Food & Cooking · Learning · Seen/Heard/Tried

Wasanbon Workshop

Photo 10-25-15, 1 11 10 PMLast weekend I had the chance to attend a workshop making a special type of wagashi, or Japanese confectionary, called wasanbon. This particular type of wagashi is sadly becoming a disappearing art. One reason is because the primary ingredient is a special sugar (also called wasanbon) that is harvested in a cooler climate than other sugars, and takes a lot of work to refine. This high-grade sugar is quite light, and has buttery, honey notes that can’t be found in other sugars. Because of the special care in harvesting the sugar, it is quite expensive.
Photo 10-25-15, 12 02 39 PMLike the sugar itself, wasanbon molds are quite pricey. According to the workshop teacher, there is only one craftsman left in Japan making the wasanbon molds, and just the circular one pictured above on the far left costs over 30,000 yen (so just under $300 USD). On the bright side, you can find similar molds for about 3000 yen (or around $30 USD) at places like Kappabashi Dori, but the material and degree of craftsmanship will most likely be different.
Photo 10-25-15, 12 20 33 PMBefore we began trying to make our own wasanbon, our teacher and other workshop leaders taught us how to make little origami boxes to put our finished confectioneries in.  (If you’re interested, you can find instructions for the style box we made here.)
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Next, our teacher began to mix the ingredients, which were super simple: wasanbon sugar, a teeny bit of water, and a teeny bit of liquid sugar. The liquid sugar, our teacher explained, makes the shaping process easier for beginners but isn’t absolutely necessary. She added a very small amount of pink dye as well, noting that if the end color is not subtle, wasanbon can quickly end up looking cheap. Once the mixture reached a texture similar to the beginning stages of a crumbly flour, we sifted it–first by tapping the edges of the sifter and then by pressing the remaining mixture through with our hands.
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Next we pressed the mixture into a mold as tightly as possible. We scraped off the top so everything was even, and then tapped at the top layer of the mold to release half of each sweet. Lastly, we carefully flipped the mold and tapped as necessary to get pretty little roses to drop out.
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Flipping the mold was a little stressful, but on the bright side, the mold can always be repacked to try again (whereas if you add too much liquid to your wasanbon in the mixing stages, you can easily ruin everything–an expensive mistake!).
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We also tried using a bird mold, which I totally thought was some sort of fish at first (don’t tell). Photo 10-25-15, 1 07 55 PM
Finally, we got to try our creations. Our teacher instructed us to place a wasanbon on our tongue and just let it melt. The wasanbon initially felt light on the tongue, yet thick like frosting. The complexity continued as it melted, giving a distinct sweet flavor that vanished too quickly to hold on to. Photo 10-25-15, 1 09 43 PM
I really learned a lot from the wasanbon workshop, and hope I get a chance to attend workshops teaching other wagashi styles before we leave Japan again!

Have you tried making anything new lately?
xx Caitlyn

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

Seen/Heard/Tried · Tried

Review: Nail Rock

I used to hate painting my finger nails because they always turned out looking like a kindergartener painted them. Not to mention I sort of have sausage fingers, so solid blocks of colors on my nails only tend to make them look stubbier. If I ever had my nails done in the past, it was only some version of French tips for me. But nothing makes a girl want to paint her nails more than being told she can’t, and since my occupation prohibits nail polish, I’ve been DYING to spruce up my fingernails! (And by occupation I mean I’m currently a barista. Yes. A barista that’s not allowed to wear nail polish *cries*)

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Fortunately for me, I somehow got four solid days off in a row. I got a stupid cold, but can you guess what else I got? I GOT TO DO MY NAILS. It’s the little things. I decided to try out the Nail Rock I had gotten months ago when I was still a Birchbox subscriber, and I just adored the pretty sparkly pink!

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Yes, the Nail Rock was pretty. But I’ve got some important things for you to know before you go out with excitement and get your own.

1. It can be messy. The instructions tell you to put on two coats of the solid foundation before dipping your fingers in the textured topper (aka glitter), and the glitter will get everywhere. It’s like a preschool craft nightmare, so be sure to put some paper underneath your little glitter pot for easy cleanup.

2. Put on your first coat of solid foundation, and then alternate your second coat with dipping your finger in the topper. If you wait until you’ve given each of your nails a second coat, they won’t be wet enough to hold the topper. Dip each one after the second coat, and press on to help the topper stick.

