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

Food & Cooking · Seen/Heard/Tried · Summer Bucket List · Tried

French Restaurant Chez Olivier

On my Summer Bucket List (and bucket lists past, for that matter), when I wrote “fancy night around town,” I generally meant that I wanted to dress up for no reason at all and do ordinary things–just for fun. But as I was researching dinners for our anniversary weekend, I came across a perfect reason for dressing up and NOT doing an ordinary thing: Michelin Star-Rated restaurant Chez Olivier.

After perusing the bilingual website and reading about Chef Olivier’s history and approach to his restaurant, I was especially intrigued by the presentation of the meals in the pictures, and at how the menu is always changing with the season based on what is available. Ever since watching The Hundred Foot Journey (a great movie, if you haven’t seen it!),  I’ve been curious about restaurants with the coveted Michelin Star, so I have to admit that was part of my reasoning for wanting to go, too. Since we went to Hakone on our anniversary weekend, this weekend was our chance to visit Chez Olivier with a Saturday night reservation for 6:30.IMG_2324Weeeee! I was so excited! IMG_2325Here is our table set for two before the meal began. This was the stage at which we learned our first lesson: be sure to specify you want TAP water if all you want to drink is water. The waitress (who was truly quite friendly) opened a bottle of Evian with a charge of 1100 yen and I think our hearts broke a bit with each pour. IMG_2326We chose a dinner course with a starter, main and dessert. Before the starter there was a little complimentary appetizer of bread with bits of bacon and other flavors, a drop of soup, and a mussel with hazelnut and herb butter on salt. The waitress recommended we start with the soup (which was on the spoon in the middle), and it ended up being a delightful surprise. We wondered how it could be soup when it looked like a little mound of cheese or something, but upon putting it in our mouths, it burst open and filled our palette with really smooth flavor. So sorry I can’t remember more about the description of each item on this plate as she just told us briefly as it was served. The mussel was my favorite little bite. IMG_2327Next came our appetizers. I chose the Gazpacho jelly with mozzarella, tomatoes, shrimp, and avocado, and it was just fabulous. The little swirls of green were the avocado, which really smoothed out the tanginess of the soup. We were also served complimentary bread (warmed) with fresh-made Hokkaido butter. We may have eaten nearly all of that butter by the end of the meal because it was so creamy yet light, and I have no shame about the matter at all. IMG_2328Sorry this picture is blurry, but this was Chad’s appetizer: Pressed chicken meat, rhubarb, acidulated red onions, and cooking juice. He gave me a bite, and his was also quite nice. IMG_2330Next up was our main course, and both of us chose the roasted duckling fillet with cherry sauce and a creamy polenta. (Chad paired his with a nice red wine.) The duckling was imported from France and was just divine with the cherry sauce. And the polenta! It just melted in our mouths. Absolutely delicious. IMG_2331At this point, depending on how you look at it, we learned our second lesson of the night. We were brought a cheese platter and asked if we’d like some cheese. Chad chose a really nice blue cheese, and I chose Gorgonzola. Our slices were served with a bit of dried fig and a couple drops of balsamic vinegar. The lesson? Each serving added 800 yen each to our bill! On the bright side, we definitely enjoyed the cheese. IMG_2332Next up was a complimentary pre-dessert of assorted cheesecakes. There was rare cheesecake, some cheesecake ice cream with a small bit of lime zest, a raspberry cheesecake, passion fruit sauce, and a couple other little logs of cheesecake. Each bite was soooooo delightful. If only I could just send you a bite or two! IMG_2333Next was our dessert. Both of us chose the Creamy Chocolate ”Caramelia,” mascarpone and maple syrup espuma (a gourmet foam or whip), crispy praline,  and milk ice-cream dessert. IMG_2334The dessert was layered, and I enjoyed trying each layer individually, and then altogether.  IMG_2335See the layers? Don’t you just want to dive in and disappear into chocolate caramel heaven? IMG_2336Before our meal was complete, we were given two cannelés to share, a small sweet which actually originated in Olivier’s hometown of Bordeaux. The outside was crisp and honeyed, and the inside was soft and spongey with egg and rum-flavored crumb.

Overall, our experience at Chez Olivier was delightful. The courses themselves were 4800 yen each, but with the added expenses of the Evian water, Chad’s glass of wine, the cheese and a 10% service charge, we felt a sad little pang when receiving the bill. BUT! Here’s what we thought as we left: we learned a bit about dining fancy, we had an amazing time (we were there for about 2 1/2 hours talking and dining), and the food was just awesome. The staff was pretty friendly and helpful, and the atmosphere was nice. We definitely enjoyed our time, and will be trying more fancy places once in a while in the future.

