Category Archives: Food & drinks

Experiences Food & drinks

Happy Holidays!

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 Just wanted to share  a few Christmas pictures, and thought I’d put them in my blog instead of the photography section.  This year I finally bought a small Christmas tree (on the left) – it’s the first I’ve had since moving into my apartment (almost 2 years now)!  I’m surprised how cheery it makes the place look.

I didn’t do much for Christmas this year in terms of food.  Last year I went all out with a roast chicken, tons of stuffing, potatoes, soup, and desserts, but this year… it’s just been too busy and I didn’t have the energy to spend all day cooking.  Plus, thanks to S, I’ve been trying to eat a little more healthily these past couple of months by trying out a different kind of “cuisine”.  More on that in a later post, but for now, here are some pictures of dinner – simple grilled fish, mashed potatoes, hambone soup, and salad – that’s it!

Despite the simplicity, it was very good, and I didn’t even have that belt-busting feeling I usually get after a holiday dinner.  Dessert was especially healthy – I know it may not look like it, but NONE of the desserts in the picture were baked or cooked in any way – it was all-natural “raw” ingredients!

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Experiences Food & drinks Photography

Travel pictures

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As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I’ve been traveling for work-related duties to Singapore and Hong Kong for the last two and a half weeks in October.  It was an extremely busy period of time (typically 12 hour work days and no weekends off) and I ended up getting hit by a particularly tenacious bug that’s still keeping me coughing over a week later.

Given the long hours I worked, I didn’t take any daytime pictures, but when I could I went out for some night shots.  Both Singapore and Hong Kong are very different culturally compared to Japan, and initially it took some getting used to, but in the end I felt quite comfortable getting around.  I have better memories of Singapore since Hong Kong was where I got sick. 😛

I’ll be posting pictures I took over time, starting with this series of shots taken of Little India, in Singapore.

Since it was late I didn’t get a chance to wander around too much that neighborhood, but my initial reaction when exiting the MRT (Singapore’s equivalent to the Tokyo Metro) was surprise – the place was *crowded* with people, and 99% of them were all men.  I don’t know if there aren’t that many Indian women in Singapore, or if they simply don’t venture out much at night, but it was just a little odd to see crowds of men and no women at all (save in some restaurants).

Little India had some pretty street illuminations going, in preparation for the Deepavali festival.  I also tried some very good fish head curry at a restaurant called Apollo’s (it looks really spicy in the pictures but it’s actually not that hot).

The image above is one that has been adjusted, but all the untouched pictures (including the original of the one above, which exhibited some bad lens distortion) are at the usual .

Food & drinks

Just a general update + food

As usual, work has kept me from performing any kind of update lately.  Due to, shall we say, “internal reasons”, one of my colleagues is on indefinite leave.  What this means in the long, I have no idea, but in the meantime it has effectively doubled the workload for the Tokyo office and that has greatly reduced my free time.  Lunches are rushed or eaten at my desk, I work longer hours, and there always seems to be something that needs to be done.

In one sense, the challenge is not all bad – I find myself doing new things, or trying to solve established problems in different ways since we are now supporting other overseas offices.   So, for the short term, it’s sustainable.  The downside to it all is that I literally feel tethered – I step away from my desk, and am already replying to emails on my blackberry one minute later in the elevator.  I leave the office, go home, and continue work from there.  The amount of emails I’m getting have at least doubled, till it feels like I’m ALWAYS replying to something –  before I’d maybe send out 30-40 messages a day, now up to a 100.

No doubt things will settle down at some point, but I do hope that folks in the management can settle on how things are going to turn out sooner rather than later…

Today’s my first full day off, with nothing planned (though I did spend an hour or so this morning going over work email).  The rest of my day has been a lazy one, just doing a bit of grocery shopping, and going through the final season of Battlestar Galactica. 🙂

I have been doing some cooking too, believe it or not.  Not today, but I’ve been doing a bit of baking recently.  Food-wise, I’ve tried my hand at a few “rough-and-ready pizza’s”, and for dessert, I’ve whipped up a couple of apple pies.  To my surprise, everything turned out great!

