Friday, December 19, 2014

Thoughts on Being Back in The United States

I kept thinking that it would be so weird to be back in North Carolina, but the truth is it's not. In the past year I felt a lot more out of touch with US fashion and music and slang, and I wondered if I would feel like a stranger when I cam back. But now that I'm here it feels like just effortlessly slipping back into something I never forgot. I guess that rather than just becoming like a different culture I've been learning how to operate fairly easily within two different cultures.

Now that I've been back for a little bit here are some observations:

Central heating feels amazing. Unheated toilet seats do not.

There are clothes and shoes that fit me here!

I have gotten about a million compliments on my Issey Miyaki Bao Bao bag!

Having a car is so convenient, but I'd forgotten how inconvenient it is to walk places. There aren't many sidewalks and even just walking from one store to another in a big parking lot can be weirdly complicated.

At our apartment in Tokyo John and I (and all of our guests) always take off our shoes as soon as we get inside. I never really thought much about it, other than assuming it was probably cleaner, but now I am suddenly realizing how amazing that is. And by amazing, I mean cleaning my floors is SO much easier! (Observed after sweeping and mopping my mother's house.)

It's been amazing to be be back and I am SO excited that John gets in tonight, that my mom gets married tomorrow, and soon we will be in the mountains! 

Monday, December 15, 2014

Afternoon Tea at the Tokyo Shangri-La

I can't believe it's taken me so long to write about this, but back in October Raku and I went to another afternoon tea with our friend Kristen. This time we went to the Shangri-La hotel in Marunouchi.

This was one was harder to find much information about before going, so I wasn't sure what to expect. Does it make me a huge nerd that I research afternoon teas? The Shangri-La turned out to be fantastic though. The sitting area was more spacious and relaxing than some other places, and we never felt rushed, even though we stayed for a full three hours.

We had a choice between the signature afternoon tea and the seasonal afternoon tea, both of which sounded great. Normally when there are two choices one is substantially fancier and more expensive, but these seemed very comparable. After some discussion we opted for the seasonal menu.The food was generous, with plenty of sweets, savories, and three types of scones. Then at the end they brought out another plate of small cookies and chocolates that we couldn't even finish. I thought the quality of the food was good, and there was a good amount of diversity in the menu, although two of the savories were fish. The salmon was good, but the saurey with eggplant puree, while beautiful, had a very strong fishy flavor. Otherwise I enjoyed all the food. We all agreed that the chestnut pies were divine, especially when topped with a little maple cream.

Among the teas we tried the Italian Almond, Chestnut, and Chocolate Raisin were favorites. Raku ordered the Rose with French Vanilla tea, and while she was very satisfied with it, we might have noticed that it smelled a lot like frilly soap.

As I mentioned before the atmosphere was very relaxing, and the three of us stayed pretty late enjoying the view of the sun going down and all the lights coming up in the city. Although they dimmed the lights and started to prepare for the evening we never felt rushed or pressured to leave.

While I wouldn't rank this my very favorite afternoon tea experience it was very enjoyable and definitely ranks in the top half. I would happily recommend it to other people.

Tokyo Shangri-La Afternoon Tea
Hours: M-F 2:00-5:00, Weekends and holidays 1:30-5:30
Phone: 03-6739-7888
Address: 1-8-3 Marunouchi, Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo

The Spread

Chestnut Pies

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

North Carolina Adventure

I'm writing this from North Carolina, and I'm going to be here for almost the next month! The last couple weeks have been a whirlwind of getting ready to leave and doing all the fun pre-Christmasy things I wanted to do. I've still got a few Tokyo things I need to blog about, but while I'm here I plan to blog a little about what it's like to be back after so long. I know I was back in April for my grandmother's funeral, but that was a trip with no preparation and mostly a blur of family events.

When I was making plans with my sister and some friends about what to do while I'm back a lot of people were asking what I missed and absolutely had to do/eat/see/etc. And the answer sort of surprised me. There are days when being in Tokyo just feels achingly in my bones alien, but to be honest I've stopped missing most things. Of course there are foods I'm looking forward to eating (Hello, fruits and salads and turkey sandwiches and Mexican!), and shopping I want to do, but the urgency I felt a year ago is gone and in some cases even the desire is too.

