Friday, 27 May 2011

Spring flowers

When I first started my blog I did so for friends and family back home. It was easier than sending out mass emails, as I had been doing for some time. While I know many of those friends and family (Hi Aunt Linda! Hi Sharon! Hi Ann! Hi Lorna! Hi Liz!) still read, at least occasionally, things have changed. Comments are mostly from fellow foreign women in Japan.

Discovering, and slowly beginning to join the online community of foreign wives in Japan has been somewhat of a surprise, but a good surprise in so many ways. I've virtually gotten to know an amazing group of women who are strong, intelligent, friendly, and super funny.

A number of months ago, when one of my bloggy friends was struggling with pregnancy stress, I watched as another blogger reached out virtually and physically across the kilometres that divided them, and sent a surprise care package that lifted the spirits of the mum-to-be.

Ever since then, in a combination of pay-it forward and karmic balancing, I've wanted to send that blogger a parcel. I don't (yet) have an oven, and she doesn't need me making her baked goods anyways, so I went with my usual, I knit her a scarf. I spent HOURS pouring over online patterns trying to find one that featured a certain type of tree. Plenty of oak leaves and maples too, but not what I was looking for. Then I remembered a post she wrote, about her garden finally showing the signs of spring. There was a picture of beautiful little white flowers... kinda like these ones:

With all the stresses of the earthquake and moving and everything else I often found it tough to gather the mental focus to knit lace, and the scarf didn't get to her for the chill spring days... But I hope she enjoys it just the same, a reminder that the flowers of friendship bloom all year round!

Thursday, 26 May 2011


- cool evenings under our new Queen-sized duvet
- getting to the Stanley Cup Finals for the first time in SEVENTEEN YEARS!!
- realizing U has (a bit of) hockey fever too
- fresh homemade bread
- experimenting in the kitchen (and having it turn out)

Tuesday, 24 May 2011

Operation HB - Stage Three

We drove past an interesting (read packed to the rafters with random stuff) used furniture store a couple of times - always commenting that we should check it out. Then the day we did decide to stop, U spent so long circling the block to find a "better" entrance to the parking lot of the golf mega-store next door (with me repeatedly pointing out the single entrance) that they were closing up as we arrived (and I was more than a little grumpy). A quick look around proved that it was a unique place - but it carried mostly industrial sized cooking equipment.

U tried to make peace with me by suggesting that we have dinner out - and suggested the Chinese restaurant across the street.

I was a little nervous at first as the interior was very stark and severe, and the waiter was almost aggressive in his recommendation of the all-you-can-drink course menu. The large extended family beside us proved that wasn't the only menu option and the antics of their youngest members kept us entertained as it turned out service was slooooow. The first dish to finally arrive was mapo eggplant, which would have been fine except for the fact that eggplant doesn't always agree with my stomach and we had ordered mapo tofu. So, despite how hungry we were, we sent it back.

Next came the boiled dumplings - thick chewy skins, juicy and flavourful fillings - definitely two thumbs up!

Next up was U's favourite - chicken and cashew nuts. Unfortunately there was little flavour, and what flavour there was was oddly similar to the dumplings despite totally different ingredients.

Finally the mapo tofu came, and perhaps it was because they had been rushing due to the mixup over the order, but the dish was burnt. Hidden under the flavour of burnt oil and chilis was what seemed to be a nice dish, but we could barely choke it down.

Unfortunately one excellent dish could not make up for the cold atmosphere, poor service, and expensive prices. So, although we are willing to go back and pig out on dumplings, our search continues...

Monday, 23 May 2011

Operation HB - Stage Two

After having to resort to shopping mall Chinese food to get our fix, both U and I decided we had to do something about our Chinese food craving. I pulled out my iPhone and googled Chinese restaurants in our neighbourhood.

The first place to come up was located above the train station and had pretty bad reviews (bad food, no atmosphere, rude service...) so we quickly continued our search.

Next up was a place that had decently rated food but seemed to have a wide fan base. We knew the area it was in and had no trouble finding the restaurant. The atmosphere was great and we were both very excited about the possibility of having found such a fun place. We ordered our standbys - mapo tofu and hui guo rou (pork and cabbage stir fry).

The mapo tofu came and neither of us knew what to say. The dish had no meat or veggies, just chunks of tofu in a brownish clear sauce that could really only be described as "gloop." It was nearly as bland tasting as it was bland looking. Instead of being rich and spicy it was cloyingly sweet.

The hui guo rou proved to be similarly weakly seasoned - this time the strongest flavor was burnt cabbage and sauce.

The jasmine tea was lovely but at 300 yen each for the pot, that was to be expected!

If the same restaurant listing site hadn't recommended a fabulous little Thai place we now frequent regularly, we'd have given up on Mr. Google. As it was, we were very disappointed to discover the food nowhere measured up to the atmosphere.

The search continues...

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Wordless Wednesday - Come on in!

Here is our entryway...

There's a welcome committee to greet you...

And the toilet is bright and cheery!

Sunday, 8 May 2011

Operation H.B. - Stage One

While we were still moving in to the new place but before we had moved everything there were a number of nights when we stayed at the new place but had no fridge or any real kitchen supplies. In the evening we'd climb into the car and head out - pick a direction and drive a round until we found somewhere interesting... or at least that was the idea. Most of the time U would keep driving, turning down restaurant after restaurant for some imagined flaw. I'd get hungrier and hungrier and more and more annoyed, finally snapping at him to stop somewhere ANYWHERE! SOON! GRRRRR!!

