Tag Archives: memories

Japan 2011

DSCN4426Today, we are hopping on our flight to Japan. YAY! Our bags are packed with (hopefully) everything we need. Our cat sitters are ready to go. (We are so fortunate to have friends who are willing to cover the daytime and the nighttime shifts with Presley–what can we say? We love our cat! Plus, it’s nice to have someone around the apartment day and night to keep an eye on things like our 1970s light fixtures!) Our family is waiting for us in Tokyo. Our hotel bed is also waiting…and we will be longing for it by the time we get off of the thirteen hour flight! Naoto and his momWhen we went to Japan in 2010, I made a little blog of our trip, Meeting My Mother-In-Law. The trip was obviously filled will many trips to Mister Donut, but the purpose of the trip, for me, was to meet my mother-in-law. After (at that point) almost five years of marriage, I finally met my husband’s mother. And, even though some of the pressure was off (at that point, it’s not like Naoto could return me), some new pressure was on. I was meeting her after a thirteen hour plane ride to Japan, an ninety minute commuter train ride to Tokyo, a two hour bullet train ride to Niigata and a twenty minute cab ride to the apartment. I was pretty much a wreck by the time we got there. I had planned on “freshening up” on the train ride, but I was too sleepy to care about personal hygiene by that time. Precious sleep was all I could think of. Thankfully, over the few days that we stayed with her, Naoto’s mom got to see a clean me, a well-rested me and a happy me…it was wonderful to finally meet her.

This time, since Naoto’s mom moved to a retirement community in Tokyo, we will be able to see her after a good night’s sleep (well, that’s the idea anyway…jet lag might have a different plan!) on our first morning in Japan. I’m going to miss seeing Niigata, but it will be lovely to have the whole family together and concentrate on one place this visit!

P.S. If you’d like to try my favorite salad from my last visit to Japan, check out the salad Naoto’s mom made for us! Perfect excuse to use up some fresh garden tomatoes!

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Knox On-Camera Recipes


Knowing my love for all things vintage & gelatin, my friend Karen snagged this book from her grandmother’s collection (don’t worry–we gave it back!) It is the Knox On-Camera Recipes Gel-Cookery Guide. Printed in 1960, the guide is a print-version of TV demonstrations and (according to the introduction) “gives you a new look at the many rewarding uses of Unflavored Gelatin(e).”

Basically, the recipe book takes delicious dishes–like gazpacho, spinach salad, Waldorf salad, deviled eggs…and gelatin-izes them…which creates beautiful and yes, slightly weird, molded presentations (as seen below).



DSC_0016While I am super-interested in trying to make a savory gelatin dish just for the nostalgia of it all, the thought of molded avocado and tuna kind of makes my stomach turn. Part of me thinks that there’s a reason Jello survived in its sweet form…and maybe we should just leave savory gelatin in the past.

How about you? Have you ever had a savory gelatin dish? Would you ever try one?

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San San Kudo

san san kudo ceremonyWhen Naoto and I got married we wanted to incorporate a Japanese tradition into our ceremony. We were married at Unity Temple, so we had a lot of freedom to create a ceremony that suited our beliefs and desires. Naoto suggested the san san kudo ceremony as an option.

093San san kudo (translated: three, three, nine times) dates back to the 1600s and is a binding ritual of sharing sake. During the ceremony, the sake is served from a special set of three cups symbolizing heaven, earth and humankind. The bride and the groom each take three sips from each of the three cups, making nine sips total. Nine is an especially lucky number in Japan. For our ceremony, Naoto’s sister Hisae poured and served the sake. Our set was a gift from Naoto’s mother, who also included a jar of sake for us. This sake was horrible!!! My three sips were not sips, instead I briefly touched the sake to my lips, hoping I wouldn’t taste anything. Naoto polished off the rest of the cup for me during his turn. (Thanks to our marriage vows, I can always count on Naoto to finish any sort of food or beverage!) Little did I know at the time, but the sake isn’t supposed to be delicious–just like all moments of marriage are not perfect, the terrible sake is supposed to remind us that we are bonded in marriage through the good times and bad (or the good cocktails and bad?) But the taste of the sake didn’t matter–we loved taking part in this small ceremony and having Hisae play a part in our wedding!

san san kudo set

Now we keep our san san kudo set on the sideboard in the dining room as a little reminder of our wedding day.

