The Mochi Diaries: Chapter 10 – Kaki Mochi 柿餅

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Welcome to Chapter 10 of the Mochi Diaries, Kaki Mochi 柿餅!

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During a recent trip to Nara I picked up one of these boxes, having quite the affinity for anything Kaki 柿 (Japanese Persimmon) related I was quite excited to have a nom these guys.

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Now firstly upon opening them I was completely taken aback at the intricate detail that went into producing every single mochi in the box!

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Made to resemble the fruit of which they are flavored the mochi consist of four separate ingredients.

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I translated the important bit of the diagram above that came in the box explaining what they are made of.

Essentially they are mostly kaki flavored mochi filled with a core of kaki an 柿あん (persimmon flavored red bean paste).
The leaves are made of dango 団子 held in place by a thin piece of konbu 昆布 (dried sea kelp), honestly the konbu is some what annoying since you must remove it before eating each mochi being inedible.

So you ask, ‘but Daniel what is the difference between mochi and dango?’
Well they are pretty much the same thing, the only difference being in the technique used to make them.

When making mochi, you begin by grinding glutinous rice to a paste which is then steamed and l finally pounded into a sticky dough.
Dango on the other hand is made from rice flour that has been mixed with hot water to make a dough, before being boiled in salted water.

Anyhow beyond the novelty of the mochi, the taste was just ok, that said it was more than made up for by the awesomeness of the presentation of the sweets!
3.75/5

Want to read more Mochi Diaries Posts?

The Mochi Diaries: Chapter 9 – Mochitsuki Special Edition 餅搗き増刊

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The Mochi Diaries: Chapter 11 – Kagami Mochi 鏡餅

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The Mochi Diaries: Chapter 9 – Mochitsuki Special Edition 餅搗き増刊

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In this special mochitsuki 餅搗き edition of The Mochi Diaries im going to go down a path a little different from the norm, welcome to Chapter 9 of The Mochi Diaries- Mochitsuki Special Edition 餅搗き増刊.

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Last weekend my base chuugakkou 中学校 (Junior Highschool) had their annual mochitsukui no hi 持ち搗きの日 (Mochi making day), obviously due to my grand affinity for mochi such an event had me excited from the moment I heard about its existence!

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An annual tradition across Japan, making mochi is a traditional part of the shogatsu 正月 (New years) celebration. Mochi is an essential food around the end of the year with it being included in several Osechi-ryōri 御節料理 (Traditional Japanese New Year foods) including zōni お雑煮 (Clear savoury Japanese soup containing mochi), Kagami mochi 鏡餅 (literally mirror rice cake, a new years decoration) and shiruko 汁粉 (Sweet red bean soup with mochi).

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Rice being boiled before the pounding

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Boiled sticky rice 餅米 (mochigome) is placed into a stone concave container and patted with water whilst being flipped by one person while another beats the dough with a large wooden mallet.

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The rice is slowly mashed until it forms a sticky white ball of dough which can be divided up and shaped.

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At my school, each class and year level had a turn throughout the day at pounding their own mochi with members I the local community.

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Once the pounding was complete the dough is moved to a rice flour covered table where the students shape and package their mochi to take home.

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A row of the finished products.

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I received my own box to take home and rather than just eating them as is I though I might show you just how versatile a food these sticky balls of joy in fact are!!

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Along side the mochi, also included in the pack was a small ball of anko 餡こ (sweet red bean paste) a popular mochi filling and a packet of kinako 黄粉 (toasted soybean flour) a popular mochi coating.

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The first piece I put in zenzai 善哉 (sweet red bean soup) which I made using by adding a little milk to some anko and heating it up.

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As you can see the mochi begins to dissolve once placed in the soup, gaining a delicious squishy, sticky texture!

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The other piece I placed on some foil and baked at 170degrees for about 20minutes. When subjected to heat the mochi grows up like a crispy mushroom whilst the bottom half retains the sticky mochi texture anchoring it.
I filled the bottom with the anko paste and used the kinako powder to dust the outside, really my own creation of my imagination, I shall call ‘yaita kinako kinoko mochi’ 焼いた黄粉茸餅 (baked soybean mushroom mochi)!
めっちゃ美味しいですよ!!!!

