Homemade Macaron Ice Cream Mouth-Pop

I recently read this article on Serious Eats about macaron ice cream sandwiches from Francois Payard Patisserie in NYC. Full stop. I’ll let you ponder that for a moment. Two delightful desserts mashed together into sandwich form … YES.

But alas, NYC is very far away. I pouted for approximately 20 seconds before my resident Expert of the Internet remarked, “This is Tokyo where they love French things so I’m sure they have one here and oh yes, there is a shop in Shibuya.” And then we went to Shibuya and all was right with the world.

We found Tokyo’s version at Pieree Hermé which sells the Miss Gla Gla, their own version of the same thing. It was everything I wanted in raspberry pistachio ice cream sorbet sandwich named Gla Gla.

Miss Gla Gla from Pierre Herme patisserie in Tokyo

I went back a few weeks later and the woman ahead of me was taking forever. Understandable that it is difficult to choose just 6 flavors of macarons for your gift box, but I was impatient. She was getting in the way of my Gla Gla. I did some anxious pacing and went by the several other macaron shops nearby including Sadaharu AOKI, the patisserie which sells my favorites. They come in a rainbow of Japanese flavors from wasabi to yuzu to black sesame, in addition to the traditional raspberries, salted caramels, and vanillas. I noticed they sold the macaron bits sans filling in a plastic jug and macaron magic struck me like lightening: I will make my own Gla Gla.

Macaron rusk + gelatomini macaron ice cream sandwichesA quick stop into the Euro Mart (not really what it is called, but might as well be) on my way home to pick up gelato and voila! C’est magnifique! They may be ugly, but these little mouth-pops of pistachio gelato and macaron were a victory. Vive la ice cream sandwich!

Admittedly, the second batch was consumed like chips and nacho cheese. My devotion is fickle.

Vegetarian Ramen

Vegetarianism is a tricky concept in Japan. The words vegetable and vegetarian get mixed up, and you’ll order a vegetarian something and it will arrive with shrimp on it. The recommended meal for many veg visitors to Tokyo is … Indian food. It is not impossible to be a vegetarian here, it is just more work. Vegetarians who are able or willing to eat dashi, a broth made from dried, fermented and smoked skipjack tuna (also known as bonito and katsuobushi) have a much easier time. As a visiting-vegetarian friend said, she didn’t realize that dishes made with dashi would be so heavy. You mean flavorful? That, my friend, would be the animal.

I eat meat but trend vegetarian, so when I find a great vegetarian anything I get excited (like this shojin ryori). This week I found vegetarian ramen.

VegeRamen Nana8

Real deal vegetarian ramen. That’s lotus root, okra, mushrooms, radish, grated daikon, tomato, onions and greens in a flavorful vegetable broth. Even the noodles are green.

VegeRamen Nana

They are made from spirulina. I don’t actually know what that is, but I trust my man James. Every year the ramen chain Kagetsu Arashi offers a vegetarian ramen as a healthy alternative to the fat-packed kind. A vegetarian friend here admitted to eating it every day for a week straight, and I assume he is still going strong. Keep it up man! They’re offering it until May!

Since it’s healthy, why not get the veggie gyoza? Vegetarians need junk food, too.

Vege gyoza

Shojin Ryori

I had a fancy meal.

shojin ryori

It was a 3 hour endeavor, and by the end I was so stuffed I couldn’t finish my strawberries. I begged my friends to eat them so I wouldn’t offend the chef.

This is shojin ryori, vegetarian Buddhist cuisine. No animals were harmed in the making of this meal, my friends. Unlike the multi course kaiseki ryori meals I have had in Kyoto, which are very rich from miso and fish, this meal was light and flavorful. Almost refreshing.

Starting at the top left: tea with brown sugar sweets; sesame greens, pickles, and sweet black beans; walnut tofu and soup with yuzu and something that looked like grass but didn’t taste like it. Second row: vegetables and tofu made with a rice batter that puffs when it is fried, dipped in salt rather than a sauce; shitake sashimi that were incredible and tasted like they could have been fish; more mountain greens, a fruit similar to an apricot, and the only konnyaku I have ever enjoyed. Last row: hand-cut soba served in a basket; rice, miso and mushroom soup, and more pickles; finally, strawberries for dessert. I missed snapping a photo of one course, a baked soup with vegetables and a ginko nut, probably because I was getting behind on my courses and was focused on eating everything before they took it away.

This dinner was pricey, but one of the best meals I have had in Japan and the casual yet elegant environment was perfect for a Sunday evening with friends. And who can put a price on that, really.

Itosho いと正 is located in Azabu juban. Check here for a map.

