Monthly Archives: September 2012

Kikuko Salad

When we traveled to Japan together last year, Naoto & his family introduced me to many new tastes, textures and flavor combinations. Some were pretty scary (I remember you, abalone!), some were pretty delicious (mmm…a hot dog surrounded by a flaky crust) but some were unforgettably tasty combinations that Naoto & I can recreate at home. This salad, which we named the Kikuko salad after my mother-in-law, is one of those crazy good combinations.


Kikuko salad

a head of iceberg lettuce

an 8oz package of kaiware (also known as radish sprouts and can be found in Asian grocery stores or substituted with pea sprouts found more commonly in regular grocery stores)

2 tomatoes

bran flakes (yes, the regular kind you find in the cereal aisle)

Kewpie mayonnaise (found in Asian grocery stores, I’m not sure there is a substitution for this…Japanese mayonnaise is slightly sweeter, richer and smoother than regular mayo)


Chop the iceberg lettuce into bite-sized pieces and put into serving bowl. Cut the sprouts in half and add in with the lettuce and mix well. Slice the tomatoes and place on top of the salad.

The bran flakes and Kewpie mayo are added at the table. Think of it like croutons and salad dressing.


If you’re anything like I was when this was placed before me at my mother-in-law’s table, you’re thinking:

What? Breakfast cereal on a salad? With mayonnaise?

But I’m serious when I say try it…because it’s delicious! The iceberg lettuce is crisp and fresh. The kaiware is slightly spicy, like a tiny mild radish. The tomatoes are bright and juicy. The bran flakes are sweet and crunchy. And the mayo is creamy and rich. Kikuko salad covers all of the taste bases.

If you try it, please let me know what you think! And…do you have any weird food combinations that you enjoy (but maybe others question)? Please share!


P.S. I’ll be back next week with a new Little Red Toolbox! It’s another Honor Flight week and I’m up to my ears in volunteer emails and veteran letters!

P.S. (part 2) Kewpie mayonnaise does contain MSG…so if you’re sensitive to that sort of thing, use sparingly. I personally have a numb tongue right now…




Tagged , ,

Home is a 1970s Apartment | The Autumn Balcony

My friend Peggy gifted us her old wicker loveseat last week. I am in love with the thing…it will be a perfect spot to cozy into with a good book next summer (and hopefully a few times this fall). New furniture means musical chairs–moving things around to make it work on the balcony. Since the spring, we’ve had a separate dining and seating areas out there. The wicker seat gives us more seating options for guests and makes it feel a little more living room-y out there. I love it.

Saturday, Naoto and I spent some time outside in the breezy sunshine trying to spruce things up on the balcony for fall. It’s that awkward time in the season when you have fall mums mixing with summery blooms, but–to me–the more blooms the better. (My mom was saying that she hasn’t bought a mum yet because her pink and purple petunias are still blooming like crazy…I told her I solved that problem by killing my petunias off in August!) Next spring, I think we will move the bird feeder and switch around the chairs and loveseat, but for now, we’re going to keep things as is (since most of the furniture will be coming in soon for the winter). I would also love to paint the floor grey–it’s this weird pale hospital-y green now–and get an all-weather area rug and outdoor pillows to make things even more comfortable out there.

The balcony is five by twenty feet, which is both big and small to me…big for an “urban” apartment and small for a girl who dreams of a country home with a wraparound porch. But it works for us to have a little cafe table for two and a seating area out there.

We were super-lucky to furnish and decorate the whole balcony with second hand furniture (the love seat, the green chairs and the black plant cart), sale items (the cafe set, shepherds hooks and all of the pots and plants) and gifts (the bird feeder and all of the bird houses were all made by my dad). We almost bought some stuff at Ikea when we first moved in, but my parents found the green chairs and table on Craigslist for half the price of ONE Ikea chair…isn’t that crazy?! We are so thankful to them for keeping an eye out for good second hand stuff!

Just for good measure (because all of the other posts have before & afters), here is what the balcony looked like when we first moved in…isn’t it amazing what a few flowers and some furniture can do?

