Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Learning Japanese - having more fun

おはようございます! I’ve been offline lately because I’ve been:
A) working on my book
B) being stuck on my book
C) praying a lot about my book
D) switching to a new book to write to try to jumpstart my creativity again
E) (re)learning Japanese in my spare time

The Japanese part has been inconsistent because, well, it can be boring. But I found a way to make it more fun!

My listening comprehension for my Japanese is not very good, so I watched Japanese anime with English subtitles. Crunchyroll has a ton you can watch with only their free membership.

Lately, to take my listening practice to the next level, I started helping out with a coffee hour gathering put on by the Japanese language congregation at my church once a month. Okay, so Japanese ladies from Japan speak REALLY REALLY FAST! But it’s good practice to learn the actual speed people talk. I don’t understand most of what they say yet … Also, my vocabulary isn’t very large so many times I won’t understand because I don’t know the word or phrase.

But it’s good for me to force myself to speak Japanese even if I’m pretty sure I’m grammatically incorrect. I have to just do it! and ignore my embarrassment or self-consciousness. I tell myself that I don’t have to be perfect. Most of the Japanese ladies realize I’m learning Japanese and they don’t mind my bad grammar, and the important thing is that they can understand what I’m trying to say.

For the past week or two I’ve been experimenting with different online resources to try to make learning Japanese more fun. I joined the LearnJapanese subReddit group but many of the conversations are just too high a level for me yet. However, it’s a good place for me to ask questions (I got a quick answer for my question about how to pronounce the symbols you often see on Japanese novel titles).

What got me really excited was an app I discovered a few days ago, HelloTalk. It’s a social media app specifically for people learning other languages. When you create your profile, you indicate what country you’re living in, what your native language is, what language you’re trying to learn, and your proficiency level in that language, and those four stats are all shown on your profile in HelloTalk.

Then the app specifically filters the social media posts so that you can choose to see (a) people who speak the language you’re trying to learn (for me, Japanese speakers), or (b) people like you who are trying to learn the new language you’ve indicated (for me, English speakers learning Japanese). The posts from (a) are sometimes in Japanese, sometimes in English or another language that the users are trying to learn.

As an English speaker, I can help other users because the app allows you to actually correct someone’s English in their post. Likewise, Japanese speakers can correct the Japanese in my posts.

You can also randomly send a message (through the app) to other users to do a foreign language exchange chat and get to know them. I haven’t done that yet, and I probably would only do that with women users and not men users, just to feel safe. Some aspects and etiquette of foreign language exchange chatting are explained in this Youtube video.

So far, I’ve been trying to read the posts from Japanese users. Sometimes the posts use more vocabulary and kanji than I understand, but sometimes they’re readable and I only have to look up a few words. HelloTalk also has a really nice feature where you can tap on a word and it’ll translate it for you in the app, but the free accounts are only limited to a few translations a day. You can instead look up unfamiliar words in a free online dictionary like Jisho.org but if you don’t know the pronounciation of the kanji, then you have to try to look it up by radicals.

You can also follow users you interact with and choose to see only the posts of the people you follow. It’s been a nice way to get to know other users through their posts.

I was pretty burned out on Facebook and I haven’t been on social media at all for the past year, but HelloTalk suddenly made me excited to be on social media again! I forced myself to respond to posts in Japanese, and to comment on other users’ posts in Japanese when I could. The nice thing is that I can stop and look up a vocabulary word before typing it in. I’ve used a lot more Japanese in the past few days than I have in several months of learning it. It really helps to be forced to recall the grammar I’ve learned and figure out what to use.

If you’re on HelloTalk, please email me to let me know! I’ll send you my HelloTalk ID.

Monday, August 07, 2017

Cold Brew Adagio Iced Teas

A couple months ago, Adagio.com gave me a gift certificate in exchange for some social media love about their teas. I already like their teas, but I took the opportunity to order some teas I hadn’t tried yet.

TL;DR—Jasmine Silver Needle was the favorite, cold-brewed at 2 heaping tablespoons per 2 quarts of water, and my second favorite was White Peach (loose-leaf, not iced tea pouches), cold-brewed at 2 heaping tablespoons per 2 quarts of water.