I've got a lot of fun plans coming up in the next month, but what I'm most looking forward to is seeing people.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Happy Thanksgiving (A Day Late)

Happy Thanksgiving! I hope everyone found a way to celebrate yesterday and had something to be thankful for. This year I am thankful for the wonderful friends we have here in Tokyo, for a husband who makes me happy every single day, and because I am going back to the US for Christmas and my mom's wedding in only a week and a half!

After our last two pitiful attempts at celebrating Thanksgiving I told John I didn't even want to try this year. In fact, I said we could go out for sushi or ramen but that would be the extent of our celebrating. But at the last minute we decided to give it another try, and it turned out to be our best Thanksgiving yet. Raku and her husband came, as well as a couple people from John's office and it was fun to have the house full and our table pulled out so extra chairs would fit. There was lots of food and laughing and plenty of champagne, and for the first time even though our families weren't here it felt right.

Turkey isn't that easy to find in Tokyo, but for the first time I found turkey breasts for sale at Nissin. Besides that we had two types of stuffing, two types of cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes, carrots, green beans, and pumpkin parfaits for dessert. A pretty awesome feat for two burners and a crock pot to handle!

Maybe it was because I had lower expectations, or maybe it's because I wasn't even sad to be away from family because I know I'll see everyone for Christmas, but I woke up this morning still smiling from how happy I felt. In the spirit of Black Friday shopping (which I've actually never participated in) Raku and I went out Christmas shopping today and I got lots of good stuff for everyone back home.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Autumn in Tokyo

I can't believe how quickly November is flying by! The leaves are all turning and I've even worn my puffy coat a few times. One of my favorite parts of fall here is the beautiful shade of yellow that all the gingko leaves turn. I love the way they make the trees look like pillars of light, and then the bright yellow blanket they make when they fall to the ground.

Fall Leaves at Hikawa Jinja
Last week I volunteered at an auction to raise money for TELL, a non profit organization that offers mental health services in English here in Tokyo. The event was at the French Embassy, and it was absolutely beautiful. I had a lot of fun meeting other people, and they raised a lot of money!

The ikebana (flower arrangements) were gorgeous
Hallway Selfie Before the Event
This past weekend we went to the Tokyo Whisky Festival which was basically a trade show of different distilleries and bars. We got to sample lots of different bourbons, scotches, and whiskys, and John even got interviewed by the Wall Street Journal.

Doesn't he look knowledgable?
And best of all, Raku is back from her long vacation! I'm so glad she was able to have a wonderful relaxing trip, but it's great to have her back.

Yay! (Notice the guy in the background that sampled too much whisky)

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Sesame Karaage from Japanese Soul Cooking

A couple weeks ago I made another recipe from Japanese Soul Cooking. I was really excited to see a whole chapter on karaage, the yummiest of yummy fried chicken. I didn't want to try the standard recipe because I have a favorite place here that I didn't think I could top, but I was excited to try the sesame coated variant. It was an easy recipe to follow, with no unfamiliar ingredients.

Most karaage is made from chicken thighs, and some of it can still have a lot of skin or fat still left on it. But I really prefer chicken breast, so that's what I used, even though the recipe called for thighs. I was worried that the sesame seeds wouldn't stick to the chicken when it fried, but they stuck just like they were supposed to. About a million seeds came off in the frying, but it seemed to be because of the chicken shrinking as it cooked.

In the end , I have to admit I was disappointed. I had a really hard time keeping the oil temperature stable which resulted in really dry chicken. I partly attribute the problem to my IH stove, but also to my lack of experience deep frying. To be honest, deep frying always seems like more trouble than it's worth. While I was trying to get the right temperature I ended up over-marinating the chicken so it was super salty! And worst of all, I don't necessarily think the sesame seeds were an improvement on regular karaage.

