Food & Cooking · Monday Matters · Tried

Hina Matsuri Dinner

Today it’s Hina Matsuri in Japan, also known as Doll’s Day or Girl’s Day, so I decided to make a Japanese meal to celebrate from Michigan.

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I was really excited to find a simple, pretty-looking recipe for chirashizushi using fresh, sushi-grade tuna. Chad went all over town in search of tuna I could use for the recipe, and finally found some at our local D&W supermarket. Chirashizushi is basically a bowl of sushi rice topped with fresh fish, and–in this case–a colorful salad mixture.

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Yes, I know this picture is blurry, but at least there are cute dolls decorating it.

In addition to the chirashizushi, I also made yudofu (recipe at my old blog, here!) and ichigo daifuku. Yudofu is basically tofu boiled with kombu (dried kalp), and ichigo daifuku is a lovely spring treat consisting of fresh strawberries wrapped in sweet red bean paste and mochi.

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Here you can see my colorful bowl of chirashizushi, as well as the plate of yudofu in the background. I used traditional white sticky rice rather than the brown rice for which the recipe called.

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So bright and cheery!

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Here are some up-close pictures of the ichigo daifuku. I had to do some conversions when using the recipe because everything was in grams and ounces, so I think I’ll be experimenting to make them look prettier in the future. When it comes down to it though, I didn’t care too much about how they looked because they tasted really yummy, and totally brought me back to Japan (they were one of my favorite Japanese sweets! Natsukashii!). You can find the recipe I adapted by clicking here.

We really enjoyed having a Hina Matsuri dinner, and I was so glad everything turned out! Hope you have a lovely Girl’s Day!

P.S. I know I had promised I’d be back last Friday, but something…unexpected came up. On the bright side, I’ve reserved the post I’d been planning to write, and should have it ready for you this Friday instead! πŸ™‚

Food & Cooking · Monday Matters

Annual Bake-Off

This past Saturday we hosted this year’s annual Bake-Off, using the occasion to have a housewarming party as well. Before the party started, we prepared some fruit, cheese, sausage, crackers and nuts on the table, along with utensils, plates, and napkins, etc.

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We also set up an area with coffee, hot water and tea, wine, soda, and punch. The temperature outside was just perfect for leaving the beer to stay cold on our back porch πŸ™‚

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I adapted an easy Dreamsicle Punch recipe I saw to make a pink version more fitting for the Valentine’s weekend. Just combine a quart of Raspberry sherbet, a quart of vanilla ice cream, a liter of sprite or 7-up, and a can of cream soda to recreate this simple punch yourself. We added some sliced strawberries for extra decoration.

20140217-194910.jpgAs guests started arriving, our table started filling up with more and more delicious baked treats. Chocolate seemed to be in everyone’s dish this year, and everything was so decadent!

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I made a Nutella Strawberry Tart, but I was worried there wouldn’t be enough for everyone, so I made extra filling and made mini versions in phyllo dough as well.

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My friend Kara made some dense pumpkin muffins with whipped cream topping.

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A friend of the family made this chocolate cake with almond slivers. So pretty and delicious!

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My friend Caitlin made this lovely cake with cocoa and coffee flavors. Such nice presentation (and, once again, so yummy!).

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On this plate you can see a slice of the tart, a slice of the chocolate cake with almond slivers, and a slice of a fantastic Guiness Chocolate cake that I unfortunately didn’t get a full picture of (however, many of us teasingly compared its appearance to that cake in the movie Matilda). I can neither confirm nor deny tasting some of EVERYTHING.

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My sister-in-law Ariel took this picture showing my mother-in-law’s awesome French Vanilla Cherry Cream Puffs with Chocolate Ganache alongside my tart.

20140217-195004.jpgAbove you can see Ariel’s very popular Samoa Brownies.

20140217-195016.jpgI didn’t manage to take many pictures aside from ones involving all of the pretty treats, but Ariel took this nice one of my friend Tia and I giggling in our sugar comas.

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She also took this one of my brother-in-law, who was dealing with his sugar coma by passing out on the floor.

There were so many fantastic baked goods this year that voting was as difficult as ever. In the end it came to a very close match between the mini Nutella Strawberry Tarts and the Cream Puffs. We’re still working on some of the leftovers–thank goodness everyone took a little “variety” plate home! I’m already looking forward to next year πŸ™‚

What are some baked treats you’d like to try showing off at a party sometime?