Adagio sells loose leaf teas as well as teabags, but I bought some of their Iced Tea pouches. Basically, it’s their loose leaf teas pre-measured in a pouch that you can use to cold- or hot-brew iced tea.

I first tried their White Blueberry Iced Tea pouches. There’s approximately 3 tablespoons of tea in each pouch, and the instructions say that one pouch is for about 1 quart of iced tea. I cold-brewed the tea—I steeped a pouch in a quart of water in the fridge overnight. However, I found that the resulting tea was a bit strong for my taste, so I diluted it with 1 quart of water to make 2 quarts of tea.

The white tea in the pouch is really nice when cold-brewed—smooth and sweet. However I wasn’t nuts about the blueberry flavor until I added the juice of one lemon to the iced tea. Then suddenly the blueberry flavor seemed to really perk up. It reminded me of the lemon blueberry muffins I love to snarf on.

Next I cold-brewed the White Peach Iced Tea pouches. As with the Blueberry, there’s about 3 tablespoons of tea per pouch, and I found that one pouch in 1 quart of water is too strong, so I diluted it with 1 quart of water.

The peach flavor is super awesome! The white tea makes the peach flavor very pronounced.

Thirdly, I cold-brewed the White Peony white loose-leaf tea. I used 2 heaping tablespoons per 2 quarts of water. It was a nice white tea, very mild in flavor. I tried using more tea, but it became more bitter rather than more flavorful, so I think the mild flavor is the norm.

Fourth, I cold-brewed the Jasmine Silver Needle white loose-leaf tea. This was by far my favorite out the teas I purchased. The Jasmine flavor was subtle without being too florally, and the white tea was mild and even a little sweet. The Silver Needle white tea was much smoother than the Jasmine Chun Hao green tea that I usually cold-brew. The Jasmine Silver Needle tea was especially refreshing when I added some lemon to it.

(On a side note, I was looking at the Adagio website and noticed a Jasmine Jin Hao green tea that I’ve never tried cold-brewing yet, so I will order that and try that sometime as a cold-brew.

Next, I cold-brewed the two Oolong teas I had ordered.

The Peach Oolong Iced Tea pouch was WAY too strong when I used one pouch in 2 quarts of water and cold-brewed it, so I cut open the pouch. I brewed 2 Tablespoons of the peach oolong tea in 2 quarts of water, and I also tried 1 Tablespoon of tea in 2 quarts of water, and I found that I preferred the more dilute cold-brew.

I’ve had the peach oolong as a hot-brewed tea before, but I tried it again here to compare with the cold-brewed tea. Hot-brewed, the peach oolong has a strong peach flavor and a rich tea flavor, not as malty as a traditional black tea but definitely a stronger tea flavor than a hot-brewed white tea.

Cold-brewed, the peach oolong becomes more floral and slightly malty in flavor, but with the same peach flavor. I think I prefer the cold-brewed white peach tea over the cold-brewed peach oolong tea, but it might also be dependent on my mood. I definitely prefer the hot-brewed peach oolong over the hot-brewed white peach tea.

Lastly, I cold-brewed the Jade Oolong Iced Tea pouch. Like the Peach Oolong, I found that I preferred to cold-brew 1 Tablespoon of tea (I cut open the pouch) in 2 quarts of water. The cold-brewed Oolong flavor was nice, a little malty, and not tannic at all. It especially tasted good when I added some lychee jelly (like the kind they put in boba tea) and a splash of milk.

Whew! That was a lot of tea. It takes me 2-3 days to finish a pitcher of tea, and I had tried different tea/water ratios for several of the teas, which was why it took me so long to write this review. Bottom line: I loved the Jasmine Silver Needle white tea and will definitely be trying that again. However, it was also one of the pricier teas. My second-favorite was the Peach White iced tea (they sell it loose-leaf, which is what I’d use rather than the iced tea pouches).

Monday, June 26, 2017

"10,000 Reasons" in Japanese

It’s been a couple months since then, but I did the worship music for our church’s Good Friday service. The service is a combination of people from both the English-speaking and Japanese-speaking services, so the worship leader has to sing at least a few songs in Japanese.