If you're in Tokyo and you want some of the best karaage ever, I recommend going to the food hall in the basement of Tokyo Midtown in Roppongi. I don't know the name of the the place, but it's in between the Vietnamese food, and the fancy rice counter. I prefer the shio karaage which is white meat, but if you prefer dark meat, I bet the momo karaage is wonderful too.

Read about other JSC recipes:
Oyakodon/Gyudon/Shiso Pasta
Mabo Dofu
Sapporo Soup Curry
Tan Tan Men
Pork Gyoza
Ebi Chili
Japanese Soul Cooking Review


If only it tasted as good as it looked

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Two Year Anniversary

Today is our two year anniversary of moving to Japan. It's sort of shocking to think two years has gone by so quickly, and at the same time it seems like surely we've been here for more than two years. I suppose that's how most things in life go.

My first year was all about adjusting and adapting, this past year has been more about settling in and being comfortable. Maybe those two things don't sound all that different, but they certainly feel different. I used to feel like I was failing all the time when I couldn't understand how to do something or figure out how to say something. Now I know that there are just going to be days where nothing works the way I expect and I can accept that, but I also surprise myself with what I do know and what I can accomplish on my own. I'm taking more risks, and that feels good.

Earlier this year I read a quote, and now I can't remember where it came from or who said it, but the sentiment was that living in another country you will never fully understand the culture you're surrounded by, but you may come to understand your own. I've thought about that a lot since reading it, and I really agree. I have learned so much, but I think that even if I lived here for the rest of my life there would still be so much lost on me. But the process of learning about things here has constantly made me reexamine my understanding of my own culture.

From the way that languages develop and are structured, to ideas about fashion, to the way that political systems operate, I have had two really different examples to compare. I've also found that thinking about a culture as on outsider makes me want to think more seriously about my own from the perspective of an outsider. I wouldn't say that any of this has fundamentally changed who I am or what my beliefs are. But I think it has changed me, because I think I have a clearer understanding of what my beliefs are grounded in, where my assumptions come from, and how the culture I grew up in shaped me. I find that this has given me both a much greater respect for my own culture than I had before living outside it, and a deep appreciation for the culture here and what I am learning.

This all sounds very cheerful and happy, and most of the time I am really happy here. But I don't want to deny that there are still days that are difficult or frustrating and moments when I'm completely overcome by a longing for home. I think that, at least in my case, that's part of the sacrifice to be made living in another country. All in all, those moments come less frequently now, and I'm extremely grateful for the opportunity I have to be here.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Happy November!

I can't believe it's suddenly November! It seems like summer just barely ended and now all of a sudden the sun is setting at 4:45, and it's only five weeks until I'll be going back to the US for Christmas and my mom's wedding.

For the past month (maybe more) my schedule has been funny, and I haven't been doing a very good job of writing (my book or my blog). Maybe sometimes you need fallow periods to keep the creativity going, or maybe that's the biggest lie writers have been passing off for ages. Either way, I'm going to try and make November a productive month.

While I've been busy not writing, I have been filling my time with some fun things. Last weekend John and I had sandwiches from King George in Diakanyama, and they were real honest to goodness sandwiches like we've been missing forever. The service isn't nearly as good as Earl of Sandwich in Akasaka, but the sandwiches made up for it. We celebrated Halloween with a pumpkin pie again this year, since it's the only time they're for sale (and only at costco). And tonight we're having a birthday party for a friend. It's been ages since I've baked anything, but I made him a cake and got all fancy with the decorating.

King George
Hours: 11:30-midnight, last order 11:00 pm, closed Mondays
Phone: 03-6277-5734
Address: 11-13, 2F Daikanyama, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo

The best turkey sandwich in Tokyo!
The jack-o-lantern looks more like a tomato than a pumpkin

Birthday Baking

Sunday, October 26, 2014

How to Ship to an AFO or FPO from Japan

I have a friend who was recently deployed and I wanted to send her a postcard. This was the first time I've ever sent mail to an FPO, and if you've never seen one they're not much more than a combination of letters and numbers, with no country listed.