In With the New: To-Do for 2013

snowy american sunrise

Yesterday I shared last year’s to-do list and how well I did checking things off. It feels good to keep a list and look back a year later, to see how your year changed from the one you had imagined. I might not have accomplished everything on my list, but keeping an eye on it throughout the year gave a good push to keep trying new things.

I’m stepping into this year tentatively, like I am dipping my toes into water — will it be refreshing? Too hot? Will I turn and run and hide under my towel? We shall see. Here is the list for 2013:

Cook 12 new recipes. I am putting this on the list again, even though last year I failed miserably at it. I want to cook more, and if this list gives me even a little bit of encouragement it will be a positive gain. I’d love to learn more traditional Japanese dishes, so perhaps I’ll even treat myself to a cooking class.

Read 8 books. I’m upping the ante from 5 last year. Recommendations?

Visit 6 new places. This is achievable so I’m sticking with it. If I could go anywhere? The mountains of Chile, Alaska, New Zealand. Where might I go? Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, or a romp through northern Japan. I’d love to find a hike to a secret little outdoor onsen in the mountains.

Sew 6 new garments. My new sewing hobby has me obsessed. I’d like to learn more skills this year, and make a fitted and lined dress, pants, and a jacket or blazer. I vow to not be afraid to cut into expensive fabrics.

Make a gigantic sashiko art piece. A last-minute addition. Why not?!

Publish something. An article or an encyclopedia (dream big!), it doesn’t matter.

2013? Let’s do this.

Out With the Old: 2012′s To-Dos

明けましておめでとうございます。今年もよろしくお願いします。

Happy New Year, my friends.

I am easing into 2013. My season of travels abroad, visits with friends and family, handmade gifts and home cooked meals is coming to a close, and I am settling in. 2013 promises many challenges and I am gathering the strength to face them.

Last year at this time I made a to-do list. I dislike resolutions, but to-do lists I can handle. Looking back, I feel good about the things I checked off the list. It turns out I cook a lot less than I thought I did but sew quite a bit more. I feel OK with a trade-off like that. Here is my list and how I fared:

Cook 12 new recipes, one per month. Not even close. Though, I probably ate 12 new foods, like natto, coffee jelly, and tom yum. I can’t believe I waited so long for tom yum. What was I thinking?

food

Read 5 books. I remember thinking this was on the low side, that of course I would read more than 5 books in a year. I read 6.

books

Swamplandia! by Karen Russell, Super Sad True Love Story by Gary Shteyngart, Ghostwritten by David Mitchell, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz, The Pilgrim Hawk: A Love Story by Glenway Wescott, The Middlesteins by Jami Attenberg

Visit 6 new places. Cities or countries, it doesn’t matter. And walk around these places without a map. 

travels

  1. Shiga kogen, Nagano, Japan
  2. Hijiori Onsen, Yamagata, Japan
  3. Kuala Lumpur & Malacca, Malaysia
  4. Singapore
  5. Sado Island, Japan
  6. Okinawa, Japan

Make a quilt for myself, for fun. I did, and it was fun. I also spent a lot of time learning to sew clothing. I made 6 new garments and 4 neckties.

sewing

Have a conversation with a stranger in Japanese. This really reminds me of how little I could, or would, say before I started my Japanese classes. I was a big chicken. Now I am often faced with having to speak Japanese with strangers, and I’m a little less of a chicken.

2012, I think you did alright by me. I visited lovely new places, I ate a lot and spent quality time with quality people, I learned some things, and even found my face on the Internet (like here and here). Nice work, 2012. Now, can you give 2013 the message?

How did your 2012 to-do lists turn out?

Caution: Highly Caffeinated

Discovered on my phone this past month:

And I sheepishly admit that is not all of them. With the arrival of autumn, I seem to have given myself permission to indulge in steamy hot lattes more than just occasionally.

I have been a dedicated coffee drinker for years. I blame the coffee shop where I worked part-time, and every week they sent me home with a pound of coffee beans. I had a coffee cabinet. When you opened the door, you’d get a caffeine buzz just by breathing in the air that escaped that cabinet.

Tokyo’s cafe culture, with its adorable latte art and impeccable dessert menus, has proven irresistible. It is dangerous to be so caffeinated with a sewing needle in-hand. My kanji-writing practice has certainly suffered.

Maybe it is time I consider drinking some tea.

A Nice Rice

A few weeks ago we received a package of rice from a friend who lives and farms on Sado Island.

We met Matt when we went to Sado for the taiko drum extravaganza we attended in August. He was an amazing tour guide, showed us around the island and even revealed a few secret swimming spots. I left Sado with an incredible fondness for the place, thanks to Matt. He and his wife are rice farmers, and their region has a reputation for producing some of the best rice in Japan.

