Wednesday, 17 December 2014

Autumn in Japan #3

Day 3.

I remember when we first got off the plane and arrived at the airport in Fukuoka, it was the surprising cacophony of car honking that greeted us when we stepped out of the building to head towards the subway station. Perhaps it had come from cab drivers but WOAH there was some really aggressive honking that I didn't think was possible from Japanese drivers! ;) On hindsight, it definitely fits in with my impression now of Fukuoka-ians (if they can be called that) as being friendly, straightforward and extremely warm. Everyone we came across happened to be really friendly and of course, openly inquisitive about where we'd come from.

On our first night, we arrived at sometime past 9pm, kinda tired out from a whole day of walking around in Tokyo and mainly just hoping to come across some ramen place to fill our bellies but the options at the airport were limited. But as we walked from the station to the hotel, there weren't any restaurants we passed by and I remember thinking, oh man this is going to be a night of Lawson's random bento/onigiri takeaways (which wouldn't be a bad thing, really; given how yummy their convenience store food can be). BUT then, as luck would have it, 2 minutes into our search for food around the hotel, we came across a warm, cozy, busy Izakaya that was OPEN! I would highly recommend this place to anyone visiting Fukuoka. It's called Ten Sui An and is actually about a 5-10 minute walk away from the Hakata Station, unobtrusively tucked away in a quiet alleyway (as most great restaurants in Japan are, it seems). The staff were really friendly, the restaurant was brimming with that boisterous (maybe drunken), festive ambience and best of all, it was open till late at night.

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Every dish we had was SO GOOD. Of course if helped that we were starving but seriously, the dishes were so super tasty. I loved the thin, crispy pieces of vegetable tempura. And since it was autumn, they included sweet potato which was delish!

Looking at the trip advisor photos, looks like the restaurant could be famous for its chicken mizutaki which is a famous dish in Kyushu.

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I'm not too sure if that was one of the Mizutaki dishes because initially I had wanted something vegetables, so I ordered something in the menu that looked like it said Veggie Stew. Only I didn't notice the word Chicken right at the front. -_- Tasty broth nonetheless!

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THIS. WAS. SO. GOOD. If you don't think much about what it really is and just eat it based on the taste, you'll definitely want to have more of it. I loved how crispy it was on the outside yet soft, mushy, rich on the inside. Of course, it's none other than Shirako (or fish *cough* sperm…) done tempura style. Moar please.

The next day, we went to this island that apparently is not even really known to locals, called Ainoshima. The reason we went there? It's known to be a Cat Island. And Donald has this insane fetish with cats. -_- So, yeah. For me it's dogs > cats all the way (esp cute Lab retrievers and French Bulldogs!!) but hey, what's a girl gotta do? It was definitely an adventure though. ;)

BUT before that, we had an insanely delicious lunch of Chazuke at a random restaurant on one of the upper floors of the Hakata train station.

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It was definitely one of the most memorable lunches I had on the entire trip because everything about it was fantastic. From the calm, elegant interiors of the restaurant, to the attentive service, to the sheer deliciousness of the dishes, to the speed at which the dishes came out to alleviate our hunger… Do try it. I can't remember the name of the restaurant but it should be easy enough to find once you reach the restaurant floor of the shopping mall above the train station. X) TEN OUT OF TEN, this place.

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Beautiful. Deep fried Kakiage.

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After that, we started on our journey to Ainoshima. It really wasn't that long; maybe 1.5 hours in total to get to the island from Hakata train station. I would definitely recommend checking out this guy's blog post for a detailed explanation of how to get to the island. It definitely helped us loads and I'm amazed at the sheer amount of research he did along with the attention to detail.

BUT, we happened to discover an even shorter route on our way back.

In essence:

Using JR line,
Hakata Station - Fukkodaimae Station

There is actually a bus from Fukkodaimae Station that will take you directly to the ferry terminal.

But I have no idea what the bus number was. I'm sure it's possible to ask the staff at the station for advice though. It would be faster than going by this route which is the one given in his blog:
Using JR line,
Hakata Station - Chihaya Station
At Chihaya Station, walk to the other end of the station to take another line to go to -> Nishitetsu Shingu Station.
Bus from Nishitetsu Shingu Station will bring you to the ferry terminal.

If you are seriously considering going to this island and are confused about the directions, feel free to drop a line and I'll definitely do my best to help! ;) If you're a cat person, it's definitely an experience to have.

It just so happened that we missed the bus that would have taken us to the ferry terminal at Shingu. We were going to hop into a cab but as luck would have it, some random dude apparated out of nowhere and beat us to it. So we were thinking, dang, should we try to wait around for 1. the next bus 2. another cab to come along 3. walk to the ferry terminal based on the rather undetailed sketchy map of the island by the bus terminal? Guess which one we intrepid explorers picked. I suppose it's not so much intrepid as desperate. When you're whole day is about going to ONE place for ONE thing only... you do what it takes. So based on Donald's insanely accurate internal GPS, we started walking/running. And believe it or not, we made it to the port where the ferry happened to be waiting! It's about a 20 minute ride to Ainoshima and you can pay for your 2 way trip on the ride back (after buying your tickets from a machine in the tiny unmanned tourist information centre on the island).

