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DECK THE HOLIDAY'S: August 2013

Thursday, August 29, 2013

AOBON FROM OKINAWA, JAPAN!!







   Obon or just Bon is a Japanese Buddhist custom to honor the departed (deceased) spirits of one's ancestors. This Buddhist custom has evolved into a family reunion holiday during which people return to ancestral family places and visit and clean their ancestors' graves, and when the spirits of ancestors are supposed to revisit the household altars. It has been celebrated in Japan for more than 500 years and traditionally includes a dance, known as Bon-Odori.
   The festival of Obon lasts for three days; however its starting date varies within different regions of Japan. When the lunar calendar was changed to the Gregorian calendar at the beginning of the Meiji era, the localities in Japan reacted differently and this resulted in three different times of Obon. "Shichigatsu Bon" (Bon in July) is based on the solar calendar and is celebrated around 15 July in eastern Japan (Kantō: areas such as TokyoYokohama and the Tohoku region), coinciding with Chūgen.












  "Hachigatsu Bon" (Bon in August) is based on the solar calendar, is celebrated around the 15th of August and is the most commonly celebrated time. "Kyu Bon" (Old Bon) is celebrated on the 15th day of the seventh month of the lunar calendar, and so differs each year. "Kyu Bon" is celebrated in areas like the northern part of the Kantō region, ChūgokuShikoku, and the Southwestern islands. These three days are not listed as public holidays but it is customary that people are given leave.

Origin

   Obon is a shortened form of Ullambana. It is Sanskrit for "hanging upside down" and implies great suffering.  The Japanese believe they should ameliorate the suffering of the "Urabanna".
Bon Odori originates from the story of Maha Maudgalyayana (Mokuren), a disciple of the Buddha, who used his supernatural powers to look upon his deceased mother. He discovered she had fallen into the Realm of Hungry Ghosts and was suffering.  Greatly disturbed, he went to the Buddha and asked how he could release his mother from this realm. Buddha instructed him to make offerings to the many Buddhist monks who had just completed their summer retreat, on the fifteenth day of the seventh month. The disciple did this and, thus, saw his mother's release. He also began to see the true nature












 of her past unselfishness and the many sacrifices that she had made for him. The disciple, happy because of his mother's release and grateful for his mother's kindness, danced with joy. From this dance of joy comes Bon Odori or "Bon Dance", a time in which ancestors and their sacrifices are remembered and appreciated. See also: Ullambana Sutra.
   As Obon occurs in the heat of the summer, participants traditionally wear yukata, or light cotton kimonos. Many Obon celebrations include a huge carnival with rides, games, and summer festival food like watermelon.
   The festival ends with Toro Nagashi, or the floating of lanterns. Paper lanterns are illuminated and then floated down rivers symbolically signaling the ancestral spirits' return to the world of the dead. This ceremony usually culminates in a fireworks display.











Bon Odori

   Bon Odori, meaning simply Bon dance is a style of dancing performed during Obon. Originally a Nenbutsu folk dance to welcome the spirits of the dead, the style of celebration varies in many aspects from region to region. Each region has a local dance, as well as different music. The music can be songs specifically pertinent to the spiritual message of Obon, or local min'yo folk songs. Consequently, the Bon dance will look and sound different from region to region. Hokkaidō is known for a folk-song known as "Soran Bushi." The song "Tokyo Ondo" takes its namesake from the capital of Japan. "Gujo Odori" in Gujō, Gifu prefecture is famous for all night dancing. "Goshu Ondo" is a folk song from Shiga prefecture. Residents of the Kansai area will recognize the famous "Kawachi ondo." Tokushima in Shikoku is very famous for its "Awa Odori," or "fool's dance," and in the far south, one can hear the "Ohara Bushi" of Kagoshima.











   The way in which the dance is performed is also different in each region, though the typical Bon dance involves people lining up in a circle around a high wooden scaffold made especially for the festival called a 'yagura'. The yagura is usually also the bandstand for the musicians and singers of the Obon music. Some dances proceed clockwise, and some dances proceed counter-clockwise around the yagura. Some dances reverse during the dance, though most do not. At times, people face the yagura and move towards and away from it. Still some dances, such as the Kagoshima Ohara dance, and the Tokushima Awa Odori, simply proceed in a straight line through the streets of the town.












