We recently returned from a wonderful two-week long vacation in Japan. Although we have taken a number of international trips, this was our first time visiting a country where the culture and language were unfamiliar to us. Fortunately, everyone that we interacted with was extremely accommodating, and we were able to get by just learning a few Japanese phrases. During our time in Tōkyō, we stayed at the Park Hotel Tokyo in the Shiodome Sio Site in Minato-ku. Above you can see the spectacular view from our room that welcomed us on our very first night.
Most of our trip was spent in the central parts of Tōkyō-to, and even though we were in the metropolis for many days, we still only explored a small amount of its numerous wards. There is much to discover in the area around Shinjuku Station, which has a number of interesting skyscrapers. Our favorite is the Mode Gakuen Cocoon Tower.
A full size head of Godzilla stands over Toho Cinemas Shinjuku.
Even though we saw Shinjuku during daylight hours, we knew we had to go back at night to see it lit up. The multitude of lightboxes filling the streets would make Las Vegas jealous.
One of the best tucked away spots in the area is Omoide Yokocho, also known as Piss Alley. This tight, atmospheric alley is packed with tiny restaurants and great street food.
Throughout Tōkyō, we saw many ads for the upcoming 2020 Summer Olympics. We took a walk around Yoyogi National Gymnasium, which will be one of the venues, and was originally built for the 1964 summer games.
There are many buildings throughout Tōkyō that are quite distinctive, such as the Humax Pavillion and the Nakagin Capsule Tower.
Tsukiji Market, known for its tuna auctions and many seafood vendors, is one of many outdoor markets that we walked through during our trip.
There is certainly no shortage of massive shopping districts in Tōkyō, with Ginza being the most upscale.
Traditional structures, like the Kabuki-za are sprinkled throughout even the most modern districts.
The gardens of the Imperial Palace were closed on the day that we visited, but it is still a very pleasant walk around the palace’s moat.
We were in Japan during peak cherry blossom season, which was truly wonderful. Though most of our sakura viewing was done in Kyōtō, we did find great stretches to walk under cherry blossoms around the Imperial Palace.
The Sensō-ji Buddhist temple and the adjacent Asakusa Shinto shrine are part of a large cluster of sacred buildings with a surrounding market in the Asakusa district.
Tsukiji Hongan-ji is another Buddhist temple that was designed to look much more like something you would see in South Asia.
Beautiful houseboats line up at the docks on the Kanda River, waiting to take tourists on excursions.
There are many ‘cafés’ in Shibuya-ku where you can pay to sit with cute animals. We spent some time with some new kitty friends, and we even got to hold owls!
We took so many trains on this trip, which was very easy with our Japan Railways passes. Our most interesting train experience was certainly traveling at 270 km/h on the Shinkansen from Tōkyō Station to Kyōtō.
On our last day in Tōkyō we caught a glimpse of Mount Fuji from our hotel window bidding us farewell. Over the next few weeks, we’ll be sharing more photos from our adventures in the land of the rising sun.
As we move from project to project in our home, we have been focusing primarily on the spaces that are most exposed to guests. A while ago, we completed the guest room, and now we have just put the finishing touches on the guest bathroom. This was quite a large project, considering how small the room actually is, and our first concepts for it date back to before we even closed escrow.
As you can see in these images, this bathroom was quite hideous when we bought the house. The only thing that we considered keeping was the bathtub, but ultimately we replaced it because it wasn’t in great condition.
We knew that we wanted colored tile halfway up the wall, similar to the bathroom in our old apartment. After visiting several tile stores in Los Angeles County, we ended up going with this lotus flower accent tile that we had seen before we even had the keys to the house. We went with a dark green bullnose cap and a sage green subway tile that’s reminiscent of our kitchen cabinets, giving the bathroom a sense of cohesion with the rest of the house.
For the floor tile, I have always loved the look of small marble hexagons, and how well they juxtapose with subway tile. Removing the vanity and replacing it with a pedestal gave us much more floor space to make the room feel less cramped.
