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