Small-town Alberta Girl Attempts Making Various Japanese Foods

As you will know if you get me talking on the subject (don’t do it, I’ll never stop talking), I am very much enamoured with Japanese food, fashion, and culture. I’ve visited Japan twice in the past, and am currently planning trip #3 once it’s safe to travel again. With the many different things to see and do and local cultures and food specialties in every prefecture, I will never get bored of visiting this lovely country.

In Japan, both my sweet tooth and my umami tongue (?) are satisfied. Yet, every time I fly back to Canada I find myself missing the delicious foods of Japan. Sure, there are a few wonderful Japanese restaurants where I live, but there are some things, like mochi and dorayaki, that I just can’t get in town. Some foods can be ordered online, but then they are heavily processed and super overpriced. Monthly Japanese snack boxes are fun, but you don’t get to choose what’s in your box, and after a while you get a lot of repeats and stuff that you don’t want. I also live in a small town in northern Alberta where the nearest big city with an Asian supermarket is at least 5 hours away.

So what’s a small-town Alberta girl to do? Well, I’ve started to stock up on Japanese ingredients. Some things I can find easily in town, like udon noodles or panko breadcrumbs. Other things, like mirin and rice wine, are more hit or miss. Then, some things, like kombu seaweed, sweet rice flour, furikake rice topping, are impossible to find anywhere in my area.

With no other options, I’ve had to bulk up my pantry. Between ordering things online, stocking up whenever I go to Edmonton or Calgary, and even bringing home a few things from Japan, I’ve begun to gather my own stocks of ingredients. I’m the flustered girl you see at the T&T market during my biannual trip to Edmonton rushing around and buying implausible amounts of dashi soup stock because I simply cant buy it at my home grocery stores.

Where to start!?

A good place to start might be the konbini egg sandwich. These humble and unassuming morsels are known to travellers as a quick and cheap option available in convenience stores (“konbini”) across Japan. You might be thinking “who the hell wants to eat a stinky convenience store egg sandwich when they are travelling?!” and in any other country you’re totally right. However, Japanese convenience store offerings are on a whole other level, to the point that one of the things I regularly miss about Japanese cities is stopping into a friendly neighborhood konbini and loading up on affordable snacks and meals. A lot of things are new and exciting in Tokyo, and it’s great fun to explore restaurants and try out new cuisines, but there’s also something so comforting about knowing that the bright lights of konbini are waiting for you nearby (always nearby) any time that you just want something that you don’t have to think about or navigate. A simple, quick sandwich.

RECIPE USED: A pretty simple mix of a couple mashed up boiled eggs, couple tablespoons or so of mayo, salt and pepper to taste. Throw it between a couple slices of bread and voila. Should give you enough to make 2 sandwiches.

I was pretty happy with how my egg mix turned out, but my whole grain braid couldn’t compare with the soft, thin, chewy, cakey white bread used on my favorite konbini egg sandwiches.

Next up, another konbini staple: onigiri.

RECIPE USED: it popped up on the MyFitnessPal app one day and I’ve since lost the recipe, but rest assured these are easy to make and if you google “onigiri recipe” you will get tons of hits.

I guess I never took a picture of an onigiri in Japan aside from this one of them still in the wrapper. My own onigiri look like sad little rectangular lumps because they took on the shape of the little bowl I used to form them, but I assure you they were tasty. I used tuna (with mayo, basil, salt, and pepper) for the filling.

Coming up: shabu shabu!

RECIPE USED: https://www.justonecookbook.com/shabu-shabu/ (with some substitutions)

Shabu Shabu is a type of hot pot and a really great meal for sharing in the winter when it sometimes gets to be -38°C where I live. I bought a double-chambered electric hot pot that we can keep on the kitchen table while we eat. The name Shabu Shabu (しゃぶしゃぶ) refers to the swishing (shabu) noise that the thin slices of meat make as you twirl them through the hot broth. The broth gets tastier and tastier as you eat, because the juices and flavorings of more and more ingredients get deposited to the pot as the meal goes on. I took this a little too much to heart when I was in Gunma and one of the ryokan staff noticed me putting pickled vegetables in my hotpot… they got a good laugh out of that (apparently the pickles do not go in the hotpot. To be fair I didn’t even know they were pickles).

