Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Winter Breakfasts

I've been on a health kick lately, eating balanced meals, working out and getting a decent amount of sleep- all basic stuff, but when I'm busy I tend to sleep very little and snack on sweets. I never, ever skip breakfast (I have to eat within an hour of waking up), but when I oversleep I run out of the door and grab a croissant and a latte for the road.

I recently bought a blender at Loft, which is a staple I haven't owned since my days living in Shikoku (that's what happens when you move around the country so much). I am now making breakfast smoothies every morning (I'm sure my neighbours love me), and they are so simple. I stock up on frozen berries mix (strawberries, blueberries, raspberries) and açai from Seijo Ishii (thank goodness for that store), and add soy milk and soy yoghurt. I'd like to try other smoothie recipes if you would like to share!

I'm also making overnight oats, which is oatmeal I soak in soy milk and yoghurt overnight. Guess where I bought the oats! As much as I adore Japanese food, I find their breakfast options quite limited, and I can't get used to eating rice or those awfully chemical conbini pastries and canned coffee. One thing I love about Japanese breakfasts are the soups, and I actually like eating a hearty soup when I first wake up, miso or any other broth.

I also re-arranged my apartment a bit, it looks a whole lot like my old apartment in Montreal- I actually never got over that apartment. I had missed it so much while in Korea that I went straight back to live there again. I think I keep such wonderful memories of that place and my roommate, and I'll always treasure the mere thought of it. I feel at home now surrounded by things I like.

My birthday was celebrated at my workplace, and they gave me the most delicious cake ever, a vegan chocolate cake covered with berries. It made me so happy! I also got a haircut, a long overdue one, and it's really short again (a little under the chin) with a long fringe. I know I keep saying it, but I have the best hairdresser in Tokyo- I would never let any other stylist near my hair. It sounds dramatic, but it can be so difficult to find the right stylist for your hair. His name is Momo, and he works at Watanabe Hair in Harajuku. I just like going there after work, then walking to the station passing through Takeshita Dori- always reminds me that I live in Tokyo, and it's insane when I stop and think about it.

Blender, a cute find from LoFt!

Aerial view, because I can climb up the ladder and do that

My cozy corner

Vegan chocolate cake with fresh berries

Reading my birthday card <3 td="">

Hair

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Cake Baking + IKEA


This weekend was really cold, but really fun. I baked a real cake, something I rarely do due to Japanese kitchen limitations, but I was lucky to have access to a full-sized kitchen with an actual oven (and not a toaster oven…), so first thing I did was to bake a cake. I stocked up on ingredients at Kinokuniya (an upscale/import grocery store near Omotesando), and made a tasty vanilla cake complete with frosting. My Japanese friends think that our cakes are always too sweet (and after living here for four years, I cannot eat North American-style sweets anymore, gasp!) so I completely cut down the sugar and only kept it in the frosting, which was a nice balance, for me at least. It's amazing how happy I felt to bake again- such a simple thing, but oh-so-much pleasure.

We also took another trip to IKEA. This time I had a list of specifics, along with a budget to strictly follow, but everyone knows it's impossible just to get only one or two things at IKEA. My friend Jonathan went there thinking he would only buy a tiny coffee table, but ended up buying a sofa. I filled my basket along the way, and towards the end I decided to be reasonable and I ended up discarding half of my loot, and only sticking to my needs. What an achievement! I can't wait to re-arrange my apartment, all those new additions really make it more livable and cozy. 

I'm always extra careful not to accumulate too much as I live abroad; I tend not to buy books or house furnishings I don't absolutely need, and not too many decorations. But well, it's been four years, and it's ridiculous not to feel completely at home just because I live 'abroad'. My life is here now and even though I may end up moving back to Canada or somewhere else someday, I'll deal with it. I think too many people who live abroad don't make their homes fully comfortable, and it's probably not a good thing. So here I am, I now am a bit more settled, and don't feel guilty about buying a semi-decorative pillow for my sofa.

I also went to my favourite cafe/cocktail bar/furniture shop Fuglen, a branch of the Norwegian shop. They have really skilled, mustache-sporting mixologists, and I tried a cocktail called "After Bath", a mix of bourbon, cynar, lemon, rosemary and lavender. It tasted just as fresh as it sounds. Fuglen is non-smoking, which I love, and they have piles of magazines like Monocle and home stuff for sale around the place. If you get there early enough, they bake those delicious cinnamon rolls.

It was a wonderful weekend, but I've been having chills for the past two days, and now a sore throat. Trying to fight it off with hot tea and honey, hope I can sleep it away.


Baking and drinking: not one without the other

Vanilla cake! Dense and tasty!

The pile of discarded stuff and pouty face

After Bath at Fuglen

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Japanese Fabric Softener

I picked up this fabric softener, the Dubai edition. I've used the Scandinavian edition a few years ago in Osaka, and it smelled really fresh. The Dubai version smells overwhelmingly sweet from the bottle, but incredible after the wash. My clothes smell great and so does my apartment. The brand is FaFa. My only concern, will it clash with my Diptyque parfum?