I could do five songs, but I decided to sing all of them in Japanese while my other singer (in this case, Captain Caffeine) sang the lyrics in English at the same time. It’s a bit confusing, but I wanted the Japanese congregation to feel very included (which they don’t when the songs are in English).

The service went smoothly—well, I didn’t make any mistakes, at least! I had been practicing the songs in Japanese for weeks before the service.

One of the songs my pianist really likes is “10,000 Reasons”, and while it’s not really a Good Friday song, I thought it would be a good upbeat song to end the service with. So I had to search for the Japanese lyrics for the song and came across this version by Lauren Horii. Not only do the Japanese lyrics smoothly match the melody, but she has a really great voice.

The Japanese-speaking members of the congregation seemed to really like this song. One of the Japanese worship leaders even asked me for the link to the page where I got the lyrics and they sang it for the Japanese service a few weeks later.

We’re all used to hearing this song in English, but the Japanese lyrics struck a really strong chord in me (no pun intended). Lately God has been leading me to connect with my heritage more than I ever did when I was younger, and this song is part of that process.

Singing this song in Japanese made me really want to use all that I have to reach the Japanese people for Christ. Less than 1% of the population is Christian, and most have never heard the gospel except maybe in a religions study class. Their polytheistic culture can sometimes be very unforgiving and despairing. I can feel God’s burden for them, and it has become my burden, too.

So here’s the song on YouTube. Please pray for the non-Christians in Japan, that they will find the hope and salvation of Jesus.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

You are not alone -- "Hills and Valleys"

Lately I was really impacted by a song I happened to hear on Air1 Radio when we were driving to church. The song is “Hills and Valleys” by Tauren Wells. (Man that guy has an awesome voice!) I’m pretty sure I heard the song before Sunday, but this time the song was really catchy and stuck with me, so I bought it on iTunes right away.

The lyrics are simple but so powerful, especially because the one thing I want all my readers to know is that no matter what happens to you, no matter where you’ve gone, Jesus loves you and you are not alone.



I've walked among the shadows
You wiped my tears away
And I've felt the pain of heartbreak
And I've seen the brighter days

And I've prayed prayers to Heaven
From my lowest place
And I have held Your blessings
God, You give and take away

No matter what I have, Your grace is enough
No matter where I am, I'm standing in Your love

On the mountains, I will bow my life
To the One who set me there
In the valley, I will lift my eyes
To the One who sees me there

When I'm standing on the mountain
I didn't get there on my own
When I'm walking through the valley
I know I am not alone

You're God of the hi-hi-hills and valleys
Hi-hi-hills and valleys
God of the hi-hi-hills and valleys
And I am not alone


I've watched my dreams get broken
In You, I hope again
No matter what I know
I'm safe inside Your hands

On the mountains, I will bow my life
To the One who set me there
In the valley, I will lift my eyes
To the One who sees me there

When I'm standing on the mountain
I didn't get there on my own
When I'm walking through the valley
I know I am not alone

You're God of the hi-hi-hills and valleys
Hi-hi-hills and valleys
God of the hi-hi-hills and valleys
And I am not alone


Father, You give and take away
Every joy and every pain
Through it all, You will remain
Over it all

Father, You give and take away
Every joy and every pain
Through it all, You will remain
Over it all

On the mountains, I will bow my life, yeah
In the valley, I will lift my eyes, yeah

On the mountains, I will bow my life
To the One who set me there (to the One who set me there)
In the valley, I will lift my eyes
To the One who sees me there

When I'm standing on the mountain
I didn't get there on my own
When I'm walking through the valley
I know I am not alone (I'm not alone)

You're God of the hi-hi-hills and valleys (yeah)
Hi-hi-hills and valleys
God of the hi-hi-hills and valleys (You're the God of the hills)
And I am not alone

You're God of the hi-hi-hills and valleys (yeah)
Hi-hi-hills and valleys
God of the hi-hi-hills and valleys (You're the God of the hills)
And I am not alone (God of the valleys)


And I will choose to say
Blessed be Your Name
And I am not alone

Thursday, May 04, 2017

Camy's Hot and Cold Brew Fruit Iced Tea

At first I thought this was a stupid recipe to post, but then I thought I’d just post it in case someone hadn’t thought of this and was interested in it.

