I have always loved biscotti.  They're the adult version of cookies and milk (don't tell anyone, I still eat cookies and milk too!).  Like cookies, they can be made in almost any flavor and can be dipped in a variety of things or left plain.  These are chocolate-orange and cranberry biscotti.
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One of the things I hate in this world is coffee.  It smells great and tastes like plumbing.  Bitter plumbing.  Anyway, for those who do like coffee, these buns are pretty little mocha twists with almonds on top.  I'm going to try substituting green tea powder or even black tea for the mocha next time.
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After making the Limone, it got me thinking how I could vary the recipe to make similar filled breads.  I thought about making curry bread and other things, but just wasn't feeling it.  Sweet bread it is.  Here's a cute, little strawberry milk bun, with creamy insides and fresh strawberry slices on top.
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For some reason Japan thinks of Italy when it's summer.  The summer-themed breads at my school are all Italian-inspired this time around.  These lemon cream-filled buns aren't Italian in my opinion, but they are good. The #1 producer of lemons is currently India, where they are thought to have originated.  Italy is #10, but they were first introduced to Europe through southern Italy.  Maybe they were thinking lemon granita!  Anyway, this recipe was exceptionally interesting because it's my first truly filled bun.  This has so many possibilities!

See a variation inspired by this recipe here.
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Pumpkins are fantastic.  You can make art from them, eat the flesh, eat the seeds and so much more.  There are varieties of pumpkins from all over the place, it's great.  The Japanese version, also known as a kabocha, have dark green skin and are smaller than the orange jack-o-lantern varieties.  They're also sweeter, making them perfect for these ultra-sweet pumpkin braids.
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Fish paste weirds me out.  It doesn't matter if it's the shrimp paste Moo Cow uses in his seafood pasta or the anchovy paste in these, it's weird.  But I'll concede it tasted good in these sunny rings.  Part of the summer series at my cooking school, they were named Il Sol, the Italian word for their sunny influence.
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Summer in Japan is defined by fireworks, street food and summer festival games.  This dessert is supposed to resemble the water balloon yo-yos kids get at summer festivals.  It's also made using gelatin and plastic wrap, hmmm.
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Why these cookies were being offered as a class in June I will never know, because I'm certain they're almond Christmas cookies.  They sure taste heavy like Christmas.  Anyway, Christmas in July then.  Although I don't think they know what that is in Japan...
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In an attempt to eat healthier, as well as preventing spoilage, I'm trying to combine as many fresh ingredients as possible.  Seems like a no-brainer, right?  Not in Japan, not always.
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Japan loves to cook with liqueur.  I think they believe alcohol is luxurious, which would explain the drinking culture here in Tokyo.  Anyway, this orange custard is flavored with Cointreau and can curl your toes while you're making it if you get too close after heating.

It was also a test of my knife skills.  Have you ever cut a half an orange into twelve slices?  I have and nearly got myself a few times, even with safe knife precautions.  A task for a mandolin?  Are they sharp enough to cut oranges?
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The summer seasonal bread classes are truly exceptional. Some of the rotating menus they choose are awful, but I'm very impressed with the Italian-influenced offerings this time around.

This bread is based on semolina flour and olive oil and has olives and chopped bacon inside, making a very pasta-like feeling. It's also a very soft bread, but still has the crust of a real bread. I will definitely make this again.
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This bread really should be called Spicy Bacon Tomato, because Spicy Tomato doesn't really cover the flavors.  The centers are filled with bacon pieces and ground black pepper for a punch.  Ketchup is mixed into the dough to add the tomato flavor and some color.  They were lovely but I wish the bacon hadn't browned so much.
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Ever since I went to Okinawa I notice little lion dogs like these all over the place.  The Japanese for them is シーサー (shisa) and the name is similar to lion 獅子 (shishi) so sometimes they're called shishi colloquially.  This one is on a column near the entrance to a home that I pass by when I walk to my regular school.

