Friday, November 30, 2012

Cubicle kitchen: Cranberry Lemon Cupcakes

To my mind, leftovers are just the start of a whole world of possibilities.  Yes, you can just reheat stuffing and eat it.  Or, you can reheat it and top it with a fried egg, using the herby, bready goodness to sop up the yolk.  Mmm...

Mom and I love cranberries so much we could have just eaten this leftover relish on its own, but I had to use some of it as a cupcake filling.  I call this a relish rather than a sauce because it was a chopped mix of cranberries, apples, and other fruits.  I wish I could be more specific, but this was someone else's contribution to our potluck Thanksgiving dinner, so all I can be sure of is that it was delicious.

People loved the tartness of the lemon, I think it pairs nicely with the cranberry, and has a good balance of sweetness.  This recipe would work with pretty much any cranberry sauce, though I think it's best with something with texture, chunks of actual cranberry rather than rings from where it was sitting in a can.

Cranberry Lemon Cupcakes
made a dozen regular-sized cupcakes and 45 minis

Ingredients:

Cake:
  • 1 box lemon cake mix
  • 1 can Sprite Zero
  • a few drops lemon extract
  • sprinkle of dried lemon zest
  • leftover cranberry relish (or sauce)
Glaze:
  • about 1 cup powdered sugar
  • less than a tablespoon lemon juice
  • dried cranberries for garnish

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Mix cake mix and can of soda together, adding additional extract and zest just to boost the lemon flavor.  Note: you can of course use your own preferred lemon cake recipe.
  2. Fill lined mini-cupcake tins about half full of batter.  Add about a teaspoon of cranberry relish, pushing it into the batter until it's mostly covered.  For the full-sized cupcakes, scoop in batter about 2/3 full, add a little more relish, and then top with a little more batter rather than pushing in the relish.
  3. Place in the oven and bake, about 10 minutes for minis, 15 for the full-size.  When fully baked, remove and allow to cool.
  4. In a mug or small bowl, mix powdered sugar, lemon juice, and water until a glaze forms.  The consistency should be relatively thick to avoid the glaze running down the cupcake liner.
  5. Using a spoon, apply a circle of glaze on each cupcake, and top with a dried cranberry.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Froyo files: Orange Leaf (Southpark Meadows)

I was so excited to see that Southpark Meadows finally had a froyo place.  But things didn't go quite as I had hoped.

This is going to be more of an existential treatise on sampling and frozen yogurt than a complete review of this place, mostly because I can't do a full review.  Because instead of providing sample cups, an employee comes out from behind the counter with sample cups to prepare them for you.  Hmm.

Orange Leaf: 9600 South I-35, Suite B-200, Austin, TX


When I visited: Friday, November 22nd, around 2 pm

Cost per ounce: 47 cents

Number of flavors: 16

Sorbet options: no true sorbet

Experience: Without ranting, let me describe what happened and how it made me feel as a customer. With the cashier by your side, you literally stand there and say, 'Okay, I'll try Gingerbread,' they put a little in the cup, hand it to you, and watch while you eat this sample.  You repeat this as many times as your personal tolerance for awkwardness allows, or until more customers come in and that one person on duty has to tend to them.  And then you are there, waiting for them to return and standing in front of the forbidden yogurt.


I only tried three flavors before the whole thing was just too awkward to stand and I was ready for it to all be over.  There were other flavors I would have liked to try, especially since they actually had quite an impressive number of them on offer.  But it felt a little ridiculous to go down the line and do them all like that. Pineapple was dairy-free, but felt more like a sherbet than a sorbet.  But it was still pretty good, and swirled with the Coconut next to it, became a good Pina Colada.  The aforementioned Gingerbread was also good, though I think with any of these spiced flavors in froyo I tend to want them stronger, creamier, just.... -er.  Similarly to the Spiced Apple Cider at TCBY earlier.

