cream scones, french almond cake, and more flowers


At the risk of calling the existence of this very blog into question, there are some moments of unparalleled food pleasures that cannot be adequately described in words. This past Sunday was such a day, one so filled with wonderful meals, happy spring sights, and lively conversation that I feel I can hardly do the memories justice in simple linguistic devices. The surest way to convey the same delight and happy atmosphere would be to recreate it in more decadent lunches, suppers, and afternoon teas, of course! At the very least, I invite every reader to stop and smell the roses, as they say, and take in the littler pleasures of spring and the new season.

Sunday morning dawned with more elegance than spring usually affords: birds chirping, sunlight filtering in through the curtains, cheerful cries from young children on their way to the still on-going cherry blossom festival. Even after a rather sleepless night (coffee after dinner–never again), I awoke bright-eyed and positively giddy with excitement for the afternoon lunch I had with the same wonderful two ladies of Ichi Hana flowershop where I bought the first of the season’s sakura. And since there’s nothing more lovely than showing gratitude through baked goods, I couldn’t resist the opportunity to whip up a batch of fresh cream scones to take with.  Continue reading

matcha shortbread squares


I’ve long been itching to try a matcha-flavored confection, not only because I’m exceedingly fond of the tea itself, but also due to the fact that I currently live in the very heartland of green tea and tea-flavored sweets. Of all the various possibilities of matcha treats–cookies, tiramisu, puddings, trifles, to name a few–I settled on a more simple but classic method: shortbread. It had been far too long since I’d made a batch of the crisp, flaky, buttery cookies, and having prized upon Clotilde’s own especially tempting sugar-rolled recipe over at C&Z, the call of the tea leaves summoned me to my kitchen, irregardless of the fact that it was already past nine on a Monday night.
Continue reading

lemon ricotta ‘pan-crepes’


It may sound an odd confession, coming from a lover of all things sweet at breakfast-time, but amidst all my plates of toast with jams, various incarnations of fruit and oatmeal, egg-dishes, muffins, and scones, pancakes have never been a dish of preference. Perhaps the idea of cleaning more than one bowl after eating, or having an excess of stacked flapjacks to do away with (meaning eventually eating them all myself…) were the culprits of reasoning behind my long avoidance of such breakfast fare. But the sense of celebration in the air as the entire community waited excitedly for the bloom of the cherry blossom, as well as a sense of festivity for the Easter holiday, were so pervading and the Saturday sunshine so fine (never mind that is was 43 degrees), I declared a special occasion in the kitchen and made some dazzlingly decadent lemon-ricotta pancakes.

Well, lemon-ricotta almost pancakes…More like full-bodied crepes, or a very skinny pancakes. Due to the fact that I had to clear out the entire refrigerator in preparation for the delivery of a new one (along with the new oven!!) on Saturday prompted me to do some creative thinking and cooking on my feet that day. And lemon-ricotta pancakes seemed the perfect way to use up a meager half of an already-zested lemon, as well as the last of the homemade ricotta I made earlier in the week (recipe below), as part of my no-oven baking fix. Although I intended to follow the recipe of my inspiration for all things cooking, Smitten Kitchen, I had only one of the four called-for eggs, so I halved the recipe and decided to make a thinner batter with milk instead.
Continue reading

lemon curd in three variations

When life hands you lemons…
 

I have a newfound appreciation for the old adage on lemons. With the less-than-desirable circumstances I found myself in over the weekend, in my case a defunct oven and a Saturday full of rain and gloom, it seemed decidedly defeatist to take it lying down (albeit on the couch cradling a mug of tea and the delightful French Women Don’t Get Fat), so I made my own sunshine in the kitchen: tangy and sweet lemon curd! And not just the usual citrus affair, but three exceedingly delicious versions, all with a simple last-minute addition. Very much taken by Clotilde’s lemon and almond curd, from the lovely Chocolate & Zucchini, in similar form I added ground almonds to the finished curd for an even creamier spread, and also tried stirring in a handful of unsweetened coconut flakes for another variation. Obligated to taste-test the results, like any good chef, the pale yellow lemon-almond curd was by far my standout favorite among the three, truly a match made in lemon curd heaven.  

