Monthly Archives: May 2014

Garden Beginnings

forest park community gardenWe’ve been slowly planting our garden plot over the past couple of weeks. So far we’ve planted two Brandywine tomatoes, two Juliet tomatoes, one yellow pear tomato, peas, flowers and a loofah. Our loofah didn’t make it last year but we thought we’d try it again anyway. So far, the seeds have done nothing. Again.forest park community garden

We decided to skip the root vegetables since ours failed last year. (The beets didn’t do anything and the daikon were so skinny they were almost nonexistent.) Tomatoes and peas and flowers…and maybe a cucumber or some lettuce. We’ll see. We still have about a third of our plot left to work with.

Today I’m working on planting some climbers on the balcony and trying to come up with some sort of notebook to hold my seed packets for reference during the season. Last year I thought I’d be better about keeping a garden journal and I failed miserably. This year…it’s going to be different. (Hopefully.)

Happy gardening!!


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Twinkle Lights

condo balconyA few weeks ago, my dad put in an outlet for our balcony. We’ve been here four years exactly this weekend and I can only say whyyyy didn’t we do this sooner? The outlet gave us the option to add twinkle lights outside. I plugged them in last night and they seriously transformed the humble balcony into an extra summer room for relaxing, for Hasegawa Happy Hours, for parties…endless possibilities.
condo balconyThe balcony is alllllmost done. I still have a few things I want to do, like plant a climbing flower, either a morning glory, black-eyed Susan vine (thanks for the suggestion, Mr. Brownthumb!) or a cardinal climber. And I have a couple of other flowers on my wish list (as always).

I’m meeting my parents today to do a little bit of plant shopping. I’m really hoping to have the balcony all set by the weekend. The weather has been so weird here–either blazing hot or unseasonably chilly or raining. None of those situations are making it easy to finish things up out there. Spring in Chicago…I wouldn’t have it any other way.

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Japan Does It Better 14: Baskets For Your Handbag

bunbougu cafeHave you ever thought about how gross the bottom of your handbag is?

Here in the states, unless there is a spare chair at the table, our handbags usually end up on the floor at restaurants and bars. This is mainly because–at least where I live–hanging it on the back of a chair is like asking someone to take it. So the options are holding it in your lap or setting it on the floor by your feet so you can keep track of it. It’s a pain and it’s disgusting, but those are the only options.

This is where Japan Does It Better. In Japan, it is considered unsanitary to put your handbag on the floor. So, most restaurants have bins or baskets at each table for your belongings (handbags, shopping bags, diaper bags…) The handbag baskets above are at Bunbougu Cafe and they are huge enough to hold a long day’s worth of stationery shopping.

A safe, clean place for your belongings…another way Japan Does It Better!

To see more JDIB posts, go here.

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LWA Lab: Mail Art Master

LWA LabOn Sunday, my friend Karen and I went to the very first ever Letter Writers Alliance Laboratory. We drank and ate envelope-shaped cookies and an array of other snacks while Donovan and Kathy wore lab coats and went over the basics and tips and tricks about mail art, encouraging us to push the envelope (pun intended) when it comes to sending mail. As part of the class, we each got a mail art kit, complete with loads of envelopes and vintage paper bits, washi tape, adhesives, a map, an envelope template all in a handy carrying case. LWA labYou can see some of my bits above. I sat at the seat with the orange mail art kit. (Everyone got a different color.) All of the kits were amazing, but I’m so glad I picked mine. So many of the pieces inside were perfect for certain pen pals  and  I got the map of Illinois (shown on the envelope above) which has both my current town and my hometown included in it! (My hometown has a tiny population of 1100…it never shows up on maps!!) I only made one envelope from the template and decorated one envelope during our free time…I was too busy talking and listening to everyone’s fun mail ideas. It’s so much fun gathering with fellow mail lovers outside of my mailbox! LWA LabFor our last mail art project, we each received a giant pencil to mail. We wrote our recipients’ addresses right on the pencil, posted it with stamps and then later dropped it into a neighboring mailbox.  LWA labOur pencils dropped into the mailbox with a thump, mingling with all the other pencils from the workshop. I think the letter carrier who empties this box is going to have quite a surprise today!

