Monthly Archives: April 2014

Bigfoot In My Mailbox

Big Foot, Sasquatch, MythWhen April was in town we somehow got on the subject of Bigfoot. I admitted to her that I am fascinated by the creature, and while I don’t necessarily believe in its existence, I think it’s fun to wonder about. Also, one of my favorite movies from childhood is Harry and the Hendersons. And no, I am not ashamed.

A few weeks after April’s visit, the Bigfoot postcard (bottom center) arrived in my mailbox. April remembered! But she wasn’t done yet. Shortly after we returned from Japan, I opened my mailbox and found three cards from April–it was a Bigfoot party! Two of them are birthday cards. One says, “I hope your birthday is unbelievable.” And the other says, “Your age is a mystery” and it includes Loch Ness and UFOs! And the last one–my favorite–is a die-cut of Bigfoot that says, “Un-believe-able.”

April mentioned that she didn’t know Bigfoot was a trend in stationery. I didn’t either, but it’s a trend I can get behind. Goodbye chevron, hello Bigfoot!

Thanks, April!

(FYI, from the top center: Analog Supply Co, Greenwich Letterpress, Quill & Fox and Blackbird Letterpress.)

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The Enchanted April

book club, Elizabeth von ArnimFor April, our book group read The Enchanted April by Elizabeth von Arnim. It was my pick, based on a recommendation by Kathy, who has impeccable taste in old books. I don’t know if it was the fact that we read it just as spring started to creep into Chicago or that being home from Japan has made me want to travel again, but I looooooved reading this book. It made me crave spring and flowers and sunshine in the worst way, but I loved it.

The story of The Enchanted April is based around four women from London who rent an Italian castle for the month of April. The women are not friends, in fact, they are strangers, and have very different ideas for their vacations in Italy. Two are in kind of sad marriages and are looking forward to getting away from their husbands for a bit. And two are single, one is an attractive young woman who wants to get away from her admirers and the other is a cranky widow. Each woman goes through a transformation during her stay in the castle, coming into her own out of the shadow of the life in London. The Enchanted April is not an action-packed book, but the story moves quickly and the writing is both beautiful and funny at the same time.

Do you want to hear some of my favorite parts? This first passage comes when Mrs. Fisher (the widow) is served macaroni at lunch:

…Mrs. Fisher had never cared for macaroni, especially this long, worm-shaped variety. She found it difficult to eat–slippery, wriggling off her fork, making her look, she felt, undignified when, having got it as she supposed into her mouth, ends of it yet hung out. Always, too, when she ate it she was reminded of Mr. Fisher. He had during their married life behaved very much like macaroni. He had slipped, he had wriggled, he had made her feel undignified, and when at last she had got him safe, as she thought, there had invariably been little bits of him that still, as it were, hung out.

And, when Mrs. Fisher tries to find out what Rose’s husband does for a living:

“Who is your husband?” Asked Mrs. Fisher, carefully adjusting another nut between the crackers.

“Who should he be,” said Rose quickly, aroused at once by Mrs. Fisher’s to irritation, “except Mr. Arbuthnot?”

“I mean, of course, what is Mr. Arbuthnot?”

And Rose, gone painfully red at this, said after a tiny pause, “My husband.”

Naturally Mrs. Fisher was incensed. She couldn’t have believed it of this one, with her decent hair and gentle voice, that she too should be impertinent.

And, when Rose, who is deeply conservative and religious, is getting dressed:

She dressed with care, though she knew Mr. Briggs would no longer see her, but it gave her pleasure to see how pretty, while she was about it, she could make herself look; and very nearly she stuck a crimson camellia in her hair down by her ear. She did hold it there for a minute, and it looked almost sinfully attractive and was exactly the color of her mouth, but she took it out again with a smile and a sigh and put it in the proper place for flowers, which is water. She mustn’t be silly, she thought. Think of the poor. Soon she would be back with them again, and what would a camellia behind her ear seem like then? Simply fantastic.

The Enchanted April was a perfect spring read, and I highly recommend it as a great, light garden read. Perfect with a cup of tea.

In May we are reading Call It Sleep by Henry Roth. I imagine it will be sliiiightly darker and heavier. I’ll let you know.