With a preliminary taste of the creamy spread on an english muffin half, I was so arrested by the tang and zest alighting on my tongue that I wondered if perhaps I’ve let winter linger a little too long in my kitchen. It was a good thing the lemons came three-to-a-bag, because now I can’t resist dashing off a fresh squeeze on everything–fried eggs, sauteed spinach, lentils, a bowl of blueberries and yogurt. In fact, my readiness to apply lemon without reserve to any and all things inspired a lighter take on eggs benedict for an easy weekend or weekday breakfast:
  Continue reading

april fools and flowers

Sunday afternoon: Earl Grey tea, rich with a splash of milk, a spoonful of sugar, and cream–my most luxurious cuppa yet! 

April Fool’s! 

Despite the honest resemblance, this deceptive cup is actually a creamy, tea-infused milk jelly. It might seem slightly off-putting, I know, to read “milk tea” and “jelly” in the same sentence, let alone envision them as cohorts in the company of dessert. But despite any reservations I may have had previously about adding gelatin to such a familiar thing as brewed tea, it was only for lack of acquaintance with such a confection, because the little cup I had for an afternoon pick-me-up completely exceeded my expectations and tickled my senses in a most pleasant, beguiling way. It certainly looked and smelled like a cup of sweet milk tea, yet when I dipped my spoon in, the surface broke with surprising resistance, like scooping sorbet. It was like having the most intensely flavorful tea pudding–I could taste the sweet bergamot, actually bite into the richness of the milk and cream. 

I first came across such a dessert in the repetoire of Japanese sweets, where jellies are often served with fresh fruit, sweet rice dumplings, or even scoops of ice cream. On its own, I don’t know that gelatin will ever have a fighting chance as a stand-alone treat for me, but in its incarnation as milk jelly, it allowed me the unique pleasure of enjoying a fragrant tea with the added feeling of indulgence any cold-cream treat usually invokes (and with hardly any pangs of conscience!).  Continue reading

raisin-studded irish soda bread + very unfortunate news in the kitchen

Although it’s nearly two week’s after the holiday, I’ve been enjoying the fruits of my belated tribute to the Irish: sweet, dense soda bread.  Sadly, with nothing to recommend St. Patrick’s Day here in the land of the rising sun, and even despite my quarter-self given to Irish heritage, March 17th quite passed my notice entirely! But when I began my research on locating a suitable soda bread recipe, it seemed the culinary world had not forgotten the happy green day as I had, and it was a pleasure to peruse the assorted loaves: some craggly, some smooth, some studded with currants or nuts or laced with sharp caraway seeds, but all engraved with a deep cross on top. Yet the more loaves I visually devoured, I was surprised to find that the rich, butter and eggs glorified scone version I thought to be the traditional soda bread seemed to be actually more of an American embellishment. The most basic recipe I found claiming authenticity was simply four ingredients: flour, salt, baking soda, and buttermilk. I was genuinely curious then to find out where, in this spectrum of soda breads, the true, authentic Irish notion lay…

* * * * *

I sent an inquiring email to my good friend, a fellow JET and Irishman himself, to ask his opinion and personal taste in a food marked with such national pride. And in his experience, growing up with homemade loaves from his grandmother and mother’s kitchen, using eggs did not make it any less authentic by any means. He surmised that eggs and/or butter were traditionally not used due to poverty in the country, rather than particulars of taste. Using butter and eggs would certainly have been a luxury at that time, I imagine.

So, in the end I decided to work from a basic recipe and took only modest liberties with some add-ins: continuing with the dried-fruits-in-breads-kick, I tossed in a generous quarter-cup of raisins, mixed a tablespoon of milk with yogurt for buttermilk, and added a scant tablespoon of sugar for some added sweetness. And since there’s only one of me, I cut down the recipe’s original call for 4 cups of flour down to just over one :) And out of the oven came a beautiful, golden, raisin-full loaf of sweet soda bread, perfect for breakfast spread with a spoonful of the homemade marmalade, its citrus-punch mellowed with a few days in the fridge and cutting the sweetness of the bread delightfully.  Continue reading

homemade grapefruit marmalade

Thriftiness, I’m convinced, lends even the most mediocre fare a flavorful radiance that can only be achieved by repurposing formerly wilting produce. The satisfaction of resourcefully using otherwise neglected ingredients seems to tuck in a particular palatable delight. However, I say this only so far as my experiments in the world of sugared confections go. I have a decidedly less-stellar performance record of savory culinary adaptations in the kitchen (read: pantry stir-fries gone awry). But I was truly ecstatic over my first batch of homemade marmalade, finally making use of a bag of delicious (but seemingly bottomless) Japanese grapefruits given to me by a good friend.

