Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Pumpkin Pie Pilgrim

Dearest Blog Readers,

I didn’t post until now because, like I say in the post, my internet gave out. I can’t post from work, and emailing is bothersome (none of the pictures go in the right spots), so here it is. Belated but beloved. Like all of you. What?

Just pretend you’re reading this on Saturday, November 21. That’ll get the time difference about right.


The Saga Begins
Tonight we the Kameoka ALTs (minus Kim due to other plans) and some locals are having Thanksgiving dinner. There will be turkey. There will be gravy. There will be stuffing. There will be mashed potatoes, deviled eggs and green bean casserole. And there just might be edible pumpkin pie.

I say might, because I volunteered to take over the pie-baking when I remembered how much I hate cooking anything that isn’t sweet or Chicken Pesto Pizza. No one else was going to take on the challenge, and no store sold pumpkin pie. I made a commitment. No grocery store here sells canned pumpkin, so for 140 yen each I bought 3 Japanese pumpkins. I told everyone how excited I was. Then I did some research on how to prepare fresh pumpkin for baking. Lastly, before that hellish week (possible including today) when my internet gave out, I pulled up six or seven recipes.

On Monday I woke up with a sore throat and sinus pressure. Between school and taiko I shopped for glass pie pans, sugar, and then went home to make nabe with Margaret. Nabe takes too long to explain, so I won’t. Think non-cheese soup fondue. Taiko lasts from 7:40 to anywhere from 10 to 10:30, so there was no way that I was getting any more done that night.

On Tuesday I went to Kyoto. I was in need of some serious outside-country goods (gaikokumono? It’s a word now, Japan!), and had a deep craving for Mac and Cheese. I went to Media, the largest foreign food supplier in the city (of the two that exist). There, of course, I found canned pumpkin. To bad that I already had pumpkins, but I bought two cans anyway. I even bought cranberry sauce, which I don’t like. But it’s Thanksgiving dinner we’re talking about, so I at least needed to see it sitting in gelatinous lumps, untouched yet festive on the table. Foreign foods cost five million dollars, so I left Media with a bag full of food and a lighter wallet. And I complained when Kraft Mac and Cheese was up to 85 cents in the states. I paid 347 yen for it here! You do the math! Buh-yikes! Listening to “Lester’s Possum Park” solved all my problems. I danced like there was a possum in my pants, indeed.

That’s a lie. The train rides to and from Kyoto rendered me and my fellow travelers into sardines. There was no room for opossum-pants-dancing. I stood over my [reusable, globally conscious] sack of groceries and clutched my purse to my chest. Let me tell you something about standing amidst people who a) just finished a day’s worth of looking worried and drinking tea like it’s water, or b) just finished a post-work happy hour and are boarding the train with flushed faces and tired eyes. It doesn’t smell good. Ocha breath and sake breath smell equally gross. There’s no escape on the trains between 4 and 10 o’clock. Blech and double blech.

On Wednesday I felt like I was going to die any moment, my face hurt so badly. Darn you, illness! I did not go to shodo. Sad face. Almost every pie recipe I found, whether involving fresh or canned pumpkin, calls for some sort of canned milk. And I thought, Dang! If only I were in Thailand. And then I looked for substitutes, and found that they don’t exist. Thanks to a little WiFi time chez Margaret, I found one recipe that didn’t need condensed milk. I saved the page and returned to my apartment. Having borrowed Kim’s blender, I got cracking on the pumpkins:



Blender no worky—mash with fingers (blender was off, never fear, Mom)

I discovered that I had purchased crumb crust for cheescake, and realized that I had no allspice. After her return from shodo, I went to Seiyu with Margaret to find ye olde allspice, and Seiyu had none. I looked for pie crusts and Seiyu had none. I forgot to get ground cloves.

Thursday was great. I felt a million times better, and I got off work a little early and rushed home (which involved waiting 45 minutes for the train, which in turn negating the thrill of a shortened work day) to bake me some pies. I collected my supplies, remembered that I had no crust for my pie, and tried to use the internet to find a
recipe. No dice, partners. No no internet.

Never fear, I ran to Saty (which has a larger baking section than Seiyu) and bought all four tiny pie “dishes” (read: crusts). No
allspice and again I forgot to get ground cloves. I did have whole cloves. Necessity is the mother of invention:

Perhaps it’s not invention, because otherwise how would we have ground cloves in the first place, but I was glad that my mother wasn’t there to watch. Ground cloves are a go.