Tagged , , , ,

a trip to the Japanese market

We make a trip to the Japanese grocery store, Mitsuwa, about once a month. It’s only about a thirty minute drive away from our home but it’s sometimes hard to get out there, so when we go, we go all out! We spend as much time as we want perusing the grocery aisles and picking out new treats to buy. I love Japanese snacks and sweets. Some of my favorites are pictured above. Salad Pretz are skinny “biscuits” that have a savory salad flavoring. Happy Turn (the blue bag) is a rice cracker with a really unique powdered flavoring on it…it’s hard to pinpoint what it tastes like, but it is delicious. On our last trip to Japan, I ate a snack bag of Happy Turn every day and I brought back six family-sized bags. (To be fair, a family-sized bag in Japan is much like a small serving by American standards.) Since then, Mitsuwa started carrying it so I don’t have to be a snack hoarder anymore. This bag of Happy Turn is a special “summer edition”. I’m not sure if that means it tastes different, or just that there is a fun beach scene on it…and my translator wasn’t very much help. Pocky (pronounced Pokey) is another skinny biscuit-style snack, but it’s sweet and not salty. It comes in all sorts of flavors (a few kinds of chocolate, strawberry, coconut…). This was the first time I’ve tried the mint–so good! (The box is actually empty because I couldn’t help myself.) And the blue tube is Ramune candy. I’ve been eating this candy since before I knew Naoto and like Happy Turn, it’s hard to pinpoint the taste…kind of like Sprite, but different.

Naoto loads up on Japanese cooking staples like rice, natto (fermented soybeans…definitely an acquired taste–and one that I will never acquire!) miso, tea, ramen noodles and vegetables. And we always check out the bottled beverages to see if there are any new flavors of Calpico, a milky, tangy beverage–we like lychee the best.

While Naoto pays for the groceries, I head to the book store and spend a massive amount of time painstakingly deciding which stickers and paper-y things to buy. This time, I bought some teeny cat stickers, some matryoshka doll stickers (I use them to highlight dates in my paper calendar…the little hole encircles important dates perfectly!), animal index stickers, petite to-do notebooks, and colorful cat gift enclosures.

A trip to Mitsuwa is always followed by a stop at our favorite Japanese restaurant, Izakaya Sankyu. (Sankyu deserves its own post soon and it will get one next time we visit.) It’s nice that there’s a small taste of Japan right here in Chicagoland to tide us over until we can plan another trip overseas.

Tagged ,

handmade is happiness #2

Our first autumn here, I asked my dad for one of his handmade bird feeders for a Christmas gift. I thought it would make a great addition to our balcony and it would give Presley and me some birdwatching opportunities during the winter. My parents have several feeders in their yard and it’s always fun to spot new birds when we visit. It turns out he was already building me this feeder and he brought it up to me that Thanksgiving! We didn’t fill it this summer because the birds are messy, leaving seed shells all over the balcony. (And, between you & me, last summer, some of the bird seed fell on the grass below our balcony and grew into crabgrass! Oops!) Once the temperature drops, we will fill it up again. Presley and I are already looking forward to cardinal-watching this winter!

Here’s a close-up of the little chickadee drawings on the side.

My dad has been building bird feeders and bird houses for as long as I remember. And he is generous to give them to our family and friends. Besides the feeder, we have three of his bird houses on the balcony.

The one made with reclaimed wood,

the barn-style

and the Colonial house-style (also made with reclaimed wood). This one sits on the floor, and is meant more for decoration than an actual bird home.

And, even though no birds have taken up residence in any of the houses, I still have hopes that someday we will have a little neighbor or two out there!

Tagged , , ,

cocktail perfected: the horse feather

Oh, how I love the fact that I make internet friends who love cocktails, too! Meryl has mentioned Horse Feathers a couple of times on Instagram and on the blog, and I was curious to try it. The Gin Gin Mule opened my eyes to the deliciousness of ginger in cocktails, so when Meryl said the Horse Feather was the same, but with whiskey, I was eager for a cool night to try it out. We went out to dinner with our neighbor friends last week (We went to Skrine Chops, our favorite restaurant in our neighborhood.) and came back to our apartment for a cozy night of whiskey and ginger.

Horse Feather

2oz whiskey (We used Cedar Ridge, our favorite Iowa standard.)

4oz ginger beer (You can use ginger ale, but we all loved the spiciness of the ginger beer.)

2 dashes of bitters (Some recipes call for omitting the bitters when you use ginger beer, but again, we all thought the bitters added a little something.)

Pour everything over ice in a rocks glass and stir. Enjoy on a chilly fall night with friends.


my little red toolbox | Sakura Stardust Clear Gel Pen

I’m afraid that the fabulousness of this pen is not going to be conveyed in my amateur  photographs…

Remember when gel pens were super-popular? I gave them as holiday gifts to my students when I first started working in education…the kids loved them! I personally never saw the draw…until recently…

Sakura’s Stardust Gelly Roll in clear is my favorite tool to use when I want to create a little sparkly accent on cards, envelopes and decorations. It works just like a gel pen, but it leaves a little trail of glittery ink behind. I used it to color in the acorns on the envelope and to outline the acorns on the decorations (which are part of this Acorn Garland Kit from Paper Source).