Scenes from Hasegawa Happy Hours-March Edition

cocktail, hasegawa happy hourBefore April comes to an end, I figured I should do my March Hasegawa Happy Hour update. Sorry for the third cocktail related post in a row…I promise more variety for the rest of the week! cocktail, hasegawa happy hourIn March, we had two happy hours in Forest Park and two happy hours in Tokyo. And because our schedules were a mess before vacation, both “home” Hasegawa Happy Hours happened at local restaurants, Amelia’s and Fat Duck. cocktail, hasegawa happy hourIn Japan, every night was Hasegawa Happy Hour–well, every night that I was actually awake for dinner anyway. I’ve already shared some cocktails at Bunbougu Cafe and our tapas night in Tokyo, so I thought I would share a couple of interesting cocktails I had at a couple of izakayas in our hotel neighborhood. The first one, shown above, is a grapefruit sour. A sour is a cocktail offered at izakayas that consists of shochu (Japanese vodka), soda and fruit juice. Sours are my izakaya drink of choice. This particular izakaya offers really freshly squeezed citrus in their sours–as in you squeeze the fruit at the table and add the juice to the shochu and soda. cocktail, hasegawa happy hourcocktail, hasegawa happy hourIt was delicious! cocktail, hasegawa happy hourAnother sour I enjoyed (at a different izakaya in the neighborhood) was a kiwi sour with freshly muddled kiwi floating around the drink. It was good–in spite of the fact that I was constantly thinking about kiwi seeds in my teeth! (Naoto was nice enough to warn me.)

So those were the Hasegawa Happy Hour adventures in March. It feels like so long ago…I’ll be back next week with an April recap, all while dreaming of warmer temperatures so we can take the HHH show on the balcony!

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Cocktail Perfected: Pining for the Queen

pining for the queen cocktail,, north shore distillery ginAs I mentioned yesterday, we were given an opportunity to create our own cocktails at the North Shore Distillery cocktail class. It wasn’t hard to choose which spirit would be the base of our cocktail–gin. Then we all kind of just started adding what sounded fun to work with. I wanted to experiment with the Earl Grey simple syrup and then we decided lemon and rosemary would be fun to add to the mix. What we ended up creating, if I may say so myself, is a pretty tasty spring cocktail. Brett came up with the name…genius, no?

The rosemary and the Earl Grey flavors are very subtle, but the hints of flavor complement the gin and lemon perfectly. I have a feeling this is going to be the year of the herbal cocktail around here so I’ve decided to devote a portion of our garden plot to cocktail-making ingredients like basil, lavender, rosemary and thyme. Now, it just needs to warm up so we can get started!

Pining for the Queen

2 oz gin (We used North Shore Distiller’s Gin No. 6.)

1 sprig fresh rosemary

1/2 oz freshly squeezed lemon

1/2 oz Earl Grey simple syrup (recipe below)

In a cocktail shaker, lightly muddle the sprig of rosemary with the simple syrup…very lightly, as in barely bruise the leaves. Add gin, lemon, tea syrup and ice. Shake and strain into a cocktail glass and garnish with lemon zest.

Enjoy outdoors on a spring afternoon…or while watching the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Earl Grey Simple Syrup

1 cup water

1 cup sugar

2-3 Earl Grey tea bags (or loose tea equivalent)

Boil water and steep tea according to recommendation. (I used 2 tea bags and steeped for 6 minutes.)

Add in sugar and simmer until dissolved. Store in a glass container in the refrigerator for up to one month.


Shaking Cocktails at the North Shore Distillery

cocktail class at North Shore DistilleryEarlier this month, we headed back up to North Shore Distillery for a cocktail class. North Shore recently started offering cocktail classes in their tasting room. The classes teach basics of cocktail making through four seasonal cocktails, three are pre-determined and one is self-created. cocktail class at North Shore DistilleryWe had three people in our party (Brett, Naoto and me) and each cocktail is shared, so no one was drinking four entire cocktails. Naoto was our designated driver, only sampling a sip of each cocktail. There was also a snack spread with meats and cheeses, chips, salsa and cupcakes…perfect cocktail bites. There were more than twenty other people in the class, but it felt cozy and comfortable because the North Shore team created a really fun and laid back atmosphere. cocktail class at North Shore Distillerycocktail class at North Shore DistilleryBrett, Naoto and I split up the cocktail-making duties, squeezing, muddling, measuring and pouring our ways through the cocktail list. We made a Gin Smash (North Shore Gin No. 11, lemon, simple syrup and mint), a Moscow Mule (North Shore Vodka, lime and delicious Fever Tree ginger beer) and an Eden’s Prayer (North Shore Tahitian Vanilla Vodka, pomegranate, orange liqueur, and lime). Each one was light and perfect for spring. I now need a channel knife (shown by Brett above) so I can create lovely long spiral garnishes for my cocktails at home. cocktail class at North Shore DistilleryAnd, I don’t have a lemon squeezer (shown above) at home (we have a reamer style juicer) so it was fun to use one and experiment with a new tool. cocktail class at North Shore DistilleryFor our last cocktail, Brett, Naoto and I came up with the perfect combination of gin, citrus, herbal and sweet. I will share the recipe tomorrow.

