December 2nd, 2014

A day in a life of this market stall holder

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Seven am. I always set this time.
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That’s the time when the alarm tone from my iPhone goes off, but five hours of sleep isn’t enough (I typically finish work around 2am on Friday nights) so almost every time I struggle to wake. Every morning I hit the snooze button & sleep for ten more minutes. That ten minutes feels so prescious somehow… 
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It is around ten past eight that we leave our kids to the grandparents & make our trip to the market. As Mr D drives, he sticks his hands out of the window & manually pulls out the radio antenna on the car roof. We start to listen to the Frank Skinner Show on Absolute Radio. The witty light hearted talk makes us smile & it’s a great way to start the day. After a while though, we think that the adverts inbetween are so frequent & obtrusive (why are radio adverts so shouty & the jingles so horrible?) that we switchover to BBC Radio Four in the meantime. I love it that there are no advert breaks on this one. Its pure solidness on this station, tackling a more serious subject matter. Sometimes we forget to go back to Absolute if the subject interests us.
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When we do arrive at the market, around ten to nine-ish, Mr D does several rounds of carrying the large cake trays from the car to my stall while I spread the table cloth amongst other tasks. I am so happy that he’s doing this – the cakes are actually rather heavy – & coming to think of it, it would be wouldn’t it when on a typical week I use about 5kg of butter, 5kg of sugar, 4 kg of chocolate, 1.5kg of almond powder, 1.5kg of cream cheese, 1kg of cream, & amongst other bits n’ bobs.
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By the time we arrive at my pitch, my neighbouring stall holders are already there – the French cheese boys, Miss.K from the next stall, Mr.R the meat seller, Mr.H the honey-man, Mr.M the artist who sells his prints. We all greet with a smiley hello & whilst setting up, we touch-base with how our week’s been folding out. 
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In the morning, Mr.M the artist bought two large tarts. Mrs.S the ladybird book seller bought another, & Ms.I, the gloves n’ bags seller followed suit with yet another large tart. Selling to fellow holders (especially in such a succession!) is a rather affirming moment, & it feels great. We all burst out in a guffawing laughter about how, having a stall near me is a curse or a blessing! Over the years, they come to me for their cake needs, & I am ever so grateful. 
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Despite the great start to the day, my spirits started to dampen as it began to rain. The damp air melts away the icing sugar that is sifted over the fruit tart & it doesn’t look so good anymore. And, when it rains so early on in the day, I worry that people would change their mind about coming to an outdoor market like ours. 
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Notably, in the mornings, I see the local customers out shopping before the maddening crowd descends on to the market later on in the day. They also know that they get first dibs with cake choices too, especially the large whole cakes which I only bake a limited number of. 
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One by one, the regulars start to drop in. 
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Always first is the shop owner who’d been purchasing a slice of ‘flourless chocolate cake’ from me the past nine years. Yes-yes, I didn’t type it wrong, nine years, & that is every single week without fail! As much as it is a ritual for her, it is a ritual for me to sell to her. 
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The ‘flourless chocolate cake’ has its own fans. There are two more notable customers who buy whole 8 inch ones at the pace of once-every-two-weeks. I’m guessing these men have also been purchasing like this for the past four years or so? – One of them, a man who, I guess is slightly younger than my dad, drops by. This week is the ‘no purchase’ week. Regardless, he stops by & makes a point of saying hello to me which I appreciate. The subject we talk about is always sports & fitness. The man is a rigourous excerciser and goes to those super tough spinning classes (fitness-cycling to pumpy music) too. When we talk, he gives me great advice on my fitness quests & how to stay motivated. 