3. After you’ve let your nails dry for the recommended 15-20 minutes, apply a top coat. I didn’t do this because the instructions didn’t say anything about a top coat being necessary, and because I’m not super patient and I didn’t feel like investing more time in what was supposed to be a little treat. In retrospect, I wish I had because 1) I really didn’t like the texture of the topper, 2) the texture of the topper occasionally led to snags on thread or fiber, and 3) by the end of the day, more than half of the topper had come off ALL of my fingernails! It is my hope that a top coat would solve these problems, but ultimately–despite being very pretty initially–I can’t say I recommend this product. A lot of time + short-lasting cover = disappointed girl.

 

What do you think? Have you tried Nail Rock? What’s your favorite nail polish brand?

xx

Around Town · Seen/Heard/Tried · Tried

Around Town: Hodgepodge Bakehouse

A couple weeks ago my mom and I decided to try a new-to-us bakery in Muskegon called Hodgepodge Bakehouse!

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When we first walked inside, we were greeted with a case of enticing baked goods.

IMG_20140429_124253_198It’s difficult to choose, believe me. My mom and I decided to go with Apple Fritters. Since each one was about the size of my face, I double-checked with my mom: “Do you want a whole one, or to split one?” She replied in a very matter-of-fact way that she wanted a whole one and I was like, “Yeah. Of course. Go big or go home. Totally makes sense.” On the inside I was like, “There’s no way I’m going to be able to finish this!”

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I soon found out that you can do anything you put your mind to, however. I got about halfway through the fritter and felt super full, but it was just. so. good. All will power was lost. As if the fritter itself wasn’t enough, having delicious Ferris coffee to pair it with did nothing for my lack of inhibition.

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Glazed on the outside with a fluffy, light inside, the apple fritters had a perfect balance of sweetness. The apple filling was spread throughout the filling like a delicate, almost creamy surprise, occasionally delighting you with a tiny apple wedge. In one word: fabulous.

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My mom and I enjoyed our Hodgepodge experience amidst fun signs like “Donut Worry, Be Happy” (which could be my motto), and “A good baker will rise to the occasion… It’s the yeast he can do.”

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Since going with my mom, I’ve already been back to Hodgepodge Bakehouse again with a friend (last time I indulged in a more reasonably sized donut with a cookie crumble topping). Hodgepodge Bakehouse also serves pizzas, soups, sandwiches and salads, all of which look really yummy from across the coffee and sweet-filled tray that tends to grace my table when I go. I’m so glad I got to try someplace new, and would recommend giving Hodgepodge Bakehouse a try if you’re in the area!

Bookspiration · Food & Cooking

Bookspiration: Uncommon Grounds

I’ve finally finished the behemoth book Uncommon Grounds, and am happy to say that I learned a lot. It’s quite possible my coworkers don’t feel the same joy I do, since upon starting the book I’ve been spouting out all kinds of random facts to them.  In my defense, we are in the coffee business, so telling them interesting things I learned should be perfectly acceptable. I also should get an award for finishing the giant coffee history book, but perhaps that’s just my opinion.

Anyway, in honor of Uncommon Grounds I wanted to do a coffee tasting (I may or may not do coffee tastings all the time, but that’s beside the point 😉 ). I chose to give the medium roast coffee, Guatamala Antigua, a try. I tried this Starbucks coffee in a French press when I first started working as a barista, and after it was mentioned briefly in Uncommon Grounds, I thought I should give it another go. My palette for coffee tasting has improved a bit, so I was hoping to be able to recognize the notes of cocoa and soft spice this time around. Because the Guatamala Antigua pairs well with caramel, I decided to try it with one of my favorite treats: Stroopwafles!

20140428-190055.jpgI found some stroopwafles at my local grocery store, and though they weren’t the brand I normally get, I purchased them. The last time I went to the fabulous DeBoer Bakery in Holland, MI, a cashier recommended putting a stroopwafle on top of a cup of coffee or tea so that the caramel in the center would warm up, so that was a must for this tasting.

20140428-190107.jpgAfter waiting for the press to finish, it was finally time to try my pairing. I poured some coffee into my cup and set a stroopwafle on top. In that moment, it was like dreams were coming true. *sighs happily* I smelled the coffee and slurped it, noticing the medium body and acidity of the roast. Then, I tried a bite of my stroopwafle and…MY DREAMS WERE DASHED! The stroopwafle tasted quite stale, and it paled in comparison to stroopwafles of my past. (Chad and I were fortunate enough to try stroopwafles in Amsterdam a couple years ago, and since then the best brand I’ve tried is Daelmans. I’ve decided to make amends for the serious sadness of this tasting by getting proper stroopwafles and trying them with another press of the Guatamala!)

