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Tag Archives: Japan


7 links

So glad Kristy tagged me to do this fun 7 links post that’s been circling the blog world. I’ve had so much fun reading through old but notable posts on other blogs and it was fun to have a reason for me to look back over some of my own.

My 1 year blogaversary is coming up next month, so this is a good time to look back on where I’ve been over the last year…

The Goal

To unite bloggers in a joint endeavor to share lessons learned and create a bank of long but not forgotten blog posts that deserve to see the light of day again.

The Rules

  • Blogger is nominated to take part.
  • Blogger publishes his/her 7 links of his/her blog – 1 link for each category.
  • Blogger nominates up to 5 more bloggers to take part.
  • The best posts from participating bloggers will be posted on the Facebook, Twitter, and Blog at #My7Links

Most Beautiful: Honeymoon part 2: Kyoto

I decided to go with the most visually beautiful post because I don’t tend to write “inspriational” or “motivational” posts, which I think is what was intended for this category.

When Jeff and I honeymooned in Japan, Kyoto was the place that was burned most deeply into our hearts. It was rainy and gloomy for the entire 4 days we were there, and yet Kyoto was made even more beautiful by the cold quiet fog hanging in the air around us, by the clouds of mist draped low over the verdant mountains, and by the Kamo-gawa river full of rain and life making it’s rushing music just outside the window where we slept.

While Japan was certainly a new world for us full of confusion and curiosity, there were a few brief moments in Kyoto while walking along the Kamo hand in hand that both of us felt like we’d been there our entire lives and never wanted to leave. I still miss that misty place.


Most Popular: Kevin and Ashley’s wedding

Fade edge wedding cake

It was the culmination of a week-long foray into wedding cake baking. I was so honored that my brother-in-law Kevin and his now wife Ashley asked me to bake their wedding cake for them, the only problem being that I had never baked a wedding cake before and was completely unfamiliar with some of the tools and techniques it takes to make it all happen.

I watched countless YouTube videos to learn each little part that I’d never tried before and spent hours practicing to make sure I could actually deliver what I’d promised. I can now say that I feel absolutely confident that I could do this again, and even better now that I’m more familiar with the process.

It made me so happy to see everyone following along with me during my epic cake baking week and the responses to the finished product were huge!


Most Controversial: Decatur Craft Beer Festival

I got some flack for this one after I posted a link to it on a local Decatur blog. Although I appreciated the hard work and countless volunteers that went into making this festival happen, I just really didn’t enjoy it. Decatur has an amazing beer culture and I expected a better festival here, so my criticisms came from a place of pride in my town rather than lack of appreciation for it. Still, I had many angry locals slamming me for saying negative things about their beloved beer festival, not just on my blog but on the blog I posted my link to. I still stand by my assessment though and I’m glad I was honest about it.


Most Helpful: How to season a Yixing clay teapot

Fully seasoned Yixing teapot

I have a couple of “how tos” on the blog but this one is the one I’m most proud of.

Jeff and I are both tea nerds and have started a small but growing collection of authentic teaware. We’ve learned a lot about how to care for these items and how to use them to their greatest potential. Anytime a new pot enters our home it needs to be seasoned, much like a cast iron pan, to allow it to brew it’s best cup of tea. We had fun learning all about how to achieve this with the pot you see above, a Yixing clay beauty that we use exclusively for brewing pu-erhs (aged and fermented Chinese black teas.)


Surprise Success: Apple bars with cinnamon “cream cheese”

I created this recipe during a month of vegan cooking. I wasn’t really sure what I was making when I started, I think I was going for a raw bar but they wouldn’t hold together so I baked them. A Toffutti “cream cheese” icing topped them off and surprisingly they ended up delicious. Not bad for a total experiment.

The bars were a surprise success even back when I made them, but they skyrocketed when Angela of OhSheGlows featured them in her Recipe Link Love series. After that they got shared on a couple of sites around the web and to this day they’re still my most viewed recipe.

