Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Mochi Bars

Mochi bars with kinako. Doss-Johnson
I had boxed up part of my kitchen, including all my cookbooks, for a few months to do a kitchen project. I needed to make mochi bars for a family event and didn't have access to this recipe. None of the butter mochi recipes I found online could equal this old recipe, so I thought I'd post it for others to compare. This recipe came to us from the Guigui family in Oahu back in the 70s.

2 Tablespoons butter
1/2 cup sugar
1 cup Mochiko sweet rice flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup milk
2 Tablespoons kinako, roasted soybean powder
Sugar to mix with kinako, optional

1. Melt butter.
2. Combine sugar, mochiko and baking powder in bowl.
3. Add milk, vanilla and butter to bowl.
4. Pour into greased 8" square pan.
5. Bake 350* 25 minutes.
6. Sprinkle with kinako-sugar mixture after cooling.

Melt butter.

Mix dry ingredients.

Add milk, vanilla and butter.
Little chunks of butter will make the batter look lumpy.

Grease the pan with butter.
8x8 will give you thicker bars. 9x9 will give you thinner bars.

Bake till edges barely begin to brown and middle springs back.
The holes are from the melting butter.

I like a 50/50 ratio of kinako powder and sugar.
Mix and top the cooled mochi in pan,
then cut into squares.

Thursday, January 15, 2015


LEP = Lääneranniku Eesti Päevadele (West Coast Estonian Days)

LEP occurs every two years by EOLL=Eesti Organisatsioonide Liit Läänerannikul (Estonian Organization Union West Coast) cycling through the cities of Vancouver, Seattle, Portland, San Francisco and Los Angeles.

ESTO is not an acronym but a nickname for the global Estonian festivals that occur about every four years.

In 2013 the two festivals combined in San Francisco. I was asked to sing the American national anthem at the opening of the song festival (laulupidu.)

Jaan Ots conducting the opening song. Photo by Kai Kiilaspea.

Jaan Ots cuing the singers and the Estonian Youth Wind Ensemble. Photo by Kai Kiilaspea

Me singing the United States National Anthem. Photo by Kai Kiilaspea.

My son, Benjamin, on the left by the wall, the lowest guy on the steps, enjoyed singing with the choirs. Photo by Kai Kiilaspea.

Me and Mati Otsmaa who accompanied me fabulously. Photo by Aare Onton.

Me and Lonni Cline, director of Clackamas Community College choirs from Oregon. He has taken his choirs to the Song Festival in Estonia a number of times. Photo by Aare Onton.

The ambassador, Her Excellency Marina Kaljurand, Jaan Ots, and me. What a blessed day! Photo by Aare Onton.


Mushin and Ganbatte!


This term is used in the training of martial arts. The concept stems from ingraining muscle memory through repetition, a necessary condition for performing any task with excellence. I apply the principles of mushin in the field of performing arts, specifically in piano playing and singing. To achieve the state ofmushin, a physical action must be repeated often enough that the mind is clear of managing the procedures. Mushin means empty mind, or clear mind. In the art of performing, the basic tasks of pitch arrival, vocal production, lyrics and line are so memorized, that when pressure to deliver a perfect performance in front of an audience starts the adrenaline (which shuts down higher-order brain functions), the body can function on auto-pilot, thereby allowing room for artistic, intense and emotional delivery.

In my historical fiction, the main character Naomi is trained by her mother to work for mushin in everything she performs. Naomi's confidence in performing comes from the hours she devotes to reaching the mushin state.

When I perform, I am calmer the more towards mushin I've worked for. Training for a performance is mixed with a sense of overconfidence that acts like the devil on my shoulder, making me lazy in getting in my repetitions. The feeling of going into a performance under prepared is horrible horrible. I get so mad at myself when I've done that, so I try not to do that and remember how I felt. Confidence should be based on training. Confidence is good, overconfidence is not.

During the course of getting in hundreds and thousands of repetitions, when you reach that stage of being sick of it, then you've begun to creak open the door of mushin. This is the crucial point at which you must push through. Keep getting sick of it and in a few more repetitions, you'll be able to do it unconsciously and even carry on another task simultaneously. That is mushin. It feels like another level of awareness.


