Skinny Vanilla

Breakup Cookies

I once read that Christina Tosi of Momofuku Milk Bar fame said that she didn’t attempt to do a regular ole chocolate chip cookie because everyone already had a favorite recipe. I always found this to be so true, that is, until my friend Rebecca texted me, “I’m craving a Breakup Cookie. Want to meet me at Church Street Coffee?” I’d never heard of this Breakup Cookie that she texted of, but obviously I was in. Fast forward a hour and I’d officially become a full out Breakup Cookie Addict. One text to my friend Kelly and I’d secured the recipe–it was none other than the Jacques Torres Chocolate Chip Cookie recipe that was featured in the New York Times a few years ago. I’ve made several batches of these since, each time swearing to myself, mouth full of freshly baked cookie, “I promise I’ll blog these next time.”
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Ingredients

2 cups minus 2 tablespoons (8 1/2 ounces) cake flour
1 2/3 cups (8 1/2 ounces) bread flour
1 1/4 teaspoons baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons coarse salt
2 1/2 sticks (1 1/4 cups) unsalted butter
1 1/4 cups (10 ounces) light brown sugar
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons (8 ounces) granulated sugar
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons natural vanilla extract
1 1/4 pounds bittersweet chocolate disks or fèves, at least 60 percent cacao content*
Sea salt (I prefer Maldon)

*Church Street’s Breakup Cookies are made with half Ghirardelli chocolate and half Nestle. But Ina always told me to buy the best ingredients I could afford, so I’ve been loading mine up with a box of 60% E. Guittard discs and a one pound bar of 70% Valrhona chocolate, both available at Sur la Table. This is a little pricier, but I promise you won’t care when you bite into them.

Directions

1. Sift flours, baking soda, baking powder and salt into a bowl. Set aside.

2. Using a mixer fitted with paddle attachment, cream butter and sugars together until very light, about 5 minutes. Add eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Stir in the vanilla. Reduce speed to low, add dry ingredients and mix until just combined, 5 to 10 seconds. Drop chocolate pieces in and incorporate them without breaking them. Press plastic wrap against dough and refrigerate for 24 to 36 hours. Dough may be used in batches, and can be refrigerated for up to 72 hours.

3. When ready to bake, preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a nonstick baking mat. Set aside.

4. Scoop 6 3 1/2-ounce mounds of dough (the size of generous golf balls) onto baking sheet, making sure to turn horizontally any chocolate pieces that are poking up; it will make for a more attractive cookie. Sprinkle lightly with sea salt and bake until golden brown but still soft, 18 to 20 minutes. Transfer sheet to a wire rack for 10 minutes, then slip cookies onto another rack to cool a bit more. Repeat with remaining dough, or reserve dough, refrigerated, for baking remaining batches the next day. Eat warm, with a big napkin.

Yield: 1 1/2 dozen 5-inch cookies.
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*Brownie points for baking these cookies in a bathing suit. It’s an effective way to remind yourself not to eat too much cookie dough.

A Paris/London Video and A Birthday

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You sound old and wise.

I feel old. But not very wise.

-An Education

I don’t feel old, or wise really, but I did just have another birthday and blew out a whopping 27 candles on my cake. My sweet mom made me two cakes over the course of the weekend actually. But only one came with candles and song. I celebrated Friday through Sunday and it was so lovely. Sam had never seen An Education, which is one of my favorite movies, so we watched it one night and I thought the quote was fitting for turning another year older. I love the costumes and the story is sad but shows the strength of a young woman and the whole excitement of it all is very dreamy.

There were several surprises over the weekend, but one of my favorites was this video from Sam. He secretly finished up our video from Paris and London when we were there for my birthday (talk about best birthday ever!!) last year. (In his defense, there was a LOT of video footage–daunting to sort through, I’m sure.) But I love it. I think it’s perfection! I hope you enjoy too!

Paris to London and Back from MaryJane Carney McAllister on Vimeo.

A Much Needed Break and Vanilla Ice Cream

Happy Friday! I swear there’s THE BEST Vanilla Bean Ice Cream recipe buried in this post, just stick with me while I jabber on for a few minutes. It’s worth it, I promise.

Life update? I got laid off last week. (It’s a good thing, I promise.) I mentioned several months ago that my company had been purchased and things had been weird ever since. So long story short, it wasn’t a surprise and it actually worked out perfectly because I was offered a new job three days later. It was basically my best case scenario. I’ve got a few other crazy things going on right now too, but I don’t want to jinx it, so mums the word for now.

