Bread Making @ Creative Coffee Morning

Mmmmm, it’s divine!
In my mouth, there was a large chunk of focaccia with olive. What was so special about this focaccia? Because…. (an imaginary drum roll please), I baked it myself!! How about that! Last Wednesday morning, Kate, aka “Madam Bentley”, invited me to Creative Coffee Morning in Balham and we learnt how to bake bread together.

We met up at the station at 9:30 and walked to Sophy’s place in which the workshop was to be held. It was a beautiful morning – the weather was behaving impeccably since the previous weekend, birds were chirping cheerfully and the air was sweetened with blossoming shrubs and trees. It would have been just perfect if I weren’t a total wreck, physically though. I joined an ice hockey practice the night before. After two years of staying away from skating and puck-handling resulted in my body aching all over, especially my thighs and arms…

At Sophy’s, we were greeted by Sophy and Aminta’s, our organisers / teachers and two other pupils. Aminta handed us aprons and poured us mugs of coffee which was greatly appreciated…

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While we sipped the cups, they explained that we were to bake focaccia and hot cross bun.
We studied a list of ingredients and carefully adding them up in the glass bowl…

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To the flour mixture, an egg and tepid milk were added. Then, kneading commenced on the well-floured surface…

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At first, the dough was very sticky. It clung to our fingers like glue. Aminta demonstrated how to knead and we emulated it the best we could. Then, the stickiness gradually disappeared as we kept on working on the dough with more flour on the surface. Aminta smeared the surface of the bowl with butter, explaining how important not to forget to spread butter up to the rim of the bowl, ‘The dough can’t rise to full if the dough sticks to the side of the bowl’. While the bowl was covered with a tea towel and put aside, we had another cups of coffee with a slice of cake. I was still knackered from the last night’s strenuous activities, if Sophy didn’t keep on offering me a fresh cup of coffee, I might have been nodding off on the spot…

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By the way, Kate dropped her sunglasses while we were measuring the flour! It proved that we couldn’t be too cool when we were baking bread…

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Another round of kneading started after an hour of resting the dough. I never knew that bread making was so physical! The dough became bouncy and tough to roll out so I had to rest my body weight on my wrist in order to stretch it out over the surface.
Kate was doing likewise, next to me…

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After the dough was expanded, it was folded in to half. This process was repeated for considerable duration until my hands got really tired…

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Then, each dough we were kneading was cut into 6 pieces, rolled out, shaped into balls and arranged on the baking tray. Aminta placed a kitchen towel over them again so they could rest for another half hour…

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Then, we worked on focaccia, the same process minus adding dry fruits…

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The dough was rolled out and indentations were made, using a wooden spoon handle…

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Into the indentations were olives. And then, the surface of the dough was smeared with olive oil and sprinkled with rock salt and rosemary…

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By the time we had finished preparing the focaccia, the hot cross buns were ready to be given the finishing touch. Beaten egg was glossed over the balls…

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In the meantime, Kate was mixing flour, water and sugar…

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The light-brown mixture was placed into a piping bag and each ball was x-marked, gently pressed with a backside of table knife. Then, we decorated our would-be hot cross buns by carefully squeezing out the flour & sugar mixture and tracing over the dents on the dough. Once all of them were decorated, they were placed in the oven. How exciting…

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Voilà, the real piping hot cross buns straight out of the oven!!

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Quickly, they were transferred to a wire rack and glossed over with the syrup made of sugar and water so they would stay glossy and moist…

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Don’t they look divine?

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Then, my focaccias came out of the oven too…

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My lovely plump beauties!!

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As soon as we were out on the street, Kate & I gobbled down a hot cross bun and it tasted so heavenly.
That evening, Hubbie came home much earlier than usual and we devoured all hot cross buns with tea. ‘It’s soooo delicious!’, he exclaimed. Honestly, it tasted miles better than any hot cross bun produced commercially. It was a real eye-opener for both of us. Comes this Easter, we are going to bake our own hot cross buns from scratch. While Hubbie is doing all the kneading, all I have to do will be supervising him. What a winning formula (for me)…