Food & Cooking · Monday Matters

Happy Lunar New Year

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I got the idea for this cute little paper cut here.

We’re several days into the start of the Lunar New Year, and this year is the year of the wooden horse. Although in Japan they don’t officially celebrate the Lunar New Year anymore, they do still follow the zodiac, so their New Year cards sent out to arrive on January first are almost always decorated with the yearly animal. Obviously we’re not in Japan anymore (stop reminding us!), but we figured we could still get down on some Japanese-Chinese food in honor of the Lunar New Year.

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We got an unexpected extra treat on the day we planned our little celebration: my brother and sister-in-law asked us to go to lunch at our favorite Chinese restaurant. We love the Fortune Cookie in Grand Haven, and always indulge in their FABULOUS crab rangoons. Several hours after that awesome meal, it was time to get started making our own.

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Don’t judge me for getting carried away with my deco.

I decided to make Japanese gyoza, often referred to as pot stickers in English. I was SO glad I purchased a little gyoza mold before leaving Japan–it made the whole process much less labor intensive. (I got the recipe for the filling here.)

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Yum! They turned out great!

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Chad decided to make tenshinhan, which is a dish we often ate at our favorite Chinese restaurant in Japan called Osho. This dish involves rice, crab, egg, green onions and all kinds of other deliciousness you can find in the recipe here. We were so pleased to finally find a recipe for this dish as I had been looking everywhere to no avail. I even asked the staff at Fortune Cookie, to which they replied, “Where did you have this dish?” And I said, “Um…a Chinese restaurant.” They asked, “Where?” I replied, “…Japan.” They didn’t seem to like that very much, and just replied by saying, “That’s not Chinese food.” Anyway, the happy ending to the story is we finally got a recipe, though Chad said he’d like to tweak it in the future (less eggs, more sauce, etc.).

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It was a lot of fun preparing the meal together, and just as much fun digging in. Have you ever tried your hand at making recipes like these?

 

Monday Matters · Projects

Easy Vintage DIY

I’ve always really liked vintage-style prints, and I knew that someday I’d like to use some to decorate our future home. A few months ago, I came across the easiest DIY ever for vintage prints here, and I decided to give it a try over the weekend to snazz up our living room.

20131209-105754.jpgI chose three vintage prints from a nearby paper shop in Grand Haven, bought wooden dowels and twine, and set to work. First, I measured the dowels to be slightly longer than the width of the prints, and then I sawed them to size. After that, it was as easy as hot-gluing the dowels to the tops and bottoms of the prints, and hanging them with the twine!

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I hung them in a group of three because I’ve read that grouping things in uneven numbers is more stimulating to the eye. Chad thinks two would look better, though. What do you think?

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I love this new addition to our decor, and I think it turned out great! Yay for easy, pretty DIY projects!

Around Town · Monday Matters · Projects

Wheatland Music Festival

 

 

 

 

 

Over the weekend we went to Wheatland Music Festival in Remus, Michigan. It was so nice to go after about 5 years of being in Japan during the festival, even if we did have to volunteer one night for 8 hours straight (admittedly, there were a few exciting moments in the 8 PM- 4AM shift!). After taking a bunch of pictures throughout the weekend, I realized I didn’t really take any of our campsite or of any of the stages or food vendors! I guess I’ll just have to share those with you next year. In the meantime, I hope you enjoy the ones I did manage to take πŸ™‚

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Chad starting out Wheatland with a little honey whiskey & a birthday oreo (I also managed to forget to take a picture of us singing him Happy Birthday with his little Blueberry Cheesecake!)

20130909-135121.jpgWe were lucky to camp with some wonderful musicians!

20130909-135126.jpgWe tried out the Starbucks VIA packets–did you think I could seriously go a weekend without Starbucks? πŸ˜‰

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Chad making coffee Saturday morning ❀

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Something we look forward to every year: Blueberry Pancake Sausage on a Stick (shortened to B.P. S.O.S.)

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Chad starting a hemp bracelet.

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Time for a saw workshop with my sister-in-law Ariel’s dad!

