Lifestyle

Painful Goodbyes & New Beginnings

Lao Tzu really hit the nail on the head when he said “New beginnings are often disguised as painful endings.” It’s hard to believe, in so many ways, that my time in Fukui is over. I’m sitting back in Canada as I write this blog post and I can’t help but feel that my last two weeks in Japan went by in a blur.

Saying goodbye to the life I made for myself in Japan was inevitable. It was something I had known for a long time, ever since I stepped off that plane 3 years ago at the Tokyo Orientation. It was never my intention to live in Japan forever. Originally I had only meant to stay for one year, yet it flew by in the blink of an eye! So I chose to renew for another year, confident it would be my last… and when that year finished I still had so many things left that I wanted to do…so I promised myself one more year and that would be it!

Well, even though I was mentally prepared to leave this year, and thought I knew what the drill would be, somehow my poor little heart missed the memo. My final month was simultaneously exciting and soul-crushing. I was excited to return home to Canada and see my friends and family. Yet, I was also heartbroken at the thought of saying goodbye to so many close friends, never knowing when (or if!) I would see them again.

There were so many goodbye parties for the leavers of Fukui my liver is still recovering! We were well and truly spoiled!

First was the Tannan Sayonara Party where a smaller community of Fukui rented out 2 log cabins in the wilderness for some quality barbecuing, drinking, board-game-playing, and general mayhem. I splurged a little and bought some champagne which I shared with my bestie Lizzy. The champagne later contributed to terrible blurry selfie demands. tannan sayonara partyScreen Shot 2014-08-02 at 4.18.34 PM

The following weekend was the Fukui-wide Sayonara Party, which is always one of the biggest parties of the entire year. It was really nice getting dressed to the nines for a change! I went out for dinner beforehand with Cian, Lizzy, Stuart and Jill at my favourite restaurant in Fukui, Pizzaria Felice for some to-die-for gorgonzola pizza. After that it was time to drink like fish and dance the night away at Bull’s Bar. I was sure to take time to snap a photo or two with best friends whenever I could snag them away from the bar!IMG_4767

Screen Shot 2014-08-02 at 4.43.18 PMScreen Shot 2014-08-02 at 4.48.10 PMYes, that is me buried at the bottom of the dog pile. What originally began as a selfie with my friends Shaun and Laura turned into chaos when everyone suddenly wanted into the picture. One by one they piled on top of me and sang, “Caaaaaan you feeeeeel the loooove tonight?“, “Yes,” I wheezed in response, definitely struggling to breathe, “You’ve taken my breath away. LITERALLY!

One of the highlights of this Sayonara Party weekend was that two of my closest Fukui ALT friends who had left one year before returned to Fukui to surprise us all! I was delighted to see Becca and Dan again after so long, and I did my best to see them as much as possible that weekend, whether it was to go karaoke-ing until 5 am in the morning or simply grab a few drinks at Flat Kitchen like old times.Screen Shot 2014-08-02 at 4.52.34 PM

My last week in Fukui involved quite a few hours of frantic packing. You never are as prepared as you think you are, are you? Check out my room before and after…my mother would have been appalled at how fast my clean sanctuary was destroyed. Screen Shot 2014-08-02 at 5.07.11 PM

With my both my birthday and my departure date fast approaching I invited people to join me for one last day on the beach. I always prefer doing parties outside, as it’s far less confining than an apartment or restaurant. Mingling 100% guaranteed. DSC04495 photo 3-5 photo 2-5

One of the highlights of my day at the beach was my surprise “birthday cake” which was actually a hotdog with a stick of kindling on fire. Everyone sang happy birthday while I laughed so hard I almost cried. Screen Shot 2014-08-02 at 6.22.08 PM

And as if I hadn’t already been spoiled enough for my birthday, my friend Tomomi invited me over for a “Not-sayonara-but-rather-see-you-later & Birthday Party” which was so much fun! The word ‘dinner’ doesn’t even come close to describing this meal, it was more of a feast!  IMG_4247 Screen Shot 2014-08-04 at 10.16.49 AM

Lizzy found the most amazing birthday present on Etsy, a tiny wooden image of Canada with a tiny heart carved in-between the two cities I call home in Canada (Calgary & Vancouver). Home is where the heart is, and she hopes that I’ll never forget my roots wherever my adventures take me in the future. It was one of the most wonderful and thoughtful gifts I’ve ever received.

My final night in Fukui was spent with Lizzy drinking wine in my apartment, talking about life, laughing so hard we cried, and reflecting on our three fabulous years together. It’s amazing how much we did! It was the best way to spend my last night in Fukui, with a best friend, mind full of memories, and a heart full of love and gratitude for how lucky I was in life.

train station train station 2

The next morning my closest friends Tomomi, Lizzy, Cian, Shaun, Ryan, Ken, Hailey & Dean came to the Fukui train station to say goodbye. I insisted that 8:30am was far too early and that it really wasn’t necessary, but they squashed my protests and promised they wanted to be there and would be there come hell or high water. I was so touched because I had never expected it, and the outpouring of love was almost more than my poor piece-of-jello heart could bear.

It was a very emotional goodbye, and hard as I tried not to cry, I ended up doing so. I caved after just one hug, so I was thankful Tomomi was thoughtful enough to have given me a packet of tissues in the car “just in case”. I hugged them all, tried to smile through my tears and waved goodbye when at long last I had no choice but to go through the gate to catch my train.  Knowing I would be feeling blue they took one big, smiley picture to cheer me up after I was gone and messaged it to me just as I sat down in my seat on the train.sayonara 10As I looked out the window of the train, watching sadly as the rice fields of Fukui flew by, I reflected on how truly lucky I was to have made such wonderful friends during my time in Japan.  As amazing as Japan was, it was the people I met and the memories I made with them that meant the most in the end. They were pivotal to my experience abroad, and it was because of their friendship that I enjoyed my life in Fukui as much as I did. As my train sped towards Tokyo I had nothing but a heart full of love for the fabulous people whom I feel truly blessed to have met and called my friends. In the ever-so-eloquent words of Phil Collins:

You’ll be in my heart, yes you’ll be in my heart. From this day on, now and forever more. You’ll be in my heart, no matter what they say. You’ll be here in my heart always.”

