Thursday, December 10, 2009

December in Michigan

Last year at this time I was excited about mild weather (ie no snow) and blooming flowers.

And while I can't say the same this year, I am happy to be celebrating with family and friends. I just need M to hop over the ocean too, and I'm ready for the holidays!

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

But It Wouldn't Be Delicious...

At a recent dinner out with friends, a fellow vegetarian and I wanted some sushi after noticing regular sushi on the menu. We asked our waitress if it would be possible to get veggie sushi - perhaps avocado. The waitress said she would check, and came back in a few moments to tell us that the chef agreed to do it, but he wanted to make sure we knew that it wouldn't be delicious, and questioned whether we still wanted to order it. This wasn't the first time either of us had heard this disclaimer after a request to have meat or seafood removed from a dish, but I still find it amusing every single time. And the chef was wrong, it was indeed delicious!

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Nothing To Write Home About

A recent dinner with rice, carrot & daikon salad, salt & pepper fried tofu, and.... what is that pile of shiny stuff?

Yes, it's konnyaku! We first had it at the beginning of the year, and I can't say that I was thrilled to see it show up in our veggie box for the week, but we also got a yamaimo in our box, and as I forecasted in this post, I really did sneak that into someone else's box. And well, slipping two things out of our box was just out of the question, so I figured I could deal with the konnyaku. And in smaller pieces with a liberal amount of wasabi and soy sauce it was doable. Nothing fantastic, but doable.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Love Mode Ginger

I know, I know - I swore to myself that I wouldn't get sucked in by another beverage with a crazy flavor or fun packaging after the last two lackluster Pepsi sodas. But honestly, just look at this! A bright pink soda called Love Mode Ginger, how could I resist??

And thankfully this time it was tasty too!

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Tokyo Disney

We spent this past weekend at Tokyo Disney Resort, and on the way there we got a clear view of Mount Fuji. It was our best sighting yet, and seeing it majestically rise above the clouds made me feel even better about getting to the top last year despite trying weather conditions!

It was such a fun weekend and a fantastic early birthday present - thanks M!

Monday, November 30, 2009

Completely Unnecessary

1 vehicle with 5 television screens.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Full Bellies!

We had a delicious Thanksgiving dinner and hope you did too!

Chickpea gravy, mashers, green bean casserole, mushroom & soysage stuffing, cranberry sauce and "turkey." Mmmmmmm

The vegan turkey roast was from this recipe and it turned out surprisingly tasty!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009


Despite being physically far away from most of our family and friends, we still hold you close in our minds and in our hearts. Thank you for taking the time to e-mail, leave blog comments, and skype with us - it is always nice to hear your voices and read tidbits of what is new in your world. Thank you for making the effort to send us snail mail and packages filled with thoughtful gifts - you can turn a quiet weekday into a Christmas-style celebration. Thank you for being in our lives.

Happy Thanksgiving one and all.

Monday, November 23, 2009

It's That Time of Year!

Normally we wouldn't decorate for Christmas until after Thanksgiving, but since there is no Thanksgiving here to slow down holiday preparations, we decided that we could start celebrating whenever we darn well felt like it. So a couple of weeks ago I pulled out most of the Christmas decorations, and then this past weekend we decorated the Christmas shrubs and M hung lights.

Christmas shrubs? Yup, we're starting a new trend. Last year we bought an evergreen shrub (on the right) as a stand-in for a proper Christmas tree, because even a small one was out of reasonable price range. Despite M's loving care - and the attention of some of our guests - the Christmas shrub seems to be fading from the bottom up, so we pulled in another plant to help bear the burden of lights and ornaments. Still perfectly festive I think!

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Ginger Oat Scones

We enjoyed these for a few breakfasts last week, and I'm already thinking about making them again. I can't believe I wasn't always a fan of ginger!

The scones were based off of this recipe, but instead of currants and orange zest, I used 1 tsp of ground ginger and about 1/4 C of freshly grated ginger.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Mashed Potato Pizza

Yup, you read that right - pizza with mashed potatoes on it.

Now, before you turn up your nose at this, give it a shot. Yes, it is carbtastic, and not something you'd want to eat every night, but it is tasty. See, M's giving his blue cheese piece a big thumbs up!

These tasty slices were topped with cheddar and green olives, and a bit of fried garlic.

