Spending the Yen 3: Sakura Stationery

spending the yenIt was hard to resist the pull of the sakura in Japan this time of year. I got swept up in sakura season mainly because I’m a sucker for that pretty pink flower, but also because things in Japan are merchandised so well…stores really get into their themes, especially when the spring flower emerges. Poor Naoto, every time he saw the pink displays, he knew we were going to linger in the store just a few minutes longer.

Other than the sakura postcards I sent from Japan, I came home with some extra postcards, stickers, tiny cards and envelopes and kaishi papers (the two folded stacks at the top of the picture). Kaishi papers are traditionally used as table decorations or mats for sweets served at tea ceremonies. I bought some Mt. Fuji kaishi papers during our last trip and have been using them as stationery. That’s my plan for the sakura ones too. spending the yenThe tiny cards and envelopes are my favorites, even though they aren’t very practical. And the Mt. Fuji sakura stickers have a lovely texture and gold foil accents. spending the yen, sakuraSakura season might be over, but I’m having fun using my sakura stationery here at home. It is definitely early spring here (though it’s cold again, after our beautiful day Sunday) so sending flowery mail just feels right.

Oh hey…this is my 400th post! 

 

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Tapas in Tokyo

Los Borrachos tapas in tokyoSo maybe you don’t think of Spanish tapas when you think of places to eat in Tokyo, but like any large city, Tokyo offers up foods from all over the world. I love seeing Japan’s take on foreign foods. tapas in tokyoWe found this tiny tapas bar, Los Borrachos 3 (translation: the drunks), near our hotel and decided to check it out. If anything, we were intrigued by the sign that reminds customers that Los Borrachos is a bar, not a barber. (Apparently people were confused by the striped pole near the sign.) tapas in tokyotapas in tokyoThe restaurant, located on the second floor, was warm and cozy and filled with mariachi music (yes…that’s Mexico, not Spain, but it was quite festive). tapas in tokyoTokyo restaurants, Los BorrachosTo start, we enjoyed beer and sangria along with Alioli Potato Salad (pictured above after I’d eaten most of it…I got a head start because Naoto ran back to the hotel for my camera). And we had Pollo al Ajillo, chicken fried in garlic sauce (pictured at the top along with another beer and some cava). Los Borrachos And we enjoyed paella (sadly not pictured) and one of my favorite things–a salad made with fresh cabbage, manchego cheese and iberico ham with a vinaigrette. It might sound weird, but it was so simple and fresh and delicious…and we are hoping to recreate it at home for a Hasegawa Happy Hour soon. tapas in tokyoAnother Tokyo restaurant, another handwritten menu…I am charmed by you, Tokyo.

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Easter Sunday & Roasted Grapes

dunkin donutsYesterday was Easter, but even better than that, it finally felt like real spring outside–warm enough to wear a dress and spend some time outside writing letters, and warm enough to sleep with the windows open. Bliss. blue skyEven my “anniversary tree” is budding and looking more spring-like. I’m excited to plant some flowers and plan a balcony party or two. roasted grape appetizerWe spent Easter evening at our neighbor-friend, Karen’s. We joined her family party, which included Karen’s ninety-nine year old grandmother (who didn’t look a day over seventy-five!)

I made an appetizer of roasted grapes and manchego cheese and like last week, it seemed like a hit. (It really is hard to tell if people are just being polite or if they truly love your cooking.) I love easy and unique recipes (much like my beloved ricotta) and this one is going to be a new go-to for happy hours and dinners around here. Also, I bet it would be tasty with the ricotta…

Roasted Grapes with Honey & Thyme

(adapted slightly from Right at Home)

1 pound seedless red grapes

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 tablespoon fresh thyme (stems removed)

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon pepper

1 tablespoon honey

Preheat oven to 400°F. Line a cookie sheet with foil and set aside.

Wash grapes and remove from stems. Dry the grapes on a tea towel to remove excess moisture and place in a large bowl. Add olive oil, thyme leaves, salt and pepper. Stir to coat.

Pour grapes onto cookie sheet and place in oven until skins pop (about fifteen minutes). There will be a little bit of grape juice in the pan.

Remove from oven and drizzle with honey.

Serve warm or at room temperature with manchego cheese and crackers.

