite at our family meals.


After dipping the tempura in the sauce, eat it with plain rice.  I like placing the vegetable on top of the rice and eating some of each in the same bite.  If you get the kind of rice that has been coated with gluten, it will stick together enough to eat it with chopsticks.  Otherwise?  Not a chance that chopsticks will work.  Use a fork.

Cooking and eating tempura works best in fairly small groups--eight or less.   As I've already mentioned, eating the meal during the gardening season is easiest on the pocketbook.  Being able to cook outside has the benefit of having any cooking oils from the frying dissipating in the outdoor air rather than collecting on interior surfaces--another disadvantage of Christmas Day timing, when cooking indoors is a given.

Maybe someday next summer we'll have to host a bring-your-own-veggies backyard fry party.  I'm sure we can come up with a good alternative menu for Christmas Day.

*Hiromi says the fryer was made by mixing sand with the molten iron, to create minute holes throughout, producing a porous material that would retain some oil in its mass.  It's thick walls (more than 1/4-inch) are designed to hold the heat at a constant temperature.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Life Writing--Random and Organized

Our Dec. 26 DLM family Christmas celebration got off to a rocky start when my mother was admitted to the hospital in Lyons in the morning.  She has a UTI and some atrial fibrillation (heartbeat irregularity).  She seemed better late in the day already, perhaps partly because of the benefit of being fully hydrated through IVs.

Her doctor expects to keep her in the hospital over this weekend at least, and then have her move to the geriatric center within the hospital.  He wants her to stay there until she is able again to walk to the bathroom with a walker.


The eastern Kansas contingent was well-represented at our family gathering.  My sister Carol (from KC area) made a last-minute decision to come here with her daughter Andrea and husband Brandon and son Micah.  Carol had just returned from a visit to her husband's childhood home in Nicaragua--where some of his family still resides.

Ronald and his family came from Labette County.  Their married son Christopher was here to spend Christmas with Rachel's side of the family, but he had to return home before our family day happened.

Anthony and Hiromi had to work on Friday, and Grant's family left for Washington to spend several weeks with Clare's family.  None of Bill and Dorcas' family could attend, or Matthew and Clara's, or Caleb and Kara's.


Rhoda told us about a prayer that Mom prayed in her hearing one night in recent weeks when she was tucking Mom in for the night:  "Dear God, watch over us, and keep tabs on our situation."  I can't think of a simpler, more trusting way to ask for help.

Those in Mom's Sunday School class several years ago said that when she was asked for input in class, she typically had one of two answers:  "I'm not prepared to answer that question," or "How soon do you need to know?" The last one cracks me up--indicating, as it does, both a cooperative spirit and inability to cooperate--immediately at least.

It's always nice when a person with dementia can provide moments of reflection and levity, along with the losses that dementia involves.


Ronald told about their neighbor, a widow who lives alone.  She is well into her nineties.  Recently she fell when she was at home and was able to get to a phone afterward and call for help.  When she was examined, her neck vertebrae were found to be fractured in four places.

"How did you mange to get up by yourself?" Ronald asked her.

"Stubbornness,"* she replied.

*She actually said "stubbornness and ______________" (something else) which I can't recall.


One of the big attractions at our gathering was a Hovertrax (not sure if that's written just right).  It's essentially a Segway without a "T" handle--a personal transport system.  Word of Life church (old Valley Pride School) had lots of "just right"spaces for trying it out.  Think of it as looking like two wheels connected by an axle.  You stand on the axle and lean forward slightly if you want to go forward, and the battery-powered device obliges.  Want to go faster?  Lean forward farther.  Most of the children and some of the adults mastered the machine--at least to a minimal competence level.  It belongs to Hans.


Shane moderated the service at church on Christmas Day and led the singing.  I was talking to Henry S. afterward, who said he enjoyed the service.  I noted that we had sung several songs in a minor key and said Shane likes minor songs better than I do.  Henry said he really likes them, but they never could sing them where he used to live because a very strong person in the church had a deep dislike for them.  I had never heard of a church that doesn't sing such songs.

That afternoon Shane's family and ours were at Grant and Clare's house for our Iwashige Christmas gathering, and Shane said a visitor had commented to him after the service that the song selections seemed  to him to have a Presbyterian flavor instead of an Anabaptist one.  We puzzled a bit over what constitutes Presbyterian-flavored songs.

Shane said the choice of minor-key songs was intentional, as a prelude to the prayer time and meditation in which there was a recognition of brokenness in the world, followed by a message of hope.  The song following the message was "To Us a Child of Hope is Born."


 Our composition class' community writing project was offered for sale on Christmas Day.  Glitches dogged the process, as is usually the case, but it was far less stressful, in general, than usually happens.  A determined effort to keep it simple helped guide the process.

I'm pleased with what a slightly altered approach to this project offered us this year.  I feel that I now have a workable format for doing life writing of my own, and for helping others do life writing of their own.  By dividing life writing into three categories--autobiography, memoir, and legacy, I found it possible to focus on varied types of important information, and called for writers to consider writing at least one piece for each category.  They rose to the task--student and "elder" alike--and wrote one piece on the facts (autobiography), one piece based on significant incidents that helped shape life (memoir), and one piece based on significant ideas to be passed on (legacy).  Seeing people willing to share their life in writing pleases me greatly.  Maybe some time during my sabbatical I can work with a group of elders to facilitate more such efforts.

 I may do some labeling of future blog posts with one of the life writing categories--just to make things simpler if I ever decide to be more organized about my writing.