I started wondering if I would even be able to send something from Japan. It seemed likely that the people in the post office would look at me like I was crazy and ask what country I was trying to mail it to, and then I wouldn't know enough words to try and explain. I did a quick google search and found some websites that claimed mail to APOs and FPOs can only be sent by the USPS, but then I found a page (in English and Japanese) on the Japan Post website assuring that they could send postcards, letter, and small packages to both. 

With the website in Japanese ready on my phone and prepared to tell them "Beikoku Guntai" (American Military) if I was asked any questions, I went to the post office ready to make a fool of myself. But it was the simplest thing ever. The lady at the desk didn't even bat an eye and clearly knew what an FPO was. It cost the exact same amount as mailing a postcard to the US, and was perfectly easy. I know this isn't likely to be a common question for expats living in Japan, but I wanted to share my experience since I found conflicting information before I tried it myself.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Pumpkin Pudding Kit Kats

It took forever, but it is finally, really fall!  The weather is getting cool, the humidity is dropping, the first hints of changing leaves are starting to show up, and when it isn't raining the sky is turning that wonderful deep autumn blue. We've been sleeping with our windows open for the last couple weeks and really enjoying the fresh cool air.

It's been a while since I've posted any interesting kit kat flavors, I think there are less available in the summer (and I also hate every fruit flavor I've ever tried, so I've gotten lazy about buying those) but I recently came across some pumpkin pudding flavored kit kats in the grocery store. It seems like pumpkin spice is taking over everything back in the US, but it's different here. In the US it seems pumpkin spice actually means cinnamon and nutmeg flavor, and here they mean the real pumpkin, and actually they mean kabocha which is a squash shaped like a pumpkin with green skin and orange flesh.

The kabocha makes for a pretty terrifying looking jack-o-lantern on the packaging, made creepier by the pudding filling, which to me looks more like a lot of melted cheese. Ick. But the kit kats taste pretty good - the creamy flavors are always better than the fruit flavors. The pumpkin flavor isn't very discernible, it honestly tastes more like vanilla pudding, but I like them.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Omurice from Japanese Soul Cooking

On Friday night I tried another recipe from Japanese Soul Cooking. This one was for Omurice, an omelet filled with fried rice. I'd never eaten omurice before, so I needed more knowledgable reviewers, luckily Raku and Leo came to the rescue.

To make the fried rice you start out by frying carrots, onions, and chicken, and then simmering them in a sauce made of chicken broth and ketchup. This recipe called for half a cup of ketchup, and I have to admit I was a little grossed out when I measured it. Once it thickens you mix in the rice and peas. Then it's just a matter of making the omelets. The recipe itself was very simple and easy to follow and I didn't have to buy any unfamiliar ingredients.

So here are my thoughts. It was hard to get all the filling inside the omelet neatly! When I put 1/4 of the filling into an individual omelet it seemed impossible, and the results aren't that pretty. Additionally, the consensus seemed to be that there was too much rice to egg in the ratio. I wonder if a) American eggs are larger than Japanese eggs (probably, yes) b) a larger frying pan would have given me more surface area to fill with rice without making the egg too thin (again, probably yes.) If you're concerned about presentation than be aware that trying to do any cutesy decorations can take an ominous turn when your medium is ketchup. I tried to draw a stick figure girl on Raku's omelet, and it seriously looked like a murder victim. (Note: the recipe did not recommend ketchup art, it's just something I have seen before and wanted to try)

Raku and Leo were very kind and said they liked the omurice, but they might have just been being nice. Everyone did agree that the egg to rice ratio was off. John was conspicuously silent, but he doesn't like omurice. And I thought the filling was too sweet. I like ketchup on my eggs, but this was just too much. I think a little less ketchup and a little more salt (maybe garlic salt?) would be more to my liking.

Read about other JSC recipes:
Oyakodon/Gyudon/Shiso Pasta
Mabo Dofu
Sapporo Soup Curry
Sesame Karaage
Tan Tan Men
Pork Gyoza
Ebi Chili
Japanese Soul Cooking Review

Showing off my new apron from Karuizawa  
That's a lot of ketchup!
Mixing in the rice
Overstuffed omelets
I'm no artist, but why do these look so evil?