I’m still experimenting with my Shabu Shabu, as some ingredients are hard to find. Enoki mushrooms are hit or miss in my town, and so far I’ve only found one grocery store that offers the thinly sliced hotpot meat.

Next, it’s bento time:

RECIPE USED: White sushi rice topped with furikake and mini hamburger bites with carrot shapes from The Just Bento Cookbook: Everyday Lunches to Go by Makiko Itoh, Mini-hamburger bento, p. 27

Bento are awesome kuz you can throw together whatever you want into a cute little portable bento box. Bento picks and other little accessories can add to the creativity, but bento don’t have to be Pinterest-worthy; leftovers make great bento fare and you can use whatever tupperware you have on hand. I also love making tamagoyaki, which is like a rolled omelette.

Speaking of omelettes…

RECIPE USED: not applicable ^-^’

Ok, to be fair I didn’t actually make omurice here, sorry… this is just a badly flipped omelette on top of some hastily placed lettuce and grape tomatoes. It was basically an excuse for me to try some ketchup art. Someday I will master the omurice in all of its smooth, saucey glory. Someday.

On to dorayaki…

RECIPE USED: Get Started Making Japanese Snacks: Step By Step Recipes for Delectable Bites by Yamishita Masataka, p. 14 Tsubu-an & p. 22: Dorayaki

I have something to admit…The first time I had dorayaki (well, actually it was taiyaki, those fish shaped cakes which are sorta similar) I was put off by the red bean paste that is a common filling in Japan. I am someone who has a huge sweet tooth and is used to overly sugary western snacks, so the first time I tried azuki bean paste I thought something like “this is weird…I’d rather have custard or icing inside”.

HOWEVER! I can honestly say that anko has since grown on me. Very much so, in fact. I’ve developed a taste for it, and I’ve bought my own azuki beans and started making Japanese snacks with anko filling at home. The first one I tried was dorayaki.

Dorayaki is like two sweet pancakes wrapped lovingly around a filling of anko paste. These pictures are from my second attempt. The first time I tried making dorayaki, I used custard powder (the recipe calls for custard sugar) and ended up with globby, chewy pancakes that were less than delightful. Pro-tip: regular sugar works just fine! Then for the anko paste filling, two common kinds of anko paste are tsubuan (chunky consistency) and koshian (fine consistency). I made tsubuan for my dorayaki, and I also used it in my next sweet:…

mochi!

RECIPE USED: https://www.justonecookbook.com/daifuku/

The mochi I made in Japan with friends is probably about as authentic as you can get. We made it as part of a New Year tradition, and took turns pounding hot rice in a giant usu mortar.

Take that, mochi! And that! And that!

The one I made at home, on the other hand, involved using sweet rice flour to quickly make the mochi dough. I put a bit of anko paste inside, and voila: daifuku mochi. Make sure to have some potato starch or cornstarch on hand to keep the mochi from sticking to every single surface imaginable.

It’s even got the Butters’ seal of approval!

Next: kakigori

RECIPE USED: No recipe… just shave some ice and pour a bit of syrup on top. I ordered grape kakigori syrup online, but you can also use sno-cone syrup or whatever.

I had to buy an ice shaver to make homemade kakigori, but I’m so glad I did. It’s such a nice summer treat, light and cold and sweet. The closest thing I can compare this to is a sno-cone, but in Japan shaved ice, as with so many other things, is taken to higher levels of sophistication (levels which I clearly did not successfully replicate at home).

Finally, a soothing beverage:

RECIPE USED: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uavCHN_k0Lk&t=9s

Latte art is beyond my talents currently, but nonetheless I was super surprised at how tasty my matcha latte turned out. It’s so easy to make, too! This is a recipe I will whip out again and again. Heating the milk also gives me an excuse to use the cute spouted Animal Crossing pot that I bought at the Nintendo store in Parco Shibuya last year! I think it makes the latte taste better…

Bonus time: pudding!

