Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Sister Visit

I'm terribly late writing about this, but a couple months ago my sister came out to visit (for the fourth time!) for her spring break. It was her shortest trip by far, but still lots of fun.

We discovered that the Yokohama Ramen museum now has two shops that offer gluten free ramen, so we made a point of going out there to binge on ramen. (She enjoyed both, but says that Muku Zweite is better than Komurasaki if you have to choose one or the other.)

In other food adventures we went to Enoshima, an island a little over an hour from Tokyo, and during a picnic a hawk stole her entire lunch! Luckily we were able to find more gluten free food (and ice cream) relatively quickly.

The cherry blossoms were supposed to be opening during her visit, but they were very slow this year. We got a few sightings in, but nothing nearing peak blooms. In spite of that we still did lots of other fun things like seeing a Yayoi Kusama show, finding a baby mango (the size of an egg) at a gift fruit store, and just generally enjoying each other's company.

Gluten Free Ramen

The Shin-Yokohama Ramen Museum - so much more crowded than a few years ago!

Mini Mango!

The Yayoi Kusama Show
She's so werid, but I LOVE her

Sister Love

Travel themed chu-hais

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

The Time Is Flying

It's hard to believe it's already the middle of May. Somehow I completely missed writing about the sakura this year, and my sister visiting during her spring break. The cold weather has left, and warm sunny days are coming back, at least for a little while. Rainy season only about three weeks away!

But in the meantime I've been enjoying as much time as I can outdoors. I bought a picnic blanket, and have already put it to use a number of times. A few weeks ago Raku and I went on an overnight to Yokohama, just for an adventure. And while we didn't go anywhere for Golden Week, John and I made a point of going somewhere fun everyday so that it actually felt like a vacation.

Cherry blossoms with a friend
It's the best time of year

Yokohama

The flowers were fantastic

And so was the company!

Cherry Pie Frappuccino - surprisingly delicious

Apple galette for Raku's birthday
Pretty enough for a restaurant, but made by Raku

Coffee Set at the Hotel Chinzanso

Monday, April 17, 2017

Weekend Getaway to Hakone

Last month John and I went to Hakone for a weekend to celebrate our anniversary. Hakone is a little mountain hot spring resort town south of Tokyo, and it seems silly that we'd never gone before considering it's only 35 minutes away by shinkansen.

Like most vacation destinations in Japan, there seems to be a standard itinerary that allows you to see all the sights in a day - it involves different types of trains, chair lifts and even a pirate ship, and goes in a loop through the area. Passes are sold that significantly discount the cost of doing everything, but we decided to take it slower and only do a few things.

Hakone is most known for the many hot springs and the views of Mt. Fuji. We weren't sure if the weather would be clear enough, but we lucked out and had excellent views both day. And there was never any doubt about the onsen being good. We went every morning and evening at our hotel. If you're a little shy or just looking for some solitude, I highly recommend hotel onsen in the morning. Japanese people generally bathe at night, as do tourists that are dirty/tired/achy from their daily adventures. So both mornings I had the onsen entirely to myself (and snuck my phone in for a few quick shots).

Another huge highlight for me was taking a cable car up to Owakudani, an area with lots of sulfur vents. From the air we had a great glimpse of Mt. Fuji before clouds rolled in, and then started to see the sulfur billowing up from the mountains.

If you enjoy cable cars (or ropeways as they're called in Japan) there is another cable car that runs to the top of Mt. Komagatake. It's all steel and cement and looks straight out of the Soviet era, but the views from the top were the best views we had of Mt. Fuji all weekend.

Onsen at the Prince Ashinoko Hotel

Sulfur vents at Owakudani

The original Tokaido road - lined with cedar trees

Hakone Shrine and Mt. Fuji sighting from Lake Ashi

View of Mt. Fuji from Mt. Komagatake

Mt. Komagatake Ropeway - seriously ugly, but worth the view


Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Momiji Manju Kitkats

Momiji manju is a traditional Japanese sweet made of red bean paste wrapped inside of a sweet dough that is baked or steamed in the shape of a maple leaf (momiji means maple, manju is a bun with filling). A friend gave me these  momiji manju kitkats a couple of months ago, and I am finally getting around to writing about them.

I love the packaging, even though it's not fall anymore, and the print of the maple leaf on the actual candy. It always feels special when they print something into the kitkat.

The flavor is a surprisingly accurate and enjoyable, a mixture of white chocolate and red bean paste. You'll need to be a fan of red bean paste to enjoy this one though - if you're not, or if you've never had it before you'll probably be wondering why your candy bar tastes a little bit like kidney beans got mixed in with your chocolate.