This was the last (& slightly delayed) post in my series celebrating Loving Day

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Exchanging Business Cards (the Japanese Way)


The night that Naoto and I met (a story for another time) the one big conversation catalyst was my job at a Japanese company. Because our offices interacted so often with Japanese colleagues, part of my training involved Japanese business culture. And, because I grew up in a town that was 99.9% white and was never a Japanophile before I started working there, I found this training so fascinating.  As it turned out, part of Naoto’s job at that time was to deliver Japanese business culture trainings to doctors who would be traveling to Japan for conferences. Naoto and I had a great conversation comparing notes and stories of accidental rudeness. We laughed as we presented our business cards to each other that night. We followed the strictest Japanese protocol in the middle of that coffee shop, all while snickering at the bows and the close inspection of each other’s cards. (Okay, we weren’t really following strict Japanese protocol…)

The exchange of business cards (meishi) in corporate Japan is a huge deal. It is almost ceremonial and it is filled with all sorts of social nuances. These are the basic “rules”:

  • Business cards are exchanged right after introductions, often in order of “rank” with the most highly ranked associate presenting his/her card last.
  • Cards are presented with two hands and with the information facing the recipient.
  • Upon receiving a card, you should take the time to read it carefully.
  • When you are done reading the card, you should place it carefully in a business card holder. (Don’t just shove it in your pocket or purse.)
  • If you receive cards during a meeting, you can leave them on the table as the meeting is conducted, but remember to carefully pick up each one at the end of the meeting and place them in your business card holder.
  • Never write on, fold or damage anyone’s business card in from of him/her. Business cards are seen as an extension of the person.
  • Never present a damaged card to someone. Again, the card is an extension of yourself.
  • Always carry plenty of cards. It would be rude to be caught without one.
  • Have a business card holder. (And probably one that’s a little more professional than my old Chococat one!)

I have never missed working in corporate America, but I do miss the exchange of the business card since I do not often have the opportunity to exchange cards in person very often these days. I should make a point to get them out more often and practice my meishi exchange.

kimberlyah business card, chococat card holder

This week, I am sharing some little aspects of our multi-cultural marriage in celebration of Loving Day on Wednesday. 


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Simple Summer Suppers | Somen

Cold Somen

During the summer, Naoto & I like to eat simple cold dishes that we can enjoy on the balcony. Last summer I shared two dishes, but hopefully this summer, I will be able to share more. We are looking forward to eating our own community garden grown vegetables.

This somen dish is an old favorite. I had it for the first time at Naoto’s host parents’ home in Hawaii. Auntie Judy, Naoto’s host mom, made it for lunch and I found it so refreshing and tasty. There are many variations of somen dishes, but this one is probably a slightly Americanized Hawaiian version of the Japanese dish. Oh, and I shared this recipe back in 2011 on my old blog, so Mom, it might look familiar.


Simple Summer Somen

For the broth:

1 cup low sodium chicken broth

1/3 cup soy sauce

1/3 cup mirin

2 teaspoons sesame oil

Bring all ingredients to a boil, then allow to cool completely.

For the noodles:

Bring 4 cups of water to a boil and drop in one bunch of somen noodles per person. (Somen typically comes in little paper-bundled bunches.) Boil for 2-3 minutes, or until noodles are soft. They cook very quickly! Drain, and rinse with cold water.

For the toppings:

Slice any or all of the following into thin strips, or “matchsticks”:

turkey (or ham) lunch meat




naruto (fishcake)

thinly sliced scallions

wasabi (I like the wasabi that comes in a tube.)

