Friday, 27 January 2012

Crafty Times: Felted bears

I was dying to share this with you all yesterday, but I waited until today so I could share both of my creations at once! I blogged some photos of the little creatures I made before Christmas by needle felting, and this week have had a chance to make some more creations! I copied the panda off a photo I found online, and then made the Pooh bear using the similar idea. I'd love to share the patterns with you all but since I didn't design the panda myself I don't think it'd be fair. Maybe I can share the Pooh Bear design another day (when I'm a bit less stressed making it and manage to take some photos of the process!)

They look like good friends, don't they?

Thursday, 26 January 2012

Food Adventures: It's Pay Day!

Food Adventures and Pay Day may not always naturally go together, but anyone who has spent any time abroad (definitely in Japan) knows that there are some things that you are used to have regularly at home that have to be treats here. Japan's an expensive place and whilst eating in Japanese restaurants is wonderfully cheap (relatively anyway), a lot of ingredients are expensive. Especially fruit and vegetables. But, this week was our first proper Japanese pay check and so we splashed out on some tasty treats. Plus the fact that this week is my office week (meaning no classes and work from 11-5 ish instead) means that I have had ample time to prepare sumptuous treats for our lucky tummies!

Yes, yes that is APPLE CRUMBLE. And although I didn't take a photo, I also made CUSTARD. All made without an oven or custard powder. I am such a genius.

Pay Day morning requires a special breakfast.

I had my first experiment with baking in the rice cooker. It kind of worked but our one only cooks for 10 minutes at a time before trying to steam. Great for rice, not so great for cake! I'm guessing the cool moments while I reset it a few times is what made it sink in the middle.

I was still deliciously scrummy with chocolate sauce (made by heating water and stirring in cocoa powder and sugar and cooking until dissolved and tasty)

And our most extravagant meal...Mexican. Deliciously delicious. But with refried beans ¥400 (£3.50), one pepper ¥160 (£1.50) and an avocado ¥160 (£1.50), before you even start on everything else, it makes for an expensive meal.

We enjoyed it a lot though :D

Anyone else been cooking anything tasty this week?


So last Sunday we randomly decided to visit Yamagata. It's the nearest city the other way from Sendai (about 50 minutes by train from our little station). By all accounts there's not much there, but one of our friends from training lives there, and we thought it would make a good change of scenery.

We were just going to go for the day, but Alex and his girlfriend Kyoko invited us to stay, and since there was a chance to meet some new people and have some drinks, we thought why not!

Ramen for lunch - you cook this one yourself at the table

John bought a 1 litre can of Asahi beer. Just because he could.

A fresh bank of snow was too tempting :)

You're never too old to play with snow

Pretty shrine

...with pretty trees

Scary doll and a scary boyfriend

There wasn't a castle (just the site of one, standard), but there was this random pretty building

Are you bored of snowy mountain photos yet?!?

Yamagata as a place doesn't really seem to have much to offer - we had a wander round on Sunday but there wasn't anything to see you can't see everywhere in Japan - pretty shrine, a castle site but that's about it. However, we had a really good time and it was worth going for the company alone! We had a really fun weekend and hopefully we're heading back in a couple of weeks time to partake in the only thing most people go to Yamagata for...skiing. I'll keep you posted! 

Sunday, 22 January 2012

Living in a wintery (and clean) Wonderland

I cleaned our apartment and it snowed. So I took some photos!

We love our mountains.

Pretty room. Well as pretty as it's going to get anyway!

Being good and folding up our futon to air it

Saturday, 21 January 2012

Food Adventures: Going Japanese (or not!)

Last weekend my new friend Hiroko took me to the library in Sendai and signed me up for a library card. As well as other books, I also got a Japanese cookbook, and we set about trying to cook a dish from it. Since we've been eyeing up all the random fish in the supermarket since we got here, we decided to make simmered fish.
Do not ask me what the fish is, I have no idea! It was really tasty served with some veggies and rice.

And then I tried to make onigiri, my favourite Japanese snack. It's a rice ball (or triangle) filled with something (anything goes pretty much!). I made tuna mayo and egg ones. They were kind of successful but not very tasty :( I don't know why not. 

They looked OK but fell apart a bit when I tried to move them much :(

I got to use my cute little onigiri case though :)

And to complete a Japanese week, we went for sushi for dinner tonight with Amy and 2 Japanese girls she met. Yum.

Octopus and roe sushi. Really tasty :D

Conger eel

Yum yum yum. 

So a very Japanese week all in all...oh, except the very English lunch I made for myself the other day!

I enjoyed this a lot. Oh, and Dad and Stacey, this is just for you to prove that you won't starve when you come visit!

Sunday, 15 January 2012

Food Adventures: CAKE!

So after my disaster last week, tonight I had a chance to give baking another shot! A bit more time on my hands to properly convert the recipe and more importantly BAKING POWDER made this one more of a success!! I just need to buy a big enough bowl so it doesn't spill out and make a mess of my microwave! My first successful attempt at Japanese, oven-free baking!

Below is the recipe and some photos. I only did half this recipe for 2 of us. I've given the ml forms that I used, as well as the original oz for those of you sensible enough to purchase scales before endeavouring to bake anything!

Chocolate Fudge Microwave Pudding

4 oz (120ml) flour (Self-raising if you can find it, or if not add 2tsp of baking powder)
4oz (120ml) sugar
1oz (2 tbsp) cocoa Powder
2oz butter (usefully my packet comes marked in 10g intervals :D)
1 egg, beaten
4 tbsp milk (or water worked OK too)


4oz (120 ml) sugar and 2oz (60ml) drinking chocolate
6oz (180ml) sugar and 1 1/2oz (3tbsp) cocoa powder
140ml hot water

Method -
Mix flour, sugar and cocoa powder together in a microwavable bowl (bigger than mine was!)
Melt butter in the microwave (medium heat) and stir into flour mixture, along with the egg and milk/water.
In a seperate bowl, mix together the sugar and cocoa powder/drinking chocolate for the sauce. Pour onto the cake mixture but don't mix. Pour the hot water on top. 