In this form, ganbaru means "I will" or "We Will" work hard and do my/our best.Ganbatte means to wish someone support in doing their best. I most often heard "ganbatte ne?" from my mother, grandmother and aunt who expected nothing but all my effort in homework and such. When I heard it from peers, it usually was in a setting of sports or other physical situations.

You might hear "ganbatte!" in Japanese animation. I hear it on Naruto, a martial arts show.

"Ganbatte!" can also be yelled and cheered by spectators at competitive events.

Combining mushin and ganbatte can create a direction to apply to any endeavor in life. Approaching goals with an attitude to give 100% and to keep at it until it is easy, then as the endeavor meets resistance, holding tight and believing in the process of mushin and gabatte can do nothing but build good character and success. Doesn't this wrap up much of what is considered a "typical Asian approach?"

I'm sure similar directives can be found in all cultures. Whether a cowgirl charges into wrangling livestock or a soprano tiptoes into wrastling coloratura passages, whether rough or refined, the concept is to never give up and to keep seeking mastery.

To everyone, I cheer: Ganbatte!

Monday, December 15, 2014

Naomi's Cooke Recipes from Tauno

Here are the ingredients for the cookies at Mrs. Benson's Coffeehouse. I will write up the instructions very shortly. They follow basic cookie construction for each. Don't over mix cookie dough. Unless noted, they all bake at 350 F.

Sugar Cookie with Icing and Large Sprinkles

"Sprinkles Because Your Eyes Twinkle!"
A friend of mine gave me this recipe. She couldn't remember where she found it. This is the best sugar cookie recipe I've ever had in taste, texture and longevity. They don't get dry and nasty for as long as they've lasted. Some have stayed bagged for ten days. They taste better rolled out and cooked in a gas oven, rather than rolled in wax paper, sliced and baked in a toaster oven.

3 ¾ cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ tsp salt

1 cup unsalted butter
2 cups sugar
2 large eggs
1 tablespoon vanilla extract

Coconut Lime Macaroons

"Coconut Shreds For My Curly Head."

3 large egg whites, beat till frothy, not much.
1 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons lime juice
2 teaspoons finely cut lime peel, or lime zest from a small grater

14 ounces sweetened coconut flakes

Mrs. Benson's Chocolate Chip Cookies

I've played around with chocolate chip cookie recipes so that they stay chewy even after a few days. They puff up like soft drop cookies and when removed from the oven, shrinks to a strong, chewy texture.

1 cup unsalted butter
2 cups sugar

2 eggs
2 Tablespoons molasses
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

2 1/4 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon cream of tartar

2 cups chocolate chips

Spicy Oatmeal Cookies

"Infused with Naomi Spice!"

After some trial and error, I've made this recipe chewy and yummy. This not a thick, cakey oatmeal cookie. Cookies shouldn't be cakey. 

1 cup unsalted butter
2 cups sugar

2 eggs
¼ cup molasses
2 teaspoon vanilla

2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
¼ teaspoon ground cloves
½ teaspoon ground ginger
½ teaspoon ground nutmeg

2 cups rolled oats
1 cup raisins

Shortbread Cookies

"Dipped In Sweetness Just Like You!"

This is from the Better Homes and Gardens cookbook. I dipped them in chocolate with orange extract.

Cook at 325 degrees.

1 1/4 cups flour
3 Tablespoons sugar
1/2 cup butter

Settings for the Naomi Series

Deciding on the locations of a novel has been one of the funner parts of writing. Images on Google maps make the process more detailed, too.

Where do the Zemers live?

Turtle Bay, Manhattan, a neighborhood on the east side of Midtown Manhattan. It sports the United Nations headquarters and the Chrysler building. I've placed the Zemer town house on the lower 50s streets and in the block between Third and First Avenue.

New York Photo Sphere on Google.
I can imagine Naomi trouncing down the sidewalks from the subway station, singing her songs and dreaming about Tauno.

Where do Tauno and Asta live?

Bethesda, Maryland, close to Potomac where the Taylors live and across the river from the CIA Langley headquarters. Miracles happen in Bethesda. ;-)

This isn't quite how I envisioned Asta's house, but it hints at the picture. Asta's neighborhood has more distance between yards. I visited Maryland and drove around Bethesda and was dismayed at the lack of front porches. When I saw one, I hooted a hurray. Yes! Asta can have a front porch. Only a few houses don't have a second floor. I emailed a house inspector to make sure there were some houses built without a basement. All these details are important to activities that happen in the house. Phew. What I didn't realize until I toured Maryland, is that brick is prevalent. I can live with changing Asta's sideboards to brick. But painted or natural? I'll have to think on that. :)

Bethesda Photo Sphere from Google
If I put up the location for book 2, it'll spoil the plot of book 1, so ...
stay tuned.


