Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Takayama with Lil and Clare

In late spring, my former boss Clare and her good friend Lil came to Japan, despite the radiation scare and fear of aftershocks. I set out from Tokyo to meet them in my favorite Japanese town, Takayama. I got my 30-different-kinds-of-food bento and rode the shinkansen. 
First we headed to shirokawago to see the thatched roof houses.
The village is pretty high in the mountains, so even in late April there was still snow in the mountains...
...and patches of it on the ground.

 We were able to witness the local townspeople rethatching one of the rooftops.
Some cherry blossoms were still in bloom and some rice had just been planted.
We also visited the Hida-takayama folk village, which was just a short cab ride from our hotel.
Clare makes a wish and rings the bell.
The museum has some very well preserved houses from ancient times. The smell of smoldering fires (used to ward off moisture and critters) pervades. It is so peaceful there.
Back in the main town of Takayama, we strolled the streets of dark wood shops looking for sake and fun gifts to bring back home. 
Before we left, our taxicab driver took us on a whirlwind drive through the various temples and narrow streets of the city and along canals with lovely cherry blossoms in full bloom.

Saturday, August 06, 2011

a very long break

Hello to anyone that is still following our Todai blog! I am really sorry for the long break in blogging. Ever since the earthquake, I have been completely unable to write. Every time I sat down to blog something up, I was filled with incredible anxiety, sadness and worry. To this day I can't read an article about Japan without bursting into tears. 
But with a little bit of time and distance, I think I am finally ready to sit back down with the blog. We now live in New York City, so I will at some point start a new blog with a name having some mildly playful take on Queens or Long Island City or Columbia or something. I don't know yet. I'll work on it. Until then, I did have a few nice final months in Japan after the earthquake, during which I went on a few trips, had some visitors and attended a whole slew of sayonara parties. So I will share some of those adventures now. Thanks for hanging in there with us!

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Tokyo Disneyland

We recently went to Tokyo Disneyland with friends Michael and Momoe. We actually willingly got up at 6am (!!!) and headed out by train. We were not the only ones.
Although things from the JR station looked a little unfamiliar...
...that changed as soon as we got inside. I remember those pointy blue spires...
First thing we did, of course, was run to space mountain and get our fast pass ticket. I thought this was a new and incredibly creative way to deal with large crowds and was unique to Tokyo Disney, but my brother informs me that the California branch has done the same thing. Guess it has been a long time since I've gone.
So what IS different about Tokyo Disney? This was my big question. I urged the crew to go on It's a Small World with me first thing in the morning. Surely Japan wouldn't use the same stereotypical, borderline racist, iconography as the old US version, right? Particularly for the Asian nations, right?
They did. Actually, if I am not mistaken, this ride is an EXACT replica of the US version...
...down to the last laughing hyena and dutch wooden shoe.  Oh, but just as we were leaving, the last couple refrains of the monotonous "It's a small world" song turned into Japanese.  Ok, so I will be able to find some differences here, but they may be subtle.
For instance, tell me this Pooh ride doesn't exist (with that spelling) in the States. It can't, right? I really wanted to go on this one actually because I thought it might be a Tokyo-only ride, but the line was 70 minutes long when we approached. I'm not THAT interested in Pooh, or his "Hunny".
Entering this part of the park seriously made me want to go back to New Orleans.
We decided to go to the Blue Bayou restaurant for lunch. To properly set the mood, they greeted us with "Konbanwa" (good evening) even though it was like 11:00 in the morning. The food wasn't very true to the Big Easy, but it was nice to watch the Pirates of the Caribbean boats float by and the fireflies dance around.
The Jungle cruise ride was exactly the same too, but it was kind of fun hearing it all go down in Japanese, including the faux panic and gunfire at the angry wooden hippo.
Since it became clear quite early on that just about everything at Tokyo Disneyland was the same as in the US, I spent the rest of the day focusing on the differences. At least as I perceived them. For instance, I don't recall seeing grown, fashionable 20-somethings in the States going crazy with the furry ear hats.
I'm told that going on a date to Disneyland here is a big step in a relationship. This couple above must be experiencing a big moment there with their matching tigger hats. They look delighted, don't they? And is that a teddy bear purse that he has?
Lots of photo ops.
Whole crews in matching hats.