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 The pizza was indeed rough and ready – I grabbed the crust recipe off PW, the sauce recipe from allrecipes (with some personal customizing), and the toppings consisted of bacon, green olives, mixed cheese, and pesto.  I made a total of 4 pizzas (2 on one day, and 2 on the other).  The first time I didn’t make too much sauce, but turns out that that was actually good – the second time I made TOO much sauce and I learned that leaves the center of the crust a tad too soggy.  Gallery below!

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The apple pie was something I was especially proud of.  The first pie I made turned out pretty decent – I ate most of it, but shared perhaps half with a couple of friends that visited.  With the second pie though, I brushed egg white on the bottom of the crust and used foil around the crust to prevent excessive browning.  This turned out (visually at least) picture perfect!  I say “visually” because I didn’t taste this second pie.  You read that right – I actually passed on eating that delicious looking pie.  What came over me?? 😮

Actually, I brought in the second pie to work.  I left on on the counter of the common area and left a note telling folks to help themselves.  It was gone in 30 minutes, so I guess it must have tasted alright. 🙂

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For those interested, I grabbed the recipes for both the crust and the apple pie off allrecipes, tweaking to add a tad of cinnamon, and also pouring in the sugar/butter paste over the apples before creating the lattice crust.  The crust by the way, is dead easy (makes 4 individual crust or 2 double-crusts) and can be made and frozen ahead of time.  For those of you without a rolling pin, a bottle of organic Sangria left over from Christmas works just fine. 😉

Oh, and there was a small amount of crust left over – I flattened it out, filled it with some spam and cheese for a “hot-pocket” type of meal – delish, but definitely not for the weight conscious!

Food & drinks

A bit more on cookin’

Last weekend I suddenly felt like cooking, so for some reason, before I went to bed, I ended up making a large batch of banana bread!

It turned out a little heavier than I would have liked, but it was tasty enough – at least it vanished from the office common area in less than 30 minutes!  I made 2 trays – one batch in a bundt pan, and the other in a traditional pan.  The bundt was the dish I shared at work since slicing was easy, and I…. I confess I ate most of the pan batch myself… (I actually just finished the rest of it today (>_<;

Images below!  (for some reason, it rose extremely well… but after cooling went back down drastically)

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Also, I’ve never realized how much of a difference a good knife makes in cooking.  Yesterday before heading out in the morning for running, I put in the remainder of the Christmas chicken (hey, it was pretty big and took a long time to eat!) into the slow cooker, chopped up carrots, parsley, onions, garlic, and potatoes.  Chopping was EASY!  I’ve always cut my veggies with an old knife that I’ve had for years – and chopping with that could get frustrating because it never sliced straight, and I would always have to put my whole weight down to get it to cut anything.

However, I recently got a new knife from the local supermarket.  They were running a promotion in which every 1,000 yen spent also got you a point.  With 25 points + 2,000 yen, you could get a nice new knife.  Now, I didn’t go and spend 25,000 on groceries just for a knife!  I was lucky – when checking out with my groceries one day, a lady saw me getting my point and offered me about 12 points of her own – apparently she had already gotten her knife and didn’t need these any more – she looked like she had at least 2 kids so I imagine that her grocery bills were much higher than mine, hence why she had so many spare points.

Anyway, I got my knife and boy was I impressed.  It cut through taters and carrots as if they were butter.  It really cuts down on time and frustration!  (“cuts down” eh? pun? Me so witty.. :P)

Doesn’t the pot of veggies look good thought? I let it cook away for roughly 16hrs and at the end also tossed in a can of cream of mushroom soup.  The combo was nothing fancy, but very filling and has already given me 2 full meals – and I’ve still got enough for another one or two bowls.  (unfortunately forgot to take a picture of the finished dish… was too hungry and just dove right in)

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Oh, and also included are some pictures of chocolate chip cookies I made.  A couple of friends had birthdays recently and I figured I’d bake them some cookies.  Not sure why, but the end result (again, forgot to take pics post-baking) turned out really flat… these were the 3rd batch of cookies I’ve made and the first two turned out nicely, shape-wise.  These tasted good enough, but somehow really flattened out.  I wonder if I used different butter than the one I did last time… that’s the only thing I can think of.  I miss easy access to Crisco… (and no I did not eat any cookie dough – WHO WOULD EVER DO SUCH A THING… though it tastes so GOOD… I mean… not that I would know of such a thing, of course…)

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Food & drinks

Mmm, food!