Just kidding. I do love the variety of Japanese laundry detergents and fabric softeners, they all have such interesting 'flavours' and I always spend about twenty minutes choosing a scent. Not very organic, isn't it?

In other news, I've been yearning for stripes lately, that's all I want to wear. Navy and white, please.

Bears do Dubai on a camel, woo-woo!

Stripes

Monday, January 20, 2014

Hi, Gym

So, I'm somehow officially back at the gym, and it feels so good. I never completely stopped going, but for about a month during the holidays I slacked off and instead polished off boxes of cookies. I finally put a stop to the holiday fun (which was prolongated well into January), and dragged myself to the gym. I always feel so happy whenever I finish a workout, and regret skipping for so long. It's really difficult for me to hit the gym when I come back from work, as I'm so hungry and tired and I just want to lie down on the sofa. For some reason, my gym and many Japanese gyms tend to only open around 9:00 or 9:30am. I find it quite strange as I thought people would generally work out before heading to work, but I guess not. Instead it's open quite late, but I wish they would open at 6:00 or 7:00am so I exercise before work and start the day refreshed.

I am finding it quite difficult to get out of bed in the morning. It's so cold, and well, it's January. The only thing that motivates me is breakfast. I was recently introduced to soy yoghurt, and I'm completely addicted. I am never going back to the dairy kind! In Japan, you can only find it at import supermarket Seijo Ishii, and I get frozen berries and açai (same shop) to throw in. I also found almond milk, something I really missed from Canada!

It's the little things that make this winter less dreary, like all my Spotify music and re-watching TV series. I'm now re-watching Seinfeld, as I've been through Friends (make fun of me all you want). I know I should watch new TV series, but I like comforting things. I've also been painting my nails a nude shade, Ballerina by Chanel, which is a very pale, creamy pink I keep going back to. Yesterday I watched for the first time an old(er) movie called Running on Empty, featuring River Phoenix, and I loved it so much. I'm also reading lots of blogs lately and dreaming about Canada.

Elevator selfie- not by me.
Can you tell it's pink?

Friday, January 17, 2014

Keeping Warm

This week has been especially cold, and even though the temperatures never dipped much below 3 degrees Celcius, my cardboard-like apartment has been completely glacial. I've been using a combination of air conditioner, a space heater, nabe meals, long baths twice per day and sipping on amazake to keep warm- can't wait to see my January utilities bills.

Last Monday was a holiday, and we took a small road trip to the IKEA in Yokohama. It's funny how we pretty much went there just to eat and stock up on food; I left with a jar of gooseberry jam, cheese and bread, which made for wonderful breakfasts all week. I didn't buy any furnishings except a vanilla scented candle, but we'll go back soon as I want to update my apartment a bit, so I made a wish list.

I also spent long hours writing at Inspired, which is the fancier version of Starbucks (and owned by them). I'm sure my American friends are familiar with this cafe, but it's relatively new in Japan, and I love how they serve wine, beer, and nice espresso drinks. It's more cozy and stylish than Starbucks, and the MacBooks outnumber the strollers. It's probably one of my favourite places lately. As much as I love the local cafes I find everywhere in Tokyo, I hate that they allow smoking and I really can't stand breathing secondhand smoke and smelling like an ashtray. In Japan, Starbucks is one of the only non-smoking cafes. I hope this nation catches up to healthier habits someday soon.

In other news, I've been working, working, working, and trying to be more healthy in general. I also met up with a new friend a few days ago, a lovely Italian girl who had been emailing me after reading my blog. Sadly, she's leaving Tokyo in a few days, and I really wish I had met her before, as I feel like we could have been really good friends. We both have been in Japan for 4 years, and have had such similar experiences. That's something I love about living abroad- the people you cross paths with on a daily basis, all have such fascinating stories and you can somehow develop strong bonds in such a short time. I think that's one of the things I missed the most when I went back home to Montreal after living in Korea for a year.

Inspired: my seat

They do latte art

Picking up this gem for a boy

Overwhelmed by the food

Dessert

Hej då!

Organic amazake- soooo good!

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Hazy January

After this first week back into the usual work routine, I'm still in a bit of a haze- maybe still sluggish from all the New Years' sleep, and slightly sleep-deprived from going to be at 3am all week. It's been really cold this week, and all I want to do is hide inside under the blankets. I'm embarrassed to admit I haven't been back at the gym yet, as I've been too cold/lazy/tired. I'm excited to go back this weekend, though.

I've changed my apartment layout a little, and it's a nice change. I'm lucky to have two stories in my place, but truth is, it's so tiny overall. I have been living here for one year now. It's one of my favourite Japan homes, and the all-white decor is soothing (although I tend to pile up clothes in every corner lately). Sometimes I forget how small apartments are in Japan, as I've gotten used to it. My wish list currently involves an oven, a separate bath and toilet, two gas burners, a small kitchen table and chairs, and a bed that's not next to the fridge. Welcome to Tokyo! I still think it's all worth it to experience life in one of the most exciting cities in the world. The question is, how long will I think this is amazing?

