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Sakura-time at Starbucks 2017

As every year Starbucks Japan released their sakura products just two weeks ago. This year they have the Sakura Blossom Cream Frappuccino and the Sakura Blossom Cream Latte. For sure I tried them and they tasted really nice. As their name says they are creamy, topped with a maple sauce-flavoured whipped cream, pink-colored chocolate flakes and small pink rice cracker balls. A pretty nice combination in my opinion. I personally like the Sakura Blossom Cream Latte better than the Frappuccino. The prices rank from ¥ 530 to ¥ 650 for the Frappuccino and ¥ 430 to ¥ 550 for the Latte. But if you want to try them hurry up. The sakura products are limited until March 14th. Furthermore they also have a Sakura Chiffon Cake which costs ¥ 380. However, for me, the taste was not so special. It is topped with a salty cherry blossom what felt a bit strange while eating. Japan really has interesting food combinations, doesn’t it? Who wants to have one of the sakura goods like tumblers, cups, glasses and more should be quickly. Many things of the first line “Harmony Collection” are already sold out. On March 1st the second line “Purity” will be released. How about you? Did you try any of the Starbucks Sakura products?

Birthday cake

February is the month of mid- wintery, reliably cold weather and unmotivational blues. All anyone wants to do is huddle down and stay inside. Especially if  there is a kotatsu, the draw of the warm cozy blanket is so luring, no one leaves home without good reason. The promises riding on the bitter cold winds that spring will soon start showing its lovely face are still just whispers between the howls through the empty branches of the trees. But February is also something else for me. February is my birth month.This means cake. Yeah yeah, I know. Shouldn't I be done with cake after Christmas in Japan? It was only a mere month and a half before. But those February blues, that cold melancholy grips me every year. And what better way to pull up from the dreary mundane of winter than by stuffing a sweet delicious and filling pile of cake in my mouth. But this is Japan, the land of light and airy fluff. Heck, Christmas cake is often mostly just whipped cream. Now don't get me wrong, cakes sold in Japanese cake shops are divine. But let us be honest, most of the time they aren't actually selling cake. The shelves are in fact stocked with some form of tort , or a pile of chestnut paste or a pudding even. And when it is cake. with an icing and layers, perhaps topped with glazed fruit so they will hold their perfect flawless shape and color, the texture can be so light it is almost like licking snow. Delicious fruit covered snow. But I don't want snow. It is cold and freezing to the bone outside. The wind is banging on my windows, rattling my walls, yelling at me. It is trying to tell me to brace myself against winter! Pack on some of that winter fluff! Have the calories and the fat. Get something full of butter and flour and sugar. Go for the fudge-y dense stuff. Eat something hearty and pretend you are a polar bear for your birthday, not some snow queen. Japanese cake just doesn't cut it. It's just a snowflake, beautifully crafted, but melts away to nothing all too fast. For my birthday, I need something that will sit in my stomach and last for days. Only then can I find a cozy space to hibernate under my kotatsu and ride out the rest of winter like a true bear would do. So what is a girl with a craving to do? Stare at pictures online of gorgeous cakes, and YouTube videos of how to make cakes more gooey, dense, fudge-y and delicious just with a few tweaks of the ingredients? There is nowhere close that could imaginably have dense rich cakes for sale. I’ve checked all the Japanese cake shops nearby. Delicious, but not dense. All I need is flour, sugar, oil and something to make it puff up. oh, and heat to start the chemical changes to give me something stiff instead of sweet soup.Luckily this girl has a semi-oven. The wonder of Japanese technology allows for one appliance to serve several purposes with just the push of a button. It’s like magic. My microwave is also my oven. I can reheat my coffee and then bake a cake. But my Japanese sorta oven lacks one magic I miss from the States, intense heat. At home, when I would make my birthday cakes in the past, I could feel the oven prepping itself for the batter while I assembled it. My back could feel the toasty waves of heat radiating from behind me as the temperature rose to 360 degrees Fahrenheit. Now, after the batter is complete, I go hide under my kotatsu until the oven beeps at me saying it's reached 180 degrees Celsius, and I have to pop the small round cake mold that I bought from the nearby 100 yen store in as quickly as I can so as not to lose too much heat before closing the door. The room isn’t cozy, but instead full of dry bitter air. The microwave oven does a good job keeping all its heat to itself, sharing it only with my cake batter. Winter is still cold. But I can finally have my cake. All that is left is the icing, but again I am denied what I really desire. It is so sweet and probably just as terrible for you as would be eating a stick of margarine, but pre-made frosting in the cans sold by the boxes of cake mix at grocery stores in the states are just so gooood. I guess I can just settle for something actually tasty, like whipped chocolate ganache. Warm,moist and just out of the oven, my three layer chocolate ganache cake became a two layer cake because this polar bear couldn't hold out for the decoration stage. It really is the best way to somehow enjoy icy and unfriendly February. So, please, before this month ends, go out and enjoy some cake. You know, to celebrate my birthday, or maybe the ending of winter. Whatever excuse you want to give for having cake.

