Sakura Surprise

Ever since I was a wee girl I have been captivated by the fragile beauty of sakura (cherry blossoms), and I wished I could somehow preserve the soft pink petals forever. Living in Japan for many years, I learned to appreciate the small celebrations that took place with every change in the seasons. I always looked forward to spring as I could spend hours, day or night, under the cherry blossom trees.

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Outside of Japan, London has Kew Gardens, Washington DC has Tidal Basin, and New York has the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. It was nice to discover that you can also get your cherry blossom fix in Portland (Oregon) along Waterfront Park. The blossoms had pretty much reached their peak when I stumbled upon them and were gone after a few days, so I’m grateful that I got a chance to enjoy them on one special spring day.

Do you have a favourite cherry blossom viewing spot outside of Japan?  How about in Japan?

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The Ups and Downs of the 2014 FIFA World Cup

Every four years I look forward to the FIFA World Cup and every time it finally comes around, I am reminded that the consolation of having multiple loyalties from living in several countries does not take away the pain of watching your favourite teams lose. This year’s results have been no different. Nevermind the losing, simply watching England play can be — and often is — a painful experience. Japan also gave some pretty embarrassing performances (no offense to Greece, but seriously?) and both countries were knocked out in the early stages.

I’m not one for wishing any team to do poorly but there’s a first time for everything and Uruguay have Luis Suárez to blame. The 4 month ban is a bit soft, but I suppose it’s better than nothing. I’m still completely unimpressed with Uruguay and am happy that they did not go through! Even a child knows that biting is not permitted on the playground, let alone an adult at work! If I bit someone at work even once I’d probably be sacked (not to mention my sanity would be questioned).

The US may have lost the match against Belgium but they put up a good fight, or rather Tim Howard did and was no doubt the man of the hour. In case you missed it, he’s the goalie for the US national team that finished with 16 saves. Simply amazing.

Photo: dpa

Photo: dpa

So that left me to find new teams to support and I wished so much more for the host country, Brazil, but last night’s match still feels like a dream (or nightmare). I remember checking the Google several times, thinking there must be a glitch with the score, but then I turned on the game and confirmed that the impossible was in fact true. To be fair, Germany were in fine form, or perhaps Brazil were just horrible. Oddly, we all seem to be more focused on their defeat and not Germany’s victory. Either way, it’s never easy to watch grown men cry, let alone sweet little children who looked just devastated as Germany scored goal after goal in the first 30 minutes of the match.

Photo: Twitter

Photo: Twitter

And then of course there is Oranje, who I am quietly supporting as it seems every time I openly support a team, they lose, with the exception of the match against Costa Rica. Although they give me a heart attack every time, I love penalty shootouts! Hup Hollande en Oranje Boven!

Photo: OnsOranje

Photo: OnsOranje

Update: I don’t understand why Holland didn’t put Tim Krul in again. Penalty shootouts are exciting but now that I think about it, they’re not the most fair way to end a match. I’m torn about who to support for the final. Can’t really be bothered with all the heartache anymore and I’m not particularly attached to Germany or Argentina. Hmm… who are you supporting?

First Impressions: A Decade Later

I’ll always have a soft spot for Taiwan, having spent many summers there as a child. The sights, sounds, smells, and obviously the food are deeply ingrained in my memory.  It’s been over a decade since I last stepped foot on Taiwanese soil but I didn’t quite expect the reaction that I had when we landed after a whirlwind dash around Japan.

Love Taipei

Four days is hardly enough time to really get to know a place. By the time you’ve settled in, it’s time to leave. That said, aside from the night markets, which have changed considerably due to new health regulations (i.e. they’re cleaner), and some of my old favourites no longer being around, it was almost as if I had never been away. There is something to do at every hour of the night and day — it’s as though Taipei never sleeps. I suppose you could say that of Tokyo, as well, but the energy is different in Taipei. It’s louder, it smells more (good and bad), there are motorbikes and cars and people everywhere, it’s an attack on the senses if you’re not prepared for it. The buzz of the city can be a bit overwhelming, dizzying at times. Although I can read a bit of Chinese, every corner kind of looks the same and one can easily get lost if you’re not paying attention. We tried using 7-Eleven as land markers but quickly realised that there is at least one 7-Eleven on each corner, sometimes two on the same street!

When I was a wee girl, I happily followed my parents wherever they went without paying much attention to all the moving parts. But now the sight of another car coming down the wrong way on a one way road makes me nervous, especially when we’re sitting in a taxi opposite the car.  That said, everything always seems to turn out okay. There isn’t much shouting or honking at the bad drivers, especially the taxi drivers, who make very bold moves to snag a new customer.  I suppose if everyone were to get upset by each car that cut them off or nearly rammed into them, the entire city would be in a constant fit of rage. It’s always been like that, though, so I suppose after a while you just become accustomed to the city’s chaotic rhythm.

We did enjoy the lower cost of living (especially the food) in Taiwan compared to Japan. You can still feed a family of four a proper breakfast for under 300TWD (around a fiver). You could easily do the same for lunch and dinner. And of course, we’re talking proper street food here, most of which you can eat without the fear of getting ill. The hubs also pointed out that the shops may be nice inside, but the exterior of the buildings look like they could use a bit of TLC. Perhaps that helps keep the costs down? Or not. Who knows? I’m no economist.  But yes, not much has changed in that sense.