The carrot cake couple is next. It’s always a slice or two of carrot cake for them. Although once, they took a whole one all-the-way to Italy! In their hand-luggage, being careful to keep it upright. :)
I joked “hello stranger!” to them with a cheeky wink as I hadn’t seen them for a while. It happens they were on holiday! Lucky them…! 
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After that, it’s Mr.Xmas, who is so tall that he has to crouch slightly to peer through the bunting that is hung on my stall. Why’s he called Mr.Xmas? It’s because he is the only customer who gives me a Christmas card! Two years in a row now! What a sweet guy. – Almost every week he drops by. I used to ask “The usual?” which are two fruit tarts, but now, after 3 years (?) of the same selection, he also buys a slice of carrot cake.
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As I was cutting a whole chocolate cake in to slices for the biker who wanted to fit it in to two tupperwares, a lovely blog reader Mrs.R dropped by too. Her opening line to me was “I came from Manchester to this market to see you!”. Woooooowza! Thank you!!! Afterwards, my stall neighbours all clammer to find out. They simply can’t believe how a small-scale cake-seller like myself can receive visitors coming from all over the place, & to be honest, me too, it’s such a wonderful wonder.  
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Around four pm, it starts to get dark & the kebab shop opposite turn their shop sign lighting on. It’s using strip lights so it gives off a bluish white hue. The cheese stall behind me has their own lighting using tungsten light bulbs, & it’s a warm yellow hue. Both sources of lighting shed enough brightness on to my stall, & standing between the two is sufficient to see me through until the 5pm closing time, by which time it is completely dark.
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Pretty much bang on four thirty pm, I consider an end-of-day sale depending on how much cakes/ truffles I have left. I would obviously like to say to you that I sell out every single week but the truth is, some weeks are great & some weeks not. That is the name of the game. It could be that the weather was not great, or that it is a week before people’s payday.
– Having a sale brings a different type of crowd. And a crowd it is at times! It’s a speed-talk of “Yes, who’s next please?! Yes, you’ll be next.” as people clammer in front of the stall. Psychology seems to go that if there’s a crowd, it is more desirable. The people attract more people.
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By five pm, I have packed up & it is leaving time. If I have any cake bits left, I give them to nearby stall holders. Mr.R the meat seller gives me steaks in return & Ms.V from the fish stall gives me beautiful salmon. The cheese boys give me good discounts in their shop too, so in a way, it’s not all wasted. 
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Mr.D comes to collect me, sometimes with the children. They all help with carrying the bags to the car. And in the car, we talk catch-up with how our day had been. How the kids did at the Japanese Saturday School, how Mr.D did with his swimming & how I did at the market. I tell them about special blog visitors, & about some friends if they have visited. 
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If there is no Arsenal match on, we manage to get home before six. But no rest for the wicked as one says (but what have I done?), & I get back in to the kitchen to cook dinner. Saturday night’s menu is often Mr.R or Ms.V’s exchanged goods, with Japanese rice & a few veggies on the side. 
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For the rest of the evening, I just plonk myself on the sofa like a sack of potato. Full from dinner, in the comfort of home, with no more immediate duties to do, I finally relax. I desperately mean to stay awake & make use of the time, like watch a film for once, or read an article I’ve been meaning to read, but it’s not ever like that. Given a chance, my body says sleep! & so I end up napping on the sofa… After a while, I make my way upstairs to bed. On my way though, I pass the kitchen & I remembered that I bought a jar of English honey from Mr.H. It’s the same brand as the spoonful he kindly gave me when I was suffering from a cold the other week. – With a sleepy mind, I think to myself ‘tomorrow morning I will have honey on toast’.
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October 21st, 2014

Two pictures

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Two pictures to share with you:
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an alternative design for an apple galette. Chain link pattern on round puff pastry. Caramelised apple sauce. Tamami. www.cocoandme.com - Coco&Me - Coco and Me

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Sometime ago, I was playing around with an alternative design for an apple galette.

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The recipe goes something like this:

1. Peel Granny Smith apples & thinly slice with a mandolin.

2. The raw apple slices are too brittle to loop in to pattern, so blanche them for 1 minute, then dunk in cold water to stop it from cooking further. (This method also stops them from oxidising & turning brown!)

3. The chain design only works with similarly large slices, so to use up the unused end scraps of apple, make a caramelised apple mix which will go in-between the apple chain & the puff pastry base.

4. Use an apple corer to cut a circle in the centre of the apple slices, then loop them up to make a chain pattern.

5. Then assemble that on puff & caramel mix, & bake…

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… The recipe itself was a definite success, super moreish, the caramel layer really made it special together with the flakey puff pastry. But the chain design was too fiddly to say the least. Perhaps I’ll ditch the pattern idea & go for a more universal look after-all, like how others do it, layering the slices like roof tiles, so that I can share the recipe properly with you one day…?

