Friday, May 30, 2014

Grilled Pudding Kit Kats

Ok, I've probably said this before, but it's even more true this time. I found the world's craziest kitkats. I wasn't even sure what flavor they were when I bought the bag, but I could tell I needed to buy them asap.

From the picture it seemed like they were supposed to taste like they had been grilled, and while they didn't they were still delicious - a mix of vanilla and caramel. I couldn't read much on the bag, but I could read caramel powder 0.5%. But when I showed them to Raku she was able to shed a great deal of light on the situation. First of all, they're pudding flavored! Incidentally, I learned プリン is the word for pudding (phonetically, purin). And pudding here generally comes as vanilla with a little caramel topping which explains the flavor. But they were not meant to taste grilled, WE were supposed to grill them! Crazy, right?

Our week of fun was obviously the perfect time to test out this madness. First they start to melt and then the tops start to turn golden and then you're like, omg who ever thought of cooking a kitkat? To be honest, Raku and I both thought they tasted better uncooked. They were sort of difficult to eat (we used forks) and the melty-ness of it took away from the usual crunch they have. The flavor however, delicious! Most novelty flavors aren't that great, but I would definitely buy more of these if I saw them again.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Wonderful News

So, this doesn't have anything to do with living in Japan, and honestly it's not even that much about my life. But I just need to take a minute to brag about my mom. (Who's arriving in Tokyo later this week!)

My mom is pretty shy and not very technologically inclined, but a year ago she joined And she totally fell for the very first guy she was matched with! It has been absolutely adorable to watch her goofy grins and hear about her adventures in dating over facetime. We all knew it was coming sooner or later, but yesterday I got the official news that they're engaged!

I could not be more thrilled for such a sweet (if a little crazy - ha, love you mom!) woman to find such a wonderfully kind man. When I went back to the US last month I got to meet him, and they're great together. Who would have guessed that the great love of her life was hiding out in rural eastern North Carolina?

Tons of love to the both of them.  And just for fun, here's a photo of some heart shaped lemons I found in the grocery store. They seem oddly appropriate.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Afternoon Tea at the Park Hyatt Shinjuku

During our week of fun Raku and I had our springtime afternoon tea.  Is going to afternoon tea a legitimate hobby? Because I love it!  We deviated from the "Top 5 Teas In Tokyo" list again, going to the Park Hyatt in Shinjuku, and I am so glad we did!  The Park Hyatt is famous for being the setting of much of the movie Lost In Translation.  The New York Bar has a stunning view and excellent (though pricy) cocktails and is a great place to take visitors or enjoy a glamorous drink in the evening.  Bonus points if you get in and out before 8:00 pm, because then you don't have to pay the 2000 yen cover.  

Since the Mandarin Oriental last summer nothing else had come close, but the Park Hyatt put up some fierce competition, and I'm still having trouble deciding which was my favorite.  They're quite similar in the sense that after each one I felt ready to float away on a cloud of happiness, but the actual experiences were pretty different. Both take place in the hotel lobbies with excellent views of the city, and window seats can be secured with reservations.  At the Park Hyatt only one person actually has the view while the Mandarin Oriental orients the table so both people do, but that's an incredibly minor detail.

At the Mandarin Oriental everything is about beauty and elegance while the Park Hyatt is more about creating the most indulgent and pampering atmosphere.  There are so many little touches that let you know how much they're thinking about your comfort!  We ordered the afternoon selected our first teas. They come in small pots with about two cups worth, so there isn't too much over brewed tea.  When our tiered tray arrived everything looked lovely, but a little sparse.  There were three sandwiches, three desserts, and one scone each. Our server quickly explained that our scone was hot and should be eaten soon, but that another set of hot scones would be brought out later. Additionally, trays of extra treats both sweet and savory were brought around multiple times and we were encouraged to take as many as we liked each time!

The extras constantly being brought around felt so indulgent, it definitely makes a full meal rather than one of those teas where you leave still a little hungry at the end.  An added benefit was that we were able to balance sweet and savory to our hearts' content.  Raku often feels inundated with desserts, and this allowed her to indulge more on the savory side.  Even better, everything we ate was delicious!  The flavors, textures, and colors were varied and all very pleasing.  We both agree that this was the best food we've had at an afternoon tea, although the Mandarin's is a little more artfully presented.  Our favorites were the strawberry marshmallows, mini croquettes, carrot soup, and cherry and pistachio tartlets.