See my shisa photo from January here.
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Nanoblocks are a popular toy and are widely available in Japan.  There are warnings not to give them to young children, but Japan doesn't really follow those.  They are probably popular because they're small and save space, and who didn't love Legos as a kid?
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Does anyone else love blueberries? The blueberry cream filling these is simply divine.  The mint wilts pretty quickly, but the rest is nice.  Frozen blueberries are mixed into the bread dough also.

Fun fact: Mirtillo is Italian for blueberry.
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After re-evaluating my goals with this blog, I've opted to make these posts whenever I have something worthwhile to share, not necessarily every day.  This should bring up the overall quality of the photos here.  I hope you enjoy!

Today I decided to make something for myself. The odd thing is, once the truffles were done, I didn't like the richness of the chocolate. Oh well, white chocolate next time. This jacket with the wings is also one of my favorite jackets.
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Today's cooking school project was berry cheese tartlets. They're filled with mixed berry jam and lemon cream cheese.  The dough was very brioche-like, sweet and buttery.
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On this lovely Sunday kitchen experimentation was on the docket.  This is similar to hummus, but uses white beans and soft tofu instead of chick peas and tahini.  It's easier to find those in Japan, so I figured it was worth a try.  Whip them up in the blender with some lemon juice, olive/sesame oil and cumin or whatever spices you like and it's delicious.  I like eating it with some homemade carrot sticks. Fun fact: baby carrots aren't really sold in Japan.

What kinds of dips do you like to make?
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Today I decided to try out a macrobiotic place in Isetan in Shinjuku, called Chaya.  This little plate cost almost ¥2000 ($20), so it wasn't cheap, and it tasted oilier than I would have liked.  The service wasn't particularly fast and it also fell victim to the classic Japanese problem of not being able to cater to true vegetarians very well because most dishes contained fish.  It did taste okay though, but I wouldn't go again unless I was going on a day with unlimited lunch time.  It's certainly not a place to go during a limited lunch hour.
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My cooking school has seasonal bread and cake classes you can take (no cake in spring or summer this year, owing to heat), and this is the final of the three spring bread classes I decided to take. It's like a cinnamon roll made with Earl Grey Tea instead of cinnamon. Interesting, to say the least. They're quite delicious, although I suspect they will get dry pretty quickly. That just means I'll have to eat them quickly or give them away!
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Okay, this is the last photo of these bushes this season, I promise. It's just that they're EVERYWHERE and rather photogenic. Okay, okay, say goodbye to the mystery bush. I'll try not to photograph them anymore.
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After discovering that I have way too much peanut butter in my pantry, I got an intense craving for something infused with peanut butter. Honestly, I never thought I'd say too much peanut butter, but there it is. Anyway, adding a quarter cup of peanut butter to your favorite biscuit recipe (add a little more milk/soy milk to keep the right consistency or you'll end up with bricks) and you've got some lovely peanut butter treats. Try them with jelly to have PB&J biscuits at breakfast.

Note: If *anyone* if your family has a peanut allergy, children under 3 shouldn't have peanuts or peanut products. Otherwise, kids can have peanut butter from 1, although I'd still recommend waiting until 3 years just in case.
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After my successful tuna nigiri experiment, I thought I'd try my hand at some more varied sashimi. The main reason was the quality of my sushi rice, which I still haven't got quite right, but there was also a nice pack of fish at the shop. Sometimes I can't resist.
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Happy one-year anniversary to this blog! I now have over a year of photos for you to ignore. But if you'd like, please have a look through them. :o)

My Persian roots show through sometimes, and this may be one of those times. Here are some large figs from a random fruit stand baked with crumbled feta. No salt, no other seasonings necessary.  Although it might be a good idea to drizzle a little honey on top to counter the brine in the feta and the tartness of the figs.

I'm rather amused by the end result, though, because it looks like a carnivorous flower to me.  Still, it was quite tasty.

