Monday, September 30, 2013

Southern Food

When my sister came to visit I had her bring me some grits. I'm sure you're completely shocked to hear they're not available in the grocery stores here. I waited a few weeks trying to decide how to use them first, and finally decided to try and recreate a meal from Crook's Corner, an awesome restaurant in Chapel Hill. Shrimp and grits, and frozen mint juleps.

Doesn't that look amazing?
They have a frozen mint julep on the menu (both cocktail and dessert) that is to die for. It's a shot of bourbon over a scoop of mint sorbet, served with a tiny spoon. I've been wanting to recreate this drink for years, but I've never been able to find mint sorbet. Finally it hit me, I could just make a mint granita in the freezer and use that in it's place.

It was perfect! Almost exactly like the original. We were in heaven. For dessert, we had cheesecake (pre-made from 7-Eleven) with raspberries (from Costco). All in all, it was a fantastic meal of comfort foods.

If you're indulging, go all the way

Friday, September 27, 2013

Rainy Writing Days

Rain smells the same in Tokyo. That warm earthy smell that rises into the air when it first starts falling. When I was a kid my dad told me it was the smell of the water mixing into the soil, but there's not much soil to be seen here. I think I've actually read that the smell is ozone, but I might be making that up.

In general the rain in softer here than at home. I grew up with giant rain drops that would splat on the ground, falling quickly and making a comforting drumming noise. Sometimes the raindrops are so small they look like mist here, falling more slowly and making less noise (just like Japanese people). It's a peaceful sort of rain.

One of my first memories from moving here last year is eating lunch at Ark Hills Cafe with Raku. The wide open space with the rough wooden tables is so inviting and the food is always comforting. Today we're sitting here again, drinking warm drinks and writing.  The glass doors have been opened up to let the cool air in - it's finally comfortable in Tokyo after a long steamy summer - and now a gentle rain is falling. Sometimes that's all it takes to remember how good life here is.

Hours: 11:00-11:00
Phone: 03-6229-2666
Address: 1-3-40 Roppongi, Minato-ku, Tokyo

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Strawberry KitKats

I bought some Strawberry KitKats the other day.  (If I blog about them, it's research not just idle snacking, right?)  I've seen them before but never tried them.

The packaging and the candy were all a lovely shade of pink.  But the flavor left something to be desired.  They had a very artificial flavor, and somehow they were really sweet but tart enough to make my nose prickle at the same time.

Like the passion fruit KitKats it seemed like the outer coating melted really quickly.  Too be fair our house is still pretty warm these days.  In the picture you can see the bottom left corner squished, just from taking it out of the wrapper.

I still think the original chocolate is the best flavor I've had, but I'd rank these better than the passion fruit.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Dar Fatima Moroccan Tea House

This week Raku and I went to the cutest little Moroccan tea house in Omotesando called Dar Fatima. It's just off of Cat Street, the pedestrian shopping street that connects Omotesando to Shibuya. They have a little patio with shaded tables as well as a few tables inside. We spent the afternoon writing on the patio and enjoying the cooler weather.

They have a selection of teas as well as sandwiches and desserts. Raku had the iced mint tea and I had iced verveine tea. The mint was better, but it comes pre-sweetened while the others don't.

Verveine Tea
Later in the afternoon we took a dessert break and split their osusume, the sour cream lemon crepes. Honestly, they looked better than they tasted (seriously, look how pretty they are!) The crepes were more like spongy pancakes than thin crepes, and the lemon flavor was very mild, but they were a nice little pick me up for the afternoon.

Lemon Sour Cream Crepes
Inside the shop they sell Moroccan glasses, pottery, and tea pots in the front room, and further back they sell textiles and crafts like brightly colored Moroccan slippers, bags, and rugs.

All afternoon it was very peaceful and quiet, a great place to relax in busy Omotesando. I'd definitely recommend it.