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Gifts from Paris - Chocolon (chocolate covered macaron) from Sadaharu Aoki Paris and Mendiants Chocolate bar from Alain Ducasse. www.cocoandme.com - Coco&Me - Coco and Me

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Last Saturday I had a surprise visit from Mrs.C & her husband Mr.E from Paris! :) :) :) It was a super happy moment. :) :) :) Smiles (Mrs. C), smiles (Mr.E), smiles (Me) !  It was really great to catch up on each other’s news! The extra surprise was that they’d brought with them a gift for me too! Wow… thank you… It was chocolate-coated macarons from my favourite Japanese patissier Sadaharu Aoki, & a mendiant chocolate bar from the one & only Alain Ducasse! I own cookbooks by both of these men* & absolutely respect them, so believe me when I say that these sweet things are highly valued by me & will be truly enjoyed, ~ slowly…, not a single crumb will be wronged by landing anywhere other than in my mouth.

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In fact, why not try one now as I write. Oooooh… (fingers dancing over the macarons), let’s see…, the…, yes, the mac with the red top. Ah! Raspberry! Or should I say ‘framboise’ since it’s from France. ~ (sigh) I needs me a trip to Paris again .Yep… (scoff), yep… (munch).

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* Here’s a confession ~ I’ve not counted (& I dare not want to ~ it’ll be a bad reality check of my spendings), but I think I have around 150 food-related books in my bookshelf… When I’m ‘in’ to something, I like to get ‘in’ to it knee-deep obviously. Lol… Recently I’m ‘in’ to dropping in to the local Oxfam Bookstore (a charity second-hand bookstore here in UK) to check their latest offerings. Last time I was in there, I bought a signed Raymond Blanc book from 1991 for £5. The pictures are a little dated, but every single one a fantastic, no-nonsense recipe. I’m learning a lot from it, currently cooking from the vegetable section. I also plan on making the pumpkin soup from this book for Halloween! ^^

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September 23rd, 2014

Summer holiday 2014 – Japan – PART 3

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Coco&Me - Printout of a school lunch menu from Japan - Coco and Me - www.cocoandme.com

(Printout of weekly lunch menu from a primary school in Japan)

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Coco&Me - Printout of a school lunch menu from Japan - Coco and Me - www.cocoandme.com

(The reverse side has diagrams of what vegetables are in season with a sentence or two about how they are nutritional. Nice little touch with additional diagrams of what these vegetables’ flowers looks like.)

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Coco&Me - Printout of a school lunch menu from Japan - Coco and Me - www.cocoandme.com

(Printout of weekly lunch menu from a Nursery school)

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As I was chatting with my friend T about food, ~ especially about the food culture in UK & about how in general, the people feed their family daily ~ she brought out two printed copies of the lunch menu from her childrens’ schools.

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When I saw this, I was… truly shocked.

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As one expects, obviously, every meal of the week is listed, but it was also boiled down to how many grams of which ingredient has been used in the dishes. Right the way down to how many decimal grams of salt.

~ Astonished? I was. And wait for it, there’s more – every meal had been calculated to let you know the total protein amount, the fat content, & the calorie intake.

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Although it delightfully baffled me as to why the Japanese school provided the menu to such super-precision, I definitely think that it is a positive step toward good-food awareness:

– Because, as a parent, you’re safe in the knowledge that your child is not fed something iffy. You can see that everything is made from scratch, from real ingredients with names you’ve heard of (compared to factory-made product names).

– Having to provide the ingredients list keeps the caterers in check.

– You can make a better judgement of what to make for dinner at home, so that your child has a balanced diet. i.e. if the school served pasta for lunch, you wouldn’t serve pasta for dinner would you?

– The menu also has some information about what vegetables are in season, & how they are beneficial to the body (the lunch menu itself also makes a point of using these seasonal produce). ~ Isn’t this fantastic? Imagine this information sheet stuck on the parent’s fridge. It’ll be a constant reminder about what is in season, & might lead them to buy & cook seasonal stuff more often!