Speaking of holidays and cooking resolutions, I have yet to post what I’ve cooked!

I recently got a Healsio microwave steam oven, and I have to say that I have been very pleased with how it’s working.  I’ll try to do a writeup about it later, but for now I just wanted to put up some images of my holiday cooking.

On the days leading up to Christmas, I’ve made both chocolate chip and molasses cookies, a whole roast chicken, stuffing, and corn bread.  (I also made tons of mashed potatoes as well as gravy but not using the oven)

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On the table we have stuffing in a pan, the roast chicken, clam chowder in a crock pot (though the clam chowder was from a can – I just added raw shrimp), roast potatoes and carrots, corn bread, and molasses cookies! 

More images below, though none are of very good quality – this  represents a full day of cooking and I was pretty wiped out by the time everything was done.

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I actually cooked way too much for just 3 people (myself, S, and her sister), so next time I’ll have to remember to cut down a little!

Food & drinks

Eat your hambugers if you want blond hair!

I bought a TV very recently and though I mostly use it to watch US TV shows that I’ve…”obtained” *cough-ahem*, I do occasionally switch it on to see what’s showing on Japanese TV (the 7 or so channels that are broadcast for free).  Most times, the programs consists of sports, news, and extremely bizarre-if-not-downright-ridiculous TV talk shows.  So I don’t watch Japanese TV all that much.

One night though, there was a program in English! 😯 I couldn’t stay up too late (early shift at work the next day) but I did spend a few minutes watching the show, which happened to be a discussion between a Japanese and a Westerner on a new (for me) Japanese word – Y?shoku.

Essentially a “redefining” of Western food by the Japanese, Yoshoku includes such staples as “Omurice“, “Curry Rice“, “Spaghetti Napoletan”, and “Hambagu”.

I could write more on this, but I came across an excellent article available at the NYTimes on this very topic (and also explains the subject of my post). 🙂

Food & drinks


I stumbled across this recipe for making stuffed mushrooms and… dang… that’s real incentive for me to get a microwave oven!  It looks so good (yes, yes, I know it also looks incredibly calorific but c’mon!) that I’ve got to make this some time!

The Pioneer Woman is another site that’s going into my bookmarks 🙂

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Food & drinks

Making Umeshu/Plum liqueur

One thing most of my friends know is that I’m not a “hard” drinker.  Oh, I do imbibe the occasional cocktail or liqueur, and have tried the local Japanese shochu and other alcohols… but always in moderation.  I have never gotten drunk – and never intend to.

Friends I’ve spoken to say that I should try it sometime, that for them it’s a great way to relax and forget about stresses and cares, but… I’ll pass.  Everything I’ve seen about intoxication, whether it’s what I’ve read about the splitting hangovers, or hear friends tell me that they don’t remember anything that happened the night before, or watch salarymen puking their guts out in the streets… nah, no thanks, I do think I’ll pass. 😉

I don’t think I’m particularly “weak” to alcohol, I thankfully don’t experience the “instant red face” symptom that many Japanese seem to display when drinking even lightly (due to some missing enzyme I believe).  The most I’ve ever drunk was at a company gathering where co-workers were recommending various Japanese shochu, nihonshu, wine, and “sours”.  I did feel somewhat light-headed when it was time to go, but still didn’t have any issues getting back home (no wobbly legs, no blackouts, no hangover, etc).  So…it’s not really that I CAN’T drink – it’s more that I don’t really care for it – or more likely, don’t care for the idea of a loss of control.

That’s not to say that I don’t enjoy some drinking – as long as the drink is SWEET.  Hard-core drinkers may scoff, but… can’t help it.  Beer doesn’t appeal to me, and neither does stuff like whiskey or vodka (though I’m amenable for a taste if combined in a sweet cocktail).  Rather stuff like sweet wine (so usually red), Bailey’s, Kahlua (though that’s almost -note I say “almost”- too sweet), and… umeshu.

I think I’ve liked umeshu from the first time I tried it.  It’s a sweet plum (ume) liqueur that I especially enjoy over ice (on the rocks).  There are also various varieties including honey umeshu, green tea umeshu, brown sugar umeshu, and more, all quite delicious.

One of the things I’ve always wanted to try doing was making my own!  I’ve seen the ingredients and jars for sale every spring and always decided that whenever I had a place of my own,  I’d give it a try.  Well… I can now cross that off my to-do list!

