Making Taiyaki & the Shinjuku Greenhouse

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The other day we made ‘fish’ pancakes with our taiyaki maker that we bought in Tokyo. We had some at a street vendor outside an Inari temple, and immediately made it our mission to find something on Kappabashi street in the kitchen district that would allow us to make our own.

Since this was our first attempt, we just made a random waffle batter recipe and went for it. We didn’t have the beans to make the genuine filling, so we substituted with mashed bananas and chocolate chips. They were very tasty. That said, we both love bean paste and are excited to make some with a more traditional type of filling as in this Cooking with Dog video.

All this got me thinking about our visit to Shinjuku Park and the greenhouse there. Friends, I have to say that this was definitely one of the most interesting and unique collection of plants I’ve seen. From the mind-boggling collection of orchids to the fantastical Dr. Seuss-essque tropical plants, we spent the better part of an afternoon wandering. Below are a few pictures of what we found.

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The plant above, Heliconia mariae, was my favorite. At first I thought, there’s a giant cockroach in that tree! But no, those are blossoms actually. The plant world is truly amazing, and methinks when I have my own greenhouse, I may have to send away for some of these. Have you ever seen a plant like this? What’s the most bizarre plant you’ve seen? Happy Tuesday all!

Springtime in Tokyo

 

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A little while back we were able to visit Tokyo, thanks to an invite from a friend who had a pretty flat in the laid back, artsy Tokyo neighborhood of Shimokitazawa. As an added bonus, we were able to see two other friends that we hadn’t seen in….three years, and two years respectively. There being the slight puddle called the Pacific Ocean between us. Although in the first friend’s case, it’s usually the Atlantic between us, but that’s neither here nor there I suppose.

After making the plane reservations a “birthday” surprise, and getting our affairs in order (mostly procuring a willing cat-sitter for kitty)….I pulled husband away from his studies and we were on a plane outward bound, with phrase books in hand.

I love traveling in the spring. I think that’s the best time to see a city. Everyone blinking at the sunshine, coming out of their offices to picnic and make merry as the weather allows for it.

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These pictures are from Shinjuku Park. That was one of the warmest days. We walked around and marveled at the unusual plant specimens. School kids, retired people, families and all sorts of locals were out picnicking, with bento boxes, and eating ice cream sandwiches and jostling to take the perfect picture of the cherry blossoms and other things in bloom. Including the quince pictured above. Competitive flower photography you say? Husband was way into it, and I promised we could retire in Tokyo someday that so that he too could rove in a pack of old dudes with thousands of dollars worth of camera equipment and compete for the best cherry blossom photo ever.

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I took some early morning walks while we were there. I’m not sure if I was out of my mind with jet lag, or just too excited to sleep, but I got to know our neighborhood pretty well that way.

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Lots of well-manicured pooches in Tokyo. Many of them tucked into the couture handbags of some of the most exquisitely dressed ladies you will ever see. Walking the streets of Tokyo was not unlike a Pinterest page come alive.

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Our friends were kind enough to take us to an izakaya the first night. I guess you could call it a sort of gastro pub… Needless to say the food was amazing and it set off a week long odyssey into the unparalleled delights of Japanese cuisine. From delicious seafood pancakes like okinomiyaki to salty roe filled onigiri to octopi-stuffed takoyaki to noodle-tastic ramen…let’s just say we were some happy food lovers.

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What does the Fox Say?

We also had the chance to make a couple of day trips outside the city. We took the holiday train to Kamakurra one day, and later in the week visited Kyoto. Husband took over travel arrangements for the Kyoto jaunt. I hadn’t done any research on Kyoto, so it was a pretty great surprise when we arrived at the Inari shrine (Wikipedia article) and I saw the kitsune or fox statues scattered all around the temple grounds. This was hands down my favorite shrine. A mysterious path up a beautiful mountain framed by red gates and foxes? I was one happy critter lover. We saw shrine kitties cavorting at one shrine, another had a pond filled with huge turtles and one even had a little white fluffy dog who greeted everyone who came by. Then of course, as I said, we were walking up a mountain. All kinds of awesome.

And then of course there was haname…. translation…”cherry blossom viewing partay“.  On our last night in Tokyo we partook in the custom of haname with some old friends and new in Ueno Park, a beautiful park covered in cherry blossoms in the spring with a big lake and beautiful pavilions and skyscrapers that come up right to the edge of the park. We picnicked under the trees with thousands of locals. It was perfect. So while we were excited to get home to our own critter, Cuchulainn the kitty, we definitely were sad to leave this vibrant and culturally rich city.

Arigatou gozaimashita Tokyo!

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Book Crush: Tokyo Bound

The front facade of Village Books

Today’s Book Crush takes place at Village Books in Fairhaven. I often walk there on my day off. Three floors of books, both used and new, a little cafe, and my favorite part, lots of “staff picks” cards. I like to browse through them and often find my next book that way.

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Two of my favorite summer reads of 2013 to date have a major character in common: Tokyo. I’ve been fascinated with Tokyo for awhile, especially now that one of my good friends is actually living there. The first is Ruth Ozeki’s latest novel: A Tale for the Time Being. Ozeki is one of my favorite contemporary novelists. My husband introduced me to her work years ago with her excellent novel, My Year of Meats.a-tale-for-the-time-being

The main character in A Tale for the Time Being lives on a remote island off the coast of British Columbia with her eco-historian boyfriend Oliver. She is a novelist and she is trying to finish a memoir, which seems to be going slowly. When she finds a bag containing a diary supposedly written by a sixteen year old girl called Naoko living in Tokyo, her search to find the ‘truth’ about this girl speaks to the conflict between fiction and reality, and the essential unreliability of both. As with most Ozeki novels, I had a hard time putting this book down. I was that interested in the journey of her characters.

The cityscape and culture of Tokyo play a big part in this novel. I wanted to read more, even if I couldn’t actually go to Tokyo right then and there. Luckily for me, I picked up this next book by chance a week or so later.

pretty good number onePretty Good Number One is a very different book, it is non-fiction, but similarly interested in Tokyo and the culture. Written by local Seattle author Matthew Amster-Burton, this is a great, fun summer read, particularly for those with travel lust of a culinary variety. The premise is simple. A father and his daughter, obsessed with Japanese cuisine, decide to spend a month in Tokyo exploring the city and all that it has to offer foodies. What a delight. From tales of ramen restaurants to onsen to bar culture. It’s so much fun to see it through the eyes both of the father and the daughter both, as well as the long-suffering mom that they’ve drug along on this fantastical food odyssey.

I enjoyed each of these books thoroughly and felt like I’d gained new insight on the city of Tokyo. Now I’m thinking I just might have to do some exploring of my own one of these days soon…

 

 

 

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