Because I was serving the grapes with cheese and crackers, I used a slotted spoon to transfer them from the pan to the serving bowl. If you were serving the grapes with chicken or desserts, the juice would be a delicious addition. And while the original recipe called for two teaspoons of thyme, I think extra thyme is a welcomed flavor, especially with the manchego cheese.

appetizer tableKaren made her famous pimento cheese (along with a traditional Easter dinner) and made us feel like family. Thanks for a fun time, Karen!!

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Treats from the Mail Ladies

Japan Post OfficeOf all the places I’ve visited in Japan–other than Mister Donut–I think I’ve visited various post offices the most. Each one carries the same stamps and postcards (for the most part), but some have better selections of gifty things than others. I have a stack of treats that I purchased from the yubinkyoku (post office) and I will share those next week. Today, I’m going to share the gifts I’ve gotten from the post office ladies. Japan Post OfficeThe first time Naoto and I went to Japan, we visited Okaasan (his mom) in Niigata. Much to my delight, she lived right across the street from the post office!! We stayed with her for three days, and every day I visited the post office for more postcards or stamps or something. By the end of our visit, the ladies in the post office recognized me and they appreciated my enthusiasm for Japanese stamps. On my last visit, they presented me with this tiny blue bunny–a toothpick holder–as a thank you for my patronage. Japan Post OfficeI was so surprised. No one at a post office had given me a gift before…and the little blue bunny is so sweet with the little cherry blossoms on the side. He lives in my china cabinet and comes out every spring for Easter. japan post officeThis trip, in Tokyo, I visited several post offices, but mostly I went to the one near our hotel in Sangenjaya. They had a good selection of post cards and spring stamps and the ladies were patient with my browsing. (How many glue sticks do I need?) On one of our lasts days, I went in to buy another sheet of stamps and the woman behind the counter, who had helped me throughout the two weeks, presented me with a pink hand towel. It says “Thank you very much, [from your] postal host.”

Naoto compared the gifts to the free toaster you used to get in American banks when you opened an account. He said that the gifts are a way to thank frequent patrons. Either way, I’m thankful to the Japan Post ladies for the treats and I look forward to visiting them again next year.

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Peggy’s 50th Birthday Party

Peggy's 50th birthdayTaking a break from all the Japan posts to share another party hosted by Peggy…

The “other” Peggy in our book group, Peggy L, is turning fifty this month, so a few of us got together to celebrate, and as usual, (hostess) Peggy outdid herself. The table, the cocktails, the dinner and the dessert were “springy” and amazing. Peggy's 50th birthdayPeggy's 50th birthdayThe table was full of pastels, bunnies, eggs and flowers. The sun was setting, leaving a dark glow in the room, and showing off the pretty pastels perfectly. Peggy's 50th birthdayI made an appetizer of cheese and roasted grapes (I promise to share the recipe soon!) and Peggy made Rossini cocktails. We drink a lot of sparkling wine cocktails at Peggy’s and I love every one of them, but this one–with the bright strawberry puree–was perfect for spring. Peggy's 50th birthdayWhile we were eating appetizers and catching up, we used these sweet vintage cocktail napkins. They were hand-embroidered and each said something different: wipe, dab, pat and blot. Aren’t they wonderful? I love the handwritten script.

We enjoyed asparagus soup and a chicken, cashew, swiss cheese, strawberry salad. Then we took a break from eating to open gifts before Peggy brought out the cake. Peggy's 50th birthdayThe cake, while not a traditional decorated birthday cake, was divine…coconut and Meyer lemon, moist and delicious. Yum. I regret not bringing a piece home.

Thanks for another fun night, Peggy!

And Happy 50th, Peggy L! Enjoy your Irish Adventure!!

P.S. To see other “Peggy Parties” go here.

