Delicious Melon Bread

A lot of the recipes that I've been sharing on here recently have been for foods that I enjoyed while living in Canada. This week I figured I'd mix things up a bit by sharing a recipe for a Japanese treat that I enjoy just as much today as the first time I had it way back in 2006: melon bread. Don't let the name fool you. While it might look like a melon, it does not taste like one ... unless you want it to, of course.

Melon bread is one part bread and one part cookie. As a result, making this treat can be a little tricky at times. If the cookie crust is too thick, the bread will be hard and dry while the top is soft. If the cookie is too thin, then it'll crumble right off the bread as you take it off the pan. This is something I had to make a couple of times before getting it just right.

Perfect Melon Bread

Ingredients for the Bread (6 Buns):

  • 175g all-purpose flour
  • 25g cake flour
  • 25g unsalted butter
  • 3g salt
  • 4g Instant dry yeast
  • 1 egg
  • 120g milk
  • 20g sugar

Ingredients for the Cookie Crust:

  • 130 cake flour
  • 40g unsalted butter (at room temperature)
  • 50g granulated white sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 8 drops of vanilla extract

Preparing the Bread:

  1. In a large bowl, mix the ingredients together until consistent.
  2. Knead and roll the mixture into a large ball, then cover it with a damp cloth and let it sit for 45 minutes to an hour. The bread will rise while sitting

Preparing the Cookie:

  1. Mix the flour and butter together until smooth and creamy
  2. Add in the sugar and egg, continuing to mix until the batter thickens
  3. Pour in the vanilla extract
  4. Flatten and put in the fridge for 30 minutes

Now back to the bread ...

  1. Split the bread dough into six pieces and roll them into a ball
  2. Cover the balls with a wet towel and let them sit for 10 minutes

While the bread is setting, take the cookie mixture out of the fridge and cut it into six round, flat pieces about 5mm thick. These will be placed on top of the bread.

Putting it all together ...

  1. Preheat the oven to 175˚C
  2. Put the bread onto a greased cooking pan
  3. Lay the cookie cover on top of the bread, carefully wrapping it around
  4. (Optional) Using the dull-side of a knife, cut a gentle criss-cross pattern about 2mm deep into the cookie
  5. Bake the bread for 18 to 22 minutes

And there you have it. Authentic Japanese melon bread. Be sure to store these in the fridge after cooling, and they have a general shelf life of about 3 to 4 days.

Dolphins, Penguins, Whales, and Millions of Fish

On my very first trip to Japan twelve years ago, Reiko and I had our first date at the Nagoya Aquarium. The day was a great deal of fun and we managed to take several hundred photos, enjoy some food at a patio restaurant called Cat Cafe, and forge memories that can still bring a smile to our face a dozen years later. Both of us really enjoy visiting aquariums and seeing the vast array of life that lives in the oceans. Today the boy had his first opportunity to see with his own eyes some of this diversity.

Looking at Dolphins

This summer has been incredibly hot, with daytime temperatures approaching 40˚C for the entire month of July and the first half of August. Unfortunately, this has made it all but impossible for young children to spend any amount of time outside. Today was one of the first days where the high was forecasted to be "just 33˚C", and we weren't going to waste the opportunity. I had booked the day off work several weeks back with the hope that we could do something as a family with the extra time away from work. As luck would have it, the stars aligned.

One of the many things that Reiko and I would like to pass on to the boy is our fascination with the universe and everything it contains. Visiting aquariums, science centres, museums, and other repositories of knowledge is a great way to whet one's appetite to learn more about a given topic. Today's visit to see dolphins, penguins, whales, and millions of fish most certainly overwhelmed our son, but only because there was just so much new to absorb. New places. New sounds. New sights. A child's mind is like a sponge in that it can absorb a great deal very quickly, yet there are limits when the abstractions our mind uses to make sense of the world around us have not fully developed.

Fortunately, today will not be the only day we'll visit an aquarium.