Maybe I'm being overly sensitive, but it felt a little like I was being accused of being a moocher, that I couldn't be trusted to sample for myself without gobbling up more than my share.  The more I sample, though, the more I buy.  And the more I tell all of you how good everything was.  Okay, there aren't that many of you, but still.  One last point: with prices hovering around a dollar for every two ounces, I think part of the business model is built-in sampling.  I understand the theory of increasing profit margins by decreasing the amount you give away for free.  But here's the actual result: my mom and I usually spend around $10 between us for each stop.  If the offerings are particularly delicious, maybe even $15.  What did I spend here? Less than $3.

I took a small swirl of pineapple and added a few pieces of fruit.  Tasty, and can I just say, I loved their spoons.  But something about the non-self-service just seemed so...odd.  I mean, if the sampling isn't self-service, what exactly is the point of it being self-service, as opposed to putting the yogurt behind the counter and having someone swirl it for you the way they scoop it in an ice cream shop?

Worth a revisit?  Yogurt-wise, yes.  Experience-wise, sadly no.  Just too complicated.  I think I'll go to the Teapioca Lounge right next door instead.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Froyo files: TCBY

Newly armed with contacts, I wanted to try them out while running.  And after that wonderful test of dust and depth perception, I rewarded myself with frozen yogurt.

TCBY5701 W. Slaughter Lane Bldg. B Suite 100, Austin

When I visited: Tuesday, November 19th, around 4 pm

Cost per ounce: 44 cents

Number of flavors: 10

Sorbet options: 1

Experience: I think this is just a genius location for frozen yogurt.  Aside from being the home of the new Alamo Drafthouse, it's still pretty much within walking distance for a great portion of the neighborhoods around Circle C.  So they are in a perfect position to catch people, which seems to be half the battle for froyo, or any business.  When we went, there were a number of kids who had clearly just gotten out of class and had come, either with friends or parents, for an afterschool snack.  


That made the taste testing a little crowded, but the sample cups were put out with the actual cups, so everything went smoothly, as people worked around each other in their strategic samplings.  My two favorites were the two I tried first: the grapefruit sorbet and the white chocolate mousse.  They didn't really go well together, though, so I did mostly grapefruit with a little Tart.  Dad did Grapefruit, Chocolate, and White Chocolate, with bits of Crunch on top.

They also had a Spiced Apple Cider which was nice, though I would have really loved it as more of an apple sorbet.  And a Honey Vanilla Greek yogurt that was interesting.  Could have been tangier, I think, but then I'm a little more of a Greek yogurt purist.

Worth a revisit? Yeah.  All in all, the yogurt was good, the location is great, and another froyo stop is added to my list.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Tokyo tales: Slurping ramen

Most people associate ramen with the dried blocks of noodles that can be bought by the crateful, with packets of sodium-overdosing flavor.  As with most things, these are just a shadow of the true amazingness of 'real' ramen.  A rich broth with soft noodles, crunchy bean sprouts, fall-apart meat and a softly-boiled egg...mmm.  Just how good is it?  Well, it's probably the one thing I ate the most while I was there this time around.  There were four separate ramen meals, each unique:

1.  Train Station Ramen

On our first day in Tokyo, we wandered around Akihabara and found the restaurant supply district (which deserves its own post later) near Ueno.  At Ueno station, we decided that whatever time our bodies thought it was, it was certainly time to eat something, so we popped into a noodle shop for sustenance more than anything else.


Just a plain miso broth with some pork.  Maybe I had just forgotten how good this stuff really is, but this tasted so much better than something from a train station has any right to.  It was definitely worth the few splatters I caused from my relearning chopstick skills.

2.  Vending Machine Ramen

Next was another ramen of convenience.  After a hard day's work, Dad didn't feel like venturing far from the hotel for dinner.  Thankfully, the Westin in Ebisu happens to be right next to a shopping square, and there is an underground path allowing you to access the shops and restaurants without ever actually going outside.  We found this in the basement level, it looks like the kind of place that would be packed for lunch on a work day.