I only wish that my photography had improved by the time I made these, it pains me a little to see such terrible photos representing my blog around the web. Oh well. :)


Not Enough Attention: Cold cure drink to kick the sick

Every time I or Jeff get sick I make this drink to nurse us back to health. Seriously, it completely knocks out a cold in 2 days if you make a ton of it and sip at it constantly. It has worked for me every time.

I’ve brought it up again a few times on the blog and recommended it to sick blog friends, but I don’t think it’s ever really gotten the attention it deserves. This stuff is magic people, you have no idea!

One reason that I think no one ever makes it is because it has so many ingredients, and if you’re sick you’re not in the mood to go out and get them if you don’t already have everything. So I’ll say this: The ginger and cayenne are the most important. If you have nothing else, those two in hot water or your favorite hot tea will do fine. Hey, no one said it would taste good, it’s medicine!


Most Proud: Introducing RipeTrack

RipeTrack homepage

This here is my little baby….RipeTrack.

Jeff and I worked on creating this produce seasonality database for many long months before finally debuting it on the blog. It made me so happy to hear all of your congratulations and praise for our hard work. It’s still the post that I’ve received the most comments on and I’m so proud that it was this one.

We’ve been meaning to do some work on the site for a while but we’ve both been caught up with personal projects. Someday though, we hope to turn RipeTrack into the best source for seasonal eating on the web!


I’m supposed to tag 5 people to do this post on their own blog, but I’m already a little late in the game and I think that everyone I would tag has already been tagged. So, if you want to do the 7 links post and haven’t been tagged yet, consider yourself tagged!

Do you have a favorite post of mine? What’s your favorite post on your own blog?


Honeymoon part 4: Tokyo

And here we are on the last leg on the trip, Tokyo! Actually, it was the first and the last leg of the trip. We flew into Tokyo and pretty much went straight to bed the first night, and the next day we managed to get a little sightseeing in before we had to get on the Shinkansen bound for Osaka.

We took a train out to Mitaka to see the Studio Ghibli museum! I don’t know if you guys know this but I am a huge Hayao Miyazaki fan. He is one of Japan’s greatest animated film directors. You may know of some of his work, like Ponyo and Spirited Away, but there are many many more too.

We weren’t allowed to take photos inside the museum, but we got a few out in the gardens. Here’s Jeff sitting on one of the cubes from Castle Laputa from the movie Castle in the Sky.

And the gentle robot…

One thing we had trouble with in each city was adjusting to using the subway. The system is really pretty easy to understand once you get the hang of it. Basically you find where you want to go on the map and it will tell you how much it costs to get there, then you just purchase tickets at that price and you can travel to anywhere within that price range.

The trouble happened when there weren’t any English maps around and you had to find your stop on a map like this…

There were a couple of times where we would have been totally stuck without an iPhone to look up the Kanji character for the stop we wanted. Surprisingly, we had this problem in Tokyo most often. I would have thought that the Tokyo subway would be covered in English maps since so many foreign people are there on business, but we got hung up a few times.

It’s still a very efficient system. The trains really do run exactly on time all the time and everything is clean and orderly.

We saw the famous Hachiko statue outside the Shibuya subway. Hachiko is a symbol of faithfulness. He waited outside this subway for his owner to return from work each day, but the owner died while away and Hachiko waited here each day for nine years for him to return as he had so many times before.

It’s now a popular meeting place to get together with people because it’s so recognizable.

We did a lot of shopping in Shibuya…

And we even stopped at a cat cafe! I know it sounds weird, but cat cafes are a part of Tokyo culture we wanted to experience. Often people are not allowed to have pets in the apartments in Tokyo, so they pay to come spend time petting cats elsewhere!

These little guys were going nuts watching the leaves rustle on the trees outside! They were all very well cared for and sweet cats. We spent about 20 minutes there petting cats and sipping drinks. There was a guy taking a nap in one of the chairs. I think it’s common to use cat cafes to take naps, it’s cheaper than a hotel!

