Friday, March 25, 2011

Part 3. The hard times, gratefulness, and hopes

Bringing our bags and a blanket, we left the house and headed to the evacuation site at the school. It was a school gymnasium and quite big too (that night there were about 600 people in the room). There were volunteers were assembling two portable toilets outside when we arrived. We entered the room and together with other people who just arrived we registered our names and home address. There were mattresses arranged in 4 large groups with a kerosene heater placed in the center of each group. I really thought this was very impressive. It was just like 3 hours after the quake and volunteers were already working at the evacuation sites.
There were not many people that time and the room looked quite spacious, so it was easy to find a place for us. But more and more people came in leaving almost no space at all in the room. The mattresses were very limited in numbers, so everyone has to share in every possible way. The volunteers also distributed blankets and cartons to those who don`t get the mattresses. 

Dinner time. The volunteers told us that they have onigiri (Japanese rice balls) and water, but they wouldn`t be enough for everyone, so only children and the elderly were prioritized. The instruction for us during distribution was: Raise your hand if you really need food and water. To my astonishment, only few people raised their hands although I was sure everyone must have been hungry that night. I saw some people brought their own food like us, but many of them didn`t. Anyway, we ate our oatmeal and drank a little water to help swallowing it. Not a proper dinner, but much better than nothing.
It seemed like no one slept well that night. Phone connection, electricity, water, and gas were disrupted. The aftershock kept coming like in every 10-30 minutes that night and people looked very alarmed. There were many poor crying babies here and there with their exhausted parents. But to our surprise, we felt far safer staying with all of them that night. 
Then, the next morning some newspapers were delivered to our place. We finally knew what`s just happened the day before. The pictures of how tsunami has wiped out the whole  coastal areas and news on thousands of people missing left us speechless. Knowing all these things, I was deeply grateful for having my husband, our house, food, healthiness, jobs, and many things else despite the disaster. Yet I felt terribly sorry for those who lost everything. The pictures of messiness in our house I showed you before are nothing, NOTHING compared to all those tragedies. I was so ungrateful for feeling bad about our house. It was just messy, that`s all.

Anyway, that morning we decided to take a walk outside (wearing our helmets) and we`re lucky enough to get some dried fruits from nearby shop.

And we got some snacks and drinks too! 


And even ice creams on the third day! Miracle!

Day after day, there were more food and fruits for everyone in the site.

Sometimes there were emergency supplies sent from other prefectures/regions in Japan. One of them was instant rice with dried vegetables and chicken. Just pour hot water into the packet and the rice will be ready in 10 minutes. Warm food was a very special treat that time. Yum!

And on the 2nd day we got to eat the wakame onigiri (rice balls with wakame seaweed).  The best onigiri we ever had. Probably because we were very hungry, but still, this is the best.

We stayed in the evacuation for 7 days and here are other things we thought impressive and interesting:

Newspapers were delivered everyday regardless the condition and we had a TV in the room on the next day. News are what we really need during that kind of time. 

Many students (at our place, most were junior high) came to help as volunteers. 

Every morning around 6:30, we had an exercise (here is called “rajio taiso”, or radio gymnastic exercise) following an instructor standing in the center of the gym with music played on the tape. It was a real fun and refreshing. Waking up at that kind of hour doing exercise wasn`t my thing at all, but I did enjoy it a lot!

There were interesting views too in the city:
Lining up has always been a culture here. Even in this kind of emergency situation. When some shops were open, people still lined up.

People here are trying hard to do what they can do regardless the difficulties. The fresh market in our was already open just a week after the big quake, although the amount and choices of food were limited. Looking at those food really made my day!

Not only in the market, the shopping area is turning into a temporary "fresh market" now with people selling many kinds of food, like fish, eggs, meat, vegetables, and even bentou.

And I`d like to share these maccha (green tea) choco doughnuts with you. From us with love.

We`re very thankful to those of you who has been worried about us here, but really, we`re fine. It was indeed a difficult time, but we`re very glad with  where we are and what we have now. The experience itself has enriched us with more new perspectives and gratefulness.  

Thanks for bearing with our life stories and please keep supporting and encouraging the people. The daily aftershocks, the damaged areas with food shortage, thousands of missing people, and the battle with the nuclear issues are what Japan is facing now, but I hope the courage will stay strong, more and more help to come, and things will go uphill eventually.

Hope to be back soon with fun cooking stories in my coming posts!