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It's a very quiet island but I think it's not to the extent that cats outnumber people.

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The cats were rather cute, I must admit, especially this Charlie Chaplin one that didn't always cooperate when I wanted to take his photo.

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Monday afternoon chillin' on Ainoshima.

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Of course, I guess EVERY cat island would have to have its resident Old Cat-Granny who feeds them daily. This was definitely her. And guess what they ate? Bread.

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While Donald busied himself with all those cats, I decided to take a walk along the pier. It was nice to see kids around though there were only a few of them.

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Heh. Cute little boy.

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At night? Another random Izakaya near Hakata Station after a trip to Yodobashi Camera, which is a huge-ass store full of well, EVERYTHING. If you haven't been into one, you should. Because while it has Camera in its name, it's not just a camera store. It's your electronics haven + cosmetics + cameras + phones + home appliances maybe? I wouldn't be surprised if there was a level of clothing that I missed out on because it's huge. And there are outlets in every major city it seems, so do go check out your nearest one in Japan. And yeah, more chazuke for dinner. I love it so much. This one had nice salty salmon flakes. MMM.

Can't believe it's been a month since coming back! Feels like the trip was a longgg time ago. For anyone who's still wanderlusting after Japan, I would definitely recommend watching some Begin Japanology on youtube for all things Japanese. ;)


Saturday, 13 December 2014

Autumn in Japan #2

Day 2 of our travels. 

One thing we had on our list that we really wanted to check out were some good ol’ Japanese flea markets. There are apparently a ton of them happening throughout the year and often at open spaces at shrines. We went to the one at the Yasukuni Shrine and though I didn’t manage to get anything, it was still a fun way to spend a weekend afternoon strolling through the market, checking out a really incredible array of goodies.

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Before that, we happened to pass by some really quaint stretches of road near the Imperial Palace.

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What a way to spend a sunday afternoon.

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Travel Tip #2: If you see something you like at a flea market… GET IT. NOW. Instead of thinking that there’ll be a chance later on. I had seen a beautiful blue tea pot that reminded me of a Dansk tea pot, strong and sturdy and in a great shade of deep blue, but since it was at the start of the trip, I was hesistant about getting something heavy to lug around. So I thought I’d think it over and return back after if I still wanted it. Well turns out I still did but by the time I got there… Ah, well. You snooze, you lose.

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After awhile it was getting awfully cold so we decided to stop at the cafeteria within the shrine grounds for a snack.

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Okonomiyaki in the making!

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MMM. I'm probably a bigger fan of Yakisoba but they both have that similar salty, filling taste.

Next, we headed off to Omotesando to try out some legendary coffee. Tucked away off the main streets of Omotesando is Omotesando Koffee , a teeny tiny coffee shop that’s actually housed in a traditional Japanese house with just enough space for a the owner to pull all his coffee shots comfortably in what’s literally a cube. There’s a little space in the small outside courtyard to sit down to sip your coffee but that space is usually filled up by the long line of eager coffee goers. I suppose we went at a peak time – Sunday afternoon, when everyone would be out enjoying some sunshine and shopping at Omotesando. Hence when we got there there was a long line up of at least 15-20 people. It was maybe a 10-15 minute wait? No biggie. Gave us the chance to take turns strolling around the neighbourhood to see what else was around.

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I must admit it’s an impressive sight seeing someone so focused on creating good coffee. It’s almost like a performance, seeing him go swiftly from customer to coffee machine, to pouring hot milk, tapping chocolate powder over a drink with speed and efficiency… I’m pretty sure everyone there took about 20 shots (EACH) of him. And this guy works HARD. There was literally a 15-20 people queue in front of us and when we left, another 15-20 people had joined the line. It was non-stop coffee making for him. Can’t imagine him doing it the entire day as a one man show.

The verdict? Well, I’m not a coffee connoisseur at all and I ordered mocha. But you know it’s a place that’s serious about it’s coffee when there isn’t anything non-coffee related (no cider, for example, which I was secretly and lamely hoping for ;p) Donald, who drinks his fair share of coffee back home says that it could compare with Nylon Coffee Roasters which is one of his favorites. But whether or not we would wait so long again for the coffee? Well, maybe one not. But if there isn’t a queue and there’s space out in the courtyard on maybe a weekday afternoon, it would be a great place to go back to, if only to watch the coffee maestro at work.

