Monthly Archives: March 2013

Melt-In-Your-Mouth Mushroom Risotto

I love eating risotto, but dislike making it because so often you have to watch it like a hawk while it’s cooking. This recipe however, is simple, healthy and very delicious.

What you’ll need:

  • 3/4 cup of Aborio rice
  • 1/2 pound portobello mushrooms
  • 1/2 pound white mushrooms
  • 1 shallot, sliced up
  • 1/4 cup white wine (can substitute extra broth here if you desire)
  • 3 cups chicken broth
  • 1.5 tbsp of olive oil
  • 1 tbsp parmesan cheese
  • splash of milk
  • salt & pepper

What you’ll need to do:

  1. In a saucepan, warm up the broth over a low heat.
  2. In a different large saucepan pour in olive oil.  Heat up the oil over a medium-high heat.  Once the oil is hot add in the mushrooms, cook mushrooms for about 3 minutes, or until soft.  Remove mushrooms, mushrooms juices and oil into a small bowl and set aside for later.
  3. Add 1/2 teaspoon olive oil to pan and stir in the cut shallots. Cook for 1 minute before adding the rice.  Stir the rice and coat evenly with the oil for about 2 minutes.
  4. Once rice is a pale, golden hue pour in the wine. Stir until wine is fully absorbed.
  5. Add 1/2 cup of the broth.  Stir until fully absorbed.  Continue adding 1/2 cup of broth at a time until fully absorbed. This should take about 15 minutes.
  6. Add parmesan cheese, splash of milk, mushrooms and a little salt&pepper to taste. Stir until creamy and thick.  Voila! IMG_6729
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Categories: Savoury Recipes | Tags: , , | 1 Comment

Classy Little Romantic Dinner for One

I am convinced that there is something in the water these days inducing insanity. It’s either that or maybe, far more likely, my friends’ hormones and pheromones are completely out of whack with the promise of spring hanging heavy in the breeze…

I am certain I’m not being paranoid.  Elton John’s written songs about times like these, although, I’ll admit he’s far more elegant and eloquent describing it (Can you feel the love tonight…It makes the breeze feel cool…). I however, shall state it bluntly: my community of friends has gone crazy and a love haze is in effect.

Couples have been springing up recently faster than flowers. Levels of PDA are running dangerously high and straining the patience of yours truly. Keeping my razor-sharp thoughts to myself isn’t the easiest when people are spoon-feeding – or rather in most cases in Japan, chopstick-feeding – each other while sitting next to me in a cramped restaurant booth.  At times like these being single can be a little lonely.  Which means it’s the perfect opportunity for…drumroll please….a perfectly lovely romantic dinner for one!

I’m not too sure when I began this tradition but it is something I adore doing.  Every so often, when being single starts taking it’s toll, I like to tie on my favorite apron, plot out a masterpiece of a sensuously savory dinner and cook up a storm.  Once finished, I set the table with some candles, turn off my cellphone, turn on the tunes (typically Michael Buble), dim the lights and after a hearty “Itadakimasu!”, dig in.  I love eating my feast slowly and meticulously, taking my time to relish every mouthful.  Who needs a boyfriend when my cooking can make me swoon!?

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Well, tonight was one of those nights.  Operation romantic dinner for one was a go.  On the menu tonight:

Appetizers: 

5 plump olives, several blushing baby tomatoes, apples with blue cheese and crisp baguette slices begging to be dipped in luxuriously smooth olive oil and zesty balsamic vinegar.

Main:

A tender lemon infused salmon fillet accompanied by a creamy melt-in-your-mouth mushroom risotto and succulent steamed asparagus stalks.

Dessert:

Sea salt sprinkled chocolate covered strawberries.

As far as my romantic dinners in the past are concerned this one was very healthy and pretty simple to whip up. Easy was very important because I was feeling particularly lazy after a crazy night out on the town yesterday cumulating in a sleepover giggles-and-chit-chat session with Lizzy until the wee-hours of the morning.  After a late wake-up we then proceeded to spent the most wonderfully mellow and lazy Sunday afternoon basking under covers, watching Breakfast At Tiffany’s, while beautiful warm spring sunshine flickered in through the windows.

