Sunday, November 30, 2008

odds & ends

It is the last day of November, so let me clear out some photos.

It is soup season. My vegetable soup is always with whatever veggies are in my refrig or whatever I find at the market. I add a can of diced tomatoes and the seasonings are usually a consomme cube, several shakes of Italian seasoning, salt and pepper, sometimes a dash or two of Tabasco. For this version, I put in some kabocha (pumpkin), sweet potato, shimeji (type of mushroom), carrot, eggplant and onion. I also added some leftover rice...it was a nice way to warm-up for dinner.

I am addicted to these. On a recent trip to the 100 yen store, I found these Tohato Caramel corn in a chocolate spice version...the original version is pretty addicting, so this version takes it up to another level.

The sweet-salty caramel puffed corn is coated in chocolate then dusted with black pepper, ginger, cinnamon, cardamom, clove & all-spice....the scary part is that they are only 100 yen (about US$1) a bag and I can eat the whole bag in one sitting.

On Foodbuzz, I've had this recipe for taco seasoning bookmarked and finally got the spices together. It is a nice blend and it went nicely in my taco rice, beats the package taco mix.

Recently I bought eggs....check these out...they have expiry date stickers on each egg...talk about wasting trees. You may also be able to see a piece of paper in the background, they also have the expiry date on them.

We're heading to the last month of the year....so fast, yeah??

Saturday, November 29, 2008

marie antoinette award

I received the Marie Antoinette Award from Lynne, a new reader of our blog a couple of days ago, sorry it took me so long to post.

The award is apparently for people posting about their everyday life. I'm not sure, but think that this award has made its way around the blogosphere, but if you'd like to receive this award, just link back to this post!

Thanks Lynne!

Friday, November 28, 2008

on a sunny autumn day

Wednesday was a beautiful sunny day.

I went to the post office then walked twenty minutes up to our favorite cafe. They were having a coffee sale and I wanted to see what I could buy.

It was only the 2nd day of the sale and pickings were slim. I wanted to buy their Ethiopian washed coffee but ended up buying some beans from Kenya, I hope it is good (though the coffee from this cafe is usually good). UPDATE: The Kenya is delicious! earthy, smoky and dark roasted...mmm.

From the cafe, as I was making my way home, I saw a yard sale of sorts. They had clothing on several racks and dishes on several tables. These colorful cafe cups and saucers called out to me from a table on the grassy area (I kid you not!).

Not wanting to ignore them, I went to see them up close. I flipped one of the cups over to see where it was made. It was made in Italy. I'm not sure if it is a brandname but I was sold on the colors (greenish blue, light blue and yellow). For 1500 yen (about US$15) for the set of 3, I thought it was a good buy.

On the walk home, I envisioned cappuccino and hot chocolate in these....so on Thursday morning, I made cappuccino/lattes to have with our breakfast.

Then Thursday afternoon I had another cappuccino/latte with a lavender brownie. The cups are not too big, not too small...just right.

Hope you have a great weekend. UPDATE: I think this tableware is Pagossin

Thursday, November 27, 2008

trying new recipes

I recently saw this recipe on Foodbuzz, I cut the recipe down to fit my "50 gram butter restrictions". (If you have been following this blog, I cut all recipes that call for butter to 50 grams then scale down the rest of the ingredients to stretch a block of butter. This way I don't make a lot (which I would end up eating myself if I made the full batch) and instead of 1 recipe I can try 4 different ones because 1 block of butter is 200 grams. Oh and unsalted butter is still kind of scarce where I am).

Because I cut the recipe down, I wasn't too certain as what to bake it in, so I filled a greased round tin and baked it for the amount of time suggested.

The recipe calls for lavender sugar, which I had, but I only put in 1 tablespoon and subbed regular sugar for the rest because I feared it would be bitter with that much lavender in there. I also added some slivered almonds and a handful of cacao nibs. The edges came out a bit crispy and overall it was thinner than the recipe suggests, but it was delicious with a light lavender taste.

Another recipe I tried was on the Queen Creek Olive Mill site. The recipe was for Vanilla Bean Vinaigrette. It actually calls for vanilla infused olive oil, but because I didn't have that, I scraped 1/2 a pod and put that into my food processor, then I added 1/2 a teaspoon of dried tarragon, 3/4 tablespoon of honey, 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper to taste. While whizzing it, I added 6 tablespoons of EVOO.

The vanilla flavor was subtle....drizzled on my warm steak salad...Delicious.