I’m excited to start my new job (ON MONDAY !!) and I’ve just been enjoying my short, but much needed funemployment. One of my favorite people in the entire world (Nikki) came to stay with me this past weekend and we went to see our old roommate get married in a sweet ceremony and super fun reception.
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Now, I just want to make the most of my week off. I’ve had fun playing housewife–making lattes in the morning, lunching with friends, reading and having dinner ready when my husband gets home from work… It’s all very fun and it’s nice to have time to myself. It’s also given me time to play in the kitchen! I’ve made the Momofuku Birthday Cake (to die for!), smash burgers, plenty of cocktails, Asian food (enough rice to drown in), and ice cream! Lots of ice cream! I was searching my archives (I promise I’m going to make it easier to search as soon as my husband can get around to it) and was shocked to see that I’ve never posted a basic vanilla bean ice cream! Vanilla Bean is perfect–it’s delicious on its own, of course, but it’s also the perfect base for all sorts of add-ins. So enough chit chat, here’s the perfect recipe.

Vanilla Bean Ice Cream

Ingredients

2 cups heavy cream
1 cup whole milk
3/4 cup sugar
2 whole vanilla beans, split length wise

Directions

Combine all ingredients in a small, heavy bottomed saucepan, and cook over medium heat, whisking occasionally. Remove from heat just before it begins to boil. Fish out the vanilla bean pods and using a knife, scrape the seeds into the pot. Stir to combine. Pour mixture into shallow pan and chill for 1-2 hours.

When mixture is cool, discard the vanilla bean pods and discard. Pour mixture into ice cream maker and process according manufacturer’s directions. If you want to add in any cookies or brownies or anything like that, add them in during the last five minutes of processing! Pour into a container and freeze until firm.

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Enjoy! xx

 

Yoyogi Park and Meiji Shrine

Tokyo’s most famous shrine is surrounded by one of Tokyo’s largest parks. “Park” doesn’t really do it justice though–Yoyogi Park is much more like a forest instead of a park. It’s (very) dense with trees and as you walk the winding paths, the crows caw overhead.  You will often find yourself alone on the paths and you might feel like you are on the set of a scary movie (I did at least). It’s creepy and beautiful and amazing all at the same time. The trees are huge and buried deep inside, you will find the Meiji Shrine. We loved it so much we went back twice! The first time was on Sunday after we wandered through Harajuku and before we went to the Park Hyatt. It was really incredible, but Sunday was a little busy and we wanted to see what it was like during the week when everyone else was working. It was worth a second visit. There were few people there and we even got to witness a traditional Japanese wedding! It was beautiful.

The first thing you notice upon entering Yoyogi Park is just how big the Tori (gate) is. It’s magnificent in a way that (sadly) just doesn’t come across in photos. I would’ve stared at it for hours. Meiji Shrine is a Shinto shrine devoted to Emperor Meiji. Meiji is credited with bringing western culture to Japan. The people loved him and his wife, Empress Shoken, and I kind of like to think of them as Japan’s JFK and Jackie (don’t send me hate mail for saying that).  The shrine is grand and fitting of the park it sits in.
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800 pictures of the Tori because it’s amazing.
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SONY DSC SONY DSC Writing my prayers
SONY DSC SONY DSC SONY DSC Many people bought these little wooden blocks to write prayers on. They were so sweet and touching. I wish someone would put together a book of them. 
SONY DSC SONY DSC SONY DSC The beautiful forest
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Our next visit felt more solemn and peaceful, more how you’d imagine a visit to a shrine would feel. We took a different path to get to the shrine and found ourselves alone at the cleansing station and very few people inside the shrine. Just as we were about to leave, a traditional Japanese wedding began, and we could only watch in awe, before sneaking out the back entrance to not disturb anyone.
SONY DSC SONY DSC This looks like it’s out of a fairytale book, no?
SONY DSC Shinto shrines conduct rites to ask the gods for prosperity for the sake brewers.  SONY DSC SONY DSC SONY DSC SONY DSC SONY DSC SONY DSC Beautiful doors guarding the entrance SONY DSC SONY DSC Atlanta Braves all the way in Tokyo!! SONY DSC SONY DSC SONY DSC details, details
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The wedding. Isn’t it beautiful?

I know I said this last time, but now there’s really only one Japan post left. It’s on a few gardens. I thought it was only fitting to end with nature.

Tomato Pie

It’s officially Tomato Season. My office gardens have been holding on to green tomatoes for the last few weeks and this is the first week they’ve started to ripen, so I happily plucked a handful off the vines. I’ve made a couple of great tomato salads this week and still had a couple tomatoes left over, so I took them with me to my parent’s house to use them for dinner. Imagine my surprise when I walk in and they have boatloads of heirloom tomatoes on their counter. I instagrammed a few of them and asked what to make and got a bunch of great answers, but Tomato Pie was one that kept coming up. I remembered a great recipe for one that was posted in Garden & Gun that I never got around to trying last year. It was perfection. Absolute perfection, I tell you. I think I’m going to remake it for dinner tomorrow night so Sam can try it.
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Tomato Pie
(Serves 6)