To assemble: 

Place a serving of noodles in a bowl. Add some broth (not too much, this isn’t a soup!) and the toppings of your choice. Squeeze on some wasabi and mix well. (Mix well enough that you don’t get accidentally eat a hunk of wasabi…although I kind of like the suspense of knowing my sinuses might be cleared out at least once in a bowl of somen!)


We almost always just use turkey, cucumber, scallions and wasabi because those things are always on hand and readily available for somen cravings. I like mine with extra wasabi and I always eat mine out of my Hello Kitty bowl with Cinamaroll chopsticks…because it’s tradition.


This week, I will be sharing some little aspects of our multi-cultural marriage in celebration of Loving Day on Wednesday. Somen is one of the first Japanese dishes that made it into our regular dinner routine back when we were dating. 

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Our 7th Anniversary Weekend


Naoto & I spent the whole weekend together celebrating the every day of seven years of marriage. We did nothing exceptional, we just enjoyed each other’s company and lots of good food. Naoto popped out on Saturday afternoon and brought back this huge bouquet of flowers “from Presley”. It was such a sweet surprise and I’m enjoying having them at my desk (for maximum enjoyment and minimum Presley “enjoyment”.)


After relaxing on the balcony with breakfast and coffee, we headed to the community garden to check on the plants. We did a fair amount of weeding and watered our plot. (I will talk more about the garden later this week…we are both amazed and thankful to see it’s growing!)


After relaxing out on the balcony and watching it rain, we headed to the Golden Steer for our traditional (since moving to Forest Park) anniversary dinner.



It was our fourth year going there and it never disappoints. I always fill up too much on the cracker basket, the French Onion Soup, the salad and the baked potato to eat much of my steak! And the lone button mushroom floating around on the steak plate makes me giggle every time…

IMG_2278 IMG_2279

After the Steer, we went to the Marion Street Cheese Market for dessert. Naoto had a chocolate dessert with a homemade chocolate marshmallow and some snicker doodles and I had a strawberry rhubarb dessert (sweet pastry layered with strawberry rhubarb and topped with meringue).

Sunday was our actual anniversary. We slept in, had coffee and exchanged gifts (more on that later). Then we reluctantly went to the gym together. So romantic, I know.

After the gym, we headed to the Little Goat Diner. This was Naoto’s choice, not that I needed any arm twisting. I did a little research and realized that it’s an easy trip on the el (too easy…I think we might have to get pie and coffee at least once a week now!)

IMG_2295Little Goat was busy, but they could seat us right away at the counter, so we decided to try it out. We’ve sat in all of their seating options now (communal table, booth and counter) and while the booth is nice and quiet and private, we both really enjoyed the frenetic people watching at the counter. It was neat to see the orchestration of the orders and to hear the cooks interacting with each other.


We ordered the Smoke Fries…and I don’t think I will ever NOT order the Smoke Fries in all future visits. They were skinny and perfectly crisp and savory…my idea of the perfect fry. (My passion for these fries will now rival my love for the pie.)


IMG_2298Naoto got the Tonkatsu sandwich, which came with this tasty-creative pickled daikon radish, zucchini and rhubarb salad. I decided, since I always feel too full for pie, to get a CUP of the Tomato Apple Soup, which now comes with a tiny Monte Cristo sandwich on the side (instead of the original, reeeeallllly good cheesy toast from our visit in February). I was super disappointed…until I took a bite of the Monte Cristo…it was like eating a tiny ham and cheese sandwich in between two savory donuts…

IMG_2300And for dessert, of course I got the pie (Blood Orange Meringue) and Naoto got the Miso Hungry Banana Split…ice cream covered in a miso sauce with miso chips on top. Weird? Not at all…it was amazing!

(I just realized that I spent most of my anniversary post talking about Little Goat Diner…no regrets!)

IMG_0771When we got home, I made us two Blue Hawaii cocktails (more on these later) and we lit our unity candle and toasted seven years.

It was the perfect ending to the weekend.