Tulipfields around Sakura City

Every year at the beginning of march the tulip season starts in japan. In Sakura City (Chiba prefecture) you can find a huge field full of different tulips from around the world. In the middle of the field is a beautiful windmill from the Netherlands which has a small museum inside. If you going at the end of march to the fields, you might be lucky to see most of the tulips fully bloomed. But every tulip is different and has different blooming time.  I love to walk around the fields and see the big variety of flowers. Also for around 500 Yen you can collect 10 tulips from the fields and bring them back to home. The good thing about tulips is that they come back every year again. For your entertainment you can listen to a school choir or dress up in a typical Netherlands dress with wood shoes. Also you can have lunch at the nearby restaurant and food stands.I visit that place every year because I like the nice atmosphere of the fields in the countryside and it gives me a little feeling of being back to Europe.

Hunting for oranges

 My family LOVES mikan. They love fruit of any kind really. But for a family of 5 living in Japan, fruit can sometimes be a hard thing to come by. Sometimes fruit just does not fit into the family budget. With apples costing the equivalent of a dollar or more when they are in season, or strawberries close to 5 dollars for a small pack, this mother always has to scope out the ugly fruit section where the almost ready to mold produce is discounted down from the Japanese high market prices to more frugal , and just reasonable prices. Even then, the sweet stuff just cannot make it into the shopping basket, because our paycheck has to be spent on more important things like protein, carbs and another box of erasers for the school supplies. I swear my kids are eating the erasers, too. Fruit is certainly a delicacy for a poor family in Japan. Not out of reach , but hard to get hold of and with 5 of us, hard to hold on to. Sometimes when I am cutting into a pineapple I have bought with the yellow price down ticket still stuck to its tag, I get flashes from the animation Only Yesterday, where the family shares the not yet sweetened slice of pineapple.  . Nowadays fruit is easier to get, but still very prized in Japan. This is why I think the Japanese word for fruit-picking , Gari or hunting, is so appropriate. You get to hunt and pick out exactly the fruit that you want. The juiciest tastiest, most delicious looking piece of fruit you can find in the field. And this is why, every year, our family has begun to make it a tradition to go hunting. Hunting for mikan. Japan has a plethora of places to pick fruit, from strawberries to Japanese pears, to blueberries. Depending on where you live, and what time of year it is, you can find someplace that will let you hunt for your own fruit. The best part, depending on the place and fruit, you can eat your fill while there. Some places even allow you to take some fruit home with you. During my study abroad year, a close friend's family took me on my first ever ichigo-gari or strawberry hunt. As a birthday gift, they paid my way into a 90 minute all you can pig out on raid of a strawberry farm. The owners of the farm even provide you with sweetened condensed milk for a real dessert feel. It was a beautifully sweet experience that I really wanted to share with my family of fruit lovers. However, at 20 bucks a head, or 2000 yen should I say, a family hunt for strawberries looked very far off in the family budget. With gas and everything else needing to be figured in, the five of us would never be able to do it. But it didn't have to be strawberries. Any fruit would do, so I did a little search into Google. I just looked for fruit picking in my prefecture and this popped up, Fruit Picking . I started searching all the farms in an hours drive radius for pricing and deals to pick fruit. I even asked facebook groups I am part of for reccomendations and that lead me to This, it's in japanese but basically , it is all you can eat oranges for 500 en plus you get a bag to take home more. It was the luckiest find! At the time I was searching, it was exactly mikan season, and our family made plans to go the next open weekend we could find. Our only open weekend, however, happened to be the last weekend of mikan season. But luck would have it that because it was the end of the season, and the owners are super fantastically lovely wonderful amazing people, they gave each of our family members two bags to fill and take home, and did not even charge for our children. Needless to say, we stuffed our faces and had fun.  That first year was the best planned trip our family has had.  The following year was not. Thinking we would have the same luck as the previous year, everyone piled into the car, ready to gorge on citrus, sweet sticky fruit. After an hour's drive out, we approached the hillside in the little valley where the mikan orchard was and expected to see a line of cars like the past year, everyone stopping at the booth to pay their fee and receive their bags before driving up the hill, but here were no cars. the booth was covered in a blue tarp and not one person was outside. Had we come on a holiday? Is the season already over? There were oh so few fruits hanging on the trees. Trying our luck, we drove to the top of the hill and spotted a family with the clear plastic bags to fill with mikan. Hopeful, we asked if the mikan -gari was still ok to do. The family apparently knew the owners and despite the season being over, were allowed to come in and scavenge for what few oranges were left on the trees. Our family hunt for mikan then turned into a hunt for the orchard owners. Determined for our fill of fruit, something we rarely could afford in the first place, we search the neighborhood, knocking on doors for the owners of the orchard. After 45 minutes and no luck, we tried once more to phone the owners. Yatta!! Again, they were fantastic sweet and wonderful! we had full range of the orchard, for only 1000 en, and no time limit. The owner was merely sorry the fruit would not be sweet. But his kindness for letting us hunt for our fruit was sweet enough to mask any tartness in the fruit we ate that day. And the next and next and next because we also got to take home so many more.So if you are craving fruit, but do not want to pay the high prices, then just wait for November to early December and make a trip to Sakurayama. Hunt for some mikan. You will not regret it. Our family has not.