Their black tea selection is fairly standard, and even a little uninspired, but their herbal tea selection was amazing! After one pot of darjeeling tea (which was over brewed and shockingly bitter) I switched to herbal tea and never switched back.  There were five different herbal teas and the very best was the Calming Tea, made with rose petals, lavender, and chamomile.  It smelled and tasted just like drinking a flower, but in a wonderful non-soapy way.  If you're looking for a afternoon tea for anyone that is sensitive to caffeine, this is the place.  Not only are their herbal teas fantastic, they also have decaf Earl Grey, which I've never seen before in Tokyo.

After much discussion we've decided that the Mandarin Oriental is more of a glamorous experience, but the Park Hyatt is more cozy and indulgent.  I'm still not sure which one is my favorite - maybe I should just go back to both? And next time I'll see if they sell the calming tea in the gift shop!

Park Hyatt Tokyo Afternoon Tea
Hours: M-F 2:00-5:00, Weekends and Holidays 12:00-5:00
Phone: 03-5323-3461
Address: 3-7-1-2 Nishi-shinjuku, Shinjuku-ku, Tokyo

Read About Other Afternoon Teas:
The Kahala Resort Honolulu
The Aman Tokyo
The Palace Hotel Tokyo
The Metropole Hanoi
The Ritz Carlton Tokyo
Tokyo Shangri-La
The Peninsula
The Mandarin Oriental (second time)
The Four Seasons Marunouchi
Hotel Chinzanso
The Mandarin Oriental

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Tiny Picnic

The week of fun has come to an end, but Raku and I are exhausted and happy from celebrating all of our hard writing over the past year!  Yesterday we finished out the week by eating an elaborate indoor picnic composed entirely of miniature sized foods.  We spent the morning collecting, preparing, and photographing them before finally eating.  

When we had everything set out on the table Raku burst out laughing and asked how we got to be so smart.  Sadly our husbands are not quite as convinced that we're geniuses, words like "silly" and "childish" may have been used.  But we paid them no mind and had a fantastic day.  Oh, and yes, we did make faces out of our foods before eating them because we're amazing.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Week of Fun

For the past several months Raku and I have been thinking of fun things we've wanted to do here and there, but instead of indulging we've been really good about putting them off in order to focus on our writing and finish our first drafts.  To reward ourselves we scheduled a week of all the fun things back to back to create a celebration extravaganza.  And now our week has finally arrived!

So far this week we've had lunch at cafe/florist shop with food far more delicious than I expected for such a lovely setting, visited Meiji Jingu - one of my favorite places in the city - that Raku had never been to!, and gone to afternoon tea followed by cocktails at the Park Hyatt in Shinjuku.  The rest of the week will include wonderful events like checking out a bunny cafe, doing afternoon karaoke, going to Disney Land, and having a picnic of tiny foods!  Ridiculous I know, but we've got something huge to celebrate!

Because so much fun is going to be crammed into just one week, I'll try to break out the highlights and blog about them individually so that they get their due.  For the record, afternoon tea at the Park Hyatt was amazing and I can't wait to tell you all about it!

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Japanese Baseball

I went to a lot of baseball games as a kid.  So many summer weekends were spent at the Asheville Tourists with my dad and sister, and even though they were only a single A team I remember having a blast cheering for our favorite players (mine was the catcher - no idea why), eating snow cones, and wandering around the souvenir shop when Julie and I got too hot or bored.  I remember one time my dad telling me that Japanese people loved baseball even more and that at the games they would sit in rapt silence, standing up and clapping when a player got a run.

Well, all I can say is things must have changed in the last fifty years.  Last weekend John and I went to a Yakult Swallows game, and it was just as much fun as I remembered, though a very different experience.  There are two teams in Tokyo, the Yakult Swallows who play in an outdoor stadium and have a really fun group of fans, and the Yomiyuri Giants who play in a giant dome and have tons of money.  We'd been to a Giants game before and enjoyed it, but the outdoor stadium and the personality of the fans and team just makes the Swallows so much more fun.  Either way, there isn't much silent watching and certainly no standing and clapping, just a roaring crowd.

The night we went they were playing the Hanshin Tigers, the Osaka team, and if you ever get the chance to see them play I'd highly recommend it.  They are the most beloved team in Japan and have wildly devoted fans, sort of like the Red Socks.  Even though we were the home team we were surrounded in a sea of Tiger's fans.  A group of older Tiger's fans were seated behind us, and they were quite rowdy, singing special songs for each player and banging their thunder sticks.  In front of us were a father and his young son that had obviously come up from Osaka from the game.  The older men bought the dad a drink and thanked him for raising a new generation of fans.  The little boy took them back snacks and they would all celebrate together when they got a run.  By the time the Tigers started losing the older men were pretty drunk and spent the rest of the game shouting obscenities.  But the dad and his son high-fived me and John at the end of the game.

