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

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

bare-bones toasted pumpkin seeds

Halloween has come and gone, and in its wake I’ve been left with a pair of Minnie-Mouse ears and battered prints of pictures featuring trick-or-treaters, costumes, Jack-O-Lanterns, and general good-old American Harvest-time fun. But aside from my now-abject educational props, I feel as though I’ve really made a lasting contribution to the Japanese classroom via cross-cultural exchange: I carved three darling Jack-O-Lanterns out of kabocha squash!

It was almost too perfect. There just happened to be three lonely little kabocha sitting on the desk behind me in the teacher’s room, and when my curiosity got the better of me, I ventured to ask whether it would be alright if I got crafty with them. To my delight, the Vice Principal handed me the squash, a box knife, some newspaper, and, at my request, a spoon, and I set up shop on a coffee table. One hour later, I had a bagful of mealy pumpkin innards, a smattering of lopsided chunks of squash, and amidst all that mess, three grinning faces.  It was a joy to watch the looks of surprise and amusement when passing teachers and students saw the Jack-O-Lanterns :) Continue reading