There are many beautiful sights in the city of Kyōto, which is just a few hours ride on the Shinkansen from Tōkyō. When planning, we aimed for our trip to coincide with the blooming of sakura. Luckily, we arrived right on time, and Kyōto offered a myriad of places to view them.
The wooden lattices and paper dividers in our room at Hotel Kanra create an atmosphere of elegant simplicity reminiscent of the ancient capital. There was even a wooden bathtub made of Japanese cypress that we soaked in each evening we were there.
A great place for hanami (the viewing of sakura) is the Shirakawa Canal in the geisha district of Gion.
The path to Kiyomizu-dera through Ninen-zaka and Sannen-zaka is absolutely breathtaking. Traditional machiya line the narrow stone lane as it slopes up the hill from one pagoda to another.
Ishibei-koji is a beautifully preserved quiet lane in the Higashiyama district that feels like something out of a painting.
There are said to be over 10,000 torii at Fushimi Inari Taisha.
Nijō-jō is a castle that was built as a residence for the Tokugawa Shoguns when they took trips to see the Imperial Court. We were able to go inside the castle and view the gorgeous wall and ceiling paintings found throughout. The castle is also famous for its nightingale corridors that make gentle chirping sounds as you walk on the wooden floors.
Around the castle are gardens with meticulously composed stones.
The Philosopher’s Walk is a serene path lined with sakura that travels past many temples and shrines.
We were so fortunate to catch the sakura bloom at just the right time, but regardless of the season, Kyōto is wonderful. The city gave us a tranquil experience that was an interesting contrast to the high energy of Tōkyō.
A very important part of our Japan trip was visiting the Tokyo Disney Resort, and Tokyo DisneySea in particular. In our many years of Disney Parks fandom, we have read and heard so much about this park, and after seeing it, we can definitely say that some of the best work Walt Disney Imagineering has ever done lies within DisneySea.
So much of the park is about exploring on foot, rather than boarding ride vehicles. At Explorer’s Landing, there is so much to discover inside the fortress, as well as on the sailing ship docked outside.
We dined at Magellan’s Restaurant, which is part of the experience of Explorer’s Landing. In the center of the restaurant is this large globe that subtly rotates while diners enjoy their meal.
The fortress was built by the Society of Explorers and Adventurers, which is an organization that Imagineering has woven into many stories throughout the Disney Parks.
The story of the S.E.A. continues at Hotel Hightower, where a member of the organization has had a strange mishap with an elevator…
The scope of DisneySea is unimaginable. There is even an entire ocean liner inside of the park. We boarded the ship and had a drink at The Teddy Roosevelt Lounge.
We had so many fun treats at the parks, but the little green dumplings filled with mochi were definitely the cutest.
Mysterious Island is the base of Captain Nemo, and the home port of the Nautilus. It shares similarities with Discoveryland in Disneyland Paris, but it is much more extensive and provides a cohesive story.
James’ favorite ride in the park is Journey to the Center of the Earth, which he puts right up there with the Disneyland mountains.
Taking a relaxing gondola cruise through Mediterranean Harbor is a good way to rest your feet after so many great walkthrough attractions.
Casbah Food Court has many hidden away spots to escape the crowds.
Chandu the tiger is from my favorite attraction in the park, Sinbad’s Storybook Voyage. Its tone lies somewhere between it’s a small world and traditional dark rides. As soon as I saw this little plush I knew I had to bring him back home with me.
We stayed at the Tokyo Disneyland Hotel, which is right outside the gate of Tokyo Disneyland, similar to the Disneyland Hotel at Disneyland Paris.
Of all the troubled Tomorrowlands that we have visited, the Tokyo Disneyland version is the only one that we wouldn’t consider broken. It feels like it still has an identity and is not just a messy stylistic mashup.
James had looked at so many photos of this spot in Tomorrowland while working on various science fiction projects, and he was so excited to finally be there in person.
The exit for Star Tours that leads into the top level of Pan Galactic Pizza Port really feels like you’re in a spaceport and gives this Tomorrowland a sense of place.
Our favorite attraction in Tokyo Disneyland is Monsters, Inc. Ride & Go Seek. This was one of two attractions in the park that were highly recommended, but sadly the other, Pooh’s Hunny Hunt was closed.
The whimsy of the exterior of It’s a Small World flows seamlessly into Queen of Hearts Banquet Hall.
There are adorable homes for all sizes of critters in Grandma Sara’s Kitchen.
Visiting a new Disney park is such a thrill, and it’s always surreal to see slight variations on familiar attractions. Disneyland, USA will always be our favorite park, but Tokyo DisneySea certainly gives it run for its money.
At the beginning of this summer, I wanted to find some room to plant some vegetables in our yard. Eventually we plan on having large wooden planters built, but for now, we are using a small strip of dirt on the side of the house.
There were some extra bricks lying around behind the garage, so we were able to use those to set up separate beds.
When deciding on what to plant, I went with vegetables I tend to use the most in my day to day cooking, such as peppers, tomatoes, squash, shallots, and a variety of herbs.
It’s fascinating to watch them grow from tiny buds into colorful delicious produce.
It can be very difficult to grow plants in the perpetual drought of southern California. Some of our vegetables started to cook when temperatures reached 110F. Others, like this cucumber, never grew larger than an inch. However, new cucumbers have started to grow, and we’re hopeful this batch will do better.
We haven’t had any squash fully grow yet, but we have several squash blossoms that we hope will yield fruit in the autumn. Though we’ve only harvested a small amount, it has been very exciting to cook with produce from my very own garden, and I’m certainly looking forward to expanding it in the future.
