Saturday, December 31, 2005

blogging

Having started blogging for about 3 months now, I have entered a new and exciting world. I have found that there are many food blogs out there, this means they write mostly about...FOOD. Their photos and creations are awesome, mouth watering and really professional looking (and I'm sure must taste just as great!!).

Many have original formats for their blog pages. And one thing you realize when reading other food blogs is that there is a gourmet gene in all of us. A lot of food blogs link you to other food blogs. Everyone sharing the world of food. It's so nice!!

The internet is truly a powerful tool. It links people from around the world together. As my page hit counter shows, I've had hits from places such as Denmark, France, Australia, New York, Texas, Minnesota, Germany, Canada, Singapore, Beijing and as far away as Iceland! WOW!!

My blog is mostly about food, but still a diary of sorts. Reading other blogs I am introduced to their world of food and truly learn a lot from them. A lot include recipes, so you can try to re-create them.

I'm really glad that I started this blog and am learning day-by-day the little behind the scenes for this blog to actually become a blog of my own. (parts of this blog, took some serious computer programming techniques...)

I still have a lot more to learn about blogging, but look up to my "sempai" (senior) bloggers to show me the ropes. :)

This photo was taken last year at a temple near our home called "Katsuoji". The chinese characters stand for "katsu" to win, "ou" meaning king or tail and "ji" meaning temple.

Most rulers of early Japan came to this temple to pray for "winner's luck". This temple exercised higher prayer power than the Emperor of Japan. The "daruma" is a tumbling doll.

You color in one side of his eye to wish for success in something (entrance exams, etc.) When your wish is granted, you color in the other eye. At this temple, the daruma is offered in prayer to receive "winner's luck" for sports, art, elections, business, and passing entrance exams.

We hope you have a winning 2006!! And may the New Year be filled with lots of new recipes, lots of exciting and delicious experiences and new connections.

Kat & Satoshi

Thursday, December 29, 2005

lox & bread (part 2)

Today's breakfast was the smoked salmon that we received, a warm mizuna (potherb mustard) salad, the bread that I bought (cranberry-lavender & the baguette) toasted and with cream cheese and a pear that we also received the other day.

I think the salmon was dry smoked, so the meat literally crumbles while slicing. The smoke flavor is really subtle and you can really taste the salmon's flavor. It was really good!

My friend's husband (the one who caught the salmon) had his catch canned and smoked at a place called St. Jean's in B.C. Canada. Even if you don't catch anything while fishing, you can still buy some great fish from them!!

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

lox & bread

Today, my friend gave me some smoked salmon and canned salmon that her husband caught (Thank you!!). He fishes for sport and also owns many fishing supply stores around Osaka.

Most of his stores are called "Esaichiban". I think it might mean "the No. 1 lures".

He caught the salmon in Vancouver at a place called, the Langara Fishing Lodge.

They canned and smoked it for him. Since the salmon is frozen, it will take probably a day or so to thaw out.

In the meantime, I decided to go to buy some bagels or baguette to eat our "lox" with. I went to Makiochi (2 stations away from us).

I read on a website that a favorite bread shop of mine had moved from Esaka to Makiochi recently. The name of the bread shop is "A Bientot" (I think it means "See you again!" in French). They mostly have crusty type French breads, but I really enjoy their scones and sandwiches.

(I ended up buying a bit more than I needed). The narrow bread is the baguette (it had just come out of the oven and was crackling). The bread in the foreground caught my interest, it is a campagne (farmhouse bread) with cranberries and lavender in it. The one that looks like a pizza is a fougasse (french type foccacia) with eggplant, broccoli, ham and potato and cheese on it. And a baguette sandwich with marinated chicken, mozzarella cheese, tomato and basil.

I can't wait to try the smoked salmon and am thinking to make salmon patties or tofu salad with the canned salmon.

A bientot
3-11-2 Makiochi
Minoo, Osaka
Phone: 072.725.8060
*Not sure of the days of operation, so call to make sure before you go!!

Monday, December 26, 2005

the day after...

It's the day after Christmas and Satoshi is back to work. Santa brought us some great gifts. We really appreciate our family and friends who also sent us some great things and who were really thoughtful for remembering us this Christmas. Thank you!!

Our party with Satoshi's co-workers and their families was nice. We were literally eating ALL afternoon.

I brought "kamaboko" (fish cake) dip (sorry I ran out of memory space on my camera, so no photo) and a box of Ritz crackers to eat the dip with. After the appetizers of kamaboko dip, salmon sashimi (sliced and raw) and salad, we moved onto the next course, bulgogi (a Korean dish of thinly sliced beef marinated in shoyu, garlic and other spices)...there was a brief intermission (the children, including the men went out to play dodge ball...)...the women chatted....the next course was "nabemono" or "nabe" (which is a meal cooked in an earthen pot).

Nabemono is eaten mostly during the winter months. The flavoring of the "nabe" broth varies from household. Recently, kim chee nabe and tonyu (soy milk) nabe have been big hits. We had kim chee nabe. Boy, was it SPICY!!

After the nabe was eaten, it was dessert time...Christmas cake. During Christmas, the price of cake skyrockets. You can expect to pay close to $40 (or more) for a 6" round cake. The cake is usually a yellow sponge cake with whipped cream and strawberries in it and on top. You can also find yule log style cakes. Thank goodness the cakes were small, we all had a little piece and by 8:00pm were STUFFED to the gills!!

The children seemed to enjoy all the food and the adults enjoyed the company.

Kamaboko dip
1 kamaboko grated
chopped green onions (the amount is up to you)
pepper to taste
add mayonnaise for the consistency that you want
box of Ritz crackers (or your favorite cracker)
5 water chestnuts-chopped (I can't find them in Japan (don't know the Japanese name))--optional

It is a really easy recipe, try it!!
We hope you had a nice Christmas!!