Have you eaten anything amazing lately?

xx Caitlyn

Projects · Seen/Heard/Tried · Tried

Crafty Meetup

I am proud of myself for two reasons today: 1) I went outside my comfort zone a bit, and 2) I did something I never used to have the patience for! Here are the details of reason number 1: I decided to join a crafting get-together with a bunch of people I’d never met before. I know I appear to be quite the social gal, but honestly going to a place where I didn’t know anyone seemed so uncomfortable that I almost canceled my reservation to join. For 1200 yen, I spent about three hours chatting with them making a cute little Matryoshka, and I think I’d like to go to future gatherings. IMG_1820 All materials were provided, and we also got a cup of tea/coffee afterwards.

Next comes the thing I never used to have patience for: SEWING. My mother used to cross-stitch so beautifully you could turn her work over and see a mirror image. I would attempt to cross-stitch and then feel like I should chuck needles across the room. I had thought cross-stitch could be a potential bonding time for us, but that thought was obviously short-lived. Today, however, I had to stay calm and collected (without throwing ANYTHING!), and I actually really enjoyed the embroidery part of the craft. I enjoyed it so much, in fact, that I’m thinking about ordering one of these cute cross-stitch patterns from Etsy! On the flip side, I was terrible at (and therefore disliked) sewing the felt pieces together. But you know, you win some, you lose some. IMG_1821 IMG_1822 Overall, I enjoyed my crafting experience. The teacher was Russian, and she talked about the debate over whether Matryoshka originated in Japan or Russia (you can read a bit about the history here!). She also told a lot of nice stories. For example, at the end of the meetup, I had a piece of red thread on my pants, and she told me that in Russia they say if a string is sticking to you, it means there is a man who will be seeking you out in your near future. You should wrap the string around your finger and say a letter of the alphabet each time it goes around. When your thread runs out, you’ve reached the letter the man’s name starts with. The color of the string will be the color of his hair. (In my case, there is apparently a red-haired man whose name will start with a K who I’ve warned Chad to be on the lookout for haha). IMG_1827 Yes, I know my stitching is terrible pretty much everywhere outside of the cross-stitching. And I am also aware that the red one looks like she should probably go on a diet or wear better-fitting clothes. But aren’t they still adorable!? IMG_1828 I was looking on pinterest and I found a couple cute, similar tutorials that don’t involve cross-stitch here and here. I also found these fun matryoshka coloring sheets, and this Matryoshka Doll Frame from Urban Outfitters that might just turn into a future wood burning project for me! I hope you enjoyed seeing my imperfect, perfect little Matryoshkas. Have you ever made anything Matryoshka-related? Have you ever joined a crafting meetup? xxCaitlyn

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Around Town · Seen · Tried

Tokyo Design Festa

IMG_1722Yesterday we went to Asia’s largest Art Festival, Design Festa! There was a lot of interesting art filling every corner of the venue from paintings, to crafts, to live art and more.
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IMG_1732 IMG_1746Both artists and people attending the event are encouraged to dress up, so there was a lot of cosplay and costuming to be seen.IMG_1745There were also several interactive exhibits. The one above we found especially strange: you could pay 3000 yen to have someone tie you up for about a half an hour. There were a couple booths like this… (To each his own? I guess?)
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The booth above was a coloring booth where you colored pictures that would then be transferred to ceramic plates, cups, etc.
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This was a sort of body painting booth.
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Here is a super creepy caricature drawing we got done for 600 yen. We hung it in our bathroom.
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These are watermelon carvings.
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There was quite a bit of steampunk-themed art.
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IMG_1739I really liked this artist. He draws creatures with beards and mustaches called “Ohige no Pon.”IMG_1744  I bought a couple postcards from him, pictured above with my ticket (which. bought in advance, was just 800 yen). Check out the Ohige no Pon website to see more of these fun illustrations!
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I thought this illustrator’s work was pretty cute too, though on some level I actually found her art slightly disturbing.IMG_1740There were thousands of attendees, and so many artists that we didn’t even end up seeing everything. The event was actually a bit overwhelming, but fortunately we had a beer with our lunch to calm us down *winks*IMG_1727
I left the event feeling sleepy but inspired, and I’m really glad we decided to check it out!

Enjoy the rest of your weekend!
xxCaitlyn

Tried

You can travel Japan with bath salts!

Okay, I know what you’re thinking: this girl’s crazy. But I’m not talking bath salts in a drug-induced, face-eating way. I’m talking about bath salts used the way they’re supposed to be used: in a bath!

You see, I came across a series of bath salts called “Tabi no Yado” at the drug store the other day that I decided to give a try. The theme of the series is to feel like you’re taking a journey to several hot springs in Japan by trying out the 13 included sachets of salt in your own bathtub. This, to me, sounded awesome. After all, I was never super huge on visiting hot springs or public baths in Japan (though Chad is practically obsessed). Whereas at the public bath I often feel self-conscious at generally being the only foreigner (and at the custom of being completely naked, no less), at home I can just relax and enjoy myself (and also listen to a podcast!).