In order to have some storage space, we designed this cabinet that spans the length of the wall, and had it custom built by Martin Cabinet Designs. The layout of the cabinet allows for a decorative mirror to hang in the center, and I especially love the rounded corner shelves that give us space to put up decorative bathroom items.
When it came time to pick out the shower door, we went with a frameless textured glass that would allow more light into the shower than a framed one.
Porcelain cross handles in the shower are another element inspired by our apartment bathroom.
After all of the construction and cabinet installation was done, it was time to pick out the accessories. We selected items that would not only provide the needed functionality, but would also make sense visually for the space. The bathtub caddy has become a favorite for relaxing in the whirlpool tub with a book and glass of wine.
Though I have no idea what this bathroom possibly looked like in 1931 when our home was built, I certainly feel that we have done the space justice with our recent changes.
One of the main elements of our new living room is the fireplace and built-in housing for the television. This multi-faceted project took a long time to complete, and ended up including some DIY work on our parts that we weren’t initially planning for.
The original fireplace was very bare, and lacked presence. The brick face was broken in a few spots, and the remnants of carpeting were stuck to the bottom edge. Overall it was unappealing and needed a change.
We knew that we wanted to be able to cover up our television when it was not in use, as well as house all of our electronic devices inside of a media cabinet. Once we determined the color of the tile and how the doors would open, we started designing the entire piece. James created this concept art, and we worked with Martin Cabinet Designs to figure out the specifics of mounting the television and running the cables. They then had the difficult task of building the cabinetry over the existing broken fireplace.
The level of detail they added was exactly what we were looking for, and it came out perfectly in both design and function. It instantly became a part of the room, enabling us to easily forget that it ever wasn’t there at all.
With the carpentry done, we thought that we would be hiring contractors to tile over the brick, but because it was such a small job, we decided to do the tiling ourselves.
This was our first time ever using mortar, but it was easy enough to apply to the brick. First we had to smooth out the surface, which was especially difficult around the pieces of carpet that were stuck to the bottom.
For the tile itself we went with 3 inch square tiles from Fireclay Tile in Kelp, which has a lovely variety in shading, and a subtle shattered look. We used 1/4 inch spacers, which gave us plenty of leeway if our tile placement wasn’t entirely even.
Having to use a wet saw was one of my biggest hesitations, as they can certainly be intimidating, and proper safety precautions are very important. Once I got the hang of it, it cut very cleanly and made the whole project go smoothly.
After setting all of the tiles and allowing the mortar to dry it was time for the grout. We picked a white grout to let the green of the tile really stand out.
We were relieved to get a clean edge around the bottom, and the bullnose tiles around the rim of the hearth give it a softer look in comparison to the sharp brick edge that was there before.
Once it was all dry and finished, we placed a new fireplace screen that better matched the iron detailing in our living and dining rooms, and added a couple of plants to the hearth. Another home design project successfully checked off our list.
Along with rice, beans, and tortillas – tamales are one of the staple foods I grew up with. The types of tamales have varied widely, from meaty to spicy to sweet, and each one is as delicious as the next. One of the most commonly known is the Mexican style tamale, traditionally made with masa, meat stuffing, and sauce. They’re also fairly simple to make, especially when you have a lazy weekend day to spare.
For these tamales I decided on chicken with a salsa verde, which compliment each other perfectly.
Ingredients (makes 40 tamales): 1 whole chicken, 3 lbs tamale masa, salsa verde (recipe to follow), 40 corn husks, salt to taste.
Before making the chicken and sauce, soak corn husks in warm water and let sit for several minutes.
Then place chicken cut into eight pieces in a large pot with enough water to just cover the chicken and boil with 3 tablespoons of salt. Cook the chicken thoroughly, then remove from water and let cool – reserving water.
For the salsa verde: 20 tomatillos, 6 serrano chiles, 1/2 large onion, 4 garlic cloves, 2 green bell peppers, 1 large bunch cilantro, 1 teaspoon cumin, 1 teaspoon black pepper, 2 all spice, salt and pepper to taste.
Place all of the ingredients in a pot with no more than 1/2 cup of water and simmer until tomatillos are cooked through and soft. Put everything in a blender and puree until smooth.
