This post is not to be seen as a complaint. I am content to find a new normal in this country. With that said, know that I never expected that certain creature comforts were, seemingly, essential to my ability to function.
Growing up, I learned from my mother how to cook. That jiffy cornbread that I loved so much was mixed and poured into a caste iron skillet then placed in the oven. Those amazingly delicious peach cakes that weren’t really cakes. The peaches were cut, brown sugar and butter added. Topped with dry cake mix combined with butter that served as a crumble. Can you guess what happened next? You got it. It was put in the oven.
Sweet potatoes, brussel sprouts with bacon, broccoli and other assorted veggies were roasted in an oven. Those chicken breasts? Add your seasoning and put them in the oven. You want cookies? Cake? Put those bad boys in the oven!
Can you see a theme?
Half of my desired cooking abilities are entangled with this appliance. Sure, I can use the stove top but if I want to eat that sugar I can’t also eat those fried things. So baking was my “healthy” choice.
Then I moved to Japan. I knew before I arrived that things would be different. But it wasn’t until I had been in my apartment a few weeks before I realized how different. That fish “oven” is really a toaster masquerading as an oven. Fraud! Anything left for too long inside the cramped drawer will burn. Forget to put water at the bottom? Burn. Food falls into the pit at the back of the drawer? Burnt! Even foods wrapped in foil aren’t safe. The “oven” shuts off just as your meat is about to get down with the get down.
As a creature of habit, I was set on eating a certain way. My habits were being severely tested. Eventually, I grew tired of eating steamed veggies. I wanted the roasted deliciousness that I was accustomed to. I didn’t eat fish very often in the U.S.. I knew one way to cook it. Wrap that fillet in foil with lemon, salt and pepper and that was it. But as much as I can go hard in the paint for a taste (eat it so much that I never want to eat it again) I was growing sick of it all.
I thought, man, if I had an oven my life would be easier. So I searched for stores that sold appliances. My favorite homegoods store “Nitori” had what I thought was an oven but was really just a souped up toaster. I expressed my desire for an oven to a coworker and she immediately suggested that I go to Joshin. My fist thought was, where is that and how can I get that oven on my bike. Thankfully, she agreed to take me in her car.
For Japan to be so super tech, I had only seen phone stores thus far. I was wondering where they hid all the tvs, laptops and other appliances. This place was like a wonderland. I walked in there with a feeling akin to a fat kid that just found a bakery. I was super excited. She led me to the ovens and it was like the heavens had opened up and light was pouring down. I’m exaggerating but I was clearly geeked. I saw all the possibilities in an instant. Roasted broccoli. Peanutbutter cookies. Pies. Baked sweet potatoes. Chicken breasts. Bruh! It was hard to focus on what she was saying for all the food dreams.
I picked a size that I felt would benefit me most. We then went down the line discussing the best option. I was window shopping with the intent to come back for my chosen oven. She suggested that I check the price on Amazon. I found that Amazon jp had the same oven for a bit less and they would deliver it to my apartment. Good deal. An all around good deal.
Check out the size of that box, dude! It was huge! I added a comparison. Those are my fingers. Say ‘whats up’ to my fingers.
I was super geeked to get this oven. It was worth saving for. It was worth waiting for. Although I didn’t wait long. Amazon jp was super quick. I bought it on a Tuesday and it was there by Friday. The custodian on duty helped me lugg it into the elevator and then up to my door. It felt like Christmas morning! I was practically salivating, thinking of all the delicious meals I would have.
I received the oven the week before Thanksgiving. That sounds absurd to me. I feel like I’ve had this thing for years. Anyway, I agreed to bring desserts to “Friendsgiving”, the Thanksgiving pot luck hosted by the newest Arizona teachers. I intended to make a pie or two or maybe cookies.
Then I did my test bake. What is a test bake? Its when you practice using a Japanese appliance to ensure that you can actually bake using said appliance. My test bake was super easy. A coworker had already gifted this huge Costco sized Jiff peanutbutter. So I decided to make cookies.
After a few google searches, I found pictures and brands and kanji for all the ingredients that I would need to make cookies. Flour was easy to find because it had flowers on the package.
Baking powder was easy as well. I just looked for the muffins.
Baking soda was a bit more difficult to find. I had to ask a worker to direct me. He took me back to an isle that I’d already looked down. I’d walked right past it looking for kanji. Baking soda could be read clearly in English. Talk about a one track mind.
I feel its imperative that I take a moment to say thanks. Thank you Lord for the dude or dudett that created the Google Translate app! They have truly blessed me. All the instructions were in Japanese. The writing on the oven was in Japanese. Dude, everything was in kanji! Without that app, who knows what would have happened. Just the thought of all that peanutbutter I saved from burning to a crisp and I get teary eyed. Hashtag grateful. lol
I baked those cookies and they were perfect. I might have kept them in the oven a bit longer than intended, causing them to brown more on top. But besides that they were perfect. Instead of eating the whole batch, I decided to share them with some of the English teachers. They gave me the peanutbutter and it was fitting that they got to try all that peanutbuttery goodness.
Look at my cute packaging! My mama taught me well.
After making the cookies, I was excited to begin baking for Thanksgiving. I briefly considered making an apple crisp. It seemed easy enough. Apples, oatmeal and easy. But after some thought, I decided to try making apple pie. Resources for classic African American Thanksgiving desserts were scarce. I couldn’t find pumpkin anything. And I refused to use squash. I realized too late that Japan has no clue what pecans are. Everywhere you go there are almonds and walnuts but where are the pecans?! I searched and searched but found none. Apparently, pecans are considered to be “exotic” in Japan. If you find any they cost much more than I am willing to pay. So, no pecan pie this year. Fruit is also quite expensive but I still decided that I wanted apple pie.
As you can see, I bought far too many apples. And I bought these on sale so they were not even the right apples for pie. This fact should have alerted me to the apple pie being a bad idea. But I would not be deterred.
I quickly found a pie crust recipe online and got after it. Unlike baking in the U.S., there are no ready made pie crusts in Japan. If you want it, you have to make it. And make it, I did. I also made Oreo cheesecake!
I realized that Japanese pie pans are more shallow than any that you’d find in the U.S.. I had extra everything left over after making the two pies. In the end, I had enough batter to make another Oreo cheesecake. I was able to share it with friends and coworkers. I also learned that breaking glass during baking can be hazardous. I thought for sure that I’d collected all the pieces. But I found two pieces of broken glass in my slice of pie. Thankfully, only my piece held any glass. I quickly alerted the peeps and they avoided it like the plague after that. Overall, it was an ‘ok’ pie. To be honest, it didn’t taste the best. It was delicious but not as good as I’m used to. It was more Martha Stuart and less Paula Dean than I would have liked. [Note from my mom: Next time throw everything away. You can’t see glass.]