What made this a little interesting was the way you ordered.  Rather than attempting broken English and pointing with a waitress, you push the buttons on this vending machine, which spits out tickets for each item and takes your money ahead of time.

I opted for the basic ramen, plus my favorite toppings of egg, pork, and bamboo.  And a small beer, the beverage of choice with a steaming bowl of goodness.

3.  The Favorite Ramen

There was only one planned ramen stop on this trip, to the 'favorite noodle shop' located in Harajuku.  It's just around the corner from Kiddy Land, an awesome toy store with several floors filled with Hello Kitty, Disney, and other toys.  It's pretty much a given at this point that for any time spent in Tokyo, one day has to be devoted to Harajuku for shopping and ramen.
This is an almost creamy pork broth, rich from the bones boiled for hours.  Otherwise, it features the same highlights of noodles, sprouts, egg, and pork.  We also shared some dumplings, and I got an almond jelly dessert as part of a set deal.

4. Cheesy Ramen

The final night in Tokyo, we didn't really have plans for dinner.  So I Googled around for ideas in the area, and read about this place, Tsukumo, that did cheesy ramen.  I didn't know whether to be intrigued or horrified.  What I knew I was, was hungry.  Dad approved of this culinary experiment, and it was an easy find just a few blocks from the Ebisu train station.

They start out with the rich pork broth, possibly with some of the parmesan rinds going into that process as well.  And the noodles we know and love.  Then, a 'Made in Italy' cheese grater takes a huge hunk of the stuff and grates it in a heaping pile into the soup.  You add your plate of extras (egg, pork, etc.), and ta-dah!
Man, I cannot tell you how good this was.  Seriously.  It sounds a little weird, but the cheese melts beautifully into the broth and noodles.  The only comparison I can make is to a french onion soup.  So delicious.  I'm quite pleased with myself for this find, but really that's the beauty of Tokyo, it almost doesn't matter where you happen to walk into, chances are you're going to get something good to eat.

Well, with the exception of when you walk into places that aren't restaurants, of course!

There you have it, another tale from Tokyo.  It's taking me a while to get to everything, but I hope you're enjoying it, because I love getting to relive it weeks afterwards.  Stay tuned for further installments of craft stores, food, and more.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Froyo files: Crazy Good (San Marcos)

The thought occurs that perhaps the lack of posts reviewing purveyors of frozen yogurt might lead readers to assume that I have stopped eating froyo.  Allay your fears, because it merely means that I have instead been enjoying swirls of dairy deliciousness in some of the same places I've already reviewed.  And I didn't think it necessary to share every bowl with you.  Most often, I've gone to Tutti Frutti, Chill Out, and Yogurt Spot, depending on which one coincides with the shopping of the day.

But this weekend, on the way back from Kid 'n Ewe, we stopped at a place I have been to before, but just happened to predate my blogging activities.  And so, another case for the Froyo files...

Crazy Good: 1504 Aquarena Springs Drive #303, San Marcos, TX

When I visited: Saturday, November 12th, around 4 pm

Cost per ounce: 45 cents

Number of flavors: 10

Sorbet options: 1

Experience: This is my mom's preferred froyo spot in San Marcos, and I like it too.  Aside from the one sorbet option, they also have a good Euro Tart and a Wildberry Tart.  Which is what I ended up having, because unfortunately the sorbet was fruit punch, and that just tends to have a fake taste to it.  But the Wildberry was really good, so I wasn't too disappointed.

There were also two cinnamon-y flavors, Snickerdoodle, and Cinnamon Roll.  Both of those were super-tasty when sampled, but just didn't make it into my final bowl selection because cinnamon and fruit doesn't melt together well.  The Irish Mint was nice and minty.  They also had a White Chocolate Macadamia, but I'm not sure how I felt about it.  White chocolate is kind of a non-flavor when it's done in something other than actual white chocolate.  It tasted a little like how certain sweet Yankee candles smell, if you know what I mean.

