Thursday, October 31, 2013

Halloween Photo Shoot

Happy Halloween! Is there anything better than a holiday when you and a friend can dress up and have a hilarious photo shoot? Well, I guess I don't really need a holiday for that. Back when my sister was visiting she, Raku, and I all bought matching cat shirts for 500 yen at Uniqlo. Honestly there are not that many occasions that we find to wear them together (though we try!) but using them as cat costumes seemed perfect. We waited too long and missed our chance to buy cat ears, but made some pretty great ones using construction paper and headbands. Then we spent a good 20 minutes coming up with our best cat poses.

Speaking of holidays, John told me that on the way to work he saw Christmas wreaths up!

By the way, I don't know if you can tell in the pictures, but I got a haircut earlier this week. It's not much shorter, but it has lots of layers in it now. I wish I was more creative about styling my hair. Where do people get all their cute ideas?

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Crock Pot Pumpkin Bread

Did you know you can bake in a crock pot? Move over rice cooker, I have a new (much more successful) BFF in the kitchen. Now that it's really fall I've been wanting to make pumpkin bread, and I came across a recipe to make it in a crock pot. I was pretty sure it would be a disaster like more than half of my rice cooker baking attempts are, but it worked like a dream!

You put the batter in a small loaf pan, and then the loaf pan sits in a water bath inside the crockpot to bake. Paper towels absorb the moisture as it cooks (genius!) so that it doesn't turn mushy and gross. When it was finished I was worried that the top looked too soft, but it was cooked all the way through, and even my toughest critic (my charming husband) liked it! I can't wait to make it again.

Yummy batter

Fingers crossed!

Will this really work?


Thursday, October 24, 2013

Going with the Flow

Are you very good at going with the flow? I'm trying to get better at it. When we first moved here I felt so out of control. Everything was so hard - I had the responsibilities of an adult, but what felt like the abilities of a very young child. As a coping mechanism I tried so hard to plan ahead and be in control of every small thing in my life that I could. In the beginning that was really helpful for me, but lately I've been thinking I need to relax a little more. I've found that I'm becoming resistant to change, something I never would have expected a year ago.

I know it's still more than a month away, but since September I've been trying to figure out what to do for Thanksgiving this year. It's easy to stress yourself out doing obsessive research and trying to make a plan to recreate a perfect experience. It makes you evaluate how important certain things are. Is having a "normal" Thanksgiving a way to hold on to treasured memories and traditions? Or is it a way to try and pretend that life hasn't really changed since moving here?

Yesterday I went to Costco and was delighted to discover they are selling pumpkin pies! A piece of my Thanksgiving plan was falling into place!  But, it turns out that Costco Japan carries pumpkin pie in October, and by November they're probably out of stock. I guess it's a Halloween thing? After some debating in the store, I realized that rather than being disappointed that I wouldn't be able to come get one for Thanksgiving I should be excited that I have the opportunity to have it all. And that what's really important to me about Thanksgiving is spending time with people that I care about, sharing laughter and delicious food, whether it's traditional or not. Even if it's not on the 4th Thursday of November.

So last night we had pumpkin pie, and I was thankful to be able to share a fall dessert with friends. Full disclosure - I bought a second pie and put it in the freezer for Thanksgiving. I guess I haven't completely let go yet.

Costco Pumpkin Pie

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Updated Blog

Many thanks to John for helping give my blog a much needed facelift, the perfect activity for a cold and rainy autumn afternoon.

The banner picture is a photo that my Great Aunt took in Japan in 1958, most likely in Shizuoka prefecture. She was such an amazing lady, traveling all over the world by herself so long ago.   When she went somewhere she really explored too, getting well off the beaten path. I'm always inspired by her fearlessness.  The women in this picture are spreading out shrimp to dry in the sun. Can you imagine how much their backs must have ached at the end of the day?  In the background is Mt. Fuji - I still haven't seen it that closely yet.

I think last weekend was the dying breath of summer. It's been getting cooler, and we are finally sleeping without the air conditioning. I've had it off during the day for weeks, but it's just been too hot and stuffy at night. A very few leaves are beginning to turn, and apples are everywhere in the grocery stores now. Later this week I'm going to try a pumpkin bread recipe in my crockpot, if it's not a total disaster I plan to blog about it.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Crystal Yacht Club Night Cruise

Last year at his office's year end party John won two tickets on a night cruise, and we finally got around to using them last weekend.

The cruise departs from Tenouzu Isle in Shinagawa, which is sort of a pain to get to, but we trekked out there getting lost like we always do trying to find the monorail. I had expected it to be on one of the small wooden boats with lights strung up, but we were greeted by a big yacht.

The Lady Crystal
There was an air conditioned cabin with a bar where we could sit, as well as roof top where we could take pictures in the open air. An assortment of drinks were lined up waiting for us at the bar, and it was self serve the whole time. The night cruise is only an hour though, so there's not really that much drinking.

Taking pictures of the skyline
The view was actually really nice. We had great views of Tokyo Tower, the ferris wheel and Rainbow Bridge in Odaiba, and we sailed far enough up to see the Sky Tree before turning around to sail back.

Rainbow Bridge
It was a fun way to spend a Friday night (especially since it was free), though it can get windy. I'd recommend putting your hair up or coming armed with some hair ties.

