We slept in this morning after a long (for Tomeo) and fun (for all of us) day at the local snow-festival. Festivals are soooooooo much more fun when you are selling something. It doesn’t really matter what or how much you make, but it sure beats just standing around buying stuff and running out of money or getting filled up after half-hour, leaving nothing to do for the rest of the time – and on a rainy day like yesterday, standing under the tent for seven hours is much nicer than standing out in the cold rain – even if we didn’t get a chance to enjoy the make-shift foot bath.
Mona had a great time too – never once crying or seeming to be tired for the whole seven hours. She was pretty free to roam as there was no shortage of friends or neighbors delighted to walk around the festival grounds with her, and everyone was happy to give her junk food. At one point I even found some old lady feeding her noodles out of her (the old lady’s) own soup bowl with her chop-sticks. It also was not too difficult to keep Mona happy with a constant supply of waffles, whip-cream and chocolate milk at Tomoe’s booth.
Tomoe, of course had it the hardest, having to wake up a two am the previous morning in order to begin baking the waffles. I had the easy job of set-up and carry heavy things. It would have been so much better if it wasn’t for the disappointing sales.
Maybe it was the fault of the festival organizer in our village that shared crazy attendance projections. Or maybe it was just crazy weather that kept all the crazy waffle-buying customers away from the snow-festival. Or maybe it was us that was crazy enough to try to sell high-quality baked confections to a bunch of hicks who are not really known for trying new things.
Expectations on our side were high as this was the second year that Tomoe had put in countless hours of planning and preparation with the goal to provide something fun and unique to add a little pizazz to the proceedings which traditionally have little selection and, surprisingly, few sweet treats for the children.
Last year she had settled on fuki flavored tofu doughnuts, purchased the doughnut frier and ingredients, spent hours perfecting the recipe only to be quashed when the festival was canceled due to the earthquake.
This year, determined to make a go of it, she once again set out on a mission spending countless hours and yen scouring the web and any festivals and food stalls she could find (even as far as Seattle Washington) looking for the perfect treat.
Waffles seemed to be the answer. They are relatively easy to make and handle, unique but not so much that the folks don’t know what it is, easy to sell as omiyage which is something else that many people look for at the festival.
Waffles also allowed ample canvas for Tomoe’s confectionery creativity. Certainly it would have been much easier to simply buy pre-made waffle mix, add water and cook up some generic junk-food, but Tomoe’s style called for researching and testing all available ingredients and cooking styles. Trial waffles very day for months meant that Mona and I benefited immensely from Tomoe’s perfectionism and quest to find the perfect flour and just right proportion of rice flour to add, the perfect consistency of the mix before baking, etc.
The down side of waffles from scratch, compared to what the other food stalls were selling, is that waffles requires perishable milk and eggs. With the exception of the bear soup and deer skewers, the other sellers either used non-perishable instant foods and were professional festival food-stallers, or work in the food industry which means that having left-over ingredients is not an issue for them because they will be able to unload at the next event or just stick it back into their freezer. Perhaps this is what the the festival organizers were used to, and why they weren’t very helpful in terms of attendance projections, since it is usually not so much of an issue.
It certainly can’t all be blamed on the organizer, of course. The *estimated* attendance was well above average due to last years earthquake and cancellation, and all the media attention following the one-year anniversary. There were many reporters and television crews set to attend, it had been advertised on regional news as a human-interest story about how residents of our village bravely move forward overcoming the hardships brought on by the earthquake. There were groups of volunteers and supporters who helped out through the year who were expected to come back and celebrate. It was to be a festival the likes of which have never been seen and never will be seen again in little Sakae Village.
Maybe it was because of the weather, or maybe it was all just wishful thinking. The attendance was nowhere near what was expected. The number of non-locals, who we anticipated would be more likely to buy a “boutique” product such as waffles made with locally grown rice-flower, was unimpressive. Even the bear soup, which usually sells out within the first few hours was left at closing time.
Another “maybe” is that maybe it was because our booth was pushed to the far side of the venue, away from the stage and the crowds, with the non-local vendors. This is something we learned for next year. Because we did not need water, they put our booth furthest from the water source. Next year we should also sell something that requires us to be closer to the main building so that we can be more at the heart of things.
As I mentioned, it wasn’t just us that sold poorly this year. Other booths were disappointed as well. One organizer pointed out that maybe it was because many of the village people are getting used to being “supported” due to a constant supply of food coming in from well-wishers around Japan after the earthquake. Maybe receiving such gifts as whole salmon from Hokkaido sent to everyone living in the temporary housing has filled up the fridge or made the simple noodles or oden sold by the junior-high ski team suddenly below their standards. Festival food-stall sales aside, there really have been rumors for some time now of a “please don’t feed the animals” type of situation building as some people are getting too comfortable taking hand-outs since the quake.
At any rate, aside from some disappointment, we will survive. We covered the costs if you exclude time – even not counting all the prep time and research, Tomoe was up all night the night before preparing batter from scratch and baking waffles. She had planned to make even more and we were lamenting all the lost sales opportunities we would have once we sell out – because everything pointed to a sell-out.
We were able to sell almost all of the pre-prepared waffles, and Tomoe didn’t have to leave the party to bake more. We even closed the booth a bit early to ensure that we would have enough left over to take to the neighbors today as thank-you gifts for all the random gifts of unneeded buckets of miso, daikon, and fried chicken wings they have a tendency to leave on our doorstep.
Now, however, we are still left with more eggs and milk than we can possibly use up unless Tomoe makes more waffles. And that, readers, is how we will soon offer these waffles at such crazy a low price.