Feeling Toasty

I’d like to take you along on a little journey… to buy a toaster.  In Japan, purchasing an electronic appliance is no small feat:

And this was just the toaster side of the aisle.  Ovens, ranges, and fish broilers had their own sections.  Dan and I had initially planed to purchase an oven — after my stories of pie-woe, we were urged by many to stop whining go out and get one for ourselves.  But it quickly became clear that our apartment didn’t have space for the huge “counter top” oven/steamer/grill/microwave robot contraptions that were out there. (If you need a reminder, you can see photos of our tiny apartment here.)  And so, back to the toasters.

I was amused by all of the options.  They had single-slice mini toasters, double-decker toasters, toasters shaped especially for pizzas, toasters in colors to match your teapot, high- or low-tech.

This one is advertising a touch screen computer panel, but I was more interested in the panda cake it claims it can make.

This toaster would have been perfect for one of my old roommates… you know who you are, Carb King.  “What’s for dinner tonight?  Toast? Pizza? Baked cheese? Toast?”

We settled on this beauty simply because it was big (4 slices!) and had easy-to-interpret controls.  Maybe it’s not quite right for an overstuffed apple pie, but it could probably manage a few tarte aux pommes.

Or an open-faced avocado and cheese sandwich.  Since bringing this new friend home, I’ve been eating toast for approximately 2.8 meals a day.  Don’t judge.

Stab to the Heart

Don’t worry, this is not a sad story.

Those little old ladies did it again: my third sashiko class left me with a completed project (finally!), a handful of snacks, and a full heart.

I need to keep up with my sashiko classes perhaps only to continue seeing my new old lady friends.  You may remember my first class — a whirlwind of mysterious chit-chat where I picked up my teacup pattern and learned through miming.  Conducted entirely in Japanese, my guess is I picked up about 3% of what was said.  My second class was an equal amount of confusion, but with a few more parts warm & fuzzy.  I may have upped my comprehension level to, let’s say 5%.   For class #3, I was up to a solid 14%.  And that’s after you calculate out the show-and-tell oohs-and-ahs and the many giggles.

Part of my success was due to the fact I was with a new group of ladies, so the usual niceties, “My name is Angie” and “I’m American” were easy home runs.  Then one woman asked if I was a high school student.  Understandable, considering I have no idea if they were 60 or 90.  When I told them “I’m a housewife,” out came a fresh round of giggles.  After class, they sent me on my way with a few handfuls of rice crackers and a bounty of bows.  It was a lovely time.

I’ve decided I need to continue going to these classes so that I can get to know some other women and try to socialize in Japanese.  Otherwise, my only interaction with other shufu 主婦 is at the grocery store, where I get elbowed and banged into and harassed about whether I want chopsticks with my bento lunch.  I need help to remember they are just as shy as I am, and just as curious about my sunglasses and camouflage hipster hat as I am about the tiny dogs in their purses.

Finally, I need to talk about this amazing pastry.  I admit I had no idea what I was buying, and picked it because I wanted something impressive for my little show-off photo shoot.  I went to my favorite neighborhood pastry shop, pointage, knowing they wouldn’t let me down.  And wow, was this one good.  There was a chestnut in there, and a fig steeped in Earl Grey, and some cheesey custard, and lots of buttery flakes.  I don’t claim to be a know-it-all about pastries, but I do eat a lot of them.  And this one wins.  Thanks, pointage.  Is it a blessing or a curse that this place is a 5 minute walk from my apartment?  I can’t decide.

Psst… Hey you, visiting Tokyo?  Check out pointage boulangerie in Azabu juban.  Here is a map.  Just don’t make it crowded so I can’t get my sweet chestnut buns.

Also, interested in the sashiko class?  They’re held monthly at Blue & White, 2-9-2 Azabu juban, Minato-ku, tel. 03 3451 0537.  Come join me!

Mmmm.

In the aftermath of my musings on cold-weather warmer-uppers, I found this recipe for nabe.  I haven’t tried it yet myself (only because I don’t have a suitable pot).  Anyone else willing to try it out and tell me how it goes?