Ingredients
4 shallots, minced
3 garlic cloves, minced
4 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil, divided
1 tbsp. Dijon mustard
9-inch pie shell (homemade is ideal)
1 lb. assorted heirloom tomatoes, sliced ¼-inch thick
3 oz. cheese, crumbled (G&G recommended goat cheese, but I didn’t have any so I used Gruyere and White Cheddar)
½ oz. fresh basil chiffonade
1 tbsp. Grenache vinegar
½ cup fresh bread crumbs
1 oz. grated Parmesan cheese
Salt and pepper

Directions
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
In a small pan, sauté shallots and garlic in 1 tablespoon of olive oil until tender, about 3 minutes. Stir in mustard, and set aside.

Place pastry dough in a 9-inch pie dish. Layer in half of the tomatoes, and season with salt and pepper; spread shallot mixture over top. Add goat cheese and half of the basil, distributing evenly. Layer in remaining tomatoes, and season with salt and pepper. Drizzle 1 tablespoon each of olive oil and vinegar over the tomatoes; top with remaining basil.

In a small bowl, combine bread crumbs, remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil, and Parmesan cheese. Sprinkle evenly over tomato filling.

Bake 30 minutes, or until topping and crust are golden brown.

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Enjoy!
xx

Ginza

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We headed to the Kyoto train station first thing on Friday morning, completely excited to get back to Tokyo. Sam went out in search of breakfast and came back with a special package all wrapped up. Baumkuchen, I was told it was called. It’s a cake made of many, many tiny rolled layers. They are quite popular in Japan. It was delicious. We ended up eating the entire thing for breakfast!!

We checked into our final hotel, The Park Hotel Tokyu. It was located in Minato, in the Shiodome Sio-Site, which is made up of a collection of skyscrapers (mostly businesses, hotels, and restaurants). The hotel was like any other modern-ish hotel, but the views are what make it really stand out! You simply cannot beat the view of the Tokyo Tower! I could stare at it all day. It’s not as beautiful or as iconic as the Eiffel Tower, but it has nearly an equally mesmerizing effect.

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We hopped on the walk way and headed into Ginza. Ginza is full of interesting looking buildings and we just walked along snapping pictures and pointing out different architecture that we liked.
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I had a little shopping and lunch in mind and luckily they were both in the same place! Off we headed to Dover Street Market. We had lunch at Rose Bakery (which I’ve mentioned here and here.) The store is very avant garde and the clothes are incredible. We headed up to the top to Rose Bakery and quickly found a seat. I ordered the veggie tart (because they were out of the turkey burger) and Sam had eggs benedict. Both were light and delicious and the perfect break from everything else we’d been chowing on for the previous week. After we finished lunch, we headed down to the Comme des Garcons PLAY section and stocked up on goodies. CdG was one of the few labels that didn’t come with a hefty markup–it was actually less expensive that it is in the US. (I didn’t snap any photos inside the store because I was scared of getting my hand slapped.)
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SONY DSC We went in Laduree with the intention of buying macarons to take back to our room, but as soon as we saw the tea room overlooking Ginza Scramble, we knew we’d better just prop up for dessert. We ordered a sampling of the seasonal macarons and a vanilla milkshake, all of which were incredible. (I will say that Ginza’s macarons didn’t develop perfect “feet” but they were still delicious.)
SONY DSC SONY DSC SONY DSC We spent the rest of the day window shopping. We even made a stop by the Sony showroom. The electronic showrooms are quite fun, I will say. You get to play with all of next year’s cameras! We went to the Fujifilm one in Roppongi as well. I’m definitely leaning toward the Fujifilm x100 s.
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After lounging around for a little while and getting ourselves all cleaned up, we headed to Ten-ichi for dinner. My parents dined at Ten-ichi when they were in Tokyo and sent back glowing reviews. After a few days in Japan, I realized I might not get any really, really great tempura otherwise, I knew we’d have to eat there. I got the concierge to make reservations for us–when you don’t speak the language, the concierge is KEY in snagging reservations. The restaurant was pretty small and each seat was taken (all filled with Japanese people, which we took as a good sign). Three chefs behind the counter were buzzing about, preparing their ingredients and frying tempura. We were completely pleased when the sweet waitresses tied aprons on us. Whenever there are aprons involved, you know it’s going to be a good meal.
SONY DSC SONY DSC Piece by piece, the chefs dropped little tempura fish and vegetables in front of us. Each piece was PERFECT! I’d never had perfect tempura before! I didn’t know what I was missing out on! Each bite was cooked perfectly–I had the best asparagus I’ve ever tasted before, and all the fish and shrimp were a close second. It’s funny how Japanese draft beer goes perfectly with everything. We finished off the meal with miso and rice and left quite merry. SONY DSC SONY DSC 0.45 Ten Ichi tempura copy
We walked just down the street and around the corner to a strip of pubs we passed in the cab on the way. They were quite lively and we found the one with the most people in it and headed in. Bars in Japan aren’t like the ones in the US. It was a standing bar, meaning everyone must stand until after the last train home has run, despite there being seats at each persons spot. We were “seated” at a table with two Japanese businessmen who ended up being quite friendly. We spent the night drinking Highballs and exchanged pictures of our dogs and told funny stories of being in each others’ countries until they headed home. The next group of people who were “seated” next to us were a ground of ex-pats, two from California and one from Singapore. They made great company and we all agreed to meet up for Karaoke the next night. I didn’t realize until we made it back to the hotel that I’d forgotten to get any pictures from the inside of the pub–I guess that’s how you know you’ve have a good time. SONY DSC SONY DSC SONY DSC
Since this is all of Ginza in one post, We’re picking up a couple of days later!

