Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Stovetop Cooking

Yesterday was one of those days. You know the kind, the ones where absolutely everything seems to go against you.

In the kitchen, that translated into completely messing up a recipe. I forgot to chill my crust ahead of time, and then forgot to prick it, so it puffed up in the Easy Bake Oven despite the fact that I was using pie weights. Then I managed to explode the 2 little jars I had been using as pie weights (don't ask), after which I dropped my bowl full of tofu ricotta all over the kitchen floor.

Next I burned a batch of garlic, and then my thumb while trying to get the garlic out of the pan. Thankfully, even after all of that, my version of Heidi's Lasagna Tart still managed to turn out pretty well.

As for me, I went to go console myself with a long bubble bath. And instead accidentally turned the shower on, soaking through my robe. Sigh. At least today is a new day.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Shopping Spree

I've hardly done any clothes shopping during our time here for reasons I've griped about rather frequently to family and friends. For one thing, most shops cater to women with a Japanese frame (obviously), and a lot of the popular styles are less than flattering to a curvy American body. It is also more expensive, and frankly it just isn't as much fun to be buying the largest sizes in the store when you're used to being a smaller size in the States.

There are chain stores like Gap and Banana Republic where I know the clothes will fit, and be available in my regular size - but they are still expensive. Banana's prices seem to be about 1.5 to 2 times as high, and Gap's prices seem higher too - for example, the short sleeve hoodie below was originally about $70 USD. But when either of those stores have sales, I'm there, and this past weekend I picked up these three discounted items. And if you wondering how I'm able to buy my usual size at Gap when I'm at the large end of body sizes here in Japan, it's because here Gap adds an XXS size for the smaller Japanese body types.

Any guesses as to which of the three items M picked out for me? He brings color to my world and my closet!

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Weekend Highlights

It's been a good weekend.

After years of encouragement from family and friends, and a bit of loving pestering from my husband and father, I've finally opened the virtual doors on my online shop, "songbird notes," where I'm selling my handmade note cards. Yippee!


And we found Pimm's! In Japan! Just in time for the 4th round at Wimbledon. Oh happy day!

Friday, June 26, 2009

I Can See Clearly Now

...just not out of our bedroom windows. In both of our bedrooms, all of the windows are fitted with translucent wired glass. The translucent aspect was a disappointment when we first saw them, but is appreciated now, as the windows face the building's parking lot, and it provides a bit more privacy. The glass is wired so that in case of damage (like from a fire or an earthquake) the glass is held together better and large shards of glass will be less likely to fall out.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Stovetop Cooking

This salad might have temporarily moved aside my faux tuna salad as my favorite lunch. It's light, refreshing, and delicious.

Use whatever veggies are on hand for the base of the salad, mine was shredded cabbage, carrots, cucumber, pine nuts, green beans, and red onion. It is topped with baked tofu that marinated in tahini, garlic, soy sauce, and white wine, which was very tasty, but what really makes the salad is the dressing.

The carrot ginger dressing is adapted from Martha Stewart's recipe - basically I just reduced the amount of ginger, and then all ingredients get tossed in a blender. It's so good, I think I could just drink it.
  • 1/2 C carrot juice
  • 1/2 C tofu
  • 1 to 1.5 T ginger, minced or grated
  • 2 T rice-wine vinegar
  • 1 T soy sauce

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Relax and Take a Deep Breath

This is a smoking section smack dab in the middle of a park.

I can't even decide if I think this is effective or not. I do appreciate the idea of designated smoking areas, and it certainly better than being closed into a restaurant with no real division for smokers, and having smoke waft over while you are trying to eat. But in this case, you're already outside - is it really making a difference? Thoughts?

Monday, June 22, 2009

"Late Night" Discount

After our last trip to the movies, I wasn't in a big hurry to go see a movie again anytime soon. Besides the steep price tag, the sound level was so high in the theatre that I stuffed Kleenex in my ears as make-shift earplugs to try and minimize the pain. Since then, A had checked out the Midland Square Cinema and recommended it, so we decided to give that one a go to see Angels & Demons.

The theatre itself was much nicer, and we had printed off a coupon from the website to try and save a couple hundred yen. It turns out that we didn't even need the coupon though, because we had elected to see a "late night" showing of the movie, and each of our tickets was around $12 USD instead of the usual $18 USD. What counts as "late night" here? Any movie starting at 8 pm or later. Although I was initial surprised at that (albeit very pleased at the discounted price), it does make sense, considering that most people are relying on public transportation. Our movie started at 8:50, and we were just able to catch the second to last subway home.

Also, while we were there, I was excited to see a movie based on Hachiko (see my previous post on that here) that is coming out later this summer. The trailer is mostly in English and looks like it's going to be a tearjerker.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Under Their Umbrellas....Ellas....Ellas

After a recent rainy day, our neighbors hung out all of their umbrellas for a good air dry!

Friday, June 19, 2009

Stovetop Cooking

The below spread includes hummus, Smitten Kitchen's pesto potato salad with green beans (plus peas and some goat cheese), and Wannabe A Vegan's "fish" tacos.

The "fish" was actually beer battered tofu, and each taco got packed with tofu, avocado slices, shredded cabbage and carrots, and then drizzled with a sour cream/cilantro/lime juice sauce. Soooo good.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Sugishima & Gifu

This past weekend we took a mini-getaway, starting at the Sugishima onsen (hot springs) inn. It was about a 2 hour drive away, but was more than worth it, the area was beautiful - surrounded by mountains and right next to a river where people were fishing for ayu (sweetfish). This is the entrance to the property.

The inn itself was beautiful, and features public hinoki onsen as well as two private rock baths that can be reserved. Our lodging was a two-level space with our very own private tub outside.

