Month: August 2012


The only thing better than a lunch date with hubby is a lunch date with hubby at Byway’s Cafe.

With cake.

The best lemon cake I’ve tasted so far in this lifetime.

Back in the sewing of things

Settling back into life here, feeling like I was never away for 7 weeks.  Getting things done around the house and yard.  Doing a little baking, to recreate some Earl Grey scones I had in Japan.

And getting some sewing lined up to do.

I’ve got four projects that I want to work on right away; some of them I’ve been waiting to work on for more than a year.  This time I decided to production line the prep work, so I can just pull a project and sew when I have time.  I’ve got the patterns all traced and cut, and all but one of projects cut; I plan to do that tomorrow.  I’ve also assembled all notions ahead of time (how novel!), so I’ll be ready to go.

For me, sewing is a creative release.  Not because I create my own designs, but because, like baking and cooking, I can take raw materials and transform them into something else.  Hopefully something that fits, but that’s part of the process.  All four projects are muslins, hopefully wearable ones; I’m testing the patterns for my body to see what needs tweaking and adjusting before getting into my good stash of fabrics.

From Left:

Colette Patterns’ Taffy blouse in a dark brown printed chiffon I picked up at Tomato in Japan in 2008.

Colette Pattern’s Clover capri pants in a bargin bin stretch denim.

Sewaholic’s Cambie dress in a blue floral I picked up about five years ago.  Not sure why I bought that fabric, since I’m definitely not a floral gal.

Kwik Sew 2684 (now out of print) in a teal rayon I snagged from the bargin bin.  If this pattern works and looks good, I hope to transform my oil refinery border print into a longer version of this.

Girls Fun in Tokyo: Last days

On Monday of our adventures, we had planned to conquer Nippori’s Fabric Town, a street with dozens of fabric stores, notions stores, etc.  Both my friend and I love fabric, so this was going to be the highlight of our visit.  Was.

Oh, yes, O-Bon.  Little did I know when I was scheduling my trip back in June that O-Bon was such an important holiday.  I think almost as many shops are closed during O-Bon as during the New Year celebrations.  And everyone (and I mean EVERYONE) seems to be on vacation, so Tokyo seems even busier than normal.  Monday morning I checked the hours of the shop we both most wanted to visit, Tomato, and it was closed from August 10th – 16th!  If we had known that, I would have gone during my summer and my friend would have gone the day she arrived from the States.  We were, and still are, disappointed.  Maybe it was the universe telling us we didn’t need more fabric?

We decided to head over to Fabric Town anyway, just to see if anything was open.  Not much was, but we both found a couple of things we couldn’t resist.  In one shop, we spied this bolt of fabric and looked at it, wondering what in the world it was.  It looked like a cool cityscape border print, but on closer inspection…

Yes, an oil refinery border print cotton.  Found in a random little shop in Nippori.  What the heck?!  My friend and I had never seen anything like this before, so of course I had to buy some.  I’m already planning what I want to make from it.  I have a wearable muslin in the works, so hopefully this will become a dress soon.  (I’d love to have it done for my birthday.)

After Nippori we headed back to Kamata, so my friend could pick up this fabulous Hello Kitty Liberty of London lawn that had been haunting her since we spotted it on Saturday.  Purchases in hand, we ended the afternoon at Ladureé in Shinjuku for some macarons.  I had to sample their new gelato: rose gelato with raspberries and crumbled macarons.  Such a smooth and subtle gelato… fabulous!  We then got some macarons to go and headed back to base camp.

The next day, Tuesday, was adventuring in Ikebukuro.  We were reserved for lunch at Cafe Swallowtail, so we did some shopping before.  (And after.)  The meal was fantastic, I thought.  I think my friend was less impressed.  That’s ok.  We both got to enjoy their house-made Earl Grey scones; I enjoyed them with some orange Darjeeling jam.  The combination is one that will haunt me until I can replicate it.  (I just reproduced the scones yesterday, more or less, so now it’s just figuring out a recipe for that jam.)

Last item on my “must do” list was heading to Tokyo Station to buy some castella from Fukusaya.  Castella is a specialty cake famous in Nagasaki, and Fukusaya makes the best.  When we were last in Nagasaki, we tried several makers, but none was better than Fukusaya.  I hadn’t been to Tokyo Station in years, and it seems to be under renovation, so I was thoroughly confused.  Information desk to the rescue!  I asked in my polite Japanese if she could direct me to Fukusaya.  “Yes, it’s…”  I’m amazed at the knowledge the Information ladies (because in Japan they are always ladies) at stations and malls can call up at a moment’s notice.  That’s Japanese customer service for you.

We found the shop, they had some castella left, so I bought some for home and some for gifts.  Mission accomplished.  Now it was time to pack for leaving the next day.

