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What’s in that bag?

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My very fashionable 100 yen store bag

Since we’re leaving Japan very, very soon (about a month to go!), I decided to pick up a few things we never got around to buying: a gyoza (pot sticker) mold, nice bento boxes, bento reusable goodies… The day I bought them was the same day I met my coworker for lunch, and so you can see some souvenirs she gave me as well: a Rilakkuma duster, some pastry snacks, yuzu jelly, and lemon drink mix.

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My bento is the top one with flowers, and Chad’s is the checkered one on the bottom

I made bentos for lunch on Monday in our new boxes using some nifty side-dish packs, veggie furikake, or seasoning, and a few other things. Turned out great! Yum, yum!

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Nifty Side-Dish Packs (Top: Spinach mix, Lotus mix, and Edamame Seaweed mix; Bottom: Crab Cream Croquettes)

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Veggie Furikake

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Our beautiful bentos!

I once read that Japanese people believe a dish is healthiest if there are at least 5 different colors of food. I don’t always make bentos, but no matter what I make I always try to include a variety of color. What do you like to pack in your lunches?

Around Town · Food & Cooking · Monday Matters · Tried

The best katsukare restaurant ever

Yesterday I met one of my coworkers for lunch at a restaurant called Nanjaro?, which I think roughly translates to, “What is it?” Chad stumbled upon the cozy diner about a year or so ago, and we just keep coming back.

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Every time Chad and I go to Nanjaro?, we order the katsukare: pork cutlet fried in a layering of flour, egg & panko (Japanese bread crumbs) with a side of rice and Japanese curry. Often this type of dish feels way too heavy, but at Nanjaro? the katsu is very light and flaky without a lot of oil, the curry has a really lovely consistency with bits of tender beef throughout, and the rice is buttery without being overpowering.

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I recommended the katsukare to my coworker, and as you can see, she enjoyed it–she gave me about the cheesiest smile ever! 😉

The atmosphere in Nanjaro? is comfy–there is a checkered wall in the kitchen and wooden walls throughout the rest of the place. There is seating at a counter or at one of three big wooden barrels, without much space between the counter and the barrels. The staff always remembers Chad and I, which could be because foreigners probably don’t frequent the restaurant often since its outside the main part of the city, but I like to think it’s because they truly just remember and appreciate our business. And man, do we ever appreciate theirs!

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Nanjaro?, please come to Michigan?

Food & Cooking · Tried

Spring Donuts & Pretty Purikura

Ever since I saw this post on how to make matcha donuts, I’ve been begging Chad to get some. (We have a crappy convectional oven that makes me angry every time I bake, so I’ve banned myself from baking until we come home to the states and have a real oven!) Yesterday I had to take a trip to one of our campuses for work, which just so happens to have a Krispy Kreme donut shop near it! So of course, I decided I’d better get this matcha donut fix out of the way.

I got four flavors: Sakura (cherry blossom), Chocolate Custard Cream, Matcha Old Fashioned, and Cookies & Cream. Chad and I split the Matcha and Sakura donuts last night–yum!

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These–if nothing else–made the hour and a half trip out there worth it!

As you can see, I’ve spent way too much time this morning playing with a new app I downloaded called DecoAlbum. I really like it as it is easy to use and has a lot of cute options. Best of all, it’s free! Who says I can’t have a little Purikura (or Japanese photo-booth) magic when I move back to Michigan?

I also tried another purikura-style app called GirlsCamera, but it wasn’t as easy to navigate and kept crashing. I was particularly sad after trying to decorate a picture for nearly an hour and it crashed! The only reason I consider keeping it is because it has a frame with the phrase, “It’s a new day. I like running with scissors because it makes me feel dangerous.” Ahh, such Japanese English.

What apps have you been playing around with lately? Do the donut shops near you have any interesting flavors?

Seen

Lately I’ve seen…

Pretty whisky glasses at the Yamazaki Distillery…

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The Yamazaki Distillery…

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Some new buddies at Suntory Brewery…

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These cool glasses we got for free on our tours…

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My favorite ramen in Kobe: Tarou Tomato Special Ramen…

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And my favorite ramen in (Nagoya) Japan: Hongo Tei Paitan Ramen.

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I also saw a mobile shrine with sake inside…

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Some pretty candies shaped like Totoro and Rilakkuma (among other characters) at a festival…

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Custard Taiyaki

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Some Nutty Honeycomb chocolates:

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Some lovely pink flowers from an old friend at our Mie farewell party…

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And of course some old friends!

