Food & Cooking · Seen/Heard/Tried · Tried

Chocolate tasting

Years ago we went to the Museu de la Xocolata in Barcelona, a small piece of heaven where your tickets are chocolate bars and your taste buds fill with delight. The chocolate museum has all kinds of activities and opportunities for tastings, and it was there that I had my first ever experience with thick, rich, decadent Spanish hot chocolate. Tasting the drink was like falling in love.

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Falling in love is what enjoying really good chocolate is supposed to feel like, according to Simran Sethi, host of my newest podcast obsession, The Slow Melt. In her podcast, she also says awesome things about being your own sexiest sweetheart, and buying the good chocolate for you. And while I love that sentiment and am most certainly not opposed to buying myself chocolate, I did have to buy some good stuff for Chad on Valentine’s Day (I just forced him to share with me 😉 ).

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We’ve been doing a lot of chocolate tasting lately, especially since I received The Chocolate Tasting Kit for Christmas. I am already starting to see differences in chocolates as we try them, and have also learned a lot about how to taste chocolate and how it’s made. Pairing the kit with The Slow Melt, I’ve been gaining a lot of knowledge about chocolate, and I can’t wait to start working with specific coffee pairings as my palate develops! My favorite recent chocolate tasting? Black Salt Dulce de Leche Bonbons from Vosges Haut Chocolat. 62% dark chocolate sprinkled with black sea salt crystals = something I could melt into my chair over.

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If you can’t get your hands on some good chocolate as soon as your taste buds would like, get some eye candy by checking out The Slow Melt’s Instagram, and enjoy some sweet listening by subscribing to the podcast!

Have you tried any wonderful chocolates lately? Please do share your favorites!

xx Caitlyn

PS: can you imagine being gifted Vosges Haut Chocolat’s Travel the World through Chocolate Steam Trunk!? A most indulgent, luxurious gift if there ever was one!

57 Things Series · Food & Cooking · Tried

57 things series: Butter Chicken Curry

The first weekend I was home from the hospital after having Lillian, Chad brought home Indian take-out from a great restaurant nearby our apartment. I am not exaggerating when I say that it. was. AMAZING. Everything from the mildly spicy tandoori chicken to the carrot dressing on the salad. But most of all, the butter chicken curry! To say the least, a lunch set from that restaurant will definitely be something to pine for upon our return to Michigan.  On the bright side, the unavailability of the meal in the near future inspired me to take a shot at number 5 on the 57 things list: Order take-out when necessary—then try to make your order from scratch, at home, the next week.  I actually tried a couple recipes for butter chicken, but couldn’t quite get the full body the take-out curry had. After pulling from a few different recipes and adding some of my own ideas, however, I came up with a pretty darned good butter chicken that will do the trick. I think next time I might try adding sautéed shredded carrots to bring a little more thickness to the curry–what do you think?
img_5480 Crockpot Butter Chicken Curry
Serves 4-6

Marinade
1/2 c. coconut milk (or 1/2 of a standard-sized can)
1 Tbs lemon juice
1 can tomato sauce
1 1/2 Tbs tomato paste
1 1/2 tsp garam marsala
1 tsp red pepper flakes
1 tsp cumin
1 Tbs fresh ginger
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1/2 tsp salt

Curry
1 lb boneless chicken thighs
1 Tbs honey
3 Tbs butter
1 red or yellow onion
1/2 tsp garam marsala
1/2 c. coconut milk (or remaining 1/2 of standard-sized can)

Directions
Add all marinade ingredients to a blender and purée until desired smoothness. Pour over chicken in a separate bowl and let sit for at least 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, sauté your onion in 1 Tbs of butter until transparent. Add the chicken and the marinade and cook until the chicken no longer looks pink on the edges. Add the remaining ingredients and pour into a crockpot to cook on high for 1 1/2 hours, or on low for 3 hours. Serve with rice and/or nan.

This post is part of the 57 Things Series. You can read the original post here.

Enjoy!

xx Caitlyn

Pregnancy · Seen/Heard/Tried · Tried

5 helpful things in late pregnancy (with links!)

There are many articles and blog posts that give advice on helpful things to do during pregnancy, but since each person is different I thought one more from me couldn’t hurt 🙂 These are some things I did, especially during late pregnancy, and how they worked out for me.

5HelpfulThingstoTryinLatePregnancy1. Prenatal exercise– every day in the last two months or so of pregnancy, I walked between one to two hours. I didn’t worry too much about how far I walked because (especially toward the last few weeks/days) I thought it was better to just try my best and get outside.

