Tuesday, December 29, 2009

etegami recipe cards

While I wait impatiently for the chance to post some of the Etegami New Year's cards I expect to receive on New Years Day (fingers crossed), let me tell you about yet another fun use for etegami: Etegami Recipe Cards. This is something that evolved out of my habit of sending etegami thank-you cards to several friends who send me yearly presents of the agricultural products their home prefectures are famous for.

Many years ago, when I first started sending out etegami thank-you cards, I simply drew a picture of the gift received with some appropriate words of gratitude. Later, for variety, I began accompanying my drawings with the names of the dishes I had made from their gift, and still later, I started writing down entire recipes, either alongside the drawing or on the other side. My friends know how enthusiastic I am about cooking, and that is one of the reasons they enjoy sending me the produce. So what better way to show them my appreciation than by sharing the recipes for the yummy dishes made possible by their gift?

The Potato Etegami above is one of the earliest thank-you cards I sent to a woman who sends me a big box of potatoes every year from a potato-growing region of Hokkaido. This particular one is the first time I accompanied the drawing with the names of all the dishes I made from her gift. The Udon Etegami (noodles in a bamboo basket) is one I drew for a woman in the US who has a keen interest in cuisine from around the world. I did not include a recipe, but on the other side, I explained the culture of udon and the different ways it is served depending on the season of the year.

At the same time that my thank-you cards were evolving, I had begun to attach etegami drawings to the recipes I was posting on my food blogs. Although I didn't write the recipes on the cards themselves, they were meant to illustrate the recipes. The Banana Etegami shown above is one that I drew to illustrate my "Screaming Banana Chocolate Fondue Pie." The strawberry-stuffed rice cake drawing was the first one that illustrated a completed dish, rather than just the main ingredient from which the dish had been made. It was initially the last drawing in my Strawberry Diary series, but I later used it to illustrate a recipe I posted on my food blog. Since then, I have drawn many etegami of the results of my cooking, and these days I usually write the recipe on address side of the card. One recent example is the etegami showing Lotus Root Cakes. I posted the recipe, along with photographs of the cooking process, on my Wagashi (Japanese confections) blog.

If any of this stimulates your creativity, please try making a hand-drawn recipe card (etegami if possible) and send it to me. I'd LOVE to see what you all come up with.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

new year's cards

Japan has a long tradition of exchanging New Year's greetings in writing, apparently going as far back as the Nara period (AD 700s). It wasn't until 1873, when the Japan Postal Service began to print standardized postcards requiring less postage than an ordinary letter, that the idea of postcard greetings began to catch on. In 1899, the current system of nenga yuubin (New Year mail) was conceived, in which all mail marked as New Year's greetings, and which is posted within a specific time frame in December, will be delivered en mass on New Year's Day. There are lots of other delightful historical details on the subject that I don't have room to post here, but maybe you can read them for yourself on Wikipedia Japan (in Japanese only, sorry).

There are many cool things about traditional Japanese New Year's cards, not the least of which is how images and words are used. Certain images are associated with the New Year holiday specifically, and with spring (which New Year's day is symbolically the start of) in general. For example, the etegami I drew for New Year's 2009 depicts sprouting water chestnuts (water caltrops). The sprouts make it a felicitous image and conducive to word play, a common device with etegami in general, but especially at New Year's. The accompanying words translate roughly to: [the new year brings with it] the sprouts of new possibilities.

For New Year's 2010, I made several new designs. One depicts a toy top, symbolic of the new year because it is one of a group of traditional toys that children used to play with during the New Year holidays. The accompanying words say: May 2010 be a well-balanced year [for you]. Word play again. The rest of my holiday etegami are variations on tiger images, because 2010 is the Year of the Tiger. I've posted one of these here. The animal representing a particular year is probably the most common motif for Japanese New Year's cards.

Not all New Year's cards are etegami, of course. These days most people whip up greeting cards on their computers, using stock images and formulaic words. If you have over 100 people on your greeting card list, as I do, it really is too much to expect of yourself to hand-make each one. What I do is draw several original designs, and color-copy my favorites to send to the people on my list. For my fellow etegami artists, though, I do make an effort to send original cards only.

Tell me what kind of cards you will be sending this year. Something hand-made I hope. After the holidays I plan to post a sample of some of the etegami cards I receive from my Japanese etegami colleagues.