Easy Yaki Onigiri Recipe { 焼きおにぎり }

焼きおにぎりYaki onigiri are something I always order at Japanese pubs! Grilled coated in soy sauce, served hot with a dab of melting butter, yaki onigiri are crispy on the outside, soft on the inside and a pleasure to eat. So overpriced in pubs, but nothing compares to the smoky flavours the onigiri picks up from meat or fish previously cooked on the same grill. Mmm…Recently I received glorious news from a teacher at work – you can freeze yaki onigiri! Say whaaaat??? Not that I ever have leftovers on the rare occasion I make yaki onigiri, but today the craving struck me and I headed straight home after work to make a double batch!In case you are wondering, onigiri are those little triangle shaped rice balls, a super popular lunch and convenience food in Japan. ‘Yaki’ means ‘grilled’. So yaki onigiri translates as ‘grilled rice balls’. In my opinion, all the best foods in Japan have the word ‘yaki’ in them; yakitori, okonomiyaki, takoyaki, teriyaki, teppanyaki, sukiyaki, yakiniku…Yaki onigiri are super simple, once your rice is cooked, you can whip up some yaki onigiri in ten minutes! Below I’ve shared a recipe for making basic yaki onigiri, and instructions for freezing and reheating your yaki onigiri. Go on, give it a go.YAKI ONIGIRIEasy Yaki OnigiriINGREDIENTS* Cooked sushi rice or short grain rice* Soy sauceOptional:* Oil or butter for grilling* Butter for serving* Salt for plain onigiriMETHODCook your rice as per instructions.Shape into onigiri triangles. It is optional whether you salt your hands or not as you will be putting soy sauce on your onigiri later.Heat the grill to medium temperature, lightly grease with butter or oil if you like, and place your onigiri on top. Let them grill for several minutes on one side. Don’t move them. If you’re worried about the heat grill them on low for longer.Turn your onigiri over and grill the other side for several minutes. Again, let them rest, don’t check constantly and move them.Baste one side of your onigiri with soy sauce. Don’t drown them!Grill the onigiri again, basted side down. Repeat steps 5 and 7 with the other side of the onigiri. If you prefer a strong soy flavour to your onigiri, continue to baste and grill each side until it is as you like it.Serve your yaki onigiri hot off the grill with a dab of butter.TIPSGrilling your onigiri after you cook meat or fish in a pan adds an absolutely amazing flavour! If you think of it, next time you cook meat freeze some drippings and use it to grease the grill when you make your onigiri. You can use other sauces instead of soy sauce. Soy sauce is most common, but yaki onigiri would be delicious made with any smokey, salty sauces. I’ve heard that yaki onigiri came about as a way to enliven day old rice balls that had gone slightly stale and crunchy. Don’t hesitate to grill any onigiri, regardless of the filling, and turn them into yaki onigiri. No need to put a dab of butter on onigiri that you plan to freeze. You can add it when you reheat them to eat.How to freeze yaki onigiri:After cooking your yaki onigiri and while they are still warm, wrap each individual onigiri tightly in cling wrap.Place the wrapped onigiri in a zip lock bag or seal-able container. Freeze.How to reheat yaki onigiri:Reheating your onigiri is easy. Simply microwave until warmed through. Most microwaves have