Mmmm! Perfect comfort food for colder temps!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Weekend in Kanazawa

This past weekend we went to Kanazawa, a city on the Sea of Japan. One of the city's highlights is Kenroku-en, one of the three great gardens in Japan. The garden is lit up a couple times a year, and we just happened to visit on the first day of the Autumn Light-Up.

Kanazawa can get a lot of snow in the winter, and yukitsuri was already in place on many of the trees in anticipation of this. Yukitsuri is a technique for protecting trees from heavy snows by giving the tree extra support with a bamboo pole, and then connecting limbs to the pole with rope. Although designed to be functional, the result was really lovely to look at too.

We also saw the oldest fountain in Japan - it operates by natural water pressure!

Kenroku-en is also famous for Kotoji-tōrō, a stone lantern with two legs - it is featured on the manhole covers around town, and is emblematic of both the park and the city.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Upside-Down Fresh Fig Cake

I've decided to start baking something at least once a week, because while I generally prefer savory treats, sometimes warm sweet treats are nice too. Plus my husband is always extra-appreciative when I bake, and I like to make him happy, so it all works out.

This recipe is from "Outstanding in the Field: A Farm to Table Cookbook" by Jim Denevan with Marah Stets, and can be found here. Because I'm using the easy bake oven to cook in, I halved the recipe and used a smaller pan - and I didn't have parchment paper, but it still came out of the pan without any problems.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Autumn in Nara

M spotted this tree, and we all agreed that it looked like it could be an Ent.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Adventures in Aqua Boot Camp - Episode 2

I'm taking a brief break from travel photos to share my most recent aqua boot camp adventure. My limited knowledge of Japanese is enough to get me through most day-to-day interactions, but every now and then, not being fluent results in character building (ie highly embarrassing or confusing) situations - and more often than not, these seem to happen at the gym. (If you missed out on the brouhaha I created by wearing earrings in the pool, you can read that here.)

So about 25 minutes in, the instructor stops the class, starts talking, and before I know it, everyone else has their left hand up in the air in a fist. I should also mention that I arrived to class a bit later than normal, resulting in me standing in the front row, smack-dab in the center - so everyone else could see me, but I didn't have a great view of what anyone else was doing. He keeps talking, and everyone's fist change into a gesture. After two rounds of this, it dawns on me that they are playing rock-paper-scissors (or jan-ken-pon in Japanese - did you know the game was invented here?).

But why? Why on earth would it be necessary to decide anything in the middle of a boot camp class? Were they deciding on whether we'd do 1000 kicks next or suffer through punches instead? And, seeing that I have no idea as to what is being decided, is it better to play along blindly or be the only person in the pool without my hand up? I opt for playing halfheartedly, weakly raise my arm, and make my selection at the last possible second. The women next to me helpfully pinched her "scissor" fingers at me to show that her "scissors" beat my "paper," while I smiled back with what I hoped was a flash of confidence. Or something like it.

The whole thing probably only lasted for 6 rounds, but they were the longest rounds of rock-paper-scissors I've ever played in my life, and no, I never did deduce what was decided as a result.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Return to Hiroshima

After a great two week trip, my parental units are now back in the States. I'm still sorting through the hundreds of photos we all took, but I thought I'd share a couple of the highlights from our side trips from Nagoya.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Satoimo and Carrot Soup

I was chatting with a friend (happy birthday gorgeous!) a few days ago, and when she asked what I was making for dinner, I groaned internally. I try not to be preachy about the food choices I make, but rather show by example that a vegetarian diet can be really tasty. But sometimes when we're down to the end of our veggie box, dinner isn't always glamorous. So I had to tell her that we were having steamed sataimo and carrot soup. I should have added on some baked tofu and it would have sounded about as granola-crunching-hippyish as you can get!

But I do love soup, and the carrot and lentil soup was was a tasty thicker version of a plain red lentil soup (it was based on this recipe found about half-way down the page). At the top of the picture are the steamed satoimo (taro root), ready to be dipped in soy sauce.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Azuki Pepsi

I really have to stop being sucked in by the crazy Pepsi flavors, as there has yet to be one that I've enjoyed. Part of it might be that since they aren't diet, they all taste sickeningly sweet. This one tasted more like cotton candy to me than azuki beans, and just like the Shiso Pepsi, the bottle went unfinished.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Osu Kannon Temple

The pigeons were soaking up the sun while we were busy soaking up the finds at the temple fair!