RECIPE USED: Dr. Oetker Crème Caramel boxed pudding

I’m calling this a “bonus” because I only have a picture of a pudding label that I stuck in my travel journal (can’t believe I never took a picture of an actual konbini pudding! I guess I was too busy eating them), and the pudding I made at home was from a box…

The custard puddings from Japanese konbini are… TOO good. I ate way too many of them. Breakfast with a side of pudding? Pudding with lunch? After dinner pudding? Dangerously delicious.

You don’t see these puddings out and about in Canada. The closest I could find for a quick pudding was this Dr. Oetker box mix. It was tasty! Still, not quite as tasty as the plentiful puddings of Japan.


Well, that’s about it for my forays into Japanese cooking for now, but I have more ideas for the future that I want to try, such as matcha mochi, kushiage skewers, and maybe even a fluffy Japanese style strawberry shortcake!

My Favorite Artist: Yamamoto Takato

I am an indecisive person. I don’t generally use neat categories, since things most often fit into gray areas. It’s usually hard for me to say anything is my #1 or “favorite” of something. However, when I discovered Yamamoto Takato’s work there was a click in my brain and I knew that I had found something that appealed to me so deeply and on so many different levels; so much so that I can confidently say Yamamoto Takato is my favorite artist.

Yamamoto is a Japanese painter who experimented with Ukiyo-e Pop style, ultimately creating his own “Heisei Estheticism”. Ukiyo-e influenced compositions meet with gothic scenes, creating gorgeous and brutally captivating paintings (check out his bio here).

Circle, from the Coffin of a Chimera collection
Salome, from the Divertimento For a Martyr collection

In Yamamoto’s work there are themes that come up again and again- youth and decay, innocence and destruction, darkness and light, horror and fascination. He presents the grotesque and the erotic together.

Distant Window, from the Altar of Narcissus collection

The subjects of Yamamoto’s work are often very confronting, holding you with their arresting gaze. Pain and pleasure, vitality and death, bondage and surrender— these intermingle often.

Bad Habit, from the Allure of Pharmakon collection
Saint Sebastian, from Divertimento For a Martyr collection, also featured in Necrophantasmagoria Vanitas collection.

Vampiric seduction and bloodplay have been a fascination of mine since my early teen years, and this theme is also reoccurring in Yamamoto’s work. My favorites of his pieces involve beautiful vampires feeding on androgynous, glassy-eyed prey.

A poster made of images from Yamamoto’s Nosferatu vampire collection.
Vampire, from the Rib of a Hermaphrodite collection. Also featured in the Nosferatu collection.

The images here are just a very small sampling of Yamamoto’s works. I am in awe of his huge life’s work of hundreds of detailed paintings, many of which are not found online but are included in his art book collections.

My collection of Yamamoto’s signed works are some of my most treasured books. They are produced in gorgeous hardcover with attractive slipcases and textured covers that suit the artwork inside.

I purchased my collection of his art books through http://www.yamamototakato.com/index.html

When I was in Tokyo last December, I got my nails done in a salon for the first time ever. I went to Aki Laccio and he created an amazing Yamamoto-inspired nail art look for me!

3 hours of detailed nail painting by Aki.Laccio

At the beginning of the pandemic, when the Getty Museum challenged people to recreate their favorite artworks using things around the house, I threw together this ode to Yamamoto using some blankets and costume pieces. I don’t think I captured the expression, but nonetheless I had fun doing it!

The Art of Conversation

This is by far the most special art project I’ve ever done ❤. The Art of Conversation is a project that brings artists and seniors in our community together, made possible through a partnership between the Arts Council Wood Buffalo and St. Aidan’s Society. The idea is that the artist hosts a conversation with their partner and the resulting discussion becomes the muse for an art project.

