Sunday, March 31, 2013

Sakura Cocktails

I got so caught up in the start of spring that I didn't do a very good job of blogging last week.  But never fear, I'm back.  And I've been working on sakura cocktail recipes to celebrate the cherry blossoms blooming.

The first drink John and I attempted was a Sakura Martini.  It was pretty strong, and the consensus was that you'd have to really like Gin to like this drink. Now, I really like gin, but even I thought it was a pretty intense drink.  It might be better with vodka, but in general it wasn't necessarily a winner.

Sakura Martini
1.5 oz Gin
0.5 oz Sakura Liqueur
Maraschino Cherry

Combine Gin and Sakura Liqueur with ice and shake well.  Strain into cocktail glass and garnish with a cherry.

Next up I tried a Sakura Gin and Tonic.  It not only looked prettier, it tasted a lot better too.  I'd recommend this one.

Sakura Gin and Tonic
1.5 oz Gin
0.5 oz Sakura Liqueur
4-6 oz. Tonic Water
Maraschino Cherry
Lime Wedge

Combine the Gin and Sakura Liqueur over ice, top with tonic, garnish with a maraschino cherry and a generous lime wedge.  On a side note, did you know Tonic Water is different here in Japan?  It's not allowed to have quinine in it, so the flavor is a little different than what I'm used to.

If all else fails, Kirin's got you covered with a Sakura Wine Spritzer perfect for cherry blossom viewing.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Spring Visits

April is shaping up to be an exciting month.  John and I have a friend, Sarah, coming to visit for about a week and a half.  During that time Sarah and I are also going to take a trip down to Kyushu to visit another friend living near Fukuoka.  I'm really excited to do this because I've only spent a very small amount of time outside Tokyo, and my understanding is that it's a totally different experience.  Look for more details about Kyushu, as well as the fun Sarah and I get into, soon.

And speaking of visits, we've had several people talk to us recently about coming to visit, which is  exciting.  I really enjoy the opportunity to share our lives with friends and family - which is great about this blog - but so much more fun in person.

And finally, I'll leave you with a couple of spring photos.

Early Springtime Leaves

Illuminated Sakura at Night

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Sakura Season

Tokyo is exploding with flowers!  Sakura season has officially started, which I believe is earlier than usual.  I'm totally loving the flowers, so here are some of the pictures I've taken lately.

Remember these snowy cabbages?
They've exploded!
Aren't these tropical?

This little guy stole a bite of cake from a lady at a cafe!
I'm in heaven here!  Tomorrow is a national holiday, so I plan to take John on a cherry blossom viewing picnic - maybe he'll even take some pictures and write his own blog post.

Friday, March 15, 2013

White Day

Yesterday was White Day, the day when guys reciprocate for their Valentine's gifts.  John took some nice chocolates to his secretary (that Raku and I picked out and purchased).  But look at these gorgeous flowers he got me.  He's such a good guy.

John said the experience at the flower shop was really interesting.  After consulting with John, the florist carefully selected each flower and created an individualized bouquet.

So bright and spring-y

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Anniversary Dinner

Last week, John and I celebrated our anniversary by going to a little French restaurant in Akasaka called Bistro Le Chat Noir.  I stopped by with Raku several days in advance to make a reservation and used my questionable Japanese skills - but it totally worked and Raku didn't have to jump in at all.

So cute!
Le Chat Noir is a tiny restaurant with only about 10 seats, but we were the only people there that night (to be fair it was a Tuesday), so the reservation wasn't all that necessary.  The restaurant is run by a sweet older couple, and is completely decked out with cats.  The menu was hand written and came in a little photo album of cat pictures and the wife was even wearing a necklace with a black cat on it.  Throughout the evening she pointed out different cat knickknacks and even showed us a photo of their two cats (the older one is named Noir).  John ordered a venison stew and I got a truffle pasta.  It was the first time we've ever been the only customers in a restaurant, but I left the meal with such a warm feeling for the couple running the place.  I hope they're packed on the weekends!

In addition to our dinner, I made John his favorite cupcakes.  He totally ate two before dinner.

Seriously, why can't I have a bakery?

Bistro Le Chat Noir
Hours: Lunch Mon-Sat 11:30-2:30 (last order 2:00), Dinner Mon-Sat 6:00-12:00, Sunday and Holidays 6:00-10:00
Phone: 03-6459-1460
Address: 2-18-19 Akasaka, Minato-ku, Tokyo

Monday, March 11, 2013

Dust Storm

Yesterday afternoon Tokyo was hit by a huge dust storm that blew in from Mongolia.  It was totally shocking how quickly it blew in, and how dramatic it was.  I was in the middle of drying my hair when John called me to come see a crazy storm cloud.  It was so dark it looked like a rain cloud, but there was a yellow tint that made it look unusual.  The strangest part was the clearly defined edge of it, past which the sky was bright blue and lovely.  Luckily we closed all of our air vents because we went sure what it was, and I went back to finish drying my hair.  By the time I was finished the entire sky was a sickly yellow brown, and much of our view was obscured by the haze.  It stayed for a little less than two hours, and then blew away.