Thanks for a fantastic afternoon, LWA!

(To see more pictures from the workshop, you can look under #LWALab on Instagram.)

P.S. Remember when I mailed a pigeon?


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Behind on the Balcony

potted plants for balconyI’m behind on getting our balcony all summer ready.

I looked back into the blog archives to find that in 2012, I was all planted by May 9th. And last summer, I was potting flowers on May 15th. This year…well it’s May 23rd and I’m still not quite started.

potted plants for balconyYesterday I went to look for flowers but came home pretty empty handed. I bought one big hanging pot of geraniums since most of mine didn’t make it through the winter. (They may have been a little bit neglected in the water department.) And last weekend I bought the fuchsia above. Its flowers are so interesting and fun. The two fuchsia plants don’t quite fill out the pot as much as I’d like so I bought an accent plant to tuck into one side. We have a few perennials leftover from last year and two mint plants potted, but it’s looking rather bare out my window at the moment.

Oh and in other devastating news, my hen & chicks, which I’ve had since we moved here in 2010, died this year. I’ve left them out over the winter every year, but this year proved too cold for them. Poor things. I feel like I’ve lost some old friends.

My dad put in an outdoor outlet for us, so we can hang lights and make it a party-like atmosphere out there and I bought some fun new pillows for the love seat. Yesterday I spent some time sweeping up and moving furniture around. Hopefully we’ll make some progress out there this weekend (and in our community garden plot too!) and I’ll have more to share next week!

Have a good weekend!

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Homemaker’s Challenge #4: Barrel-Aged Cocktails

oak barrel, barrel aged cocktailsI’ve been intrigued by barrel-aged cocktails ever since I had the Foghorn at Girl & the Goat last summer. When I got home and googled the ingredients, I kept coming across the Martinez which led me to the barrel-aged Martinez. I was really excited to try aging cocktails, especially once I poked around the internet a little bit more and realized you could age just about anything (minus fresh ingredients) to make a more mellow and slightly different cocktail. I researched and researched barrels vs wood chips. Aging in a barrel seemed more “authentic” and fun, but shipping wood chips was a more economical option. But when it came down to it, aging my first cocktails in a barrel just made me more excited about the project, so I went with that.

So back in December (notice the Christmas decorations in the picture above) I ordered my barrel from Oak Barrels Ltd. Their prices seemed reasonable (though, I’ve never ordered a barrel before, so take that for what it’s worth) and when I asked a question about their manufacturing process, I received a clear, friendly and positive response. Their barrels are made by a cooper in Mexico who sources the wood from American barrels. I bought the 1-liter black hoop barrel. I was going to go higher end with the galvanized hoops or the brass hoops, but the barrels can only be used three to five times before they don’t seal anymore, so I figured I would buy the least expensive barrel this time since I was just experimenting.
DSC_0043The barrel is hilariously tiny, but mighty. It holds thirty-three ounces which is enough for about eleven magically aged cocktails. I followed the directions and rinsed the barrel and filled it with water for a few days so it could swell and seal properly. Then I rinsed it some more and I was ready for mixing.

Then I used my math “skills” to create the recipe, basically dividing how many cocktails I could get out of a one liter barrel and then multiplying the basic recipe for a Martinez by that amount. Because the recipes for a Martinez vary greatly–some have a 2:1 ratio of vermouth to gin, some have a 2:1 ration of gin to vermouth, some are 50/50, I felt like I had a little freedom to play around with my recipe to make it work for the barrel size. Here’s my “recipe” for a one liter barrel:

Barrel-Aged Martinez

21 oz gin (I used Letherbee because I happened to have two bottles on hand.)