UPDATE: the Japanese name for water chestnuts is kuwai (coo-why)

Sunday, December 25, 2005

stollen

Merry Christmas Everyone

For breakfast this morning, we had stollen, salad, sliced apple and coffee.


Stollen (shu-toll-en) is a bread-like cake traditionally made in Germany. It is usually eaten during the Christmas season. Stollen (originally name Striezel) was created in Dresden, Germany around 1450. Dresden Stollen is sold at various places and at the local Striezelmarkt Christmas market in Germany.

The light airy fruitcake is made with yeast, water and flour. It usually has dried citrus peel, dried fruit, almonds, and uses spices such as cardamom and cinnamon. The dough is quite low in sugar and the finished cake is coated with icing sugar.

I bought this stollen at a German bake shop near Sakurai (one station from our place), called Grob Ofen (gloss a-fen). They had all kinds of yummy German confections.

Grob Ofen
1-1-1 Sakurai
Minoo, Osaka
Phone: 072.723.9151
Closed on Wednesdays

Enjoy the day!!

Friday, December 23, 2005

christmas dinner

Today was a National Holiday, Tennotanjoobi (The Emperor's Birthday). Satoshi had the day off so we went to our favorite cafe for breakfast. It took us a little longer to get there than usual because most of the streets had snow that had melted and re-froze...which meant that the roads were VERY icy and slippery.

After breakfast, we tried to walk in areas that the sun was hitting, and made our way back.

Satoshi's sempai (senior co-worker) is active in a rakugo club. Rakugo is a traditional form of telling comical stories. We saw his performance about three years ago. Today, they had a performance in Namba (the southern part of Osaka). I couldn't really understand what was going on because the storytellers spoke very fast and in Kansai-dialect (plus, I kind of...shh...fell asleep...)

After the rakugo performance, we went to Toyonaka for our Christmas dinner. Toyonaka is 2 stations away from our station, Ishibashi.

The restaurant we ate at was Noix de Coco. It is rather casual french restaurant.
We had the prix fixe menu (a complete meal offered at a fixed price) in Japanese this is called "set-menu".

The aperitif was a glass of Dom Perignon champagne.

The next course was the appetizer tara shirako (codfish roe) with Shimonita (an area in Gunma) leek flan and zuwaigani (snow crab) tartare.

Next was choked or strangled wild duck (yipes!!) with foie gras in a zingara sauce (demi-glace sauce made with tomato & Madeira wine).

The next course was baked oysters with a red bell pepper sauce and a spinach sauce. Next came the sea urchin and yurinone (lily bulb) egg custard in a cup (chawan mushi).

Getting full yet? The next course was Homard lobster bouillabaisse....

The next course was Satsuma (Kagoshima area) beef filet simmered in red wine. And the last course (finally!!) was a plate of assorted desserts. I only took a picture of this course because I was running out of memory space....The dessert in the wine glass was sweet potato pudding, the orange one was persimmon sorbet, the one in the egg cup was strawberries in compote, and the one with the "xmas" on it was a gateau chocolat with green tea and banana sauce....whew!!

I think I've eaten enough this week to last me a couple of months...unfortunately, we have a get-together on Christmas day (yipes!!). Ever since we came to Japan, we usually get together with two of Satoshi's co-workers and their families for Christmas.

To all of our family and friends that have sent us Holiday greetings, thank you very much for remembering us!! We really appreciate your kindness and thoughtfulness!!

Merry Christmas!!

Noix de Coco (UPDATE:2016 they have moved from this location)
1-11-1 Honmachi, Honmachi Building #102
Toyonaka, Osaka
Phone: 06.6854.7654

Thursday, December 22, 2005

snow!!

Today we had a slight blizzard, it actually started from last night. The weather had forecasted the high as being 5C(41F) and the low -2C(28.4F), yes you read correctly, -2C!!

When we woke up this morning, the apartment that can be seen from our lanai had a good amount of snow on the top of its roof.

Unfortunately, today was garbage day, so I had to go down to put our garbage into the area for pick-up. It was white all over and still snowing at a pretty steady pace.

When Satoshi left for work at about 8:30am, the area outside of our door had started to accumulate some snow.

Today was also my last crochet class of the year. Although the class starts at 1:00pm, I decided to go to Umeda early for lunch.

Since it was still snowing, I got dressed and headed out at about 10:00am. I was surprised because there was about an inch (2.54 cm) of snow outside of our door area. And the steps were nicely covered. I SLOWLY made my way down the steps (we have no hand rails!!) and to the station.

There was a lot of traffic on the bigger roads and some cars didn't have chains on their tires. The train was running a little behind schedule due to the snow too.

While I was excited to see so much snow, I was also a bit scared because there was so much snow.

They say that this weather may continue through the weekend....I guess we'll have a "white christmas" this year...

This is a project that I finished today, it is clip-on earrings and a ring. I have another project to finish but that will be done "next year".

Have a very Merry Christmas everyone!

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

kouglof

This post took a bit of research. The problem? Katakana words.

I received this bread from my host sister for Christmas. In katakana, it is called "kugurofu raru" (now just by hearing it, you know it is a foreign word, but how do you spell it in English?)

I typed in the katakana word into Yahoo Japan hoping that someone had an English spelling of it...(yeah!! some one had it) It is spelled two ways, Kouglof or Kougelhopf (coo-ghel-hof). The next step was to find out what "raru" was...this is where the research took MAJOR time. Since Kouglof was a French word, I figured that "raru" must be too. Japanese is tricky because sometimes they pair words from different languages together (some apartments have names like "maison de matsui", but in katakana it is written and pronounced "maizon do matsui").

Since the bread had bacon or ham in it, I tried to find the pronunciation of both words, but couldn't find one with a voice recording of the pronunciation. I then tried typing in the katakana word "raru" into Yahoo Japan and got lucky...it is actually short for lardoons (cubes of fatty bacon sometimes used in French salads)...(whew!)