Shred the cooled chicken, and put in a bowl. Spoon salsa verde over chicken, and mix to coat thoroughly.
Pour masa into bowl of a stand mixer, and gradually add the reserved chicken water with the mixer on medium speed. Mix until any lumps are dissolved, and mixture is smooth.
Cut aluminum foil sheets into roughly 10″ x 10″ squares. To assemble tamales place a husk on a sheet of foil, followed by a thin layer of masa. Use the back of a spoon to spread the masa onto the corn husk, as if you were thickly spreading cream cheese onto a bagel. Then spoon chicken down the middle.
Roll the corn husk to enclose the filling, then wrap the foil tightly around the raw tamale. Place them all in a pot, with about 2 cups of water on the bottom – the steam will do the cooking. Bring to a simmer and let cook or about 50 minutes, covered.
Serve with extra salsa verde and cheese on the side. Tamales also freeze very well, making for easy meals throughout the week.
Bread is one of those foods that I love to eat, but had never made myself at home. Though it’s such a staple item eaten all around the world, I always found it a little intimidating. Those three simple ingredients (flour, water, and salt) needed to create a delicious loaf are in most households, but the process of converting those ingredients felt like nothing short of alchemy. Recently, I finally decided to just go for it and make my all time favorite bread: sourdough.
The most important component of sourdough is the starter dough, which will give the bread that essential tangy flavor, and provide the yeast necessary for the dough to rise. To make the starter dough mix 4oz water with 4oz of all-purpose flour in a bowl. Cover and let sit at room temperature.
The next day, ‘feed’ the dough by removing all but 4oz of starter and feeding it 4oz of flour and 4oz of water, mixing thoroughly. Repeat this process every 12 hours for a few days. The amount of time for the starter can vary, but it helps to keep it at a consistent temperature away from the cold. You will know it’s ready when it is very bubbly and even a little foamy on top.
Place any extra starter dough in the refrigerator, and feed once a week to maintain. When it came time to discard and feed the ready starter, I poured some into jars instead of discarding, and gifted to some friends.
To make the bread: add 30 grams of active starter to 75 grams of all-purpose flour, and 75 grams of water. Mix thoroughly, cover, and let sit overnight or for about 12 hours. Once the leaven is bubbly you know it’s ready. To double check that it is ready, drop a small dollop of the leaven into a bowl of water – if it floats, you’re good to go.
Mix all of the leaven in a large bowl with 475 grams of room temperature water. Mix it in with your hands until the leaven has dissolved into the water. Add 350 grams of all-purpose flour, and 350 grams of whole wheat flour to the bowl with leaven and water. You can also do 700 grams of all-purpose if you don’t want whole wheat, but I think it gives it a richer flavor. Mix until you no longer see any dry flour. Cover and let sit for at least 30 minutes, or up to 4 hours. Once the dough has rested, dissolve 1 tablespoon of salt into 50 grams of water and add to dough. Mix with your hands to combine.
Fold the dough, in the bowl, by grabbing one end and folding the dough in half. Then, move the bowl a quarter turn and fold again. Repeat until you have folded it over four times. Cover and let sit for 30 minutes, then repeat the folding process. Do this process a total of 4 times, every 30 minutes. After you have folded it for the 4th time, let the dough rest for about 45 minutes, until it looks a little puffed.
Sprinkle flour on your countertop, and turn the dough over onto the flour. Cut the dough in half to pre-shape the loaves. Shape into rounds by running a pastry scraper or blunt knife around the bottom edge. This will start to make the top of the dough taut, and give you a more even shape. Let dough rest for 20 minutes.
Meanwhile, prepare two proofing baskets or bowls by lining with a kitchen towel and dusting them with flour. It helped me to lightly spray the towels with water first before adding the flour. Rub the flour into the towel to create a layer of flour on the towel.