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The Japanese school lunch menu is nothing near what you’d expect to get in England. Y’see, first of all, I don’t even get given menu printouts from my childrens’ school! Perhaps if I asked for it, they’d probably provide (all be it with a quizzing look I bet), but that’s not the point. The fact is, the parents in Japan are fully notified by automated default of what their child eat every-single-lunchtime. I like that, ~ it’s integrating good-food-eating close to everyone’s daily living, stripping away the stigma & the wall to obtaining food information ~ that surely can be a good thing, & must be one of the ways to elevate the standard of cooking.

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So I thought it important to share this with you. Sometimes, it’s only through observing how well it can be done elsewhere, that a change can be made for the better, don’t you think?

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x . . x . . x . . x . . x . . x . . x . . x . . x . . x . . x . . x

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Coco&Me - Printout of a school lunch menu from Japan - Coco and Me - www.cocoandme.com

Above close up translated:

“Cucumber – characterised by crunchy mouthfeel & warty exterior. One of the fresh summer vegetable. “

“Pumpkin – Full of beta-carotene. Maintaining properties for healthy eyes & skin, Builds resistance. Lots of vitamin E & C.”

“The information on which area the ingredients are produced is publicised on the council homepage.”

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Coco&Me - Printout of a school lunch menu from Japan - Coco and Me - www.cocoandme.com

Above left menu translated:

Summer vegetable & fried chicken in vinegar marinade. + Egg & tomato soup. + Bowl of rice. + Carton of milk.

Pumpkin… (green)… 15.00

Aubergine… (green)… 20.00

Chicken… (red)… 40.00

(Thick) Soy sauce… 0.80

Cooking sake… 0.50

Starch… (yellow)… 7.00

Oil… (yellow)… 8.00

Ginger… (green) 0.80

Brown sugar… (yellow)… 2.00

Vinegar… 4.00

(Thick) Soy sauce… 3.50

Cooking sake… 0.80

Mirin… 1.20

Water… 3.50

Egg… (red)… 20.00

Tomato… (green)… 20.00

Onion… (green)… 20.00

Parsley… (green)… 0.60

Salt… 0.50, Pepper… 0.03

(Light) Soy sauce… 3.00

Starch… (yellow)… 0.50

Bonito stock… 2.00

(Cold) Chicken bouillon… 2.00

Water… 100.00

Energy: 664 kcal, Protein: 22g, Fat: 24.2g.

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Coco&Me - Printout of a school lunch menu from Japan - Coco and Me - www.cocoandme.com

On the bottom of the sheet, there was a text that says:

“Food also has a function as a medicine. Please chew well and try not to leave leftovers.”

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x . . x . . x . . x . . x . . x . . x . . x . . x . . x . . x . . x

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Well, I hope you enjoyed reading the last part to my report on Japan!

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Lastly, I just want to say, I hope you’re all well & looking after yourselves. Just last weekend, I had a bit of a health scare – I found a lump on my armpit. After a visit to the GP (local doctor), then to a specialist in a big hospital to do a mammogram & a scan, I was cleared, Thank God. It was some sort of skin infection. – In fact, I came home from the hospital with the good result just an hour ago, & maybe that’s why I’m writing this…, so please excuse this melo stuff. It’s just that, on the way home, I couldn’t stop thinking. I couldn’t stop thinking about how keeping good health means everything. How awfully difficult it could’ve been for my family if I was to fall very ill – it’s just beyond words. I was thinking about how I could “up” myself to a healthier lifestyle. I was thinking about how life is so precious & meaningful (lol, I told you this is going to be a bit melodramatic! Oh dear, I better cut this short before the violin starts playing!). So, dearest blog readers, please look after yourselves too, please take care of your body & stay healthy.

“You” mean a lot to yourself & to those around you.

T xx

September 3rd, 2014

Summer holiday 2014 – Japan – PART 2

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One of the places where I just “had” to go to while in Tokyo was a Kitchen Town called Kappabashi. It is a stretch of street approximately 800 metres, & it is lined with just kitchenware shops.

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Knowing I’d be wanting to shop there thoroughly, (& I mean ‘thoroughly’!), I really didn’t like the idea of going there with the children, including Mr.D (sorry). Listening to “Are you done yet?” & “Can we pleeease go now?” while considering which size pan to get is not my idea of a fun shopping experience, nor theirs.