So now that I knew what I was dealing with, I had to find out more about kouglof...Kouglof is usually a sweetened yeast bread w/currants and almonds. It is found in the Alsace region of France and the mold that it is baked in, is usually a terracotta type mold, shaped like a crown. It is very similar to the bundt pan. Kouglof is also found in Switzerland, South Germany and Austria. Most of the entries on the internet seemed to say that this version of bread is eaten at Christmastime.

Kouglof Lardoons is a bread baked using the mold with pieces of bacon and walnuts in it. It was made by Mikage Takasugi, a well-known shop in the Kobe/Osaka area. The main shop is in Mikage, you can also find his desserts in several department stores and at other shops around the Kobe area.

Since the bread had bits of ham in it, I decided to serve it with some vegetable soup and a salad.

Mikage Takasugi
1491-1 Azashironomae (not too sure of pronunciation) Mikagemachi
Phone: 078-811-1234
Open: 10am - 8pm
Closed on Tuesdays

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

le restaurant marronier

Warning: This post will probably make you as full as I am...

Today, I got together with my host mother, host sister & my host brother's wife and children.

We usually get together for one another's birthday. This get-together was for my host sister's birthday.

We went to a French restaurant called, Le Restaurant Marronier. The chef of this restaurant, Ikuo Ogata, used to be the executive chef at the New Otani Harborland Hotel. He uses organic vegetables from different areas in Japan. This restaurant's decor is mainly Hermes. Most of the chinaware and cutlery is also Hermes. It was nice (and kind of nerve-wracking to eat off of expensive china).

first course: scallop mousse with beet vichyssoise

second: mackerel w/autumn eggplant & red pepper cream sauce

third: seabass with garlic butter sauce

fourth: pork wrapped w/khadayif (phyllo) and tete cheese and apple puree

fifth: the cheek area of beef simmered in burdock wine sauce

sixth (and last): pear custard with chocolate spring roll

Everyone got to choose different items on the menu. We had a VERY leisurely lunch (3-hours) and a very nice time.

After lunch, I got to visit my host sister's new home. It is very nice and well decorated.

Le Restaurant Marronier
2-2-1 Sannomiya-machi Ram Sannomiya Bldg 2nd floor
Closed Mondays & the 1st Tuesday of every month
Phone: 078-331-5526

Monday, December 19, 2005

furo

If you're in warm areas, bear with me. Since it's been so cold for the past week, I've decided to write about our "furo" (bath tub).

I think our furo is quite big for our apartment size (apartment size = 60 sq. meters--645.83 sq.feet), I can stretch my legs out without any problem (although I am short, so that may not count??) and very deep (it holds 200 liters(52.83 gallons) of water but I only fill it to 180 liters (47.55 gallons)). In the winter, the bath water is set at 43C (109F), in the summer we bring the water temperature down to 39C(102.2F).

The rules of the furo (or so I was taught), are that you are supposed to wash yourself, rinse off and then go into the furo. The water is for everyone to use, so you should be clean when you go into the furo. After you are done, leave the water in for others to use, and don't pull the plug! (Satoshi has different rules (he just rinses off before going in), so I like to go in before he does...)

To get your body all warmed up, they say that it's best to stay in for at least 20 minutes. Coming from Hawaii, we don't really have bath tubs to soak in. (I grew up taking an occasional bubble bath and mostly showers).

So, when I first moved here, going to an onsen (hot spring) was as Satoshi says "mottainai" (a waste). I would only go into the bath once (right before bed) and only stay in for a couple of minutes, while Satoshi would stay in for hours. (When you go to an onsen you are supposed to go at least three times: once before dinner, once before bed and once in the morning before breakfast).

I think I've made some progress, I usually bring in a magazine (one that can get wet) with me so that I can stay in the tub for at least 30 minutes. :)

The weather people have said that this will probably the coldest winter in 10 years. They researched the winters in the past and it appears that cold winters come around every 10 years (last year we had a relatively "warm" winter).

Keep warm if your in places like I am, and cool if you're somewhere warm!
Have a great week!

movies that kat (and some that satoshi) saw

The movies I've listed below aren't in any ranking order. They are the movies that I (and some that Satoshi)saw this year. Movies in Japan are quite expensive about $20 per person! I usually try to go to movies on "Ladies Day" (this day varies at different theaters) because it is only $10.

"The Wedding Date"--romantic comedy
"Million Dollar Baby"--definitely bring Kleenex
"Shall we dance?" (American version)--the Japanese version was better
"Shining Boy & Little Randy"--Japanese movie)great story about a boy and an elephant
"Denshaotoko"--(Japanese movie)romantic comedy
"March of the Penguins"--(French movie)the harsh conditions and footage were spectacular
"Haru no yuki"--(Japanese movie)--tragic love story
"Always 3-chome no yuuhi--(Japanese movie) entertaining look at Japan in the 1950's
"Mr & Mrs Smith"--action film
"Memoirs of a Geisha"--very close to book version
"Otokotachi no Yamato"--film based on historical information

Maybe some film festivals will bring these Japanese films your way...

Sunday, December 18, 2005

not sunday, snowday

Today we woke up to....SNOW!! Ever since we've moved to Japan, it has never snowed enough to keep frozen on top of the roof of a car or on the street, we've only had flurries that melted as soon as it touched the ground.

Today we went to see the movie, "Otokotachi no Yamato". It was based on historical information about the largest battleship in the world during that period. The movie was really good, but the crowd -- mainly elderly people, talked (really loud) during the film and a lot of people were opening plastic packages of food during the movie too...sigh...still, it was a good film.

After the movie, we decided to have lunch at Momofukutei. We've gone to this restaurant in the past. It is named after the creator of the Nisshin Cup Noodle, Momofuku Ando. I think they use noodles made by Nisshin, but everything else is their own. They have two kinds of ramen, a shoyu based one and a tonkotsu one. The tonkotsu base is made from simmered bones of pork and chicken. I had the shoyu based one, the soup is made from chicken broth, so it was very light and tasted great! The hot soup really hit the spot! We also bought some bite sized gyoza (pot stickers). This restaurant also serves rooibos tea, which has lots of anti-oxidants and is supposed to be caffeine free.

