Little thrills, little trips, little ideas


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Pandora’s French Toast

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Pandora’s French Toast

Last weekend, I had a craving for french toast again. However, I did not wish to elicit a negative reaction form my kids, rolling their eyes and complaining about having french toast again (though its an in-house favourite). Therefore, I cracked my brains and turned it up a notch with last weekend’s french toast.

To be honest, I have not tasted a good french toast dish in the local cafes, the most memorable one was during our holiday on Moyo Island, Indonesia, The french toast was superb! It was thick yet not dense at all as the homemade bread still retained its fluffy buttery texture. The best part was they used locally harvested raw honey and honeycomb to dress the french toast! It couldn’t get any better than this especially when we were stranded on an almost deserted island with only one resort.

I had come across some really interesting ways of dressing up the french toasts especially in Japan, like this one which I attempted. I called it the Pandora’s French Toast….haha….. Its a dessert with a surprise. What I did was to mix and match some interesting sweet ingredients and stuffed them by layers into the french toast. I used an unsliced bread loaf for this, cut out 2 slices of bread, 1 thicker slice and a thinner slice as a base. I soaked them in egg mixture and panfried them like any normal french toast recipe. You can find the recipe in my previous post Stuffed French Toast . There after,  I cut out a hollow section in the centre of the thicker slice, placed it on the thinner slice and filled it up with the ingredients. So from the exterior, one could only see the bread and the condiments on top. However, when you cut into the bread, the layers of fillings reveal themselves which include citrusy ricotta mascarpone cheese, mochi, mashed sweet Azuki red beans and finished off with freshly sliced plums and more mochi! It was so much fun to see the reactions on my family’s faces who had not tried french toast prepared this way before. My husband was super happy when he saw Azuki red bean and mochi, his favourites. My elder son was scrutinising the stuffings like conducting a lab test. I totally enjoyed mine. My youngest requested for vanilla ice-cream in his toast.

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Pandora’s French Toast sliced 

The addition of the mochi was the best. It was like eating a dorayaki pancake with mochi inside. I dressed the plate up with little droplets of minty cherry sauce, some dried preserved fruits (mikan and ume) and sliced banana.

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Pandora’s French Toast

I think this french toast was my best so far not because of the mix & match ingredients but the surprise element. You can literally hide anything inside, maybe even an engagement ring for those men wanting to propose to their wives-to-be!


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Donut Babies

www.ongling.comIn Japan, these animals donuts are very popular, my kid fell in love with them instantly. Who wouldn’t? However I can’t find any donut shops selling these in my country. He has been asking for them so I decided to try making them myself. I used Japanese Confectionary brand Morinaga pancake mix. The mix can be tweeted to make donuts by adding egg, butter and sugar, the packaging’s recipe recommended frying them. I baked them instead in the oven(about 11-12 minutes at 180ºC), and it worked well too.  The texture is fluffy like a cake yet with mild chewiness of a pancake.

I used Candy Melts colours, dark chocolate chips and vegetable shortening for the coating of the donuts. By heating the candy melts in the microwave for about 1 minute, its easier to mix with the shortening.  The shortening helps to  dilute the candy melts and chocolate to a nice near fluid consistency which will give a smooth coating to the donuts (the consistency of the coating is similar to chocolate glaze on cakes). After 2 coatings each, I put them into the fridge to chill for a few minutes before I start decorating them with white and dark chocolate chips, marshmallows and cookies.

We couldn’t stop ourselves from grabbing them after I took this photo, especially my young customer who had been waiting patiently for 2 hours.


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Ekiben treats in Japan

imageTz and I both love taking trains in Japan. For Tz, its the excitement of seeing his favourite shinkasen trains come to life and for me, I am in awe of the beautifully prepared ekibens they have at different eki stations all over Japan. Buying and experiencing the ekiben on the trains is a tourist attraction all by itself. We were very lucky to savour some of them recently in Japan for the Spring 2015 season.

A short history on ekiben (adapted from Aki Tomura’s book “The Ultimate Travel Food EKIBEN”):

During the Meiji period (1868-1912) railroads were first built in Japan, and bento were made available (and still are available) at each station. Ekiben is mainly eaten on train journeys, and the word itself is an abbreviation of “eki-bento” (eki=station and ben=bento). Ekiben feature regional delicacies and traditional cuisine from each stop around the country and is very popular among Japanese. Its packaging also deserves special attention as it often incorporates local culture and a unique style. 

