Paris Is ALWAYS A Good Idea!

 Since coming back to Canada my life has been in a minor state of limbo. Unsure what career path to pursue, yet deliriously happy to be back at home surrounded by my loved ones and the things I’ve missed the most about Canada, I often find myself staring out into space, deep in thought.  It’s a strange feeling to simultaneously feel sad for the life I’ve lost, yet lucky for the life I’m currently living.

pumpkin spice latte

I’ve been waiting 3 years to drink one of these!!! Happiness level: 100

In a stroke of extreme fortune, my father found out several weeks back that he not only was approved for the 2 weeks of holidays he requested but that, by a stroke of sheer dumb luck, he doesn’t have to go to work the week before, or the week after either! Can you say heeeeello to one whole month of holidays!!! My mom was delighted, and they’ve been bouncing travel ideas back and forth at every opportunity! They even teased me saying I should come with them and forget my hunt for a new job.

In a moment of lucidity, lying awake at 2:00am in the morning, I asked myself: When again in my life will I ever have such a wonderful opportunity? I’m currently in between jobs, have enough money saved, and this is the season I’ve always dreamt of going to France. I squashed down the voice in my head that said it would be crazy to arrive home to Canada only to up and leave on holidays again, and the voice that I should be focusing on finding a new job. I fell asleep that night with dreams of Parisian cafes and the Eiffel Tower floating around in my head.

The next morning I woke up with a devilish grin on my face and a reckless enthusiasm that just couldn’t be contained. I made myself a cup of coffee, plopped myself down at the table where my mom and dad were reading the newspaper and said, “Audrey Hepburn once said that Paris is always a good idea. If you still want to go to France, count me in!”

Paris is always a good ideaSo that’s my big news folks! I’m off to France in less than 2 weeks! My days are no longer spent resume editing, but rather perusing travel books on Paris & France! I’ve checked out 7 books from the library and am devoting all my time to planning this exciting, spontaneous adventure! Wish me luck and if you have any suggestions or recommendations I’m all ears!

paris is always wonderful

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Nutella-Monster Cinnamon Buns

Whenever I think of Nutella I can’t help but think of my wonderful friends Dan and Becca. If there was one thing they loved more than each other it was Nutella. If you know the character Cookie Monster, well they were his adorable twin siblings Nutella Monster #1 and Nutella Monster #2.

Becca got crazy excited if you offered her any dessert containing this super-rare-in-Japan chocolatey-goodness, and Dan was so protective of their tub he would sleep with it at night – yes, like a teddy bear! – to prevent it from freezing in winter months.  They have long since left Fukui, upgrading to sunny Melbourne, but I often think of them and miss them.

This weekend I spent a gloriously lazy 2 days and purposefully made no plans with anyone. I rolled over Saturday morning, read a little of my book and felt the pull to go to my kitchen and bake. I had cleaned it spotlessly in the days leading up to this weekend and it sang to me a siren song, the way only a clean kitchen can. ‘Come make a mess in me, come make something delicious‘ it seemed to whisper.

Soon enough, I found myself kneading dough with flour up to my elbows as I made an old favourite recipe: Nutella cinnamon buns. Becca was very upset she wasn’t in Fukui for these but I promised her I’d post the recipe. I think many people feel daunted when they imagine making cinnamon buns, but this recipe is pretty easy. It’s takes time, patience and love. If you’re still scared, let me ask you a question, how can you really go wrong with Nutella?! If you’ve ever made pizza dough, this recipe isn’t much harder than that.ImageWhat You’ll Need:

  • 3 tablespoons warm water
  • 3 tablespoons golden sugar
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons active dry yeast
  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 2 cups bread flour
  • 1 1/3 cup all purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup Nutella (or more if you are feeling particularly decadent!)
  • 4 teaspoons cinnamon (sprinkle) + 2 teaspoons (for dough)

What You’ll Need To Do:

  1. In a small bowl stir together the warm water, sugar and yeast whisk with a fork. Wait for 6 minutes for the yeast to activate (it will begin to foam slightly)
  2. While waiting for the yeast to do its thing, place butter in a small pot and melt over a low heat. Add the milk, mix and heat together until milk is warm (but don’t let it simmer or boil!). Allow to cool slightly.
  3. In a large bowl combine the bread flour, all purpose flour, 2 teaspoons of your cinnamon and salt.
  4. Pour the yeast mixture and the milk mixture over the flour. Using your hands knead until well-combined and dough becomes slightly elastic.
  5. Form into a large ball, place in a lightly oiled bowl, cover and allow to rise for 1 hour.
  6. Wait patiently. It’s tough I know.
  7. On a very, very lightly floured flat surface roll dough out evenly into a large rectangle. You want it to be very thin, about 0.5cm-1cm at most.
  8. Next is the fun part, slather on that Nutella! Have fun and taste it just to make sure it’s ok *wink wink* (hint: if you microwave it for about 20 seconds it spreads much easier, but then again my Nutella was quite cold.)
  9. Once the Nutella has been spread, evenly sprinkle the 4 teaspoons of cinnamon.
  10. Roll up (keeping as tight a roll as you can) and cut into 10-12 rolls and place in a buttered pan all nestled happily together next to one another. This helps to keep the sides from drying out, so every bun tastes like the yummiest and moist middle of a regular cinnamon bun.
  11. Cover and test your patience once again by waiting another 30-40 minutes for the baby buns to rise again.
  12. Bake at 375°F (190°C) for 28-30 minutes until gooey and delicious-looking.


Om nom nom! Enjoy!

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Exploring The Beauty of Biei

Day 2 of my Hokkaido Adventure dawned bright and sunny. I rolled down the window of my car, put on some country tunes and cruised down some backroad-kind-of-wonderful places. It smelled like lavender and adventure.  I was off to see more flower fields with a distinct carpe diem mindset.

Lost in my happy thoughts the first melon farm went by me in a blur. WAIT! I cursed, craned my neck around and debated going back….but it would be far too tricky to turn around on a major highway. So I gritted my teeth and hoped another would come up soon. It did! But once again it happened so quickly I missed my chance to turn off the highway…..third time lucky? Luck was on my side I spied a third in the distance and prepared accordingly.


I was pretty excited and couldn’t wait to take a picture with my yummy melons…..only belatedly did I realize how much sh*t my friends were going to give me and all the terrible jokes that will most likely be made about my melons. UH OH! I don’t care though, this was an amazing idea, and I’m still delighted I thought to buy them. They will make me happy every morning when I get to eat fresh fruit for breakfast.  I’m actually currently eating some juicy-juicy watermelon now as I type this post!  See how lovingly I look at them? Unfortunately for me, when the lady helped me to cut my watermelon up to eat, there was a minor fashion disaster where somehow half the watermelon landed on my lap….uh oh, thank heavens I had a spare dress in my car! No lasting harm done, and nothing was about to spoil my excellent mood. Biei was waiting, I could hear its siren call and so I hopped in the car and off drove me and my melon-children.

I made a local’s day when I pulled up at the flower park and he saw my watermelon seatbelted-in, resting in the passenger side seat and he just about died laughing. He even brought his elderly mother over to take a look at what the beautiful foreigner was doing with her watermelon. He then gave me a cheeky grin and a double-thumbs-up however, so I gave him my best smile in return and said in my best Japanese “takai desu yo ne!” which means “It’s because it’s expensive you see!” which made him laugh even harder and nod enthusiastically in agreement.  We then chatted for a bit and I explained what felt like my whole life story as we approached the hills of the Saika-no-Sato flower fields. I’m pretty sure he’ll be telling this story for years.

But on to talking about Saika-no-Sato, it’s another lovely flower field that a lady at the tourist information desk recommended. It’s easy to see why, its colours were simply lovely. While it definitely not the largest flower garden, what it lacks in size it makes up for in quality. It had a large variety of blossoms, all of which were in peak bloom. Also, I can say this now after having visited nearly every flower park in Furano and Biei, it had the nicest sunflower field, which you could actually enter into to take some pictures with the flowers (a rarity at other flower parks).IMG_0589IMG_0599 IMG_0601 IMG_0595

After Saika-no-Sato I headed just up the road and over a hill to Flowerland Kamifurano. It too was a nice place to wander around lost in thought, but I found myself preferring the slightly wilder Saika-no-Sato and Tomita Farm flowers. Flowerland’s gardens were almost a little too perfectly arranged for this gypsy girl. IMG_0604 IMG_0605Seeing as both these flower parks took much less time than I expected (no more than 20 minutes each) I decided to hit up one more before lunch.  Next up on my map was the Shinkisai-no-Oka Flower Garden so I drove down the road, up some twisty-turny roads and there I was.  What I liked the most about this garden, was the way you could see clearly out over the beautiful hills of the Biei area because it was situated at the top of a tall hill.