Before I first called my partner Libby I was nervous- what if we didn’t click? What if I didn’t get any ideas for my piece? Happily, my fears were unfounded, as we had a great chat and I had the initial ideas for my project before we were even done talking. This project was a joy and Libby was my inspiration.

This video includes some audio clips from parts of our conversation, and video from my process creating the artwork.

Cosplay Quarantine Music Video

Cosplayers around the world who had been working hard on their costumes have found that the cons they were preparing for were cancelled thanks to Covid19. Cosplayers, however, are nothing if not creative. My friends at M’Guphynn Media, who usually bring their fancy equipment to cons each year and make cosplay music videos with the resulting footage, put together this awesome Cosplay Music Video: Quarantine Edition, made up of submissions from cosplayers (including myself as Rize Kamishiro at 2.36 and my doggos as Harry Potter and Mario at 0.24 and 3:04 respectivelty!)

Check it out! ❤

New Horizons: My First Island Tour

Last night I stayed up past 3am filming this little nighttime tour and recording narration, adding YouTube captions… because what even IS time anymore, am I right?!

I don’t have a capture card, so I filmed my switch from above- it’s not ideal but hopefully it’s an OK viewing experience.

Onsen: 0:51
Campground Area: 1:10
Teddy Bear Picnic Area: 2:08
Fairground(?) Area & Music Area: 2:24
Pansy Lake: 2:50
Orchard: 3:15
Yard & Garden: 3:40
Sakura Room: 4:35
Kitchen: 5:05
Secret Lab 5:40
Bathroom: 6:30
Tearoom: 7:10
Fashion: 8:10
My Library Designs 9:40

My creator ID: MA-6167-0370-0740

Molly Creator ID (Moon Stepping Stones): MA-9458-8581-5737

Katala Creator ID (Fruit Art): MA-4288-6745-5427

Healing Routines In A Time of Anxiety: Animal Crossing

It’s been a crazy week in a month that is flying by and a year that nobody was expecting. The world is on edge with the coronavirus threat, people are hoarding toilet paper (?) and while many of us are preparing to spend more time at home than we’re accustomed to, others around the globe are putting their own lives at risk working extended hours to help keep this thing under control.

Some things will change suddenly- it’s unlikely, for example, that the cosplay project I’ve been working on will debut at Calgary Expo in April as planned, as I highly doubt that it will be safe enough by that point to have such a huge gathering of people in one place. My sister’s Worlds Cheerleading competition has been postponed, as have peoples’ trips, weddings, exams, surgeries, and other important events.

In a time when plans are being dashed, trips cancelled, work halted, and unprecedented stressful situations are unfolding daily, it is important to ensure we keep some normalcy in our day-to-day. It’s good for our mental health to have things to rely on, things to look forward to, things to distract us and give us some calming rituals and routines. For me, this will include activities like creating art, playing with my dogs, spending time with my husband, and reading. It will also include, in four days’ time, Animal Crossing: New Horizons.

It’s been a while since I’ve awaited a game so excitedly. In our current goings-on, a new Animal Crossing game is just what I need to give my brain a break from the constant Breaking News.

If you’ve never played an Animal Crossing game before, they are extremely easy to recommend to just about anyone. The family-friendly series is known for being popular with everyone, their mom, and their grandma! The irresistible recipe of customization, decorating, crafting, improving the community, and making cute little animal friends gets better and better with each new installment. New Horizons offers so many cool new features, like landscaping, that I can’t wait to try out.

Last year I got the chance to check out the new Nintendo store at Parco Shibuya!

Sometimes, when the real world feels crazy, it’s nice to have a gentle, encouraging, somewhat predictable little oasis to call your own. I hope that Animal Crossing: New Horizons will be that for myself and many others.

Happy gaming everyone, and stay safe!

Cosplay WIP: Rize from Tokyo Ghoul

I’m working on a new cosplay project that I hope to debut at Calgary Expo in April. I really enjoyed sharing the process of making my Krul Tepes cosplay, so I’ve decided to do the same with this cosplay: Rize Kamishiro from Tokyo Ghoul!