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Ginger Ale Kit Kat

As has been mentioned before, Kit Kat flavors here vary by the season and by the area of the country. I do think that is a really fun marketing scheme, but since I'm not a huge Kit Kat fan to begin with, I mostly prefer to read about other people's adventures in taste-testing. A tried a fair amount while she was here, and now I taste vicariously through Jen Ken's Kit Kat blog. She has even gone so far as to order from the company in order to try Kit Kats from other regions (like soy sauce!), very impressive.

But I do like ginger ale, so I got sucked in and decided to try it. Sadly it did not taste remotely like ginger ale, the outer coating had an offensive lemon-lime taste that was really overpowering. Bleah.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Miso Hungry

It's apparent that fall is here, not only from the cooler evening temps, but also from the shifting contents of our veggie box, lately we've had a lot of root vegetables!

I was in the mood for a galette, so for the filling I roasted two Japanese sweet potatoes with a little salt and olive oil, and combined them with sauteed white onions, green onions, and a couple tablespoons of white miso. The pastry is my standard favorite from Smitten Kitchen.

And on the side we had Japanese turnips with mushrooms and the turnip greens, based on this recipe.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Attention to Details

Whether in a department store or at a tourist attraction, I love how coordinated the uniforms are, from the gloves to the matching hats.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Etsy Excitement

Some of my cards were recently featured in an Etsy Treasury - thanks to Forrest Concepts for including them! Forrest Concepts is Grand Rapids based (how's that for small world?!) and turns vintage books into journals - fun eco-friendly gifts!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Spicy Eggplant, Garlic Soup, and Lotus Root

I was really excited to try this eggplant recipe with a spicy peanut topping, it sounded great, but it turned out just okay, definitely not the highlight of the meal. The garlic and white bean soup is from Vegan with a Vengeance, and was very tasty. But the stir-fried lotus root with green onions and sesame seeds? Soooo good. After dinner I was already eagerly anticipating getting to eat the leftovers for lunch.

Sunday, October 18, 2009


A little quirky thing that I love here - often times at bus stops people will have donated chairs when it is too small of a stop to warrant a shelter with a bench.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Apple Spice Muffins

Although I love a good crisp apple on its own or in a salad, I'm not a huge fan of apple in baked goods. Apple pie, tart, or cake? Generally I'll pass.

Except that I've really been hankering for an apple orchard visit and some apple cider, which I think is making everything apple-related sound wonderful to me. These muffins are based on this recipe with a few modifications. I only had all-purpose flour on hand, and I added vinegar to soy milk for the buttermilk. In addition to the cinnamon, I added a heaping 1/2 teaspoon of nutmeg and a full teaspoon of ground ginger. Not quite the same as sipping a fresh cup of cider at the local mill on a crisp Saturday morning, but a delicious taste of autumn all the same.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009


Last weekend we visited Yokohama, and one of our stops was Landmark Tower, the tallest building in Japan. You reach the observation deck by riding on one of the world's fastest elevators, but what really caught my eye was the spiral escalator. I'm a sucker for spiral staircases, and my first spiral escalator was no different. I just had to take it to see where I'd end up.

(and that ended up being in front of an H&M store)

Monday, October 12, 2009

Crabcakes and Kinpira

Even when I'm happy with how a meal turns out, I almost always think of a way that I'd like to tweak it the next time I make it. So I was excited that the components of this dinner produced a rare no-tweaks-needed meal. Top center is a roasted Japanese sweet potato with miso scallion butter, to the right is a mock Maryland crabcake served with wasabi mayo, and on the left is carrot and burdock kinpira.

Kinpira is a Japanese cooking style that is basically just sautéing then simmering. After making this dish a few times, my favorite version is a slight modification of the the one Gweneth Paltrow shared in her ever amusing GOOP newsletter. If you can't find burdock root, try this with any other root vegetable you fancy.