Hopefully it'll look something like this (but in a bigger bowl because you are more sensible than me)

Put into the microwave at HIGH for 5-6 minutes or until set on top. 

And hey, presto, a delicious chocolate pudding :D

Mine sunk slightly because I took it out too early due to aforementioned microwave destroying issues! It still tasted delicious!

Saturday, 14 January 2012

A week of ups and downs

This week was always going to be a hard one in lots of ways.

My first full week of teaching. Commuting almost 3 hours each way to my school in Yamoto. Doing a lot of that commute along the coast that was affected by the tsunami. Teaching children who lost homes and family in the tsunami. Teaching those children for the first time while being observed by their parents. Still battling the cold and the snow and the ice. Falling off my bike on said ice. My first Japanese lesson.

It was difficult and I'm exhausted now, but I managed to have a lot of good times too. I (briefly) visited Matsushima Bay, continued to make friends, visited some new places to eat, and celebrated a Japanese festival. Photos below :)

Matsushima park

Matsushima Bay. Despite being by the coast, Matsushima mostly escaped the tsunami due to all the islands and the general lay of the land. The beauty of it feels weird next to the devastation further up the coast, but there's something lovely about it surviving too.  

Dad, maybe you could just steal one when you come to visit???

Our friend Tomoki took us to a yummy and cheap izakaya. Okonomiyaki, pig trotter (John told him to order something random), cabbage and edamame were all on the menu, as well as lots of yakitori. Yum.

Tomoki and his friend Ryusuke fighting to split konnakyu. It's a weird thing made out of a type of potato, but somehow made rubbery. I have no idea how, you'll have to google it.

Like a lot of Japanese places, there was an open kitchen. Fun! 
I couldn't bring myself to take photos in the tsunami area. It feels too prying. But I took this of the lovely sunset in an affected area. Apart from some bits, it's hard to tell what has always been farmland and what used to be housing. I think most of this is just farmland though.

Maiko, a lady I met last week, took us to the Dontosai festival. The basic idea is that you go to a shrine and everything burnt on the fire goes up to your ancestor ghosts/gods. So it's a combination of wishes for good luck, presents to say thank you, and (conveniently) New Year's decorations. 

I hope this wasn't a personal slight! I think it was just a bad choice of bag!

There's lots of food stalls too. (By the way, wondered above what okonomiyaki is? It's this! Cabbage, batter and miscellaeous other items mixed together and fried. It's yummy :D)

Things to be burnt. We wanted to rescue the poor teddies but I think that would be breaking far too many cultural taboos!

Afterwards, Maiko took us to a kind of tapas restaurant in Sendai. We had lots of tasty food but this was the only one that earnt a picture. Why? Well it may look safe, but it's actually, in the words of Maiko who couldn't think of the English word, "the bits of a fish that make semen"!! It was actually really good and just kind of tasted like a strange type of cheese!

I hope everyone else had a lot of good times this week too!

Friday, 13 January 2012

Food Adventures: Kitchen Experiments

Since I love cooking and eating, I thought when I started this blog that it might have a bit of a heavy leaning towards food related things! This hasn't really happened so far, but I thought I'd start sharing some of my food experiments with you! These will be both new things I've eaten and things I've tried to cook!

Cooking in Japan is no mean feat when this is my kitchen...
That's it. 2 hobs, a sink, a microwave and a couple of cupboards. 

No oven, hardly any preparation space and no grill. Takes some getting used to! And combined with my severe confusion every time I head into a Japanese supermarket, it's lead to some slight kitchen disasters, as well as some very tasty food!

On Monday, I promised to cook for John as he had work and I was off. On the menu?
Pad thai - prawns, beansprouts, lime and chillis from supermarket and rice noodles, fish sauce and nuts from international supermarket in Sendai station.

And I was hoping to make my first foray into baking my cooking a microwave chocolate pudding. Everything available at our local supermarket (and a note to the wise...sugar in Japan is next to the salt. And looks identical to it. I spent a long time trying to find it!)

Unfortunately I don't have any more photos to show you as it all got a bit chaotic! The pad thai was a success...prawns here are DELICIOUS...I used this recipe, and just missed out the things I didn't have. It was really yummy! 

However, the cake was a disaster :( I realised too late that I didn't have scales or a proper measuring cup and was trying to convert into ml! Too tricky! I also assumed the flour was's not! I have now found baking's called bakingu powada in Japanese :D So I will try this recipe again and if I can make it work, I'll share the recipe and photos with you! 

One other food photo for you before I head out to work...

Toppo...potentially even better than Pocky. Decision pending! The kitkat was our first foray into random flavoured kitkats (a Japanese speciality)! They were strange but fairly tasty!

Sunday, 8 January 2012

Calming Temple Trips

Two pretty trips to temples. Japanese temples (I think these are both Buddhist but I don't trust myself so I'll stick with Japanese!) are so peaceful and calming. I just wish I had my brother Andrew as a constant photographer on my shoulder. My little camera and pitiful photography skills just don't do justice to the prettiness of Japan.

One was up a long, snowy path on the top of a hill near our apartment.

Gorgeous views of Sendai

Simple and beautiful.

The way back down was stressful, but やった!

Trip number two, this one was bigger and a lot easier to get to. In between our house and central Sendai, a short train ride away.
Lots of lovely lanterns everywhere

Back down the lantern lit path

I like this photo the best :)