I’ll keep adding to this page as I get further in the building and sewing of this project. I can’t wait to try on the sclera lenses and wig, and get my kagune attached to the costume!

Steins;Gate: Now Is The Time- El Psy Kongruu

If you are reading this, maybe there is a small chance- please hear my plea.

The tides of time are turning.

I’ve come from the future, the year 2036, with a warning of grave importance.

.

.

.

It is imperative that you play Steins;Gate.

It is the only way.


Alright, I know, Steins;Gate is old news- it came out in 2009!- but with a Live Action TV series recently announced to be in the works by Skydance Television, it’s a great time to consider playing or revisiting this twisty, dramatic, hilarious sci-fi visual-novel game.

I will admit that for a while Steins;Gate was a game that I played in intermittent bursts, often while travelling; I have a downloaded version on my PsVita, and the story begins as fun but sort of plodding. However, I recently picked it up again on my way home from Vancouver and got to the part where things really take off– after that I couldn’t put it down.

What begins as a bunch of otaku and their chuunibyou leader dabbling with internet message boards and dubious technological advances rapidly accelerates into full-blown world-altering time-travel with devastating consequences. I’ve finished 3 of the possible 6 main endings, and I’m questioning whether it’s possible to ever “have it all” (You’ll know what I mean if you play the game…).

I myself am very much a geek and already moderately well-versed in anime & manga tropes and lingo, but for someone who doesn’t know much about the vastness of otaku subcultures, this game would be an excellent introduction. Also be prepared for a lot of mind-bending wibbly-wobbly-timey-wimey talk: The “tips” accumulated throughout the game point out and explain the references and vocabulary dropped by the characters time and time again.

Steins;Gate is actually the second release in this “Science Adventure” franchise, after Chaos;Head, but the latter has never been released in English- a cryptic tweet from creator Chiyomaru Shikira in 2018 hinted that an English port would “probably” happen!

Regardless, Steins;Gate is a separate story from Chaos;Head, with different characters, and you can absolutely play Steins;Gate without having played Chaos;Head (I haven’t, though I would love to someday!). Steins;Gate is available on Steam, Vita, Ps4, iOS, Android, and more. The remastered version of the game, Steins;Gate Elite is also available on Switch as well, and features animation from the anime adaptation.

I am definitely ready to start playing the sequel, Steins;Gate 0!

Tokyo Memories, Day 14: Yanaka Ginza, Ameyoko, and Kindness at Nippori Textile Street

A month ago Dustin and I began our trip in Tokyo! So, as with our last trip, I’ve decided to copy out each day of my travel journal into my blog. Each day for the next 18 days I will share a post of what we did in Tokyo a month prior.

So, let’s get into it! (Or start with day 1 here!)

From Shauna’s Journal

Day 14, December 27th, 2019

Today we checked out Yanaka Ginza and enjoyed a bit of street food: yakitori and croquettes, mmm. I got a couple of personal hanko stamps made, too!

My hanko!

Then we went to Ameyoko, where I got blissfully lost in the giant Yamashiroya toy store. The Ameyoko walk was so crowded that we were pretty much swept up in the wave, but we did manage to dip into a restaurant for some hamburger omurice and melon soda floats.

I also visited Nippori Textile Street today (well, first I got lost and ended up in a quiet and beautiful cemetery).

Textile street has so much lovely fabric, lace, jewelry-making items, embroidered patches, etc., it’s overwhelming! I got a few bits and bobs, but it was getting late.

I was expecting warm weather, but with gale wind and the evening chill I was actually quite cold, and moreso just annoyed at all of the whispered well-meaning “Samuii! Gaijin samuii!!?? (isn’t that foreigner cold!?!) I was getting again, so when I spotted some shawl-sweaters on sale outside a shop I tried one on and promptly went to buy it.