Let’s not forget the food!

We had yakitori and beer several times. Here’s an assorted plate of chicken parts, I loved the gizzards!

And we had crab-stuffed mushrooms, conch, and even more gizzards…

One day we went for Thai food at a Thai buffet restaurant called Mango Tree Cafe. I wasn’t sure what to expect from a buffet, but this ended up being one of the best meals in Tokyo!

We heard about a great tempura restaurant that we had to try. The tempuras were served along with vinegar dipping sauce, grated daikon, and three flavors of salts.

There were also some pickled turnip tops to put on the rice, a salted fish roe cordial, and a miso soup with tiny clams. Everything was spectacular washed down with copious amounts of sake!

We did manage to make it to Tsukiji fish market on one of the last days for a sushi lunch.

There was so much wasabi under each piece of fish that I was tearing up. The chef gave me a free ice cream cone to cool me off!

Then we checked out all the foods for sale in the market…

Our breakfasts were usually junk food. We always woke up starving from all the walking we did on the previous day and just needed to get energy in us quickly. I probably ate 6 or more of these red bean filled buns…

But just because we had sweets for breakfast doesn’t mean we didn’t have room for dessert!

We bought some hand-made mochi in a confectionery. One green tea filled with red bean paste and the other plain with whole red beans.

I loved this sweet waffle stand we found in a subway. There were at least 20 different flavors to choose from.

I got green tea with pieces of strawberry, mochi, and red beans mixed in and Jeff chomped down on a mocha flavored one. I wish we had found these sooner so I could have tried other flavors too.

The morning before we had to leave for our flight home we set out to do some shopping, but for some reason everything was closed. So instead, we headed over to Shinjuku Park and I’m so glad we did.

Around the park there were several trees with bandages and crutches. It made me happy to see this care taken to heal these broken trees, the reverence and respect for nature was refreshing.

What a peaceful way to end our trip. I hope I can have a garden even half that beautiful some day.

I hope you enjoyed looking through these pictures as much as I have. I have guest posts lined up for the next two days until we get back from Seattle, then I’ll make sure to fill you in on what we did there too!


Honeymoon part 3: Kyoto food

It’s undeniable that Kyoto is beautiful, but we didn’t just sit around staring at mountains all day, we actually enjoyed some really great food and fun! In fact, I’d say Kyoto had the best food of the whole trip, even better than Osaka which is known for it’s food culture.

You wouldn’t know it by this weird breakfast though…

That was the first thing we ate in Kyoto and thankfully it wasn’t indicative of the food to come. We went to a little breakfast place near our rental home and couldn’t read a word on the menu so we just ordered the first thing on it. What we got was a hollowed out piece of toast filled with a salad on top of mashed potatoes! It was good but a very strange thing to have for breakfast.

The coffee was pretty good though. Love the teeny tiny cream pitcher!

We had a really amazing lunch in the Gion district. We passed a restaurant that smelled like toasted rice and couldn’t resist. This place specialized in cooking rice in donabe pots and serving with various accompaniments.

Jeff got ochazuke, which is rice with fish and tea poured over.

I had a creamy dish of tofu and wheat gluten with tempura vegetables on top. Meals are almost always served with various pickled and salted things to put on top.

We had amazing ramen in a bar in an alley along the river. Jeff got a pepperd one with chicken dumplings.

Mine was pretty standard pork ramen. I can’t express enough how delicious the eggs you get in a bowl of ramen are. The yolk is really salty, soft, and gelatinized. Tastes extremely chickeny.

Jeff had to try the raw egg rice bowl with salted kombu. He fell absolutely in love with it and I make it for him for breakfast sometimes.

Of course we had sushi. We got caught in the pouring rain and ducked into a sushi restaurant for a few hours while we waited for it to pass. Not a bad way to pass the time! And yes, you really can tell the difference in quality. Even the cheap sushi we had at chain restaurants in Japan was light years better than even the most expensive stuff in the states.