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

Gypsy Soul and a Pioneer Heart

Blessed are the curious for they shall have adventures]I have never wanted a life that is quiet and safe. I and my little pioneer heart seem quite fond of starting over in new places, time and time again (much to the dismay of my friends and family). And the thrill of adventures lying out there in the world, just waiting to be had, calls to my soul. I’m nowhere near ready to settle down because I’m too curious about the world and, as far as I’m concerned, the adventures of my life have only just started!

I think it’s important to remind myself, as the sorrowful reality that my time in Japan is coming to a close begins to truly seep in, that this isn’t the end of my adventures. Rather, it is the end of just one adventure, and that there are many more waiting for me in the future! As the ever-so-cliché saying goes: it’s not the end of the book, merely the end of a chaper.

My book has many chapters already written:

  • A wonderful childhood full of love, laughter, and happiness growing up in Calgary, Canada.
  • Discovering who I was and finding my independence away at univeristy in Vancouver, Canada.
  • Leaving behind everything I had ever know for a 6-month study abroad in New Zealand.
  • Incredible adventures in Japan while working abroad teaching Ennglish that pushed me out of my comfort zone and encouraged me to challenge my conceptions of the world.

The next chapter of my life hasn’t been written yet, but I’m trying to be positive and assure myself that it will be equally as exciting as this one!

I don’t regret any of my decisions and I’m proud to be the kind of woman who isn’t afraid to pursue her dreams. To be fearless pursuing one’s dreams is a pretty good goal in life, don’t you agree? Fate Loves The FearlessI taught my final class here in Japan on Friday. I nearly cried, if truth be told. A tiny piece of my self-indentity was lost and no one would know that, or mourn for it, other than me. I am a teacher no more! This week I merely have tests and grading to do. The week after that I pack up and move out!

It’s all happening so fast, and my list of things to do keeps my  head permanently spinning, so time has lost all sense and meaning. Chances are I’m going to arrive home in Canada and feel more than a little lost and wonder where my final 15 days in Japan dissappeared to. At times it’s easy to feel that everything special is ending. So, it’s handy keeping a blog at times like these; it really helps ground me emotionally and allows me to put everything back into perspective.for today I'll just breathe

I realize I’m so lucky to be surrounded by people who love me and will be sad to see me leave. It is living proof that my efforts here in Japan had impact on the world I lived in. So, even though it’s sad to hear so many people say “I’ll miss you!” and my throat tightens painfully every time I say goodbye, I try to keep in mind that it would be worse to not hear that outpouring of kind words.  Luckily for me, there is always Skype and I’ll be able to keep in touch with everyone as we head back to our respective places around the world!

For today my goal is just to breathe, remind myself that everything is going to be ok, and try to be optimistic about the future. Can you hear the siren call of London? I can…

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Baking Marathon With Tomomi

Sometimes I wonder what is wrong with my generation. We are terrifyingly obsessed with our technology (yes I am one of those people who checks my Facebook multiple times a day, I confess! Guilty as charged!), and yet it’s like the wild wild west with zero etiquette or common curtesy!

If there is one major pet-peeve I have, it’s when a friend expresses interest in doing something, so we agree on a day, I schedule it into my calendar, and then when I text them just a few days later to confirm the specifics (like oooh time, or location)…..radio silence.  If I text someone in the morning the day we are supposed to meet, and just never hear back from them period, whether it’s to confirm, to cancel, or the next day to apologize, I feel a bit like Godzilla ready to rampage Fukui and stomp on things.

The only thing worse…when I text an entire group of people, and not a single one has the common decency to reply. RAWWWWWR!

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Maybe Calvin was onto something here…excellent anger therapy!

Luckily for me I have my friend Tomomi.  Tomomi understands how frustrating dealing with other ALTs can be and has always known how to cheer me up when I’m having trouble coping with their flakiness. One of Tomomi’s finest qualities, and one of the reasons we are both such good friends, is that we understand the importance of commitments. I can always rely on her, and that’s something invaluable in a friend in my opinion. I don’t know what I’d do without her!

So Sunday we decided to have a baking marathon and challenge ourselves by making some difficult recipes! We’re both very skilled cooks and bakers, so every now and then it’s fun to push ourselves out of our comfort zones, and it’s less stressful trying complicated recipes when you have a partner with baking skills you can trust.

Our last month together is precious, and I want to see her as much as possible before I leave.  We made not only delicious desserts yesterday but special memories that I’ll have forever. Talk about a great way to spend a day!

Screen Shot 2014-06-24 at 9.33.14 AMOur first challenge was a pie. I was determined to learn how to replicate Tomomi’s incredibly fluffy and flaky pie crust.  One of the best things about this recipe, is that just like my Grandmother’s recipe, it contains no shortening; just good ol’ natural butter.

Tomomi’s pie crust is pretty darn simple as far as ingredients go, just flour, butter, and ice water. The real trick though is in the technique of mixing them together. The secret to making flaky pastry is cold butter and never-ever over-kneading the dough. Always work with the pastry when it’s cool and firm to the touch. That means often having to pop it back into the fridge for a bit, which is a pain, but so very much worth the extra time.