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Omotesando Koffee 

4-15-3 Jingumae

Shibuya-ku, Tokyo
Tel: +81 03 5413 9422
Daily: 10am – 7pm

Nearest Station: Omotesando Exit A2/Meiji-Jingumae 

After walking around a little more in Omotesando, it was time to head back to Haneda Airport to get to Fukuoka. :) More in the next post.

xoxo Have a great week ahead!

Sunday, 7 December 2014

Autumn in Japan #1

Hi everyone!! How's it hanging? :)

Just came back from one of the BEST trips I've been on yet!! Went to Japan with Donald (who just happens to be the best vacation planner has some wicked internal GPS thing going on inside his brain) and it was such awesome fun. Of course, I think there were occasional tiring bits but isn't it often the case that when you look back on things... they're often better with the benefit of hindsight?

I don't think I've done an actual travelogue of one of my trips in a long time but since everything's still fresh in my mind... why not? :D

Day 1

This time we spent most of our trip traveling around Kyushu with an additional 1.5 days at the beginning in Tokyo. Flying via Japan Airlines, we decided to get a flight to Haneda Airport rather than Narita Airport in Tokyo.

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I must say that Haneda Airport is DA BOMB. Seriously. Everyone knows about Narita Airport but its lesser known cousin should totally be forced into the limelight that it deserves. It's one of the best airports I've been to. Ever!! It's definitely a lot smaller than Narita Airport but it's got everything. And we only found this out on the way back but it has an AMAZING selection of food INSIDE the departure area! Most places reserve their best restaurants for the public spaces before going through the departure gate so that it'll be accessible to the general public but Haneda Airport has a really great variety of food in the food halls near the gates. Just so you know. No need to rush to eat your food before going through the departure gates. We had gone for some incredible Udon at a restaurant called Tsurutontan (highly recommended) then after checking in and heading towards the gate, we came across an awesome food hall which featured things like... Ryokurinsha ramen, another very famous ramen restaurant in Tokyo. So there is good food everyone in Haneda Airport.

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MMMM. The smell of freshly baked bread.

Travel Tip #1 : (Or maybe I should label it as Donald's Travel Tip because it really was his idea ;p He'll always give me grief for having doubted that in the first place): If you're going to be staying in Tokyo for a short period of time (like maybe 1-2 days) before traveling off to someplace else, consider stowing away your main luggage at the storage lockers in the airport. They come in either small/large sizes but for the large one that we took, it was about 500 yen per day. The benefit of using that is that you can then take a smaller travel bag with your overnight items to bring along to wherever you're staying so at least you won't have to struggle with carrying along some ginormously heavy luggage through the Tokyo subway system which, while extremely fast and convenient, also has a serious LACK OF LIFTS. It's quite tiring climbing up all those stairs and honestly, I didn't really spot many lifts at all. So just imagine the absolute pain of carrying major luggage up and down stairs...unless you're a masochist or budding body builder.

On the first day, we were a little ambitious in trying to squeeze in a ton of things since we had only allocated ourselves 1.5 days in Tokyo. Immediately after touching down, we headed straight to for a flea market at Oi-Kebajo (at a race course area). It was definitely interesting in terms of how there were lots of second hand items ranging from more practical things such as cutlery/electronics/games/toys/clothing to...rather rare objects such antiques/handicraft tools/parts of equipment that I can't imagine anyone without some form of specialized knowledge getting from there. That said... I did get a second hand Olympus Pen film camera and managed to bargain it down with my half baked Japanese to 2000 yen! X) (ok only down from 2500 but... it was a moment of pride for me). Didn't manage to use up the roll of film yet so will share it hopefully in a few weeks after I finally finish it.

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Nice. Hat. Yoz.

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All those knick-knacks!

Next, we headed over to Daimon which just happened to be on the way to the place we would be staying at.

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Had some really decent Kaizen sushi don. I love how even if you don't make any plans/reservations, chances are that 9/10 of the restaurants you walk into in Japan will have a really decent standard of food.

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I had no idea that the Tokyo Tower was in the Daimon area! So we headed over there just to take a long and along the way, stopped by the Zojoji Temple.

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I think there could've been some ceremony or celebration going on because there were quite a few families dressed up in traditional wear. Aren't the kiddies cute in their beautiful mini kimonos? :)

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Next, we headed to one place I deliberately put on the list because it is simply...sublime.

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Ori Higashiya a one of the most gorgeous shops I've been into. It's a traditional confectioner selling seasonal wagashi sweets and also provide set meals and tea specials. It's got a fantastic ambience - genteel, quiet, refined... just the sort of place I'd love to go to every weekend to meet up with my girl friends for tea or even to just relax with a book in hand. It’s part of a group of house brands that are the brainchild of the brilliant design studio, Simplicity, who come up with the most incredible interiors for their shops which seem to exude timeless elegance with Japanese roots. The one I’ve gone to is the Ori Higashiya restaurant/teahouse in Ginza but apparently there is also Higashiya Man, selling Manju which I’m dying to visit one day. The photo doesn't do it justice at all! Still trying to take better film shots in low lighting but I would highly recommend checking it out for EVERYTHING. Even their toilets. I’ve just discovered their portfolio online and am going to be spending awhile going through those gorgeous photos. 