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And besides, it’s such a specialised area, if cooking is not your ‘thing’, that 800 metres will probably be a mere 10 minute stroll for you, whereas mine can easily be 2 hours.

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Luckily for me, Mr.D agreed to take the kids with him to see a friend for lunch & also go get new glasses made for himself. (Glasses in Japan? Yes, it is much cheaper & quicker to make it there compared to in the UK.) – – So yesss! I had freedom! (Lol) In Japan! And the cherry on top was that my childhood friend A came with me to shop there without her children too! A girly outing buying kitchenware…, for me it is the best…

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Let me tell you a tiny little bit about my friend A (& in fact, about her mum too afterwards). We’ve been friends since age 14. And we did teenager-ey things together. ^^ – Sure, we’re actually very different people, we have diffrent friends, we listen to diffrent type of music, & have a different dress sense. But when you share such fond memories, I guess the strong connection transcends the years of  living in a separate country now. I remember, at the time going for sleep-overs, & oh boy, those super-lengthy telephone chats on land-line! Back then, handy little things like mobiles weren’t yet invented, so I’d often be strewn across my parent’s double-bed, casually stretching the telephone coil while talking about God knows what for hours-on-end. Something super-engrossing for teenage ears I guess…!?

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Anyway, I must say a big *hello~* to her mum Mrs.U on here! I recently found out that she has been regularly reading my blog! Isn’t this fantastic!? When I saw Mrs.U during this trip, she told me how she’d been making the french toast from my recipe. She also told me how impressed she was with me, which made me feel very proud & very happy. – Although it kind of made me blush a little. I remember once going for a sleepover to theirs with a peculiar clothes sense…, lol, I think it was a mixture of Grunge & a bit of Camden. Oh, dear teenager, how I envy that beautiful ability to self-believe…

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When I met up with A at Kappabashi, A told me her mum gave her some pocket money that is for me to spend, I was to buy whatever kitchenware I wanted. After a pingpong match of “oh no, I mustn’t” & “oh you have to, I’ve been told to spend it for you”, I did accept. So, here’s pictures of my kitchenware purchases from Kappabashi that Mrs.U has very kindly bought for me. Thank you Mrs.U! (The pictures also contain goods bought from a store called Tokyu Hands in Shinjuku).

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www.cocoandme.com - Coco&Me - Coco and Me -  Japanese tamagoyaki maker copper egg omelette traditional

Copper Tamagoyaki (Japanese omelette) frying pan.

I really wanted this!! I have a teflon one already, but this copper one is the don. You probably already know this, but copper has superior heat conductivity, meaning it gets hot speedily. On top of that, the heat distributes well, so that your food cooks evenly!

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So it’s my first ever copper ware! :) I’m so happy!! :) This pan is for making Japanese omelettes. You make it by frying a thin sheet of egg (just like when making crepe), which you then fold in to three. You then put this to one side of the pan while you make another sheet. When this next sheet is half-cooked, you fold it around the first, & then you repeat this process until you have a thick roll. Basically you end up with sheets of egg stuck together like a log. Think baumkuchen, only it’s rectangular.

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I make tamagoyaki often. I make it sweet by mixing in some sugar, & flavoursome by mixing in some dashi stock & soya sauce. It is a popular fixture for the bento I make for the kids. And I’m in love with the ritual of waking up early to make this, in a strange way it makes me feel like an “old-school Mam-ma” & I sometimes put on a nice apron to go with the occasion. (Does this make any sense?! LOL…Too much time spent in the kitchen makes for one’s madness!) Interestingly, quite often, my current state of being reflects on to the tamagoyaki. This dish needs your patience & full attention to cook each sheet, & so when I’m unhappy it doesn’t turn out well. On the other hand, when it does turn out beautifully, I  breathe a barely audible sigh of relief, revel in my competence & smile at my perfect tamagoyaki.

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www.cocoandme.com - Coco&Me - Coco and Me -  Japanese cooking pot nabe beautiful silver dented pattern

www.cocoandme.com - Coco&Me - Coco and Me -  Japanese cooking pot nabe beautiful silver dented pattern

Yukihira Nabe hammered pots.

