Wednesday, December 8, 2004


On Sunday night my neighbor came over to my house. She was wearing an apron and holding a beautiful tray of...something. She gave me the tray and said "homemade" with a big smile, and then left. It was very kind, and I've spent the last couple of days trying to figure out exactly what I received. I think they were sweet potato cookies. It appeared that she mashed up sweet potatoes, put them in a pastry bag, squirted out little decorations into muffin tins, and then baked them (very briefly.) The cookies were still warm when she brought them over.

I'm not sure if this is unique to Japan or not, but sweets aren't sweet here. Cookies and cakes taste like they are missing one key ingredient...sugar. An American friend at work today said he doesn't feel like he's eating dessert unless he's at risk for a diabetic coma. These would not qualify.

The treats from my neighbor, while not exactly sweet, were extremely kind. It's fun to think of ways to reciprocate. I finally ordered a convection oven last night from Williams Sonoma so I can do a little baking for friends. I don't know what took me so long! It was relatively inexpensive, and I'm sure it will be the hit of the town when it comes. Japanese homes do not have regular ovens, so my neighbor most likely "baked" those treats in a toaster oven. And because no one has an oven, anything homemade is rare and special. A few weeks ago I took a pie (a cream-cheese/pumpkin pie that was chilled, not baked) over to these same neighbors, and she later e-mailed me that it was her first homemade present ever. I mentioned to another Japanese friend that I made a pie for my neighbors and she said "I was jealous that your neighbor got your special pie! Please send me your pie!" It's going to be fun to do some baking when I get my oven -- hopefully in time for the neighborhood Christmas party.

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