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Karuizawa a.k.a. Heaven

A couple of weekends ago John and I went to Karuizawa with Raku and Leo for a little weekend escape. Karuizawa is a small mountain town in Nagano prefecture, popular for escaping the Tokyo heat in summer and skiing in the winter. Only a little more than an hour away from Tokyo by bullet train, it feels like a completely different world. John and I were surprised by how much it reminded us of the town we grew up in, in North Carolina and Leo said the same about his New England hometown. I think we must all be starved for nature.

I had high hopes for the trip, and I was worried they were so high I would end up being disappointed, but instead they were far exceeded! Karuizawa is lush and green with fresh smelling mountain air, full of adorable shops and delicious restaurants.  Our first morning there it was so cold we could see our breath as we wandered up and down the main shopping street, and there were already a few leaves turning colors!

During the days we walked up and down Ginza Dori, the main shopping street, munching on snacks, stopping for hot drinks, and picking up souvenirs. Just past the end of Ginza Dori is the Shaw Memorial Church built in the 1800's by a missionary. From there we had planned to rent bikes and go to Shiraito Falls, but then we discovered it was nearly 20 kilometers away, so we changed our plans. Instead we went to Kumoba Lake which is a about a twenty minute walk from the main street, mostly down gravel roads. The lake is small, but there is beautiful foliage,  ducks swimming, and a pleasant path to stroll around. As a note, the path is much too narrow for bicycles. It was so refreshing to walk past giant trees and enjoy the stillness of the forest! 

There is also a huge outlet mall in Karuizawa right across from the train station, and about a 20 minute walk from Kyu-Karuizawa, the heart of the town. We found some surprisingly good deals there, bought some warmer clothes since the weather was so cool, and had the best soft-serve ice cream of our lives at the Godiva outlet.

In fact, all the food we ate that weekend was delicious too. Raku and I went up early on Friday with the luggage and John and Leo joined us after work, eating dinner on the train. On our first night Raku and I went to Kastanie Rotisserie, which is not far from the station and the outlets, and shared a ton of delicious food including a salad with mustard vinaigrette, roast chicken, and chocolate and apple tarts. For dinner on Saturday night we made reservations for dinner at the Mampei Hotel, the fanciest hotel in town where John Lennon and Yoko Ono used to stay. The meal was a splurge, but we had the multi-course set menu and enjoyed it immensely. The dining room is enormous with very high ceilings, and an old-school glamour that reminded me of summer camp for very rich adults (and maybe Dirty Dancing.)

In the mornings we stopped at Asanoya, a bakery on Ginza Dori for wonderful treats. I particularly recommend their bacon bread, but you probably can't go wrong no matter what you order. On Saturday we had lunch at Wakadori, a yakitori place just off of Ginza dori. Their yakitori don (grilled chicken on a bowl of rice) was fantastic, and their chicken katsudon (fried chicken cutlet on rice) was also good. For our final meal before leaving we ate at Kawakami-an, a modern soba restaurant. The tempura soba comes with the biggest shrimp I have ever seen (heads and tails still on!), the hot and cold soba were both delicious, and Leo ordered soba with a walnut dipping sauce that was unusual but delicious as well - sort of like a very mild peanut sauce. I would wholeheartedly recommend each of these restaurants to anyone visiting Karuizawa.

We stayed at the Art Hotel Folon in Kyu-Karuizawa, which was a convenient three minute walk from Ginza dori. By "art hotel" they seem to mean interesting wall paper and tiled kitchens, but we found the rooms to be clean and very acceptable, and the owner was quite friendly. Some rooms allow pets, and there are vending machines that dispense water, tea, and also alcohol! The rooms include kitchens (mini-fridge, microwave, stove, sink) but only coffee cups are provided, so if you intend to use them you would need to bring dishes. There is also a 5% discount for paying in cash. If you find yourself needing an ATM, there is a post office on Ginza Dori that is open even on Saturdays and Sundays.

The whole trip was magical, and I can't say enough good things about Karuizawa. If you need an escape from city living this is the perfect place for fresh air, lots of trees, beautiful mountains, good shopping, and delicious food!  Now brace yourself for way too many pictures.

