I Give Thanks

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday.  A bold statement, I know.  Though really, it’s a no-brainer.  I love to eat and drink good wine, and my favorite way to do those things is slowly and with friends.  I don’t even like turkey that much.  But I love the ritual.  I love that it takes all day to prepare a meal, mostly from scratch.  I love talking and fussing about the turkey.  I love gathering with my friends and family to eat and gossip and laugh.  I usually like to wear a new sweater.  Oh, and I love the pie.

I love Thanksgiving dinner so much, that when I met a woman with an American restaurant a few weeks ago, I offered to help her with her Thanksgiving catering and peel potatoes, just for fun.  And so this past week I spent a few mornings at her shop, chopping and slicing (and chatting her ears off).  So maybe I had an ulterior motive and was hoping she’d take pity on me and be my friend, but that’s it.  I knew her turkeys were already called for.

I spent Thanksgiving Day at home, cooking a pumpkin soup and preparing for our first US holiday away from home.  I had time (a first!) to think about the things I am thankful for.  And then I got a message from my new friend the Caterer.  She had some turkey leftovers and would I like them?  Yes!  Please!  When I stopped by her shop, she presented me with a beautiful tray of… an entire Thanksgiving feast for two.  It was amazing.  Wild rice, brussel sprouts, cranberries — all the things I didn’t realize I’d been missing.

And so we had our first Thanksgiving away from home, and it suddenly didn’t feel so far away.  Big dinners with my family happen frequently, and not just on holidays.  So I feel lucky.  And turkey and new friends have now popped into my life unexpectedly.  I can’t help but think of all the kindness and love around me.  For all of this, I am thankful.

For those of you in Tokyo, I encourage you to check out Cravings — the food is wonderful!  Tel: 03-6400-0188, 1F 1-3-12 Minami Azabu Minato-ku, Tokyo 106-0047

A Day of Eating

I’d like to invite you along on a day of gluttonous behavior.

Last weekend Dan and I explored Kichijoji, hip place for living 15 minutes west of Shinjuku on the Chūō line.  Our plan was to take a walk, find some lunch, and perhaps do a little window shopping.  We really didn’t get too far before the first snack attack.

Round 1 landed us in a vegetarian restaurant, which can be hard to find in Japan.  A nod to its hipness factor, Kichijoji has a few, and the result was lunch at Deva Deva Cafe.  Dan went for one of the six veggie burgers on the menu and I, predictable as always, chose curry rice.

Next we found Bakery Café Linde and picked up some fresh pretzels.  Showing a little bit of self restraint (the last of the day), we put these in our pockets for later.

Our walk through Kichijoji ended at Cafe Zenon, a manga cafe where, rumor had it, some amazing lattes could be found.

And a mid-afternoon coffee in Tokyo just wouldn’t be complete without an accompanying dessert set.

That’s one beautiful pudding you’re looking at (Dan’s feelings about pudding are summarized here).  I had the Autumn Special — waffle, chips, and cream made with sweet potato together with fresh pears and fig, all dusted with fresh chestnut.  Mmmm.

On our way back to the train station:

That is one scenic 7-11.  On the train home Dan said to me, “We have to transfer at Shinjuku station?  How convenient!”  The exclamation point in that sentence doesn’t do justice to the creepy weird look on his face.  I knew this meant only one thing — ramen.

Is this round 3 or 4?  I’ve lost track.  One of the most famous ramen shops in the city, Men-ya Musashi is located just outside of Shinjuku station.  It has awesome samurai decor and is packed.  Since it was Sunday evening, the line stretched the length of the restaurant but hadn’t yet gone out the door, a lucky break for us.  Here is my bowl of ramen before:

And the sad scene after:

I just couldn’t finish, and left a lone soldier behind.  Sorry, you beautiful piece of pork, there just wasn’t room for you in there with all your friends.

Stitchin’

To celebrate the arrival of a darling new human into the world, I stitched together a little tummy-time-spit-sopping play mat. For Isley:

I’ve now stitched four quilts, all to celebrate weddings or babies.

The first quilt I completed was for the arrival of my nephew, just over two years ago.  Being my first big quilt project, I found a pattern and followed it religiously.  I had no idea what I was doing.  I read some books and looked at photos online, and in the end produced something perfectly wonky:

This quilt was machine pieced and quilted, using the pattern found here. It looks a little like I’m naked in that photo, but I promise I’m not.

While following a pattern is extremely satisfying, for quilt number two I went without.  Technically the second one I finished, in my heart this is really my First Quilt.  I’d started piecing it together years earlier after I’d picked up a used book on historical quilt blocks.  Then I saw an exhibition on the quilts of Gee’s Bend at the Walter’s Art Museum in Baltimore, and I was hooked.  The quilters of Gee’s Bend follow patterns, but they don’t seem to dwell on precise lines or matching corners.  I fell in love with the willy-nilly nature of their patchwork, with the bold colors and hand stitching. I wanted to try it for myself.

Well, I discovered working that way is really difficult.  Often my blocks came out looking like parallelograms, and I struggled with piecing them together.  This stash of weird shapes materialized into a quilt just in time for our wedding last summer, a gift to Dan of blood, sweat, and admittedly, some tears.

The First Quilt is hand and machine pieced, hand embroidered, and hand quilted.