I was so happy when I found her book in Japan as its in English. You can find out more about her book at http://shun-gate.com/en/power/power_style_15.html

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I discovered so many types of ekiben while exploring the many bento stores at train stations in Tokyo, Iiyama, Kanazawa and Nagano.

Some beautifully crafted ekiben packaging are reusable that means they are collectibles too! Some include sake and glass, meshi bento with all ingredients on top of rice like sea urchin or oyster toppings for 1 person, etc.

The ekiben is a gourmet artform all by itself. Some popular ekiben need to be reserved in advance as they are  produced in limited quantity daily by e.g. husband and wife teams. You can really feel the dedication, the love the preparers put into preparing these bentos. So when I eat them, I observe each piece of food and savour them very slowly in appreciation of the bento makers.

Some of the bentos featured in the picture on the left include Daruma Bento, Kaga-nodate bento” ekiben, Koshu Wine Lunch” ekiben, Tohge-no-Kamameshi.

As we were traveling from Tokyo station to Iiyama and then from Iiyama to Kanazawa on the Hokuriku new route on the E7 shinkasen, I was determined to find E7 bentos for Tz.  They are reusable bento boxes prepared just for kids.

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First bento box featured in the above picture is a shinkasen shaped box with stickers for kids to paste on the bento box. The food prepared is generally similar for children bentos like hotdog, tomato rice, tempuras, tomagoyaki, etc. The second box in the picture can be folded and flatten when not in use to save space.

 As for me, I always go for grilled beef don for my first bento as the beef are of very good quality like Hida beef or wagyu beef from famous wagyu producing prefectures. Some bento boxes now even feature a self heating device to warm up the food without electricity. How cool is that?

I got this grilled beef bento from Tokyo Station. It comes complete with chopsticks, wet napkin and sauce. I paid about US$18 for this ekiben.

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Next bento I got to try is this gorgeous one featuring food of 4 seasons including namagashi from Kanazawa station.  This box costs about US$28. I was lucky to get the last box, customers bought in batches at one go.

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IMG_0855Bought this oshizushi (pressed sushi) wrapped in bamboo leaves and enjoyed the whole meal with sake from Shirakawago in Gifu.  The meal could not have got any better than this while enjoying the scenery of Japan sea coast and quaint traditional villages. If only the meals on Euro rails can just be as delish as this.

Airlines traveling to and from Japan nowadays serve pretty impressive bentos too. My favorite airline bento meal has always been ANA but this time round I flew on Singapore Airlines and was quite impressed with their Hanakoireki bento that includes a starter bento, a main bento and a dessert. I posted a menu description below.

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 This whole bento journey has been truly eye opening for me about Japanese food culture and I would love to return again solely on an ekiben travel itinerary to discover more wonderful food of the changing seasons in Japan serve on these trains.  Stay tuned for more updates of my Spring 2015 trip in Japan.


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100% Japanese Wagyu

imageSince its still Chinese New Year here in Singapore, many of us are celebrating the festive season with family and friends gatherings. We are going to have steamboat dinner tomorrow at my aunt’s house so I decided to splurge on these beautiful wagyu meat to bring as a gift to dinner instead of wine. Who would’t like an authentic piece of creamy marbled wagyu?

We can buy wagyu nowadays in supermarkets imported from AUstralia and US, Australia wagyu still pales against its U.S. and japanese counterparts. My favourite wagyu brand from US is Snake River Farm. I am no expert in wagyu but i appreciate a good piece of meat because the texture can tell a lot about how the cows are being bred. I personally find Grade A5 a little too rich for me but A3 and A4 grades are just nice.

I am lucky enough to find Oumi wagyu (top 3 wagyu in Japan) and Yonesawagyu from Yamagata. Though Yamagata wagyu here is grade A5, but the A4 Oumi is creamier and buttery in texture.

Normally we will cut them into bite size pieces, grill them on hot plate , sprinkle with a little sea salt and savour the juicy meat. Yum, I am salivating now at the thought of it.