Carrot & Burdock Kinpira
  • 1/2 T oil (I use olive or sesame)
  • 1 burdock root, peeled (or scrubbed really really well) and cut into thin matchsticks (keep in a bowl of cold water until cooking it)
  • 2 large carrots, peeled and cut into thin matchsticks
  • 2/3 C water (or dashi if you're not a veggie)
  • 1 1/2 T soy sauce
  • 1 1/2 T mirin
  • one 1" knob of ginger, peeled and grated
  • toasted sesame seeds for garnish
Heat the oil in a large frying pan over high heat. Drain the burdock and add it to the pan. Cook, stirring constantly for 5 minutes. Adjust the heat so that it's high enough for the burdock to sizzle, but not so high that it scorches. Add a bit more oil if necessary to keep the burdock from sticking. After 5 minutes of stir-frying, add the carrot and enough water (or dashi) to come half-way up the vegetables. Bring the mixture to a boil, stir in the soy sauce and mirin, cover with a drop lid (a lid that’s slightly smaller than the pan so that it sits directly on top of the vegetables), and turn the heat to low and cook for 15 minutes. Remove the lid, turn the heat to high and cook until the vegetables are glazed, about 2 minutes. Put the kinpira on a plate and squeeze over the grated ginger—essentially you are ‘seasoning’ the kinpira with the ginger juice. Sprinkle with toasted sesame seeds and serve warm or at room temperature.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Hole in 6...or so...

As I mentioned before, playing golf in Japan can be expensive. M has played a couple of times though, because one of his friends introduced him to a course that is pretty reasonable, only about $35 a person on the weekend for 9 holes.

I haven't picked up a club in 5 or 6 years, but decided I was ready to try and (re)learn the game. When we went out recently to play, I was happy to learn that it was basically a par-3 course. It was a nice sunny day and I enjoyed getting to walk around on grass again (it had been awhile!). I'm already looking forward to our next outing!

Thursday, October 8, 2009


I recently developed a nickel allergy - which manifested itself as a bright red itchy peeling angry mark under my wedding rings. You can faintly see the remainder of it on my finger below.

It's healing now, but it is still frustrating to have to resort to wearing my rings around my neck. I know I can get my rings rhodium plated and that will fix the problem for a few years at a time, but that could be a translating nightmare to try and accomplish here, so it might wait until my next visit stateside.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

New Reading Material

Last week I realized that I'd read almost all of the books we brought with us, and running low on books is a scary situation when a paperback can easily run you $18 USD or more here. Thankfully I'd just heard about Mondo Books, a new multilingual used bookstore (Nagoya's first!).

A used bookstore was exciting enough itself, but they also offer trade-ins! We brought in a stack of books we were ready to be done with and were able to pick out a good sized stack of different ones to take home. Woo hoo!

Sunday, October 4, 2009


Before moving to Japan, I had never ventured beyond the doorway of a LUSH store, and honestly that was only because I found the mix of aromas wafting out overwhelming. But once here, I decided to give LUSH another chance, because it is important to me to know what I'm putting on my hair and skin, and attempting to translate the back of a shampoo bottle here could very well be a half-day endeavor.

I had a general idea that LUSH was eco-friendly and animal-friendly, so we started off by trying a couple bars of soap. We both liked them a lot, and the scents are actually quite nice once you're only sniffing a single bar instead of an entire store worth of products.

Since then we've expanded from just soap, and I'm now a fan of their lotion (black tub) and bubble bars, and M likes their solid shampoo (tan disk in the front) and conditioner (green cylinder in the back). It nice that you can get tins for the shampoo and conditioner bars too, because it makes them really easy to take along for travel. I like that living here gets us to try new things, and in this case we could have tried the same thing back in the States, but we might never have without the language barrier to prompt us.

If you're wondering just how eco and animal-friendly LUSH is, their products are 100% vegetarian (and over 70% vegan), they use fresh natural ingredients, and little or no preservatives. Products are made in small batches by hand, and they never test their products and ingredients on animals, or engage with third-party suppliers to test on their behalf. You can buy about 70% of their products naked, and when they can’t get rid of packaging completely, they use post-consumer recycled, recyclable and biodegradable materials whenever possible.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Purse Baskets

One thing I've seen frequently here that I like are these baskets for purses and other bags under tables at restaurants. Even if you have a purse holder like I do, you can't always use them if the table is too thick or seating is tight. So it's nice to have another spot to set your bag without having to just drop it on the floor or balance it on your lap all night.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Stuffed Squash

A recent dinner that included carrot and gobo (burdock root) kinpira, sauteed okra, and stuffed squash.

The squash was based on this Roasted Corn Pudding in Acorn Squash recipe, with slight tweaks - because as is the case with most recipes, I can't seem to leave well enough alone.