   The dance of a region can depict the area's history and specialization. For example, the movements of the dance of the Tankō Bushi (the "coal mining song") of old Miike Mine in Kyūshū show the movements of miners, i.e. digging, cart pushing, lantern hanging, etc. All dancers perform the same dance sequence in unison.
There are other ways in which a regional Bon dance can vary. Some dances involve the use of different kinds of fans, others involve the use of small towels called tenugui which may have colorful designs. Some require the use of small wooden clappers, or "kachi-kachi" during the dance. The "Hanagasa Odori" of Yamagata is performed with a straw hat that has been decorated with flowers.














   The music that is played during the Bon dance is not limited to Obon music and min'yo; some modern enka hits and kids' tunes written to the beat of the "ondo" are also used to dance to during Obon season. The "Pokémon Ondo" was used as one of the ending theme songs for the anime series in Japan.
   The Bon dance tradition is said to have started in the later years of the Muromachi period as a public entertainment. In the course of time, the original religious meaning has faded, and the dance has become associated with summer.
  To celebrate O-Bon in Okinawa, the eisa drum dance is performed instead.











Celebrations outside Japan

Argentina

   In Argentina, the Bon Festival is celebrated by Japanese communities during the summer of the southern hemisphere. The biggest festival is held in Colonia Urquiza, in La Plata Partido. It takes place on the sports ground of the La Plata Japanese School. The festival also includes taiko shows and typical dances.

 Brazil

   Bon Odori Festival is celebrated every year in many Japanese communities all over Brazil, as Brazil is home to the largest Japanese population outside of Japan. São Paulo is the main city of the Japanese community in Brazil, and also features the major festival in Brazil, with street odori dancing and matsuri dance. It also features Taiko and Shamisen contests. And, of course, this festival is also a unique experience of a variety of Japanese food & drinks, art and dance.










Malaysia

   In Malaysia, Bon Odori Festivals are also celebrated every year in Penang and at the Matsushita Corp Stadium in Shah AlamSelangor. This celebration, which is a major attraction for the state of Selangor, is the brain child of the Japanese Expatriate & Immigrant's Society in Malaysia. In comparison to the celebrations in Japan, the festival is celebrated on a much smaller scale in Penang and Selangor, and is less associated with Buddhism and more with Japanese culture. Held mainly to expose locals to a part of Japanese culture, the festival provides the experience of a variety of Japanese food and drinks, art and dance.

United States and Canada

   The "Bon season" is an important part of the present-day culture and life of Hawaii. Bon Odori festivals are also celebrated in North America, particularly by Japanese-Americans or Japanese-Canadians affiliated with Buddhist temples and organizations. Buddhist Churches of America (BCA) temples in the U.S. typically celebrate Bon Odori with both religious Obon observances and traditional Bon Odori dancing around a yagura. Many temples also concurrently hold a cultural and food bazaar providing a variety of cuisine and art, also to display features of Japanese culture and Japanese-American history.  Performances of taiko by both amateur and professional groups have












 recently become a popular feature of Bon Odori festivals.   Bon Odori festivals are usually scheduled anytime between July and September. Bon Odori melodies are also similar to those in Japan; for example, the dance Tankō Bushi from Kyūshū is also performed in the U.S. In California, due to the diffusion of Japanese immigration, Bon Odori dances also differ from Northern to Southern California, and some are influenced by American culture, such as "Baseball Ondo".

BLUEBERRY MUFFIN COOKIES!!

Blueberry Muffin Cookies

I should clarify, that’s a blueberry muffin cookie with a few raspberries. I added the raspberries for a bright shot of berry tartness that the blueberries alone could not provide. Remember awhile back when I was flipping classic desserts into cookies, eg. Cinnamon Roll CookiesBanana Bread Cookies,Coffee Cake CookiesPecan Pie CookiesCarrot Cake Cookies. I went back to that with this one. Keep reading to find out the two key ingredients to turning a classic blueberry muffin into blueberry muffin cookie.






And no, these are not muffin tops . The crumb is softer and these Blueberry Muffin Cookies are missing the hardy dome exterior of a muffin top. But I did keep the streusel topping for a little bit of crunch and an extra added kick of sweetness. To give the body a more cake-like texture I added in some cottage cheese. Oh, yes I did. I could have used sour cream and you can too if you don’t have cottage cheese on hand, but I prefer the cottage cheese as it seems to provide more moisture and a denser crumb.