Next we made the filling, which was 2 bags of frozen mixed berries (because fresh berries in Japan cost a small fortune), a pinch of brown sugar, a spoonful of honey, and sprinkling of corn starch. Easy-peasy! Because the berries would release a lot of juice we opted for a lattice-style pie top and got to town making it look gorgeous! What do you think? Pretty snazzy looking eh?IMG_3949 IMG_3958

We were both very pleased with the end result! I hate to torment you any more, but let me just say that is was so good my tastebuds felt like fireworks!

Our next dessert challenge was inspired by my recent wanderlust obsession with the Amalfi Coast. I went to Cinque Terre and Sorrento 4 years ago and adored it. I want very desperately to go back to that magical place, full of colourful houses, kind people and the smell of lemons and the sea lingering in the air….
amalfi coast2Tomomi has been attempting to master the art of chiffon cake making lately, so we decided to try making a lemon chiffon cake. One of the best things to eat in the Amalfi Coast area is lemon desserts, they’ll blow you away!  There’s nothing quite as summery as a little fluffy lemon cake in my opinion, unless it’s pie and we had already made that!

Getting a chiffon cake out of the pan not looking butchered is tough. It takes surgeon hands and nerves of steal, it’s the equivalent of a baking surgery. I chickened out, and let Tomomi do this part because I couldn’t bear the idea of ruining the beauty of our masterpiece.

Tell me that isn’t the fluffiest-looking chiffon cake you ever saw!? Tomomi did a wonderful job, and I thought it looked beautiful! 
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We then drizzled lemon chocolate all over the top and spooned a dollop of homemade lemon jam on each slice. It was like eating a zingy lemon-flavoured cloud. Mmmmmm….

Like the pie crust, Tomomi’s recipe for chiffon cake is very natural. Just eggs (lots and lots of eggs!), flour, sugar, a drizzle of sesame oil, plus lemon juice and zest to add flavour. The secret to success is folding the merengue in oh-so tenderly and softly. You want to mix that merengue in, but you still want fluffy streaks of it throughout the batter. If not, the cake won’t be like eating a cloud.

We drank tea and chatted until it was time her her family’s dinner, at which point I headed home with my heart lighter, mind trouble-free, stomach happily stuffed, and very much ready to unwind, relax, and watch a funny movie (Bridesmaids).

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For Fukui’s Sake! – Matt’s Trip To Japan

Most Japan travel guide books say there’s little to do in Fukui, the place in Japan that I call home. I disagree and was determined to prove the boys and that Lonely Plant book wrong! I lured my brother and his friend Tim here, to this rural little middle-of-no-where-town, a place definitely off the well-beaten tourist track so they could have a few unique experiences!

Tim could only stay for a day before heading back to Tokyo for his flight, so Matt and I were determined to do all the best and coolest things we could while he was here. To kick things off, after I finished work at noon and picked the boys up from the train station, we met my friend Tomomi. She had kindly arranged for a very fun hands-on activity for the boys: soba making with a national soba master!IMG_0159 IMG_0154

Soba noodles (そば) are a type of Japanese noodle made from buckwheat. It’s served in a variety of ways, my personal favourite being “The Fukui Way” with sauce poured all over and grated daikon radish piled on high.  Fukui’s very famous for its soba noodles and you can immediately distinguish Fukui’s soba noodles apart from other areas’ soba because of it’s purple hue. You’re going to have to trust me they taste a lot better than they look!IMG_0152

The man who taught us is a personal friend of Tomomi’s and it was such an honour to be invited into his own house’s workshop for a private lesson! Making soba is tricky but with patience and lots of hard work the boys were able to transform their soba flour into noodles.IMG_0118 IMG_0119 IMG_0127 IMG_0128 IMG_0125

The coolest part of making soba is getting to use giiiiinormous knives to cut the dough into noodles.  IMG_0140 IMG_0134 IMG_0142 IMG_0143 IMG_0147

Hands down the best part of making soba is the noodle feast afterwards! Matt, Tim and I joked about the adorable duck Mr. Ping from Kung Fu Panda; we all will be having the “noodle dream” for a while, he would be so proud. Tomomi laughed because Matt and Tim couldn’t stop plotting how to open a soba restaurant in Calgary, they were convinced it would be a hit.IMG_0153 IMG_0151 IMG_0149IMG_0156After our soba-making lesson, we nipped over to Tomomi’s house for tea and scones. The boys really enjoyed meeting my infamous friend. Matt’s being hearing me talk about this “Tomomi character” (as he called her) for 3 years and was dying to meet her. I honestly can’t even begin to describe how amazing of a person she is. The only way Matt could know why I love her so much was to meet her in person. Tomomi stuffed us like turkeys on Thanksgiving with her home-made scones and delicious jam.

After tea time with Tomomi it was time for a much needed nap for our 2 heroes (3 if you include me!); they needed to rest up for the main event: Karaoke Fukui-style.

I invited several close friends out for dinner at an izakaya-style restaurant (a place you share lots of little dishes with people). The real reason we went to that restaurant was it has a 680 yen nomihoudai drinking option. The boys were in absolute shock that there was a place in Japan they could drink as much beer/wine/sake/whatever as they wanted for a whole hour and only pay about $7. Matt kept checking and re-checking this fact with me. I don’t blame him, it sounds too good to be true after every bar in Osaka was charging 600 yen for a single beer! Fukui’s the place to live boys, the sushi’s fresh and life’s cheaper out here!Fukui izakayaphoto-2

After dinner we meandered over to my favourite karaoke place: Rent-A-Car Karaoke. A car rental and karaoke centre run together…it sounds strange I know but it’s cheap (we each spent only 700yen for 3 hours of singing!), easy to get reservations for, and right across the street from a kick-ass nomihoudai restaurant. Win-win-win!

