Ice Creams

Rainy season is over and the heat has returned. I spend the morning sitting in my apartment with the curtains closed to block out the sun. I am turning into my grandmother.

The assault of summer means I can eat more tasty cold things, like kakigori and saké passion fruit ice cream:

Ice cream is difficult to photograph — no time can be wasted in getting that deliciousness into my mouth.

Earlier this week I went the healthy route and opted for the side salad: asparagus, carrot & lemon, and tomato.

This trio can be found at Japanese Ice OUCA in Ebisu. The boozy saké ice cream was devoured in Azabu juban (across from the 7-11). Both shops change their flavors frequently and always have something a little crazy, though one of my favorites is the fresh-squeezed milk.  A friend of mine just got an ice cream maker and I used to make a lot of ice cream when I lived in the US, so we talked about crazy flavors to try at home. I suggested avocado, or honey and lavender. Anyone else have a recommendation? What unique flavors have you tried recently?


It has been 2 days since the earthquake struck Japan.

Tokyo is somber.  Things here are mostly fine — there was little damage and much of city life has resumed.  Around Azabu Juban trains are running, restaurants and shops are open, and people are walking about.  Twitter reports from around the city reveal similar scenes.

Dan and I have been out walking, but haven’t strayed far from home.  The aftershocks continue, and though the tremors aren’t as big as they were yesterday, I still don’t have any desire to get on a train.

We stopped at the grocery store mostly because we felt we should, but I didn’t know what to buy.  Yesterday eggs and bananas were out, today our nearest grocer was lacking toilet paper, milk, and leafy greens.  I bought a few onigiri from a nearby conbini and felt satisfied in my preparedness.

The grocery stores were bustling but restaurants were not.  We went out for Chinese food and had the restaurant to ourselves.  I half-joked that we should eat out while we can, and save the veggies at home for the coming days.  The truth is, I’m not sure what to expect this week.  Authorities say Tokyo will intermittently be without power and are asking everyone to conserve electricity.  Prime Minister Kan said in a televised press conference that this is the worst disaster to hit Japan since WWII.  Dan and I shut off our heat and are snuggling around a shared lamp.  They’re asking us to prepare for scheduled power outages, but I’m not certain what that means.  We’re making some rice to stash in the fridge, we’ve got food and water.  Being without a television for a while will probably do me some good.

In the past 48 hours I’ve become a total news junkie.  In addition to my Twitter feed, which is in constant refresh on my phone, I’ve had email and Facebook, online news channels, and NHK TV at my fingertips.  Though, the images of devastation and the anxiety of another tremor are starting to wear me out.  (Mom, look away…)  The Japan Meteorological Agency said there is a 70 percent chance of another earthquake greater than magnitude 7 occurring within the next three days, and then 50 percent chance in the 3 days after that.  I feel safe in my apartment and with Tokyo’s resources at the ready, but anticipation of a tremor rattles my nerves.  You know that feeling you get when you step off a treadmill?  Or, when you are sitting in a restaurant and the subway rumbles beneath you?  Or when you stand up too fast and feel a little light-headed?  That’s how the aftershocks feel, and they’ve been pretty constant since Friday.  I’ve been calling it The Weeble-Wobbles.  Not dangerous, just… weird.

The news crack has provided some unbelievable images.  Like this one, where you can view before and after photos of some of the areas affected by tsunami.  Or this crazy video.  (Mom, stop worrying — that’s not where I am.)

Japan is in the midst of a major crisis, and I’m in the midst of Japan.  Though Tokyo is pretty much back on its feet, my heart aches for Northern Japan and the devastation they face.  It is difficult to know what to do or how to help.  It is easy to sit at home, watch the news, wait for more sways.

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!

Raw Egg Pasta Sauce

Since I’m now a working woman, my daily routine as a Tokyo Housewife is no longer.  That is a gentle way of saying our apartment is a complete mess, I may have let my kanji study slide, and I now fail regularly at keeping food in the cabinets.  These days, more often than not I’m finding 7 pm roll around with nothing planned for dinner.  And then I realize I ate cereal for lunch and I’m starving and ready to gnaw off my hand.

So what’s a housewife to do?  I pester Dan.  Here is what one of our chat conversations looked like this week:

Me: would you like pancakes for dinner?  that is not a trick question
Dan: i’ll eat whatever you cook
Me: well, i can cook pancakes, mushrooms, a little bit of leftover rice, pasta with no sauce, eggs (again)
Me: oh, and there is avocado 🙂

Please forgive me for loving emoticons.  I could blame Japan, but really, those smiley faces have been in my repertoire for years.  (You should see the emoticons available on my cell phone — given the chance, I could compose my autobiography using only those things.)  So, with that list of random ingredients, I decided to throw everything (well, almost) into the pot, cross my fingers, and hope for something edible.  Dan mentioned he’d heard about eggs in pasta, and a quick Google search confirmed it exists.

I think the creamy-egg-in-pasta idea was suddenly less scary because in Japan, I’m not afraid of eating raw eggs.  My new chef friend told me that the date on the egg carton – usually a week after purchase — is for when you need to refrigerate the eggs, not throw them out.  They are that fresh.  So, I went for it.

This is our kitchen, maxed out for space yet again.  Thank goodness we only own two pots.  I sauteed some エリンギ eringi mushrooms (if you are curious what they look like whole, you can peek here) and cooked up the pasta.  When the pasta was done and drained, I threw in the cooked mushrooms, two eggs, the avocado, salt, and a splash of milk.  And some black pepper.  And… it was delicious.

