Saturday, July 19, 2014

What to do when you've done everything


My sister and brother-in-law have just been for a 10 day visit.  They lived in this area for a year about 4 years ago so they have seen most of the general things as well as some of the not so general things.  In an attempt to find a few new experiences we decided to go on a tour of a toilet factory - something that is not usually on the tourist itinerary!
Japan produces fantastic toilets - in fact I think they are one of the most photographed things in Japan, perhaps coming a close second to vending machines.  We were on a private tour and it turned out to be fascinating.  It was the Toto factory in Nakatsu and I would have to say we were treated like royalty.
We turned up at the gate and were immediately shown to the parking lot by a kind man on a bicycle.  We were then greeted by two people who took our photo (and later presented it to us at the end of the tour) and then gave us an interesting PowerPoint presentation about the history of the company and the basic products that they make at the factory.  We then headed in through the factory to see how they make toilet bowls and wash basins.  I think what struck me the most was how much people are involved in the process rather than machines.  Of course they use machines for some things and some of their robots used for drilling holes and painting were pretty impressive.  But so much of the work seemed to be done by people in teams.  
Their quality checks were also very thorough.  As well as checking for cracks, visible imperfections and whether every part was level or not they had a great way of checking for if the toilet would flush properly or not.  They paint some coloured water on the bowl (the pee) and then put a piece of cloth (the toilet paper), and 5 sausage shaped weights (the poo) into the bowl and then put in the average volume of water needed for a flush.  If anything is left in the bowl after this exercise then the bowl is put in the defect line.
Another thing that I was impressed with was the fact there is basically no waste produced at the factory and their focus is very much on looking after the environment.  All products which are rejected before they get to the firing stage are made back into clay and made into new products.  All products which are rejected after they have been fired are broken up and used as gravel at schools etc.
Their focus is very much on preserving water and their current toilets only use 4.8 litres of water for an average flush, compared to 20 litres when they first started producing toilets.
We weren't able to take any photos inside the factory, but if you click here it gives a bit of an idea of the process. 
Today I received a hand written letter from them thanking us for coming and welcoming us back any time.  Fantastic service from a fantastic company!  I recommend their tour to anyone who is looking for something different to do in this area.

Sunday, July 06, 2014

More athletics videos

A couple more videos of the latest athletics competition.  It was a competition to determine who will get to go to the All Japan Championships..... .Yokohama here we come again!  Finals time (100m) 12.61 another personal best.  Sorry - I haven't had a chance to edit them.... 





Friday, July 04, 2014

Cookies

This post is really for a record for myself about how things are progressing with my baking business, but if anyone is interested..... 
A while ago I wrote about "Starting small" with regards to a new baking business that I eventually hope to get off the ground properly.  I have continued to provide the new local produce shop with cookies and on days like today I think that perhaps it could eventually work out to be a good business.  
Basically at the moment I am trying different things and seeing how people in the countryside respond to them.  I've always known that the biggest problem I will always have is that if I want to sell in my immediate area I am aiming at an elderly market who is not particular good at trying new things.  At the same time I've always been confident that if they actually try some of the things I am making they will come back for more.  In the beginning I found the people in the shop a little frustrating as they would ask me to bring cookies to sell, but then I would find that they had displayed them in an area that no one sees at all.  Slowly I have been talking with them and we now have a good thing going.  They (usually) display my things in a good area and they also call me when the cookies are getting low and give me information about what people are saying about them.  Because I sell on commission I don't want to make too many and have to bring them all home again (although my children don't complain when this happens!).
Basically I aim to make cookies once a week on a Thursday and take them on Friday mornings ready for the weekend "rush".  Which brings me to today... I took some cookies this morning which would usually last most of the week and then this afternoon I got a phone call to say that they had sold half of them already so could I please make some more to sell in the weekend.  I'm not talking about hundreds of packets and millions of yen - this morning I took 24 packs, but it is promising to have them sell so fast.
What is also promising is that the majority of the cookies that were sold today were to people who had been given them by other people and liked them so much that they came back for more.  There have also been people who have walked past my house to climb the mountain and called out to me that they have my cookies in their bag to sustain them on their trip.  Others have gone into the local shop and asked when a specific kind would be back in stock.  
Another problem that I have with cookies here is the humidity... keeping cookies crisp is a huge challenge!  But interestingly enough the staff at the shop today said that one of the reasons the older people are coming back for more is that their initial image of cookies was that they were very hard, but when they tried mine they liked them because they were a little soft... I guess sometimes things that appear to be problems are actually not!

My most popular cookies at the moment are Oatmeal & Raisin, and Cinnamon Roll.  The other main ones I make are Chocolate Nut and Chocolate Chip with the odd gingerbread man thrown in when I can be bothered! 