Rice is rice, you say? Oh no, my friends! It most certainly is not. Get that Uncle Ben’s Minute Rice business out of my kitchen this instant.

I used to dislike rice. I thought it was dry and boring, because usually it was. After we moved to Japan my friend Saki slowly showed me the way to rice nirvana. She brought us to rice restaurants. She emailed me instructions on how to gently wash and then rinse and then soak my rice before cooking. She was sneaky but persistent in her teachings. Maybe because she had tasted my very first attempt at onigiri and couldn’t bear the thought of me torturing any more rice.

I still have no idea what makes good rice good, but I know it when I taste it. It sticks but isn’t too sticky. It’s floral and eaten alone, not hidden under heaps of curry or meat. It is usually white, but not a crazy bleached white, more of a pearl white with hints of purple or yellow. It looks and smells like a plant because it is.

If given a choice between rice or noodles, I’ll go for the rice. A bold claim, I know.

Check out Daruma An Farms for some damn fine island rice.

Milkin’ it.

I regularly buy flavored soy milk in little sippy cartons. It recently occurred to me that this might seem like a weird thing to someone outside of Japan. These little boxes of protein and sugar are probably meant for children, but I can only really understand six-year olds so by the transitive property it works.

In Japan flavors change with the seasons, and autumn reigns supreme. I arrived back in Tokyo to  flavors of sweet potato, pumpkin (actually, kabocha), hazelnut and persimmon. So when I saw the grilled sweet potato flavored soy milk, of course I bought it.

From left to right that’s yaki-imo (grilled sweet potato), banana, coffee malt, and strawberry. Other common flavors include black tea, matcha, vanilla ice cream, grapefruit, delicious plain, and fruity mix. My favorites are the less expected flavors, black sesame and kinako (roasted soybean powder). Perhaps these flavors sound strange, but in Japan they are commonly associated with sweets. So really, I’m just drinking candy.

Happy Kitchen, Happy Family

I have a confession. For the previous three weeks I was cattin’ around the US. I took a wee vacation to visit family, and what else to you do with your family on a lazy Saturday afternoon? You drink beer and make some Happy Kitchen, that’s what you do.

Before I left Tokyo I picked up a few of these kits to give as gifts. I don’t think other people are as excited about them as I am, but that didn’t stop me. These little Popin’ Cookin’ and Happy Kitchen candy-making kits are very cute, and a really good example of Japanese homestyle cooking: just add water.

Just kidding (kind of). These kits are just for fun and meant for children. Add water and poof! You’ve got a square meal of panda and donuts. Accompanied by some local beer, they suddenly become the perfect way to entertain your parents while dinner simmered. We chose the donut kit and dove in.

The kit comes with everything you need: vanilla and chocolate dough mix; vanilla, strawberry and chocolate frosting mix; crunch topping; sprinkles; donut molds; mixing bowls; measuring cup and mixing spoon. The directions are listed on the back of the box in Japanese, but the pictures give enough direction that you could figure it out in a pinch.

Each packet requires just one cup of water to be added to create the perfect texture — what science! Here dad illustrates the dough-making, and mom does the donut-mold-making. Now that is teamwork.

Everyone got to decorate. My mom disappeared to The Craft Room and returned with a mini spatula for our mini donut assembly line. There was some discussion over whether sprinkles or crunch were the superior topping choice.

The peanut gallery insisted I place them on a bigger plate. They needed to look as mini as possible.

Everyone took a taste. The consensus? Like play-dough and strawberry milk. Not bad, but not good either. I’d rather wait for the real thing, mini or not. Perhaps that’s the real difference between me and the 5-year old this kit was meant for. Though the donut flavor was a little disappointing, this kit delivered what was promised: a happy kitchen, full of a happy beer-drinkin’ family.

The Lesser Panda

I feel bad for this guy. First, he is not the panda of everyone’s dreams, he is lesser. Secondly, he is stuck inside a plastic bag.

This chocolate-cream-filled bun is to celebrate the Lesser Panda, also known as the Red Panda, at the Asahiyama Zoo in Hokkaido. So maybe life isn’t so bad.

A friend gave him to me, and at first I felt a little guilty about my plans to eat him (the panda, not the friend).

I quickly overcame my guilt because did I mention he is filled with chocolate? And is it gross that you can see my teeth marks in that photo? Maybe. I was worried this bun would be soggy — it seemed like there was moisture inside the bag, probably from the last breath of my suffocating lesser friend, but in truth it was a tasty cake.

Sorry about that, lesser panda.

さかたさん、本当にありがとう!おいしっかたね!