So aside from the cottage cheese, you might be wondering what is up with the cornstarch in the cookie. The cornstarch not only provides a soft chewy element to the cookie, but it also helps to keep the dough together especially if you are using frozen blueberries since they will sweat moisture into the cookie dough while waiting between baking sheets.
A few notes:
  • Use fresh or frozen berries, the result is minimally different. But to save you from asking, I preferred using fresh berries, since more of them burst open during baking.
  • To shortcut this recipe skip the streusel topping for some chunky raw sugar. That way you can still have a crunchy textural contrast with a little less fuss – just brush the tops of the cookie dough with some heavy cream and sprinkle coarse raw sugar on top.
  • Make sure the cottage cheese is completely pureed or else you will have white chunks of cottage cheese in your cookies.

BLUEBERRY MUFFIN COOKIES

Makes about 3 dozen 2inch cookies | Preparation: Heat oven to 375 degrees F and line bake sheet with parchment paper.
Ingredients:
Streusel Topping
  • 1 cup all purpose flour
  • 1 cup light brown sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 8 tablespoons of cold unsalted butter, cut into pieces

Muffin Cookie
  • 10 tablespoon of unsalted butter, melted
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup dark brwon sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1/3 cup of cottage cheese, pureed
  • 1 1/2 tablespoon cornstarch
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 cups all purpose flour
  • 4 oz raspberries
  • 6 oz blueberries (fresh or frozen)


Instructions:
To make streusel
  1. Place flour, brown sugar, cinnamon and salt in a bowl and whisk to combine. Add cold butter into bowl and using a pastry blender or a fork cut butter into dry mixture until it resembles small pellets. Set aside.


To make muffin cookies
  1. Place butter in a small saucepan over medium low heat and heat until butter becomes brown and smells nutty. Remove from heat and let cool for 5 minutes.
  2. Place granulated sugar and dark brown sugar in a stand mixer bowl fitted with a whisk attachment and beat until blended. Add in melted butter and beat until combined. Add in egg and beat on medium high until mixture becomes light and opaque, about 3-4 minutes. Add in vanilla and pureed cottage cheese and beat until combined.
  3. Change whisk attachment to paddle attachment.
  4. Sift together cornstarch, baking powder, baking soda and salt, then add this mixture into wet mixture and beat until combined. Turn mixer to low and gradually add in flour and beat to combine. Add in raspberries and give mixer two to three turns to crush raspberries into the dough. Turn off mixture and fold in blueberries. Dough will be sticky.
  5. Drop two tablespoons on parchment lined bake sheet. Bake one tray at a time for 8 minutes. Remove cookie filled bake sheet and heavily sprinkle streusel on top of cookies and gently press onto cookie, about 1 tablespoon per cookie (don’t worry if it spills onto the bake sheet). Return baking sheet to oven and bake for another 4 minutes. Remove from oven and let cookies cool on bake sheet for 5 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

TIPS FOR MAKING BETTER CAKE POPS!!