We all sang the night away, until about 1:30 in the morning! In my opinion the best songs are always the Disney songs, everybody knows and loves them, so I put plenty in throughout the night. The boys thought it was cheesy at first, but when “Let It Go” from Frozen came on, I noticed that Matt and Tim couldn’t resist howling away like the rest of us ALTs.

Finally it was time for us to head home to my apartment so we stumbled drunkly into a taxi. Both I and the taxi driver chuckled as the boys continued to sing long after the party was over and the Rent-A-Car lights faded from the rear-view mirror into the distance.

The last thing I said before we all passed out was, “And that boys is why Fukui is awesome!”

Categories: Life in Japan, Lifestyle | Tags: , , , , , | 2 Comments

Apple Aroma Ambrosia

This weekend I was exceptionally lazy. Which is pretty much unheard of because I typically make busy little bees look like couch potatoes. I don’t know why but I’m always dashing hither and thither, and seem to thrive despite my insanely long to-do list. I don’t particularly enjoy it either, I just seem prone to being an overachiever and overly efficient I suppose.

While I am certainly never going to be satisfied with a sloth-like lifestyle, I did decide to schedule a little rest and relaxation this weekend. I was still productive  (I couldn’t resist scrubbing all my floors and the majority of my apartment to boot, just because it was looking a little lackluster) but I also spent an equally lovely amount of time in bed reading.

Reading books again is like discovering long lost treasure. I was a voracious reader as a child, and as I grew up and changed from an adolescent to an adult, my social calendar in all its busy glory surreptitiously sucked away my time to indulge in my favorite pleasure. The worst part was that it happened so gradually I never noticed until I went to Hawaii this Christmas! Since then I’ve been fairly diligent planning reading time before bed.

Saturday AND Sunday morning I rolled over, opened my curtains wide to let the sunshine pour in and grabbed my Kindle which was waiting on my bedside table. I simply adored the luxury of lounging in bed with nothing else to do than read my book (and eventually migrate to my kitchen for my necessary coffee and then back to my bed & book).

Whenever I’m truly happy nothing can keep me away from my kitchen. There is nothing like cooking with sunshine  pouring into my kitchen and singing along to country music…my poor poor neighbors, they must absolutely hate me when I’m happy.

This weekend’s creations were all apple themed because I had quite a few waiting to be used in my fruit bowl. I resolved to cook with apples more because it makes your house smell like heaven! apple chipsInspired by something I saw on pinterest, I decided to try making apple chips. My first try was a spectacular disaster. Please, pleeeeease do yourself and your house a favour and never ever attempt to make apple chips in a toaster oven. I burned mine to a crisp….(literally, charcoal black) and set off the smoke detector, much to my embarrassment. I had to open all the windows in my kitchen to air it out and flee to the sanctuary of my bedroom in shame for quite a while before attempting batch number 2, using my oven this time, which thankfully turned out ok. As my friend Lizzy said, sometimes even the best cooks have to mess up every once in a while.

The secret to making apple chips is to slice your apples very very thinly, cover in cinnamon sugar, bake in an OVEN for 1 hour at 100ºC. Turn them all over and cook another 1 hour (or more) until nice and crispy.

My second recipe was equally delicious, and luckily I nailed it on the first try. I’d really recommend it if you are looking for some yummy comfort food this cold winter!

BAKED APPLE & MUSTARD CHICKEN:

What you’ll need:

  • 2 large chicken breasts
  • 1 apple
  • salt & pepper
  • 1/4 cup flour
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 cup apple juice
  • 1 tbsp cider vinegar
  • 2 tbsp grainy Dijon mustard
  • 3 tsp chopped fresh rosemary

What you’ll need to do:

  1. Sprinkle chicken breasts with salt and pepper to taste. Then coat in flour, shaking off any excess.
  2. Heat olive oil in frying pan. Once oil is hot, place chicken breasts in pan and cook until golden on both sides. Remove from pan and place in casserole dish.
  3. Peel apple and cut into thin slices.
  4. Add apples to frying pan. Cook on medium heat for 3 minutes.
  5. Add apple juice, cider vinegar, dijon mustard and rosemary to the pan. Cook together with apples and bring to a simmer.
  6. Pour this sauce over the chicken.
  7. Turn on oven to 190ºC (375ºF) and cook for about 30 minutes, basting your chicken occasionally.
  8. Place chicken on plate, spoon sauce over top and garnish with fresh rosemary. Tada!

chickenNow doesn’t that look yummy! I certainly think so! Very easy-peasy to cook too! I would also throw out the recommendation to serve this with a cider instead of white wine. I personally opted for Strongbow and thought the two went great together. Then for dessert I whipped up my favourite chai-spiced rice pudding. A savory way to end a beautifully-lazy weekend!

Categories: Lifestyle, Savoury Recipes | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

I’m One Lucky Duck: 2013 in Reflection

2013 was unbelievable! Possibly even one of my best years yet, so let me just begin this post by saying I am one very, very lucky duck!

I’m stealing this idea from a good friend of mine’s blog. It may be almost February, but it just seemed like such a fabulous chance to look back at the past year and feel grateful for all the wonderful things that did happen I couldn’t resist! It was guaranteed to put a spring in my step as I prepare to put my best foot forward in 2014!