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Part 2. The mess and the (un)prepared bag

When my husband and I walked home from my lab (it`s only 15 minutes away by foot), I was stunned with what I saw outside the campus. The traffic lights not working due to the blackout, the sirens from ambulances and patrol cars screaming loudly, the road congested with cars and buses, snow falling heavily, and people crossing the road and rushing to and from every directions… It was somewhat chaotic. And it never happened before. 
I held his arm very tightly throughout our way home while thinking hard what to do next. He told me that we had to stay in the evacuation site that night and some people were already there. Two reasons for us to evacuate: first, although our apartment building is fine, it was almost impossible to stay inside because the quake has turned our rooms into a big mess, and second, the aftershock quakes keeps coming (in fact, until today) and we knew it was much safer to stay together with many people in the evacuation site. Most of designated evacuation sites in Japan are school`s gymnasium and so was ours. We were very lucky that we have an evacuation site very near to our apartment and the building is new so the construction seems stronger than our building.
We finally got home and carefully entered the room. With our shoes on. This too never happened before. This is how it looked like in our rooms that day.
Broken pieces of glassware welcomed us on the entrance corridor (thus our shoes on). As I don`t have enough space in my kitchen, I placed some of our bowls and plates on a shelf near the entrance. Now I learned not to do it again. Ever.
In the kitchen, my oven fell off from top of my fridge. My heart sank looking at my dearly oven which was a wedding gift from my husband.

And this is in another room. 

And our TV faced down on the floor. It`s a very old big heavy TV, really heavy.

But we didn`t want to stay any longer in the room. So I quickly grabbed my emergency bag, get a blanket, and packed some of his clothes. About the bag, I have prepared it in my room since the Sumatera`s tsunami in 2004 and my arrival in Japan where earthquakes are part of the casualties. I followed the survival manuals provided by the university, city hall, and international center and made some adjustment.  Thing is, just months ago, because the drinking water and food inside the bag were either already or getting expired, I ate, drank, or threw them out. And I kept delaying to replace with new ones. So my emergency bag was a food-and-waterless bag. But I just brought it anyway, it was much better than nothing at all.
Another regret here was my husband didn`t have an emergency bag. He has never thought he would need it. Anyway, he quickly grabbed his important documents while I searched what food we had left in the kitchen. What I found? A bag of oatmeal and sugar. No, no complaint at all. These were still food and we needed them. And he happened to have one bottle of water and one bottle of Pocari Sweat in his bag. Good, now we had food and water.
By the way, I just renewed some items for the bag recently and placed them on the floor so you can see them. Things on the floor are: corn flakes, biscuits, drinking water (there are more inside the bag), sanitary napkins, wet tissues (with alcohol for disinfectant), first aid kit and medicine box, toothbrush, soaps, plastic cup, flashlight, spare batteries, candles, matches, and portable radio. 

For the medicines, I keep them without the packages (boxes take too much space) but I wrote down what medicine it is, usage instruction, and expiry dates. I also keep the instruction sheets.

In the bag I have copies of important documents (passport, ID card, health insurance card, list of phone numbers of families and friends) kept in a waterproof folder, clothes, socks, and underwears, map, stationery, face mask, tissue papers, extra glasses (I`m practically blind without them), and plastic bags. The phone numbers can be useful when we don`t have our handphones with us or they`re out of power.

When you`re done preparing the bag, keep it in a place where it`s easy to get them when you`re in hurry. It depends on the house interior, but I put our bags (now he has his too) at the entrance corridor. Also, keeping a flashlight near your bed can be useful too if the quake hits at night and the the electricity is off.
I know I may sound like a paranoid (now I start to think I am), but if I`m given a chance to prepare myself, I certainly will.
Here I have a survival guidance (English-Japanese) provided by Tokyo government and so far I found this is the best one among all guidance I `ve found before. Although this guidance is intended  for people who reside in Tokyo, hope this can be a useful source for you too. For the emergency supplies preparation, go to page 80. Everyone has their own necessities, so you might want to make some adjustment with the list.
Let me know at: if you have trouble with opening the file and I`ll send the file to you. 

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Part 1. The quake and the reunion

I am about to share what we have been experiencing here with the earthquake and hoping that you can get something out of it and learn what to prepare for you and your loved ones as well. 
This will be a long post from me and I decided to write it in several chapters.
My apologies to those of you who are expecting food and cooking-related posts from me (believe me, I crazily missed them too!), but at the moment our life here is all about the disaster survival and I hope you can understand.
So, here our story begins.