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Ginza on a weekend evening is so pleasant to walk around at.

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Moments of quiet in a crowd are always within reach.

So, those were the highlights for Day One. More to come soon! I need to keep at this while I still have some steam and a relatively good work schedule for the month. 


Tuesday, 4 November 2014

#1: Inspired by

Hi all. How's it going?

I must say, life is so much better now, what without 4-5 calls a month (which left me feeling sooo tired and constantly in a semi-zombified state) and finishing work at a really decent time (with the sun still up! Trust me, once you've been deprived of such things, they matter so much once you've given them back ;p) to squeeze in exercise, an episode or two of Castle/Modern Family/Elementary (my 3 favorite TV series at the moment) and even some studying.

I felt like writing this post because it's something that's been brewing on my mind for quite awhile now. I figured when I come across inspiring figures, there's no better way to pay tribute to them that to pass it on and spread the word.

This particular one all started a month or two ago at a memorable sleepover with my dearest secondary school friends. It was one of our most successful sleepovers in a long time because we only dropped off to sleep at about...3am? We've been sleeping much earlier these past few years due to *ahem* old age so it was amazing how we managed to stay up the latest in a long time. That was in no small part related to our entertainment for the night - episodes of Masterchef Season 4! I got totally hooked after that. But not on Season 4 though. At the side of the youtube page there were other recommended video links and there was one that caught my eye about 'Blind Masterchef' and that's when I started watching season 3 to find out more. Have you heard of Christine Ha, the season 3 Masterchef winner? She's also the first blind contestant and masterchef to have emerged victorious so far. :) And she is AMAZING.

Her story is one that's incredibly inspiring. She started losing her vision gradually in her early 20s while she was at university and just starting her foray in the culinary arts due to an autoimmune condition called Neuromyelitis Optica. Over the years as her vision deteriorated, she had to relearn everything from scratch - navigating her way round the kitchen, the use of cooking utensils and the actual cooking of dishes.

I love watching her audition segment because it's such a good introduction to her story. It's amazing how at the end she (almost prophetically) declares, "I'm going to be the next Masterchef" and it does come true. :)

After watching the entire season 3 and thoroughly enjoying it, I started trawling through youtube for other videos/interviews of hers to find out more about her story. Season 3 was a lot of fun because there were so many memorable characters (my favs include Frank - such a decent guy who always made the best Italian dishes!, Monti - just about the coolest mama I've seen on tv + she has the most wicked tortoise-shell glasses, Felix - super feisty character who said the craziest things lol) and crazy challenges that really got my heart racing along with excitement. Anyway, I spent loads of time just watching and listening to her interviews, in which she shares her experiences of rebuilding her life after learning to accept her disability. What never fails to inspire me is her sheer willpower and strength to keep at it and to always look on the bright side of things.

One of my favorite quotes from her - " Everyone in this world is dealt a different hand—some better, some worse than others—but what's more important is how you play that hand. This is what builds character. And with great character comes great reward."

And that couldn't be more true. At the end of the day, with all the challenges we go through, while we might complain about the frustrations that come along with it, at least we're growing in character and fortitude and always learning and changing. There were many days on the way to work when I would just play an interview of hers on my phone while driving and her words just gave me that lift to look on the bright side of things and to work harder at overcoming challenges instead of being afraid. Am pretty sure she said it a couple times that she's always been competitive by nature and the harder the challenge, the harder she works at something to overcome it. That couldn't be more obvious from the way she went through all those challenges in the competition and emerged stronger each time and eventually...the winner.

I know some people aren't the sort who are easily swayed by words/quotes but for me, I lap it all up because those inspiring words really can make a difference to one's mindset and attitude towards life.

Plus, how awesome is it to not just be able to accept a disability, adjust to life with it, but also move beyond it to become an inspiration to others? She's also got a youtube channel with her own series called The Blind Life in which she talks about various topics related to her visual impairment, cooking, life in general. There was one in which she shares her methods for making use of technology - tweeting/facebooking/emailing, which was really eye-opening in sharing various means that the visually impaired have to communicate.

She shares her story and other bits and bobs of life on her blog HERE.

Along the same lines of being inspired, I just HAVE to share this other video that I just watched today. ;) After being introduced to the series, Begin Japanology, by my boyfriend (who is also a huge fan of all things Japanese), it's something I turn to whenever I fell like relaxing AND learning (so I don't feel tooo guilty about the slothing heh) and there are sooo many interesting episodes. This one is about Japanese Juku or cram-schools but towards the end of the episode (definitely start watching the segment from about 8:30 in Part 2!!), they talk about special schools that cater to teaching mainly adults who might not have had the chance for a formal education. The lady featured is, Fusako Ito, and her story is another really inspirational one. After having contracted polio at a young age, she was not able to receive a formal education and was illiterate for most of her life until she started going to the special juku. After 8 years of studying, she was able to write an entire 53 page essay about her life, entitled, "I'm Glad that I'm Alive". I just feel that it's amazing how lives can be changed...enriched, with learning.