Today is Thanksgiving in the States, we don't celebrate it here in Japan, I've never even seen turkey in the markets. In fact, Japan has skipped over Thanksgiving totally and is in Christmas mode. As soon as Halloween was over, the next day up went the Christmas displays. I'm going to miss all the good food but mostly I'm going to miss being with family and friends. Hope you have a great day--Happy Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

aokomyoji & yoshimine-dera

Sunday was a beautiful sunny day. We got up early and headed to Nagaoka-tenjin. For the past several years, we have gone to Aokomyoji to see their fall colors. This year, the leaves weren't as red as the very first time we visited in 2002, but they were still beautiful. I noticed that only the tops of the trees, the parts that were touched by the sun, were the leaves that changed to reddish-orange.

We also saw their rock garden for the first time. It was beautiful and there weren't many people in the garden area.
From Hankyu Nagaoka-tenjin, we went two stations and got off at Higashi-mukoo. From the Higashi-mukoo station, it was about a 30 minute ride up a skinny winding road into the mountains of West Kyoto to Yoshimine-dera. At times the bus had to pull on the side to let cars go up and vice versa.

Yoshimine-dera is also called Matsu no dera because they have Japan's greatest pine branch. 54 meters (about 177 feet)...and it is 600 years old! (though they had to trim 15 meters of it due to bugs eating it..so it is now only 39 meters)

The bus dropped everyone off on a slope and we had to continue walking trudging up another steep 300 meters to the temple. Talk about heaving and huffing! Memories of climbing Mount Fuji came rushing back.

But, it was all worth it. The views were spectacular and the property huge! Lots of beautiful maple trees. They don't allow bentos (boxed lunches) or smoking on the property--(when you see the size of the property you will understand why, it is too big for them to pick up after irresponsible litterings.)

The fall colors should be around for the next week or so. Hopefully we'll be able to check out a few more places before the leaves fall off the trees.

Aokomyoji (sometimes called Komyoji)
Bus number 20 or 22 from Hankyu Nagaoka-tenjin
Bus fare: 170 yen one way
Temple entrance: 500 yen per person
Phone: 075.955.0002

Yoshimine-dera (Matsu no dera)
Bus number 66 from Hankyu Higashi-mukoo
Bus fare: 340 yen one way
Temple entrance: 500 yen per person
Phone: 075.331.0020
Open 8:00-17:00

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

kyuanji

The leaves have finally started getting red and orange. On Saturday, Satoshi and I had lunch at our favorite ramen shop, Momofuku-tei. We found out some bad news though, they will close down next month and be replaced by Ippudo. Ippudo is a popular ramen shop in Japan and they even have a shop in NYC.

After lunch, we caught the bus from Ikeda, up to Kyuanji. We've passed by this temple for several years on our way to Cosmos no Sato, but never got around to checking out their fall colors...until this year. Apparently this year there weren't any typhoons hitting mainland Japan, so the leaves are supposed to be really beautiful because the typhoons didn't beat up the trees. Downside to this is that the winter is supposed to be...brrr...fahreezing..we'll see (still crossing my fingers to see some snow, what can I say, I'm from Hawaii!!).
The property is huge, there are many maple trees, pine trees and many man-made ponds. There was even a building with a huge statue of Buddha lying on his side. You can also walk behind the statue and go into a columbarium (spelling?) type of room with many drawings of different disciples of Buddha covering the wall from top to bottom. Kind of spooky walking through this room, but still awesome to have been able to.

Despite the bad news (about our favorite ramen shop), it was great to be outdoors and see some beautiful fall colors. Have a great week.

Kyuanji
From Hankyu Ikeda station, take bus#26, #135 or #136 to Kyuanji (about 10 minutes)
Bus fare: 170 yen one way
Admission to temple: 300 yen (about US$3)
Phone: 072.752.1857

Monday, November 24, 2008

from omiyage comes fajitas

Recently when my cousin came to visit us, he brought with him some local products as omiyage (gifts) from where he lives in Arizona.

I have not seen agave nectar here but have seen it recently on many blogs, so I think I will use them as reference when I use this. This product was actually a product of Mexico but distributed by the Patagonia Honey Company.

The Fistiki Farms pistachios that he gave us were delicious. I love the hickory mesquite flavor. We had them along side our fajitas.

The tequila lime fajita recipe came from the Queen Creek Olive Mill website. They make olive oil and infused olive oils. The Mexican lime infused olive oil was perfect in their fajita recipe. While cooking, the citrusy aroma filled the air.