I've tried to keep this week fun-filled, complete with a home cooked dinner and wine with my neighbours (and fellow former Shikoku-ites) Jonathan and Jordan, a cafe and diary night with my boy (Moleskines + cooking up some plans), and bookstore nights in Daikanyama.

Winter is good- I'd take any day of this chilly weather over the August heat.

Starbucks aprons- don't ask!

Umeboshi onigiri, my lunch

Daikanyama T-Site

Mixture in Shimokitazawa








Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Japanese Winters: Not So Cold

While my countrymen are experiencing some polar temperatures (I still miss home, believe it or not), Japan has been chilly and rainy. Winters in Japan (well, everything south of Hokkaido) are not cold compared to where I'm from; in fact, they're very mild, and to walk around in January not wearing snow boots feels pretty tropical to me, even after four years in Japan.

Japan does feel very cold though, mostly because houses and building are not properly insulated. I've been trying to avoid using my air conditioner at all costs, as the warm air is so stuffy and dry. Instead I've been relying on a small space heater, electric blanket, hot baths, tea, hot packs, ear muffs and heat tech from Uniqlo, and I think I'm mastering winters in Japan.

I've been parading around in my red rain boots, happy to wear them at any chance I get. My good old pair of Hunter rain boots retired after five long years of service, and I replaced them with a pair of Fox Umbrellas- mostly because they came with limited edition Liberty Print buckles. So far, so good.

I've been sleep-deprived for most of the week, as I still can't fall asleep before 3am. I'm exhausted and my eyes are red, but hopefully I can return to a regular schedule shortly.

In other news, Spotify changed my life, and I've been listening to music nonstop. I'm currently digging back into one of my favourites, TV on the Radio. I'm especially loving this and this- what an epic performance.

Yakisoba

Cutest pack of instant ramen, aka Tuesday night dinner

It's rainy

Monday, January 6, 2014

A Birthday in January

A birthday in early January is probably the worst timing possible, but somehow it works for me. Early January is when everyone is out-partied, broke and on a diet after weeks if indulging and drinking, so it's always a very low-key celebration- which I love.

This time we went out for tea and cake, sitting outdoors, complete with blankets and heaters. We went to the Mori Museum in Roppongi Hills, and climbed up to the top to see a night view of our gorgeous city. I was spoilt with lovely presents, a homemade cake and tons of messages and letters from friends in Japan, Canada and around the world.

I can't believe I celebrated yet another birthday in Japan. Time flies, and it makes me nervous, like I have a lot to catch up on. Still, it was a wonderful way to end the holidays, with some cake, a few candles, and trying not to think about what this all means…

Cake, tea and presents

Despite what the candles say, I'm not five.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

2014: My Japanese New Year

Once again this year, I had the most wonderful experience spending a traditional New Year with a family I truly cherish. I feel extremely lucky, and excited for this new year. I hope it's a bit less dramatic  than 2013, but just as eventful would not necessarily be a bad thing. I'm hoping for no city hall, immigration, passport, visa and apartment contract dramas, but for a more stable, comfortable year. I also want to make sure I go home to Canada as soon as possible, for a long overdue visit.

I like new years as they are a fresh start. I don't tend to make many resolutions, but rather small, achievable goals and things to look forward to throughout the year. I rang 2014 in a rather fun way; instead of comfortably staying in, we went out on the town. The countdown is not such a big deal in Japan, but what follows is the best. We headed out to one of my favourite temples in Tokyo, Zojo-ji, where you can view Tokyo Tower in all its glory. And gorgeous it was: all decked out in colourful lights, with a big sparkly 2014 at the top. It got cold so we drank amazake, then had a 4am meal of Chinese Cafe 8 (practically the cheapest/most delicious Chinese food around) before heading to Asakusa.

At 5:30am, still energetic, we boarded a cruise along the Sumida River to see the sunrise. The boat sailed all the way out to Tokyo Bay, and at precisely 6:51am, in the pink sky suddenly appeared a red sun, and it was beautiful (and freezing cold). Seeing the sunrise is one of the most important parts of New Years in Japan, and this was the best way to view it. The cruise was so long, and we came back to shore by 9am- we were completely shattered. After a long drive and a warm bath, I crashed and slept for about five days following- no kidding.

In between sleeping and warm baths, I feasted on the traditional osechi food that is eaten on New Years; a combination of gorgeous small dishes, ranging from beans and fish cakes to shrimp, seaweed and mashed sweet potatoes. Every single thing is so delicious and it must take ages to prepare everything. It's all beautifully set out in stacked lacquered bento boxes- I really want to learn how to make osechi! I think if you can cook it, you can master anything in life. I also went to hatsumode, which is the prayer at the temple (and more amazake). You can view more photos of osechi in last year's post.

It was a true holiday, spent wearing a fleece ensemble and not moving much- it was glorious. Now, how do I switch back to waking up at 7am after going to bed at 4am and sleeping until noon??

I am so thankful for this New Year, 2014, and the wonderful people I've spent it with.

A blurry shot of Tokyo Tower and Zojo-ji

Rainbow Bridge

Odaiba 

Almost sunrise

We made it! Happy New Year!

Osechi

Overwhelmed by food

Hi again, deer!