The Breakfast at Veselka

You know you have a good friend when they’ll wake up at the crack of dawn to have breakfast with you when you’re in town.

We decided to meet up at Veselka in the East Village. Leave it to New York to have a 24 hour Ukrainian diner and let me tell you, it was was amazing. (Remind me, I need to find a Ukrainian place in  Tokyo!)

I love catching up with a grade school friends and it always tickles me to no end when I realize that we’re both grown ups now. I mean, when did that happen?

After breakfast, I took the train back to my hotel, which I’d been wanting to do forever. Work trips usually mean we have a car service but I’d heard and read about so many people complaining about how horrible the subway in New York was, I had to try it.

But train ride was smooth sailing all the way to Grand Central Station, with no delays, accidents, or crazy people. This unfortunately meant no subway horror stories to take back with me.

Ah well, maybe next time?

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The Turkey-less Thanksgiving Dinner

Happy Thanksgiving (to those who celebrate Thanksgiving)!!!

This is definitely one of those holidays that will probably never come into Japan, despite this country’s love for importing holidays, such as Halloween and Easter. For one, Japan never had any Native Americans that taught the pilgrims, that never came to Japan, how to grow corn and sat down together for a meal after a good harvest season. But more importantly, it’s almost impossible to roast a whole turkey in Japan’s tiny microwave ovens.

But I’v always loved this holiday from my childhood days growing up in Michigan and since my sister was heading over to my place for the weekend, I invited the girls over for an early Thanksgiving dinner, sans the turkey.

I was up and early, running back and forth to the supermarket, cooking and baking my butt off. It’s always fun putting a dinner together for family and friends, I get pretty excited about things like this. At the same time, I often get in over my head with ideas too difficult to execute by myself. This year though, I was surprisingly level headed throughout the whole process and had a great time in the kitchen, even though it was just me, my oven and reruns of Sherlock in the back ground.

The menu consisted of apple cranberry walnut salad, pumpkin soup, blooming onion bread, mashed potatoes, broccoli and macaroni casserole, green bean avocado fried rice, spinach balls, and bread stuffing. For dessert, there was pumpkin pie and apple pie, which I baked the day before.

When everyone came over, they helped set the table and then (after a quick photo session of the food, hehe) we all dug in! It was all SO GOOD!

I’ve learned that get-togethers like this are not really about the food. I mean, it kind of is…but it’s not. We could have had conbini bentos and it still would have tasted good, although not as Thanksgiving-y. For me, what makes the difference is that we were all enjoying this meal together. I personally miss my family the most around the holidays, so it was nice to have a full house (because my apartment is tiny, you know?) filled with chatter and laughter over dinner. The fact that we were all there enjoying the meal together is definitely what made it delicious!

I hope you’re enjoying time with friends and family this holiday season, too! x

Here are some photos:

Do you celebrate Thanksgiving? What is your favorite dish? x

The Year End Family Get Together in Okinawa

I’ve mentioned before that our family rarely does anything tourist-y in Okinawa. 
It is one of the top vacation spots for domestic travel in Japan. And I’m quite curious to explore this motherland of mine (I was born here). But I can count on one hand the number of times we’ve actually eaten out, much less hit the tourist attractions.
The reason for this is: family get-togethers.
We have a lot of these. Especially when we visit during the holidays. Okinawa is said to have a very strong sense of family and community, which means everyone comes to these gatherings. It can get very lively and last late into the night.
This time it was just my grandmother’s younger sister’s family and us (because there just wasn’t enough space to invite my grandmother’s other two sister’s families). We spent the entire day getting ready for the get-together, cleaning the house and cooking, cooking and cooking some more. Apparently, there really is no such thing as too much food on occasions like this. Or at least that’s what my grandma says.
We rarely get to spend time with our Okinawan-side of the family so it was really nice to have the time to catch up with all my relatives, especially with a feast like this! Oh, what a night!
What are your family get-togethers like?
Here are some photos:

My brother good and ready to eat!
Our second cousins teaching us a new pose…still have no idea what it was.
A lot of my favorite dishes…mmmh!
So hard to choose where to start with this much food!
Chimaki is delicious and filling, made from things like rice, beans, and meat.
It’s finally my turn to hand out otoshidama (お年玉) now 😀
My great aunt, grandma, and baby sister taking a break from eating to chat!
For once in my life, I was too busy eating and chatting to take photos…and you can see why! x