I found a beautiful post at the Blue Lotus about making umeshu and followed that as best I could – it’s really quite simple!

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  • 1kg Rock sugar
  • 1kg Unripe, unblemished plums
  • Enough 35% “white liquor” to fill a jar (typically sold in 1.8liter cartons in Japan)

Other items you’ll need:

  • Large, fully sealable jar (typically sold in 2-4 liter sizes in Japan)
  • Toothpick(s)
  • Paper towels
  • Colandar

First thoroughly rinse off the ume and make sure there aren’t any with gashes or splits in the skin.  After rinsing them off and selecting the best ones, set them on a towel to dry off or if you’re in a hurry (as I was) use paper towels to dry off the ume thoroughly.

Also do the same for the jar, making sure that it’s very clean and dry.

Next, use the toothpick to extract any remnants of stem from the ume.  Even though some ume may already look de-stemmed, you’d be surprised at what can still be extracted!

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Again making sure that the ume are dry, start layering the ume and rock sugar in the large jar until you’ve gone through the entire batch of sugar and ume.  Finally, top the whole thing off with the white liquor, seal and store in a cool dry place.

After several hours, you can upend the jar to stir up the sugar, repeating this process every few days until the sugar has been fully dissolved.

And voila!  Now to wait for at least 3 months… 🙁

I learned one thing while making my batch, and that was to make sure next time that I really clean and de-stem the ume well!  As I look now, I see some (minor) sediment when shaking up the jar.  I don’t think this will detract too much from the final product, but it doesn’t look quite as beautiful as it could.  Trust me, a cold, crystal clear glass of umeshu is…just beautiful.

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Another thing – I also added a few squeezes of HONEY.  This is something I just “felt like doing” and I have no idea if I’ve made a terrible mistake or not (ie it might make the whole concoction rancid, or spoil somehow… I don’t know).  I guess I’ll find out in 3 months! (though I plan on keeping some for a full year to try and see what the difference in taste is like. 🙂

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Food & drinks

The onigiri experiment

My first “cooked” (which basically just consisted of boiling) meal at my new place was okayu, but since then I’ve also attempted fried eggs (YUM – it’s been a while since I’ve had those!), grilled cheese sammiches and instant ramen.  All very simple, “single guy living alone” type of meals.  However, it does seem like kind of a waste of my cooker no?  So I figured I’d try to ramp it up a little by making onigiri.  Not too complicated, but still closer to “home cooking” than what I’ve been doing to date.

(of course, after I started this, I realised that I didn’t need the gas range…doh!)

Every day, and I mean EVERY SINGLE weekday morning, I always grab a “wakame” onigiri at the Lawson conbini.  I love wakame, and Lawson makes the better wakame onigiris that I’ve tried.  Cheap (at 105 yen) and healthy, it’s been a regular staple of mine (heck, I just finished one a little while ago).

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When I was out shopping at the supermarket the other day, the following packet caught my eye and I was instantly motivated to try making my own breakfast.

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Originally I hadn’t specifically thought of making wakame onigiri, but after I got home I also realised that I had several packets of the snackable-type wakame (I think they’re intended as an accompaniment to drinking, like nuts, cheese, etc. but I just buy them as a quick and tasty snack) so I decided to try to incorporate them as well.

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It’s really extremely simple:

Ingredients (no precise measurements because… I didn’t measure anything, just did it all to taste):

Onigiri seasoning

First you cook the rice (I made 2 cups).  When that’s done, it’s probably best to let the rice sit in the cooker for another 10-15 mins to let the moisture settle.  During this time, I chopped up about 3 small packets of wakame and set aside.

After cooling, I transferred all the rice into a large glass bowl and topped it with several dabs of butter.  (the butter was my own little addition since I just love butter on rice 😀

After stirriing in the butter, I folded in the chopped wakame, and finally the onigiri seasoning.  After stirring thoroughly – voila!  Yummy rice!  All that was left to be done was shape it into the traditional triangles (or balls, if you prefer) and wrap it up.  I made 2 onigiri, and there was plenty left over for the following day.

Despite the simplicity (let’s face it, this won’t win me any cooking awards) it was pretty tasty, even if I do say so myself~  😀

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