I didn't have white balsamic vinegar so I used dark balsamic vinegar. I also didn't have tequila so I left it out as it was optional. The recipe was easy to follow and there was not much prep work to do either, just slicing the veggies. I added more colored peppers than the recipe indicated and also added some white onion too. We also had some salsa, cheese and olives in our fajitas.

We had our fajitas and pistachios with a glass of Frei Brother's 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon. Since we don't have many chances to eat Mexican food here, this was a great way to fill our craving for it. It was a great dinner. (Thank you!!)

Sunday, November 23, 2008

the good and the disappointing

Let's talk about the disappointing first. If you have been reading this blog, you would know that I had been wanting to try a new cafe in Breeze Breeze for some time now, but every time I had gone, there was a massive line. So, when I went last week after French class, I was surprised to find the place practically empty at lunch time. Lucky? eerily maybe...

I ordered the Bougnat Bougnat (bu-nya bu-nya, that is the name of the cafe) lunch plate 850 yen (about US$8.50), and for 100 yen more (about US$1) you can add a cappuccino. So that is what I did. The lunch plate comes with your choice of quiche + 2 appetizers and a salad. I chose the smoked salmon quiche (sorry, I can't remember what the other choices of quiche were).

My image of quiche is custardy, not runny, with a flaky crust--what I got was a dry, hard and super thick quiche with a really sweet white sauce on top. It sort of reminded me of hard toasted bread, with lots of spinach and some salmon in it. The soup was pumpkin (this may have been the best part of the lunch). The cappuccino was so bitter, not sure what was wrong with it, but I have never had a cappuccino this bitter.

Anyway, this may be an indication of why there was no line at lunch time...debating whether to give this place another chance and try a different lunch plate (maybe their sandwich or pasta plate)...what do you think?

Let's move on to the good...the Purple Fig "satongo" chocolate spread I got from Belberry is good. I googled and found that "satongo" is a type of dark chocolate from Africa. I've put it onto baguette and I've also put it on the ficelle apertif from Moisan which is similar to a baguette...yum.

The chocolate pearls I bought from Boissier last month didn't have any instructions on how to eat them, so I melted about a fourth cup in some warmed milk then frothed it up with a whisk...the chocolate has a little acidity but it is still delicious as a drinking chocolate.

On Wednesday, I went to Moisan to pick up a ficelle apertif and I also bought this pizza with olives...the pizza re-heated in the toaster was delicious.

We're having a 3-day weekend here, hope you are keeping warm where you are.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

foodie friday in kyoto

Friday started off as a dreary day--drizzly and windy. I was to meet Tamakikat at noon, but there was an accident on the Hankyu train line to Kyoto, I would be late. I emailed her and found that she was running late also.

We both arrived a little after noon and headed into Mariage Freres. The restaurant was empty so we got to choose where we wanted to sit.

It was our first time eating there and if you have never been to Mariage Freres, they have 100's of teas (if not more) to choose from. Tamakikat ordered the Marco Polo, which is their number 1 seller. I like Marco Polo also, but wanted to try something different, I chose Chandenagor. Chandenagor is a spicy tea, like a chai. I first heard about this tea on Oswego Tea's site (no longer online) and have been wanting to have a chance to try it.

I'm glad I did, it was perfect for a cold blustery day with a splash of milk and good company to chat over it with.

Tamakikat and I both chose the assorted sandwiches plus dessert. This came with proscuitto, cucumber with a soft white cheese, smoked salmon and chicken mousse seasoned with Lapsang Souchang tea sandwiches, a little salad, the tea of your choice and choice of dessert from the showcase. 2625 yen (about US$26.25) Very reasonable considering the price of the tea itself.

Tamakikat said her favorite sandwich was the smoked salmon while mine was the chicken mousse seasoned with the tea. The tea flavor wasn't pronounced but it was still tasty. Dessert was very good also and the portions were very generous. After eeny-meeny-miney-mo-ing, Tamakikat chose the chiboust and I chose the cheesecake which was flavored with Marco Polo tea.

After a couple of hours with the restaurant to ourselves, customers started to come in and we were really full.

We paid our bill (the register was in a little ticket booth like thingy in the middle of the store!!) then headed to walk along the Kamogawa. The day turned from blustery and dreary to beautiful while we were lunching.

After a stroll up and down the Kamogawa, we headed towards Shijo and ran into this poorly parked Ferrari, which everyone including us were photographing...then we said our goodbyes.

It was a great day, lots of chatting, lots of noshing and lots of good tea. (Thanks Tamakikat!)