Cute, and also on sale for a really good price! ❤

When the staff member went to bag it I said “Oh, no please, I’ll wear it out… it’s a little cold…” Suddenly, as if they had just wholly noticed my existence, she and the two other women in the shop (a customer and another staff) began fawning over me and tut-tutting, touching my open-lace sleeves and remarking things like “ehhhh! samuii!!!!” getting me to step into the sweater and rubbing it over my arms. One of the staff reached behind the counter and grabbed an instant-heat patch, exclaiming “Heat! Ok?!” I nodded and thanked her many times as she lifted my new shawl-sweater up with a “Hen, ne!? Gomen!” or something like that, meaning something along the lines of “sorry for being weird lifting up your shirt like this!” and she stuck the patch on my back. To be honest, I didn’t really feel much heat coming from it, but the gesture warmed my heart more than I can say.

They asked me where I was from and how I could stand the cold so much, and when I said Canada they “aaaahh”ed knowingly. They bowed to me as I left and saw me out the door. ❤

Lastly I swooped through Uniqlo on my way back to the hotel, finding a few quirky printed shirts, and got some laundry done again (no easy feat when everyone is waiting for a dryer >.<)

I waited in a big line for these amazing cheese tarts at Ikebukuro station as well ❤

Check out day 15, Karaoke With Strangers & Taemin in Yokohama, here!

Tokyo Memories Day 9: Harajuku Fashion Walk, Shopping, Snakes, and Rainy Ramen

A month ago Dustin and I began our trip in Tokyo! So, as with our last trip, I’ve decided to copy out each day of my travel journal into my blog. Each day for the next 18 days I will share a post of what we did in Tokyo a month prior.

So, let’s get into it! (Or start with day 1 here)

From Shauna’s Journal

Day 9, December 22nd, 2019

This morning Dustin and I went up to the 3rd floor breakfast area and indulged in some very yummy omurice together. Then we went back to Harajuku and walked the gorgeous path to Meiji shrine. ❤ I got some delicious mitarashi dango on my way out.

I participated in the Harajuku Fashion Walk, which was a cool experience! I met a lot of other people done up in different styles, everything from colourful decora, frilly lolita, Christmas inspired, to intense gothic.

I wore my own designs which I had printed onto fabric: a skull lino print on my tights, cute 90’s illustration toy dress, and a silky scarf covered in a digital illustration of my own lips and tongue. I ended up buying a sweater later from an artist at Design Festa to complete my look (and it was rainy so I was starting to get chilly!) The girl who I bought the sweater from gave me an Umaibo stick and wished me a Merry Christmas ❤

FASHION. F-F-F-F-F-F-FASHION.

The fashion walk stopped at several locations to get group pictures. We got a lot of stares! We made a very eclectic bunch for sure. We also saw some people on motorcycles dressed in Christmas & Santa costumes.

After the walk I booted it to Tokyu Plaza since it was raining hard and I needed an umbrella. I settled on a black parasol-type umbrella from Lips & Hips.

Then I checked out Laforet, where I got a couple of cute things at the Sailor Moon store, and also visited a couple of REALLY cool fashion shops with street-fashion, lolita, mod, and more. I got a really awesome hoodie with a pissed-off looking teddy-bear on it who’s about to eat a cupcake(?) and it says YUMMY. The man who sold it to me had a very cool Jrock style. The store was called WRouge.

I finally had a chance to visit the famously strange and colourful 6% DokiDoki store, with its huge decorated bear at the entrance; I just got a sticker and a couple of pins, and snapped a few pics!

Next, I found my way to the Snake Center, where I enjoyed a delicious Kuromitsu (?) latte and held 4 different snakes, including a huge ball python named Jagger! Such good, cute snakes T-T I love them.

The last thing I did before trudging back to the hotel in my wet socks and shoes was to wait in a 30min lineup in the pouring rain for Ichiren Ramen. It was worth it though! You get your own tiny booth and stool, and order with a ticket: perfect for introverts or those who are feeling overstimulated! I drank every last drop of the delicious umami broth, which warmed me up and gave me the strength to get home in the windy chill.

Tomorrow is my tebori (handpoke) tattoo with Horimitsu! Excited!

Check out day 10, Tebori Handpoke Tattoo With Horimitsu, here!