Momiji Manju Kitkats

I love the leaf detail


Monday, February 20, 2017

February Update

I've been pretty absent around here, haven't I? It's not just the blog though, I've been pulling back from other forms of social media as well. I've given it a good bit of thought, trying to really understand what's behind it. It's still hard to say. In some ways I think social media makes me feel more isolated than connected - I'm definitely happier since deleting the facebook app from my phone.

But my blog is different. As I've slowed down, I've found myself wondering if I'm running out of things to say. If this blog is coming to an end? But I don't really think it's time This has been such a fun/therapeutic/helpful space. I still love ever comment I get, whether it's someone thanking me for advice about gluten free food in japan, or just my mom saying that my pictures are cute. And having this space to think and write has really helped me process all the aspects of life here, especially in the early days when there was so much change. Often when I was struggling with writer's block I found that I could "warm up" by posting here on my blog, and then get into working on my book. Truth be told, my writing there lately has been pretty slow too. So maybe it's a problem of discipline.

I'm going to commit to a month of regular posting, and see what happens. Hopefully it will me good for me, and for my other writing as well.

In the meantime, here's what I've been up to.

Yet another birthday cake - German Chocolate this time

Dear Starbucks, this is a gross idea!

Godfather (the non-scary kind)

Valentine's Dinner - plus wine and chocolate!

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

What a Month

It's been over a month since I've posted anything. Strangely my blog traffic has been up during that time. I like to think that's because over time I've built up resources and valuable information about Tokyo. Or maybe it's just a mystery. But all of that's beside the point. I'm back and happy to be here. 

John and I went back to the US for two weeks just after I posted my last entry. We had some of the most messed up travel plans I've ever experienced, in both directions. But in spite of the inconvenience good came out of it on each end. Due to flight delays we were given a new itinerary departing Japan which gave us a 12 hour layover in San Francisco. My sister lives nearby so we were able to spend a day with her, eating, hiking, and seeing her new house, before heading on to North Carolina. Then a huge snowstorm snarled flights all along the east coast just as we were supposed to return, giving us another day with John's family.

Since I've been back I've been so busy with everything from mountains of laundry to celebrating my wonderful godson's first birthday. There was lots of baking involved! And then last Friday Raku and I participated in the Women's March in Tokyo. It received appallingly bad coverage in English. Both the attendance and REASON for the march were misreported in the Japan Times. Ugh. I honestly don't want to know what was reported in Japanese. But as frustrating as that was, Raku and I carried beautiful signs and marched in a group of 648 people (when only 100 had been expected) - men and women of many nationalities, sharing our concerns and showing our solidarity with marchers around the world.

North Carolina Snow
I made this!!

Double Birthday Celebration
Tokyo Women's March


Friday, December 23, 2016

Where To Find Vegetarian Ramen in Tokyo

A couple of months ago I had a vegetarian friend visiting. It wasn't her first visit to Japan, but this time I was determined to find some ramen for her. Finding vegetarian food isn't that easy in Japan, and more than likely it will be vegan or else vegetarian but including fish broth.

However, without too much work I found two different places to get vegetarian and/or vegan ramen.

The first place we went was T's Tantan inside the ticket gates of Tokyo station. Everything in the restaurant is vegan which is particularly nice when a person is often having to select the only vegetarian option on a menu. 

She had the seasonal autumn ramen and I had a tantan noodles and curry set. Both were good, though as a meat eater I definitely like regular tantan noodles more. My friend raved about hers - particularly the broth - and thought it was much better than any vegetarian ramen she'd had in the US. As a note, I got the set with curry because I wanted her to have a chance to try Japanese curry, but this was much more Thai in style - coconut milk based, which is not Japanese at all.

The second place we went was Afuri, which is a trendy ramen chain with multiple locations in Tokyo. If you watch the show Girls on HBO there is a scene of Shoshana eating there. Afuri is known for its yuzu flavored broths, and I just happened to notice that they have a vegan option on their menu. This is a great place to take a group, if not everyone is looking for vegan or vegetarian food. A bonus here is that if you're a vegetarian you can add a soft boiled egg to your ramen (my favorite part!) which you won't find at a vegan restaurant. As a note, the vegan ramen comes with noodles made out of vegetables because their regular noodles use egg, but you can pay to upgrade to regular noodles (which I highly recommend) if you're vegetarian and not vegan.

My friend enjoyed both, but said she's choose T's Tantan as her first choice because of the greater choice and the uniqueness of of the broth. But either way you can't go wrong.

T's Tantan in Tokyo Station

Tantan noodles and curry set at T's Tantan

Seasonal Autumn Ramen at T's Tantan


Vegan Ramen at Afuri - So Gorgeous!

Hours: 7:00-11:00 7 days a week
Phone: 03-3218-8040
Location: JR Tokyo Station, on Keiyo Street

Locations Include: Roppongi, Ebisu, Azabu Juban, Naka Meguro, Harajuku, Sangenjaya, Shinjuku and Yokohama