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Birthday at bunbougu cafe

bunbougu cafeWhen we planned our trip to Japan, I knew exactly where I wanted to spend my birthday…bunbougu cafe. Last year, I fell in love with the cafe that mixes stationery, coffee, letter writing, cocktails and tasty food all in one comfortable and eclectic location. bunbougu cafeWe’d never been to bunbougu at night, so both Naoto and I were excited to try out their one-of-a-kind cocktails. bunbougu cafeAt the risk of this turning into a Hasegawa Happy Hour post, let me tell you about these cocktails!! First there were the Adult Ramune and the Lychee Squash. Ramune is a Japanese soft drink that has a lemon-lime flavor, but really doesn’t taste its American counterpart…it has its own distinct taste that is tangier than the American drink. The Adult Ramune was made with blue curaçao and soda and it was my favorite. Who doesn’t love a blue cocktail? The Lychee Squash was lychee liquor, soda and grapefruit juice. It was so refreshing! (This might explain why it’s called a “squash” if you’re curious.) Neither of these cocktails packed a serious punch, but they were fun and tasty. bunbougu cafeFor our appetizer, we ordered edamame that was sautéed with pine nuts and soy sauce. The edamame, presented beautifully on Japanese paper, was oh so delicious…I can’t even explain how much I loved it. We want to try to recreate it at home. bunbougu cafeFor the next cocktail round, I got the Adult Ramune and Naoto got a Tea Mojito–a mojito that came with a shot of “tea espresso” to pour on top. bunbougu cafeI didn’t manage to take a picture of our dinners. Naoto had a miso coated pork chop and I had roasted chicken with herbs and apples. You’ll have to take my word for it. bunbougu cafeNaoto had a third cocktail. It was called “Sketchbook in the Tropics” and the only thing you need to know about it is that it came with a pencil stirrer!! (They sell the stirrers at bunbougu, too!) bunbougu cafeFor dessert, I had Matcha Tiramisu…I’m a big fan of real tiramisu, but dare I say the matcha version is better??? bunbougu cafeUnder the tiny paper box was a bowl of kuromame, sweet black soybeans typically eaten on New Years for good health. Naoto enjoyed those immensely while I ate up the tiramisu. bunbougu cafeI did a little birthday shopping at bunbougu, but I will share those treats later.

Thanks, Naoto, for taking me to the perfect place! bunbougu cafe

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Spending the Yen 2: Inkan

inkan japan sealI have many favorite purchases from my trip to Tokyo, so I’m reviving the (defunct) Spending the Yen series.

On this trip, I bought a custom-made inkan. An inkan is an official stamp used in Japan (and other Asian countries) to sign important documents and contracts. Now, I know I’m not living in Japan or signing anything important here at home, but I wanted one as a fun way to sign letters.

Because it had to be custom-made, we knew going in that we had to order it at the beginning of our trip. We planned to go to Itoya to order it because we had browsed their selection last September and we had seen some inexpensive, decent styles. But as luck would have it, we got to buy it at a tiny inkan shop near Naoto’s mom’s neighborhood! We happened upon the shop while waiting for Naoto’s sister to join us before visiting their mom. The shop owner was wonderful to work with, explaining the choices of materials and the process of making the inkan…I love shopping with small businesses!inkan japan sealI chose Japanese cedar because it was budget-friendly and natural. A really special inkan can costs hundreds of dollars. I didn’t need anything that serious.The characters that “spell” Kimberly are delicately carved out of the wood. The stamped image is about a half inch tall and I love that it’s oval. (My name is too long for a round stamp.) We picked up the stamp a week later and it was packaged (complete with a little ink pad and case) in the bag you see above. Along the side, the shop owner wrote “Miss Kimberly”. inkan japan sealI wrote a couple of thank yous and Easter cards last week and used my inkan to sign them. Official, right?

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My Japanese Calligraphy Class