Better Granola

Granola is one of my favourite "breakfast desserts" that can be enjoyed any time of day at any time of year. Back when I was still able to count my age using just fingers and thumbs, granola was one of those rare treats that my parents would bring home from the supermarket when someone in the house needed a little help with the bathroom1. Unfortunately, in a house with six kids, a large box of granola will disappear in less time than a single breakfast requires. When I moved into my own home in the late 90s, I would always keep some granola in the house as a treat and happy in the knowledge that it would still be in the cupboard when I got home. Twenty years later, granola is still a regular cereal in the home. However, with the boy quickly growing up to the point where he will start to enjoy the wonder that is muesli, I'd really like to find a cheaper alternative to the store-bought bags that currently sell for 1円 per gram.

Fortunately, there are lots of great recipes for people to make their own granola at home.

Yummy Granola Up Close

For this recipe, we'll make some "loose" granola, as it's my favourite way to have it. There are dry ingredients and wet ingredients and, by the time everything is said and done, there will be a dry end product. So let's see what we need.

Dry Ingredients:

  • 360 g rolled oats (not steel cut or quick cooking)
  • 60g coconut flakes
  • 100g raw nuts (sliced almonds, chopped pecans, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds)
  • 100g chopped, dried fruit (apricots, apple, pineapple, and raisins are a good mix)
  • a bit of your favourite spice (for me, it's cinnamon all the way. Some may prefer pumpkin spice or gingerbread mix.)
  • a pinch of salt

Wet Ingredients

  • 80ml maple syrup
  • 65g coconut oil
  • 7ml vanilla

Instructions

  • Preheat your oven to 150˚C
  • Combine the dried ingredients — excluding the dried fruit — in a large bowl
  • Combine the wet ingredients in a medium-sized bowl
  • Combine the wet and dry ingredients and do a quick taste test to ensure it's just the right amount of sweet
  • Spread the combined granola mixture on a baking tray and bake for about 35, until it's a nice golden colour
  • Stir in the dried fruit and let it cool
  • Store in an airtight container when finished

I've used this recipe three times in the last few months, and it tastes better than anything from the big companies. More than this, a kilogram of granola costs about 200円 to make here in Japan, which is a fifth the price we pay at the supermarket. While I'm not averse to spending money on things I enjoy, wilfully choosing to pay huge markups to large organisations is something that most of us would like to avoid.


  1. why they didn't choose bran, I don't know

Eleven Years

On August 2nd, 2007 at 10:00pm my long trek from Vancouver to Kakamigahara came to an end. It was the first of many steps along the road to becoming a permanent resident in Japan. Time certainly flies, as it doesn't feel like I've been in this country for more than a quarter of my life.

Gifu Station

Living in Asia for over a decade has taught me a lot about people and a lot about myself. I look forward to looking back in another couple of years to see how much more has been learned.

0.6% Complete

Earlier today while working on a couple of quick functions for the upcoming release of 10Cv5, I realised that today marks the 6th year since the project officially launched! Quite a bit has happened in the intervening years and every few weeks there's been something new to learn and adapt to. What hasn't changed, though, is the underlying mission of 10Centuries: to give anyone in the world the opportunity to share things they choose online for a thousand years or more. A lot of people — including family members — have scoffed at this idea, yet here we are with 0.6% of the mission complete. Every 24 hours we're one day closer to fulfilling the original promise.

v5 Social Source Code

One of the most common questions people ask is how I plan on keeping this service online and operational for 1,000 consecutive years given how few creations of humanity survive a handful of generations, let alone a millennium. While this is a valid question, it's also a boring one that involves technobabble that most people really couldn't care less about. The question I wish more people would ask is not how, but why.

Why even attempt to do something like this? Why is there no tracking on the site? Why allow free accounts? Why invest so much personal time and money into this? Why should anybody even sign up?

