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Finally… Golden Week (part 1) August 16, 2009

Filed under: Eating,Travel — laurel @ 9:26 am
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Merlion
Singapore’s famous Merlion

I’ve been meaning to write about some of our traveling adventures for a long time, but it seems like the more fun things we do, the less time I have to write about them. During Golden Week (oh my goodness, that was months ago now), we took a few days off from school and combined with several national holidays that fall in the same time period, we were able to have 11 days of vacation. First we flew to Singapore. We met up with some friends and tried some of their favorite places.

On the first night, we had dinner at Din Tai Fung, the famous Taiwanese dumpling shop that also has branches in Singapore and around Asia. Unfortunately I was just getting over a nasty case of the flu and I had temporarily lost my sense of smell. I literally couldn’t smell a thing. If it ever happens to you (and hope it doesn’t) you’ll be surprised to find how many “tastes” are really smells. I could taste the salty-sour combination of soy and vinegar, and the savory meatiness of the fillings, but the real flavor from the spices, ginger, and various ingredients was absent. Occasionally, the stuffiness would recede enough to allow me a few seconds of “smell-ability,” but for the most part the meal was muted, like watching your favorite movie on a black and white TV.  I did have more of an appreciation for textures, though, since it was one thing that I could sense. After dinner, we headed down Orchard Road to Food Republic, a big food court in the Isetan shopping center, and enjoyed some freshly squeezed fruit juices and steamed coconut cookies.

orchid
orchids at the Singapore Botanic Gardens | see more photos from our trip on Alex’s blog

By day two my sense of smell was fading out less often so I could smell the flowers (sometimes) at the botanic gardens. We had a great time looking at all of the beautiful landscapes, and we especially enjoyed the ginger garden and the orchid garden. The bonsai collection was amazing too.
For lunch we ended up back at Food Republic. Mara recommended the beef soup noodles, which were delicious. It’s rice noodles with beef and vegetables served alongside a seasoned beef broth that was oh-so-good. Of course, we also got some more fruit juices, which I just can’t get enough of.

beef noodles
beef soup noodles at Food Republic

In the afternoon we went to Yixing Xuan Teahouse where we learned about Chinese teas. We enjoyed four different teas in the traditional style, using small scent cups and tasting cups and a ceramic pot that was just big enough to brew four cupfuls of tea. The little pots come in several sizes so you can choose the right sized pot for the number of guests that you’re drinking with. The cups and teapot were set on a “sea” where the excess water could be drained.
To enjoy the tea, we filled the pot to the brim and let the leaves steep for a very short time. Then we poured the tea into the scent cups to enjoy the aroma, and finally into the tasting cups to drink it. Since the leaves are brewed for such a short time, we could brew each portion 7 times—the flavor of the tea changes a bit each time. I enjoyed the flavor of the 2nd and 3rd brewings the most. We tried silver tips, dragonwell, oolong, and jasmine oolong. My favorites were the oolong and the dragonwell green tea, which had a surprisingly grassy flavor. While it was fun to drink tea this way, and all of the equipment was beautiful and clever, with each piece filling its specialized purpose, it seemed a bit too fussy for everyday tea drinking for me. However, it was a great experience that I would recommend if you have a chance.

tea 1
Chinese tea service at Yixing Xuan Teahouse

tea 2
dragonwell (lung ching) tea

We had dinner at the Newton Circus hawker center. The outdoor setting is good and the food was pretty good (though we’ve had better), but the vendors were aggressive and prices were high. If I find myself in Singapore in the future, I hope I can try some of the more local hawker centers (foolishly, I had forgotten to read up on the Singapore foodie blogs until after dinner). For dinner we enjoyed fruit juice (of course), barbecued stingray, clams, and fish.

coriander leaf
mezze platter at Coriander Leaf, clockwise from left: Fattoush salad, fried haloumi, muhammara, labne, grilled eggplant with pomegranate salad, falafel

By the next day, my sense of smell was back to normal, thank goodness. After a boat tour of the river and a visit to the Asian Civilizations Museum, we had lunch at the Coriander Leaf. We felt refreshed right away as we walked in from the heat and humidity outside and we could enjoy a nice view over the river from our table. I chose the mezze platter and smoked duck and mango salad while Alex had the tandoori chicken lunch special. I especially liked the labne and grilled eggplant with basil and pomegranate seeds. Both were very good with the homemade flatbread. On the other hand, the rest of the mezze were rather forgettable. Alex’s chicken was tender and nicely spiced. Later we had some snacks for a quick dinner before we headed off to the Night Safari.