Monday, December 22, 2014

A Flood of Sadness

Why did reading the NOAA's weather site homepage today bring back a flood of sadness?  This is what I read:

On this Day in Weather History...
In 1989, an Arctic airmass spread southeast across the Central Plains and Eastern United States. A staggering 137 cities set record lows for the date, 35 of which were record lows for December. One such location accomplishing both feats was Wichita, which chilled out with a low of 16 below zero. Morning lows of 23 degrees below zero in Kansas City, 26 below in Concordia, and 27 below in Goodland Kansas were all time record lows for the three locations.
That day occurred during the time around our friend Daniel Yoder's funeral.  He had died instantly several days earlier in the pre-dawn hours when he was riding an ATV on his way to do chores at the diary barn across the highway, and got hit by a vehicle.

Daniel and Mary's two boys were nearly the same age as Shane and Grant in our family.  Their sister Rachel was born a number of months later.  She's married now to my nephew Christopher.

I remember talking to Barbara Yoder in hushed tones at the cemetery about the lowest temperatures reported during her and my lifetime (we're an hour NW of Wichita, where the weather report above originated) and the cemetery is not sheltered from the north wind, so it was very cold.  We had a burial anyway, and Hiromi and I all three of our boys braved the cold in the cemetery along with many others, although I remember having to leave the group early because Grant (almost a year old) was crying from the cold.

It was hard to sing Christmas carols that year and "Joy to the World" was hard to remember.  My dear friend Mary was a widow now, and her two daddy-loving boys were fatherless.  Daniel's parents, Crist and Mae, had already experienced the death of one son, Marvin, who died at the age of eight,

Another son, Delmar, who was a teenager, died the following year, within days of Daniel and Mary's daughter Rachel's birth.  

We had a family picture scheduled for one of the days between the death and the funeral.  We took the picture, and I'm glad we did, but I remember the circumstances every time I see the picture.

No time of year is an easy time to deal with death, but Christmas time seems especially poignant when cruel reminders of our world's brokenness mix incongruously with the celebratory spirit of the season.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Grandma Smiles

Here's a recent smile prompted by the "grandchildren" section (posted on Facebook by Dorcas):

From my 3-year-old son while we were waiting for some Christmas music to load:
"Is it loading from the dot com?"
Me: "Uh...yeah."
3-year-old: "I know all about the dot com."


Sounds like he's way ahead of me, and there's definitely a lot going on between his ears.


Another local grandson, who is not yet a year old, is not only toddling around upright, he's twirling and bouncing and waving his arms when he hears music.   The brain and the muscles are obviously well-connected and functioning at optimum levels--for an eleven-month old.  

Monday, December 15, 2014

That Niggling Thing

The church/community identity thing keeps niggling at my brain.  I'm increasingly aware that I'll never be able to nail it exactly--that is, write about it with any great certainty, but I know more than I did when I first put out an invitation for others to provide input.

Earlier I identified several different perspectives which might inform how we understand identity--our own, that of others, and the "real" one, the true one, God's perspective.

I realize also now that locating our point on a "change" spectrum is worth considering, as is identifying direction of movement.  What about our manner of transition?  Do we have a destination in mind?

At some point, we need to think about values in relation to identity.  Are we in a good place, moving in a good direction?  Maybe that's actually the place to start AND the place to finish.

My mind has gone often to Revelation where God identifies each of seven churches, and He says how He sees them.  That passage is sobering, revealing as it does that God has an opinion on things like this, and taking His analysis seriously is essential.

Considering this topic has uncovered some surprising emotion for me.  I thought I had a very positive view of our church and community.  I know I love being here.  Now I realize that if I am to be honest, I must also acknowledge having suffered some deep wounds in this place.  I see that this has been the experience of others as well.  While my dark times hark back to an era so long ago that thoughts of them don't often make it into conscious thought anymore, why have I maintained a high degree of optimism since then?  What if we are, at the core, less good than I think we are?  What would I do with an impression like that?  I see what others have done, and some of it scares me.

I'm pondering writings that are not precisely directed toward this topic of church/community identity, but are relevant nonetheless.  Here's one by Frank Reed that I recommend.  I've never met this man, but I've had some email correspondence with him in relation to the teaching of an Anabaptist History class.  He's been associated with either SMBI or FB, perhaps in an earlier era.  Dwight Gingerich has a few quibbles with some of the introductory remarks, and  maybe you will too, but overall it's a good read.


Monday, December 08, 2014

Comments on "Identity" Post

If the topic interests you, and if you don't have a habit of scrolling through old posts to read comments, you might enjoy going back to the Kansas Church/Community Identity post to read the comments.

If you would be inspired to add your own comments, you might hear applause from this little house on the prairie if you listen carefully.

Tuesday, December 02, 2014

Headbands on Babies

Several weeks ago, I heard from one of my brothers-in-law that he has never liked seeing headbands on babies.  It was worth a high-five when I heard that.  I had never before heard of anyone who agreed with me.

My brother chimed in with information about what LeRoy thinks of them.  I gathered that he makes no secret of his dislike for them, so I'm not making a secret of it either.  He believes them to be physically damaging--probably interfering with normal growth of the skull.  

My brother-in-law and I compared reasons for our viewpoint.  We're not well-informed on the physical hazards, but we agree that it detracts from, rather than enhances a baby's natural beauty.  I think I have an aversion too because it seems too ostentatious to suit my taste.

Maybe it's a revelation of my terrible distractibility, but when a baby wears a headband with a decorative focal point, that's almost all I can see.  Worse yet, from now on, I'll probably "see" misshapen skull bones too, and, in my eyes,  the baby's beauty will be hidden behind one more layer of obstruction.  What a pity.