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080Happy 7th Anniversary to my Naoto! Thanks for a most wonderful seven years! Here’s to many more…and NO seven year itch!

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Sweet Tooth


This past weekend, I met up with my parents for some garden shopping. We met in our usual spot, Peru, Illinois, which is kind of a halfway point for us. (It’s a bit of a longer drive for me, but it’s worth it because that area has great thrift stores!) We usually go to the same ol’ places but since I was on the hunt for tomato and pepper plants for my garden, they took me to Rural King–“America’s Farm & Home Store”. I did get some plants and some seeds here (more on that later) but I fell in love with the store for other reasons.

Reason #1: the free popcorn and coffee. When you walk in the Rural King door, you are welcomed by the scent of freshly popped popcorn and a pot of coffee. Isn’t that so sweet and old-fashioned? My mom and I helped ourselves to some popcorn while we poked around the candy aisles.

Reason #2: the vintage candy selection! Where else can you get seeds for your garden, parts for your tractor, food for your chickens AND old-timey gum and sweets?! I could have bought one of everything, but I decided to narrow it down to a few things (mainly because I didn’t want my candy bill to out-do my garden bill…so embarrassing…)

Here’s a rundown of my choices:

Chuckles, a sugar coated jelly candy introduced in 1921. (There is an interesting review of the Chuckles flavors here.) I am familiar with Chuckles, but I can’t remember ever tasting them, so I’m looking forward to breaking the package open this week.

Teaberry gum, my faaaavorite gum of all time. It was introduced in 1900 was popular in the 60s. (Has it been on Mad Men?) If you’ve never tried it, I think you should–it’s sweet and has a slight wintergreen flavor…it’s hard to pinpoint…it’s not super minty, it’s just wonderful. And I love the packaging and all of its vintage pink goodness. I found the commercial below and I may have spent a good amount of time this morning perfecting my Teaberry shuffle…

Clove gum is another old gum…there’s not much to say about it except that it’s reeeally clove-y. It’s not bad, but I think one pack would have been enough to walk down memory lane.

Beemans gum is from the 19th century. I’d forgotten what it tasted like. For some reason, I was thinking honey (BEEman…turns out he’s the inventor of the gum and not a bee) but it’s a nice light mint flavor…different than Teaberry, but almost as good!

And finally, Sky Bar. I’d never seen this one before and I am most excited to try it. It’s made up of four sections with four different fillings: caramel, vanilla, peanut and fudge. According to the Necco website, the Sky Bar is still the only candy bar to offer four different flavors. I had a very healthy lunch today (involving roasted cauliflower) so I doubt this candy bar makes it through the afternoon.

I think my favorite part of the old-timey candies is that their packaging is usually the original design…no one felt the need to update it to keep up with the “cool kids”. It’s charming and tasty and while I’m eating it, I just can’t help but think (in an old granny voice): They don’t make things like they used to.

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How To: Spam Musubi (Naoto-style)

spam musubi

Last week I promised a Spam musubi tutorial and today, Naoto is helping me deliver! We had a little Spam photo shoot on Sunday afternoon and then shared the bounty with our neighbor friends. At first, I was thanking Naoto for “taking one for the team” and spending part of his Sunday cooking for the blog…then I quickly realized that whipping up Spam musubis was no great sacrifice. Naoto was in musubi heaven all afternoon (and again for lunch today).

When he was growing up in Hawaii, Naoto often ate Spam musubi for lunch and after-school snacks. His host mom used to make him a stack of musubis as a reward for getting his chores done. I had never heard of a Spam musubi until Naoto and I went to visit his host family in 2003. “Auntie” (Naoto’s host mom) packed us a lunch to take to the beach. I was picturing turkey sandwiches, chips and some fruit (I’m so Midwestern!)…I got Spam musubis. Naoto thought it was hilarious.

Today I am sharing Naoto’s musubi recipe, which is the one he grew up eating. Making Spam musubis takes a few steps but it’s ridiculously easy, and timing is flexible since you can eat them warm or at room temperature.