With my parents arriving for a visit this week, and a busy little trip with them around Japan on the horizon, a relaxing night at home alone was exactly what I needed.  I even left all the dishes in the sink to be taken care of tomorrow!

Yummy Appetizers
Olives, tomatoes, apples with blue cheese, sliced baguette with olive oil & balsamic vinegar.

Cracked open a new yuzu (Japanese lemon) liquor I found at Yasubun that I’ve been dying to try!

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Main Course
Steamed asparagus, lemon-infused salmon and creamy mushroom risotto.

Yuzu Liquor. Yuzu is a type of Japanese citrus (similar to a lemon) that I am incredibly fond of. Loved it! Can't wait to share with my parents when they come to Japan in a week!


Yuzu Liquor. Yuzu is a type of Japanese citrus (similar to a lemon) that I am incredibly fond of. Loved it! Can’t wait to share with my parents when they come to Japan in a week!

Categories: Life in Japan, Lifestyle, Savoury Recipes | Tags: , , , | 1 Comment

Snow-overload in Shirakawago

The first step to dealing with an addiction, supposedly, is to admit to one’s self that the addiction does in fact exist.  I am taking the first step therefore, in admitting I am addicted to my kotatsu and it probably should end….

kotatsu

A  kotatsu (ko-tat-su) is a small Japanese floor table with a heater on the underside and a blanket over the top). It’s a marvelous, cozy invention that helps survive the cold evenings in your apartment. Japanese houses lack insulation so despite my best attempts at using heaters I still love my kotatsu best.  Other older ALTs (Assistant Language Teachers) warned me of the dangers of the kotatsu but I was young and a little cocky and thought I had nothing to fear.  That over-confidence came back to bite me in the butt.

The problem is that once I nestle myself under all those toasty blankets at my kotatsu I don’t want to move…even to pee. Leaving the warmth of my kotatsu, to battle forces with the wicked cold air of my kitchen, can take minutes of mentally working myself up to sprint to the toilet, sprint to the kitchen to grab another mug of tea or a cookie, etc….. Thus, as a result of this addiction to my kotatsu, I’ve gotten quite plump this winter. *gulp*  If there is one thing I have learned after my most recent relationship with my kotatsu is this: never ever allow yourself to start hoarding your snacks near the kotatsu….they will disappear faster than cookies in a kindergarten! Uh-oh!

My life every night can pretty much follow the plot of this little story:

If Jessie sits at her kotatsu she’s going to want a cup of tea, and if you give Jessie a cup of tea she’s going to want a cookie, and if you give Jessie a cookie…

It was a bad habit and it needed to be kicked, fast!  About 2 weeks ago I vowed that it was imperative for my sanity and my waistline that I stay as far away from my kotatsu as I could for one weekend in order to lessen what felt like a gravitational pull into a black hole of doom.

Enter superhero Lizzy, best friend and superb travel-planner! She suggested, and coordinated, a trip to the very cute town of Shirakawago and I couldn’t agree fast enough! Shirakawago (she-rah-kawa-goh) is a small remote village in the mountains between the prefectures of Gifu and Toyama.  It is a UNESCO world heritage site which is most famous for the traditional thatch-style farmhouses.  Some of these houses are more than 250 years old!

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Firstly, let me just say that these pictures do not do the village justice, the houses are beyond adorable! I was very happy we had followed our co-workers’ recommendations to go in winter because it was magical.  It felt like we had been transported to the North Pole and were walking around a Christmas town.

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Walking around the snowy village you could catch glimpses of the traditional houses as they played peek-a-boo with you through the trees. It was like nothing I’ve ever experienced!

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The name of this style of house in Japanese is “Gassho-zukuri” (Gah-shou zoo-curry) which when translated into English means “constructed like hands in prayer”.  This is because the farmhouses’ steep thatched roofs resemble the hands of Buddhist monks when pressed together in prayer. Isn’t that just so sweet?  The downside to receiving so much snow is that in the winter months now many owners of the gassho-zukuri houses have taken to “helping” their homes by getting up on the thatch and shoveling snow off. It was terrifying to watch!

