rum raisin cheesecake

Sometimes there is no helping it–we all have our bad days. Or, in my case, a not-so-great week of running late, catching a cold, misunderstandings, and a painful toe-stubbing to round it all out. By Friday, I was as miserable as the muggy, rainy weather outside. But weekends are a blessing and I knew exactly how to remedy the gloom of the preceding work week: bake something! And that is what I did. 

And what’s more, my baking had a purpose (other than to sit in my fridge taunting me every night)–delight the palates of four excellent friends coming over on Saturday! I had planned a casual afternoon of all-out food enjoyment, aptly christened a “Baking Celebration” afterward, complete with freshly brewed tea and coffee, homemade bread, spiced persimmon jam, yoku moku butter cookies sent to me by a friend, and tiny squares of the heal-all rum-raisin cheesecake I made.  Continue reading

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rice pudding + a weekend visit

Long weekends are always good cause for extra-special meals and indulgences. In my case, that usually involves tackling another baking project from my to-bake list (I have a list for everything; it’s a problem, I know) and splurging on a drink or two. This weekend, however, brought even more cause for cooking celebration–my wonderful friend from Yokohama and her family came to visit! 

We squashed three futons and a following of pillows in my four-and-a-half tatami living room, and for three incredible days my normally quite apartment was filled with the adorable gurglings of a five-month old baby, cooing words from his mother and father, and thrilled outbursts of his two and a half year old sister. Saturday afternoon, as I prepared the the garlic toasts for dinner and cleaned the last crumbs from my kitchen counter and table, it suddenly occurred to me that small children do not find the same pleasures in a bottle of good wine or entertainment in pleasant adult conversation, and I dropped the kitchen sponge I was using and scrambled off in a mad rush to find paper and markers. As it turned out, socks and blankets and funny foreign friends make as good entertainment as any, and the little baby boy was fascinated in even more humble diversions: my left hand.   Continue reading

sweet bean cake

I realize the combination “sweet bean” and “cake” may sound a little odd, but in Japanese okashi confectionary cuisine, sweetened adzuki  beans are a traditional flavor in treats such as pastries, buns, taiyaki, and sticky red bean mochi cakes. This cake is a beautiful tribute to the sugar-dusted, jem-like sweet beans that are pressed into the cake halfway through baking. The cake itself is more akin to a torte–a simple batter made from butter, sugar, and eggs with a splash of rum to spice things up–but looks lovely and classy in a square pan. It’s a light, delicate treat for an afternoon coffee, which is exactly how I shared it with my wonderful fellows at the Koriyama City Hall Board of Education. 

The recipe comes from my beloved “tiny stick cake recipe book” I first discovered at the library, and then promptly went to purchase for my own use after falling in love with the adorable wrapping and bite-size confections. If you’re making this outside of Japan, you may have to venture out to an Asian food market to find the Amanatto, or sweet beans, but here they’re readily available in any supermarket in the okashi snack aisle. I also used a special 15cm x 15cm cake pan with a removable bottom, but if you have a comparable size tart pan or springform pan, those would work just as well.  Continue reading

baseball in osaka + homemade english muffins

October has had a very auspicious, if not terribly fiscally responsible, beginning. The first day of the month opened with beautiful, 25˚ weather (yay for finally getting used to the metric system!) and a visit to Koshien Stadium near Kobe. Along with nearly fifty other Nara and Kyoto JETs, we stuck out in big Gaijin fashion with our hooting, cheering, and English blabbering. But the crowds embraced us, and when the time came for the famous Hanshin Tiger’s Balloon Rally, we all inflated our odd-shaped zeppelins and let them spin and fuzzle upward in a soaring, incredible multitude. 

Twelve stops and two train rides later, I emerged from the bustling subway thoroughfare and by dusk I was walking the neon-streets of Osaka with five other foodie friends. Before it was even 9pm, I had eaten a helping of piping-hot takoyaki (octopus-filled dumplings drizzled in a special brown sauce, mayonaise, sprinkled with seaweed and salty bonito fish flakes–don’t judge until you try one!), downed a milk-flavored bubble tea from a hole-in-the-wall stand, tried an Osaka cabbage-yaki speciality, had my first Shochu on the rocks, and finished off the evening with a healthy serving of ice cream. And that was only the food! I probably shouldn’t get in to the cosplay store or maid cafe we went to…

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