Captain Caffeine has been known to remark that I’m very picky about my tea, although I don’t consider myself a real connoisseur. I don’t like tea that’s been made in a coffee carafe because I can taste the old coffee and it’s nasty, but I will not scoff at using a Lipton tea bag if there’s nothing else available.

However, as the weather has gotten hotter I’ve been searching for the perfect fruit iced tea to drink. I love those fruit flavored black teas like mango or peach or strawberry. However, I notice that in restaurants, especially, many times the tea is bitter because they oversleep it.

However, I’ve found that in order to get a strong fruit flavor, especially when steeping real dried fruit as opposed to just artificial fruit-flavored tea, I need to use hot water and a long steep time. It’s also generally recommended that you hot-steep fruit and herbal infusions to eliminate any possible bacteria since the fruit isn’t always heated during processing (it depends on the company who makes the infusion).

So I decided to combine hot and cold water steeping to create my perfect black iced tea for this summer.

I steep 2 tablespoons of black tea in 1 quart of cold water for at least 4 hours in the fridge. It can go even longer, 24 hours or longer, and still taste fine—I haven’t been able to oversteep a cold black tea yet. I use a mason jar and throw the tea leaves in directly so they have lots of room to float around.

I then steep 2 heaping tablespoons of my favorite fruit blend infusion in 1 quart of near-boiling water (205 degrees F) in a teapot or a tempered glass pitcher made specifically for steeping hot teas. These fruit infusion blends are non-caffeinated—my favorites are Mango Melange, Wild Strawberry, and Berry Blues from Adagio.com. (If you want a $5 gift certificate for Adagio, let me know and I can email it to you or message you on Facebook.)

I let the fruit infusion steep for at least 15 minutes, but usually closer to an hour since I tend to forget about it. (FYI, I’ve tried a quick rinse of boiling water and then a cold brew of fruit teas, but I just don’t get the bold flavor I like when doing a long hot water steep.)

Then I combine the cold brew tea and the fruit infusion in a pitcher. I typically add the juice of one lemon (to promote good kidney health) but that’s optional if you don’t like the flavor. I pour my cold brew tea from the mason jar through a strainer (to catch the loose leaves) into the pitcher. Then I pour the fruit infusion into the pitcher through the tea strainer. I then refrigerate for an hour or so before drinking.

Mango Melange iced tea with roses from my garden
I like this iced tea because the cold brew black tea is sweet and non-bitter, but with that nice tea flavor. And the fruit flavor is also strong and bold from the hot water steep.

Online articles say that the more expensive white and oolong teas are better for cold brewing, but I haven’t yet tried that. Adagio has actually offered me a gift certificate to buy some of their teas and blog about it, so I intend to try some white tea and blog about that later.

I’ve had decent results when I cold-brew David’s organic whole leaf Darjeeling black tea from Amazon. There’s a slight tannic taste to the tea, but it’s more mild than other cheaper black teas.

I like Adagio’s Ooooh Darjeeling (an unusual oolong tea from Darjeeling) as an iced tea also, but I tend to like the oolong flavor better when I instead hot brew that for 3 minutes and then cool it in the fridge, and I don’t drink that with fruit infusions.

A random note: Another cold brew infusion I really like is Mugicha, which is roasted barley. It’s non-caffeinated, and I buy that on Amazon and enjoy that all summer long.

Monday, March 06, 2017

How can I pray for you?

Photo credit: lalalime.blogspot.com
I asked God to make me a prayer warrior, and I realized I was missing out on the chance to pray for all of you, my online friends! So how can I pray for you? I will try to remember to post this at least once a month so I can pray for you.

Prayer requests can sometimes be private things, so to keep your privacy, I’ve made a form you can fill out that will keep your requests just between you and me. Also please be sure to fill out the form again to update me if you sent me a prayer request in the past. I’d love to hear how you’re doing.