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A man shoveling snow off the roof. Terrifying to watch!

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Snow-loving Lizzy

I traveled to Shirawakawago with my friends Lizzy and Zoya.  Both Zoya and myself hail from snowy countries so we weren’t as astonished by the towering height of the snow in Shirakawago.  Lizzy however, was absolutely ecstatic over how much snow there was! She made me laugh with her desire to fall backward into the snow.  We ever got into a minature snowball fight. たのしい!!!! For someone who never grew up with winter she had wicked aim with those snowballs.  I was tempted to ambush her with an unsuspecting snowball often throughout the rest of the trip, however, I had learned my lesson and didn’t quite dare.

We travelled to Ogimachi by bus from Kanzawa, it’s the the largest village and main attraction of this style house. If you visit Shirawakawago in the winter I would 100% recommend taking a bus, the roads can be terrible with all the snow.  It is far safer and far more relaxing to take the bus.  Tickets were 1,600yen one way to the village from Kanazawa.

Also, if you have time to spare I would also highly recommend staying the night in Shirakawago at one of the numerous Minshuku.  Minshuku (me-n-shoe-ku) are Japanese style bed and breakfasts, which are usually family operated. They offer visitors a good opportunity to meet a a local family and experience the traditional Japanese lifestyle. (For a full list of Minshuku in Shirakawago click here!)

We decided to stay at a lovely little minshuku called Nodaniya.  It was a traditional style Japanese room, with sliding doors, tatami floors, a kotatsu (OH-NO! haha epic plan to avoid one ruined!) and futons to sleep on.  My favourite part of staying at a minshuku is the food!!!!! OM NOM NOM NOM! If you stay at Nodaniya they will serve you a delicious set meal dinner full of local specialities and a lovely Japanese-style breakfast in the morning.

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Dinner of local Shirakawago specialties. My favourite part was the hida beef (top left corner) which is very famous in Japan. Melt-in-your-mouth delicious! I will admit to being a little scared to eat the fish, but I figured it out in the end, and it was tasty too!

After dinner we decided to hit the onsen for a relaxing bath. For 700yen you can enter the onsen at the lovely Shirakawa-go no Yu minshuku. It’s about a 5-10 minute walk from Nodaniya and absolute bliss after a chilly day. After the onsen it was time to crawl into our futons and slip away to sweet dreams.

We awoke early the next morning, breakfast was at 7:30am sharp. Easy to do surprisingly when everyone in the room is a teacher used to getting up at 6:30am to get to school on time. Breakfast was fantastic! Another lovely Japanese tray heaped with small portions of various Japanese foods. I ate everything except the egg. Most memorable was when the owner of the minshuku served something I had never tried before and just about died with happiness eating. The name of my Japanese breakfast kryptonite: Hoba Miso.

Hoba Miso

Hoba Miso

This Hoba Miso is a regional specialty and is traditionally served as follows: a nice big spoonful with shallots, and perhaps a few mushrooms, on a large ho tree leaf (a type of magnolia) which is then rested over a charcoal brazier to heat until aromatic.  It’s eaten at breakfast time with rice.  It was the best miso I have ever tried, hands down! My stomach is growing just looking at that picture. If you visit Shirakawago you MUST try this!

After an incredibly tasty breakfast, Zoya, Lizzy and I decided to brave the blizzard that had descended upon the tiny village.  Everything was covered in about a fresh foot of snow and freeze-your-nose-off cold. The upside of all the snow: double the magic! The fresh snow made the village look even more beautiful, something I didn’t think possible.

IMG_2137Something super interesting to do when you go is to tour the inside of one of the thatch houses. We chose to tour the inside of the the Wada family’s home, this family was one of the wealthiest families and village leaders of Ogimachi. Their former home is the largest gassho-zukuri farmhouse in the town, and is now open to the public as a museum.

