Monday, November 28, 2016


Thanksgiving this year was very much in the spirit of last year and the year before that: an improvised but decidedly well-done affair that showcased the surprisingly good cooking abilities of everyone involved and that felt warm, loving, and perfect.

Since autumn and earthtones and unusual Asian foodstuffs are some of my favourite things, I'm gonna make you check out these other seasonal snacks first:

A set of artisanal fruit jellies (although pumpkins, chestnuts and caramel are distinctly not fruits) from the fancy local bakery..

... some traditional chestnut and sweet potato rice cakes with baked sweet potato-flavoured soymilk...

... and finally, just in time for Thanksgiving and with the card from my mom in the background, another interesting seasonal soymilk flavour, Apple Pie! The other one is better, though.

Basically what it looks like outside right now - I like these guys more than their pink springtime counterparts.

If anyone ever actually finds these posts or browses through them looking for the "Gluten-Free, Vegetarian Recipes" label, then this next part is for you.
For some reason - don't ask me why, I guess I just saw some on Instagram or something - I decided I wanted to make daikon mochi for Thanksgiving. Daikon is the big white Japanese radish, and mochi, as more people probably know, is chewy pasty rice cake.

To make it, you will need:

2/3 of a daikon radish that was approx. the height of a small newborn baby lol
1/3 cup Japanese sweet potato flour/starch (katakuriko, the one on the right)
1/3 cup Japanese glutinous rice flour (mochiko, the one on the left)
1/4 cup rice flour/powder (not pictured)
Approx. 1/2 cup chopped green onions
Small dash of sake
Gluten-free soy sauce, or another brown, savoury substitute, to taste
Salt and powdered black pepper to taste
Oil for cooking

The pictures you see here are from the first time I ever tried making these, and the first thing I fucked up was thoroughly draining the radish once I had peeled it and blended it into a rough paste. You're supposed to grate it, I guess, but doing it in the food processor works fine. Just don't drain it completely, or if you do, preserve the liquid! Radishes are very watery and smelly, and the temptation to get rid of the liquid is strong. When I actually did a good job with these the second time I had just tipped the separated liquid on top out of the bowl through a kitchen towel.

Add the flours, sake, sauce, salt, pepper, and onion to the bowl of radish gunk. 
Yeah, just add everything else. And mix it together with a spoon or whisk.

When I say "small dash of sake", I'm serious. A tiny bit, for a little flavour. 
The second thing I fucked up when I made these the first time was adding way too much after having drained out all of that precious, stinky vegetable water. Don't be like me, kids.

Don't go crazy with the sauce and salt, either. Again, if anyone actually reads these, then you must know by now that I never actually measure anything but just recommend using your best judgement. If the texture isn't thick and pasty but not watery like it should be, add more rice flour or radish liquid. This is a goopy chewy thing but it should be able to stay together in the pan.

Cook in a pan thinly coated with oil on low-medium heat for basically as long as you can without burning it on both sides. The third and final thing I fucked up the first time around was not cooking these for nearly long enough. See this picture below? They look fine, don't they?


Cook them moar.

Once they're golden brown and slightly crispy on both sides, slide out of the pan and onto a paper towel-lined plate and serve either immediately or, like, almost immediately. I mixed together some more soy sauce, some honey, and another small dash of sake in a bowl and drizzled it on top, then sprinkled on more green onions and some sesame seeds.

This one's a winner, the ingredients should be cheap, and it's one of the few hot starchy things in this world that can be done gluten free and vegan!

Okay, so anyway, here's Hannes playing Battlefield 1 on the day itself, radish experiements finalised and the apartment rearranged to accommodate 5 people and loads of food.

Hilariously enough I'd had a full bottle of Ikea elderflower concentrate sitting in the back of the fridge for ages, worrying that I would never use it, even as the 3-litre box of Svensk gin Hannes' parents sent us for our birthdays has been parked in front of it for weeks. 
A quick Google revealed that adding lemon soda to these two things creates a classic British summertime cocktail called the Elderflower Cordial, and it's absolutely delicious.

NiQui is basically an angel and made me a gluten-free pumpkin pie that would have also been vegan - because she made the filling with soymilk - had she not kneaded loads of butter into the crust lol. I've been eating it for breakfast for days now, with the cream cheese-flavoured frosting my mom sent a while back. Thank you so much!

And boom, here's the full spread!

NiQui and Rejon did the Costco run the day after the wine festival because they're heroes and champions, and Rejon vetoed the fuck out of the whole roast turkey. We had all agreed beforehand that we wanted to do what we did last year but toned down and more efficient, minus the six hours of cooking together at my place. I mean, that was awesome, but like, damn. We were so drunk and tired.

