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more shaking & some baking

April 8, 2011

Today marks four weeks since the earthquake, and I’m still giving updates on how long it’s been. I’m sure eventually that will stop, hopefully after this week, but the fact that it’s been four weeks just somehow seems like it should get mentioned.

I’d planned on starting this post by pointing out that after four solid weeks the aftershocks had noticeably calmed down in frequency and intensity, and go on to say that the feeling of constant movement was just a memory now. Of course last night at about 11:30 pm, just as Eric and I had finished up the last episode of a Farscape 3-parter we had another one. At magnitude 7.4 off the coast of Sendai it was the worst since the big one, actually.

When the clock hit 2:46 this week, I was finishing up lunch while catching up on the latest quake news.

About 10 seconds before the shock hit us, our iPhones went off as the yurekuru call app (that translates roughly into ‘tremor coming’) registered the quake and sent out an alert. The app has been hit or miss thus far, with some alerts coming a few minutes after a smaller quakes, but this time it was spot on. It let us know right before the tremor reached Tokyo that a shindo 6-weak had struck somewhere in Miyagi-ken, and we were totally alert when it hit.

It was a long one, and our apartment shook, trembled, and then gently rocked for at least a 1-2 minutes. Thankfully, it wasn’t so bad by the time it got to us (I believe it rated just about shindo 3 in our area), but it did knock my newly acquired coffee from the top of the fridge to the floor. Along with the big quake and the Shizuoka aftershock that first Wednesday, this was the only time we have had anything fall in our apartment.

Of course, this derailed our plans to go straight to bed after finishing up Farscape. Eric managed to head to bed after about 20 minutes of NHK and twitter watching, but I stayed up a fair bit longer watching footage of the shaking and waiting to see if the predicted 1-2 m tsunami would actually hit. The warning was eventually lifted about 90 minutes post-quake, but it seems that this one took out the power to three entire prefectures in Tohoku, as well as part of another. As if they weren’t going through enough up there.

As of the current time I think some power has been restored, but there are still large areas that remain in total black out. I ended up getting roughly 2-3 hours of sleep after all that.

Lunch was avocado, egg & chicken salad on an english muffin & a cucumber, tomato, radish & spinach salad.

In tangentially related news, earlier on Thursday evening I met with one of my private students for a lesson. This particular student is a psychiatrist here in Tokyo, and the hospital he works for has been regularly sending rotating teams of doctors and medical staff up to the affected areas to help support local medical staff. He told me the previous week that if all went according to plan he would be headed to Kesennuma the following Friday (today) as part of a small volunteer psych team to help out at a local hospital for three or four days.

Early in the day, as we emailed to finalize our meeting time, he confirmed that things were still on track and his team was making preparations to head out the following afternoon. I was filled with warm and fuzzy feelings of pride at knowing someone who was personally involved with the relief effort, but I have to admit that part of me also felt the weight of helplessness a little more strongly than usual as well. So I decided to try contributing in my own way: by baking.

My decision to follow through with the baking idea came a bit late, and I only had about three hours in which to get home and get everything done. But despite the time constraints I still managed to crank out three different recipes, package them, and make it out the door in time for to meet my student for his private lesson. I stuck to battle tested recipes that I know turn out well, and chose to make banana bread, pumpkin cherry loaf, and chocolate chip cookies.

Each of the quick-bread recipes yielded two medium-sized loaves, and I ended up with about 40 smallish cookies. With my tiny Japanese oven limiting the number of items that could be baked at once, I had to work in about five rounds to get it all done, and did not pull the final loaf out until just 10 minutes before I had to run out the door.

Since I was concerned about space in their car (they’ll be bringing medications and such along with them, as well as whatever they need to get through the weekend) I only sent half what each recipe yielded, and kept the remainder to bring to weekend hanami here in Tokyo. I have to admit that in retrospect I sort of wish I’d sent more.

Just to make it clear, it’s highly unlikely that any of items these will actually make it to any of the survivors of the quake. I would like nothing more than to know that something I baked maybe brought a smile to the face of one of the locals, but I am not under the assumption that this will happen. My student’s team is not going up there to volunteer with the evacuees. They are going there to work in a hospital and provide support to local staff, and they will not have the time or resources to do anything else. I’m fairly certain that my baked goods will most likely end up feeding my student’s team as they do their work. Perhaps they might share with some local med staff, but this is not guaranteed.

Of course it would make me feel pretty awesome if I was able to help the survivors directly, but the work that my student is doing is important and admirable, and I’m glad I have a chance to support that in some small way. Supplies are scarce up there, and dealing with the damage in person is likely to be hard on them, so I know anything I do to help them out will be appreciated.

My much-loved banana bread/muffin recipe was posted previously and can be found here.

I’ll be interested to hear what he has to say next week after he returns. In the meantime here is one of the recipes I made to send to Kesennuma.

This was originally a muffin recipe, but I opted divide the recipe into two medium-small sized loaf pans this time for portability and convenience once they reach the disaster area. I also made sure to pre-cut the loaves before wrapping them in foil so the volunteers won’t have to worry about finding something to cut with. The first time I made this I used cranberries, but the dried cherries worked equally well. You could also probably go with nuts or chocolate chips, and it works perfectly plain as well.

Pumpkin Cherry Muffins (or loaf)

180 g whole wheat pastry flour
1 tsp baking powder
240 g canned pumpkin
200 g raw sugar
75 g rice bran or other neutral oil
2 large eggs
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ginger
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
160 g dried cherries (optional)

Preheat oven to 180°C (350°F) and butter and flour a muffin or loaf pan (for loaf pans use one large or two medium-sized pans).

Sift the flour and baking powder together into a bowl and set aside.

Add the pumpkin, sugar, oil, eggs, spices, salt, and baking soda to a medium bowl and whisk until fully combined and smooth. Add the flour mixture in two batches and mix until just incorporated. Stir in the dried cherries, and pour into the prepared muffin or loaf pan(s).

Bake for 25 minutes for muffins or 45 minutes for loaf, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Be careful not to over-bake or it will end up on the dry side. Cool in the pan for 5 minutes, and then remove to a wire rack to finish cooling.

Makes 12 muffins, one large loaf, or two medium-small loaves.

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