I dare you to watch that portion when she reads her essay out loud to her class and not at least tear up a little. ;') Because I certainly did. It's often the older generation who treasure things like education because a lot of them might not have had the opportunity when they were younger. Reminds me of my Ahpo (my grandma who is my absolute favorite person in the world) who never fails to ask each time I visit her, whether I'm studying hard or not. And if I make even the slightest complaint about how work is tough or studying is annoying, she'll start launching into her memoirs of how her primary school education was cut short due to WWII. And of course, I'll be reminded of just how lucky I am. 

I suppose at the end of the day, I'm always being reminded of how all that I have is a blessing. Work may be tedious, (overly) challenging with so much studying/learning involved but...these are things that will always enrich me and make me grow as a person no matter how annoying/frustrated it might make me at the beginning. Yet sometimes, these are things that others crave for and wish for themselves. So I guess, instead of facing each day thinking, "oh man so much work to do", I should be telling myself, "ok, there are so many people to help today. Leshhhgo!" There have been many times when I've thought that maybe this isn't the right career for me, but after watching things like this and being reminded of how a little help/volunteerism can go such a long way to making a positive change in someone's life, I just end up thinking that no matter what, I would've eventually wanted to go into a profession which involves helping others in a direct way. If not, I'd probably get quarter-life crisis hitting a lot harder if I were in some other more financially driven line. That said... time to think about volunteering eventually. ;) 

Wow, that was quite a long post. But I couldn't help share those thoughts. I'm often filled with gratitude by things like these (who would've thought a video would have triggered all these musings eh?) and yet at the same time...I'm grateful for these daily reminders.

Anything that you've been inspired by? I'd love to hear about it. :)

In the meantime, have a great rest of the week! Saturday's coming in ... 3 days time.


Sunday, 5 October 2014

Home-Cooked: Wolfberry-Logan Tea

So. Incredibly. Thankful. For this long weekend. X)) 

And by long weekend, I mean finally being able to get a day off on the Hari Raya Haji holiday on Monday. It's the first time in agessss since I've been able to get a day off from work on a public holiday. I think the last few public holidays I've just always been on call or post call so I've always envied people who observe regular working days and get their public holidays off by default. Well, the stars have aligned and tomorrow, I'll be able to completely ignore my phone/alarm and savour those incredible moments in that place somewhere between sleep and waking, comforted by the thought that I'll be able to snuggle in deeper beneath the comforters until I'm fully rested. < br/> It's been so long (as always, I know ><) since I've last updated. Somehow it seems that when life gets busy, there are just too many things to think about doing and taking the time out to blog feels like a luxury that I can enjoy when I'm completely at ease and feel like I have the time to carve out and savour. So I'm making use of the opportunity now. 

I've been reading and listening to talks about mindfulness and its benefits towards health and one thing that's stuck with me, is how so many simple things in one's life can add up to make it richer, fuller, healthier. One of the most basic things would have to be food. If we pay attention to what we put inside ourselves, we can ensure that we're nourishing ourselves with the foods that will make us healthier and happier. Because being healthy is the foundation for living the best life we can live. :) I truly believe that. 

One of the drinks I've recently learned to make is Wolfberry-logan tea. I used to order this at Cedele when after awhile I realized that all the ingredients are things that I've seen in supermarkets so, in the spirit of Ahpo (my adorable grandma who always believes that anything in the restaurant can be made at home. Which is true most of the time in her case because she's a domestic goddess), I figured I should try to brew it myself and take that bit of wellness back home to be enjoyed. And boy, was it easier than I thought! 

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The key ingredients in this drink are - dried red logans, wolfberries (or goji berries), white lotus seeds, and dried logans. They're often used in all sorts of chinese dishes and desserts and are each supposed to have tons of health benefits (if you believe in Traditional Chinese Medicine and how foods all have 'hot'/'cold' properties to balance out your yin and yang. I would love to learn more about it just to understand it as a part of culture but I can't say that I completely espouse it since I would need to have some hard core scientific evidence to back it up eh? But I do believe that even if something can't be explained by western science...doesn't mean it ain't true. :) To each his own and...everything in moderation. 

A little more information about the ingredients:

1. Wolfberries/Goji Berries 

These are incredibly nutritionally dense. Not only are they loaded with vitamin C, they contain iron, calcium, zinc and other trace minerals as well as beta-carotene which promotes healthy skin. Plus, they're rich in anti-oxidants, help boost the immune system and improve your eyesight as well. That bit about the eyesight seems to be something that's popular in the TCM world because it's something I've heard about from my grandma since I was a young girl (wondering what those funny little red seed-like things were in those soups she'd make for me). 