a warming setting. Do leave each onigiri in the plastic wrap while you reheat them otherwise they will dry out.Whatever you do, don’t leave your onigiri to thaw! Whether you plan to eat your onigiri immediately or later the same day, you need to reheat them in the microwave from frozen. Microwaving them preserves the texture of your onigiri. If you let them defrost, the outside will be crunchy, and not because you grilled them, and the inside will be mush. You can thaw your onigiri in the microwave, pop them in your lunch box and eat them later in the day for lunch at work.  I’ve always been impressed by the busy teachers who stay at work until 9pm yet still have cute and delicious looking onigiri in their lunch each day. Lies all lies! Apparently the secret is making a whole batch of onigiri on the weekend and freezing them to microwave each morning and pack in bentos for lunch. They look so moist and lovely, I’d never have guessed. The secret is out and now we can all enjoy yaki onigiri whenever the craving strikes! Cheers also to making lunch more convenient, and fooling everyone into thinking we’ve totally got our lives organised.Happy grilling!{ Ashes }P.S. Make yaki onigiri for your food cautious friends when they visit you in Japan. I've yet to have anyone decline or not finish their homemade yaki onigiri!

Frozen Fantasy at Tokyo Disneyland

As many things are seasonal changing in Japan, also Tokyo Disney Resort has changing events all over the year. At the moment the special event “Anna and Elsa’s Frozen Fantasy” is hold at Tokyo Disneyland. I visited there on February 11th and want to give you a small impression what is so special right now.  According to the name “Anna and Elsa’s Frozen Fantasy” this event is themed to the famous Disney movie Frozen and you can find a unique parade, decorations, food and more of it. Notice, the event is only held from January 13 to March 17 this year. 1) Frozen Forever – the highlight of this year’s event. At nighttime a projection lights up Cinderella Castle with famous scenes out of the movie telling a story about Anna and Elsa. Music is played and snow will fall down while even fireworks are shown in the air. 2) Frozen Fantasy Parade – Disneyland is well known for its parades and certainly there is a special parade while this event. See Anna, Elsa and their friends driving through the park on big floats and enjoy the atmosphere. 3) Anna and Elsa’s Winter Greeting – a show for only children. The villagers of Arendelle will teach them a dance and later Anna, Elsa and Olaf join them to perform the famous song “Let it go” together. 4) Food and merchandise – Japan is famous for themed-food and for sure there have to be some themed food at this event. A special buffet is offered for ¥ 3,090 which is quite expensive. But don’t worry there are some other cheaper food sets and snack available inside the different restaurants all over Disneyland. And don’t forget to take a look into the merchandise shops – many new goods of Frozen characters have been released for this event. 5) Decoration – all over the park you can find decoration referring to Frozen. Find Olaf smelling on flowers or little snowmen playing around. Keep your eyes open! If you are a fan of Frozen you should definitely try to go there and be a child for one day (^_~) Ready for a photo spam? Here we go!