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Chad trying the saw for the first time (and Ariel supporting him in the background with a little PBR)

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One of Ariel’s friends brought a portable darkroom & took old time photographs of Thom (Ariel’s dad) with his saw.

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Ariel working on her friendship bracelet back at the campsite.

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Chad working on his friendship bracelet.

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Our completed friendship bracelets! We didn’t give up or get jealous of each other’s bracelets because…friendship doesn’t give up or get jealous.

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A cool tree stump carving in Middle Ground

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Chad and I made birdhouses! Bird house and friendship bracelet-making at Wheatland fulfilled two fun things on my Summer Fun Bucket List. Can’t wait to use our bird houses at our first house if everything goes well with closing! (By the way, don’t you just love Ariel’s expression as she sneaks a peek over Chad’s shoulder?)

20130909-135254.jpgWe also made Aromatherapy Bath Salts. It was super easy!

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We had a lot of fun at Wheatland, and are looking forward to going back next year. Do you like going to festivals? Which is your favorite?

Heard · Learning · Monday Matters

Don’t Be Positive, Idiot!

I was on my way to work a couple weeks ago listening to the Jillian Michael’s podcast, and though I usually find it interesting at the very least, on that day the episode really hit me the wrong way. The episode I was listening to is called “Bad Stuff Happens,” and in it Jillian goes on for about 10 minutes positing that people who are positive are basically unrealistic idiots. She rants about how bad stuff is going to happen, and about how people who deny that are just going to end up more disappointed than if they accepted that not everything always works out in the first place. She also talked about how what matters is how we deal with the bad stuff–the lessons we learn from things that don’t happen the way we’d like.

Now, for the most part, I agree. However, what really bothered me is that Jillian was equating positivity with a lack of realism. She said she “hates positive people,” but to me, people who do the very things she suggests (like finding the good in the bad and learning from hardships) are positive people. I always try to have a positive outlook on things, and that certainly doesn’t mean that I’m denying things might not work out the way I want. For example, we put in an offer on a beautiful house that we both love. And it seemed like everything would probably be fine–almost to the point of it being too good to be true. However, neither of us were like, “We are going to get the house.” We said, “There is a good chance that since our offer was accepted, we will get the house. A lot depends on the inspection, but we’re hoping for the best.” After the inspection, we’ve found there are some things that need to be dealt with, and so now our positive outlook has morphed into “Well, we’ll see how much the sellers are willing to work with us on the things that need to be fixed. There is a good chance they won’t want to, but maybe they will! If they don’t, the house wasn’t meant to be ours and we’ll find something else.” We are being realistic, but we are also being optimistic.

I also feel that every challenge is a lesson, no matter how hard it is to get through at first, and no matter how hard it is for me to initially understand exactly what the lesson may be. I tend to push myself toward gratitude in these cases, which admittedly can be difficult at times. For example, I had a really tough time when leading a training session at a former job in which some trainees just didn’t seem to like me. Their bad attitudes disrupted the entire training session, and ruined all of my excitement about the training. I was in shock, and couldn’t understand what had gone wrong. At first, I had to really focus on everything that went right, despite the things that went wrong. I was grateful to have my husband and friends, who supported me and reassured me. And with that change in focus, over time I was able to remain positive and find the lesson: I grew so much, learned a lot about myself and about others, and came to realize that it doesn’t matter if people don’t always like me. In this case, positivity and gratitude went hand in hand. Oh, and I never ever denied how much learning that lesson sucked.

I feel like I could give countless examples of how you can be a positive person without ignoring or denying reality and that bad things happen. Being positive is about choosing to focus on the bright side and about learning from hardships instead of dwelling on them or letting them consume you. I think Jillian Michaels actually encourages positive behavior all the time, and that in her podcast she mislabeled positivity as being synonymous with naivetΓ© and denial. Ultimately, I understand my concern comes down to semantics, but Jillian’s blunt declaration really rubbed me the wrong way. Rather than telling people, “Don’t be positive” or that positive people are idiots, I’d like to say, “Find the positive in every negative, and work your way through it.” That’s what we’re doing with the house, that’s what I did with that training session, and that’s what I continue to do through the tough parts of my day, every day.

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What do you think about positivity and optimism? Do you agree that it’s possible to have a bright, hopeful attitude while being realistic and understanding things don’t always work out?