Give the loaves their final shape by dusting the tops with flour, then turning them over so the flour side is down. Gently take the top lip of the loaf, and fold it into the center, then repeat with the other three sides. The idea here is to make the top more taut. Cup your hands around the edges of the loaf to give it its final shape. Sprinkle with flour, then transfer to the towel lined baskets or bowls, smooth side down. Cover with plastic, and let sit at room temperature for 4 hours, or place in refrigerator and let sit overnight.
When ready to bake – place a dutch oven or heavy pot with lid in the oven and pre-heat to 500F. Remove the hot dutch oven from oven, and place one of the loaves inside, smooth side up. Score the top with a sharp knife. You can do three diagonal lines like I did, or do an x in the middle.
With the lid on, bake at 500F for 15 minutes, then reduce temperature to 475F for 15 minutes. After the first 30 minutes of baking, remove lid and continue to bake for another 20 minutes – or until the crust has a deep golden brown color.
Remove from oven and place the loaf on a cooling sheet for at least 10 minutes before slicing. You will see the quintessential holes filling each delicious loaf. Enjoy it fresh and warm with toppings of choice.
We take many trips to Disney Parks, both domestic and abroad, and the work of Walt Disney Imagineering has had a tremendous influence on our sense of design. We will be traveling to Tokyo Disney Resort later this year, and here we thought that we would share some of our favorite things about Disneyland Park, as we eagerly await what the Imagineers have in store for us in Japan.
New Orleans Square is an environment that begs to be explored, rather than simply passed through. The streets take a winding path that set up a series of discoveries that are not evident from the waterfront.
The masts of that ship rising up from behind these buildings create the illusion of additional layers of depth. This implies the extension of the space beyond the visible structures, increasing the scope of the land.
The implication of a world just beyond what we can see is also present on the second floor balconies. The set dressing creates characters who live here, such as the artist who is painting this picture. The props combined with “off-screen” sound make New Orleans Square feel so alive.
Within the adobe archways of Rancho del Zocalo, we can rest our weary feet, shielded from the harsh sun of the American Southwest.
Should we venture beyond the safe confines of the hacienda to see what awaits in the town of Rainbow Ridge?
‘Character paint’ and ‘character plaster,’ seen here in Fantasy Faire, are great ways to communicate the idea of a lived in environment that has a sense of place.
This crumbling facade hints at a rich, storied past. Many people have inhabited this space before, working with different materials, speaking different languages, and facing a harsh environment. We don’t know for certain just how this building came to look this way, but our imaginations can provide the details.
The excellent forced perspective of the Indiana Jones Adventure is extremely convincing when partially obscured through the jungle.
Be careful not to look into the eyes of Mara, or else this small glimpse of daylight will be the last that you ever see, as you board your troop transport in the Temple of the Forbidden Eye.
No wonder Toad Hall needs so many fireplaces, being at the foot of that snowy mountain.
When we arrive at Main Street, U.S.A. we are immediately aware that we are at a time of transition where the horse and buggy exists side by side with the motorcar.
The gas lamps have begun to be replaced by the electric light, but the remnants of that bygone era still remain.
Every piece of set dressing that you see in the shops of Main Street, U.S.A. is giving an idea of what types of people own these shops and inhabit this land.
On a windy day, Mary Poppins is blown every which way on this weathervane atop Jolly Holiday Bakery Café.
What lies beyond the visible walls of Fantasyland? The wide open vistas of Storybook Land provide our imaginations with the necessary context to fill in those gaps.
These wonderfully composed, highly detailed landscapes are perhaps the most direct representation in all of Disneyland of the world in which the Disney animated classics take place.
Immediately upon entering the queue for Snow White’s Scary Adventures, the tone is set with a glimpse into the Evil Queen’s dungeon, and the dread that she will stop at nothing to afflict our heroine with the Sleeping Death.
From Frontierland a magic portal opens up, giving us a window into another exotic world. This is a special quality of Disneyland, which is different from the way that the much larger Magic Kingdom gradually transitions from one land to another.
Space Station 77 seems to float above the horizon, promoting an optimism about space travel, and promising adventure.
The hedges around it’s a small world make the structure feel light and airy, maintaining the scale that the interior of the attraction works in.