Kaori by Kaori Okumura

Moomin Bakery @ LaQua

A word, “Moomin”, evokes fond memories of the childhood amongst most of the Japanese. Despite being Finnish **** characters, the inhabitants of Moomin Valley is extremely popular in this far-east country. My first encounter with them was through a series of TV cartoons aired as a part of “Calpis Theatre” (カルピス劇場) – the programmes sponsored by a popular soft drink company. I was instantly besotted with a protagonist, Moomin, who resembled a hippo and his peculiar looking relatives and friends. I looked forward to watching the cartoon every Saturday (or was it on Sunday?), and drew him on my notepad tirelessly for the rest of week. When the series came to the end eventually, I was understandably crestfallen, felt the same sort of emptiness when SATC was finally over.
This is the Moomin I grew up with…

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Apparently, Tove Jansson, a creator of Moomin, disapproved of the appearance of the Japanese Moomin. She thought it was too round and fat. However, the Japanese animators / character designers were very concerned of the aesthetics of the original Moomin because his feature was more angular and wouldn’t be found cute “Kawaii” and cuddly by the Japanese audience…

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Hmmm…, how would I feel if I were in Tove’s shoes?
Probably, I would have felt the same frustration if my creation was not honestly depicted. Japanese anime Moomin & Tove’s original Moomin, they do look rather different, don’t they?
Despite the discrepancy, it was also undeniable that the Japanese Moomin cartoon endeared these fascinating characters from Finland to millions of the Japanese children and parents alike and found a permanent place in their hearts. I hope Miss.Jansson knew about it.

After stuffing ourselves with pancake at Bubby’s, mum and I took subway from Shinbashi and traveled to Kōrakuen, our next destination. The station was the closest to LaQua Tokyo Dome City, in which existed the Moomin Bakery & Cafe…

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Since the premises opened its door in 2003, the bakery had been introducing Finnish style baked treats to the Japanese bread lovers. Especially, rye bread is one of Finnish specialities. However, comparing it with its German counterpart, Finnish rye bread is sweetened with honey. And this sweet flavour really appeals to the Japanese tastebuds…

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We weren’t even remotely hungry after Bubby’s so decided to buy a few pastries for snack later on…

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Their shelves were laden with tempting looking breads…

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Many of them were not only cute to behold but also a tasty fusion of the Japanese & Finnish culinary cultures…

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Some pastries were literally out of the cartoon books..

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Amongst breads, there were also biscuits…

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and chocolate. Perfect as gifts…

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Small kitchen utensils were also on sale…

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A “Stuff It Yourself” goodie bag in various sizes…

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Fellow visitors were shopping for Moomin treats and souvenirs…

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We were a bit disappointed that they weren’t fully stocked with the Moomin merchandise.
Still, they sold some tableware…

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and party paraphernalia and phone straps…

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Cuddly toys for kids..

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and Moomin tote bags for grown-ups…

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Next to the bakery was a cafe with a special menu for Moomin fans…

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In spite of being an ordinary weekday afternoon, their tables were fully occupied…

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A kind diner allowed me a picture of her latte…

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and a plate of Moomin pancake…

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We bought some treats for ourselves…

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The pastries were filled with custard, one was flavoured with raspberry and the other with chocolate. They were really tasty.
I learnt recently that a Moomin themed amusement park are planned to open in Japan in 2015. Mum and I are really looking forward to visiting there together!

Kaori by Kaori Okumura

Sun, Glorious Sun!

What a fantastic weekend weather wise it was!
The sun was shining and the wind was warm and gentle, I had to pinch myself just to make sure I wasn’t dreaming!
While my mum’s place, Nagano, was still firmly stuck in the snow & chill (in Nobeyama, they recorded below -20 ℃!), my neighbours were strutting around with vests & shorts. Can this be really right? I was glad that it was no longer grey and damp but also apprehensive about this unpredictable climate…

A morning stroll with Mr.B on Saturday.
He wouldn’t have needed a jumper then…

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Our fry-up at the Shepherdess the Caf.
I sat with my back towards the sun and felt my nape singed slightly…

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Then came Sunday, I met up with Letizia at Embankment and visited South Bank together…

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Well, we were one of those who were not good at taking selfies. The sun was in our faces and we were taking this image almost blind. Plus, it was my bad hair day so a beanie was the must. Well, enough excuses said.

The Thames was teeming with ships laden with tourists…

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The sight was so enticing and tempting as such, we momentarily contemplated if we should hop on one of those river-buses and travel to the Hampton Court or Greenwich.

