Tag Archives: japan

Japanese Sponge Cake (Castella Cake)

7 Aug


Here I am getting ready for a three week vacation to Canada. The bags still aren’t fully packed and the house not ready to be left for almost a month. And I’m feeling really relaxed. Did I mention we leave in an hour? I’m usually one of those people that has everything ironed and packed a week beforehand, the house spotless and in order and the kids cleaned and clothed and ready for the airplane hours before we leave the house. Did I mention the kids are still in their pajamas splayed out on the carpet reading comics as I type this? I blame it on the heat.IMG_0783

So the other day, instead of ironing clothes for five people for three week’s vacation, I decided to make a cake that I’ve been dreaming about since we were in Japan last year. It’s a typical sponge type cake that you find all over Japan and it has this soft and moist spongy consistency that is light and fluffy at the same time. Confusing I know. It’s thought that the cake actually originated in Portugal and was brought over to Japan in the 16th century (to the southern island of Kyushu).

Surprisingly enough there is no butter or oil in this cake. Which means it’s absolutely sin-free and healthy of course. It has a lovely pale yellow colour (thanks to the 6 egg yolks) and is so pretty when served on a plate with a side of peaches (which I saute in butter and brown sugar).

Read on for recipe…

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Origami Obsessed

4 Feb

Every since I was a little girl I’ve been so intrigued by origami.   I’ve always loved all the beautiful shapes and papers and the fact that you can construct something so intricate from one little piece of paper.

When we were in Japan last year we visited lots of shops with the most gorgeous origami paper and ended up coming home with a suitcase full.  Since then we’ve been using it on a daily basis to fold everything from 1000 paper cranes to various origami clothing to frogs that can actually jump.  My kids have adopted my origami passion and I couldn’t be happier (and prouder).

One of my daughters received an origami book for Christmas called Genuine Origami.  The book offers 43 mathematically based origami models with some having up to 144 folds (for one piece of paper).  We have already done a few of the “basic models” from the book and they already had us sweating with all of the special technique folds.  My daughter has a goal of doing every  model in the book before the end of the year.  I think it will be a great father/daughter activity (in other words, I’m not interested in complex mathematical origami).

And since origami has obviously been on our minds lately, we’ve been seeing things related to origami everywhere.  Here are some of our favourites:

Origami Inflatable Scarf  created by Monomatopee (found here).

This origami wallpaper by Dottir and Sonur is absolutely gorgeous.  And I’m seriously thinking of ordering a few rolls for a surprise bedroom makeover for my daughter’s birthday next month.

Once I get on etsy I can’t seem to tear myself away for ages.  I came across these gorgeous pillows by Kissen Studio.  They’re made of silk and linen and come in a variety of origami designs.  I love the paper airplane one as well.

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These diy origami lamps with masking tape are gorgeous (found here).  A great rainy day project perhaps?

I’m in love with these origami inspired kid’s clothing from Uruguayan company Trommpo.  Trommpo specialises in clothing with geometric cuts and bold use of colour and shapes.

Paper Plane Necklace in Gold,  Japanese origami inspired gold pendant jewelry

Once again I found myself on Etsy and I discovered some gorgeous origami jewelery by Schlomit Offir.  They offer many different designs at really reasonable prices (Valentine Origami Necklace is now on sale!).

Do any of you have some favorite origami-inspired products, housewares, clothing etc?

Traveling With Kids Column on Classic Play! (Mount Fuji)

20 Dec

Today I’m over on Classic Play! with my last Traveling With Kids column of the year.  This time I write about our visit to the Mount Fuji/Five Lake District in Japan.   It’s a gorgeous region that is full of nature, culture and history.  And the views of that gorgeous mountain are unbelievable!  It’s really something that we’ll never forget.  Pop on over to Classic Play! to read all about it.


A Kid’s Life: Japan

23 Jul

A while back I published my first post in my A Kid’s Life series.  I give a short interview with families from around the world about their daily traditions and routines.  I thought it would be a great way to see how other people pass a regular day in their life and see how it differs from ours.

For this A Kid’s Life post I decided to contact my friend Kumi who lives in Japan.  Kumi and I studied French together many years ago and she is one of those gentle, generous souls.  We’ve kept in touch on and off over the years via snail mail and we recently got to see each other again in person on our recent trip to Japan.  We met as young single women and are now both happily married mamas.  How times have changed.

After spending time with Kumi and her family we realized that although we live in different countries with different cultures and daily rhythms, some things about life with kids are universal.  Such as ice cream and skip rope!

Here’s Kumi’s interview accompanied by a few photos that I took while staying with them.  Enjoy!

Where do you live?

We live in Japan.

Are both you and your husband the same nationality?

Yes, we are both Japanese.

How many children do you have?  What are their ages?

We have one daughter who is 7 years old.

Do you both work or does someone stay at home?

My husband works full time and I work only 2 days per week.

How many languages do you speak at home?

We speak Japanese together.  Sometimes we speak some English as a sort of game.