Often used in traditional Japanese cooking, the sides are hammered to strengthen the pot, & create more surface-area to be heated. I also think it’s aesthetically pleasing too! :) And I’m a sucker for wooden handles anyways…!

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www.cocoandme.com - Coco&Me - Coco and Me -  Japanese Kitchenware silicone cooking chopsticks miso stirrer rice scoop surikogi stick

From left to right:

– Silicone cooking chopsticks x 2 (I never used silicone chopsticks before, but I thought I’d give it a try!)

– Surikogi, a wooden stick used together with a grinding bowl

– Miso stirrer – to blend in miso paste in to your soup without lumps

– Rice scoop x 2 (from Tokyu Hands) which stands up

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www.cocoandme.com - Coco&Me - Coco and Me -  Japanese cooking kitchenware - otoshibuta wooden lid pot glove heat

From left to right:

– Super short oven gloves. I thought it’ll be cute to use when you take a dish to the dining table.

Otoshibuta. A lightweight wooden drop-lid. You place this in a pot that is bigger in diameter, so that it directly sits on top of the food. It is mainly used for simmering with less water. As the boiling cooking liquid hits the lid, it then reaches over your ingredient so it cooks evenly. It also holds down the ingredients in place so that it doesn’t dance around & lose it’s shape, which is especially useful when you have delicate potatoes.

The one I’ve got is zig-zaged on the other side to pick up on the scum from the surface of the broth. It’s important if you want the cooking liquid to be clear.

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www.cocoandme.com - Coco&Me - Coco and Me -  Japanese Kitchenware bento box items goods chopsticks pouch furoshiki

My new bento-ware! (all from Tokyu Hands)

From top left:

– Bento pouch.

– 2 x silicone dividers used to divide food inside the bento box.

– 2 x wooden bento box. What I like about these is that the insides are carved out, & that there are no hard corners.

– 2 x wooden chopsticks in a portable case.

– Mini ice pack – (Moomin looking a bit cold!)

– Furoshiki – cloth wrap for the bento box.

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August 13th, 2014

Summer holiday 2014 – Japan – PART 1

www.cocoandme.com - Coco&Me - Coco and Me - Japan - Arashiyama view

(Arashiyama, Kyoto)

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Hello~ dear blog readers! Long time no post, apologies! All’s been well our end, & I hope it has been the case on your end too! xx
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This summer we went to Japan for three weeks! It was a special trip for us because we hadn’t been back for more than NINE YEARS (!). – The last time we were there, our son was only ten months old. This time, we were also taking our six year old daughter for her first ever visit. I really wanted to show them how wonderful Japan is, make them fall in love with Japan. So I planned to show them many aspects, & organised our stay in Tokyo (big city), Kyoto (old city) & Norikura (nature).

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Here’s a bit about our trip told through some food pictures!
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In Tokyo, we stayed in a hotel in Shinjuku ward. We chose there mainly because there is a coach straight to it from Narita Airport which made the travelling with big suitcases & jet-lagged children easier.

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The hotel was the perfect choice as Shinjuku is well connected by many train lines, it made travelling around so much easier. We absolutely loved staying there – everything was perfect, including the hotel’s 28th floor swimming pool commanding an impressive view~!

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There were two options for breakfast rooms at the Hyatt Regency. Continental buffet style, & the traditional Japanese style. Both were of amazing standard.

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www.cocoandme.com - Coco&Me - Coco and Me - Hyatt Regency Tokyo Hotel Egg Omelette Breakfast Buffet

Continental breakfast : As it’s a buffet style, you walk around choosing what ever you fancy eating. It’s easy to over-eat, going back for seconds (& thirds & fourths… LOL), but then again, breakfast is the most important meal of your day, so it’s alright! – Right?? ^^ – There was an omelette station, where the chef would make one to your order in front of you. I absolutely enjoyed watching how skillfully they make it, I observed at what timing they stop whisking & start tossing it to shape.