prawn mee
Da Dong’s prawn and pork rib noodles

On our last day in Singapore we woke up early to go on the rainforest treetop walk. After a quick shower and checking out of our hotel, we had lunch at Da Dong, following a recommendation from Chubby Hubby. I forgot exactly which dish he had recommended, so I got prawn mee with pork rib soup while Alex chose just pork rib soup. The soup was rich and delicious while the shrimp, pork, sweet and tangy sauce, sprouts, and chopped coriander combined in such a delicious way. While we were eating, I realized, “why in the world have we been eating that awful hotel breakfast every morning instead of going out to find something tasty like this?” It’s not as though the hawker centers and coffee shops are expensive, so we definitely should have been exploring the neighborhood at breakfast time too. Live and learn.

From there it was on to the airport and our next stop, Java.

See more photos at Alex’s photoblog

Our first (most excellently delicious) trip to Singapore in 2008 page 1 | page 2

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A day in Denver February 28, 2009

Filed under: Eating,Travel — laurel @ 7:42 pm
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denver-bread2

I found some more photos from our holiday trip to Colorado. Here are some that I took on an afternoon in Denver with my mom. First we went to the Denver Bread company for some bread and cookies. Mmm… I miss good crusty bread here in Japan; just looking at this photo makes me want some.

denver-bread

Next we headed to Urbanistic Tea and Bike Shop. This shop used to be Lily’s on the other side of the street, but they’ve moved and changed their offerings a little bit. If I were to open a retail store, I think this is what I would want it to be: herbs and spices, cool cooking tools, gourmet foods, fine teas, and bike gear (plus a small repair area in the back). How cool is that? I loved their “ride bikes*be fabulous” t-shirt, but they didn’t have my size. zannen.

urbanistic

Urbanistic is right next door to St. Kilian’s Cheese Shop. It’s another great little shop. They don’t just have cheese. They also have spices and gourmet goodies. I picked up a few bags of Le Puy and black caviar lentils to bring back to Japan. I also bought a few pieces of Spanish cheeses. One great thing about St. Kilian’s is that they let you try the cheese before you buy it, so I knew that I was going to like the ones I picked out. One was Zamorano, and unfortunately I forgot the name of the other, but trust me, it was good.

kilians

For our last stop, we left the Highlands neighborhood and headed to LoDo. We were hoping to stop in at Wen Chocolates, but they were closed for the first ten days of January. Wen Chocolates is next door to the original Savory Spice shop in Denver. I had already done all of my spice shopping at the Boulder store, so although we stopped in and said hello, I didn’t buy anything there.

savory

 

Home for the holidays February 16, 2009

kitchen
The Kitchen, Boulder, Colorado

We went home for 17 days over the winter holidays. What a great trip it was. Of course, we tried our best to fill up on all of the things we can’t get in Japan. Mexican food was at the top of our list. Here are some highlights from our trip. We had lunch at one of our favorite restaurants in Boulder, The Kitchen. I love that they have great local ingredients and that they’re not afraid to share their recipes on their website. They know that a great restaurant is more than just the recipes.

savory-spice

We picked up lots of bulk spices at great prices at Savory Spice Shop. This was the first time that I had been to their new(ish) Boulder store. It’s much brighter and more spacious than the adorable Denver shop. It seems like they are always improving their selection, and everything that I’ve gotten from there has been great. This time we picked up all of the spices that we thought we might need in the next year-and-a-half. We stocked up on spices for making Mexican food in particular, and more of our favorite locally inspired blend, Lodo Red Adobo.

pekoe

After visiting Savory Spice we headed to Pekoe Sip House for our favorite teas. Although there is plenty of green tea in Japan, the selection of black tea is not as good and it’s expensive too. So we stocked up on our favorite teas like Herbal Madras, Evening in Missoula, Forbidden Fruits, Ceylon, and Lilioukalani.

brasserie1

Later in the week we had brunch at Brasserie Ten Ten in Boulder. Alex has declared their burger to be the best in town. (more…)

 

Taiwan Trip January 19, 2009

Filed under: Eating,Japan,Travel — laurel @ 11:03 pm
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taiwan1
wine bottle and a table at C’est Bon, Taipei

Way back in November we took a trip to Taiwan with our friends. Alex has posted lots of photos on his photoblog (page 1 and 2), and here are some of our trip’s edible highlights.

dumplings5
xialongbao – pork soup dumplings

dumplings1 dumplings6
shrimp shumai | eight treasures sticky rice

First, we stopped at Din Tai Fung for lunch. We really enjoyed the dumplings, especially the xialongbao – pork soup dumplings. After many many plates of dumplings and other delights, we finished with the eigth treasures sticky rice – unfortunately, it looks better than it tastes, unless you are a big fan of very sweet beans and rice for dessert. While we were waiting for our table, we were able to peek into the kitchen area, where a small army of cooks were busily preparing what must have been thousands of dumplings. There is a large window that you can watch through on the first floor. (more…)