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We still had quite a bit of time to kill after we finished touring and souvenir buying (I picked up some Hoba Miso for mom and dad to try when they visit! Hope they like it!). Our feet were frozen by this point and so, when Zoya mentioned a really cute cafe she had visited last time we made a beeline there.  Sipping on a piping-hot, cinnamon-dusted cafe latte (oooh such a good idea) gave my mood an immediate boost.  We chatted and read our kindles until 2:00 rolled around and it was time to return home.  
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We also discovered, while talking with a few locals, that Shirakawago has a very fun-sounding sake festival in October.  Only 300yen for all you can drink sake, hello trouble! Lizzy and I both agreed that coming back sounded exciting. Shirakawago, it’s safe to say you haven’t seen the last of this Canadian. She’ll be back soon to enjoy your cozy atmosphere again in no time!

Categories: Travel | Tags: , , , | 4 Comments

Boarding in Nagano: A dream come true!

I am Canadian.  This is a fact that my friends never forget because, unlike the majority of the other JET program teachers living in Fukui, I simply adore snow.  We get quite a bit of the white, stuff in Fukui. In those frosty winter months I am a constant source of amazement for JETs and my Japanese co-workers, many of whom have never met a human who prefers the freezing cold temperature of winter over the hot heat of summer. At first, my excitement every time it snowed was baffling to others. With time however, this bafflement slowly transformed first to incredulity, then after a while, to entertainment. After a year here, sometimes I catch them smiling quietly to themselves at my open joy every time big fat snowflakes fall from the sky.

Talk about a lot of snow!

Firstly, while winter is not my favourite season of the year (it’s fall, for the record) there is something magical about snow for me.  Not only is it beautiful but with the first snowfall of the year dawns the age of my favourite hobby…SNOWBOARDING! Snowboarding is one of my biggest passions in life, and I like to talk about it the same way a grandmother loves talking about her grandchildren. That is to say, a lot.

I can safely say that my father can be thanked for this crazy love of snow.  If there is one thing he loves more than anything else in the world it is skiing.  He gets excited as a kid on Christmas when it snows a lot overnight and he gets the chance to go skiing.   I can’t even begin to count the number of times in my youth I was woken up at 5am on a weekend morning because there had been a powder dump in Banff overnight and I needed to get my little sleepy butt out of bed so we could drive up to the mountains and catch one of the first gondolas up to the top of the mountain.

Here’s a picture of my dad! Looking very snazzy in his new jacket and exceptionally happy!

The Rocky Mountains are a famous mountain range in western North America.  In the Rockies exists the incredibly beautiful Banff National Park. Banff National Park is 6,641 km2 and home to the most beautiful mountains in the world. Lucky duck that I am, Banff was practically my backyard. As a kid this national park was my playground with my family skiing every weekend in the winter and hiking many weekends in all other seasons.  Needless to say growing up skiing at some of the most beautiful mountains in the world made a snow-lover out of me!

Moraine Lake

Many weekends since I was 3 were spent skiing, until I eventually went over to the dark side, at least in my father’s eyes. I decided I wanted to learn to snowboard too.  I’ve never looked back since then, although I still enjoy skiing, the feeling of gliding down the mountain on my board never fails to send a shiver of delight down my spine.

Once I knew I was coming to Japan, I knew one thing with all of my heart: I couldn’t wait to go snowboarding in Nagano! Nagano was home to the Winter Olympic Games of 1998 and home to some of the best mountains in Japan. Last year I had a wonderful trip planned until disaster struck in the form of a terrible case of pneumonia. Worse yet, what I had was highly contagious so I was put under “house arrest”.  It was the kiss of death for my dream to go boarding in Nagano that year, by the time I was released all my beloved snow was long gone.

Luckily for me I had decided one year teaching in Japan simply wasn’t enough. In my second year I vowed to not miss the chance to visit Nagano’s famous slopes.  Ever since I plotted, planned and dreamed of this experience.  I’m happy to announce that recently, at long loooong last, my dream came true!

During a long weekend in February my snowboarding buddies and I hopped in a car and drove to Nagano.  It took 6 hours but the mountains were worth the trip.  A definite level up from Fukui’s tiny Ski Jam mountain.  One of my friends was very brave and brought his very nice camera boarding with him one day. I’m SO happy now that he was willing to risk boarding with his (I would never trust myself snowboarding with my baby) because the pictures turned out fantastically!

