Tuesday 30 November 2010

Pic of the Week: 29 Nov - 5 Dec

Tower Bridge, London

Tower Bridge, London

One day late but still posted in November... This week's pic is one of the first photos I took on my iPhone.

Click on the photo to see a larger version on flickr.

Sunday 28 November 2010

thankful thanksgiving

My sister (in California) asked how I can manage to do a Thanksgiving feast in London. The hard part is not, as it was in Japan, sourcing the necessary ingredients: turkeys, cranberries, even stuffing, is all readily available. The trick is in planning ahead and delegating.

I sent out the invites several weeks ahead to gauge numbers. I let people know which parts I would cook (turkey, stuffing, mash) and which parts were potluck (veg, sides, desserts.)

Then S and I started shopping about a week in advance, bringing home drinks and dry food over several days - trying to balance both weight and fridge space.

Since we don't have the luxury of taking Thursday off work, I planned everything for late Saturday afternoon. The final shop was on Friday night after work. In the past, I have settled for frozen turkeys and spent all night defrosting it in a cooler filled with cold water (this requires waking up every two hours to change the water and rotate the turkey.) I was never happier to find a fresh turkey than on Friday night!

Cycling home with a turkey, flowers, vegetables, and other last minute items

The fridge was remarkably empty, considering the feast I planned to feed everyone. I began to have my doubts about having enough food. (Note that the fridge fits under the counter, so this photo is practically life-size.)


The only part I had not planned - since I never bother - was pumpkin pie. Ever since I was little, pumpkin pie has been the only dessert I can't eat. But then one of my friends was so excited about celebrating her first Thanksgiving that I felt I couldn't let her down. I had read on some of the local foodie forums that it is possible to buy Libby's Pumpkin Pie Filling online and at Waitrose supermarkets. The closest Waitrose is three stops away on the Tube - pretty far for one can of pie filling but worth it for a friend.


I started the morning by baking the pies in ramekins. I used crushed digestive biscuits and ginger snaps for the crust and followed the recipe on the can for the filling.

Next, I made stuffing (in a box - another concession to London Thanksgiving is allowing yourself to take shortcuts) and chopped veg while the stuffing was in the oven.


I prepped the turkey while the veg was roasting.


And then I had three whole hours to clean the bathroom, tidy the living room, and put out nibbles.


In the end, everyone brought so much food that we were overwhelmed!

Winter greens with shiitake mushrooms
Butternut squash
Mashed potatoes
Roasted vegetables
Cranberry sauce
White meat and dark meat

We used paper plates and plastic forks & knives so clean up was a breeze (although eating was a slight challenge.)

Dessert was impressive: cake from Patisserie Valerie (my favorite London bakery - we got cakes for our Thames cruise there)


And pumpkin pies!


As it turns out, I still hate pumpkin pie but everyone else liked it. Can't ask for a better result than that!

I was grateful to everyone for coming and contributing to a feast that still continues - we had enough leftovers for everyone to take some of everything!

Monday 22 November 2010

Pic of the Week: 22-28 Nov

Linzer Almond Cookies

Now that the holidays are around the corner, and the nights are drawing in, here is a pic of the linzer almond cookies I baked a few years ago for xmas.

Click on the photo for a larger version on flickr.

Sunday 21 November 2010

japan :: tokyo part 2

We returned to Tokyo for the last few days of our trip. One of my ex-JET friends was kind enough to let us stay with her family in their amazing flat, right in the heart of Azabu-juban.

View of Tokyo Tower

The 'Ewok' brushes her teeth before bed

I should point out that at this point in the trip, with only 2 days to go, I had already taken around 900 photos and 20 videos. Two of my camera batteries were dead and my third - and last one - was decreasing at an alarming rate. Why had I decided against bringing my battery charger? I cannot say. I didn't even have the excuse that I would have needed a power adapter; it would have fit into a Japanese plug. I kept my camera in reserve and used my iPhone, but ultimately didn't detail as much as I would have liked.

With that in mind, I convinced S that we should go to Akihabara. Not only is it a geeky mecca, but I thought I might be able to get some extra juice. We went to Asakusa first, where we were swept along the tide of tourists shopping for ichiban headbands, lucky cats, and ningyo senbei.




Outside Senso-ji, people were covering themselves in incense. But just as many were ignoring the shrine and taking photos of this:


The Tokyo Sky Tree is currently under construction, but it is the talk of the town: almost everyone we met asked us if we had seen it. I must admit, I'm not sure I understand the attraction but I felt compelled to take a picture of it anyway.

Bob's distant cousins, hoping for food. Are they ever not hungry?

Speaking of food, we walked through the nearby kitchen goods wholesale district of Kappabashi, where we found a shop selling the plastic models you see outside restaurants.



Continuing on, we found Akihabara in all its neon-and-noise electronic glory, complete with maid cafes.