Fun fact - Goji berries can be eaten in their dried form by adding them to trail mix, oatmeal or muesli mixes and can be mixed into your smoothies too. Mmm I'm thinking banana/blueberry and goji berries smoothie. (The colour might turn out funky though because of the orange shade of the berries. But it's worth a try ;)) 

2. Red Dates 

These seem to be a real powerhouse in the TCM world. Apparently it aids in the digestion and absorption of food plus helps with insomnia and menstrual cramps.

Other ways of cooking red dates - in porridges (red date and lotus seed porridge actually sounds really decent) 

3. Logans 

Rich in vitamin C and antioxidants. Improves skin tone! 

4. White lotus seeds 

Good source of protein, Magnesium, potassium. Traditionally thought to have calming properties which can help with insomnia or restlessness. 

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So here goes. 


(From left to right in a clockwise manner on the plate)
10 White Lotus Seeds 
30 Seedless dried red dates 

15 Dried longans (in the centre of the plate there)
10 - 15 Wolfberries 

You'll soon realize that actually, the beauty of this drink is that every is up to you to decide. The quantities of the individual ingredients can be varied according to your preference. The best part is, you don't even need to add in any additional sugar because the dried logans already have their natural sweetness. So if you like it more sweet, just throw in a few more of them! Or if you want, add honey instead of refined sugar for a natural sweetener. 

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1. Bring about 1 litre of water to a boil. 
2. Cut the red dates in half to allow for the nutrients to seep into the water a little easier. 
3. Toss in all the ingredients. 
4. Simmer for about 15-20 minutes on medium heat. 
5. It's ready when the taste is to your liking. :)

And if you let it simmer longer, the flavors become more concentrated so you end up with a smaller amount of liquid at the end (mine served about 2 small cups) but you can always re-use the ingredients a second or third time until the flavors finally get boiled out. 

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Hope you enjoy this drink! Trust me, it's super easy to make and you'll immediately feel a sense of calm wash over you. Drink it anytime of the day but I think it's best taken in the evening with that glorious dusky sunlight. 

Ok, time to rest my eyes now. ZZZ. Have a great weekend. 


Tuesday, 27 May 2014

for the soul #1: Sophie and Lyla

I thought I'd take a slightly different approach to this post. Not an influx of photos for one. :) But just a few things on my mind I wanted to share. Namely, great songs and great books! Music and books have got to be the great loves of my life. Along with a few other things but these two always rate highly no matter what the rest of my life is like. 

Today has been a pretty awesome day off. Was able to spend time with my mum and dad at a yummy dimsum lunch after which we all got back home and K.O-ed in bed for an afternoon nap. I looooove restful afternoons like that. Then I wanted to get some books from Kinokuniya but of all days in the year, it happened to be closed today for stock taking. -__- But oh well, at least I was able to get some bread from DonQ (which has really yummy mentaiko baguette and sweet potato-sesame bread among others ;p) and make a mental note of a very nice pair of shoes which I might be tempted to get... soon. I'd really wanted to get more of Sophie Kinsella books. Yes, I am an avid reader of her books, especially her Shopaholic series. ;) I know so many people look down on chick lit but seriously, who really cares? If you haven't read her stuff, you're missing out on a great bunch of books that can really brighten up your day especially if you're going through a dry spell. They just make me so happy. I think this would appeal more to the female readers but a good light hearted book can be enjoyed by anyone. It's sort of a cycle I go through. Every once in a while, perhaps when I'm hitting a snag at work or just feel a little down about things and need a pick-me-up, I tend to gravitate back to books like these that provide such an enjoyable means of escapism. Of course my favorite would have to be the first one - Confessions of a Shopaholic, but the second one, Shopaholic Takes Manhattan, makes me all tingly with excitement inside at the thoughts of NYC. :) Someday soon hopefully. It's been too long. I just read Twenties Girl in the span of maybe 2 days? It's that easy to enjoy and difficult to put down once you get started. The next few books I'll be getting will definitely include I've Got Your Number and maybe some of her earlier 'Madeleine Wickham' works like A Desirable Residence or The Wedding Girl. :) Excited to get my hands on more of these titles. 

Here's a little interview she did that will give you a little introduction to the world of Becky Bloomwood. 