After mixing everything together and filling one crust, I had to skeedadle to aikido, where I was thrown eight ways to Sunday (is that the expression?). I felt so hard core, kneeling on the freezing tatami mats in the uninsulated dojo, waiting for the large space heater to take effect, and watching my breath fog the air. I did wear thermal underwear the whole time. Don’t judge me. Decision: knee pads. Realization: No matter how many times I practice my mae-ukemi (standing forward roll) alone, if someone is holding onto my arm I’m going to freak out and fall all over the place. Last night was not a night of grace. Oh, the bruises. The good part is that more people are feeling comfortable talking with me. Yes, I am an English teacher. No, I don’t speak Japanese. Yes, I like aikido. Huzzah!

I noticed that Margaret had sent me a message, but didn’t have time to check it on my ride home. Instead I ran up to her apartment on my return from the Night of A Thousand Bruises. Guess what the little gem had for me.

ALLSPICE, baby! The recipe is complete! To the pie baking! Huzzah! Hoorah!

Then this.

The glistening crystal tears pooling at the sorry sight of black ruin, choking all other forms of expression save for an agonized wail into the unfeeling night. Oh, horrors and gloom! Sweet and spicy potential were murdered before their time, smothered by the charcoal of burnt sugar and squash. The agony which did rack my bones!

Just kidding, kind of. Once I peeled back the not-so-delicious burnt top, the inside was pretty edible. However, this is not the kind of pie which should be presented to other people as a source of dessert. It was all wacky-looking. Guess what I would have later for lunch, all by myself. That’s right. Pie. (This was on the following Monday afternoon, while huddled on my futon).

Now on Friday I have baked one pie successfully, another one is a little caramelized on top, and I have one to go. The local for the dinner was changed to an apartment (rather than a random empty room that Nanami's family owns) that belongs to the other seasoned foreigner in the taiko group.

It seemed that more and more people are coming to this event, and I didn't think that three small pies would cut it for twelve people. I was, however out of crust. Margaret had gone to Saty earlier and informed me that they had not yet restocked their pie crusts. What's a girl to do?

That's right. She makes her own dang crust from scratch. And because she doesn't have proper measuring spoons (Dang you, metric system!) she has to approximate and mix until everything seems right. Then she mashes it into the pan, because she doesn't have a rolling pin, and bakes it for ten minutes.

After that the pie mix goes in.

Then it goes in the oven while I make eggnog, citrus tea, and whipped cream at the same time. For serious. If I could have macroevolved that night, I would have grown another arm. Also, I might
 need to invest in another spatula, because cleaning
 the bowl with my face didn't turn out as well as I had anticipated.

After the pie filling had baked, I was made cognizant of an important oversight. The crust should have been completely pre-baked. Oh, it was a tense 40 minutes while I completed the drinks and peered anxiously at the oven. Would the pie burn? Would the crust bake? Would all my efforts render the sweet, spicy, pumpkin smoothness and flaky crust?

Why yes, yes it is. Mind you, youngsters, that I did all this within a three hour period. A three hour tour, a three hour tour…I danced around to MC Hammer in celebration of my personal victory. And then did not deal with the aftermath.

Thanksgiving went swimmingly. Jason carved the turkey that Nanami provided. Phil cut some apples next to my pies. We hyuked it up. We sang Happy Birthday to Margaret (whose birthday was the following Monday), stuffed ourselves until we could stuff no more, and told our Japanese friends how Thanksgiving really goes down. Alltogether, the pilgrimage into Pumpkin Pie Land was a success, and I was able to grant citizenship to a few folks who had never before made the trip.


  1. Excellent post! Those pictures really helped tell the story - well done. I can't believe you made ALL that stuff from scratch. You're a regular Martha Stewart. An irregular chef at a regular restaurant. I don't know, you're something special. I insist that you bake me a pie sometime. You can use prebaked crusts and canned pumpkin, though. And you don't have to grind your own cloves. The secret word is corshom. How does blogspot come up with this stuff??

  2. Wow! That was quite the saga! I'm very impressed that you persevered and created delicious pies. I agree with Gillian--the pictures made the post amazing! I think I'd be crying too at the burnt tops.