Today's dessert was Bitter Chocolate ice cream made by The Obroma, it was a very tiny cup, but it was REALLY good dark chocolate!!

Keep warm everyone....have a great week!!

Momofukutei
2-10 Masumi-cho
Ikeda, Osaka
Phone: 072-750-3129
Open: 11am-11pm (UPDATE: this location is now Ippudo Ramen)

Friday, December 16, 2005

lunch, taco rice

Okay, I tried the caramelized pudding. It was rich & creamy and the caramel sauce on top gave it sweetness. Luckily, I paired it with coffee. :)

Today, for breakfast we had taco rice. For those of you not familiar with the dish, it is somewhat of a "meibutsu" (famous item) of Okinawa.

Influenced by the American military based soldiers there, you can find tacos and taco rice on the mainland of Okinawa. Some of the smaller outer islands have taco rice but it is rare, and everyone's recipe is definitely different (Note: but they don't use okonomiyaki sauce in place of salsa!!)

Rice replaces the taco shells or tortillas, the rest of the "gu" (toppings) are similar to tacos. (I buy taco seasoning mix packets everytime I go home to Hawaii. That way, I can make taco rice and Satoshi's favorite layered bean dip--which is a hit at some parties we have gone to.)

I season ground pork (I don't use much beef since BSE in Japan) and chopped onions with a tablespoon of the seasoning. Then I shred lettuce and put that on top of the rice, followed by the meat mixture, SALSA and then some shredded cheese (usually mozzarella since there isn't much cheddar around here).

You may be asking yourself, why are they eating taco rice for breakfast? Since Satoshi works until the wee hours, I usually don't feed him rice or too much carbs at night. When he comes home, he usually has a salad and maybe some soup. So, I try to give him "dinner" for breakfast.

For lunch, I usually buy something, but today, I was feeling kind of bored with my choices...usually I go to different "panya" (bread/bake shops), but most of the baked goods are the same as the next shop and all usually use bacon, sausages or some other artery clogging ingredients.

When I'm not buying my lunch from there, I usually go to the "sozai" shop. "Sozai" are prepared foods, the shop I usually go to sells their food by weight, which is good, because you can buy the amount you need...my last choice is usually some other kind of "fast food"...but none of these were appealing to me today, so I decided to "make" lunch (scary!!)...I made omelette with green onion (I think they may call it "negi yaki") and topped it with some okonomiyaki sauce and bonito flakes, o-kayu (soft rice gruel) topped with leftover naruto kintoki (maybe too much potato and not much o-kayu??) and some black sesame seeds (kuro goma). I also took out some tsukemono (pickles)--rakkyo (pickled onions) and ume (pickled plum). I washed everything down with some Mamaki tea.

Have a nice weekend!!

Thursday, December 15, 2005

leftovers, narutokintoki, sweets (part 2)

The weather is so cold these days, the high hasn't gotten higher than 7C and the low is REALLY low, like 2C. The areas on the Japan Sea side have gotten LOTS of snow over the past couple of days. The weather people were talking about a -35C degree wind from the north blowing over Japan...(okay, that would explain this weather)...at least during the day it has been sunny... although, I still would like to see some flurries... :)

The other day I made pork ginger for dinner. The recipe is rather simple: 1.5T sugar, 2T shoyu(soy sauce), 1T ginger, 2T sake (rice wine), 250g pork. I usually buy the pork thinly sliced and cut it into bite size pieces.

For the marinade, I usually use fresh chopped ginger. If you can't get fresh, the kind that is already chopped up and bottled is just as good. Soak for at least an hour or so. I usually try to soak it from the night before. After cooking it, I usually top it with sliced leeks or green onions. This photo is the leftovers of the pork ginger...called, pork ginger don (short for donburi or bowl). I lined the bowl with rice and lettuce then heated up the leftover pork ginger in a pan, added a beaten egg and put it on top of the lettuce. It was good, fast and easy! (definitely my kind of cooking!)

One food that is popular in Japan during autumn and winter is "yaki-imo" (roasted sweet potato). At night, you can hear the "yaki-imo" man (like the ice cream man in America), calling out to everyone over a loud speaker "ishi-yaki-imo". "Ishi-yaki" is to roast the potato on hot stones (kind of like when they roast a pig in the imu (roasting pit in the ground) in Hawaii) except the stones are in a metal container, like a barrel, many desserts during the autumn and winter here use sweet potato as fillings or toppings.

Naruto Kintoki is a sweet potato grown in Tokushima (Shikoku). Most sweet potatoes are known as "Satsuma-imo". "Satsuma" is the old name for the southern part of Kyushu. In the Edo period when the rice crops failed, a famine had swept over Japan. The government realized that the Satsuma area was the only area to survive the famine with little trouble because they were eating their sweet potatoes.

So, as a result, sweet potatoes were sent all over Japan as insurance against famine. Today, depending on the area, each has its own distinct name, shape and flavor.

Usually a sweet potato this size is rather expensive, but I got it for a little under $2. I steamed this guy in my steamer basket and had to have a piece of it when it came out....yummy!!

I think the reason they call this potato Naruto Kintoki is because Naruto is a city in Tokushima and Kintoki means a reddish color. And if you've ever seen Kintoki ninjin (Kintoki carrots) you'll realize that they are reddish colored carrots, not orange like regular carrots. And kintoki mame are red kidney beans.

In my last post entitled: sweets, I talked about ANA's new desserts. This is one of them, the caramelized pudding. I haven't tried either one yet, but will let you know when I do. :)

Sunday, December 11, 2005

sweets

Satoshi has to work this weekend, so it's just another 2 days at home for me. I happened to be wandering in 7-eleven and found something new...a group of ANA (All Nippon Airways) Cabin Attendants, called ANA Latte, came up with an idea to gather the world's most popular desserts. ANA's brand, "Sora sweets" or "Sky sweets" are usually only available for purchase at certain airports, but they decided to market these 3 desserts in convenience stores around Japan. They have Caramelized Pudding (like Creme Brulee), Melt in your mouth To-fa (an Asian dessert, like Tofu (soy bean curd)), and a Rich Chocolate Pudding (this is the one I bought)...think I'll save this on for awhile...