After starting this new rotation, my days have all sort of become jumbled up because of the shift work. There's no clear distinction between weekdays and weekends though I still feel that thrill when it's Friday night, mainly because then everyone else will be free for possibly some fun over the weekend. But at least there's quite a bit of time now for me to make use of for exercise, reading and relaxation compared to the way things were last time so I'm grateful for that. The first week was tough because whenever I had to go to work at 12 noon, I'd end up feeling so groggy and sleeping all the way till 11am that I'd do hardly anything but sleep-work-eat dinner and press repeat. Now I've gotten a little better and have been semi-successful at waking up earlier to go for a jog in the morning which REALLY helps in so many ways. :) I've come to realize that when you do something good for your body, its effects do ripple down throughout the day/week and it makes all the difference. At least when I'm at work I feel more energised and happy that I've gotten some exercise in already and I've done what I can do to keep myself healthy, so whatever else happens during the work day... I'm in a pretty good position to deal with it. And I like that feeling. :) That said, I'm winding down tonight but putting together a new mixed cd for when I'm on the road. I love these moments that come around every so often (maybe once in a month or two?) when the music that's been playing in the car has gotten a little stale and I've collected enough Shazam tags on my phone for a new CD. I've got a habit of listening to the radio (the only legit one nowadays is Lust 99.5. It's got a great selection of Indie music and DJs that keep inane chatter to a minimum! :D) and then Shazam-ing a song whenever it catches my ...ear. A couple of songs on the new mixed tape would include: 

 1. Drunk - Ed Sheeren 

I know this isn't a new song's so addictive! X) And soulful. 

 2. The Fisher King - California Wives

I think I might've come across this song in Books Actually. It's the sort of song that I could listen to while lying in bed for a quick escape from my thoughts. 

 3. Light All My Lights - Seeker Lover Keeper

Kept hearing this on the radio. Isn't it pretty addictive too? 

4. Love Will Take You - Angus and Julia Stone

Oh my word. This one's just plain sweet. Was it really featured in Twilight?? Cos I keep seeing that association on youtube. ;p Whatever. A good song's a good song. 

 5. Shoestring - Lyla Foy

And this, has become one of my favorite songs since one or two months back. :) I did a little weekend getaway to Langkawi with my mum and would listen to this song over and over in the wonderfully luxurious hotel room with its fluffy pillows and fantastic air conditioning while escaping from the heat outside. Listening to this always brings me back to that gorgeous space and peace of mind.

Any good songs or books you've enjoyed recently? 

Alright, off to wind down for the night. Praying for more of these days. For you too. 

Tuesday, 20 May 2014

Springtime Escapades #1

Hi all!! Gosh, it feels like it's been AGES since I've last blogged. And I mean ages. Seems like there's always so much happening in life all the time. For one, I've finally finished the arduous first year of work post-graduation which has historically been the toughest one for everyone who's gone through it... I'm so relieved that part of my life is over. I've started on another rotation now and while the hours are definitely more erratic, I've started to really appreciate the shift work and the beauty that comes with being able to do things in the hours before and after the shift ends. It's definitely an art ending work on time since there are times when things need to be followed up on or handed over at the last minute but I'm slowly but surely getting the hang of it. 

One thing that was really amazing that I managed to do before my first year of work ended was this - a family trip to Japan for for Sakura viewing! :) It's something that's been on my bucket list since forever and it was amazing how my whole family happened to be keen AND available for the trip at the same time. I was a little apprehensive at first because you know how these family trips can be... and we hadn't taken one complete family holiday in what 10 years? So I was definitely a tad worried at the start... but thankfully, my dearest boyfriend Donald stepped in and helped with the planning at the last minute which was an incredible help because if left to me, I would've decided on train routes and attractions upon arrival in Japan itself (as is the spontaneous and easy way to do things but often only works when traveling alone and not with family ;p)... so that definitely saved the trip. And in fact, it turned out soooo well. Far better than expected. :) Which goes to show that often times we worry too much about things in advance when really...if we focus on making things work out in the moment, they usually do. 

Here are some shots on film.

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Our first sighting of Sakura! Along the Philosopher's Path in Kyoto. It was such a lovely moment; finally getting the chance to appreciate the beauty of those gorgeous flowers. Unfortunately we had arrived there in that golden period right before sunset (one of the most beautiful parts of the day any other day except the one which we wanted to enjoy the sakura in good photography lighting lol). I could feel the light slipping by by the second. It was that fleeting. So we got along snapping as much as we could, doing random Philosopher poses (my dad's cool that way ;)) until it was way too dark and we had to resign ourselves to going off for dinner instead. 

 photo sakura1smaller.jpgI could've spent a whole afternoon there, stretched out on a grass patch/bench with a thermos flask of green tea in one hand and a sakura mochi in the other. Ooo that's a plan for the next time.