Recipe (per serving):

1 large, round fig preferably not a black fig, although any will do
2-3 tbsp cubed feta
1 tsp honey (optional)

Wash the figs and pat dry.  Stand them upright in a baking pan and cut an X in the top, about halfway down each fig. Open the tops slightly.

Press the cubed feta into the figs, spreading the fruit to make room. Crumble some of the feta to cover the flesh of the fruit.

Bake at 375 (180) for about 10 minutes, or until the feta is melting.  Heavily brined feta may not melt or brown well, so keep an eye on the figs as well.

If desired, drizzle some honey over the top of the feta before serving.

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Today I tried to think up ways to use up some things in my fridge. Incidentally, I decided to try to make a shake out of the yuba, but it needed some flavoring. Enter fresh strawberries. Mix with a little honey and voila, smoothie.

Although I wish I kept ice in my freezer to make things a little less dense. It wasn't until recently I began appreciating the use of ice in smoothies. Before I only had poorly-made restaurant smoothies with large chunks of ice. Anyway, I know better now.

Recipe (1 smoothie):

1 small block soft tofu or yuba (tofu skin)
1/4 c soy milk
4-5 strawberries, rinsed then husked
1 tbsp your favorite honey
ice as desired

Toss the yuba and soy milk in the blender, blending until creamy. If it's not thin enough add more soy milk to desired consistency.

Add the strawberries and honey and blend again.

Add ice until desired thickness.

The more ice and soy milk you add, the more this recipe will yield. If you like lots of ice, be sure to have a friend to share with.
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Today I found an interesting fruit stand in Machida. They sell discounted fruit that are ripe NOW. Not overripe or anything, but you don't want to leave them sitting around. I managed to get four huge mangoes for ¥1000, which I found very exciting.

Almost as exciting was cutting them like Moo Cow taught me to last year.
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Even though it's May, cherry blossoms are still on everyone's minds. Today in cooking class we made cherry blossom cream to go in this bread. Once I leave Japan I will be on an eternal hunt for the liqueur in the US and Canada...
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My stepmom used to keep two types of purple clematis in the front flower box in Michigan. She kept trellises for them to climb. They never filled out the trellises but I still remember the flower. Apparently there are over 300 varieties. And from the many clematis I've seen in Japan, they're all over the world too.
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This flower caught my attention from across a parking lot while waiting for my bus. It never ceases to amaze me how bright the coloring of flowers is in Japan. I wonder if it's the volcanic soil...?
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While I'm not particularly partial to these flowers, it's nice how the bushes are completely covered in blossoms for almost an entire month. The varieties range from pinks, purples and reds to pure white and everything in between. They're a nice background for spring, although I don't know if I would consider planting them in my yard, since they're so common here.
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Carp streamers are typical decorations seen leading up to Boys' Day (more recently called Children's Day). When the wind blows it looks like the carp are swimming upriver, which is a sign of a strong fish. Families should get a carp streamer for each boy (now, child) to hope for children to grow up strong. Many families buy new streamers every year. This is partly because new things are seen as better in Japan and partly because nobody has space to store things with such small living spaces.

Of course, like many Japanese cultural points, the celebration is rooted in Chinese culture, but the commercial aspect is purely Japanese.
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The Japanese love playing on words. The area of Tokyo I live in is called Ikebukuro. There is a distinct owl theme to the area, mainly because owl in Japanese is fukurou. Of course, they couldn't pass up the chance to have "IkeFukurou" everywhere. I guess it's okay; it makes shopping for my owl-loving family easier.
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My friend and I went for Dim Sum. Technically called Yumcha when eaten with tea, it is popular in Hong Kong to eat Dim Sum for breakfast. We found an all-you-can-eat place in Ikebukuro and ate for three or four hours. Of course, they messed up the order, which is why we were able to stay so long. It was decent, although not the best and I'm not sure I'd go again. True to the Chinese reputation in Ikebukuro, we found a dead fly in one of our glasses.