A couple of the biggest differences that struck me were that baseball teams have cheerleaders, and you never had to leave your seat to get a drink.  Women run around with little kegs of beer on their backpack and sell them to you in your seats.  A few also come around with soft drinks and bottled beer. The food was a mixture of Japanese and American, but most people just bring in their own food. You're allowed to bring as much food and drink with you as you like, and there are many stalls selling neatly packaged foods on the walk from the train to the stadium.  If you see anything that looks good, get it because the food lines can be pretty long in the stadium.  The takoyaki (little pieces of octopus fried in balls of batter) and the hotdog lines were crazy long, though the Jack Daniels barbecue ribs line was extremely short.

My favorite part of the game was the way the Swallows fans celebrate when they get a run.  They have tiny umbrellas that they open up and do a little dance with.  It's hilarious to look out and see a crowd of them bobbing around.  I've heard two different explanations, one being that it originated because the field isn't covered and they used to give out umbrellas on rainy days, and ingenious fans used them to celebrate.  The other comes from some Japanese phrase to demoralize the other team telling them something along the lines of "hit the showers."  Either way, it's a fantastic way to celebrate.

Yakult Swallows


A Sea of Tigers Fans

Celebrating with Umbrellas

Beer Girls!

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Savory Rolls

Someday I'm going to have an oven again, and it's going to be amazing.  For now the baking adventures are rare occasions, but I decided Raku's birthday called for something special.  After learning earlier this year that John's favorite birthday cake WAS NOT actually his favorite birthday cake (I've only known him for 13 years) I didn't want to repeat my mistake with Raku.  The thing is, she's a savory person not a sweet tooth!  She might prefer a ham sandwich over a slice of cake.  So I invented a non-cake, savory baked good just for her.

I make some pretty amazing cinnamon rolls, but I got to thinking, what if instead of filling them with cinnamony goodness I filled them with savory things?  They would look beautiful and festive and hopefully taste like her dream come true.  So, I made my usual dough without the sugar, and then smeared garlic butter all over, sprinkled crushed red pepper, italian seasoning, chopped up bacon, kalamata olives, and topped it all with parmesan cheese.

I didn't even do the baking, just the preparation, so she could have them fresh and warm on the morning of her birthday.  She gave us a couple later, and they were pretty good - though speaking as a sweet tooth a cinnamon roll would always win me over.

Looking Like a Pizza
Cutting them with floss is always my favorite part
Almost There


Saturday, May 3, 2014

Happy Golden Week!

This morning John and I woke up early and decided to go to Mercer Brunch, a really cute little restaurant that we've been eying for over a year but have never gotten around to trying. When the weather is good there's lots of open air seating, with interesting tables and couches and a lovely fire pit. French toast is what they're known for, and it comes with most of the different meal sets you can order. I am not even a french toast fan and the stuff was amazing! It is so tender and custardy but crisp and butter all at once. It's lightly sweetened and doesn't come with any additional syrup (much to John's dismay) but I thought it was perfect. There's normally a line for the place, but we were lucky and arriving just before 11:00 only had to wait about ten minutes. By the time we left a line was stretching down the block.

This evening we're going to a Yakult Swallows baseball game to celebrate Raku's birthday (Happy Birthday Raku!) and then we have three more glorious days to relax. I'm sure that I'll be complaining about the weather soon, but lately it's been so wonderful and balmy. We've had the windows open with the curtains flapping in the breeze nearly every day.

Oh, and it's been a whole week that I've forgotten to say anything, but I cut my hair last Friday! More than twenty centimeters off - probably nine or ten inches by the time it was done. I'm still going to Shinka in Roppongi and very satisfied with the place. I've gotten haircuts there before, but never anything this major so I was nervous how it would turn out. Miyuki did a great job after looking at the photographs and talking with me about what I wanted. I had to coax her a little to get it this short, and honestly I would have liked it to be a little shorter, but I'm sure in her profession it makes sense to be cautious. On days when they aren't busy Sachi helps her with my highlights and they both do a great job. If you're looking for an English speaking place to get your hair done in Tokyo I would definitely recommend either of them.

Mercer Brunch
Hours: M-F 10:00-3:30, 6:00-midnight, S-S 9:00-midnight
Phone: 03- 3470-6551
Address: 4-2-35 Roppongi, Minato-ku, Tokyo

Steak and Eggs at Mercer Brunch

Spicy Chicken Salad at Mercer Brunch (delicious, though not spicy)

New Short Hair!