And popcorn was a super popular snack. I can't imagine that this soy sauce and butter flavored popcorn is available back home. We also had caramel popcorn and curry flavored popcorn (we took it as our personal mission to sample every available concession).
We saw a parade,...
a pair of mini-Minnies,
a stroller parking lot, complete with at least two paid attendants to keep those strollers in orderly lines,
and another employee trying to drum up business, if you will, for the concession stand to his right. What is in his hand you ask?  A turkey leg. Teriyaki chicken legs were also available on the other side of the park. 

I also saw this. Her fashion style is apparently a perfect example of Mori girl, or forest girl. 
And just before we left, we saw this family of leopards (can you find all five?)

Ryan's tanjoubi

This week was Ryan's birthday (or "tanjoubi" in Japanese). Without much planning, I decided to go home a little early from work and bake him a cake before he got home from his lessons. You may recall I only have one tiny pan, so decided to make it a square layer cake by making one square at a time. I guess I rushed it a bit trying to remove the first square. This pile of bits comprising the first layer didn't leave me very optimistic about the rest of the cake, but I decided to push forward anyway.

While the second layer was cooking, I looked online for a frosting recipe. I found one for bourbon cream cheese. I figured a little Jack would do the trick just as well. I made a big batch of it and used it to fill in some of the holes and cracks in the first layer. I added some chopped roasted almonds for texture and because the bourbon reminded me of New Orleans and pecans. But I didn't have any pecans. or bourbon.
The second layer came out much much better. More frosting. Oh shoot, that part about waiting until the cake cools to frost it was rather important. The frosting on the top started to melt and droop precariously off the sides. I quickly put it all in the fridge until Ryan got home.
Then I threw on a whole bunch of nuts on the top and sides to hide the misshapen, melty mess and set it out with a candle and all of his presents that had been coming in the mail during the week.  Yay!
But before we ate cake, we went down to our local Italian/Japanese restaurant. Our favorite waitress greeted us at the door and even knew it was Ryan's birthday since we had filled out our info on a previous visit.  First course was an appetizer of, from left to right, ham and cheese blintz, wagyu beef, thin sliced white fish with a pesto sauce and foie gras creme brulee. 
For mains, we each had incredibly tender Japanese beef. Ryan's was grilled and served with a croquette and a pile of herbs...
...and mine was slow roasted and served with mashed potatoes. Oh my, it was just melt-in-your mouth goodness! We also had pastas with mushrooms and a scoop of fois gras cream, but I was so full by that time that I forgot to take pictures.
And actually, we were so stuffed from dinner that we didn't even break into the cake until the next day. Despite my winging almost the whole thing and not having much faith in it, the cake was pretty darn yummy, so I am going to link to the recipes. For the cake itself, I used this funny one that called for a cup of coffee. The only change I made was to replace about 1/4c of flour with almond flour because I had some left over that I wanted to use. Oh and I added some cinnamon. And here is the recipe for the frosting. Jack Daniel's works just fine too.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Ladies tea party

Last weekend, on the day of our first snow, several of us ladies got together for a tea party. We had our first tea party as a baby shower several months ago and now that cute little Thalia is 2 month's old, we decided to meet up again. We all took turns holding her. And those cute little red socks fell off every time.
And soon we will have another baby in our circle of friends. Philomena, there on the left, is expecting next month.
We had lots of cookies, cake, several kinds of tea and even english muffins with butter and marmite. Very British!

Monday, February 14, 2011

February cooking class

In this month's cooking class we finally were able to study Japanese food. We made three dishes. The first dish called for miso sauce, which we made from sauteed onions and mushrooms and boiled carrots, pureed in a blender and added to dark brown miso paste from Nagoya.
 We then lightly steamed lots of beautiful vegetables...
 ...ladled a big mound of miso sauce on the plate and then arranged the veggies on top of it.
Then we started the second dish by grating daikon and adding some seasonings and spooning this mixture over quickly cooked, super thin soba noodles.
And the final dish was a simple dashi, or fish broth, with some fresh herbs (mitsuba I think) and these funny little decorated beans that puff up in liquid. 
And of course rice was served.
Here is the whole meal. Kojima-san's award-winning pickled greens are in the bowl there. Yum! And isn't that veggie plate pretty?
And to finish it off we enjoyed some nice sweets and green tea made with traditional tea ceremony implements.