Mariage Freres Kyoto
BAL 1st floor
Nakagyo-ku, Kawaramachi-dori Sanjo-sagaru 2-chome, Yamazaki-cho 251)
Phone: 075.255.5591
Open: 11:00-20:00 (Closed when BAL is)

Friday, November 21, 2008

food and culture

Let's start with the culture shock stuff because most were kind of gross. Whenever you go to the toilet, you will see these signs and a large trash can in the stall. I guess most toilets do not have good flushing or maybe it is to cut down the amount of waste that needs to be treated.

Another sign you will see is "no spitting or chewing of betelnut". The green nuts from the Areca palm are split and sprinkled with tobacco then wrapped in Betel vine leaves. When chewed it becomes a mild stimulant, and with continued chewing turns your gums and teeth red. Also, the liquid that is spit out stains, so you see red splats all over the place.

Most of the television programs are in English, though I think they are a week behind. I was just happy to be able to watch episodes of "Kitchen Nightmares", "Law and Order" and "The Starter Wife".

The phone book doesn't give any addresses just the area and phone number.

You will see many progressive poker places as well as hostess bars (many dress scantily and stand at the entrances of their establishments) and prostitutes approaching men walking on the sidewalks. There are also people who will call out to you to lure you into their shops for a massage or cheap dinner...Just use your judgement, if it looks sketchy it probably is.

Many business, restaurants and shops are 24 hours.

You will see this character all around Saipan. He is called Saipanda. Apparently he was created by a Japanese. His name is a play on words. Saipan-da means "this is Saipan". Sai also means rhino in Japanese and Panda is well, panda in Japanese, if you notice he is a cross between the two animals.

You will also see these two coconut like dolls entwined with each other. These are called "bo-jo-bo" dolls. I couldn't find much info on them but depending how they are entwined (e.g. holding hands, hugging, holding both hands and facing each other) they bring good luck for things like love, money and other things. You can find these all over the island it is just a matter of how much you want to pay for one!

One funny thing that constantly happened was that I would speak English wherever we went and people would automatically say, "Hey, your English is awesome, are you Korean?...Chinese?...where are you from?" Somehow I think we got a little better service speaking English rather than Japanese. Though I think if I knew Chamorro, Carolinian or Filipino we may have gotten even better service at various places.

Okay, let's move onto food....
In Nagoya before we left, while I was waiting to meet Satoshi at the airport, I had some delicious gelato at Babbi--biscokrok (crunchy biscuits in rich dark chocolate gelato) & stracciatella (dark chocolate bits in vanilla gelato). They only sell their gelato in twos so I HAD to get two flavors (682 yen about US$6.82).

While waiting to check-in, we had miso katsu sandwiches for dinner from Yabaton (840 yen each about US$8.40). Miso katsu is a famous food in Nagoya. The miso that they use is a red miso. It was kind of dry to me but still something different to try.

We also had some curry flavored okara (soy lees) chips from Muji (157 yen (about US$1.57) (according to my cousin, they have a store in NYC)....delicious.At Moby Dick's, we had creamy clam chowder in a bowl, a seafood salad, seafood pasta and fried calamari, with and iced tea and coffee....Total with tip: $29.00...portions way too large.

I don't think Saipan has sales tax because all of our bills were exactly as the menus or price tags stated.
The cocktails on the Club floor included champagne, wines and lots of great pupus (appetizers). We also had a great teppanyaki dinner at the Hyatt...price too high to mention. And delicious donuts (apple fritter and chocolate donut) from Winchell's. The donuts were only $.99 each...so cheap and good!
Dinner at Bobby Cadillac's one night was delicious. It was my first time trying a reuben (I loved it!) (UPDATE: Actually, I surfed my blog and it was my 2nd time trying a reuben), Satoshi trying their seafood pizza...with sodas (total:$25.90). Lunch at the Hard Rock Cafe located in the Duty Free shop. Satoshi had their humongous nachos and I had the pulled pork sandwich (how I miss bbq sauce!!)--(total with tip: $34.96).
Shopping at the ABC store, we saw (but didn't buy) spam musubi. And at the Joeten Hafa Adai shopping center, we found a supermarket with all kinds of US candies and chips as well as local chicharon (pork rinds)--if you want reasonably priced "omiyage" (souvenirs) shop here. At the Guam airport, we found a Burger King and Satoshi got his fix for portuguese sausage, eggs and rice ($6.25) and I had french toast sticks with tater tots ($4.30).

We I had LOTS of comfort foods on this trip. The portions were huge...and I think we I gained LOTS of weight and our my cholesterol must be high too. While the Japanese travel to Guam as a substitute to Hawaii, Saipan is a different place. Relaxing, laid back, don't expect to do much. Just go to relax, have a good time and eat plenty. I hope you enjoyed our trip to Saipan.