This is a cake I bought while shopping at the supermarket (It came with 2 pieces) made by Melodian. It's a pudding bombe. Usually, bombes are frozen desserts made with layers of ice cream or sherbet. This one was made with vanilla sponge cake, custard pudding, caramel sponge cake and caramel pudding...It was actually really light and fluffy.

Friday, December 09, 2005

trying to save the planet?--a little venting

During the summer, the Japanese government had a campaign to cut down the emissions of greenhouses, it was called "Cool Biz" (I think it stood for Cool Business). This campaign encouraged everyone to raise the temperatures of their air conditioners to about 28C (82F) and dress a bit more casually: no necktie or jacket.

Satoshi's office participated in this and he was so happy because he really hates to wear neckties or as the businessmen (or salarymen (as the Japanese call them) here call it "kubiwa" or neck rope...If you ask me, I really don't know why all these businessmen have to wear suits anyway.

If you aren't dealing with clients face to face, why do you need to dress up? (I guess I think this way because I'm from Hawaii and the guys usually just wear aloha shirts and dress pants for any event (work, weddings, funerals)). Anyway, you could tell which companies didn't participate in this project, they were the ones carrying their suit jackets over their arms or in their hands. (need a hanger?)

Well, in October, the Japanese government came out with the winter version..."Warm Biz". This project encourages everyone to lower the temperatures of their heaters to about 20C (68F) and dress warmer--wearing a sweater or vest over a dress shirt, using thermal underwear, etc. Satoshi's office isn't really participating in this project, so it's back to wearing ties and suit jackets for Satoshi.

At home, we're also trying to do our share, our heater is set to 20C. I wear MANY layers in the house and try not to use the heater during the daytime. Our apartment faces the south, so our living room area gets the sun all day long. It usually gets very warm and toasty, so I usually don't turn the heater on during the day.

My suggestion to the government if they want to help to save the planet---cut down on the number of people smoking...

It seems there are about 70% of the people who smoke here (maybe it's just because there are 8 times the population here than in Hawaii?)

Some restaurants here "provide" smoking and non-smoking sections---um, if I'm sitting in non-smoking and the customer sitting at the next table is in the smoking section, can you actually say that you have separate sections? I think they need to have their own room to smoke in and not come out from it!!

I guess you could say I'm a bit peeved by smokers here mainly because most of them have no manners, they throw their butts into the storm drains, rivers and where ever they feel like it. If smoking is not allowed in areas, they take out their portable ashtray (it looks like a smashed paper cup) and smoke a way.

Sometimes a smoker is walking about way ahead of me, but the smoke from his/her cigarette comes to coat me...(ugh, and I just washed my hair!!) I have stopped hanging our clothes outside because there is someone on either the 1st or 2nd floor of our building that smokes and "perfumes" our laundry...

For you smokers out there with manners, good for you, but I think you should still try to stop. Food will taste better (and I'll be able to enjoy my food too if I'm seated next to you), and the fish and plants that live in the rivers and streams will actually be able to "live" , the amount of pollution that flows to the ocean from the rivers and streams will decrease and save the animals and plants living there--helping the planet all together.

There, I think I've gotten that out of my system...for now...

finally!!

Okay, I've figured out what I was doing wrong...actually, the idea came to me the other day when Satoshi and I were having lunch in a soba (buckwheat) shop, called Irifune. This shop has been in business since the year 30 of the Meiji Period (1897).

The owner, invites elementary and intermediate students to learn how to make soba and to work in his shop for a day. It is a good way for the students to get "hands-on" learning experience and it also gives them a good chance to explore different occupations (I've seen some students helping in the supermarkets too.)

Anyway, the owner was explaining to the student that when they make soba, it usually takes a cup and a half of water. But, because of the weather, humidity in the air, etc., you don't always use up the cup and a half, you have to just feel the dough and decide whether you need more water or not.

When I overheard this, a lightbulb came on...when I make my scones, if the consistency of the dough is okay, I don't have to use up all the milk...so, I decided to try out the advice...they came out great!! I got the round shape from these cookie cutters I got at the 100 yen shop. They have a little bit of flour on top because I over-floured the board...but they came out fluffy and great.

This was an extra project for bead crochet. I apparently did something wrong and the bottom of the necklace came out frilly...oh, well, now it is an original.... :)

Have a nice weekend!!

Thursday, December 08, 2005

"uwasa no kuroi" cheesecake

Today was my beads class, boy, was it rough! I am still trying to catch up with the other students in my class...After class, I was exhausted, so I decided to buy myself a treat (don't worry, I bought one for Satoshi too!!) The sign over the glass case said "Uwasa no kuroi cheesecake", which means "the rumored black cheesecake"...I thought, I hope it isn't black sesame seeds on the cheesecake, but when I looked closely at it, it was dark chocolate cookie powder!! (like ground up Oreo's) As I waited for the lady in front of me to purchase hers, a line started to form behind me...(FYI: A line in Japan usually means that whatever the people are lining up for is GOOD or ON SALE, or something LIMITED to that store or in count) Anyway, I bought my two pieces and by the time I left, a good 10 people were behind me in line.

This cheesecake is made by Esola. They have an online shop as well as two shops in Osaka. It is take out only. The top and bottom are ground up dark chocolate cookies, the middle is very fluffy and light. It wasn't very sweet and really hit the spot.

Now to catch up with the rest of my projects...