Of all the questions people with doubts can ask about this service or the motivations behind its existence, very few venture towards the why. Ultimately the reason is simple: we all deserve something better. The driving philosophies and ethical decisions that have gone into 10Centuries may not be the best, and I guarantee that it likely will never be. What I can hope to accomplish with this project, aside from being an online repository of human experience for ten complete centuries, is to encourage people to take their digital sovereignty a little more seriously and leave something for future generations. There are a million different places online where people can share their everyday experiences, but very few do it with an altruistic bent. By setting an example, I hope to encourage others to consider the future, respect people's right to privacy, and give back wherever possible so that the world is a little bit better at the end of each day.

Blank Pages

For what feels like weeks, I've been unable to complete a single blog post. It's not for lack of trying, but it is for a lack of coherence. Regardless of the time or effort put into the project, the end result just isn't worth sharing with the world. I'd like to follow up with "and that's fine" ... but it's not. Not for me.

Blank Page

In the space of three days, four people have asked me to spend less time working: a friend, my wife, and two senior-level colleagues at the day job. At about the same time, some of the philosophical concepts I've been studying have started to click as the ever-present cognitive chatter turned to the matter of introspection and analysis. Despite all the good that has happened this year, I have found myself lacking enthusiasm for my work. In all seriousness, despite the mountain of tasks in front of me, I've been bored out of my mind.

This is a good thing, though. That boredom allowed me to think through some questions that have followed me around for years without answer. What's interesting is not so much the specific queries themselves, but that I may have found an answer to one of the more fundamental questions: What do I want?

Everyone is responsible for answering this question as it applies to their life, and the answers will hopefully evolve over time as people accomplish goals and experience life-changing events. For some the answer could be something as simple as "money" or "fame" or "a house with a two-car garage". For me, I thought for a long time the answer was money. Later I thought the answer was problem solving. More recently I thought it was recognition. But none of these have brought me happiness or personal satisfaction for very long. Once achieved to some degree, these things bore me. Money is important, but the quest to earn more does not interest me. Problem solving is one of the few things I'm actually good at, but what value is there in solving problems that may not need solving? Recognition is a wonderful thing for the ego, but it can be incredibly stressful to try and maintain whatever it is that brought a person recognition.

At some point during the day on Monday, something in my head just clicked and I knew what I wanted. The previous answers I had for the question all suffered from the fact that they were external validators. Other people needed to be part of whatever equation that might result in happiness. Just like building a house on sand, this can lead to some pretty weak foundations. Everybody is ultimately responsible for their own happiness. It cannot be bequeathed. This led me to understand what it was that I needed to do.

The thing I really want is time. Time to read. Time to play with my son. Time to walk Nozomi. Time to bake some obscure recipe from a book published before I was born. Time to spend with the handful of people I count as family and friends. Time to write. Time to be bored.

How will I get this? Priorities need to change. Expectations must be better communicated. Realities will be accommodated. For too long I've tried to fight the clock in order to squeeze as much productivity out of every minute. This can certainly lead to a whole lot of tangible results, but not always the ones we want. I've worked incredibly hard over the last two decades to build the life that I am incredibly fortunate to have. It's time to enjoy it while I can.

Strawberry Jam

Way back in the 1990s my mum started making jam at home. Part of the reason was due to the rising cost of the sugary toast-topping, and the other part was the self-reliance bit. If a person can make their own jam, after all, why make the trip into town to give companies more of our hard-earned money? Also, with 8 people in the house, a "large" jar of jam would never last more than a couple of days. Making it at home just made logical sense.

Strawberry Jam

The boy is almost 18 months old now, and he's starting to enjoy a broader range of foods. That said, we're not too keen on getting him addicted to refined sugar just yet. Most supermarket jams, as everybody knows, is just packed with refined sugar. So I was quite happy while flipping through some old cookbooks to find a recipe for strawberry jam that used something different. In fact, the recipe is so simple, I wish I had found it a decade ago!