Dar Fatima Moroccan Tea House
Hours: 11:00-8:00
Phone: 03-3406-8200
Address: 5-11-13 Jingumae, Shibuya-ku, Tokoy

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Hikawa Matsuri

This past weekend, our local shrine had it's annual festival - the Hikawa Matsuri.  We went to check it out Saturday night and John took some photos of the event.

In the center of the grounds a booth was built for a man to play a drum while people did traditional dances in a circle around it.

Bon Odori Dances
There were tons of food stalls selling everything from grilled fish on sticks to chocolate dipped bananas on sticks.  Most of the food was on sticks, actually.

There were also a number of stalls with children's games including little pools to catch goldfish, and other water games involving toys.

It was a hot sticky night just before a typhoon rolled in, but it was fun to stroll around taking in the smells and sights at a little community event.  Something about lanterns in the nighttime just makes everything seem magical.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Israeli Food at Ta-Im

Last week I went to Ta-Im, an Isreali restaurant in Ebisu, with a friend.  I'd been interested in going for a while, and I'm glad I finally did because it's amazing!  We decided to order lots of things to split, and there wasn't a single thing I didn't love.

We started off with falafel, which is hard to find in Tokyo as it is.  These were crispy and delicious!  You can order as few as two, so they won't ruin your appetite.

Next we ordered the Israeli Salad, a delicious mixture of cucumber and tomatoes in lemon juice with mint and other herbs.  I'm not crazy about raw tomato, but loved this dish anyways.

As out main course we ordered the lamb with hummus, which was fantastic.  A generous portion of hummus is served up with sautéed lamb, peppers, and onions with a bowl of pita wedges.  They happily refill your pita bread, so don't worry about running out.  This dish was great for sharing since it allowed us to order a number of other things, but if you'r hungry you could definitely eat the whole thing by yourself.

For dessert we each had a piece of baklava, which also came with a chocolate!  If you're too full you can also get the baklava to take home.  I got some for John and saw another couple getting theirs to go as well.

The place itself is pretty small.  There aren't tables, just a number of counter seats, but the atmosphere is warm and cozy.  It's the sort of place where you can easily chat with other diners and the owner without feeling uncomfortable or crowded.

In fact, the owner seemed to know almost everyone that came in.  He speaks English, Japanese, and Hebrew and is happy to chat and make recommendations while whipping up delicious food.  One whole wall is covered in writing, and as I learned he writes the names of all his customers on the wall in Hebrew.  I can't wait to go back!

Hours: Lunch 11:30-2:30, Dinner 6:00-11:00, last order 10:30, Closed Wednesdays and Jewish Holidays
Phone: 03-5424-2990
Address: 1-29-16 Ebisu, Shibua-ku, Tokyo

Friday, September 13, 2013

Fall Clothes

The high today is 88, but you wouldn't know it from the stores.  Fall and winter clothes have arrived, and though it's way to hot to wear any of them yet, I've made a few purchases for when the days finally cool down.

Why puffy coats, why?
Pretty much everything is from Uniqlo.  I love it!

I feel like an advertisement for America

And yes, all of these pictures are from the fitting room or the mirror by my apartment's elevator - it's the only full length mirror I have.
Nautical stripes, skinny back pants, and new heels!

I love this shade of green

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Tokyo 2020

This past weekend the IOC voted for Tokyo to host the 2020 summer olympics.  In general I think people are pretty excited about it.  There have been events going on for the past year running up to the vote and the mascot can be seen all over the place.  Last December I posted some pictures of Raku and myself playing at the display in TBS Square.  For the past couple of months Tokyo Tower has been displaying 2020 in the ring colors at night.  And of course there are signs all over the trains stations about it.  It seems like we've been waiting forever to find out who would win, it's hard to believe it will really be happening here!

I just learned that the Japanese word for olympics is gorin as in 5 rings.  In general Japan is such an organized country, I think they'll do a good job of hosting.  A lot of the facilities from the 1964 Olympics will be used again while some  temporary structures will also be built.  John was telling me that in preparation for the last Tokyo Olympics many of the city's expressways were built, and the first shinkansen bullet train was introduced.

