Sunday, May 30, 2010

Memorial Day weekend project

This weekend I was determined to try quilting for the very first time.

My dear friend Maki and I learned how to quilt from her friend one Saturday in March but since then I have not have a chance to try it. I have been collecting fabrics and been looking at them once in a while imagining what I would like to make.

Because this was Memorial Day weekend and rainy, I knew if I didn't quilt now I may not have another chance for a very long time. So I did it!

I decided to make a toddler-sized comforter quilt for my daughter. I wanted my first quilt to go to my dear little girl.

I was surprised how much I got done considering it was my first time quilting. I have to say it is because of my kind husband who took care of our daughter this weekend giving me the time to quilt.

I made my own pattern, cut the fabrics accordingly, sewed them together, and finished assembling the layers, but I am stuck. I have no idea what to do from here. It is time for me to contact Maki's friend again and hopefully she can show me how to actually quilt them together.

My quilt is not finished but I wanted to share what I did this weekend on this blog. I will update everyone when I finally finish making the quilt...hopefully in the near future.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Small kitchens and an orange carrot brioche

The kitchen is where I spend a lot of my time. It is the only place I don't mind cleaning. It is where I meditate by baking. It is where I dance while I mix ingredients. The kitchen is the heart of my home.

If you are an organized person, you probably set out every ingredient you need on the table. I am not an organized person. As I read the recipe I grab ingredients and put them in the bowl. I invariably go from a cabinet to another cabinet, a cabinet to the fridge, and the fridge to a cabinet.

open cabinet,
close cabinet,
step back,
open fridge,
close the fridge


Today I was taking a moment to recoup my energy from a busy day by meditating for just a few minutes. I tried to imagine a place where I felt safe and warm and without any notice a vision of a tiny kitchen from my childhood apartment sprang into my meditating mind, surprising me.

I grew up in my parents first apartment until I was 7 years old. The apartment was very small. The kitchen was barely a kitchen. It was a kitchen/dining room with a small stove and a small sink and a 4 person dining table. It is where my mother cooked and sometimes we baked together. That is also where I learned how to use a knife to properly peel apples. I was only 5 years old then. Looking back I can see my parents generation wasn't as concerned about safety as we are today.

Safety aside, I have a clear memory of making doughnuts with my mother. She would roll the dough on the dining table, no island or counter space for us, and using a doughnut cutter, cut out the doughnuts. I really wanted to make a rabbit shaped doughnut so I attached 2 long sticks of dough as ears for the rabbit. My mother warned me the ears would fall apart. She was right of course but let me do it anyway. During the deep frying process the rabbit ears came off as predicted so I moved to plan B and simply made doughnut sticks. We sprinkled sugar all over them and ate too many. The kitchen was full of joy and laughter.

I don’t have a picture of the kitchen but I found this photo in my archive. It is our old living room. You will quickly notice that my mother, myself, and my father are together almost the width of the entire room. Each night we would sleep here on futons stored in a nearby closet.

We moved to a slightly bigger house eventually. My mother started working. My sister and I became busy at school studying and playing with classmates. The kitchen was bigger. We still enjoyed baking and cooking at our new house but I realized today that I miss the small kitchen and apartment of my childhood. It is tempting to wonder if I am really just missing my childhood when I did not let myself be defined by what I had or what I did, or perhaps it is simply the blissful ignorance of youth.

Enough about my past, let’s talk about baking! Today I will introduce my orange carrot brioche. I went to Big John’s P.F.I the other day and found a bag of orange peels. I was thinking what I could make with them and settled on a brioche. I also had a lot of carrots and thought a carrot or two couldn't hurt? Carrots can add a nice orange color to the brioche and as a bonus hides a vegetable in a food that my daughter might eat.

I used my bread machine until the 1st rise phase. The bread machine is from Zojirushi that I received as my first mother’s day gift from my dear husband. I love it. If you bake a lot, especially bread, a bread machine can help save you a lot of time.

Now, here is the recipe for the orange carrot brioche:

Orange carrot brioche (makes 12)


  • 100 cc milk
  • 1 tbs fresh squeezed orange juice
  • 1 egg
  • 1 ¾ cups of bread flour
  • 2 tbs sugar
  • 1 tbs nonfat dry milk
  • 1 tsp salk
  • 4 tbs butter
  • ½ tsp dry yeast
  • ¼ cup orange peel
  • Zest of 1 orange
  • 1/4 cup loosely packed finely grated carrot
  1. Put all the ingredients into your bread machine. Use the dough setting and let the machine do its job until the 1st rise.
  2. Remove the dough from the machine and punch it until the air comes out. Let it sit for 15 minutes.
  3. Cut the dough into 12 pieces and start making brioche. (pictured below)
  4. Let it rise again (2nd rise) and when it is ready coat them with an egg wash.
  5. Bake them at 350 F degree for 15 to 17 minutes.