I was surprised to read that apparently this is a normal weather phenomenon that happens in late winter and early spring in the Gobi desert and sweeps across Asia.  Only the larger storms make it across China and Korea all the way to Japan, but the very worst can make it to the west coast of the US.  Crazy!  Unfortunately some of the rapid industrialization in China has led to deforestation which has exacerbated this phenomenon, making the storms more frequent.  I took some pictures of the dust storm yesterday and then the same shots this morning so you can see what it was like.

Saturday, March 9, 2013


In the last week it has gotten so warm!  I suddenly don't need to wear a coat outside, and every so often I catch the intoxicating scent of flowers on the breeze.  I assume weather here in March can be as unpredictable as it is at home, but I'm loving this for as long as it lasts.  This afternoon John and I had a picnic lunch on the roof!

In other exciting news, the herbs I planted are finally sprouting - I had almost given up on them.  I'm now looking at them about a hundred times a day, like a proud mother, while John shakes his head and laughs at me.

See that tiny bit of green?
Speaking of seasons and plants, did you know that strawberry season in Japan is January through March?  I didn't believe it the first time someone told me, but it really is.  I don't know why they put in all the extra effort to grow them in greenhouses so they're ready now - but it's a nice welcome for spring.  I've been adjusting to the way that produce is available so seasonally here.  There are days when I get really annoyed that it's not grape season or something, but for the most part I'm enjoying finding which foods are available and shaping our diet around that.  It makes me feel just a little more in touch with the earth, even though I'm living in an enormous city.

To be sure that I don't miss anymore important seasons I just bought this book - A Guide to Food Buying in Japan.  It's actually really useful.  It explains and has pictures of a lot of the foods in the grocery stores, and lists which fruits and vegetables are in season at what time of year.  It also tells their Japanese names, and shows the kanji for them.  Hopefully now I can stop asking Raku to text me pictures of the labels of different ingredients so that I can find them in the stores.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Partyland Frozen Yogurt

Be still my heart,  I've finally found frozen yogurt in Tokyo!

I had all but given up, but then John and I were wandering around Shibuya last weekend when we stumbled across Partyland Frozen Yogurt.  From the outside it looked legit - but I was scared it would be a disappointment inside.

It's even sold by the weight - together our two were 750 yen
Walking in the door I was thrilled to see that there were multiple self-serve options - including the swirl option, of course.  John and I both got chocolate and cheese cake.  The flavors are labeled in English, and the signs indicate which flavors are tart.

Next time I need to try the melon flavor
And then there were the toppings.  The fruits were really fresh and delicious, the mochi was cut into bigger pieces than I was used too, but the whole area was clean and nicely organized.

A little of everything, please!
I was really pleased with mine.  The gummy bears were a little dry, and the chocolate was a little melty - but overall I still thought it was great.  I asked John's opinion and he told me it was terrible, but when I asked why he admitted it was because he didn't put enough chocolate chips on - so we'll chalk that up to user error.

I'm going to have to work harder at the gym.

Read about other frozen yogurt in Tokyo:
Red Mango

Hours: 11:00-11:00
Phone: 03-6416-5900
Address: 13-4 Udagawacho, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Japanese Flour Isn't All-Purpose!

I haven't done all that much baking since we got here, but every time I have have, it's seemed like something was just slightly off (except for a couple disasters that were terribly off).  Everyone else told me that everything was great - but I was feeling like I was losing my touch (or maybe my mind).  About a month ago I finally quit using pancake mix and made some pancakes from scratch, and the exact some thing was wrong with them - they were just a little too floppy and squishy - and even though he said they tasted great John could tell the texture was different from when I had made these pancakes before.  This got me thinking that maybe the problem wasn't elevation or Celsius conversions or that the ovens here are smaller - maybe it was the flour.

And as soon as I considered this, it seemed like the most obvious thing ever.  What was I doing assuming that the flour here was exactly what I was used to?  I did a little internet research and found this blog post which is incredibly helpful, spelling out what all the different kinds of flour in Japan are, and listing the kanji for them!  From this I was able to determine that the flour that is most readily available - and that I had been using - is actually cake flour!

The literal translation is "Weak Flour"
This means that the gluten content is lower than all-purpose flour, and that it creates a much more delicate crumb, which might be great in a cake, but would be terrible in a pie crust.  And even though some of the things I was making were cakes, my recipes were calibrated for all-purpose flour.

This is "Strong Flour"
Armed with the knowledge I had gained online, as well as my ability to understand pictures, I found this bread flour in a fancy grocery store.  Bread flour has a higher gluten content, which creates a chewier texture - think bread or cinnamon rolls, but would make an awful muffin.  All purpose flour has a gluten content right in the middle of cake and bread flour, so I got fancy and mixed my own "all-purpose " flour with a roughly 50-50 ratio.  Edit:  Having experimented some more, I find that I prefer 2/3 strong flour + 1/3 weak flour. But when I'm feeling lazy I just use the strong flour and it's usually fine.

Yes, I brought a flour sifter to Tokyo
If you're not as crazy as me, or you can't find bread flour, I've read that you can substitute 1 c. + 2 T. of cake/weak flour to approximate 1 c. all-purpose flour.  Just for the record my flour mixture made great pancakes this morning!