Part 1. The quake and the reunion
It was Friday afternoon, 14:46 to be exact, when the deadly earthquake with magnitude 9.0 from the Pacific ocean hit the offshore of Northeast Japan (Tohoku area). That included where we live, Sendai, the capital city of Miyagi prefecture. Other  than Miyagi, prefectures in Tohoku area that are severely affected are: Aomori, Iwate, and Fukushima, where the devastating tsunami coming 30 minutes later destroyed the coastal areas in these  4 prefectures.  Sendai, however, locates a bit away from the sea out of the tsunami struck.
That time I was doing my part-time job in a laboratory in our campus. My husband was at his campus waiting for his turn to do his final presentation for his graduation. I was working with the computer when I felt the room slowly started shaking. My boss was in the room too and I warned him that an earthquake was coming. We immediately crouched under our tables and the quake grew stronger and stronger. My hands tightly clenched the table legs as it felt like the shaking ground could just throw me out  in any seconds while the windows were rattling hard and things falling over everywhere. The shaking was pretty frightening, but the rattling sounds from everywhere made it worse.
The biggest quake itself in fact went only like 1 minute (still no idea for how long exactly), but it surely felt like endless. Living here for 6 years, I`ve experienced so many quakes but I knew this time was the biggest one.  Everyone thought so too.
While the ground under me wildly shaking, the fear and my husband`s face were naturally what firstly rushed into my head. But I repeatedly told myself to stay calm and think what I should do while fervently hoping the building wouldn`t collapse and the door`s locks wouldn`t get stuck. Still shaking and clenching the table legs, I tried to remember what things I should get when I could get out from the room. My jacket and bag with my wallet and passport inside were still in my laboratory in different building. Then I remembered my emergency bag in our apartment. Then, again my husband`s face flashed back and I told myself he should have been fine at his own campus with other people there. I also remembered that we made a promise way before that day: 
If something happens when we are at different places, we will meet at an evacuation site near our house. 

So these things were somehow orderly planned in my head during the quake:
1. Get out of here when the quake stopped
2. Get all my important things (if it`s possible to enter the building)
3. Get my emergency bag in our apartment (if it`s still there)
4. Wait for him at the evacuation site

Then, finally the quake stopped. My boss and I waited for several seconds, got out from the tables before finally made our exit from the building. The doors were fortunately fine.  We ran to a wide open space inside the campus where many people already gathered there. The buildings were still standing and looking fine. No major damages were seen that day. I continuously tried to call my husband and sent messages, although I was perfectly aware that phone connections are always crazily busy every time a quake happens. It was clear that I couldn`t reach him and I was sure neither could him. And the quakes kept coming, although not as big as the first one. We stood there still feeling shocked and cold without jacket, coat, or anything for an hour or so. Then finally the university instructed us to enter the building and to clean up the broken glasses in our laboratories. It was almost dark inside the building because the electricity was cut off right after the quake. Broken glasswares were scattered everywhere. The shelves with chemical bottles and books fell over the floor. We quickly cleaned up things and collected our things. Then the snow started falling. Very hard. It was around 16:30 when I and one of my labmate whose house is near mine decided to go home. We were just steps away from our building until I saw my miracle. It was snowing hard but I could see clearly my husband wearing his bright yellow jacket with a safety helmet walked toward me with his right hand holding another helmet. Then we rushed toward each other and shyly hugged because my labmate was with us. He said, after the university instructed everyone to leave the campus, he rushed with his motorcycle back home and to the evacuation site to see if I was already there. Since he didn`t find me there, he decided to pick me up at my lab.

That`s how we reunited about 2 hours after the quake. Two hours are indeed nothing compared with those who still couldn`t find their loved ones until now, but that two hours are enough for me to realize more and more how he has always been my other half and to treasure every seconds in our life together. 

My message to you:
1. When quake happens, stay under a table that seems strong enough. But any table will just do when you don`t have anything else better to protect you. Stay there until the quake stopped. 
2. Try your best to stay calm (this is very difficult, but please try and try) and make sure you can get out of the table when you need to escape later. Things may fall over near where you are and block your way out. Make sure this doesn`t happen but  be careful not to injure yourself.
3. Especially if you live with family, make an evacuation plan and make sure the whole family members know where to meet. Phone connection will be difficult so don`t rely on that. 
4. Prepare emergency bag for each of family member. 
(I will discuss about this emergency bag more detail in the coming post)

Friday, March 18, 2011

A letter from Sendai, Japan

Sendai, March 18

Dear friends,

Today we moved back to our house after staying in an evacuation site since the big earthquake hit Japan on March 11.
And we finally have our electricity, water, and internet connection back. My apologies to those of you who tried to contact me through this blog or Flickr since days ago.
Although things are a bit chaotic in our house, we have our home to live in. And most importantly, my husband and I have each other. I felt incredibly relieved to finally see him that day.

I have so many things to share and I am hoping to write more after we settled things out.

Thank you so much for your prayers and support.
It seems to take a while until the condition gets better, but I do hope I can share our food and happiness again with you.