I also did yoga several times a week. I started with Prenatal Yoga with Adriene, but to be honest, I found it wasn’t challenging enough during the first two trimesters and not stimulating enough during the third (okay, I’ll just say it: I was so bored with it!). Instead, in the third trimester I switched to this free video called Yoga for Birth Preparation. I found this video not only relaxing, but informative. For each step, you are told why you are doing what you’re doing. Having that understanding really helped me to know what sorts of techniques I could apply during labor (which I mentioned briefly in Lillian’s birth story).

The Yoga for Birth Preparation video uses some really nice, calming music. I wrote to the  producers of the video and asked about the music, and they kindly and quickly replied: the music is by Benjy Wetheimer, from his album Anjali. I downloaded it off of Amazon, and though I didn’t end up listening to it during labor, I think the album will still be nice to listen to while doing some yoga independently now.

Lastly, I frequently did squats. I figure that even if you don’t have much time, you can squeeze in this awesome 5-minute squat video. When I had Lily, the nurses said they were amazed at how strong I could push, and I like to think keeping up with squats helped. It also helped with a lot of other issues some women have (I never once had pee accidents from laughing/sneezing, etc.)!

2. Relaxed– I took loads of baths and used a lot of face masks. In Japan there are some really great, inexpensive face masks available, and that’s something I’ll really miss back home! In the last few weeks of pregnancy my lower back hurt a lot and my hips just killed, so having a sweet husband give me massages really helped, too. I give Chad extra props because giving someone a massage while she’s lying on her side because of a huge belly has got to be difficult! I also took some naps, but to be honest, I should’ve slept more! I sort of felt guilty about sleeping, like I should be doing more with my time, but now I know that 1) I had such difficulty sleeping from being physically uncomfortable that I should’ve tried as much as possible, and 2) I dream of being able to get that kind of sleep now that we’ve got a newborn! (Well, day dream, anyway haha)

3. Prepared my hospital bag and “survival stations”– For the most part, I prepared my hospital bag according to the lists provided by my hospitals (both St Luke’s and Aiiku had pretty much the same list). I did bring my Kindle as well, but I personally felt too tired to read. Television might have been nice, but I didn’t watch it because I had a shared room and didn’t want to disturb the other mommies (plus it was Japanese television, anyway, which might’ve been too overwhelming at that point). In the rare times I had my hands free I was usually sleeping or eating or showering, but I suppose it was better to have options available rather than not just in case.

I also made “survival stations” for when I got home based on articles like this one. Because in Japan you stay in the hospital for about 5 days after giving birth, I didn’t end up using the bathroom basket much. I also didn’t use the padsicles I prepped because by the time I got home there was no need. The breastfeeding basket was also unnecessary, perhaps because our apartment is so small that the few things I needed (lanisoh, water, snacks etc.) were always within reach right next to any diapering needs. I suppose it depends on the person, and I guess in the end it was nice to be over prepared rather than under, but really the only basket I’ve needed has been the one with diapers, wipes, a thermometer, gas drops, and burp towels. I also put a little bag in the basket with bath time stuff (baby soap, lotion & oil, q-tips, etc.) because there was extra space.

Ultimately so much of what you prep for the hospital & home is dependent on your hospital stay and the layout of your home/what will be convenient and necessary for you. And in my case, I couldn’t really know about what I really needed until I actually experienced my hospital stay/homecoming! My main point here is that you may feel like you should be going crazy preparing things, but it might be better to focus more on relaxing! We were super minimal about a lot (especially buying things because we knew we were going to move back to Michigan again soon), and everything worked itself out.

4. Read & used a pregnancy app– Like many soon-to-be mommies, I read a lot of articles online, but I also enjoyed reading The Taboo Secrets of Pregnancy and The Girlfriend’s Guide to Pregnancy. Of course The Mayo Clinic Guide to a Healthy Pregnancy was good to have on hand as well! Reading these books was especially helpful to me living so far away from family and friends.

I also used this Pregnancy+ iPhone app. I liked the app for its updates and for tracking things, but was a little bummed when a few months in I got the surprise notification that I would have to pay $4.99 to continue using what I thought was a free app. At that point I didn’t want to start anew and re-enter data, so I just paid for it (I’d love to hear about your favorite pregnancy app if you have one!).

5. Joined a pregnancy group– joining the Tokyo Pregnancy Group proved immensely useful. The ladies in the group were able to give me great advice, especially when we had to switch hospitals! I never really made many friends in Tokyo aside from a few coworkers (most of whom never had children), so having a support group was invaluable. The only downside was that the meetings were always held on weekday afternoons, so I was only able to attend one meeting once I started maternity leave. I think a lot about my pregnancy would have been easier had I been able to make friends with some other mommies (or better yet, had I been in my home country!). Reaching out to others who are going through or have gone through pregnancy is so important!  Chad and me at a ramen shop about a week before my due date.  