Monday, February 27, 2017

"Mr. Darcy Would Be Appalled" White Soup

I made Regency-era White Soup again, this time an easier way than the original 1811 recipe. It is almost nothing like the elegant cream soup Mr. Darcy would have been used to—it turned out more like a hearty blonde stew. However, I thought it was very tasty.

1 package of beef neck (1 pound) and 1 (cooked) chicken carcass or equivalent (cooked) chicken bones
OR
1 quart beef stock and 1 quart chicken stock

2.5 pounds raw chicken (I used thighs)
1/2 pound bacon, chopped
1/4 - 1/2 pound rice (the original recipe called for 1/4 pound, but I added extra rice to make it more hearty)
2 anchovy fillets, minced
5-6 peppercorns
2 Tb minced fresh basil
1 teaspoon of dried thyme
1 large onion, diced
1 bunch of celery, chopped
(Optional) 2-3 cups of chopped veggies, whatever you have in the fridge. I added 2 cups of chopped kale
1/4 - 1/2 pound raw almonds, pounded fine (I used a Ziplock bag and my meat pounder, and I ended up putting 1/2 pound in, but the original recipe only had 1/4 pound)
(Optional) 1 egg yolk
(Optional) 1 cup half-and-half (The original recipe called for cream, but I thought it was a bit too heavy when I used the cream last time, so I used half-and-half this time. I think I could have even used whole milk and it would have tasted fine, although perhaps without as much richness in mouth-feel as with the half-and-half.)

The last time I made this, I tried to follow the original recipe and simmered it for 4 hours. The recipe had you strain out the solids and only serve the liquid, but I added the solids back in (everything except the bones) to make it more hearty. However, the long simmering had made the chicken and vegetables overcooked. This time, I made stock in the pressure cooker so that I wouldn’t have to simmer the chicken and vegetables so long and they wouldn’t be overcooked.

I made stock in my pressure cooker with the beef neck and the chicken carcass. I’m afraid I didn’t measure the water, I just put the solids in and filled it to the max liquid line. I boiled the water first so I could skim off all the scum from the beef neck, then put the cover on. When the rocker started shaking, I lowered the heat and let it go at a gentle rocking motion for a full 90 minutes. The resulting stock was full of gelatinous goodness. I removed the meat from the beef neck and shredded it into the stock, then stuck the stock in the fridge overnight. Surprisingly, the overnight cooling did not reveal much fat in the stock, barely a scraping layer on top, so while I made the white soup/stew the next day, but I probably could have made it the same day and skipped the overnight in the fridge.

If you use packaged stock, you unfortunately won’t have the meat from the beef neck unless you cook it separately. However, even if you parboil the beef neck in a separate pot to skim off the scum, then rinse it and add it to the soup with the stock, I’m not sure if the cooking time is long enough to make the meat tender enough to eat.

I fried the bacon to release the fat, then sautéed the onion for a couple minutes. I browned the chicken thighs skin side down for a few minutes, then added the other ingredients except for the egg and cream. (If you are adding extra vegetables and want them crisper, omit them at this point and add them later to cook them just until crisp-tender.) I brought the soup to a boil and then let it simmer for one hour, covered. I ended up adding a little more water when it got too thick near the end.

In hindsight, I should have just used a crockpot. While on the stove, I had to stir it every 15 minutes or so (especially near the end) to keep the rice from sticking to the bottom and burning. In a crockpot on low, it would have taken longer but I wouldn’t have had to stir so often, and the chicken would have come out very tender.

I whisked the egg yolk, then tempered it by adding hot soup a little at a time, whisking in between until the yolk was hot enough, then whisked the egg into the soup. Then I stirred in the half and half and added salt and ground pepper to taste.

I tasted it before adding the egg and half-and-half (it was already extremely thick), and thought it actually tasted rather good without them. But I added the last ingredients anyway. I couldn’t tell much of a difference after I added the egg, but the half-and-half added a very decadent, rich finish to the soup. If you’d like, you can omit both and it’ll still be a good stew, and lower in fat.

When eating it for dinner that night, I realized the stew was very similar to Minnesota Wild Rice soup, sans the wild rice. This version was good for wintertime—the wind and rain were howling outside the dining room windows while we ate, and it seemed to taste even better that way.

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