May 31, 2006

summer in the air

Tokyo's been having a weird spring. This is supposed to be one of the best time of the year in terms of weather, but a fairly chilly April and unusually rainy May seem to have ruined it a whole lot, unfortunately. On top of that, we are soon having a lousy month-long rainy season before a muggy summer finally comes, so any day with some nice sky and any breeze has to be savored while we can. Thankfully, it seems like the weather is finally picking up over the coming few days.

For the better or for the worse, it's already becoming pretty warm and humid

As hydrangeas in my neiborhood have just started bursting with colors

And if I fancy some cold sips, that's when ginge rale comes in... or even better, stir in with some iced tea. Definitely a keeper for summer.

When I go and get some outside air in the evening, I could instantly smell the summer in it - the young leaves, the heat, the humidity, the breeze, every element makes up that familiar air that tells me the summer is indeed almost here. I always struggle with Tokyo summers, but I am actually quite fond of this feeling of sensing an arrival of summer, don't ask me why.

At any rate, this is also the time when something cool and sweet seems as good as it gets...

Although a dessert like this could just fit in at any given day of a year, I would guess. It's called Ginger-scented Chocolate Mousse with Mango and Passionfruit, and that is precisely what it is; cubes of fresh mango, pulp and seeds of passionfruits mixed with ginger syrup, and light and smooth chocolate mousse with ginger bits come in layers in a glass, topped with chocolate shaves. The recipe is from Australia's great Gourmet Traveller magazine, May 2006 issue, and it was the first recipe that caught my attention, firstly because it was pictuerd on the cover (don't even think about compare mine to it!), and secondly, well, the choc-ginger-mango-passionfruit combination just sounded like my type of thing.

It was pretty simple to prepare, although the biggest challenge to me was decoration; I made a very poor attempt to produce chocolate curls, and not only I ended up having a mass of chocolate shaves, but I stumbled and scattered the relatively luxury Valrhona Manjari (that was specified by the recipe as "its slight acidity works beautifully with the fruits") around on the floor. A total mess.

Apart from the messy finish, the dessert turned out impressively tasty. I was pretty happy with the mousse alone, but when it was had together with the mango and passionfruit, the whole thing got along so well. That is probably what it makes a chef recipe, I suppose - like the rosewater-scented champagne-poached rhubarbs I made a couple month ago using the same magazine issue, this one's by Philippa Sibley, a Melbourne-based dessert chef who has reputation as one of the best in town, or in fact, the country. I can't tell if that is true or not, but if other things turn out as good as this one when I try more of her recipes from the magazine, I'll most likely be convinced.

And this is the time when something cool and sweet seems as good as it gets......

May 25, 2006

tastes of under down under, my end of story

Tasmania, it has already been more than a month since I set my foot on the island with some stunning, untouched natural beauty. For years I had been longing to visit the island, and I finally made it happen, although for a moment I almost gave up the plan, being too busy while staying in Melbourne. I am very glad that I eventually did, and it was absolutely worthy. After all, it would be a long way to get there if traveling straight from Japan, but I was at the time in Melbourne, where Tasmania is only an hour of flight away. If it hadn't been now, when could it have been?

Having had much thought, I chose to get on a tour operator-run five-day tour going (almost) around the island. Although it had been my dream destination, I had done little research beforehand, and all I had known about the island was, well, close to nothing other than such well-known names as Cradle Mountain, Lake St. Clair, and Wine Glass Bay and just some vague ideas of penguins, bushes, beaches, and wineries. So I thought it would be handy to get guided around and discover something more than I had known about.

And it was a totally amazing five days of my life.

One month having past, the stunning images of the things I saw and the great time I spent with fellow travelers there still remain just as fresh in my mind, especially when I look at the pictures I took there; a total of some 600-700 images saved, and I must have clicked away more than double that. That is partly why it has been taking me so long to organize my album, but I am almost done... and here is some of it that I would like to share: click here to launch slideshow of my Tasmania photos if you dare to go through (eventually) a few hundreds of images in one go. Otherwise, click on any of the images shown in the flickr badge currently posted in the left-hand side column of this blog for random individual images, or simply go day-by-day with the links below.