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A sushi platter at Bikkuri Sushi. I'm sorry but this is one place I would NOT recommend going to. It was our first day in Tokyo and my sis had been craving sushi for dinner (and this was after our tea time snack of Ippudo Ramen which was EXCELLENT) so we'd gotten a recommendation from the hotel concierge for a sushi restaurant in the neighbourhood. They pointed this out to us and it looked really legit from the outside. But there has to be a problem when the tempura turns out to be better than the sushi in a Sushi-ya. It was such a disappointment because I'd been looking forward to some delicious slabs of melt-in-your-mouth quality Ootoro. But when it turned out to be stringy-er, requiring more colossal teeth strength than expected... I'd say, try to find an outlet of Sushi Zanmai instead. When Donald and I went to Tokyo last year we actually stumbled upon Sushi Zanmai by accident and ended up going back there another time during our stay for some really awesome (and decently priced sushi).

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Bento on board the Shinkansen to Kyoto. X)) Don't you love a beautiful bento? Of course, nothing beats a freshly made, hot one but these are so amazing for their variety, convenience and sheer aesthetic. It was hilarious seeing my dad get so excited about his train bentos but he was right - how often do you get the chance to enjoy a bento on board a train? It's worth devoting some time before the train ride selecting just the right one.

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At our cooking class in Kyoto. :D This is something I'd highly recommend going to if you happen to be travelling to Kyoto! In fact, I would probably want to do it again in another city just because it's so fun to see how the Japanese cook even the most basic dishes. I'd booked a session for my family for a Vegetarian cooking class at this guesthouse called Roujiya (and conveniently did not mention this to them till they arrived heheheh. My dad got a shock when the sensei asked, 'how long have you been Vegetarian?'. I could almost hear the thump of his jaw on the table. He'd be a 100% carnivore if it were up to him) and due to the limited slots, ours happened to be at 2pm and we rushed there after arriving in Kyoto itself at about noon. It was such fun! The sensei, Kaori, was dressed in a lovely kimono and spoke really great English. There was even a substantial hand-out about the basics of Japanese cooking. Did you know that there are so many rules that govern the sort of dishes served in traditional Japanese cuisine? Everything is seasonal and tries to obtain a mix of Yin and Yang foods. Even the sort of small dishes used are selected based on their appearance and suitability for the season (e.g. flower shaped dish for the Spring season). Back to the photo - these were little rice crackers used for our chopsticks practice. Turns out almost everyone except the Swedish guy in our class had been holding their chopsticks wrong for donkey years. ;p I certainly have been. But it works.

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Our final assortment of dishes. We had made mini sushi balls (apparently so small because they're meant for Maiko (Geisha apprentices) to eat or nibble at so that their immaculately done up makeup/lipstick doesn't get smudged), cucumber + yuzu paste sushi, plus a yummy Japanese cucumber and sesame paste side dish. It's amazing, the amount of effort that's put into these seemingly simple dishes. And what amazed me was the attention to detail - the sensei was like, 'put 2-3 of these small leaves for decoration into your soup'. 2-3 only. Not more, not less - for optimal aesthetic.

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Cutie cat spotted outside our cooking class ryokan.

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Takoyaki man! I kept seeing him at the same spot near our hotel in Kyoto (really near the main Kyoto station too) but he'd always give a big X sign whenever I approached. ;p Did he mean 'no photos allowed' or did he mean 'not selling anymore'. I never saw him serve anyone either so... I'm more inclined to think it was the latter. ;p

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Our walk along the Kamo River in Kyoto. <3 One of my favorite parts of the trip. You can't go to Kyoto and not walk by the Kamogawa without falling in love with it. We didn't have much time to spend there because dinner was looming and my dad had to rest his back but we did manage to get quite a lot of lovely family shots at the same spot. :) I just loved seeing the Japanese relax along the river with their picnic baskets and blankets...That's the life. 

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I would've wanted to have gone further down the river to the stone steps shaped like turtles' backs which you can step on to get across the river. But that was a little further down. Once again, plans for the future. 

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One of my favorite afternoons from the trip was when we were in this restaurant in Nara. We'd just arrived that afternoon and were going to take our time at the National Park chasing deer. But before that, because we were all too famished, we stumbled into the nearest restaurant from our ryokan. And this was it - a soba place that also specialized in Kuzu, a type of Japanese arrowroot, that's usually made into jelly form (like a softer version of Konnyaku), often topped with molasses or kinako powder. Wayyy too much like jello to me. And it wasn't even easy to eat because it was much softer and more slippery compared to typical konnyaku jelly. >< So after that afternoon, I was more or less done with Kuzu. But the best bit was after the meal, when we were admiring our full bellies, enjoying the moments of contentment that come with being on a holiday and not needing to rush to the next destination...and the sun came through beautifully through the shuttered windows. It was one of the best moments. 

Needless to say, there were too many great moments on this trip. And looking back...I'm so glad we were able to do this family trip together. We didn't even get those huge family squabbles that often accompany any holiday abroad. Doesn't it seem like the older you get the harder it is to do things as a family together? But it's something I'm going to try to devote more time towards. 

Oooookiee...time for a snooze now. It's my day off. And I'm trying to make the minutes stretch out as much as possible. X) 

Have a great week ahead!