Esola-Original shop (update: 2011: this shop is no longer there)
2-5-14 Azuchi-machi
Chuo-ku, Osaka
Phone: 06-6271-7645

Esola-Tsuruhashi shop (update: 2011: this shop is still open)
3-6 Shimoajiharacho
Tennoji-ku, Osaka
Phone: 06-4305-8136

Online shop: Esola Cheesecake (in Japanese)

caution! don't eat there!!

We were very disappointed with two restaurants: Ryukyutonsai Katsuri & The Earth Cafe. Both of these restaurants are in a new shopping facility called NU Chayamachi. This shopping facility opened recently, so we were eager to try the new restaurants there.

(The good experience) Last weekend, we tried Barbra Market Place (also on one of the restaurant floors), which is modeled after a French Cafe. I think we may have actually been in France because EVERY table had a smoker!! cough cough...despite the smog though, the food was actually very good.

(The bad experience) Yesterday, after my lesson, I met Satoshi and we went to try Ryukyutonsai Katsuri, an Okinawan restaurant/bar. It had been awhile since we've had Okinawan food and we were excited to eat some of our favorites,goya (bittermelon) champul, taco rice, among other things...talk about being disappointed...the taco rice didn't even use salsa, they used okonomiyaki (japanese "pancake") or tonkatsu (pork cutlet) sauce. And the mozuku tempura (fried seaweed) hardly had any mozuku...maybe our expectations were a bit high? We have been to Okinawa several times in the past few years and the food there is "Oishii" (delicious)...this restaurant has definitely moved to our black list.

Another restaurant that has moved to our black list is the Earth Cafe. The original cafe is in Hommachi near Utsubo Park. We had gone to this cafe in the past and THOUGHT it would be a good place for dessert after our disaster dinner...WRONG...the cake was AWESOME, but the bill was outrageous!! Usually in Japan, when they list on their menus "Cake Set", it usually means a SET price for cake & a drink (usually a simple coffee or tea, nothing fancy like a latte). Anyway, we must have been totally blinded by the cakes because we didn't really pay too much attention to the menu...when paying for the bill, we had to pay $19!! (Did we eat a WHOLE cake?) Apparently on the menu, the cake set STARTS from $4.20 plus the price of the cake you choose...ugh...Our bad experience was partly our fault, but still...sigh...

Anyway, if you are looking for somewhere to eat in Umeda...don't choose these two places.

Remember, you were warned...

some history, gingko trees

Yesterday Satoshi had the day off, so we went to our favorite cafe, Hiro, for breakfast. The weather is FREEZING!! You could actually see snow on the Minoo mountain tops. The weatherman says we can expect the mid-winter conditions to continue (didn't winter just start??)

Anyway, after breakfast, I wanted to show Satoshi the gingko trees. They were a very bright yellow and it looked like a truck that had yellow paint in it, exploded. (I think I may have used that description a while back...) Anyway, in the sun, they looked a lot brighter.

We have some interesting history in Minoo, for one thing, in an area called Sakuragaoka, the Japan Architect Association sponsored a house remodeling exhibition in Taisho 11 (1922) which featured Western style houses. A total of 25 houses were built. After the exhibition, all of the homes were sold. Today, 8 homes have kept its shape and 4 of them have been registered as a National Treasure of Japan. This one was unique for its time because the contrast of the red roof tile and white walls. I was surprised because most of these houses are HUGE!!

When we go check out the other historical spots, I'll post my findings.

Keep warm if you're in areas like ours, and for those in warm areas, try to keep cool!!

Monday, December 05, 2005

brrr...it's cold....tea time!!

Boy!! was it cold today...the high was only 7C (44.6F) and the low was at about 2C (35.6F)...Brrrr

Around this time of year, as the weather starts to cool down, I've come to enjoy having tea. When I was living in Hawaii, I was purely a Lion ice coffee fan, I rarely drank coffee hot. Having come to Japan, I now drink Starbucks coffee (only because the don't allow smoking in their shops!!) and tea! You could say it's kind of an addiction, but I have lots of tins of tea and not enough time to drink it...here's just some of the stuff in my stash...

Ginger Peach Tea from Republic of Tea, Eden Rose Black Tea from Betjeman & Barton (a popular brand here), Bay of Islands Breakfast Tea from Kerikeri Tea, Passion Fruit flavored black tea from Hawaiian Island Tea(now part of Lion Coffee) and Mamaki Tea from Hawaiian Mamaki Tea Plantation

Mamaki is a Hawaiian medicinal plant in which the leaves are dried and used as a tea. It is part of the nettle family. It's best to take this one sparingly since it is considered a blood purifier, expectorant, astringent and diuretic. And if taken in large doses, can damage your bladder. Well, the kettle is whistling...tea time!!

Sunday, December 04, 2005

the depths of osaka...

Yesterday was sunny and a bit nippy, Satoshi had his German language class, so we decided to meet in Umeda. We planned to buy our "nengajo" (New Year cards), so we met at the post office. For lunch, we went to a little food area next door to the post office called Umesankouji.

Here they have many Japanese "fast food" type places such as ramen, takoyaki and okonomiyaki to name a few. We decided to have ramen for lunch since it was really windy and cold...brr. Danshichi was a ramen shop in Umesankoji that was featured on a television show recently.

I decided to have the shrimp won ton ramen and mini pork mayonnaise donburi (bowl). Satoshi loves gyoza (fried pot stickers), so he had the gyoza teishoku (set) which came with ramen and fried rice.

After lunch, we decided to buy some dessert and make our way home. The bake shop we decided to buy our treats from was Fait en Bonbons.

This shop was featured in a magazine recently. Last week, Satoshi and I had planned to buy something from this shop, but they had a private function, so we ended up not being able to get anything. :( This week, we were able to get canneles and mini-bundt cakes.

Canneles are little vanilla and rum flavored cakes made in fluted copper molds. The word "cannele" means fluted in French. This cake is a local dessert in the Bordeaux area. They look like little candles! This shop is REALLY small. And everything is out in the open. (We were a bit disappointed with this)

Just as we were coming out of the bake shop, Satoshi's classmate, Gen calls him and tells us to take him to see Tsutenkaku...okay...so, we meet him and go to the South-side of Osaka--to a not so nice area called Ebisucho.