11 oz sweet vermouth

1 3/8 oz maraschino liqueur

a few dashes of orange bitters

Using a funnel, add all ingredients to the barrel. Put in the stopper and swish things around. Then let the barrel hang out on the counter for a week or two, rolling it around every day or two and strain into a bottle when it’s ready (1-2 weeks).

Once your cocktail is bottled, pour the desired amount into a cocktail shaker filled with ice and shake until chilled. Pour into a cocktail glass and garnish with an orange peel. It’s kind of nice to have a ready-made cocktail in your cabinet!


Since the one liter is such a small barrel, things aged pretty quickly. (Oak Barrels Ltd recommends 1-2 weeks of aging for this size.) I started tasting on the seventh day and ended up bottling mine on the twelfth day. I just used an empty Letherbee bottle and a mason jar for the overflow.

I think my first try was a success. The barrel aged Martinez is richer and deeper than the freshly made version. I think it’s going to be fun to experiment with a few old favorites to see how they change once they are aged. I have a long list of cocktails I want to try in barrels this summer…stay tuned!

To see more Homemaker’s Challenge posts, go here.


Trader Joe’s Panko-Breaded Tilapia

trader Joes, tilapia, panko breaded, frozen, bulldog sauceIt’s been awhile since I’ve talked about Trader Joe’s…

Last month, Naoto brought home a box of frozen fish. I’m not usually a fan of frozen fish, but I agreed to try this because it was Panko-breaded tilapia filets. Panko breadcrumbs are the best breadcrumbs. (Panko could have its own Japan Does It Better post!) And tilapia is my favorite fish because it’s not too fishy and it has a nice texture. I’ve eaten several meals of panko-breaded tilapia since then. I’m a fan.

trader joe's The box comes with four filets, each individually wrapped, making it perfect for work widows like me. I just take one out, pop it on a cookie sheet and bake it for twenty-five minutes, flipping once at twelve minutes. The panko breading is thick and crispy and the fish is moist. We love it topped with our favorite Japanese condiment, Bull-Dog sauce. Bull-Dog sauce is used most often for tonkatsu (panko breaded pork). It is kind of like America’s Heinz 57 sauce but fruitier and tangier…it’s hard to explain, but it’s delicious, especially on fried foods because the tanginess complements the heaviness of the breading. Trader Joe recommends topping the tilapia with their corn salsa, but trust me…nothing is going to beat Bull-Dog sauce! (You can find it in Asian markets.)

We had this for dinner on Sunday night along with couscous and a tasty salad (painstakingly chopped by Naoto-the-slicing & dicing-perfectionist.)

If you’d like to see more Trader Joe’s posts, go here.

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Please note that this post and this website has no affiliation with Hot Pots Biz. 
Shabu ShabuOne of the many things I wanted to eat in Japan this time around was shabu-shabu. Shabu-shabu is a meal of thinly sliced beef that is cooked in water at the table. We’d eaten it at Naoto’s colleague’s house a long time ago and it’s fun and tasty so it’s been on my Tokyo wish list to try the real deal.

We found a shabu-shabu restaurant in Oka-san’s (Naoto’s mom’s) neighborhood and popped in for lunch one afternoon. It was a long lunch, but everything was presented so beautifully that it was nice to take some time to savor the presentation, the food and the company. Shabu ShabuWhile we enjoyed tiny dishes of salads and appetizer bites, our server brought out a big heavy pot of water seasoned with citrus and turned on the burner. Once the water was boiling, she brought out a tray of thinly sliced beef and a basket of vegetables. The vegetables are pictured above through the steam of the water. We had cabbage, mushrooms, seaweed, scallions, carrots, tofu and bean sprouts. Have you ever seen such a romantic basket of vegetables?