My aunt and family will be so pleased with the gift.

You can find more Information here : http://www.oumiushi.com/


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Gifts of Okinawa

Okinawa, Japan, is blessed with beautiful beaches & isles, bountiful exotic fruits of the sea and of course Awamori (rice wine).

We spent our last Christmas 2014 and New Year 2015 on this land with one of the highest number of centenarians in the world. There is a misconception that Okinawa is closer to the main island of Japan but its location is nearer to Taiwan. Thats where we took a budget airline, Peach, for just over an hour from Taipei TaoYuan airport to arrive in Naha.

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Some highlights of our trip:

1) Taketomi isle (located at Yaeyama Islands)

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We took a domestic ANA flight from Naha airport to Ishigaki island, taxi transfer to the port and took a ferry to reach Taketomi isle. This is a very charming little island where most traditional culture and customs are still intact. We travelled the whole isle by bicycles with Tz sitting in the back. Yep, this is the only common mode of transport here. So cool. We cycled from one beach to another beach, visited the little village where you will find the roads covered mostly with white sands or very fine corals. There are some little B&Bs in the village but we chose to stay in Hoshinoya Taketomi, a little away from the village. You can find very charming,  part bohemian, part funky cafes and eateries serving local seasonal dishes. Their home made ice cream, especially sweet potato and vanilla are to die for, very creamy with a hint of saltiness from the seasalt harvested locally. The brown rice here is especially delicious.

During December, though the temperature was around 19-21 degrees celsius, its still a bit chilly to swim in the sea unless you have wetsuit. We did some diving but did not have enough time to dive in the Manta Rays grounds. We will definitely return in summer to dive again. You can dive all year round in Okinawa.

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On-route from our hotel to the village for meals

image Tz taking in the view of one of the many beautiful beaches

imageShisa, Okinawa symbols of good luck and protection. Normally they come in pairs, one with mouth closed and the other open.

imageBuffalo cart ride in the village

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Typical shops in the village

2) The beaches

We are spoilt for choice when choosing which beach to visit. Not only the many little isles have fantastic beaches, the main island are littered with so many different beaches with wide array of resorts and hotels. Sadly, we did not rent a car as we forgot to apply for international driving licence back home, so we could not visit many of the beautiful sights on the island. Its a necessity to rent a car if you want to travel around the main island. There are tour buses and private drivers too but self drive holiday on this island is a better option. Below are some shots of Cape Manzamo and the beach at our hotel (Hotel Monterey).

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3. The food & Awamori

I think one of the main pull factor for us to come back again is definitely the food, really suit our palate. Besides the wide variety of exotic seafood, there are many interesting typical Okinawan food offerings such as Pig’s ears, sea grapes (My absolute favourite), bitter gourd in Goya Chanpuru, Jimami (Tofu Pudding Dessert salty sweet), Taco rice, etc. Taco rice is an institution here, a combination of Mexican and Japanese cuisine.  The market in Naha is a good place to visit . There is a fresh seafood and meat market on the ground floor and a large canteen with many eateries on the second floor where the fresh food we bought from the market were sent up to be cooked and served to us.  And my staple drink for every meal, a good bottle of Awamori, straight. This rice wine contains higher alcohol content than sake, typically between 30% to 60%. However, I don’t get hangover at all. Awamori uses Thai rice to ferment.

Typical breakfast with fresh vegetable, fish, egg onsen accompanied with rice and soup.

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The market in Naha (Must try : the local fish Gurukun in sashimi and salt grilled styles)

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Lovely in-room meal at Hoshinoya Taketomi and local gyoza wrapped in chicken skin (sinfully addictive)

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Goya Chanpuru ; Sea Grapes (a type of seaweed where the little grapes pop in your mouth like caviar)

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Awamori tasting ; Awamori with a whole snake inside (supposedly to be good for male potency)  

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Jimani (Tofu Pudding)  & sweet potato ice cream

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Besides the food and beautiful sights, Okinawan music is exquisite too. The singing is usually accompanied with a traditional guitar called Sanshin  www.youtube.com/watch?v=OvsYoqRfhSI. I just fell in love with the music.

We will be planning to return to this place again in Summer and with a rented car next time to cover more places.

Hope you enjoy my little writeup about Okinawa.