Wednesday, July 02, 2014

Flowers of the day

We are due for heavy rain tonight, so chances are my 2 current favourite flowers may end up being a little worse for wear by tomorrow morning.  The first are bon bon cosmos which I grew from seed and that I'm hoping will self seed each year from now.  The second are sunflowers which self seed every year and seem to grow taller every year!  It's a bit hard to tell from the photo, but they are well over 2 metres tall and provide a nice "wall" so that I can't be seen slaving away in the garden behind them!  Here's hoping they will all still be standing when I wake up in the morning....



Monday, June 30, 2014

First time in many years

Every year around this time the amount of food on the dinner table that is homegrown increases to the point that it is faster to count the food that has been bought than the homegrown food.  My children tend to get a little sick of me pointing out all the vegetables that I have produced - that is until today when I pointed out that the corn was from the garden, something that hasn't happened in many years.  They were suitably impressed!  Usually the rainy season combined with the bugs, birds and other animals means that it is destroyed well before it makes it to the table.  I have noticed that there are a few cobs which are looking a little worse for wear, but tonight's were perfect!  Nothing like picking corn and having it in the pot less than 10 minutes later.

Right now the food that I could put on the table that is homegrown (fresh): asparagus, beans, cucumbers, potatoes, tomatoes, onions, corn, eggplant, zucchinis, small green peppers, basil, garlic, boysenberries, and many herbs. And of course eggs and rice! Melons, watermelons and pumpkins are not far away and there are plenty of broad beans, peas, bamboo, shitake mushrooms, green ginger, strawberries and raspberries in the freezer.  I'm guessing the heat of summer and general busyness is going to mean that it will all just turn into a weed patch soon, but for now not too bad for a part time farmer! 

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Gherkins


We eat quite a lot of gherkins (aka pickles) - in sandwiches, salads etc. so every year I plant a few seeds and hope to get enough pickling cucumbers to make a decent batch of gherkins.  In general I get a reasonable number and the rainy season hits and the vines all shrivel up and die.  Usually I am grateful for this as there are only so many gherkins that can be used in one year... (Un)fortunately this year my great tunnel house is meaning that the rainy season is here, but there is no effect on the pickling cucumbers.  They are producing nicely every day.... every single day....   
I think this morning's batch of gherkins was the fourth for the year and now the outside ones have also started producing I'm thinking it may be time to accidentally slip when I am weeding them and pull the odd vine or two out!
I have tried many different recipes but my favourite one is one that Dad got from one of his friends.  Very easy and very delicious!

For 2kg (I just vary it depending on how many I have at the time)

Sprinkle 4 tablespoons of salt over the pickling cucumbers and cover with cold water.  Leave for 24 hours then drain.

Boil together:
3 cups vinegar
2 cups sugar
1 cup water
2 teaspoons celery salt (I use seed)
4 teaspoons mustard seeds
Sprinkle of dill seeds
2 large cloves of garlic - crushed

Add the gherkins and cook for 5-10 minutes until soft.  Watch carefully - I usually don't boil it very long at all as they seem to shrivel when they cool.  I tend to just wait till they have changed colour.  Bottle and store for 6 weeks before eating.  They will last for many years if you have sealed them properly...

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Rice planting 2014







The yearly rice planting is over.  The men finished all the machine planting the other day and I finished the last of the hand planting today.  Unfortunately (?) I had to work over the weekend so I wasn't able to help out with the main planting, but was given responsibility for filling in the gaps in the last field today.
For those who are not familiar with rice planting, basically the machines do all the hard work, but there are still areas that the machines haven't filled in properly that need to be planted by hand.  Literally back breaking work!  The amount of hand planting depends on two things - the shape of the field and the skill of the rice planter driver.  The less square the field is the more areas there are that need to be hand planted.  The less skilled the driver the more areas there are that need to be hand planted.  Unfortunately most of our fields are far from square and my husband is just taking over the reigns from his father and is therefore not as skilled as he could be.... which means many areas to fill!
The basic way of planting the fields seems to be to leave a section around the entire field and then go up and down until it is full and then do one final swoop around the entire field before hopefully arriving at the exit point.  It means that the main areas to be hand planted are where the vertical lines and the final swoop around the outside meet as well as the corners and the exit areas.  It is not difficult work -  you just pull off 3 or 4 rice plants and stick them in the mud.  The problem is that you are doing it while standing in the deep mud... which often has sharp or moving objects in it.  Basically you have to just hope that the squiggling is an air hole letting off steam and not a snake going for a swim.  And of course for straightness freaks like myself the real challenge is to make the lines as straight as you can.  I'm sure it doesn't actually make any difference to the harvest, but I get twitchy if I drive past lines that I have planted that are too crooked....