Mountain Sunset
Shaw Memorial Church

Kumoba Lake

First Fall Leaves
Ginza Dori
Yummy Eats!

Monday, September 29, 2014

Ivan Ramen

It's been so long since I've blogged about anything! I can't believe how lazy I've been. Sometimes you just need a little break when life get to be too much of a routine. Luckily lots of exciting things are coming up. Next week John's brother will be here visiting, and right now I'm helping Raku book her long-delayed honeymoon!

Over the weekend we trekked out to the suburbs of Tokyo to visit Ivan Ramen, a ramen shop famous for being started by a foreigner. He achieved great success here, and has now moved to New York and opened a couple ramen shops there as well.  After doing our research we were prepared for a wildly popular place with a long line wrapping about the building, but when we arrived we were the only people there. To be fair, it was a little early - about 6:45 on a Saturday evening, but only two other people showed up while we ate, so there was no wait or rush to slurp up the hot noodles. I wonder if fewer people are interested now that Ivan isn't actually working in the shop?

I tried Shio ramen for the first time, which is a light salty broth composed of a mixture of chicken broth and dashi (a light fish broth). I think shio ramen is not my favorite style, but Raku assured me that it was a very good and very classical example of the dish. The noodles were wonderfully springing, but grew soggy faster than we were used to. Raku added bamboo shoots to her bowl and said they were "delicious and rugged." My soft boiled egg was absolutely perfect - the best part of the bowl. John got the spicy garlic ramen, which comes with a much smaller amount of broth, but he really enjoyed it. He thought the chashu (pork belly) was very good quality too.

It takes a really long time to get out there, about twenty minutes past Shinjuku, so I wouldn't go on a regular basis, but it was fun to go once. The shop is small, with about ten seats and it's in a little neighborhood that feels very removed from the bustle of Tokyo.

Hours: M-F 11:30-2:00, 6:00-9:30, Weekends 11:30-8:00, Closed Wed and 4th Tues of the month
Phone: 03-7650-5540
Address: 3-24-7 Minamikarasuyama, Setagaya-ku, Tokyo

The Neighborhood
Ivan Ramen - vending machine in Japanese and English!
Our chef hard at work
Just look at that egg. Yum!

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Japanese Season Dates

Did you know that Japanese seasons have different dates than the ones North America recognizes? Mind. Blown. I've been talking about how early seasonal decorations come out here for almost two years, and now I finally know why. Because they're exactly on schedule. I just didn't know the schedule.

The weather is starting to cool off, the humidity is dropping a little, and the cicadas are being replaced by crickets. John and I were talking about seasons last night, and for some reason we decided to google whether Japan actual follows the same seasonal calendar we do. Thanks to wikipedia, we are now a lot wiser.

In Japan fall is August 9 - November 7, winter is November 8 - February 4, spring is February 5 - May 6, and summer is May 7 - August 8. I have to say the weather does not really match these dates, but it seems that they are based on an ancient lunar calendar that had 24 months.

No matter what season it technically is, I'm looking forward to cooler weather and a long beautiful autumn.

New Fall Tenugui

Fancy Nighttime Drinks

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Tan Tan Men from Japanese Soul Cooking

I tried another recipe from Japanese Soul Cooking, and again it was a delicious success. The noodles were not the best, but the blame for that goes either to me or the manufacturer - the recipe itself is great.

Tan tan men is a Japanese take on a spicy Chinese noodle soup quite similar to ramen. The more recipes I try the fewer new ingredients there are for me buy and learn about. This time the only new ones were fresh ramen noodles (not exactly an unfamiliar product, but not something I've ever purchased before) and Japanese sesame paste. Japanese sesame paste or Neri Goma comes in black and white versions. I bought the white because the photo in the book didn't look like there was anything black in it, but I suspect either would be fine. I already had some tahini in the fridge and wondered how the two products would differ, so I gave them a quick taste test before I started cooking.  The neri goma is a lot thinner and liquidy, has a smoother consistency, and tastes a little sweeter. It could be drizzled from a spoon while the tahini was thicker and "gloopy" for lack of a better word. The tahini was grittier in my mouth and tasted a little bitter. If you can't find neri goma I think tahini would definitely work, but I'd thin it out by about 50% with water and add a pinch of sugar or honey.

