31 March 2008

First Sakura

Ladies and gentlemen, it's my pleasure to present the First Sakura of Spring 2008.

We travelled to Tokyo for a shopping trip on 29th March. As the climate in Tokyo is much warmer, we get to catch first glimpse of Sakura earlier than the residents in cold Nagano. My husband took me to the Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden, where proud 1500 Sakura trees blossomed fully.

Sakura ( 桜 ) or in English; Cherry Blossom, is undoubtedly the favourite flower of the Japanese. There are several varieties of Sakura in Japan, and in the Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden alone, 75 individuals compete their beauty. From simple 5-petal ones, to heavy multi-layered Sakuras, all in different shades of pink and white.

Some Japanese claim that Spring has officially begun only when Sakura blossomed. Besides being the ambassador of Spring, Sakura plays a major role in the Japanese culture. The Japanese regards Sakura-viewing as a great outdoor event that they call お花見 ( Ohanami ). People gather in groups of family, friends, or colleagues to grab a spot below the Sakura trees and have a picnic. There, they catch up with one another with good flow of food, make merry and enjoy the Sakura viewing.
Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden is no exception of being a favourite picnic location. The crowd was enormous and it was a little difficult to find a quiet spot to take some decent pictures. I had to look up and snap all the time. =P
For Nagano, Sakura is forecasted to bloom in mid April. I hope to share better pictures and more facts about Sakura in my later posts.

Sakura was breathtakingly beautiful indeed, but I can't really agree with urban gardens sometimes... Here as you can see, groups of people gathering and walking over the dried sandy ground, enjoying their picnic. When the wind blows or people start moving around, the air is puffed with dust from the ground and the entire scene actually looks ' yellow '! Having seen this, I've come to appreciate the natural span of countryside where good green fields provide fresher picnic experience.

Set against an urban landscape with high-rise buildings towering at the perimeter of the garden, I couldn't help but to feel that the entire set up a little awkward. Perhaps, it may be that I am too used to seeing Sakura in natural landscape. Nevertheless, my husband and I really enjoyed the Sakura-viewing this time, and I believe so did the rest of the enthusiastic visitors.
Here we are, counting down to Sakura-viewing in Nagano! We are already contemplating our first picnic of the year! =D

26 March 2008

Ballet is tough, tough, TOUGH!

I've loved ballet ever since I was a child.

Ballerinas have never failed to touch me with their fascinating moves. I adore the simple elegance, and indescibable aura that ballet dancers possess.

I've begun ballet lessons for adults since last year, and I enjoyed them tremendously. Ballet involves a lot of stretching, body posture aligning and discipline. My instructor was a professional ballet dancer who is now the head of the school, a perfectly strict but lovely lady.

Everything changed when my instructor decided to pull me over to the advanced class, where I had to practise with seniors who have been around for years. I felt flattered in the begining, and was all ready for the challenge. Little I knew what was awaiting me!

PULL that body straight! WORK on those toes! WATCH your hands gesture, DROP those shoulders, STRAIGHTEN those legs, WHERE'S your proper feet position, I want to see perfect lines here, TIGHTEN your muscles, JUMP and let your body spring! STRETTTTTCCHHHH!!!! PUUUUULLLLLL!!!!! My instructor railed across the studio on the 20 of us.

The lessons feel more like a bootcamp training now, but I think I'm settling down after 3 runs. Though my flexible body has helped me a lot, I have an undeniable problem. After couching freely for all my lifetime, I've made myself an awful hunchback, which is unacceptable in ballet. My instructor glared at me, and I got to pull myself up and watch my back all the time to make a convincingly straight posture. I really wish I could brace myself with a guard or something to help adjust my back. GRRRGHHH...

As every ballet dancer claims, no dancer could lead an easy way out on stage, and every dancer carries a lifelong injury. Every disciplined dancer puts in a lifetime of effort, sweat and blood. I'm begining to see ballet dancers with a new found admiration everytime my instructor points out my faults. The true proffessionals must have undergone a lot of hardship for mere minutes of glamour on stage...