Top 5 healthy, cheap and easy foods and meals for terrible cooks in Japan

If you're a terrible cook like me, you'll know that sinking feeling of walking into a Japanese supermarket and realising you have no idea what anything is, let alone how to fashion it into something edible. You will also realise that most of your tried-and-tested recipes from home either contain things impossible to find in Japan, or require an oven. And who has an oven in Japan?So you think "Okay. I'll try and find Japanese recipes in English..." and they include stuff like "You will need miso"! You will need MISO! Have you seen a miso aisle, recipe writer?! You're gonna have to be a bit more specific than that! Here are the top 5 things you have to look out for in any Japanese supermarket, that may just save you from starving.5) Key ingredient: Mixed vegetable bagsThese things are a lifesaver. Go to the supermarket and buy some, you won't regret it! Cheap (at around 100 yen), healthy, and go with any of the things I am about to show you. More importantly, all the preparation required is 1: open bag 2: put in pan 3: turn on hob 4: wait. (Washing the veg and adding a little bit of oil to the pan also help!)They contain ingredients like carrots, cabbage, Japanese mushrooms and moyashi (bean sprouts), but vary depending on brand and season. I like the brand above as they don't contain many mushrooms, but you can find ones that are mixed more to your taste. If you're really on a budget, you can buy bags of just moyashi, that will set you back about 30 yen. If you're using the veg as a main part of the meal, one bag is enough for two meals.Pair these veg with many types of noodle such as chinese-style (中華) and some pepper to get a vegetarian friendly, super quick meal. Add them to the top of ramen to fill it out a bit. Add mirin, sake and soy sauce when cooking these for a typically Japanese umami flavour. The possibilities are endless!4) Ready made nabe (hot pot)You will see these in the fridge section, in aluminium containers. Buy one and take the ingredients out from their separate packages, put them in the aluminium tin, put the tin on the hob and heat up. You have yourself a meal! No other ingredients required, but you can add extras like the veg in 5) if you wish. Beware! If you have an electric/IH stove, you may not be able to use the original tin, even if the packet says "IH 対応" or "IH compatible". ("IH incompatible" is "IH非対応") In this case just transfer to your own saucepan or frying pan.3) ChamponAnother really easy, healthy meal comes in packages that look like this. Search for ちゃんぽん written on the packet. This is a Nagasaki speciality which in its full-fledged, authentic version contains octopus, prawns, fish paste and all sorts, but works well with just veg too.Grab a bag of vegetables as in 5) and heat in a pan. (If you want to add meat or other ingredients, heat these up too) Add the noodles, broth powder and water, heat up and you're done! Quick and easy meal with the bare minimum of prep and washing up required, what's more to love?!2) Key ingredient: thinly sliced porkThinly sliced pork goes with anything! Chinese food, Japanese food, western food... anything is possible with this stuff. Pair it with the wondrous vegetables in 5) and you have a perfect noodle accompaniment. I guess it works with rice too. It may sound like "thinly sliced pork" is a needlessly long term for bacon, but the Japanese version isn't as salty or flavourful, is thinner, and has more streaky fat- than British bacon, anyway.  The more subtle flavour (okay, boring flavour) means it doesn't overpower the rest of the meal (okay, it doesn't really taste of much but gives you a more balanced meal). (I miss decent bacon) (Sigh)1) Sara udonThis is the ultimate in cheap, easy, and healthy meals. The picture above has those magical words 具いり (gu iri), meaning that the packet contains the main toppings. Add the vegetables in 5) and the pork in 2) to make it even better. Even the non-gu iri stuff just needs 5) and 2) to be ready- just add the included sauce, and maybe water if required. The great thing about Sara Udon is that the noodles are ready to eat- just stick them on a plate and bob's your uncle! The noodles are not like usual udon as they are thin, crunchy and almost snack-like, which also means that these things have a shelf life to compete with any emergency biscuits that may be hiding in your cupboard.Stock up on a few of these, and you will never go hungry in Japan!Do you have any super easy, Japan friendly food hints? What do you cook at home in Japan? Leave a comment!


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