I want to give a shoutout to their Dulce de Leche, because even though it wasn't swirling on this particular day, it's a big reason why my mom will sometimes visit (gasp!) without me.  And also: they have an impressive selection of toppings, particularly in the sauce category.  There was a lemon zest one in particular that was really tempting, but I didn't try it because it was almost certainly not light on sugar.  But there seem to be an endless number of possibilities here as far as customizing your yogurt and jazzing it up even if you go with a plain Vanilla or Chocolate.

Worth a revisit? Yup!

Monday, November 19, 2012

A brand new face

What do you see when you look in the mirror?  This isn't so much a deep philosophical question, I mean it more matter-of-factly.  When you look in the mirror, you see...yourself.  Your face.  Every morning when you wake up and every night before you go to bed.  Usually with a toothbrush in your mouth, unless you happen to spend a lot of time just staring at yourself, in which case maybe you have a little too much time to spare.

Anyway, for most of my life, I haven't just seen my face, I've seen my face with glasses.  I think I was in third grade or so when I first got them.  And I need them, because otherwise I can't read that huge 'E' at the top of the charts.  So the only way I've seen my face without glasses is either as a vaguely me-shaped blur or with my nose practically pressed up against the mirror, which is not the way most other people would see it.

Until today, when I got contacts.

I don't plan on wearing them all the time.  Just on the odd day, particularly if I want to go running and don't want to keep pushing glasses up my nose as I go, or maybe on a random day when it's bright and I feel like wearing sunglasses.  Really, the only reason I decided to go ahead and get contacts was because my insurance will only cover new frames every other year, but lenses, whether contacts or glasses, you can have each year.  Plus, I have some flex spending money left over for the year, and if I don't use it, I lose it.  So getting contacts is like going shopping with money you've already spent.  Plus, I've always sort of wanted to try it, just to see.  Literally.

And so now, I have my first pair in.  Aside from being able to see to the side without turning my head, and dealing with the whole issue of touching my eyes so much, I'm just trying to get used to my face.  Because it's completely different.  I don't know quite how to describe it, but it's like there's so much more of it now.  My eyes are so far apart compared to the bridge between lenses on glasses.  And my cheeks, there's more of them as well.  So I'm spending a little too much time staring in the mirror, because it's not quite me.  And I keep putting my hands on my face, because it feels different as well.  My hair doesn't tuck behind my ears in quite the same way.  Little things that are completely ordinary, they are just new.

Okay, time to take them out again.  I've had them in for the allotted four hours, and I need to give myself plenty of time before dinner, since it took at least ten minutes to get them out the first time!

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Cubicle kitchen: Pumpkin Pie Cookie Bar

Tis the season for pumpkin pie.  But why should the crust just be...crust?  Especially when it can be cookie.  When I saw this seasonal mix from Betty Crocker, I knew I had to make it.  And I've been using Hungry Girl's recipe for several years now to get the pumpkin pie feeling without the extra calories.  Putting two things like this together is pretty much my raison d'ĂȘtre, so it had to be done.

I was really worried about burning the cookie crust with the double baking, but they turned out really nicely, the filling likely keeping the crust moist, but not getting soggy.  You could probably also half the amount of dough, and get a more pie-like ratio of filling and crust.