The Breakfast by Miyanoura River in Yakushima

I think this quote may be true because I am always quite happy when away on vacations or short breaks, which is usually the only time I eat breakfast (unless pancakes at 2pm can still be considered breakfast). This was especially true on our second day in Yakushima.
Lodge Yaedake Sanso, where we stayed, was located right by Miyanoura River. Our lodge was actually the closest one to the river and our terrace had a great view of both the river and the mountain range. But despite the lovely table and chairs out on our terrace, we ambitiously decided to eat our breakfast down by the river.
We woke up bright and early and headed down to the river with our breakfast, which consisted of instant soup and several types of bread we bought at Hiro Bakery the day before. I especially loved the purple yam and sweet potato bread. So good and filling!
S and I discussed our plan for the day and raved over how good it felt to be outside while eating breakfast. We were at times talking in whispers because everything around us was so calm and quite. It almost felt rude to disturb the stillness.
That didn’t last once we discovered the hammock though! I’m a tiny bit obsessed with hammocks (I would hang one in my apartment if I could) and had to ooh and ahh over it. Then we both had to try it out. And then of course we had to take a picture of us both on it…that was a little tricky as I almost flipped us over! But darn it, if I had known about the hammock the night before, I probably would have slept in it all night!
As much as I would have liked to stay on the hammock, time was ticking. So with a last wistful look at the hammock, we checked-out of our lovely lodge and headed off to our hiking adventure in Shiratani Unsuikyo!
Here are some photos of breakfast:
1877-21 Anbo Yakushima-cho
Kumage-gun, Kagoshima JAPAN
TEL: 0997-46-2888
Hours: 7am-7pm

The Afternoon at Granny Smith Apple Pie & Coffee

Did you know that ‘bestie‘ is now officially a word in the Oxford English Dictionary?

 I use it all the time and I know some people cringe over the word…but I like it! It’s so easy to say. Although that could just be my Japanesey side taking over. You know how we love to abbreviate everything! ;D

Well, I mentioned all of that to say…I went to eat pie with my bestie!

M loves apple pies something fierce so we decided to stop by Granny Smith Apple Pie & Coffee, a small cafe in Aoyama. And when I say small, there are literally only 4 tables-for-two and 1 table-for-four. But the store concept is take-out pie and coffee, so I guess they don’t need as many tables.

The pies all looked delicious! There were so many choices that it was hard to decided (see menu here). Very hard. But I had absolutely no problem deciding that we were just going to have to keep on coming back until I’ve tried every one of their pies. Every. Single. One.
I ended up ordering the Apple Cobbler (because you could only get it when you eat inside the cafe…I really AM Japanese. Ha) and a cappuccino. M got the Dutch Crumble and a latte. It was scrumptious and we had a great time chatting in the cafe, surrounded by the lovely fragrance of freshly baked pies in oven. I’m already pondering over what I’ll order next time I’m there!
Here are some photos:
My Apple Cobbler.
M’s Dutch Crumble
Isn’t my bestie gorgeous?
5-8-9 Minami Aoyama
Minato-ku, Tokyo
Hours: 10am-9pm

The Mu-chi Legend

It all started with a phone call from my grandma last night.
I’m a letter writer and I don’t really like phone calls. But my grandma likes to call me because it’s much easier than writing a letter and going through the whole stamp and post office thing. So we have this routine where I write letters and send pictures to her, and she calls to say she got it.
Well, I got a call last night and our chat about food reminded me that I still hadn’t posted my photos of the mu-chi we ate in Okinawa last year!
So here it goes…

Mu-chi is the Okinawan dialect for the Japanese word mochi, which is known as rice cake in English. Although made slightly different from the mainland mochi, mu-chi is traditionally made on December 8th of the old lunar calendar in Okinawa. It’s said to be one of the coldest times of the year (although not THAT cold because hey…it’s Okinawa!). Many people eat mu-chi to pray for good health and ward off evil spirits on this special day, often together with family and relatives.
I never really knew why Okinawa had this tradition until the ever resourceful Ru sent me this tweet:


You can click on the link above and read the story (in Japanese) but it tells the legend behind the tradition of eating mu-chi in Okinawa. For the English readers, here’s the short story:
Long time ago, in the land near Shuri Castle lived a brother with a younger sister. They always got along very well until one frightful day the older brother suddenly turned into an Oni and began attacking villagers and their livestock.

Realizing something must be done to stop him, the younger sister devised a plan. She made his favorite food, mu-chi, but included a piece of iron in his. She called over her brother/Oni to the side of a cliff to eat together and enjoy the view. But because his mu-chi had the piece of iron in it, he could not chew on it, no matter how hard he tried. All the while his sister is munching on her mu-chi and enjoying it.

The brother/Oni could not understand why he couldn’t eat his mu-chi. His eyes then went to her lower body and he demanded to know what what going on with her “mouth” down there. She in turn lifted her kimono and closed in on her brother/Oni saying, “My mouth up here is for eating mu-chi…and my “mouth” down there is for eating Oni!”

 This outburst surprised the brother/Oni so much so that he stumbled off the cliff and died. The younger sister was hailed a hero by the villagers on this very day, December 8th, and would be forever known as a day to ward off evil spirits.

As legends go, there are many different variations of this story. Some include more details about how the brother became an oni. Some say the younger sister already had children and they were almost eaten by her brother/Oni when they tried to help.
And obviously in the more censored version for children, the part about the lower “mouth” is left out and the brother/Oni falls to his death by the sister pushing him or just falling from the surprise of not being able to eat his favorite mu-chi.
I found myself laughing just a little over this legend, not because of the “mouth” bit, but because of how both the male and female are portrayed in this story. The wild uncontrollable male and the strong smart female. I know it’s an island stereotype. But I feel like there is some truth in how many women are seen as stronger than men in Okinawa. The ones that hold down the fort.
Am I the only one who sees this?