Anyway, so what you see is slices of the roast chicken (and also black olives) they got instead; the aforementioned pie as well as the two cornbread stuffings NiQui made, one gluten free; the baked mac 'n cheese and homemade cranberry sauce Rejon did (and like omg yum?); the daikon mochi, garlic mashed potatoes, and steamed pumpkin with honey and walnuts that I made and the weirdly inexpensive eclairs that I got, the box of mille feuille Shogo brought, and the gluhwein we heated up once we run out of elderflower drank.

The cranberry sauce together with the cornbread stuffing was, like, perfect.

This year I was like, fuck soup and salad, neither of them were successful last time, 
we're going Full Carbs. 100% carbs.

Also Rejon does this thing where she wears very occasion-appropriate outfits and was an adorable pilgrim that day. Approved!

Oh, and did I mention that she also gave me the apple candle on the left and made the white one in the middle by hand for my birthday? My mom sent the "Give Thanks" pumpkin and card when she sent our birthday gifts and Halloween bag. Love them!

We got tipsy pretty fast (as Rejon said, "Is there gin in that? Ohh, that's dangerous!") and had Life and Frozen Planet on in the background all day. Unfortunately we did this on Japanese Labour Day, though, a Wednesday, so everyone had to go back to work the next morning, which was obviously super difficult and would have been physically impossible if they'd all eaten turkey. 

Between the group of us being in this small space and all the food being heated and reheated, the apartment got so warm and stuffy that I had to open our tiny bedroom window. I closed it again right after everyone left, though, because I realised it was actually startlingly cold outside, which it hadn't been yet so far this year. I've repeatedly cited the post I made on October 19th when I said I couldn't deal with peeling off my sweat-soaked clothes halfway through the day anymore and would literally rather spend next summer in Phoenix with air conditioning than in a subtropical Asian swamp climate in shoddy buildings with no ventilation or cooling. When I finally get around to finishing my Hiroshima and Setouchi posts you'll think they're super old, because it was literally still summer down there when we went on October 8th - 10th. 

Facebook warned me earlier on day-before-Thanksgiving-day that it was going to get down to about 2 C or 35 F that night, but I had forgotten about it.
And the next morning, this happened:

Yeah, first November snowfall in Tokyo for 54 years. 5 or 6 weeks after summer!
Thanks oil companies and inept world governments, the climate's only going to get way more fucky from here on out! :P

This starts when I left our apartment for work and continues from where I was working that day, in Roppongi Midtown Tower. Enjoy!

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Coco Farm Winery Harvest Festival 2016

Hard to believe it's already that time of year again, after a bizarrely abrupt and much talked-about mid-October transition from summer to winter, but the equinox came and went two months ago, and the grapes have been harvested.

The vines a neighbour of ours has over his driveway

Last year's wine festival was great, and even though we'd gone to a show the night before and were horrendously hungover, we were really glad Rejon invited us. Her friends were kind and extremely funny, it was warm, we had a bit of a hike, and we really needed to get out of the city and meet some new people at that point.

This year we got up and got going early (but not early enough; it takes nearly 3 hours to get there and everyone else was tipsy already) like normal humans, but it had suddenly gotten very cold and we were worried we weren't wearing enough and wouldn't be able to do anything about it. There aren't exactly any grocery or convenience stores anywhere near the farm where we could get a blanket or something, and it was way too far to go back.

Luckily, the combination of large numbers of mildly inebriated people in knit fabrics clustered together on the hillside under a protective canopy of grape vines, umbrellas and tarps seemed to do the trick, and we felt totally fine once we were there. 
The last train we took was even more retro than usual - and a lot of the trains here are clearly quite a bit older than we are - and had doors that you slid open by hand. The view of the low rolling mountains out the windows was particularly beautiful; the clouds and fog were dragging through the trees, almost along the ground at times, and here and there were bright yellow ginkgo and rusty maple standing out in the dark blue-green on one side and occasionally between a small traditional house and rice paddy on the other.

It's like a cozy little forested wonderland full of plastic stuff!

And, of course, Hannes is too tall for it.

He found buckwheat crepes and also got me one without bacon!

so earthtones. many cute. such beautyful. wow

They didn't have flamenco dancers last year I don't think.

Yep, getting un-sober, that's what was happening

Don found these wild berries and debated eating one, then I found where he got them from and almost did the same lol.

The jazz was extremely loud but got better with time; initially the singers they had were godawful, basically just yelling noises into the mic with the volume turned up to 11 ><

Rejon taking a little nippy-nap; she set up base camp at like 8:30 that morning, somehow.

Group shot!