IMG_1978There are four different packs in the Tabi no Yado series, and I chose the one pictured above. I primarily chose it because I thought the picture was cool, but it also said “shittori,” which means moisturizing, so I thought that sounded nice as well.

So far I’ve only tried the yuwaza packet, meant to imitate yuwaza hot springs in Niigata (packet pictured below), which was a “milky” type bath salt that smelled subtly of cherry blossoms. While some of the other salts included in the box should produce vibrant colors, this packet just made the water cloudy in a rather dreamy, relaxing way. The scent wasn’t too overwhelming, and I felt so nice during and after! I had to ask myself why I don’t take the time to relax in a bath more often!IMG_1979I know that I’ll definitely continue to “travel” around Japan with my Tabi no Yado bath salts, and that I’ll be trying other types in the future, too. What are your favorite ways to treat yourself at home in a spa-like fashion?

xx Caitlyn

P.S. For an at-home, easy-to-make bath scrub, check out Ariel’s Coconut Sea Salt Body Scrub post here !

Reviews · Tried

Flavor Fun: Starbucks Chocolate Orange Mocha

starbucks advert I couldn’t help but try the Chocolate Orange Mocha when I stumbled across it in Japan. As far as I know, this flavor isn’t offered in the states–at the very least not in Michigan, so I decided to share about the beverage here 🙂IMG_1905

I got a tall size of the hot version of the Chocolate Orange Mocha, and it wasn’t too bad. A barista told me that they use mocha, orange syrup, espresso, steamed milk, orange-infused whipped cream, mocha again on top, and orange sprinkles. One of my former coworkers (here’s looking at you, Dona!) would kill me for saying this, but the orange sprinkles SERIOUSLY tasted like Fruity Pebbles cereal. I’ve got Chad to back me up on that. IMG_1907To be honest, the whole Fruity Pebble flavor going on with those sprinkles didn’t really do much for me, though otherwise the beverage tasted like a lightly sweetened hot chocolate with the slightest hint of orange. It almost felt like less pumps of mocha than standard were used, though I never put full pumps in my beverages anyway.

I’d have to say the beverage, for me, was sort of take it or leave it, but I definitely will be visiting the same Starbucks location again. After all, I got to meet a Japanese coffee master there, and the partners were all really friendly.

Have you tried any fun beverages lately?
xx Caitlyn

Reviews · Tried

Review: Cents of Style State Pendant Necklace

Michigan <br> state pendant necklace

Recently I came across the website My Cents of Style, and was excited to see they offer state pendant necklaces. As we get closer to moving back to Japan, little trinkets that remind me of home become that much more special. That being said, I still wasn’t sure I could pay the list price of $24.95 for the Michigan pendant necklace, but then I noticed there was a half-off sale going on the necklaces for a limited time! At about $12, I figured I’d be getting the pretty little necklace at a steal. IMG_1617When my necklace arrived, I was excited to open the cute envelope packaging.IMG_1619The first thing I noticed about the necklace itself was that it wasn’t so little–just the pendant was over an inch (about 3 cm) long. I didn’t really mind the size so much, but what I did mind was that it was brushed silver. Now, to be fair, the website states that the necklaces are brushed silver. However, my lack of jewelry experience and the original price led me to believe the necklace was still silver, but with a brushed appearance. Sadly, I was wrong. I know some people like the faux  brushed silver look, but to me it just looked cheap and fake. It’s a little hard to see what I mean in the picture because of the lighting, so on the bright side I think maybe it would be difficult for anyone looking at a bit of a distance to see what is lacking in overall appearance, too.IMG_1620Despite feeling a little disappointed, I was ready to let go of my expectations, deciding to wear the necklace anyway. I gently pulled open the bottom of the plastic bag in which the necklace was wrapped and–WHAT!? The little brushed “gold” heart fell right off! What a bummer! Of course, I have some jewelry-making supplies I can use to try and reattach the heart, but that will take unpacking some things as well as time that should have been spent showing off my new necklace rather than repairing it.

Overall, I would never pay full price on the website for this necklace. (To be honest, I am quite disappointed even with the discounted price!) Despite any misgivings I have from my experience with the state pendant necklace, my understanding from reading some other reviews online is that other products on My Cents of Style are fabulous, especially for the price. I don’t think I’ll give up on them entirely just yet, though I don’t know that I’ll necessarily be ordering from them again any time soon!

What do you think? Have you ever tried out a bargain deal? How did your experience compare to mine?

xx Caitlyn