After spending the morning roaming the gardens, we made our way to the fish market. We weren’t trying to catch all the action of the morning, but rather just pop into one of the fish stalls surrounding the market. As you can see, many others planned to do the same. The wait at some of the stalls was as much as three hours, so we quickly pulled together a new plan and off we went to an equally fresh, equally delicious sushi restaurant down the street.
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SONY DSC SONY DSC My new obsession is hand rolls. I know hand rolls aren’t a new thing, I just never gave them much thought before. They are pretty like little bouquets. I promised Sam before we went that I wouldn’t be picky and would try anything he put in front of me, so I did! Every type of sushi he ordered, I took a bite of!
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Fast forward to our last night in Tokyo. We knew we’d have to go for ramen, but wanted to make sure we chose wisely. Should we just go to Ippudo? No… we should definitely do a little more research. I remember Chrissy Teigen’s Six Days of Ramen adventure and looked it up again. Her favorite ended up being Kyushu-Jangara, which was only just around the corner from us! We were so excited and I’m happy to announce, I agree. Although Ippudo is DELICIOUS, Kyushu-Jangara is Even. Better. I feel like jumping up and down just thinking about it.
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We walked back into Ginza to see the stores lit up at night (and to try to walk off a little of the ramen). The lights are incredible and everything was so clean and pretty. We stopped at a pub to order a few highballs and by the time we were done drinking and watching baseball, all the stores had closed. Everything was so quiet and the streets were empty. We strolled the streets alone, peeking into shop windows, and headed back to our hotel, hand in hand.
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Karlie’s Kookies: The Perfect 10

There’s no denying that Karlie Kloss is a household name. She’s arguably the biggest supermodel on the planet these days–she’s beautiful and tall and seems like an awesome girl in general. So you combine Karlie with another household name, Momofuku Milk Bar, and that’s where we begin today.
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When I went to New York in the fall, a pit stop to Momofuku Milk Bar was at the top of my list. I stocked up on all the famous bits–Crack Pie, Birthday Truffles and Karlie’s Kookies. Karlie’s Kookies were created by Karlie Kloss and MilkBar Genius, Christina Tosi. They are pretty delicious and good enough for you that you can eat them for breakfast. They aren’t a typical cookie, but are closer to a granola bar. They’re made with oats, almonds, agave and olive oil. The original recipe is gluten-free and dairy-free, but I altered it a little so I could use the oats I already had (and I’m not gluten intolerant, so I didn’t see a need to go buy a bunch of pricey ingredients). Each Kookie has about 115 calories in it and they are very filling. The slivered almonds provide a little crunch and even Sam has quickly become obsessed with them. There’s been a steady stock of them in my fridge for about three weeks now.

Editor’s note: These cookies are crumbly. (Even the ones you buy from Momofuku Milk Bar are a little crumbly.) You will think you’ve messed up when you scoop them onto the cookie sheet, but you haven’t! Just give them a little extra attention and they’ll shape right up and bake into a perfect cookie–I promise!

The Perfect 10 Kookie
(makes 12 kookies)

Ingredients
2 cups almond flour (You can make your own really easily with a food processor–it’s pricey to buy already ground)
1 cup whole oats*
½ tsp. kosher salt
½ tsp. baking powder
¼ tsp. baking soda
½ tsp. Cornstarch*
¼ cup slivered almonds, lightly toasted
¾ cup mini dark chocolate chips
½ cup olive oil
¼ cup agave

*To stay true to the original recipe: Use gluten free oats and swap the cornstarch for Xanthan Gum.

Directions
Heat the oven to 325º.

Mix the dry ingredients together in a bowl (you can use a mixer if you prefer).
Add the liquid ingredients and paddle until well combined.

Scoop cookies firmly with a 2¼-inch ice cream scoop onto a parchment-lined sheet pan. Flatten each mound of cookie dough fully with the palm of your hand into a 3-inch round.