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I leave you with a photo of yours truly looking positively strapping on the day

☆〜(ゝ。∂)

Want to read more Mochi Diaries Posts?

The Mochi Diaries: Chapter 8 – Kuri Yatsuhashi 栗八つ橋

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The Mochi Diaries: Chapter 10 – Kaki Mochi 柿餅

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Life In Japan 日本での生活: 6 Months Down The Road

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Foreword: I don’t mean this to be a long rant, but rather an insight into my experiences and the difficulties I have faced thus far on one of the most amazing adventures one can embark on in life, JET.

So I’ve been on this crazy roller-coaster know as the JET Program for 6 months to the day and needless to say its been a journey of epic proportions!
Honestly reflecting on my development from a personal perspective, I’ve grown more in the past 6 months than I have in the past 6 years, the person I was the day I stepped off that plane half a year ago is dead and buried. This however in no way is a bad thing, if moving to the other side of the world to a country where you scarcely speak the language on your lonesome will teach you anything it’s self-reliance. My cooking skills have sky-rocketed for feeding myself is a necessity, furthermore I’m in better shape than I have been in my entire life. Back home life was all but convenience, here if I want something I must do it myself which has made me more or less self-reliant, a perk of being a city JET is I need to ride a bike everywhere I go as opposed to relying on driving, a task I despise.

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Anyhow I’m now on the path I have been searching for all my life. I’ve discussed this in past posts but I had many issues when I arrived, being an early arrival JET I had more or less no support network as I came at a difficult period when many old ALTs were leaving, most had no time for me, nor the KEC (the Kobe board of education) the resources to properly orientate me.

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Don’t get me wrong the first 2 months in Japan I had the time of my life, it’s a period i can now nostalgically reflect upon as being a magical twilight, I was high on life, the JET handbooks tell us this is called the honeymoon phase….. It was all that and so much more, gazing out through the at window at the chilly landscape from my desk I wonder if it was even real.

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But the day came when it all came crashing down around me, as with any high, nothing lasts forever in the cold November rain.

Between my 3rd and 4th months here I fell into a deep state of depression, I took a good hard look at myself, the person I was becoming and decided a change was in order. Suddenly all I could think about was the life and people I had left behind, constantly overwhelmed by a sense of longing to return home. Almost overnight I started to notice things that I had previously found endearing about Japan to be little more than annoying and foolish.

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This sudden bout of depression hit me like a ton of bricks and couldn’t have come at a worse time….. the arrival of the new 2012 JETs! All around me were dozens of new faces still in their honeymoon phase loving life, meanwhile I was miserable for no reason I could discern. I loved my life, my job, my friends, YET I constantly found myself having to drag myself out of bed in the morning to face the day. Being around people was enough to bring me to tears, the worst part was I had no reason to be depressed yet I felt broken inside.
This was all compound by the fact that during natsuyasumi 夏休 (summer holidays) the Kobe board of education sends its 120 or so ALTs off for mandatory summer school, skill development conferences and language school! Because of this I couldn’t simply lay low for a couple weeks whilst I felt my world crumpling around me, but rather I had to put on a brave face day after day whilst I was forced to associate with the rest of the Kobe JET community. Now I won’t lie this place is pretty much highschool, with there being so few foreigners in Kobe it’s almost like living in a small town, everyone knows everyone and gossip is the commodity that’s most revered.

Regardless somehow I pulled through, I took a good hard look at myself, the person I was becoming and decided a detox was in order, overnight I stopped drinking, started exercising (even more than I already did) and radically changed my diet. I’d love to admit that this is the secret for conquering cultural shock but I would be lying….. As nice as the though may be there is no quick fix, there’s only one cure for this kind of affliction….. Time.

Anyhow on a more positive note there certainly was a light at the end of the tunnel, when did I emerge for this state….. Well I’m not entirely sure, it was around the beginning of my fifth month, but I thank god I had the support of my friends here. This certainly won’t be the case for the vast majority of JET participants but I have around 60 other ALT’s living within a 5 minute walk of my apartment, a good 10 in the building itself!!

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It wasn’t until the hecticness of the summer died down that I truly found my friendship circle and the people who would be there to help me pull through. This was when things started to shape up, after a long hibernation I emerged from my apartment a new man, keen to resume exploring all this country has to offer. I am now well on track to becoming a prominent outspoken member of the JET community here in Kobe, am enjoying my job more and more by the day and have not let the onset of winter keep me down.