Pumpkin Pie Cookie Bars
(adapted from Betty Crocker and Hungry Girl)
makes a 9x13" pan

Ingredients:

  • Betty Crocker Pumpkin Spice Cookie Mix (you can also use sugar cookie mix with the addition of some pumpkin pie spice, or your own recipe)
  • 15 oz can pumpkin puree
  • 12 oz can evaporated fat-free milk
  • 2 eggs (or 1/2 cup egg substitute)
  • 3/4 cup Splenda
  • 2 tsp pumpkin pie spice

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Prepare the cookie mix as directed.  Press into the prepared pan, using a spatula or your fingers to press it into the bottom evenly.
  3. Bake 10 to 15 minutes until dough is just set.  You don't want to end up overbaking the crust.  Allow it to cool at least slightly.
  4. While the crust is baking (or even once cooling), mix together the pumpkin, milk, eggs, Splenda and spice.  Pour onto the crust and return to the oven for 45 minutes.
  5. Allow the bars to cool, chilling in the fridge before cutting into squares (or triangles, like my picture).

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

A trip to the dentist is better than no sleep at all

I went in for my six-month cleaning today.  And there were two things that struck me.

First of all, doctor-patient small talk is already awkward at the best of times.  But it's one heck of a lot harder to chit chat when there are fingers and other implements occasionally in your mouth.  It must be a kind of fine art for dentists and hygienists, to cut through the awkwardness of the situation with conversation, and yet manage to not force dialogue while they are in the middle of something in your mouth.  No questions right before going in for the final floss, for instance.  It truly is commendable.

And second, as my chair was returning to its upright position, I felt oddly...rested.  That makes sense.  I mean, we're talking about 30 to 45 minutes where the most demanding thing I was asked to do was this aforementioned chit chat.  It's one of the few times when you can't multitask.  Kind of hard to use your iPhone, watch TV or draft a blog post.  Perhaps there's a slight uptick in blood pressure as I wait for a verdict on cavities, but really, it's a fairly relaxing break in the day.

And no, this completely random blog post was not brought to you by the remaining effects of laughing gas.  I only went in for a cleaning, and my pearly whites passed their inspection.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Enjoying fiber in the buff

Titillated?  Well, so was I, but mostly by the awesome buffalo yarn that I found at Kid 'N Ewe fiber festival this past weekend.  See what I did there?  Just a little fiber humor to start you off.

Every year, yarn events just get better and better around here.  This year in Boerne, there were even more indie dyers with yarn and fiber that I just had to squoosh.  I ended up walking away with five new skeins for my stash.  Two came from Knitting Rose, a 10% bison yarn that was really intriguing.  Apparently it gets softer as you use and wash it, and it's super-warm.  That's one reason that she said she sticks to 10%, because any more and it might just cause a Texas knitter to burst into flames.  Plus, it allows her to keep the colors vibrant, which I love.  So I got one skein that was a mix of brown and fuschia, and another with brown and teal.  Never tried it before, but now I'm planning on striping up some mitts, and probably a matching shawl or cowl.

The rest of the damage was with Heavenly Fiber.  I met these guys first at Yellow Rose earlier this year, and I was on the lookout to see them again.  We missed them in our first loop of the vendors, but finally spotted them, and I'm so glad we did.  She had lots of her gorgeous sparkly yarn, which I bought last time, and sparkly batts, which I haven't tried yet.  Next time.  What I did get this time around was a skein of worsted weight, a fingering tweed in a Firefly-inspired colorway, and a cake of deep red yarn that progressively will get darker.  It's going to be a gorgeous shawl.

There are some pics in my Examiner article.  Sorry, not too many of the specific yarns, I'll have more once I've actually knitted some of these things up.  If you happen to be one of my Texas readers, I highly recommend stopping by for next year's event.  And if not, I highly recommend taking a peek at these two online stores in particular.  They are making some beautiful things and they are also great people.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Tokyo tales: Avril yarn store

Just before I found Karel Capek tea, I found Avril yarn during my day of wonder in Kichijoji.

I used this helpful post as well as their website to guide me, and found that as long as you just trust that you are walking in the right direction, you'll get there eventually.
Once inside, now that was the hard part.  I'm terrible at making decisions at the best of times, and these were not good circumstances for me to be decisive.  The walls are lined mostly with cones of different yarns that are sold by weight.  And along with having some pretty yarns in and of themselves, the main feature of Avril is combining the various yarns to create a chunkier art yarn.  So you have some nice 'base' yarns in lots of colors and gauges, and then some sparkly novelty kind of strands to mix in.  Pretty much everything is in Japanese, and I wasn't brave enough to ask if anyone spoke English to translate for me, but I was able to discern the gauge because each yarn had a card offering details on meters per 10 grams.