Japanese calligraphy classFor my birthday, Naoto signed me up for a Japanese calligraphy class. After an online search he found Koomon, located in Tokyo’s Nihonbashi neighborhood. Koomon offers several classes to sample traditional Japanese culture: calligraphy, tea ceremony, flower arrangement, kimono, origami and other traditional skills. The staff and Koomon was warm and welcoming and my lesson was a lot of fun. Japanese calligraphy classThe lesson started out with Yukiko, our English speaking guide at Koomon, giving us an explanation of the tools and techniques of Japanese calligraphy. Then we watched a master calligrapher demonstrate the different styles of Japanese writing. She showed block style and script and also how a calligrapher can add their own artistic elements to the writing. Her calligraphy was gorgeous as you can tell from above. Yukiko and the calligrapher spoke a lot about the beauties of imperfection in the art of Japanese calligraphy and how special it is that no stroke can ever be recreated exactly. Japanese calligraphy classOur calligraphy teacher demonstrated character-by-character the phrase that I chose to write, “Fall down seven times, stand up eight.” In hindsight, I wish I had just focused on a single word instead of a phrase so I could focus on mastering a character or two instead of six. But I love that proverb, so I’m glad I tried it. Japanese calligraphy classJapanese calligraphy classWe all decided that the script calligraphy was a little bit too challenging, so I focused on the block-style. It was really difficult for me to get super comfortable with the brush because I was focusing on learning the shape of the characters and the proper stroke order all at the same time. Yukiko and the calligraphy teacher watched me and gave me pointers throughout my practice. One major thing I learned is to really load up the brush with ink. I tend to only put ink on the tip of the brush, but to make beautiful characters, you need to use the entire brush to get variety in your strokes. Japanese calligraphy classBecause Naoto was with me (and maybe because he had trouble translating some script calligraphy for me when asked) the Koomon ladies encouraged Naoto to practice calligraphy too. I requested the word “sakura” because we were there in the spring.Japanese calligraphy classI practiced my phrase and specific challenging characters several times and when I was comfortable, I got to work on my “final project” in the tatami room. It felt very special to wear the little apron and write with the progressional calligraphy tools. Japanese calligraphy classJapanese calligraphy classWhen I was finished, all I could see was the “mistakes” and imperfections in my writing, but the calligraphy teacher pointed out that those are what make the calligraphy special. Japanese calligraphy classAlong the left side of the proverb is my name and if you look closely, there are three red seals (two on the lower left and one on the top right). There were several seals to choose from, each representing a Japanese phrase. I chose ones that said “May your joys be as deep as the ocean and your happiness as high as the mountain.” and “Fortune comes in a merry gate.” and “A carefree life ensures longevity.” Japanese calligraphy classIsn’t Naoto’s “sakura” calligraphy wonderful?Japanese calligraphy classThank you, Naoto, for my excellent birthday gift and thank you to Koomon for a wonderful morning of calligraphy! Taking the class has made me want to practice more so I can paint the characters with reckless abandon!

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Sakura Hunt

cherry blossoms, cherry treeWhen we planned our trip to Tokyo, we were aiming for kaika jiki (開花時期), blooming season–the time when the cherry blossoms open, leaving parks and paths sheltered under a cloud of pale pink. The problem is, there is no exact date when the sakura will bloom. It all depends on the weather…the crazy, unpredictable weather.

As luck would have it, we missed the prime viewing time (the blossoms really burst open to full bloom after we left) and it was raining on our “sakura day”–our last day in Tokyo. But we got to see some pretty blossoms anyway and next year we hope to go back around the same time, maybe a week later to improve our chances. Sigh…broken umbrellaWe ended up trying out a few different spots to see if we could find a nice patch of trees in a park. Our first stop was pretty miserable because our poor umbrella blew inside out…twice…to the point where it wasn’t even fixable. I almost gave up because we were drenched and cold. meiji shrine entranceOn a bad tip from a local, we ended up at Meiji Shrine, where we eventually learned, after a ton of walking in the pouring rain, that there were no sakura. naoto and the broken umbrellaNaoto carried around the broken umbrella because he felt “disrespectful” leaving it in a trash can. (I don’t get it either.) I’m not sure what was worse: getting drenched while we carried a closed umbrella and having people wonder why we weren’t using the umbrella or pretending the broken umbrella was effective (up above). We finally broke down and found replacements at the shrine gift shop and they graciously took the broken umbrella off of Naoto’s hands. Whew!cherry blossomscherry blossomscherry blossomscherry blossomscherry blossomsFinally, we ended up at a park near Harajuku and we were met with a grove of blooming trees. And then, all of the rain was worth it. There is nothing like the pale pink of a sakura bloom! The park was breathtaking, even in the rain.

It was fun to see some brave souls enjoying early ohanami (the act of sakura viewing which usually includes a spread of food and drink) under a tent. I felt a little sad that we didn’t get to sit under the trees on a warm, sunny day, enjoying the blossoms, snacks and sake. Hopefully next year. I think that part of the beauty of sakura season is its unpredictability and its impermanence…I can only appreciate that I got to see the blooms in the beginning of their glory. They were so stunning, I can’t imagine how they will look at full bloom.

Next year. Next year.

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Kimberly AH Two Years Later

tree branch 2014I know I said I’d only be posting on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays for now, but I couldn’t resist a tiny celebration post for two years of Kimberly AH.

I started this blog two years ago today and apparently I document this tree branch from my balcony to celebrate. (See last year’s post here.) Thank you for another year of reading!

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