OK, so maybe this is the least convincing photo ever, but you have to believe me.  I was amazed at how good this was, considering I took (almost) every last bit of food left in our apartment and threw it all together.  In the past this plan has not gone so well (translation: anchovies and tomatoes).  This time, triumph!

Anyone else out there willing to try the Raw Egg Pasta Sauce?

A Beautiful Stab in the Neighborhood

Yesterday I attended my second sashiko class at Blue & White (you can read about my first class here and more about sashiko here).  I was a little hesitant to go — though I had a lovely time last month, the class is a bit expensive and the question-and-answer format is not ideal, considering I can’t ask a question in Japanese, let alone understand the response.  But I went, figuring it would be my last for a while.

When I arrived three other women were already at the table, and another followed me into the shop.  All of them seemed to know each other, and were quite lively with their greetings.  I was able to contribute a little はじめまして (nice to meet you), and we all sat down.

The class quickly devolved into a series of show-and-tells, each woman showing off her sashiko to the others.  It was fun to see all their different projects — two were working on table coverings, one was free-hand stitching a Christmas tree, and another pulled about 10 (yes, 10!) projects out of her bag.  Fortunately, complete awe is a universal language, and we all nodded in admiration as each project came to the table.  Later, the shop’s owner joined us.  She translated for me a bit, and explained the ladies were joking about some of their uneven sashiko lines — some done before nap time and others after.

As I went to leave, I gave each woman a bow and a thank you.  I’d had a lovely time yet again, and decided perhaps the class was worth the price of admission, if only to spend a few hours giggling with other 主婦 (housewives).  Then they sent me on my way — with lunch!  That’s right, one of ladies actually gave me her homemade rice and sweet potato lunch.  Perhaps she was trying to entice me back, or more likely she felt sorry for me and thought I needed a home-cooked meal.  There may have been something lost in translation, but I’m pretty sure I didn’t steal her lunch.  She gave it to me!  Whatever the case, I was completely touched, and went home feeling a little choked up.  Maybe I’ll have to check out the November class after all.

A Tokyo local and interested in the sashiko class?  They’re held monthly at Blue & White, 2-9-2 Azabu juban, Minato-ku, tel. 03 3451 0537

Feeling Stabby – An Update

A few weeks ago I gushed about my new favorite form of needlework, sashiko.  Since then, my stabby little fingers have been busy: I finished up one project, started two more, and attended my first sashiko class.  Whew, what a busy Stab-tember!

Thanks for all the great suggestions on what to do with my finished shippo tsunagi 七宝つなぎ.  I think it’s destined to become part of a bigger whole, but I don’t have the heart to hide it in a closet until then.  And so, a quick stitch into a pillow case seemed like a good interim solution.

Careful there, clothes can make things difficult for a hen.

With one finished piece under my belt, I felt pretty good about going into my first sashiko class.  And it was great!  Conducted entirely in Japanese, it was just a few women sitting around a table, with the sensei directing us individually whenever we needed help.  I spent most of my class time listening to the other women in the room chatter, and surprisingly picked up more of their conversations than I thought I could.  I guess my limited vocabulary of mostly craft terms helped me, for once.

I came home with a new project in hand, a small table covering decorated with teacups.  The biggest difference about my new project is that it is not printed directly onto the fabric, but is instead traced on using white carbon paper.  The indigo fabric and thread were also much better quality, and when I got home I discovered my fingers were a wonderful shade of blue from the dyes.

The needle is also much smaller than the one I picked up at the craft store during my first week here, though much sharper and I think perhaps I prefer it.  I signed up for the October class, so  I’ll be sure to keep you up-to-stab!

A Tokyo local and interested in the sashiko class?  They’re held monthly at Blue & White, 2-9-2 Azabu juban, Minato-ku, tel. 03 3451 0537

Quarter Pounder With Noodles

What’s your million dollar idea? You know the one. The thing that occupies your mind when you’re scraping mangled receipts and Post-it note reminders out of a washing machine lint trap. (By the way, the inventors of Post-it notes worked at 3M until retirement…I find something awfully depressing about that).

Anyway, what I was getting at was this:

I can barely wrap my head around this. I can definitely wrap my stomach around it, but my head, not so much. That beauty is a Ramen Burger, and I call dibs. I’m bringing this back to the States, and I’m going to make a sensible, not-outlandish living as a Carnie, hopping from town to town, county fair to farm show, introducing America to something they didn’t know they loved.  I’ll make enough money to throw slices of fresh bread to the ducks, not that week-old stuff. That stuff is for the birds.

This past weekend our neighborhood was overtaken by food vendors, a lot of them, for the Azabu-Juban Noryo Festival. The streets filled up with Tokyo folk (Tokyoites? Tokyojin? Tolkeins?), creating a thick wall of people on every street, and picking up groceries meant redefining my personal comfort zone. But on the positive side, picking up groceries also meant stopping for grill pit fish, giant scallops swimming in a shell full of butter (or mayo, it’s hard to say, my eyeballs were salivating), potato chips on a stick (dibs again), and draft beer. Lovely stuff.

The Ramen burger can’t be that hard to make. It’s cooked ramen noodles, griddled into the shape of a bun. Then you throw in some roast pork, spring onion, bamboo shoots, cabbage, and a broth-inspired sauce (soy, miso, or tonkotsu – heavenly pork bone). Brilliant.

Oh, and that thing on the right is just some delicious potato topped with butter, mayo, salt, kimchi and corn. Whatever.