If I were to make this, I think I’d chose potatoes from Group A, fish chunks, shrimp and mussels for meat, leeks (if I could find them) or a yellow onion from Group B, and all sorts of mushrooms, though especially shiitake and enoki.  Then some tofu.  From Group C I’d pick cabbage and top it off with spinach.  And I’d definitely add ramen noodles at the end.  Duh.

Can’t wait to hear what you try!

Cold Weather Firsts

It has been chilly here in Tokyo.  Don’t worry, I’m not going to complain about the cold — since it is currently 21 degrees F (-6 degrees C) and snowing at my parents’ house in Minneapolis, and that’s after, according to my dad, “it had warmed up overnight.”

Here is the forecast for Tokyo this week:

Fear not, Americans — this is Celsius.  OK, so maybe it is not that cold…

That’s more like it.

But my parents house in Minneapolis is cozy, and my apartment in Tokyo is not.  The building is poorly insulated and my curtains sway with the breeze, get my draft drift?  50 degrees F (10 degrees C) feels chilly when you are inside.  I bought a pair of legwarmers and actually wear them.  And not ironically.

A drafty chill is the norm around Tokyo during the winter months, but there are plenty of other ways to keep warm.  This weekend I got to try a few for the first time.

Nabe 鍋 is a traditional winter dish, a one-pot soup or stew that cooks right at the table and is shared with friends or family.  Perhaps a little humble and unassuming, this soup pot of friendship warmed me right to the core.  You get to watch the broth bubble and then poke and pick out your favorite bits.  It was delightful.  Ours featured spicy sauce and soy milk, tantan tonyu nabe 担担豆乳鍋.  I probably just made-up that word, but it doesn’t matter because the soup was delicious.  Sorry for the poor cellphone photo – I was too excited to take the time to get a real camera.

My other cold weather first this weekend was to cuddle under a kotatsu 炬燵, a small table with a heating unit underneath that you cover with a heavy blanket.  Don’t even ask me about fire hazards, because all I know is that the kotatsu is my new love.

Doesn’t it look cozy?  A friend has a kotatsu with a pit underneath where you can dangle your legs and play anonymous footsie games.  There are a few months of winter left, so I’m thinking I can justify finding a kotatsu of my own.  If it works out, you won’t hear from me until spring.

New Year, New Bags (and a giveaway!)

~ This giveaway is no longer accepting entries.  Scroll down to see who won! ~

Happy New Year and あけましておめでとうございます everyone!  In addition to wandering the streets of Tokyo in the middle of the night, I’ve decided that what 2011 really needs is a new stock of bags in my web shop.  Hooray for 2011!

Maybe you resolved to be a bit more organized?  Or want to treat yourself for surviving 78-straight hours of family?  Well, it’s your lucky day year!

And what better way to start a new year than to give things away.   That’s right dear readers, in honor of the Year of the Rabbit 卯 I’ve whipped up two (let the record show that I wanted to make 2,011…) polka-dot, sashiko-clad, bunny-lined zipper bags that are just hopping mad for some new homes:

If you’d like a chance at one, leave me a comment by 12:00 midnight EST USA time on January 4th (that’s 2 pm, January 5th Tokyo time).  Maybe tell me your predictions for 2011 (Zombies take over the world and finally rid us of teen vampire movies?  Yay!), or perhaps something you’d like to see on this blog (more ramen photos? OK!), or just a little note to say “Hi, friend.”  I’ll use the random number generator to select TWO winners, lucky you!  And you!

Fine print: One entry per person/e-mail address. The winners will be selected using random.org and announced as an update to this post, so come back here for the announcement.  Items can be shipped worldwide.  Good luck!

~~~~~

And the winners are… commenters 15 & 9!  Congrats to Nick and Bridget, and a special thanks to everyone for their comments, predictions, and notes!  Keep an eye on Saké Puppets for more giveaways – this was much too fun to do only once!  You can also check out my web shop to score a bag of your own.  Happy Year of the Rabbit!  Best, Ang


1/1/11: A Day in Pictures

To friends new and old and family near and far, Happy New Year!  あけましておめでとうございます!

First it was a champagne toast and countdown to midnight with new friends, then off to Meiji jingu shrine 明治神宮.  Fortunes were told and hot, sweet rice milk was glugged.  New Year’s Day had us strolling the neighborhood to Zenpuku-ji temple 善福寺 for hatsumode, our first visit of the year.  Welcome, 2011!