A leisurely walk along South Bank.
The tide was low then and some people were venturing down to the river bed and exploring through whatever the Thames decided to leave on its shore…

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This guy was busking with his amplifier by his side. The amp was rather hazardously close to the water and made me wonder what would happen if he were zapped…

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Any table in the sun was hard to come by on the day like this and we queued nearly an hour to get ours. However, the sun went behind the high-rise building nearby as soon as we were seated. C’est la vie, huh?
Nevertheless, we shared a delicious bottle of rose and I enjoyed a plate of Linguine ai frutti di mare…

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Is this the arrival of the spring? Highly unlikely. But the day like last weekend reminded us what we should look forward to. And we could hardly wait for the real blooming spring!

Kaori by Kaori Okumura

Pancake @ Bubby’s, Shiodome City Centre

Agh… I am already tired even after a good night’s sleep!
This is the result of the physical exhaustion due to the increase in my daily fitness regime. Why am I upping the ante? Because my old hockey team may be rising from the ashes and I maybe joining training soon. In order to improve my stamina, I’ve added an hour cycling which in return, to be an absolute killer. Therefore, I’ve been feeling like a wreck recently. As the consequence, my blog has been neglected…

Let’s get back to mum & I’s escapade in Tokyo in the mid January.
My mum visited NYC last October and one thing she had been on about often was how much she regretted about missing out the pancake at Clinton Street Baking Co. Coincidently, pancake was the one dish which I really wished if it were more readily available in London. Therefore, it was quite natural that we decided to have pancake at least once while we were in Tokyo.
The pancake boom started in Japan more than a half decade ago. The onset was from Bills in Shichirigahama (七里ヶ浜), the restaurant owned by an Australian restauranteur, Bill Granger, in 2008. It was followed by the opening of Eggs ‘n Things in Harajuku in 2010 which kicked up the real craze for pancakes with berries, nuts, chocolate and whipped cream. Then, Rainbow Pancake Meiji-Jingū joined the fever in 2011. A year later, overseas establishments, such as Sarabeth’s from NYC and Cafe Kaila from Hawaii, opened their doors at Shinjuku & Harajuku respectively and helped to complete Tokyo a heaven for pancake lovers. ‘Mum, we will have to queue for more than an hour if we wanna eat at Eggs ‘n Things!’, I consulted mum while checking the review of the place on my iPad. Tokyo was in the midst of an unusually cold spell then and we definitely didn’t fancy standing outside for hours no matter how heavenly their pancake may be.
Then, I came across a restaurant named Bubby’s in Shinbashi with good reviews. It was in Shiodome City Centre (汐留シティセンター),,adjacent to Shinbashi Station (新橋駅) and not far from Ginza Station. Since we weren’t that fussy about where to eat as long as their pancake was tasty so quickly decided upon Bubby’s.

It was another dry but wintry day in Ginza…

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We walked along Chuō-Dōri towards Shinbashi Station.
Then, we stopped at Ginza 8-Chōme crossing, being momentarily lost…

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Oh, I wished if I could use a Google map! Why don’t O2 (my UK mobile network) provide a data bolt-on like AT&T? Don’t we need our smartphone’s GPS more when we are abroad???

We even wandered along Shōwa-Dori for a few blocks and then turned back. The area was strangely deserted, no passer-by or local shop to ask for directions. The problem was that we had no idea how Shiodome City Centre looked like. Damn, I should have googled the images at the hotel before we left!
In the end, we reckoned that a towering green building across the road had to be the one. The green-glazed tower was surrounded by a cluster of buildings which were not as tall but impressive none the less…

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Once we were near the complex, we saw lots of office workers coming and going from all directions, sporting usual Japanese business people demeanour – walking quickly while looking at their smartphones intently.
Our destination, Bubby’s, was located on the B2 level. So, we took a down escalator, trying not to disrupt the brisk pace of our fellow passengers.
We alighted the escalator at the B2F and turned to our left and there they were, we found Bubby’s…

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Originally, Bubby’s started as a pie company, opening their restaurant in Tribaca NYC in 1990. Their battle cry is “Defending the American Table”…

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American style pies, they do look sumptuous, don’t they? Despite visiting the States more than a few times, I never have tried even a slice. Are they sweet? Are they eaten with cream or custard like they are in the UK?