Around Town · Seen

“Trip” through Glico

Yesterday we finally took the much-awaited Pocky tour at the Glico factory in Kobe. Unfortunately it didn’t exactly blow our minds, though I must say that after viewing a few of the exhibits it seems someone else’s mind must have been blown in order to create them–if you catch my drift. The factory bits were okay, but after that you’re led into a room in which fairies demonstrate how biscuits and ice cream are made. I can chalk those displays up to the normal cuteness and randomness found in Japan, but the “Magic Show” that followed was totally unrelated to the factory and super bizarre.

This Caucasian girl appears on a television before being shrunk down Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory-style into a kitchen set below. Then some fruit and vegetables turn into human friends, and they all begin dancing. Next, a demon appears, flying around on a fork. Somehow, they defeat the demon while twirling around, and the show is finished. Yeah, what?

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From there, we were taken to see a 3D showing of “The Legend of Pocky,” in which Salt, Milk, Grain and Cacao (pictured above on the plastic bag) fight against an evil demon and create pocky while bumping and crashing along the way. Who knew pocky had such mighty origins? The tour kind of ended abruptly afterwards, so we ate some matcha, or green tea, pocky while trying to make sense of what we just experienced.

On our way out we were each given a box of Pretz featuring the pocky “heroes,” as well as an English explanation of some of what we saw that would’ve been useful prior to taking the tour rather than afterwards. Overall I can say our visits to Asahi & Kirin Breweries and the Nada Sake district and Yamazaki Distillery were much more delightful!

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So long, Glico!

Monday Matters

I get by with a little help from my friends (and good Turkish food, cappucino’s, macarons and bentos)

We had a work Ladies Night Out on Saturday, and after waking up that morning feeling exhausted and having an earache, I started to consider canceling. While internally debating what I should do, I came upon this article on Brain Pickings that quoted Anais Nin:

“The secret of a full life is to live and relate to others as if they might not be there tomorrow, as if you might not be there tomorrow. It eliminates the vice of procrastination, the sin of postponement, failed communications, failed communions. This thought has made me more and more attentive to all encounters, meetings, introductions, which might contain the seed of depth that might be carelessly overlooked.”

There was my answer! I’ve been spending a good deal of time working, catching up on work, and going to the doctors, and I’m going to be leaving the country (and those lovely ladies!) behind quite soon. I needed to take advantage of the time I had with people who are important to me! I became determined to feel better, and went out with what turned out to be a very small party of fun women at a Turkish restaurant.

I had really wanted to take a group photo, but I only managed to take a few badly lit photos of dinner and this one below of dessert:

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Have you ever tried Turkish Delights? These were pretty good, but I’ve really been wanting to try this recipe, which makes Turkish Delights that are quite pretty! They would go perfectly on or next to some Turkish dishes or pottery, such as the ones below:

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You can find all of these pretty dishes and more by clicking here for the source.

The next day, Chad and I had a Starbucks date that cheered me up. We tried sakura (cherry blossom) flavored macarons. They were so nice!

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I had my usual tall cappucino.

And that brings us to tonight! Chad and I are both pooped from work, so it’s a bento night for us!

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Thank goodness for good friends, good food, and excellent coffee! What’s getting you through the week?

Monday Matters

Over the Weekend…

I watched my husband become a black belt in judo:

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Chad’s name on the list of competitors

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Opening Remarks

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After he won his third match & got his black belt

I saw these cute, pink construction worker signs:

20130211-181401.jpgI participated in an awesome nomihoudai, or all-you-can-drink at Rokko Diner to celebrate with Chad (they had a Valentine’s special–only ¥2000 for girls, ¥3000 for guys, for 2 1/2 hours, any beer!):

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Crystal Amber Ale & karaage (fried chicken) made with Rokko Pilsner

I bought really cute dessert forks and spoons:

20130211-181818.jpgWalked to China town with a pit stop to split a rice croquette:

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There was curry inside!

Saw huge lines at the China Town for nikkuman, or meat-stuffed buns, and other Chinese food:

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Many people were checking out China Town to see events related to the Chinese New Year.

And split a nikkuman and “burger” with Chad:

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And was generally happy because it was a much needed three-day weekend. Oh yeah, and because I saw this guy with a pig face:

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How was your weekend?

Learning · Seen/Heard/Tried

Wednesday Learning

This week I am learning/have learned about two things: the Lewis and Clark expedition, and chocolate. Of course I knew a bit about both to begin with (well, we could argue I knew a lot about the latter topic), but I wanted to learn more and I’ll tell you why.