(Because right now, I’m getting ready to watch the Blackhawks game and I’m going to need to make a cocktail!)

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Spending the Yen 3: Sakura Stationery

spending the yenIt was hard to resist the pull of the sakura in Japan this time of year. I got swept up in sakura season mainly because I’m a sucker for that pretty pink flower, but also because things in Japan are merchandised so well…stores really get into their themes, especially when the spring flower emerges. Poor Naoto, every time he saw the pink displays, he knew we were going to linger in the store just a few minutes longer.

Other than the sakura postcards I sent from Japan, I came home with some extra postcards, stickers, tiny cards and envelopes and kaishi papers (the two folded stacks at the top of the picture). Kaishi papers are traditionally used as table decorations or mats for sweets served at tea ceremonies. I bought some Mt. Fuji kaishi papers during our last trip and have been using them as stationery. That’s my plan for the sakura ones too. spending the yenThe tiny cards and envelopes are my favorites, even though they aren’t very practical. And the Mt. Fuji sakura stickers have a lovely texture and gold foil accents. spending the yen, sakuraSakura season might be over, but I’m having fun using my sakura stationery here at home. It is definitely early spring here (though it’s cold again, after our beautiful day Sunday) so sending flowery mail just feels right.

Oh hey…this is my 400th post! 


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Tapas in Tokyo

Los Borrachos tapas in tokyoSo maybe you don’t think of Spanish tapas when you think of places to eat in Tokyo, but like any large city, Tokyo offers up foods from all over the world. I love seeing Japan’s take on foreign foods. tapas in tokyoWe found this tiny tapas bar, Los Borrachos 3 (translation: the drunks), near our hotel and decided to check it out. If anything, we were intrigued by the sign that reminds customers that Los Borrachos is a bar, not a barber. (Apparently people were confused by the striped pole near the sign.) tapas in tokyotapas in tokyoThe restaurant, located on the second floor, was warm and cozy and filled with mariachi music (yes…that’s Mexico, not Spain, but it was quite festive). tapas in tokyoTokyo restaurants, Los BorrachosTo start, we enjoyed beer and sangria along with Alioli Potato Salad (pictured above after I’d eaten most of it…I got a head start because Naoto ran back to the hotel for my camera). And we had Pollo al Ajillo, chicken fried in garlic sauce (pictured at the top along with another beer and some cava). Los Borrachos And we enjoyed paella (sadly not pictured) and one of my favorite things–a salad made with fresh cabbage, manchego cheese and iberico ham with a vinaigrette. It might sound weird, but it was so simple and fresh and delicious…and we are hoping to recreate it at home for a Hasegawa Happy Hour soon. tapas in tokyoAnother Tokyo restaurant, another handwritten menu…I am charmed by you, Tokyo.

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Easter Sunday & Roasted Grapes

dunkin donutsYesterday was Easter, but even better than that, it finally felt like real spring outside–warm enough to wear a dress and spend some time outside writing letters, and warm enough to sleep with the windows open. Bliss. blue skyEven my “anniversary tree” is budding and looking more spring-like. I’m excited to plant some flowers and plan a balcony party or two. roasted grape appetizerWe spent Easter evening at our neighbor-friend, Karen’s. We joined her family party, which included Karen’s ninety-nine year old grandmother (who didn’t look a day over seventy-five!)

I made an appetizer of roasted grapes and manchego cheese and like last week, it seemed like a hit. (It really is hard to tell if people are just being polite or if they truly love your cooking.) I love easy and unique recipes (much like my beloved ricotta) and this one is going to be a new go-to for happy hours and dinners around here. Also, I bet it would be tasty with the ricotta…

Roasted Grapes with Honey & Thyme

(adapted slightly from Right at Home)

1 pound seedless red grapes

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 tablespoon fresh thyme (stems removed)

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon pepper

1 tablespoon honey

Preheat oven to 400°F. Line a cookie sheet with foil and set aside.