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2013 began with an amazing two-week vacation to Cambodia and Singapore. Which, for a girl who loved pretending to be Indiana Jones when she was little, was a dream come true. Also, speaking of dreams, my stomach is still dreaming of the amazing cuisine of Singapore (a.k.a. The Land of Foodies). Dearest Singapore, I’ll be back one day, to eat more of your delicious food, that is a promise! cambodia singaporeAt the end of January, right in time for Valentine’s Day, my friend Tomomi and I traveled to Kyoto to attend Salon du chocolat which is an international chocolate festival. I basically died and went to heaven because I ate some of the most delicious chocolate my stomach will ever taste, I was surrounded by the most beautiful chocolate my eyes had ever beheld and I even had the honor of meeting both Jean-Charles Rochoux and Pascal Le Gac (2 very famous luxury chocolate makers!)salon du chocolateIn February I released my inner snow queen and went on 2 fun winter adventures: a 3-day snowboarding trip to Hakuba, Nagano and a weekend getaway to the quaint & picturesque town of Shirakawago.nagano shirakawago 1 shirakawago 2

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As the snow melted, the best adventure was waiting right around the corner. My parents came to Japan, and I couldn’t have loved our time together more! We 3 musketeers spent two weeks traveling around Japan creating beautiful memories to last us a lifetime. I will forever remember our good fortune that the cherry blossoms decided to say “konnichiwa!” to my parents too by blooming an uncharacteristic, never before heard of, 2 full weeks early!!! So my parents actually got to experience the most beautiful side of Japanese spring season! It was a once in a lifetime trip!

momanddad2 momdad6 momdad7You would think life would calm down after such a whirlwind vacation, but it just never seemed to. Adventures waited every time I tried to stop and catch my breath! Life just got better and better!

A beautiful hike up Mt. Aoba with good friends…aobayama1 …I walked across burning hot coals with my bare feet in a firewalking ritual at a Fukui temple…walking on fire…and participated in a day long prefectural-wide scavenger hunt with a KarRally team dressed up as Madonna throughout the ages! (That’s me second in on the left if you can believe it!)Kar RallySoon after this, came the unfortunate and busy time when good-byes had to be said to old friends as they left Fukui to pursue their dreams, and say hello in greeting to the new ALTs who came into my town to take their place. There’s never a dull moment in my life and this was my last summer in Japan so I lived every day with a carpe diem mindset.

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Two weeks road-tripping throughout Hokkaido lived up to my 2013 New Years Resolution to be more adventurous. I had never undertaken such a large holiday initiative before and I had my hands full juggling all the necessary research, planning and budgeting all by myself. It was also a personal test of sorts, designed to push me out of my traveling comfort zone because I had never done such a long trip, alone, in a foreign country before.  I learned a lot about myself during those long scenic drives and saw many breathtaking views that made me wonder if I had somehow wandered out of Japan and into a fairytale!

Such as at the Furano Lavender Farm, with purple blossoms stretching as far as the eye could see…hokkaido1…The mysterious turquoise waters of Lake Biei…hokkaido2….the wild splendors of Shiretoko which stole my heart. Seriously everyone, you’re lucky I decided to return to civilization after this place. I was sorely tempted to become a modern day Japanese Tarzan living in the wild…hokkaido3 hokkaido5 hokkaido6Reflecting on my photos of Mt. Rausu which I summited in the heat of summer – with a messed-up knee no less! – I couldn’t help but smile and think to myself “Damn, I am pretty badass!” I’m very proud of that hike in reflection! hokkaido 7And finally I went up to the beautiful Rebun Island which no one I know has ever done before, for 4 memorable days of hiking in wild flower paradise!
hokkaido 6

I returned home to Fukui exhausted but happy as a clam. In need of rest and relaxation I traveled with my friends to the Earth Celebration at Sado Island. There is nothing quite like good friends, good food and summer music festivals in my opinion. Our inner hippies rejoiced as we let our inhibitions go, camped on a beach, went swimming in the ocean every morning to wake-up, and lay out every night gazing wistfully up at the constellations that were clear as diamonds. The pounding taiko drums at the Kodo music festival made my blood pound along in harmony and my soul soar as traditional Japanese music echoed across the field under a starry summer sky. I felt in that moment ready to take on the world. Sado Island is my personal paradise and I simply know I’ll remember that trip until I’m old, with grey hair and many more years under my belt. sado island

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My favorite season Autumn was lovely and relaxing with plenty of hikes, include a hike up the famous Mt. Hakusan which is one of Japan’s 3 most holy mountains. Watching sunrise dawn at the summit of this mountain with a best friend on each arm, I knew that right then and there was exactly where I was supposed to be. Choosing to stay a 3rd and final year in Japan had been the right choice!hakusanIn November, I was spoiled absolutely rotten when my friends Robin, Denea and Kim came all the way from Canada to visit me! (*Insert here the appropriate and necessary squeal of joy!*) Robin has insisted that 3 years is much too long for me to be gone, and insists I return home as promptly as possible. In the meantime, much to my delight, she couldn’t resist visiting! We had so much fun and I haven’t laughed so hard in years! Especially the maiko dress-up experience, none of us are going to forget that any time soon!i08cUQWmDSC_0001

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As Christmas drew near I was blessed with the ability to pop down to Kobe to see the Kobe Luminarie, an extraordinary Christmas light display which filled me with Christmas cheer…IMG_2323…before jetting off to be reunited with my amazing family and spend our first Christmas together in 2 years! I was glowing with happiness, and radiated perpetual joy every single day I was able to bask in their love and the tropical Hawaiian sun!1522230_10100844383650401_413116668_n 1486826_10100846565128701_1229695093_n 1504063_10100846565153651_800997576_n

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Finally, let me end this post by saying that I am grateful for the opportunity in 2013 to have been living my dream. I am still stunned sometimes when I remember the fact that I am living in Japan. I live in JAPAN and that is awesome!

Living here is so much more than simply amazing, it’s one of my biggest dreams come true. Thank you to all the amazing people in my life, you mean the world to me, which is funny because quite incidentally you do happen to live all around the world!

japan living in japanAs 2014 starts my heart is full to the brim with love and I’m eagerly awaiting whatever wonderful adventures this year has hidden in store!