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Here we are at the base of Hakuba 47 enjoying a beer at 11am. Call me an alcoholic if you like, but damn did it taste good after a morning of serious boarding!

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We were super lucky with beautiful, sunny weather and a robin’s-egg-blue sky on the very first day!

Nagano Paradise

This is my personal favourite photo from the trip. Check out that view as we prepared to plunge into a steep, untouched powder pocket that was pure bliss to board through. Glad we were daring enough, the risk was worth it!

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Spectacular view from the top!

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The view from our hotel room the first evening after a great day boarding. We didn’t take any pictures on day 2 because it was snowing pretty serious and check out what we woke up to one the morning of our third day…..

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HOLY CRAP-OLA!!! Talk about a tonne of snow!!!!!!! I was the first one up, and so was the first to catch a glimpse as I sleepily brushed my teeth. I just about choked on my toothpaste, toothbrush and all, and proceeded to giddily wake the boys up. If I was a dog, and had a tail, it would have been wagging like crazy!

Unfortunately this blizzard resulted in little-to-no visibility and terrible driving conditions.  Deciding to play it safe we hit the road after a nice lunch and headed back to Fukui.

All in all it was a fantastic weekend and so much more than a mere dream come true.  I look forward to going back next year again too… only 244 days until it’s winter again.

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Last but not least, check out my new kick-ass-cool new boarding t-shirt that we all bought as keepsakes from the trip!

Categories: Travel | Tags: , , , | 3 Comments

Topsy-Turvy Toffee Apple Gingerbread Cake

Boy is that a tongue-twister of a name or what!  I chose it however, because this dessert is sure to twist that tongue of yours up in knots of delight.  Not to mention it’s so good it’ll turn your world upside down.

Imagine a rich toffee sauce seeping down over velvety-soft baked apple slices into the waiting dense, moist and intoxicatingly-spiced gingerbread cake below…. Drooling yet? If not, then you’re made of stronger stuff than me. I’m the one trying to entice you to try baking this and instead I am only melting over my own keyboard with desire to eat this cake again!

I am genuinely excited to make this cake again for Christmas dinner next year and knock the socks off my family. Gingerbread always makes me think of Christmas at my grandmother’s house.  Her gingerbread cookies were the king of the castle now and forever for me and those Starbucks ginger cookies, yeah they are good but, only dirty rascals in comparison. Thus my family adores gingerbread so I know this recipe will be very, veeery well received. For my family, next time I try this recipe I’m going to add more spice to give the gingerbread cake a little more *oomph* but that’s only because I like gingerbread incredibly gingery and spiced.

This recipe as it stands however, is a guaranteed crowd-pleaser.

What you’ll need for the TOPPING:

  • Wax paper cut into a circle
  • 4 tablespoons of butter
  • 1/2 cup dark brown sugar
  • pinch os salt
  • 2 apples – peeled and sliced into 1/8-to-1/4- inches wedges. (Thinner is better for overlapping layering)

What you’ll need for the CAKE:

  • 1/2 cup butter, softened to be room temperature.
  • 1/2 cup sugar (I personally used golden sugar)
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 cup butter milk (I used 1 cup milk + 1 tbsp lemon juice which I allowed to sit for 5 minutes)
  • 1/3 cup honey
  • 1/3 cup molasses
  • 2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

What you’ll need to do to make the TOPPING:

  1. Preheat oven to 170°C. 
  2. Cut a piece of wax paper in a circle the same size as your cake pan (I used a round glass one).  Place in the bottom.  This will ensure you don’t “loose” any apples when you flip the cake upside down onto a plate at the end.
  3. Melt butter in a small saucepan over a medium heat.  Dump in brown sugar begin mixing. Simmer for about 4 minutes and then add in salt.
  4. Remove from heat and pour into the bottom of your cake pan.
  5. Arrange apples decoratively overlapping one another in a circle on top of the toffee. Try not to leave any gaps.