Great job Tokyo - I hope it brings a lot of good to the country!

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Eating Gluten Free in Japan

I was really excited about my sister coming to visit, but my one concern was what to feed her.  She gets pretty severe joint pain from eating gluten or dairy.  At first it seems like Japan would be a great place for that, the diet is made up of fish, vegetables, and rice, right?  But once you start thinking about it, that's not true at all.  No noodles, no soy sauce, nothing that's been breaded and fried.  It turns out even Japanese mayonnaise and miso have gluten in them.  And I don't speak or read well enough to read ingredient labels or ask questions in restaurants.  Yikes!

I did a lot of reading to figure out what I could feed her, and there were a ton of blogs that were really helpful, outlining hidden sources of gluten to avoid and giving a lot of advice.  But a lot of them were pretty bleak and alarming too.  I thought it might be helpful to do a post about all the things she did successfully eat.  And just to be clear, she's moderately sensitive.  If you're super allergic you may need to be more careful than her, but she was able to eat all of these without any joint flareups.

Vegips - and I think most Calbee snacks are gluten free

Calbee Potato Sticks (lemon pepper is great)

Black Sesame Soymilk

There are tons of flavors of soymilk, cocoa, mango, banana, etc.

Chu-hais are NOT malt liquor, they have sochu in them!  Grapefruit is the best!

Popsicles!  This one is soda flavored

Red Bean Onigiri

Korean BBQ (get the unmarinated kind, don't eat the miso paste, and bring your own tamari)

Kushiage - I recommend Jomon in Roppongi, it's salted not soy marinated

Macarons!  We all need dessert

Sushi and Sashimi - just bring your own tamari and be careful of the wasabi

While Julie was here we went to Disney Sea, and I was most worried about that day.  We brought some dried fruits and nuts from a convenience store, but there turned out to be plenty she could eat.  I didn't take pictures of lunch but she got tacos and just didn't eat the tortillas.  Unfortunately the turkey leg stand was closed by the time she tried to get one, but that would have been another good option.  She also had:

Apple Cinnamon Popcorn

Frozen Mango - it's just plain frozen fruit

Watermelon Slushy

And of course, I cooked for her.  Here are just a few of the things I made.  (She brought the corn tortillas, but everything else is available here)

Figs with Thyme and Honey

Huevos Rancheros

Raspberry Sorbet

Lettuce Wraps

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Pepsi Chips

Pepsi makes seasonal flavors here.  Last winter they made a mikan (mandarin orange) flavor.  The summer before they made a salty watermelon flavor.  This summer though, they've outdone themselves.  Instead of an actual beverage they made a snack that's pepsi flavored.  They're being called Pepsi Chips, though they're really more like Pepsi Cheetohs.

Who came up with this idea?

The flavor is intensely concentrated, like a whole bottle of pepsi in one bite!  And they have pop rocks like dust on them to make them seem fizzy.  I'd heard they were bad, but I was still curious.  OMG, they're terrible!

SOOOO Terrible

John agreed, and Julie's opinion was my favorite: "They're the worst thing that ever happened in my mouth!"  But strangely Raku liked them.  Personally, I'd recommend avoiding them at all costs.  But if you're as curious as me, make sure you have a lot of people to share them with, you're not going to want more than one.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

End of Summer

It's hard to believe that it's already September.  The weather is still hot, but not quite as unbearable, stores are decorating with colored leaves, and grapes and figs are showing up in the grocery stores.

I can't believe that my sister's visit is already almost over.  We've had so much fun, and done so much.  I'm exhausted every night, but we've had a wonderful visit.

Souvenir: for strong teeth only

Matching Uniqulo Shirt Karaoke

Cocktails at Fancy Bars

Polka Dots at Mori Art Museum