Monday, March 7, 2011

Pavlova for (more than) two

Yesterday was our first anniversary. Anniversary! I searched for cake or dessert recipes for this special day, but I ended up having too many options. Just until three days ago I saw one of Nigella`s videos where she made a Chocolate Pavlova and I was like, this is it! Reasons:
1. It`s easy to make (you`ll see how easy it is)
2. I get to use my egg whites leftover.
3. Most importantly: It looks beautiful!

Eeerrr...yes, reason no 2 doesn`t sound special at all, but just look at the other reasons! I`m very proud of myself for finally using the leftover, lol.
I (always) assume you all already knew about this dessert. But, just in case you did not, pavlova is a meringue disc covered with layer of cream and topped with fruits. The ingredients called for in pavlova recipe is quite similar with macaron, but instead of piping the batter out into small coins with a pastry bag, the whole meringue batter is at once dumped onto the baking pan and shaped into one big disc of meringue. It means only one thing: less work for me. Nice.
So, to make this pavlova, there are 3 things to prepare: the meringue disc, the frosting, and the topping. It takes about 1 hour to bake the meringue and another 1 hour to cool it down, I guess it`s best to work on the meringue first and do the rest when baking.

Confession: I was too nervous when I started the work and I didn`t take picture of my egg whites.
Just imagine a bag of thawed egg whites sitting on a kitchen counter. Four egg whites. Four, please.
Use egg whites stored at room temperature. Mine was frozen, so I let it sit outside for overnight.

Now put the egg whites in it and beat them until soft peaks form. Then, gradually beat in a tablespoon of icing sugar at a time and keep whisking until the meringue batter turns shiny and forms stiff peaks.

Gently fold in a tsp of vanilla oil and a tsp of white vinegar with a rubber spatula. Now, there is another ingredient that Nigella doesn`t use yet apparently many other recipes do. Corn starch is usually added at this step so that the meringue has a soft marshmallowy interior. I did plan to use it, but I didn`t. I f-o-r-g-o-t. I know, I hate myself for this. Can we move on? Thank you.
So, after folding in vanilla oil and vinegar (and corn starch, if you remember), dump the whole meringue onto baking pan lined with parchment paper.

Flatten the meringue with spatula into a disc with roughly 20-cm in diameter. This is "flat" enough for me.

So, bake the corn starch-less meringue in a preheated oven at 180 C, but, immediately turn the temperature down to 150 C. Bake it for 60 to 75 mins.
Note: As I was worried if the meringue got burnt, I turned down the temperature to 130 C after 20 mins and continued baking.

After finished baking, you`ll see that the meringue disc looks like swollen up, but after you let it cool in the oven with the oven door open for like an hour, the disc will shrink a bit and the surface will crack open.

The exterior should look crisped up like a shell while the interior is spongy soft. In fact, I couldn`t stop poking it. It`s really like a soft pillow underneath the shell.
Let it sit in the oven to cool and let`s continue with the frosting.

Add sugar into heavy cream and whisk on low speed to start. Increase the speed gradually when the cream starts to stiffen.

When the cream is stiff enough, beat in chunks of cream cheese with high speed until well combined.

Get the meringue disc from the oven and carefully transfer it to a serving plate. Now gently spread the frosting on the surface. You need to do this very gently because the crisp shell is very easy to break. But I don`t really mind when the shell fell off from the side during frosting. I called him over and he loyally (and happily) stood beside me with mouth open.

See the uncovered part? He (and I) ate it.

Scatter the fruits on top and you`re done!

This pavlova couldn`t fit into the largest plate I have. So I used the plate anyway and place it on a cup. Aha..who says I don`t have a cake stand?

Those are me and him, couldn`t wait to eat the whole thing.

As what described by most recipes, this pavlova is indeed crisp on the outside with marshmallowy texture inside. Spreading cream on top is actually really good to soften the strong sweetness of the meringue while the nice fresh tang comes from the fruits to balance everything.
Simply to say, this, is a beautiful harmony.

I just finished a slice now. Oh...sugary days...I need to shop for new pants.

For meringue
4 medium-sized egg whites, stored at room temperature
170 g icing sugar
1 tsp vanilla oil
1 tsp white vinegar
1 tsp of corn starch
Preheat oven at 180 C, place in the meringue and immediately turn down to 150 C, bake for 20 mins, turn down again to 130 C, and bake for another 40-60 mins.

For frosting
200 ml heavy cream
100 g cream cheese
10 g sugar

For topping
Strawberries, unhulled
Kiwies, peeled and sliced
*I modified the recipe due to ingredients availability.