It is pretty subtle (you can barely see it on the lighter papers of the acorn decorations, but in person it is noticeable), so I wouldn’t really recommend writing a letter with this particular gel pen, but the Stardust line comes in a bunch of colors, if glittery writing is your thing. I personally just love it because it’s a mess-free way to add a little pizzazz to my projects… without the risk of getting glitter in my eye!

*This and all posts about my little red toolbox are not sponsored posts. I just thought it would be fun to share my favorite tools for paper crafting. For more about my little red toolbox, go here.

Tagged , , , , ,

settling into fall

I’m not a huge fan of smelling up the house with fake fragrance. You can keep your Glade Plug-Ins and that weird air freshener that automatically sprays when you’re in the room. But I do enjoy a nice, subtle candle scent every now and again. And I tend to change out my scents with the season.

My favorite candles lately are Paddywax. I just put away the summery scented Newly Mown Hay. (It smells deliciously of Saturday mornings in my childhood home when all of the neighbors mowed their lawns.) But the days of yard work, flip flops and sunhats are numbered. The air feels crisp and the nights are chilly. It feels so good to sleep under our heavy blanket with the windows open, blowing in fresh fall air.  Yesterday, I pulled out the cold weather candle: Edgar Allan Poe. To me, it smells like fall–nice and spicy warm cardamom, absinthe and sandlewood. I’m going to light it tonight and curl up on the couch with my book club stories for October. We are reading three detective stories, in the spirit of Halloween, and one of them happens to be Poe.

Breaking out the fall candle opens up the gates for fall decorating…and pumpkin lattes…I see some autumn bliss in my future…

Tagged , , , , ,

planning…election party 2012

I love politics. I love the strategy, the speeches, the photo-ops, the over-analysis from pundits, the debates, the fact that adults in Washington DC can act like children and somehow it’s totally acceptable… I love how Jon Stewart & Stephen Colbert have such a keen eye for the craziness and I love that Saturday Night Live ups its game on election years. (Oh, how the candidates give us so much to laugh about!)

Naoto & I have been hosting election parties since 2004. The party in 2008 was the best, complete with Election Bingo, campaign cocktails, Chicago-style hot dogs and Presley dressing up (under much duress) as an elephant.

There are less than fifty days until election night, and I am in full planning mode. I’ve been stocking up on red, white and blue paper-y goodness, washi tape and (non-partisan) election buttons. I’ve been digging through my collection of vintage political paraphernalia (George H.W. Bush paper dolls, anyone?) I’ve been pinning ideas for cocktails and snacks and decorations like crazy. I’ve been trying to talk Presley into dressing up again. (She put her paw down…she will not be dressing up in 2012.) And I’ve been researching televisions…because we want our guests to be able to see the results on our TV.

That’s what is keeping me busy today. (That and master bath remodel planning…) Do you host an election party and wait up to see the results with all of your friends? Or do you go to bed and catch the news in the morning? And if you’re not in the US, are elections a huge deal where you are?

Tagged , ,

handmade is happiness #1

Naoto likes to joke that my iPad is my favorite gift (Presley gave it to me for my birthday this year. She is very thoughtful & generous.) While I do use the iPad quite often, I would never consider something hard, cold and electronic as my fave…no matter how much I use it.

But he did get me thinking, what are some of my favorite gifts? So, I’ve decided to share some of my best-loved gifts here on the blog…

One of the first gifts that came to mind are these kitchen towels that my mother made for my wedding shower.

Growing up, I knew my mom had embroidery supplies, but only because we pilfered the floss for friendship bracelets. It never occurred to the childhood me that she actually could embroider…so imagine my surprise when I opened such a heartfelt and handmade gift!

When visitors see the towels hanging in my kitchen, they are sometimes surprised that I use the towels. (What else am I supposed to do with them? Keep them folded up in a drawer?) Well, I do use them, a lot, for everything from drying dishes and drying herbs to sopping up messes (everything I do in the kitchen results in a mess lately) and wearing them as aprons. And every time I use them, I think of my mom, the ultimate mother & homemaker. xoxo

Tagged , ,

cocktail perfected: the sidecar

A few weeks ago, we had friends over to try out my third classic cocktail of the summer–the sidecar.

Admission: I had never had cognac or brandy before this. Needless to say, brandy will be finding its way into some more cocktails this fall, I promise.


2oz cognac

1/2oz fresh lemon juice

1/2oz Cointreau

Shake with ice in a cocktail shaker and serve in a cocktail glass. Enjoy on a summer afternoon, or (as in our case) use it as payment for a haircut. Thanks, James, for working your magic on Naoto’s unruly hair!

Tagged ,