Ingredients:

  • strawberries, fresh or frozen
  • coconut sugar
  • lemon juice

Yep. I kid you not. That's all we'll need for this recipe. The amount is completely adjustable based on the following formula: for every 160g of strawberries you'll need 30g of coconut sugar and half a teaspoon of lemon juice.

The jar in the photo holds just over 300g of strawberries which equates to 300g of strawberries, 56g of coconut sugar, and a teaspoon (5 ml) of lemon juice.

Directions:

  • Put the strawberries into a large pot with a wide mouth and set the heat to medium high. Once the berries have started to show some juice, add the coconut sugar and lemon juice.
  • As the berries cook, mash them with a potato masher to make them smaller. Stir frequently to prevent burning. The jam does bubble quite a bit and can splash, so be ready.
  • Continue to cook for 15~20 minutes, until jam is firm and spreadable. You can take a bit of jam out and smear it on a cold plate to see if it remains firm. Keep cooking and testing until it's at the consistency you like.
  • Once done, transfer the jam into sterilised jars. So long as the jam will be fully eaten in a week or two, you will probably not need to can it. One of the goals of making this jam is for "freshness", so smaller batches can be your friend here.

And that's that! Tomorrow will be the big test. Will the boy like it or not?

Thinking Too Much of Work

Burnout is a very normal part of my professional life as it is something that has come aruond every 18 to 24 months since high school. I get into periods of high output creativity that sparks a great deal of work and motivates me to push hard to eke out as much as I possibly can. Unfortunately, pushing hard often results in pushing too hard, which leads to exhaustion. Exhaustion leads to reduced creativity. Reduced creativity leads to a loss of motivation. From here, I can either slip into a self-defeating, seemingly nihilistic attitude towards my efforts or extreme indifference ... which is quite similar to other1.

Earlier this year I was given the opportunity to be part of a project at the day job that involves dozens of colleagues from offices across the globe. The project is ultimately in line with the sort of things that I tend to do within a corporate IT department, but there's just something about this project that does not give me the satisfaction that I typically look for in my work. Yes, the people I'm working with are quite smart, meaning I can learn quite a bit while coordinating with them. The ultimate goal of the work is good for everyone within the organisation as well as our students. The payoff at the end of the project2 is also quite good. But I've lost interest.

All the Thinking. None of the Doing.

Some mild introspection helped me come to the conclusion that I'm likely worn out because I'm doing a lot of thinking, but very little doing. When creating things, a person will often alternate between the two, with a good deal of thought up front, then lots of activity with moderate amounts of thinking up until a task or sub-task is complete. Then repeat. This variation of work allows a person — such as me — to remain interested in something longer. With the current project, I'm not in a development nor data management role anymore. Instead, I am writing reports, outlining plans, defining requirements, and following up with people for as many as 14 hours a day. A vastly different set of skills where the feeling of accomplishment is much harder to achieve. When the start of every day's task list looks the same, how does one find the motivation?

In an effort to shake myself out of the mental rut, I've started to invest a bit more time during the day into 10Cv5. The core elements of the system are mostly complete and now what I really need is a series of tools that will allow people to interact with the service. This means native applications, not web apps. As these will be the first applications I've written in two years, dusting off the mental cobwebs should be good to help rekindle the creative energies that seem to have dwindled in recent months.

Burn out usually costs me between three and six months of time. Perhaps by switching things up a bit and not thinking so much about the day job, this round of negativity can be reduced to just a handful of weeks.

Bootnote

While it's true that a whole lot of good has happened in my life the last few years, mental exhaustion and a loss of motivation cannot be avoided. These things happen, particularly when people are sleep deprived or feeling constantly pressured for time.


  1. Some people don't call this burn out, but pedants are often as fun to communicate with as conservative religious dogmatists. Burnout is typically defined as a state of chronic stress that leads to physical and emotional exhaustion, cynicism and detachment, and feelings of ineffectiveness and lack of accomplishment.
  2. It's not a financial payoff, but a career-development milestone. From here it's completely within the realm of possibility that I move into senior positions for the rest of my time at the day job.

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