Phone: 03-3450-4300
Address: 2-3-16 Higashishinagawa, Shinagawa-ku, Tokyo

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Shiba Koen

Last week I had lunch with friends in Shiba Koen. It was fun to socialize a little in the middle of the day, and later in the afternoon I got to explore the area a little more.

I had read that in the park there was a ten meter man-made gorge with a waterfall, which I was really excited to see. Shiba Koen is pretty big so it took a little while to figure out where it is, but it's in the corner of the park right by Tokyo Tower.

Shiba Koen Walking Trail
As you can see "gorge" is a bit of an exaggeration. I would call it a walking trail carved into a small hill. But it was still beautiful. There are several benches so it would make a good picnic or coffee break spot.

Raku contemplating the waterfall
 We didn't look closely, but the temple in Skiba Koen, Zojo-ji, is supposed to have the burial place of six Tokugawa Shoguns, but not Ieyasu - he's in Nikko.

Reminds me of home
 Just as we left the lights on Tokyo Tower came on, and we got some great pre-sunset pictures.

At the base of Tokyo Tower

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Things That Make Me Smile

This past week has been a rough one. My writing hasn't been going very well, the days are getting shorter - sunset is already at 5:09, and I've been thinking a lot about last October - the month John and I spent saying goodbye to our friends and family before moving here. So I've been trying to focus on the things that do make me happy, like:

Beautiful Sunsets

Funny English T-shirts

Free stickers that came with my lemons

Japanese Lanterns

This Guy

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Homemade Ravioli Revisited

I wrote about making homemade ravioli before, but I realized I made a huge mistake. Instead of using gyoza wrappers, I used paper thin shumai wrappers! That's why they were so thin and delicate.

I tried again this past weekend, adding some yummy mushrooms to the filling and using the proper wrappers, and they came out so much better! None of them stuck together or tore, and they didn't come open while cooking. Definitely something worth trying (if you can't get ravioli any other way).

I love how rustic they look

Just before the sauce

Monday, October 7, 2013

Yokohama Chinatown

A couple weeks ago Raku and I went to Yokohama for the afternoon, the plan was to eat some Chinese food, spend the afternoon writing, and do a little shopping (the real reason for the trip). Well, we never got around to the writing, but we were very successful at the eating and shopping.

Yokohama is famous for its huge Chinatown, the perfect destination for a delicious lunch. I'm not that familiar with different types of Chinese food, but we picked a Shanghai style restaurant and had a very satisfying meal. We started with stir fried noodles with shrimp and vegetables. It was perfectly salty and noodles had a satisfying chewiness.  

Next we ordered a surprising pork and tofu dish. We picked it based on a picture, and were surprised that it came with little steamed buns to put the mixture inside. Honestly, it didn't really need the buns, but I'm not a steamed bun fan in general. The meat and tofu mixture was curry flavored, which was also unexpected, but not unpleasant.

We finished with an order of enormous shumai. Yokohama is famous for shumai - you can often get them as a souvenir to bring back. They're a type of steamed pork dumpling partially covered in a paper thin wrapper.  The filling is tender, juicy and delicious!

We had our meal with unlimited hot jasmine tea. I don't think I've had any since we were in Hong Kong, and I had forgotten how much I enjoyed it. The hot floral tea is perfect with greasy salty Chinese food.

After all that eating I got some shopping in. I bought these beautiful plates from a local ceramics company called Yokohama Masuda. 

I love them!
And just for fun, Raku and I took funny photos at a display painted on the windows at Yokohama Station.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Change of Plans

My ten year high school reunion is going on right now. Weird. It seems forever ago, but then actually hearing ten years sounds crazy. John and I were supposed to be in Okinawa this weekend, but unfortunately there's a typhoon hitting them so the trip had to be canceled. At least the flights were cheap and the hotel was refundable. Sadly it's also grey and rainy in Tokyo.

Misty Skyline

Luckily, we're finding ways to enjoy the weekend anyways. The other day I bought some tiny pumpkins at Aoyama Flower Market. The normal size are like 3000 yen, but these were less than 300. The funniest part is that they give you stickers to make jack-o-lanters, so that you don't have to color or carve them.
Jack-o-Lantern Stickers

Our little pumpkin friend
And as usual, Saturday mornings call for pancakes.  This morning I tried a new recipe - lemon ricotta pancakes with spiced apples.

The apples are the best part

Thursday, October 3, 2013

October Already

I can't believe it's already October.  It seems like I've just been waiting and waiting for summer to end, and suddenly it's October.  But I guess that makes sense, the seasons here seem to be about a month behind what I'm used to.

It's not cool yet, but we're heading in that direction.  The temperature seems to be hovering right between the low 80s and high 70s.  The leaves haven't started turning yet either, but I hear they'll be beautiful when they do.  They've got the decorating down though, harvest decorations are all over the place.

Display at the Flower Market

I keep thinking about how a year ago John and I were in Colorado, visiting family, eating delicious food, hiking in the Rocky Mountains, and loving the bright yellow aspen leaves.  It was a wonderful time.

Loch Vale on the way to Sky Pond
It also makes me realize that we've been here for almost a year now.  Fall is the final season that I haven't experienced in Japan, but I expect it will be lovely.