Bake cookies for 10-12 minutes or until golden brown. Cool completely on the pan. Store in an airtight container in the fridge, or eat right away.
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Grilled Okra, Grilled Fish (Tacos), Grilled Peaches! Oh my!

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There is just something about the severe heat Summer that makes me want to eat more colorful, light food–I’m sure I’m not alone in that either. It’s the perfect time to grab an icy cold beer (Yesterday’s juice of choice was Abita’s Strawberry Harvest Lager–It’s basically what would happen if you muddled strawberries with a light beer, and it’s perfection.), stand out in the heat and sweat enjoy each others company.

This is one of my favorite fish taco recipes I’ve tried. The pico de gallo is spicy (I made mine with locally grown, pretty colored tomatoes, which only made it even better), the cabbage is crunchy, and the fish is perfectly seasoned within an inch of its life. And of course, anytime you fire up the grill, it’s a good time to look in your fridge and ask yourself, “What else could I possibly throw on?” Another bonus of grilling your whole meal? No pots and pans to wash! And that’s always a reason to celebrate. So that’s how I ended up with grilled okra and peaches. It wasn’t a mistake.

(All serve four)

OKRA

INGREDIENTS

1 pound Okra
Juice of half a Lemon
Flaky sea salt (I like Maldon)

Directions

Okra is a cinch to grill.
Wash it. Dry it. Toss it in olive oil. Throw it on the grill. Turn every 5 minutes, until it has a nice color on all sides (15-20 minutes depending on the size of your okra.) Pull off the grill, Squeeze with Lemon juice and sprinkle with flaky sea salt.

TACOS

INGREDIENTS

Pico de Gallo

5 plum tomatoes, seeded, chopped
1/2 small yellow onion, finely chopped
4 scallions, white and light-green parts only, thinly sliced
1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon chopped fresh oregano
1 jalapeño, stemmed, seeded, minced
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Tacos

1 tablespoon paprika
1 teaspoon each garlic powder, onion powder, dried oregano, dried thyme, and kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 1-pound halibut fillet
Vegetable oil (for brushing)
8 6′ corn tortillas, warmed
1 cup finely shredded cabbage
1 avocado, sliced
1 lime, cut into wedges

Pico de Gallo

Combine first 7 ingredients in a medium bowl. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Tacos

Build a medium-hot fire in a charcoal grill, or heat a gas grill to high. Combine all dried spices in a small bowl. Sprinkle over fish. Brush grill grate with oil. Grill fish until cooked through, about 5 minutes per side. Using a fork, coarsely shred fish.

Fill tortillas with fish, cabbage, avocado and pico de gallo. Squeeze fresh lime wedges over tacos.

Peaches

Ingredients

Two peaches
Honey
Goat Cheese

Directions

Wash your peaches. Cut in half and remove the pit. Place cut side down on the grill for 5 minutes. The cut side will get all melt-y and syrup-y. Turn over and cook for another 5 minutes. Remove from grill. Sprinkle with goat cheese and drizzle with honey. Eat while it’s still warm. You can thank me later.

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Side Trips from Kyoto: Arashiyama and Nara

After visiting the Toji Temple Market, we hopped a train to Arashiyama. (It was only about a 20 minute ride.) Sam planned a lunch at a really cool soba restaurant, Arashiyama Yoshimura, overlooking the Oi River. We took our shoes off at the door and headed upstairs to a perfect window seat. The view was beautiful. On the other side of the river, the sun shone on the lush trees covering the mountains.  We were first brought warm washcloths (everywhere in Japan gives you these) and served steaming cups of green tea. The green tea there isn’t really like the light green tea we drink here. They drink the strong, BRIGHT green tea. When I say bright green, I mean like the color of spring grass. It’s really delicious and slightly bitter. Sam ordered a special that came with hot soba, cold soba, tempura, rice and miso. I went with a tempura dish. Both were great, but as usual, I ended up sneaking lots of bites from Sam’s order. I couldn’t be at a soba restaurant and not eat soba! SONY DSC A woman, in her kimono, checking for directions SONY DSC Arashiyama Yoshimura SONY DSC Such a beautiful view, even (if not especially) on an overcast day SONY DSC The soba came with lots of condiments of sorts. You could make it spicy, salty, or onion-y. SONY DSC Tempura….yummmmmm SONY DSC The hot soba. I didn’t get a good picture of the cold soba, but the noodles were served separately and you dipped them into a different broth to eat them.  SONY DSC We headed across the Togetsukyo Bridge to make our way to the Arashiyama Monkey Park. Neither of us had big expectations for the Monkey Park and were just going because we were planning on going to the bamboo forest in the same area.  We were both imagining monkeys in a cage, but it was anything but that! It was such an incredible experience. SONY DSC SONY DSC SONY DSC It’s quite the hike to Monkey Park. Once we got to the entrance, we were told it would be about a twenty minute hike up the mountain and it was every bit of that. The stairs were steep and then there was a nice winding path that is supposed to be quite beautiful in the fall with the changing leaves.  SONY DSC SONY DSC Caution Do Not Touch–the hand rail. That makes sense…