The long dark green leaves in the back (left side of the photo) is the Gettoh plant.

Anyways, back to mu-chi…they typically look like the photo above, wrapped in gettoh leaves.
My grandma tells me that gettoh (also known as Shell Ginger) is a plant that many people have growing in their yards in Okinawa. These leaves are also sold in supermarkets by the dozen around January, which is when December 8th was on the lunar calendar.
Mu-chi is made from mochi powder, sugar, and water. It’s a simple recipe. Some add flavors like kokuto (muscovado) or beni-imo (purple yam) into the ingredients. Once mixed, they are rolled into balls, flattened onto a gettoh leaf, wrapped, and tied with a string. They are then steamed together for about 30 minutes and that’s it!
It is one of my favorite Okinawan treats and my grandma makes it for us every time we visit. The beni-imo flavor (above) is my favorite. I am already counting down the days until I’m back in Okinawa and eating mu-chi...yum yum!
I hope this gives you an idea of what mu-chi is. If you’ve never had a taste of it before, don’t you want to try it now? x
The pretty gettoh flower in my grandma’s yard.


The Afternoon at Aoyama Flower Market Tea House

My friend M and I went to Aoyama Flower Market Tea House for lunch on the day it snowed in Tokyo. It was the perfect place to be on that cold day because this cafe is like a greenhouse. Super warm and cozy with wonderful fragrance of flowers.

M was here in Tokyo visiting her family with her fiance and his family. So you can imagine how hectic their schedule was. But the sweetheart that she is, she found some time for me. And we spent the whole afternoon talking and laughing. It was just what I needed!

M and I went to university together but it wasn’t until we graduated that we started becoming really good friends. We were both saying that we couldn’t remember how the friendship initially started. But now she is one of my greatest friends and I feel incredibly blessed to have such a brave and kind soul in my life.

 Isn’t it interesting how friendships are born? x

The Afternoon at Arms Burger Shop

I completely forgot about these photos!
My high school friend has the cutest dog (seen here before) and sometimes we go to Yoyogi Park to let him roam and run wherever he pleases. We also like to stop by this little burger shop Arms because they allow dogs inside with you. It’s the perfect nook to warm up and relax in.
Here are some photos of the tiny but ferocious (not really) Leo and his people:

The Christmas Apple and Cranberry Chutney

One of the greatest things about this holiday season is the food.
I was beyond excited when my friend V, who is an amazing artist in the kitchen, brought me this homemade Christmas apple and cranberry chutney!!!
Have you ever tried chutney before?
I hadn’t heard of it before but I looked it up and the internet said that it goes well with cheddar cheese. I’ve been making chutney grilled cheddar cheese sandwiches ever since with everything from regular bread, brown bread, and even raisin whole wheat bread. So so good. (If I ate meat, I’d put the chutney on that, too!)
So it’s really no surprise that this lovely bin of chutney did not last until Christmas day. I made my last sandwich today. So sad that my chutney season is over but so grateful to V for letting me experience the joy of chutney in the first place. Thank you, V! x

The Birthday Sleepover

This weekend was my sister’s birthday!
My sister came over to my place for the weekend and my bbf also came over so we could celebrate with nabe at home. I always say this but this is the ultimate healthy and delicious meal to have with friends and family in the wintertime. So so good.
And what is a birthday celebration without cake?
This year I went by Giotto, a pastry shop in Odakyu Shinjuku, and chose their citrus fruit cheesecake tart. I should have taken a picture before I stabbed all the candles in it because it was very pretty, but you’ll just have to take my word for it. 

It’s become something of a tradition to use the exact number of candles to celebrate my sister’s birthday. Last year’s cake almost ended up being a ball of fire so this year I got three different lengths of candles to diversify the flame. I think it was a good plan, nothing caught on fire. But the candles were a bit too skinny and some of them started doing yoga moves while we were taking pictures! 😀

Don’t you love that my sister claps her hands after blowing out her candles? (She’s a kindergarten teacher…it comes with the occupation. So cute.)
And the cake was delicious!

We spent the night just chatting away. And when I say night, I meant way into the night. We went to sleep around 4:30am…but I think that’s what a sleepover is all about. Especially when you’re celebrating a birthday!
Happy birthday, Yoko! May your year be filled with happiness and joy!!! x
PS:  Isn’t it interesting how you congratulate someone’s birthday by saying, “Hope you have a great day!” in English, but you say something like, “Hope you have a wonderful year!” in Japanese? I noticed the difference when someone mentioned it to me. I’d written “素敵な一日でありますように!(Have a wonderful day!)” on a Japanese friend’s facebook page. When I went to see what other people had written, many were wishing her a wonderful year. Now I usually wish Japanese friends a full year of happiness but still stick to a day for my state-side friends (not that I’m wishing them any less of their happiness!). Which do you use often?