Wash grapes and remove from stems. Dry the grapes on a tea towel to remove excess moisture and place in a large bowl. Add olive oil, thyme leaves, salt and pepper. Stir to coat.

Pour grapes onto cookie sheet and place in oven until skins pop (about fifteen minutes). There will be a little bit of grape juice in the pan.

Remove from oven and drizzle with honey.

Serve warm or at room temperature with manchego cheese and crackers.

Because I was serving the grapes with cheese and crackers, I used a slotted spoon to transfer them from the pan to the serving bowl. If you were serving the grapes with chicken or desserts, the juice would be a delicious addition. And while the original recipe called for two teaspoons of thyme, I think extra thyme is a welcomed flavor, especially with the manchego cheese.

appetizer tableKaren made her famous pimento cheese (along with a traditional Easter dinner) and made us feel like family. Thanks for a fun time, Karen!!

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Treats from the Mail Ladies

Japan Post OfficeOf all the places I’ve visited in Japan–other than Mister Donut–I think I’ve visited various post offices the most. Each one carries the same stamps and postcards (for the most part), but some have better selections of gifty things than others. I have a stack of treats that I purchased from the yubinkyoku (post office) and I will share those next week. Today, I’m going to share the gifts I’ve gotten from the post office ladies. Japan Post OfficeThe first time Naoto and I went to Japan, we visited Okaasan (his mom) in Niigata. Much to my delight, she lived right across the street from the post office!! We stayed with her for three days, and every day I visited the post office for more postcards or stamps or something. By the end of our visit, the ladies in the post office recognized me and they appreciated my enthusiasm for Japanese stamps. On my last visit, they presented me with this tiny blue bunny–a toothpick holder–as a thank you for my patronage. Japan Post OfficeI was so surprised. No one at a post office had given me a gift before…and the little blue bunny is so sweet with the little cherry blossoms on the side. He lives in my china cabinet and comes out every spring for Easter. japan post officeThis trip, in Tokyo, I visited several post offices, but mostly I went to the one near our hotel in Sangenjaya. They had a good selection of post cards and spring stamps and the ladies were patient with my browsing. (How many glue sticks do I need?) On one of our lasts days, I went in to buy another sheet of stamps and the woman behind the counter, who had helped me throughout the two weeks, presented me with a pink hand towel. It says “Thank you very much, [from your] postal host.”

Naoto compared the gifts to the free toaster you used to get in American banks when you opened an account. He said that the gifts are a way to thank frequent patrons. Either way, I’m thankful to the Japan Post ladies for the treats and I look forward to visiting them again next year.

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Peggy’s 50th Birthday Party

Peggy's 50th birthdayTaking a break from all the Japan posts to share another party hosted by Peggy…

The “other” Peggy in our book group, Peggy L, is turning fifty this month, so a few of us got together to celebrate, and as usual, (hostess) Peggy outdid herself. The table, the cocktails, the dinner and the dessert were “springy” and amazing. Peggy's 50th birthdayPeggy's 50th birthdayThe table was full of pastels, bunnies, eggs and flowers. The sun was setting, leaving a dark glow in the room, and showing off the pretty pastels perfectly. Peggy's 50th birthdayI made an appetizer of cheese and roasted grapes (I promise to share the recipe soon!) and Peggy made Rossini cocktails. We drink a lot of sparkling wine cocktails at Peggy’s and I love every one of them, but this one–with the bright strawberry puree–was perfect for spring. Peggy's 50th birthdayWhile we were eating appetizers and catching up, we used these sweet vintage cocktail napkins. They were hand-embroidered and each said something different: wipe, dab, pat and blot. Aren’t they wonderful? I love the handwritten script.

We enjoyed asparagus soup and a chicken, cashew, swiss cheese, strawberry salad. Then we took a break from eating to open gifts before Peggy brought out the cake. Peggy's 50th birthdayThe cake, while not a traditional decorated birthday cake, was divine…coconut and Meyer lemon, moist and delicious. Yum. I regret not bringing a piece home.

Thanks for another fun night, Peggy!

And Happy 50th, Peggy L! Enjoy your Irish Adventure!!

P.S. To see other “Peggy Parties” go here.

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