Remind me someday, and I’ll tell you about the amazing Amish woman who redeemed the project and hand-quilted this queen-sized behemoth for me in 2 weeks.

When it comes to quilts, I like a little order but not too much.  For little Isley’s, I think I really came into my own style.  I pieced squares together until they made bigger squares.  Without much more of a plan than that, I placed larger pieces with smaller ones, until gradually, a quilt emerged.  I had order without a pattern, which was delightful.  I got to take my time, and really enjoyed the entire process.  No blood or tears this time.  Just a little baby drool, the way it’s supposed to be.

Isley’s quilt was machine pieced, hand embroidered and then tied, in my grandmother’s style.

Design Festa

Asia’s largest biannual art fair, Design Festa, took place in Tokyo this past weekend. Hosting over 8,500 artists from around the globe, Design Festa provides independent artists an opportunity to showcase their work.  Having little idea of what to expect, I set out with camera and pocketbook in hand.

Anyone with original work (and the requisite entry fee) is welcome to participate, and so media on display runs the gamut.  Print illustration, “live painting,” music, handcrafts, and a dramatic interpretation of an anime series were just a few spotted.  The venue lent itself especially well to single artists selling handmade goods, and the range of crafts was unbelievable.  Walking around the convention hall, I couldn’t help but compare the scene to a physical manifestation of Etsy — if Etsy were Asian and wearing animal ears, that is.

Illustration clearly took center stage, and I found myself most interested in the print media and stationary.

Sugar had some great postcards.

okappalover‘s calendars were my favorite of the day.

Here, すっちゃん Succhan’s four seasons – はる is spring, なつ summer, あき autumn, and ふゆ for winter.

I loved the exercising turtles from もりやりょうこ.  And hey panda, what’s got you so relaxed?

The cute-to-creepy spectrum was pretty grand, but a few skirted it gracefully.  More creepy or kawaii?  You tell me.

I was also happy to see a few eco-conscience designs.  My favorite came from designers in Korea, of the GAB : Graphic Design Group.  These picnic bags by Ahn Sung Kyung unzip and fold out to create a dry place for sitting, and are made from leftover rice bags.

The ORIORI_Bag is a convenient way to carry an extra shopping bag with you.  Just unfold and you are ready to go.

And for some good green fun, the green friend.  I was tempted to take one home, but not sure my apartment lends itself well to mud balls.

Of course, an event in Tokyo just wouldn’t be complete without cosplay.  The woman in the box never moved.  I watched her for, like, minutes.

Thanks to the staff at Design Festa for showing me around.  If you are in Tokyo next May and want to check out the next volume of work, visit their site for more info.

A Tourist in Familiar Lands

Is there really a difference between being a visitor to a place and being dubbed a tourist?  Perhaps.  I know many people who dislike being pegged as tourists, but in Tokyo I can’t help but look like one all the time.  I sometimes even use it to my advantage. People are happy to help you find your way, the next train, or the best dish at a restaurant.  In Japan especially, a crowd usually forms for a reason, because the site or snack being ogled is worth it.  That being said, when I visit many cities in the US, I try to blend in, go off the beaten track, and look as little like a tourist as possible.  Why I make a distinction, I’m not really sure.

Dan and I spent last week on a whirlwind trip through San Francisco and Washington, DC.  A business trip for him, I was lucky to be footloose and fancy free in two of my favorite cities.

In San Francisco my days were filled with friends and their favorite haunts, and I spent my time eating and drinking in good company.  Not once did I set foot in a museum (gasp!).  During this trip I finally felt like I was getting to know SF like a local.  Well, as much as possible when taking taxis to our swanky hotel on Nob Hill so as to avoid the steep climb…

Then it was off to DC for the second half of the week, where I hit more tourist sites than I did when I actually lived there.  Taking in the Smithsonian Renwick Gallery for the first time (shame on me, that place was great!) was one of the highlights, as was the updated Asia and elephant trails at the Zoo and the Rally to Restore Sanity at the National Mall.

Since for me travel is really about food, I’ll share my week in meals: huevos rancheros (just 30 minutes after we stepped off the plane), delicious puerto rican pollo al horno, scones du jour (ginger, lemon, pear, blackberry), tacos and more tacos, Blue Bottle coffee, visits to Arizmendi bakery, the Ferry Building and Tartine, deep-dish and wood-fired pizzas, egg scramble and grits, Taylor’s pastini salad, some of the best baba ghannouge I’ve ever had, and maybe I shouldn’t admit this, but oh-so-lovely California and Virginia wines were consumed, uh, probably every day.

For those who are counting, I had pie three times (apple 1, pumpkin 2).  If you include pizza, you can up that six.  I also had four scones and one cheese & berry danish.  They aren’t really pie, but they count for their buttery pastry goodness.

So what does it mean to be a tourist, anyway?  Last week I found myself acting more like a tourist in DC, a city I know well and lived in for years, while in San Francisco, where I’ve spent a total of 6 days, I flitted from cafe to bakery to hair salon like I owned the place.  Sure, maybe a visit to Alcatraz would have enriched my experience in San Francisco.  Right, sort of like a visit to DC’s Air & Space Museum on a Saturday afternoon (for those of you not in-the-know, that would be a death sentence.  NASM be crazy full of strollers.  You’ll certainly lose a toe).

So what really helps you get to know a place?  Personally, I think it’s in the tacos and cheese grits.