At the end of the day I have landed on my feel and am really in a great place and am more or less content with life, when my recontracting forms arrived on my desk I sent them back signing up for another 20 months or so here in Kobe without a second thought, I really hope that the decision is that easy when they come around again next year.

Studying Japanese

Anyhow on to a question I am very frequently asked, ‘so how is your Japanese coming along?’ well although its certainly far from amazing every day is getting easier and easier. Now I never really bothered formally studying as I really lacked the motivation for a really long time, that said I know what am amazing opportunity it is to be living here and have the chance to learn Japanese with the plethora of resources available. Its not only that though, Japan is really a country that isn’t exactly very accommodating to those who don’t speak Japanese, seriously even in a relatively large city like Kobe you either learn or will find life very very VERY difficult! Now I naturally have a certain interest in Kanji so when i learn new words I typically look up how to write them and continue to revise until they stick in my head. And so through my natural curiosity my vocabulay has grown to the point where i know perhaps 1000 words, a couple hundred kanji…….BUT NO GRAMMAR!

受け入れ挑戦 (Challenge Accepted)

受け入れ挑戦 (Challenge Accepted)

Grammar was never my strong point in English so I have put of learning the Japanese equivalent like the plague, unfortunately with a less than basic knowledge of how to put together all the words I know I come off sounding retarded when I try to speak the language. In my mind I imagine that speaking Japanese is like building a house, although I have gathered many bricks I have no cement to bind them together and simply blurting out the (usually) appropriate words will only get you so far in conversation…….

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That all said I speak 10 times more Japanese than when I first arrived here, one thing I noticed about this years new Kobe JET’s is that I was one of 6 out of around 40 that didn’t have at least intermediary level Japanese. This often leaves me feeling very inadequate when compared to my peers, many who are Japanese majors, if anything though I have taken it as a source of motivation to step up my studying whilst I am here. In the least my goal by the end of my first year is to be able to have 80-90% fluent conversation with my shougakkou 小学校 (elementary) students, being children they can only put together more or less simple sentences so really make great conversation partners, more than that though, I have really formed a bond with many of my ES students and I hate myself when they ask me questions I cant quite grasp, since I really hate to surrender and tell them ごめんちょっとわからない ‘sorry I don’t understand’.

Work Life

Look I’m no teacher,I never was and I may very well never be. That said, I am expected to be one, as I have discussed in the past my predecessor was a woman who spoke fluent Japanese and in fact taught and developed the curriculum for the 2年生 (8th grade) JHS class without the Japanese teacher last year. What I’m getting at is I had ENORMOUS boots to fill, replacing this superstar ALT isn’t something I will be capable of any time in the near future……. but I’m getting there.

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In terms of preparing lessons they really threw me in the deep end with this one, for the first couple months I was all over the place and have no idea what I was doing, because of this my plans tended to be hit or miss. Unfortunately my chief OTE (Japanese teacher) is a first year sensei who speaks less than amazing English to the point where I’m often hesitant to speak to her without the other English teacher within earshot who can chip in to translate, as she misunderstands what I’m attempting to say most of the time which creates issues I would much rather avoid.

Generally though the English level of the teachers at the JHS level is not so bad, as I have been picking up Japanese here and there I can now even usually get my point across to the teachers who speak but a few words of it. One thing I try my best to do is help the English teachers improve on their English ability by actively trying my best to introduce new words to them on a daily basis, a favour I like them to return to me with my Japanese studies.

Now I teach at a JHS 3 days a week and 2 nearby ES on the remaining 2 days, luckily all 3 of them are within a half an hour bike ride from my house so if the weather is nice I often ride to school to get some bonus exercise in.

The only difficulties I have encountered at the elementary level would have to be in regard to the consumption of kyuushoku 給食 (school lunch) with I eat with the kids. See these meals are firstly usually disgusting (anyone who disagrees is admitting they enjoy consuming slops) but they also tend to contain 600-700 calories! That’s good and all for Japanese children with lightning fast metabolisms but 700 calories is almost as much as I eat in an entire day! Needless to say I quickly came up with techniques to subtly ‘avoid’ eating much of the food without the kids noticing but that’s a story for another post.