My daughter tried a brioche and proceeded to spit out all the orange peels that she found. I'll have to add orange peels to her ever growing "don't like" list. If only she knew...

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Italian and Big John's P.F.I.

My husband went to London for business and he was supposed to return a week later. He got sick however and came home earlier, much to the delight of me and my daughter. I thought I would be ok with him gone but I had a very hard time falling asleep.

Since I found out he was coming home a little early I started thinking about what I could cook to celebrate him return, maybe a nice romantic dinner at home while our daughter is sleeping.


Why Italian? Well first, I started thinking about what kind of dessert I could make instead of what kind of main dish I could cook. (Small insight into me. This is how I think. Dessert first.) Tiramisu instantly came to my mind and so why not make a nice Italian dinner for the both of us?

My husband loves Tiramisu but unfortunately I'm not a huge fan and don't make it very often. I like to have a lot of fruit in my dessert and as you know Tiramisu does not. It is also rare that I encounter a very good Tiramisu because it is deceptively hard to make. Usually the lady fingers are over soaked and become a too mushy. Lady fingers cannot be too wet or too dry. It is a delicate and careful balance.

I made Tiramisu a long time ago and my husband loved it and asked me to make it again, and again. But in keeping with my philosophy to leave them wanting more, I have not made it again. Tiramisu is a very challenging dessert to make, however because he is coming home soon it may be time for me to try again.

He will not be back for a couple of days but since I am so excited about him coming home and the idea of having nice Italian meal with him, I decided to go to Big John's P.F.I., an Italian grocery store in Seattle. It is located in a difficult to find area so whenever I go there I feel like I am going somewhere special that only locals know about.

When I arrived I found these beautiful herbs and flowers ready to welcome me.

These flowers and herbs were planted in olive oil containers, tomato cans, and so on. It is a very unique way of displaying flowers and herbs that I really must try at home.

As soon as you enter the store the smell of these spices will wash all over you.

So many different kinds of olive oils.

My shopping list for Big John's was not long. To be honest, most of what I need to make Italian I could get elsewhere but I could not pass up an opportunity to come visit the store again. It somehow inspires me.

On my last visit I saw canned escargot. That grabbed my attention of course and I toyed with the idea of actually trying to cook them. I did not know where one could get fresh escargot and thought canned was good enough. I asked the store clerk if they had any cans left and he said they were sold out and I was lucky because there not very good either. He suggested I catch snails outside and cook them. I decided to pass on the idea...for now.

So that's a no to the canned escargot but I still bought lady fingers, dried pasta, San Marzano canned tomatos, and a pound of orange peel. At this point, other than Tiramisu, I don't know what I am going to make but whatever my choice I can assure you that a blog post will shortly follow.

Tiramisu challenge?

to be continued....

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

My daughter's favorite meatballs

After my last post, some of my friends gave the recipe a try. I was really happy to hear this. I was hoping my blog would inspire people to enjoy baking, sewing, cooking, and make them less afraid about cooking Japanese food.

Today I will introduce two other recipes. One is my daughter's favorite with meatballs and the other is carrot, snow pea, and dried kelp rice - hang in there for a sec on that one.

Now before I write down my recipe, let me say this, "I love you Trader Joe's." Trader Joe's has a lof of great things I can use for my cooking and one of them is the meatballs. Even I love them!

Of course I would prefer to make my own meatballs because I could mix in a lot of vegetables, yes I'm a sneaky mom, but I haven't had a chance to make them in bulk so for this recipe I use meatballs from TJ's (aka. Trader Joe's). Their meatballs are simple (not an italian kind) without any herbs which is key. I know you probably think I am cheating by using meatballs from TJs. I will promise you next time I will make my own meatballs with a lot of vegetables and post the recipe.

You could just microwave these TJ's meatballs and serve them as is, but you know I like to add touch of love to my cooking so I made my own sauce and here is the recipe.

Sauce for my daughter's favorite meatballs (for 12 meatballs)


  • 3 tbs tomato ketchup
  • 2 tbs mayo
  • 1 tbs sugar
  • 1 tsp soy sauce

How to make:

  1. Put all the ingredients in the sauce pan and cook until the sugar disolves.
  2. Microwave 12 frozen meatballs for 2 minutes on high and then put them in the sauce (all the fat too).
  3. Cook them together until sauce starts to become more like a glaze. Serve and enjoy.

You can make this in less than 10 minutes! (Even better than Torisoboro!)