At what age do kids start school in your country?

In Japan kids start school at 6 or 7 years old.

During the school year, what time do you wake up?

We wake up at 6:30am.

What is a typical breakfast for your family?

We eat rice balls and miso soup.

What time does school start and finish?  What is the weekly school schedule?

My daughter is in the second grade and starts school at 8:40 and finishes at 2:20pm.  In the higher grades the kids finish at 3:15pm.  In second grade the kids learn Japanese, arithmetic, drawing, manual arts, physical training, calligraphy, music and life studies.

Do your kids learn a second or third language at school?  From what age?

In Japan they learn English from the second grade.  They learn English games and songs…not too hard!

Do kids eat lunch at home or at school?  What is a typical lunch?

Usually kids eat lunch at school.  They mainly eat rice or bread and milk but sometimes also Chinese, Italian, Korean and Mexican food.

Do your kids do any after-school activities?

My daughter doesn’t do any after-school activities but this is VERY rare in Japan.  Usually almost all kids do dance, swimming, calligraphy, English, abacus etc etc.

What time do you eat dinner?  What is a typical dinner you would eat?

We usually eat around 7pm.  A favorite dinner of my husband is okonomiyake (Japanese pizza).

How much television/computer time do your kids have on a daily basis?

Usually 2 hours.

What’s bed time in your house?

My daughter goes to bed around 9:30pm.

What are some typical family week-end activities?

In the mornings my daughter watches cartoons and then we do some shopping and go anywhere my daughter wants!

When is the school vacation?

In the summer there is the 44 days of summer vacation from late July to late August.  Then there are a few weeks in December and in March/April.

What are the typical “first foods” for a baby to eat in your country?

A vegetable soup made with white radish or cabbage and boiled fish or meat paste.

Do you notice any big differences between Kumi and her family’s life and yours?  I personally love the breakfasts they eat and the fact that school ends so early in the afternoon.  Any other questions that you think might be interesting to ask?  Check out the last A Kid’s Life:Italia here.

“Traveling With Kids” Column on Classic Play! (Japan)

5 Jul

I’m really really excited to let you all know that I have been asked to be a contributor to one of my favorite blogs.  I’ll be writing a Traveling With Kids column for Classic Play! and I’m over the moon ecstatic to be doing it.

Today my first column is published and it’s about our recent trip to Japan.  For the post I asked the kids to give me their top 10 favorite memories about the trip and in the end they came up with the exact same ones I would have (except the Japanese toilets maybe!).  I’d love it if you popped over there to take a look and even make a comment if you so please.

Japanese Purchases (part two)

25 Jun

A lot of people have been asking me whether Japan is really as expensive as they all think it is.  When we were there we were really surprised at how affordable it actually turned out to be.  For us the prices were comparable to European prices for many things.  Eating out in Japan was actually even cheaper than eating out in Italy and the museums and entrance fees to temples and shrines were also reasonably priced.

The things that do cost a lot in Japan are the accomodation and transportation.  If traveling to Japan I would definitsly recommend buying a rail pass (only available for non residents of Japan and it must be purchased beforehand) and looking into renting a house instead of staying in hotels.  In Japan you pay per person and not per room in most cases.  So for us, a family of five, staying in a hotel became very very pricey.

I thought I’d do another post with some of my favourite purchases from our trip (see previous post here).  I bought some of these souvenirs at the 100 yen shop (equivalent to the $1 shop).  It’s a great place to pick up little gifts and keepsakes to take home with you.

I couldn’t go to Japan and not buy a little Japanese lunch box.  This one has two little compartments inside to store different foods.  It’s lovely but absolutely too tiny to carry enough food for this family of five.  It might soon become a place to store all my sewing needles and seam rippers.I bought these not knowing what they were but merely because I loved the packaging.  For all I knew these tiny boxes could have been filled with anything from shower caps to thumbtacks.While taking these photos I decided to open one up and it turns out that they are delicious soft caramels.  What a nice surprise!  And I’m so glad it wasn’t anything illegal.These rice crackers come from a specialty shop located near some of the famous temples of Kyoto.  Everything in this shop is painfully spicy.  While in the shop you can taste any of their products and we all tasted these crackers not expecting the burning fire of pain that our poor taste buds had to endure.  Luckily there was a lady waiting with a tray of cold matcha tea to ease the pain.  We still haven’t had the guts to open this pack and give them a try.

I have been collecting Japanese stationary for almost two decades now.  So when I actually got to go to Japan and buy some for myself I was ecstatic.  Surprisingly enough I got these ones above at the 100 yen shop.  They come with a stack of writing paper, envelopes and a sheet of stickers to match.I bought this little iphone case at the same shop my daughters bought their prized purses.  It’s by Wabisuke and Made in Japan (which I love).  Once again, I’m in love with this fabric.Another 100 yen shop purchase are these little paper gift bags.  Oh how I love Japanese packaging!I was surprised to see that in every gift shop you go to in Japan there is always a selection of miniature towels and handkerchiefs to buy.  Apparently it’s one of the number one souvenirs that are purchased and people use them to dry their hands after washing them in the shrines and temples.  My daughter picked out this little one above and it’s made from linen and cotton and is so soft and dainty.