Speaking of sushi, it’s hard to decide what the best meal we had in Kyoto was, but the traditional Kyoto-style sushi at Izuju was definitely one of them.

There was sake, of course….

And hot, grassy green tea.

We ordered a combination of three Kyoto classics: inarizushi (rice wrapped in fried tofu skin), sabazushi (vinegared mackerel sushi wrapped in kombu), and the jewel bako (multi-colored box-pressed sushi.) Kyoto-style sushi is very distinct from sushi you typically think of. It usually has more rice, more vinegar, and these tightly molded shapes are very common.

This was the best bite, eel and tamago! I love the fluffy souffle-style tamago like this. I definitely prefer Kyoto-style sushi. Oishii!

The next contender for best meal was the sukiyaki we had in a restaurant on Pontocho. Pontocho runs along the river with the backs of all the restaurants lining the water and all the entrances facing a narrow lantern-lit alleyway full of energy.

We didn’t know what we wanted for dinner one night and being exhausted we just stumbled into the first restaurant we saw. We were led upstairs to a tatami room with low tables and pillows to sit on.

We started with a few appetizers. This one is tsukune, a grilled chicken skewer that you dip in raw egg. I didn’t really feel like the egg added anything, but I went with it.

We also had a bundle of tempura leeks with vinegar dipping sauce and seasoned salt that was spectacular.

The main course was beef sukiyaki. Raw beef slices, tofu, wheat gluten, vegetables, scallions and sauces are added to the tabletop stove and it cooks in less than 5 minutes!

I really don’t know how to put into words how good this was. And if that wasn’t enough, after we had eaten much of the sukiyaki, we were given some cooked udon noodles to soak up the rest of the delicious sauce!

We were forcing ourselves to keep eating this past fullness because it was just so incredible. While we were slurping up noodles, a pair of exquisite geisha entered the room to entertain a table of high-rollers. An agent caught me staring at the beautiful geisha and offered to let us meet them and have our picture taken!

We were very lucky to meet Ayano and Momiyuki, who are famous in Pontocho. We also got to meet the client they were entertaining, a famous shamisen player!

I will remember that night forever. We almost didn’t even go in that restaurant and if we hadn’t we would have missed out on that wonderful memory.

One thing I will never forget about Japan is the sweets. You couldn’t walk 10 steps in any direction without bumping into a bakery or sweet shop. I especially loved the delicate and expertly crafted little confections known as wagashi. This sweet red bean and flaky pastry wagashi was one of my favorites.

And I bought this box of soft mochi filled with sweet red bean and dusted with cinnamon on the way back down from Kiyomizu-dera with the intent of bringing some home. They barely lasted two days!

One thing I noticed about eating in Japan is that where a restaurant is located says almost nothing about the quality you’ll find there. We had some the best meals of the trip in subways!

This amazing lunch was had in the Kyoto subway station on our arrival and it was amazing. I had box-pressed sushi, noodles, tempura, and seaweed salad. The soba-cha, or buckwheat tea we were served was the most delicious tea I’ve ever encountered. I still dream about it.

Jeff got this huge tower of soba noodles with toppings and tempura and boiled vegetables. He actually ate all of it!

Upon leaving Kyoto to head back to Tokyo for the last few days of our trip, we stopped in another subway restaurant that we had heard a ton of buzz about: Tetsu.

Tetsu is a ramen joint but they do things a little differently. The noodles are served separate from the broth and you dip the noodles in it and slurp them up! There was a funny sign on the wall explaining just how to do it.

This was the richest, porkiest, most amazing ramen ever! There were huge chunks of pork belly in it and the noodles were topped with crunchy caramelized garlic. We made a mess slurping up all that porky goodness and washed it down with lots of beer.

OMG looking at all this again is making me drool. I still find myself daydreaming about some of this food from time to time.

Next up: Tokyo and the end of our trip!