If you've never heard of Estonia, here are a few fun facts.

Where in the world is it?
Estonia is under Finland, to the west of Russia, sharing a border, and three countries east of Germany.

The country flower, voted for in the late 1960s, is the blue cornflower. The blue of the Estonian flag is the cornflower blue. The blue cornflower grows wild in the Estonian soil, along with the grain used for making the Estonian brown bread.

Imagine this fragrant bread, warm and steamy, and robust with rye. Pull off a handful, slather it in herb butter made with chives, dill and parsley, and eat.

Brown bread made by the First Lady of Estonian, Evelin Ilves.

Two other important dishes in Estonian cuisine is a meat aspic called Sült,

and blood sausage made from animal blood and barley, called verivorstid.

Moving on from the food, Estonia is covered in forests and bogs. Watch this video of an Estonian rock band, filmed in the scenic lands. Ewert and the Two Dragons, "Good Man Down."

Estonia loves music. Their resistance to Soviet rule grew through their music, as in the other Baltic States: Latvia and Lithuania. They have massive national song festivals. This is my favorite song. Ilus Maa. Their music really moves me.

The Estonians have a tradition of knitting that is so advanced and intricate. An expert knitter could make a large scarf delicate enough to flow through a wedding ring. Knitted Lace of Estonia by Nancy Bush. (She read my book! And helped with some knitting sentences.)

Estonia has islands and castles. I had bought books on castles for my boys through Scholastic and never realized one was on the old Livonian castles, now in Latvia and Estonia.

For modern news, Estonia is a little country advancing in the world of technology. They even have eResidency.

That's a quick introduction to Estonia. It's history and traditions are woven through my historical fiction series. Sign-up to get news of publication. 

Soviet Cruise Ship

My friend Kristine Gray went on a tour to Europe in 1984 that included a tour of the Baltics and the Soviet Union. She was so smart!

She has always loved history, but how could she have known that I needed the information from her high school era trip for a historical fiction series written thirty years later?

She's doubly smart to have taken pictures and loaded them into a scrapbook. She let me hold onto her book for two years, too. We went out for a three-hour dinner and I recorded her travel log on my phone.

Soviet Cruise Ship, Mikhail Kalinin

I had to show this picture to an Estonian friend who didn't believe me that such a thing existed. See the hammer and sickle? Yes. It is a Soviet cruise ship, devoid of all decoration. This picture captures the name of the ship. It has a wiki page.  Kristine said the accommodations were basic and utilitarian. Beds were made with rough sheets.
The library on board was stocked full of propaganda books about Afghanistan and the joyous Soviet life.

The Baltic Shipping Company.

You were only chosen to work on the ships if you had strong family ties to people who lived under Soviet rule. At port, a worker could only disembark with two other crew members. Defectors must be kept away from opportunity and temptation. The buddy system was a mandatory precaution.

Russian chocolate from the ship gift shop.

stamped bags from the ship gift shop

Kristine snuck some pictures before having to put the camera away. If you bring a camera into the customs area, it could be opened, exposing all the film. I guess the cameras had to be empty. There are areas forbidden to take pictures. Near tourist sites are okay, so you would have to use all your film to be safe.

The port building. Lenin is the first to welcome visitors.

Propaganda everywhere. Look at the happy, happy people pictured.

Only the old, who remembered religion, were in the Russian Orthodox church. The The Communist ideal outlawed religious practices, fearing it would unite people against the regime, and fearing that religion would be a source of power over the Soviet government.

Leningrad memorial in Victory Square.

I don't remember if this is a postcard. There is an underground memorial for all the people who survived the Nazi occupation and isolation for over two years. Roughly a million people died from starvation or bombings.

Above is a receipt for amber beads from Leningrad.

This one is from Tallinn, Estonia. These papers are tissue thin. The darker rectangle on both are from the lid of my scanner.

Kristine Makowski Gray, 1984
Thank you, Kristine, for going on your cruise when you were a teen. Here she is posing with the cliffs of Dover behind her.