Moby Dick's
Garapan
Phone: 233.1910

Bobby Cadillac's
Garapan
Phone: 233.1180

Winchell's
Garapan
Phone: 234.5566

Hard Rock Cafe
2nd Floor Duty Free
Garapan
Phone: 233.7625

p.s. as I was re-capping this trip, the weather in Osaka has dropped into the single Celsius digits over the past couple of days...brr (though I still look forward to snow...)

Thursday, November 20, 2008

historical tour

One thing we did, was go on a historical tour. This tour takes you to various spots on the island. Many of these spots were involved in WWII.

Banzai cliff was where 10,000 Japanese jumped to their deaths in fear of being captured by the U.S. According to the guide, they shouted their mother's name, threw their children into the ocean then jumped.

Right above this spot is the last outpost of the Japanese army.

They let you crawl inside to see the post then walk down to view the many graves of those who jumped to their deaths from 248 meters above. Many jumping backward so as not to see the rocks below.

From the north end of the Island, we headed back to Garapan where there is the American Memorial Park. This national park shows the battles in Saipan and gives tribute to the people of Saipan, showing their recovery after the war.

We also went to Sugar Cane King Park. Haruji Matsue was responsible for starting the sugar industry and building a railroad in Saipan. Though the sugar industry and rail in Saipan are no longer existent, the idle engine for the sugar cane train still is.

There are many reminders around the Island that wars are evil and everyone hopes for peace, hopefully that will come true for the whole world one day.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

garapan street market

Saipan is a dominion of the United States. It is 71.4 square miles or 185 square kilometers with a population of about 58,000. (Osaka is 85 square miles or 220 square kilometers and a population of 2 million population...ack!!) 60% of the people in Saipan are Chamorro or Carolinian. The rest are Filipino, Japanese, Chinese and Korean--most of these people are in Saipan as contract workers.

The main language is English, but most speak Chamorro or Carolinian. Since tourism is Saipan's main industry, most people also speak Japanese.

Here is a story about the Chamorro. It was said that when Spaniards took over the Islands, they changed the peaceful islands. A certain Spanish commander fell in love with a beautiful Island girl, but she was already promised to a local boy. The commander was determined to be with her, but her family was against this. The only way for them to be together was to jump off a cliff together entangled within each other's hair. This tragic story was passed down through generations of these island people who became known as "Chamorro".

The Garapan area is where most of the hotels in Saipan are located. There is a great foodie fiesta called the Garapan Street Market. It is held every Thursday from 17:00-21:00. Located on the road right outside of our hotel.

There is live entertainment and lots of food to choose from. A lot of places were giving 5 choices for US$5....so cheap. There were also stands selling fresh veggies.

The hotel arranged a dinner for us on Thursday, so it would have been rude to change or cancel, we hope that the next time we go to Saipan (hopefully soon), we'll be there on a Thursday to try all this food!

I'll just let you enjoy all the photos, hopefully some of the excitement will come through.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

managaha island

From Garapan, it is a 15 minute boatride to Managaha Island (pronounced Ma-nya-ga-ha). This island is part of Saipan but a local tour company, Tasi Tours has the exclusive concession rights to operate marine sports and other beach activities here.

While we were there we had covered beach chairs, which helped to block the sun.

Most tourists in Saipan are from Japan, Korea, China and some from Russia because they don't need visas to visit and it is rather close to their countries. A lot of the signs are written in all the languages. The sand on most of the beaches were powdery and fine.

Many go to Managaha to snorkel.

Or just relax. When I saw these guys, I instantly thought of beached seals or turtles....

There are remnants of the war on the island too.

They also try to protect the wildlife here too, there were many signs indicating areas not to be entered due to baby birds hatching.

I couldn't get over these Japanese tourists wearing sweaters over their pareo and no-sleeve.

Lunch was a barbeque plate. Reminded me of local food in Hawaii and barbeques at the beach.

There was coco papaya (which I realized was green papaya soaked in a spicy sauce similar to the one they use to make takuan)--koko is the local Japanese word for tsukemono. There was also "Saipan rice" a red rice colored with achiote or lipstick plant. I think you can find achiote in Filipino & Spanish cuisine.

I also had Aloha Maid iced tea, something that I hadn't had in years!

It was a great day--lots of sun and relaxation.

Tasi Tours
website in Japanese only

In my previous post, I forgot to mention that we received a fruit platter and wine from the Hyatt. Thank you!!