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.

Wool Winter Skirt

A winter skirt, just in time for spring. This lovely wool was given to me years ago and I finally felt confident enough to sew something with it. I used the new Sewaholic Hollyburn skirt pattern, which is designed for hippy ladies such as myself. A nice match, I think.

Sewaholic skirt, vintage wool

It reminds me a little of a skirt my mom used to have. Or the one Vera Ellen wears around the fire in White Christmas. You know the one.

wool winter skirt

I have a teeny confession to make, however. The hem is only basted. I don’t own a full length mirror, I usually reply on shop windows as I walk to the subway station. The barber is used to me adjusting my pants in front of his window, and we are both OK with that. I’m not yet sold on this skirt’s length (I added 2 inches to view A) and wanted help from these photos. So don’t look too closely.

I  completed this skirt as part of a Hollyburn sew-along. The pattern was easy to understand, but because it is wool I thought it was necessary to add a lining and it turns out I needed a little hand-holding. Thankfully Rachel at My Messings did a step-by-step guide. This was my first garment with a zipper and a lining so there is definitely room for improvement, but I’m happy with they way it turned out. Well, after it is hemmed, maybe in time for next autumn.

Pay no mind to the wrinkles.

The Tokyo Quilt Festival

This week I visited the Tokyo International Great Quilt Festival. If you tell me something will be great, I am instantly skeptical. But this was great, at least for the few short hours I was able to withstand old ladies and their elbows. Don’t let those canes fool you, they are swift and deadly.Entering the Dome

Thank goodness I was at least a head taller than everyone, so getting a peep at the quilts was no problem. My view for most of the morning was something like this:

View from the top

In all earnestness, I had a lovely time with the old gals. My Japanese sewing vocabulary is well rounded, as is my ability to exclaim simultaneous astonishment and compliment with only mouth sounds (eeehhhhhHHHHH?!), so we got along quite nicely.

crazy triangle quilt

Occasionally someone would look over their shoulder to check for the Quilt Police and then gently lift the quilt to sneek a peek at the backside, and I’d crane my neck to catch a glimpse, too. We’d nod in understanding. You can always spot a fellow quilter or embroiderer, someone who is just as interested in the back as they are in the front.

tiny hand pieced

While most people were fawning over the traditional quilts, I really enjoyed the “wa” quilts category (和のキルト部門), described as quilts with a unique Japanese quality to them. Many were constructed from Japanese kimono silk and were quite vibrant, but I prefered the naturally-dyed blues and grays of old ikat cottons.

not so sexy hexy

My favorite was this double wedding ring quilt. I was lucky to catch a moment with no one between it and me and I snapped a photo — I’m standing straight in front, but notice how the rings are different sizes. I wish I could have taken this one home with me.

wonky double wedding

Another favorite of the day was the pudding quilt. Obviously.

pudding

You can see more photos of my favorites here on Flickr. This was my first quilt festival — has anyone else attended one? How do you think it compares? I’d love to hear!

Snow Day ☃

It is snowing in Tokyo!

snowday

I love snow days, and after a brief snowball-filled jaunt to the supermarket I am giving myself free license to sit under the kotatsu and watch movies and drink tea until it is an acceptable time to watch movies and drink whiskey.

Yesterday I ran into Tanaka-san while she was buying fried chicken, so I know she is set for the storm, too.

Maybe I should suggest we combine our efforts. It looks like the other neighbors already have the mixers on ice.

snowday

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?

English Craft Club, Sunday December 9th

The last of the year, friends!

English Craft Club Christmas Quilting

English Craft Club will meet near Sangenjaya on Sunday, December 9th. We’ll be making the Ohio Star quilt block , the last in our quilting series. We’ll learn basic hand-sewing methods, and I’ll also review how to finish a quilt and binding techniques. Your quilt blocks can be saved for a larger quilt project, or made into a Christmas star placemat!