But these little mouse dumplings were adorable. The warm custard inside wasn't bad either.
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Irises are one of my favorite flowers. The sheer number of varieties is spectacular.
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It's no secret I love to cook. Food in Japan is amazing but once in a while I want a taste of home. This pasta bake was an experiment in using food steamers instead of the stove. As a resounding success, this may be helpful in the hot months of summer...
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There are few things as satisfying as making something yourself, particularly when it's useful and/or edible. While I only cut and assembled this meal, it felt like quite an accomplishment.

Markets in Japan sell sushi-grade fish all over the place. Around the time I finish work, the market on my way to the station has deep discounts in the fish department, so I sometimes pick up something for dinner. Today was a lucky buy, but I think I need a sharper knife.  Still, tuna nigiri sushi is always welcome.
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There isn't a Kentucky Fried Chicken in Japan that doesn't have a statue of the Colonel to scare everyone. It seems he has become synonymous with KFC in Japan and it would be tragic not to have him out front.

Upon occasion, you may spot him dressed up, for Halloween or some such occasion. I'm not sure what the reason was for this cardboard samurai, but here he is...
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While the Japanese learn flower names from the time they are young, I don't have that in my favor.  As such, I have no idea what these are, but they're everywhere in Tokyo right now.  They are mostly pink, red, purple and white, but there are a few other colors too.  It's interesting to see whole bushes looking like bridal bouquets, which is what Tokyo spring feels like.
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Once in a while I find a good deal on something slightly out of the ordinary.  This bento ended up being my dinner.  The front is chopped grilled eel (unagi) on rice.  This is nothing unusual, really.  But the inari sushi at the back of the bento have shredded crab in them.  I've never seen inari made with anything but plain rice or sometimes 5-flavor rice, and that's what convinced me to buy this at a discounted ¥500.
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In a change of pace, I have made something moderately healthy in cooking class. Too bad they're my least favorite-tasting recipe so far.
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At the kindergarten I teach at this year, they have some really nice decorations. This is for Children's Day, although really the holiday is Boys' Day (Girls' Day is Hina Matsuri, the Doll Festival).
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Since the earthquake Tepco is perhaps the least favorite company in Japan. They are the company in charge of the Fukushima Daiichi (and Daini) nuclear power plant.
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There is always something blooming in Japan. It's kind of amazing. At the same time, the vibrancy of the blossoms is also something fascinating. I wonder if it's related to the soil or something else.
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For work I had to pick up a kindergarten that's not exactly close to me. It's not too far, in Machida, but since it eats most of my day, I've decided to start taking lunch there too. It lets me try things that Shinjuku doesn't have close to the office. TGIFriday's has a decent lunch menu, and this Cajun Chicken Salad is my new love.
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The city of Maebashi loves roses. They're literally everywhere. Most places have decorated manhole covers, but in and around Tokyo most seem to be gingko or maple leaf designs. These are also lacquered, which I found interesting.
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In Japan, people go crazy over decorated nails. I'm personally not willing to pay someone lots of money to keep my nails looking nice (at least not yet), so I do them myself.

Here's my attempt at some festive flowers for cherry blossom season.
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These mini sakura cheesecase and macha desserts are little tastes of heaven.  Now I have to find sakura liqueur, which is apparently not seasonal.  And I also need to find the blossoms used in food...
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Today was a seasonal bread class, although how this is springy I don't know.  Anyway, the bread has carrot juice in it instead of milk or water.  Cubed cheddar is then worked into it before rolling it and cutting the leaf motif on the top.  It's quite tasty, although rather rich.  I like it.
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This cake caught my eye as soon as I signed up with my cooking school. At that time I decided it would be my birthday cake, and so it is. Unfortunately, it's about two weeks late. Still, better late than never. And it's filled with raspberries and white chocolate; two of my favorite things.
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I set my caramel egg down because it was too big to eat at once...and after a couple minutes this is what I found. That's never happened to me before...
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