As we neared the top, we started to hear a noise overhead. We both imagined they’d be quite sad and locked up in cages, so imagine our surprise when we saw a monkey just hanging out on the tree above us! As we wound up the path, we spotted more monkeys lounging around, grooming and doing general monkey things.  We even witnessed a monkey fight over two males–one was getting too close to the other’s baby/baby momma. (Side note: Monkeys DO NOT like when you get too close to their baby/baby momma. Learned that one the scary way.) The view from the top of the observation deck was pretty spectacular. Not to mention, there were monkeys lying around everywhere. If you wanted to feed the monkeys (duh), you could go inside of a little enclosure to safely feed them (we’re still talking about wild animals here). It was the reverse what we’re sadly used to–the people were in the cage and the monkeys were free to run wild this time. You could easily see why they did things that way. The monkeys went wild over the food. We had nuts and apples to feed them. They preferred the apples (I did a test). Monkeys are pretty magical little creatures–they are covered in fur but still have these amazing little hands and beautiful eyes.  SONY DSC SONY DSC Have you ever seen a sweeter sight? SONY DSC SONY DSC SONY DSC Look at his little hands!!  SONY DSC After we’d taken a million monkey pictures and emptied our change on apples, we headed back down the mountain and across the river. We stopped for mango ice cream along the way. I’d burned too many calories on the hike and clearly needed to get back to even.  SONY DSC SONY DSC SONY DSC And we made it to the Bamboo Forest. The thing I’d always wanted to see. It was even more magical than I’d ever imaged too. The bamboo is so tall and grand and it’s incredibly peaceful on the path. When the wind blows, you can here the sways of the stalks rubbing together and the sun peers through and you can’t help but understand how incredible it is that you are in that exact place at that exact moment. We took our time and tried to soak it in as best as possible.  SONY DSC SONY DSC 2.4 Arashiyama bamboo forest SONY DSC We wound our way through the Forest for about an hour and came out the other side into beautiful bits of country. Serene rivers, and vast fields and little country houses greeted us along the walk and despite being exhausted from all the walking, we didn’t want to stop wandering.  SONY DSC SONY DSC SONY DSC
The next day, after we visited Sanjusangendo and met the sweetest little girls, we headed to Nara. I didn’t know much about Nara, outside of the fact that it held the second tallest pagoda in Japan (the tallest is at Toji Temple, remember?) and that Nara had a particularly special national treasure. Nara is filled with deer that roam the town freely. That’s clearly all I needed to know to hop on the 45 minute train ride. The town was clean and quaint and everywhere you turned, you saw cartoon pictures of deer. Even the Man Hole Covers where stamped with cute deer! SONY DSC SONY DSC 4.3 Nara kids Kawaii school children posing for the camera. SONY DSC SONY DSC
Someone was selling deer wafers on the street, so we bought a few packs. The wafers turned out to be very instrumental in getting photos with the deer. The deer were actually quite aggressive when they wanted a wafer–they would stand on their hind legs and one even nipped at Sam’s shirt. We got rid of the wafers as quickly as possible to try to avoid being a victim of Nara’s first deer attack. When you caught one lying down, they were actually quite gentle and enjoying being scratched, just like a dog. SONY DSC SONY DSC Frisky little fellas. The one on the right was nudging me and in the photo below, the one on Sam’s right had just nipped at his shirt. SONY DSC SONY DSC SONY DSC SONY DSC SONY DSC SONY DSC SONY DSC

Welcome to Kyoto

WARNING: This is a word-y one. I hated to leave anything out, but completely understand if you just want to scroll through the photos!

On the morning of our trip to Kyoto, we headed to the train station early to activate our JR Passes. We bought 7-day, Green Car passes. The process was very simple and were given only one instruction–Do NOT lose the passes. Easy enough. We went ahead and purchased our train tickets, but we didn’t realize we ought to be particular about which side to sit on. The train ride boasted a gorgeous view of Mount Fuji on the right side of the car. (The left side of the train had some amazing views of the coast, littered with small fishing towns and rice paddies too though.) The good thing about the Green Car (which is basically the first class car) is that it is often nearly empty (and a little nicer, although the regular cars are pretty nice themselves). An older Japanese woman motioned for us to move to the other side of the car to check out the view, and what a view it was.