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www.cocoandme.com - Coco&Me - Coco and Me - Japanese breakfast - Onsen tamago egg on rice - yuzu soy sauce - Asagohan - Hyatt Regency Tokyo Hotel

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www.cocoandme.com - Coco&Me - Coco and Me - Japanese breakfast - Onsen tamago egg on rice - yuzu soy sauce

Traditional Japanese breakfast: One word: gorgeous!

– On one side of the room, they had the rice cooking in individual earthenware pots. We ate in a serene room, listening to the gentle clatter of the lids as the rice inside reached its boiling point. We slipped an『温泉卵』(onsen tamago) on to our rice, then drizzled yuzu (Japanese citrus) soy sauce on it. Onsen tamago is an egg that’s been slowly poached in the shell. When you gently break it, the yolk is still very runny, & it heavenly oozes over your hot rice. It is a pleasure beyond words. The miso soup was with nameko mushrooms. A mushroom I don’t get to eat in U.K. ~ Happiness. ~

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Leaving the metropolis that is Tokyo, we headed to Kyoto by shinkansen bullet train. In Kyoto, we were lucky to be able to stay at our close friends T & P’s. They’ve been so kind, & so generous to put us up for so many days. xxx Thank you T & P! xxx

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Kyoto is described as a Bon-chi, a basin surrounded by mountains. Every direction you look, there are luscious green mountains & it is so beautiful to be reminded of nature all the time like this. But in the summer, the humid air settles right in to this basin – & it becomes especially HOT. When we were there, it was typically around 36 degrees.

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www.cocoandme.com - Coco&Me - Coco and Me - Japan - Kyoto - Kiyomizudera - kakigouri - ujikintoki - ochaya

After a sweltering visit to the Kiyomizudera temple, we dropped by a tea-stop, & ate a dessert called『かき氷』(kakigōri), a perfect summer respite of shaved ice with flavoured syrup. Mine was『宇治金時』(ujikintoki), ice with green tea syrup & sweetened red bean paste. D’s was strawberry milk. He didn’t know that they pour condensed milk, & found it too sweet, so couldn’t finish it!

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www.cocoandme.com - Coco&Me - Coco and Me - Japan - Kyoto - vending machines

Talking about how hot Japan was, I should also tell you about how there were absolutely loads of vending machines in Japan, selling both cold & hot drinks. Sometimes these machines were in front of people’s ordinary houses (I guess they get a cut??). The prices of the drinks were reasonable. A water bottle is around 110 yen (64 pence).

– In the squelching heat, it was handy to have access to cold water readily like this. It’ll be great to have vending machines on the streets like this in the UK too, but I have a feeling that it won’t be possible. It’ll be vandalised sooner or later I’m quite certain… :(

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www.cocoandme.com - Coco&Me - Coco and Me - Japan - Kurazushi - Sushi conveyor belt restaurant

For one of the lunches, we went to Kura-zushi, a conveyor belt sushi restaurant! And it was super fun! Most of the plates were 100 yen each, which equates to roughly 60 pence. YES, ONLY 60 PENCE FOR A PLATE OF SUSHI!!! O.M.G.

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www.cocoandme.com - Coco&Me - Coco and Me - Japan - Kurazushi - Sushi conveyor belt restaurant

As you eat, you deposit the plate in the slot on the end of your table, & it counts how many you’ve amounted so far. Every 5th plate counted, there is an animated game on your touch panel (an iPad that is mounted on the wall). On very rare occasion, you win & get a small prize. (When we were there, the prize was a cute LED yoyo). We all went crazy for this system, kept eating many plates to slot in so that we can do the game. ~ Under the spell of the ploy to sell you more sushi? Oh, most certainly!!! :) But when a plate is 60 pence only, we were happy to go along with it! :) In the end, we ate 56 plates (there were two families), but even so, we only won one prize…!! LOL!

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www.cocoandme.com - Coco&Me - Coco and Me - Japan - Kyoto - Hiyashi yama kake soba - cold buckwheat noodle with totoro

Another dish I had in Kyoto:『冷しやまかけ蕎麦』(Hiyashi yama kake soba). Cold buckwheat noodles in cold tsuyu broth, with grated Japanese yam topping. This Japanese yam, when grated is called “tororo”, & it is something I hadn’t had for a loooooooong time. I mean, like years. And Oh Boy, did I missed you tororo!