This English Craft Club will have a special holiday theme! While sewing, we’ll enjoy lots of  Christmas music, cookies, and cocoa for some fun holiday cheer.

In the spirit of the holiday season, the class fee is discounted to 3000 yen per person! I hope you’ll join us!

楽しく英語を勉強するクラブです!このクラスにキルトを縫いながら、様々な表現や英単語を楽しく勉強していきます。楽しく英会話をしませんか。

参加費には以下の内容が含まれます。

  • クラフトに使用する材料(型紙、布、針、糸、その他道具)
  • 英語の教材(ペーパー)、クラフトの単語集など。
  • コーヒー、ココア、紅茶、クッキーやケーキ

The English Craft Club に参加をご希望の方は、sakepuppets@gmail.comでご連絡下さい。ご質問もお気軽にどうぞ(英語・日本語どちらでも結構です)

参加費 : ¥3000 –> クリスマスの割引があります!
場所:三軒茶屋

Class Details

  • Class time is 13:00-14:30, though you are welcome to stay until 15:00 to finish projects or just chat for fun!
  • All craft materials and snacks are provided. No quilting experience is necessary!
  • Native English speakers and English students are all welcome. Vocabulary notes are provided for students if necessary.

Other questions? Email me at sakepuppets@gmail.com. Thanks!

ps. If this Japanese is atrocious, please forgive me.

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.

Stitch Lessons

I bought this Japanese craft book a few weeks ago and have thumbed the pages many times, trying to decide which pattern to stitch. They don’t make it easy.

The title translates to “Stitch Lesson: 6 basic stitches for lines and surface embroidery.” The book begins with basic instruction in the Big Six: outline stitch, backstitch, chain stitch, satin stitch, long and short stitch, and the couching stitch. In truth, I could use the help. I lean pretty heavily on the split stitch with a fat ol’ six strands of floss, so I thought this book would provide inspiration for some much-needed practice in the dainty-stitch spectrum.

Each page spread presents one project, the complete design on linen on the left and full-size stitch diagram and detail on the right. Patterns and project instructions are relegated to the back.

It is a beautiful book, but let’s be honest — the real reason I bought it was for the very last pattern:

Mmm, pudding.

I acquired some linen swatches that seemed perfect for dainty pudding stitches, but in truth, am having difficulty transferring the detailed patterns onto these coarser fabrics. So I might switch back to cotton, or maybe I’ll just stop whining. I’ll let you know how it goes!

English Craft Club 8月12日: 9 Square Quilts

The next English Craft Club class meets this Sunday August 12th in Shinjuku Gyoen! This upcoming class is part of the American Quilt Series, and up this week is the 9 Square block.

Looks can be deceiving — the 9 Square may look simple, but construction can be difficult because of the many sharp corners. We’ll learn how to piece and hand sew this block, and discuss some variations. The 9 Square is fun to design – you can arrange fabric colors and patterns in many combinations and styles. Come try it for yourself!

Finished quilt blocks can be used to create a table mat, decorate a tote bag or cushion cover, or save to add to a larger quilt. All project materials and light snacks are included. Cost is 5000 yen per person, or bring a friend for a discount of just 3500 yen per person. The English Craft Club is open to everyone — men, women, both native speakers and those learning English. If you are interested in joining the class, please send an email to sakepuppets@gmail.com to register. Hope to see you there!

You can find more information about upcoming classes by clicking the links below. Thanks!