Day 1: Launceston - Cradle Mountain area. Started off from Launceston, a northern city of Tasmania, headed up to famous Cradle Mountain area to spend a gray, wet, cold afternoon. Did an easy two-hour walk around Lake Dove, with Cradle Mountain itself out of our view, hiding in the misty air. Saw some other mountains covered with snow and a little lake called Lake Lilla, though. Stayed in a lodge whose common area had a fire log that kept us warm (yes, very warm) in the cold mountain night. View slideshow (32 photos).

Day 2: Montezuma Falls - Ocean Beach - Strahan. A day of three-hour bush walk to see some magnificent waterfalls. The walk itself wasn't so bad and the waterfalls were very impressive with an exciting walk on a suspension bridge, but it was just too cold and wet, wore me out a lot. Ocean Beach is a beach facing a longest stretch of ocean on the planet without a landmass between here and South America - not westbound, the other way around. View slideshow (35 photos).

Day 3: View of Queenstown - Nelson Falls - Lake St. Clair - Mount Field National Park (Horseshoe Falls and Russell Falls) - Hobert. Just a quick view over Queenstown followed by some walks to thundering Nelson Falls. Late afternoon was spent walking in a serene bush in the Mount Field National Park to find yet another two well-photographed waterfalls, namely Horseshoe Falls and Russell Falls along with old tall trees. View slideshow (43 photos).

Day 4: Port Arthur and some coastal views. Coming soon!

Day 5: Ross - Wine Glass Bay - wildlife park - Launceston. Coming soon!

Now I'm not planning to turn this into a travel blog, but as you may have sort of guessed if you have seen my photos from Tasmania, we ate our way with sandwiches and rolls for lunch and cooked ourselves dinners at hostel kitchen. In fact, out of the total of 7 days of my stay on the island, I ate out at a decent place only once, and it wasn't even a real Tasmanian dish. So in memory of (or lack thereof) food of the island under down under, I recently whipped up some self-declared Tassie dinner:

Gruyere and Onion Pies, based loosely on a recipe from A Shared Table (Viking, 2000), by Stephanie Alexander. In the book which is based on a TV series of the same title, Stephanie Alexander travels to different regions of Australia and features local producers and cooks and the like. I, of course, took the recipe from the section for Tasmania, although the cheese and onions could be specialties of anywhere, really.

The original recipe was for tart, but I couldn't bring myself to make short crust pastry dough myself, so simply used a store-bought puff pastry instead, lined it over the filling in dishes, and popped then into oven. Although, I made two versions of filling - one with pumpkin as suggested in the book, and the other with salmon and potato with lemon, as I thought salmon would be one of products that Tasmania is well known for. Both turned out safely yummy.

I managed to boost my Tasmanian night with some dessert:

Rosewater-scented Strawberry and Mascarpone Mousse with Carrot and Rosewater Granita and Macadamia Nut Shortbread. This was Tasmanian in a way that, lo and behold, it was based on a recipe by Chris Jackman, a chef at Choux Shop, a restaurant in Hobert, even though I turned this a little - well, totally different stuff (typical me). The original recipe appeared in the April 2006 issue of Gourmet Traveller magazine, and it was called Rose Geranium and Strawberry Mascarpone Charlotte with Carrot and Rosewater Sorbet. Now I couldn't be bothered to bake sponge, I simply left it out, hence mine was not charlotte any more. I also omitted rose geranium that is supposed to be used for the cream, as it is something I can't easily find in my neighborhood.

The cream was made by mixing up some cream, milk, sugar, rosewater, mascarpone, liquor and strawberries, while the granita was carrot juice, sugar, and rosewater. Use of rosewater or other flower water in desserts seems to be the flavor of the week, but the pairing with carrot juice sounded rather uncommon and intriguing, I guessed - and they went very well together, to my delight. I could have added a little more rosewater to both of the cream and granita, though.