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Strawberry Banana French pancake

(Needless for a caption! Pancakes~!!! A meal in itself…!?)

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Saying goodbye to old friends in Kyoto was sad, especially because we don’t see them often, but we eventually moved on to Norikura in Nagano prefecture.

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www.cocoandme.com - Coco&Me - Coco and Me - Norikura in Nagano prefecture - North Star Lodge - tatami room

We had a totally different experience, staying in a lovely tatami mat room at North Star Lodge. This hotel is very unique, it’s run by an English speaking crowd. Outdoor adventures is their main focal point, especially snowboarding in the winter season. Their living room has table tennis & table football. We had so much fun playing it, we were laughing so hard! ^^

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The breakfast & dinner is included in the stay. And oh boy, the chef there knows how to make good food. We were served locally picked mushrooms & vegetables. Water melon which is a local speciality. Homemade miso that one of the staff’s mother made.

Here, the children experienced Japanese communal baths for their first time. The stay there felt like a holiday within a holiday!! Loved it, the staff there were all friendly & we really felt cared for. I would love to go in the winter next time…

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www.cocoandme.com - Coco&Me - Coco and Me - Norikura in Nagano prefecture - river stream in Summer

(Nature everywhere in Norikura. We climbed mountains, hiked to waterfalls, played in the stream.)

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www.cocoandme.com - Coco&Me - Coco and Me - Norikura in Nagano prefecture - Katsu Curry - Abbey Road

(Big lunch at nearby eatery! カツカレー 。Katsu curry. Deep fried pork cutlet with curry & rice.)

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We went back to Tokyo for the final few days of our trip. One of the many places we visited was the Ghibli Museum. It was the number one destination for the kids. They’ve seen most of their movies & love them. The exhibit at the museum was truly magical, we thoroughly enjoyed the visit.  – The cafe restaurant within was also really good too.

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www.cocoandme.com - Coco&Me - Coco and Me - The Straw Hat Cafe at the Ghibli Museum, Tokyo - 『真っ赤なルバーブのさわやかスカッシュ』Rhubarb puree soda. With a “straw” straw, nice little touch, since the restaurant is called “straw hat”.

『真っ赤なルバーブのさわやかスカッシュ』Rhubarb soda, with a “straw” straw – nice little touch, since the restaurant is called “straw hat”.

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www.cocoandme.com - Coco&Me - Coco and Me - The Straw Hat Cafe at the Ghibli Museum, Tokyo - 『とり肉と夏野菜をのせた、お日さまごはん』Summer vegetable with teriyaki chicken thigh, alfalfa sprouts, soft boiled egg. On a bed of mixed grain rice. Sesame seed soy dressing.

『とり肉と夏野菜をのせた、お日さまごはん』Summer vegetable with teriyaki chicken thigh, alfalfa sprouts, soft boiled egg. On a bed of mixed grain rice. Sesame seed soy dressing.

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www.cocoandme.com - Coco&Me - Coco and Me - The Straw Hat Cafe at the Ghibli Museum, Tokyo - 『野っぱらのクリームソーダ』Ice cream float! Cream soda.

『野っぱらのクリームソーダ』Ice cream float! I used to l.o.v.e this soda as a kid! But I remember it used to be green, & had one of those freakishly bright red cherry on top. Blue version is kinda stylish!

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www.cocoandme.com - Coco&Me - Coco and Me - The Straw Hat Cafe at the Ghibli Museum, Tokyo - 『ふぞろいイチゴのショートケーキ』 We finished off the meal with a strawberry cake. The genoise sponge was quite brown – maybe it is using unrefined sugar

『ふぞろいイチゴのショートケーキ』 We finished off the meal with a strawberry cake. The genoise sponge was quite brown – maybe it is using unrefined sugar. ~ It was very very tasty. ~ Strawberry cake is our family’s ultimate choice for cake, I make these for family birthdays, so I’m so happy we ate such an amazing one at such a memorable museum!

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I hope you enjoyed the tiny glimpse in to the food of Japan! In the next blog post, I’ll report about the shopping trip to Kappabashi kitchenware district with my childhood friend A! :) Stay tuned!! ♫

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Hope this post finds you well, T xx

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