Shabu ShabuThe beef is sliced so thinly it is almost see-through, allowing it to cook quickly in the hot water. You pick up a slice with chopsticks and put it in the water (still holding on!) Once you’ve swished it into a figure eight, the beef is cooked. Swish, swish…that’s all it takes. To me, the best part is the dipping sauces–a thick sesame sauce and a ponzu (citrus) sauce–for the meat and vegetables. The ponzu sauce is so tangy and a perfect match with the savory beef!

Most of the vegetables took a little bit longer to cook, so we left them in the water while we swished the beef and ate them with the sauces in between bites.

Once all of the beef and vegetables were eaten, the server brought out another dish of thin glass noodles to cook in the shabu shabu broth. I ate those noodles with the ponzu sauce as well. sakura ice creamAnd, even though our meal was enormous, I couldn’t resist sakura ice cream for dessert. It was vacation after all.



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LWA Address Stamp

letter writers allianceMy friend Karen gave me the most thoughtful birthday gift–a custom Letter Writers Alliance member address stamp. I’ve been wanting one for a long time, but never bought one because Naoto and I have two address stamps already so it didn’t feel practical to buy another. But those two stamp have our shared name, Hasegawa. I really wanted one with MY name, since really, most of the mail that goes out of our door is from me to my pen pals and not from us as a family.

That’s why the address stamp was such a perfect gift–it’s not something I would have bought for myself but it was something I really wanted.letter writers allianceAnd because address stamps can be very personal, Karen set everything up with Kathy and Donovan and they whipped up a gift certificate for the stamp. That way, I could pick out how my name would look.

LWA address stampThe stamp is teeny–“about the size of a postage stamp” (according to the LWA site) and it is perfect for postcards and mail art because it does the job without taking up so much space. Honestly, I’ve rarely used my other address stamps since getting this one. It stamps crisply and clearly and–the best part–it includes my member number!

Thank you, Karen!

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Scenes From Bunbougu Cafe

Bunbougu cafeOh Bunbougu Cafe! Please expand to my community!

I know, I know…it wouldn’t be the same. I wish more people in the US would embrace the marriage of cafes and stationery shops.

I spent a lot of time at Bunbougu during our vacation. In addition to spending my birthday there, we went back again and again for coffees and shopping. My favorite thing (other than my birthday dinner) was the snack you see above. I ordered a set that included a pot of tea and three tiny sweets. As you can imagine, I was blown away by the tiny office supply-shaped cookies. I ordered the strawberry matcha poundcake, the hazelnut ginger pencil cookies and the yuzu pepper key cookies. Everything was so flavorful and delicious–the keys were so peppery that my mouth was burning (in the best way possible!) There were other options on the menu (including a coconut flavored triangle and protractor) and you can see them here.Bunbougu cafeBunbougu cafeAll of Bunbougu Cafe’s menus are hand drawn (by one of their own workers) with gorgeous colored pencil illustrations of their food and cocktails. Bunbougu cafeOne of my favorite things to order was the caramel tea latte, a milky black tea with a hint of caramel-y sweetness. I’m working on perfecting my own at home since it will be awhile before I can drink one at Bunbougu again! If you received a postcard from me in Japan, most likely it was written at Misdo or Bunbougu…it’s the perfect place for mail! Bunbougu cafeBunbougu cafeBunbougu cafeBunbougu offers loads of unique stationery, desk items, pens and pencils, washi tape, office supplies… Many things are made in Japan and most of their offerings are from small makers and businesses. I saw many familiar American makers’ products too. I ended up buying two more silver boxes, pencils and washi tape.Bunbougu cafe

But my favorite “purchase” was my new membership at the Bunbougu Cafe. For ¥700, I now have my own membership card and a key to the stationery drawers at Bunbougu! Now each time I go, I can show off my key or my membership card and get into special events (if they ever occur during our visits) and unlock the stationery drawers at the cafe. I already left my business card in one and sifted through the pretty papers and pens…apparently too busy enjoying things to take a picture (sorry!)Bunbougu cafeSee you soon, Bunbougu Cafe!

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