Sunday August 12th: Schedule
12:55  Meet at the Okido Gate at Shinjuku Gyoen
13:00  Class begins! Choose fabric and begin project
14:00  Break for snacks and refreshments
14:30  Class instruction ends, but feel free to stay until 15:00 to finish your project and chat with instructors and new friends

* * *

キルトを学びます。型紙の写し方、キルトのステッチをお教えします。キルトはテーブルに置くコースターか、トートバッグの飾りとして使えます。

計画
12:55 新宿御苑の大木戸門で集合
13:00 レッスンを始めしょう! 単語集を習ったり、ご自身で布を選んで頂きます。
14:00 休憩
14:30 ワークショップ終了。15:00までは講師が残っています。

含まれる材料:ご自身で選んだ布、糸、型紙、レッスンメモ

『The English Craft Club』は楽しく英語を勉強するクラブです。毎回のクラスごとに、皆さまに各自で作品を作って頂きます。クラフトをしながら、様々な表現や英単語を楽しく勉強していきます。

ワークショップでは刺し子作りなどを通じて、楽しく英語を勉強できます。ワークショップ = 手芸 + 楽しい英語!  ( 英語では難しければ、日本語のヘルプもあります。)

『The English Craft Club』に参加をご希望の方は、以下のアドレスまでご連絡下さい。ご質問もお気軽にどうぞ。(英語・日本語どちらでも結構です)sakepuppets@gmail.com

Dear Neighbor, Please Don’t Die

Yesterday I thought my neighbor died.

Not to spoil the ending, but she is OK. Still kickin’ it with her TV at full volume. But she scared the sushi out of me and for some reason my reaction was intense enough that I feel like writing about it here.

Our neighbor is The Oldest Woman Alive. She is very tiny and when she speaks you can hear the wrinkles in her voice. Her name is Tanaka-san, and we introduced ourselves to her a few weeks ago when we moved in and brought her a box of mini cakes. Because old ladies should be allowed to eat all the cake they want.

Otherwise I rarely see Tanaka-san, though I’m constantly aware of her existence across the garden. Her house is 5 feet from ours and when the windows are open it is as if we are in the same building. I take solace in the fact that she is hard-of-hearing, so I don’t have to tip-toe or be too mindful of waking her from a nap. Good thing I like her enka music.

I have become accustomed to her schedule. Every morning she gets a call via intercom, someone from an Oldest Lady care facility checking in to say hello. Then in the afternoon she has a visitor from said care facility or gets picked up to take a walk wheelchair roll to the nearby Oldest Lady daycare center where she undoubtedly plays ring toss. At 5:28 every evening a bento is delivered to her door by a man too old to be riding a scooter. Evening means TV and enka.

Yesterday she didn’t answer her morning call. The intercom vibrated, “Tanaka-san? おはようございます! Tanaka-san? Good morning! Then a neighbor with a stern knock knock knock at the front door, and … nothing. No shrill response. No peeking through the straw shade. I began to worry.

About 5 minutes later I heard sirens. I thought, “Those sound close. No, they couldn’t possibly be for…” and with Tanaka-san’s phone on a constant ring-ring-riiiing the crew of rescure workers arrived. Like, 20 of them, running in-sync through our side street too small for their ambulance. The police swiftly followed, as did a staff person from the Oldest Lady care facility. I stood inside my house and chewed on my fingernails. No one could see me behind the screen which is behind the bushes, but I was waiting and straining to understand what they relayed into their walkie-talkies. I cursed my recent laziness from studying Japanese. Everyone stood outside my door which is outside her door and we waited.

Then suddenly the rescure workers left and only the police remained, which I thought was either a good sign or a very, very bad one.

And at last, the care worker breathes a よかった!It’s good!

From inside the house I hear a paramedic simply say, with a bit of a laugh, Good morning!

My heart was pounding during the entire ordeal. There was no need for an alarm clock — I was wide awake.

Though Tanaka-san has lived a long and hopefully fullfilling life, I’m not willing for her to go just yet. I’m rooting for her to make it another day, another year. She’s made it so far. Just a little further. She deserves more cake.

Life across the garden is quiet today, which makes me wonder, is tiny Tanaka-san embarrassed by the hubbub she caused? Certainly everyone in a 3-5 block radius heard it. Or did she have a minor stroke? Is she OK? I’m not sure, and I can’t ask. I can only wait, and wish her the best. Dear Tanaka-san, please don’t die.