The train ride was over before we knew it and we piled into a cab and headed to Kiraku-an, the “machiya” we rented through Airbnb. (Machiya are traditional wooden townhouses that are found throughout all of Japan, most specifically in Kyoto.) It was my first time booking with Airbnb and it couldn’t have been a better experience. The owner, Saki, met us there and was so adorable. She gave us a tour of the townhouse and drew out all of her favorite sights on a map for us. The townhouse was perfect–every detail was well thought out. We were instructed to remove our shoes upon entry, and slip on some comfy slippers. Downstairs was the kitchen and shower and upstairs were two bedrooms with a vanity in each bedroom, and a (very advanced) toilette in a separate, connecting room. The room we stayed in had two twin sized beds and the other had traditional Japanese sleeping mats. I didn’t try out the mat, but they are supposedly very comfortable. As we were getting ready for dinner, Sam realized he’d lost his wallet. Luckily, he still had his passport, but the wallet contained his credit/debit cards, license and more than $300 in cash. He was sure he’d had it in the cab on the way to our machiya. By some odd twist of fate, Sam took a picture of me from the inside of the cab that showed the driver’s name and company. He sent it to Saki to see if she could help track his wallet down, and before we knew it, she called back to say it was waiting at the police station for us. Once we got there, the police handed it over with not a cent missing. The Japanese are SUCH amazing people. Where else would that ever happen??

It was raining the first night, so we popped open our umbrellas and took a stroll in the drizzle. Japan is nearly dreamy in the rain–we didn’t mind it one bit. We made our way to Ippudo, a chain ramen restaurant. In Japan, a chain restaurant is considered a good thing–it means it was successful/good enough to open another branch. And let me tell you–they know ramen. It was my second favorite ramen in all of Japan (I’ll get to my favorite later) and we ended up going back multiple times. So deliciously soul warming. I couldn’t ask for anything more. Except Gyoza–which they also kill. There are two branches in NY, which I will definitely hunt down the next time I’m there. SONY DSC Waiting for the bullet train with all our belongings! SONY DSC SONY DSC My tempura bento box, which looked pretty but was actually a little on the sad side.   SONY DSC Mount Fuji in all it’s glory. SONY DSC The little tree patches were pretty spectacular in person. They had an uncanny resemblance to broccoli.  Pictures of really beautiful things just never do them justice. SONY DSC The rice paddies. You will see many of these any time you hop on a train in Japan.  SONY DSC Cute schoolchildren in Kyoto Station SONY DSC The Kiraku-an Kitchen SONY DSC SONY DSC SONY DSC    SONY DSC SONY DSC Isn’t Kyoto in the rain just dreamy? I feel like it takes you back a couple hundred years.  SONY DSC SONY DSC Sam cheering after the cops showed him his wallet.  Just a few initials and off we went, wallet in hand. SONY DSC SONY DSC SONY DSC SONY DSC SONY DSC Ippudo serves you tea instead of water (like many Japanese restaurants). You are seated at a bar with different toppings, including my favorites, spicy bean sprouts and greens. SONY DSC Akamaru ramen from Ippudo. If in doubt, just know it comes in the red bowl. It’s Tonkotsu ramen filled with things from Heaven: delicious broth, slippery noodles, melt in your mouth pork, plenty of black garlic oil, scallions, a boiled egg and a little bit of nori… oh my gosh. This stuff is incredible. Just. Incredible. SONY DSC Partiers shouting into the night.

We spent the next day in Arashiyama (more on that in my next post), but made our way to Gion once we were back in Kyoto. Gion is the stuff Japanese dreams are made of. Or at the very least, the stuff Memoirs of a Geisha was made of (it was). The stone streets are tree lined, and wind along and over the most picturesque rivers. The Ryokans (traditional Japanese inns) line the other side, and as you stroll the streets, you can see people being served dinner through the windows. We were dying to stay at Shiraume but sadly they were all booked by the time we planned our days in Kyoto. Kiraku-an was great, but from the reviews, Shiraume would’ve been beyond perfect. SONY DSC Gion is what I wish all of Kyoto looked like. It’s so beautiful and looks exactly how it looks in Memoirs of a Geisha. SONY DSC SONY DSC SONY DSC SONY DSC

We made it to Yasaka Shrine just before sunfall. Immediately in the heart of Kyoto, it is open all hours of the day and we seemed to pick just the right time to go. There were few tourists and we were able to wander in quiet, exploring every path. The color was beautiful and was a delight to photograph. SONY DSC SONY DSC SONY DSC SONY DSC SONY DSC SONY DSC SONY DSC SONY DSC SONY DSC SONY DSC We took a taxi to the restaurant (Yakiniku Hiro) and made it in time for our 7:30 reservation to be seated on the deck overlooking the Kamo river. The deck is part of a unique Kyoto tradition called Kamogawa, which allows customers to dine outside during the summer months. It was beautiful–the lights reflected off the water and there was a slight breeze. (Hence my slightly interesting outfit. I wanted to wear something that would cover my legs without wearing jeans and only had one choice–the black maxi. I didn’t want to show too much skin, seeing how modest the Japanese are, so I wore a scarf to cover my cleavage and piled on a sweater when the temps dropped.)