Tsutenkaku used to be Osaka's landmark tower. It is in an area called "Shinsekai" (New World). This area used to be filled with the latest hangouts, eating places, etc. But now, is a bit scary and have many homeless walking around. The tower is 103 meters tall and from the look out area you can see the Kansai airport, Mt. Ikoma and Osaka Castle.

There is also a little troll-like statue that everyone is taking pictures with...it is called "Billiken". This character was designed by a Missouri school teacher, Florence Pretz (wonder if this is how those Glico pretzels got it's name?) in 1908. It is a good luck figure that represents how things as they ought to be. It is apparently the mascot for most schools in the St. Louis, Missouri area.

After visiting the tower (it was only 4:30pm), Gen wanted to eat kushikatsu (fried cutlet skewered on sticks)--You'll come to realize that almost all eateries in this area are kushikatsu shops (I'm not sure why and if anyone knows, please tell me!!).

And they don't just have pork cutlet on sticks, basically, if it can be skewered they'll fry it up and call it "katsu"...A rule of caution, there is a community sauce dish that EVERYONE uses, the rule: NO DOUBLE DIPPING!! They also have a dish called doteyaki, this is muscular part of beef stewed in miso and shoyu (and skewered onto a stick).

After our snack and Gen's lunch, we headed back to Umeda for some errands. It was about 7:00pm and we decided we should have dinner, so we went to the Beer Company. This bar features many foreign beer brands, we had a nice time here but at almost every table there were people smoking...ugh. (UPDATE: this restaurant is now called Beer Burg)

Well, the only photo I have is the one of the cakes...they were good, we had them for breakfast this morning...and are hiding out at home because it is rainy and there is thunder and lightning...brr, I think it may get a bit colder!! Have a good week.

Fait en bonbons
2-3-16 Nakazakicho-nishi
Umeda Royal Mansion #1-D
Phone: 06-6376-2550
Open from 12pm to 7pm
Closed every Wednesday and every 1st & 3rd Tuesday (UPDATE: 2010 this shop has moved to another address)

Friday, December 02, 2005

the ideal scone & violas


Okay, I was happy with the texture of my scones, but in actuality, I really want them to come out like this...guess it's back to the drawing board...This scone came from a little bake shop in Nakayama.

Boulangerie Antibes
1-1-13 Nakasujiyamate Excellent Takarazuka Higashi #102
Phone: 0797-89-7727
Open weekdays: 8am-8pm, weekends: 9am-6pm
Closed on Mondays
UPDATE: 2013, they have moved from this location

The weather is much cooler so there are a lot of pansies and violas on sale now. Since some of my lavender plants died, I decided to get some violas and some new lavender plants for the empty planters.

Have a nice weekend!!

Thursday, December 01, 2005

new gadget & decorations

It's 25 days until Christmas...Right after Christmas we'll have to do "O-soji" something like Spring Cleaning in America except we'll have to finish before the New Year begins, so I've decided to decorate early so we can enjoy them. These are some of the decorations I've received over the years.

Yesterday I got a new kitchen gadget, a milk frother. It was on sale at our favorite cafe, Hiro. Since I was at Minoo Visola Shopping Mall, I decided to check out their sale at a shop they have there.

It is battery operated and comes with a glass cup to heat up the milk and a cover with a hole in it so you can stick the frother in to whip up the milk. I still need some practice...Cafe latte anyone?

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

the last day of november

Well, the last day of November was brrr...cold. For the past week or so we have been enjoying temperatures at about 21C (69.8F) during the day. The temperature dropped all of sudden with the high today at about 12C (53.6F) and low at about 7C (44.6F).

Since it was Ladies Day at a movie theatre in Minoo, I decided to see a movie that Satoshi had seen a couple of weeks ago when I wasn't feeling too well; "Always: 3-chome no yuuhi". It was a great heart warming movie set in the Showa period (about 1950's) in Tokyo. It was great to see the simplicity of life in those times. A lot of people cried in some parts of the movie, even the guys!!

The reason I decided to go to this movie theatre was that you can you pay for your ticket using the "debit card". (If you remember, I won an Edy card with 1000yen on it). So, I used the card to pay for my movie. Another reason that I decided to go to this movie theatre was that with your movie ticket stub you can get discounts from participating restaurants in the mall. I chose to have lunch at Baqet.

At this restaurant, with your meal comes all-you-can-eat bread, and with your movie ticket stub, you can either receive ice cream after your meal or a bag of 6 assorted rolls to take home. I decided to get the rolls. I was a little disappointed with the choice I made for my meal though...what I chose was roast duck with wasabi flavored vinagrette. The Japanese word on the menu was "fuumi" which I thought I understood as flavored or hint of. When I got my dish, it was like I was eating wasabi with some sort of meat and salad that had no taste...with the wasabi zooming through my nasal and sinus passages I thought I would surely start crying...boy, was I glad when it was over...whew!!

Well, it is 31 days until the end of the year...are you ready?

Minoo Visola Shopping Mall
1-17-22 Nishijuku
Phone: 072-729-1090

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

scone (part 3)

Well, I finally found a good scone recipe.

It was in the book that my brother gave me for Christmas this year! (Yes, we already celebrated in August when we all went home to Hawaii...) Thanks Keoki!! The scone came out fluffy like an airy biscuit. It wasn't sweet, but that's what jelly is for...


I guess I'll have to open a bottle of Mom's guava jelly. :)

Have a good week!

Monday, November 28, 2005

what a mess!

Recently in the news here there has been a big problem. Some companies built about 100 or so condos (or "mansions" as they call it here) and some business hotels in the Tokyo/Yokohama areas (I think they are slowly finding more in other prefectures, it's just a matter of time...) but cut safety corners (girders and beams were lessened) in order to cut costs.