Once inside, a smiley staff ushered us to the table by the window. Beyond the window, a sunken garden was spreading out which made us difficult to believe that we were on the below ground level.
The interior decor was dominated with bricks and wood, giving out a cozy & casual atmosphere…

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We studied the menu. Mum was definitely up for their pancake.
Mmmm…, what should have…

Together with two gigantic mugs of coffee, which were greatly appreciated after a long walk on windswept Ginza pavements, mum’s pancake was brought to our table…

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Sautéed Banana with Walnuts and Maple Syrup Pancake!
Mum went momentarily speechless when it was planted in front of her. ‘Oh my god, I should have skip breakfast!’, she uttered after surveying the size of the serving. Oh well, your wish was granted, mum.

Comparing with mum’s sizable appetite, mine wasn’t with that much gusto. Therefore, instead of ordering another pancake with different flavour, I opted for New Orleans Creole Soup…

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It was a very good soup, packed with vegs and aromatic spices. The hot broth warmed me up from the inside.

I also had a few bites from mum’s pancake…

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Oh my, it was delicious but also very sweet! A large mug of coffee was imperative to wash down this sugary treat.

Mum was very happy to fulfil her wish of tasting the treat from NYC. But for me, looking at her smile was the best treat of all…

Kaori by Kaori Okumura

Hikarie @ Shibuya

When questioned ‘What attracts you to Tokyo?’, the majority, locals and tourists alike, would answer ‘Shopping!’
Yes, the city has lots of shopping centres, however, it comes with the difference.
One biggest distinction is their structure…

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The latest shopping outlet “Shibuya Hikarie” at Shibuya.
Their shop floors are stuck up virtually instead of being laid out in a sprawling ground like conventional shopping centres outside Tokyo. Reflecting the city’s nickname “the vertical city”, Tokyo is densely built and any available land for a new development in Central Tokyo is like gold dust. In fact, during the height of the property boom in the 80’s, people joked as if a mere manhole-cover size land could cost as much as $100k. I have no way to authenticate the truth in this urban legend but by looking at how the city has grown, the myth may be less than just a bluff…

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After leaving Shin-Ōkubo, mum and I headed to the next destination on our shopping list, aforementioned Shibuya Hikarie (渋谷ヒカリエ).

Hikarie opened its door to the public on the 26th April 2012. The premises includes a department store, offices, a theatre, restaurants and cafés.
While mainstream shopping complexes outside the city are equipped with equally sumptuous car-parking facilities, the inner-city shopping outlets, such as Hikarie or Tokyo Midtown, they don’t expect their shoppers & visitors to arrive by cars but by public transport. Hikarie stands on where there used to be Tokyu Bunka Kaikan (東急文化会館) – Tokyu Cultural Hall, which was adjacent to Shibuya Station. Shibuya is one of the most important transport hubs of Tokyo – the connections are available between JR Yamanote Line, Keio Inokashira Line, Tokyu Tōyoko Line, Tokyu Denen-toshi Line, Tokyo Metro Ginza Line, Hanzōmon Line and Fuku-toshin Line.

We alighted at JR Shibuya Station and proceeded towards Hikarie, following a dog-legged
raised corridor amongst the afternoon crowds. Through the glazing along the bridge between the station’s east exit and the entrance of Hikarie, hazy sunshine was flooding in…

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The bridge was spanned over Meiji-Dōri. I felt relieved to find the scenery being vaguely familiar to me. The overlapping expressways were unchanged since I was here more than two decades ago and so was the amount of the Tokyo traffics – always busy…

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Before entering ShinQs – a new outlet of Tokyu department store, we walked through this charming atrium with a large clock suspended in the air…

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Once inside ShinQs, we found ourselves surrounded by all sorts of lovely offerings.
This opticians, Lunettes du Jura, had amazing varieties of glasses…

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I was particularly taken by a pair of cateye frame in bubble gum pink. If I had more days left in Japan, I would definitely have bought a pair (a minimum waiting time was 1 week)…

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Mum bought a bright orange reading glasses and it looked great on her.

I loved Hikarie because the items on sale were well-chosen and affordable…

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Yayoi Kusama collection…

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Colourful jars and bottles to ornate any kitchen…

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The Japanese love the Conran Shop too…

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Mum and I thoroughly enjoyed our retail therapy at Hikarie.
I must admit that shopping experience in Tokyo is the best in the world. The merchandise on offer and the service which comes with it, they make shopping such a fun & joy. I wish if Tokyo were only 3 hours flight away from London, instead of 12 hours…

Kaori by Kaori Okumura

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