What you’ll need to do to make the CAKE:

  1. In a large bowl blend together butter and sugar until light and fluffy.
  2. In a medium bowl whisk together wet ingredients: the egg, molasses, honey and butter milk.
  3. In a different bowl sift together the dry ingredients: flour, baking soda, salt, ginger and cinnamon.
  4. Slowly add a bit of the wet ingredients to the butter mixture, mix well and then add a bit of the dry mixture, mix well.  Repeat until all wet and dry mixtures have been added.
  5. Very gently pour the batter over the apples in the cake pan.
  6. Bake for about 45-50 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in can be removed cleanly.
  7. Remove from over and allow to cool for 15 minutes.
  8. After cooling, cut around the edges of the cake to allow the cake to transfer nicely onto a serving plate.
  9. Place your desired serving plate, face down on top of the cake pan. Flip the cake quickly and place the serving plate down on a hard surface.  If the cake doesn’t immediately plop out (mine did it was a piece of cake, haha I’m so punny) try gently tapping the bottom of the cake pan.
  10. Be sure to allow guests to ooh-ahh and compliment you on your superb looking dessert before cutting up and serving.

I recommend serving hot with a dollop whip cream or vanilla ice cream (whichever tickles your fancy) and a pipping hot cup of apple cider.

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Guilty as charged. I definitely didn’t put just a “dollop” of ice cream on mine. That probably should have been kept a secret!

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Don’t Worry You’re Not Going To Die!

There in one big difference I noticed immediately as soon as I arrived in Japan from Canada. It’s sort of hard not to;  they are everywhere! Especially when it makes you feel like sprinting away from half the people walking down the street for fear you’re going to drop dead. What am I referring to, you ask? The surgical masks that every person seems to be wearing, of course! It honestly at times can feel like walking through the aftermath of some terrible pandemic. DON’T WORRY YOU’RE NOT GOING TO DIE! These little white surgical masks put so many foreigners on edge that I thought I should explain why you can put your mind at ease.

One of the strangest and most bizarre aspects of Japanese culture comes in the form of these white surgical masks. It is something I really struggled to understand because back home people would never, ever, ever wear one unless they were a doctor or perhaps dying from some highly contagious illness.  Here in Japan, people wear surgical masks in public for 3 reasons: (a) they are sick, (b) they have allergies or (c) they don’t want to become sick.

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(a) If they are sick: they aren’t wearing them because they suffer from some life threatening, terrifying, dangerous disease, they are wearing this mask to be considerate of others and not spread their germs!  Being thoughtful for the well-being of other people, and not putting yourself first, is a belief that has very strong roots in Japanese society.  Japanese people (nihon-jin) should be given some form of award for being the most sincerely considerate body of people.  Trust me, these masks are no walk in the park to wear. They are thoroughly uncomfortable, sweaty, constantly fog up your glasses and a down-right pain to wear.  It is a ever-lasting testament to their self-sacrificing nature that Japanese people wear them. They have the patience of saints that I fear I never will. When I am sick I personally hate wearing one and confess to enjoy passionately ripping mine from my face the second I step through my front door!

(b) If they have allergies: My best Japanese friend suffers greatly from hay-fever so, guaranteed every time hay-fever season arrives she will wear a mask every day to minimize the effects.

Also, interesting to note (not to mention a funny story) many of my Japanese co-workers seem to share a common “allergy” (?) in the springtime months.  It comes in the form of an aversion to yellow dust…..yes, no need to blink, you read that correctly.  I was pretty damn confused last year, it all happened so fast you see! Monday = no masks. Fast forward 24-hours to Tuesday and everyone suddenly seems to be wearing them! When I asked if they were sick and, if so, were they feeling ok, they only answer that people gave was that it was because of yellow dust. Coming from Canada I had never heard of yellow dust.  I naively thought that everyone was referring to pollen and just couldn’t remember the correct English word.  That was until one day my good friend Tomomi shed some light on this subject.   Yellow dust is a phenomenon where the dust from the deserts of Mongolia, Northern China and Kazakhstan travels in clouds due to high-speed winds to Japan and other Asian countries.  This yellow dust has become a big problem in Japan because in recent years studies have shown that the dust contains industrial pollutants. YIKES! No wonder people wear those masks!

yellow dust

(c) If they don’t want to become sick: chances are this person is very serious about something in the near future, or maybe just even, very serious about their job. They know that there is a better chance of staying healthy if they wear this mask to protect against bad germs in their environment.  I work as a teacher and every term, without fail, as exam time draws near many of my most serious students don these masks.

students masks

I personally think it’s hilarious when I see the “fashion masks” so enjoy these last few pictures!