XOXO, Jessie

Categories: Life in Japan, Lifestyle, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

My 2014 New Years Resolution

Quite ironically, the day I was the angriest was the first step to finding future happiness. I will not deny it, it wasn’t pretty and it wasn’t pleasant. I very well may be the world’s ugliest crying person and I only give in to crying when I’m both so mad and upset that I can’t deal with the conflicting emotions and short circuit. It was needed however, and long, long overdue. Just as it takes flames and destruction for the phoenix to rise reborn, sometimes in order to become stronger and ultimately a better person we need to suffer long enough to realize that we have only two options: give in or overcome it. Someone once said “I hope you live a life you’re proud of.  If you find that you are not, I hope you have the strength and courage to start over again.” 

Every year, after much introspection, I find something about myself that I would like to be better at, and make it the point of my new year to change it. I ensure that is never an easy task, but that it is one that’s attainable with due diligence. You can read My 2013 New Years Resolution here. This year’s resolution is much bigger, and far more daunting and I arrived at it after much soul-searching.

I have always had a problem, I just didn’t know it. The fact of the matter is, when put very simply, I am a giving person. According to my mother I always have been. When my younger brother and I were children she always used to watch in entertainment when we went for ice cream. I would take a lick or two of my chosen flavor and my natural inclination was then to offer my brother a chance to try it too. He would accept and then instead of offering up his own ice cream for a taste, would hoard his treasured cone and not want to share, at which point my mom then patiently explained that sharing was important. This went on for several years and somehow, I always still decided to share mine even knowing he wouldn’t willingly share his. We laugh at this now. All my life I naturally gave and never once had to be reminded to share, it was that deeply rooted in my nature. It was the adorably cute beginning of a vicious cycle.

It was interesting for me to discover that something I’d always prided myself on, and had always seen as a virtue, had become a double-edged sword. For years I have repeatedly suffered a vicious cycle, just changing the partner(s). I give until I feel like an empty husk, to people who are perfectly happy to take, then ask for more, even when I have no more to give. There is a line from the book Eat, Pray, Love that I still remember vividly, because it echoed a similar cord in my heart so deeply. The author wrote,

“I am a permeable membrane. If I love you, you can have everything. You can have my time, my devotion, my money, my family, my dog, my dog’s money, my dog’s time –everything.”

This hit home, in a very uncomfortable way. It was true of my own life, too true. I have the very unfortunate habit of giving my emotional-everything, not only to people I love but everyone I care about. I am unable to give 90%, my best effort is always what I give. Unable to hold back, I pour myself into my relationships, more often than not, receiving minimal effort back. I was eternally the planning go-to, the reservation maker, the group coordinator, the texting initiator and it was exhausting. I am slowly coming to realize that my expectations of friendship were vastly different from the majority of my friends, and – dare I venture to say it? – most of my generation.

We live in a harsh world of realities, where not everything is as we hope it will be. That is a difficult fact to swallow, especially for the dreamers out there like myself. Sometimes we will expect more from others because we would be willing to do that much for them. My big “Aha!-moment” of the year was this epiphany: Giving is all well and good. Where the problem arises, and what is inevitably going to leave you feeling drained emotionally, is giving with the expectation of getting as much in return as you give. It is ok to be the good and generous person who you are, you are a better person for it. But…BUT! For both the love of heaven and your sanity learn to keep it in check and within reason!

Two years ago I had a rude awakening on, no worse a day, than my birthday. More than half of my dinner party attendees cancelled due to various reasons, never once taking the time to stop and think how that would make me feel, because I was Jessie, the perpetually happy person whom nothing could upset and always said everything was ok. They had been aware of the date for almost two months so there really was no excuse. Out of my fifteen “closest” friends only four actually came, one of whom was late because he had forgotten about it until people texted him wondering where he was. I was miserable and it made me really question whether we were close friends as I had thought. Friendship is a two-way street and I was suddenly tired of being the only one who appeared to be giving and putting in the friendship effort. I had made more than half of the people I invited cakes for their own birthday and helped the other half to plan beautiful big parties, and yet so few of them had even bothered to attend my own birthday. Something wasn’t right.

My friends back home in Canada talked me through this emotional turmoil and they all suggested the same idea: that I stop trying. Let everyone go and if they came back, then it was meant to be. The friends who truly cared about me would message me and be willing to put the time and effort in if they wanted to see me.

Knowing a smart idea and actually putting that idea into action is much harder than it sounds. The thought of being lonely was terrifying. Eventually I realized that being lonely was better than constantly feeling emotionally drained, so I plucked up my courage and stopped being the hang-out initiator. Sure enough I very quickly stopped hearing from a lot of people. I used to sometimes get 20 or more messages an afternoon. In less than one week there were days my phone didn’t so much as *ping* once. Months went by and I didn’t hear from certain people at all.  It was hard when people who I cared so deeply about just didn’t give a damn if they saw me or not. However, it did make those who were willing to put in the effort and step up, all that more obvious, and I realized there were some friend-gems who had been overlooked in a large group but sparkled when not surrounded by other people.  I tried to make them my priority but over the past year and a half there has been this void that I never seem to fill completely.

It had been over a year yet 2014 dawned and I was still obsessing over this, I guess I hadn’t ever really let them go in my heart, so they were still taking up my time emotionally without doing anything, anything at all!  All because I was holding onto the insane, foolish hope that they would change! It didn’t help that I live in a community where there are very few foreigners and we all know just about everything about each other’s lives through the grapevine. So, it’s difficult to forget and move on in your life when the people you hope to move on from, live just around the corner in a tiny little rural town in Japan.