The broth was really flavorful and so fragrant, John could barely wait to eat it. Luckily the whole recipe comes together in just a few minutes. The pork and green onions were perfect toppings, minimal but not lacking anything. The noodles however were kind of a disappointment. They were already cooked, I just needed to warm them up, but they had an oiliness to them that kept them from soaking up the yummy broth flavor, or really even from letting the soup cling to them as we slurped them up. Raku says this can be a problem with store bought noodles, but John inspected the packaging and says I bought yakisoba noodles. (Yakisoba is a stir-fried noodle dish made from ramen noodles) I argued that since it's made from ramen noodles these must be ramen noodles, but he was not at all convinced. Maybe the oil is a special thing for frying, or maybe there are other differences I just don't know about. I guess I'll have to try again and look for better noodles. Our final review was that the recipe is fantastic, but good noodles are essential.

I only made half the recipe, but there was some left over which I had for lunch the next day. When the broth cooled a layer of fat congealed on the top. I scraped this off and threw it away in an attempt to be more healthy. It still tasted really good, but most of the spiciness disappeared with the fat, so be aware if you try something similar.

Ramen (yakisoba?) Noodles and Neri Goma

Delicious Tan Tan Men

How jealous are you right now?

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Guess What?

Raku and I signed up to run a 5k! That might not sound super impressive to you, but this is coming from the girl whose favorite PE activity was sitting in the grass making clover necklaces when she was a kid. Raku is not as ridiculously un-athletic as me, but it will be her first race too! So look forward to pictures in November from the Tokyo Run for the Cure (xoxo Cindy).

In other fun news here is a picture of Raku sitting in the lap of a giant teddy bear.  Gotta love Costco.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Things I Love This Week

1. Being able to open our windows! The weather really has cooled down, at least for a few days.

2. The sweet people at Starbucks that draw pictures on my cup every single day.

3. Reading books about writing books.

4. New dresses from Uniqlo.

5. This awesome dog stuffed in a tote bag riding the train.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Summertime Sadness

When I was a kid I thought summer was the best season. I don't mean it was my favorite, I thought it was a fact that everyone all over the world understood. Maybe it's because there's no summer break to look forward to anymore, or maybe it's how unbearable Tokyo summers are, but I've reversed my opinion completely. Summer is now the season I dread for the rest of the year.

This summer hasn't been quite as awful as last year. Maybe I'm better adjusted, but I think it's actually just been slightly cooler. We're in what I hope is the very worst of it now. This past week has been the hottest week of the summer, and I've been melting. The weather report says there will be some relief next week, but I'm scared to actually believe it. This week I started seeing fall decorations in the stores and fall beer cans, but whoever decided it's time for that is delusional (or maybe just hoping for cooler weather as much as I am?)

Despite my whining, it's not all bad. This year there are frozen chu-hais in pouches sort of like capri suns. Yesterday Raku and I tried the lychee flavor. They have a wonderful slushy consistency and are really refreshing. The alcohol tastes strong, but the flavor is good too. The packaging say's it's 6% alcohol, but they're only 150 milliliters, so you won't get trashed (at least not on one).

We also had some really delicious, if slightly pricy, popsicles at Tokyo Midtown. They're sold at a new stand called Paletas. Raku had the Grape Grape (green grapes frozen in purple grape juice) and I had the White Sangria. They were absolutely gorgeous, and we both agreed the White Sangria was amazing. Raku wasn't crazy about the frozen grape texture (a little mushy), but the apples and orange slice in mine were great, and the popsicle base had a wonderful fruity cinnamon clove flavor. There are a lot of creative and delicious sounding flavors, but don't wait too late in the day or they'll be sold out. They cost 480 yen, which is silly for a popsicle, but they're worth it.  Think of it as five minute $5 vacation.

Best popsicle of my life

Frozen chu-hais = Genius!

If only it were really fall