8 TIPS FOR MAKING THE PERFECT CAKE POP

As many of you know I get asked to make cake pops for various events. After having some major pop catastrophes and trying to make the best of the rolled cake pop method, I knew there just had to be a better way.
I had originally thought if hand-rolled pops were good enough for Starbucksthen they must be easy enough to make. Wrong. Though I did find ways to make it slightly more successful, my cake pop grave yard was growing with sad little cake babies that had bitten the dust and slid off sticks into the candy, while drying, after being decorated… you name a point in the process and I had pops sliding off sticks. Plus, some people didn’t care for the extreme sweetness that came from the additional frosting. The rolled method really has the texture of cake batter rather than actual cake. The softness was part of the problem. I knew I needed something more firm to hold up on the stick. So when I was asked to do the cake pops for my sweet friend Kelly’s baby shower, I knew I needed to find a solution.
Enter the Cake Pop Pan… I had seen these before but I wasn’t sure about them. I kinda thought it was a gimmick. It was not a gimmick… it was a GODSEND! These cake pop pans have saved my life. Seriously. No more rolling, scooping, measuring, freezing, shaping, rolling more, and ruining cake pops! Each pop comes out perfectly round. I picked these bad boys up from Target for $16 each. You can also buy them online.
Here’s how to make fool proof cake pops!
TIP 1: GREASE AND FLOUR THE PAN.
Definitely grease and flour the cake pop pan before you pour the batter. This will help the cake balls pop out easily. You want perfect little cake balls, not ones that are all mangled from you trying to pry them out with a knife. Do not skip this step, trust me!
TIP 2: CONSIDER YOUR BATTER
Use a batter color that contrasts with your candy coating. This gives a really nice effect when your guests bite into the pops. I used red velvet batter to match the hot pink candy coating. Also, the recipe I used called for 1/3 cup oil and 2 eggs. I adjusted it by only adding 1/4 cup oil and 3 eggs. This made a more firm cake ball that held up better on the sticks. One cake mix made 60 pops exactly.
TIP 3: FULL CUPS MAKE FULL POPS
Fill the bottom cups completely full. I know with cupcakes and such you might be used to filling the pan only 2/3 of the way full but that is not the case with these pops. You want the pops to rise and fill the top half completely so you end up with a nice round ball. If you fill them too shallow you will end up with lop-sided pops. Bake the pops for about 15-18 minutes.
TIP 4: LET THEM COOL
After you have baked the pops, let the cool COMPLETELY before attempting to remove them from the pan. Don’t even take the top pan off. Just leave them as they are and let them cool in the fridge for about 20 minutes. This will save you from having them split in half when you try to open the pan.
Once the pops have cooled, gently remove them from the pan and place them all in a bowl or on a plate. You will notice that they have a slight edge to them.
TIP 5: SHAPE THE POPS
You’ll want to gently cut off the edges using a serrated knife so the balls are perfectly round. Don’t cut too deep, just slide your knife gently around the circumference of each ball, shaving off the excess cake.
Now that the cake balls are prepared, its time to decorate!
TIP 6: USE SHORTENING
Add PLENTY of shortening to your melted candy. I added about 6-7 teaspoons for one package of candy. If you add more candy, add more shortening. You want a nice thin candy coating. If the coating is too thick it will be heavy and the pops are more likely to slide off the sticks. Also ensure that your candy stays hot and melted. If it begins to thicken it will cause problems. If you are using a double boiler like I am (two pyrex measuring cups) be sure to keep freshly boiled water on hand and refresh the water about every five minutes. Another option is to invest in a candy melter available at Bed Bath & Beyond or Michael’s.
TIP 7: PREPARE THE STICKS
Poke holes in the pops using the stick, then drop a little candy into the hole. Dip the stick into the candy and then back into the hole you created. This will give you double glue. It really helps! Let the candy and sticks cool and harden before moving on. I like to use a styrofoam piece to hold them.
TIP 8: GET IN AND GET OUT
And now for the moment of truth. Dipping the pops. If you have done all the previous steps correctly you should be able to dip the pops successfully without having them slide into the candy. I was so nervous trying it this way, but it really worked! Out of 60 pops I only had 2 fall into the candy, and that was because I had allowed the candy to cool and thicken.
You can do this! Don’t swirl around. Just get in a get out. Make sure that you have enough candy to completely submerge the pops without hitting the bottom. You may need to add more candy after dipping several pops. I promise it will work if you follow these tips. Look at this picture. That is a real cake pop dipped all the way into the candy! Gently tap the pop on the edge of the bowl until no more big blops of candy come off. Spin and tap. Don’t do this for too long, or too hard. If you knock off too much candy you will have spots where the cake shows through. Just a few taps should work.


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WORLD SAUNA CHAMPIONSHIPS FROM HEINOLA, FINLAND!




   The World Sauna Championships were an annual endurance contest held in HeinolaFinland, from 1999 to 2010. They originated from unofficial sauna-sitting competitions that resulted in a ban from a swimming hall in Heinola. The Championships were first held in 1999 and grew to feature contestants from over 20 countries. Sauna bathing at extreme conditions is a severe health risk: all competitors competed at their own risk, and had to sign a form agreeing not to take legal action against the organizers. Notably, the Finnish Sauna Society strongly opposed the event.
After the death of one finalist and near-death of another during the 2010 championship, the organizers announced that they would not hold another.  This followed an announcement by prosecutors in March that the organizing committee would not be charged for negligence, as their investigation revealed that the contestant who died may have used painkillers and ointments that were forbidden by the organizers.





   The championships began with preliminary rounds and ended in the finals, where the best six men and women would see who could sit in the sauna the longest. The starting temperature in the men's competition was 110 °C (230 °F). Half a liter of water was poured on the stove every 30 seconds. The winner was the last person to stay in the sauna and walk out without outside help. The host country usually dominated the event, as only one foreign competitor ever made it into the finals in the men's competition. The first non-Finnish winner in the women's competition was Natallia Tryfanava from Belarus in 2003.