 

Tea Ceremony August 28, 2008


tea ceremony implements: bamboo whisk, bamboo scoop, and enameled tea canister with seasonal gold leaf motif

At our recent orientation for new JETs my landlady was kind enough to host a tea ceremony demonstration for us. She was assisted by her daughter and a friend. The tea ceremony is not just about drinking tea, but also for enjoying the atmosphere of your surroundings and the companionship with the other guests. She told us, “one reason that I enjoy the tea ceremony is that even though you speak English and I speak Japanese, we can enjoy communication without words: appreciating the season, enjoying the atmosphere, and listening to the peaceful sound of the water kettle.”

In a more formal tea ceremony, we would be served both a thick matcha tea (koicha) and a thin matcha tea (usucha), but in this introductory demonstration we had just the thin tea.


wagashi: Japanese sweets for tea ceremony | matcha | usagi hana wagashi

Everyone took their seats and we began with a sweet. The sweetness helps to mellow the bitter flavor of the tea. The sweets chosen also reflect the season. One type looked like colorful cubes of ice. This image was intended to help us feel refreshed from the hot and muggy weather. The other was a small, pressed sugar flower called usagi hana, or rabbit flower. August is the moon viewing season, and the Japanese see a rabbit in the moon (where Americans might say that there is a man in the moon), so the usagi hana reflects the season. The motifs on the tea bowls and tea canister are also seasonal, and there is a seasonal haiku inscribed on the tea scoop.


presenting the tea | mixing the tea

Next, we each enjoyed a bowl of tea. First, after accepting the tea, we would say to the person on our left, “excuse me for drinking before you.” Then we would thank our host for the tea. Before drinking, you lift the bowl with your right hand and rest it on your left hand. Then rotate it 180 degrees and drink the tea. When finished, rotate the bowl back and place it back on the tatami in front of you.

After we enjoyed the tea, some of the new ALTs also got a chance to ask questions and to mix their own tea with the bamboo whisk.

water kettle and bamboo ladle

copyright 2008 LMS

 

Matcha Cookies July 16, 2008

Since the new school year began in April, I have been joining my school’s cooking club after school on Wednesday afternoons. Their favorite dishes to cook are sweets and spaghetti. In preparation for School Festival they were baking cookies almost every week. I am looking forward to trying some new recipes with the club soon. However, summer vacation starts next week, so cooking club will probably be on break until late August.

One cookie recipe that we tried that I really liked was “Matcha Balls.” The cookies remind me of Mexican wedding cookies, but less sweet, and with matcha and almonds instead of cinnamon and pecans. They have a lovely pale green color, which contrasts nicely with a dusting of powdered sugar. The recipe is really small so that you can fit the whole batch in a tiny Japanese oven, which is just slightly larger than a toaster oven, but with two shelves instead of just one. Following the original recipe, the cookies weren’t very sweet, so I increased the amount of sugar from 20 grams to 30 grams (that’s just shy of a quarter cup). If you have an American-sized oven, you could probably comfortably double or even triple this recipe. One note, make sure to bake the cookies for the full 20 minutes. Although they shouldn’t brown at all, they should be dry all the way through. If they are undercooked the texture will be a bit pasty in the center.

The recipe calls for hakurikiko, or weak flour that is available in Japan. This is probably similar to cake flour in the US. The cooking club actually uses all-purpose flour and the cookies are fine that way too. The cooking club also tried a version that omits the almond dice, and those are delicious as well.

Matcha Cookies
makes about 20 small cookies
Adapted from いつでもクッキー、どこでもクッキー

60 grams butter, softened at room temperature
30 grams powdered sugar, sifted
1/2 teaspoon matcha
90 grams hakurikiko (low-protein flour, weak flour), sifted
30 grams almond dice (or chopped almonds)
additional powdered sugar for sprinkling

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Preheat oven to 160° C (320° F).

In a bowl, mix butter and sugar with a whisk. Use a small strainer to sift the matcha into the mixture. Mix until the matcha is evenly distributed.

Stir in the almond dice. Then stir in the flour. Use a rubber spatula to gather the dough together.

Roll the dough into 2 centimeter balls. Place the balls on the baking sheet about 1 to 2 centimeters apart.

Bake for 20 minutes. Remove cookies from the oven and cool.

When cooled, sprinkle with powdered sugar.