Despite the heart-breaking taste of the stroopwafles, the Guatamala Antigua paired so well with caramel that it actually improved the flavor of the stroopwafle. Good coffee and food pairings are supposed to compliment each other that way: the food should bring out the best of the coffee, and the coffee should bring out the best of the food, so that you’re sitting there wanting to take bite after sip after bite after sip.

20140428-190116.jpgI didn’t finish my stroopwafle, but I finished the delicious Guatamala. I’ll keep you posted on how the next tasting goes, and I’ll share some of my favorite facts from Uncommon Grounds, too! What’s your favorite coffee pairing?

xx

Learning · Projects · Seen/Heard/Tried · Tried

Wine & Canvas

Lately, a couple of my friends have been talking a lot about Wine and Canvas, a one night class in which everyone learns to paint something fun while enjoying a yummy drink. You just go to the website, choose your location preference, and then choose a day that has a painting you like and register. (You also pay $35.00, but the canvas and paints are provided.) I really wanted to give it a try, and so I was was super excited I was able to rope my sister into doing a class with me last night!

paintingWe chose to do a painting with sunflowers. Above you can see us getting started on our paintings. I love sunflowers–mostly because they remind me of my mom, but also because they are so pretty and represent summer, my favorite season!

20140423-180409.jpgThough we moved at a super fast pace, the class took a lot longer than we anticipated–a little over 3 hours! We were really surprised at how quickly we moved from step to step, wishing we had more time to work on details, but not wanting to fall behind. Simultaneous with our feelings of being a bit rushed were feelings of being super tired–especially by the time we finished the flowers and were painting our backgrounds. Alcohol + concentrating on painting = drowsy ladies!

20140423-180418.jpgDespite it all, I had a lot of fun. The best part was hanging out with my sister, but I am also happy to have a painting that’s not all that bad for a memory. (Of course, I see a dozen things I would’ve tried to touch up had I had the time, but I still liked the way mine turned out for the most part.)

painting 2Here’s a picture taken by the women who put on the event showing some of the ladies who took part in the class. We are hiding in the very back row on the left!

I was pleasantly surprised at how easy painting with acrylics was, and would like to try more in the future. Do you like using acrylics? Have you ever taken a Wine and Canvas class, or would you?

Food & Cooking · Seen/Heard/Tried · Tried

Chuao Honeycomb Dark Chocolate

It’s been a while since I’ve talked about chocolate, but believe me: it hasn’t left my heart. It’s just that I haven’t had many opportunities to indulge in specialty chocolates lately. Fortunately, yesterday I went to World Market and came across Chuao chocolate bars. I saw a Honeycomb flavor and knew I had to try it!

20140416-195420.jpgOn the package, there is a description of the “experience” of eating this chocolate bar: “Crunchy bits of golden, caramelized honey mingle with deep dark chocolate, like secret lovers meeting on a warm summer night. Sweet and decadent, the Honeycomb bar will charm you, one nibble at a time.” Phew! Is it getting hot all of the sudden? I’m surprised a chocolate bar that sexy doesn’t melt just from the description! 😉

20140416-195428.jpgBefore trying the bar, I knew that I liked a couple of things about it: Firstly, Chuao ethically sources its cocoa. Secondly, Chuao chocolates are 100% natural, without hydrogenated fats, artificial preservatives, artificial colors and flavors or artificial sweeteners.

20140416-195435.jpgI broke off a hunk to split with Chad, and observed the little crispy bits of honey visible. I had sort of hoped there was going to be actual honeycomb covered in the dark chocolate, but upon reading more carefully I realized there were only caramelized pieces of honey. (Out of curiosity, I looked up how much honeycomb costs, and it can range from around $11 to $30 and up for just 8 ounces!)

Any tiny bit of disappointment at feeling misled by the picture was replaced with pleasure as I took my first bite. The dark chocolate was rich and lovely, and the bits of honey lightened the overall feel of the chocolate in my mouth. The texture actually reminded me a lot of sea foam chocolate, which of course got me looking up recipes for sea foam, which led me to finding this nice video with an easy recipe for honeycomb sea foam:

Overall, I enjoyed the Chuao chocolate. I’d be interested in trying their Pretzel Toffee Twirl Bar or their Whisky Pairing bonbons. Which would you like to try?