Monday, March 29, 2010

Second weekend of Tina's visit. We strolled around the streets of Yanaka and did some shopping and ate some street food. This area is a historic temple district from the Edo era. It has retained a lot of the old time character with many traditional wooden houses and lots of temples and cemeteries.

I like the old fashioned shops selling senbei (below), which is a tasty rice cracker.
And at the end of our walk we caught our first glimpse of cherry blossoms in Yanaka cemetery. This one below is just starting, but by next weekend all the Sakura trees in Tokyo will be in full bloom.
And then we headed to the Tokyo dome area, did some more shopping, watched the water show (below) and relaxed in the LaQua day spa - just heavenly!

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Sumida to Odaiba

My friend from grad school came to visit this week. Fortunately the first day of her visit was a holiday for me, so I was able to go out with her, show her around a bit and help her get oriented. We headed out to Asakusa (home of the golden turd, right) to catch the water ferry (below) down the Sumida River. It was a really nice and sunny day (unfortunately the last she would get for the week) and the cruise down to the harbor was pleasant and peaceful. We went under about a half dozen bridges and saw a view of Tokyo that you don't often see. I highly recommend it, particularly for the first day of your visit.

The ferry let us off at the Hamarikyu teien, which was the official garden of the Emperor during the Edo period. It is a veritable oasis in the middle of towering skyscrapers, with several ponds, former duck hunting meadows, and an old tea house.

The garden has a huge meadow of golden flowers. I think it may change every season. A lot of people were out that day enjoying the unusually nice weather.

Once in Odaiba, we went to the Oedo Onsen, which tries to recreate an Edo era feel. Guests choose from about 12 different yukatas and can wander around in an old timey arcade with numerous ice creams, foodstuffs, arcade games and old school games that involve picking various toys and what not out of water. The onsen itself was separated by gender and had a big selection of baths at different temperatures, some clear and sparkling, others were a brownish color from the minerals.
One can also don the gold heavy jacket (right) and stroll outside where there is a bridge and severals foot baths. One such bath is full of tiny carp or some kind of sucker fish. For ~$15 more, you can soak your feet in the bath and have the fish go to town chewing off your calluses and dead skin. It is a very disturbing feeling I have to admit, but my feet were baby bottom soft when it was all said and done.

After the onsen, we took a nice walk around the waterfront of Odaiba, saw the sunset and headed home. A pretty nice day, and along the way, my friend became familiar with navigating the subway system for the rest of the week when she would have to do it solo.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

guest room

In a previous post (here), I showed the rooms in our apartment, but I left out the guest room, which is also sort of our living room. The primary reason for the omission was that it wasn't really finished yet but also that it tends to be the messiest room. Well, just in time for our first house guest (a friend from grad school), I finally bought blankets and sheets for the room and cleaned it up pretty. The IKEA couch folds out into a small bed. Here's a pic.

Nothing super fancy, but the retractible wall closes it off for privacy. There is even a little guest fridge right there in the far left corner and some guest slippers and towels.
So come on out and visit! We have plenty of room for you!

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Cooking class: project Mexican food

This weekend I held my second cooking class for the local community center. This time I shared with them some Mexican recipes. Finding all the ingredients was a little bit challenging. Avocados and cilantro are kind of hit or miss at my local grocery store but refried beans, tortillas and green chiles required a special trip down to the International market in Azubu Juban (~45 minute train ride each way).
The class format is very informal. I basically provide the recipes and supervise and we all dig in and do the work together. Here folks are stuffing tortillas with shredded chicken and rolling enchiladas.
Now, this is the fourth of these cooking classes that I have either attended or taught. Typically there are about 12 retired ladies in the class, all of whom are primarily there for a social outlet and to have a good time. One thing that I have learned is that they really don't like anything spicy and aren't particularly adventurous (they hated the Thai food because it was too hot and in their opinion had weird flavors). For this reason, I wanted to keep things simple and homey and maybe even a little bit americanized. I decided to make White Enchiladas, the recipe for which I got from my favorite food blog, and which was a big hit with my family when I was home for christmas. The only spice comes from canned mild green chiles.

Well, it turns out that for this particular class, we had 20+ students, a couple of whom were ringers. This man below is apparently a french chef. Suddenly I became incredibly self conscience about my cream-bomb enchiladas and hokey casserole and really wished I would have tried a relleno or a mole or at least salsa verde from scratch. It didn't help matters any when, after I finished the sour cream-based white sauce, he asked to taste it and out of the corner of my eye I could see him grimace and wash his mouth out. Here he is dicing the hell out of that red onion for the guacamole.

For the second dish, I decided to go with Huevos Rancheros because they specifically said they didn't want a lot of meat. When I learned that I had 20 students, I decided that making so many fried eggs would be impossible, so I opted for a Huevos Rancheros casserole recipe that I found online. You put the corn tortillas on the bottom of the pan, then the beans, a little salsa, whisked eggs and finally cheese. You bake it for a half hour and then top with red sauce. Super easy and it tastes like the real thing even though it doesn't really look like it.

They always serve some sort of tea with the meal and when they asked which tea would go well with Mexican, I thought about how I really like horchata with mine. They have a rice milk drink called amazake, so I had them prepare that and I added a little vanilla and cinnamon. Amazake is far chunkier than horchata, but it had the same general sweet, cooling effect (although there was unfortunately nothing spicy enough in my menu to require cooling).

At the end we dished all the food out equally onto plates and sat down for a feast. Lots of second helpings on the guacamole made me feel good, as did the "oishee"s (which essentially means "yummy"), though maybe they were just being nice. Pretty fun day on the whole.

Next they want me to rope my Moldovan friend into things and have her supervise while I make Russian food. They really want some borscht and wouldn't be dissuaded by my saying that neither she nor I have ever made it. We'll see.

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Art at the French Embassy

Last week was the closing of a temporary art installation at the former French Embassy. Sometime in the recent past, the French whosits moved to much schnazzier digs next door, leaving behind this rather quirky building with its inverted V entrance and 70s style architecture. Local artists decided to use this big empty space, a "No Man's Land" if you will, before it got bulldozed. For several months, they each used a room of the old embassy (some still featuring built-in filing cabinets and other bureaucratic details) to display their work. For the closing party, there was a dj spinning and red wine and french cheese. Also this robot rolled around the lobby like a roomba, bumping into people, changing course, bumping into other people.

The rooms showed a great variety of styles from sketches to found-art sculptures to interactive art to even a few performance pieces.
Plus, the hallways between rooms were covered with graffiti, some of which were really the highlights of the whole show.

At the very rear of the building, we found the Ambassador's office, which we decided to use as our own lounge. The Ambassador seemed to have rather interesting taste. His office door had beige leather quilted covering and, inside, every flat space --walls, floors, closet doors (including the one hiding the safe), cupboard faces, chairs-- was covered in beige suede.

This was the final night of the show, so there was a fun, celebratory feeling to the event, but the art was a bit tired and tattered. It was clear that all of the pieces had seen better days. But still it was really a blast to see all the local artists and hear so much French spoken.