I'm still bemused by the idea of maid cafes. I went to one last year on my business trip and it was so cloyingly, bizarrely saccharine that we lasted about five minutes before rushing back outside. Perhaps the strangest thing is that it's not all that sexualised; maid cafes are a perfectly reasonable destination for couples on dates, single women looking to attract otaku men, (and the occasional delusional nerd who brings flowers to his favorite maid in hopes of sparking her interest.) I guess I can understand why the first maid cafe was such a sensation, but there are so many of them now that the market seems quite saturated. Maybe it's time for a new concept.

In the end, we didn't buy anything. I found a battery charger but it was too expensive to justify an extra day's worth of photos. We dipped our heads into a few shops, looked at some manga and anime, and moved on. Much of Akihabara baffles me, but I do think it's cool that there is an entire area where people can proudly indulge in geeky interests.


In the afternoon, we met my friend maki. M was the art teacher at the school where I worked in California; now she is back in Japan exhibiting her beautiful floral pieces made out of washi paper.

sassy maki


Over dinner, M asked if we had ridden the yurikamome monorail, or visited the ferris wheel in Odaiba. She described the ferris wheel in such dreamy, romantic terms that we headed straight there the following morning. You might remember that we had seen it from the top of Tokyo Tower lit up at night at the beginning of our trip:


It looked pretty in daylight as well.



With Buzz Lightyear at the LEGO store inside the Palette Town shopping mall...

...with Barbie...

...and with the Statue of Liberty.


On our last night, we had dinner with another ex-JET. It was great to catch up with so many friends - and have a chance to introduce them to S. Overall, it was a different trip from most of our other travels: while it was all new for S, it was like going home for me. He saw a side of me he rarely sees (speaking Japanese, bowing on phones). I saw a side of him I rarely see (breakfast at the local konbini with black coffee). I hope he enjoyed being shown around as much as I enjoyed showing him around. Tanoshikatta...


Tuesday 16 November 2010

japan :: vending machines

No matter where you are in Japan, you are never far from a vending machine. Here is a selection of my favorite drinks. I didn't try them all, but I loved the packaging and unusual flavors.

'Power Hypotonic' and Jasmine Tea

From Aqua - water, I assume

Sparkling Pink Ginger

Smiling 'Natchan' orange drink and my personal favorite, C.C. Lemon

'White Soda', but where's Wally?

Banana au Lait (sounded pretty awful)

'Futte Futte Zeri': shake, shake jelly
Cola and grape flavored jelly drink (oddly refreshing on a hot day in Kyoto)

Adorable characters on Qoo (although the drinks themselves were not very tasty)


'I Love Vegi' ... not to be confused with ...

'I Love Apple'

We are SMAP! - why does a boy band need a sports drink? and what does 'Every Day Love Tomorrow' mean?
On the other hand, the bottle of Hachimitsu Lemon C (Honey Lemon C) is too cute for words.

Ultraman soda (lemonade, cola, and cider)

But possibly the strangest drink was this pancake-flavored milk shake ?!?!


I wasn't brave enough to try it but I'm not sure I missed much.

One of the most unusual drinks I tried did not come from a vending machine, but from Starbucks, of all places.

Coffee Jelly Frappuccino - not as bad as it sounds - but I'll stick to C.C. Lemon.

Ba ba da da dum! She She Remon!

Monday 15 November 2010

Pic of the Week: 15 - 21 Nov

Lisbon Sunset

Sunset in Lisbon, from our trip in Nov 2008

Click on the photo to see a larger version on flickr.

Sunday 14 November 2010

japan :: kawaii

Japanese people are masters of kawaii (cute). Hello Kitty is alive and well.


Hello Kitty socks can be worn with Hello Kitty Crocs.


Hello Kitty on sale at the flea market


Amusingly, even a sumo wrestler on the Tokyo subway displayed no embarrassment at having a Hello Kitty charm hanging off his mobile phone.


And Hello Kitty reached out to her American friends on Sesame Street - why have only one cute character when you can have two-in-one?


In fact, accessories seemed to have their own accessories everywhere we went. In Nara, Hello Kitty made a very cute deer...


...much cuter than the official Nara mascot, celebrating its 1300 year anniversary:


Ugh, not so cute. But not nearly as paranoid as this little guy, seen at the Soba Festival in Matsumoto.


This kappa clearly needed a hug.


I hung out with Anpanman in Kawaguchiko.



Even the police have a smiling mascot outside their Tokyo offices:


And if you're not already smiling, there are reminders everywhere that you should be.

Seen in the Akihabara electronics district



Museum of Weights and Measures in Matsumoto




Pets are not immune to the cute character treatment, either (although I suspect that a real cat would be even more surly than these stuffed ones if it was forced to wear a rabbit hat)


And even drinks in vending machines sport big smiles


We found lots of cute drinks in vending machines, but that's a subject for an entire blog post...

Until then, to answer the burning question on your lips: 'yes, it's all cute, but did you bring any of it home with you?'


Of course! Kawaii, ne?