One of the most delightful touches in our home is a small wall alcove in the hallway near the guest room. After recently making some HVAC infrastructure changes on that wall, we went ahead with some ideas that we had been kicking around for painting the alcove.
The entire space had been the same color as the rest of the wall when we moved in, and we knew that we at least wanted to treat the wooden mantle section the same as the trim in the rest of the hallway. For the back face of the alcove, we decided to use a paint that was ever so slightly darker than the wall, but with a semi-gloss finish to provide a very subtle separation.
The main part of this project was creating a stencil that was similar to the one we used over our front door. The curved surface made this process a bit tricky.
The stenciled shapes are just rough enough to feel right with the texture of our walls.
Small touches like these are the types of things that made us initially fall in love with this house, and it feels wonderful to be able to embellish upon it and make it our own.
I’m not a big fan of cake, which puts me in the minority. Lava cake, however, is a thing of its own, and a treat I can have on any given day. I recently made little chocolate lava cakes for a few girlfriends, and it was the perfect ending to a relaxing evening. Each bite, with it’s oozing warm chocolate center was incredibly rich, and each cake disappeared within just a few minutes.
What’s great about this dessert isn’t just that it’s rich and indulgent, it’s also very easy to put together and most people likely already have all of the ingredients for it in their homes. You can also prepare ahead of time, and bake just before serving for a freshly baked warm treat for guests.
Ingredients (serves 4): 2 eggs, 2 egg yolks, 1/4 cup sugar, 1/2 cup butter, 4 oz bitter-sweet chocolate, 2 tsp flour, 2 tbsp cocoa powder
Instructions: Combine eggs, yolks, and sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer, and beat at medium speed. Meanwhile, heat the chocolate and butter on a stovetop over low heat, just until it’s oozy but not completely melted, whisk together to combine. Once the egg mixture has thickened (about 4 minutes), add the warm chocolate and butter mixture to the eggs, as well as the flour, and beat for a few more seconds to combine.
Butter four ramekins, and lightly dust with cocoa powder, shaking out any excess. Pour in the batter, dividing equally among each dish. At this point you can either bake immediately, or refrigerate until a few minutes before serving. When ready to bake bring batter back to room temperature, and bake in 450F oven for 7 minutes on a baking tray. You will see that the sides are set, but the middle will still be soft. Invert each cake onto a small plate, and let sit for a few seconds before lifting ramekin. Dust with powdered sugar and serve with fresh berries.
I plan to make this treat again for Valentine’s Day, and I know I will be making it many times in the future. It is a decadent dessert to enjoy during these winter months, with good friends, or to finish a dinner for two.
For this years Christmas cards, we decided to incorporate embroidery, which is something that I had never done with paper before. The designs themselves are simple, but the colored thread adds an extra element of dimension and texture.
Each card started with a print out of a sketch that was cut into an oval shape. I then punched small holes using a needle along the images to make the embroidering go smoothly.
These cards were a fun way to practice my love for embroidery, and a great opportunity to make cards that are unique from those that we’ve made in past years.
Wishing all a very Merry Christmas!
We’ve decided to start small before jumping into the larger renovation projects for our house, and sprucing up the front entrance seemed like the natural place to start.
There were already some lovely features, such as our mail slot next to the door, so we knew it just needed a few adjustments to look complete.
We liked the idea of adding a hint of color and pattern to the blank space right above our front door, so we created a stencil with a floral pattern and mixed some old acrylic paints to get the colors we wanted.
We love the feel of autumn, and the browns of the house are complimented nicely by a seasonal rustic wreath. When searching for a wreath, we noticed that most pre-made ones were very large and heavy on fake leaves, so we created a simpler one using a variety of pieces found at our local crafts store.
A more overt reference to the autumnal season are the many squash that we put out on our front steps.
Its so much more fun to choose a variety of shapes, sizes and colors, rather than stick with the typical orange pumpkin. In the winter, these will be a welcome addition to our dinner table.
The house was already full of charm, but we love how these additions give it a personal touch. We also look forward to mixing up the look for each season.
The staple autumn flavor is typically pumpkin, but I tend to lean more towards apple flavors when thinking of autumn meals and treats. Autumn has been taking its time to arrive to Los Angeles this year, but that hasn’t stopped us from craving classic comfort meals. Recently, I decided to make some pain perdu (French toast), and paired it with warm freshly made apple compote. The weather has barely begun to crisp up, so we took our brunch outside to enjoy in the cool breeze on a weekend morning.
For the apple compote: 3 large apples peeled and cubed (I like to use 3 different kinds of apples to combine sweet, tart, and sour), 1/3 cup raw sugar, 2 tablespoons water, 2 tablespoons lemon juice, 1 small sprig cinnamon, 1 tablespoon pie spice.
Add all of the ingredients to a saucepan and toss to coat apples. Simmer over medium heat for about 10 minutes, until apples are cooked and sugar is dissolved.
For the pain perdu: 1 baguette loaf sliced into long oval pieces, 2 large eggs, 1/4 cup milk, 1 tablespoon pie spice, 1 tablespoon sugar, 1 stick butter. Whip the eggs, milk, pie spice, and sugar in a bowl. In small batches, add the mixture to a flat plate and place pieces of bread on the plate to soak, flipping over after 2 minutes. Melt 1 tablespoon of butter in a pan and add the soaked bread in batches of 2 to 3 slices. Flip over after about 2 minutes, until bread is starting to brown. Cook the bread in batches until all pieces are done.
Serve pain perdu with a side of the apple compote, a sprinkle of powdered sugar, and maple syrup.