I suppose it isn’t fair to compare Japan with Taiwan, especially since we went from living like royals to ‘getting down’ with the locals. But the standard of service is definitely better (or different) in Japan. It’s a different culture after all. And it’s not to say that the Taiwanese don’t pride themselves in service. They do, but it’s carried out in its own unique style, especially when you compare local shops to local shops. They’re very warm and open and incredibly hospitable.  All in all, Taipei was wonderful — thrilling, nostalgic, full of tastiness (more to come on this) but sometimes very tiring and overwhelming. Although our recent trip was not quite the fortnight we would have wished to spend there, hubs was able to get a taste of the country and I certainly had my fill of my favourite local delights.

Fancy Some Moomin’s Soup?

With the guidance of the Moomin Cafe, Nissin Foods has created a new instant soup cup — Moomin’s Soup! Moomin’s Soup is a “salmon milk soup” offered on the standard menu at the Moomin Cafe and is said to be representative of Finnish home cooking.

Moomin Soup

It’s a warming soup with a hint of dill, which you can now enjoy on the go! Moomin’s Soup will be available nationwide (sorry, Moomin fans, only in Japan) starting 14 January, 2014. Let’s hope your local Family Mart or Lawson will stock the soup!

Have A Washi-ful Valentine’s Day!

I’ve always found the concept of Valentine’s day to be a bit odd, especially in Japan where women shower men with chocolates and homemade treats but guys don’t have to give anything in return. That is, until March 14, otherwise known as White Day (ホワイトデー).

Washi tape Valentine's cards

Another part of Valentine’s Day in Japan is the custom of gifting ‘obligatory chocolate’ (義理チョコ) to male co-workers, casual acquaintances, and others to whom women have no romantic attachment. Quite a rubbish custom if you ask me as it breeds a culture of men ‘returning the favour’ but never giving from the heart!

Washi tape Valentine's cards 2

Having said all that said, I never miss an opportunity to put my washi-tapes to good use! And even though I get annoyed by all the crazy commercial hype that we’re all subjected to on this day, I had so much fun making these cards and treats I hope all the recipients feel loved!

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Black Sesame Pudding

Another favourite dessert of mine that seems impossible to find in shops is black sesame pudding, better known to Japanese dessert lovers as kurogoma purin (黒ごまプリン). Black sesame pudding, like almond tofu, is a popular dessert of choice in Taiwan and Japan. This type of pudding should not be confused with Spotted Dick or traditional Christmas pudding as the consistency is completely different!

kurogoma puddingI’m not keen of thick custardy puds so I decided to add more milk than cream (3:1) and it came out just how I like it — light and creamy and not too sweet! So if you prefer a thicker pudding then this recipe may not be for you.  In addition, as I did not have access to black sesame paste, I used ground black sesame and this resulted in a lighter coloured pud but still with lots of sesame-goodness! This recipe serves 6-8 people depending on the size of your pudding cups.

black sesame puddingIngredients:

  • 1 packet (28g) powdered unflavoured gelatin
  • 1.5 tbsps cold water
  • 100-120g sugar
  • 690ml skimmed milk
  • 230ml double cream
  • 150g ground black sesame seeds

Preparation method

  1. Soften gelatin by pouring cold water in small bowl and sprinkling gelatin over water; set aside to soften.
  2. Pour milk, sugar and ground sesame seeds in medium sized saucepan. Heat over medium heat, stirring occasionally to prevent milk from burning. As soon as sesame mixture comes to a boil, add softened gelatin and stir to combine.
  3. Remove saucepan from heat and whisk in cream.
  4. Allow mixture to cool for 4-5 minutes — add ice and water to a larger bowl and set bowl containing mixture in ice water.
  5. While custard is cooling, set out verrines/pudding cups.
  6. After cooling, whisk custard for 4-5 minutes then pour mixture into verrines.
  7. Cover containers and place in refrigerator to set until firm (I let mine set for about 3.5-4 hours).
  8. Serve cold, garnished with a dollop of cream and fruit or topping of choice.

Moomin Surprise!

Or should I say…another Moomin Monday! I came into work this morning and found a lovely surprise from the Moomin Bakery and Cafe on my desk:

Needless to say, I was absolutely delighted!  Not only did this mean Miss D was back from Japan, but she even brought Moomin with her (thank you, darling — I feel so loved)!

I didn’t know that Moomin pasta existed and absolutely love the Hattifatteners (ニョロニョロ) serving tongs! But that’s not all! It would appear that Miss D even stopped at KIDDY LAND (another one of my favourite shops in Tokyo) and picked up some adorable Moomin masking tape…

…and a Moomin phone jack! I love the Jinglish on the packaging, too. In case you’re wondering, the ‘chara’ in ‘chara jack’ refers to the word ‘character’ and in Japanese is pronounced ‘kyara-jyakku’ (キャラジャック).

I hope you enjoyed that brief lesson in Japanese loan words and with that I bid you good day!