Firstly, the topic of Lewis and Clark. This May we’re planning on visiting some states in the west, including Oregon. I am so excited about visiting the food stalls, Voodoo Donuts, various museums and breweries, and also…walking on the same trails as Lewis and Clark did! We’re starting to plan our trip, and I’ve been really big into the research involving Oregon. I’ve felt the calling to reread Stephen Ambrose’s Undaunted Courage, to watch random youtube videos about the expedition (see below), and to spend too much time on sites with interactive maps.

 

Secondly comes the topic of chocolate (*drools*). It came to my attention recently that a Japanese native named Susumu Koyama was awarded the title of Top Foreign Chocolatier by France’s Le Club des Croqueurs de Chocolat two years in a row. Koyama has a confectionary shop in Sanda, which is in Hyogo  Prefecture (we live in Kobe, Hyogo Prefecture), and one of my friends who lives near the shop says there are always massive queues of cars outside. Putting these bits of information together, I concluded that I must try some of Koyama’s chocolates before I left Japan!

Fortune struck with Valentine’s Day on the horizon. Department stores in big cities around Japan are stocked with various chocolates from the very best chocolatiers for the season, so once shops started their “chocolate events,” I was on a mission. I first went to one of the events in Osaka, only to find that the chocolates famous for winning the award were sold out! Luckily I was still able to soak in the artistry of all of the chocolates on display in the brightly-lit glass cases, to dream about the textures of the delights, and to sample a few as I walked around. Oh the joy!

Finally, I was able to procure the chocolates I’d been searching for in a department store in Sannomiya:

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So now, the verdict.

Well.

We weren’t that impressed. Numbers one through three were nice enough–they had a harder shell with creamier chocolate inside. Number five, the Ninja Chocolate, had a taste like you might experience after breathing in campfire smoke too closely–like you’re chewing on a piece of soft bark, almost. They sure were pretty, though. And expensive *cough, cough* over 1500 yen *cough, cough*

Despite my disappointment, I feel like I might have to give Koyama another chance with some of their other chocolate selections. After all, they’ve kept the title for two years now, right? In the meantime, I think I’ll just stick with a good old Meiji bar.

What do you think? Do you know any cool facts about the Lewis & Clark Expedition, Oregon, or chocolate? Leave me a comment and let me know!

Monday Matters · Seen/Heard/Tried

Monday Matters

Doing something fun over the weekend–and then having something fun planned for the following weekend–helps make starting a new week a little easier. Yesterday we chose a slip out of our date jar with the suggestion, “Go hiking around the apartment.” We live on a mountain, so that’s easy enough to do! We started by walking uphill to Nunobiki Waterfalls.

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Somehow from there our uphill hike turned into a mostly downward walk and a culinary adventure. For starters, we split a chocolate waffle set at the Kitano Museum cafe. The cafe has a very simple, natural style–loved it! And the waffles…so good!!

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From there, we headed to the famous Kitano Starbucks, which is in an old house. I got a cappuccino, and Chad got a latte.

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Drinks in hand, we continued on our way. We walked around for a few hours before stopping for curry (we may or may not have had gyoza as a snack in between…). After hearing Kobe Mint Curry was supposed to be good, we decided we might as well try it.

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Chad got Kobe beef curry, and I had veggie curry. It wasn’t necessarily to die for, but the atmosphere in the restaurant was quite pleasant. Similar to the Kitano Museum Cafe, Mint Kobe Curry has a very clean, quaint feel, and the staff were quite friendly. They tried to speak English (even though we ordered in Japanese), saying, “Careful! Very, very hot!”

We continued our “hike,” grabbing some Eho Maki on our way home. Eho Maki is a special sushi roll eaten on the Japanese holiday of Setsubun, celebrated February 3rd annually.

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You’re supposed to eat the roll facing a specific direction deemed auspicious for that year, and in silence. We ate ours without speaking as we watched the latest episode of “Elementary” (love that show!). Whether we were facing the proper direction or not, I’m not one to say, but we did count out beans for our age (27 + 1 for good luck for me this year!). We ate them up for good fortune. Out with the demons and in with prosperity! Our date (and over-eating) was finished, with hope for an early spring and happy days ahead.

If you’d like to see a video of me chucking beans at Chad as an oni, or demon, please click here.

To find out more about setsubun, please read this article here.

Did you have any culinary adventures over the weekend?