I experimented with various combinations, including a color-changing one-ply yarn in various shades of brown along with a strand of what sort of looked like sprinkles to perhaps make a chocolate cupcake cowl.  But in the end, doing something like that had the downside of doubling the cost, so instead I chose to just take 40 g of a heavy fingering (maybe DK) yarn that reminded me of Noro in the coloring, along with a little grab bag that had a short amount of a pre-made art yarn concoction that seemed to complement it.

In one of the crafting department stores (I hope to outline a few in a later post) I found a plain black in the same gauge also from a Japanese yarn company, called Puppy.  So these will likely be combined to create a shawlette, with the tiny yardage of art yarn going towards a knitted flower or other embellishment, possibly to act as a closure for the shawl.

I highly recommend a trip to Kichijoji and this store.  It was a really interesting experience to find something  that felt very much like a local yarn store in the US, with people knitting in the side room, etc.  The other yarn  sources I was able to make it to were all more like department stores, so this was absolutely worth the journey out, especially because Kichijoji itself turned out to be such a gem of a little town for wandering and shopping.

You know, when you next happen to be wandering around Tokyo wondering what to do with yourself.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Tokyo tales: Fast food adventures

Japan has so much amazing food.  Sushi, ramen, yakitori, steak.  So maybe it's a little heretical that I actually sought out fast food on this trip and ate it not once, but twice.  But stay with me here, I did have a reason.  Before this, it had been about two years since I had actually eaten a burger and fries.  So it wasn't that I couldn't survive two weeks without pink slime.  It's that there are things that these plastic palaces only put on the menu in certain places.  And I find that intriguing, seeing and tasting what has been designed for this particular place and this group of people.  It tells you something about what they eat in 'real' food.  And it's kind of fun.

Fall was in full swing while we were there, including Halloween decorations.  I had always seen Halloween as an American holiday, but I guess it's another one of those cultural exports we're sending around the globe.  But in Japan, pumpkins aren't just for carving into jack-o-lanterns or even filling pies.  They can also be put on burgers.

Burger King has a limited edition BK Pumpkin, a 'harvest time' burger, basically a bacon cheeseburger with slices of roasted Japanese pumpkin.  I believe that technically that's a squash, but let's not get picky.  I was very intrigued when I read about this, because I love pumpkin in all of its sweet forms and regularly stir a little puree into puddings, oatmeal, and baked goods.  I had also had some raw sticks of pumpkin amongst the veggies at another more traditional Japanese dinner.  And so, it was the season to try this out.
See the pumpkin?  You can also order a 'Bomb Pumpkin' to get ten slices on this, or in fact any, burger.  But I think two slices was adventurous enough.

Actually, this was pretty good.  Well, the bacon cheeseburger part was, like most fast food, not as satisfying as it smelled, but the pumpkin part was good enough to make me think that I might try and add some to my own sandwich sometime.  Something about the bacon and the pumpkin together was good.  Who knew that pairing was out there?

And then, for lunch one day, we popped into a McDonald's.  Nothing against Burger King, but for my generation at least, they just don't have that deeply, disturbingly engrained connection.  McDonald's had the happy meals, so when I think of quintessential fast food, that's where I think of going.  This is not difficult to manage, since there is one literally on every corner in certain neighborhoods, particularly in the vicinity of public transportation.