This boarded up tunnel is one of the last remnants of Mine Train Through Nature’s Wonderland, which was removed to build Big Thunder Mountain Railroad. It is now a piece of real world park history that also functions as an in universe history for Frontierland.
This British (we still like to pretend it is Swiss) settlement may have temporarily tamed the jungle, but we know from the Jungle Cruise and Temple of the Forbidden Eye, that in Adventureland, nature will always win out over man.
While the Sailing Ship Columbia is in dry dock, her crew can find a hot meal and a warm bed at Fowler’s Inn. This sleepy area of the waterfront offers a contrast to the hustle and bustle of New Orleans Square.
The calm stillness of the Blue Bayou lulls us to sleep before we are whisked down a waterfall into a dreamy underworld of decaying pirate corpses.
These are only a few of the myriad ways that Disney Parks have created the perfect setting for our imaginations to run wild. Experiencing new parks is always a thrill, but Disneyland will always be our favorite. Over the past 60 years, it has developed a set of quirks that give it a unique charm that is hard to beat.
The final part of our kitchen remodel was finishing up the attached laundry room. When conceiving of the layout, size was the biggest consideration. This is a very narrow space that was certainly not built with the size of 21st century appliances in mind, so the very first decision we made was to stack the washer and dryer, instead of having them side by side. We knew we wanted to de-emphasize how far the washer and dryer extended out, and wanted to have a visual divider from room to room, so we put a curtain in the doorframe to create a soft separation from the breakfast nook.
We were able to make the most out of this small space by having a custom cabinet built by Martin Cabinet Designs, who also built our kitchen cabinets and breakfast nook. We gave them details on how we wanted it to look, and they created it to fit the space and our needs perfectly.
Our kitties, Titan and Atlas, have their own private doorway to enter their litter box, and the bottom of the cabinet rolls out for easy cleaning.
On the opposite wall from the washer and dryer, there was just enough room to put up some hooks that I use to hang a few small purses and scarves.
A couple of small shelves on the wall complete the room by giving us a little extra space for storing items. It may be tiny, but our new laundry room fits all of our needs, and the kitties seem to be pleased with it too. It just goes to show that you don’t need to knock down walls in order to make a space more functional.
After having visited Manhattan two years ago during the Christmas season, we decided that this year we would take a trip to Brooklyn. We have some friends who are living in the borough, and it’s one part of New York City that we had never explored before.
I had walked across the Brooklyn Bridge during school field trips, but James had never had the opportunity. We bundled up and braved the winds to cross over from Manhattan.
From the Brooklyn Bridge, we had a great view of James’ favorite bridge, the Manhattan Bridge.
This hilarious sign, which has not quite deterred lovers from vandalizing city property with their padlocks, was a warm welcome to the borough’s personality.
We spent the night at a hotel right across the street from Borough Hall (formerly the seat of government for the City of Brooklyn), which we had a great view of from our room window.
After crossing the bridge and settling into our hotel room we took to the streets for the day. Not far from our hotel was the Brooklyn Heights Promenade, which gave us a chance to see other landmarks such as the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, locations that we would like to visit on later trips to New York.
The highlight of the trip was strolling past all of the 19th century brownstones that line the streets of Brooklyn Heights and Cobble Hill. It was very reminiscent of our recent trip to Boston, where we saw an abundance of row houses on Beacon Hill.
Many of the residences were tastefully decorated for the season.
Park Slope offered another pleasant residential neighborhood to walk through, right across from Prospect Park.
We also visited the Brooklyn Central Library, which is part of a completely separate library system serving only that borough, not affiliated with the New York Public Library.
We then headed towards Green-Wood Cemetery, which feels like a storybook setting. Many of the most famous (or infamous) New Yorkers have been buried here, such as “Boss” Tweed. Here is the gothic gate that serves as the northern entrance.
The cemetery is a vast collection of statues and mausoleums, in addition to the expected headstones. Meandering through the curved pathways is a very peaceful experience.
We had a wonderful stay in Brooklyn, and were so glad to finally explore the area. We will continue to travel to New York City when we can, revisiting the boroughs that we have seen, and exploring new ones as well.