And that’s when I discovered I needed a bigger bag to travel home with.  I’d brought two duffels along with my (carry-on sized) suitcase, but that wasn’t enough.  I guess I accumulated more than I thought over six weeks.  I blame my textbooks.  So, with an hour before I’m supposed to meet a friend from PSU at the Nippori station so we can all have dinner together, I’m dashing out of the ryokan and off to Akihabara for more luggage.  This wasn’t the first time this has happened, so I knew exactly where to go and took a couple of minutes to decide what to get.  45 minutes later, I was back a the ryokan with my new luggage.  Yay!

The favorite okonomiyaki shop I wanted to go to was full (again!), so we tried out the Indian place in the neighborhood.  Not bad.  A good evening chatting and relaxing, then back to packing.

On Wednesday, we checked out, left some of our luggage at the ryokan and put some in the lockers at Nippori.  A last lunch at Coco’s in Akihabara, then it was time to schlep the luggage up to Nippori and head to the airport.  The Girls Fun in Tokyo adventure was over.

Girls Fun in Tokyo: Meiji Shrine & Harajuku

On Sunday of our Girls Fun in Tokyo trip we decided to head to Meiji Shrine, as my friend had not been there before.  We headed to JR Harajuku station and found more strange advertising there that we had to capture.

Off we headed to Meiji Shrine, which was super busy.  There were more groups than usual, and seemed to be a lot of youth baseball teams, too.  I didn’t know if they were playing, or coming to pay their respects at the shrine after the summer season or what.  The place was packed and it was, yes, you guessed it, hot.  We did have a brief rain shower cool things down for an hour, but after that, it was steamier than usual.  Yay!

After the crowds at the main shrine building, we decided to pay and explore the Japanese Gardens on the grounds.  I was unimpressed by them, but as we were wandering around, I spotted an animal trotting around the grounds.  “Tanuki!” I cried.  And we rushed, quietly, to follow as best we could and take some (by which I mean tons of) photos.

Others in the gardens noticed us and came over, too.  “Tanuki da!” were the excited cries we heard.  Eventually the tanuki took some deep cover and we went to finish the rest of the walk around the garden.  Our way back, however, took us by the tanuki spot… and there was another tanuki headed for his friend/relative!  Two tanuki!  So back we went and took some photos of the two tanuki.  One of them, the smaller of the two, was much less skittish, so we were able to get within a couple of feet.  They were so cute, we really wanted to take them home.

Eventually we gave up on the chase and headed to Harajuku for some lunch.  I knew of a branch of the Jyangara ramen shop there, so we were intent on finding it.  Jyangara serves Hakata style ramen, which features thick tonkotsu (pork bone) broth.  Their noodles are slightly harder than usual, the way they’re served in Hakata.  Pure deliciousness.  If I could only eat one style of ramen for the rest of my life, it would be Jyangara’s Hakata-style ramen.

We found the shop and greeted the wizened little man minding the register at the entrance.  He pulled out all of his English and produced an English-language menu for us to peruse.  After ordering, we stood in line and waited for seats to open.  Although this branch is about twice as large as the one I’d visited in Akihabara, it’s still tiny by American standards.  We got two seats together at the window, so we could watch the Harajuku/Omotesando crowds as we ate.

After our nice respite, we took the plunge: Takeshita Street.  On the Sunday before O-Bon. What were we thinking?!

In the 100 yen shop, we found some cryptic floor guide entries.

Gasbombe?  That’s what they katakana says, too, so I still am unsure what that is.

Eventually we made it through… or rather, I declared that I was through with the crowds and needed to escape a bit.  (Fair warning: too hot + too many people for hours on end = Gretchen is a grumpy girl.)  My friend was in pursuit of Kiddyland, a Hello Kitty store somewhere there in Harajuku.  We saw banners for it, but couldn’t find it.  We eventually resorted to asking the natives.  Finally, we found it: five floors of Hello Kitty and friends goods.  I took half a dozen steps inside, surveyed the crush of parents/adults and blur of children running around, and promptly returned to the street to join the ranks of the those seated on the fence waiting.

After heading home for a little breather, we headed back out into the night for some dinner.  This time at my favorite curry restaurant chain in Japan: Coco Ichiban curry.  I love this place!  I think we may have first discovered it in 2007 in Okayama as well.  Over the summer I’d had a chance to try curry at various places around Tokyo and I still like Coco’s the best.  Perhaps because I can get exactly what I want, without any ordering difficulty.  My favorite: fried chicken curry with cheese.  When I’m feeling like being good (i.e. eating slightly less badly while on vacation in Japan), I’ll get the half-size with a corn salad on the side.  I wasn’t feeling like being good that night.

On the way out, I picked up some souvenirs for hubby.  (And me.)  Their curry pickles are almost as good as their curry.  So now we’ll be able to have the taste of Coco’s at home here in the States.

Another fabulous day: great food, fun shopping, and cute little tanuki!