And each of these locations, unlike the locations in the US, has an Ebi Filet-O.  Basically, it's a shrimp burger.  Shrimp ground up into a patty, coated with Panko and fried up, with lettuce and a sauce derived from Thousand Island.
I think this was more interesting, just because it was a completely different kind of burger.  Again, it was still fast food, so it could have been better, but I would eat another if I found myself locked in a McDonald's around mealtime.  And again, it made me want to try it myself at home, though I'm not sure I want to actually fry it, and I'd be worried about baking it and overcooking the shrimp.

There you have it.  Japanese fast food.  And if you're ever there, make sure you ask for ketchup at the counter, otherwise you're going to have to eat your fries naked.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Cubicle kitchen: Not Terry's Chocolate Orange Fudge

Well, Halloween is over, and you know what that means?  Christmas!  At least that's the impression you get from walking around the stores.  The aisles are starting to be filled with ornaments, layaway programs have already begun, and soon we shall begin the countdown to madness as Christmas music comes pouring through the speakers.  In Tokyo they were already starting to erect Christmas trees in one of the plazas.  I suppose without Thanksgiving, there isn't even a theoretical gap between Halloween and Christmas.  Even here, it seems like only grocery stores really care about turkey day, since they are the ones selling you the turkey.

Anyway, one thing that I associate with Christmas that I will always welcome coming early is a Terry's Chocolate Orange.  They aren't particularly Christmas-y, but like cherry cordials at Valentine's Day, they tend to come out around that time of year, and make yummy stocking stuffers.  This was my reasoning for turning my super-simple base fudge recipe into a salute to the delicious coupling of chocolate and orange.

This recipe is so simple, it takes literally a few minutes to make.  Then a few more minutes to cut up after it's chilled.  Perfect for when you've cultivated a reputation for bringing in treats but between jet lag, shopping, and 5k runs you didn't really have time to put a lot of effort in.  Keep in mind that this can be adapted into almost anything.  White chocolate with peppermint extract (also good for Christmas), milk chocolate with almond extract and chopped hazelnuts for a kind of Nutella fudge.  You will see this pop up again and again over the course of this blog.

And as quickly as this comes together, it disappears just as fast, because it is so delicious.  That's the best combination, easy and impressive!


Not Terry's Chocolate Orange Fudge
(adapted from Sparkpeople)
Makes about 40 squares

Ingredients:

  • 1 bag of semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • 1 can of fat-free sweetened condensed milk
  • 1 tsp orange extract
  • sprinkling of dried orange zest (optional)
Directions:
  1. Line a 9 x 13" (or similar) pan with parchment paper.
  2. In a microwaveable bowl, mix the entire bag of chips with the can of condensed milk.  Stir in some zest.
  3. Place in the microwave and melt carefully.  I started with 30 seconds, then stirred, and back in again in 15 second increments.  You don't want to scorch it, just get it smooth.  Stir in the extract.
  4. Pour the mixture into the pan, spreading a little to get it evenly in there.  Sprinkle with a little more zest if desired.
  5. Place the pan into the fridge and leave to chill.  Once firm, cut into squares. 

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Tonight's to-dos

I have various tasks which I would like to make progress on in the three hours or so I have between now and sweet, sweet slumber:

  • Cutting the fudge into squares for bringing into work tomorrow (recipe post forthcoming)
  • Otherwise prepping other foods to eat while at work tomorrow in order to be nourished beyond risk of fainting after donating blood in the afternoon
  • Getting as close as possible to finishing my first knitted item for this tea-themed swap, so I can start on the second tomorrow
  • Writing at least a sizable chunk of my NaNoWriMo novel, because so far I have amassed a woeful total of less than a thousand words.  Entering into this challenge directly after a trip is not a good idea.  But I refuse to give in!
  • Hopefully not obsessing over watching election results come in, since I'm pretty sure there's no way they'll have declared a winner by the time I go to bed.
As a result, I'm afraid I cannot be witty and engaging, or share any more details on my Tokyo trip.  I will tease you, however, with hints.  I will soon share the details of yarn stores, Halloween parades, and food both fast and slow.  Until then, happy Election Day , my fellow Americans!  And happy watching the insanity from the outside and marveling to the rest of the world.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Tokyo tales: Karel Capek tea shop

It's so hard to know where to start in regaling you with tales of Tokyo.  But I suppose all of the best things start with a nice cup of tea.