IMG_0613 IMG_0626 IMG_0630After that I was definitely peckish, the sun was uncomfortably warm and I knew I could do with a rest inside for a bit where I could cool down. I spied this little gem of a cafe across the street from the entrance of the Shikisai-no-Oka Flower Garden.

Seeing as I’m a bit of a grandma at heart, I adore little granny run cafes like this one. From my experiences in the past, the food at this sort of establishment is always made fresh, they make a mean dessert and the atmosphere has a nice sense of tranquility, perfect for the weary wander in need of a quite place to recharge. IMG_0632

I got the vegetable curry (made with veggies all produced from farms in the nearby area!), iced coffee and a piece of cake. I spent a good hour there enjoying the view of Biei’s rolling emerald green hills and reading my book. IMG_0633 IMG_0637

Feeling sufficiently reenergized after this I was ready to head out to the Shirogane area where the highlight of the day awaited: the Blue Pond.

The Blue Pond (Aoi-ike 青い池) has only become a popular tourist sightseeing destination in recent years and this is very obvious in that the site is not adequately equipped to handle the influx of tourists. I recommend to anyone hoping to visit get there early, I was in the nick of time, 40 minutes later when I was leaving I spied what looked like a half-an-hour line up of cars down the actual highway itself waiting to get into the tiny parking lot!

It was on pinterest that I saw my first picture of the Blue Pond, and I was certain it had been photoshopped to become that blue. Nope, it is actually that robin’s egg blue azure hue everyone. It took my breath away. Never in all my years of hiking in Banff have I seen anything quite so vibrant, and I’ve been to Lake Louise and Lake Moraine! I must have taken over 100 photos but I’ve narrowed it down to my top 5.IMG_0710IMG_0733IMG_0716IMG_0715 IMG_0671When the sun hit the water, it glittered just like a jewel. Absolutely Magical.  I would hazard a guess that pretty soon some fantasy movie is going to insist on filming here because it has a distinctly otherworldly atmosphere. I have to say it was really hard to say goodbye to this place, but there are only so many pictures you can take!IMG_0753As I was driving away back towards Biei to see one last flower field and do a sunset drive amongst the hills I noticed this sign, and recognizing nothing other than the kanji for waterfall, pulled in to see what was up. My curiosity was rewarded with another magical place.IMG_0861 IMG_0785It only took 1 minute to walk from the side of the road in so I definitely recommend it if you’re already in the area for the Blue Pond.

Back to Biei I went to see the final flower field: the Hills of Zerubu. I liked the sound of this garden because I thought its name was sweet. “Zerubu” comes from a mash-together of 3 words: “Kaze” (wind), “Kaoru” (sweet scent) and “Asobu” (play). So the name suggests the notion of  playing on hills while the wind surrounds us with beautiful scents. Isn’t that poetic? IMG_0887

As the sun slowly started to descend in the sky, I started my scenic drive of the rolling Biei hills. My soundtrack for the drive “Wide Open Spaces” and “Cowboy Take Me Away” by the Dixie Chicks, totally a perfect match for the mood.  It was very idyllic, wide open fields stretching towards the horizon and everything illuminated by the soft golden glow of the setting sun. Wide open areas are something I often find myself missing, not in a bad way, Japan is much more crowded than “cowtown” Calgary and I grew up surrounded by hay fields as far as the eye could see. I felt like I was back in my element.

I visited some famous trees that travel guides recommended, although I have since then come to understand they mean a lot more to Japanese people who’ve grown up seeing them in famous advertisements. My favourite of these trees was a group called the “Parents & Child” trees.


IMG_0940I sat in my car long after the sun set staring off into the distance, incredibly content to be exactly where I was in that moment in time. Life was perfect and I felt so lucky to be me.

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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:


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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