I hope sharing some of my experiences in trying to prepare myself during pregnancy were helpful to you, and would love to hear about what worked/didn’t work for you!

xx Caitlyn

Food & Cooking · Tried · Uncategorized

What can you celebrate today?

 Years ago when I studied abroad, I remember coming back to my dorm from class to a special surprise: two of my friends were waiting for me in the dining area with cakes to share! What was the occasion, you wonder? There wasn’t one! I remember thinking that was so fun–enjoying pretty cakes just for the sake of it, because every day is worth celebrating with a little cake. I love all the gorgeous cakes and pastries available in Japan, and to this day every time I buy a cake here I think of that memory.    

   
    
 I picked up these lovelies yesterday to celebrate that Chad is done with his last official term of school before we go back to the states, and also to celebrate each other and our sweet baby girl (she’s six weeks old today!). What are some things you’re celebrating today?

Food & Cooking · Reviews · Seen/Heard/Tried · Tried

Tsuta Ramen: the first ever ramen shop to receive a Michelin Star

Ever since we heard the news about Tsuta Ramen shop receiving a Michelin Star, we knew we had to give it a try. Our first attempt was one Friday after work, when we learned that the shop closes at 4:00 PM. Yeah, what? Chad called to confirm the shop was really already closed for the night to learn that not only are the hours incredibly limited (11:00 AM-4:00 PM), but that you have to get a placeholder ticket by 10:30 or 11:00 in the morning in order to get a bowl as well.
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Last Monday, Chad decided to take off the upcoming Wednesday from work to surprise me and go with me to Tsuta during the limited open hours. Much to our dismay, after getting the day-off request approved, he discovered Tsuta is closed on Wednesdays! Strike two!
IMG_3995Fortunately for us, now Chad is on vacation, so yesterday (Tuesday) we were able to scurry down toward Sugamo Station to get a ticket from Tsuta. We got there around 10:15, and were able to get tickets to reserve a spot for eating around 3:00. Unfortunately, all that was on offer for the day was Tsuta’s miso ramen, which I was especially bummed about because I tend to go for shoyu (soy based) or shio (salt based) ramen. Of course, that didn’t change our minds about giving the shop a try!
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Approaching the shop, you are greeted with several signs explaining the placeholder tickets. The tickets are color-coded, and the time you arrive to get a ticket determines the time you can come back to eat.
IMG_3999If you’re on a Tsuta ramen mission, don’t go sit in line to get your placeholder ticket! Open the door to talk to someone–if there is a line of people outside, they are already waiting for their dining time slot!
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You are advised to arrive a half an hour or so before your time slot, and if you miss your time or lose your ticket, you forfeit the 1000 yen deposit you give for your placeholder ticket.
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Once we got our placeholder tickets, we had to decide how to spend the next several hours. We came up with a few really nice ideas, which I’ll share in a future post. For now, the important thing to know is that if you’re in town to try Tsuta ramen, you really have to plan a day around it. We recommend going to the shop for a placeholder ticket around 7:30 or 8:00 AM to ensure you can have a bigger selection of ramen dishes, and so that you can get a more convenient time than we did.       IMG_4053Around 2:15 or so we came back to Tsuta Ramen and joined a line of several other customers. We slowly moved forward in the queue until we were welcomed inside and given our deposits back so we could chose our ramen. We had three choices: normal miso ramen, miso ramen with egg, and miso ramen with extra chicken. We chose the latter two options (which came to exactly 2000 yen total), and then continued to wait in the indoor line for seats to open up. IMG_4054We were pretty excited when our ramen was served. We were ready for new flavors–we’d never had chickpeas, sliced onions or chicken in our ramen before. IMG_4055 IMG_4056A good egg is usually a huge indication of my overall rating when it comes to ramen: it shouldn’t be completely hard boiled, but the yolk should be slightly cooked. My egg was spot-on. I liked the noodles, too, but sometimes the texture was a little grainy for me. I couldn’t tell whether that sensation was from the soba noodles themselves, or from the noodles being coated in miso broth. The ramen didn’t disappoint, but I would personally like to go back and try a bowl of the shoyu ramen. IMG_4057
Tsuta’s miso ramen is not my favorite ramen in Japan, but that could just be due to my lack of enthusiasm for miso based-ramen. Chad was quite impressed, so we’ll have to do some future investigation next time we can plan around Tsuta’s rather inconvenient hours. Either way, I’m glad we got a chance to try it! For information on hours and days in which Tsuta is open, click here.

Take care!
xx Caitlyn

Seen/Heard/Tried · Summer Bucket List · Travel · Tried

Summer Bucket List recap

Now that we’re several days into fall I think it’s time for an update/recap on my Summer Bucket List for this year!