This weekend, things changed because I finally had worked up enough pent up emotion to passionatly say, “HASTA LA VITA!”…and finally mean it. It came to me as I was watching the movie Her (which I highly recommend!) and two of the characters are talking. Amy is tired of feeling guilty for the ending of a relationship and says, “You know what, I can over-think everything and find a million ways to doubt myself… I’ve just come to realize that, we’re only here briefly. And while I’m here, I want to allow myself joy. So fuck it.” She said it with such finality and conviction that I admired her. Her ability and determination to stop second-guessing herself were, in my eyes, positively heroic, as anyone as guilt-ridden as I often am when things fail would understand. I stopped the movie, took a sip of wine, re-watched the scene, paused it, took another gulp of wine and began to cry…and then sob…and then bawl my heart out. Why?

  • I was sick of caring for people who simply didn’t give a damn about me!
  • I was tired of feeling guilty for something that wasn’t my fault!
  • I was frustrated with myself for having let the situation go on for so long, for pretending they would change!
  • I was exhausted from multiple failed attempts to bravely reach out to new people trying to make new friends only to have dinner invitations cancelled time and time again with no rain-check, because something no one seems to tell you is that making new friends in your 20’s after university is bloody near impossible!
  • I was feeling impossibly lonely, and just wanted to be back home in Canada where friends who did know, love, and put the effort in, were waiting patiently for my return.

Like I said at the beginning, I only cry when I’m an emotional powder keg igniting into a messy, disastrous explosion. Something had to change, I could not possibly remain this unhappy for another 6 months. Slowly the ugly truth came out, it wasn’t “something” that had to change, I had to change. My friends weren’t going to change, nothing I ever did or said was going to change them either, so my only option left was to change myself and how I acted. I had to come to terms with the situation, let them go, realize where I had gone wrong (so often in past friendships too) and think deeply about how I was going to prevent this from happening again. The vicious cycle was after a long emotional evening brought hopefully towards a close. My new mantra is: Sanity begins the second you accept that you have no control over other peoples’ actions, only your own.

This year my new years resolution is a very strange one: I want to become better about controlling my compulsion to endlessly give, especially to people who don’t reciprocate.  I want to focus on using my time, attention and effort to deepen relationships with people who make me feel wonderful about myself rather than emotionally emptied. From now on, if I am going to give people power over my life and pieces of my heart they will be the friends and loved ones who deserve it.

Today marks a new beginning, one that was disguised and a painful ending .  Today, I say goodbye to a vicious cycle. Today, I let go of the bitterness and accept that it’s ok to occasionally miss but not grieve over the loss of friends I no longer want in my life. Today, I choose to put my faith in the knowledge that I can change; I only need the courage and strength to do so.

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Categories: Lifestyle | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

If A Marshmallow Could Go Back In Time…

Earlier this month I was surfing the internet and stumbled across a highly unusual trailer that I found intriguing, a trailer for Veronica Mars: The Movie. If there were only two things I took away from this trailer it was firstly, that the fans were hardcore and secondly, that somehow, someway they were so desperate after their favourite t.v. show was canceled they had banded together to fund with their own pocket money a Veronica Mars movie!!! At first I thought it was insane, and then after some thinking-time I grew curious. What was it about this show that had captured the hearts of its fans so completely, even years after it had been cancelled?

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The fans raised $5,702,153 (according to my research on September 24, 2013)…consider my mind blown!

I had definitely heard of Veronica Mars, but only in passing. So, I did a little digging and the more reviews I read the more interested I became. A modern day Nancy Drew? A sassy, smart, strong female protagonist? A Feminist Frequency web video entitled Why We Need You Veronica Mars stated “It’s a pretty rare representation to have young women shown as super knowledgeable about all different technologies, so you see her often using computers and having a really good understanding of how they work.” Consider my interest piqued… Veronica Mars where have you been all my life!

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It was at this point I was determined to give it a try. Why? I definitely think more modern day t.v. shows need to portray better female role models.  If you don’t agree I really recommend you watch the documentary Miss Representation. So, one night when I had nothing to do, which is far too often since the day I broke my beloved Kindle, I watched a few episodes. That’s all it took, they had me hook line and sinker baby. I don’t mind admitting that I’m a complete sucker for a well-written murder mystery.

Fast forward to 3 weeks later, and all 3 seasons finished (you aren’t going to hear any plot spoilers from this fan!). I am officially a marshmallow, get the cute joke, it’s what the fans of Veronica Mars are called! Sooooo, what prompted this blog post you ask? Jessie normally only uses this website to post about her adventures in the kitchen and in Japan, right? So what’s made her veer more than just a little off her regular course? I’ll tell you what…

WHERE THE BLOODY H-E-DOUBLE-HOCKEY-STICKS IS THE 4TH SEASON!!!! I’m sorry?!? What do you mean there isn’t one. NO! Seriously, this has to be a joke. You simply do not cancel something like this! Not with that many unanswered questions lingering to torment your fans for years! OH! And to make matters worse, if that’s possible. Let me get this straight, you cancelled one of the only few t.v. programs that portrays a strong, intelligent female character to air “The Pussycat Dolls Present: The Search for the Next Doll”.

Screen shot 2013-09-24 at 9.37.19 PMA moment of stunned silent horror please on behalf of all feminists in the world. I actually upon reading that on Wikipedia (not the most reliable of source I know, but the first place I read this) I put my palm to my forehead and shook it in frustrated disbelief. Please, pleeeeease tell me that’s just a horrible trick of fate as I feel the need to repeatedly bang my head against a wall, or my desk seeing as that’s much closer…and more painful. You canceled a show with a main character who is talented, driven and brilliant enough to work for the FBI (talk about an excellent role model for young woman) to instead make time on t.v. for women whose greatest ambition in life appears to be prancing around scantily clad in miniskirts, tube tops and stilettos while worrying about the state of their hair, makeup and provocative talent abilities. If this little marshmallow could go back in time and smack whoever made that idiotic decision upside the head…well…I just might.