It may be tough, but I'm enjoying every minute of the ballet lesson. =)

24 March 2008

Blessed Belated Easter

Hi there, how's everything? I know that it's obviously late, but I'd surely like to wish everyone a Blessed Belated Easter. =)

My husband was back to Japan on late Wednesday night last week, which explains why I haven't been blogging for a quite while. =P We managed to spend some good time together over the weekend, though the weather was not exactly great. Grey clouds seemed to loom forever but I really enjoyed the outdoor as I've been cooping at home during my husband's absence. Went to church yesterday and we received Easter eggs shown in the picture above. Aren't they cute?

We decided to visit some areas after church, to check the progress of Spring. Many of the migrant birds have flown back to where they came from. Only 6 pairs of swans and several mandarin ducks were left in the large Suwako Lake. Bird watching was much more comfortable without having to endure icy cold wind.

Sleepy swans enjoying an afternoon nap...zzzZZZ...

Hey! Wake up!! You guys are on camera!

Oh really?!?! How do we look now??

Alright, I confess. The scenes are made up. One more : I am borrowing the shots from my husband. =P

Lakes, both huge and small, are nicely thawed. Unlike many other bloggers residing in Canada, U.S. and U.K., we have yet experienced any snowfall since the last in February. The climate is obviously getting warmer somehow, as I do recall snowfalls in March when I came to Japan 3 years ago.

We went to visit the huge ice rocks that I've shared in February. With lesser snow around, moving about was much easier and safer. The ice rocks have reduced a little in size and reshaped slightly, mostly because they have started to melt. Still, they never failed to stand at about 3 meters tall.

I always appreciate nature and enjoy the peace that it gives. Nature is always so unpretendiously beautiful, and generous in giving delight to those who relish it.

The running water of the gentle stream sounded so inviting, it made me sit for a while... The water was not cold at all, probably due to a hot spring nearby, but it had a silky touch. My husband claimed that fishes aren't likely to exist in such waters, as they can only survive in really cold water sources. Hmm... all my husband thinks about is fishing.

As I watched the streams, I felt my soul renewed. I recalled one of my favourite Psalm in the Bible,

' The Lord is my shepherd. I shall not be in want. He makes me lie down in green pastures, He leads me beside quiet waters, he restores my soul. ' Psalm 23.

Meditating on God's words in a natural environment like this is such a luxury! I can't thank God enough for what simple and satisfying joy He gives me... =)

21 March 2008

Good Friday

Today is Good Friday.

Unlike other countries inhabited by large number of Christians, Good Friday is not a public holiday in Japan, and of course, not a day to be specially remembered.

How do you feel about Good Friday?

Being a Christian, the relativity of the Lord's presence is what touches me most in my life. There were tough times nevertheless, but I couldn't have imagined going through them without Jesus. The hour that I first believed, I thought I was a different person born anew! What wonder it is, that the Lord still amazes me, and still working through my life in unexplainable ways. I am still awed by the power of His hand.

It is hard to understand why Jesus chose to pay the debt for the sinners, but I am all consumed by His Love...

I am not trying to push this to anybody... On this day, whether you have or may not have a thankful heart toward Jesus, I pray that the love of God, peace and joy come and reside in your heart. Blessed Good Friday.

18 March 2008

When Spring glides in gallantly...

I always feel that of all seasons, Lady Spring makes the most gentle entry. She looks shy, reserved, and hesitant in the begining. But when she starts smiling, you'd be mesmerized...

15 March 2008

My first success on Bread!

On the evening of a lonely White Day, I decided to do something that could gather my concentration or distract me for a while.

It was my 2nd attempt on this every families table's regular, despite having flopped the first miserably. ' Go get it in the bakeries! ' my cynical bugs screamed, but I wouldn't like an ' F ' for my baking report on bread.

So I began my adventure after 5 p.m. and ended the episode at 9 plus. It was a lot of hard work, but my efforts paid off. =) I was suffering from a stiff and painful neck, trying hard to knead and beat the dough, but I was quite sure that I forgot about the White Day thing quite thoroughly. Ha.