  1. Read at least three books [√] — Check out this Bookspiration post to learn more!
  2. Do yoga at least 4 times a week [X] —  I thought I was going to be one of those glowing, energetic pregnant women–HA! But I have been walking every day, and I try and squeeze in yoga and other exercise when I’m not dead from work.
  3.  Celebrate our 7th anniversary [√] — We went to Hakone and really enjoyed the Open Air Museum (read more here).
  4. Try paper quilling [√] — I made a pretty sunflower card and really enjoyed the craft (see my card here)!
  5. Eat s’mores [X] — You know, I didn’t get around to s’mores this summer. I did, however, enjoy a lot of early-released fall treats, so I think I made up for it!
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    Left: sweet potato Kit Kats and chestnut flavored taiyaki; Right: chestnut flavored soft oreos, pumpkin flavored Kit Kats, and sweet potato chips. You can heat up both the types of kit kats. I didn’t try them warm, but they were yummy as is!
  6. Go swimming [√] — I was lucky to go swimming in a hotel pool during our Thailand trip, and then again at Shirahama Beach with Chad and his brother Quint.
    IMG_2974Chad and Quint running into the gorgeous water.
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    Beautiful mermen!
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    Baby bump at 22 weeks (about two weeks ago, and already looking small to me!)
  7. Make a hot air balloon craft [X] — I had all the best intentions, really. But I’ll be working on an easy one this week.
  8. Try kirigami [X] — Once again, good intentions on this one. It’s been moved to my Fall Bucket List, though!
  9. Go to Studio Ghibli [X] — Oh my goodness you guys. It is impossible to get tickets on weekends or on any other days we have off. I will keep trying again and again until we leave Tokyo!
  10. Enjoy kakigori (Japanese shaved ice) [√] — I had some lovely strawberry milk kakigori after visiting Sandanbeki Caves with Chad and Quint.
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                                           Above: One view from the caves.
    The “milk” was actually sweetened condensed milk. Mmmmmmm….!
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    I also tried a totally different version of shaved ice in Thailand called “Ruam-mit.” My Thai friend says that means “mixing everything together.” Below you can see the stand with choices you can make for your own bowl, and then the four different bowls we sampled with our friends. We liked the ones with coconut milk the best!IMG_2769
  11. Go on a picnic [√] — we went on several 🙂
  12. Have a fancy night dressed up around town [√] — Um, do you remember when we went to Chez Olivier? We actually went back again when Quint was here, too. Still drooling at the thought of both visits….
  13. Do at least 3 Writing Prompts [X] — I did one writing prompt, and really didn’t like it. Time got in the way of trying for another two.
  14. See fireworks [√/X] — So I didn’t actually see live fireworks, but I did do a really cool craft with my students. Here’s the link on pinterest!
  15. Do pirikura [√] — As you know from my last post, I totally got down with this one and used it as a baby announcement!

All in all I’d say I gave this year’s bucket list a pretty good go, especially considering I was primarily in my first trimester for a good chunk of it! My fall bucket list is ready now, too, so I’ll be sharing that soon!

What are some fun things you did this summer?
xxCaitlyn

Projects · Summer Bucket List · Tried

Summer Bucket List: Paper Quilling

Remember when I tried making Matryoshka at a meetup a while back? Well, a couple weeks ago, I attended another meetup for Paper Quilling. This time of year in Japan a lot of summer greeting cards are sent, so the leader of the group thought it would be a fun time to teach basic quilling techniques. I wanted to share this with you sooner, but I decided to give the card I made to my mom, so I wanted her to be the first to see it. Now that she’s gotten it, here it is!IMG_2188
Of course, it’s not perfect, but nothing handmade is! I really enjoyed making my first project. One of the coolest parts was that the group leader taught us the basic techniques using toothpicks to roll the paper! She also gave us a tip for getting strips of paper without spending much money: just use a paper shredder if you have one! I loved that we could try the craft without having to invest a ton–especially as these days paper quilling is starting to get quite popular again.IMG_2191Did you know that paper quilling is actually quite an old craft, and that even back in the Renaissance the strips of paper were trimmed from gilded edges of books? IMG_2189Here is one of the example cards the group leader made. Isn’t it fun?  IMG_2192Here is my card with some of the cards the other girls made. I loved the idea of making a cat face (top left)! IMG_2194This was my favorite card. I was so jealous of the girl who made it!

I’d like to try quilling again sometime–I think it’s something I could get quite good at and enjoy. Tomorrow I’m off to another meetup for needle felting. I’ve done some needle felting before (remember this cute onigiri?), but I think it will be fun to try it with some other girls and hopefully learn some new techniques!

What kind of projects have you been working on lately?

xx Caitlyn