Japanese Purchases

18 Jun

As some of you may know, we went on a two week trip to Japan a few months back with our three kids.  It was an absolutely amazing trip.  We saw and did so many wonderful things and met so many wonderful people.  It was really a trip of a lifetime.

While there we had a few occasions to pop into various shops to browse around.  Obviously with three kids these occasions were few and far between but I did manage to pick up some really neat little gifts and souvenirs.  The Japanese are famous for their beautiful packaging and I’m a huge fan of everything they do.   I love the care and time they put into making everything from cookies to presents to even toilet paper look pretty.

I’ve noticed that people who pop by our house are so intrigued to see our little Japanese purchases so I thought I’d show you a  few here.    Of course many of them have something to do with packaging (either the way it was packaged or something to help me package nicely).

These little mini packages of rice crackers with a face and clothing printed on the plastic wrapping.  The kids bought them to take into their classmates as a souvenir from Japan.Same idea as the rice crackers but these are two chocolate balls and instead of kimono wearing geishas and warriors it’s Russian Babushka dolls.I tried one out today and although they’re cute they taste pretty crappy.

I couldn’t go to Japan and not buy the famous and over-used Washi tape.   Even if it did cost more than it does in Italy.  Striped and polka dotted twist ties.  I regret not buying tons more of these.  So great for all those bags of cookies and brownies that I leave in people’s mailboxes.

My daughters were given Japanese yen for their birthday from their grandmother and could buy anything they wanted.  In the end they both decided to buy these  Wabisuke purses Made in Japan.They are so well made with a thick canves in the most adorable fabrics.

Look at this elephant material!  I wish I could have bought this by the metre.

And of course one of the all time favourite purchases was this Lego Candy we found at a stall in the Nishiki market in Kyoto.  You can actually build stuff with it!  I’m already planning my son’s birthday cake with these arranged on top.

I can’t forget that I also bought these Echino materials as well while in Japan and received these amazing Japanese Temari Balls as a gift.

Japanese Handicrafts

20 Apr

On our recent trip to Japan we noticed that gift giving is a very important part of Japanese culture.  The Japanese are very warm and friendly people who try to show their appreciation for you in such gentle and considerate ways.  We were really moved by their generosity during our recent trip.

When we went to visit a good friend from my university days we were so touched by the gifts she offered us.  Her mother had hand sewn and created some beautiful, perfectly crafted gifts.  I can’t even fathom the amount of  time that must have gone into these pieces!

These are called Temari balls.  It is a traditional embroidery technique and these balls are given as a gesture of good will, friendship and loyalty.  They have very intricate designs that are usually geometric and symmetrical with many of the design elements being based on nature.  The colours are vibrant and so beautiful.

I would have loved to spend some time with my friend’s mother and watched how she sews all these beautiful gifts.  Maybe a good reason to return to Japan one day?

We were also presented with this small hand sewn purse filled with tiny little juggling balls and a beautiful hand sewn flower.  In the silk flower there is a tiny little pouch  filled with scented cotton and place enough to store small pieces of jewellery.

I think the Japanese juggling balls are referred to as Otedama.  You can find these little silk purses with the balls in many of the tiny boutiques around Japan.  So many thanks to my dear friend and her very talented mother for such lovely and thoughtful gifts.

Japan with kids #10

15 Apr

We loved trying all the various street foods.  The “patat-tornado” was one of the favourites.Dragon, cherry tree and temple all in one photo.  Heian Shrine.  Looks very peaceful in this photo.  But there were about 10,000 people next to me taking pictures and admiring the view.Girls purchased Made in Kyoto purses.  Amazing how a new purse can put a little hop in your step.Every morning the kids walked over to the local playground to mingle with the local children.  They drew together, played football and exchanged chewing gum.  It was a highlight of their day.Preserved veggies in the Nishiki Market in Kyoto.  They look like they’re buried in sand but one man told me it was a sort of rice flour.Kids favorite snack in Japan.  Pickled cucumber on a stick.Babies love Tom.  This one spent half an hour showing him places on the map.These flowers smelled heavenly.Cherry blossom blizzard.Now back to Italy.  We’ll miss Japan and the lovely people who live there.

Japan with kids #8

11 Apr

On bike ride around Kyoto.  Many temples/shrines were visited, many kilometres were cycled.  And there was only one small accident involving Chloe (surprise) and a pile of garbage bags.At the entrance to Fushimi Inari Shrine.  The colours were so vibrant.Four kilometer walk up the mountain under thousands of red gates (at Fushimi Inari).  On the way back down the path.Cherry blossom bee.Very old door at Nijo Castle.A visit to the world famous Zen Garden of Ryonji.
Luckily for once I was actually looking in front of me while biking.  This could have had a painful ending.

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