I was still feeling negative about this throughout though I knew that I was doing fine. To finish, I gave my butter rolls another push by chucking sausages within, hoping that they wouldn't be mad at me and decided not to rise anyway...

You can imagine my joy when my butter rolls turned out fine! The aroma of fresh bread smelt like sweet success and what delighted me most was the soft fluffy texture! I never thought that homemade bread could taste this great!

Look at these rolls, how they look like bundled babies...

Breadmaking is a lot of fun! I'm quite sure that I'd be trying breadmaking again. =D I'm already thinking of alternative fillings, especially those flavours which I can only find in Singapore!

14 March 2008

Happy White Day

14th March, is the ' White Day ' in Japan. If I'm not wrong, Japan is the only country that has White Day.

If you have read my post on the Valentine's Day, you would have known that the White Day is a ' Valentine's Day ' for the ladies in Japan.

Celebration is just as common as any kind practised around the world. From the most extravagant meal at luxurious restaurants to cosy time spent together at humble homes.

Mine? I'm spending it alone because of my husband's business trip. It's raining, I won't be able to watch the moon even.

Nope, I'm not sulking... my husband's having a tough time abroad, and I shouldn't be complaining. I know too well that he will make it up to me when he comes back, with first, a box of Godiva from airport. However, it's not the chocolates or the gift, I'd rather have my husband beside with me.

Nevertheless, Happy blue White Day, to me.

13 March 2008

An early visitor in Spring

How is Lady Spring doing on your side? She has yet arrived at the place I'm staying though. Cherry Blossom is forecasted to bloom in Tokyo around late March. It probably is mid April by the time Nagano welcomes this much anticipated pink splash.

It sounds crazy to you perhaps, but I'm delighted to have a visitor! Went grocery shopping this afternoon and really looking hard for new springs of life while enjoying the warm breeze. Nah... everything still looked ghastly dead. Something caught my eye when I've reached home though. There stood this flower springing out from the cemented gap at my doorstep.

C'mon, it's just another weed, you may say. But every flower makes me happy. Or should I say every first life of Spring, makes me happy. =) I mean, it stands just about my forefinger long, but it fought so hard to get through winter. It's so small but so unbelievably strong...

I don't know about you, but to me it looks like several mini butterflies gathering for a tea party. And I'm flattered that it chooses my doorstep rather than my neighbours'. Everybody has weeds, but I'm having a flower here. =D

You're welcomed to stay as long as you wish, pretty one.

12 March 2008

Goodbye Winter

I always feel that Winter goes away slower than any other seasons.

As the temperature gradually rises above zero degrees during daytime, gone are the snow on the roads and rooftops. The largest lake in the Nagano Prefecture that I'm staying, 諏訪湖 ( Suwako ) is slowly taking off the white jacket of ice, restoring to the orginal blue.

Every year, there will be swans and madarain ducks migrating to Suwako for shelther. My husband told me that these birds are either from Russia or Hokkaido of Japan, where winter romps too harsh for these poor animals. Visitors to the lake take pleasure in feeding these lovely migrants. My husband and I always enjoy feeding them with bread bits, and guess which pairs are truly husband and wife. Adorable mandarin ducks are vainly caped with coat of feathers in maroon, green, brown, grey, black or white. Ain't easy to guess which ones are couples either.

By the time my husband comes back after the business trip late next week, the ice lake might have been completely melted. Mountains starting to show good shades of blue and life appearing everywhere. It has been a gentle winter, no harsh snow storm or frequent snowfalls that I experienced 3 years ago, and I'm thankful about it. It'll be another 11 months perhaps when snow falls again, so I'll just share here a final roundup of what we've seen this winter.

Driving our way up a mountain. Tough drive indeed.

Barren and lifeless looking ... These trees surrounding the lake are actually Cherry Blossom ( 桜、Sakura ). They shall be blooming in late April with other plants transforming into luscious green!

Mysterious, icy cold, yet simply captivating. One never fails to exclaim the wonders of nature.