This was my favorite meal in Japan (unless you count ramen). Not only was the atmosphere perfection, but the food was to die for. I’ll start by saying that there was a huge language barrier at this restaurant. (It might have just been the waiters on duty that night, as no one has mentioned it in the reviews.) Our waiter explained the three options: “Good”, “Better”, “More Better”. We shrugged and went with the good option. The waiter turned on the hot plate on the table in between us and quickly returned with a sort of bento box and left again, without much explanation. We observed the table next to us to see what to do. The first box was eaten without cooking (Was it precooked? Was it raw? I’m not sure?). Next, we were given beef and scallion rolls, and this is when I really started to get on board. I’m not even a big beef eater, but I would have sold my left arm to keep the hot plate going that night. Luckily, I didn’t have too. Because next, the waiter placed a huge platter of Wagyu beef on our table. It had to have been nearly two pounds of meat. We thought we’d died and gone to heaven. A heaven overlooking the river in Kyoto. They brought rice and miso soup and we spent the evening laughing and talking and drinking and entertaining ourselves with the grill in front of us.

SONY DSC SONY DSC We were given a little blob of fat to melt on the hot plate SONY DSC You can see how excited Sam was about his wagyu beef searing SONY DSC SONY DSC Miso heaven  SONY DSC SONY DSC SONY DSC The next day, we woke up with bells on and headed to the place I had been so looking forward to seeing–the Toji Temple Market. It’s a huge market that only happens once a month. All different kinds of vendors set up shop on the grounds of the Toji Temple and sell their homemade and vintage goods to shoppers. SONY DSC Kiraku-an, like many other Japanese homes, is certainly built for smaller people. The ceilings are all high enough, of course, but the doors could use an inch or two.  SONY DSC SONY DSC Toji Temple Market goes rain or shine SONY DSC Diving into my taiyaki SONY DSC Okonomiyaki is about as much food as you could ever imagine for $5. I don’t think Sam got through half of it.  SONY DSC The funny woman with the kimono tent. We walked back by later and it was filled with women searches for beautiful kimono, available in every pattern under the sun.  SONY DSC SONY DSC Plenty of china was available. SONY DSC This man and his wife were selling honey. His wife was handing out samples about as fast as I could taste them. Her technique worked, as we left with a bottle of her smoothest stuff. There were little Winnie the Poohs on the border of his table clothe that Sam asked him about. He looked confused and then busted out laughing– “Oh! Pooh-san!!” And we followed in laughter as well.  SONY DSC More adorable children SONY DSC SONY DSC Japanese Calligraphy SONY DSC A Kewpie doll! I so wanted her, but I figured that one doll was enough for a 26 year old to bring back with her from holiday. Probably a good rule to live by. SONY DSC We also brought home the prettiest pottery serve ware made from a local artist, standing behind me in the photo. SONY DSC Toji Temple has the tallest Pagoda in Japan. SONY DSC Ginko Biloba trees line the streets of Kyoto. They look like trees wrapped in ivy–they are so beautiful.

We then took a leisurely stroll along the river (and watched the birds come and go) on the way to Sanjusangendo Temple. This was my favorite temple in Japan. The main building was huge–larger than a football field–and was filled with 1,001 gold Buddhas. They were positively breath taking. I would’ve loved to photograph them for you, but no cameras were allowed inside and the policy seemed quite strict. We spent much time inside, soaking up every bit so we wouldn’t forget what it was like once we were home. Words can’t really do it justice. It must’ve been field trip day in Kyoto, which only made sightseeing so much sweeter. We had several children staring and smiling at us everywhere we went that day. One group of girls ran up to us and pulled out a sheet of paper.

Excuse me, Can I ask you a few questions? (Of course!) Where are you from? (The United States.) What’s your favorite Temple? (Sanjusangendo) Ohhh!! Yes!!

They then asked us for our signatures, which were met with much excitement. We asked them a few questions and gave them our address so they could send us a postcard in the mail for their English class.

SONY DSC SONY DSC SONY DSC SONY DSC SONY DSC SONY DSC Take your shoes off before entering the temple! SONY DSC SONY DSC SONY DSC SONY DSC I loved these girls. They were 13 and 14 years old, and looked so much younger than girls that age in the US. It must be the damn hormones in our food.

We took a quick trip out of town for the afternoon (which I can’t wait to share with you in the next aforementioned post) and were famished when we got back. We wanted something quick and delicious and found ourselves standing in front of Ippudo for a second time. We didn’t fight the urge and left fat and happy. SONY DSC Mmmmmm icy cold draft beer. It cannot be beat. SONY DSC Kanpai! SONY DSC