Rules

  • The starting temperature is 110 degrees Celsius. Half a liter of water will be poured on the stove every 30 seconds.
  • Use of alcohol is prohibited prior to and during the competition.
  • Competitors must wash themselves beforehand, and remove any creams and lotions.
  • Competitor must sit erect, their buttocks and thighs on the bench.
  • Ordinary swimsuits must be used. Pant legs in men's swimsuits may be up to 20 centimeters long, and women's shoulder straps may be up to 5 centimeters wide.
  • Hair that reaches the shoulders must be tied into a ponytail.
  • Touching the skin and brushing is prohibited.
  • Competitors must not disturb each other.





  • At the request of the judges, competitors must show that they are in their senses with a thumbs up.
  • Competitors must be able to leave the sauna unaided to qualify.
  • A breach of the rules results in a warning. Another one results in disqualification.
  • The last person leaving the sauna unaided is the winner.

 TV Broadcasting and Other Media

   In 2004, Nippon Television filmed a documentary about the World Sauna Championships. The program had an audience of about 40 million in Japan. The network did a similar documentary again in 2007, when they filmed a whole week in Heinola and in Lahti. This time Kazumi Morohoshi (former singer in a popular boy band Hikaru Genji) was with them and also took part in the competition. He ended in the first round, with a time 5:41. Also in 2007, American sportswriter Rick Reilly (who described it as "quite possibly the world's dumbest sport") was also in Heinola. His time in the first round was 3:10 and was eliminated from the second round.






 2010 accident

   On 7 August 2010, Russian finalist and former third-place finisher Vladimir Ladyzhensky and Finnish five-time champion Timo Kaukonen passed out after six minutes in the sauna, both suffering from terrible burns and trauma. According to a spectator who asked not to be identified, Kaukonen was able to leave the sauna with assistance, but Ladyzhensky had to be dragged out, and almost immediately went into cramps and convulsions.   They were both rushed to the hospital but Ladyzhensky died en route. Kaukonen was reported to suffer from extreme burn injuries, and his condition was described as critical, but stable.   Just a few minutes before the finals, Kaukonen told the Norwegian newspaper Verdens Gang that the saunas used for the 2010 championship were a lot more extreme than the saunas used for previous competitions.   
   As Kaukonen and Ladyzhensky were disqualified for not leaving the sauna unaided, Ilkka Pöyhiä became the winner.






   The organizer, Ossi Arvela, said that there will probably never be another sauna competition. Two days later the City of Heinola noted that there are no official decisions about the future of the event, and the decisions will be made after the incident has been examined.  Arvela later reported that Finnish police had decided not to file charges in connection with the tragedy, but were continuing to investigate.  Kaukonen woke up from a coma two months after the event. His respiratory system was scorched, 70% of his skin was burnt and eventually his kidneys failed as well. In late October, Kaukonen was reported to be recovering quickly. He did not blame the organizers for his injuries.





   Ladyzhensky's autopsy concluded that he had died of third-degree burns. His death was aided by his use of strong painkillers and local anesthetic grease on his skin. Kaukonen was competing according to the rules.
   On April 20, 2011, the City of Heinola announced that they would no longer organize the event, noting that " If the city was to organize the World Sauna Championships in the future, the original playful and joyous characteristics of the event should be reintroduced. No ways to achieve this have been found."

Champions

YearMenWomen
1999Finland Ahti MerivirtaFinland Katri Kämäräinen
2000Finland Leo PusaFinland Katri Kämäräinen
2001Finland Leo PusaFinland Annikki Peltonen
2002Finland Leo PusaFinland Annikki Peltonen
2003Finland Timo KaukonenBelarus Natallia Tryfanava
2004Finland Leo PusaBelarus Natallia Tryfanava
2005Finland Timo KaukonenBelarus Natallia Tryfanava
2006Finland Timo KaukonenFinland Leila Kulin
2007Finland Timo KaukonenFinland Leila Kulin
2008Finland Bjarne HermanssonFinland Leila Kulin
2009Finland Timo KaukonenRussia Tatyana Arkhipenko
2010Finland Ilkka Pöyhiä[14]Germany Michaela Butz