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.

Food Porn

In preparation for the Azabu Juban Noryo festival happening in our neighborhood this weekend, where I plan to eat my way from street-to-street for 3 straight days, I thought I’d clear some space on my camera and share a few food pics I’ve had in the vault.  I’m not sure our hurry-and-take-the-photo-so-I-can-shove-this-in-my-mouth photography really deserves the label “food porn,” but in any case, I thought these few photos were worth sharing.  Itadakimasu! *

A few weeks back, I was wandering the streets of Kappabashi (the kitchenware district, this site does a great job of describing it) and it was sooo hot and I was sooo hungry.  I stepped into the only restaurant I could find, where, alas, there was no English to be had, so I ordered the daily special, which was a gigantic plate of tempura.  Luck be a fried shrimp! (Two actually, along with mushrooms, okra, eggplant, and shiso.  This meal was also served with rice, soup, pickles and tea.  Oofdah.)

Dan and I discovered this place while wandering the streets of Shimokitazawa, a hip neighborhood of Tokyo that has been compared to Williamsburg in NYC.  May I present a ball of rice wrapped in bacon (!), sort of like a meat version of onigiri.  I may have put mayonnaise on mine.

Last weekend we found the ramen shop Gogyo, where the ramen is served black!  I had the kogashi shoyu, Dan went for the kogashi miso.  Both were “burnt” ramen, and I’m not sure how they got it that way, but the open kitchen had big flames and the ramen had that delicious almost-burnt, grilled-meat flavor.  We’re definitely going back for the black (alliteration is irresistible!).

Tokyo summers — the bad part is that it’s hot, the good part is that there is kakigori, a shaved-ice mound of sweet deliciousness much like the slushie I wrote about a few weeks ago. Kakigori is seasonal, so I plan to eat as much as I can in the next month.

I went for red bean and green tea, and Dan had fresh strawberry with a sweetened condensed milk glaze. These poor guys really didn’t stand a chance.

There you have it.  Don’t get me wrong, we eat a lot of weird and perhaps not-so-good things too (including the random mystery vegetables I try to cook at home), but those aren’t as fun to share.  Or are they?

* Your language lesson for the day: Itadakimasu いただきます roughly means “I humbly receive,” and is a traditional greeting before a meal.

Bike Journey

Today I bought a used bike.  I took the subway for 30 minutes to my meeting point at Nakano-sakaue Station, an area just northwest of Shinjuku.  Then, I had to get my new wheels home, without the help of the train.

First, agh!

Then, ah.

Next, wow.

Then I started to recognize where I was…

And finally, home!

The whole trip was just over 10 km and took me 2 hours, which is funny because the walking directions on Google Maps are listed at 2 hours and 5 minutes… well, OK, I did stop and buy beer.  I couldn’t bring my new mamachari home with an empty basket!

It’s true, this little mama chariot doesn’t look quite as mama as it could, which is just fine by me.  It gets my precious cargo home just the same.

ps – You can see my route here.

Home Sweet Home

Here it is, the long-anticipated apartment tour!  OK, maybe only long-anticipated by my mother, but nonetheless, it’s finally here for the taking.  And talk about a blank slate!

It may not look like much, but I’m pretty happy with our 39 square meters (for you kids in the USA, that’s about 420 square feet).  Come on in, let me show you around!

Tokyo apartment entry

As you come in the front door, you’ll notice the little Japanese-style entry way.  The recessed floor here is called a genkan (げんかん).   Shoes off, please!  We’re digging the slipper-clad lifestyle in these parts.  You’ll also notice all the closet space:

apartment entry closet

Some of this space is used to stash shoes and umbrellas, removed while in the genkan.  Since this is most of the storage space for the apartment, I’ll be using this area as a linen closet as well.  While standing in the entry, let’s do a 180-degree turn to find ourselves peering into the bathroom:

apartment bathroom

This bathroom feels gigantic.  It is both Japanese and Western styled; I like to think it is the best of both worlds.

apartment bathroom details

The cabinets and walls are pretty plain, but a nice sink and Japanese super toilet share the space.

apartment bathroom super toilet

Yup, there’s our auto flush toilet.  You can see it also has a computer console — maybe someday we’ll be brave enough to figure out what all those buttons do.

apartment bathroom shower room

Past the sink and toilet is the Japanese-style shower room.  I love the shower room.  In a Japanese home, it is customary to soap up and rinse off before you get in your tub of hot water, so the entire room is waterproof.  For me, it is more like a giant, heated shower.  You can also hang clothes to dry and run a heater, auto fill the tub (a nice little voice tells you what is happening, though I can’t yet understand her), and spray down the whole room for cleaning.  Brilliant, right?  I don’t plan on taking too many baths and am a little sad that the tub is taking up valuable square meters better served by a sofa (ok, maybe not in that exact location), but overall I can’t complain about the shower room.  Like it, like it, love love love!

apartment hall

After you step out of the entry, you get a brief view of the rest of the apartment.  To the left, the bedroom, to the right, the living room.

apartment bedroom

Attached to the bedroom there is a little balcony.  Many people in Tokyo hang their clothes and bedding out to air on nice days.  This balcony is a little on the small side, so it might be better served by some potted herbs.

apartment bedroom closets

A reverse view of the bedroom reveals the closets.  Take a look at those beauties!  We won’t yet talk about who gets the big one…

apartment living room

Now we head back into the living room.  I love the built-in bookshelves.  Also, you can almost make out our view through the window.  Not quite as awesome as our last place on the 11th floor, but not too shabby either.  At night, we can still see Tokyo Tower in all its gaudy glory.

apartment kitchen

A reverse view of this room give us a glimpse of the kitchen (you can also see the door that separates the entry from the rest of the apartment).

apartment kitchen close up

Perhaps a little boring, but nothing I can’t fix with some home-stitched linens.  And now, a view of my one disappointment…

apartment kitchen range

Look at that tiny little range!  Two burners, and no oven.  Not even a fish broiler.  There go my dreams of opening a sidewalk pie stand.  Sorry, Tokyo, your loss.

apartment kitchen refrigertor

A peek at my other kitchen challenge — in Japan, an “unfurnished” apartment really means unfurnished, no appliances included.  In this photo you can see the cubbyhole where our fridge will go, someday.

So there you go — our new tiny home in the biggest city in the world.  And really, right now, I wouldn’t have it any other way.  Just think of the time I’ll save cleaning…