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Categories: Life in Japan | Leave a comment

Comforting Chai-spiced Rice Pudding

For those of you who don’t know me, know this: I adore to the bottom of my very being chai spiced things. There is something that I find impossible to resist about the alluring combination of cardamon, cinnamon, clove wafting in the air.  It should be no surprise knowing this fact, that I fell head-over-heels-in-love with this recipe before I even tasted it. After making it, it’s now dangerously delicious to me and I want to make it at every opportunity.  It’s a perfect dessert for a cold winter’s day!

What you will need:

  • 5 cups whole milk *
  • 1 cup arborio rice
  • 2/3 cup sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped crystallized ginger (about 1 1/2 ounces)*
  • 3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground allspice

*I’ve tried using partially skimmed milk with equal success if you fancy a “skinny-version” of this recipe.

*If like me you don’t keep crystallized ginger (living in Japan, yeeeeah, definitely not easy to lay your hands on…) I found that about 1/2-to-3/4 teaspoon of powdered ginger to taste works just fine too.

What you’ll need to do: 
  1. In a large saucepan stir together milk, rice, sugar and salt over a medium-high heat until the sugar dissolves and the mixture begins to boil.
  2. Reduce the heat to medium-low.  Now you should  gently simmer, leaving the saucepan uncovered, until pudding is thick and rice is tender. Do not leave this saucepan unwatched, it will need frequent stirring or the rice might burn to the bottom of the pot, and heavens knows we don’t want that! This process will take approximately 45 minutes. (I like to make this recipe while I’m already in the kitchen preparing another dish or cleaning.)
  3. Once the mixture is lovely and thick, mix in ginger and spices. Remove from heat.
  4. Spoon warm pudding into bowls; garnish with fresh apple slices, a cinnamon stick and a sprinkle of cinnamon (if desired) and serve.

Chai rice pudding

Categories: Dessert Recipes | Tags: , , | 1 Comment

My 2013 New Year’s Resolution

New Year’s resolutions are pretty big in my family. It’s something I love, that every year we decide that we want to do something different to be better people and live a happier life. How we do that is up to us, and the possibilities are endless!

Therefore, every year in the weeks leading up to December 31st I think my little butt off. Creating a New Year’s resolution in concept sounds deceptively easy; the reality of attempting to live up to it however, is a decidedly different story. It is HARD to keep it up and not give up by the end of January.  This year I decided to put my hard-earned business degree to work.  Out of all the knowledge I learned at the Sauder School of Business something incredibly useful for every day life is how to develop SMART goals.  This is a mnemonic, memory trick, for remembering that when making a change it should be:

SMART

The only other important criterion for my 2013 resolution was that it had to be something I was passionate about.  For weeks I thought about it, juggling dozens of ideas. The idea came to me, as all great ideas tend to do, when I wasn’t even thinking about it.  I was relaxing at home one evening and wanted to watch a movie to unwind after a busy week.  Flipping through my movies I eventually settled on “Julie & Julia” staring one of my all-time-favorite actresses, the incredibly talented Meryl Streep! If you haven’t seen it, I highly recommend it.  “Julie and Julia” is a cute movie about the early life of one of my cooking inspirations, the very famous and funny Julia Child and a New York woman, named Julie, who many years later, challenges herself to cook all 524 recipes in Julia Child’s cookbook in 365 days.