As I sit here typing this post while the passion is still red hot and burning through my veins my anger has begun to subside and morph into something that more resembles sulking, or at the very least mourning for the loss of a seriously wonderful strong female protagonist. The t.v. programs of North America need a few more characters like Veronica Mars The Marshmallow.  I, along with all other passionate Veronica Mars fans, will have to content ourselves with eagerly anticipating the new movie. All I can think is thank heavens I haven’t had to wait nearly as long as they have.

Categories: Lifestyle | Leave a comment

Munch-worthy Maple Scones: For the true Canadian at heart!

I am a tea-junkie….that’s just something that I’ve come to accept about myself.

  • Do most of my friends think I’m a little nuts when they see my tea shopping splurges? Yep
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Shopping spree at the Lupicia Tea festival in Kanazawa 2012

  • Do they think it’s laughable that I get cranky when I don’t get my daily tea time? Definitely.
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Tea in The Tiffin Room of the Raffles Hotel in Singapore

  • Question my sanity for spending crazy sums of money to enjoy high tea at famous places? Absolutely!
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My mom and I enjoying high tea at The Ritz Hotel in London. I treated her for mother’s day, we know which side of the family my love of tea comes from!

  • Do people think my tea collection is insane? Yep to that question too.

    The saddest thing is that's only half of it, the other half is at school!

    The saddest thing is that’s only half of it, the other half is at school!

I’m cool with it though, when people tease me now it’s like water rolling off my back. After all, in my opinion there are definitely other things much, much worse that I could suffer an addiction for.  Tea is pretty harmless in the great scheme of things, not to mention really delicious!

I’ve always loved the quote “Tea is like a hug, but on the inside.” Drinking tea always soothes away my stress; it’s my way of putting aside a little “me-time” in my busy days and always feels like the equivalent of pampering my soul.

As many parents, especially my own, have discovered it’s easy to get children to do what you want when you dangle a tempting enough carrot. I always had my nose in a book when I was little and for my parents getting me to put my beloved books away and interact with real people was a bit of a challenge. When I was very young the reason I, not so secretly, always joined my nana for tea was for the sweets, the tea was more of an afterthought.  No one ever forced me to have tea in the garden every day….the carrot was dangled and I came quite willingly. For me I viewed it as a win-win situation; I got to hang out with my loving Nana AND I got to eat cookies! The same could not be said for my little brother who often plotted various ways to get in, get his allotment of cookies and hightail it out of there. His excuses, let me tell you, were hilarious and my nana saw through them in a heartbeat. Nevertheless though, she’d allow him to flee the table, content in the knowledge she had at least one very willing tea partner.  Maybe it’s the nostalgia of those memories and love for my Nana (who passed away very sadly when I was far too young) that brought on this tea obsession? I often reflect on those perfect tea parties with her in the garden when I drink a proper British tea.

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But ooooh how the times have changed.  These days, I have tea time for the simple pleasure of drinking tea, and the sweet has become an afterthought.  Or it least is was, until I met Tomomi.  My passion for tea time sweets appears to have come back with a vengeance, especially my love of scones, since coming to Japan.  Scones are undeniably my favourite tea sweet of all time; preferably served warm and  topped with clotted cream and fresh jam….Now you know why I was so eager to help my friend Tomomi make over 26 various types of jam!

For Tomomi’s jam party I combined two things I’m passionate about, scones and maple syrup, into one amazing recipe. Are you chuckling over how very Canadian this was of me? It’s ok, I laugh at how incredibly Canadian I am at times too. I’ll confess it wasn’t the first time I’ve made this recipe, I made it for the first time about a year ago and loved it so much it’s been on my “must re-bake list” for far too long.

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I love my maple syrup!

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Om nom nom!

What I love most about these scones is that despite the maple syrup they aren’t overly sweet. The whole wheat flour and oatmeal make them relatively healthy for a scone too, while contributing to a nice crumbly consistency.

What You’ll Need:

  • 60 mL high quality maple syrup  [1/4 cup]
  • 90 mL milk [6 tbsp]
  • 130 g pastry flour [1 cup]
  • 160 g whole wheat pastry flour [1 1/4 cup]
  • 40 g rolled oats (aka: oatmeal) [1/3 cup]
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 1/2 tbsp baking powder
  • 130g butter (should be cold) [11 tbsps]
  • 1 egg

What You’ll Need To Do:

  • Heat your oven to 190°C (400°F).
  • In a large bowl mix together all dry ingredients (pastry flour, whole wheat pastry flour, rolled oats, salt, baking powder)
  • Add cold butter to dry ingredients. Using a cold knife cut the butter into the dry ingredients to mix until butter is in very, very small pieces.
  • Add milk and maple syrup to the bowl. Mix well.
  • On a baking tray lay down a piece of parchment paper (or wax paper) and press the scone dough down evenly into a large rectangle.  Continue to shape until the dough is very thin, about 3cm deep.
  • Now, using a sharp knife, cut the dough into even squares. (I cut mine into squares about the same size as my pinky finger.)
  • Rearrange the scones on the parchment paper so there is at least 5cm between each scone. This is so they have room to expand when they bake.
  • Using a fork whisk your egg in a small bowl until a little frothy.  Using a pastry brush lightly brush a little egg on the top of the scones. If you like you can also sprinkle with coarse raw sugar at this time, I personally opted not to this time to keep them a little healthier. 
  • Place the baking tray in the oven and cook scones for approximately 20 minutes, or until the top of the scones turns a light gold color.
  • Remove from oven and allow to cool at least 15 minutes before serving.

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Categories: Dessert Recipes, Lifestyle | Leave a 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

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