It seems that all the parties involved did their share to cut corners in order to get a quick buck and more business (because they were fast and cheap). One party altered the data that they needed in order to draw up the blueprints for the building. And one party also used false data to submit to the people who actually build the buildings, inspections of the building after completion were also "overlooked" but submitted to the government as passing inspection.

A lot of firms were pressured to falsify data or be passed up for new business. (I, myself would have let them pass me, after all, how can you knowingly put another's life in danger with something that you were responsible to build safely!) Can you believe that they were actually waiting for a natural disaster to happen so that the fact that they faked the data would never be revealed? Unbelievable and outrageous!!

Most residents got suspicious because there have been a number of "small" earthquakes in the Tokyo/Yokohama areas recently but their condos have really swayed and have shown signs of cracks! I'm not too familiar with the building codes here, but after the Great Awaji-Hanshin Earthquake in 1995, I think most buildings built from 1996 on have to be able to withstand a 7-point something size earthquake. Anyway, all the companies involved are pointing their fingers at each other and also trying to put the blame on the government.

The victims in this whole mess are the people who bought the condos...they are now stuck with a 30-year loan (some just moved in!!) and no where to live (a lot have started to move out of their condos for fear of safety). One company involved says they will take care of these loans and give back 106% to the people who bought the condos...the catch: if this company files for bankruptcy, all deals are off...which leaves the people in the same predicament--a 30-year loan and no where to live...sigh. As if there aren't enough things to worry about, yeah?

Sunday, November 27, 2005

korakubiori

"Korakubiori" means nice weather to take a trip or go on an outing. Today, the weather was perfect for going out and about.

We started out early and walked to our favorite cafe, Hiro.

We usually go to the one in Minoo, but this time we went to the one in Kitaitami (it was our 2nd time here). It is actually the same distance from our place--about 2.5 km.

On the way to Kitaitami, we came across an "izumi" or spring.

Apparently, there are different stories, but the famous warrior Benkei stopped here for a drink on his way to Kyoto--so it is named "Benkei no Izumi".

The spring was and still is used by farmers to water their fields. To preserve the memory of Benkei there is a festival held every May 3rd.

After breakfast, I wanted to show Satoshi this field of nanten (nandina) plants that had changed colors.

Nanten is a member of the Barberry family and the leaves look like bamboo. It is sometimes called "Heavenly Bamboo".

On Tuesday, when I went to Nakayama, I came across this field of nanten. I took a picture with my cell phone and sent it to Satoshi. He was amazed to see the fields up close.

From Nakayama, we took the train to Minoo and walked all the way in until the Minoo Falls.

Along the way, we stopped at Ryuanji, a temple inside Minoo Park.

After going to the falls, we had lunch at an Italian restaurant called Vlla San Michele (I think they forgot the "i" in Villa). The food was very good, but unfortunately my camera's memory was full, so I have no photos to show. :(

Vlla San Michele (UPDATE: as of 4/08/2009 this restaurant is no longer in business)
5-12-16 Minoo
Phone: 072-725-0766
Closed:Mondays

We sure did a lot of walking today (I think about 10km in all), but we got to see a lot of fall colored leaves. Hope you had a nice weekend and have a great week.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

ogurasanso, palet d'or & crochet

On Tuesday, it was Ladies Day at the Meifu Cine Pipia (a movie theatre at Meifujinja station). There was a Japanese movie that I was interested in seeing, "Haru no Yuki". I went to the first show at 10:30am, what I didn't realize was that the movie was close to 3 hours long...sigh. It was a love story type movie with a not-so-good ending, but it was still a good movie.

What I've come to notice in Japan is that there are a lot of people with weird habits, some talk to themselves, some have weird twitches, but while waiting in the lobby of the theatre, there was one lady who had a sniffing habit.

At first I thought she had a runny nose or something, but she kept sniffing every few seconds, "sniff sniff" "sniff sniff"...it got to be quite irritating, so I move away from her. When it came time to be seated for the movie, I waited for my number to be called and hurriedly entered the theatre so that I could find a seat FAR away from her...she unfortunately sat at the end of my row...during the quiet parts of the film you could hear her, "sniff sniff"....ugh...

After the movie, I walked towards Nakayama and went to my favorite arare (rice cracker) shop, Nagaokakyo Ogurasanso. Previously, when Satoshi and I went to the movies, I came upon the store when we were walking to have lunch at an Italian restaurant, Fraulein.

This time, I bought my favorite--chocolate covered kakinotane(a spicy rice cracker in the shape of a persimmon seed (kaki)). Ogurasanso uses the highest quality Belgian chocolate from OCG Cacao, called Chocolate Couverture which means chocolate covering. This chocolate has more cocoa butter than regular chocolate and is good for coating things like truffles...if only they would use dark chocolate only. :)

Nagaokakyo Ogurasanso-Takarazuka store
12-1 Meifuhigashinomachi
Takarazuka, Hyogo
Phone: 0797-83-0030

Today was my bead crochet class. I had to catch-up since I missed the last lesson. This was the project that I finished today. A very gaudy bracelet...I have some other "homework" to do before the next lesson, so that I can catch-up with the others.

Since I was in Umeda for my beads lesson, I stopped at a favorite chocolate shop, Chocolatier Palet d' Or. They are celebrating their 1st anniversary with a chocolate called Marl Chocolate. It is 100% Cacao mass with a hint of sweetness from different types of honey.

They had 5 dark types and 5 milk types. I wanted to buy the 5 dark types, but ended up only getting 3 dark types and 1 milk type. The dark types: Rouge (raspberry puree with berry honey), Citron(lemon paste with French lemon honey) and Orange (orange filling and Spanish orange honey). The milk type: Provence (Assorted South France floral honey)...can't wait to try them. :)

Chocolatier Palet d'Or
Herbis Plaza ENT 4F
Phone: 06.6341.8081

With a holiday in the middle of the week the week seems to have flown by. Hope you all had a nice Thanksgiving and have a great weekend.