Although I have never envisioned myself as a jam-maker or marmalade brewer (?), thanks to the inspiration from a favorite blogger (thank you She Who Eats) and a Saturday afternoon to while away while my laundry dried outside in the intermittent sunshine, I felt emboldened to give marmalade-making a go.  Continue reading

fruit and nut cake + travels to yokohama

Spring made a fleeting appearance last week in the early plum blossoms and briefest of warm spells, but this week winter seems to be dragging its feet and making its ill-humor known through bouts of cold rain. For a few days, however, I made a short escape of the dreariness and took a holiday to visit a dear friend in Yokohama, Kanagawa Prefecture. On Friday I boarded the local train to Kyoto, where I spent a leisurely hour browsing the many wonderful cafes and shops in the crowded station. After an extravagant late-morning meal of darjeeling tea, matcha ice cream, and a chestnut and creme de marron muffin (a less than wholesome, but completely satisfying lunch), I set off to catch my 1:00 Shinkansen train, ascending escalator upon escalator to finally arrive at the bright platform, encased in clear glass roofs above the whole of Kyoto station. 

For five wonderful days, I had the pleasure of being a guest among my friend and her family. With a daughter nearing three in May and a ten-month old baby boy, there was never a dull moment or lack of endless entertainment at hand in the form of picture books, crafts, or make-believe with a multitude of stuffed animals. On my arrival Friday evening, we celebrated with a fabulous home-cooked Japanese meal, champagne, and beautiful, exquisite little cakes my friend’s husband picked up on his way from work. Over the next few days, with kids in tow and me the happy pack-animal to dispense sippy cups, snacks, toys, or hand wipes at any moment, we traveled to Mitaka to see the magical Studio Ghibli art museum, drove to historical Kamakura to stand beneath (and inside!) the bronze Buddha Statue, strolled along the Yokohama harbor, and even immersed ourselves in the bulky overstock haven of Costco!  Continue reading

dried persimmon biscotti + miniature plum blossoms

Despite a cold winter rain persisting throughout the weekend, it was otherwise warmed by a lovely afternoon with friends for a visit to the special plum tree exhibition on display in the old castle in my town, which was followed by mugs of tea and the weekend’s baking endeavors. At half past two, my two very good friends arrived and we promptly set out for a wet and chilly walk up to Koriyama Castle. The road was crowded with people who had taken part in a festival that had just finished, and we wandered up to the exhibition’s entrance amidst generations of spectators: newborns bundled up in their mother’s arms, young children running around the garden and grounds, parents tiredly lost in thought, an arm out supporting their elderly relatives.

The compound in which the exhibition was held was a long, connecting corridor spanning the huge castle gateway below. We silently slipped off our shoes to tread the carpet in thin slippers, and entered the hall. The entire structure was made of a beautiful sandy-colored wood, with gold screens along the wall emanating a pleasant warm glow in the low-lit rooms. On either side of the carpet, huge, solid ceramic pots held the miniature trees. Many had started to bloom, and their branches were dotted with delicate, paper-thin blossoms in every shade of pink and white. Continue reading

oatmeal raisin muffins + regrets for an overly long absence

It is a failure of a blogger indeed to be dormant on one’s own site for almost three months! I offer my sincere apology for neglecting the kind readership that has encouraged me in this fledgling blogging enterprise. I admit, it wasn’t that the baking had stopped, but rather that the time between freshly baked, out-of-my-oven and wrapped, into the hands of others was cut tremendously short. Our lovely Saint Valentine’s day, for example, was a case-in-point: six dozen baked overnight and dipped in chocolate, packaged and given away the very next day!

Why six dozen cookies? Why the rush, you ask? Well, in Japan, Valentine’s day is somewhat different from the flower and box-of-chocolates tradition in America: it’s a day exclusively for girls and women to make homemade treats and truffles for friends, boyfriends, supervisors, coworkers, teachers, or in my case, all of the above. I should have taken advantage of the incredible ready-made boxes of exquisite fine chocolates–ganache, milk, dark, and white chocolates of all shapes, designs, and sizes–to dole out to my many kind fellows, but no, as a steadfast and silly stubborn goose, I refused all commercial help and made the darned things myself, all seventy-two hearty-shaped cookies. Next year, I’ll trade in my pride for a peaceful, stress-free St Valentine’s Day.  Continue reading