My daughter could just eat these meatballs for lunch, but you know I am a mom and I feel I should feed my daughter at least some vegetables. I had snow peas and shredded carrot from TJ's as well so I decided to make this rice dish (pictured below).

I know I lost some of you at dried kelp so let me take a moment to explain. First, kelp is a seaweed and it is healthy source of food. Second, you don't need to fetch your diving gear and jump into the nearest sea bed looking for kelp growing in the wild. It's available in any Japanese grocery store. If you live in Seattle that would be Uwajimaya. To help you out, here is a photo of one such package.

This is a seasoned dried kelp called Fujikko. You can likely find it around seaweed section. In this recipe, I need a seasoned one.

Here is the recipe:

Carrot, snow pea, and dried kelp rice


  • rice (2 rice bowl servings)
  • 1/2 tbs vegetable oil
  • 2/3 cup shredded carrot
  • 1/3 cup sliced snow pea
  • 1 1/2 tsp sugar
  • 1 tsp soysauce
  • pinch of salt
  • 1/4 cup (loosely packed seasoned dried kelp)

How to make:

  1. Heat a pan at medium heat with 1/2 tbs vegetable oil and cook carrots for 3 minutes.

  2. Add snow peas and pinch of salt. Cook everything together a couple more minutes.

  3. Add sugar, soy sauce and cook until all the liquid evaporates.

  4. Mix warm rice, 1/4 cup of loosely packed seasoned dried kelp, and the carrot mix you just cooked. Serve and enjoy.

From the rice mix we just cooked I made onigiri (rice balls). These are easier to eat for my daughter and lead to less mess overall.

What's in a middle of the photo? It is called Tamagoyaki (fried egg). The ingredients are very simple but making it can be a little tricky. I will introduce its recipe some other time and hopefully include a how-to video (my blog and computer knowledge needs to improve first).

Before I had my daughter, I never bought pre-shredded, diced, or cut vegetables. They are usually $1 or so more expensive and I felt it was a waste to spend the extra money. Now I have to cook three times a day for my child (at least!) and when children want to eat, they need to eat right away! I refuesed to buy prepared vegetables for a long time but my husband has told me many times that time is money and finally I agree with him. I subsequently caved and now buy already shredded, diced, and cut vegetables. I usually go to TJ's to get them.

My experiences with my daughter have convinced me that how you are raised continues to influence you for a long time. When I was a child, I suggested to my mother that already prepared vegetables might make her life easier because it was just a $1 extra. My mother always told me, $1 here and there adds up and can be expensive over time, I can just go home and cut them by myself. This is why I refused to buy them initially and this mindset has stuck with me for a long time.

Even though there is a concept of time is money in Japan, it is not well executed. For example, washing dishes and drying laundry. Most Japanese will hand wash everything and hang laundry outside. My mom used to wake up early so that she could hang her laundry before she went to work. She still does this today.

Japan is a developed nation but I feel that modern conveniences in the home that would make a women's life easier are just not a priority for anyone. I think it is because there are certain expectaions for women to live like their own mothers and this expectation comes especially from husbands. It is great to keep traditions alive but I think it is time for Japan to adopt a more pragmatic American lifestyle.

Vive la dishwasher!

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Easy Japanese Lunch

A lot of my friends think cooking Japanese food is difficult or complicated. It can be, but a lot are easy to make and I would like to show you some of the simple foods I cook and hopefully get others interested in cooking them too.

I had to pack lunch for us this morning but I did not have a lot of time to prepare something fancy lunch. I decided to make Tori Soboro Bento (pictured above) which I often cook when I don't have a lot of time and not many ingredients available.

If you know how to cook rice, scramble eggs, and boil water, you can make this in 30 min! Here is the recipe:

Tori Soboro (For 2 adults and 1 child)
  • rice
  • 1-2 tbs of vegetable oil
  • ground chicken (I used 1 chicken breast and 1 chicken thight ground in a food processor)
  • 1 tbs sugar
  • 2 tbs mirin
  • 2-3 tbs soy sauce
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tbs vegetable oil
  • 1/2 tsp sugar
  • a pinch of salt
  1. Heat the pan with 1-2 tsp of vegetable oil and when it is ready add ground chicken and cook for a couple of minutes.

  2. Add sugar and mirin to the chicken. Continue cooking.

  3. When chicken is cooked add soy sauce and cook until all the liquid evaporates. Set the chicken aside.
  4. Make scrambled eggs with 2 eggs, 1/2 tsp sugar, and a pinch of salt and set aside.