Otherwise I really love ES, the kids are usually still young enough to have an endless supply of energy and enthusiasm, they listen attentively, rarely refuse to participate. Basically when I’m there I feel like I am a kid again, its fun, the kids playing with me and I with them (as long as they keep their fingers out of me), shougakko will always be where my heart is at!

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My thoughts on teaching English to the Japanese, one that most ALTs tend to share is that the system really prohibits 99% of them from ever achieving real fluent conversational English, this is why the fluency level in Japan is by far the worst in all of Asia. The textbooks tackle teaching a language completely wrong, the focus is solely on exam results rather than on learning the language, often I find the textbook using unnatural clunky English that although grammatically correct hardly makes sense. However the opinion of the ALT hardly holds any swing, in fact in one brutal conversation I once had with an OTE I pointed out an error in the book, rather than accepting my correction he opened the book to the last page with the publishers details and told me to write them a letter…….. Despite the foolishness of the approach to teaching foreign language in this country, otherwise I really am quite happy at school now, its been a bumpy road much like the rest of my experiences here thus far.

If you got this far i’ll applaud you for your perseverance anyhow in the past 6 months I truly felt happy for the first time in longer than I can remember and content with the path I am taking in life, taking in to consideration the work and social aspects as well as my personal development, never forget all you need is Kobe.

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If you would like to read about my thoughts 28 days into the program you will find them here, I wrote another on experiences after 100 days located here.

Winter is Coming 冬が来てるよ

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WINTER IS COMING! Or as we say in Japanese 冬が来てるよ (fuyu ga kiteruyo).

So fuyu 冬 (winter) is almost upon us in the land of the riding sun….. that said recently there has been many days recently where the sun has barely peaked through the foreboding storm clouds!

Now I hail from a generally warm country with the seasons having a more or less mild temperament. Which is precisely why it has come as such a shock at just how cold it has become, today I have come to work with no less than 7 layers and even after covering myself in half a dozen kairo カイロ (chemical heat packs) I’m still shivering!

These bad boys are called カイロ (kairo), when exposed to air the iron inside them oxidises creating an exothermic reaction that heat up the pack to about 50-60 degrees Celsius for up to 24 hours depending on the brand and type.

I swear the Japanese do not feel the cold, for some reason the concept of heating a space as opposed to having a small stove producing radiant heat is incompatible with the Japanese brain! The only place your likely to find central heating in Japan is in large department stores, hotels and western style buildings.

Each day I pack on enough clothes to make it look as though I have gained 20kg or so overnight, the most remarkable thing is often I see my elementary students who are just fine wearing shorts and a light sweater whilst meanwhile the cold is bringing me to tears…… Lets just say if nuclear winter ever comes around and ‘The Free People’s of Danieltopia’ (my imaginary future civilization) are ever at ends with the Japanese, as their charismatic leader I’m going to surrender on the spot and save ourselves the frostbite.

20121128-午後035601.jpg Seriously though if buildings were heated in such a way back home teachers would be striking, parents suing the pants off the school for child abuse and negligence. Whilst the poor kids were having exam week they felt the need to keep all the windows open on the 4th floor while its only a few degrees outside! I presume much like myself the only way the students make it through the day is by keeping a couple kairo in their pockets.

The typical device for heating at the school called a sekiyu 石油 (kerosene) stove, insanely inefficient at heating any real space it does provide a nice moment of warmth when one crouches down next to it.

On the note of retarded Japanese rules, one that is followed here very strictly is that the heaters which are used to heat the classrooms and staffroom at school may not be turned on until winter……… no not when its freezing, but literally the 1st of December. When I have questioned why such a practice is carried out when it is clearly causing much distress amongst students and teachers alike the only response I ever seem to get is ‘This is Japanese Culture’……… um excuse me, how the fuck is being unnecessarily cold ‘culture’, seriously chadou 茶道 (tea ceremony) is culture, onsen 温泉 (hot spring bathing) is culture, matsuri 祭り (Japanese festivals) are culture, not turning the heating on until a certain date is madness!

I came across similar issues when I questioned why I couldn’t wear gloves at school, nor a beanie, nor a neck warmer…….. always the same ‘this is Japanese culture’, i really feel like Japanese people use this much to often as a scapegoat when asked a question they don’t want to answer to the point where it looses its meaning.