Haha, joking, this is full-size doggo

How convenient that there were cup holders just the right size for wine glasses on the bus!
Just kidding, this is very not allowed. much forbiden. wow

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Weekend (11.3 - 11.6): Grindfest 2016 and the Van Gogh-Gaugin Blackout

We had a random sandwich day -「文化の日」- a few Thursdays ago, and Jharrod declared that it would be "the best Culture Day ever", because he and Aaron and Jorge and Meika were going to be at Grindfest representing Kaala, selling craft beer and advertising a couple of other upcoming events (Death Metal Death Match and Rage Against Fascism).

Grindfest is held at a venue called Trinity B3, a small skate park and shop inside a warehouse in far northeastern Tokyo. For how obscure it sounded to us at first, it's actually closer to where we live and easier to get to than a pretty hefty portion of the rest of the city.

Here's the obligatory slap pole outside Ukimafunado Station

And here's what the large, lovely park there looks like, just as the leaves were starting to turn.

I was super excited to stumble upon this manhole cover, like some long-forgotten hunk of treasure or something, only to realise that it looked familiar because the ones in Hikarigaoka Park are the same. So, fuck. Oh well.

The "skate park" was easy to find because of all the people standing around in front and the occasional conspiciously-dressed people gravitating toward it from the station area. It was pretty warm and, having gotten there early, dragging several dozen cans of beer, Jharrod and Meika were especially toasty manning their table while facing the sun. Hannes and I got there a bit late and we both felt kind of blurfy, so we also ended up leaving fairly early.  

One of the bands we did see, luckily, was Carnation, a Belgian death metal outfit doing a mini tour in and visiting Japan for the first time. We ended up talking to their bassist Yarne for a while and he was super nice. Jonathan, one of the guitarists, also looks a lot like my first boyfriend, who also had long hair and played in a metal band, so that was pretty weird.

They seemed amazed by the fact that shows in Tokyo cost as much as one- or two-day festival tickets to see metric fucktons of bands in Europe and that, even charging so much and with very good turnouts, the promoters and venues never even seem to break even. 
We were like, "tell us about it". 

Pretty good, right? 

In addition to making inari-zushi and chicken curry to sell again, Daigo and his girlfriend brought these random free airplane bottles of tequila to get rid of "because it tastes really bad" lol.

The Vespera guy showed up to sell falafel, and everyone rejoiced and formed an extremely long line to have some! I hope everyone selling food and drink made money that day.

Went ahead and took a picture of these shirts because they were so outrageous

Interestingly, Cristophe Szpajdel, a professional calligrapher who now lives in Exeter and is known as the Lord of Logos, was also there, promoting his solo exhibition at Gallery HHH that I was genuinely interested in and considered going to, but didn't. 
You should really click on that first link and read about him, because the long and admittedly awkward chat ("What did you say I am? Very 'particular'?" "Yes, trust me, that's exactly the word you want.") we had centered almost exclusively around his down-to-a-science-but-difficult-and-bordering-on-compulsive working style, which includes but is not limited to charging $100 per logo straight up and not responding to e-mails or doing anything online at all unless he's sat down at a desktop PC and actively decided to do work stuff. Apparently people delete him and snub him on a regular basis for not responding to their messages more quickly, but he's like, alrighty, you can fuck off, don't care, I have a whole bunch of other people waiting and willing to be more patient.

You might be thinking, "Okay, random", just as I was, until he started telling me about when he first met Emperor when they were about 14 years old ("just children"), and how designing their logo in 1991 launched his career. Oh, shit. He's really legit.

I asked which logo was his favourite, which of his works he was most proud of, and his response was the one he did for Wolves in the Throne Room, because he especially digs their ethereal, ambient, "cult of nature" vibe or concept. Badass.

There was this episode in the middle of our conversation when we decided to finally get some falafel, since everyone else and their mother had already had some and the line wasn't impossibly long anymore, and I asked Daigo for one of his curry bowls so I could request all of the falafel items minus the pita bread. Special orders, as anyone who has spent any length of time in East Asia knows, do not usually go down very well in these parts, so I was really pleased when it didn't seem to be an issue.
But then Cristophe was like, "I'll have mine like that too".
I was like, "Er, are you also allergic to bread?" and he was like, "No, I just want it like that".
So I had to apologise and communicate a second special order, this time with blank stares twice as long. Like I said: just a little bit awkward. Pretty nice guy, though.

(A pic of him at the HHH Gallery exhibition from his Instagram, which is managed entirely by someone else)

Since Culture Day was a sandwich day we all went back to work Friday, but I had a class and an appointment not far from each other on the other side of town and with a gap inbetween, so I decided to walk around Shimbashi, the halfway point. I'd never been over there before and decided I wanted to see the Ghibli clock and some other stuff.

This time I did find a new one!
Or, okay, it's not completely new, but the square shape is!