To make approximately ten musubis, you will need:

1 can Spam

4 cups rice (the short grain sticky kind, we use Kokuho brand calrose rice)

1 package nori (seaweed sheets)

furikake (rice seasoning, optional)

1/4 cup sugar

1/4 cup mirin (Japanese sweet cooking rice wine)

1/4 cup soy sauce

Spam musubi mold (optional, but helpful…you can also make a mold from your empty Spam can)

spam musubi ingredients

First, prepare your rice. We have a rice cooker, so we just start it up and and rice magically appears (pretty much). While the rice is cooking, you can work on the rest of the musubi set up.


To make the glaze for the Spam, add the mirin, soy sauce and sugar to a small saucepan.




Stir and heat on medium/low until the sugar is dissolved. Then, take the glaze off the heat and set aside.

Next, prepare and grill the Spam. Open the can.

opening a can of spam

Look at that glorious canned ham pink.

can of spam

Slice it into 1/4 inch slices. A can will yield about ten slices. If you’d like a thicker slice, then by all means, cut it thicker! There are no rules.

slicing spam

Once the Spam is sliced, grill the Spam on medium heat. If you’re using a non-stick grill pan, there is no need to spray your cooking surface first. A few minutes on each side should be enough. You’ll know it’s done when the Spam turns a darker peachy pink color. When the Spam is done, lay it on a plate lined with a paper towel while you grill up the rest of the can.

grilled Spam

While the Spam is cooking, cut your nori. Naoto likes the nori to cover the length of the entire musubi. He uses his musubi form to determine the size. Some Spam musubis have a thinner strip of nori around them. It’s a personal preference thing.

cutting down the nori

If you’d like to season your rice, you can do that while the Spam is grilling, too. For the party, Naoto didn’t season the rice, but most often the rice is seasoned with furikake. Furikake comes in all sorts of flavors, but most furikake consists of dried fish, sesame seeds, dried seaweed, salt, sugar and MSG. It adds another dimension of flavor to the musubi. For these, Naoto used my furikake: sesame seeds, seaweed and salt. (I bought it because it came in a cute sea otter container.) Just sprinkle the furikake on and stir it in.

seasoning rice with furikake


Once all preparation is done, you’re ready to assemble the musubis!

Dip your cooked Spam in the glaze. (You can leave a few pieces in the glaze while you set up the rest of your musubi.)

spam glaze

Lay a piece of nori on your work surface (Naoto uses a large sheet pan with a piece of parchment paper on top for his assembly station.) and put your musubi form on top.


Fill the form with rice.

Spam musubi mold

Add a slice of glazed Spam.


With your musubi mold handle, press the rice and Spam firmly into the mold. (No need to go crazy here…just press firmly enough to set the rice and Spam into the mold.)


Lift off the musubi mold and wrap the nori around the Spam and rice. Naoto uses a touch of water to help seal the nori seam.



And you’re done! Eat and enjoy! (Naoto didn’t even set this first one down before he ate it!)

enjoying Spam musubi

The Spam website has its own recipe for musubis, too, if you’d like to see another way to prepare them. (They use a small nori band on theirs instead of the full coverage nori that Naoto uses.) If you try Naoto’s recipe or another, we’d love to hear about it!

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Every spring I look forward to picking up a little bunch of daffodils from Trader Joe’s. I know when these bright stems show up in the store, real spring is just around the corner. My first experience with a bouquet of daffodils was years ago when Naoto and I were “just friends”. I wasn’t feeling well–I had a bad spring cold–and he showed up at my door with tea, honey, an orange, some vitamins and a tiny bouquet of yellow cheer.

Last weekend Naoto bought three bouquets for the Fondue Fun Night, but they didn’t bloom until my birthday. Huge explosions of sunshine popped up throughout our apartment, making the sting of the snowfall  just a little less painful.

It’s the little things that make me smile…especially as I wait (not-so) patiently for spring.

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