And Then I Stepped in Gum . . .

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

What Is Wrong with Me?

Or, Why Type-A Overachievers Should Not Be Stay-at-Home Moms

Today -- well, yesterday, actually -- is Thinking Day, a Girl Scout/Girl Guide holiday on which girls learn about other countries around the world. When I found out that our council wasn't doing anything council-wide for Thinking Day, I was a little surprised. I remember big events, with troops presenting booths on their country, dressing up, serving food, etc. But since that wasn't happening, I thought it would be fun for my Daisies (5- and 6-year-olds) to celebrate at our meeting.

Last week I gathered a bunch of books on different countries from the library and brought them in to show the girls, who I thought -- and rightly so -- probably wouldn't have a very firm grasp on the concept of "other countries" quite yet.* (I had them brainstorming other countries that they knew about, and one poor girl kept naming U.S. states and cities -- "California! Washinton, D.C.! Atlanta! Tennessee! Hey, at least she kept trying.)

* And apparently, I should have been worried about more than the girls. My co-leader, after being the secretary for the brainstorming session, came up to me and said, "I don't know why I wrote down Canada. That's not a foreign country. They're part of us." Sigh.

So the girls had fun perusing the books, but then when it came time to pick one, they all wanted different ones, according to which book they'd latched onto. Of course. So we drew names from a cup -- no "guiding" there from the leader, unfortunately. Ultimately, we ended up with Japan.

I thought Japan was a pretty good choice -- sufficiently "other" to get the point across about different cultures, but not a country I knew absolutely nothing about. Except I didn't know as much as I thought I did. So I ended up hitting the Web, and it's worked pretty well so far. I even have some Japanese things to bring in -- two dolls and a kimono that I think my dad brought back from Okinawa when he went there on TDY, some decorative Japanese chopsticks I picked up from SF's Chinatown, etc. My biggest stumbling block has been the food.

For one thing, I can't really bring anything hot, because there's no access to a microwave or anything, and I don't want to give the girls food poisoning. For another thing, Japanese food is darned hard to come by in Mobile. The grocery stores' "ethnic foods" sections are pretty pathetic. I went to some promising-sounding small markets, but struck out -- International Food Market had mostly Arabic and Jewish imports; Asia Market carried only Indian foods (would it kill them to call it Indian Market, or even South Asia market, then?). My quest for the one Japanese item I really wanted -- sweetened red bean paste, used as a filling for dessert-like teacakes, and pretty much the only thing I think the kids might like -- went unsatisfied.

I did end up with some vegetarian sushi, some rice crackers, chopsticks for the girls to practice with, and green tea. But I decided -- thanks to the goodness of the Internet -- that I would make my own red bean paste.

This is where I think I've finally figured out that there is something wrong with me. Usually you see people being depicted with little devils on their shoulders, spurring them on to act unwisely. My devil looks an awful lot like Martha Stewart.

The first problem is that, like Japanese red bean paste, Japanese red beans are hard to come by. I ended up with "light red kidney beans." I figured beans are beans are beans, pretty much, and by and large I think that's right. And I got the dried version, which means soaking and then cooking for an hour and a half. I did that last night, and put them in the fridge to continue working on them this morning.

Then I was supposed to put them in the blender or a food processor. Food processors are such a pain to clean, so I decided on the blender. Yeah, well, the blender pureed the bottom 1/4 of the beans, and then wouldn't mix any of the whole beans in. So I struggled with the blender for a while. Then I was to press the beans through a sieve. Which would have been easier if they'd actually been pureed like they were supposed to be. And in the process, I lost half the bean puree in a big, cow dung-like splat on the floor.

No matter, right? I'm only making treats for six kids. I continued, halving the rest of the recipe. I sieved the beans (that took a while). I put the puree in a pot, with some vegetable shortening and sugar. And it was an unappetizing pinky-brown color. So I added red food coloring. Now it's kind of a weird red color, rather than the dark red of the storebought paste, but what the kids don't know won't hurt them, right? I tasted it. Surprisingly, it actually tasted like what I was aiming for. Thank goodness I knew what I was aiming for!

The next step in making dorayaki is to make little pancakes to spread the bean paste on. Now here I had no idea what I was aiming for. I ended up with little pale, thick, slightly rubbery pancakes, that, when spread with red bean paste, so taste like they could possibly be Japanese. So it's done. (Well, except for the assembly, which will be done when everything has cooled.)

Want to take bets on what proportion of the six proclaim them "yucky"? I'm not entirely sure why I bother, except there's that little Martha Stewart-shaped devil on my shoulder who wants me to make things perfect. I just can't stop myself.

On the upside, every parent I talked to last night said their daughter was excited about learning about Japan today -- it's a good thing. Right?

3 comment(s):

Sounds like an excellent thing to me! I find the degree of ignorance of the rest of the world astonishing now, but then in suburban Australia at the same age 30 years ago I was probably much the same.

By Blogger Natalie Bennett, at 2:38 PM  

Next time try Japanese's what college students eat when they're eating well. You can get boxes of it online, and it's just this brick of stuff that you add to what is basically American stew. Spicy enough to be "forgien" but nothing too strange for Americans.

By Anonymous Anonymous, at 12:55 AM  

You're a brave woman, attempting azuki on your own. The irony is that the number of Japanese who would make the pancakes at home is near nil: most of them buy sweet bean cakes on the street, from vendors with specially designed cake casts. My favorites are the ones shaped like fish. Fantastic street food, particularly in colder weather.

By Blogger Jonathan Dresner, at 12:29 AM  

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