Both dinner and breakfast were included, and were spectacular - almost more food than we could eat, and all of it was delicious. The next morning we drove to the city of Gifu and took in a lot of sights. We rode the ropeway to the top of Mt. Kinka, toured Gifu Castle, and then hiked down the mountain. From there we went to see the Gifu Great Buddha, one of the three largest Buddhist figures in Japan.

By early evening it was time to see what had really brought us to Gifu, the cormorant fishing (or ukai in Japanese). It is hard to see clearly in the video, but there are three crew members on the boat, and one of them is handling a dozen cormorants that are all in the water catching ayu. The fire attracts the fish and also provides light to work by.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Happy Feet

According to the all powerful internet, unlike the ancient tabi socks, toe socks (also known as five-toed socks or five-fingered socks) didn't come into existence until 1970 (full time line of their life here). Separating your toes is supposed to do all sorts of wonderful things, like increase balance and stability, keep your feet warmer, and stimulate an important acupuncture point to aid digestion. And perhaps there is something to those claims, because they are popular with athletes, including both Japanese and American baseball players.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Clean-up Karma?

Every so often there is a binder that gets passed around the units of our mansion (see A's entry on it here) to notify us of important neighborhood events. It seems like it shows up in our doorway constantly, but I just find it annoying, so it probably seems more often than it actually is. As you can see in A's photo, all of the info is in Japanese. So for the first few times we got the binder, M would take it into work and get the whole thing translated before we would stamp it with our inkan (verifying that we've received it) and pass it on to the next neighbor. The information was consistently announcements like a special recycling day for newspapers at the nearby church, or like the one in A's entry, a party invite for the 65 and older crew.

Since the information never seemed to be relevant to us, we stopped having it translated, and just stamped the binder and passed it on (I know, I know, so terrible). Well, in doing so, we were unaware of the mansion clean-up that all residents were supposed to participate in two weekends ago. Oops. Now this past weekend while we were out of town (will post on that later) the hedge outside of our apartment was trimmed - all of it except for the portion right in front of us. Am now wondering if we're being shunned for our lack of participation in the building clean-up...

Sock It To Me

I'm a big fan of the split toed socks known as tabi socks. They've been worn by men and women in Japan since the 16th century with traditional thonged footwear and they are an essential part of traditional clothing, like kimono, as well. The most common color is white, but colorful patterns versions are popular as well. Ours have hiragana characters on them (one component of the Japanese writing system), and are from my favorite tabi sock store called SOU-SOU.

Construction workers, gardeners, and other laborers often wear a type of tabi called jikatabi, which have rubber soles and are worn as outer footwear. The softness of the jikatabi's soles give wearers tactile contact with the ground and thus lets them use their feet more agilely than they could in rigid-soled shoes. Of course if you are a Westerner and a celebrity, wearing them might also result in you getting fugged.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Daily Delight

We get to pass this beautiful corner every time we walk to or from the subway.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Stovetop Cooking

Our CSA box this week included this adorable (sorry, but there is really no other way to describe it!) baby corn. I had never seen them fresh before, and previously thought that perhaps they only lived in the little jars of pickled veggies or in the occasional stir-fry dish.

I found them almost too cute to eat, but I quickly got over that and added them to a baked pasta dish with asparagus, zucchini, mushrooms, mozzarella, and some homemade soysage.

And our pile of onions got turned into Jamie Oliver's English Onion Soup with Sage and Cheddar

Sometimes I really don't mind ending up with leftovers! Mmm

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Back in the Game

Shortly before my visit to the States, I learned that my tennis buddy was moving back to Australia. Not only was I really going to miss her (and hanging out at the Hilton, and speaking English...), but I had also enjoyed playing on a regular basis, and I wasn't sure how I was going to be able to keep that up.

After walking by locked tennis courts in our area, we decided to check out the posted website to see how we could go about using them. It turned out that you need to set up an account in person, after which it is possible to reserve court times on the website.

I was nervous about trying to set up an account (as my Japanese is, well, not great), but M surprised me one day by going into the Sports and Rec office to set up an account for us, and he reserved a court for us so we could play last night. He's the best!! We enjoyed playing under the lights and were joined by a number of bugs and bats, making for an extra entertaining game. Unfortunately the courts are totally booked through July, but it's nice to know we can get back out there in August!

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Festival of Meat - and Veggies!

This past weekend I joined A and M and their coworkers for a farewell dinner party. We went to a shabu-shabu restaurant (check out the link to read more about it), which normally would be a disaster for a vegetarian, but one of their coworkers called ahead to have a special menu prepared for A and I.

This was our first plate, tofu, a tempura tomato, and some type of sea plant in the white cup.

Next up, yuba with shoyu and a cucumber.

More veggies.

Tempura veggies.

Veggies, tofu, yuba, and noodles that got warmed in the pot, and then were dipped into a sauce.

Cold noodles and dipping sauce.

Tomato salad. The food just kept coming and coming. I didn't even get pictures of all of it, we also had soup, pickles, rice with a tasty topping, and a dessert of melon and strawberries. To say my stomach hurt by the end of the night would be a vast understatement.

Good thing beer and wine just fills in the gaps in your stomach. Kompai!

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

I'm Back!

After almost a month in the States, I'm really happy to be back home with my hubby, and glad to be adjusted enough from jet lag that I was able to "sleep in" until 6:45 today!

It certainly was great though to spend lots of time with family and friends, and consume lots of delicious things - like good dill pickles, perfectly smooth hummus, soysage, "real" beer, and a couple of tasty "salads in a glass" like the one below. Mmmmmm