I stopped at the Tamiya Plamodel Factory, which I guess is famous for what it is, but wasn't that great. Pretty pricey too, considering you also have to buy the paint.

The huge animated clock, though, designed by none other than Hayao Miyazaki, was totally worth seeing as it struck 3 P.M. (in this particular case). It's the largest animated clock in the world and is delightfully whimsical and steampunk at the same time, reminding many people of Howl's Moving Castle, which Studio Ghibli did a wonderful job of adapting from the book, unlike whatever the fuck it is they did with Tales From Earthsea. There are videos of it all over the Interwebs, but this one here is mine. Before leaving Tokyo I want to take Hannes to see it at night, because that looks even more magical, if you can believe it.

Finally, on Sunday, there was a group of people - one or two of which Rejon had met before, but most of whom we didn't know at all - meeting at the Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum in an effort to assemble a gaggle large enough to get a discount on admission. It was kind of a spur-of-the-moment thing, but once I found out both NiQui and Rejon were going, I rushed out there, too. I'd never been to Ueno Park or any of the several museums and other attractions it houses, and there was the added bonus of the event being ordained a "blackout", where everyone was encouraged to wear all black and basically be as artsy fartsy as possible. Yaaassss.

As Hannes said, "Wow, you all really look like you just escaped from art school".

I thought I was the last person there, after rushing to get dressed and everything, but the event organiser on the far left there was a solid two hours late, as was the really nice chick in the middle next to NiQui. Don't ask me why we waited. He was also hilarious and fun, as you can probably guess from his delightfully diva-licious pose, but that's a hell of a long time to wait for anyone, especially when you were planning on being home at like 5 and didn't even know any of the people.

We stood around and chatted and waited in the extremely long Starbucks line for coffee (because holy shit, I can afford that trash right now) when we realised there were no vending machines or anything around, and we finally made it into the crowded, multi-level exhibition, an astonishing 11 people short of what was required to get a discount. But we were stylish as fuck and knew pretty early on that 20 people weren't going to show up anyway and didn't care.

The exhibition focused on the relationship between Van Gogh and Gaugin, as, it claimed, no other in Japan had ever done before. There were also various other impressionistic and post-impressionistic works on display in the.. I think it was four floors? of the satisfyingly large gallery, including a number of Monets, but the Van Goghs were by far the most vibrant and interesting. I don't think I'd ever seen any in person before, and unless I'm forgetting a couple inbetween, I think it'd been about 14 years since I'd seen any Monet up close.

Some of the more memorable and famous Van Goghs on display were:

(Self Portrait With Pipe, 1886)

(Self Portrait, 1888, a.k.a. "I look totally bitchin' and not wonky or goofy at all in this hat")

(Portrait of the postman Joseph Roulin and his fabulous beard, 1889)

The gift shop at the end contained a number of unique gems that were equally memorable, as superficial and vacuous as that probably sounds, including Pom-Pom Purin (a dog character that looks like flan) versions of Van Gogh and Gaugin that were almost insufferably cute, and moisturising Van Gogh face masks. 

I almost got one so I could dress up as Hannes, but he later said that would have been terrifying and it was better that I didn't. They were flying off the shelves, though, and I definitely want to make Hannes into this handsome mofo next Halloween.

After having gone through the exhibit our group split up at the edge of the park, because we all wanted to get something to eat but Japanese food is not Courtney-friendly.

Rejon found a 100% vegetarian South Indian restaurant around the corner from Okachimachi station, and we browsed a bead and gem store next to it for about 15 minutes as we waited for it to open for dinner. Speaking repeatedly of gems, this place is also one, and I really want to go back. 
You might remember my mentioning that I have money again, for the time being?
Well, we feasted like lords.

The starter was this delightful cinnamonny tomato soup with creamy, almost cheese-like fried tofu and papad.

NiQui got a samosa and I ordered medu vada, feeling extravagant as I mentioned and thinking they looked intriguing. They're these unusual savoury "doughnuts", very substantial and filling. The white stuff is a coconut sauce and I thought the other thing was going to be sauce too, but as it turned out, it was extremely spicy soup.

Would recommend these, but maybe not the soup. 
We almost couldn't finish it because it was so hot.

And then, boom! Glorious!

We got rice with dried fruits, nuts and veggies in it, Rejon got a spinach naan, and all of our curries were totally unexpected, interesting, and new. Mine was bitter and tangy like lemongrass and yogurt, but I'm not sure it even contained either of those things. There are a lot of vegan items on the menu, too; not all of the curries contain dairy. And the other people eating there were Indian, so we were pretty pleased with the legitimacy of our choice and left totally stuffed and ready for bed.

10/10 would re-recommend everything I just recommended.