  5. Boil salted water and cook frozen peas.

  6. When you are finished cooking the chicken, eggs, and peas, you just need to arrange them on the warm rice.
"Itadakimasu" (Bon Appetit in Japanese)
When you eat this dish, please mix everything and eat.
Feel free to play with the recipe and experiment with some of the ingredients, such as the salt and sugar, to fit your tastes. That is one of the great things about cooking. It is much more forgiving than baking.
My parents are from Ehime, the southern part of Japan and the foods from south are sweeter compared to that of north. Even though I was born in the southern part of Japan, I lived most of my life in central Japan and lived the past 10 years in the US. For that reason I am sure my Japanese cooking is different from my mother's.
Since I did not have a chance to go to the grocery store yesterday (I don't like to go grocery shopping with my 2 years old), I really did not have anything else to put in our lunch box except some apples. I cut them and decided to make little rabbit shapes.

My mother used to cut apples like this and put them in my sister's and my lunch boxes. I use lemon juice to prevent oxidation but I remember my mom used to soak them in salted water. When you live on an island in the pacific, salt is a much more common solution to food problems than sweet or sour.

Kids are easily impressed. Just adding a small touch of love to these apples by making them look like rabbits will light up their faces and make them smile. And isn't that why we do it?

If you have a chance to try the recipe, let me know how it goes and please take pictures. I would love to hear about your experience and see your cooking. If you have any questions about this recipe or Japanese food feel free to contact me. Enjoy!

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Happy Mother's Day at Pike Place Market

On Mother's Day my husband took my daughter and me to Pike Place Market (I happened to request it specifically). I just love it there, any time of the year.

When we lived in Seattle downtown I used to walk there all the time. Now that we have moved across the water to Bellevue we don't go to Seattle as much as I would like. Whenever I have an excuse to go out for breakfast, I request either Le Panier at Pike Place Market or Bakery Nouveau in West Seattle. I can't get enough of them.

I always order a latte and one pain au chocolat at Le Panier for breakfast but if I go there in the afternoon, I order a piece of apricot tart. You have to try them! They're delicious.

I told my husband not to get me flowers on Mother's Day. They are usually too expensive and he couldn't choose an appropriate bouquet to save his life, but he does try hard. I also prefer to receive flowers unexpectedly as a just because gift. I'm sure there are wives out there that feel the same way as I do but judging by the number of men walking around with flowers I'm guessing not many.

As I walked around the market the sheer number of flowers overwhelmed my senses and I could no longer resist.

I bought two bouquets.

On that special day for mothers, I missed my own mom who lives in Japan. I wanted to celebrate Mother's Day with her and show my appreciation - an appreciation that has grown now that I have a child of my own.

The reason I love eating, cooking, baking, and having fresh flowers at home is because of my mom. She made sure that I was exposed to a lot of different foods by even cooking things she does not like to eat herself. She and I made doughnuts, cookies, cheese cake, and other baked goods together, and wherever we lived she made it home by decorating with flowers and of course love.

So on Mother's Day, thank you mom, I love you.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Photography class and Madelines

My husband and I purchased a Nikon D40 when I first found out I was pregnant with my daughter. I had always wanted to learn how to use it to take good photos but I did not have a chance until last Thursday.

I signed up for a digital photography class at Bellevue Community College and last Thursday I started attending. My first homework assignment was to take pictures that show who I am, what my hobby is, what my interests are. I decided to take some photos of my baking.

First problem. What to bake?


I need to be honest about something. I am impatient person. I don't read manuals and I like to jump right in and when I get excited about something I don't like to wait. That's why when I wanted to bake and use ingredients around the house, I decided to bake madelines. I can even bake them while my daughter is napping instead of late at night when I usually tackle my bigger projects.

The first batch was overbaked slightly. Watch out, they bake very fast. Some people might throw them out. I fed them to my husband.

Although madelines are easy and quick to bake it is very time consuming to take photos of each and every step. It took twice as long as usual.

This assignment seemed easy at first but the more photos I took the more challenging I realized it really was. I like to check the photos on my laptop as I work, but I sometimes don't check enough. Viewing the photos I took (and I took a lot of them!) I did not like most of them and wish I had checked the photos before I finished eating those delicious madelines. I could have rearranged some of them differently, changed the composition, or the lighting. Lesson learned. Take photos, review, take more, then eat.



I have no idea what I am doing here. I am computer illiterate and I'm starting a blog. Hopefully I will get hang of it.

I always wanted to have my own blog but have been procrastinating for a very long time. Today I found out that my friend who has 4 kids started 3 blogs!! So yeah I am starting my own blog. Thanks Georgia. I also need to thank my husband who came up with my blog title, which I love.

Why Tulips and Butter? My husband came up with the blog name. He knows that I love decorating my house with flowers and I love baking and these two words just came to his mind. Since I loved it I decided to use it.

I also love sewing, cooking, baking, taking pictures and so on. It does not mean I am good at them but I am hoping to get better. This blog will chronicle that journey.