I'm currently in a tea-themed swap on Ravelry, so it was on my mind throughout the trip.  I had a few ideas for places to find a few bags, but funnily enough, my favorite find came once I was in Tokyo.  The first day we had to wander around, my dad and I went to a department store that mostly carries electronics, but also had a floor of books and magazines.  I love Japanese magazines because, apart from interesting fashion editorials, they tend to come with fun freebies like little tote bags.  While browsing through these for the best free gift, I found one magazine that was more like a catalogue for a Karel Capek tea shop.

For those who don't know, Karel Capek was a Czech author.  He's most famous for coining the term 'robot', but I think he's worth reading for more than that.  For example, The Gardener's Year is a short and sweet little book that is hilarious for those with or without a green thumb.  Though he's not a household name, he apparently made enough of an impression on Utako Yamada, a Japanese children's book author and illustrator, to name her tea store after it.

Now in it's 25th year, there are multiple locations around Japan, mostly in the Tokyo area.  I decided to venture out slightly to Kichijoji to visit the original.  It's a few stops by train outside of the city center, and there's also a great yarn store here (more on that later).  Getting there is like getting anywhere in Japan for a foreigner.  It requires a some research and a little luck.  Their website provides a little map sketch for each location (this is the translated page for Kichijoji), which when combined with an additional map of the area gave me a sort of idea of where I was going, several blocks from the train station.  Mostly, though, it was luck that had me turning onto the correct streets.  And thankfully, on the corner of the final street there was a building with a sign for ASA, which was also on the online sketch.  After walking half a minute I spotted the telltale signs.
Inside it was positively bursting with teas that each smelled delicious and had the most precious packaging ever.  Plus, you are greeted with a small sample cup of tea and half a biscuit to snack on.  I tried Milk Caramel, and it was so good.
It was so hard to decide what to bring home with me.  The mugs were lovely, but I knew that they wouldn't be the easiest things to pack.  Plus, the tea was expensive enough on its own.  In the end I settled for a sort of sampler pack with about a dozen flavors, and a reusable shopping bag.  I should have gotten one or two more, because they were the best deal and are a very cute way to remember the store.  I plan on carefully cutting the tea bags for later display, because the illustrations are worthy of wall space.  They also have a lot of really cute brochure and catalog things.  Really, this is a feat of merchandising genius mixed with good brew.

In search of more bags, I tried to visit their location in Ginza, but unfortunately it was being renovated at precisely the time I was in town.  I did find them again in Jiyugaoka, after a lot of wandering around with no idea what I was looking for.  They didn't have any bags at this location, it was a bit smaller, but they did have another flavor of tea, Marron (like a chestnut, seems to be a popular fall flavor here) so I decided to splurge and get a tin of this one.  I've brewed one cup of it so far, and it's very nice.

It's going to be tough drinking these teas knowing that I can't really get any more, but I'm going to try and just enjoy what I have and hope that online ordering becomes easier.  Until then, happy memories and a few aww-inducing photos like this one.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Domo Arigato, Japan!

I'm back!  Not only was I allowed back into the country, but so was my suitcase full of tea, yarn, fabric, Hello Kitty, and other goodies.  I have many tales to share, of searching for yarn stores, slurping Ramen, and doing it all with a camera around my neck.  Because there's no pretending you're not a tourist in Tokyo, best to just embrace it.

I arrived back home yesterday afternoon, so for Halloween I was a jet lagged zombie.  And between that, returning to work and starting NaNoWriMo today, I'm just not prepared to break all of the awesomeness down for you yet.  I'll try to whip something up tomorrow to start the series off, but for now, my update is just that I'm back.  Hi!