Julie and Julia

Half way through this movie, and half way through a bottle of red wine, an idea begins to form. It all starts when I think to myself, “Wow, talk about being adventurous in the kitchen! That looks like so much fun!” I thought to myself, what if I were to try to be more adventurous in my cooking as a resolution for 2013? I’m a good cook already, just ask any of my lovely friends whom I love to fatten up given any opportunity, so trying new recipes sounded exciting not daunting! Yet I knew instantly that as the busy little lady that I am, I would need to set a slightly less crazy, albeit wonderfully-insane, goal than Julie’s. After all, I had promised myself that my resolution this year must be S.M.A.R.T. so settling on realistic expectations was critical for success.  I continued to mull the idea over in my mind as the movie continued.  By the time the credits started scrolling and the last drop of wine was poured into my glass I knew I had discovered a gem of a New Year’s resolution.

My New Year’s resolution for 2013 is simply delightful: I will become more adventurous in the kitchen by cooking at least one new recipe a week. 

For those of you unfamiliar with the process of S.M.A.R.T. goals allow me to break mine down for you as an example.

  • S – This goal is specific because each week I must cook a minimum of one recipe.
  • M – This goal is measurable because every week I print off a copy of my recipe and place it in a binder I keep in my kitchen.  Each recipe has a date written on it stating the day that it was made. That way I can flip back a year from now and see a minimum of 52 lovely and exciting recipes that I tried.
  • A – This goal is attainable because it’s fun, something I love doing and it would be ridiculous (at least to me) to be unable to set aside time to make one meal a week to keep up this resolution.
  • R – This goal is realistic because I know I love cooking and I cook at least 80% of my meals per month therefore, factoring in one new recipe isn’t unrealistic.  This resolution is also very open, in a whatever-floats-your boat kind of way, which was important for someone as spontaneous as I am. It doesn’t stipulate which day, which meal, or what type of recipe it has to be. I would also like to point out that I purposefully only used one adjective: it had to be new.  Every week I can choose whether it will be maybe be a recipe that’s challenging, healthy, decadent, something-I-never-in-my-wildest-dreams-thought-I-could-make, vegetarian or __________ . For someone like me options are key!
  •  T – This goal is time-sensitive because it will clock-out the last week of December.

It’s now March and ta-da! My resolution is still strong in my mind and has not been swept under a mental rug. I just gave myself a little pat on the back for the record as I typed that, I may also have just happily wiggled in my seat.  I still have 9 months to go, I know, but the funny thing is that this doesn’t even feel like work! It’s so much fun that I know keeping it up won’t be difficult.  It’s become a highlight of my week and I’m so delighted with the results.  Who knows, maybe this isn’t just a New Year’s resolution, maybe it’s a life resolution.

Making bagels for the first time!A picture of me making bagels for the first time! 

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Marvelously-Easy Moroccan Spiced Carrot Soup

Say hello everyone to, what very well might be, your new favourite soup! Easy as ABC and what’s even better is that it’s super healthy! The perfect recipe for after the many and various winter holiday indulgences (yes I am indeed referring to that 3rd “a-little-bit-more-won’t-kill-me” helping of mom’s delicious pumpkin pie…)

What you’re going to need:

  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1 cup chopped white onion
  • 2 1/2 cups of cut-up carrots 
  • 2 1/2 cups chicken broth
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons cumin seeds
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 1/2 cup plain yogurt, stirred to loosen
What you need to do:
  • Peel and cut up carrots into small chucks. Set aside.
  • Begin by melting butter in a large saucepan over medium-high heat.
  • Add in chopped onion; sauté 2 minutes until they turn transparent (but not brown!)
  • Mix in carrots and pour in the broth. Bring to a boil.  Then cover with a lid and reduce heat. Let the soup simmer about 20 minutes, until the carrots are very tender.
  • In a small separate pan heat the cumin seeds over a medium heat until they are fragrant. It should be no more than about 4-5 minutes. After doing this finely grind in a spice mill, grind using a mortar & pestal, or even just chop em up a simple knife. Put aside a bit of the cumin for garnish.
  • Remove soup from heat. Puree in a blender with cumin until smooth. Return to same pan.
  • Whisk in honey, lemon juice, and allspice. Season with salt and pepper.
  • Ladle soup into bowls. Drizzle yogurt over; sprinkle generously with extra cumin.
  • Enjoy!

moroccan carrot soup

Categories: Savoury Recipes | Tags: , , | 2 Comments

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