Without doing the charlotte part, the whole thing was extremely simple to make, and it still managed to look pretty and had a complex flavor. My easy solution of replacement for the sponge was shortbread, which I forgot to include when shooting photos... you can call it typical of me, but I blame a Cascade I had had over dinner, the only true taste of Tasmania we really had that evening...

...Even if what I had been having the whole time while I was on the island was actually VB or Victoria Bitter, a more common beer from mainland Australia. Well, that's another story. I will eat and drink more locally, I promise to myself, if and when I find myself again on the beautiful island, which I really hope should happen sometime in the future... it's only matter of when.

May 19, 2006

may, autumn-summer-spring

Melbourne, morning, 50F degrees, beginning of winter

Somewhere in Asian, night, 85F dgrees, middle of summer

And Tokyo, afternoon, 70F degrees, end of (rather cold) spring

First lunch back home - "today's fish lunch set" with broiled marinated fish filets. Almost too typical a Japanese.

Yes I am back, finally - with lots of sweets, some wines, several extra pounds of weight (ouch!), and tons of photos. It's been about a week now since I returned from my eventful three-month stay in Australia and New Zealand. Life has been just as busy back here, but somehow my mind seems to be still drifting somewhere over the other hemisphere, and as far as blogging is concerned, I'm frankly overwhelmed by the amount of photos that I (almost too easily) took there. I don't even know where to start or how to describe all that I saw and did down under all this time; two months in Melbourne, several days each in Tasmania, Auckland, and Perth. I have been to many places and done many things, there's no doubt about it, but when I look at my pictures and think about things I see in them, what lies the very center of it is the people I met and spent my time with there. If it were not for them, my oz/nz stay this time around would have been not only far less fun but would not have happened at all - in a way, it was a journey to meet friends I had known from before and beyond. So my utmost thanks and appreciation go to those people, especially those who ever so kindly shared their precious time and roomspace. Thank you very much for putting me up, and putting up with me. I've had a wonderful time everywhere I've been to in Australia and New Zealand, and it's you that made it all that way.

Now, as you might have suspected, I still have a long way to go before I could be done with travelogging - I've got Tasmania, Auckland, Perth, and the last bit of Melbourne left. While busy working with the seemingly neverending task of photo-editing, I have at least some photos to share, ones I took when we did a Great Ocean Road drive back in early April.

great ocean road - 09great ocean road - 13great ocean road - 26great ocean road - 37great ocean road - 43
Click any of the thumbnails above or here to launch a slideshow of the entire set of my Great Ocean Road photos. More posts/photos should follow in a short while - or so I intend. Wish me luck!

May 5, 2006

fifth of may

... is Children's Day in Japan, but we don't have a child in the house at this moment, o well

So grab the glasses

And the liquids

Mix them up

And shake them up

Give it a good pour

Margarita, made with freshly squeezed lemon and lime juices; very smooth and refreshing, almost too easy to drink. Oops.

No margarita may be complete with some good Mexican food (or is it the other way around?)

Salsa, guacamole, and chili, all generously home-made, were served with some cheese, sour cream, jalapeno, coriander leaves, and lettuce to top some tortillas.

With corn chips with cheese alongside, the dinner went absolutely perfect.

Now, it was a total coincidence that we had some Mexican fare on El Cinco de Mayo, or the Fifth of May, a Mexico's national holiday; neither my friend who happend to decide on today's menu or her Aussie husband knew about the day, and I myself didn't know about it until I went to live in Hawaii a few years back. At the end of the day, it was a welcome coincidence - I mean, who decline an extra excuse to have good mexican food? I don't.

Anyhow, I have once again set my foot in Melbourne, generously greeted by my good friends and blessed with the infamous Melbourne gloomy autumn-winter weather.

And their cats, who seem to recognize me after theree weeks. Not a bad thing.

Okay, the weather may suck, but the place nevertheless offers plenty things for us to do. Especially when I am running out of my time...