10 March 2008

A Prelude to Spring

It's been feeling like a hibernation, without the good rest and deep sleep though... I am waiting so impatiently for the coming of Spring!

It rained this morning, the pitter patter on the window sounded like music to my ears. The climate has grown warmer, and if you listen close enough, birds have started singing.

I can't wait to see sprouts of incredibly fresh green, and pretty butterflies flirting from flower to flower. I can't wait to see what Spring is about to bring.

My dear husband has to leave for a business trip at such a time. Oh well, better to travel now than later... but I really wish so much that we can share this wait together in stillness, and watch how Spring slips in.

Dear Lord, may your angels be with him as he travels for work. Your wisdom, protection and grace be upon him always. Amen.

Meanwhile, as I wait for my husband's return, I better refresh and prepare myself to feel this Spring in brand new appreciation... I love so much the way God makes things different and new, everytime, everyday.

07 March 2008

French Tuiles with Wilful Custard and Assorted Berries



Bought some lovely berries to complement the chocolate cake that I made yesterday. The cake turned out great but the topping...whew... was disastrous. Had some left over berries and decided to make something today cos I knew too well that I shan't be making anything on Sat & Sun. =P

My first attempt on these light Tuiles and they were easier that I thought. This French petite snack was pleasingly aromatic with baked almonds, and very crispy to my expectation.

As for the berries combination, I was quite sure that they wouldn't go with Tuiles just like that, so I made some simple custard to go in between. The tuiles did go soft a little after placing the custard on, but the taste was surely harmonious. ( Some excuse to rationalize my crave for custard... )

To serve guests, set custard apart as option.

Recipe for French Tuiles ( adapted from Japanese recipe on Fine Sweets )

Ingredients ( Makes 10 large Tuiles )

Wheat flour : 15g
Sugar : 38g ( Reduced to 30g, sweetness was fine )
Egg white : 30g
Saltless butter : 13g
Almond slices : 33g
Vanilla essence : Small amount
Salt : A pinch

Preparation : Sift wheat flour and set aside. Melt butter to liquid state. Brush oven plates with butter in advance, oven paper is an option. Preheat oven to 180 deg.

  • With a hand mixer ( not an electric one ), mix flour, sugar, salt. Afterwhich, add in egg white and stir till the mixture turns smooth.

  • Add in melted butter and vanilla essence, and mix well.

  • Add in almond slices and fold in gently without breaking the slices.

  • With a dinner spoon, scoop batter and place onto buttered oven plates, do place them further apart. The batter should land with a low mount. Using a fork wet with water, spread out the almonds within the batter so that they will not overlap. This action should make your batter spread wider a little.
  • According to the recipe, it says, ' Bake and watch the tuiles until they turn brown entirely but not burnt. 'As my oven isn't very user-friendly, I got my tuiles out at 10 mins before they turn too dark. After consumption, I realized that I could have baked them longer to enhance crispiness. I think I will try baking them until they turn brown throughout, the next time.

  • Tuiles are flat after baking. You may like to warp them for a special touch. Do this fast or the tuiles will become rigid after cooling. Wrap an aluminium foil over a rolling pin, place hot tuile on it, with another hand covered with foil or whatever, gently press tuile onto pin to achieve the curve. Serve only when tuiles are cooled and hardened.

Recipe for Easy Custard

Ingredients ( Custard serving for 10 Tuiles )

Wheat flour : 20g

Sugar : 30g ( Reduced to 20g and the sweetness was alright )

1 egg, beaten

150ml milk

Vanilla essence : A little

Cream : 1 and a large tablespoon

  • In a pot, mix wheat flour, sugar with a hand mixer ( not an electic one ). Add in beaten egg and mix till texture is smooth.

  • Add in milk, and vanilla essence, mix well.

  • Place pot over medium fire and continue mixing. Once mixture is boiled, remove pot from fire and place into a large bowl of water. When it's cooled a little, add in cream and combine mixture well to get a smooth custard.

  • Spoon custard, top with berries or other desired fruit.

Enjoy! Do the washing later.

Have a lovely weekend!