I really did attempt to explain the correlation between loss of productivity and being forced to work in an environment a few degrees above zero without much luck and also the fact that as I come from a warm country I am still going through a period of physical acclimatization to the weather here which is far colder and more humid than what I have ever experienced before.

Found unfortunately all but accurate yet humorous description of the workings of a sekiyu heater done by a fellow JET.

OK rant over, the moral of the story, you cant win them all……. however I must also end on a depressing note, being that……..

ITS NOT EVEN WINTER YET BECAUSE

Homemade Sashimi Teishoku 自家製の刺身定食

Many who know me will be aware of my grand love of teishoku 定食 (Japanese Set Meal) which are always ever so special when you make them yourself.

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Last night I came across some sashimi at a local produce store that I though looked fair delicious, so I though I would try my hand at slicing up sashimi.

The pack I purchased included Saba 鯖 (mackerel), ika いか (squid), maguro 鮪 (tuna) and hamachi 魬 (yellowtail).

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Although I am a decade off becoming a master sushi chef I’m down with the fundamentals of slicing raw fish, basically the most important part is you cut fish across the grain not along it otherwise its going to end up tough and chewy instead of melt in your mouthy.

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There are different techniques used for cutting different varieties of fish, for sashimi mostly the hira zukiri 平ずきり (thick sliced sashimi) technique is used which is good if the fish is to become sashimi.
However with squid it is first scored then cut using the ito zukiri 糸ずきり(thread sliced sashimi) technique.

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In terms of wasabi わさび (Japanese horseradish), I always use the much higher quality konawasabi 粉わさび which must be reconstituted using a little water.

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And here we have the finished product, all sliced and ready to eat!

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Alongside this I simply prepared some steamed garlic shoots, miso soup and various tsukemono 漬物 (Japanese pickles). Normally this would also be accompanied by a bowl of rice but I’m on a diet so I skipped it to save the empty carbs ☆〜(ゝ。∂)

いただきます‼

Nihonomnom 100 Posts

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After almost 6 months in the orient today I punch out my 100th post.
I’v certainly come a long way since stepping off that plane. Thanks to all my readers! Look forward to the next 100!
*・゜゚・*:.。..。.:*・'(*゚▽゚*)’・*:.。. .。.:*・゜゚・*

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Azuki Kinako Shortbread Cookies

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Always having been quite the avid baker, ever since arriving in Japan I have been experimenting with new Japanese flavours and ingredients I either was unable to acquire back home or had never even heard of!

Not just baking but cooking also, over the past 6 months my skills in the kitchen have gone from cooking the most basic of curries to basically anything that might take my fancy if I have the means to google a recipe.

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Here is the recipe to whip up a batch of Azuki 小豆 Kinako 黄粉 Shortbread Cookies that I baked.

Ingredients
1 1/2 cups flour
1/2 cup kinako (roasted soybean flour)
2/3 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla essence
250 grams unsalted butter
250 grams azuki (sweet red beans)

Method
1. Beat butter and sugar together on medium speed for about 3 minutes until fluffy with an electric mixer.
2. Fold flour, kinako, and salt into butter mixture, mixing only until it disappears into the dough. You don’t want to work the dough too much once the flour is added so use a wooden spoon.
3. Fold in azuki paste in a similar fashion.
3. Scoop mixture into a ziplock bag. Put the bag on a flat surface, using a rolling pin roll the dough into a half a cm thick rectangle. Once your done seal the bag, pressing out all the air and freeze for 30 minutes. You may keep the dough in this stage up to two days.
4. Preheat your oven to 170 degrees Celsius.
5. Put the plastic bag on a cutting board and slit it open, discard the bag and using a sharp knife, cut the dough into small rectangles or use a cookie cutter like I did (mine were hearts). Transfer the cookies to a baking sheets and carefully prick each one four times with a fork.
6. Bake for 15 to 16 minutes. Transfer the cookies to a rack to cool. This recipe makes about 20 cookies.

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Note that if you live outside if Japan/Korea/China kinako and azuki may be hard to come by, but even these can be made from scratch.

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Here’s the finished product, half I dusted with additional kinako flour and the the others served with sweetened Kabocha 南瓜 (Pumpkin) paste.