One such night, after not finding anything that was up to U's standards, he pulled into the parking lot of a three-story Itoyokado shopping mall (attached to a similar three-story Aeon across the street). Dinner, he announced, would be eaten in the food court. I wasn't terribly impressed that we had driven past loads of restaurants to end up at the food court, but by that point I just wanted dinner. We walked into the mall and the first thing we saw was a Chinese restaurant - with a display case of bowls of plastic ramen and... MAPO TOFU! I walked into the restaurant without looking back at U to see if he was following me.

After ordering I finally looked about the restaurant and noticed that out of the 8 tables occupied five had couples or families, and all but one (us included, of course) were racially mixed couples. I pointed this fact out to U, and smooth character that he is, he immediately craned his neck to look around and stare at all the other customers... Nice...

We ordered hoikoro (my Japanese dictionary is telling me it is "twice cooked pork (Szechuan dish) (chi: hui guo rou)) and mapo tofu. For food that was only a step up from fast food, it was surprisingly good. Although the hoikoro was rather oily, the mapo was flavourful and spicy.

The menu is rather limited, however, so although it offers a good quick hit of mapo, the restaurant is far from becoming our favourite Chinese eatery... Our search would have to continue...

Thursday, 5 May 2011


Throughout the fall my father regaled me with stories of the weekend farmers markets he went to with my aunt. He'd tell me about the cheeses, about the apples, about the jams, and about the baking. Needless to say I was more than a little jealous. It was his derisatory recounting of the gourmet smores, however, that prompted me to action. I might not be able to whip up an apple pie or goat milk gouda cheese or buy a tart green granny smith, but smores I could do. I bought a bag of green tea marshmallows and a bar of green tea chocolate - and U and I made our very own gourmet smores. I sure couldn't have sold them for 7 bucks a pop, but they were yummy!

Wednesday, 4 May 2011


Throughout the winter I was confronted with a dilemma when waiting for the train - do I risk freezing my fingers or do I leave my phone in my pocket? Being rather addicted to my iPhone the end result was inevitably cold fingers. I'm rather embarrassed to admit just how long it took me to realize a solution... then how many times I had to rip out and re-knit... then having to cut off the cute little flowered (and totally useless) buttons and attach larger toggles... but, finally, as the weather started warming up, I had myself a pair of mitts with finger flaps.

Tuesday, 3 May 2011


When we spent the weekend at U's parents' place the other weekend we briefly saw his youngest sister - in between her coming home late on Saturday night and heading off around lunchtime on Sunday... minutes after she finally dragged herself out of bed. It was just enough time to finally give her a gift I've had sitting around for a while...

Monday, 2 May 2011

Wedding wings

For three summers during undergrad I worked in heaven (or, as it was more commonly called, Maligne Lake). It is one of the most beautiful places on earth and I loved spending my summers there. I discovered a love of kayaking and re-discovered my love of camping. I dated a couple of coworkers (not at the same time, honest!) and spent many a Monday night drinking huge half-price margaritas with friends. When the margaritas weren't half-price we would make our own drinks - mixing milk and ice or ice cream with chocolate syrup and other flavourings - topping it all off with a liberal dash of Baileys or Kahlua or Creme de cacao or Frangelico or... well, you get the picture! I used to tease one particular friends that she liked me for my blender since she would often knock on my door to invite me and my blender for a drink.

Whatever her reasoning for befriending me, however, that particular friend became a very special person to me. She is amazingly friendly and kind, and VERY outgoing. An example was her regular bar wear - a revealing shirt and short skirt over BRIGHT red full body long underwear (we were, afterall in the mountains and evenings, even in mid-summer, could be co-old!) My favourite outfit of hers, however, was her butterfly wings - purple and turquoise and just as bright and sparkly as my friend. She would wear them while running errands around town, just because! And the sight of her in those wings always made me smile.

We stayed in touch through 3 summers in Jasper (especially the summer she worked at the chocolate store with a good staff discount... mmm!!) and through all the moves of the subsequent decade (yay for Facebook!). She even spent the night on the bus to show up at my dad's for Thanksgiving one year - invited but TOTALLY unexpected! When she announced her engagement I knew I wouldn't make it back for the wedding but wanted to do something. I remembered an afternoon we had spent in a fabric store looking at wedding dress patterns. Both of us were single at the time but that didn't stop us from picking out a pattern for my wedding dress, she had promised to make me my wedding dress afterall! Nowhere near the seamstress she is, I turned to what I know I can do, bought a half dozen balls of a gorgeous white yarn and began searching for the perfect shawl pattern. I got a couple dozen rows (top down!) into one before deciding it wasn't quite right and ripping out weeks worth of work. I did eventually find the perfect pattern but realized as soon as I read it that it wasn't a straightforward pattern. I blessed the wise friend who had steered me away from the laceweight mohair I had originally contemplated and cast on. Now that I'm long done I can easily say this particular shawl was the most difficult and most annoying thing I have ever knit. Luckily, however, the end product was gorgeous, although not anywhere near as gorgeous as my friend in her wedding dress.

(photographs shamelessly pilfered from the flicker stream of a talented photographer at my friend's wedding)

Looking through the wedding photos posted on Flicker I was thrilled to see her wearing the shawl in a few of them. Not being there on her big day was hard, but at least part of me was close at hand. I wish her much love and happiness in her marriage and, when things get rough all she needs to remember is that she knows how to make mayonaise from scratch! (the totally unrelated words of wisdom she once gave me after I had poured out all my troubles to her)