Sunday, August 17, 2008


I have a neighbor friend who is constantly giving me vegetables and food. I don't know why she is so generous to us but every few days she brings me bags of vegetables or pickles or a simmered dish of some sort. The other day she brought me a box of blueberries.

While Takumi was here his friend kept coming over and bringing me more vegetables from his parents' farm, and another very large box of blueberries. Another neighbor showed up with some sweets the other day too.

If I was a proper Japanese, I would, within a day's time reciprocate with an appropriate gift of something or other, more sweets or pickles of my own or something. Sometimes it is hard to get into this mode because as soon as you reciprocate the original giver will bring you something else to thank you for the reciprocation. You can see how this goes...

I'm very bad at knowing what is a proper thank you present for, let's say a bag of pickles, and probably my neighbors don't expect anything from me anyway because I'm American and don't do all the customs. On top of that I am an extremely lousy cook so I can't just make a little extra of our dinner and take some over. About the only thing I can do (and I don't even do that very well) is bake.

Although citified housewives, those that have lived overseas and some of the younger housewives will have ovens, at least the farm wives around me and housewives of my generation or older don't have a oven in their homes and therefore no one does any baking. Bread, cookies, cakes are all beautifully made in bakeries and are considered bought items. My cookies and cakes (I'm not up to bread) never look as attractive as what one can buy but sometimes they turn out fairly tasty. Sometimes not.

Yesterday I baked 4 blueberry coffee cakes and praying that they were edible, I wrapped them up and took them to my neighbors and to Takumi's friend's mother to thank everyone for their generosity. I never tasted them myself so I don't know if they were any good (that's the trouble with cakes. With cookies I can sample one before I give them away) but everyone was very pleased even though they didn't look so fantastic.

Blueberry Coffee Cake

2 cups flour
1 cup sugar
3 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup margarine
1 cup milk
1 egg
1 cup blueberries

Heat oven to 350 degrees (180 C). Prepare streusel. Beat remaining ingredients. Mix in blueberries. Pour into pan and dot with streusel. Bake 45 minutes. Sprinkle with powdered sugar.

1/2 cup chopped nuts
1/3 cup sugar
1/4 cup flour
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
3 tablespoons margarine

In the evening another neighbor brought over a bag of fresh squid which I did prepare and serve for dinner. I was honored to think my neighbor had enough faith in my Japanese cooking abilities to think I'd even know what to do with squid but Tetsu thought it more likely that she didn't realize that Americans don't fix squid regularly.

I'll have to bake some more coffee cake and take some to her.


Fran said...

The word is out!!! Prepare yourself to bake many Streusels!!!
It looks delicious!

Quilt Pixie said...

while you may not be comfortable taking cooking, baking does seem a wonderfully thoughtful alternative given that people don't bake... And when all else goes by the wayside you could use some of your great sewing as thank yous -- those kitty tissue holders or the like...

Mary said...

This is terrible but I hate to be in anyone's *debt* and would prefer people not do things for me because it stresses me to have to reciprocate. I'm such a loner.

Amanda said...

My mother used to keep packets of Japanese paper napkins, really delicate and beautiful, to give as 'thank you gifts'.

Helen said...

Ha, ha, the only squid I've ever 'fixed' is the kind that comes coated in breadcrumbs and is taken from the freezer and put in the deep fryer. If anyone gave me the 'real' thing I would not be impressed!

Your cke, on the other hand, looks delicious.

The Calico Quilter said...

I think your coffee cake looks delicious. So lucky to have all those blueberries to bake with - I use frozen because the fresh are unbelievably expensive here.

I love to give food at holidays, etc to my neighbors, but you get caught in the reciprocity trap. (Mary, I understand your comment completely!) I don't want the recipients to think they have to scurry around and get me something because I like to bake. And they're all elderly so I hate to make work for them. What to do?

One other thought: I don't know how anyone could get by without an oven! My nephew rented an apartment in Berlin for a while that had a cooktop but not an oven, and he said it wasn't unusual and that even if you were capable of baking at home no one did, they bought everything at the bakery. Well, southern girl that I am, that wouldn't work - you can't get biscuits and cornbread at the bakery!

Shasta said...

I don't feel comfortable with my cooking skills either. I also have a hard time coming up with proper reciprocation. Looks like you did a fantastic job though, the cake looks wonderful.

Chocolate Cat said...

Those blueberry coffee cakes look fantastic, I will have to try your recipe. I often give jars of cookies as a gift although at the moment I am sharing my eggs which are in abundance!!